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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
175. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010) | Wii
Super Mario Galaxy was so big, it was literally overflowing with unused ideas. Ideas that the development team loved so much, they decided to make a sequel immediately to cram in every single one of them. The addition of Yoshi was actually just going to be DLC but Nintendo doesn’t do half measures. If they were going to take the time to create a new mechanic, they might as well go all in and just throw in every other unused power up and level while they were at it. These include the Spin Drill, which allows the player to burrow through planets and emerge out the other side; Rock Mario, which allows the player to smash through obstacles, such as boulders and enemies; and Cloud Mario, which allows the player to create temporary platforms in midair. There’s also an increase in difficulty over the last one, which gave players looking for a challenge a proper Mario game to test their skills. Overall, it looks and plays identically to the last but when it comes to Mario, that’s not a bad thing.
174. Double Dragon (1987) | Arcade
If you saw the 2012 movie Savages and thought it was weird that two dude bros were dating the same woman who they them had to go rescue, let me introduce you to Billy Lee and his twin brother Jimmy. Two guys that are most definitely dating Marian, the poor damsel who gets kidnapped by the Black Warriors gang. The why isn’t properly established but it wouldn’t matter anyways. They’re bad dudes and you gotta beat the shit out of all of ’em in order to rescue your lady love. Since this is one of the first dude scrolling beat ’em ups, your move set is limited to just punches and kicks (no fancy combos here) but that’s more than enough to take on the seemingly endless supply of baddies that’ll come your way. It’s imitators all look and play better but there wouldn’t be imitators at all if this wasn’t as good as it was.
173. Suikoden II (1998) | PS1
Few games have had a more intensive critical reappraisal as Suikoden II. When it was first released, it was meant with lackluster sales and middling review scores but around 2010, the audience for this game finally caught up to its brilliance. It sold well enough to get a couple more sequels, but if this was a hit out the gate, I have no doubt in my mind that we’d still be seeing entries today. Taking a page from the best of the Final Fantasy series, Konami wisely decided to mix political intrigue with fantasy to craft an engrossing tale that feels similar to other titles but at the same time, wholly unique. You’re tasked with recruiting 108 Stars of Destiny (characters you need to recruit, not mystical items) to take on a sadistic villain named Luca Blight and his murderous army. Those two things alone are good enough to make it an all timer but in addition to that, there are some epic battles and some brutal decisions of war that hit hard, the outcomes of which easily make this the most memorable story of the series.
172. Dragon Age: Origins (2009) | Various
Dragon Age reminds me of Albert Brooks in a way. If it wasn’t for Woody Allen, Brooks would be heralded as the premier comedy legend. Now replace Allen with Elder Scrolls and the Witcher and you can see why I compare this to Brooks. No matter how good this series is, no matter what it does, it will never get out of the shadow of those two games. It offers just as rewarding an experience, just not as much of one. With a narrative tackling complex themes and combat that allowed players to strategically queue up moves in the fly, Dragon Age: Origins was conceived as a modern successor to classic RPGs like Baldur’s Gate. However, BioWare’s first installment in this acclaimed series wasn’t a mere copycat. Its tough moral choices, memorable cast, and lore-rich world gave Origins a clear identity that put a new twist on traditional fantasy.
171. Advance Wars (2001) | Game Boy Advance
If you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, then judging a game based on its graphics should be equally as sinful. You could be forgiven for thinking that Advance Wars is for children based on its cartoony art style but it’s anything but. A deep and engrossing turn based strategy game that offers as much complexity as challenge, the game Is brilliantly structured in that it’s broken down into easily manageable chunks. Which helps keep it addictive (the need to play just one more level, one more mission is nigh irresistible) and because it’s on a handheld system, it’s essential. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you shouldn’t progress because your bus is coming or you’re almost done running an errand. But ten-fifteen minute skirmishes? You can do that while waiting for your Starbucks order. And because each mission is better than the last, you might end up staying there till they kick you out.
170. Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) | Various
The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was shamelessly inspired by the Uncharted series, which in a way feels like the closing of the loop of inspiration. There is no Nathan Drake without Lara Croft and there are no new Lara Croft games without the Nathan Drake quadrilogy. After the third one all those years back, the series was on auto pilot until Angel of Darkness officially killed it. The IP laid dormant for years until someone had the brilliant idea to just copy what Naughty Dog was doing. They made tweaks here and there (a mini open world for one thing) but for the most part, they just took the best elements of those games and gave ’em to Laura. It paid off and when it came to making a sequel, they wisely decided not to need with the golden formula. An exotic, mythical location with a priceless artifact surrounded by things trying to kill you and booby traps you have to disarm with puzzles. Rise isn’t a huge leap forward in terms of innovation, but technically neither was the last one either. It focuses on what worked, what didn’t and improving everything else. Which is all a sequel needs to do.
169. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018) | Various
As good as those earlier titles were (and in the case of some of them, still are), the further the series got from its roots, the better it became. The first Assassin’s Creed game was a one of a kind hybrid of historical action mixed with a futuristic sci-fi plot. It was novel at the time, but the more sequels there was, the more convoluted the plot became. Desmond Miles’ journey through the Animus to learn the ancient ways of his ancestors became almost impenetrable without an encyclopedic knowledge of every game that came before. It wouldn’t be until Origins that they cut all of that shit down to the bare minimum and focused on the stuff everyone loved. Namely the historical setting and characters and in that regard, Odyssey might have the best of both of any game yet. Since it’s set in ancient Greece, the developers had tons and tons of history and myth to pull from. So much so, that after Valhalla, I honestly don’t know where the series could go from here. You can’t really top the old Greek gods and monsters.
168. Celeste (2018) | Various
Celeste breathed new life into a tired genre with a unique mix of inventive game design and a touching story of personal struggle. Presented as a colorful pixel art platform adventure, it tells the story of a young woman determined to overcome her demons as she climbs a mysterious mountain. Games typically shy away from mental health issues but Celeste puts them front and center. The game is literally about coming to terms with and embracing ones depression. It’s a powerful message trojan horsed in a cutesy package. The makers behind it must’ve known depression is a hard sell, so they made everything around it as charming as possible. The art is cute, the music is funky, the characters are adorable and the gameplay has that addictive ‘just one more go’ style of hook that can keep you playing for hours. Come for the challenge and the charm but stay for the story.
167. Castlevania (1986) | NES
This early NES title set up the classic confrontation between Dracula and the Belmont family, a blood feud that would last generations and many a sequel. It’s a series built on a rock solid formula (whip-wielding gameplay, exploration, great enemy designs, amazing soundtrack, unforgiving platforming) but of all of its innovations, the best thing about this game and the series as a whole, is the thing that often times gets overlooked — the castle itself. Dracula’s castle is a permanent fixture in every game and in every game, it’s the star. From Symphony of the Night onward, the castle really took center stage due to the immense backtracking but even linear, in its first appearance, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to traverse. Which is all the more baffling as to why it seems to be impossible to adapt to 3D. Maybe the formula this game made was too good to try and emulate.
166. Asteroids (1979) | Various
Of all the properties that have been adapted into films, I think the announcement of an Asteroids movie is truly the sign that Hollywood is officially out of ideas. Making movies out of Emojis, Angry Birds and Playmobil, as dumb as they are, at least make sense on a conceptual level. Everyone knows what emojis are, everyone played Angry Birds and Playmobil is still popular in counties that outlawed Lego. Asteroids has nothing going for it. There’s almost nothing to this game. You play as a triangle that shoots space rocks while trying to navigate around space with unforgiving yet realistic physics. The more asteroids you shoot, the higher your score. That’s the only thing motivating you too keep playing because as I just said, there’s nothing else. Not story, no characters, no levels. One black screen populated with vector white shapes. But it’s that simplicity that makes this a stripped down masterpiece. Ed Logg boiled the gameplay down to its essentials and in doing so, created an everlasting piece of video game history.
165. Kingdom Hearts (2002) | PS2
Fans of the series would have you believe the sequel is better and while it is fantastic, it’s also the point where the series begins to get far too convoluted for its own good. The heartless, the nobodies, the mysterious black robed organization, the keyblade masters, it’s all just too much. The first couple of hours as you play as a completely different character who’s only purpose is to explain a thing no one wondered about. It’s madness. Entertaining, Disney filled madness but madness nonetheless. The first one is, as the theme song states, simple and clean. There’s still a overarching plot that explains why Final Fantasy and Disney characters are in the same universe that gets a bit too stereotypically Japanese (they really love over complicating their stories) but not enough that it will confuse too many people. There’s Disney worlds and Disney characters (most of which are voiced by their original voice actors) and that’s all you need. Do you hear me Kingdom Hearts, that’s literally all you need. Stop being weird.
164. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) | PS2
Few moments in gaming have hit me harder than the last couple of hours of MGS2. Once Kojima pulls back the curtain and reveals that everything you’ve just played was intentionally similar to the last one, he creates one of the great WTF moments in history but more importantly, reveals the deficiently in sequels as a whole. By giving gamers the exact same experience as the last but with a new coat of paint and then breaking the fourth wall to say that that’s exactly what he was doing, he’s essentially calling the industry as a whole lazy and is criticizing the players who were content with the familiar. It’s his thesis statement on the entire concept of sequels. They’re dumb and a double edged sword. Do something too similar, and people will complain but be too original and you’ll cut the fan base in half. Kojima some how manages to do both while also making sure each half is properly shamed. It’s a brilliant piece of meta subversion and works as a great way to separate the real fans of his work from the plebs. If you don’t like Raiden and think the ending is too weird, this series was never meant for you.
163. Spelunky (2008) | Various
Spelunky proves that gamers, at their core, are masochists. Very few will have the patience to beat Spelunky and the ones that do, will die over and over again just to say they beat it. The game has you play as a lil Indiana Jones clone who’s exploring caves for treasure. In order to get said treasure, you need a healthy amount of trial and error. It’s kind of a puzzle platformer in the sense that you have to figure out the correct path to get the optimal amount of gold but the only way to do that is to use your future corpse as a guinea pig. It’s frustratingly difficult but if you, as the kids say “get good”, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best platformers in recent years.
162. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010) | Various
Building on the camaraderie of the first Bad Company spin-off, Bad Company 2 features the best campaign of the franchise to date, with surprisingly funny writing, unique gameplay scenarios, and a cast of characters who give Price, Soap and Ghost a run for their money. I only mention them because this game so clearly feels like a call to response of the modern warfare series. The developers of this, looked at that and said “let’s do that but more over the top and funnier.” The end result is a cliché riddled, action packed extravaganza that will keep you on the edge of your seat one minute, while nearly knocking you onto the floor in fits of laughter the next minute. Make no mistake, this is still a military shoooter through and through but the writing team really knocked it out of the park when it came to the characters and dialogue. Bad Company 2’s multiplayer was equally carefree and chaotic, with varied maps and a whole suite of impressive physics, destruction, and sound effects for experimenting with. Plus, the tragically underrated Vietnam expansion nails the historiography of its setting better than most full Battlefield games, extending the shelf life of Bad Company 2’s multiplayer with a more ferocious, claustrophobic variant on the game’s irresistible slashings of PvP. This series needs to break off into two separate subseries: the main Battlefield games, which are battle royale free for alls and Bad Company, hilarious shooters that focus on the campaigns.
161. NBA 2K11 (2010) | Various
Beloved by both critics and fans alike, the 2K series has been the name in basketball games for years and years now but after all that time and all those titles, no other game before or since has been as anticipated as this one has. All because of two words: Michael Jordan. The fact that this game was being centered around him was enough to get the die-hard fan base frothing at the mouth in anticipation. The build-up to the release of this game was insane, and it somehow still managed to outdo everyone’s expectations with its final product. In addition to the various teams and challenges built around him, there’s also various other dream teams from around that time like the 2010 Heat (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), Celtics (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen), Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest), and Spurs (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli). It’s a basketball lovers dream.
160. Player Unknown’s Battleground (2017) | PC, PS4, Xbox One
PUBG is the granddaddy of battle royales and arguably one of the most influential as it effectively established the genre as we know it in 2017, spawning dozens of copycats over the past few years. Created as a refined version of the DayZ: Battle Royale mod of ARMA 2, PUBG reached mainstream success and introduced players to many of the staple concepts of the genre. It’s more realistic than many battle royales, requiring players to carefully manage their inventory and apply weapon mods and attachments manually while scouring the map for resources. While it held a reputation for being notoriously clunky and unpolished over the years and with every new battle royale game literally beating it in every regard (Fortnite, Apex Legends, CoD: Warzone), the fact remains, there wouldn’t be a battle royale without it. Period.
159. Grim Fandango (1998) | PC
Tim Schafer is kind of like a one man Pixar. He was attached to hit after hit, with each game being different yet equally as good as the one before it. He was the creative lead on such gems as Full Throttle, Psychonauts, Brütal Legend and Broken Age, co-designer of Day of the Tentacle, and assistant designer on The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. And that’s just a fraction of his games. I left of a handful of critically acclaimed indies and obviously Grim Fandango. Like his first couple of games, Grim Fandango is a point and click adventure game filled with laugh out loud humor, memorable characters, a fantastic setting and aggravatingly obtuse puzzles. I mean, how many other games have you play as a snappy dressed skeletal travel agent of the dead who finds himself embroiled in a film noir-esque mystery? Only Tim Schafer.
158. Destiny (2014) | Various
Bungie’s 500 million dollar (yes, you read that number correctly) Halo killer took a bit to find its feet but once it did (thanks in large part to the multiple DLC releases), it became a huge fan favorite. It also didn’t hurt the fact that they re-recorded all of Peter Dinklage’s lines (that wizard lives on the Moon) and just added more things fans want. Like additional levels, fully customizable characters and tons and tons of weapons. They took the best parts of Marathon and Halo and expanded it to include multiple players at once. Instead of trying to one up themselves, they went a different route. The RPG with guns route and seeing as how both games have been massively popular, I’d say it was the right call.
157. Fez (2012) | Various
Because of his appearance in Indie Game: The Movie and due to his controversial and eccentric behavior, Phil Fish has become a somewhat poster child for indie development. It took him years and many a battle (the man notoriously loves to get into it with people on Twitter) to complete this game but once he did, he created an undeniable masterpiece. When young Gomez wakes up and finds his happily two dimensional world has shifted gears and become a full 3D environment, its up to you to help him gather cubes across each level and save the day. Revolving each platform reveals new pathways and opens up routes previously thought to be blocked, so players need to carefully study each level from every angle to make it through. Plus, the whole experience is far more trippy in first person perspective. With no enemies blocking your path and no nasty time limits or punishments for falling off the edge of a platform, Fez is a decidedly peaceful affair more focused on patience and perspective than button mashing and skill.
156. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (1999) | PC
Sid Meier could’ve easily just transported his Civilization series into space and called it a day but then he wouldn’t be Sid Meier. Instead, he took the engine from those games, threw everything else out and then filled the rest with Kubrick, Clarke and Asimov influences. The end result is far more than the sum of its parts. Set in a science fiction depiction of the 22nd century, the game begins as seven competing ideological factions land on the planet Chiron in the Alpha Centauri star system. As the game progresses, Planet’s growing sentience becomes a formidable obstacle to the human colonists. The gameplay consists of establishing bases, building facilities and secret projects, exploring territories, researching technologies, and conquering other factions, as well as dealing with diplomatic affairs. Since there’s so much to do, from the minute to the massive, it really feels like you not only made a colony but are actually responsible for its growth. And since there’s technically no sequel, it stands alone as a singular experience you can’t recreate anywhere else.
155. Stardew Valley (2016) | Various
If you’re even moderately aware of Harvest Moon, Farmville or Animal Crossing, you already know what this game is all about before you even play it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you inherit a dilapidated farm from a deceased relative and decide to move in right away to take care of it. It’s the same set up as practically every game within the genre but it’s the freedom of what you can do that sets it apart from the rest. You can explore the town and its surrounding lands to forage for wild produce. You can participate in seasonal events and build relationships with the townsfolk, perhaps even marry one of them. Or you can delve ever-deeper into the mines to battle monsters and uncover treasures. And of course, there are excellent farming mechanics, letting you slowly expand your agricultural empire. But with limited time and energy each day, you can’t do it all, so choose your actions wisely.
154. XCOM 2 (2016) | Various
Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within are both phenomenal reboots but the ultimate XCOM experience is unquestionably 2. It might be a cheat to include the expansive War of the Chosen DLC since it easily could be considered a stand alone game but since it was made to accompany this, I’m going to bundle them. And again, as a bundle, there’s no argument. Once again put in the shoes of a commander trying to save what’s left of the Earth, this game skips the invasion and goes straight to the destruction. The aliens have won and it’s your job to take back what little of the planet is left. The base of operations is now a reverse-engineered UFO giving the player total control over the business side of the game. The turn-based tactical combat is faster, more accessible, and exciting than ever before. Additionally, the number of alien-based enemies has increased and the mission variety was expanded even further than previous games. All in all, if you want tactical alien shooting action, you can’t do much better than XCOM 2.
153. Left 4 Dead (2008) | Various
Even though they’re omnipresent in every facet of pop culture, zombies overstayed their welcome years ago. They’re super popular and yet, there’s not a single person who isn’t sick of them. My theory is, the one good zombie related thing that comes out about every other year, is so good, it buys the entire sub-genre another year or so. One good zombie movie or show or comic or game is enough to make up for 400 odd days worth of garbage. Left 4 Dead was so good, it damn near bought them a decade. Built from the ground up to be a four player co-op experience (hence the name), the game auto assigns you a character and then throws you into a hellish fight for survival. You start with one weapon, one medkit and a single goal: just make it to the next safe room. Which is easier said than done. Because there’s not just endless hordes of zombies and special infected after you, there’s the ingeniously designed AI director that constantly mixes up spawn points and horde waves, so that every new game is a different experience.
152. Fallout 2 (1998) | PC
Moving away from its Mad Max inspired roots, the sequel takes place 80 years after the events of the previous game and 164 years after the war that turned the world into a post apocalyptic hellscape. It tells the story of the original hero’s descendant and their quest to save their primitive tribe from starvation by finding an ancient environmental restoration machine known as the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK). Considering it’s still regarded as one of the best RPGs of all time, I’m surprised there hasn’t been an effort to re-release this on modern consoles or even to remake. You could keep the original isometric camera angle or switch it to the contemporary FPS angle the series has now. My guess as to why they refuse to bring it back is simple — they know the series now would look inferior by comparison.
151. Arkanoid (1986) | Various
Breakout was the first of the brick breaking games but its fancy pants makeover Arkanoid is the one that kick-started a wave of imitators that’s still going strong today. Like all the other remakes of the time, it threw nothing but new ideas at the wall to see what stuck. Blasteroids (the x-treme Asteroids) added power-ups and boss battles, Gorf (Space Invaders clone) added a shield and Pac-Mania added bright colors and a tilted isometric view. Arkanoid kinda added all those things and more. There’s now a story if you can believe it (your paddle is actually a spacecraft flung from a larger mothership called Arkanoid into an alternate dimension filled with breakable blocks) and on top of that, there’s power-ups hidden behind certain blocks, opposing spaceships that will steal your balls (ha) and there even levels. Whether you know this as Arkanoid, Breakout or any number of different titles, there’s 0% chance you haven’t played this game before. It’s been a console staple for 35 years and it’s not going away any time soon.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?