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The 50 best games of the '80s

20. R-Type (1987)

Arguably the definitive sideways scrolling shooter of the 1980s, Irems R-Type is a game far more innovative and subtle than its basic premise suggests. Chief among its USPs was the way firepower could be accrued, not least through an advanced power-up system dubbed The Force. A living weapon, The Force trails the players craft until fired off in a specified direction using one fire button, with the collection of extra power-ups further increasing its destructive capabilities. Throw in a Zaxxon-like approach to level design (the correct pathways must be learned through repeated playing) and no small number of end-of-level bosses, and the result was a game strong enough to inspire several sequels and influence shoot-em-ups games all stripes.

19. Boulder Dash (1984)

When youve got lemons straightjacketed by the graphical limitations of the day, Peter Liepa and Chris Gray clearly channelled all their energies into the game design of Boulder Dash instead, concocting something that, while not exactly original (see Dig Dug), worked beautifully. In fact their game of tunnel digging, falling rocks and gem collection proved strong enough to attract the interest of coin-op manufacturers including Exidy and Data East. Incredibly, fan clubs, tribute versions, and new level designs still thrive on the web.

18. Robotron: 2084 (1982)

A spiritual brother to equally frenetic coin-ops Tempest and Defender, Eugene Jarvis Robotron 2084 is incredibly viewed as more challenging than either of those pant-wettingly difficult games thanks to a then-unique twin joystick control system. Challenging gamers to get to grips with the notion of moving a lead character with one stick and firing independently with the other, and then throwing them into a robot-infested arena reminiscent of Berzerk and even Asteroids for good measure, Robotron was never going to be a game to enjoy mainstream appeal. Mores the pity, as the learning curve was never quite as bad as it first appeared. Ultraviolence has rarely been so simple yet profoundly satisfying.

17. Rainbow Islands (1987)

Though Taitos Bubble Bobble sequel undoubtedly enjoyed much success in arcades, it was Rainbow Islands arrival in the home that catapulted it into the public consciousness. Much of the credit must go to UK development team Graftgold, which worked to produce near-perfect versions on a whole range of formats, the 1990 Amiga edition being regarded as the finest, despite the absence of the arcade games final levels (it held the number one position in Amiga Powers highly influential All Time Top 100 list for several years). Rainbow Islands colourful platform-based action retains enormous charm, and continues to find and gain new fans with additional versions periodically arriving on contemporary formats.

16. Metroid (1986)

Forget the famous reveal at the end of Metroid, its the non-linear sprite-based alien blasting that ensures its place in the gaming hall of fame. And yet the game that spawned one of Nintendos most-treasured franchises wasnt even a great success when originally launched for the NES disk system add-on in Japan. It was only when the game was given a cartridge format release in the USA (perversely on the same day as Legend Of Zelda) that the game really began to resonate, and through comic strips and more ambitious console sequels that Samus laid the groundwork to become one of the best-known game characters of all time.

15. Paradroid (1985)

The game that launched a thousand titles sporting bas relief visuals, Andrew Braybrooks Paradroid may well be the finest original title ever developed for the Commodore 64 computer. Superficially a basic corridor-based shoot-em-up, the game is built around a finely wrought power struggle mechanism, with players taking control of a lowly droid and battling to rise through the ranks, gaining power and wiping out every enemy in the process either by blasting them or transferring control to their body. Quite why more contemporary games designers havent taken inspiration from, or even simply ripped off, the near perfect Paradoid remains a mystery.

14. Contra (1987)

Contra, Gryzor, Probotector call it what you like. The fact remains that Konamis coin-op and numerous home computer and console spin-offs set the bar for run-and-gun gaming in the late 80s, not least due to a co-operative two player mode, daring use of two different game styles (sideways scrolling and third-person perspective), and blatant appropriation of the gung-ho themes explored in genre movies like Rambo, Aliens, and Predator. Contra remains one of the most fondly remembered actioneers of the era by old-school gamers. Hell, even the soundtrack is considered a classic.

13. The Legend Of Zelda (1986)

Sure its quaint, even primitive by todays standards, but The Legend Of Zelda was never about the sensory experience. Its success can instead be attributed to Shigeru Miyamotos unparalleled knack for combining rich characterisation, narrative, and joyous adventuring. Indeed its these qualities that led to both Japanese and American audiences embracing Links debut adventure so readily, spawning a multi-million selling franchise (52 million and counting), leading to a cartoon series, and helping to cement Nintendos reputation as the home of the role-playing game. And Zelda? Miyamoto bizarrely named the character after F Scott Fitzgeralds wife.

12. The Hobbit (1982)

In a time when even movie spin-offs were a rarity, an officially licensed game based on a literary classic seemed nigh on revolutionary. Throw in lavish packaging that included a copy of the original book, and its little wonder The Hobbit caused such a sensation. Incredibly, Melbourne House invested just as much time developing the game itself as snagging that coveted licence. Closely following Tolkiens original story, throwing in some handsome static visuals, and boasting an advanced input system dubbed Inglish, The Hobbit sold millions and gave tens of thousands their very first taste of text-based adventuring.

11. Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar (1985)

Undoubtedly one of the industrys more interesting larger than life characters, games designer, programmer, and budding astronaut Richard Garriott is one man who has always embraced the inner geek. Not content with simply updating the simple pleasures of the first three Ultima games, Garriott bravely chose to take things even further with the fourth in the series. Sending players on a quest to display proficiency in eight noble virtues and became a mythical saviour, Quest Of The Avatar added a whole new philosophical and moral edge to the hack and slash genre, and laid the groundwork for a series based in the land of Britannia that eventually spilled over into the groundbreaking MMORPG Ultima Online.