I’ll Be Back: Video Games Inspired By The 80s

When we think of historical time periods and settings in video games, it’s often found that the same cliched conflicts are constantly being rewrapped and disguised. An Earth gripped by the tensions of global warfare throughout the 20th century. Armies of undead freely roaming the landscape and pushing modern humanity to the brink of extinction. Kingdoms ruled by noble crowns and defended with armored combat in the medieval era. The farthest reaches of the universe yet to be discovered imagined in our untold future.

From storming the beaches of Normandy to defending the galaxy from certain doom, as well as turning back zombie hordes with some well-placed headshots, these situations have been fueling our gaming narrative needs for a good while now.However, a recent phenomenon has grown in notoriety towards using a time period that doesn’t typically associate with these extraordinary circumstances. A simpler time in action where the thought of reloading, overkill or causing excessive collateral damage were just all in a day’s work. It is pleasing to see that gaming has recently turned an eye of admiration to one of our more recent cultural revolutions: The 1980s.

We know that when most people jointly think of gaming and the 80s, they devote more energy to remember the titles that were born out of the decade. Without it, arcade gaming’s golden age goes undocumented, and some of our most enduring properties fail to ever see the light of day. Final Fantasy, the Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter are just a few stones in a mountain of notables that might not have existedhad it not been for the 80s. However, a recent trend in video games has had less to do with the products born of the era. More importantly, we find more and more tributes games that not only want us to remember the good times, but play in them as well.

It may have been a console lifetime or two since we last saw a title as culturally engaging as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Even after hailing back to its release in 2002, we are still blown away by the level of adaption incorporated in the whole of the beast that was Vice City. From the soundtrack to the quirky dated charm and the Scarface-influenced setting, GTA had nearly every key feature of the 80s at its disposal.Without it, it’s very likely that our present day thirst for nostalgia wouldn’t be quite as strong. Over the course of the past few years or so in video games, the 1980s have risen again to entertain us and remind us all of just how much fun it may have been to fictionally live it.


In an action movie culture littered with tyrannical regimes, raw brutality & one-liners by the pound, the plight of a 1980s hero never boasts a dull moment. Titles such as Tango Fiesta and Major Mayhem stand ready to deliver on the promise of giving players more firepower than they could ever need and hordes of enemies to dispatch them with.  Taking notes from the character playbooks of Slyvester Stallone’s John Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix and Dolph Lundgren’s Frank Castle/The Punisher, these two shooters capture the visceral nature of 80s action and have players frantically looking to reload their ammunition for more.

Tango Fiesta, currently a Steam Early Access title scheduled for June 4th, is a twin-stick shooter that seeks to plant players in war-torn jungles reminiscent of films like Commando and Predator. Tango incorporates a top-down view that can quickly become saturated with wandering opposition that plays right into the hand of giving players an authentic one-man army feel. Plenty of 80s fan service is paid forward with overwhelming grenade blasts and frenetic combat that literally shakes your camera’s view with every violent exchange you encounter.

While some may not give much credit to iOS games, they would be selling the antics of Major Mayhem short. This screen tapping gunner has gamers facing their camouflage crusader against everything from ninjas to mummies. Your typical 80s instruments of destruction are at your disposal, allowing you dispatch your foes with reckless abandon. Uzis and rocket launchers send them packing for cover but accept no substitutes when you channel your inner Terminator with a handheld chaingun that doesn’t take any prisoners.


Of course, the 80s weren’t always about preserving peace or making the world a safer place one explosion at a time. The decade also stretched its legs creatively. Freedom of thought reached a crescendo and left some irreplaceable impressions on the art and fashion of the time. Games like Retro City Rampage & Hotline Miami are not just 80s-based games, they’re practically time machines. Architecture, clothing, music – you name it and they’re all about trying to organically recreate the era albeit with unforgettably violent situations.

If Marty McFly from Back to the Future or the titular characters from the Bill & Ted films had been replaced with hardcore hooligans, we would have already seen the tale of Retro City Rampage long before the game. RCR’s thug-for-hire player is fierce and not too shy about hijacking a Delorean or two. The game was originally developed to work for the original NES system and was eventually ported to PC after the designers decided they wanted to build an 8-bit remake of GTA III. The soundtrack features over 2 hours of “chiptune” music, which is what most of us might remember as the music that reeks of synthesizer ballads and the kind of computerized beats old school gamers jammed out to on their 1st generation GameBoys.

An acclaimed favorite among those looking for a pop of 80s flair has assuredly been Hotline Miami. Once you’ve worked your way past the kaleidoscoping fluorescent menu font and skill-promoting masks, the game’s unnamed protagonist is given cryptic mission instructions via 80s era cell phones and cassette tape answering machines. Players often found themselves in a world of hurt thanks to some well tailored Russian henchmen homicidally bent on outgunning you and forcing improvised strategies in real time through seemingly improbable scenarios. Level design and environment coloring may look like a pastel nightmare to most, but it serves all the better for creating a thorough 1980s vibe.


Broforce & Far Cry: Blood Dragon are arguably the most gratuitous representatives of 80s-inspired video games. Blood Dragon is a trope-driven menagerie of what our past visions of what we imagined that the future would have in store for us. Broforce features several characters and interactions modeled after the action masters of the decade and plays like watching the older cast of the Expendables franchise in their prime.

Broforce dazzles with all the grit of a Metal Slug title, dragging you along the screen into varying degrees of sticky showdowns with enemy hideouts. Death is almost always assured, given the game’s natural ability to instill that 80s sensibility of “Shoot now and ask questions later”. Danger and dynamite barrels loom around every corner of the game’s fully destructible environment, adding credence to those early Michael Bay days of making us believe that you can never have too many explosions in your adventure. Even better, each respawn of your character runs the random chance of returning as one of many popular 1980s warriors.

Far Cry 3’s DLC-turned-standalone-game Blood Dragon is a completely self-aware 80s tech fever dream. Blood Dragon takes several liberties with the exaggerated insanity and absurd future scope that grew strong during the age that began the rise of personal computers. The player character is a snarky Robocop-type soldier, imbued with cybernetic enhancements that offer few physical limitations. The neon lighting effects of films like Blade Runner cover nearly every square inch of the game’s real estate. The landscape is also littered with old CRT televisions and VHS tapes which are used for the purposes of collecting for unlockables and power-ups. On top of it all, the fabled blood dragons featured in the title were born with the ability to fire lasers from their eyes when provoked.


Where would the popularity of the 1980s in gaming rank had it not been for the advent of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City? No aesthetic stones were left unturned in these games and may very well stand the test of time as an unmatched masterpiece. It is the epitome of throwing a salute or writing a love letter to the 80s. Somewhere just beyond the outrageous personalities that the characters exhibit in their world, it is to-the-letter precise in documenting the time frame. If you ever had a passing wonder or interest in knowing what life must have truly been like, you need not look any further.

When our wise guy hero Tommy Vercetti isn’t busy dispensing drug lord justice or buying up every property in sight, he finds himself serenaded by the likes of Michael Jackson and a Flock of Seagulls in their heydays. Sleek sports cars equipped with hulking engines propel your journey through the buzzing, crowded streets of this virtual Miami-replicated wonderland. The title’s story premise & ballistic finale is a grade A effort in bringing films like Scarface comfortably into the future and on every hardcore 80s gamers must-own list.

People could argue that gaming already has plenty of action to go around with the unstoppable military first person shooters or intergalactic liberation quests. These properties have relied heavily on taking themselves seriously and making sure that these situations come saturate with drama by the ton. We find ourselves compelled to smile at the excessive machismo and campy action of the 1980s. By owning up to their ridiculous tendencies, these titles flourish at tearing down that barrier of seriousness that prevents some players from being drawn in. In 1983, Cyndi Lauper sang to the world that girls just wanted to have fun.

Here in 2014, the 80s just want us to have fun, too.