Neon Lights And Street Fights: The Best Games To Give You That ’80s Vibe

GTA: Vice City [Rockstar]

Ahhh, the ’80s. The definitive decade of big hair, power suits, musclebound action heroes and ninjas everywhere. Kids learned Karate. We moonwalked like Egyptians, or like a virgin, or something. You remember the ’80s, right?

Ok, fine. I don’t really remember the ’80s, because I spent my couple of years of ’80s existence learning how to walk and eat solid foods. But thanks to the enduring legacy of movies, music and video games that I consumed, I’m stuck with nostalgia for a decade that I was never really part of.

Here are my top picks of modern games which, like myself, didn’t experience their heyday in the ’80s but have a ton of fun re-imagining the glitziest of decades:

‘GTA: Vice City’

GTA: Vice City [Rockstar]

One of the most stylistically distinct entries in Rockstar’s beloved open-world crime series, GTA: Vice City is a love letter to ’80s gangster mythology with heavy inspiration drawn from iconic TV shows and movies like Scarface, Carlito’s Way, and Miami Vice.

While more recent installments in the GTA franchise have become grittier and more serious, GTA: Vice City‘s colorful aesthetics, lush location and ’80s attitude make Tommy Vercetti’s rise from small-timer to kingpin feel like a non-stop party. The same holds true for its handheld follow up, GTA: Vice City Stories.

Vice City nails the visual tells of the ’80s, but it’s even better at capturing the sounds. This is hands down one of the best soundtracks in video games. There’s nothing quite like jacking a sweet ride and heading out into the Vice City sunshine.

Most ’80s moment: Cruising by the beach at sunset blasting A Flock Of Seagulls from the car radio.

‘Double Dragon Neon’

[Midnight City, Majesco Entertainment]

Double Dragon Neon is a modern remake of the classic side-scrolling beat ’em up from 1987, in which two knucklehead bros punch their way through an army of thugs in order to rescue their girlfriend (it can get awkward at the end).

Double Dragon Neon isn’t just a tribute/parody the original game, it’s a loving homage to ’80s pop culture in general. Everything about the level and character design oozes ’80s charm. It’s not just the hairspray and neon lights, these rad, bad dudes will heal each other with high-fives and celebrate completing a level by pulling out the air-guitar.

This game doesn’t have the licensed music of Vice City, but all its special moves are themed around ‘tapes’ which play affectionate parodies of ’80s tunes when selected.

Most ’80s moment: Reviving your fallen bro by sticking a pencil inside a tape and frantically fiddling it.

‘Five Nights At Freddy’s 2’

Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 [Scott Cawthon]

The ’80s was also a gory golden age for horror and slasher films, and Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 showcases a much less upbeat version of ’80s aesthetics than the previous entries in the list.

There are plenty of nice period-accurate details around Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza to indicate the game’s 1987 setting, but you don’t want to get too distracted looking around, trust me.

Most ’80s moment: The paycheck amount seems pretty disappointing compared to the other games…but minimum wage in 1987 was $3.35 an hour, and you worked for 30 hours. Creator Scott Cawthon really showed his work.


Broforce [Devolver Digital]

The ’80s movie world wasn’t just about horror. The decade could shoot as well as slash. It was a time of uncomplicated muscular action heroes who solved problems via a liberal application of bombs, bullets, and bare-knuckles.

Broforce is all about that, as well as being a tribute to classic ’80s arcade games like Metal Slug. This fun, fast paced shooter features an impressive roster of characters ripping off practically every ’80s action hero (and some latter-era ones for good measure), and affectionately parodies boneheaded ’80s action movie plots in its mission briefings.

Most ’80s moment: So, so many. But can you top teaming up (totally not) Arnold Schwarzenegger with (totally not) Mr. T and (totally not) Chuck Norris to save the world?

‘Papers, Please’

Papers, Please [3909]

The ’80s party scene in the west may have seemed like all fun and games, but all that decadence and excess makes sense when you remember the implicit fear that the world could end any day in nuclear annihilation.

While the western world indulged its freedoms, it was a different story on the other side of the iron curtain, where harsh authoritarian regimes kept their citizens on a tight leash.

In Papers, Please, you take on the role of a border inspector charged with defending the Communist nation of Arstotzka from smugglers, terrorists, and anyone else who happens to have improperly filled out paperwork. You have a family dependent on your wage to keep them warm, healthy and alive.

The game really gets you into the mind of a petty bureaucrat in a totalitarian state, and there are tough moral choices to make. Will you bend the rules to offer someone a better chance at life, at the risk of endangering your own family?

Most ’80s moment: When you ‘get’ the mindset of being a small cog turning in a vast, inefficient and malfunctioning machine of a pre-perestroika soviet country.

‘Mother Russia Bleeds’

In Soviet Russia, caption is opposite of what you expect [Devolver Digital]

Keeping east of the Iron Curtain, Mother Russia Bleeds is a side-scrolling beat ’em up in the style of Streets of Rage or Final Fight but with added ultra-violence.

The ‘heroes’ beat up waves of junkies, gangsters and sinister government agents in an attempt to stop a conspiracy involving a destructively potent drug epidemic. Along the way, they must struggle against their own addiction to the substance that gives them strength.

Although not for the faint-hearted, Mother Russia Bleeds is a fantastically fun co-op fighter for those who want ditch the pastel suits for the grittier side of the decade.

Most ’80s moment: When you’ve been beaten to a bloody pulp for the umpteenth time but that pounding synth soundtrack keeps you coming back for more.

‘Hotline Miami’

Hotline Miami [Devolver Digital]

It’s 1989, baby and things have gotten pretty crazy for the protagonist of Hotline Miami, who’s coerced into an ultraviolent shadow war against the Russian mafia at the behest of mysterious messages on his answer machine.

Hotline Miami is a hard-as-nails top down shooter with a neon technicolor ’80s aesthetic (although you will be painting the town red). The game and its sequel also succeed at matching neon visuals with a killer original synth soundtrack that’s really essential for that ’80s vibe.

Most ’80s moment: The protagonist’s car is basically a DeLorean but it has pop-up headlights like you would see on an stereotypical 1980s sports car.

Neon Dreams

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number [Devolver Digital]

As the memories of the 1980s retreat further and further into the past, the decade itself approaches the levels of romanticization and self-parody that basically makes it a setting for historical fantasy fiction.

These games may vary in their accuracy and levels of seriousness, but ultimately what they’re bringing to the table is a feeling, a spirit of that decade’s cultural landscape. And as long as there’s pink neon lights and some pounding synth beats, I can get down with that.

Have I missed any great games that capture the spirit of the 1980s?

This article originally appeared on video games magazine site The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a selection of articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples.

One thought on “Neon Lights And Street Fights: The Best Games To Give You That ’80s Vibe

  1. Vice City was an amazing game, for all the reasons you mentioned above! I would often just drive around with no purpose, listening to that excellent soundtrack! … And then most likely go on some sort of rampage.


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