Top 10 Home Video Games from 1985

By Mark Nobes

If you were a gamer back in the 1980s, then you'll probably remember many of the titles featured in this post. This top ten is not our list of personal favourites, but rather a top 10 of the best-selling home video games in the UK during 1985, based on sales.
There are a wide variety of game genres in the list, including platformers, racing, run and gun, sports (boxing and decathlon), space trading and a martial arts simulator. So how many of these did you play back in the 80s?

10. Impossible Mission

Developer: Epyx

Publisher: U.S. Gold

What a brilliant game Impossible Mission was, and it would certainly be at No.1 in this list if we had to choose our favourite. The game was initially developed for the Commodore 64, and was then ported to the other popular systems. It was one of the first video games that enabled the player to become a secret agent, and received high praise from the critics, with Computer & Video Games magazine awarding 38 points out of 40 for the original Commodore 64 version.
The platform puzzle game is probably best remembered for its incredible sampled speech and the ultra-realistic running and somersault (flip) animations of the main character. But every aspect of the game was top notch, the graphics, sound effects and gameplay. It was extremely challenging, and not many players actually completed the game (It certainly lived up to its title), but, somehow, you just kept coming back for more. Many an hour was wasted playing this one back in the day!
Impossible Mission Commodore 64 Disk Box (Epyx)

9. Daley Thompson's Decathlon

Developer: Ocean Software

Publisher: Ocean Software

Young teenage boys in their bedrooms aggressively waggling their joysticks is not an image that many of us would choose to remember the 1980s for, but Daley Thompson's Decathlon was the game that infamously kept the joystick manufacturers in business, and goodness knows just how many were broken playing it during in the 80s!
Thompson was hugely popular at the time, having won gold at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, and, thankfully, the game was fun and addictive, and won the "Best Arcade-Style Game of the Year" award at the Golden Joystick Awards in 1984. 
The fact that there were ten different events made the game exciting to play and gave it lasting appeal. You could actually use the keyboard to control Daley, but it wasn't half as much fun, and as keyboards were built into the computer back then, it was far easier and cheaper to replace a joystick. 
Daley Thompson's Decathlon C64 Cassette Game

8. Formula 1 Simulator

Developer: Spirit Software

Publisher: Mastertronic

The modern day gamer will find the graphics of Formula 1 Simulator laughable now, but at the time, the graphics were reasonably impressive. The C64 version looked not too dissimilar to Atari's Pole Position, and the engine sound effects were pretty realistic for the time, with the 3D scrolling equally as smooth and fast. However, that's where the positivity ends, and it played more like an arcade game rather than a simulator, although you did get to choose from ten different circuits. The game was a little glitchy and lacked finesse, and the animation of the cars turning was non-existent. It was also too easy to play and gain high scores, which meant you became bored with it rather too quickly.
The ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC versions were very different to the C64 version, and although a lot slower (due to the limited capabilities of both machines), these ports were more akin to a simulator. What makes the game even more impressive is that it was a £1.99 budget title. Formula 1 Simulator is by no means regarded as a classic from the era, but it was decent for a budget title.
Formula 1 Simulator Mastertronic Cassette Game for ZX Spectrum 48k

7. Commando

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Elite Systems

Commando was a 1985 video game that was unrelated to the film of the same name. It was a vertically scrolling, top-down run and gun game, which was critically acclaimed. It's a true classic, being fast-paced with addicitive, action packed gameplay, and featuring a great soundtrack by Rob Hubbard. The NES version is the best of the bunch, but the C64 and ZX Spectrum ports are also very decent indeed.
The player took on the role of Super Joe, who is equipped with just a machine gun and six hand grenades, to single-handedly take on an entire army equipped with heavy weapons and vehicles.
The game wasn't perfect, and there were a few glitches and bugs, but it was still a fine game, nonetheless. For those who like relentless shooting action (with hardly any time to breathe), this was damn near perfect!
Commando Video Game 1985 Flyer

6. Frank Bruno's Boxing

Developer: Elite Systems

Publisher: Elite Systems

If you're not from the UK, then you may not remember Frank Bruno. He was a much-loved British boxer, and this boxing simulator allowed the player to take on the role of Bruno himself, as he fights his way through the ranks of the heavyweight division. It was basically an unofficial clone of Super Punch-Out!! with the same play style, although only the first three opponents are included in the game. Sadly, because of this, the game falls a little short of successfully replicating the gameplay from Nintendo's original game, and soon becomes rather repetitive, but the graphics and music are decent, at least. 
Frank Bruno's Boxing Cassette for ZX Spectrum

5. Finders Keepers

Developer: Mastertronic

Publisher: Mastertronic

Just about every 80s gamer had at least one Mastertronic game in their collection, and their budget 199 range (Priced at £1.99) was hugely popular. Despite the low price, many of Mastertronic's titles were actually pretty decent, and Finders Keepers is regarded as one of their finest titles. It's basically a platform game with two scrolling maze sections, and the player takes on the role of Magic Knight. 330,000 units of the game were sold on the 8-bit home computers, which included the C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and MSX.
Somehow, the designers even managed to make the C64 version look colourful, and the machine is not known for its vibrant colour palette.
The different ports of the game varied slightly. For instance, the two scrolling mazes on the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad ports were the Cold Upper Maze and Slimey Lower Maze. On the C64, these were The Castle Garden and The Castle Dungeon.
The player starts in The King's Palace and is teleported to the Castle Teleport Room, where the adventure begins, and there were plenty of rooms to explore.
Overall, this was a fun and vibrant game with decent graphics and music, and Zzap! 64 magazine awarded it 90%.
Finders Keepers was the first of four Magic Knight Games, which also included Spellbound (1985), Knight Tyme (1986) and Stormbringer (1987).
Finders Keepers cassette game (Mastertronic) for ZX Spectrum 48k

4. Ghostbusters 

Developer: Activision

Publisher: Activision

Video games based on movies were often a let down back in the 80s, and they were often rush jobs created merely to make extra profits for a movie franchise - E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is one such example. However, Ghostbusters was, thankfully, one of the better movie based games of the decade. It was a well-planned, intelligent game that captured the feel of the film, and it received mostly positive reviews from reviewers of the time, and topped the UK charts for the first three months of 1985. It became one of Activision's best-selling titles for the C64. 
In the game, the player runs a Ghostbusters franchise in the city. An overhead street view allowed the player to drive to their next assignment, sucking up any rogue ghosts along the way. At each destination, two ghostbusters are used to draw a slimer into the trap, remembering to not cross the streams! Occasionally, there was also the infamous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man to deal with, which added to the game's appeal.
I have very fond memories of playing this one on my Atari 800XL, and it was one of my favourite home video games from the 1980s.
Ghostbusters Video Game (Activision) inlay card for ZX Spectrum cassette

3. Elite

Developer: Acornsoft

Publisher: Acornsoft

Just about anyone who owned a BBC Micro or Acorn Electron computer will remember the classic space trading game Elite. It took two years for David Braben and Ian Bellto to develop the game, and the result was an incredibly impressive game of blasting and trading, which won the Golden Joystick Award for "Best Original Game of the Year" in 1984. In 2004, Retro Gamer magazine placed it in first place in its list of Top 100 Retro Games.
The wire-frame graphics were very unique at the time, which made the game visually impressive. The game was vast and complex, and very imaginative, and as a player, it was very easy to become totally absorbed by the gameplay and lose track of time!
It wasn't just BBC Micro and Electron owners who could enjoy the game, though. Thankfully, It was also made available on other machines, including the C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST and Amiga, and just about every version received high praise.
Elite Video Game Box (Acornsoft) for BBC Microcomputer

2. Soft Aid

Developer: Various

Publisher: Quicksilva

With the Live Aid music concert raising money for the Ethiopian famine, software developers were also keen to help, and Soft Aid was the result. It's a compilation cassette featuring ten games, and the profits went to famine relief. Side one of the cassette featured "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid. Side two included ten games for the ZX Spectrum and ten games for the Commodore 64. The price was just £4.99, which was an absolute steal. The compilation spent an incredible seventeen weeks at the top of the charts, which was a record at the time.
The ten ZX Spectrum games were Spellbound, Starbike, Kokotoni Wilf, The Pyramid, Horace Goes Skiing, Gilligan's Gold, Ant Attack, 3D Tank Duel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Sorcery.
The ten C64 games were Gumshoe, Beamrider, Star Trader, Kokotoni Wilf, China Miner, Gilligan's Gold, Fred, Gyropod, Falcon Patrol and Flak.
Soft Aid by Quicksilva. Cassette game for Commodore 64

1. The Way Of The Exploding Fist

Developer: Beam Software

Publisher: Melbourne House

The Way of the Exploding Fist is a true classic from the era. Okay, so it was nowhere near as sophisticated as the 90s classic Street Fighter II, but for the mid-1980s, it was almost perfect, featuring excellent character animations and a nice variation of realistic moves. In fact, it was the most realistic martial arts simulator of its time (the AI was beautifully programmed), in which the player had to fight their way up through the ranks of karate in a one-on-one fight.
Fans of beat-em-ups will have preferred Yie-Ar Kung-Fu, but for those looking for realism, Exploding Fist was unbeatable.
The game was initially developed for the Commodore 64 (which is the best version), and then ported to other popular systems of the time. It's a game that thoroughly deserves its No.1 position, and it sold over 500,000 units in Europe.
The Way Of The Explcoding Fist cassette game for C64 (Melbourne House)
I hope you enjoyed revisiting the top 10 home video games from 1985, and that they brought back some fond memories for you.