The Best Arcade Games of 1978

Up until 1978 video games were still in their salad days. Since the first coin-op video games launched in 1971 popularity was continually growing as mechanical games were slowly being phased out and replaced with the likes of Pong. By the end of '78 video games exploded into pop culture madness, mainly thanks to the number one pick on our list, Space Invaders. This was also the year that introduced the world to the first trac-ball game, the first continuously scrolling game, and the first POV driving game. These are the most popular, innovative and groundbreaking titles from one of the grooviest year at the arcade.

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Space Invaders - Taito (Japan) Bally Midway (United States)

A screenshot of Space Invaders.

 Atari / All Rights Reserved

The most important game of '78 was a linchpin that threw video arcades from modest success into pop culture phenomenon as fanatics lined up around the block itching for the chance to shoot at a synchronized fleet of alien ships. The first model was black & white with a color overlay on the screen, while later models featured full-color graphics and variations on the alien formations. The game was so popular that's attributed to have caused a coin shortage in Japan. Almost immediately other publishers started ripping it off with over 12 clones released the same year, all with identical graphics, gameplay and similar sounding names like Super Invaders, Super Space Stranger and Alien Invasion Part II.

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Super Breakout - Atari

The cover art for Super Break Out.

Atari / All Rights Reserved

Sequel to the 1976 classic Breakout features the same gameplay as the original but with 3 different game modes and color graphics. Players control a paddle at the base of the screen to bop a ball against a series of walls, breaking away bricks with every hit. To beat the game all of the bricks must be cleared away. The controls consist of a knob to move the paddle, a button to launch the ball and another knob to switch between gameplay modes. The different modes include Double - with two balls to juggle, Cavity - players must free two balls trapped above the walls, and Progressive where the wall slowly descends upon the player. Breakout continues to be the most ripped-off game of all time, most recently with the mobile game Block Breaker.

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Atari Football - Atari

The cover art for Football.

Atari / All Rights Reserved

Not only the first coin-op video arcade game of Football, but also the very first trac-ball game, a control system that gained most of its fame with the arcade classic Centipede. The trac-ball replaces the joystick with a large ball that is spun to control the players on the field. Released only in a cocktail table cabinet format, players face each other on opposite sides of the screen/field. The graphics were monotone in color with players represented by X's and O's to differentiate between offense and defense. To speed up the movement their team, players had to spin the trac-ball as quickly as possible.

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Fire Truck - Atari

Covert art for Fire Truck

Atari / All Rights Reserved

A game whose cabinet design is as unique as its gameplay. Ideal for two simultaneous players, the unit is a modified sit-down cabinet with upright controls built into the back of the seat. Both the front and back feature steering wheels that allow players to drive their fire truck through a maze of city streets as they race to put out a fire. The graphics are a green monotone color from a top down perspective. The player in the front seat steers the truck's rig as the player standing up controls the trailer in the back. Fire Truck also features a single-player mode where players can choose which part of the truck they want to control based on which steering wheel they chose to sit/stand at.

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Video Pinball - Atari

Cover art for Video Pinball

Atari / All Rights Reserved

One of the few coin-op arcade titles to have started out as a home dedicated console game. Video Pinball is played just like an old-school pinball machine, complete with the flipper buttons on the side, a spring-loaded Plunger to launch the ball into play, and even a nudge button to replace physically bumping the machine. The playfield is printed on a plate of glass which is reflected onto a monitor that also displays the digital graphics, giving the game a 3-D appearance. The graphics consist of the ball and effects resulting from when you hit bumpers and all of the glorious disco-style pinball doodads.

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Orbit - Atari

Cover art for Orbit.

Atari / All Rights Reserved

A Star Trek inspired game where two ships battle it out as they both continually spin around the orbit of a planet. In addition to blasting each other, they also have to avoid or destroy various debris or risk crashing. A basic, yet fun and addictive game.

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Speed Freak - Vectorbeam

Covert art for Speed Freak.


A major milestone, Speed Freak is the first driving game to use a first-person POV. Fearing black & white vector graphics, the goal is to drive along a desert road without crashing. To do this the player must avoid other cars, police roadblocks and carjackers. Although the line art graphics are crude, the game features quite a bit of intensity as you attempt to run down the clock. There is a time limit after which the total points are calculated.

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Sea Wolf II - Bally Midway

Arcade cabinet art for Seawolf II.

Midway Games / All Rights Reserved

Instead of a traditional monitor to show off the gameplay, this submarine shooter with a twist has you peeking into periscopes to see the full-color action. Designed for one or two simultaneous players, the cabinet is fitted with two side-by-side periscope shaped viewers where you must line up crosshairs to try and torpedo passing enemy ships.

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Sky Raider - Atari

Cover art for Sky Raider.

Atari / All Rights Reserved

The first constantly scrolling video game has players using a yolk controller to man a ship across enemy territory, blowing up as many targets as possible. The monitor is placed at the top of the cabinet window, reflecting the black & white graphics onto an angled mirror placed at the base. This creates a 3-D effect where the ship appears to be hovering above the ground.