From the bright, eye-catching marquees to the 8-bit sounds of gameplay, stepping into a classic arcade instantly transports you back in time. For those who grew up going to arcades during the retro gaming craze of the 1980s and 90s, these iconic machines represent countless hours of childhood entertainment. Today, classic arcade games allow you to relive nostalgic memories and experience the unique gameplay that defined a generation.
In this post, we’ll highlight the top 5 can’t-miss classic arcade machines and provide tips on choosing the perfect cabinet to bring home. Whether you’re looking to invest in an authentic piece of gaming history or want a machine the whole family can enjoy, pinball tables and other classic arcades offer thrilling, competitive fun.
The Legendary Pac-Man Remains a Must-Play
Perhaps no arcade game is as iconic and instantly recognizable as Pac-Man. Designed by Toru Iwatani and released by Namco in 1980, this maze chase game was an immediate success. Gamers guided the cheerful, yellow Pac-Man through a maze, gobbling up dots and avoiding colorful ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde. With its clever game mechanics, cute characters, and catchy musical jingles, Pac-Man fever soon swept the world.
Pac-Man was the first arcade game to garner mainstream popularity and appeal to both men and women. By 1982, it had become the best-selling arcade game in North America. Today, Pac-Man remains one of the highest-grossing video games of all time. Beyond stellar sales, Pac-Man cemented its place in history through merchandising, music, and pop culture influence.
For many gamers, no home arcade is complete without this trailblazing title. Relive the magic of this quarter-munching classic on an authentic Pac-Man machine.
Space Invaders – The Game that Revolutionized the Industry
The late 70s saw the rise of space shooter games, but Space Invaders dramatically impacted the industry in terms of graphics, gameplay, and profitability. Designed by Tomohiro Nishikado and released in 1978, this alien-blasting adventure pitted the player’s laser cannon against rows of marching extraterrestrials.
Space Invaders introduced a number of firsts: it was the first game to track high scores, move sprites at varying speeds, and feature background music during gameplay. The simple graphics, increasing difficulty level, and competitive goal of achieving a high score made it intensely addicting. Space Invaders became synonymous with arcades and the game that launched the Golden Age of gaming.
Beyond storied place in history, Space Invaders offers classic, skill-based fun. With timed enemy movements and projectiles to dodge, mastering your laser cannon is engaging and rewarding. Experience this pioneering title by bringing home an iconic Space Invaders arcade.
Defender – Saving Humanity in Gripping Gameplay
This classic arcade game thrust players into a rescue mission across alien terrain. Released by Williams Electronics in 1981, Defender immersed gamers in a shooting gallery-style format with horizontal and vertical movement. Players defended humankind by operating a spaceship to protect allied astronauts from capture.
Defender wowed gamers with its fast-paced, strategic action. Full of explosions and obstacles, players could shoot enemies while navigating tunnels, mountains, and abductors. The game tested hand-eye coordination with controls that managed thrust, reverse, and firing capabilities. Defender also introduced scrolling graphics to arcade games, creating an expansive play environment.
Beyond adrenaline-filled action, Defender built a legacy as one of the most successful and influential titles by developer Eugene Jarvis. Grab the controls of your on-screen spaceship and protect the human race from invasion!
Donkey Kong – Jumpman’s Journey to Save Pauline
This classic platform game that made Mario famous. Released by Nintendo in 1981, Donkey Kong challenged players to guide protagonist Jumpman up a construction site to save Lady (later named Pauline) from the giant ape.
Donkey Kong stood out for its characters, multiple stages, and innovative game mechanics. Jumpman had to navigate ladders, moving elevators, and barrels tossed by Donkey Kong. The game introduced the ability to leap over obstacles, an important platforming element. With its clever graphics and animations, Donkey Kong was an early title that focused on characterization and storytelling.
The game was a breakthrough for prominent designer Shigeru Miyamoto and spawned the Super Mario Bros franchise. For a vital piece of gaming history starring iconic characters, add Donkey Kong to your home collection. Climb the girders while avoiding barrels to save Pauline from the famous ape!
Galaga – Shoot ‘Em Up Mastery
This popular fixed shooter cemented its legacy through challenging, absorbing gameplay. Released by Namco in 1981, Galaga built on Space Invaders’ foundation with faster firing enemies and increased scoring opportunities. Players controlled a starfighter to destroy alien bugs and achieve a high score.
Galaga captured fans with its compelling gameplay loop of shooting aliens while avoiding enemy fire. Timed bonus stages allowed you to shoot captives for extra points. Galaga became renowned for flawless level design that kept players coming back. Mastering its precise controls and gameplay required dedication and skill.
Blast waves of extraterrestrial insects in this fixed shooter! With exhilarating dogfights and high-score chasing, Galaga offers an addictive, skilful experience for all fans of the shoot ’em up genre.
Choosing Your Ideal Classic Arcade Machine
If reliving these quintessential classics has you ready to bring home an arcade, here are key tips for choosing the perfect machine:
- Consider the space needed – upright, cocktail, and cabaret cabinets have different footprint sizes. Ensure you have adequate room for your machine.
- Set a budget for purchasing the cabinet itself plus any needed repairs or refurbishment. Authentic, working classics often run $500 to over $3000.
- Prioritize games you have nostalgia for or that fit your gameplay tastes. Look for classic titles you can enjoy solo or competitively.
- Decide on dedicated or multigame – dedicated cabinets feature one game while multigame options have 100+ classic titles to switch between.
- Buy refurbished or original condition based on your budget and repair capabilities. Refurbished machines may have maintenance flaws.
- Ensure you can access reputable techs for niche repairs needed on older electronics. Proper maintenance is key.
Owning a classic arcade machine combines vintage style with engaging, competitive fun sure to delight family and friends. With a restored classic, you can experience the sights, sounds, and gameplay that defined arcades during their golden era. Power up your home with these iconic machines!
Frequently Asked Questions
What maintenance is required for classic arcade machines?
To keep your cabinet functioning properly, expect to periodically clean the controls, monitor screen, and internal hardware. Replace fuses, buttons, and joysticks as needed. Refurbished machines may require extra repairs.
What should I budget to buy an authentic classic arcade game?
Prices range widely based on rarity, condition, and demand. Iconic games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders start around $1800 and can exceed $5000 for pristine condition. Less popular games start around $500.
Can I build my own arcade machine?
You can purchase DIY kits or build your own cabinet and use emulators to run the games virtually. This is cheaper than buying an original but won’t provide an authentic experience.
Are replacement and repair parts available?
For common classics like Pac-Man, replacement parts are made. Rare game boards or specialized components may be hard to find and expensive. Check availability before purchasing a cabinet.
What questions should I ask a seller when buying used?
Inquire about its working condition, needed repairs, monitor tube status, and funcion of buttons and joysticks. Ask when it was last powered on and serviced. Request photos of internal parts.
How difficult is it to move these heavy machines?
Arcades weigh 100-400 pounds. Moving them requires 2+ strong people and a dolly to avoid damage. Hire professional movers rather than risking injury moving an authentic cabinet.
Are there hidden costs to owning a classic arcade game?
Beyond the original purchase price, be prepared for ongoing costs like:
- Repair and maintenance
- Replacement joysticks, buttons, wiring
- Occasional monitor tube replacement
- Electrical work or installing a new outlet if needed
- Restoration costs if the cabinet requires extensive repairs
- Moving expenses if you relocate the machine
What are recommendations for cleaning and maintenance?
- Use a microfiber cloth and gentle, non-abrasive cleaner to wipe down the game cabinet
- Clean monitor screens carefully to avoid damaging them
- Use compressed air to dust fans and internal hardware
- Vacuum dust and debris from ventilation openings
- Keep drinks away to avoid spills and stickiness
- Test buttons, joysticks, and controllers periodically for responsiveness
How can I preserve the machine so it retains its value?
- Try not to modify the original hardware or drill holes unnecessarily
- Don’t expose the machine to moisture, high humidity, or temperature extremes
- Handle components gently when cleaning to avoid damage
- Obtain authentic replacement parts when repairs are needed
- Consider having valuable arcade cabinets professionally appraised
Are modern home options available that emulate classic games?
For more affordable retro gaming, consider:
- Raspberry Pi or Pandora’s Box systems preloaded with 1000s of games
- Arcade1Up 3/4 scale home machines with original art
- AtGames Legends virtual pinball and arcade machines
- Multi-cade machines with multiple emulated games in one cabinet
- Retro game consoles like NES/SNES Classic and Genesis Mini
While not authentic, these emulate classics without high cost and maintenance.
What tips can help me negotiate a lower price on an arcade machine?
- Note any cosmetic flaws or non-working components to request a discount
- Point out needed repairs and ask for the price to reflect that
- Buy in off months – prices are often lower in winter vs. summer
- Offer to pay cash rather than credit for a lower cost
- Bid on auctions ending soon with no reserves to get bargains
- Bundle multiple machines into one purchase for a volume discount
Doing thorough research enables finding the perfect classic arcade machine! With care and maintenance, your cabinet will provide hours of gaming nostalgia and excitement for years to come.