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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
225. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) | Various
The indie sensation that single handedly kick-started the YouTube horror video game reaction trend and could be argued was the game to create and popularize Let’s Plays before Minecraft hit the scene, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is among a handful of games that actually warrants the exaggerated reactions and hyperbolic titles of the videos made about it. Set in a creepy ass estate that’s clearly haunted, you’re tasked with trying to uncover its secrets while also trying to find a way out with your sanity intact. The enemies in this come in two flavors: the kind you can see and the kind you can’t. And both are equally terrifying because you can’t fight back. You either have to run from them or hope you can find somewhere to hide. Due to their scarcity, you never know when they’ll pop up, which keeps you on the edge the entire time.
224. Fire Emblem Awakening (2012) | Nintendo 3DS
After twelve installments, most of which play and look identically, you’d assume a series had shown you every trick in its bag and was just on auto pilot at this point, but the Fire Emblem ain’t no one trick pony. The reason it’s had multiple sequels is the same reason its cultivated a strong following: each game offers a compelling narrative in addition to its incredible gameplay. The story of Chrom, Robin and their mission to rid the land of the undead horde the Risen (in addition to attacks from the hostile nation of Plegia) is a meaty enough steak to satisfy but the ability to build and foster relationships between characters to improve their abilities, is that kind of certain spice or seasoning that makes sure that steak stays with you for a long time.
223. Diablo (1997) | PC
You can tell David Brevik was the type of Dungeon Master that blasted Iron Maiden and Judas Priest during games of Dungeons & Dragons. Because instead of making a dungeon crawler filled with stereotypical fantasy shit like orcs and elves and the like, he made Diablo, a game in which you fight demons on quest to take on the Devil himself. Making dungeon crawlers metal AF is enough to put Brevik in the RPG Hall of Fame but Diablo isn’t a classic because it made it cool to play games targeted to nerds. It’s a classic because it effectively defined the action/RPG hybrid, creating a compelling loop of exploration, combat, and loot-collecting in randomly created dungeon crawls. Where other games were turn based affairs, Diablo gave players the sense of immediacy to their action. Since you have to click the mouse constantly for every action, you feel like you’re actively killing things instead of passively going through the motions.
222. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001) | Various
The first game was foundational to everything that came after it. It showed every other studio how to properly make a skateboarding game. It had classic levels, easy to pull off tricks and a good roaster of skaters but it was missing something: the manual. The sequel introduced that, along with a create a skater and a killer soundtrack. As good as a skater as it was (and some would argue it’s a perfect one), it, too, was missing a key ingredient: the revert. Reverts changed everything. They let you link big combos together in a way never seen before. You could, for example, hit up a vert ramp and do a big special trick, revert out of it, manual and then pop onto a rail and rack up a huge amount of points. It’s the franchise’s most important gameplay mechanic, and not including some of the latter game’s open world maps, it’s also the last essential addition to the Tony Hawk formula. Later games started to skew more towards the Jackass demographic, and while they’re certainly fun in their own right, none of them hold a candle to this one. This is the last great Tony Hawk game and it’s still one of the top five best within that genre.
221. Marble Madness (1984) | Arcade
Missile Command might’ve beaten it to the trackball, but Marble Madness utilizes it better than any other non golf related arcade game. Since the game requires you to navigate a ball through M. C. Escher inspired mazes, a joystick just wouldn’t work. You need the precision only a trackball can offer. That’s why Marble Madness is one of the few arcade games that’s really never been successfully ported to consoles. It’s an experience you have to have at the arcade. But a word of caution to those interested: this is a brutally hard game. It’s not just a timed race to the finish, it’s a puzzle of reflexes and frustration. You will die, you will curse the heavens and you’ll plop in quarter after quarter because of how addicting it is.
220. M.U.L.E. (1983) | Various
Even though she was the 10th inductee in the Academy of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame (making the cut before the creators of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto and Age of Empires) and her debut game, M.U.L.E. won every award imaginable at the time, few people know the name Danielle Bunten Berry or her contributions to video games. Even though her follow up was well regarded and is still fondly remembered enough to make the occasional greatest games of all time list, it was with M.U.L.E. that she changed video games forever. A four player competitive resource management game with no action or shooting anywhere in sight, the game prioritizes the thrill of collusion (temporarily scheming with another player to screw over another) instead and unbeatable feeling of forcing another player to spend more of their money because you refuse to sell anything. This and any other strategy you come up with, can and most likely will blow up in your face because for every strategy you can come up with, there’s a strategy to counter it. You need food in order to have more turns per round, energy to produce more food and a shortage of Smithore raises the price of M.U.L.E.s and prevents the store from manufacturing new M.U.L.E.s. There’s also random events that can help turn the tide for any player. It’s like a game of 5D chess or Rochambeau but with a thousand combinations.
219. Dance Dance Revolution (1998) | Arcade
An arcade cabinet built around the concept of “dancing” (hitting the directional pads with your feet in correspondence with the buttons on the screen), is a hard sell, especially in a no rhythm having ass country like America. First of all, the cabinet takes up a bunch of real estate, so whoever orders one is betting on it making at least as much money as two other cabinets. Secondly and more importantly, the game doesn’t hit one of the four key demos (fighting, shooting, sports and beat ’em ups) and it, like karaoke, can only be done by people with actual skill. You can’t accidentally be good at Dance Dance Revolution. Everyone who doesn’t have Saturday Night Fever moves, is going to look like an idiot playing it. But with everything stacked against it, it became a phenomenal success. There’s not an arcade around that hasn’t had one on the floor for at least the last fifteen years. Players just really like to dance. So much so, that there’s been about a gazillion sequels. It’s an arcade staple that helped popularize the rhythm game. Revolution indeed.
218. Super Bomberman (1993) | SNES
For a certain generation, Bomberman was the party game. Before Goldeneye, Smash Bros., and Halo, there was Bomberman. Since no one on planet Earth had a Saturn growing up (disregard if you were a rich kid and also go fuck yourself), Super Bomberman was the version most kids played. While the prospect of dominating nine other kids with explosions sounds incredible (the selling point of Saturn Bomberman was that it could accommodate ten players), it also comes with the downside of having to hang out with nine other kids. Thankfully, no one on Earth has more than two and the CPU is good enough that you can pretend he’s a real person but not annoying enough that you want to kick him out of your house. Before the internet, that’s what kids had to do — pretend the AI controlled opponent was real. Which sounds incredibly lame and sad until you remember everyone on the internet is horrible, so I’m going to say we had the better deal.
217. Peggle (2007) | Various
Balls. Pegs. Cute anthropomorphic animals. Classical music. Peggle has the perfect set of ingredients to make the ultimate relaxed puzzler. Inspired by pachinko and bagatelle, each level has the player shoot a limited supply of balls at a field of colored pegs to clear out specifically marked pegs. After a set number of levels, the player will receive a special power from a master that will effect the gameplay if enough colored pegs are hit. Some allow you to shoot multiple balls, some slow down time and others just cut a huge path with a boulder sized ball. With its addictive gameplay, constant series of rewards and joyous mood (an actual study showed that player’s experience a 45% decrease in depression after playing it), Peggle will have you actually fight yourself to stop playing it.
216. Shovel Knight (2014) | Various
Shovel Knight is a brilliant homage to a bygone era. A retro throwback to 16 bit action platformers that haven’t existed in ages. Yacht Club Games were inspired by the NES games of their youth and it shows. Everything about this game feels like a love letter to nostalgia in all the best ways. The chiptune soundtrack feels immediately recognizable but fresh at the same time. Kinda like the first time you play a new Mario title, you’d swear the soundtracks to all of those games had been with you your entire life even though they’re new to that game. The graphics are slightly better than what you’d find in a game from that time and the character designs are so striking, they would be iconic by this point if it actually released then. There’s not a single video game magazine at that time that wouldn’t have told Mario to watch his ass (or the PG equivalent) because there’s a new competitor in town. If Shovel Knight came out then, Nintendo would’ve had to step up considerably to make sure they were definitely the top dog (which would’ve resulted in an even better 3) or they would’ve fumbled it due to expectations. Either way, Yacht Club would’ve made the industry change around them. I know this because their game came out 30 years after the fact, when everyone was obsessed with triple A big budget games and no one was playing old-school platformers and it fucking destroyed the competition.
215. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018) | Wii U
With the news that Kazuya from the Tekken series will be the latest to join the overflowing roster of fighters, Smash Bros. Ultimate is hell-bent on living up to it’s name and then some. It wants to be the ultimate fighting game and the thing is, it was at launch. It just keeps getting bigger and better with each new DLC pack. It features a wide variety of game modes, including a campaign for single-player (called World of Light which is so big, I doubt very many actually completed it) and multiplayer versus modes. There’s also over 80 playable fighters and growing. Everyone from Duck Hunt Dog to Bayonetta to Joker from the Persona series. Whenever Nintendo makes another console, they’re just going to port over this and add shit to it because there’s no point in making another one. It’s the ultimate fighting game.
214. FIFA 15 (2014) | Various
Since each entry in the FIFA series has you do the exact same thing game after game (you run around after a soccer ball and even you get close enough, you either kick it to a teammate or you kick it in the goal), it’s the additional modes that players respond to. FIFA 10 didn’t introduce much in terms of new content but instead, it just improved upon what was already established. Fifty key improvements were made to Manager Mode, making it the most robust at the time. They also overhauled Virtual Pro (their build-a-character mode) to include a wide array of different creation tools and it also acts as a story mode, since you can take your creation through Four Be a Pro seasons. There’s also the different stadiums you can customize and the Ultimate Team mode, where you can collect cards of players to create your, well, ultimate team. All this and the tight gameplay the series is known for make this the best FIFA yet.
213. Ikaruga (2001) | Various
Ikaruga blends shoot ’em up and puzzle play by utilizing a unique color-switching mechanic that lets you absorb black bullets when your ship is black and white bullets when your ship is white but whatever color you are, you’re vulnerable to the other and vice versa. You have to constantly switch back and forth while also somehow pay attention to what you’re doing. But if you can manage to not get hit for long enough, the absorbed bullets fill a gauge that lets you unleash a massive attack that lets you dish big damage to the mechanical monstrosities. It’s a hectic “shmup” that feels like it’s utilizing both sides of your brain simultaneously. It will give your thumbs a callus, it will make your eyes bleed and it will make you curse the heavens but you will not stop playing it because after five minutes, you’ll be obsessed.
212. Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) | PS4, PC
The Killzone games (remember when everyone thought the first was going to be a Halo killer? Man, we were all way off) are decent shooters but even if they were great, I doubt anyone would’ve been able to predict how good Guerrilla Games’ next game would be. Horizon Zero Dawn is an action RPG lite with a killer universe and an even better protagonist. You would think a game centered around post apocalyptic cavemen fighting robotic dinosaurs would be the best thing about it but it’s just the sprinkles on an already delicious sundae. Hunting giant mechanical beasts is a thrill thanks to tactics-rich combat and steady player progression, and thanks to a great stealth mechanic, combat never grows old. Exploration is also a treat due to every location looking gorgeous and other worldly. And while all of that is laudable, it’s Aloy (voiced by Ashly Burch) who’s really the best thing about it. Her journey to discover where she comes from is as compelling as the world she inhabits is unique. After just one game (and one excellent DLC), she’s already a shoe in for a best video game characters list. She, along with everything else it does flawlessly, helps Horizon Zero Dawn be one of the best open world games out there.
211. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) | Various
The Deus Ex series has may maintained a consistent level of quality since the first game and because of that, fans are split on which game is the best. The original has the best story and is obviously the most influential but Human Revolution has the best skill system and protagonist. The sequels of both do a great job of improving the mechanics of either title but at the end of the day, they’re just building off what these two created. The level of immersion and customization offered here is unparalleled. Human Revolution gives you total freedom to play however you see fit and never guides your hand to the “right” way.
210. Battlefield 2 (2005) | PC
Battlefield 2 raised the bar for not just the series, but also the FPS genre itself. Finally moving away from WW2 and Vietnam, It was the first Battlefield game to take place in the modern era and has a suitably epic story involving a high-stakes war between some of the world’s biggest superpowers to go along with the change. But you no one played this game for the story, you played it because of its top notch multiplayer. It has an online multiplayer mode that lets players team up to six soldiers and on top of that, the game features an immersive and wide variety of different maps ready to be explored. The Bad Company series of sequels may have expanded upon and arguably improved everything found here but this is still the highest-rated Battlefield game to date and is also one of the longest. A completionist run averages close to one hundred hours of gameplay. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. Pun intended.
209. Ridge Racer (1993) | PS1
It’s been nearly a decade since the last game in the series (the pretty good but ultimately ill-fated Ridge Racer Unbounded) and since no one is really clamoring for more, I doubt we’ll ever hear the announcer famously yell out “riiiiiiidge raaaaacer” again. But there was a time when this series was as regular as clockwork and as dependable as Tom Hanks, with an entry debuting with each of Sony’s latest console launches. The PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, and PS Vita all arrived with a Ridge Racer game in tow and hell, even the Nintendo DS and Xbox 360 had themselves a day one Ridge Racer. It’s easy to see why: the game was as close to arcade perfect as you could get. Since Daytona USA and Outrun (for the most part) stayed in arcades, that crowd was hungry for that kind of at home experience and Ridge Racer was more than happy to fill the need.
208. Adventure (1980) | Atari 2600
This game is one of the biggest examples of why you have to judge things within the time period of when they came out. Now, not a single person under the age of fifty would spend more than five minutes with this and that’s if they already had fond memories of it. Adventure is undeniably important and influential and deserves its place within the pantheon of video game royalty for introducing new elements to console games, including a play area spanning multiple screens and enemies that continue to move when offscreen. It also included the first Easter egg and is technically a precursor to the open world game. It deserved every award it received and probably deserved more than it got. But as important as it is, it’s also so dated as to be practically unplayable. The player controls a square that must navigate a maze that’s guarded by what looks like a malformed rubber chicken. It’s supposed to be a dragon but that ain’t no dragon. If it was still played today, it would rank considerably higher. This is how high it ranked without anyone touching it in 30 years, which just goes to show how big it was then that we’re still talking about it.
207. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995) | SNES
Nintendo filled this game with nothing but energetic bounciness, feel good vibes and innovation and yet, the only thing you seem to remember, is the fact that Baby Mario is annoying as fuck. Admittedly, the wailing cry he lets out when he floats away every time Yoshi gets hit is worse than two pterodactyls screeching at each other, but that’s literally the only slight flaw with this game. Super Mario World was a tremendous success for the Super NES when it released in 1991, so all eyes were on Nintendo to see how they were going to follow it up. They somehow made a sequel better than 3, so whatever this was going to be, it was going to be amazing. What no one expected, was for them to change things up so much. First of all, you don’t control Mario. Second of all, the graphics look like a half colored in coloring book you’d find at a preschool and lastly, it doesn’t control anything like any other Mario game. They took a chance on something new and at the time, the reception was mixed but over time, it’s gotten the due it always deserved. It also acted as a launching point for Yoshi’s own spin-off series which is still going strong today.
206. Max Payne (2001) | Various
After The Matrix, every single Goddamn thing in existence started using Bullet Time. Sometimes it was a parody and others times it was serious but regardless, everyone started doing it and none of them were half as good as Max Payne. It’s a hard-boiled detective story that mixes noir, John Woo and bullet time to great effect. The soundtrack, story and inner monologues are all Raymond Chandler and Sin City, while the slow-mo gunfights are all Hong Kong action. Diving towards or away from someone while slowly dodging bullets while simultaneously shooting at them feels like a game breaking cheat but since it never stops being fun, it doesn’t matter. Both sequels are arguably better but there’s just something about this one that has stayed with players longer.
205. Soul Caliber (1998) | Arcade, Dreamcast
Before there was Soul Caliber, there was Soul Edge. While obviously dated now, it was innovative at the time due to its focus weapons rather than bare fists, and because the characters could side-step between the background, middle ground and foreground during a fight. Players weren’t limited to a flat playing field, which dramatically changed the game. Furthermore your weapon could actually break if you blocked too much, promoting a more aggressive playstyle. It added a ton of new mechanics but it wouldn’t be until the sequel where the series really shined. Soul Caliber introduced several new characters, most of which would become fan favorites, improved the graphics and sound but its biggest contribution is the famous 8-way run system. This allowed fighters to move freely all over the fighting ring, not just three separate lanes like the previous one. All the sequels (minus V and that garbage one released for the Wii) are all better, but they wouldn’t exist without this one.
204. Pong (1972) | Various
Often erroneously referred to as the first video game ever made (that honor belongs to Spacewar!), Pong is however, the first important video game ever made. It turned a niche into an industry and while it would die about a decade later (video games were all but dead before the Nintendo Entertainment System came out), for that brief amount of time, it had a stranglehold on the youth of the 70s. Every kid in that decade had an Atari and every Atari owning kid had Pong. It was impossible to own the console without it. Since it was the new hip thing to do, everyone got into and due to its impossibly easy controls (you control a paddle up and down to try and stop a ball from entering your goal), everyone could play it. Nowadays, it’s boring as shit to watch, let alone play but due to its enormous importance, it more than earns a spot on this and any other list. Respect the OGs.
203. What Remains of Edith Finch (2017) | Various
Edith returns to her family’s bizarre ancestral home and learns about her relatives and their deaths by visiting their bedrooms. Since each room is sealed off, like a shrine to be preserved for all time, getting into each one is a mini puzzle and once you’re inside, the game plays out from their perspective like an anthology of mini experiences. Each one ending in a predictably morbid fashion. Why Edith is suddenly fascinated by her family’s supposed curse is a mystery as is the curse itself. The former has a definitive answer but the latter does not. Why the Finch’s all die at a relative young age is never explained and the game doesn’t try to let them off the hook. Even if you solved what the curse is, if anything, that’s not going to bring them back. That’s the point. You’re supposed to come to terms with their inevitable fates and honor them by remembering their stories. Which isn’t hard to do since each one will stick with you forever.
202. Streets of Rage 2 (1992) | Arcade, Sega Genesis
One year has passed since Adam, Axel, and Blaze successfully defeated Mr. X and broke the Syndicate Crime Organization’s hold on the city. Peace has returned to the streets, the once-vacant neighborhoods are being repopulated, and prosperity has returned to the city. But since this is a beat ’em up, you already know that peace will be short-lived. Less than six panels of text and plot later, Adam is kidnapped, Mr. X is back and Axel and Blaze are the only two that can go rescue him. On their way, they encounter a number of his goons and thugs (now with health bars and names) and proceed to punch and kick the shit out of all of them. The beat ’em ups that have had the biggest impact on the scene, are the ones that nail the combat, have easy to learn combos and perfectly balanced difficulty. Not too hard that it constantly eats my quarters but not that easy that I’m whipping through it. Streets of Rage 2 has stood the test of time, it’s because it does of those things and many, many more
201. Bejeweled (2001) | Various
This game was downloaded 150 million times, which meant that just about half of everyone with an internet connection in the world at that time played it at least once. Before Farmville and Angry Birds, this was the game everyone who wasn’t a gamer was playing and the success of which lead directly to Candy Crush, a game most of you still get invites from your Aunts on Facebook to play. Bejeweled is a tile-matching puzzle game that requires the player to clear gems of the same color, potentially causing a chain reaction. In addition to the standard Classic and Timed modes, there was also an add-on exclusive to the WoW edition called Flight mode, wherein the game begins when the player takes a flight from one in-game location to another, with the goal to score as high as possible before they reach their destination. This version added achievements to the game, as well as a levelling system. Whether you played it as part of WoW with all the fancy bells and whistles or by itself, either way, it still holds up as one of the best time sucks in gaming.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?