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The Five Biggest Arcade Games of All Time

Updated on August 5, 2011

The Golden Age of Arcades may have come and gone but it isn’t forgotten; especially not the games. The games that were made for the arcades have now penetrated our culture and have become integrated into our language. This list is partially based on figures and personal accounts with arcades games; either way, these are the five biggest arcade games of all time …


Pac-Man is an arcade classic that has made its way into just about every inch of pop culture. You can find Pac-Man on just about every type of box these days with thousands of products and games available for dozens of video game consoles.

But it began somewhere ... and that's in the arcades. Pac-Man was introduced in 1980 to an arcade industry that was mostly dominated by shooters. Pac-Man immediately stood out and had a steep level of difficulty especially in the later levels. Before long, Pac-Man competitions became commonplace.

Pac-Man would go down as one of the essential arcade games to play. Later on, with Ms. Pac-Man, the Pac-Man franchise skyrocketed and put it as one of the biggest arcade games of all time.


Pong is simple: you have two paddles controlled by two players (or a computer) and each need to bounce the ball back and forth in the attempt to score a point; much like tennis.

Pong is one of the earliest arcade video games. Created by Atari, the first machine was set in a bar and suddenly "stopped working" but not because of faulty hardware but because so many people were playing it that the coin mechanism was jammed; Atari had a hit on their hands.

Pong was also one of the first games to make an entry into the household with a dedicated box just for Pong that was sold in Sears stores during the 1975 holiday season. Millions of copies of the games were sold and many renditions have been created across the year. However, it's still the arcade version that is really why Pong has a cement placement on this list of best arcade games of all time.

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong is considered the quintessential arcade games because it blended the perfect amount of skill and story in an era that was largely dominated by space shooters.

Donkey Kong was also the moment that we were introduced to two timeless characters: Donkey Kong and Mario. At the time, no one would know that both of these characters would lead an entire revolution in home gaming and help turn a once card trading company into the leader in the gaming industry; Nintendo.

Donkey Kong has a very simple premise: the young girl is captured and held by Donkey Kong. Players need to get to the top of the screen to rescue the girl but along the way, Donkey Kong throws barrels and players are faced with fire bombs and a variety of platforms to overcome to reach her. Each level became progressively harder which has turned it into one of the biggest games for arcade fanatics and competitors.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders was the first game to be considered a true "competitive" game because, by fluke, the designer of the game was trying to figure out how to display multiple enemies on the screen so to compensate for the limited hardware; he increased the frame rate. Unbeknownst to him was that as enemies were destroyed, the game would speed up which added a new level of difficulty to the game that many others didn't offer.

After Space Invaders litterally invaded the arcade world it became a huge success. Arcades were jamming up all over the world because so many people were playing the wildly addicting game. The game, itself, is simple. You control a small tank that must blast the invaders coming down on the screen toward your bases. As the game progresses, the invaders move faster until they are nearly impossible to destroy.

Today, the Space Invader icons show up all over the world on t-shirts, graffiti, pop culture and referenced in movies. Space Invaders is a definitive game to fit on the top arcade games of all time.

Dance Dance Revolution

I know what you’re thinking: “what?! DDR?”. Think about it, what other game has caught on like madness to the likes of Dance Dance Revolution? In a age where most people merely sit on the couch to play games or use a controller, DDR brought in the full body and created an entire culture around it.

In nearly every arcade you visit, you’ll find people piled around the Dance Dance Revolution machine. There are dozens of models and additions over the years. There are even major tournaments still going for DDR where people can win some very big money.

A recent trip to Japan showed me just how influential DDR has become; every arcade I entered had a machine and some of the most amazing players were dancing to the beat of songs so fast that it was dizzying. No doubt, Dance Dance Revolution deserved a place on the top Arcade list.

Can’t get enough Arcade action?

I used to work in an arcade, no lie! For a little over a year I finally landed a job at a local arcade that I always visited; long story short, it was incredibly fun and which is why I have a large interest in arcade games (and why I put together this hub).

Not long ago, a really great documentary came out about arcades; more specifically, Donkey Kong called The King of Kong. If you want to see what the golden age of arcades was really like and how people are still dedicated to these old school games than I highly recommend checking out the documentary.

Another thing you may really enjoy is your own arcade cabinet. With the introduction of MAME, you can now play all the classic games on a full arcade cabinet with the controls made by X-Arcade. I've built my own in the past and had a blast playing the classics.

Do you have any fond memories of these games? Share below.

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    • DoctorDarts profile image

      DoctorDarts 5 years ago

      Smashing stuff. There was nothing like the buzz of going on holiday and seeing the latest, greatest arcade creation back in the day!

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 5 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      I think if you only have 5 then you cant avoid Missile Command or Asteroids, 2 hugely influential games, not just a memory for gamers but huge cultural significance. Just imagine the 80's without these 2 games!