In a previous blog post we touched on five of the most iconic video games of the 1980s. This wasn’t necessarily a compilation of the greatest games (although some, like Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. will always have re-playability), but rather those titles that defined a decade. Admittedly many on the list were the most famous—those titles that hold a prominent place on the Mount Olympus of video games.
You could probably trace a direct line from all those people you see next to you on trains and buses playing mobile games to this strange and addictive SNES title. The version of “Arkanoid” released by Taito in 1986 is actually an update of Atari’s “Breakout” series of games from the decade previous. The premise of the game was deceptively simple. Its basic, Pong-like mechanics involved moving a “paddle” (which was supposed to be a spaceship), across the bottom of the screen, bouncing a ball upwards and breaking colored tiles.
But the game was elevated by the fact that certain tiles corresponded to certain power-ups (or obstacles), and the many visual layers and the wide variety of level construction meant you could be glued to “Arkanoid” for days on end, breaking bricks like you were getting paid to do it. Some people might say “Tetris” was the original forerunner, but today’s mobile games seem to borrow a lot more from “Arkanoid” than they do that other ‘80s blocky behemoth.
Was “Commando” remarkable? Not really. Was it iconic? In its own way. This 1985 title from Capcom represents those games that were popular at the time but whose real legacies were paving the way for other better titles to come around. This entry was a basic vertical scroller that featured “Super Joe,” a soldier always being choppered into hostile territory and forced to do battle with hordes of enemy combatants all by himself. To say the gameplay could be repetitive was an understatement. Still, there’s something inherently fun about running and gunning with limitless ammo and lobbing grenades into foxholes.
The rise of arcade gaming in the early ‘80s led to an explosion of machines all looking to be the next smash hit a la Pac-Man. One game that seemed to borrow more than a little from the ghost-gobbling superstar was “Dig Dug,” which was released by Namco in 1982. This title follows the eponymous Dig Dug, a tunneling man dressed in white, as he hunts tomato-like monsters and dragons underground. The game was just bizarre enough to find a niche, because rather than eat the monsters Dig Dug inflated them until they exploded. It proved such a smash that it was released on virtually every home console of the time, including the Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64.
If you know what up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-A-B-start means, then consider yourself a card-carrying member of the ‘80s gaming faithful. And really, how can you get more 1980s than naming your video game after one half of a political scandal that defined the decade? This Konami classic is even more impressive considering that “Contra” the game doesn’t have anything at all to do with the El Salvadorian rebel group.
The game presented as a typical side-scrolling shooter, but it did a couple little things well. It allowed two gamers to play at the same time, which was unique for the time, and the direction pad controlled the player’s aiming as well as their movement, also a first. And if you typed in the not-so-secret code mentioned above, then all bets were off as you wreaked never-ending havoc on poor alien invaders.
The Legend of Zelda
It’s hard not to include the legacy titles on this list. Not only did “The Legend of Zelda,” released in 1986, kick off one of the greatest video-game franchises in history, the original 8-bit NES game still has high re-playability even in today’s world of billions of polygons. That’s because it was one of the first NES titles to really push the envelope, combining action gaming with roleplaying and puzzle solving. It was such a smash that Nintendo went on to produce a staggering 17 other “Zelda” titles on their subsequent consoles. As of 2016, the “Zelda” franchise has sold some 75 million units.
Fun fact: in keeping with the theme of strange production decisions, the name “Zelda,” which was given to the titular princess, doesn’t have anything to do with the game’s storyline. Co-creator Shigeru Miyamoto named his princess after Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of novelist F. Scott), whom he referred to as a “famous and beautiful woman from all accounts.” We all have our muse.
What can you say about this trailblazing platformer from 1982 that hasn’t been said in countless articles, testimonials and documentaries? The premise was wildly creative: Super Mario, making his first ever appearance, has to hop around platforms, dodging obstacles as he tries to save Princess “Pauline” from the titular antagonist, a teeth-gnashing gorilla with a penchant for barrel tossing. Over the years competitive arcade Donkey Konging has spawned a cult following, and in 2016 the world record was set by competitive Gamer Wes Copeland, who achieved about as perfect a score on the machine as is possible, with 1,218,000 points.
These were just a few more iconic ‘80s games that anyone from that generation will likely remember. What do you think, are there anymore titles that deserve to be on the list?