One of the earliest and best arcade games, infamous for its simple vector graphics and unjustly overlooked for the difficulty and depth of its game play, Asteroids was never as popular as Space Invaders or Pac-Man, although historically, it’s almost as iconic. But its simplicity ultimately worked against it: there was nowhere to go to build a franchise out of it, not even any easy way to create variant forms of it (there’s no game that serves as the Galaga to Asteroids’ Space Invaders, for example).
Asteroids had a reasonable reign in the arcades, but even prettying up the graphics couldn’t do that much to keep it current as display technologies improved and newer games took over the marketplace. But to those of us who loved it, it will never die.
The highest-grossing and most well-known computer game of all time, Pac-Man was created by the Japanese company Namco. It first made an impact as an arcade game, but by the mid-eighties, it was available for purchase to use on home gaming consoles, and it has remained available on many gaming platforms ever since.
At the time, moral watchdogs worried about its effect on impressionable youth, but since hardly anyone who played it growing up went on to spend hours in dark surroundings listening to extremely repetitive electronic music while gobbling down a variety of pills, their concerns were clearly groundless.
One of the earliest side-scrolling arcade video games, and probably the best known and most successful side-scroller, Defender was the single best-selling game ever to come out of the Williams Electronics workshops. Defender was a legendarily difficult game, in which it was never possible to actually finish – the game just continued to scroll from right to left, with an endless stream of enemies appearing.
It was an important evolution in gaming: the horizontal scrolling of the game was a massive advance in gaming formats that paved the way for a multitude of successors, imitators and evolutions – few of which managed its challenging game play as well.
One of the classic arcade shoot-em-up games, Centipede was released in June 1980. Its success can be roughly measured by the number of sequels, clones and ports that it spawned. Although not as large a franchise as Space Invaders, Pac-Man or Donkey Kong/Mario, it is still one of the few games to have survived from its arcade beginnings to all the current games platforms.
One of the most fondly remembered arcade games of its era, Berzerk combined fast shooting action with (at the time) groundbreaking speech synthesis samples – many of which have been sampled in assorted songs and other video games in tribute to Berzerk. Most of these samples came from the robots who were the player’s main enemy in the game.
The main enemy of Berzerk, Evil Otto, appears to be a malign basketball, but he is also the only arcade game villain to have caused deaths in the real world, with two different people succumbing to heart attacks (as teenagers, yet) after marathon Berzerk sessions.
Mouse Trap was a 1981 arcade game released by Exidy, A fairly obvious Pac-Man ripoff, it was successful enough that it was also ported to three different home game systems ColecoVision, Intellivision and the Atari 2600.
Mouse Trap did at least change up certain aspects of the game from Pac-Man – there were doors that players could open and close, it was possible to store power pills for later use, there were six rather than four hunters, and bonus items were available constantly rather than intermittently. The game had a small but devoted following, however, by 1999, very few of the arcade versions of it were still extant.
One of the all time classics of arcade gaming, Frogger is a simple enough game in its concept: you have to steer a frog across a busy highway. How hard could that be, right?
Produced by Konami, and distributed by Sega and Gremlin all around the world, it was very successful as an arcade game. So it’s no surprise that it would be ported to various computer and gaming systems. Perhaps more surprising, in thirty years, it hasn’t lost much in popularity – it’s now available for nearly any platform it can be, in a variety of remakes and sequels, most of them with greatly revised and improved gameplay.
One of the most successful game franchises of all time – if not the most successful franchise – Donkey Kong originally started life as a Popeye game. Nintendo didn’t have the rights to Popeye, so they altered the characters into more original ones – although as the obviously King Kong inspired name of the game suggests, not that original. Still, it’s a good thing for them they did.
The Donkey Kong franchise has done very well itself, but Donkey Kong was also the origin of Mario, who would go on to become Nintendo’s flagship character and a highly successful game franchise in his own right. To date, across assorted media, there are more than 20 Donkey Kong games (depending on how one counts different versions of the same game), and another 30+ Mario games. It’s hard to imagine that a Popeye franchise would have been that popular.