Top 10 90s Arcade Games

Do you remember when walking into an amusement arcade represented the only chance to play a good computer game? Do you remember when a trip to the seaside meant spending literally hours crawling from cabinet to cabinet, with a bulging pocket filled with loose change as you attempted to have a go at every title before your parents dragged you away? Do you remember the allure of a well designed game surround, beckoning you forth with it’s cheap synth soundtrack that had to battle for supremacy amidst the chorus of other such clashing jingles? 

If so then you were a child of the 80s and early 90s – a glorious time when the arcade game was king, and the thought of ever having a game of such quality in the home was nought but a fool’s dream. Ah how the world has changed.

But enough with the nostalgic ramblings…..oh wait no, actually nowhere near enough. Arcade games really were king. A proving ground for the youth of yesteryear to test their mettle in front of friends, family and total strangers. So which were the best?

These are our favourites.

10. Killer Instinct


There have been many pretenders to the throne of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but this was my favourite. Like the games it served to mimic it had great characters, a great list of original special moves to learn and also represented a huge leap forward in rendered graphics. I remember a local video shop had the Killer Instinct cabinet in their shop in the 90s, and you could guarantee it would have a massive crowd around it every saturday, as the local kids vied for supremacy before being picked up by their mums.

9. Moonwalker


Back in the days when the king of pop was still considered to be the coolest man on the planet, before Martin Bashir’s documentary cemented him as a bit of a loon, an arcade machine based on MJ’s movie of the same name was a no brainer. Giving kids the chance to play with Michael (an interesting change of pace from real life) led to the only sideways scrolling fighter that used dance moves as a way to bring down multiple foes. 

8. Streetfighter 2


The fighter so good it made you forget that it ever had a predecessor. Streetfighter 2 is the beat-em-up that gave a generation of thumbs blisters. It also gave rise to the now fighting game standard joystick manoeuvre of a semi circle turn from left to right, which would lead to either a sonic boom, a spinning bird kick or a well placed hadouken!

However what really made the game shine was the characterisation. I remember the debates and arguments about which character was best – and everyone had their favourite. People defined themselves by which fighter they would always choose….mine was Guile…in case you were wondering…but you probably weren’t.

7. Virtua Cop 2


Improved graphics, improved guns and the ability to select different paths mid level made this an incredible follow up to the original, and a guaranteed draw (pun intended) in every arcade.

Where the first game felt a little slow in terms of camera movements within the scenery of each level, this sequel had speed, right from the opening robbery and car chase levels flashed by at lightning pace. Sweaty palms and palpitations usually ensued, and we loved it!

6. Mortal Kombat 1 and 2


Bringing hyper real graphics and a bucket of blood to the arcade made this franchise a winner from the off. It offended parents across the board and launched a raft of new fighters that became iconic the world over. It also made “Finish Him” a playground catchphrase, used in every fight. 

The only sad part is I never knew what to do when that guy appeared in the bottom right corner and shouted “Toastie!” in a high pitched voice. Apparently there was some button combo you could press that would lead to an in game easter egg, but I never got it. Sad.

5. Sega Rally


For my money this is still the greatest driving game of all time. Yes I admit it has been outdone in terms of graphics, realistic handling, more course selections, better choice of cars….pretty much everything. But Sega Rally set the precedent for all the rest. It was the first driving game that felt like a realistic experience. To me it was the video game equivalent of something like Jurassic Park – it felt magical and real, and even if just for a few minutes I felt like a rally driver. Just one of the many reasons Sega will always hold my game playing heart.

4. Virtua Fighter


It’s hard to picture a world without 3D landscape games. But it used to be little more than a pipe dream. So when Virtua Fighter came along, with its sideways shimmying move to evade attacks, rather than only having the ‘block’ button we had become accustomed to, the world of gaming was given a shot in the arm.

3. Time Crisis 1, 2, 3


How do you top a shooting game the calibre of Virtua Cop? How do you make your game stand out without just coming off as a total ripoff? The answer came in the genius form of a metal foot pedal. 

Time Crisis managed to become the most exciting shoot-em-up purely because you could hide around corners and thrust yourself out into the fray at will. We all were given the chance to be that guy in the action film crouching behind a wall, gun raised and poised for the perfect kill shot.

It was exhilarating and immersive in a way few games have ever achieved. It also made you look cool as hell in the arcade. And it’s still a bowling alley mainstay to this day!

2. TMNT and Turtles in Time


Games that allow you to play as your favourite characters are the best, particularly in an arcade. Not only to you get to assert which avatar you identify with the most, but you also get to show a group of snot nosed kids just how much pain you’d dish out if you really were Donatello…am I right? 

The original Turtles arcade machine was the most exciting thing ever! When you walked into the arcade and heard that theme tune kicking out, you knew shit was about to go down. And then when the vastly superior sequel came out it was like you’d spent the first part of your life in heaven, only to be given the keys to heaven’s VIP lounge. And that lounge had arcade machines. And I was Donatello!

1. The Simpsons Arcade


No 90s trip to the seaside was complete without a go on this. It is the arcade machine that everyone has searched eBay for at least once, and is the best sideways scrolling fighter of all time. The only problem was that you had to get there first to ensure you could be Homer or Bart. It was always gutting to have to be Marge. 

There have been many, many, many Simpsons video games over the years, but this one was by far and away the best.

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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