The platformer, that 2D run-and-jump fest, was one of the most successful genres of the 1980s both in arcades and on home machines. Let’s look at five great arcade platformers that defined or refined the genre.
Donkey Kong (Nintendo)
Perhaps the most “classic” of all platformers, Donkey Kong is a classic story of boy-meets-girl, ape-kidnaps-girl, boy-runs-and-jumps-around-absurd-obstacle-courses-to-get-girl-back. Although there are only four stages in Donkey Kong, they’re all classic ones and playing them brings forth a strong feeling of nostalgia in most players. Plus, Donkey Kong is a highly competitive high-score game with a documentary movie, The King of Kong, made about the rivalry between two such players. A must-play for any student of video game history.
Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins (Capcom)
Capcom’s fiendishly difficult medieval fantasy run-and-shoot is known almost as much for its jaunty music as its unforgiving gameplay. A real skill-testing game that will frustrate many, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins will charm even more with its fun art design and main ragtime theme song that is impossible to get out of your head. A two-hits-and-you’re-dead system lets main character Arthur lose his armor before running around throwing daggers in his underwear. Watch out for that red devil!
Toki (TAD Corporation)
Perhaps the deepest cut on this list, Toki is a platformer starring a spitting ape made by little-known (and quickly shuttered) company Tad Corporation. The game has a very strange but enjoyable sense of humor and had very attractive graphics for its time period. It features both horizontal and vertical movement in its levels and plenty of mini-bosses to challenge at the ends of the stages. The main character is actually an enchanted Tarzan-like jungle man, which makes his quest to free a human woman a little less strange.
Altered Beast (Sega)
Sega’s arcade hit, which later became the pack-in game for their Mega Drive/Genesis home system, was a platformer with elements of the beat-em-up genre but is best known for the multiple cool transformations that its protagonists came make, including turning into wolfmen and dragons. It’s also famous for its opening line, “Rise from your grave and save my daughter,” which I wouldn’t be surprised to find out is the name of some third-rate rock band’s song. While the unpowered characters in the game move sluggishly, once you transform it is really fun to fight and kill enemies in Altered Beast.
Contra / Gryzor (Konami)
While the NES/Famicom port of Contra is probably better known, the arcade version is much more visually appealing with bigger characters, more colors, and better animations. It also had a very uniquely-shaped screen, taller than it is wide. The European version, Gryzor, did not feature two-player simultaneous play like the North American and Japanese versions, but did allow players to alternate turns. Contra’s cool alien monsters and variety of guns made it a popular series for over a decade.