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15 Most Important Arcade Games Ever

Released in 1979, Galaxian was designed to be Namco’s answer to Space Invaders. Or, as Masaya Nakamura, then-President of Namco, put it, it was a “post-Invaders” game. Much like that title, Galaxian is a shoot-em-up where players fend off waves of aliens. However, since the game was released one year later than Space Invaders, Namco had a chance to improve on the formula. Galaxian has since gone down in history as the first arcade game to feature multicolored sprites, but that wasn’t Galaxian’s only improvement. Unlike Space Invaders, Galaxian included a scrolling background, and the enemy ships could fly in curved lines. Initiation is the best form of flattery, but Galaxian demonstrates that iteration is better still.

Pac-Man (1980)

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a video game by one. Just looking at the box art of most games doesn’t tell you much, but if it sports a familiar character, you usually know what you’re getting into. We have Pac-Man to thank for that.

In 1980, Namco released the seminal maze-crawling, dot-munching classic Pac-Man. The goal, eat all the dots to finish a level, was simple as it was challenging and addictive. Not only did gamers love Pac-Man, but according to Time Magazine, the game amassed around $1 billion in quarters within its first year. Between its arcade cabinets, console ports, and sequels, the Pac-Man name went on earn well over $12 billion. While the Guinness World Records recognizes the game’s titular Pac-Man as the world’s first video game mascot, that award probably wouldn’t mean much had the game flopped.

Donkey Kong (1981)

Donkey Kong (1981)

Big things have small beginnings. You can’t get much bigger than the Super Mario franchise, and you can’t get much smaller than the arcade that started it all, Donkey Kong.

Almost everyone even slightly familiar with Super Mario knows the story of Donkey Kong. The game started when Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi started work on converting the poorly performing Radar Scope into a more popular title. Originally, Yokoi wanted to make a title based on Popeye, but that idea fell through. As a Plan B, Miyamoto and Yokoi created the original characters of Jumpman, Lady, and Donkey Kong, who served as the prototypes of Mario, Paulina, and…Donkey Kong. The arcade game was officially released in 1981, and the rest is history. Donkey Kong went on to become one of the prototype platformer titles, amassed critical acclaim, and helped establish Nintendo as a video game juggernaut. Just goes to show you that failure can often eventually lead to success.

Pole Position (1982)

Many modern video games follow certain rules and conventions. Earlier games established these traditions, but only after even earlier titles tried their own rules that didn’t quite work.

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