Your Quarters Worth

Part 1: Games Released Prior to 2000

Video games are a part of modern life. If you were born around the early 1980’s or later you’ve probably played a video game or a few. You might have possibly played a lot of them. You may even have what therapists and 12 steppers refer to as an addiction.

Young folks right now are getting hooked on Fortnite. Women are hanging in the waiting room of doctors’ offices and car repair shops playing Candy Crush. Where does all the hub-bub come from?

In my life today I don’t have much time to dedicate to playing, let alone grinding out and mastering any video games. I play an hour or so with my daughter and once every blue moon will settle in for a brief solo session or a trip with my crew to the Japanese inspired coin-op, Akihabara Arcade & Bar located here in Westminster Colorado.


One could argue the merits of video games in modern life. For example the added coordination, memory, and problem solving abilities versus the value of the same time dedicated to more productive endeavors. I believe the majority of us over the age of twenty-five know all of this and make a decision whether to play or not.

This article is not a philosophical conversation. It is an expose of the greatest video games of yesterday. Although the following list is subjective, it is 100% correct and warrants no debate.

Without further adieu, here is the list of the best video games made prior to the year 2000:

Tetris (1984)


The history of video games cannot be written without Tetris. It was the game packaged with the Game Boy for crying out loudly on the internet.

Four piece blocks fall from the top of the screen at an increasing pace forcing players to make quick choices where to put their bricks. They could either create and clear a completed line, or stack pieces and wait for a straight line piece to clear four lines at once, thus completing the titular Tetris.

As more and more lines and levels are cleared the drop rate and music speed up creating a mounting feeling of pressure. The game requires high level reaction speed and skill. There is no, “I beat the game.” The pieces just keep coming faster until inevitably the stack reaches the top of the screen and it’s “GAME OVER”. Players just earn bragging rights about their high scores and how many lines and levels they cleared.

Play Tetris alone or against friends, but be ready to have some blurred vision and weird imagery when you close your eyes after you are done.

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

mario bros

This is the game that started the console revolution. It is a relatively simple side-scroller designed for one player, or two players alternating turns. Players jump, break blocks, and run from the beginning of the levels to the ends avoiding traps, gaps, and seemingly invulnerable bad guys.

The main characters are two Italian plumbers with prominent mustaches and overalls. They are tasked with saving Mario’s kidnapped girlfriend, Princess Peach from the diabolical Bowser, King of the Koopas; an angry fireball spitting turtle-godzilla of sorts.

Those of us exposed to Super Mario can just close our eyes and hear the iconic sound effects and individual levels’ music scores. The soundtrack is so iconic that it is still used as cell phone ringtones today. Various rappers have used samples from the game in their beats. My personal favorite is Cocoa Brovas’ Super Brooklyn.

Green pipes and blocks held many secrets to be uncovered, including warps that allowed players to circumvent four to twelve levels and reach a speedy conclusion to the game.

Maybe it was due to happen anyway. Maybe it was inevitable that the jump to 8 bit and the advent of the simple to use D-pad controller would have seen the same development regardless of what game was packaged with the console, but I believe it was due to Mario, Luigi, and their friends. {1}

Many Super Mario sequels and spin-off games could be included in this list, but for the sake of brevity I will just note that the quality of the franchise is still strong in the present. Super Mario Kart (1992) and Super Mario World (1990) both for the Super Nintendo were amongst the best games ever played.

Smash TV (1990)

smash tv

Originally an arcade cabinet game, Smash TV was also known as Super Smash TV when released on Super Nintendo consoles in 1992. This may be the best video game ever made.

The game’s main premise was a game show similar to the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man. Players control one of two ripped and shirtless television game show contestants. They enter the game trying to win “Big money! Big prizes! I love it!” The kicker: everyone and everything else in the game is trying to kill you.

The controls were simple. The left joystick or D-pad moved you in the eight directions. The right stick or buttons would shoot your gun in the same directions. This allowed you to evade and attack simultaneously.

There was a bird’s eye view of the action. Your two player characters were locked in a room until all the NPCs, robots, human-animal hybrids, and orbs were all disposed of or they disposed of you.

There were power-ups, game show prizes, and cash scattered to help build up your score and tempt and distract you into dangerous positions. If you chanced one you would be rewarded with 1ups, rocket launchers and other weapons, keys to hidden levels {2}, and a bomb that called all on screen baddies. Each level came with its own hard to kill big boss.

Smash TV was and still is dope. I have just recently tested it out on a thirteen year old who is hooked on Fortnite. He finished his first playing experience and looked at me and said, “Who knew that old video games could be so dope?” I did nephew, and you’re lucky to have a super-cool uncle like me. {3}

I have still yet to beat Smash TV despite many hours in the bowling alley arcade, on Super NES, and most recently on a Midway collection on my XBOX 360. I did reach 4th in the world in ranking on that 360 port. I suspect there were 8-10 players in the world at that time.

Goldeneye 007 (1997)


1997 was a good year for gamers. That year saw the releases of the original Grand Theft Auto and Fallout, the later-heralded Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics, Tekken 3, and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter{4}. All were single player games except Tekken. None captured our multi-player attention quite like James Bond and his first person shooting video game Goldeneye 007.

Bond, James Bond, was never accessible to nerds, dweebs, or dorks like me and my ilk. He was cool, privileged, and unrealistically smooth with the ladies. That all changed with Goldeneye 007.

Originally an exclusive release for the Nintendo 64 there was a single player campaign that I remember being a somewhat fun play-through, but the real reason to do it was to unlock all the characters for the multi-player mode. The multi-player was the real reason to own the game. Many people will tell you it was the real reason to own the Nintendo 64 console; sorry, Mario Kart and Metroid.

Goldeneye made use of the console’s four controller ports. Players would split the screen into four quadrants. These were 1980’s and 1990’s era tube televisions too. They were small screens. Not one gamer complained about the size of their tiny quadrant once the match began.

Players selected their character of choice from an array of Bond characters from many of the then past movies. Next you select the map and finally the rules of the game. Then it was on like Donkey Kong.

Countless hours were spent in basements and dorm rooms finding that perfect stash spot for a proximity or remote mine. The golden gun gave players an opportunity for one shot kills if their aim was true enough to land a shot anywhere on their opponent. Their were many dimensions and options to the game.

Conceptually the game is very primitive. Of the entire list of games Goldeneye 007 suffers the most with losing its true value in nostalgia. Relative to modern shooters like Star Wars Battlefront and Call of Duty it is hardly playable. At the time though, James Bond was the James Bond of multiplayer video games. It was the pinnacle of technology and popular culture. It created a wonderful marriage of the two. In 1997 it was the best multi-player experience ever created.

Mortal Kombat (1992)

Violence in video games. It is like drug dealing in rap and duck faces on social media. It feels like the blood and gore have always been there. In truth it has been since stick figures evolved into artist rendered bodies. I will argue that Mortal Kombat sensationalized and popularized it. This is the first game I can remember that set an age requirement for purchase. Was it necessary at the time or clever marketing?

Phrases like, “Finish him!”, “Toasty!”, and “Fatality!” will forever be etched into gamers’ hearts and memories. Interactive backgrounds, secret characters and hidden levels were stashed throughout the game. Some were significantly more difficult to unlock then the rest.

All of this was fantastic dressing, but the real deal with Mortal Kombat was its fatalities. Kano ripped out your heart and held his prize in the air above his head. Scorpion removed his ninja mask to reveal just a skull and breathed fire to immolate his victim. Sub-Zero ripped your head off taking the spine with it. Johnny Cage punched you in the balls…Seriously!

Later we entered the blood code in on our consoles and we no longer needed to blow through our quarters int the arcade getting wrecked. Mortal Kombat was our gateway drug to violence in video games.

Doom (1993)

So you venture into the great unknown of deep space looking for the soldiers who ventured out ahead of you. You find them all dead at arrival and are immediately attacked by demon dogs, imps throwing fireballs, and screaming, flaming skulls. (Sounds like my kind of party.) Lets find out what’s happening instead of getting the heck out of here. That is the basic opening for this game that rocked the PCs and the video game world.

Continue deeper into the story and players find the entry way to hell. They inevitably go in. There must be some princess at the end that they will save. Nope. All that is waiting is a cybernetic fifteen foot tall demon with a rocket launcher for an arm. If players beat him their reward is to venture further into hell and a teaser to the upcoming sequel, Doom 2.

This was an early first person shooter played with a keyboard. It brought gamers back to their computers. There were awesome weapons like the chainsaw and BFG. The enemies were detailed and disturbing. Players were treated to graphic and unique gruesome deaths with each new type of bad guy and weapon. Cheat codes allowed for invulnerability and acquiring all weapons with full ammunition. There was even a code that allowed you to walk through walls like a literally goddamned Kitty Pride.

I am getting excited just thinking about Doom and all the fun I’ve had playing all the subsequent games in the franchise.

Breakout (1976) / Archanoid (1986)

I am not sure what genre these brick-breaker games fall into. Puzzle? Action? Strategy? They were that unique. They were one part pong, one part pinball. Gamers controlled a paddle at the bottom of the screen and moved it side to side on a horizontal axis. The objective was to move the paddle under the ball that bounced around the screen in geometric angles based on the speed and angle the ball hit. There would be an array of bricks on the top half of the screen that impact from the ball would break. Some bricks were resistant and took two or more hits. Some were indestructible and you had to circumvent them by strategically bouncing the ball of the walls and ceiling to avoid the indestructible blocks and hit the blocks behind it to clear the level.

If players were tricky they could even move the paddle left or right to affect the spin of the ball to speed up, slow down or change angles. Power-ups dropped if you hit certain bricks. Some were 1ups. Others altered the speed of the ball to increase or decrease. Another would give your paddle stickiness. This allowed you to catch your ball and pick where you wanted to release it. And what pinball inspired game would be complete without a multi-ball?

These games were primitive, but they were some of the best quality experiences found in the arcade and on home consoles. I’m amazed Candy Crush is so commonly played, while brick-breaker games such as Archanoid and Breakout are still available for cell phones and tablets today.

X-men vs. Street Fighter (1996)

There were fighting games and then there was Street Fighter. Then some nerd somewhere (most likely Japan) had the brilliant idea of marrying America’s obsession with super-heroes and comic books with their obsession with video games, in particular fighting games. X-men vs. Street Fighter was born.

The premise was simple, yet elegant. Select two characters from the likes of Street Fighter, such as Ryu, Akuma, and Dhalsim, as well as X-men like Storm, Gambit, and Wolverine. Both good and bad were represented. Apocalypse would be the final opponent to overcome.

The single player was cool enough on it’s own, but the real treat was its multi-player action. Players would line those quarters up to get some. One player would know just enough combos and power attacks to run roughshod through the fodder, which I was definitely included in. I spent more than a few rolls of quarters on this bad ass game.

Many iterations and evolutions have come after XM v SF including partnerships between Street Fighter and Tekken and Marvel and Japanese video game manufacturer SNK, and most recently Capcom and anime company, Tatsunoko. There has even been some 3D designs as well. They have all been strong, some more so than others, but Street Fighter vs. X-men made it possible to level up our nerd rating by fusing the pure awesomeness and crossing the popular cultural lines.

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Cloud, Aeris, Tifa, and Sephiroth; these are some of the many iconic characters from this installment of the Japanese role playing series. This was far and away the best, most complete and deep story of the entire series; and possibly of all video games ever. Players could spend over one hundred hours playing the game and still not uncover all of its secrets.

The story was about the rape of resources of the planet, called mako. It followed two corporate/military soldiers whose brotherhood was splintered. One, Sephiroth becomes the devil incarnate through his absorption of the mako energy and risked the destruction of the planet. He becomes the primary boss and threat in the game. The other, Cloud, your playable character, gathers an array of help from friends he recruits along the way to stop his ex-bestie, Sephiroth. They both had gigantic swords and a penchant for magic.

The story has some schizophrenic elements reminiscent of Fight Club, but does not go off the deep end at any point. A main party member dies. Another sells you out to the villains. The tale told may be the best I have ever witnessed and played in video games in my life.

The weapons were cool. The magic development process was superb. Players equipped magical orbs they found throughout the game to different weapons and armor, and they imbued you with abilities, enhancements and defensive boosts. Your character and magic orbs leveled up and became stronger until players killed enough monsters, fiends, and soldiers, thus allowing you to master the magic. The summons were another special aspect to the game. Giant dragons and djinns were called forth in epic cut-scenes. They looked stellar in their detail and inflicted massive damage on your opponents.

The story cut scenes were some of the longest in video game history, but they were so detailed and memorable it didn’t take away from the experience. The battles could get repetitive as nerds ground away for loot and experience in dungeons, but it was worth it to find secrets like the playable character Vincent the Vampire, the Knights of the Round Table summon, or to successfully breed a gold Chocobo, which you could ride anywhere in the world over any terrain.

Reminiscing over Final Fantasy VII is really getting my Geek juices flowing.

Diablo (1996)


Once again we turned on our PC for another adventure down into hell. This time we take on a third person perspective and use our mouse to direct the character’s movements, attacks, and loot gathering.

One can really nerd out and grind for experience in Diablo. Sell and trade prizes looted from downed enemies in town for fancier weapons and armor imbued with magic properties and abilities.

Level up and find scrolls and apply experience points to different skills to become a stronger fighter, a more dexterous archer, or a more magical mage. Balance development appropriately and cut through enemies and levels like a flaming sword through demon flesh. Make the wrong imbalanced choices and die, especially on levels fifty and above. The villains could have been direct ports from the poet Dante’s imagination. The game was awesome and time consuming. Randomly generated maps and villains created a unique experience each time you played.

Many games today can trace their roots to the above-mentioned list. Many gamers got their start on some or a few of them. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me.

If you have played any of these then you already know what I am touting. If you procure an opportunity to play one of the games listed here that you have not yet, then you are blessed and in for a treat. I look forward to the discourse we hopefully receive about the games that are missing from the list as well as the trolling towards any of the details I undoubtedly got incorrect in my descriptions.

Remember this was an opinion piece that is one hundred percent correct.

Before I check out until next time I’d like to briefly list the games that deserve mention, but were not included due to the fact that this article has already been excessively long and time consuming to create: Toe Jam & Earl (1991), Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out (1987), Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990), Dr. Mario (1990), Beyond Oasis (1994), Sword of the Berserk (1999), Fallout 2 (1998), Warcraft (1994), Starcraft (1998), Final Fight (1989), Altered Beast (1988), Golden Axe (1989), Baldar’s Gate (1998)

Please feel free to comment with any glaring omissions to the best pre-2000 video games of all time. We look forward to your correspondence.

{1} Duck Hunt was also paired with Super Mario Bros. as the included game for the original Nintendo console. Duck Hunt utilized the light gun and warrants an honorable mention for being an awesome game in its own right.
duck hunt
{2} There is speculation that most versions of Smash TV did not include any reason to collect the keys and that they were just the developers teasing players into pumping more quarters into the game. Console ports included a hidden room. I have never reached it.
{3} Acknowledgements to my uncles. I was blessed to have an array of funny and cool uncles who taught me many things such as the joys of driving fast, anime, and of course, video games. If you’re reading this. I appreciate the value you have all added to my life.
{4} Turok was mentioned facetiously.

Thanks for the look.
John Andreula

One comment

  1. […] It is easy to get lost trying to do and acquire everything within the game. This is also similar to PAPER MARIO, or any other RPG for that matter. Attempting the elusive 100% completion would exponentially increase a player’s game time. But that’s how I used to play games like this. (see FINAL FANTASY VII in The 10 Best Video Games of All Time Part 1) […]


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