The 15 best video games of the 1980s

7 of 16

Donkey Kong

Released: 1981

Platforms: Arcade, NES, Commodore 64, Atari 2600/8-bit, Intellivision, MSX, ZX Spectrum, Game Boy Advance (re-release), various other platforms

Without Donkey Kong, we wouldn’t have Mario. But this list isn’t just about how these games influenced everything that’s come since, although that certainly matters. It’s also about the quality of the game itself, and Donkey Kong, though pushing 40, is still a punishing, pretty well-designed platformer.

This iteration of Donkey Kong (not the same DK that has now become a sometime-ally of Mario; yes, there’s actual Donkey Kong canon) has kidnapped Pauline, and you must climb, jump, and sometimes hammer your way through to rescue her, naturally.

But beyond that, Donkey Kong is one of the best games of the ‘80s because it still holds onto its place in gaming culture. In 1999, 18 years after the game first arrived, playing through Donkey Kong was one of the biggest challenges to completing Donkey Kong 64 completely. But that’s just part of the way through.

Polygon, just earlier this year, called notching the high score “arguably the most coveted mark in competitive video gaming.” In fact, the high score is now 1,247,700. Better go find one of the machines and start practicing.