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The 50 best games of the '80s

30. Exile (1988)

Any game that dares implement a physics-based control system inevitably risks alienating a large section of the gaming community, despite the fact that such a move invariably adds enormously to the subtly of the gameplay (see also Lunar Lander, Asteroids, Defender, Lunar Jetman, and so on). Exile is no exception. With the interplay between gravity, natural phenomena like fire and water, plus a protagonist equipped with a jetpack, Exile immediately presented players with a fairly steep learning curve, before further complicating matters with massive pseudo-random levels, uncommonly intelligent enemies, and a bewildering array of useful objects. Scary stuff, but Exile may just be the most ambitious title to emerge from those golden years of gaming.

29. International Karate+ (1986)

Though Data Easts Karate Champ was the game that first introduced many to the mighty beat-em-up, the finest martial arts thrills to be had in the 80s were actually those coded by bedroom programmers. First came The Way Of The Exploding Fist Melbourne House, followed by Archer Macleans International Karate (also known as World Karate Championship), a game that almost prompted a lawsuit from Melbourne House and in fact did lead to a legal battle with Data East. When this failed, the maverick coder was free to further polish the already gleaming format with IK+, improving the fight mechanics, adding two-on-one battles, and sneaking in all manner of easter eggs.

28. Ms. Pac-Man (1981)

Having transformed expectations about how the demographic coin-op games could attract with their US launch of Namcos Pac-Man, Midway decided to target the female gaming market a little more blatantly with this sequel, creating one of the most popular arcade games of all time in the process. Initially released without permission from Namco, Ms. Pac-Man featured near-identical gameplay to its predecessor, but adds longevity via the inclusion of five mazes and more random ghost behaviours, and considerable charm via pastel colour schemes and suitably themed cut-scenes. The original home computer and console versions also add various features, such as a simultaneous two-player mode, though whether any of these improved the formula any is questionable.

27. Lunar Jetman (1983)

Scoff at the limited colour palette, by all means (as per all games for the ZX Spectrum), but theres no denying the genius of the Stamper brothers sequel to their own Joust-inspired Jet Pac. Greatly expanding the gravity-enhanced gameplay of the original, Lunar Jetman adds smooth scrolling, in-vehicle travel, meteorites, multiple waves of aliens, and a series of pesky craters that must be filled in order to access the enemy missile base at the end of each level all pretty advanced stuff for 1983. Jetman sadly only made one more game appearance (on the NES in 1990), but then the Stampers were somewhat preoccupied with the creation of a multi-million dollar gaming empire.

26. Mega Man 2 (1989)

By no means the fanciest or most innovative title in this top 50 (or even within the Mega Man Classic franchise), the second game starring the eponymous boy robot is nevertheless the one that warrants inclusion in the Top 50, simply because its such a perfectly formed Japanese gem. Even today the ridiculously simple visuals and audio somehow retain an iconic feel, while the platform-based action continues to hook mobile gamers. The Mega Man character, meanwhile, lives on a newer generation of titles and as Capcoms official mascot.

25. Ikari Warriors (1985)

You couldnt move for bulging biceps, sweaty headbands and pithy putdowns in the mid-80s. And with Schwarzeneggers Commando and Stallones Rambo ripping up the flesh in cinemas, it didnt take long for arcade game designers to get in on the act. Capcom/Data Easts Commando (no relation) was the first out of boot camp and ultimately proved best suited to home computer and console treatment. But in the arcades it was SNKs Ikari Warriors that triumphed, simply by upping the body count through the inclusion of a wildly enjoyable simultaneous two-player mode and guns lots of guns.

24. Ant Attack (1983)

Probably the worlds first isometric 3D home computer game (and this at a time when few coin-ops dared to toy with such an ambitious graphical technique), Ant Attack remains a game sadly known to few US-based gamers by dint of its initial appearance on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. A shame, as author Sandy Whites revolutionary Softsolid 3D technique was put to great use in a game populated with giant ants, grenades, and equal opportunities players either had to rescue a man or woman depending on the gender theyd chosen for their own hero character.

23. Koronis Rift (1985)

Having initially showcased their fuzzy 3D landscape technique with Rescue On Fractalus, Noah Falstein and his LucasFilm team then proceeded to show how well the cutting edge technique could be twinned with equally ambitious gameplay mechanics, with The Eidolon and Koronis Rift. Although afforded less of the limelight, it was the latter game that really pushed the boundaries, casting gamers in the role of a scavenger of planet surface scrap. No other game at the time boasted such immersive environments, or such an ambitious blending of blasting, inventory building, and exploration.

22. Final Fantasy (1987)

Nobody does epic role-playing quite like the Japanese, and no Japanese company does it quite like Square. So named because designer Hironobu Sakaguchi planned to retire after its completion, Final Fantasy was the game that brought Square back from the brink, while simultaneously established the NES system as the must-have system for role-playing fans. In truth the game lacked much in the way of innovation, but Hironobus knack for storytelling elevated the game to another plane altogether and kickstarted a franchise that now spans multiple sequels (with more than 80 million games sold to date), numerous printed spin-offs, and even two full-length CG animated movies. And Hironobu is still producing role-playing games

21. Uridium (1986)

On a roll after the success of Rainbow Islands and Paradroid, Andrew Braybrook took his signature bas relief graphical style into space for a game that, while an original C64-based creation, bore all the hallmarks of a pitch-perfect coin-op shoot-em-up. Multi-speed scrolling, a unique parallax effect, and gameplay inspired by classics including Defender, Zaxxon and R-Type, blended into something far exceeding the sum of these disparate parts. Uridium was later recycled by Mindscape, who rebadged with an official licence from sci-fi movie The Last Starfighter.