The 9 Best Arcade Games to Play With Kids
Arcade games are – thanks to Dave and Buster’s sudden status as a celebrity hotspot and the ubiquity of barcades – back. Whether or not that popularity represents a cultural shift or a pre-virtual reality death rattle is not clear, but what it’s inarguably easier to find an Asteroids game than it was a decade ago. For fathers that means access to countless hours of solid two-player entertainments. And, sure, sidescrollers look super basic compared to immersive games, but they are super kid friendly.
There are a lot of quarters required, but playing a great arcade game with an excited kid can feel like sharing a project – and the inevitable defeat is a fun bonding experience. Sharing friends with kids can be hard, but sharing a pixelated enemy? That shit is easy and the perfect prelude to a screening of Wreck-It Ralph.
Here are 10 best games to play with a kid.
Donkey Kong, 1981
Gameplay: Kids probably don’t know what barrels are, but they’ll hate them by the end of the first try. You play Mario (aka Jumpman) who’s looking to rescue a damsel in distress from Donkey Kong.
Why It Rocks: If your kid knows who Mario and Donkey Kong are, then show them this game. This arcade classic spawned the best characters in home consoles for decades. Plus, it spawned the greatest video game doc ever made: The King of Kong (Rated PG-13, but probably fine).
Gameplay: Pac-Man, a floating yellow face, wanders through a maze of edible dots. Sometimes there’s fruit. Those are worth points. There are also ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. Sometimes they’re edible. It’s a super weird game if you really think about it.
Why It Rocks: Sometimes the simplest games make for the best. The original game was designed to be unbeatable. At the final level—256—the game glitches and ends, creating the term ‘Kill screen”. You and your kid would have to devote months to reach the end, but Pac-Man‘s universal gameplay makes it easy for anyone to play.
NBA Jam, 1993
Gameplay: Instead of a full five-on-five gameplay, NBA Jam scales back to just two-on-two basketball. They also incorporated over-the-top feats of human strength with super jumps and literally on fire slam dunks. It combined what you love about the NBA with the super heroics of a comic book.
Why It Rocks: There were no basketball arcade games before NBA Jam. Well, there were, but who cares? Jam is a game that encourages the best in co-op gaming: trash talking, showboating and nineties slang. Sure, the modern day NBA 2K series is great, but Jam might be the GOAT of basketball games. And it’s absolutely perfect for head-to-head gaming.
Gameplay: Although extremely similar in execution to Space Invaders, Galaga creates the sense of high-speed space flight with a moving, starry background. It adds a layer of intensity to the shooter as you take out aliens while moving left and right at the bottom of the screen.
Why It Rocks: The best part of the game is getting a ship upgrade. You go from single blaster to double shooters. The enemies are also much more difficult as every wave offers a new challenge from bosses. If Space Invaders is the grandfather of shooters, then this is its proud son.
Gameplay: A family of frogs attempts to go home by crossing a busy road of moving traffic and a river full of nature hazards (logs, snakes, etc). It sounds simple, but Frogger cannot be underestimated. It’s a fast thinking, quick reaction game.
Why It Rocks: Out of all the games on the list, Frogger is the only one where there’s no real story or a big fantasy angle. It’s just a page taken out of nature and made into gameplay. Plus, there are various ways to die and that’s not something you would expect for a game about frogs.
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, 1991
Gameplay: Choose one of eight fighters to battle one-on-one or go tournament style in the greatest fighting game of all time.
Why It Rocks: Street Fighter is still going strong today with new editions and global tournaments and somehow, real-life feuds. If your kid is new to the game, its real beauty is discovering the unique play style of each character’s move set. It’ll take months to get to that level, so a pick-up and play treatment is just as fun for a quick button mash. Plus, screaming “Hadouken!” never gets old.
Double Dragon, 1987
Gameplay: This classic co-op has you and your kid team up as the Lee Brothers, the martial arts duo, who beat up a small army worth of baddies to rescue another damsel-in-distress. Players can use a small variety of strikes and can use weapons for ass kicking. It’s so much fun!
Why It Rocks: Without Double Dragon, there probably wouldn’t be two-player co-op games. The game practically invented the beat’em up genre and it’s still fun punching gangsters in 8-bit graphics today. It’s like your favorite action movie from the 80s in video game form.
Out Run, 1986
Gameplay: This third person driving game was the first to have a moving and interactive cabinet with the attached seat and steering wheel being a big part of the gameplay. As the driver, you race through traffic to the finish line before time runs out.
Why It Rocks: You can argue this game lead to more gimmicked arcade cabinets, but it’s truly a first of its kind. The game also allows children to drive a car with no consequences and that’s better than letting them play Grand Theft Auto on their birthday.
Gameplay: It’s Tetris. You stack shapes, come on.
Why It Rocks: The greatest selling game of all time needs no introduction. It’s spawned knockoffs and countless sequels and variations, but the original is still the best. In two-player mode, losing always makes you feel mentally inferior to your opponent so go easy for a few rounds.