Popular 80s Arcade Games That Everybody Loved

Loosen your thumbs, work on your reaction timing, and jump back into your favorite '80s arcade games.

Published January 26, 2023
2 small boys playing Street Smart video game in video arcade on boardwalk

Although coin-operated game machines have been around for over 100 years, it wasn't until the 1980s that they blew up in a big way. Even the smallest towns had an arcade where kids could run around pressing buttons and maneuvering joysticks to get their names at the top of the high scores list. You can relive that all-consuming need to beat the top score with these old 80s arcade games and the consoles that pulled you in.

Revisit These Awesome 80s Arcade Games

If you grew up in the 80s, then you probably spent every day on summer break meeting up with friends at either the mall or the arcade. While we can play so many of these classic games on new consoles, there's something about being hunched over a massive, lightning-bright arcade console that's just better. Maybe it's that in-the-weeds of it kind of gameplay or the hypnotic blinking lights, but we'd do anything for another shot at beating our neighbor's top score at Galaga.

Which of these '80s arcade games did you smash the competition at?


Young girls are photographed June 1, 1982 playing Pac-Man at a video arcade in Times Square, New York City

Created by Namco in 1980, Pac-Man was all the rage. Kids everywhere were struck with Pac-Man fever, and they did their best to move the insatiable yellow circle around the grid and eat all the dots without getting hit by four colorful ghosts. The game was so popular that the duo Buckner & Garcia put out a hit single called "Pac-Man Fever."


A boy plays the Galaga arcade game during the video games trade fair Gamescom in Cologne, western Germany

Before little kids fought enemies in Call of Duty, they were shooting spaceships in Namco's Galaga. This endlessly entertaining arcade game from the 1980s put every player in control of a white spaceship and sent them off with the task of destroying the enemy grid of bad spaceships - all without getting blown out of the sky.

While you've probably played it time and time again, you might not realize it's actually a sequel to the less popular game, Galaxian. And, if you're a fan of superhero movies, then chances are you caught the Galaga reference they slipped into the first Avengers film.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders

Space Invaders, created by Tomohiro Nishikado, is one of the first dodge-and-shoot games to break onto the video game market in the late 1970s. It was so successful that people played it for decades after, and its style would launch hundreds of other games just like it. Although the gameplay itself was revolutionary, it was the way that the music and sound effects increased tension as every new alien ship advanced that kept kids coming back for more.


Asteroids Arcade

Space games were all the rage in the 1980s, and Atari's Asteroids was one of the best. Players took control of a spaceship and navigated through an ever-changing asteroid field by shooting them out of the way, all while dodging flying saucers. Created in late-1979, this game went on to become Atari's best-selling game of all time.


1980's arcade style gaming fans play Centipede and DigDug at the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo

Atari dominated the 1980s, and one of their most successful video games was Centipede. Released in 1981, Centipede was a fixed-shooter game where players moved their character from side to side on the bottom of the screen to shoot the pieces of a centipede at the top. To make the game infinitely harder, the developers programed each destroyed piece to turn into a deadly mushroom that players had to avoid.

Unlike other shooter games, Centipede was a hit with the female audience. It's largely attributed to the fact that one of Atari's few female employees, Dona Bailey, was intricately involved in creating the game. As it got out that a woman had helped make the game, female gamers jumped to support her work, as well as to get in on the action.


Tetris Arcade Machine

Tetris was invented by software designer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984. Pajitnov was inspired by pentominoes, a series of polygon shapes that can be moved around to fit together like puzzle pieces. Pajitnov's game idea created a series of polygons that each took up to four squares, and he programmed the game to let players move the pieces around to fit together. It might not have been the most exciting game to come out in the 1980s, but it has had a lasting impact. In fact, it was one of the first games to have a substantial effect on people after they stopped playing it. Some people claimed to see Tetris tiles in their dreams and behind their eyes long after they stopped playing, and this game transfer phenomena (aka the Tetris Effect) wasn't properly investigated until the 2010s.

How Valuable Are Vintage Arcade Game Cabinets?

Vintage arcade cabinets and table consoles are pretty hard to find, and locating ones that still work after all these years is a harder thing to do. Average cabinets in working condition can sell from around $1,000-$3,000, and occasionally, really special ones can sell for double that because they're in tip-top shape. For example, this Exidy Tail Gunner 2 cockpit cabinet game from the 1980s sold on eBay for $3,00. Similarly, a refurbished Galaga arcade game is currently listed for $1,995.

However, the struggle with selling and buying vintage arcade games is that they're extremely heavy and really hard to transport. Miniature table-top ones sell for under $1,000, but they sell quicker than the full-sized games do because they don't cost a small fortune to ship. Also, most people don't have a lot of extra space and outlets to accommodate these massive consoles.

Where Can You Find Vintage Arcade Games?

If you just want to play the old games you used to as a kid, then there are a ton of downloadable options for many different modern consoles. Yet, if you want the real thing, you're going to have to work a little harder for it.

Nowadays, rental companies corner the market on arcade game consoles. Besides eBay and Etsy, you'll be hard pressed to find dedicated retailers that refurbish and sell old arcade game cabinets. But, you can easily find companies renting them out at very expensive prices.

Thanks to modern technology and the nature of the market, people are more interested in buying newly built vintage-inspired arcade game cabinets that have hundreds of old video games loaded onto them. There's something really appealing (and justifiable) about spending thousands of dollars on a console that has hundreds of games on it as opposed to one with just a single game loaded to it.

Yet, there are a few options you can browse.

  • Gameroom Goodies - Gameroom Goodies is a retailer based in Arizona that sells both refurbished arcade games and pinball machines from a variety of decades.
  • M&P Amusement - M&P Amusement has been selling arcade games for over 80 years and continues to be one of the largest arcade retailers in the world. You can purchase fully refurbished and tested video game cabinets directly from their website.
  • Arcades Market - Since the 1980s, Arcades Market has been in the video and arcade business. Although they have less product than some video game retailers, you can find a few vintage arcade consoles for sale on their website.

Unlock Your Childhood Competitiveness

Video games can bring out the best and the worst in all of us, and games from the 1980s, where getting in the high scores list was imperative, made kids intent to reach the next level. Nowadays, we have hundreds of games at our fingertips, but nothing will beat the hands-on action of our favorite '80s arcade games.

Popular 80s Arcade Games That Everybody Loved