There is no hiding I enjoy arcade games. They’re all over the blog, there used to be another blog solely dedicated to arcade cabinets, and I frequently go to the ultimate arcade convention, California Extreme, each summer. Out of their prime but not forgotten, arcade games have a special place in gaming history.
Console games killed the arcade game, no questions there Despite this, there are some arcade games that just can’t be beaten by their console counterparts. Some cabinets that are just too fun to pass up when you’re lucky enough to see them. And there are certainly some arcade games that are better than others.
Having played hundreds upon hundreds of different arcade and pinball machines over the years, I’ve definitely found my favorites. With the recent uptick in arcade content here, I wanted to take a look back at my favorite arcade games. These are the games I still pump quarters into when I see them. And the games that shaped my childhood. And the games that continue to make me enjoy this hobby!
10. Tekken series
I’m going to start of by breaking a general rule, and I’m going to include multiple games in the number 10 spot. Tekken is a series I first played on the Sony PlayStation when my brothers and I rented the console and a copy of Tekken 2. But, it wasn’t until one of my older brother’s friends, who actually worked at the local arcade at the time, showed by Tekken 3 and how I might like this characters called Eddy. Did I ever! Since Tekken 3 I have followed the series consistently, playing and owning every version of the game, including the latest on PS4, Tekken 7. The whole series stands out as one of the most approachable and competitive fighting games out there. Just… not my favorite fighting game out there.
9. Star Wars Trilogy
Was there anything cooler than bombing the Death Star, dueling Darth Vader with a Lightsaber, and knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlac pit all in one massive arcade game? Man, if you were a fan of arcades in the late 90s and a Star Wars kid, you were in heaven when Sega released this absolute classic. No matter the cabinet version, the game was always awesome, with the highly mobile control stick acting as your X-Wing cockpit, lightsaber, and blaster. Reliving the most exciting moments of the original trilogy hasn’t never been more fun!
8. Silent Scope
A huge sniper rifle. That’s literally the premise of Silent Scope in the arcades. The game and it’s sequels were eventually released for home consoles, but nothing would ever top the arcade experience. A gigantic sniper rifle that you could actually use to zoom in on enemies on screen was so cool back then, and is still pretty damn cool to this day. I remember how the announcer guy would tell you to calm down if you were shooting too frequently, giving the game a little sense of authenticity (or at least as much as you can get from a game of this caliber). Working cabs are becoming harder to find these days, so if you haven’t played it yet, do so the next time you see it.
7. Captain America and the Avengers
When you like something you might repeat it in your head. Or think about it every now and then. For me, Captain America and the Avengers‘ awesomely bad voice acting has stuck with my for decades. From classics like “America still needs your help!” to the announcer saying “Iron Maaaaannn” when you select him, the entire game is gold. It also helps the game supports four player co-op, and is a pretty solid beat ’em up to boot! Sadly, the game is so old now, it’s almost never seen. Thankfully I ran across an original cabinet last summer in Illinois!
6. Star Wars (Atari)
When making this list, I compiled a list of arcade games that came to mind when I think of, well, arcade games. The first one that popped in there was Atari’s 1983 Star Wars. A vector graphic game that got me in to vector graphic games, Star Wars (Atari) is essentially the same three stages on repeat: TIE Fighter battle, Death Star surface battle, and Death Star trench run. Avoid obstacles, destroy enemies, and blow up the Death Star… then do it all again but faster. It’s so simple, the visuals are equally basic and stunning, and the controls and absolutely spot-on. This is another example of game you can’t truly replicate at home: the only home port was on a compilation disc, and it definitely doesn’t have that unique controller. Also, this game’s original side art is legitimately awesome.
5. Gauntlet: Legends
Hot damn, this game was my jam for an entire year. I was part of bowling league for several years, and one year they alley added this behemoth of a cabinet to its arcade. I was immediately hooked. I could level up my characters and save them for next time?! It was totally unheard of to me, and I ate up every bit of the game I could. Ultimately I would go on to play a sickening amount of the sequel, Dark Legacy, on home consoles, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this amazing arcade game.
4. Dance Dance Revolution
I would be remiss to not include Dance Dance Revolution somewhere on the list. Single-handedly the game series that revitalized the arcade scene in the early 2000s, DDR was a way of life for me in my early High School years. Friends and I would get together at peoples houses to play the home version, literally drive miles away to a couple towns over to their bowling alley because they had the newest import machine from Japan, and even hold tournaments for this game at school. Hundreds of songs, limitless possibilities, and way too much fun with this one! The series is still around to this day, but either the songs looks way more technical or I’m out of it because I don’t know if I could even compete. Still though, It’s fun to thrown down a dollar and make a fool of myself while dancing to some J-Pop.
3. The House of the Dead
Remember how I said I was part of a bowling league for years? Well, many of my early arcade days came from this league and those alleys. Hands down my all-time favorite light gun shooter is Sega’s original House of the Dead. Light guns had their console heyday with the Wii, but nothing will ever beat the experience of holding that plastic gun and blasting zombies in the noise-filled arcade. I played this game so much growing up I literally beat the game once without ever dying! After the playthrough, people around me clapped. Seriously. I’m not making this up!
2. Mortal Kombat II
Fighting games were everywhere in the 90s, especially in arcades. And what better game was there to draw a crowd than one where you can rip a dudes head off and knock someone into a pool of acid? Mortal Kombat II remains my all time favorite game in the franchise. Everything about this game was an improvement over the original, which itself was a stellar game. But man, MKII still plays great in the arcade. And yes, it is still so satisfying to pull off a fatality in the arcade in 2019. Never gets old!
1. Street Fighter III: Third Strike
I debated on which game was my all time favorite arcade game. Honestly, it’s a toss up between all these games on this list: on any given day they, and the several dozens that didn’t make the top ten, could all be number one. Also, I debated doing something with the number one spot like I did with Tekken, and include multiple games in the franchise (and even the Vs. series). But at the end of the day, there’s no other fighting game I’d be more tempted to play in the arcade today than Third Strike. The tight controls, the amazing visuals, the cast of characters, the awesome music, the parry system! Damn, everything about this game is flawless. While many of the games on this list hold up well today and are still enjoyable, only Third Strike is still played competitively. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing this game in arcades, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.