Ever since the arrival of Pong in the arcades of 1972, people have been hooked on battling against each other, or together as a co-op team in the arcade!
Whether it’s battling for the highest score or settling old scores, 2 player arcade games have always been a place to let off some steam.
We’re taking a look at some of the best 2 player arcade games ever to grace our arcades throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s & 2000s.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game was an instant revelation.
From the authentic sampled theme tune that blares out with the cool animated intro, TMNT was a must-play for arcade multiplayer fans.
Accommodating up to 4 players simultaneously, TMNT is a side-scrolling beat ’em up where players can control either Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello or Raphael beating up the foot clan in your mission to find and defeat Shredder & Krang.
The visuals and sounds are authentic to the cartoon at the time and are loud, fast and frenetic.
It was also a massive coin guzzler too, there was no way I was ever going to 1 credit complete this one!
The Simpsons (1991)
The Simpsons arcade game by Konami came hot on the tail of the TMNT arcade game.
The Simpsons had exploded in popularity by 1991, so this arcade game is a favourite with those who grew up in the 80s and 90s in the arcades.
Accommodating up to 4 players co-op, The Simpsons is a side-scrolling beat ’em up which sees players take control of either Bart, Lisa, Homer or Marge to rescue Maggie who has been kidnapped by Smithers when Maggie has been caught up in a diamond robbery gone wrong!
I still have memories of this one every time I hear the opening sounds of the Simpsons theme tune, it was a common sound in the arcades for years at the time and was a real coin guzzler.
Snow Bros. (1990)
Snow Bros. is not a giant like The Simpsons & TMNT, but is still a 2 player classic arcade game.
You play as snowmen Nick & Tom battling through 50 levels, defeating enemies by building and throwing snowballs.
It’s a classic arcade single-screen game with boss battles every ten levels. The mechanics are really fun, you have to destroy enemies by getting them completely covered in snow and turning them into a snowball, which you can then throw to destroy them.
Very classic of the era but its design, Snow Bros. Is another one which gets the nostalgia feeling going when you see it in action once again.
Joust was released by Williams Electronics back in 1982 and fast become a 2 player favourite with arcade goers.
Player 1 rides an ostrich, whilst player 2 rides a stork, and then battles through cooperatively defeating waves of enemies, but also being careful (if they choose to!) to not hit each other!
Joust introduced some unique controls to the game which had players use a button to flap the bird’s wings to gain height, whilst using the control stick to move left and right. Players then simply smash into enemies, aiming their joust above the opposing enemy.
Infuriating at times, but very addictive!
Sunset Riders (1991)
Sunset Riders by Konami is a 1991 side-scrolling run and gun shooter which can have up to 4 players in co-op. This co-op shooter sees you select from a roster of four characters – Steve, Billy Cool, Bob & Commando Wild, each character has their own weapons/strengths.
You battle your way across eight levels, some on foot, some on horseback defeating a gang of outlaws on each.
Each level has a boss fight which has an interesting mechanic, the player who deals the most damage to the boss is awarded all of the bonus, which gives the game a real competitive edge!
Sunset Riders is a great blend of side-scrolling action with shooting elements, an all-time arcade classic!
NBA Jam (1993)
NBA Jam is of course well known for its home console ports, but it began life in arcades in 1993 courtesy of Midway.
It’s the perfect multi-player arcade game for getting stuck in with mates, with up to 4 players battling it out in a two-on-two game.
NBA Jam features real-life teams and players, but that’s where the realism ends. It’s extreme, with super high jumps and dunks. There are very few rules of the real game in NBA Jam, which allows for fast and frenetic action with lots of shoving and long shots!
NBA Jam has always been a classic from the moment it arrived in arcades, even now it’s hard to resist revisiting old grudges for another match!
Essentially, Pong is the original 2 player arcade game.
You won’t find any original examples these days other than in a museum, but Pong paved the way for decades of competitive arcade fun between friends and strangers, all with a common goal – To win!
Pong if you don’t already know is simply a table tennis game, where players control paddles vertically on each side of the screen to hit the ball back and forth to each other.
The player to miss the ball concedes a point to the other. The first to 11 points, wins the game.
Pong inspired generations of people, games and consoles, so must be acknowledged as such a trailblazing innovation!
Buster Bros / Pang (1989)
Known as many things, Buster Bros. (or Pang as it’s known outside of the US & Japan), is developed by Mitchell Corporation and published by Capcom in the US.
Pang can be played in single or 2 player mode, but really like most arcade games, is at its best with a friend!
Pang sees you work across 50 levels popping balloons with your harpoon and other power-ups/weapons. Players need to destroy any balloons on the screen, the balloons start off large, but with every hit, they are subject to, split into multiples and reduce in size.
Like many arcade games of the era, it’s such a simple premise, but one which is addictive and requires a real strategy working together to maximise your chances to be the levels.
Bubble Bobble (1986)
Bubble Bobble is an absolute classic and is a must-have in this list for me since it has always been one of my favourites!
Bubble Bobble is a Taito game and sees the two players, Bub and Bob, jump around each fixed screen level, trapping enemies in bubbles, and then popping them to get rid of them.
It’s a simple premise, but it is really well designed and so much fun in 2-player mode, with players working together and balancing being greedy or sharing the bonuses and power-ups with their buddy!
One of the best Taito arcade games, Bubble Bobble also has some of the catchiest arcade music ever!
Alien Vs. Predator (1994)
Another Capcom classic, Alien vs. Predator is a side-scrolling beat ’em-up using CPS-2 technology which allows up to 3 players to play as either a cyborg soldier or a predator, each typically with their own strengths & weaknesses.
Very much in the same vein as the likes of Final Fight, Alien vs. Predator is that, but ramped up 20 times!
There are lots of moves, projectiles and weapons to be utilised in your goal to defeat the alien infestation. You work together as a team with either the cyborg soldiers or predators to do this.
Yet another game you’d have to be well prepared to pump in the money for extra credits, as it is a tough one!
Daytona USA (1994)
Dayyyyytonaaaaa let’s go away!
There are not many arcade goers who don’t know those lyrics! Daytona USA from launch, pretty much up until arcades disappeared was a permanent fixture in most of them. You’ll still even find the odd one in bowling alleys or the occasional bar.
But in terms of the game, developed by Sega AM2, Daytona USA was an instant hit. Arcades could hook together up to 8 separate cabinets to allow on-track multiplayer mayhem!
Daytona USA looked fantastic and sounded great, it was a sign that Sega still ruled the arcades and was able to continue pushing arcade hardware to produce visuals that consoles were still not able to match.
Daytona USA is still a worthwhile play if you see one out in the wild!
Double Dragon (1987)
Double Dragon is a side-scrolling beat ’em up by Technōs Japan and a pioneer in the genre.
It is a classic 2 player game where you play as brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee, fighting the black warrior’s gang who have kidnapped the brother’s love interest, Marian.
It’s all by today’s standards fairly basic in terms of the fighting mechanics, but having the 2 player coop mode using different hand-to-hand moves and melee weapons was a hit formula and one replicated for many years after.
There is also a cool twist at the end of the game where in 2 player mode, you battle each other over Marian!
Track & Field (1983)
Track & Field is an Olympic games-inspired game by Konami, released in 1983.
Competing in 6 events, players can pit their button bashing and timing skills against each other in what I would describe as one of the best 2 player arcade games of all time.
Everything about this game is what multiplayer arcade gaming is all about. Fun, competitiveness and just the sheer exertion of what is required to beat your opponent!
From the 100-meter dash, where it’s just about smashing those buttons as fast as you can, through to the hammer throw where perfect timing is key, Track & Field requires stamina and quick reactions.
Track & Field is one of the games that inspired the decade-long obsession with button-bashing games, an absolute classic!
Smash TV (1990)
Smash TV is a unique game, it’s a blend of the movie ‘The Running Man’ and the game Robotron: 2084, but more to its benefit!
Smash TV is a dual-stick shooter where up to 2 players can blast their way through single-screen arenas, trying to rack up huge amounts of cash without getting killed.
Initially, the control system is tricky to get used to, but once you get past that barrier, the control mechanism is crucial to being able to play the game well.
The left joystick controls the player, whilst the right joystick controls the direction you shoot in, so you are able to move and fire in any direction simultaneously. It becomes obvious why this is necessary when the waves and waves or enemies overwhelm you!
Dance Dance Revolution (1999)
Released in Japan in 1998 and in the rest of the world in 1999, Dance Dance Revolution became an international phenomenon, paving the way for countless rhythm games that followed.
Its 2-player mode sees players placed side by side on the arcade machine’s ‘dancefloor’ to battle it out, following a dance pattern laid out on screen and in time to the music.
it was games like Dance Dance Revolution that ushered the last generation of arcade games before things started to go in the direction of ticket redemption machines and fairground-style games.
Commonly found in entertainment venues, Dance Dance Revolution worked best with kids having fun with friends, or in the later hours, adults combined with alcohol!
Mario Kart Arcade GP (2005)
Mario Kart Arcade GP was produced and published by Namco under licence from Nintendo. Not something Nintendo often does with its previous franchises, but an excellent decision to pass it to arcade experts, Namco.
One of the better modern arcade games, Mario Kart Arcade GP has many of the old favourite Nintendo characters such as Mario, Donkey Kong, Toad & Yoshi, but also a few Namco characters too such as Blinky, Pac-Man & Ms. Pac-Man which mixes things up a bit!
The game is just straight-up Mario Kart though, with players racing each other, firing weapons and racing to the chequered flag, with only having to add more credits to continue playing after each race.
Great fun and still around in today’s modern arcades, mostly in one of its latest guises, Mario Kart GP DX.
Rampage is a multiplayer game for up to 3 players by Bally Midway, released in 1986.
The premise is that players must destroy all of the buildings on each single-screen level, without being killed by the opposing military forces on foot and vehicle.
The game has three characters, George, Ralph & Lizzie, all of who have mutated into giant monsters as a result of experimental accidents gone wrong.
Rampage is great fun and is particularly good in multiplayer mode where you are both working together and potentially against each other to steal points and bonuses. There is a definite strategic balance to ensure you come out on top!
It’s got some great humour too, especially when players’ monsters are drained of energy, they then transform back to normal human size, shuffling off the screen naked!
Super Off Road (1989)
Super Off Road is an isometric/top-down racer by Leland Corporation which sees up to three players controlling their trucks by steering wheel around all kinds of rough terrain courses.
Very much in the same vein as Super Sprint, Super Off Road has bonuses that appear around the track randomly for players to pick up along the way.
You need to pick up and win as much money as possible in each race to use on upgrades for your truck, to make winning the following races easier.
it’s crazy physics and tight tracks inevitably lead to lots of crashes and carnage along the way!
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)
Possibly the peak of arcade gaming in terms of the 2 player arcade experience, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior changed the face of arcade multiplayer action forever.
Following the original modestly received Street Fighter game, Street Fighter II brought a whole new level of slickness to the arcades. Great graphics, superb sounds and music as the best fighting game mechanics ever to be seen in a game up to that point, and arguably, ever!
In this original version of Street Fighter II, you can select from 8 characters, with the 4 boss characters not being playable. It runs a bit slower than its sequels, but for me, experiencing this for the first time was a revelation.
it’s a simple one-on-one fighter that never gets boring, especially in 2 player mode where the possibilities are literally endless.
There is a reason why this game has so many versions and rereleases, it’s one of the arcade greats and a sure contender for the best 2 player arcade game ever!
One of the most notorious ‘coin guzzlers’, Gauntlet is made by Atari games and hit the arcades back in 1985.
Accommodating up to 4 players on the full-size arcade cabinet, players can choose from the warrior, wizard, valkyrie or elf characters, each with their own strengths & weaknesses.
The game has you navigating through maze-like levels where the goal is to reach the exit to progress, but you are trying to be stopped by sometimes literally hundreds of enemies!
Enemies repeatedly spawn from their bases until you destroy them, you also have to locate keys to unlock sections of the wall to access the parts of each level to find each exit.
This game is just brutal the number of enemies it just throws at you was probably impossible to complete at a reasonable cost! You are best to find a retro arcade these days to find one set to free play to give it a reasonable crack!
This list is only just scratching the surface when it comes to finding the best 2 player arcade games.
A lot of these games tended to lean towards getting players to keep pumping money in to continue their game, especially those throughout the 80s and some of the 90s. It wasn’t until you got to the one-on-one fighting games that you could really get maximum value on a single credit, but you had to be an expert player!
That said, many examples throughout the 80s gave really good value. Bubble Bobble is one in which even back in the day, I could usually get to level 20 and above with not too much trouble, which certainly was worth the money I used to have to spend on arcades when I was a kid!
Many 2 player arcade games have proved timeless in their ability to continue to entertain and provide as much joy as they did when originally released, Track & Field is a great example here. The graphics and sound are seriously dated, but they still look amazing with the sprites and colours looking brilliant by today’s retro standards – Just be sure to have some spare buttons and components to hand if you’re rocking an original Track & Field arcade cab!
Let us know your favourite 2 player arcade games of years gone by in the comments section below! I’m always on the lookout for games I missed out on and have still not found whilst trawling through my MAME library!
A lifelong avid gamer and computing enthusiast, Matt has decades of experience in the field, so producing retro orientated content for How To Retro comes is second nature to him. Now over 40 years old, Matt now even considers himself retro, but fortunately, nobody has developed a Matt emulator (not yet at least!).