The Best Games Consoles of the 1980’s

The 80’s was a time of high’s and lows for gaming. It started out with a near collapse of the entire industry and ended with a brand new era of 3rd and 4th generation consoles which have spurred on a global market that has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Let’s take a look back at the the best games consoles of the 1980’s…


Atari Logo



Despite Atari’s domination in the late 70’s, the 80’s started out badly for the company and gaming in general.

Atari 5200
Atari 5200

It’s 1982 release of the Atari 5200 was a flop and was criticised for being badly designed and, more importantly, not being backwardly compatible with games from it’s previously popular Atari 2600 console.

Things went from bad to worse when market saturation from shoddy 3rd party games and competition from home computers such as Commodore and Sinclair contributed to the so called 1983 video gaming crash in North America. This period wiped an estimated 97% off the value of Atari and nearly killed off the industry altogether.

Atari 7800
Atari 7800

The fallout from the crash led to the selling off of the company and despite the release of the very promising Atari 7800 and the Atari Lynx to compete with the Game Boy and Game Gear, the writing was on the wall.

There was a new boy in town….

Nintendo logo

Although Nintendo had long been around as an electronic gaming company, it really hit the big time off the back of the video gaming crash of 1983.

Nintendo NES

In 1985 it released the NES, which revitalised the industry at a time when things looked pretty bleak.

The release not only allowed it to emerge as a new giant in video gaming, but also killed off competition from an Game BoyAtari comeback by restricting 3rd party game developers to effectively only produce games for the its new system.

1989 saw the release of Nintendo’s first handheld console, the Game Boy. It far outstripped sales of its competitors, including Sega’s Game Gear and Atari’s swansong hardware – the Atari Lynx.

Taking its newer models into account, it is estimated that Nintendo has sold 118 million units to date worldwide, making it the most successful handheld console of all time.

Sega Logo




Sega was a huge force in the arcade gaming industry in the late 70’s, but the resulting gaming crash of 1983 hit the company’s revenues badly.

Sega Master System
Sega Master System

They therefore decided to take a new direction by entering the home console market for the first time in 1984 with it’s 3rd generation hardware, the SG-1000.

After a surprisingly successful launch year the SG-1000 was overshadowed by Nintendo’s NES, so it was over to the Master System to rescue things. Sales were poor in North America, however the console was relatively popular in Europe thanks to its strong game releases including After Burner, Hang-On and Alex Kidd.

Sega Mega Drive
Sega Mega Drive

In 1988 Sega then released its first 4th Generation 16-bit console, the Sega Genesis (known as the Sega Mega Drive outside of North America). It was a huge success in Europe and North America thanks to it’s huge library of arcade ports and it’s flagship series Sonic the Hedgehog!

The Home Computer


Commodore 64 Load ScreenIf you remember this loading screen, then you know you had to work hard for your video gaming fix if you owned a home computer during the 80’s.

With Atari making a royal mess of the industry in the early part of the decade, there was a chance for home computer company’s to step up to the plate and show what they could do.

The higher resolution and greater memory capacity in the hardware combined with the ability for users to create their own games made the genre very popular, and by 1983 there were two front runners in their class.

The debate over which was best would rage for decades to come, but one thing was for sure…if you owned a gaming home computer, it was either a ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64!

Sinclair logo


Founded by Clive Sinclair in 1973, the company initially entered the home gaming market in 1980 with the ZX80, which was the cheapest computer of its type at the time.

ZX Spectrum
ZX Spectrum

In 1982 Sinclair then released the 8-bit ZX Spectrum which, taking into account all the models in its range, would go on to sell over 5 million units worldwide.

It’s success can be partly attributed to the number of software developers at the time, which led to a whole catalogue of games including Manic Miner, Jetpac, Rainbow Islands and many, many more.

ZX Spectrum +2
ZX Spectrum +2

Sinclair and it’s assets were eventually bought by Amstrad in 1986 by a very young Alan Sugar (who would go on to be quite successful himself, so we’re told). The takeover led to releases of the successors of the ZX Spectrum… the Spectrum +2 and +3.

Commodore Logo



C64 StartupReleased just 4 months after the ZX Spectrum, the 8- bit Commodore 64 was a direct competitor of it’s British cousin.

It’s cheap production (through in-house components) and availability in many different types of shopping outlets meant that the C64 quickly dominated the market. By the end of the decade it’s estimated to have sold between 12.5 and 17 million units worldwide, making it the best selling computer system of all time.


Commodore 64
Commodore 64

It’s success was also down to the vast library of games available. Estimates put the number of titles at around 20,000 if unofficial releases are taken into account. These included classics such as Bubble Bobble, Pac-Man, Paperboy and Outrun.


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