Forty years ago when the world bowed down to the golden age of arcade gaming — everybody wanted a slice of the digitalized pie. And, after its enormous popularity rise in 1980; every bowling alley, restaurant and movie theatre permanently homed one of the many arcade phenomenons. This, in turn, led to the arcade world becoming an incredible eight-billion dollar industry. However, since the advancement of technology in 1983 with home consoles becoming word of mouth, the diamond days of arcade gaming quickly declined to woeful figures.
In a long and fruitful life, arcade gaming has amassed record-breaking stats that still hold up in today’s market. But just what are the ten single arcade titles that have accrued the most quarters since the rise and fall of the cherished platform? What games have made well over a million dollars in revenue and proved worthy of a place on this list? Well, you better put on your double-denim attire and turtleneck sweater — because we’re going back to the eighties, people.
Here are the ten greatest arcade games of all time.
10. Donkey Kong
There’s no surprise here, but this 1981 Nintendo classic once stood at the apex of arcade gaming. With its simple concept featuring a player and a whole series of jumping over barrels, Donkey Kong was quick to find a home within the gaming community and most local arcades.
Shortly after its release, as Nintendo started to experiment with returning characters in their franchises, Donkey Kong ultimately became a household name that went on to produce a further thirty-seven separate games. That’s thirty-seven in a forty-year career. So yes — Donkey Kong has, in fact, been around the carousel quite a few times. But that doesn’t stop Nintendo from wanting to bring him back every few years with a new and exciting adventure. Whether it be a cross-over with other exclusive Nintendo franchises or more solo platforming madness; Donkey Kong is still going strong thanks to the massive success of the 1981 arcade classic.
9. Mortal Kombat
Even after almost thirty years of ruthless gore and all-powerful finishing moves, fans are still biting their lips over the next chapter in the Mortal Kombat timeline. Ever since its debut launch in 1992, Mortal Kombat has gone on to produce more than twenty new titles that cover several platforms, both at home and in the arcade. However, it was the 1992 arcade classic that forged the very name for this mighty franchise. And, even today, Mortal Kombat is remembered as one of the era-defining titles of the fighting genre.
With pockets lined with quarters, gamers would flock to the sound of the iconic Mortal Kombat theme and queue up by the dozen. With tournaments being held from city to city, almost every fighting fanatic would claw for the renowned title as local champion of the Mortal Kombat world. And, even after eleven major instalments to the series — gamers are still very much hosting these matches between friends and the online community.
8. Mortal Kombat II
Striking hard with a second swing is, of course, Mortal Kombat II. With enhanced gameplay and addictive turn-based tournaments, this second chapter managed to keep the quarters rolling before being transferred over to home consoles in 1994. Also, with a new carousel of playable characters, Fatalities and finisher moves, Mortal Kombat II was able to quickly knock its brother from the pedestal only months after its induction to the arcade.
Despite the negative feedback over the extreme violence that was quickly targetted by critics, the reception of the Mortal Kombat sequel was overall very positive. However, due to its rather graphic nature for a nineties video game, authorities were quick to establish a network that would, in essence, keep further releases from following the same gory path. But, as you probably could have guessed — that didn’t stop the power of Mortal Kombat.
Stemming from various influences such as Space Invaders, Computer Space and Spacewar comes Asteroids, the 1979 instant-hit. With a fusion of familiar mechanics as seen in the likes of other rival arcade hits, Asteroids was quick to leap to the forefront of the competition and take its fair share of credits. Also, as the era of arcade gaming faded, Asteroids was one of the first titles to be ported to home consoles. Even today, with consoles celebrating their fourth of fifth-generations, Asteroids still finds a place within most marketplaces or digital stores.
Simple in concept, but challenging in gameplay; Asteroids offered arcade dwellers endless hours of button-mashing madness and intense leaderboard climbing. Only now, Asteroids fans can enjoy the classic from the comfort of their own homes with the portable versions featured on Nintendo DS, and the upcoming console, Intellivision Amico (2021).
Driven from a heavy dose of inspiration from the likes of Space Invaders and Asteroids came the challenging 1981 side-scroller, Defender. With a similar pattern to both games, Defender didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. It did, however, build from it and throw in more content with a few additional buttons here or there. Plus, with a slight difficulty curve compared to other familiar titles, this 1981 classic soon became the challenge that every arcade gamer wanted to obliterate.
5. NBA Jam
NBA Jam was the basketball hit that revolutionized fast-paced sports gaming in 1993. By introducing exaggerated mechanics that quite literally defied the laws of physics, this crowd-pleaser quickly drew the eye of every gamer in the room. With its monstrous slam dunks and digitalized versions of real existing squads, the hearty sports icon was able to introduce a whole new way of gaming that would later inspire many other developers to follow the same path. Oh, and it also racked up a whopping billion dollars in quarters, too. Yes, that’s right — a billion dollars in quarters.
4. Ms Pac-Man
Originally spun as a mod for the original Pac-Man, Ms Pac-Man just so happened to become the fourth highest-selling arcade game of all time. With fans often siding with the female lead over the original, Ms Pac-Man has enjoyed a wealthy success as the counterpart to everyone’s favourite yellow hockey-puck. She even went on to feature in a spin-off series of games which later crossed into other platform territories and merchandise lines. So, considering Ms Pac-Man was the product of a modification, we can’t fault the surprising lifespan of the red and yellow protagonist.
3. Street Fighter II
Capcom struck gold with their highly-recognised blockbuster franchise Street Fighter in 1987. However, following on from the success of the first game, Street Fighter II opened up to a whole new approach towards the fighting genre. With the introduction of a combo-based system and six-button configuration, the Capcom sensation soon became one of the most-played arcade games worldwide. Plus, with almost ten billion dollars in revenue since its 1992 launch, Street Fighter II has been marked down as one of the greatest games ever made.
Over the course of thirty years, Street Fighter has inspired filmmakers to create movie adaptations of the video game franchise, as well as cartoons, sketches and online shorts. Heck, even fresh-faced developers take a few clippings from the Street Fighter empire. From the many mechanics, styles and combo-systems being used from the original series, developers have always looked to Capcom for their source of motivation in the fighting genre.
2. Space Invaders
Everyone on planet Earth has either heard of or played Space Invaders at some point in their lives. Whether or not you’re into video games is totally irrelevant, because, as a species, we are prone to play the classics.
Space Invaders, for most, is one of the most recognisable video games ever invented. It has been around since 1978, and although so very simple in terms of concept, it is still very much the product of one developer’s ingenious approach to next-level gaming. And, as one of the few unforgettable greats, we can only thank it for the many years of content that its influence has given us.
Coming in at the very top spot on the list is, of course, the much-loved timeless classic, Pac-Man. As a total gamechanger to the arcade market in 1980, Pac-Man gave players more than just button mashing and blindfolded bullet sprees. It gave the player a reason to think and strategize before approaching every corner to every game. It made every kid want to step up to the plate and throw down for the top score on the leaderboard. And, even today, amongst all the millions of next-gen video games, Pac-Man still hosts plenty of tournaments and cross-platform sessions. And, you know — it’s even on Google as a browser game. Even after forty years, Pac-Man still holds the trophy for the most favourable arcade game ever made. And, to be fair, we don’t think that’ll change any time soon, either.