TOP OF THE LEADERBOARD: THE MOST POPULAR RETRO VIDEO GAMES FROM THE 1980S AND 1990S

Game over for Mario, Pac-Man, Sonic, and Solid Snake. It’s Minesweeper and Mortal Kombat that claim victory when it comes to nostalgia for video games released in the 1980s and 1990s.
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This year it’s Hogwarts Legacy, last year, it was Elden Ring, and before that was The Last of Us Part II, Cyberpunk 2077, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Each year gives us a new selection of Triple-A video games to play through, but it’s never long before we find ourselves digging the Atari out of the attic or blowing the dust off our Nintendo cartridges.

The graphics, storylines, and gameplay are undeniably better now than they were back then, so why are you always drawn back to the games you spent your childhood beating again and again? Nostalgia — and you’re not alone. From The Legend of Zelda to Tomb Raider, Donkey Kong to Doom, millions of people are still searching for these timeless classics today.

We analyzed Google search data for the top computer games from the ‘80s and ‘90s — deemed by many to be the ‘golden age’ of gaming — to identify the retro titles that modern players are most nostalgic for.

The 1980s gave us iconic characters such as Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong. It seems certain that one of Nintendo’s game-changing titles would set the high score for 1980s video game searches. Yet, while most of us still have no idea how to really play it, it’s Minesweeper that tops the leaderboard (and it isn’t even close). In fact, the Microsoft minigame is the only title to receive over a million monthly searches.

Video games from the ‘80s are particularly popular in South Dakota, which ranks as the top state for all of the top three titles (Minesweeper, Pac-Man, and Tetris). However, those in Oregon prefer the Final Fantasy franchise, while Utah gives Donkey Kong a place in the top five.

No doubt boosted by the expected announcement of a new installment in the series this year, it’s a ‘Flawless Victory’ for Mortal Kombat when it comes to popular ‘90s games. In February, the title received close to half a million monthly searches, with nostalgia particularly high in New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada as gamers look to brush up on their skills ahead of the latest release.

Mortal Kombat is joined on the list by a number of other iconic ‘90s video game franchises that continue to inspire the catalog of new games that get published each year — Doom, Fallout, Diablo, and Quake — as modern gamers seemingly struggle to let go of the classics from their childhood.

Methodology: To create this study, ELVTR researchers analyzed the top 50 video games from the 1980s and 1990s, as ranked by leading gaming publications. Using Keyword Tool, they analyzed monthly search volumes in the US for February 2023, trending search volume over the last 12 months, as well as the top five US states where searches were most frequent using Google Trends.

Sources:

  • https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/the-best-video-games-of-the-2000s
  • https://digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_video-games-1980s.html
  • https://www.buzzfeed.com/joshcorrea/best-90s-pc-games
  • https://www.ranker.com/list/best-old-school-computer-games/kyle-townsend
  • https://www.gamesradar.com/best-classic-pc-games/
  • https://screenrant.com/best-2000s-pc-games-that-still-hold-up-today/#half-life-2
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdNhfId5nPA
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZf9jitGY8Q
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1TZDwtmqn8
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ia_fxJ2tmI
     

Detailed Findings:

Table 1. Most popular games from the 80s.

Title Monthly searches Trend Top-5 states
Minesweeper 1 220 000 -19% South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Utah, Washington
Pac-Man 823 000 -18% South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, New Mexico, South Carolina
Tetris  673 000 -18% South Dakota, Virginia, New Jersey, Nebrask, Washington
Final Fantasy 201 000 -33% Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Utah, Idaho
Donkey Kong 165 000 0% Utah, West Virginia, Alaska, Washington, South Dakota
Super Mario Bros.* 466 000 +49% Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Oregon, Nevada
The Legend of Zelda 165 000 +22% Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Washington, Oregon
DuckTales 135 000 -19% Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California
Mega Man 135 000 +22%   West Virginia, Washington, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Jersey    
Star Wars game 74 000 -33%   Utah, Oregon, Idaho, New Hampshire, Washington    
Castlevania 14 800 -18% Alaska, Washington, West Virginia, Oregon, Utah
Duck Hunt 74 000 +22% Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota
Metroid 60 500 +123% Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska
Contra 49 500 -18% California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland
Double Dragon  49 500 -18% Kentucky, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Indiana
Galaga 49 500 -18% New Mexico, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas
Metal Gear  49 500 -18% Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Texas, California
Frogger 40 500 0% New Hampshire, Iowa, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island
Ms. Pac-Man 40 500 +22% Texas, California
Ninja Gaiden 40 500 0% Mississippi, Nevada, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Idaho
* combined searches for Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario

Table 2. Most popular games from the 90s.

Title Monthly searches Trend Top-5 states
Mortal Kombat 450 000 +22% New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Arizona
Doom 301 000 -33% Oregon, Utah, Washington, Idaho, Missouri
Tomb Raider* 300 000 -19% Alaska, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, West Virginia
Fallout 246 000 0% West Virginia, Alaska, Wyoming, Oregon, Maine
Diablo 165 000 0% Washington, Oregon, Delaware, California, Idaho
Half-Life 110 000 0% South Dakota, Indiana, Utah, North Carolina, Arizona
Baldur's Gate 40 500 +22% Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah
Prince Of Persia 49 500 0% Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Oklahoma, Oregon
Quake 49 500 0% Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Utah, California 
Donkey Kong Country 40 500 0%  Utah, Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Wisconsin   
Full Throttle 40 500 -18% South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Hampshire
Fallout 2 22 200 -18% West Virginia, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska
Scorched Earth 22 200 -18% Alaska, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Utah
Alone in the Dark 18 100 +83% Kentucky, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Arkansas, Ohio
Cannon Fodder  18 100 -70% Hawaii, Washington, California, Utah, Minnesota
Unreal Tournament 18 100 +22% Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Kansas
Blackthorne 14 800 -18% Pennsylvania, New York , Vermont, Indiana, Virginia
Grim Fandango 14 800 0% Oregon, DC, Utah, Washington, New Hampshire
Another World 12 100 -33% Alaska,Hawaii,North Dakota, Arizona, Arkansas
Eye of the Beholder 12 100 0% Maryland, Nevada, Idaho, New Jersey, Arizona
* combined searches for Tomb Raider and Lara Croft