10. Gravitar

    This game is TOUGH! But unlike some others on this list, it's not because of frantic pace or tons of enemies or complex control. You will need lots of finesse and a deft touch in this vector contest as you manipulate your ship in the face of very strong gravitational forces like Lunar Lander and Subterranea (Sega/Genesis).
    Gravitar features a variety of different sub-games which are so good that any one of them could've stood on its own as as great game. For those who love Asteroids, Space Duel or Lunar Lander, this is one game you don't want to miss!
9. Robotron: 2084
    Designed by the master himself, Eugene Jarvis, Robotron is as close to perfection as you can get in a thrill-a-minute action game. Along with Defender (also created by the masochist Jarvis), this game is one of the most difficult, fast-paced games that are noticeably absent in today's coin-ops. Robotron requires composure, complete concentration and reflexes like Nick Van Exel if you want to get very far. And when you do, get ready to take on a slew of menacing robots from the Brains, Tanks, Spheroids and others that are just licking their chops at the chance to destroy you.
    Fortunately, you are blessed with an awesome dual-joystick controller (similar to Smash TV and Space Dungeon) that allows for very precise movement and shooting to give you a fighting chance. As a result, you have no excuses for your failures other than the fact that you just plain suck :)
    This is not a game for the weak of heart.. sissies need not apply.
8. Space Dungeon
    Man, do I love this game! Space Dungeon combined the best elements of Robotron and Venture, and added a ton of new innovations to create one of the most thrilling coin-ops ever.
    Although it wasn't a super-successful coin-up, Taito's Space Dungeon nonetheless represented everything that a good arcade game should be. It offered intruiging, high-tech graphics, riveting audio accompaniment and just the proper amount of strategic viability.
    In short, Space Dungeon, like Qix and Venture, is exactly the sort of game that just aches for home translation, where players can learn the type of tactics and skill necessary to master it, without the annoying need to continue dropping tokens into the coin-up machine. Thankfully, this was not lost on Atari, obviously, when they scooped up the home console rights to this cult classic. And boy, did Atari deliver! The Atari 5200 edition of Space Dungeon is a fantastic port, and is reason along for getting the SuperSystem and a pair of dual-joystick connectors.
    Space Dungeon is the ultimate "closet classic."
7. I, Robot
    Some of Atari's best games were their obscure and unheralded ones, and I, Robot is definitely one of them (along with Gravitar, Lunar Lander, Liberator and Major Havoc). Who would've thought that a technological tour-de-force that dished out graphics on par with Starfox (in 1984) and intense 3-D action would fail so miserably? The same reason that many other excellent games released between 1983 and '85 didn't do so well.. the arcade scene was not immunte video game market crash, as hordes of exceptional titles like Blaster, Gaplus, Mr. Do's Castle and Q*Bert's Qubes had no hope of reaching the mass market in light of the disenchanted operators and gamers who were fed up with an equally large number of mediocre efforts that had glutted the marketplace.
    That's a MAJOR shame, because I, Robot is one of the most ingenious games ever created. The object of the game is to destroy a massive boss with one eye by shooting him repeatedly while his eyes are closed. The playfield is set in a first-person perspective in a space setting, where you must move and hop on different objects to avoid the laser beams from the eye. As you move closer to the boss, you are treated to some of the game's graphical high points such as smooth scaling, thanks to its polygon game engine, and immense detail. Don't jump when the eyes are open though, because you'll immediately become toast if you do!
    Simply put, I, Robot is a remarkable breakthrough in an era that badly needed it.
6. Ms. Pac-Man
(Namco, licensed to Bally/Midway)
    Few games are as timeless as the mother of dot gobblers, Ms. Pac-Man. While it was her hubby that first burst onto the scene and even had its own Rock 'N Roll theme song, it's the lady with the bow tie that's endured the test of time with its variety of mazes, upgraded artificial intelligence of the ghosts (thereby eliminating "patterns" that enabled players to conquer the game and hindered Pac-Man's popularity) and an overall upgrade in gameplay.
    Ms. Pac-Man may very well be the game that has been ported to more systems than any other game in history. Furthermore, you'll often still see the game in arcades because it's making money for the operators even to this day! This is testament to the replayability of Ms. Pac, and why mess with success?
5. Mad Planets
    Do I pick tough-as-hell games or what? The frenzied action of Mad Planets hooked me in 1984 when it first appeared in arcades, and the gameplay remains as addictive today as it's ever been. The control scheme is reminiscent of Tron, where you control a trigger joystick to move the ship and fire, while the rotary controller spins the ship in the desired direction for shooting the enemies (mostly planets).
    It's one of those games like Robotron and Sinistar: If you suck at it, you won't like it much. But keep at it, because there's no better feeling than to conquer a game that is so difficult that you'll have your friends green with envy and girls blushing in awe of your skill and manliness.
4. Crazy Climber
    Crazy Climber has quite possibly the goofiest characters and theme among the classic-era coin-ops. In this cult favorite, you're cast as a man whose goal is to climb to the top of buildings, avoiding hazardous obstacles like falling pots, menacing gorillas, broken electrical wires, barbells and even bird shit! This game is not for the casual gamer or amateur, however, as the controls take getting used to. Two joysticks are used to control the action, with the left stick used for movement of the climber's left hand and the right stick for the right hand. It is NOT easy! But stick with it, because you'll be rewarded with one of the most original, rewarding and memorable games you'll ever play.
    This classic is definitely not for the uncoordinated. One final note: In Japan, Crazy Climber was available on cartridge for the Famicom, and also for the Super Famicom and Playstation as a compilation disk along with other Nichibutsu greats. Additionally, Hyper Crazy Climber, a true update to the original, was available for the Playstation for a short time.
3. Tempest
    Tempest is arguably the finest of Atari's prolific vector game lineup and the best 3-D shooter of all-time. The crisp graphics, bright display and awesome zooming result in an engrossing experience that only a vector-based game can provide. And Atari's revolutionary analog rotary controller allowed for precise control that other games wished they had.
    Kudos go to Dave Theurer, the mastermind behind the masterpiece, and a special thanks goes to Jeff Minter (affectionately known as "Yak") for bringing a kick-ass modern update of this game to the Jaguar
2. Gaplus
(Namco, Licensed to Bally/Midway)
    Many arcaders have fond memories of Galaxian and Galaga, two of Namco's most famous sci-fi shooters in the early 80s. Few, however, have probably had the pleasure of trying out the sequel to Galaga, other than with Namco's Museum disc for the Playstation.
    As good as its predecessors were, Gaplus is even better. While some may argue that Gaplus is difficult to the extreme resulting in frustrating and unbalanced gamer, those who learn to master the game are in for a treat. Features exclusive to Gaplus include: the ability to have up to SEVEN ships lined-up at once, several power-ups, more varieties of stages and and ingenious bonus rounds.
    I was lucky enough to have a nearby arcade that actually had Gaplus back when it was available, and even today, the game remains fresh and invigorating.
1. Warlords
    Warlords didn't catch on in the arcades, and even on the VCS, it didn't exactly take the world by storm. However, it's one of those games that players, through time, have begun to appreciate more and more as they try it out the second time around. Remember also that the second best multiplayer game ever, Super Bomberman 2 (SNES), didn't set any sales records either.
    The object of Warlords is to batter down the walls of the opponents' castles and slay the monarchs inside. If a gamer winds up becoming the last surviving warlord, he'll earn himself a point, and if he wins five such battles, will go on to win an overall victory.
    The beauty of Warlords lies in its successful blending of elements from Breakout with the more traditional Pong-type games. Control is exemplary as only the precision of a paddle controller can provide.
    It's truly a shame that arcade Warlords is such a rare game these days, because it really puts the VCS version to shame. Don't get me wrong: you won't be throwing away your 2600 faster than an umpire ejecting Roberto Alomar for spitting in his face, because 2600 Warlords is a marvelous piece of programming. However, those who think that the home version is even close to the fantastic coin-op version will be in for a surprise when they note the superior graphics, complex play mechanics and additional features that are only found in the original quarter gobbler.
    Check it out if you ever get the chance!
Honorable Mentions:

  • Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe (Atari)
  • Centipede (Atari)
  • Daytona USA (Sega)
  • Discs of Tron (Bally/Midway)
  • Donkey Kong (Nintendo)
  • Frogger (Sega)
  • Galaga (Namco)
  • Gyruss (Konami)
  • Joust (Williams)
  • Karate Champ (Data East)
  • Kick Man (Bally/Midway)
  • Lady Bug (Universal)
  • Major Havoc (Atari)
  • Millipede (Atari)
  • Missile Command (Atari)
  • Monaco GP (Sega)
  • Omega Race (Bally/Midway)
  • Pac-Man (Namco, licensed to Bally/Midway)
  • Scramble (Konami)
  • Sinistar (Williams)
  • Solar Quest (Cinematronics)
  • Star Castle (Cinematronics)
  • Street Fighter II (Capcom)
  • Super Breakout (Atari)
  • Track & Field (Konami, licensed to Centuri)
  • Zaxxon (Sega)

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