80s arcade fighting games – my top 5

An 80s Amusement arcade

Arcade games were king for years but well…They have slipped from popularity over the years. It is hard to find good new arcade titles now, and fighting games are even harder to find in cabinet format. Sadly, all the most popular franchises have moved to home consoles or handheld devices, so those of us who love arcade fighters need to go back to the classics.

Those who played arcade fighting games in the 80s and 90s know that they are quite different to each other so I will look at the arcade fighters that the 90s had to offer us in the (near) future. Today, let us look at the best 80s arcade fighting games:

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5. Yie Ar Kung-Fu (developed and published by Konami 1985)

Yie Ar Kung Fu arcade version

I never understood how such a big guy could fly…

Released in 1985, Yie Ar Kung-Fu actually got a home computer release at the same time, so you might not even remember playing this on an arcade machine but it did release for them as well. The name might not be memorable to some, but this is the fighting game with the protagonist Oolong – though his name was changed for ports.

He was based on Bruce Lee and his name was changed to “Lee” in some of the ports. It had you fight all the martial arts masters in the game in order to win, which varied depending on the platform you played on. I really liked this game, and it is clear how it helped establish the modern fighting game genre and shaped the 90s.

4.  Karate Champ (developed by Technōs Japan, published by Data East 1984)

Karate Champ arcade version

No button mashing allowed! if you want to knock down your opponent, you need to time your moves correctly.

Dual-joystick are pretty much in the past now, but when I think about a fighting game with those controls, I am immediately reminded of Karate Champ. Plus, I remember the fun I had fighting other people in arcades with the versus option and when the game finally got ported to home computers and consoles.

There was no health or hit points here, landing a hit would end the round and the game would end when one fighter reached two points. It was short and sweet most of the time, lots of skills here and well… Just flat out an enjoyable gameplay experience. It was perfect for arcade machines.

3. Punch-Out!! (developed and published by Nintendo; 1983 Japan, 1984 NA and Europe)

Punch Out!! arcade version

Glass Joe – our first opponent – is known for his weakness, with his name even being used to describe poor performances by athletes and sportspeople.

A classic that almost everyone has heard of, Punch-Out!! from Nintendo. Though not everyone has played the original arcade game, this title sparked several sequels including the Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! game for NES. We control the green boxer and the aim is to knock the enemy boxer out in a match so we have to dodge, block and attack to win.

With only one continue per play and no actual ending (you just had to lose to end the game), I spent a lot of time playing this game during the golden arcade days. The most vivid memory I have of it is mimicking the game’s digitized voice, and shouting “UPPERCUT” together with my then friends, when one of us was playing and it was time to go for the kill.

It is still a great game and Nintendo has made a lot of modern sequels or re-releases over the years. We might even see one for the Switch at some point, since there was a re-release for the Wii U a few years back! For the time being – if you have a Nintendo Switch online subscription – you can get to play the NES version. You can find it in the dedicated library. 😉


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2. Ring King (developed by Jastec Neue Design, published by Data East and Woodplace Inc. 1985)

Ring King arcade version

This game had some spectacular knockouts… I am sure that is where Ready To Rumble’s developers drew inspiration from…

Ring King or King of Boxer (for those not Japanese or North American) is a classic arcade fighting game from 1985 that got a NES port in 1987 as well. So, if you remember a game on console called like this, then you can rest assured it is the same game.

This title takes you from your debut in boxing all the way through to world champion, and if players win the championship, then the arcade version would cycle through the last three opponents for you to keep on fighting.

While kind of standard for boxing games at the time, this one had different types of punches to use along with special attacks. It had a lot going for it and I loved the gameplay in single player and when going PvP with another person.

Honorable Mention:

Mat Mania- The Prowrestling Network (developed and published by Taito 1985)

Mat Mania arcade version

More like Puroresu than professional wrestling, to be exact, but still a lot of fun

This is one of those games that has a high level of playability value and is probably one of the first in the arcade fighting genre to actually have this much value. It is a classic where one (or two) players attack using alternating turns to try and defeat their opponent.

Players start at the bottom and make their way to challenging the wrestling champion in the fifth match where a championship belt is bestowed upon them, if they win. Then the player needs to defend their title against the previous five opponents.

It is a very nice game and as an avid pro wrestling fan, it definitely always appealed to me on that side too. Various ports and re-releases has come over the years, with the PlayStation 4 getting a port in 2015 as well.

Number one is next now: oh another wrestling game, well it could not be otherwise…

1. WWF Superstars (developed and published by Technōs Japan 1989)

WWF Superstars

Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man,Ted DiBiase, André The Giant etc… Babyfaces vs top heels… Wow, I was over the moon!

This game was released right at the end of the 80s but oh man, it was incredible to me. As previously mentioned, I am a huge fan of professional wrestling, and the first time I saw a WWF game at my local arcade, that blew my mind. Playing it and seeing my heroes like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior blew my mind again.

Pretty incredible stuff for a 12-year old boy, and it had a lifelong effect on me. Further, it features some of the signature wresting moves for each of the wrestlers at that time, and there were even cut scenes with Andre the Giant, Mean Gene and more.

Matches are tag team brawls, and players take their team through a series of different tag team match-ups. Playing along or with another person was great, with enough matches to keep you happy, though it did actually end.

WWF Superstars marked the start of the next decade of fighting games, but even so, it is an 80s title in every aspect and also one of my favorite arcade games of all time.

So again, if you are wondering why this is just for arcade fighting games from the 80s, well… It is because putting the 80s and 90s fighters together just would not be fair.

They are so different to each other and it would mean pushing some amazing titles off the list, because the newer ones are in our memories more or improved the elements from the 80s decade of arcade fighters. The 80s formed the path, so it would be rude to ignore them or let them get pushed to the side. Or at least that is what I thought!

And that’s a wrap for today, retro folks, but I cannot wait to know what your favorite fighting games from the 80s were.

Did you even enjoy them as much as the ones from the 90s? Oh, and do you have a favorite decade for fighting games? Let me know in the comments, please!

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

12 thoughts on “80s arcade fighting games – my top 5

  1. jessetoikkanen

    So nice and entertaining stuff. This great review brings my mind so so nostalgic memories about my childhood! We used to play these retro fighting games too much and our hands were full of pain due to intensive, long-lasting gaming sessions. I liked street fighters most but it was the early 90´s I guess. 

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Yeah, yeah, that was scientifically called “the gaming blister” lol. Seriously, I perfectly know what you are talking about Jesse, having a finger blister due to long-lasting gaming sessions was a source of pride for my friends and me, back then.
      You are correct, apart from the first Street Fighter ever (which does not belong on this list imho), all the most famous versions for arcades were released in the 90s.
      You know, I never give out any spoilers, but by no means could I leave Street Fighter out from the 90s fighting games list, so thank you for your nice comment, and I hope you stay tuned for my next post! 😉

  2. Henderson

    Reading your write up and list of games that were played back in those times is really something that gives me the feeling that you all really enjoyed gaming than it is enjoyed this days. Games were probably minimal. This times were the true evolution of gaming and that WWF game must’ve been a big deal then. Great post then, I look forward to seeing more.

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Henderson, and thanks for dropping by again, it is a pleasure to hear from you.
      You are right, we had a lot of fun. I do not want to play the “those were the days” card, but one thing is certain: we played more than we talked about games. WWF was a dream come true… The first time I played it, I had to queue for like 2 hours, but I can assure you it was worthy. I believe we were all hypnotized by it.
      Thanks again for being such a loyal reader, I will do my best to keep on providing engaging content!

  3. Randi

    I remember playing most of those games! I was a huge arcade fan when I was younger! It is sad that you can’t find them around any more. A few years ago there was a store that opened up just for arcade games, but apparently it wasn’t that popular. Someone once said the graphics aren’t like what they are now. I feel like I have a better appreciation for how things were. You do not need to have amazing graphics to have a good time playing a game! A well written post that brought back memories for me! Thank you a bunch!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Randi and welcome to my retro blog, I am glad I brought back nice memories for you. 🙂
      I have to agree, graphics are important, but a video game’s forte has to be its gameplay.
      The thing is, nobody likes to play a visually unpleasant game, but nobody would play twice a game with a bad gameplay, easy as that. 😉
      Thanks again for stopping by, I hope you stay as a regular!

  4. Ramos

    Yes! I remember the karate champ! Oh my God I had so much fun playing this game back then. It was such a delight and I love it essentially because if the calculation and precision that accompanies every move in there. You can not just throw your moves around to avoid getting hit then. Wow! This is a memory jogger and even though I was not an arcade fan then, I made an exception because of this. And it is true, most gaming companies have opted to stop the arcade games and rather go to an interesting gameplay with good storylines to enhance the experience since that is the demand of the new gaming generation.

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Ramos, and thanks for your nice comment.
      You know, I have always appreciated Karate Champ for that. It was obviously far from being a simulation, but you needed to have a strategy, otherwise it was game over.
      Beating the cpu on champ mode was extremely rewarding lol, only a few people could do that and they were regarded as the kings of the arcade or so lol. I eventually managed to beat it, but I was already in my late twenties. Not easy one bit.
      Yeah, the new gaming generation has different tastes, but too many things have changed and the so called “arcade experience” basically stayed in the past. It is sad, but we have to accept it. Anyway, nothing prevents us from keeping memories alive… 😉
      Thanks again for taking time to read my post, stay tuned for more!

  5. MissusB

    Back in the 80s we, girls are not allowed to go out and play arcade games. I am envious of my cousins going to arcades every saturday. Sometimes they would even sneak out on a weekday if their parents are out and I’ll be the lookout. We have a nintendo family computer at home so that’s the only gaming console I used when I was a kid. I remember street fighter, is fight game we always play. Since I’m a girly girl at that time, I enjoy donkey kong We also have  but I also play Legend of Kage, 1942 and Contra. Remember up up down down left right select start for extra lives before the game? Arcade Fighting Games is what I really missed when I was young. My parents were so strict to not allow us enter arcade houses. Well, I don’t really blame them for their discipline. Anyway, these things can be purchased nowadays!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello MissusB and thanks for taking time to leave such a nice comment. 🙂
      Sadly you are right: while I could go to my local arcade or bar anytime I wanted to, my female cousin simply was not allowed to ,and she was older than me.
      Her parents would say that an arcade was a “man’s game” and that was the end of it.
      When she was old enough to make decisions, she was no longer interested in video games and arcade. It is a pity honestly, we were very close and I think it would have been a blast to play some arcade games with her. I think we would still talk about it, today.
      Now that I think of it, I had the time of life in the arcades, but 90% of regulars were men… I started to notice more girls, when I was in my teenage years.

      Despite this I am glad you had a chance to play some arcade games like Street Fighter and Donkey Kong. And yes fortunately, we have a chance to play these games today. For one thing, * AliExpress sells consoles featuring hundreds or even thousands of arcade games built-in.
      We are no longer teenagers, but being gamers in our adulthood prevents us from getting old 😉 and above all we have the privilege of playing retro games together with our children.

      Thanks again for stopping by, I truly hope you become a regular on my blog.

  6. C

    Thanks for this great article. I like how you do honorable mention before getting to number one. WWF superstars was so much fun. I always enjoyed using the signature moves. The cut scenes were great too since I’ve always been a big wrestling fan. 

    I also remember playing a lot of Karate Champ. What a fun game. Thanks for reminding me of all these great gaming memories!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello C and welcome to my website, I am glad you appreciated my post. 🙂
      WWF Superstars was very innovative… The cutscenes looked so real (for the time) and truly helped you immerse yourself in the game atmosphere. Even non-wrestling fans would play it at my local arcade.
      Thanks again for your nice comment, I hope you become a regular here!


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