The 50 best games of the '80s

A decade of gaming history

You will disagree with our list. We already know that, because we sent out early draft versions to our closest friends game designers, journalists and publishing execs and they all disagreed with us.

We listened to them and we argued and we negotiated and wheedled until the final list represented the world view of all of us here at Edge, and of some of our friends in the business. But not one of us not one single person involved agrees with every game on this list, or thinks its in exactly the right order, or does not harbour at least one game they really think should be on this list. Not even me, and Ive spent the last three months working on this, not to mention the last 30 years playing games or writing about them.

Some of these games are fun to play, even today, and some of them have been vastly surpassed in the intervening years by smoother, better-looking games that took what was there and improved. Thats what games designers do. Our criteria here is not how do these games stack up against the games we make and play today. Our criteria is which games of the 1980s do we owe the greatest debt to because they innovated so much at the time, and because they represent all that is best about original game design.

Its also, which games do we remember most fondly and, in this regard, we are aware that you will have an entirely different perspective. Nostalgia is a troublesome thing. We cannot possibly represent everyones golden memories of an entire decade, nor should we try.

50. Raid On Bungeling Bay (1984)

This was the game that spurred its author Will Wright to become embroiled in all those Sim games. Although Wrights first commercial title, Raid On Bungeling Bay was an enormously ambitious creation. What initially appears to be a polished, but typically single-minded eight-way scrolling shoot-em-up, is actually something rather more subtle and devious, with players flying over enemy islands where the urban sprawl actually evolves, grows factories and dispatches ever-more-deadly military technology. That changing landscape concept, along with some of the map visuals, would later work their way into Sim City.

49. 3D Deathchase (1983)

3D Deathcase is a reminder of just what could be achieved with a paltry 16K of memory back in the early days of the home computer. Lifting the speeder bike sequence wholesale from Return Of The Jedi, 3D Deathchase seemed almost comically single-minded even in an era of simple pleasures. Yet what it does, it does flawlessly, ratcheting up the challenge of bobbing and weaving through a forest while blasting at enemy bikes, tanks and helicopters, until either nerves or reflexes ultimately give out. Little wonder it remains so fondly remembered by UK gamers of a certain age, and why almost a decade after its release it was ranked as the best ZX Spectrum game of all time by Your Sinclair magazine.

48. M.U.L.E. (1983)

All but ignored at the time of its release receiving little critical acclaim and selling poorly, despite the publishing power of Electronic Arts M.U.L.E. is now rightfully acknowledged as one of the most groundbreaking videogames of all time. Though an update of the age-old Kingdom formula at heart, M.U.LEs innovative single screen multiplayer mode and arcade-style take on resource harvesting and economic strategy helped create a game style that would ultimately lead to the Civilization series, Dune, Command & Conquer and countless other real-time strategy titles. Author Dan Bunten (later Dani Berry) died in 1998, before completing an online version of the game.

47. Impossible Mission (1984)

Impossible Mission was the game that introduced many C64 owners to voice synthesis for the very first time. Stay a while, stay forever! bellowed the players unseen nemesis at the start of a heroic, against-the-clock battle across multiple screens populated with platforms, lifts and robots. Possibly even more sinister was the digitized scream that accompanied the many inevitable deaths that followed. One side effect of the somewhat cheeky title is that many gamers of a certain age still have trouble correctly naming a certain 1960 TV spy show (and the associated Tom Cruise blockbusters).

46. Scramble (1981)

Along with Space Invaders, Asteroids, Centipede and Galaxians, Scramble is undoubtedly one of the all-time classic first generation videogames, helping to play a crucial role in the rise of the coin-op in arcades and bars throughout the USA and Europe. Scrambles USP was sideways scrolling, with players piloting a craft over mountainous landscapes, through tunnels, and over cities replete with alien craft, missile silos and fuel dumps. In addition to Konamis own semi-sequel Super Cobra, its a formula that also went on to influence games like Vanguard and R-Type.

45. Lode Runner (1983)

It was generally the text-based adventurers that made the transition from the minicomputer platforms of the 1970s to the home computers of the 80s, but Lode Runner is an honourable exception. Bizarrely, architecture student Douglas Smith originally coded his ladders-and-levels chase game for the VAX system, before rebuilding it and refining it for the Apple II. Though maddeningly addictive in its own right, much of the games popularity and enduring appeal can be attributed to inclusion of more than a hundred levels, along with an editor enabling gamers to fashion countless more. Lode Runner even transitioned to the arcades, while variants continue to thrive to this day.

44. Star Raiders (1979)

Granted, the first iteration of Star Raiders hit shelves at the tail end of the 70s, but its subsequent appearance on other Atari formats at the start of the following decade legitimises its inclusion here indeed the 5200 version is arguably the superior, thanks to that consoles analog controller. With its fast-moving starfields, deep space dogfights and hyperspace effects, its little wonder a world in thrall to Star Wars fell so deeply in love with this game. Although preceded by one or two space-based 3D coin-ops, Ataris Star Raiders is the game that laid down the blueprint for a space opera genre that would later be inhabited by Elite, Wing Commander, the X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter games, and Egosofts X series.

43. The Sentinel (1986)

Sir Geoff Crammond spent much of the nineties placed on a pedestal in recognition of his Formula One racing simulations, but for the more cerebrally inclined it was his earlier, weird and wonderful foray into puzzle-based games that inspired real devotion. Its hard to fathom how Crammond actually conceived such an odd blend the chess-style powerplays, energy absorption , and virtual reality-style, procedurally generated 3D chequerboard landscapes but for whatever reason it worked (and still works) beautifully. Crammond gave his blessing to an official remake from Psygnosis just over a decade later.

42. Lords Of Midnight (1984)

Released at a time when other games might offer ten, twenty, or gasp even a hundred locations to explore, Lords Of Midnights canny ability to somehow squeeze almost 4,000 into a mere 48K of memory was nothing short of incredible, and the ability to view each of these from multiple angles **and** in 3D pretty much revolutionary. Somewhat shockingly, Lords Of Midnight creator Mike Singleton also appreciated that size isnt everything, and so the vast, Tolkien-indebted game world merely served as the backdrop for a mammoth turns-based blend of role-playing, wargaming and strategy. Even today, game developers struggle to combine so many game strands so seamlessly or conjure up such a fully formed fantasy world.

41. Pinball Construction Set (1983)

Having already introduced the very first pinball simulation to the Apple II format with Raster Blaster, PhD student Bill Budge inadvertently stumbled upon fame, a degree of fortune, and the honour of inventing a whole new kind of computer game, with the creation of this follow-up. With the ability to drop pinball table components onto a blank canvas and even modify the physics governing ball behaviour, players were effectively handed a game of infinite possibilities. Electronic Arts, who snapped up publishing rights, went on to sell almost a third of a million copies and further develop the idea with a number of other Construction spin-offs. Budges game also made a belated appearance on the Genesis platform in the 90s, under the name Virtual Pinball.