Best Arcade Games Ever

Bright flashing lights, the hard chirp of electronic music, the metallic clang of tokens, the clicker-clacker of buttons tapped with furious abandon. The arcade, much like the local comic shop, remains a sacred destination for some. For others it’s a treasure trove of nostalgia. Arcade patrons could spend hours and scores of quarters on a machine just for the bragging rights of a high score. Or maybe the local champ settled into a fighting game to knock out any and all challengers.


Two people duke it out against each other. A crowd forms around them. Are they waiting to see who wins? Maybe. The more likely reason is they’re all waiting with bated breath to see if the winner will be able to pull off a fatality. While the first game is what prompted the creation of the ESRB and the second game cemented the legacy of the series, it was the third “Mortal Kombat” game that truly refined the game play.

It looked better than the other two. It played better than the other two. It had more characters. There was a built-in tournament mode for eight players. There were fatalities, babalities, friendships and brutalities. The character animations, while still rooted in the FMV roots, looked far better than MK 1 or 2. All in all, “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3” was the height of the 2D “Mortal Kombat” franchise.


“Donkey Kong” deserves a high place on this list for several reasons. It was one of the most punishingly difficult classic arcade games. As evident in the instant classic documentary, “The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters,” people are still battling over who reigns supreme for a high score in the game. It launched the careers of two of Nintendo’s most popular characters, Donkey Kong and Mario (nee Jumpman). Mario, of course, would end up being the face of Nintendo.

Donkey Kong, however, was no slouch himself, and appeared in his own games and across all Nintendo properties. The game can be considered one of the first ever platforming video games – a genre that would define video games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The iconic level design has permeated pop culture so much that the pink-ish steal beams, rolling barrels and super hammer are instantly recognizable. “Donkey Kong” is a classic game in every single sense of the word.


X-Men! Welcome to DIE!” There is nothing more awe inspiring than seeing a six player cabinet of “X-Men Arcade” in the wild. Even after all these years it’s a magnificent sight to behold. The six player version of this cabinet is an awkward, beautiful behemoth, and getting together six friends to play this game is still a blast. Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler are the playable characters, and while you may argue over who gets stuck with Dazzler, even that person is going to have a good time playing this game.

The character sprites and backgrounds are absolutely stunning. This music is phenomenal. The roster is deep for who you fight against, and includes most of the greats, like Pyro, Emma Frost, Blob, Juggernaut, Mystique and of course, Magneto. This game is punishing in its difficulty, but it’s hard not to have a good time playing it. Not only is “X-Men Arcade” a fun beat ‘em up, its innovation at being a six-player cabinet gives it this high of a place on the list.


You might have had the high score on a pinball table. You might have been on the top of the leader boards for Donkey Kong. But there was a time in which if you were the local hotshot at “Street Fighter” you were king of the arcade. There was a time in which people would line quarters up along a machine to hold their place in line to challenge the king. As such, it cannot be understated how influential “Street Fighter” was on the arcade scene, nor how big an impact it had on the development of the fighting game genre.

“Super Street Fighter II Turbo” was the last iteration of the “Street Fighter” games before they started the Alpha series. At the time, Turbo featured the most characters in a “Street Fighter” game with 16 playable characters. “Turbo” also introduced a few core mechanics that have been mainstays of the series ever since. Most notably, this game introduced super meters and super combos. While fans of the series can argue until the cow comes home which “Street Fighter” game is the best, it is hard to argue that SSFIIT is one of the most influential arcade games of all time.


“Turtles in Time” was released in 1991, one year after the smash hit live action movie, and still firmly in the height of TMNT fever. There was a two player version of the arcade cabinet, but the real attraction was the four player one, and much like the earlier arcade game released in 1989, four friends could argue over who got to control Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo or Raphael. The plot of the game took players through a smorgasbord of different level designs from the far past to the far future, the combat felt smooth and responsive and the graphics were gorgeous.

Some might claim this game is number one for nostalgia reasons – which is certainly part of it – but it stands up as one of the greatest beat ‘em ups ever made. It’s one thing to play a great game as a generic character. It’s another to get to live vicariously as your hero and smash through enemies like the Foot Soldiers, Metalhead, Baxter Stockman and Shredder. This game deserves to be the top of the pack of greatest arcade games of all time.

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