The Internet Archive recently added over 900 playable games to its website, compiling the greatest of some of the very first home video game consoles. 900 games is a lot to choose from, so I went and narrowed down your choices into these five. These are must-play titles, whether you’re a gamer or just looking for a great sampler from the history of video games.

Pitfall (1982)

Everyone knows Pac-Man, but this is the other game that put home consoles on the map. Jumping was already well-established in titles before this, but this game somehow seemed more realistic than what had come before. You weren’t jumping over cartoon characters, or running around as a little blip. You were an actual explorer deep in a mysterious jungle, trying to avoid giant scorpions and collect as much gold as you could. Pitfall’s had a few revivals over the years, but this original version is still just as exciting as ever.

Frogger (1983)

Frogger is, to my mind, one of the most “pure” ideas for a video game ever. You’re a frog (not a chicken), crossing a highway. It’s such a simple and clear idea — everyone instantly understands that you hop forward or sideways one hop at a time, and everyone gets that the traffic will instantly kill you, and that you’re trying to get to that girl frog on the top of the screen. Pac-Man involves ghosts and pellets, and Mario needed pow blocks and flaming barrels, but Frogger just wants to cross that road. This is the Magnavox Odyssey version, but the original 2600 version is also playable on the website.

Spy Hunter (1984)

I lost so many quarters to Spy Hunter video games as a kid. There was definitely something great about the imagined sense of speed of a car racing around seen from above, and though the game was very tough at times (driving into that truck always seemed impossible for me as a kid), it was so rewarding to thread through two cars, or take out an especially troublesome enemy. Later versions of Spy Hunter (including the movie they made with The Rock) have tried to replicate the original game’s low-fi charm, but this was definitely a product of the place and time. Once you could actually render cars realistically, the tricks in Spy Hunter didn’t work as well. Before that, though, Spy Hunter was definitely one of a kind.

Battletoads (1993)

This is actually the Game Gear version of Battletoads, which doesn’t match up to Rare’s great platforming/action masterpiece on the NES. Still, it does have the same qualities that made Battletoads so great, including colorful characters and an aesthetic that isn’t afraid to do nutty things (like make the character’s fist huge when you complete a combo of hits) or turn up the difficulty to “good luck — you’ll need it” levels. Even now, 20 years later, the Battletoads are like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from another universe, a franchise that just begged for a huge line of merchandising and a Saturday morning cartoon to match. Rare’s moved on to make games for Microsoft, and there are other franchises from the company that could use more attention (looking at you, Banjo Kazooie), but Battletoads is a magic that was sadly never recreated, as obstinate and tough as it was.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

As far as I’m concerned, Sonic the Hedgehog ushered in the third age of consoles. Atari paved the way for mass market adoption with the 2600, Mario and the NES put a unit in every house, but Sonic kick-started the competition that the console market is known for today. Personally, I think Mario makes better platformers, but there’s no question that Sonic is charming, super fast, and had the graphical power to make the Sega Genesis a drool-worthy dream as a kid. Sonic the Hedgehog was great, both as a title on its own, and as a sign that someone could elbow Mario a bit and show him there were other ways to play if you wanted them.

Posted on Friday, November 7th, 2014 at 12:41 pm. Filed under general.
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