The Greatest Arcade Games Of All Time (That You’d Actually Want In Your Rec Room)

Arcade games of the past are mostly obsolete today, even though dozens vie for the title of best arcade games of all time. That obsolescence is primarily because, unlike their arcade precursors, modern video games are easy to access via PC or console, packed with high-resolution graphics, and easily enjoyable in the comfort of our homes. 

Indeed, some of the games that were once cutting-edge or ground-breaking are true dinosaurs. They aren’t relatable to a modern audience that expects a highly potent and exciting gameplay experience. 

But, the magic of the arcade era delivered a great many titles that are still enjoyed today. For some, the temptation of an all-in-one machine might satisfy a desire to add an arcade game to their recreation room. 

A standalone title will be much more appealing, enjoyable, and relatable for the true arcade enthusiasts out there seeking an authentic and completely retro experience. After all, many people shopping for an arcade game now have access to modern games but want to remember their roots a bit. 

So, without further adieu, here is a list of the best arcade games of all time. Every one is a game that to enjoy in your home today. If there is a classic missing, that’s not because it didn’t impact the industry. It’s missing because it has no audience in 2021!

1. Street Fighter II

Photo by Nelo Hotsuma/ CC BY 2.0

Street Fighter II is your best bet if you are trying to recreate the authentic arcade game experience. For many, this arcade game is not only influential but among their favorite all-time video games, enjoyable to this day. 

Some of the background textures and the graphics are not up to modern standards, but the gameplay is fascinating. It’s easy to become lost in the immersive one-on-one battles between timeless characters like Sagat and Ryu. Successfully using the joystick to unlock each character’s specialized attack is rewarded with devastating damage to your opponent. 

There may be games with better graphics on sale today, but few games can deliver this sort of action-packed fun that Street Fighter II brought to its legions of fans. For fans new and old, battling out single-player versus the computer or in two-player mode going toe-to-toe with friends is the ultimate video game experience.

2. Rampage

Rampage is a 1986 video game from Bali midway. It is the inspiration for the Hollywood movie of the same title. Players control one of three giant monsters at a time, climbing on and smashing up buildings among interactive cityscapes defended by military forces.

Players have the choice of three monsters: a big bad wolf, a Godzilla-looking lizard, or something that looks a lot like King Kong. 

The game is very immersive, and the action is surprisingly intense as you smash your way to success while soldiers and helicopters shoot your monster, trying to stop your destruction. You can even eat some of the soldiers along the way.

The graphics are no match for modern standards, but the gameplay exceeds many modern video games.

3. Spy Hunter

Spy Hunter is a 1983 arcade game initially offered in both sit-down and standard upright arcade versions. The game controls are a cross between an aircraft-style stick and a steering wheel, a two-position stick shift for low and high gears, and an acceleration pedal for your foot.

Grabbing a wheel, shifting the gears, and taking control of the “Interceptor” car is an unforgettable memory for those who grew up in the arcade era where Spy Hunter was among the featured games.

Photo by JohnnyMrNinja/ CC BY 2.0

Take control of the Interceptor and begin vehicular combat, destroying enemy vehicles with various onboard weapons, deploying smokescreens or an oil slick to trip up your enemies. All the while earning points for the destruction you create.

A rarity at this time of simple, scrolling games, players had a hand in determining their fate by choosing different forks in the road that bring changing weather conditions. Summon the weapons van to upgrade your machine guns, access special weapons, and re-fit your ammo.

One feature of this game that makes it extraordinary is that the road indeed does go on forever. It has no end. 

4. Air Hockey

Air hockey isn’t a video game per se. But it is an enjoyable recreational experience for anyone who wants a tangible game to play with friends.

Instead of sitting in front of a screen like many of today’s gamers, you’re standing at an air hockey table with a smooth, nearly frictionless surface, where the puck (a plastic disc) rides on a cushion of air.  Your competitor stands across from you, and you use a striker (that doesn’t look anything like a hockey stick) to shuffle to the puck back-and-forth across, parrying your opponent’s shots and trying to score goals against one another.

Air hockey tables were always a bit fussy, as the fan was prone to breaking, and the batteries that provided the air cushion were quick to run down. 

But it is such an enjoyable game with a real test of hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and even agility. 

It’s a real game, not something on the screen. If that sort of thing appeals to you, consider buying an air hockey table for your game room.

5. Skee-ball

Photo by Austin Kirk/ CC BY 2.0

Like Air Hockey, Skee-ball is a tangible experience. Roll a rubber ball up a long ramp and over a little bump that launches the ball towards a series of concentric rings. 

Each ring is assigned a point value based on the difficulty of landing the ball within it. 

Skee-Ball is a bit bigger than a standard arcade game, so make sure you have plenty of room. 

It’s probably a good idea to make sure you have plenty of snacks and beverages, too, because this game can deliver hours of fun for almost any crowd. 

6.Pop-a-Shot Basketball

Photo by Rico Shen/ CC BY 2.0

Pop-a-Shot basketball is another tangible gaming experience. No video screen, no controller, no characters. It’s just you, a basketball, and a basketball rim with a net. 

As a timer counts down, shoot as many baskets as you can. The more baskets you hit, the more points you earn and the more fun you have with friends. You can even play solo, trying to beat your personal best score. 

This is another game with a large footprint and will quickly attract a crowd of players in any game room. 

7.Pac-Man & Ms. Pac-Man

You can’t list the best arcade games without mentioning Pac-Man, and its successor, Ms. Pac-Man.

In the original, the player controls play with a joystick, directing the hungry Pac-Man through an enclosed maze, consuming a trail of dots for points while trying to avoid four multi-colored ghosts.  

Each dot eaten is worth some points, and interspersed throughout the maze are power pellets that weaken the ghosts, allowing Pac-Man to turn them into a snack. Ms. Pac-Man introduced a primary female character and four new mazes for additional hours of fun. 

The graphics are undoubtedly simple by modern standards, but the game is still a maze of enjoyment.

From 1980 to 1987, Namco sold nearly 300,000 units of the Pac-Man arcade machine. That earned it the title of “most successful coin-operated game” from the Guinness Book of World Records.

Even though that record reflects sales made decades ago, you will still find Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man arcade games in recreation rooms around the world.

8.Golden Tee

Golden Tee is unique as an arcade game. Players are turned loose on a golf course, where they use a trackball instead of a joystick (or a real golf club) to determine the direction, curvature, and power of their golf shots. The harder you spin the trackball, the harder your shot. 

Golden Tee features various game modes, where you can play challenge other players to land a shot closest to the hole or even play a full course, 18-hole games of golf. 

Golden Tee has made its way to modern consoles, but nothing that comes close to the original style of arcade play. It is a worthy addition to any game room, especially if there is a sports theme. 

9. NBA Jam

If you are looking for a realistic basketball simulator with real-world moves, do not get this game. Instead, buy NBA Jam if you want to play fast-paced, two-on-two arcade games of hoops with a friend. Short game clocks and free-for-all action combine for fast-paced matches, and with the bonus of a special ‘he’s on fire’ mode when you hit a few shots in a row, you can enjoy hours of fun. 

10. Daytona USA

Daytona USA is likely familiar to anyone who ventured into a coin arcade at any point since its debut. Take control of a steering wheel, accelerator, and brake pedals, as racers start at the back of a field of 40 other vehicles. 

Race against a timer and all the other competitors in a dynamic and feverish battle to reach the front of the pack.  You’ll spend just as much time crashing as driving, and that is half of the fun.

Photo by Brettv8/ CC BY 4.0

Daytona USA is offered in a classic, stand-up style arcade cabinet but was sometimes also presented as a sit-down wrap-around car that made you feel like you were going for a drive. Some models even featured a twin-cabinet design, where two players could sit down next to each other and race head-to-head with the other digital competitors.

11. Medieval Madness (Pinball)

Pinball games occupy a unique niche in the arcade world. A table-top cabinet with a clear face contains a physical environment where a pinball interacts with ramps, flippers, bumpers, and even catapults, to hit certain marks and initiate actions to score points, recorded on a display at the head of the table.

Medieval Madness ranks among the best pinball machines of all time.  Pull back on the plunger to launch your pinball into the medieval castle and the two demonic, pop-up trolls that live within. 

12. Jurassic Park (Pinball 2019)

Jurassic Park pinball 2019 built upon the success of the famous movie franchise of the same name. 

The pinball adaptation, of course, features dinosaurs run amok in a chaotic environment. The player pulls the plunger to launch their pinball and rescue the park staff from the dinosaurs within. 

At its heart, the game revolves around an interactive, animatronic T-Rex that catches the pinball in its mouth and sometimes ends up throwing it back. 

This pinball cabinet features a pretty slick design, and since it’s pretty new to the market, it represents a unique blend of classic pinball gaming and modern, digital amenities.

13.The Addams Family (Pinball)

Photo by Stéfan Le Dû / CC BY-SA 2.5

The Addams Family pinball game is another that builds on the success of a TV and movie franchise. The game was released in 1992 and its popularity grew almost instantly.

The game holds the record as the best-selling solid state pinball machine of all time with 20,270 units sold. If that’s not a good enough recommendation, then I don’t know what is.

14.Dance, Dance Revolution

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Dance dance revolution is modern compared to some of the other games on this list. But it was just as groundbreaking pioneering an entire genre of interactive dance and rhythm games. 

If you’re a parent considering an arcade game for your kids to play, this one will have them up on their feet and moving around instead of looking at a screen.

15. Hydro Thunder

Hydro Thunder is another game that’s hard not to love. As you play, you take control of a high tech speed boat race, through treacherous environments. By using unique button combinations, you can achieve a boost of speed as you negotiate tougher and tougher tracks. All of that is to say: hours of fun await.

16. Donkey Kong

In many ways, Donkey Kong is a precursor to all modern video games. It even featured a Mario-look-alike, who went on to be one of the most famous video game characters of all time through the Super Mario Brothers franchise of games, movies, and even a TV show. 

Negotiate obstacles with ‘Jumpman’ as he scales a series of platforms linked by ladders. Rescue the maiden Pauline from the villainous Donkey Kong. The theme has stood the test of time.  

17. Bubble Hockey

Bubble Hockey is a style of tabletop game, where a clear plastic dome encloses the ‘rink.’ Two players take up position at either end of the table and control their team through a series of handles that move them around the ‘ice’ via connecting rods. 

As they manipulate the players across the playing surface, they spin the handles to swing the players’ ‘sticks,’ attempting to hit the puck into the other player’s goal. 

Sort of like foosball, but just for hockey. Bubble hockey games are action-packed, with players’ dexterity and hand-eye coordination put to the test!

18.Double Dragon

Photo by Rob DiCaterino/ CC BY 2.0

Double Dragon is a side-scrolling campaign of bruising battles with fists, bats, chains, and knives. Take control of the protagonist Billy Lee to take on gangs of adversaries and big bosses in fisticuffs. 

A unique feature of this game is that a second player can join in the mayhem as Billy Lee’s brother Jimmy Lee, teaming up to clean up the streets of a post-apocalyptic New York City. 

19. Mortal Kombat

The original Mortal Kombat arcade game has spawned an entire franchise off games and even movies. But the initial release left a bloody mark on the video game world. 

A unique control layout might have been the signature innovation of the game, but its graphic finishing moves and gory animations were its most famous attribute. Subsequent console versions had to scale down the gore amid clamoring from the media.

20. Contra

The original coin-operated Contra arcade game sees the heroes Lance and Bill fighting through seven battle stages, wielding a rifle with unlimited ammo. They take on hordes of enemies that get progressively tougher, including soldiers, tanks, hovercrafts, and other armored vehicles. 

Controlled with an eight-way joystick and two buttons, upgraded weapons are available for destructive achievements like destroying enemy fortifications or unique enemies. 

Set in the distant future, the Earth Corps Marines of the Contra unit must take on enemy forces to reveal the aliens that control them. Future editions brought the game into the present day.

The mayhem is all-encompassing, and Contra is a perfect shooter to add to a vintage arcade room. 

21. Asteroids

Asteroids allow a player to control a spaceship in an asteroid field, shooting and destroying both asteroids and other flying saucers, all the while trying to avoid collisions and counter-fire. Each level is harder, with more and more asteroids to avoid.

22. OutRun

OutRun brought cabinet arcade games into a whole new era, with a motion simulating cabinet, an almost open world of non-linear gameplay, and advanced graphics that blew the competition off the road. 

The car at the center of the game mimics a real car, the Ferrari Testarossa. And the car’s real engine note was recorded to bring realism to the soundtrack that also featured selectable music for a custom experience. 

OutRun is the kind of game that players will still flock to today, even though it is nearing forty years of age. Choose among a few original cabinet designs, with all featuring accelerator and brake pedals, a steering wheel, and a realistic stick shifter. 

Some cabinets even feature force-feedback technology on their steering wheels.

23. After Burner

After Burner features a motion-simulating cabinet that brings the F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, the star of the game, to life. The cabinet also looks more like a modern flight simulator than a thirty-five-year-old arcade game, with a realistic cabin, flight stick, and a molded seat that even has a seat belt!

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Strap in and prepare for aerial combat after Burner capitalized on the success of the blockbuster movie Top Gun, which also featured the F-14 and brought fans of the film into the arcade, ready to take their turn fighting for aerial supremacy. 

If you add this game to your rec room, you may want to charge admission!

24. Altered Beast

Altered Beast brings players to the ancient world, where Zeus taps their character to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the underworld. Through a series of power enhancements, guide your character to become a succession of beastly forms, each more powerful than the last. 

Each ‘altered’ beast has a unique power that helps them defeat the droves of underworld enemies as they fight to rescue Athena and bring her back to Zeus. 

Of course, the graphics are clunky by today’s standards, but the gameplay is involving and exciting, and players will likely enjoy the plot. 

25. Space Invaders

Any list of arcade games should probably have Space Invaders somewhere on it. It’s certainly near the top in terms of influence and historical importance to the gaming industry, but it still delivers a fun gaming experience.

Premiering in the 1970s, its style of play and simple interactive shooting have translated into decades of success and legions of fans. Tomohiro Nishikado’s masterpiece inspires many modern games. 

The player controls a sliding laser cannon that slides left to right across the bottom of the screen. Fortifications protect it as row after row of monstrous aliens shift left to right, using their blasters to hit the player’s cannon. 

The aliens march steadily towards the bottom of the screen as the player blasts them as fast as possible, earning points the whole way. If the player fails to stop the aliens from reaching the bottom of the screen, that’s it. The game is over!

26. T2: Judgement Day

T2 is a spinoff of the blockbuster movie of the same name. Against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, terminators attack the player perched behind their very own machine gun instead of a joystick. Blast away!

27. Operation Wolf

Operation Wolf was a sight to see in the arcades of yesteryear, and it will surely get some attention in your recreation room. Featuring a realistic Uzi, few players will be able to resist squeezing off some shots.

28. Virtua Cop

Photo by Justin Doub/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Virtua Cop is unique among many arcade shooters of the early days because players were required to aim to get a kill. The game also had a high difficulty factor as it had a rapid frame rate and hordes of enemies to kill.

29. Centipede

Centipede is a classic from the golden age of arcade video games. Shoot the segments of a long caterpillar as it winds down your Plainfield.

The centipede starts at the top of the screen, traveling left or right, descending levels, never closer your job is to destroy it using a bug blaster controlled via a trackball. Engrossing, engaging gameplay with a bit of strategy and a bonus of killing bugs. What’s not to like?

30. Frogger

Frogger enjoys an almost ubiquitous status on any list of arcade games. The game is simple: try to get your frog across a few lanes of traffic on the bottom half of the screen and a small river across the top half. 

Players try to jump their frog across the road as vehicles race by, seemingly trying to make roadkill out of our amphibian hero. And, if you make it across the street without being crushed, you still must negotiate a small river filled with floating logs, alligators, and turtles that move horizontally, just like the cars. But instead of being crushed, a mistimed jump will land you in the water and sink your frog. 

Using a simple joystick control, the player leapfrogs to their home pad at the very top of the screen. With relatively simple graphics and gameplay, this design is timeless and enjoyable fun for players of all ages and gaming abilities. 

31. Q*bert

Q*Bert is a simple puzzle game featuring an on-screen character of the same name. He perches atop a multi-colored pyramid, and each hop he takes changes one cube of the pyramid to a new color. The goal is to change every cube to the same color while avoiding obstacles and enemies via joystick control. 

Q*Bert might not have the flashiness of some other arcade games. Still, its progressively rapid frame elements that make it harder to get the pyramid’s cubes to a uniform color are entertaining and timeless. 

Players will fall for Q*bert in a modern arcade, just like they did when it premiered. 

32. Missile Command

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War between America and the USSR, players must defend their cities from a seemingly endless onslaught of ballistic missiles. Take control of a series of anti-missile batteries, using a trackball to set a targeting crosshair on the incoming missiles, launching your own in defense. 

 Each level of the game brings new challenges, like multiple independent warheads that come out of a single missile and more intelligent missiles that can evade your first lines of defense. 

Fast-paced action reaches a feverish clip when the incoming missiles come faster and faster in the later rounds. The original game is unbeatable, a window into the hopelessness many felt in this historical era when the destruction of all-out nuclear war seemed to be the inevitable conclusion. 

33. Pole Position

Pole Position was an early racing simulation video game found in arcades starting in 1982. It enjoyed a very successful run and spawned other games, ported versions, sequels, and even a Saturday morning cartoon.

Take the wheel of a Formula One race car on a track based on an actual racing circuit. Avoid collisions with your digital opponents and billboards placed strategically around the outside of the track turning the racing wheel racing through a full-color Digital landscape.

Photo by Bsivko /CC BY-SA 4.0

Unlike some other early racing games, Pole Position rewards racers for passing rivals and finishing at the top of the field instead of simply prioritizing staying on the road.

Released in two cabinet configurations, a standard upright cabinet and a cockpit cabinet, both versions allowed players to grab high and low gears and control their car via a realistic steering wheel. But the cockpit-style cabinet also featured accelerator and brake pedals.

34. Star Wars

Step into the role of the protagonist Luke Skywalker of the famous Star Wars movie trilogy. Jump into the cockpit of your X-Wing fighter taking control of the yoke with two triggers for your thumbs and another two for your pointer fingers, each firing a laser positioned on your four wings. 

This game notably features voice samples from the actual movie that enhance the gameplay, bringing the film to life as you attack the death star, just like Luke did on the big screen.

Don’t be surprised if Star Wars fans want to jump right into the cockpit when they see this game. 

35. 1942

1942 as a vertically-scrolling game released in 1984. 1942 is against the backdrop of World War II and the Pacific theater. The goal is to reach Tokyo and destroy the entire Japanese air fleet. 

This game is historically significant as it stands as Capcom’s 18th best-selling franchise game of all time. But that’s not why you will enjoy playing it. It’s just proof that you will.

36. Punch-Out!!

Take control of your green-haired boxer non-only by three initials chosen by the player control him. Time your punches blocks and fighting moves to defeat your digital opponent.

Photo by Rob Bourdon/ CC BY 2.0

Keep a sharp eye on your boxing opponent as his gestures and facial tics will reveal his coming moves.

Use your joystick and three buttons to move, throw a left, right, or body blow. Punch-Out!! is where it all started and spawned successful future projects like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, one of the most famous video games of all time.

37. Paperboy

Paperboy is a classic arcade game that spawned many future iterations on both computers and consoles. 

Set in a suburban landscape, the player controls the Paperboy via a set of realistic bicycle handlebars as he attempts to deliver a fictitious newspaper. While navigating his delivery route, the Paperboy must keep his subscribers happy, tossing the newspapers onto their doorsteps. He can get a bonus for landing the paper right in their mailbox. 

But, he must also avoid countless hazards and obstacles along the way. 

If he crashes or misses deliveries, he loses lives. Miss too many, or lose too many unhappy subscribers, and the game is over. 

38. Mario Brothers

The original Mario Brothers arcade game is where the famous series all started. It was the debut of Luigi, though his brother Mario had already featured as ‘Jumpman’ as the hero in Donkey Kong. 

In this groundbreaker, Mario and Luigi clean up the sewers in the familiar fashion, stomping out monsters and collecting gold coins for points. The game is a classic and is a welcome addition to any arcade room. 

39. Commando

Commando is a vertical-scroll shooting game that features the soldier, Super Joe. Take control of him via the joystick and fight through the jungle singlehandedly, using your rifle and unlimited bullets to kill wave after wave of enemy soldiers. Use your limited number of grenades to destroy fortifications. 

At the end of each level, the scrolling stops, and you confront a cadre of soldiers forced to fight you by a cowardly officer who runs away. Keep fighting until you run out of Super Joes, making sure to liberate pockets of POWs along the way. 

There is nothing that isn’t appealing about this game. 

40. Arkanoid

Arkanoid might be easy for some to overlook as irrelevant in the world of modern games. But, its simple graphical layout and plot belie an intense gaming experience that is engaging and riveting. 

You can’t take your eyes off the screen for a moment as you pilot your ship back and forth across the bottom of the screen, where it prevents a floating ball from plummeting out of space, sending it bouncing off the walls and back toward a brick wall. 

Destroy bricks by hitting them with the ball. Break down the whole wall without losing the ball, and you advance to more complicated levels where some bricks need multiple hits to destroy them, and numerous balls and enemy starships join the battle. 

This game might look more like a game of Pong than a modern video game, but it is still thoroughly engaging.