Remember waiting to play your turn in Street Fighter II? Or perhaps you remember playing the X-Men coin-op game with your friends?
Who didn’t love the glorious days of the arcade? A central location where you could meet up with all of your friends and play the latest, cutting-edge videogames all on the newest arcade machines.
Arcades were where gaming came to show off, and it was often a showcase of the latest stuff to come down the road. Not only were arcade games a cheap and accessible way to enjoy videogames, but they also tested out new gameplay concepts and introduced the world to iconic series.
With the decline of the arcades and the rise of the ultra powerful home consoles and PCs, whole generations of gamers will never get to experience the joy that was the arcade. Thankfully the home emulation scene has solved this problem with a slew of games that are arcade-perfect ports and totally ready to play on your PC. Thanks to systems such as MAME – the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator – which play the original game roms (typically from zip files or the source code) the history of the arcade is being preserved with stunningly simple user interfaces and classic arcade fun!
Without further ado, here are the 10 top MAME arcade games you can play today:
10. King of Fighters ‘98
SNK’s iconic King of Fighters series brings together all of SNK’s iconic characters in a battle royal the likes of which the fighting game world has rarely seen. These games are known for sporting huge rosters, but 98 takes the cake with its gigantic roster of every character that had appeared in a King of Fighters game so far.
Deep gameplay and beautiful graphics combined with perfect, crystal clear arcade sound make King of Fighters 98 the quintessential 1990s arcade fighting game experience. Released in 1998 and most recently for the Nintendo Switch in 2017, King of Fighters ‘98 is a timeless classic that is a must-play for fans of fighting games, particularly SNK fighting games.
9. Golden Axe Arcade
Sega’s legendary dominance of the arcade is what helped catapult the company into rivalry status with fellow Japanese software and hardware giant Nintendo. Golden Axe Arcade is Sega’s keen arcade sensibilities on full display and is easily one of the most epic, engaging experiences anyone could have in the arcade at the time. Featuring three selectable characters and an awesome storyline for an arcade game, Golden Axe would go on to spawn a series that would thrive mainly in the home console market but which also spawned another arcade game later (a beautiful, lush affair that reimagines the classic core gameplay of the original). While the home ports are competent and even comparable to the arcade iteration, we think this game is best played in its original arcade format, and to do that you need a MAME emulator.
8. X-Men Arcade
Another iconic title that many gamers remember fondly from their quarter crunching days at the local arcade is a 1980s-fantastic version of X-Men that is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up from Konami. Probably one of the most well-known arcade games to come out of Konami’s string of hit beat ‘em ups (including entries from The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade), X-Men Arcade also helped catapult the titular heroes to iconic status.
The 1990s was all about the X-Men, and for a lot of people that began with Konami’s still-addictive beat ‘em up game. You could choose from Dazzler, Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, and Colossus, each with their own unique powers, and then you plowed your way through waves of sentinels and bad guys from the X-Men universe. It was an amazing experience that could only be had at the arcade.
7. Dig Dug
Released by Namco in 1982, Dig Dug is a simple game with a basic objective: Eliminate the monsters by any means necessary. The eponymous Dig Dug can dig his way through the dirt in the game until he encounters a monster. He can drop rocks on the monster or inflate it until it pops. These same monsters also pose a mortal threat to Dig Dug in much the same way the ghosts do in Pac Man to the title character. Iconically 1980s arcade graphics and sound combined with timeless gameplay make Dig Dug one of Namco’s lesser appreciated arcade offerings as far as modern gamers are concerned. All the more reason to resurrect it on the MAME emulator.
You may remember Contra for the NES and, if you do, you most likely remember how hard the game was. Contra for the arcades was no different and, in many ways, was less forgiving since there is no Konami code for quarters.
A run-and-gun extravaganza, Contra features bright graphics, loud sound, and blazing fast action that is as addictively fun as it is challenging. The arcade hit went on to spawn a huge number of games for the home market but all of them owe their spirit to the original Contra released so long ago. Perhaps a bit harsh in the difficulty department by today’s standards, Contra is no less epic. If you’re looking for an iconically 1980s horror movie slash action film set piece, look no further than Contra the arcade game.
5. Metal Slug 2
Easily one of SNK’s most popular and beloved series, the Metal Slug games are beautiful feasts for the senses and will break your hands with their gameplay. Some of the most tightly packed, seamlessly integrated gameplay combined with a gorgeous presentation that holds up to this day, SNK’s Metal Slug 2 did everything the first game did right but did so much more. Neo Geo units were prohibitively expensive for most gamers when they were current, so the only option to experience a lot of the best Neo Geo games was to head out to the local arcade.
This could prove to be an expensive habit after too long, especially with games like Metal Slug 2 hanging out. Similar to Contra in execution but superior to it in form, Metal Slug 2 is the typical side scrolling shooter from the late 1980s and early 1990s but it is down with such a level of pizzazz that you would be pressed to identify it as a game from that era. Everything, from graphics to sound to gameplay, holds up in the light of the modern day. It is truly an impressive experience and one that SNK has wisely ported over to nearly every console since.
4. Donkey Kong
The character that started it all for Nintendo and Mario, Donkey Kong is an awesomely challenging classic arcade game that sees us pitted against the king of Kong while he was still in his angry phase. Gamers today know the Donkey Kong series primarily as a platformer, but back in the day the game was more akin to a puzzle game or something you would expect from Namco and their Pac Man series of games.
Mario, Pauline, and Donkey Kong all star in what would be their first of many outings (Pauline’s most recent showing being Super Mario Odyssey) and the game is otherwise a showcase of all things proto-Nintendo. Where the game shines, however, is in its consistently challenging though never overwhelming gameplay. A great game for young and old alike, Donkey Kong is the beginning of a craze that hasn’t abated to this day.
Sega’s 1981 hit 005 is a stealth action adventure that puts the player in control of a spy armed only with a gas canister that must evade enemies as the spy explores the overworld, using boxes and structures to hide from enemy flashlights and characters. In many ways 005 anticipated the gameplay that would later be found in such titles as Metal Gear but it did it in a much more simplistic format.
The presentation is akin to an advanced Atari 2600 game but the amount of fun people will have with this game is thoroughly modern. Each stage becomes increasingly challenging and players who enjoy a good puzzle will find this game has hours of game time to offer.
2. 1943: The Battle of Midway
Capcom’s 1987 shoot ‘em up arcade game that was the follow up to the successful 1942, 1943: The Battle of Midway introduces gamers to many of the elements of what would go on to become the classic Japanese shoot ‘em up. Tough as nails from the start, 1943 gives the player no quarter as the waves of enemies combatants increasingly fill the screen.
Bright and beautiful graphics are augmented by sound like only an arcade game could produce for an experience that is simultaneously reminiscent of modern shoot ‘em ups on home consoles but also a reminder of a different era in videogames. The game was notable for its cheat codes that helped players gain some kind of advantage as they attempted to tackle on of the arcade’s most difficult games.
1. Pac Man
The number one MAME arcade game of all time, and, indeed, probably the number 1 arcade game of all time is Pac Man, the pellet chomping yellow circle of arcade gaming legend. When Pac Man was released in Japan, it was a sensation. When it came West, it became a craze. Spawning an almost uncountable number of clones, Pac Man was the arcade smash of the 1980s, rivaled only by Pong for its cultural impact.
The title would later go on to spawn a line of sequels, but the original game for the arcade is the one most fondly remembered by videogamers around the world. Embodying everything that the arcade was at its height, Pac Man is essential gaming not only for its historical value but also because of its absolutely timeless quality.