9 Games of the 80s that have aged well

Though in recent years, gaming seems to have an over emphasis on the latest graphics and technology, when it comes down to it, the games we remember over the years are the ones that are simply fun. Even games from decades ago can still be exciting and enjoyable to play by today’s standards.  The 80s proved a pivotal decade for gaming and acted as crucible (the gaming industry crisis of 1983 nearly ended it all).  With hard work, clever game designs, and the creation of the most iconic characters in video game history by the end of the decade it was clear video games were here to stay.  Like these 7 games of the past decade or these 10 games of the 90s, the graphics may have faded but these games are still fun to play even now.

Ms. Pac-Man (1981)

Taking a page from her “husband’s” book, Ms. Pac-Man had you roaming around the screen gobbling up dots like there was no tomorrow. While it featured nearly identical gameplay from the original (like avoiding ghosts, traversing mazes, increasing difficulty as you progressed, and collecting power pellets), this game added in some personality missing before. The bonus fruit would move around the screen, as if it had a life of its own. There were humorous “acts” between certain levels, where you’d see a silly story like Pac-Man chasing Ms. Pac-Man in a passionate frenzy and vice versa, or you’d see a bundle of baby joy delivered to the loving couple. Ms. Pacman also introduced different level designs, which then required you to memorize new patterns of play. It’s a wildly addictive game challenging players to achieve incredible scores, all the while still gobbling up your quarters.  Go to nearly any pizza restaurant in the world and you can still find a Ms. Pacman game in the corner.

Xevious (1982)

Running off of the popular Galaga hardware, this vertical-scrolling shooter game is still fun to play today. Originally created by Namco, it still considered one of the greatest arcade games of all time, and you can still play it in various spots in Japan. The game was notable for letting you bomb things on the ground, as you flew over a variety of terrain from forests, airstrips, military bases, to desert. People still wonder what all those strange drawing Nazca lines you saw on the ground meant. It still seems like people don’t know.

Xevious was the first game of its kind to utilize both air and ground enemies, forcing the player to be ever vigilant against all attacks.  Xevious was also one of the first shooters to feature hidden bonuses (weapons and maneuvers), and players were treated to a surprisingly deep game that required you to memorize an optimal pattern of play.  It also has the odd notoriety of being the first arcade game to have a television commercial in the U.S. prompting many gamers to wonder if they were “Devious enough to beat Xevious!”

Bomberman (1983)

Bomberman actually started off as an unnamed enemy in the NES version of Lode Runner, which was published by Hudson in the 80s. But it was his own outing in 1983 that solidified him as the king of multiplayer gaming. Fundamentally, what makes this game such a treat to play is the gameplay hasn’t changed since its first iteration. Even after 70 different games released on just about every platform, dozens of new power ups, spin offs, and wacky level designs, the core concept remains the same. And that’s a good thing, because it still works so well.

Unlike many games of its time, Bomberman was challenged with being able to kill enemies in a rather passive way. He had to lay a bomb on the ground, and hoped that an enemy sashayed over close enough to get blown up. The strategy of clearing a room full of blocks and destroying enemies without getting yourself trapped between a block and a bomb added some clever puzzle solving to your arcade action.

Duck Hunt (1984)

Many remember this game solely for being packaged with the original Mario game, but old school gamers can tell you this was no simple tag-along.  Duck Hunt was the first game to make use of Nintendo’s first – but far from last – foray into game enhancing peripherals: the light gun.  While there were other light gun games before, Nintendo added in a colorful theme, and packed it into their initial system, making the game a guaranteed hit when your childhood friends came over to your house. Duck Hunt along with the NES Zapper brought the market to the home console successfully. If you were to break this game out today, it still plays great. You got to aim well, and shoot fast, and the accuracy is surprisingly still pretty spot on. Granted, the fun may last just a few minutes, but Duck Hunt really was the Wii Sports of the 80s.

Tetris (1984)

The quintessential puzzle game, this title created by Alexei Pajitnov started a phenomena.  No other game before it had proved so addicting.  It’s deceptively simple gameplay kept gamers riveted for hours on end, trying merely to top their last score.  Many players can claim to have gone to bed with the vision of tumbling tetrominoes seared into their eyes. Tetris features the distinction of being the most ported game ever.  Available in some form or fashion on nearly every console to have been released, Tetris even managed to find it’s way onto graphing calculators and cellphones. This is truly the one game that no matter how you improve it with fancier graphics, new gameplay modes, or functionality, the game still plays the best in its original form.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985)

Taking a departure from the straight hack and slash, dungeon crawling gameplay of the first three entries to this classic RPG series, Ultima IV took a more ethically and story-driven angle.  The game’s goals right from the beginning were unique. Players knew from the start that they were not facing some ultimate evil in the world, instead your character was tasked with achieving the highest virtues in the world therefore becoming an example for all to look up to.

It was one of the first role-playing games to introduce the idea of morality questions, and consequences of your actions.  Almost unheard of at the time for RPGs, once you had gained your virtues, it was possible to lose them through immoral actions.  This meant in order to complete the game, players would have to retain the high ground in all situations.  This affected everything from how you played and fought, to how your character was chosen at the start.  More impressive, this was one of the first games to feature an in depth conversation system, where players could interact with NPCs and drive the subject of the conversation.  The game’s new features were an important milestone, shaping a number of RPGs today. Just based on the complexity of this description, it’s hard to believe this game came out 25 years ago.

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

There was little doubt that this game would make this list. Easily one of the most important games of the decade – if not all of gaming history – SMB was the biggest reason for the NES’s success (which had been largely overlooked in America until this point).  It is also credited for ending the two-year video game slump caused by the aforementioned 1983 video game crisis.

The ingenious design of this game is still what makes each update all the way to the latest version that came out last year so great to play. Staples of the the Mario franchise (jumping, crushing, kicking turtles, cleverly hidden secrets, and power-ups) all were derived from this title.  Players still find themselves returning time and time again to the lovable plumber for its imaginative levels and easy to pick up controls. During an age of simple arcade action, where you would shoot an endless wave of aliens, or chase dots while avoid ghosts, Super Mario Bros opened up the world of gaming by introducing platform gaming that involved a clever mind and nimble thumb. There were so many ways for you to tackle each level, whether jumping into pipes, going up into the sky, or finding the secret warp pipes.

Contra (1987)

The ultimate multiplayer experience at the time, this game’s crushing difficulty level drove gamers to challenge themselves to see who could survive the longest (or if you were like many gamers, you discovered the Konami cheat code that actually made the game more fun to play).  Even with the cheat code, it felt like a badge of honor every time you were able to beat another level, trying to make your way into the final boss. Many of the conventions that have made this series great over the years find their origins with this Arcade/NES title.  Your characters moved lightly, able to jump, flip and maneuver quickly out of the way of incoming enemies and projectiles, giving players freedom they had never before enjoyed.  Power-ups were a must and many a childhood argument could be blamed on which of the two players got them.  The introduction of the scatter gun and angled shooting made this game stand out from the crowd.

Combine these gameplay elements with the impressive “3D view” which allowed players to move forward and backward in a fixed background in order to progress through the levels and beat over the top, creatively designed bosses.  Popular games like Metal Slug and the several successful Contra sequels borrow heavily from this first smash hit.  It remains a fun and challenging game today.


Mega Man 2 (1989)

While the first game in this series was not a critical or financial success, Capcom approved the creation of a sequel which went on to become one of the biggest games in history. The many improvements to the sequel is one reason why this game made the list, instead of the first one. Lauded for it’s graphical and gameplay improvements, this title stood out (among other reasons) for its stellar soundtrack.  Composed by three different men, the soundtrack made 8-bit sound phenomenal, and unlike anything preceding it.

On top of the higher production values, this game introduced new power-ups and abilities to give the player more freedom, encouraging them to experiment.  A new item called the energy tank allowed players to refill Mega Man’s health at any time, and the game also integrated a new password system.  Mega Man become one of those games, that ironically seems to do better with nostalgic gamers, as the recent Mega Man 9 and forthcoming 10, have both gone old school and been 8-bit-icized for today’s new generation of gamers.

While the early boom of video games nearly died out completely at the beginning of this decade, the 80s went on to prove that the industry could withstand hardship.  Had it not been for the innovation and creativity of these games, the video game world might look very different today, and lacking some of it’s most iconic characters.