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Forums - Gaming Discussion - 1981, Game of the Year


1981, Game of the Year

Defender 0 0%
Donkey Kong 20 52.63%
Frogger 2 5.26%
Galaga 9 23.68%
Ms Pac-Man 1 2.63%
Tempest 0 0%
Castle Wolfenstein 3 7.89%
Ultima 1 1 2.63%
Wizardry 2 5.26%
Other (please specify) 0 0%

Official voting has now ended (but people can still vote unofficially if they like).

The 1981 game of the year is Donkey Kong.
The runner up is Galaga.
The master thread for all of these contests can be found here.

What do you believe to be the "Game of the Year" for 1981 and why?  Also, vote on "Game of the Year" for 1981. 

Defender (Arcade)
This Shmup was obviously much more complex than the other arcade games of this era.  In spite of this, it still became one of the top sellers in the Golden Era of Arcades.  As of 2020, Defender has sold 70,000 arcade units and grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide.  The port to the Atari 2600 sold over 3 million units putting in the top 10 selling games on that platform.

Donkey Kong (Arcade)
Nintendo gets their first major hit with the first appearance of Mario in a game.  Mario was originally called "Jumpman", because this is the first significant game to feature a jump button.  It is also the first major game to have an opening cutscene before the game begins (although Pac-Man did have cutscenes after beating certain stages), and Donkey Kong also has a complete story arc which finishes when you complete the "Rivets" stage.  Donkey Kong has sold over 132 million arcade cabinets making it the fourth best selling arcade game of all time.  It also had several high selling console ports: Atari 2600 (4 million), Colecovision (2 million), NES (1 million), Game & Watch (8 million).  Donkey Kong was also one of the games featured in the cartoon Saturday Supercade from this era.  "It's on like Donkey Kong!"

TV Show Intro:

Frogger (Arcade)
Developed by Konami and published by Sega/Gremlin, Frogger is one of the best selling arcade games of the early 80's.  The Atari 2600 port also sold over 4 million copies, making it comparable to Donkey Kong.  Frogger was also one of the games feature in Saturday Supercade.

TV Show Intro:

Galaga (Arcade)
This sequel to Galaxian is considered to be superior in nearly every way.  Galaga has sold over 42,000 machines making it one of the best selling arcade games of all time.  It also seems to be the early 1980's shmup that has aged the best.  Whenever there is a "best games of all time" list, Galaga is usually listed as the top shooter of the early 80's.  

Ms Pac-Man (Arcade)
This sequel to Pac-Man is considered by many to be superior to Pac-Man in every way.  Also, while Pac-Man was developed by Namco, Ms Pac-Man was developed by General Computer Corporation, a team of American developers.  Originally this was simply a mod to Pac-Man, but it soon became clear that this would be a popular game in its own right.  As of 1987, Ms Pac Man has sold over 125 million arcade units making it the 5th best selling arcade game of all time and barely being beaten by Donkey Kong's total.  (Also, since data on these arcade machines is hard to find it is debatable which of the two games actually sold more.)

Tempest (Arcade)
Atari introduces this 3D shooter using vector graphics.  Tempest has sold over 29,000 arcade cabinets total.

Castle Wolfenstein (Apple II)
Before there was Metal Gear, there was Castle Wolfenstein.  Use a combination of wits, stealth and guns to make your way out of a Nazi stronghold, a procedurally generated maze of over 60 rooms.  Although it was developed by Muse Software, it has been stated by id Software that when they made Wolfenstein 3D, they were simply trying to make a 3D version of Castle Wolfenstein.

Ultima I (Apple II)
Dungeons and Dragons comes to PC in two major ways in 1981.  This computer RPG features a single character exploring both an overworld and dungeons, a style copied by countless games such Dragon Quest and The Legend of Zelda.  The Ultima series, in general, is arguably the most influential RPG series of all time with Ultima 3 being a huge inspiration for JRPGs, Ultima 7 and Ultima Underworld being a huge inspiration for Western RPGs, and Ultima Online being a huge inspiration for MMORPGs.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (Apple II)
Wizardry was the other approach to adapting Dungeons and Dragons to computers, and it ended up being the Apple II's best selling game of 1981.  Major features of Wizardry include a 3D maze and the ability to make up a party of 6 characters using a variety of different classes.  Wizardry also uses essentially prestige classes, better classes that can be accessed later in the game if you want to switch the class of your characters.  Wizardry went on to sell over 500,000 copies as of 1989 and it became a major influence on JRPGs such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

Other (please specify)
If you think another games deserves to be "Game of the Year" other than one of the 9 I listed above, then please vote “Other” and say your game in the comments.  If the "Other" category takes at least 2nd place and no other game gets at least 50% of the vote, then I will do a runoff vote including the most mentioned game(s) from the comments.

The winner of this vote will be decided Friday, Sept 8 at 11:59 EST.

Last edited by The_Liquid_Laser - on 09 September 2023

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Some classics this year like Galaga, Defender, Frogger, Tempest, Ultima and MS. Pac-Man. I give it to Donkey Kong. Just my favorite and it put Nintendo on the map.

 Man. Again comes down to importance vs. preference. Ultima laid the foundation for every single console and PC RPG for the time and since then. Frogger I always just enjoyed a lot. Never been a big Dinkey Kong fan but did give us the most popular video game character of all time. Mario. (OK yeah Jumpman)

For me Frogger. That's my personal pref.

Bite my shiny metal cockpit!

Galaga its the only one that has stood the test of time. That old school players still regularly play
Sure Defender, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Ms pacman were great. I spent a lot on Ms pacman back in the day.
Its Number 2 there after Pacman, but I believe most people agree Ms Pacman was far better than pacman, same with Stargate > Defender

For me it's Donkey Kong, being a timeless classic just like Pac-Man.
Runner-up: Galaga.

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Man, some bangers in 81. Leaving hindsight aside, I'm torn between Galaga and Donkey Kong. These are probably the ones with the most staying power.

You know it deserves the GOTY.

Come join The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

Uh, really hard decision between Wizardry, Ultima (which both together had massive influence on the RPG genre) and Donkey Kong, which basically is the blueprint of Jump&Runs. I think I am going with Donkey Kong, because Ultima and Wizardry are kinda sharing their influence and I would've to vote for both at the same time.

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Donkey Kong may be the more iconic, and certainly a great game in its own right. But I actually prefer both Tempest and especially Galaga. The latter is probably in my top 3 of the 80s as a whole, the gameplay very polished and addictive.
Overall a brilliant year for arcade gaming with Ms. Pac-man, Frogger and Defender also being stand-out titles.

Wizardry, especially due to the influence it had in Japan. It has shaped JRPGs in a BIG way and games like Etrian Odyssey basically try to emulate Wizardry, down to it's difficulty (which is actually still toned down in Etrian Odyssey)

It’s Wizardry vs Ultima for me, but I’m going with Wizardry as I definitely played those games more than Ultima prior to Ultima Online.
As a note, if you’re like me: the version of the game you played was probably a Japanese remake, as those were about the only ones available by the 1990s (and probably a great deal earlier). Interesting enough, my family did have an Apple II, but when it was still in use I wasn’t old enough to play games like Wizardry - although I was exposed to games very early in my life.

Why is it different now? Japan, as most people know, was the first market where RPGs became a major hit, and Wizardry was one of the first popular RPGs in Japan, and the fandom for the game franchise was far stronger than it was westward. In fact, the game is iconic enough that eventually Japanese devs took it over and the franchise survives in that market to this day. But the early games were ported to other platforms by Japanese developers, and localized to Western markets with updates, like a revamp of the battle mechanics that allowed you to simply select rather than type out (The early Wizardry games had a lot of keyboard stuff and writing out magic commands and such, and it also came with some additional literature that you basically needed to know to play the game). Some of this could be said to be because of gaming consoles, but Wizardry lost no complexity in outcome by simplifying the input. That’s just game design 101, don’t make your game UX/UI more complex than it needs to be: simplicity and consistency wins. Although… one of my favourite games is/was a bit of an offender (Dwarf Fortress), maybe deliberately so :D

But anyway, while the game was indeed one of the major inspirations for Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest in turn influenced Wizardry.

Bottom line: I’m voting Wizardry, because even in its archaic form, I would have likely been a fan of this game over the others.

Last edited by Jumpin - on 07 September 2023

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