Boys playing multi player arcade games

The Best Arcade Games To Play with Friends

Multiplayer is part of gaming’s DNA. Released in 1962, Spacewar! is regarded as one of the first and most influential video games to blip to life. It was ambitious for its time, with mechanics and visuals that rivalled games released a decade later. But to win, you had but one simple objective: blast the other player’s ship to bits.

As it turns out, people loved duking it out in dogfights with friends. Before long, Spacewar! became the darling of computer engineering students. Six months after its release, Rolling Stone would host the first “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics”, attracting 20 or so competitors with the promise of eternal glory and free beer. Among the events were a five-player battle royale and a 2v2 team competition.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Spacewar!, still largely confined to computer labs, pulls a young Nolan Bushnell into its orbit. Bushnell, realising the commercial potential of video games, would go on to develop two of the first arcade games: Computer Space and Pong.

While Computer Space, a single-player game, faded into the aether, Pong erupted into popular culture. Bushnell couldn’t make enough cabinets to keep up with demand. The game’s designers attribute its meteoric rise to its simplicity.

That, and it brought people together–sometimes quite literally. “There was no one-player version. Anybody could play it,” says Al Alcorn, Pong’s chief developer. “It was an ideal icebreaker. Many people have told me that it was how they met their partners.” concurs Bushnell.

Why Multiplayer? Community & Competition

Multiplayer’s appeal is impossible to dispute. The proof is in the pudding, in the way of Pong machines jamming with quarters and more contemporary titles like Street Fighter II commanding a player base the size of a small country at its peak.

So why are we so easily hooked on multi-player arcade games?

The enduring instinct to play with other people is rooted in the way our brains are wired. Humans are social creatures, and games have always been a social activity. Four thousand years ago, ancient Mesopotamians would sit across from each other to play the Royal Game of Ur, the oldest game in recorded history.

Fast forward a few millennia and games are still bringing people together, albeit the stages have changed. Unsurprisingly, arcade cabinets found their natural habitat inside places where people would gather to have a good time: pubs and amusement halls.

Yet multiplayer’s allure isn’t entirely wholesome. Yes, raining hellfire in Contra side-by-side with your best mate is nice–but so is walloping friends in Street Fighter II and winning bragging rights.

Competition is baked into every multiplayer arcade game. Even games that are usually a single-player experience like Pac-Man or Space Invaders have loud, colourful leaderboards that keep players coming back for a shot at the top spot. Whoever said your greatest competition is yourself has obviously never felt the pleasure of watching your initials slide into first place.

5 of The Best Arcade Games To Play with Friends

Ready to chase after that multiplayer high? Below are 5 of the best retro arcade games you can play with–or against–friends.


As the first multiplayer dungeon crawler to attempt to pixelate the tabletop RPG experience, Gauntlet was revolutionary for its time. There are 4 classes to play: Warrier, Valkyrie, Wizard, and Elf.

Like modern fantasy RPGs, each class has its strengths, weaknesses, and playstyles. Players have to strategise, clear rooms, navigate puzzles or reach keys. Food replenishes health, but can also be destroyed by an errant arrow – or stab. But let’s face it, it’s always the Elf shooting the food.


In Joust, you and a friend play ostrich knights. Your sworn duty? Vanquish wave after wave of enemy knights. Naturally, the situation gets more difficult as you progress. Lava shrinks the platforms. A nigh unbeatable pterodactyl comes in at some point to torture you, because why not?

It’s a great adventure to embark on with a second player – especially since things aren’t always as friendly as they seem. The game counts points separately, so there will always be a better ostrich knight. That, and you can “accidentally” skewer your teammate if they’re hogging all the points.

Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble is not meant to be played alone–literally. The game will tell you to “Come here with your friend” to unlock its true ending. Devastating for the unaware who fought through 100 levels of colourful carnage alone and friendless.

It's an instruction worth following because Bubble Bobble is easily worth hours of co-op fun. There are 100 unique and quirky levels, with some holding secret areas and hints for defeating the game. Multiple types of enemies will hound you at every turn, each following different movement patterns that make them unpredictable.


When the X-Men arcade video game debuted in 1992, it was released into a crest of popularity that had been building ever since the 80s. By then, the beloved mutants had become the face of Marvel, and every fan was clamouring for a chance to play as their favourite hero.

The X-Men arcade game gave fans that and more. Players can choose one of six iconic heroes: Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, or Dazzler. But the real fun begins if you can manage to rope six friends to play all at once, fighting elbow-to-elbow on the 6-player behemoths that were specially made for the game.


You can’t talk about the most popular arcade games without Contra. The run-and-gun is best known for its punishing difficulty and exacting controls. Original cabinets use an eight-way joystick that controls movement and aim, requiring coordination skills honed by hours of play and a lot of spare change.

Given Contra’s rage-inducing difficulty, the best thing to do is share the suffering with a friend. The game’s post-apocalyptic world, when you’re not cursing at it, is a fine example of the age’s retro artwork. The stages switch between side-scrolling, vertical-scrolling, and pseudo-3D, making for an immersive and exciting play.

The Best Machines to ‘Gather Round

What better way to honour and relieve the best retro arcade games to come out of the golden age of arcades than with a multiplayer arcade cabinet? At Bespoke Arcades, we offer a variety of machines that are perfect for co-op play or competitive brawls.

Looking for a classic 2 player retro arcade machine? Check out the slim yet formidable Apex Arcade Machines, give into retro nostalgia with the Evo Arcade Machines, or turn your basement into an extension of Taito arcades with Nu-Gen Arcade Cabinets. Alternatively, sign yourself up for a sit-down and have a pint experience with a 3-sided GT arcade cabinet.

Want to roll into a round of X-Men or Gauntlet with a full crew? Set the stage for all-out multiplayer mayhem with a 4 player arcade machine. The 4-player variants of our Evo and Nu-Gen Arcade Machines are a great choice if you’re looking for a 4-player upright arcade machine experience to keep you on your toes.

Back to blog
1 of 3