Coin-ops Golden Age, 1980-1984

My personal top 50 video games from the age of the arcades.
March 29, 2007
Coin-Ops, The Golden Age 1980-1984.

For those old enough to be there, who could forget the age of the mighty coin-ops! Before the 'great video game crash of '84,' arcades were practically on every corner with classics like Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and Pac-man waiting to take your hard earned quarters. Perhaps like many of you, a sizable percentage of my childhood and income was spent in such places during these formative years. So in tribute, I have composed a list of fifty coin operated games and ranked them both in terms of greatness and my own personal nostalgia. So take your chill pill, kick on back, it's time to revisit some old and possibly forgotten friends...


Journey, you gotta love it... the band's music, 5 different games, and the use of musical instruments as weapons. Also this is the first game I can remember where digitized photos were used (to create the oversized heads of the band members). And just like the real Steve Perry, when your character fell it cried like a baby! Bally/Midway 1983.


To be honest, most of my memories of Crossbow came from my Atari 7800. However the coin-op was far superior because the crossbow controller moved the targeting cursor much more quickly across the screen and therefore allowed you to decimate your enemies with blistering speed. Exidy 1983.


In Pooyan your piglets have been captured by balloon riding wolves. Armed with a bow, arrows, and grody slabs of meat, you're just the pig to get 'em back. Konami 1983.


Time Pilot. Fly though time, shoot enemies, and save parachuting men. Cool beans. Centuri 1982.


I know Popeye is kinda of a hoser, but it's still a pretty sweet game. Olive Oil is a typical joanie whose heart is breaking and only her best barnie can save her. Pretty easy except Brutus is illin'. Nintendo 1982.


Bubbles was kinda hellacious because at the end of the level, unless your bubble was completely undamaged you would get rinsed down the drain when the plug is pulled. Williams 1983.


Kangaroo was a major Donkey Kong poser. Deck the monkeys and rescue your Joey, but the programming had more bugs than Centipede which totally made me wanna barf. Atari 1982.


Food Fight, the title says it all. Simple, yet extremely fun and the music was cool too! I remember playing this one late at night at the Howard Johnson hotel the first time my Mom and I went to Disneyland back in '84. Atari 1983.


"Intruder alert! Intruder Alert!" It's Berserk and you'd better watch out for 'Evil Otto' (the deadly bouncing ball), and don't touch the walls or you'll be electrocuted! Stern 1980.


Track and Field was at my favorite pizza shop when I was ten. Every Friday night my Mom and I would grab a pizza before 'Kight Rider' and I would play while we waited. Unfortunately, my pre-pubescent muscles couldn't tap the buttons fast enough to compete with the older kids. However, the four player action was totally boss. Konami 1983.


Asteroids- shoot and annihilate all asteroids and UFO's. The knock off Jaws theme was rippen as well. Atari 1980.


"Beware I live!" Sinistar's demonic voice used to give me the heeby-jeebies. This one was hyperactive to the max! Enemy ships bouncing off of you like crazy all while trying to shoot the planetoids and make enough bombs to kill Sinistar. I never wasted him. Not once. But I'm not spazzing or anything. Williams 1983.


Satan's Hollow was a vertical shooter ala Galaxian/Galaga but the graphics were way WAY more trippendicular. Williams 1982.


Scramble was a side scrolling shooter and fairly difficult for the day. The premise was simple, shoot everything and also make sure you hit enough fuel tanks to stay alive. This one devoured quarters faster than Nell Carter ate donuts. Stern 1981.


Burger Time, build enormous hamburgers by running across the ingredients and dropping them to the bottom of the screen. Stun your hotdog foes by 'peppering' them. Bally/Midway 1982.


I used to play Mr. Do! at the YMCA instead of going to my karate lessons, a mistake I deeply regretted later on when I got into high school. Similar to Dig Dug, dig for cherries and kill your enemies with giant apples. Get a free game if you could collect the diamond when it appeared. Universal 1982.


Tempest was totally tubular! Literally. Blow away the creatures moving up the sides of the tubes. A bit of a rarity for collectors these days because the ultra fast game play would cause the circuits to melt and totally trash the game. Atari 1981.


Star Trek is still a killer simulation game. Sit down cabinets, multicolor vector graphics, a 3 way split screen, and bitchin' voices to boot. Four different buttons for the warp drive, photon torpedoes, thrust, and shields. Sega 1983.


Venture was sort of the great granddaddy of the Zelda series. Go from room to room, shoot your enemies, and collect the treasures. Exidy 1981.


Gorf was released by Bally/Midway in 1981 and I still don't have a clue as to what that robotic voice says! 5 different missions, most of which were pretty cake. I had a decent version on my Vic-20 at home and I could always get the 'Space Warrior' ranking.


Tron had four games: tanks, grid bugs, light cycles, and MCP blocks. The light cycles were my fave. Bally/Midway 1982.


You're a preppie Paperboy delivering newspapers on your BMX. Avoid obstacles: dogs, cars, pedestrians, hookers, and whatever else is in your way. Atari 1984.


I remember the first time I saw a Pac-man machine, I was seven years old in a grocery store with my Mom in Glendale, Arizona and I saw this yellow game with a line of people waiting to play. I tried it once and thought 'what's the big deal?' Of course I didn't know how to chomp the ghosts yet. Namco 1980.


Save your cities from getting nuked by using your three bases. The smart missiles were sooooo lame. Atari 1980.


Shoot the Centipede before it gets to the bottom of the mushroom patch and multiplies, but watch out for those dorky spiders and fleas! My cousin Karen ruled this game. Also one of the few games during this epoch that was designed by a woman. Atari 1980.


Yeah I know, Space Invaders came out in 1978 but what's a top 50 list without it, neh? Bally/ Midway 1978.


Anywhere I played Xevious I was practically guaranteed to put my name at the top of the high scorer's list. Use your plasma cannons and bombs to destroy a hostile enemy force invading your home planet. Atari/ Namco 1983.


Karate Champ was the beginning of the next era in coin-op play. This was the first ever fighting came to use a complex system of input devices (two joysticks) and intricate moves that players could use to beat each other senseless. Karate Champ was the game that the Street Fighter and Mortal Combat series were later modeled upon. A true classic that was well ahead of its time and a real slug-o-rama! Data East 1984.


Q-bert was one of the mondomega smashes of the early 80's. Totally 'bad' game play and absolutely addictive. Gottlieb / Mylstar / Premier 1983.


Zaxxon, fly through enemy strongholds, destroy everything, and whatever you do don't run out of fuel. Sega 1982.


The military used a more complex version of Battle Zone to train their tank commanders. Destroy enemy tanks, saucers, and missiles. Also, rumors that the volcano could be reached if you got a high enough score are completely and utterly bogus. Love those vector graphics! Atari 1980.


"I've lost R2!" Star Wars was the only game my Dad and I would play together. Simple premise- destroy the Death Star. Atari 1983.


Although technically not a 'great game' Phoenix will always have a special place in my heart because of my memories associated with it. Five different games, scrolling stars, and a shield button. Bad to the bone. Centuri 1980.


"Prepare to qualify!" In my opinion Pole Position was the first really great driving game ever offered. And watch out for those friggin' billboards! Atari / Namco 1982.


1942 was a lot like Xevious except with a WW II theme and a big destruct button. Also 1942 was designed by Yoshiki Okamoto, creator of Time Pilot, Gyruss, and the Street Fighter series. Capcom 1984.


Who didn't love Spy Hunter? A rad James Bond car, all the enemies you can kill, a batcaver hero, and a 'Knight Rider' repair truck. Oil. Smoke. Machine guns. Missiles. Wicked. Bally/Midway 1983.


Still some of the most ragin graphics ever, Space Ace was the follow up to Dragon's Liar. However S.A. never took off like D.L., but it's still 100% gnarly and arguably surpasses D.L. in both graphic quality and game play. Plus Dexter was a total clydesdale and Kimberly was like the best video game bow-head val babe ever! Cinematronics 1984.


Frogger was only one of the most popular games ever but also Sega's first big hit. Keep your frog from becoming road pizza. Sega 1981.


Defender was the first game to have: smart bombs, a scanner, and action occurring off the screen. One of the most difficult games of all time due to its fast pace, five control buttons, and an up/down joystick. Were all those buttons really necessary? Williams 1980. (P.S. sorry about the Defender 3 title screen, I couldn't find a decent title for the original Defender, but you get the idea.)


Dig Dug was the only coin-op that I ever got my Mom to play, and only once. Pookas and Fygars are after you, but inflate them until they explode or crush them with rocks. Atari/ Namco 1982.


Discs of Tron was available as an upright and as an 'environmental' which featured a black light and quadraphonic (!!!) sound. Dodge and deflect Sark's (your nemeses) discs, chasers, super chasers, and energy pellets. Bally/Midway 1983.



Although there were earlier Mario based games, Mario Bros. was the one that started it all for the brothers Mario and Luigi. A decent game by itself, but it was exponentially more fun if played with 2 people. Not the most popular game of the day so most people thought Mario and Luigi would just disappear into the dustbin of history. Yeah, as if! Nintendo 1983.


My buddy Marty L. and I played Star Castle at a local roller rink late into the night, underneath black lights, and with artists like Billy Squire, Devo, and J. Geils Band blasting in the background. "Awesome! Totally awesome!" Cinematronics 1980.


Okay, Galaxian is another 70's game but I had to add it just because it was the first game to use a true color monitor. When I was 7, Galaxian was the first game I ever felt I was any good at and also the first game I really loved. The only thing that sucked was you could only shoot one bullet at a time. Bally/Midway 1979.


Moon Cresta is this high up on my list only because of my own personal nostalgia. Basically the same platform as Galaxian, but with a few distinct differences: docking ships, deadly 'CBS logos,' and quirky, almost musical sound effects. Gremlin/ Sega 1980.


If you haven't heard of Galaga by now then you are truly a dweebasaurus. Midway 1981.


How many video games can you name that look better than their spin-off cartoons? Dirk the Daring tries to save his best galpal. 100% stokadelic! Cinematronics 1983.


Ms. Pac-Man is Pac-man only much better. Faster game play, walking fruit, and smarter ghosts. I remember I was playing it at a Thriftway in Salem, OR back in '82 when the store got robbed by a dufus with a gun and a mullet. The police threw the poor McFly through a window and beat the snot outta him. Namco 1982.


Donkey Kong, the first Mario game ever and one of the true greats this universe has ever spawned. I used to get paid by my Mom to do chores, $1 for vacuuming, $.75 for doing the dishes ect. On Saturday mornings she would pay me for the week before she went to work. So after my morning cartoon ritual consisting of Pac-man, Scooby and Scrappy Doo, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Spiderman and his Amazing Friends, my best bro Mike R. and I would cruise to the local 7-11 on our BMX's, buy cherry Slurpees, and blow our allowances on Donkey Kong and Defender. Money well spent. Nintendo 1981.


I have a very long history with Asteroids Deluxe beginning back in '81 when my friend Marty L.'s step dad used to manage an arcade and bring games home periodically for repair. Lucky for us A.D. was one of the most frequent visitors in his garage. On the weekends we would stay up all night playing (for free!!!) to ensure 'everything was working properly.' I still play A.D. on a regular basis, and it still gets me stoked. It's kind of a zen thing, when it's raining rocks but you have total calm and control. The official world record is 2,240,120 by Leo Daniels and although I'm not that good (yet) I'm the current record holder on GameTap. Even with its quirks: bullets passing through the targets (both to your detriment and advantage), only two guys to start off with, and the shields sometimes 'sticking,' it's still a great, great, GREAT game, period. In fact I love this game more than any other (with the possible exception of Super Mario World) and almost as much as my little lemon beagle Snoop Dog. Almost. Atari 1980.

Well that's it. If you made it this far I thank you kindly for reading my little article. I thinks it's a pretty decent list, but don't gag on a ginsu if you don't agree with my particular order or if I missed one of your favorite games. It's just one dude's opinion. Word to yer mother...Late!
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