What Are Arcade Games?

If you’re a ‘90s kid or older, looking at an arcade gaming console will probably take you to memory lane. The exciting sounds and flashy lights of these machines defined a very fraction of our teenage lives. In this article, we take a deeper look into the world of arcade gaming and explore the legacy it has left behind during its Golden Age.

So what are arcade games? An arcade game is a coin based machine designed to play one game. Arcade games also referred to video games that have similar characteristics to those games that played on those machines.

The spectrum of arcade gaming is vast. Its inception, rise and fall just as interesting. Its impact on the economy, a brief resurgence, its injection into modern pop culture and what awaits for it in the future is all this article is about.

Arcade Game Characteristics

Arcade games can be defined by several characteristics which most of them found in every arcade machine or arcade video game.

  • Intuitive controls. A novice will have no issue in understanding how to play an arcade game. These games were not age-specific. hence, anyone could play them.
  • Short levels. Each session was designed in intent to keep the play short enough and intriguing enough for the player to try again.
  • High scores. The skills of the player were determined by his best score on a particular game. The higher he got the better he considered in this game. At the end of each game, you were allowed to put your initials by the score you achieved and if you were in the top 10 you got into the leaderboard table until someone beat your score.
  • Increasing difficulty. Most arcade games have no endings. The game starts at first fairly easy and over time becomes harder. This allowed players to challenge themselves to beat their own score or of other players.
  • Lives. The player got several tries (lives) for single-use to try and improve his skills in the game and reach a higher score than before.

Top 25 Arcade Games Of All Time

The following titles of all times will intrigue you either If you are 90’s kid who played a lot of titles and maybe missed some of them or maybe a novice who just discovered arcade games and definitely needs to play a few of them.

  1. Pac-Man (1980). Developed by Namco Japan, Pac-Man is one of the influential games of all time. The goal of the game was to navigate the corn-shaped character to consume the pellets in the maze. It also involved avoiding contact with the ghouls that roam the maze.
  2. Donkey Kong (1981). Designed by Nintendo, Donkey Kong was one of the few arcade games that had a storyline. The player’s aim was to navigate Jumpman (later named Mario) through various obstacles. And to rescue his girlfriend, Pauline. Throughout the gameplay, Pauline is held captive by Donkey Kong and cries for help. This ‘damsel in distress’ storyline was the first and ushered in several similar templates in the future.
  3. Mario Bros (1983). This game follows the life of two Italian plumbers: Mario and Luigi, as they investigate the sewers of New York. The player’s goal was to navigate the surrogate to defeat the strange creatures in the sewers.
  4. Asteroids (1979). This was one of the best games at the time it was released. The player’s goal was to use his/her spaceship to destroy invading saucers and asteroids. And not get killed in the process as the saucers fires back. The more saucers destroyed, the more points awarded to the player. At 10,000 points, the player gets an extra life.
  5. Golden Axe (1989). Released by Sega, Golden Axe is a fantasy video game. The goal of the game was to rescue the King and Princess kidnapped by Death Adder, the villain. The characters are Ax Battler, a Barbarian and Gilius Thunderhead, a dwarf.
  6. Contra (1988). It is a run-and-gun arcade game, played by one or two players. The goal is to control the soldiers (Bill Rizer and Lance Bean) through enemy gunfire to defeat an enemy plotting to destroy humanity.
  7. Galaga (1981). Developed by Namco Japan, Galaga is similar to Asteroids in gameplay. Its objective was to gather more points as the player took down insect-like invading enemies. The game ends when the player is killed or captured. Galaga was a success and is still developed for today’s gamers.
  8. NBA Jam (1993). Developed by Midway, NBA Jam is a 2-on-2 basketball game that features licensed basketball players and teams. Its nature of play made it a favorite in the ’90s. The players can jump thrice their height, making exaggerated slam dunks. A combination of keys can also unlock special players like Hugo the mascot and even President Bill Clinton.
  9. Out Run (1986). Designed by Sega, OutRun is a car race video game. The aim was to reach the finish line in record time while avoiding traffic. The chosen car is a Ferrari Testarossa Spider cruising through the highway. The game is made with an in-built steering wheel, brake and acceleration pads, and a stick shift. It was designed to make it look like the playable car in the game.
  10. Robotron: 2084 (1982). Developed by Vid Kidz, Robotron: 2084 is set in a fictional world in 2084. The world is overrun by robots, and the player’s aim is to save the last human family by defeating the Robotron.
  11. Double Dragon (1987). Made by Technōs Japan, Double Dragon is a one and two-player mission game. The player(s) (Billy and Jimmy) will fight through a gang of bad guys to rescue Mirian, Billy’s girlfriend.
  12. Metal Slug (1996). Designed by Nazca Corporation, Metal Slug is a one and two-player fast-paced mission game. The players (Capt. Marco Rossi and Lt. Tarma Roving) will have to defeat rebel forces and rescue POWs from General Morden, the villain.
  13. Frogger (1981). The aim of this game was to navigate the frog to cross a highway without getting stomped to death. The difficulties in crossing the street made it addictive and interesting to play. It was designed by Konami.
  14. Centipede (1981). Like Asteroids and Galaga, the player navigates the insect-shaped surrogate to fire at invading centipedes, fleas, scorpions, and spiders. More points are awarded for more enemies vanquished. Joust was developed by Atari.  
  15. Joust (1982). This is one or two-player video game, where the player(s) control a knight in a flying ostrich. The goal was to defeat rebel knights riding buzzards. Joust was developed by Williams Electronics.
  16. Star Wars (1983). Based on the movie of the same name, the player takes on the role of Luke Skywalker. The aim is to navigate an X-wing fighter to destroy enemy turrets. The player starts off the game with 6 shields. If they all get destroyed, the game ends.
  17. Dragon’s Lair (1983). Developed by Advanced Microcomputers Systems, Dragon’s Lair is a fantasy video game. The goal was to navigate a valiant knight on a quest to rescue a fair princess locked in a dragon’s lair.
  18. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989). This arcade game is based on the animated series of the same name. The player must choose one of the four turtles and go on a mission to defeat Shredder and rescue their friends.
  19. Street Fighter (1987). It is a martial arts arcade game from which a movie was later developed. In the single-mode, the player controls Ryu who combats with computer-controlled fighters. In the 2-player mode, both players combat themselves with the second player controlling Ken. Street Fighter was developed by Capcom.
  20. Mortal Kombat (1992). This martial arts game will sound familiar to today’s generation, as it is still in production. It involved selecting a fighter to fight one-on-one combat. It was created by Midway to rival Capcom’s Street Fighter II.
  21. Time Crisis II (1997). Released by Namco, Time Crisis II is a multiplayer light gun arcade game. The machine is designed with double screens for the players. The goal is to make use of the foot pedal and gun to shoot and evade enemy fire.
  22. Space Invaders (1978). This arcade game involves a fixed shooter releasing lasers controlled by a laser cannon. The goal is to vanquish 5 rows of eleven invading alien ships for each level.
  23. Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997). It is a single or multiplayer mode game, based on the blockbuster movie released earlier that year. The goal of the game is to find and rescue Ian Malcolm and Sarah Harding. Dinosaurs are encountered throughout the game.
  24. Mercs (1990). Developed by Capcom, Mercs is a run-and-gun game that had up to 3 players. The mission was to find and rescue a former President kidnapped in Zutula, a fictional African country.
  25. The Simpsons (1991). This is a typical beat ‘em up game that allows up to 4 players. The goal is for the members of the Simpson’s family to rescue Maggie from the clutches of Waylon Smithers.

Top 10 Most profitable arcade Games

Even though arcade games were (and are still) played one quarter at a time, huge profits were generated over time. Here is a list of most profitable arcade games:

  1. Pac-Man. This arcade game, designed by Namco, sold a whopping 400,000 machines worldwide and generated $7.6 billion dollars.
  2. Space Invaders. Made by Taito, Space Invaders marked the Golden era of Arcade Games. It sold 360,000 units and generated $6.6 billion dollars worldwide.
  3. Street Fighter II. Sequel to the 1987’s version, Street Fighter II sold 200,000 units and garnered $3.5 billion dollars.
  4. Ms. Pac-Man. Made to attract female gamers, Ms. Pac-Man sold 125,000 units worldwide and generated $2.4 billion dollars.
  5. NBA Jam. Released by Midway, it generated $1.7 billion dollars after selling 20,000 units.
  6. Defender. Developed by Williams, Defender made $1.7 billion dollars after selling 60,000 units.
  7. Asteroids. This arcade game did well for itself by generating $1.3 billion dollars after selling 100,000 units.
  8. Mortal Kombat II. Sequel to the first installment, it $787 million dollars after selling 27,000 units.
  9. Mortal Kombat. The first installment, released by Midway, made $748 million dollars after selling 24,000 machines.
  10. Donkey Kong. Released by Nintendo, Donkey Kong made $686 million dollars after selling 132,000 units.

Are Arcade Games Still Made?

Yes, arcade games are still being made today. Most of the attention goes towards developing mobile or console games that have the characteristics of an arcade game However these past years there was an increase of the retro arcade industry which made the demand for the arcade machines. Moreover, there are still a lot of arcades all over the world, especially in Japan.


While arcade games have paved the way for innovations in modern gaming, its relevance still exists today. These days, when people play games they may be playing an arcade game and not realizing it. developers still releasing arcade machines and video games every year, it is safe to say that arcade machines or games are very much in demand.

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