There are so many great video games from the 80s that never had the chance to win a Game Of The Year Award at the Game Awards. Fans are already looking to the event at the end of 2023 to speculate which latest releases could be successful in the Game Of The Year category after some much-loved hits have already been launched. The 2022 event boasted a few surprises that audiences will continue to analyze, but it was ultimately Fire Ring who became victorious and thus the yardstick.

But the Game Awards weren’t created until 2014, meaning those quality titles from the 80s couldn’t actually be nominated for this top prize. They are significant in the history of the video game industry for their contribution to technological development, and while they may seem dated by today’s standards, they still had fun gameplay, good graphics for the decade, and a certain narrative appeal that has ensured their longevity. A retrospective award may be out of the question, but fans can return to these projects to further appreciate their ingenuity.


Mario Bros. (1983)

While Super Mario Bros. maybe released in 1985 and should get a significant mention, much of the credit must be given to the original arcade Mario Bros. for the eventual success of the franchise. Developed by Nintendo, Atari and Intelligent Systems, this platformer featured all the quirky action fans are now familiar with and immediately set the stage for what was to come.

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It was worthy of the Game Of The Year Award, not only for its historical significance, but for its popularity as a mainstay in arcades. The character development with this simple protagonist was perfect for creating an iconic face for Nintendo, while the intelligent level design ensured that the title was as challenging as it was entertaining.

Pac Man (1980)

Pac-Man is about to eat the ghosts.

Pac-Man was originally developed as an arcade work by Namco, BNE Entertainment and Tod Frye. The very first design of the title has barely changed since its conception. In fact, it is difficult to identify many differences from the first classic and variations of the game today, despite its many spinoffs and imaginative expansions.

While there are still plenty of little-known Pac-Man facts that fans have yet to grasp,The addictive maze design allowed for continued progression as the Game Of The Year Award contender ensured the titular character was always able to grab victory despite the dangerous ghosts patrolling with mechanical precision.

Prince of Persia (1989)

Prince of Persia 1989 gameplay

Coming into the end of the decade, Prince of Persia from Jordan Mechner, Brøderbund Software and Ubisoft Montreal remains one of the most respected time travel related video games. The side-scrolling platformer may not resemble later successes from the franchise, but it was still a release that managed to build a brave new world.

The narrative angle for Prince of Persia helped the release stand out compared to the competition, with the familiar combat enhanced by stunning visuals and a constant sense of momentum. It certainly would have gotten a Game of the Year nod, with the Atari ST hit combining its tense action with a few puzzle-solving opportunities as players navigated the pristine levels.

Street Fighter (1987)

Street Fighter 1987 gameplay

Street Fighter was originally developed as a multiplayer arcade title by Capcom, Tiertex Design Studios and Capcom Entertainment, Inc. Its interactivity allowed friends to battle each other, creating a community atmosphere in gaming facilities, helping it endure and thrive as a title that players could enjoy together despite its simplicity.

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As a fighting title, it set the bar high with incredible combos, a brilliant roster, but completely streamlined controls that ensure everyone can jump in. Street Fighter the brand has gone from strength to strength because of this first release, and the Game Awards would have had to recognize the steps the game took to build a genre from the ground up.

Tetris (1984)

Tetris in 1984

Tetris was first designed by Alexey Pajitnov, and while its arcade origins may seem small, it has expanded to almost every platform, with several puzzle titles copying from the basic design and satisfying gameplay. All players had to do was put these moving blocks together before the screen filled up.

On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a Game Of The Year contender. But there’s something remarkable about the addictive design of Tetris, from its sound to its intuitive layout. There was a skill and a thrill to completing a level, and players could always try to advance themselves on the leaderboard and create the kind of competition that leads to mainstream appeal, as was the case here.

Donkey Kong (1981)

Donkey Kong throws barrels at Mario in the 1981 game

Donkey Kong from Nintendo, Atari, Nintendo Research & Development 1 and Sentient Software was another arcade platform with a difference. Players used their 8-bit hero to move up the map instead of along it, avoiding obstacles thrown down by the iconic Donkey Kong in order to rescue the princess.

It’s a classic in every sense, and it also introduced the world to Mario, as the unsuspecting hero. It’s a clear Game Of The Year award winner for its beautiful visual design, slightly more complex mechanical systems and challenging level construction that actually boasted a number of difficult hazards to overcome. It’s endlessly replayable, which only adds to its appeal.

Rampage (1984)

Rampage gameplay in 1984

Rampage may be known as a big blockbuster video game adaptation, but the original arcade incarnation from Midway Games, Activision, Data East and Catalyst Coders was very different in its premise. Players actually rampaged through a city as monstrous creatures, causing destruction in their wake and battling the military forces sent to overwhelm them.

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The sheer layer of mayhem has made this a fan favorite among those who look back fondly on that era of gaming. The mechanics needed to ensure that the environment itself could be interacted with and the difference in scale between the monsters and the human made this experience feel quite cinematic. The Game Awards would have been foolish to overlook this brilliant display of industry progress.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

A ninja turtle prepares to fight a foot clan ninja from TMNT the Arcade Game

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a tough mark to create considering how much the fanbase loves these characters. Developed by Konami with the help of studios like Ubisoft, this NES title lived up to expectations and actually allowed players to control each of the famous characters from the franchise, including their unique skill sets.

The attention to detail was commendable as players switched between these alternate heroes. While this arcade style side scroller remains one of the best TMNT video game adaptations in history and therefore worthy of a Game Of The Year Award, it’s also worth noting that from a combat perspective, this button masher somehow never got old. It constantly changed at each level to maintain its excitement.

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

The legend of zelda 1986 gameplay

The Legend of Zelda is a stunning animated game that instantly catapulted Link to superstardom. Made by Nintendo for the NES and later the Game Boy Advance, the storytelling for Zelda was on another level, with this rich and detail-oriented fantasy landscape that ultimately inspired countless sequels and spinoffs.

The combat and mythology could have been appealing, as could the concept of players embarking on a mission to rescue the princess. But it was a sense of exploration and the notion that this was a real, breathing world that players would have found most engaging. The sound design alone deserved honor at the Game Awards.

Galaga (1981)

Galaga 1981 gameplay

Galaga is certainly definitive of its era. From Namco, Atari, BNE Entertainment, Sega and a host of other studios, the arcade title helps immortalize the shooter genre for the time period, with players controlling their own ship as they shoot their way through the invading alien invasion. The offensive line was not complicated to master.

But in repeated play, players were able to hone their craft, climb the leaderboards, and ultimately defend themselves against this horde of vile villains. It’s colorful, fast-moving, and was the kind of game that appealed on such a basic level that fans would line up in the arcade to take their turn. The Game Awards would have to take notice of a title with so few faults and so many merits.

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