What was it Like Playing Video Games in the 80s?

Take a trip back in time as we recap a beloved era of gaming.

When you’re done, time travel to the 90s!

Recommended Videos

Ah, the 80s. Back then things were a little more carefree. Whether you watched Muppet Babies episodes or Hulk Hogan body slam Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3, the decade of excess had something for everyone.

Of course, it was also the era that video games took hold of pop culture. The arcades thrived, only to dwindle again, and the home market found a pick-me-up from a surprise player, Nintendo. It was a special time.

On that note, we stepped into the time machine to recap 34 awesome things we loved about 80s gaming. You may not remember them all, but it’s worth reliving or experiencing for the first time.

Blowing up the Death Star in the Star Wars Arcade Game 

Watching the Death Star explode in the original 1977 Star Wars was incredible. Atari somehow replicated that feeling with its arcade game, where you could destroy the battle station on your own terms. KABOOM.

Seeing “The Chase” Cut Scene from Ms. Pac-Man

Bally/Midway’s follow-up to Pac-Man included a handful of great cinemas to keep the player going through each maze. One in particular was a real delight, watching Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man pursue each other like true lovebirds.

That Annoying Dog Laughing at You in Duck Hunt


It’s bad enough that your aim sucks with the NES Zapper and you can’t hit ducks. On top of that, your loyal mutt snickers at your performance after the round. Hey buddy, don’t forget who feeds you. Image Source

Flying in Super Mario Bros. 3


Wait…you can fly? When playing Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time and acquiring the Raccoon suit, you can build up speed and take to the air with Mario, reaching a new area. Who knew that a plumber could soar? Image Source

Beating Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! 

Nintendo’s boxing game throws many opponents your way, but the most challenging one, no doubt, is Tyson. With his lightning quick punches and reflexes, you’ll be lucky to land enough strikes to make him tumble. At least your ears are safe. Knocking him our, naturally, was sweet science indeed.

Using the Konami Code to Beat Contra

With the release of Contra on the NES, Konami introduced its famous code: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. With it, you could get 30 soldiers, as well as other effects in different games, like Gradius and Life Force. Clearly the greatest cheat code in video game history.

E.T. Almost Destroys the Video Game Industry with the Infamous Crash 


Leave it to Atari and the mega-licensed but poorly produced E.T. the Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 to bring the video game industry crumbling down. In 1983, excessive and unsold copies of the game led to a crippling blow for sales – and the industry didn’t recover until 1985 with Nintendo and the NES. How bad was it? Atari reportedly buried the unsold cartridges in New Mexico.

Becoming a World Warrior in Capcom’s Street Fighter 

In 1989, Capcom launched a new franchise that would stick with fans for well over 20 years – Street Fighter. Featuring two-player versus mechanics and the ability to perform special moves, the game achieved cult status. However, its popularity exploded two years later with the arrival of Street Fighter II. For the record, Karate Champ was the first competitive fighting game, but its two-joystick system wasn’t well received.

Beating Dragon’s Lair for the First Time

Back in 1983, Dragon’s Lair was quite the innovation, allowing gamers to play through an interactive cartoon. It had its frustrating moments – pushing the joystick the wrong way and leading Dirk the Daring to a hilarious demise – but the true satisfaction came from beating the game and getting that kiss from Princess Daphne. So worth it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Four-Player Arcade Romps

When Konami introduced the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a four-player beat-em-up, it gained huge success, allowing a group of friends to work together to battle the likes of Shredder, Krang and other foes from the series. The fun continued on the NES a year later with a modified port of the game – although the real fun was playing through it again in 2007 on Xbox Live. Cowabunga!

Discovering that Samus Aran…is a Woman?!

One of the biggest shockers to come out of Nintendo’s games in the 80s occurred during the ending sequence for Metroid. After fighting through various rooms and eventually bringing down Mother Brain, you discover that Samus Aran is in fact a kick-ass chick. This was an epic move on Nintendo’s part.

Getting Double the Firepower in Galaga

Know what bummed us out the first time we played Galaga? Watching our ship get captured by a snarky alien. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve it by shooting that sucker out of the air, then connecting the captured ship with our current spacecraft for double the firepower. Now that’s how you clean up high scores on the challenging stages.

Grabbing a Falling Human in Mid-Air While Playing Defender


Saving humans is a big hassle in Williams’ classic arcade game, especially when enemy ships try to pick them up. Luckily, you can blast those ships out of the sky, then come swooping in to grab the human before he or she perishes from the fall. Sorry, aliens, it’s just not your day.

“Thank you, but our princess is in another castle!”


Wait a second. There’s a booby-trapped castle that Mario has to get through, and then a monstrous turtle creature guarding the door that needs to be avoided. After defeating him, we go to reap the rewards – and it’s just a toad person? It would’ve been nice to know which castle the Princess was in. Oh wait, world 8-4. Yep, we’re there. Image Source

Mario Pulls a Surprise Heel Turn and Becomes the Villain 


After playing the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, you come to appreciate the character’s (originally called Jumpman) heroic deeds. However, then you play Donkey Kong Jr. and realize that Mario has not only captured his nemesis, but also commands an army of evil animals. Thankfully, he would make amends years later – but the scars remain.

Using the Power Glove and Going to See The Wizard

Mattel’s Power Glove controller was – and continues to be – a perplexing device where you use your hand to play certain games. For that matter, Nintendo couldn’t help but promote the peripheral with the Fred Savage movie The Wizard – which by the way, advertised Super Mario Bros. 3. It sold well, and continues to be a popular prop, though it still doesn’t work as well as we’d like. As for The Wizard, it was a better flick than Super Mario Bros.: The Movie, right? Even with dialogue like, “He touched my breast!” Not to mention Christian Slater.

The First Time You Received the Power Sword in the Legend of Zelda

“It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” After walking into a cave and finding a helpful old man, you’re blessed with a powered-up sword that can shoot a beam at enemies with a full charge. The first time using it, we couldn’t help but feel like we had all the power in the world – even if the Triforce was just outside our reach.

Genesis Does 

After spending years with the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System, we thought gaming couldn’t get any better. In 1989, the Sega Genesis came along and changed that, with faithful ports of such arcade games as Altered Beast, Ghouls n’ Ghosts and more – but for home play! It would lead to an infamous 16-bit war in the early 90s that changed the game industry.

Stealing Enemies’ Weapons in Mega Man


Even with its atrocious cover art, Mega Man went on to create a trailblazing new franchise for Capcom in the 80s. In addition, it introduced an ideal concept – defeat enemies in battle, then steal their abilities. It stayed with the series throughout numerous sequels, and continues to be one of the Blue Bomber’s best traits today. While on the subject of Mega Man, sequel please.

When Metal Gear’s Cover Art Totally Ripped Off The Terminator 

Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear is an NES classic, despite cover art shenanigans. Snake’s epic post was ripped from a promotional still of Michael Biehn from the 1984 film, The Terminator. Biehn went on to mock his own macho image in Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Image Source

But Nothing Tops Fabio’s Awesome Ironsword Box Art 

Ironsword is a great sequel to the NES game Wizards & Warriors, but it came with a rather strange perk. Featured on the cover art is none other than Fabio, decked out like a Conan-esque hero. What’s strange about this is that your character in the game is quite different from the one pictured here. Ah well, you didn’t expect them to use Fabio in the game, right? Image Source

Nintendo Cereal Delivers the Best of Both Worlds

There’s no question that Nintendo took advantage of licensing every chance it could get. Case in point – Nintendo cereal, where you could eat puffy Mario, Goomba and Link pieces while playing your favorite games. The cereal was all right, but the excellent commercial is what we most remember.

Captain Lou Fights Evil in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! 

Speaking of corny Nintendo stuff we couldn’t get enough of, the 80s also brought us the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, where Captain Lou Albano – the wrestler who glued rubber bands to his face – and Danny Wells provided a combination of live-action and cartoon fun. The episodes were bizarre yet hilarious, featuring the likes of Cyndi Lauper, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and pre-Baywatch Nicole Eggert.

Activision’s Collectable Patches Inspire Players to Achieve


Long before we had collections of digital Trophies and Achievements, gamers earned real awards that they could wear on their sleeves. Activision actually provided wearable badges once gamers proved they could meet real accomplishments in their games, including Pitfall!, Spider Fighter and River Raid, among others. Good luck collecting them all. Image Source

Pitfall! Kick Starts the Platform Genre 


The third-party gaming landscape as we know it got started with a little-known company called Activision, and one of the games that helped lead the charge was Pitfall! In this adventure game, you hunted for treasure while avoiding dangerous enemies and swinging over large chasms. As simplistic as it is now, we couldn’t get enough of it back in the day.

The Rappin’ Zelda Kid 

This…is just inexplicable. Some kid tries to introduce his friend to The Legend of Zelda on his NES, which is innocent enough. Then he launches into some kind of crazy rap to explain how cool the game is. At the very least, it could’ve been worse – he could’ve been rapping about Gumshoe.

Meeting R.O.B.


Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System was introduced in 1985, it came with a unique pack-in – a robot pal known as R.O.B. You interacted with this character through a game called Gyromite, where you play a scientist working his way through levels while avoiding pipes. Although the gimmick was a novelty at best, R.O.B. became a cult favorite amongst Nintendo fans. In addition, he also ended up in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Subscribing to Nintendo Power, and Bugging Your Parents to Call the Nintendo Hotline 


Back when game magazines were few and far between, Nintendo produced its own publication, Nintendo Power, which came jam packed with hints and tips on various NES and Game Boy games, as well as other features and contests. It became a hugely popular publication for years, before eventually shutting down in December 2012. The magazine and Nintendo Hotline disappeared, but the memories remain. Image Source

The Game Boy Puts Tetris in Your Pocket…or Backpack 


Nintendo wasn’t satisfied with conquering the home gaming market – it wanted to do something with portable systems as well. Enter the Game Boy, which made its debut in 1989 with a handful of games people could take on the go. Sure, the unlit lime green screen didn’t do many favors to nighttime gamers, but being able to take Tetris wherever you went was spectacular. Of course, we can’t forget about Super Mario Land. Image Source

Starcade – Yes Please, Give Us Arcade Games 

Back when video games were becoming a cultural phenomenon, Turner Broadcasting Systems (TBS) launched a weekly game show called Starcade, where players competed to win their own arcade game. Hosted by Geoff Edwards, the show would remained on the air for several years before fading into obscurity. Side note: the host of the original pilot was none other than Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek!

The Moment We Realized Tengen’s NES Tetris was Better than Nintendo’s 


Nintendo did an admirable job with the Tetris franchise, but considering that Tengen’s “unofficial” version was similar to the arcade game and featured a two-player versus mode, we couldn’t resist it.

Killing Coily for the First Time in Q*Bert 

That dastardly purple snake followed you everywhere on the board in this quasi-3D action game. The best way to get rid of him? Hop over to a disc and watch him jump off the edge. You’d think he would look before he leaped.

Eating Your Friends in Rampage 


Rampage is one of the best multiplayer games from the 80s, a monstrous action title where you’re tasked to destroy cities with one of three creatures. If you take too much damage, though, you turn back into a human. As a monster, you can pick this person up and eat them for additional energy. Nothing personal, little guy. Image Source

Blowing into Nintendo Cartridges to Make Them Work 


Last but certainly not least, who could forget that look of disappointment after inserting a game cartridge into the NES and getting nothing but a solid colored screen? Not to worry! There was an easy way to fix this – blow the dust out of the cartridge and re-insert it into the system. Boom, your game works again! It’s a shame we can’t do the same for red-ringed Xbox 360s. Image Source

Did we forget your favorite video game memory from the 80s? Let us know.

Top Story Image

Prima Games is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom Just Gets It
Read Article Top 5 Most Played Games on Steam in 2024
How to Claim Steam 20th Anniversary Rewards
Read Article Into the Light Is The Best “Free Trial” Destiny 2 Has Ever Had
Destiny 2 Final Shape Tower
Related Content
Read Article Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom Just Gets It
Read Article Top 5 Most Played Games on Steam in 2024
How to Claim Steam 20th Anniversary Rewards
Read Article Into the Light Is The Best “Free Trial” Destiny 2 Has Ever Had
Destiny 2 Final Shape Tower
Prima Games Staff
The staff at Prima Games.