Skip to content



Innovative Arcade Cabinets

Here at Bitmap Books, we love arcade gaming. These glowing temples to neon and pixels rose in popularity during the seventies before the home consoles eventually caught up two decades later. Nevertheless, arcade cabinets always had the potential to offer an experience unavailable anywhere else: from evocative sit-down experiences to novel methods of controlling the on-screen action, the arcades have always been a hotbed of videogame innovation. Here are nine of our favourites, and you can read about these games and more in Bitmaps Books’ Artcade, a loving book dedicated to classic arcade game cabinet art. Put some coins in the slot and purchase your copy here.

Fire Truck – Atari, 1978

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

Fire Truck was an early beast of the arcades, jutting out from the rows of standard cabinets. The game itself is black and white, with the players controlling the eponymous truck as it negotiates the streets on its way to an emergency. An early example of cooperative gameplay, one player sits down and controls the front steering; the other player stands up and steers the rear axle. With its narrow streets and occasional hazards (such as oil patches), it’s a tricky, if uncomplicated, game designed for two players and quite unlike anything else before or since.

Missile Command – Atari, 1980

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

Atari was a true innovator of the early arcade scene, and Missile Command is another classic that broke the mould, combining a trackball controller with an opportune theme of nuclear destruction. Missile Command’s rolling control method particularly lends itself to the game as the player launches anti-ballistic missiles against an endless rain of enemy fire. Expert players soon learned how to use the controller to their advantage, creating an umbrella of explosions in times of particular desperation.

Battlezone – Atari, 1980

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

Few arcade cabinets evoke memories like Battlezone. Leaving aside its beautiful graphics – a clean and glowing wireframe display that has never gone out of fashion – the quirky use of a viewfinder helps define Battlezone as a true legend of the arcades. The design is ingenious in its ingenuousness: the player places their eyes into the viewfinder, transporting them into the game’s abstract world. At the same time, they control their tank using a brace of joysticks, and it’s perhaps no surprise that the US military approached Atari to adapt Battlezone into a genuine combat simulator.

Star Wars – Atari, 1983

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

As anticipation built for the third film in the Star Wars franchise, Return Of The Jedi, Atari released what many consider the definitive Star Wars experience. Like Battlezone before it, the immersion factor is key here – the overarching unit and unique control yoke overcome the slightly uncomfortable seat to provide a thoroughly absorbing arcade game, thrusting you right into the first movie’s climactic space battle. And who can forget those gentle tones of Obi-Wan, encouraging the player to use The Force as they enter the Death Star’s narrow trench?

Space Harrier – SEGA, 1985

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

By the mid-eighties, there was plenty of competition to bring bigger and more physical experiences to the arcades, and SEGA led the way in 1985 with this on-rails shooter. Not only is Space Harrier a technologically impressive videogame – incorporating scaled sprites at an unprecedented speed and offering a wonderful soundtrack – the addition of a hydraulic cab makes it more simulation than a game. A prime example of the arcades providing a totally exclusive experience.

Gauntlet – Atari, 1985

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

During the Golden Age Of Arcade Games, players used to crowd around arcade machines as they watched an expert or friend notch a high score. In 1985, Atari released Gauntlet, bringing the spectators into the game, as up to four players congregated around the massive coin-op machine, scrapping against demons, ghosts and even Death itself. The gigantic, 29-inch control panel houses a joystick and buttons for each character, from the brawny Thor to the lithe elf Questor. The cartoon artwork perfectly complements this famous cabinet, inspired by the then-recent Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.

Out Run – SEGA, 1986

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

Of course, sit-down driving games had been around for donkey’s years – there’s even one earlier in this list – and it’s a bit of an open goal for a driving game to incorporate some type of seating to help immerse players. Nevertheless, nothing defines the genre like Out Run, SEGA’s affectionate homage to The Golden State. There’s nothing exceptional about Out Run’s gameplay or the concept of a sit-down arcade machine; however, there’s no doubt it promulgated the genre, its beautiful deluxe hydraulic cabinet paving the way for rivals such as SEGA Rally and Daytona USA.

Ikari Warriors – SNK, 1986

Image courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive 

Ikari Warriors mines the famous trail trod by Capcom’s Commando, albeit with two fundamental alterations. The game introduces a pleasing simultaneous two-player mode, while the machine’s control panel quarters two rotary joysticks that allow the players to move their avatars directly by pushing or rotating by turning. The game’s artwork famously suggests Sylvester Stallone – unsurprising when you consider the Rambo movies were its inspiration, especially First Blood Part II, known in Japan as Rambo: Ikari no Dasshutsu.

Operation Wolf – Taito, 1987

As with Out Run, Operation Wolf was not the first, but the most famous, the game that popularised its genre. So how did Taito’s game tap into the arcade-going public like no other light gun shooter? As with SNK’s Ikari Warriors, Operation Wolf exploited the eighties' affection for violent military combat, even citing Commando on some arcade flyers. The cabinet’s mounted gun is similar to an Uzi, and this grounding in real-world combat, combined with its visceral gameplay, helped Operation Wolf become one of the biggest light gun games of all time. For an audience of primarily teenage boys, it was the number one target.

Don’t forget to check out Artcade to discover all about classic arcade games and so much more!

Your cart is empty