The lifespan of fan-favourite games from the 1980s is astonishing! Players love the nostalgic appeal of the games which defined their childhoods, characterised by the innocent simplicity of such titles as Hungry Horace, Pac-Man, and Lemmings.
In addition to the many beloved titles, keen retro gamers hold a special little place in their hearts for the beautifully boxy machinery which made it all possible. The machines of the ‘80s paved the way for home gaming as we know it today.
One of the fiercest rivalries in the history of gaming began in the early ‘80s, with the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum 48 competing for the cash and the affections of players the world over. In fact, amongst some, the debate rages on to this day!
Other home computers such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga also facilitated gaming and brought relatively powerful machines into homes for the very first time.
Other key players in the 8-bit era include the third generation Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Mark III, and the Atari 7800. These were closely followed by the early fourth generation consoles with their 16-bit chips, such as the Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive as it was known outside America).
The late ‘80s also saw the release of the groundbreaking Nintendo Game Boy, which demonstrated the vast potential of the portables market and enjoyed monumental sales success.
These machines, with their primitive specifications and countless imperfections were a far sight from what we see today, but thanks to their endlessly charming quirks, such as the Spectrum’s noisy cassette tape loading system, we love them dearly!
The Spectrum 48 enjoyed a number of infinitely enjoyable classic games such as the fan and critic favourite Hungry Horace, in which the player is tasked with navigating familiar Pac-Man like mazes in pursuit of food pellets.
In the early ‘80s, Manic Miner became a highly influential title, and has since been ported to numerous other consoles and smartphones. Similarly, Chuckie Egg enjoyed numerous releases and many versions. Games such as Skool Daze, Atic Atac and Dizzy are also credited with breaking new ground.
The Commodore 64 made a big splash with titles like Lucasfilm Games’ Maniac Mansion, Bubble Bobble, and The Last Ninja. These games made use of advanced graphics and more elaborate gameplay, pioneering the platformer genre. In fact, belonging to this era, Capcom’s Ghosts N’ Goblins is widely considered to be one of the greatest games ever made.
The Atari ST’s titles spawned gigantic franchises, some of which are still releasing new instalments. For instance, the latest entry to the Prince of Persia series was published in 2022. Other Atari successes included the endearing Lemmings, and the gripping, narrative-centric adventure game Monkey Island.
Although published a little later, titles like Sensible Soccer and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge proved to be winners for the Amiga system, combining early ‘90s graphics and multiplayer modes to further the racing and sports genres.
It was during the late 1980s that ambitious titles like SimCity, and sprawling multi-level dungeon-based RPGs like Gauntlet were born. These certainly set the new standard for high-end games, laying the foundations for modern titles such as today’s Sims games, and open-world RPGs like Bethesda’s first-person masterpieces.
Several timeless arcade classics were born in the 1980s. Nintendo struck gold with games like Tetris, which was a huge hit on the Game Boy, and Pac-Man stole hearts all over the world. The third entry into Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros series confirmed the evergreen success that the franchise would bring.
It could be argued that, in terms of the range, progression and ingenuity of its games, no later decade has yet managed to surpass the 1980s.
Less is More: Analogue Simplicity Endures
When examining the reason for the near-infinite appeal of these machines and games, it’s hard not to notice the correlation between simplicity and popularity.
Whilst old school arcade titles have an enduring, nostalgic appeal, more modern, complex games tend to have a shorter lifespan, perhaps because of the elaborate mechanics, rules and systems which players need to understand.
Narrative was also at the centre of many 1980s games, informing the gameplay and not vice versa. Well-written storylines were a necessity because of technical limitations, and they often featured charming characters which helped to establish a lasting emotional bond between game and player. Many, such as Hungry Horace, were so influential that their characters became household names.
The advent of the platformer was a crucial evolutionary step in gaming. With increasing difficulty levels, new challenges and the ability to progress, came a level of appeal before unseen.
High score boards kept players competitive and always coming back for more, whilst making gaming a more social experience than it had previously been – despite possibly causing a few heated disagreements between friends from time to time!
The ‘80s generation of gamers now has children, and parents have been introducing their kids to the world of gaming through simple, accessible, charming retro titles, and connecting through them as a fun alternative to sophisticated, modern AAA games.
A 2012 study found that users consistently prefer simple interfaces in websites, and it seems that this trend may apply also to video games, as indie games and smaller titles have been getting a lot of press and playtime in recent years.
Even some online slots have been designed to have a retro appeal, particularly 3-reel traditional slots, which tend to have a classic fruit machine design and a nostalgic aesthetic. Often, it’s possible to play slots for a penny at online casinos and slot sites, enabling players to try out these games with minimal financial risk.
The treasured 1980s games of our childhoods have more longevity than modern titles because of how they make us feel. We keep coming back for their quirky simplicity and trailblazing brilliance, playing them at home, at arcade bars, and on our phones. Many of the franchises born in the ‘80s are still producing best sellers and chart toppers.
Modern hardware, however, could not be further from the basic home computers and 8-bit machines of the early 1980s. Companies are aware of the nostalgia held by their fans, which is why an exact replica of the Commodore 64 was released a few years ago.
Whether on new machines or old (or replicas of old), the fact that these games are still played today, in our digital world in which computing power is frequently taken for granted, is a testimony to the brilliant minds and companies that conceived them.