Welcome to the first entry of our series on the best games of all time! Since Loresworn has only been around since 2015, but D.M. and T.J. have been having opinions about games much longer than that, we’re embarking on a journey through every year from 1980 to the present, listing our favorite games that came out each year. Since we were collectively only alive for four months of the 1980s, and the games industry wasn’t exactly what it is today, we’ve combined the decade into a single, Top 10 list for each of us. Every week from here on, we’ll be discussing a specific year from 1990 – 2014, listing what we think are the five best games from that year. At the end of this saga, we will look over all the games from each year to create Top 25 Games of All Time lists for each of us, and a grand Top 100 Games of All Time to stand as Loresworn’s final word on the subject! We look forward to having you along on this voyage through time. Without further ado, the Best Games of the 1980s!
Be sure to check the last page for the current rankings in the Best Game-lympics, where we will be scoring the current leaders in the Platform, Developer, and Country of Origin categories based on where each of their games place on each year’s list.
Next Week: Best Games of 1990
T.J.’s Picks, #10 – #3
Developer: Namco (Japan)
Of all the arcadey, space shoot-em-ups, Galaga is the one I remember making a beeline for whenever I spotted it in a pizza joint or at one of those horrible animatronic singing animal places we always dragged our parents to for birthdays. Fast, frantic, alien-blasting at its simplistic finest, Galaga had an enjoyable difficulty curve and a risk/reward mechanic that elevated it above similar competitors like Space Invaders, which narrowly missed being on my list.
9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Genre: Text Adventure
Developer: Infocom (US)
I missed most of the iconic text adventure of the 80s like Zork, but I did loop back around and track this one down when I was in the midst of a love affair with all things Douglas Adams in middle school. It’s just as clever, subversive, and deliciously absurd as the books on which it is based. And it’s one of the earliest games to ever subvert and poke fun at the medium itself, which has become a hallmark of some of the better humor games of later eras. Not a lot of games make me laugh out loud these days, but this little gem set almost entirely in your mind’s eye pulled it off over and over again.
8. Street Fighter
Developer: Capcom (Japan)
I’ll admit that I had been playing and enjoying other games in the Street Fighter series long before I went back and gave the original a spin out of curiosity, but I feel it still belongs on this list if for no other reason than that it ably pioneered a genre that would define a lot of my early gaming life in the 2D, side-scrolling fighter. And it did it with style, birthing a bombastic and memorable cast of martial arts maniacs that we still beat the snot out of each other with today.
Developer: Konami (Japan)
When I was a kid, Contra was the height of badassery. Even before DOOM, it was the game your conservative, religious parents didn’t want you to play. It had two dudes with big ass guns and motherfucking hardcore bandanas on it, ready to fill some fools full of lead. You felt like John Rambo the whole time you were playing it (and of course, if you were a kid in the Contra era, the only way you knew about John Rambo was sneaking it out of the Blockbuster box your dad had rented and watching it after school when your parents weren’t home). It’s also one of the first games I remember discovering had cheat codes (the infamous and oft-referenced Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start that gave you 99 lives and made it actually possible to complete the game for a youngster like myself), which made me feel like a goddamn black ops hacker. It was glorious.
6. Super Mario Bros.
Developer: Nintendo (Japan)
Super Mario Bros might be one of (possibly the) first video games I ever played, and it’s a testament to its elegant and timeless design that I’d still pick it up and get running, jumping, and pipe-diving to this very day, given the chance. It’s that holy grail of a classic game with a lot of pop culture recognition that actually does hold up, despite its age. The stylized, children’s book and/or acid trip-evoking art is as whimsical and readable as it was in the age of rectangular controllers with eight buttons. Perhaps most impressive of all: even today, as an adult who has completed three Dark Souls games, I have never cleared the original Mario Bros’ World 8-8. And I still tilt at it whenever the opportunity presents.
Developer: Bullfrog (UK)
This is another game I’ve only played in a limited capacity as a retrospective measure, and is largely on the list due to its status as a competent precursor to the later Populous: The Beginning, a game I did play during its heyday and enjoyed quite a lot. The idea of embodying a powerful, somewhat detached force with great influence over the environment, but still relying on fragile, expendable humans to accomplish direct objectives was novel and highly entertaining. It’s a shame the genre hasn’t stuck around much – the most recent successor being Populous mastermind Peter Molyneaux’s own, underwhelming Godus.
4. The Oregon Trail
Platform: Apple II
Developer: MECC (US)
Sitting in the Frontier Elementary School computer lab in front of that iconic, black-and-green Apple II display (the one year we had them, before Windows 95 machines and their fancy, point-and-click interface invaded), each of us tots was acutely aware of an implicit promise: If we finished our math lesson or sentence diagramming or whatever, we could use the rest of computer class to play Oregon Trail. Possibly the first history-based game I really enjoyed (portentous, given my current addiction to all things Paradox), The Oregon Trail was also one of the first long-form, narrative games I remember sinking my teeth into. The Willamette Valley was the shining prize at the end. It took many playthroughs for a grade schooler to even reach it, and not everyone did. A successful journey across the prarie was enough to attract a gaggle of classmates to crowd around and watch over your shoulder as you felt like the greatest frontier badass of all time. And given that most runs ended in perma-death, it was also one of the first Roguelike games I ever cursed at.
Developer: Maxis (US)
Similar to Populous, SimCity was a game that gave a kid with a lot of people telling them what to do a tremendous sense of power. Not only that, but the way its various systems for economic development, city services, and construction linked together in created a level of verisimilitude very uncommon for the era. It looks very rudimentary today, but I remember being able to imagine the lives of the people dwelling in my metropolis and how my decisions were affecting them for good or ill.