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The 50 best games of the '80s

40. Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (1988)

Computer games bearing endorsements from sports personalities were given a wide berth by those in the know in the 1980s, the licence generally being used as a way to sell subpar software to an easily swayed older generation out shopping for their children or grandchildren. This one was a little different. Taking inspiration in both name and game style from Commodores highly lauded 1983 offering, International Soccer, this classic beat the competition through a combination of fancy footwork, skilful integration of complex moves like headers, barges, and even back heels, and even some basic management features. Rival title Kick off often grabbed the headlines, but it was Emlyns offering that truly captured the magic of the sport.

39. Ballblazer (1984)

Hailed by many as the very first futuresports video game, Ballblazer was one of two launch titles for LucasFilm Games (the other being Rescue On Fractalus). Its arrival immediately established the developer as a purveyor of original, highly polished content, with the games unique combination of air hockey, one-on-one soccer, and first-person, split-screen action proving so simple yet effective that many doubtless assumed it had originally been conceived as a coin-op. Indeed, two remakes attest to the enduring appeal of the concept. Curiously this was another LucasFilm game to make use of fractal mathematics this time in the service of a bizarre, improvised jazz soundtrack. Groovy.

38. Thrust (1986)

Rare is the home computer game that takes its cue from a coin-op without coming across like a pale imitation. Yet, while clearly riffing on gameplay mechanics first floated by Ataris Gravitar, Thrust was hailed not as a cheap cash-in but rather as a genuine improvement over the original. Piloting a craft through caves using the same rotate-and-thrust system from Asteroids, players not only had to deal with enemy fire, but also contend with the eternal pull of gravity, and the complexities of inertia that arise once pods are picked up using a tractor beam. Who knew physics could be such fun?

37. Out Run (1986)

Age may have withered its charms, but Out Runs place in history should not be forgotten. This was arguably the first coin-op to deliver a real sense of high-speed, against-the-clock road racing, largely thanks to the power of Segas own sprite-based 3D graphics hardware (also used to great effect on After Burner, Space Harrier, and Power Drift), and in part due to the shiny allure of a real steering wheel and even a vibrating sit-down cabinet version. Also innovative was the games use of music, with a selection of smooth numbers emulating a suitably beach-kissed radio station. Some home versions even included an audio tape featuring recordings of the original tunes, for enhanced sensory gaming pleasure.

36. Missile Command (1980)

Maybe it was the Cold War, but whatever the reason gamers in late 70s and early 80s couldnt get enough of videogames where destruction rained from the skies and defeat was always one warhead away. Conceptually similar to Space Invaders and Centipede, though practically a world away thanks in part to the use of a trackball controller, Missile Command proved so popular in arcades that it continued to draw crowds well into the 90s. It was also one of the few early coin-ops to benefit from relatively loyal translation by console programmers, no doubt largely thanks to the beautiful simplicity of both the concept and the graphics.

35. Dragontorc (1984)

We make no apologies for the inclusion of such an obscure title on a UK-centric format, or indeed its high ranking. Graftgolds Steve Turner was pretty much responsible for the first truly convincing action/RPG gene-splice with 3D adventure movie Avalon, yet somehow few actually noticed. Predictably the same thing happened with this superior sequel, despite the games confident ability to put spellcasting, exploration and puzzle-solving within a real-time arcade context, without compromising either depth of story or accessibility. Genius.

34. Archon (1983)

The more cynical might suggest the reason Archon exhibits such classic gameplay is that it borrows so liberally from the game of chess. Its fans, however, prefer to think of it as standing on the shoulders of giants. Though the action does indeed all take place on a familiar chequerboard, and while the various pieces move around in a rather familiar fashion, it is unlikely Kasparav and his cohorts ever had to deal with an additional combat arena, spellcasting, power points on the chequer board, and a distinction between ground-based and airborne pieces. Even today Archon feels at once reassuringly familiar and excitingly fresh.

33. World Class Leaderboard (1987)

Long before Electronic Arts enlisted Tiger Woods to help in their plan for world domination of yet another sports simulation genre, golf fans got their leisurely kicks with the Links series. And prior to developing that winning franchise, American outfit Access first swung out with the Leaderboard games. The last in the series, World Class Leaderboard refined the wind/snap/power balance of earlier games, as well as mixing up fantasy courses with decent renditions of real fairways. PC owners were even treated to an early use of audio sampling, with a process dubbed RealSound adding interactive commentary to the proceedings.

32. Zork (1980)

In the beginning was the word, in the form of the text-based Colossal Cave Adventure. And then just after the beginning there was Zork. Like its predecessor, Zork was developed for the PDP-10 mini-computer system in the late 70s, but crucially its developers quickly recognised the commercial potential for their creation, and set about reworking their creation as a trilogy of adventure games for home computer formats under the Infocom development banner. Boasting cunning puzzles and an ambitious text input system, Zork was to prove highly influential, also giving Infocom an foundation on which to build a whole series of interactive fiction titles.

31. Star Wars (1983)

Those who remember the 1980s as a period littered with cynical computer games spin-offs of movies and TV shows would do well to remember Ataris Star Wars coin-op. This was clearly a labour of love for designer Mike Halley, who took his cue from the climactic Death Star battle scenes in the first of the sci-fi trilogy. Although rendered using a colour vector graphics display, the game does a fine job of bringing iconic shapes like the X-Wings and Tie Fighters to life, while voice samples from the original movie lend extra gravitas. Many of the home computer editions were actually coded by Vector Grafix, a company ideally suited to the job, having already ripped off the entire concept so successfully with its own Star Strike title.