Behold the wondrous world of arcade games where players find solace in fictional worlds full of catchy visuals and memorable characters. Many cult classics have developed a lasting reputation as the franchises evolved, producing countless modern renditions and products based on earlier variants.
Developed by Namco, Tekken first made its way to the arcades in 1994. Tekken 3 (1998) was among the popular games from the franchise, blessing us with characters like Jin Kazama, Julia Chang, Eddy Gordo, and Forest Law. The game’s replay value and design have made it a household name.
2. The King of Fighters
First released in 1994, this SNK series took the world of fighting games by storm. A direct competitor to the Street Fighter series, KoF had detailed visuals, catchy background music, and clear voice samples to make the combat experience engaging and energetic.
The series is full of memorable characters from the poster boy, Kyo Kusanagi, and Mai Shiranui, the last Shiranui ninja heiress, to my personal favorites, Leona Heidren, Heidern’s adopted daughter who has Orochi blood coursing through her veins, and Athena Asamiya, a pop-star with psionic abilities.
3. Mortal Kombat
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Mortal Kombat franchise. The International Arcade Museum notes that the game is remembered for its fatalities, including Sub-Zero’s head rip, the goriest thing back in the day. As Nintendo Life states, the game even contributed to creating the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Characters such as Scorpion, Mileena, and Kitana further add to the game’s creepy atmosphere.
4. SegaSonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of Sega’s most prominent works and a cultural icon. The 1993 game, SegaSonic the Hedgehog, hit the arcades where players had to control Sonic the Hedgehog, Mighty the Armadillo, and Ray the Flying Squirrel from an isometric perspective.
According to Sonic Retro, this was one of the earliest games to assign voice actors to characters and include on-screen dialogue.
5. Mario Bros.
The mid-80s witnessed the release of Mario Bros. in the arcade arena. Whether or not you played the earlier variants, it’s impossible not to recognize the name. According to the BBC, the franchise developed a cult following as Super Mario Bros. became the ultimate video game icon.
6. Kung-Fu Master
Irem produced this 1984 side-scrolling beat-’em-up game where players must deal with attacks from Mr. X’s minions through five floors. As Giant Bomb points out, the game was a loose adaptation of Wheels on Meals (1984), as the protagonist was named after Jackie Chan’s character, Thomas.
7. Donkey Kong
The Nintendo Company dominated the 80s with the release of Donkey Kong. Players must help Donkey Kong reach the top of the screen to advance to the next stage. The franchise was pivotal to the video game revolution as the sheer difficulty of the game made it a thrilling experience for gamers.
8. Street Fighter
The Street Fighter franchise from Capcom was a cult classic in the domain of fighting games. According to BBC, Street Fighter II‘s eye-catching visuals and character-driven fighting made it an engaging experience for players across the globe. The cultural influence of this franchise is undeniable, as witnessed in the works of Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and the Arctic Monkeys.
9. Metal Slug
I can’t imagine the arcade era without SNK’s Metal Slug run-and-gun series, which featured Marco Rossi, Tarma Roving, Fio Germi, and Eri Kasamoto as the main characters.
In an era of 3D graphics, Metal Slug used stunning pixel art and smooth animation, giving an engaging sense of space and movement. The game is full of Easter eggs and minute details, making every replay exciting.
10. Marvel vs. Capcom
The Marvel vs. Capcom series was a unique crossover between the Marvel and Capcom universes. The late 1990s saw the release of Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, the third installment in the series. It was no real surprise to see the success of this series, thanks to the extensive fanbase.
Atari reminisces over the golden age of arcade video games by celebrating Centipede’s success as one of the top four highest-grossing games in 1982. The game stood out for having a high female player base. The color graphics made it visually appealing to countless players over the decades.
12. Wonder Boy
Bliss Brain explains Wonder Boy’s cult status during the 80s and 90s. The side-scrolling action game takes the player through forests, mountains, caves, and oceans to save Boy’s girlfriend, Tina. The level design makes it an excellent platform game with unique action RPG elements.