The Best Video Games of the 1980s

Keaton Robbins | May 24, 2023

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In the 1980s, gaming saw a huge shift as developers explored new genres and technologies to craft immersive experiences to captivate gamers. This golden era saw the birth of iconic titles that continue to influence modern gaming.

From Jet Set Willy’s surreal humor to Track & Field’s competitive multiplayer gameplay, and Kung-Fu Master pioneering fighting games, this decade produced an array of memorable experiences. 

In this article

  1. The Golden Era of Video Games
  2. Arcade Gaming Revolution
  3. Home Console Boom
  4. Early Computer Games
  5. 10 Best Video Games of the 1980s
  6. Pac-Man (1980) 
  7. Donkey Kong (1981) 
  8. Mario Bros. (1983)
  9. Tetris (1984)
  10. The Legend of Zelda (1986)
  11. Super Mario Bros. (1985) 
  12. Metroid (1986) 
  13. Space Invaders (1978/1980) 
  14. Dragon’s Lair (1983)
  15. Emergence of Voice Overs in Video Games
  16. Early Attempts at Incorporating Voices into Games
  17. Technological Limitations of the Era
  18. Conclusion

The best video games of the 1980s also gave rise to influential genres such as cooperative dungeon crawling through Gauntlet, scrolling space shooters like Gradius, and open-world exploration via Elite.

As we delve into this nostalgic journey through time, we’ll explore how transcendent titles like Super Mario Bros 3 revolutionized platformers while Pac-Man defined arcade gaming. Finally, we’ll touch upon voice overs in ’80s video games – a feature that has since become integral in storytelling within interactive entertainment.

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The Golden Era of Video Games

The 1980s marked a significant period in the video game industry, with iconic games that left an indelible mark on popular culture. This era saw the rise of arcade gaming, home consoles, and early computer games that inspired generations.

Arcade Gaming Revolution

During this time, arcades became popular hangout spots for gamers as they flocked to play classics like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders. Players gathered to challenge each other for top rankings while enjoying the amusement these titles provided.

Home Console Boom

The introduction of home consoles such as the Atari 2600 brought gaming into living rooms across America. With titles like Super Mario Bros., these systems allowed families to enjoy interactive entertainment together without needing to visit an arcade or spend quarters on each play.

Early Computer Games

  • Dungeon Master: A groundbreaking role-playing game released in 1987 that introduced real-time gameplay mechanics and immersive storytelling elements, which influenced future RPGs.
  • Tetris: The smash hit puzzle game developed by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, Tetris became a global phenomenon, popularizing the Game Boy and solidifying its place as one of the most recognizable video games of all time.

The story of the creation of Tetris has recently been trending since the release of Apple TV’s ‘Tetris’ biopic.

The 1980s brought about a significant period in the gaming world, yielding iconic titles that would continue to influence the industry for many years. As we explore more games from this era, let’s look at the best E-for-Everyone video games of the 1980s.

10 Best Video Games of the 1980s

The 1980s brought forth a plethora of memorable video games that catered to players of all ages. These classic titles entertained millions and laid the foundation for future gaming experiences. To note: When we describe a video game in this below as a “platformer”, it refers to a style of video game where the player makes a character move through an environment with a series of action-based moves, like running, jumping, or swinging from ropes.

Pac-Man (1980) 

A maze arcade game that became one of the most iconic video games of all time. Players control the titular character as he navigates through a maze, eating pellets while avoiding ghosts.

Donkey Kong (1981) 

A platformer arcade game that introduced the world to Mario, who was originally called “Jumpman”. Players control Jumpman as he tries to save his girlfriend from the clutches of the giant gorilla Donkey Kong.

Mario Bros. (1983)

 A platformer arcade game that introduced Mario’s brother, Luigi, and marked the first appearance of the Koopa Troopa enemies. The game’s addictive gameplay and two-player mode made it a hit among arcade-goers.

Tetris (1984)

 A puzzle game that became one of the most popular video games of all time. Players arrange falling blocks to clear lines, with the gameplay increasing in speed as the player progresses.

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

 An action-adventure game that marked the beginning of the Zelda series. Players control the hero, Link, as he embarks on a quest to rescue Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganon.

Super Mario Bros. (1985) 

A platformer game released with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and is widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time. Players control Mario as he navigates through a series of levels to rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser.

Metroid (1986) 

An action-adventure game that introduced the character Samus Aran, a bounty hunter who battles space pirates, and explores an alien planet. The game’s non-linear structure and inventive power-up system have made it a classic in the Metroid series.

Space Invaders (1978/1980) 

A classic arcade game that helped popularize video games as entertainment. Players control a ship at the bottom of the screen and must shoot down waves of descending aliens.

Dragon’s Lair (1983)

 A revolutionary game that used LaserDisc technology to create stunning graphics and animation. Players controlled the actions of a knight named Dirk the Daring as he attempted to rescue a princess from an evil dragon.

Emergence of Voice Overs in Video Games

While voice overs were not common in 1980s video games due to technological limitations, some early examples showcase how audio started impacting gaming experiences. It led to advancements we see today, where voice acting plays a crucial role in storytelling and character development, adding depth and immersion for players across various genres and platforms worldwide.

Early Attempts at Incorporating Voices into Games

In the late ’80s, games like Sinistar and Ghosts ‘n Goblins began experimenting with limited voice samples to enhance gameplay. Although these attempts were rudimentary compared to modern standards, they paved the way for future developments in-game audio.

Technological Limitations of the Era

  • The Atari 2600’s primitive sound capabilities restricted developers from implementing high-quality voice recordings.
  • Arcade machines had better audio hardware but faced storage constraints, making it difficult to include extensive dialogue or narration.
  • The advent of CD-ROM technology in the late ’80s eventually allowed for more sophisticated use of voices in video games, such as Sega’s iconic release: Space Harrier II.

The evolution of voice acting has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 1980s. Today, voice overs are an integral part of gaming experiences, with talented actors bringing characters to life and immersing players in richly detailed worlds.


In conclusion, the 1980s are seen as a golden era for video games, with many influential titles shaping popular culture and pioneering new genres. From Super Mario Bros revolutionizing platformers, to Gauntlet leading cooperative multiplayer dungeon crawling, these games have left a lasting impact on the gaming industry.The 1980s video games set the foundation for modern game design, including advances in voice over technology.

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