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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
200. Night in the Woods (2017) | Various
I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to sell someone on Night in the Woods and I honestly didn’t know how to do it. I don’t even know how to accurately describe what it is. A story heavy, character focused platformer filled with anthropomorphic animals all dealing with real life problems (being stuck in a dead end job, the anxiety of starting a new life from nothing, crushing debt, crippling depression, etc.) that takes an interesting turn in the last couple of hours that completely changes what kind of game it is. That’s what it is. Why it’s great, is everything I can’t explain. The little moments between characters, the interactions and events you’ll most likely miss on your first playthrough, the mini games that don’t really progress the story but offer nothing but fun diversions, the thrill of starting each day just roaming the town, finding what new thing or person you haven’t encountered yet. Night in the Woods is a lot of game (you have to beat it at least twice to see everything) but even if it just offered nothing but its incredible story, that would be enough.
199. Zork (1980) | PC
West of House. You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. That opening text is among the most famous descriptions in computer games. It’s been referenced and parodied endlessly and if you’re old enough, it just transported you back in time to fantastical dungeons you had to map out yourself with graph paper. Directly inspired by the first text adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure. Zork improved upon that game in terms of both the quality of the storytelling and the sophistication of its text parser, which was not limited to simple verb-noun commands (“hit troll”), but recognized some prepositions and conjunctions (“hit the troll with the Elvish sword”). It elevated the text adventure game and is still champion of the genre. And if you want to play it, it’s an Easter egg in the game Call of Duty: Black Ops.
198. Pole Position (1982) | Arcade
Pole Position is to racing games, what Mario is to platformers. Both were massively influential (many consider this to be the most influential racing game ever), hugely successful (this was the highest grossing arcade cabinet for two years running and was still in the top five two years after that) and were popular enough to get sequels, spin offs and even a Saturday Morning Cartoon. The early 80s were owned by this game. Which makes me wonder why it isn’t still around today? The sequel was also a hit, so it’s kinda baffling why we’re not hip deep in 30 of ’em by now. My only guess would be that the creators just didn’t want to taint the brand. They wanted you to think of this game when you said the words ‘Pole Position’ and by association, think of it when you think of driving games and forty years later, we still do.
197. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) | Various
The CoD series has dominated the FPS landscape for nearly twenty years now and I’d say a portion of that success belongs to Modern Warfare 2. It could be argued that everything released after this is just ripping it off. The big set pieces, the size of the multiplayer, the memorable campaign and the infamous “No Russian” level solidified this title as an all timer. The only thing fan favorite Black Ops has that this doesn’t is Gary Oldman and zombies. And as much as I love both of them, I don’t think this game really needs either of them. I won’t call them gimmicks but there’s a reason why every game now has a zombie mode. It’s a lazy way for Activision to guarantee a profit. Back in the day, games needed to offer gamers experiences that no one else was in order to be a guaranteed hit and Modern Warfare 2 does that and then some.
196. EverQuest (1999) | PC
EverQuest was the first commercially successful MMORPG to employ a 3D game engine, which means it is solely responsible for future successes like RuneScape and World of Warcraft. It didn’t raise the bar, it completely obliterated it. I can’t imagine what critics and other reviewers said about it at the time. What do you compare it to? The only other game like it was Ultima Online but that had fewer subscribers, less bells and whistles and wasn’t as focused on co-operative play. EverQuest had everything a role player could ask for. Sure it was filled with bugs and was janky and had a low frame rate and the combat was a tad boring but once you and a friend(s) just started walking around together, the call to adventure would be so powerful, there’s no way you weren’t going to lose many a night of sleeping to this.
195. Plants vs Zombies (2009) | Various
Tower defense games are, for the most part, historical military games like set during the crusades or whenever Genghis Khan was doing whatever the hell he was doing. I’m not a history major and I’m not a fan of making assumptions but when I see a castle, archers and catapults, my mind immediately thinks of the past and most of the games in this sub-genre contain all three of those things. The creators of Plants vs Zombies recognized the sameness of all the titles and decided to shake things up. They ditched all that history shit and instead decided to set the war in your backyard. At the start of each round, you get a quick glimpse of the types of zombies you’ll be facing that level, all of which have their own district strengths and weaknesses. You have six lanes to plant your plants (some of which are offensive, some are defensive and the rest are needed to collect sun that allows you to plant more plants) to form your strategy. For a silly game with a ridiculous premise, there’s a fair amount of actual strategy involved. Don’t let its sense of humor fool you — It’s deceptively deep.
194. Heroes of The Storm (2015) | PC
Blizzard, after realizing they had a huge roster of characters, decided to capitalize on this by throwing all of ’em into a Defense of the Ancients inspired MOBA. Featuring characters and battlegrounds based on Warcraft, Diablo, StarCraft, and Overwatch universes, Heroes of the Storm is a five player team versus game where one team must defeat the other teams base or as it’s called in this game the “King’s Core”. As you can tell, it’s a basic competitive multiplayer game and that’s precisely why it’s so good. The genre is typically unforgiving to newcomers but Blizzard simplified it where anyone can easily jump in and play. And since the game has characters from all of their franchises, it’s insanely easy to play for hours and hours trying to unlock your favorite one.
193. Shenmue (1999) | Dreamcast
Don’t be fooled by the cult surrounding this game, Shenmue is, first and foremost, a glorified tech demo. The plot and characters are incidental. What everyone loves about this game is its truly revolutionary gameplay. That’s not to say it’s good, but at the time, this was mind-blowing. Grand Theft Auto III was still two years off, so this was many players first experience with an open world game. And since the game functions like real life as opposed to a fantasy sandbox, there’s still nothing quite like it. You have to get a job (which, like in real life, is boring and monotonous), you have to pay money to play mini games (which, like in real life, may not always be fun), you can gamble, talk to anyone you see and train to get better at fights. Unlike other games where you start off a badass, in Shenmue, you have to train for hours to be able to handle just one guy. You encounter more than one? You better run your ass away and get to the gym. If this sounds boring as hell to you, that’s understandable. This is just a shell of a game that every other open world would fill in with actual gameplay but seeing as how they needed the shell in the first place, Shenmue deserves its place in gaming history.
192. Rainbow Six: Siege (2015) | Various
It’s a simple concept: one team of players defends a building from the inside, while the other team attempts to infiltrate and eliminate. Ubisoft Montreal squeezed every drop of potential out of the idea and gave us Rainbow Six: Siege, a shooter unlike any other. From the balanced tactical gameplay to the destructible environments, the game is calibrated perfectly and breathes new life into the Rainbow Six franchise in a creative, clever way. It’s one of the best close-quarters shooters we’ve played in the last 10 years, and to this day, jumping back into Siege is always an intense affair. If you’re a fan of the tactical gameplay of campaigns post, I feel bad for you because we both know that this is what the series is going to be from now on. Siege offers an experience unlike any other game, so instead of letting someone try and weasel in and take over their turf, they’ve wisely decided to stay there forever.
191. Fallout (1997) | PC
The first Fallout laid down the foundations for the retro-futuristic world we all know and love. A mixture of the post apocalyptic setting of Mad Max, with some story elements from the obscure Radioactive Dreams, the game is set in the year 2161, Vault 13 is where you take up residence and when the vault comes under threat, you venture out into the Wasteland to protect it. Many fans who came to the series much later might be put off at first glance by the style and look of the top down RPG, but it was a pivotal title in its own way for establishing much of what we see in later entries. With branching dialogue, multiple approaches to solving quests, NPCs to encounter, companions, and the classic Special skills system, it has all the hallmarks of post-apocalyptic world we’ve become so accustomed to. It even introduces the Karma system which we see throughout the series that affects the way the world views your character. By today’s standards it is pretty dated, and the UI really hasn’t aged well, but if you can get past all that it’s a historical throwback that’s worth returning to for the story alone.
190. Tekken 3 (1997) | PS1
For a fighting game that’s 25 years old, it’s insane how well Tekken 3 holds up. If you were old enough to be a fan of the two previous games, there’s no way you weren’t impressed by its roster of fighters. Unlike the Street Fighter games that trickle in a couple of fighters every couple of years, this game damn near wiped the slate clean and introduced far more newer faces than returning ones. And to continue to throw the king of fighting games under the bus (the king of fighting games, not The King of Fighters) Namco wasn’t satisfied with just throwing in some new fighters and levels and calling it a day. They refined the combat in a number of key ways, such as limiting jump heights and adding new evasive maneuvers (which include sidestepping). They also introduced 10-hit combos (which is still one of the most satisfying things to pull off outside of fatalities in fighting games) and a character (Lei Wulong) who had so many individual fighting stances, they could’ve split him up into 3 separate fighters. It offered about as much as a fighting game could back then and it still plays great today.
189. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (2005) | Various
After the disappointing second entry, the series went backwards to tell the origin story of Dante and his never-ending feud with his brother and future series antagonist Virgil. The decision to rewind the clock payed off because it’s still considered the best campaign story in the franchise. Their feud served as an excellent back drop to a number of great set pieces. In addition its in-depth story and excellent characters, Devil May Cry 3 featured nearly perfect combat and boss battles. Every conversation and encounter was meaningful and bosses were not just mere obstacles in your way. Many of them, like Cerberus or Agni and Rudra, were exceptionally memorable. It all showcased just how impactful a prequel can be if done correctly, and Capcom nailed it.
188. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1993) | Sega Genesis
After the divisive 3rd entry (you gotta stick with it, it gets better as it goes), Sega went back to the drawing board in order to win back the fans. For this entry, they kept the series hallmarks like turn-based combat and top-down exploration in place but put an increased emphasis on exploration and storytelling, as well as the introduction of new combination mechanics in the battle system helped make this the definitive entry in the Phantasy Star series. While Online was the right move for the series at the time, if Sega kept pumping out games like The End of the Millennium, they honestly could’ve had a go at Final Fantasy. That’s how remarkably good this title is.
187. Angry Birds (2009) | Various
When the World Video Game Hall of Fame was created in 2015, Angry Birds was among the first wave of the nominees that didn’t make the cut. Usually a game not making a list of the best things of all time isn’t an accomplishment but the fact that enough people voted for its inclusion that it was in contention at all, is a true testament to this games enduring popularity. One of the most successful mobile games in history, Angry Birds was, at one time, an unstoppable juggernaut. If you thought everyone in your life catching Pokémon Go fever for like a month was insane, you clearly don’t remember how omnipresent this game was. What Fortnite Let’s Plays and Roblox are for this generation, Angry Birds was for the previous one. And while it’s not as popular as it once was, it’s still got at least one foot wedged tight in the industry. There’s still movies and shows being produced based on it and the game is still being downloaded. Pretty impressive for a game all about animal abuse.
186. The Oregon Trail (1971) | PC
Since kids today have literally everything on their phones, they aren’t as easily enticed by the prospect of “edutainment”. Schools used to commission shows and games to offer interactive “fun” that also acted like a Trojan horse for all sorts of learn’n. The shows, like Sesame Street and School House Rock! were awesome, while the games were almost universally terrible. The sole exception being The Oregon Trail. There wasn’t a kid alive in the ’80s through around ’95 that didn’t love playing this in school. Naming all the characters after your buddies and guessing which one (if any) made it to the end was great because it was a different outcome every time. Some of typhoid, some drowned and most died of cholera. It was always cholera. The 1985 version is the most well known one but did you know there’s a version that goes back all the way to 1971 Which makes this older than Pong.
185. Donkey Kong Country (1994) | SNES
More than a decade after his first appearance, Donkey Kong finally got his own chance to shine and shine he did. Rare set out to turn Mario’s old rival into his new competition by crafting the finest 32 bit platformer of the day and while it falls short of Super Mario World’s brilliance, it does come remarkably close to matching it. The graphics were arguably the greatest on the system of the time, with advanced polygonal sprites and backgrounds. The soundtrack is just as good as anything Koji Kondo ever did, which is effusive praise considering Kondo is the John Williams of video game music. The levels are memorable, the difficulty is punishing but doable and the two player mode created hours upon hours of couch co-op goodness. The reason Nintendo didn’t buy Rare (the creator of this game and the best third party developer Nintendo ever collaborated with) is because Shigeru Miyamoto wasn’t a fan of this game with the the reason being that he didn’t like the graphics. I never bought that bologna. I think he was afraid that if they kept making Donkey Kong games, they’d eventually overtake Mario and I think he’s right, they would’ve.
184. Centipede (1980) | Arcade
Centipede is proof positive that games cannot be properly adapted to any other media. There’s been movies about giant killer bugs before sure, but in all of those animal attack movies and bug movies and even those Kaiju movies, was the lead a gnome protecting his mushrooms? No, of course he wasn’t because that’s ridiculous. Imagine a novel with that premise. Not even Stephen King could make it work and he’s the king (no pun intended) of making stupid shit working. It’s silly but in the realm of video games, the shit is intense. Centipede was one of the most heart pumping, white knuckle arcade games of its era. It’s essentially the last enemy of Space Invaders for its entire duration. You have to shoot a giant, snake like centipede who’s weaving around your mushrooms, so you have to quickly figure out its path and take him down before he gets you. It’s classic of the 8 bit era and will live on for all eternity. Because of, not in spite of its premise. Dona Bailey made centipedes scary and almost makes gnomes cool. Almost.
183. Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1995) | PC, PS1
Red Alert refined Command and Conquer’s blueprint for a fantastic RTS. It featured the same gameplay but with a huge number of new units and buildings, set in a more interesting alternate history cold war where Hitler never took power and World War II was fought against Stalin and Soviet Russia instead. Tesla Coils and Chronospheres set the tone of this new, weird-science world, and the expanded variety in units and buildings made Red Alert’s gameplay even better than its predecessor. It applied that extra depth and polish that made C&C’s classic gameplay into something that stands the test of time—even today, Red Alert’s combination of infantry, vehicles and defenses make for challenging and satisfying battles, which is why many fans still play the game against each other online through the open source remake OpenRA.
182. Ninja Gaiden (1988) | NES
Some games make you pull out your hair in frustration. Others make you punch your own leg or throw your controller against the wall. Ninja Gaiden will make you grab a ladder, go outside and climb on top of your roof in a feeble attempt to tear open Heaven to punch God in the face for allowing this to happen. Someone needs to be punished for this crime against humanity, so it might as well be the Almighty. To call this platformer hard would be an understatement. It breaks even the most hardcore gamers. But unlike other infamous games of that era like the sewer level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the jet ski segment in Battletoads, this can be beaten and it’s never not fun enough that you’ll be deterred from trying. If all it brought to the table was its difficulty, no one would care and it wouldn’t be remembered today. But the fact that gamers still love this game in spite of the fact it kicked they’re asses is a true testament to its quality.
181. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2014) | Various
Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl saw the raised eyebrows and mild controversy their little flash game was getting and instead of pulling back and making their follow up something more palatable, they instead decided to double down on that controversy for the remake. The Binding of Issac: Rebirth has a story that would make V. C. Andrews vomit herself to death and she’s an author that turned incest into a million dollar industry. Poor deformed little Isaac has just escaped his insane Mother’s attempts to sacrifice him in the name of God and finds himself in their basement. From there, the game takes place within the mind of a broken child. Its dungeon after dungeon of nightmare imagery and rogue like combat with your own tears being your weapon of choice. It’s difficult subject matter handled as hard as possible. The duo don’t try and sugar coat the horrific imagery or downplay the harsh reality of the story. It’s a brutal tale and an uncompromised vision. Few stories have the balls to go this far and even fewer roguelikes are this addicting. The Binding of Isaac is a messed up masterpiece unlike anything else.
180. Super Meat Boy (2010) | Various
Due to the fact that it hit right at the beginning of the indie revival and because of its appearance in Indie Games The Movie, Super Meat Boy is one of a small handful of titles that is synonymous with the indie game scene. The titular anthropomorphic pile of meat might as well be the Mario of indie games. Not just because of his instantly iconic look but because he, and the game he was in, breathed new life into the platformer. Mario in many ways created the platformer as we know it and while it had a solid run, for the last decade and some change, it grew stagnant, with very few titles offering much in terms of innovation or creativity. That is of course, until Meat Boy came along. He proved that all the genre really needed was a healthy dose of extreme difficulty. Mario was and still is a game series for everyone, so it only makes sense that the next evolution of the genre world be for the the most hardcore of gamers. It’s definitely catering to masochists, the very patient and the casual gamers who derive enjoyment from watching others play on YouTube or Twitch. Because of the survival precision involved, it’s just as entertaining to watch as it is to play. Which not even Mario can claim.
179. Gears of War 2 (2008) | Xbox 360
Gears of War 2 is, in many ways, the perfect sequel. New weapons, characters, game modes (the Horde Mode, which became a series staple, started here), locations and ways to play cemented this sequel as something bigger and better than its predecessor and after three sequels and a spin-off, is still considered the best in the series. Not because of all the features I just mentioned or the incredible multiplayer or the fantastic co-op but because of the relationship between Dom and Marcus. What started off as a sci-fi dudebro Expendables, evolved into a legit tale of friendship and camaraderie. It’s impossible not to love these two meaty lunkheads and their love for each other is undeniable. As good as 5 is, the series will never reach the heights of this simply because you can’t duplicate that bond.
178. Limbo (2010) | Various
A black and white puzzle platformer that is designed as a “trial by death”, Limbo is the first game to evoke Dario Argento’s ability of making death beautiful. Because the puzzles are designed as traps that you’ll most likely fall for, the game is highlighting your failures so that you know what to do the second time but since all of them are grotesquely gorgeous, you don’t mind failing multiple times. It’s hard but fair and logical. You should approach each puzzle wondering “now how an I supposed to do this?” and then walk away thinking “damn, that was clever”. It makes you feel smarter because you put yourself in their mindset and they’re clearly geniuses. Geniuses that know how to make black a white graphics somehow more lively than color, puzzles that will break your brain and then convince you that you were the clever one for putting it together and trial and error somehow rewarding.
177. Outrun (1986) | Various
No racing game has made a car look cooler than this game does with the Ferrari Testarossa Spider. With its cherry red paint job and muscular frame, it’s the ultimate drifting machine. And because the cabinet was modeled to look like the car itself, you feel like the ultimate badass while driving it. After scoring hits with Hang-On and Enduro Racer, developer Yu Suzuki decided to press his luck one more time but this time, with a car racing game instead of a motorcycle one. After ditching the idea to base the game on the Cannonball Run, he decided instead to fine tune the engine he already made and improve what was already great. What he would eventually end up with is Out Run, the most successful racing game of its era. It had superior graphics to anything else, a respectable number of courses and the best controls of the time. Those are probably why it won every award imaginable at the time, was the most successful game of all time for a bit and is still considered one of the most important racing games ever.
176. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (2002) | GameCube
I don’t think there was a gamer alive that was excited for this game when it was first announced. The cel shaded graphics made it look like a kiddie game, with Link now looking like Hermey from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer being the most egregious change. After it came out, half of its dissenters were fully on board and I’d say it within five years even the most ardent contrarians were won over. Because it’s impossible to not love this title. The sailing is a bit tedious and some sneaking levels go on a bit too long (it’s not perfect but few things are) but the trademark Zelda fundamentals are all here and are arguably better than in most titles. Since it’s open world and since there’s no guardian constantly hindering your progress by telling where you have to go every five minutes (I’m looking at you Navi), you’re free to set sail on a quest for adventure. The dungeons are optional, and are merely there to give you something to do. As is most of the side quests. Because it’s player choice forward, Wind Waker properly captures the spirit of adventure and exploration that is at the very heart of Zelda.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?