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The classic 80s arcade games we loved the most

Every week we poll people around the office to see what makes them tick. This week we asked which games were their favorites back in the 1980s, when arcades were everywhere.

Jason Parker
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
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1 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Ms. Pac Man (1981)

Editor's note: Every week we poll people around the office to see what makes them tick. This week we asked which games were their favorites back in the 1980s, when arcades were everywhere.

Ms. Pac Man (Midway Games) wasn't just the first arcade game I ever played, it was my first video game. Pretty slow-moving by today's standards, in retrospect it seems somewhat zen. But it  didn't require terrific coordination, so the barroom tabletop version was perfectly suited to my inebriated gameplay.

  • Lori Grunin, senior editor
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2 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Robotron 2084 (1982)

Robotron 2084 (Williams Electronics) had to be one of the dumbest and most injury inducing arcade games from the 80s. There were two joysticks, which my adolescent brain could never quite master, one that aimed and the other that shot. Pain throbbed in my wrists by the end of each game and I often needed recovery time between rounds. 

I had no strategy, nor any idea what I was doing. I broke a sweat the second the game started, heart racing, breath quickening, a litany of curse words streaming from my lips as I completed wave after wave. 

Robotron was the best. Just shoot, ideally in every direction at once, and try not to die. Ostensibly you were trying to save a bunch of lazy humans that walked around aimlessly, never justifying their existence, but in reality, the chaos of the battle was the only thing that mattered.

  • Chris Robertson, director of product management
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3 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Joust (1982)

There are so many, but if I have to pick one, it's Joust (Williams Electronics). Where I grew up, there was a store where all the kids would go after school to buy candy and sodas and it had a wall that always had five or six arcade cabinets set up. I'd go there every day and pump quarters into Joust and with all the practice, I ended up at the top of the high score list for a long time. By the end I could put in one quarter and play for close to two hours. I just wish it was an acceptable thing to put on a resume.

  • Jason Parker, senior editor
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4 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Star Wars (1983)

Man, the original Star Wars (Atari, Inc.) arcade game was just the coolest. I made a beeline for it every time I went to Chuck E. Cheese. The controller yoke made it feel like you were really piloting Luke's X-wing, and if you managed to find an arcade that had the cockpit version of this game, it was even more amazing. It also had digitized bits of dialogue from the movie. I loved this game even though I'd get my ass kicked by all those fireballs the TIE fighters fired at me.

Jeff Sparkman, senior copy editor

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5 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Kangaroo (1982)

Sure, Kangaroo (Sun Electronics, Atari) looks a lot like Donkey Kong, but come on, it's way cuter. I'd rather play as a boxing-glove-wearing mama kangaroo on a quest to save her joey than plain old Mario any day.  

Our weird little mall arcade in Maplewood, Minnesota, had this game, and I loved it, even though I was cheerfully terrible at it. Still not sure why a bunch of monkeys wanted to kidnap a baby kangaroo, but inscrutable are the laws of the pixelated jungle. 

  • Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, contributing editor

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6 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Spy Hunter (1983)

Most of my quarters in the 80s went into games developed or licensed by Midway Games. And while the list of those games is long -- Galaxian/Galaga, Joust, Robotron: 2084, Gauntlet, Paperboy, 720° and Rampage to name a few -- I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing Spy Hunter (Bally Midway), a game that went absolutely nowhere. For some reason, I couldn't resist endlessly racing along and taking out enemies behind me with a well-timed smoke screen or oil slick or in front of me with machine guns and missiles -- all done to the soundtrack of the Peter Gunn theme song. And then, when it looked like my luck might run out, the weapons van would show up. I was a 9-year-old James Bond (if only until my parents finished grocery shopping). 

  • Josh Goldman, senior editor
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7 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Sinistar (1983)

Sinistar (Williams Electronics) gave me anxiety like nothing else.  Generally solid controls with the track ball (although a bit of a learning curve if you weren't already initiated with arcade golf or something.)  Pretty chill ... cruising through space ... spinnin' around all zero-g and shootin' asteroids and UFO's ... no big deal, pretty standard fare ... then suddenly "BEWARE COWARD! RUN RUN!" >> *insert panic attack and frantic button mashing.*

  • Bryan VanGelder, studio/production manager 
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8 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Star Trek (1983)

I actually had to look this up to make sure I didn't make it up. I remember going to my local arcade down the street and gravitating to Star Trek (Sega) immediately. It actually wasn't very popular so I could always play although I never felt like I got to play enough. 

You played as the captain of the Enterprise traveling from sector to sector dispatching Klingons at will, all the while managing the ship's power, weapons, and shields. If you got in trouble you could warp out of it, but that would eat up your ship's power. To replenish, you would need to find the nearest Starbase and dock with it. It was all wireframe graphics but I liked how it used a variation of the Spock voice when it said "Welcome aboard Captain" every time the game started. 

Obviously, looking back, it seems pretty archaic. But I would still play it now if it was in the arcade. If there are even still arcades out there (and no Dave and Busters is not the same).  

  • Mitchell Chang, senior video producer
9 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Battlezone (1980)

I spent many hours peering through the periscope of a simulated tank, working the control levers and firing at enemies in Battlezone (Atari, Inc). The arcade was on my way home from high school, so that meant a daily stopover, and I was entranced by the green vector graphics and the infinite world. Amidst a flat landscape with mountains in the distance, all defined by electric green lines, enemy tanks appeared. I maneuvered so I could blast them out of the way in a battle that never relented.

  • Wayne Cunningham, senior editor
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10 of 10 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Journey (1983)

Who cares about Pac-Man and Frogger, when you can be a FREAKING ROCK STAR?! In the Journey (Bally Midway) arcade game, it's your mission to help band members Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Steve Smith, Jonathan Cain and Ross Valory (in hilarious digitized versions of themselves) find their missing musical instruments (each on a different planet) and then at the end play a rockin' concert for happy fans. My favorite part of the game was during the concert you get to play Herbie the bouncer who has to prevent overly-enthusiastic audience members from rushing the stage. If fans do storm the stage, they steal the instruments and you have to go find them in even more difficult levels of the game. One of the highlights of playing the game is hearing  an 8-bit musical version of Journey's hit song "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" -- which seems appropriate considering the game challenges. 

  • Bonnie Burton, contributing editor

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