Arcade Game of the Year – 1981

1981 was a big year for the arcades. There were 110 games total! Sure, that sounds like a lot, but as you’ll see in years to come, it will be absolute torture trying to decide from so many great classics. Trust me, it was no picnic this year, that’s for sure. And yeah, I’m sure I’ll get some groaning from some of my picks, but hey, you go back and do it yourself if you want something better!

#5 – Ms. Pac-Man

No, I don’t intend to have a new Pac-Man game each year. So what’s the difference between this and the original? For starters, there’s actual AI. This is important because it was pretty easy to trick the ghosts in the original Pac-Man if you know the proper methods. This one was faster, more colorful, with more variety, offered new sounds and “cutscenes,” and in general was a nice step up from the original.

#4 – Qix

Qix is a relatively simple game (as most selections will be). You cut out squares in the whole until you reach a certain completion percentage. Pretty simple, but there’s all kinds of stuff trying to get in your way and prevent you from finishing properly. The game has also had its fair share of controversy as many adult games have copied the formula for revealing naked women.

#3 – Frogger

Get the frog across the road and don’t get run over. Pretty simple concept, but there’s all kinds of stuff to be aware of such as traffic patterns, different types of vehicles and speeds, lily pads that turn over, gators, and just all kinds of crazyness. Again, it’s a simple formula that goes a long way and the game gets TOUGH quick. It can be hard to even finish the first level if you’re having an off day.

#2 – Galaga

I’m a sucker for shooters, but what makes this one especially fun is how they tweak the original Space Invader formula and really make it their own. Ships dive-bomb you, attempt to capture you, and move in varying attack patterns. Yeah, to a degree it’s just an upgrade of Space Invaders, but I’d argue that as a precursor to many of the vertical shooters of even today that it was an inspiration, not a mere rip-off.

#1 – Donkey Kong

Good ol’ Donkey Kong. For those of you that have never experienced this classic, you play as Mario and you have to rescue the lady at the top of the construction site who has been kidnapped by Donkey Kong. You have to jump obstacles, whack things with a hammer, and try to recapture Donkey Kong in some stages. There’s a lot of variety and challenge and the game will eat every quarter you’ve ever had.

Conclusion

This was a great year in gaming. I mean, seriously. 4 out of 5 of my picks have been remade again and again and are often included in classics or arcade packs worldwide. In fact, it was tough narrowing it down to just 5 to be honest. However, I’m confident in my picks and if you haven’t played any one of them, you owe it to yourself to seek them out immediately.

Runner Ups

As I said, this was a strong year overall. The ones that didn’t quite make it to the top 5 list were Armored Car, Battle of Atlantis, Bosconian, Cosmic Avenger, Eliminator, Gorf, Jungler, New Rally-X, Scramble, Super Cobra, and Turbo. So yeah, as I said, CLOSE. And that’s not to say there weren’t other great games, but there sure were a LOT of bootlegs.

005
18 Holes Pro Golf
600
Adventures of Robby Roto
Amidar
Armored Car
Astro Blaster
Astro Fantasia
Battle of Atlantis
Black Hole
Bosconian
Boxing Bugs
Challenger
Colony 7
Cosmic Avenger
Cosmos
Dambusters
Dark Warrior
Demoneye-X
Donkey Kong
DS Telejan
Eliminator
Enigma 2
Fantasy
Frisky Tom
Frogs and Spiders
Frogger
Funky Fish
Galaga
Gorf
Golden Poker
Gomoku Narabe Renju
Grand Champion
Imola Grand Prix
Jump Bug
Jungler
Kaos
Kick-Man
King Derby
K.O. Punch
Manhattan
Lady Bug
Laser Base
Lock ‘N Chase
Lucky Poker
Make Trax
Mayday
Marine Date
Mariner
Mars
Maze Invaders
Moon Shuttle
Moon War
Mouse Trap
Ms. Pac-Man
Ms. Pac-Man Plus
Naughty Mouse
New Rally-X
Oli-Boo-Chu
Omega Race
Percussor
Piranha
Pleiads
Pulsar
Qix
Qix 2 Tournament
River Patrol
Rock Climber
Round-Up
Route 16
Satan of Saturn
Satan’s Hollow
Scramble
Shark Attack
Sky Skipper
Snap Jack
Solar Fox
Space Cruiser
Space Dungeon
Space Force
Space Fortress
Space Fury
Space Odyssey
Space Seeker
Spiders
Stargate
Strategy X
Streaking
Super Astro Fighter
Super Cobra
Super Tank
Tempest
Terranean
The Hand
Thief
Tournament Pro Golf
Treasure Island
Tri-Pool
T.T. Mahjong
Turbo
Turtles
Vanguard
Venture
Video Hustler
War of the Bugs
War of the Worlds
Warp & Warp
Winners Circle
Woodpecker
WW3

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Filed under Arcade, GotY Series, Retro, Videogames

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