This is the finals for the Early Years generation of video games, covering pre-85 games including the Atari 2600, Intellivision, ColecoVision.
Our last two contenders are two of the best known and well loved arcade games of the era, Frogger and Pac-Man.
Frogger is a 1981 arcade game developed and produced by Konami. The object is simple: to direct five frogs from the starting location at the bottom of the screen to the five “homes” at the top of the screen, first by dodging the cars on the busy highway and second by leaping across logs on a fast-moving river. As the game progresses, more obstacles are added like lines of turtles in the water that periodically sink and alligators that look like logs.
Pac-Man is a 1980 arcade game developed and produced by Namco (published by Midway in North America). The object here is to collect all of the pellets in the maze while avoiding the four ghosts, each of which has its own patterns of behavior. One touch from a ghost causes Pac-Man to die, but the large dots in the maze are “power pellets” that temporarily make Pac-Man able to eat the ghosts and send them back to their starting position. Pac-Man had an unofficial sequel, Ms. Pac-Man, that is often regarded as the better game, as well as countless updates and spinoffs. One version of note is the Pac-Man Championship Edition series that gives Pac-Man rainbow neon visuals and new, fast-pace mechanics that can involve long strings of dozens of ghosts chasing Pac around the stage.
In this era of video gaming, the major conflict I see for choosing a best game is from the contention between games that hold up well — mostly simple arcade games, which was what the hardware of the time could handle — and games that were ambitious and influential — many of which are difficult or obtuse by today’s standards. Pac-Man and Frogger are examples of simple games that made the most of one screen and limited graphics, but games like these were mostly pushed aside as novelties in the next decade or so. Meanwhile, early RPGs like Ultima and Wizardry and adventure games like Zork and King’s Quest, while difficult to play today, went on to be hugely influential in genres that spawned many classic games.