Arcade games are – thanks to Dave and Buster’s sudden status as a celebrity hotspot and the ubiquity of barcades – back. Whether or not that popularity represents a cultural shift or a pre-virtual reality death rattle is not clear, but what it’s inarguably easier to find an Asteroids game than it was a decade ago. For fathers that means access to countless hours of solid two-player entertainments. And, sure, sidescrollers look super basic compared to immersive games, but they are super kid friendly.
There are a lot of quarters required, but playing a great arcade game with an excited kid can feel like sharing a project – and the inevitable defeat is a fun bonding experience.
Gameplay: Kids probably don’t know what barrels are, but they’ll hate them by the end of the first try. You play Mario (aka Jumpman) who’s looking to rescue a damsel in distress from Donkey Kong.
Why It Rocks: If your kid knows who Mario and Donkey Kong are, then show them this game. This arcade classic spawned the best characters in home consoles for decades. Plus, it spawned the greatest video game doc ever made: The King of Kong (Rated PG-13, but probably fine).
Gameplay: Pac-Man, a floating yellow face, wanders through a maze of edible dots. Sometimes there’s fruit. Those are worth points. There are also ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. Sometimes they’re edible. It’s a super weird game if you really think about it.
Why It Rocks: Sometimes the simplest games make for the best. The original game was designed to be unbeatable. At the final level—256—the game glitches and ends, creating the term ‘Kill screen”. You and your kid would have to devote months to reach the end, but Pac-Man‘s universal gameplay makes it easy for anyone to play.
Gameplay: Instead of a full five-on-five gameplay, NBA Jam scales back to just two-on-two basketball. They also incorporated over-the-top feats of human strength with super jumps and literally on fire slam dunks. It combined what you love about the NBA with the super heroics of a comic book.
Why It Rocks: There were no basketball arcade games before NBA Jam. Well, there were, but who cares? Jam is a game that encourages the best in co-op gaming: trash talking, showboating and nineties slang. Sure, the modern day NBA 2K series is great, but Jam might be the GOAT of basketball games. And it’s absolutely perfect for head-to-head gaming.
Gameplay: Although extremely similar in execution to Space Invaders, Galaga creates the sense of high-speed space flight with a moving, starry background. It adds a layer of intensity to the shooter as you take out aliens while moving left and right at the bottom of the screen.
Why It Rocks: The best part of the game is getting a ship upgrade. You go from single blaster to double shooters. The enemies are also much more difficult as every wave offers a new challenge from bosses. If Space Invaders is the grandfather of shooters, then this is its proud son.