80s arcade fighting games – my top 5

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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 some ports. To be exact, he was renamed “Lee” (based on Bruce Lee) on the NES and the MSX version.

The game 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 title, 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. 😉

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 gaming memories alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

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

  1. 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!


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