Video games are a relative baby compared to every other medium. A baby who, over the course of fifty years, has learned to crawl, walk, run, jump and fly. The rate in which video games progress is astonishing, with just five years feeling like an eternity. Movies from thirty years ago still look great but a game that is just a couple of years old has already dated. Making a list to accommodate every evolutionary sea change and groundbreaking title while also paying homage to the classics that laid the groundwork for everything that came after is no small feat. How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles? How do you compare Portal to Pong or God of War (2005) to God of War (2018)?
Firstly, I (to the best of my ability) eliminated personal bias and then focused on a set of objective criteria (importance, influence, Etc.) that I used as a metric to give titles a numerical value. Historical importance was obviously a huge component but if no one plays it today (like Spacewar! or Hunt the Wumpus for example), it didn’t make the cut. Graphics were only ever a plus, never a minus (games date horribly, so I didn’t judge that against them but if a title had unique graphics, it certainly got a bump) and popularity and fun were major factors as well. It required a lot of math, some impossibly hard cuts and a ton of sleepless nights to whittle the entire history of video games down to just five hundred titles but it’s finally done.
These are the 500 Greatest Video Games of All Time.
500. Pokemon Go (2016) | Mobile
What do you get when you mix innovative augmented-reality game mechanics with the addictive gotta catch ’em all gameplay of Pokémon? You get the most popular mobile game ever. Over one billion people downloaded Pokémon Go since it dropped in 2016 and while less than a third of that actively play the game today, that’s still a healthy following for a five year old mobile game. The gameplay is deceptively simple, you walk around town catching virtual monsters and once they’re caught, you either challenge trainers in gym raids or PvP Pokémon battles. There’s not much to it but the hook isn’t the gameplay, it’s the fact that you’re not walking around a virtual town, you’re walking around your own. Using your phone’s GPS, the game stimulates a world based on your surrounds. It’s an ingenious mechanic that will eventually usher in a new way to play games.
499. Garry’s Mod (2006) | PC
Player supported mod communities are nothing new. Multiple games have been created using Doom and Amnesia templates and while Garry’s Mod has only generated a handful of popular titles (Zombie Survival, DarkRP and Super Mario Boxes), its popularity endures because there are few, if any sandbox games this rewarding. Without any goals, win conditions or levels to explore, it’s more of a toy or a tool than a proper “game” but that hasn’t stopped players from sinking thousands of hours into it. Starting life as a modification of Half-Life 2, the subsequent twelve iterations propelled it from a software development kit you’d find in the mod section of Steam, to an actual game you can purchase. Pretty impressive for a glorified tech demo.
498. Five Nights at Freddy’s (2014) | Various
There’s a strong argument to be made that FNAF is responsible for the boom of streamer and YouTube culture. Yes, there Amnesia and Slenderman before it but neither one of those caught fire with the youth like this one did. Coming out of relative obscurity, it quickly exploded in popularity because of the infamous YouTuber PewDiePie. With over sixteen million hits, the game went viral and soon after, every YouTuber was streaming it and screaming at it. After the release of the second one (released mere months after the first), the fans started realizing there’s actually a deep mythology attached to what is essentially Chuck E. Cheese with jump scares. Five years later, it spawned a franchise of sequels, novel tie ins and an eventual movie, all of which have been the topic of numerous videos trying to pick apart its insane lore. Thus is the closest a game has gotten to a water cooler event for kids.
497. Devil’s Crush (1990) | TurboGrafx-16
Recreating what fans of pinball like about the game in a digital space, is damn near impossible. There’s a tactical thrill associated with pulling the plunger, watching the ball fall and hitting it at the right second with the flipper. Video games can’t recreate that feeling but what they can do is build on top of that experience with themed and interactive boards. We’re all familiar with the famous boards — the Addams Family and Elvira and the like but all they offer is something to look at instead of wood paneling. Devil’s Crush has you hit demons with your ball and attack the devil for points while sexy succubi tempt you with their little pixelated boobies. In short, it’s the best pinball game ever.
496. Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (1996) | PC
Point and click adventure games are usually relegated to Lucasarts fare. Humorous puzzle oriented trifles that entertain while they’re killing time. But those weren’t the only types of adventure games released around that time. There was the nihilistic I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, the excellently well written Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father and the near flawless Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Featuring a top notch story, memorable characters, impeccable voice acting and one of the best scores not attached to a Mario title, The Shadow of the Templars was the closest gamers could get to cinematic storytelling back in the 90s.
495. Quadrilateral Cowboy (2016) | PC
When it comes to independent studios, Blendo Games is second behind Double Fine in terms of ingenuity and originality. There’s nothing else out there like Gravity Bone, Flotilla, Thirty Flights of Loving and especially Quadrilateral Cowboy. A hacking game disguised as a puzzler, the game has you guide a group of thieves through a building while dismantling security measures with different codes you have to think of on the fly. It’s a fast paced logic puzzler with a unique art style that offers an experience you can’t find anywhere else.
494. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockdown (2020) | PS4
A competitive multiplayer game that functions like a battle royale, Fall Guys is the latest in a long line of games that are chasing the success of PUBG and Fortnite but instead of being ‘just enough first person shooter’, it differentiates itself from the pack by being a collection of mini games. Some are races, some are last man standing type obstacle courses and there are even cooperative games that have you working with your competition, not against them. It may have lost a lot of juice to Among Us but once it drops on other consoles, I firmly believe it’ll be king of the hill again.
493. Amplitude (2003) | PS2
Before they created Guitar Hero and flooded the world with plastic instruments, Harmonix cut their teeth with the similar rhythm based game Frequency and its superior sequel Amplitude. In the game, the player controls a beat blaster ship across a lane of six tracks, each track representing a musical instrument and containing note gems that the player shoots at in time with the music. The player earns points for accurate playing and increases their scoring multiplier by playing a series of flawless sequences; the player loses energy by missing too many notes and can end the song prematurely if they run out of energy. With a soundtrack that mixes electronica and trance music with pop hits from Garbage, Slipknot and David Bowie, Amplitude is like an old school shooter game except instead of shooting asteroids or robots, you’re being assaulted by a DJ.
492. Pathologic (2005) | PC
As the success of the Dark Souls series can attest, some gamers play games simply for the challenge. Some like to push themselves past where casual gamers would rage quit in order to prove something to themselves. Pathologic laughs in the face of that hubris. A game created for the sole purpose of breaking you, Pathologic is a survival who’s only goal is to survive twelve days with the resources available. There are NPCs that will give you quests but not only are they not optional, they’re maddeningly difficult. As is everything in this game. You choose one of three characters, each of which have a specific goal to complete it the player wants to get the true ending (you actually have to beat the game three times to unlock that ending. Good luck) but odds are, you won’t. Because this is the video game equivalent of being trapped in hell. You’re in a plague infested town inhabited with things that want to kill you and you start the game with nothing, not even good stats. Melee is a joke, weapons and ammo are scarce and running is useless because they’ll never stop chasing you. But underneath that extreme difficulty lays an transformative experience. Pathologic, like Bennett Foddy’s Getting Over It, is a badge of honor. Since so few people have ever beaten it, you instantly become part of an exclusive club. A club made up nothing but the most hardcore of gamers.
491. Mr. Driller (1999) | Dreamcast/PS1
Although this is technically the third entry in the Dig Dug series, it’s more akin to a Tetris game but in reverse. Instead of lining up falling blocks, your goal in this is to eliminate blocks while you’re falling deeper and deeper down a seemingly endless well. The color and shape is irrelevant, all you have to do besides collecting blue air canisters (your oxygen is constantly depleting), is break the blocks. The strategy comes from making sure you’re not standing under the block that’s now falling down after you just eliminated the block that was holding it up. It makes you problem solve on your feet because you don’t have time to strategize. If you have lightning fast reflexes and enjoy a puzzle that only ends when you give up, Mr. Driller is the game for you.
490. Wave Race 64 (1996) | N64
The second video games were created, the first three genres were: space shooter, sports and racing, so obviously gamers who want to recreate what it’s like to be behind the wheel of a fast automobile have been well served. But it wouldn’t be until the N64 till racing fans would get an evolution to the formula. Every change up to that point, whether it be kart racing or in space, still involved a car or a bike. Wave Race 64 said the hell with that and took to the seas. Racing on water as opposed to tracks and/or dirt roads was game changing. Now, not only did you have to make sure you out maneuvered your opponent, you had to accommodate the terrain, which happened to be choppy water. It was a subtle change but in a genre rotten with familiarity, it was a welcome addition.
489. Drop7 (2009) | Mobile
The mobile games that catch fire the quickest and burn the hottest are either of the kid friendly variety or the brain busting puzzle variety. Drop7 has no cute animals you have to flick or feed with candy, so obviously it’s the latter. The game is played with touch controls on a 7×7 square grid. In each round, the player places a disc that falls from the top of the grid. Each disc has a number 1–7, or a blank. Whenever the number of any disc matches the number of contiguous discs in a row or column, that disc disappears and also hits any blank discs it touches. When a blank is hit twice, it turns into a numbered disc. After a number of turns, the round ends and a full row of blank discs emerges from the bottom of the grid. It’s like sudoku if sudoku had a number 7 fetish and like all fetishes, once you feed it, you’ll crave it forever.
488. Virginia (2016) | Various
A text book example of quality over quantity, Virginia is just two hours long, features no dialogue, yet it has more to say than the vast majority of 40-hour games. On its surface, it’s about two female professional rivals who are forced to work together in order to find a missing child but that’s just a clothesline in which to hang numerous themes, such as complex political and social issues. Themes on their own, no matter how well implemented they are, have to be in service to something and thankfully Virginia has more than enough to offer on that front. It tells a deeply engaging story about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and identity. Again, all without words.
487. 80 Days (2014) | PC
When I ask you to name what you consider the best written game ever is, odds are it’s something with memorable characters and/or a huge, sprawling story. Something like The Last of Us or an RPG like The Witcher 3. Whatever it is, whatever awards it received, I guarantee they were video game specific. 80 Days, a game you most likely have never heard of, has so much written dialogue, The Telegraph named it one of the best novels of 2014. Loosely based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, the game puts you in the shoes of Phineas Fogg after he’s accepted the beer to travel the world in under three months. Once the game leaves London, the player can choose their own route around the world, travelling from city to city. Each city and journey contains unique narrative content. The developers estimate that on one complete circumnavigation of the globe players will see approximately 2% of the game’s 750,000 words of textual content. For context, that’s 50× more than the novel it’s based on.
486. Do DonPachi (1997) | Arcade
Fans of shoot ’em ups and cute ’em ups (as the name implies, they’re shoot ’em ups but aimed at a much younger audience) have long debated what the best game within those two genres is but fans of bullet hell shooters know. DoDonPachi is the first and the last name when it comes to hectic, non-stop bullet laden insanity. With a name that translates to mean both the sound of gunfire and “angry bee leader”, DoDonPachi, if taken literally, means “game where you fight a swarm of pissed off bees that are also bullets” and nothing could be more accurate.
485. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast (2002) | PC
The worst thing about Disney acquiring Lucasfilm, isn’t the terrible films it keeps producing or the over saturation of the property with its seventeen billion shows in production, it’s the fact that they killed the extended universe stone dead. Everything that wasn’t established film canon was now gone. Which is understandable since they need something to build off of but that also means that tons and tons of material is now gone. A good portion of which was just as good as the movies. Case in point: Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. The game follows Kyle Katarn, a mercenary working for the New Republic, who discovers his connection to the Force and “The Valley of the Jedi”, an ancient source of power. With his father having been murdered years prior by the Dark Jedi Jerec and his followers over the Valley’s location, Katarn embarks on a quest to confront his father’s killers and find the Valley before they do. It’s a good old fashioned tale of revenge set in the Star Wars universe built using the Doom engine. What more do you need? Oh, you said you want lightsaber fights? Yeah, it’s got that too.
484. Spy Hunter (1983) | Arcade
James Bond, like Batman and Star Wars, is a property that has about a million video game adaptations. As gamers, we’ve stepped into the shoes of every actor who’s inhabited the role (save for Lazenby) and gone on every mission imaginable but Spy Hunter gives an experience we’ve never experienced before — what it’s like to be behind the wheels of the notorious Aston Martin. There have been games in the franchise with racing segments in them but they’re all garbage. None of them capture the feeling of driving the world’s coolest and most capable automobile. Spy Hunter puts you behind the wheels of a badass car outfitted with a number of gadgets (including oil slicks) and a set of machine guns that you’ll use to hunt down your targets. It’s Bond distilled down to its most essential components.
483. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (2011) | PSP
The debate over whether or not violent video games play a part in real life violence will never end because America will never stop producing games where all you do is shoot everything on screen. Personally, I don’t think there’s a correlation but I do think it’s a hard argument to have because of the staggering amount of games with nothing but bang bang shoot ’em up action. I’m also thankful America doesn’t make games like Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc or the debate would literally be impossible. Say what you will about Call of Duty or similar controversial games but they involve soldiers shooting other soldiers usually during a war. This game has a cute sentient teddy bear making high schoolers kill each other. It’s crazy. But it’s also filled with well written and memorable characters and has a story with more twists than a Chubby Checker concert. It and the sequels will stick with you longer than a venereal disease.
482. Ape Escape (1999) | PS1
Damn near thirty years before it would effectively put an end to the console wars with back to back uber successes, Sony was the new pup in town just trying not to get squished by Nintendo and Sega. Knowing that in order to compete they’d need to innovate as well as cater to the casual player, they decided to kill two birds with one stone with their release of Ape Escape. Created to test out the new Dual Shock controller and to give themselves a Mario like mascot, the game served a duel function and while it clearly wasn’t a big enough hit to take on the Italian plumber, it did an admirable enough job of taking on the king. With great gameplay, tons of gadgets, challenges galore, and the ability to whap monkeys with a stick and capture them with a net, what’s not to love?
481. NetHack (1987) | PC
Starting off as a simple version of the game Rogue, the game has evolved considerably since it came out. Exploring a series of fifty randomly generated dungeons, each filled with a variety of monsters and items to collect, the game is fundamentally the same every time you play it but the experience is different. No two players (including the player himself) will have the exact same experience. A community created and driven game, it endures because of the love of the fans. They’re keeping it alive through constant updates because they want future generations to experience what they did all those years ago — the sublime bliss of getting lost in a dungeon for hours and hours.
480. Furi (2016) | Various
An action packed boss rush game with a strong emphasis on dodging bullets, parrying attacks and quick time events, Furi will test even the best twitch based gamers. Released from prison and given a sword and gun by an enigmatic man dressed as a rabbit, The Stranger must navigate a floating prison and kill anything that gets in his way in order to escape. With eye popping visuals, striking cutscenes and some of the best twin stick action around, Furi is what would happen if Shadow of the Colossus had a baby with Ninja Gaiden Black and that baby grew up to hate puzzles, love sci-fi action and became addicted to all the colors.
479. The Simpsons (1991) | Arcade
There are much better beat ’em ups that didn’t make the cut over this one but they’re all lacking that one crucial element that separates this from the pack and that’s pure nostalgia. If you’ve spent more than ten hours of your life in an arcade and you’re older than twenty, you have fond memories of this game. It’s one of those old school arcade cabinets that somehow pops up in every arcade, even the rinky-dink ones you’d find in a run down mall. There’s the basketball game you can never win, Cruise’N World, a broken Area 51 and The Simpsons. It’s always there because it’s dependable. People love playing this game. Even the ones who get stuck playing as Marge or Lisa have fonder memories of this than Violent Storm or Ninja Warriors or Tower of Doom. Sometimes the best games are the ones we just like playing more than the others.
478. Tempest 2000 (1994) | Jaguar
Due to its one-of-a-kind dial controller, Tempest is one of the more unique experiences in gaming history. Like how cinema snobs proclaim you haven’t seen certain movies if you haven’t seen them in theaters (like Avatar or Gravity for example), Tempest is a game best played in arcades. Compared to its contemporaries, it had unparalleled control, which made it that much more addicting than everything else. It’s one of the great quarter munchers that feels arcade specific until Atari would update it years later for home consoles. Tempest 2000 not only captured the spirit of the original, but took it to a whole new level. Featuring a pumping techno beat, new moves, extra boards, and classic Tempest gameplay, Tempest 2000 is a shooter like no other.
477. PaRappa the Rapper (1997) | PS1
It seems like every rapper nowadays wants to label themselves as the GOAT but everyone in the know knows the real GOAT is a red beanie wearing dog named PaRappa. A rhythm game that tasks you with pressing buttons in accordance to the song, PaRappa the Rapper may look silly at first glance (and it is) but it’s actually one of the important games ever made. Not just for creating all those ear worms that still slap to this day but for kick-starting the rhythm game genre as a whole. It can be argued that the success of this game directly led to the Guitar Hero franchise, the Dance Dance Revolution series and perhaps even all of those WarioWare games. A billion dollar industry built off the back of a freestyling pup who just wants to woo a sunflower.
476. Mark of the Ninja (2012) | PC/Xbox 360
Metal Gear may not have been the first stealth game but it was the first to be designed from the ground up to be nothing but stealth. Hiding instead of fighting and using distractions to move around enemies in the time of the shoot-everything-and-let-god-figure-it-out gameplay of Contra was revolutionary. Roughly thirty years later and stealth games are a cottage industry but few have been as innovative as Mark of the Ninja. Foregoing the isometric view of the aforementioned Metal Gear for the side scrolling aesthetic of a platformer, the game plays like Ninja Gaiden, if the main character of Ninja Gaiden was in any way like an actual ninja. Using every means of cover at your disposal (shadows and vents are your best friends), the game makes you think like a tactical assassin and gives you the skill set and tools to make you feel like a tactical assassin.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?