Updated: Oct 12, 2021
One of the amazing things about classic arcade games is the shear variety of cabinet designs and artwork. Yet not all cabinets are created equal, some are beautiful to look at while others got somewhat beat down by the ugly stick. Some games might look amazing thanks to a cool cabinet, even though the game itself is terrible to play (I'm looking at you Atari's Kangaroo). So I present you this list of 10 great looking and 10 terrible looking arcade games for no other purpose than my own amusement.
10) Pot O Gold - GPI (Worst)
Remember all the classic GPI arcade games? No? There is a reason, and someone must have had an office buddy that drew "kind of good" to design the art for the cabinet.
10) Tempest - Atari (Best)
Tempest is one of the all time classic arcade shooters, thanks to it's sharp geometric inspired graphics. Taking the angular theme and designing a wedge like cabinet is just the icing on the cake. Fantastic purple and blue monsters on the side art, and I have always loved that one vent on the side of the front marquee. (It looks like a speaker vent, but it actually does nothing) Tempest is a beauty, inside and out.
9) Maze Man (Worst)
Maze Man is one many Pac-Man "Copies" (A.K.A. Bootlegs) to come out at the height of Pac-Man Fever in the very early 80's. Most of the companies making these dot eating knock offs used sub-par art and cabinet materials. With Maze Man, they slightly altered the classic sprites of the game characters to subvert those pesky copyright laws. But why to the "Ghosts" now look like...uh... balls and... uh you know.
9) Gyruss - Centuri (Best)
Gyruss is often described as a cross between the classics Galaga and Tempest, with better music. But check out that cabinet with that sweet orange, yellow, and red stenciled art. Bold color choices with an abstract design really get under my skin in a good way. The control panel just tucks into the cabinet with the stereo speakers right above the players hands.
8) Zaxxon/Sega Convert a Cab - Sega (Worst)
Hey what if we made all of our games look like a huge box with little to no artistic value. Cool, but slap some woodgrain stickers on it ok? Got it boss! Sega designed these cabinets to be easy for operators to convert games into a newer title, however the artistic impact was about as profound as an 1980's Buick.
8) Computer Space - Nutting (Best)
Super funky space fiberglass shell with glitter in it? Count me in folks. Computer Space was the first commercial arcade game and took a chance making an artistic (and expensive to manufacture) risk with it's cabinet design. It's a shame most manufactures would play it safe going forward site of being this bold.
7) Red Tent Vs. Cocktail - Nintendo (Worst)
Although these cabinets have a bit of a cult following with collectors (thanks to the almost cult like devotion of Nintendo fans) they couldn't be more utilitarian or ugly in my opinion. But hey, to each there own. It just looks like an angry red toaster over to me. Although points for having two monitors in a cocktail cabinet I guess.
7) Burgertime - Bally/Midway (Best)
I've never been a huge fan of this game, but the Bally/Midway version of the dedicated cabinet is just fantastic. With the huge cartoon version of our chef hero on the side, and all finished off in a mustard like yellow. Huge bonus points for shaping the front top edge of the cabinet to match the curve of the chef hat. Originally the "Pepper" buttons even had a silkscreen design on them. This is one sharp looking cabinet that always makes me smile. Fun bit of trivia, I am terrible at this game.
6) Fax - Exidy (Worst)
Fax is an early trivia game, that looks like an early ATM machine. It just makes me depressed looking at it. Can we also talk about that it's called Fax but isn't a fax machine? Also kind of looks like a homemade jukebox.
6) Star Wars Cockpit - Atari (Best)
What kid hasn't dreamed of flying around in their own X-Wing fighter and blowing up Tie Fighters? For 25 cents you could get pretty close thanks to this glorious cockpit by Atari. This game set the standard for immersive sit-down and cocktail arcade games for generations to come.
5) Space Wars - Cinematronics (Worst)
Hey what should our arcade cabinet look like? A refrigerator? Ok, sure what not. Let's also make it with tiny buttons and terrible instructions.
5) Tapper - Bally/Midway (Best)
Tapper really hits the barkeeper vibe with not only it's great gameplay, but a killer cabinet. Complete with foot rail, side drink holders, and a controller that mimics a beer tap. It's no wonder that Tapper is a highly sought after collectable for arcade fans.
4) A.P.B. - Atari (Worst)
I love this game, but GAUUDDD the cabinet is not one of Atari's finer moments. The strange cartoon cops come across amateurishly drawn and not particularly stylish. Also the ergonomics of the game are somewhat poor thanks to a questionable angle placement if the steering wheel. An unfortunate design for such a fun game, it really deserves better. The uncomfortable seat doesn't help much either, which is usually missing anyway.
4) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Konami (Best)
These 4 player classic Konami cabinets really get my motor running! Simple in it's design, but the perfect balance of space for a 4 player beat em up game. Matching color sticks for each player, beautiful artwork on the sides and control panel, and a nice big 25 inch CRT monitor. Also with the pop culture relevance TMNT this game seems to age gracefully. Konami used this cabinet for several other classic 4 player games of the late 80's and early 90's. The Simpsons arcade game by Konami in almost exactly the same cabinet is also a pretty great looking piece of gaming. Also of note from Konami around the same time, the amazing looking 6 player X-Men cabinet.
3) Spy Hunter II - Bally/Midway (Worst)
Midway took one of the greatest classic car games and came up with this terrible follow up. The cabinet is awkwardly designed thanks to a player view split in half, so each player only gets half of the monitor to view their car. It's a poorly thought out game, and the clunky design of the cabinet sure doesn't help the situation. Because of the split view of the monitor seeing the screen also very strange. The angles of the players sight lines just don't work out so well. On top of it all the cabinet weights like a billion pounds so good luck moving one.
3) Joust - Williams (Best)
Williams cabinets have a certain subtle quality about them, I am a big fan of their multi colored stenciled side art. Joust in my opinion is the best of the Williams lot, with that great ostrich graphic on the side art. It's complemented by a lovely control panel and marquee. Joust was one of the most unique and imaginative games of the classic era, and the cabinet does this game justice. Maybe the only arcade cabinet that could pull off the color poop brown and look great.
2) Space Encounters - Bally/Midway (Worst)
Just clunky, ugly, and terrible. Just look at it and feel sad.
2) Crystal Castles - Atari (Best)
Atari made some amazing looking cabinets during the golden era of arcade games, but I think Crystal Castles is their finest work. Although not the huge break out hit Atari might have been expecting, Crystal Castles is a solid game with a unique 2 point graphical perspective viewpoint. This gameplay design is translated into fantastic side and front panel artwork that was obviously inspired by the works of M.C. Escher. The speaker grill with the huge Atari logo in the middle, and light up trackball controller really take the cake. Atari used a similar cabinet design for the dedicated cabinet versions of Millipede and Cloak and Dagger. But I think Crystal Castles is their best work.
1) Donkey Kong, Jr., or Popeye Cocktail - Nintendo (Worst)
Nintendo has made some of the greatest all time arcade classics in history. But I would elect their cocktail cabinets of the classic era to be some of the ugliest cabinets ever made. Generic doesn't even cover these poop brown metal boxes. Let us start with the control panels, which are flush to the sides of the machine instead of jetting outward like most cocktail games in the USA. (This flush design however, was common at the time in Japan). This control set up makes playing extremely awkward and uncontrollable for long periods of time. The cabinet is held up by metal legs, which don't raise the game up quite enough to put your feet under the game. Also all that great side art in classic Nintendo uprights like Donkey Kong is regimented to two small instruction cars on the sides of the monitor. It's no wonder Nintendo cocktail cabinets are often unloved by all but the hardest of the hard core arcade collectors.
1) Discs of Tron - Bally/Midway (Best)
Just look at this thing. LOOK AT IT. A tribute to florescent lightbulbs, T-molding, and particle board. So much has been written about this game by countless arcade blogs so I won't bore you with too much here. But the actual design of the cabinet with it's step in environmental interaction, ability for passerby players to see the game through the rear, and interact chase lighting are just brilliant. It's no wonder that mint examples of this game are quickly approaching the 8-10K mark. If you are for some reason not familiar with this Greek God like arcade cabinet, check out this excellent video that gives you the full tour. https://youtu.be/IFxegR-AR9g
Need more? Some more great looking upright arcade cabinets in no particular order...
Food Fight - Atari
Quantum - Atari
Dig Dug - Atari
Ms. Pac-Man - Bally/Midway
Outrun (Sit-down) - Sega
Donkey Kong 3 - Nintendo
Tron - Bally/Midway
Alien Syndrome - Sega