The main mission of the retro gaming community is to keep vintage games and classic titles alive, which is why exploring the best MAME games is so important. It’s the most popular emulator for Mac and PC users, and one that every nostalgic gamer should have access to.
**N.B – MAME is an Open Source programme designed to play ROMs. Check the legality of downloading ROMs in your country before you start mashing the download button. **
What Is MAME?
For those of you that still think that MAME is what happens when you get your leg bitten off by a lion, then we better do some explaining.
MAME stands for ‘Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator’. It was developed by an Italian guy (we do all the best stuff) called Nicola Salmoria. It first hit the scene over 23 years ago back in 1997, and its main purpose is as a reference to study the inner workings of arcade machines.
The fact that it also happens to play some of your favourite games from years gone by is a bit of a happy coincidence. Funny that!
What Does MAME Do?
MAME emulates some of the best retro arcade games from video gaming past. It now has the ability to play up to 7,000 games and can be run on all of the major operating systems.
As well as serving as a platform for kicking back and playing all of the best MAME games listed below, it’s also a virtual encyclopaedia. Think of it as on online version of the British Library, but for Video Games.
MAME keeps games from the early days of computing from falling into the void, keeping them available for new generations to explore.
That makes is one of the most important pieces of software out there, right?
20. BurgerTime (1982)
BurgerTime kickstarts out best MAME games article with some tasty retro action from the golden age of gaming.
Can you remember all those times your parents told you not to play with your food. Did they also tell you that it was because some elements of your meal were bad guys in a computer game and that they had been scarred for life because of it?
Probably not, but that’s the truth of the matter!
If you’ve played Mario’s cement factory or Mario & Yoshi, then this game operates in basically the same way. Walk over buns to make burgers, trapping ingredients inside to make a full burger.
If you get an enemy caught inside too, then they become eliminated.
I can’t ‘condiment’ (meant to be compliment, give me a break) this game any more. It’s a real classic and a fine title to get the ball rolling.
19. Track & Field (1983)
Fancy some old-skool sporting fun? Track & Field is an Atari 2600 classic and bases itself around many of the go-to games that you enjoy watching in the Olympic Games.
I’m talking about the games that you want to have a go at but are also quite hard work; hammer throw, javelin, high hump, hurdles… you know the sort.
Qualify in one event to make the next. You can even play with a friend by taking it in turns to try your hand (or feet) in events.
The crowd might look like balloons with hair, and the tracks might look simple. Still, Track & Field is gaming royalty and an arcade classic.
I bet this game gobbled up quarters faster than Pac-Man in a dot-eating contest!
18. Pong (1972)
Is there a game in this world easier to grasp than Pong. Come to think of it, is there a game as simple or or as addictive?
Can you believe that this game is 50 years old..50 years! For a game to be that addictive and cool 50 years later when its so damn simple is incredible.
Two sliding bats, a ball, and a line down the middle. It’s never going to win the world’s most complicated title award, but it doesn’t need to. Not everyone can play Returnal, but everyone can play Pong
Reach 11 points and be the victor. Who’s ready for a game?
17. Robotron 2084 (1982)
Robotron: 2084 goes straight into the 17th spot in our best MAME games list. the cover looks like some sort of caricature of RoboCop, and the game itself is a bit bat-crazy.
That being said, it’s also an absolute legendary title and one that, back in the day, gamers couldn’t get enough of!
I guess I better explain the premise here before we go any further.
Kill endless minions before they kill you. It’s 2084, and robots are baying for blood.
It’s a game of might vs metal as you try to save the human race!
Players has to use two joysticks just to be able to keep up with the craziness of this thing. It’s basically a virtual panic attack!
16. Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985)
It’s time for King Arthur to take to the stage as the protagonist of our next game in this best MAME games compendium!
Forget Mario saving Peach – it’s all about Arthur heading out to save Guinevere from the forces of evil.
We’re talking knocking back Cyclops, Trolls, Gorgons; every kind go beast imaginable that might want to eat or maim you…
… not an easy ride then?
Like the Alex Kidd games, this thing is HARD. We’re talking get hit twice and you lose a life, which means you have to go all the way back to the beginning of the level or a midway point if you were lucky enough to reach a checkpoint.
That’s Returnal-style difficulty right there!
This is an other ultimate arcade classic and one that you need in your life. If you have room for the cabinet, even better!
15. Out Run (1986)
Out Run takes the 15th spot in this list of the best MAME games of all time. This was one of the fastest racing games of the mid-80s and a really winner in the arcades.
Dodge traffic, pass other racers, and get to the end of the course ahead of the pack. It’s a tried and tested formula these days, but this game published by a team of 1 over 10 months is one of the best examples of it!
This game is the only chanceI I’m ever… ever going to have at driving a Ferrari Testarossa. Still, with the hidden bumps and swerves on these courses, I’m glad I’m only controlling a digital one!
Out run the clock and don’t let the spectators down. They’re counting on you!
14. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (1993)
Cadillacs & Dinosaurs takes the 14th spot in this list of the best MAME games of all time!
What could make a side-scrolling beat-’em-up game better?
How about basing it on a popular animated TV series with dinos in at and the ability to ride around in a Cadillac.
Yeah that’ll do it!
The names are a little questionable (Hannah Dundee and Mustapha Cairo…), but the gameplay is fantastic. Use all manner of weapons Streets of Rage-style and defeat cronies and bosses at every turn.
Did I mention this game has Cadillacs and Dinosaurs in it already?
Oh, it’s in the title… moving on.
13. Frogger (1981)
Remember when Kermit said that it’s not that easy being green? Well Frogger certainly proves as much.
Crossing a road and a river to get back to your Lillypad home never felt so tough!
Get through oncoming traffic and then contend with sharks, turtles, and other obstacles as you try to get back to your floating house.
The hard thing is that you can only move forward one space at a time too! It’s so hard that I guarantee you’ll scream the house down with anger…
… but oh is it so addictive!!!
12. Altered Beast (1988)
Altered Beast takes the 12th spot in this list of the best MAME games of all time!
Taking an undead warrior chosen by Zeus himself to rescue Athena from the underworld… god, retro games had the coolest plot lines!
If you love beat-’em-ups like Streets of Rage but wish they had a more mythical vibe and some Harry Potter-style animagus action, then this will feel like Christmas Day!
To say it only has five levels, it’s one of the most popular titles form the golden age of gaming. Altered beast has an incredibly loyal fan base that have immortalised this game forever more.
Power up into beast mode and beat back Hades’ minions. Think you’ve got what it takes?
11. Galaga: Demons of Death (1981)
Next up on our list of the best MAME games is Galaga: Demons of Death. Now I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it does look a little like another famous game that you’re going to find later down this list.
Galaga had some differences however. It is a fixed shooter, but enemies have different abilities that they can whip out such as tractor beams to try and kill you off.
This is a pretty simple game to get to grips with, but it’s addictive nonetheless. Defeat the Galaga forces and Galaxian flagship by gunning them down on each stage. Enemies will power towards you from all sides; hold that joystick steady and give ’em hell!
10. R-Type (1987)
R-Type is a game that’s popped up in a couple of our games compendium lists, most recently in the best Gameboy Color games. It’s a side-scrolling space-age shooter with Metroid feels, including some of the best alien bosses of any game!
You control the R-9 Arrowhead craft in your mission to destroy the Bydo, a race of aliens trying to destroy mankind. Your craft can be powered up with various beefy guns and forcefields along the way, making you the toughest pilot in the galaxy.
Fun fact – the ‘Force’ that you pick up in this game to shield your craft was inspired by Dung Beetles. You can impress your mates with that fact next time you see them.
This game was notoriously rock hard, but critics have praised it as being one of the best shoot ’em ups ever made, even to this day!
9. Dig Dug (1982)
Dig Dug kind of reminds me of the GBC version of Holy Magic Century. The only difference is that Dig Dug had way more commercial success and is now considered one of the best MAME games on the platform.
I really like maze-based games. They remind me of playing early computer games on the Amstrad when I was a kid. Dig Dug requires you to defeat all enemies in a stage by either trapping them under rocks or pumping them full of air and popping them.
All child-friendly ways of destroying enemies, I’m sure…
If you’re a fan of Mr Driller, then you may recognise some of the characters from this game. It has been very influential and was considered one of the most popular titles in ‘the golden age of gaming’.
I guess that’s the time when Motley Crüe would be playing on the stereo and gamers would hang outside the arcade in leather jackets…
…or something like that.
8. Sunset Riders (1991)
You don’t tend to see many Western games in lists of the ‘best games’ for a system, but Sunset Riders is one of the greatest examples of the genre. This side-scrolling ‘run ‘n gun’ title is one that is impossible to put down.
Set in the rootin-tootin Wild West, you play as one of four bounty hunters charged with taking down bad guys and collecting the reward hanging over their heads.
There’s lots of ‘Street’s of Rage’ style action as you go through the various stages, with a boss battle at the end of each one. It’s perfectly presented with colourful graphics and a great co-op theme. Give it a try!
7. Golden Axe (1989)
Does Golden Axe really need an introduction?
As the best beat em up games go, Golden Axe is always up there as one of the most influential titles of the genre.
And let’s face it; the title that would later inspire the Gauntlet series and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy especially, will always get my full respect!
Set out to kill Death Adder with Ax Battler, Tyris Flare, or Gilius Thunderhead. It’s side-scrolling brilliance from start to finish with your chosen character laying the smackdown on every evil creature in sight.
Ride on lizards, look cool in lycra, and save the world.
All in a good day’s work, right?
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (1989)
Sadly, this entry in the best MAME games doesn’t come with a free Pizza Hut voucher anymore. It does, however, have four famous half-shell warriors with attitude.
I think everyone loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Any amniotes that love pizza as much as I do are fine in my book!
Play as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, or Raphael as you rescue April and Splinter from Shredder. Each turtle has different abilities and fighting styles, and you can even go co-op too!
This is a classic game based on the T.V series. All of the usual bad-guys have turned up for the fight; all that’s left for you to do is to smash your way to victory! COWABUNGA
5. Mario Bros (1983)
Way before gamers were throwing Bowser around in Mario 64, the original Mario Bros. arcade game was swallowing pocket money faster than Kirby on a Dreamworld rampage.
Developed by gaming legends Shigeru Miyamoto and Gameboy developer Gunpei Yokoi, this game features Mario and Luigi in a sewer setting. They have to knock back enemies, collect coins, and generally stay alive!
This early arcade classic has been a bonus feature on many Mario releases on a number of consoles. It’s a great arcade title and one of the reasons why MAME exists in the first place.
Imagine if we lost great titles like Mario Bros. to the ether. I can’t imagine a world where POW blocks didn’t exist!
4. Ms Pac-Man (1982)
The next title on our list of the best MAME games was a world-wide phenomenon. Sure, Pac-Man was a good dude, but his girlfriend proved that she was way more popular in this exciting sequel.
Ms Pac-Man was one of the greatest American arcade titles ever made. It’s one of the first to feature a female (albeit yellow and spherical) protagonist, and she has since become a massive collectors item in the retro gaming world.
Critics went crazy over this game, praising the new features including the enhanced graphics, better maze design, and character traits. Ms Pac-Man is an arcade institution and a perfect MAME game for playing on your coffee break.
3. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)
This game is without a doubt my favourite ever fighting game. Forget the Street Fighter titles that came after it; World Warrior will always be the best.
I’ve played this game on so many different platforms, but you just can’t beat the arcade version. If you don’t have the space for a big cabinet in your flat, then get set up with MAME and relive the good old days.
I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining what Street Fighter is. All of the gang are here including Blanka, Zangief, and Chun-Li. It’s ‘game-on’ time once that music kicks in, and god help anyone who gets in the way of my hundred hand slap!
2. Space Invaders (1980)
It might be simple and not be as advanced as some of the other games in this list, but it’s still one of the greatest titles ever made. Imagine sitting at an arcade cabinet playing this until your wrists were sore.
Before Fox McCloud even thought about blasting Andros out of the skies, Space Invaders was the best shooting game on the planet. It’s considered the most influential game ever made.
With a revenue of over $13-billion, I’d say that it’s also the most successful too!
Defeat waves of aliens as they slowly advance towards the bottom of the screen, Sounds simple, but man this game gets your adrenaline pumping.
Space Invaders was also the first game in the fixed shooter genre, so we certainly wouldn’t have Galaga :Demons of Death without it!
1. Donkey Kong (1981)
This was always going to be at the top of our best MAME games list. There is no other worthy winner in my eyes.
The original Donkey Kong arcade game is spectacular. It’s a reflection of the ’80s, a symbol of the golden age of gaming, and a sign that Nintendo were certainly going places.
Donkey Kong is one of the earliest examples of the platform game genre. If that’s not an excuse to keep it alive for future generations, then I don’t know what is! Mario (or Jump Man as he was previously called) has to jump over barrels in a bid to rescue Pauline (originally known as Lady – boring name choice!).
What a game! It was tense, it was tricky, and getting to that final stage made you the greatest gamer alive. It’s one of the first time we see the K.O Hammer too, one of my favourite Smash Bros. weapons to whip out in a multiplayer.
Donkey is a nice dude now, but this King Kong inspired game fully deserves the top spot in our list of the best MAME games.
What other titles would you like to see up on this list? Join the conversation over on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.