The 10 Best Arcade Games Of All Time Ranked!

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Arcade machine pac-man

Before PC’s and gaming consoles allowed a gamer to play their favorite video games in the comfort of their own home, there used to be arcades all over the country where people of all ages would spend all day, or a long night posted up at their favorite arcade cabinet with a pocket full of quarters. Investing several hours and plenty of quarters, people would try to top a game’s best score and could spend hours playing against friends. Not only was the arcade atmosphere exciting and fun, but a person could play games that were unlike anything people had ever seen before. Over the years, arcade gaming has experienced significant ups and downs, more so than any other video gaming medium. However, the best arcade games have survived the flow of time.

These days you can still find full sized arcade games for sale or popular mini arcade games which are available for a fraction of the cost of their full-sized counterparts. You may even come across an old-school arcade or a pizza joint that has one or two classic games.

So, how do these arcade games still thrive in a modern world where home gaming consoles are king? For many gamers, arcade games provide a unique experience that they can’t get with a gaming console. Here, you’ll find a list of the top 10 arcade games ever made, what makes them unique, and which games are considered the best of all time.

1.Street Fighter 2

While you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who remembers the first Street Fighter game, Street Fighter 2, which was released in 1991, is where the Street Fighter franchise really shines. Along with a killer soundtrack, tight controls, and unique characters, this sequel defined fighting games. This sequel has been released and re-released several times.

If you’ve ever played this game, you’ll understand immediately why it has such longevity. You can pick a unique character and pummel your opponent, using complicated fighting techniques on a platform that makes the game really addictive.

These days the Street Fighter series is fully modernized with a new version released in 2016. While newer Street Fighter games have been favorably received, Street Fighter 2 will always be remembered as one of the greatest arcade games of all time.


pac-man game

If you played arcade games in the 1980s, then you already know that the release of Pac-Man was one of the biggest events for arcade gaming in that decade.

Pac-Man is a game where the player controls a little yellow circle man through a fast-paced maze adventure. Gamers had to help Pac-Man consume the dots that were strategically placed all over them maze, while avoiding ghosts of different colors. The game offered level after level of cute foes and unique challenges.

This classic game allowed people to relentlessly battle over high scores. Over several years, the game also made its way to many different types of platforms. To this day, Pac-Man still remains a gamer fan favorite. One of the best things about Pac-Man was that it was never designed to end. In fact, a player could theoretically just keep going from level to level until they lost all of their lives. The lack of an ending caused serious competition with people fighting for the perfect score or the perfect game where you didn’t lose any of your lives while making it through all 255 levels. Unfortunately, level 256 is a glitch referred to as the split screen. The glitch is a result of a bug in the system and if someone beats this level they could be counted among the skilled few to do so.

3.Space Invaders

In 1978, Space Invaders was released. Developed by the Japanese company Taito, this game in which a gamer is tasked with stopping space invaders from reaching the bottom level, the player is in a lone ship that shoots up a wall of enemies. These enemies are able to pick up speed increasingly, adding to the anxiety driven, frantic form of gameplay that many people found to be a lot of fun.

The game designer noticed while programming the game that the more enemies there were to be beaten, the faster their remaining enemies could move. While the programmer thought he should address this issue and correct it, he ultimately decided to keep it in the final game which added to the game’s legacy. What really sets this game apart is the addictive yet simple gameplay. A player can just pick up and play, losing themselves in the fast-paced gaming experience.

4.Donkey Kong

donkey kong

Donkey Kong is a game that first marked the appearance of Mario, however it’s a great game in its own right. A gamer would play as a jumpman, on a difficult quest to make it to the top of a twisted tower of girders in order to rescue the princess from Donkey Kong. While Donkey Kong has made a name for himself these days, it’s strange to think that he was once the main antagonist of a game. During gameplay, Donkey Kong will roll barrel after barrel your way, requiring you to dodge over many obstacles in order to beat the level. This is a game that really tested a player’s endurance and hand eye coordination.

One of the many aspects that helped this game remain so relevant wasn’t just its cast of characters that would go on to make Nintendo a household name, but it also earned big sales for home consoles. This helped the game receive renewed longevity outside of the arcade gaming market.

5.Dragon’s Lair

Gamers who were familiar with Don Bluth films will recognize immediately the impressive cartoon animation in the hit game Dragon’s Lair. Don Bluth helped with the game’s production, which was released back in 1983. This game puts the player in the role of a knight in search of a princess who has been abducted from the dragon’s lair. The gamer will be treated to eye-catching cutscenes as the gamer chooses the path they will take on their harrowing journey.

This arcade game earned a reputation for its humorous death sequence, which many players become acquainted with, since this game is considered a real challenge. A player must have lightning quick reflexes to react to what’s going on, choosing the correct path and pressing the right button.

This game also breathed new life into the gaming industry. In 1983, the gaming industry was in dire straits due to severe market saturation and many other factors. Unfortunately, many arcade game companies went bankrupt during this time.

6.The House of the Dead

The House of the Dead is a game that terrified many gamers. With zombies, ghouls, and gory images, this 1996 arcade game was considered an instant classic. The goal of the game is to stop evil scientists as the gamer blasts through the Army of the Dead.

The player will use a light gun to progress through the game while taking aim and shooting at enemies. At the time, the enemies were unlike anything anyone had seen before. These fast-running zombies were very challenging to kill. The game featured a few different endings, each of which was based on how the player performed in the game. Impressively, this game as withstood the test of time, remaining relevant to this day.


Tetris remains one of the most popular arcade games of all time. It has captivated gamers of all ages since the mid 1980s. This is a tile matching game that was developed by Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian computer engineer, and the game was considered an instant success.

This is a game that supersedes all puzzle games. It features the infamous Tetris effect in which a player, long after completing a game, can hallucinate seeing Tetris shapes when they close their eyes. It’s also been said to bleed into other aspects of a gamer’s life, such as thoughts and dreams.

Gamers loved Tetris so much that it became an obsession.

The game begins with a clear board. Then gradually, pieces of puzzles come floating down. The puzzle pieces come in multiple shapes and sizes and form geometric blocks to keep the board clear. For many, it felt great to line up a bunch of blocks right when the player thought the screen would fill up, and see them burst, giving the player a second lease on life. The more the gamer was able to succeed, the faster the puzzle pieces would start flowing, providing the type of urgency that separates casual players from hardcore gamers.

Unfortunately, the game’s developer didn’t begin seeing returns on his creation until a decade later. Even today, Tetris continues to be one of the biggest selling arcade games of all time, especially on mobile platforms.

8.Ms. Pac-Man

In 1981, Ms. Pac-man was created as a modification kit for the original Pac-Man game, called Crazy Otto. While this game was made without the blessing of the Namco, the company collected the same royalties on every cabinet as they had with the original Pac-Man game. The game was not as popular as the original Pac-Man, however, Ms. Pac-Man was still considered a hit and remains one of the most beloved arcade games today.


Pong just might be the simplest arcade game ever made. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the best. Pong first hit the scene back in 1972. While the game is several decades old now, many gamers can excuse the simplicity of the game and concentrate on how very addictive it still is after all this time. This game had a major impact on the gaming industry and many of the world’s most popular games would not exist without Pong.


The game Frogger proves that some animals will risk their life just to make it home for a nap. In frogger, a frog must pass a road with heavy traffic, hungry turtles, and crocodiles, just to make it back to their Lily pad.

For many gamers, frogger was very addictive. The number of frogs a gamer was required to get over the many obstacles in the road would change depending on the difficulty of the level. Movement in this game is tricky and only allowed the player to make one hop at a time as cars traveled by very quickly. Basically, the game is considered the ultimate test for a player’s timing skills.

What Happened to Arcade Gaming?

playing an arcade game

For gamers who were born after the year 2000, video arcades may not mean that much to you, but to the older generation, this is where the best video games of today were born. In the 80s and 90s, you could see kids running towards a local arcade, with pockets full of quarters, eager to spend an afternoon playing their favorite games. These days, arcade gaming typically consists of competitive games, fighting games, and claw machines, so it’s a very different scene from what it was during the arcade golden age.


An arcade game is essentially just coin operated machines that are programmed to play a game. Once you drop a quarter in the slot, the machine comes alive and allows you to play the game accordingly, it was that simple. The arcade scene actually began as early as the 1930s with the introduction of the first few coin operated pinball machines. Over the years, the games became better and more challenging and by the late 1960s, arcade gaming became more fun.

Duck hunt was one of the first shooting games and it revolutionized shooting games, making them what they are today.

1970s & 1980s

During the 1970s, the arcade gaming market became better with games that everyone could play, such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders. In fact, during this time arcade games were so popular that many food chains began adding these coin operated machines to their restaurants.

By the 1980s, better technology was available and featured many different ways to play, with the most prevalent being games that were motion controlled, where the player could partake in motorcycle racing games sitting atop a plastic motorcycle that was used to control the motorcycle on the game screen.

overtime, the arcade scene slowly began to die since people began to lose interest in arcade games.

In the 90s, Capcom introduced Street Fighter 2, reviving the arcade gaming scene. Due to the success of the game and its competitive nature, many similar games began popping up.

The introduction of home gaming systems caused a decline in the gaming scene since it offered a more convenient, easier, and cheaper way to play a game, than heading to a nearby food chain or arcade and spending quarter after quarter to play.

Modern Video Games

These days, modern arcades mostly consist of games that have a different method of controlling gameplay, not like the traditional controllers that are now standard for home consoles. Most of the popular arcade games these days are dance games that require a dancing pad, rhythm games that need drums or guitar to play, or shooting games that require a plastic gun. While fighting games are still popular in most arcades, arcade games these days focus mainly on competing with other players.

Heading to a local arcade can still be a great way to pass the time or bond with the family, but the arcade game market isn’t what it used to be. However, these classic arcade games that made it to my top ten list have still managed to withstand the test of time and some can still be found at your local arcade. What makes these games so unique is the major impact they had on our culture during the video game golden age.

To learn more about arcade gaming and where it all started, click here to ready my article on the history of arcade gaming.

Final Words

Over the years, the death of arcade games has been greatly exaggerated, however, it’s true that they are not quite as significant in the gaming industry as they once were back in the 1980s and 1990s. Before most gamers started playing video games in the comfort of their own home on a console, some of the best arcade games were considered big business and made an absurd amount of revenue each year. By the mid 80s the arcade industry generated more revenue than both Hollywood films and pop music combined, which isn’t bad for an industry that was under a decade old at that time.

Since their heyday back in the early 1980s, countless arcade games have been released as companies flooded the market, trying to imitate the same success as games such as Pong, Street Fighter 2, and Tetris earned. While you may not see as many modern arcade games these days, there are still family arcades found all over the country and arcade game collectors who often jump at the chance to own one of their favorite games from their childhood. This list of the top 10 arcade games of all time includes many fan favorites, and games that are said to have shaped the video gaming industry, making it what it is today.