While many gaming aficionados will tell you that video games were invented in the ’50s, most average gamers “know” that the first video game was Pong. That very simple tennis game was a far cry from ones that followed in the ’80s or even ‘90s video games, but it was one of the first widely distributed games available to take home and play with friends. It ushered in a brand new worldwide obsession. Video games, both the kind you played at home and the kind you’d find in arcades, were soon all anyone talked about. And by the time the ’80s rolled around, they were nearly everywhere.
There was a demand and everyone wanted a cut of the money made from supplying. While video games have come a fantastically long way since the ’80s, many are based on the groundwork laid by the early games from that decade. And, honestly, if we’re going to be nostalgic about anything, it’s not the first Call of Duty or even Tony Hawk Pro Skater. It’s Centipede and Frogger we talk about to our kids. It’s Tetris we still gravitate towards when we get a chance to play vintage games. But, with all the awesome, popular video games that made it out in the ’80s, which were our favorites? We’re taking a look at the games we loved best from each year of this defining decade.
Best ’80s Video Games
1980 — Pac-Man
People still pay top dollar for Pac-Man consoles. It was just that well-loved. It also set a precedent for marketable video game characters. You could soon find Pac-Man on literally anything and everything followed closely after by the rest of the family.
Also Memorable: Missile Command
1981 — Donkey Kong
Just like Pac-Man, they’re still making Donkey Kong video games and merchandise. Talk about a lasting impact. Of course, Donkey Kong also introduced us to his “owner,” Jumpman… who would later become Mario.
Also Memorable: Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, and Defender
1982 — Tron
Tron was, in case you didn’t know, a trippy sci-fi racing game that first appeared as an arcade game. From there, it spun in a million different directions. From more games to a poorly received movie. While not all the Tron iterations have been massive successes, that first game still slaps.
Also Memorable: Q*bert, Time Pilot, and Donkey Kong Jr.
1983 — Track And Field
“You’re choosing Track And Field over Mario Bros?!” Yeah, man. We’ll get to Super Mario Bros. later but, for now, we have to mention Track And Field. The concept was simple: You run through all the various track and field events as if you’re in the Olympics. While not much progress has been made in the subsequent releases, the first game was still one of the first true button smashers. If you’re looking for a little 8-bit fun, this is still the best choice.
Also Memorable: Super Mario Bros. and Star Wars
1984 — Kung Fu Master
Not only was this scrolling fighting game just a boatload of fun, but it was also groundbreaking. Soon after Kung Fu Master, we saw the release of games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Since it was loosely based on a Bruce Lee film, fighters’ vocalizations mimicked Lee’s. You probably remember pounding away on buttons and annoying everyone around you with those short, incessant grunts each time you made a move.
Also Memorable: Duck Hunt and Excite Bike
1985 — Super Mario Bros.
Here you go. Super Mario Bros. was the game that really, truly brought Mario and friends into the spotlight. The game was basically given away for free with all NES purchases that holiday season. That means there are millions of copies in the world… still. And yet if you have one of those original Super Mario Bros cartridge‘s in your possession, you could be sitting on a large fortune.
Also Memorable: Gauntlet
1986 — Legend of Zelda
If you know a nerd, you know a Zelda fan. From the moment The Legend of Zelda released in Japan, the game began making waves. Following Link on his adventures in Hyrule as he attempts to rescue Princess Zelda was the ultimate mix of fantasy, role-playing, and, yes, gaming. Head to any comic con in the world and you’ll still see a ton of Link cosplays.
Also Memorable: OutRun
1987 — Maniac Mansion
Technically, Maniac Mansion wasn’t released in North America on NES until 1990. However, the original Maniac Mansion was released in 1987 and it’s still flippin’ great. In its essence, it’s a simple adventure game where you help a guy named Dave save his girlfriend from a mad scientist. Depending on which character you choose, however, you have completely different quests you’ll need to accomplish. Worth mentioning: This was the first game Lucasfilm Games released.
Almost Memorable: Contra and Street Fighter 2
1988 — Super Mario Bros. 3
SMB3 took everything we loved about the original and made it that much better, more colorful, and even more fun to play. Depending on the condition of your game, selling an original cartridge of SMB3 could warrant some serious cash. Not exactly Scrooge McDuck money, but certainly enough to help pay off your mortgage.
1989 — SimCity
SimCity was the first of its kind. It gave players a chance to try their hand at everything from conflict resolution to home building and city planning. It was a fun game without the intensity found in true button smashers. Plus, it provided us with a slew of Sim spin-offs that we still play today.