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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
25. Super Mario 64 (1996) | N64
It’s kind of mind blowing how many times Mario has changed the landscape of gaming. He’s not just in a bunch of good games, his mere presence seems to signify a groundbreaking leap within the industry. Time after time, his games have either inspired everything around them or straight up created genres. Kart racing wasn’t a thing before Super Mario Kart, and the same can be said about whatever genre you want to call Smash Bros. And those are just the spin offs he’s in. The main games are twice as important and influential, if a thing could be possible. The first one created the platformer, the third perfected it and Mario 64 nailed its transition to 3D. Figuring out how to navigate the camera so that the player is never confused or disoriented, must’ve been a near impossible challenge since no one had done it before. It’s the perfect distance behind Mario, so that he and whatever the player is looking at in the distance is always in frame. It set forth a blueprint that most 3D games would follow for years to come. Not just platformers mind you, every game used this as an example of how to nail the camera. But that’s just what it did for gaming, which is not why you loved it as a kid. You loved it for its open-ended stages, tight gameplay, fun boss battles, outstanding score, faultless level design, amazing (for the time) graphics and what can only be described as that trademark Mario feel.
24. Chrono Trigger (1995) | SNES
Since they take so long to complete and are so engrossing, the best RPGs leave gamers with what can only be described as a “now what do I do?” feeling. It’s hard to leave behind a world you’ve been inhabiting for so long and characters you’ve become attached to. Most gamers move on to other games, usually something similar to scratch the itch but the true die-hards will boot the same game up and play it all over again. The developers must’ve known that this would be the case with Chrono Trigger because not only does it have multiple endings, it introduced New Game +, an unlockable game mode that allows players to replay the game with all of their items and stats intact but at a higher difficulty. It was a game changer but even if it didn’t include it, gamers would still be tempted to play it again anyways. That’s how strong the story is and how immensely likable the characters are. I mean, it has a time travel story to rival Back to the Future and one of your teammates is an anthropomorphic sword wielding frog. It doesn’t get much better than this.
23. Super Metroid (1994) | SNES
Loosely built on the bones of the original Metroid, Super Metroid sent players back to planet Zebes but this return trip was no mere rehash, however. While the overall arrangement of Super Metroid’s underground labyrinth closely resembles the broad strokes of its NES predecessor, here that environment has been both fleshed out and greatly expanded. To help combat the back tracking, which was a pain in the original due to obtuse navigational puzzles and hidden passages being a little too hidden, the game comes with a visor that scans for both and an auto mapping feature. The game wants to recreate the feeling of being lost on an alien planet from the first but also wanted to help the player with just enough gadgets so not to get frustrated. It also took the alien planet concept to heart and filled the game with an otherworldly ambience. The score is haunting and some environments are downright creepy. Nintendo, for whatever reason, decided that Metroid was going to be the one franchise that could go a tad darker than the rest and the developers took that as a challenge. It never gets PG-13 but, the title screen does have multiple corpses lying on the floor. A sign of ominous things to come. One of the high-water marks of the 16-bit era, Super Metroid introduced players to a near-perfect synthesis of game mechanics, world design, and an embedded narrative that is yet to be topped.
22. Bioshock (2007) | Xbox 360, PC
After the plane your on suddenly crashes into the sea, you find yourself on a mysterious lighthouse with bathysphere that takes you to a forgotten underwater dystopia. Cut off from the world, Rapture is a time capsule of when it was created (1940s) and has been left to rot by Andrew Ryan, the man who created it. But the city’s turbulent decline is the least of your worries. The majority of its residents have been driven mad by ADAM, a genetic material created by sea slugs and harvested by the mutated Little Sisters, who are guarded by walking tanks known as Big Daddies. To combat this, there are plasmids the player can acquire from vending machines that give them a variety of powers, such as fire, electricity and others. There’s a lot going on in this game, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of its themes and mythology. Heavily inspired by the works of Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley and using Levine’s previous game System Shock 2 as its template, Bioshock delivers a story heavy action horror game unlike anything else.
21. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991) | SNES
Nintendo wisely decided to release their flagship titles about once per console, which automatically made each new Mario and Zelda an event. There was only one Zelda game released for the SNES but since everyone just kept replaying it, it didn’t need another one. With its beautifully rendered cartoon graphics (which was a departure at the time), ethereal score that instantly transports you to a fantasy world and hits that nostalgic button the second you hear a couple of notes, tight gameplay, rewarding exploration, fun story and a cast of indelible characters, A Link to the Past created what many believe is the perfect Zelda game and personally, I agree. There’s not a single flaw to find anywhere in this game and more so, it holds up astonishingly well, which can’t be said about every game in the franchise.
20. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Doom introduced fast paced gun play and created the template for the modern survival horror game. Half-Life was the first to incorporate scripted environmental things, such as a monster popping out from a vent or a tentacle busting through a wall. Halo perfected console gameplay and its sequel had the best multiplayer ever. Arguably. While Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare wasn’t the first game to introduce leveling up and unlocks, it was definitely the game that popularized it. It also introduced the idea of killstreaks and custom loadouts, which are now key parts of the franchise. These things might seem standard today, but they were new and innovative at the time. It also featured a fantastic campaign that was filled with unforgettable moments. All Ghillied Up is still one of the best levels I’ve ever played in any game ever. Full stop. The influence this game had on the entire industry, for better and for worse, can still be felt today.
19. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Before Geralt of Rivia became every woman’s new favorite thirst trap thanks to Cavill’s impossibly hot face, he was every gamers power fantasy due to the Witcher 3. Looking badass while killing underlings and monsters is one thing, but having sex on a unicorn is a level of wish fulfillment not thought possible. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones is cool and all but The Witcher was the first fantasy story to have a cool protagonist who appealed to both men and women. Fellas wanted to be him and the ladies wanted to be with him and vice versa. He has that universal appeal not seen since Patrick Swayze walked the Earth. Some of that is due to his looks, some of it is due to his actions but most of it was because of the writing. CD Projekt Red raised the RPG genre’s storytelling stakes with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Its superb open world hosted hundreds of quests and meaningful decisions around every bend, always giving you something to do. Seeing your choices ripple across the vast landscape was a highlight itself, and the masterful writing added unpredictability and shades of gray to every dilemma. Seeing a game with such an ambitious scope deliver so fully in terms of quality is rare, but The Witcher 3 did just that, while also raising expectations for what an open-world RPG should offer in terms of depth, breadth, and polish.
18. Half-Life 2 (2004) | PC
Maximum PC, a magazine that’s been around since 1996, awarded Half-Life 2 an 11 out of 10, which is the first and only game to receive that honor. They called it the “the best game ever made” when it was released and after getting a ton of shit from readers, they decided to never pull that again but they weren’t wrong to do it in the first place. Removing any qualifiers and just judging a game based on its technical merits, there were few games on this game’s level back in 04. The writing was far better than the last one, with characters you actually cared about (there’s nothing in the first game as good as the robot dog in this one) and a story that kept you engaged. The action was improved, with the gravity gun being a huge game changer. It also ditched the endless hallways of Black Mesa for wide open environments that had secret areas to discover. There were now vehicles you could drive and a companion that joined you for parts of it. It blew the first one, which was a technical marvel for its day, out of the water and with it, everything else.
17. Grand Theft Auto III (2001) | PS2
Even though almost every entry that came after this is better in every conceivable way, the Grand Theft Auto series nor video games as a whole wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for this game. Markedly different from its predecessors, Rockstar changed so much in this game, it feels like a sequel to nothing. Much like how your mind erases the first Street Fighter and that weird Mario Bros. game that takes place entirely in a sewer, this arrived so fully formed and perfect, it’s hard to remember its isometric roots. What’s not hard to forget however, is the first time you ripped someone out of a car, stole it and then drove around the city doing whatever you wanted. It gave you unparalleled freedom and a huge (at the time) sandbox in which to live your wildest, illest dreams. If parents groups only knew how much this was going to change the landscape of gaming, they probably would’ve firebombed Rockstar studios.
16. Resident Evil 4 (2005) | GameCube
The most significant action game within the last 15 years might be Resident Evil 4, which ironically, is a horror game. With its over the shoulder camera perspective, which the developers referred to as second person since it bridges the gap between first and third, this game created an entirely new way to play but that’s not its only innovation. Taking the Resident Evil franchise in a radically new direction, 4 ditches the zombies for a new type of infected. Smarter and more vicious, the Los Ganados (which means “the mob” or “cattle” in Spanish) can wield weapons, use ladders, crawl through windows and dodge your shots. In one early classic moment, a chainsaw wielding maniac chases you into a house where you barricade the door behind you and when you think you’re safe, he suddenly breaks his way in. The game is filled with these types of encounters; most mini bosses in this are more dangerous than final bosses in other games. Which might actually be the only negative about the game. It’s too long. You can cut one of the locations out completely (village, castle and island) and you’d still have a lot of game still. Capcom put so much into this game, that later installments are being criticized for being too short even though they are proper video game length because they’re being compared to this. It set the bar too high.
15. Metal Gear Solid (1998) | PS1
When he set out to make this game (which is a sequel to two games released on the MSX2 computer) Hideo Kojima had just one goal in mind: push the medium of video game storytelling as far as it will go. Like Tarantino before him, he created a stew of pop culture references but added in his own spices to make it individual. Those spices include the political, the philosophical, the scientific and the outright crazy. It’s a game that touches on many hot button issues while also breaking to fourth wall to have a character “read” your mind (he tells you how many times you’ve died, been caught, fell for a trap and if you have any Konami games saved on your memory card, he’ll mention it.) It was unlike anything gamers have ever experienced at the time and a true revolution in terms of video game storytelling. And that’s not mentioning the graphics, which were mind blowing at the time. The fact that you could see footprints in the snow or soldiers breath due to the cold, was insane. Looking back at it now, it’s wild that we all thought games would never look better (the characters barely have faces) but that’s how good they were. They collectively tricked us, but that’s about the only thing that has dated about this game. It’s just as crazy and eerily prescient today as it was then.
14. Street Fighter II (1993) | Arcade
Due to their being so many different versions of this game, it’s hard to know which one is the best. The first was Street Fighter II: Champion Edition which allowed players to pick the same fighter, then came Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting which increased playing speed and gave characters new special moves, then there was Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers which introduced four new characters and had improved graphics and audio and lastly there was Super Street Fighter II Turbo which bundled together all of those improvements while also making slight adjustments to fighting speed. It is the definitive version of Street Fighter II, which you would think would guarantee it a spot on this list but all it does in my mind, is solidify how great the original is. The fact that Capcom spent years just tweaking and improving one game instead of just making another one is proof positive that they nailed it the first time. Think about it: when you go to arcades (or used to go rather), which version did you see? Odds are, you saw the first one because the arcade owners never needed to replace it. It’s the perfect fighting game.
13. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) | N64
There was a time, when every one considered this the greatest game of all time and because of that, I actually loathed it for a good chunk of time. Since its many flaws were so obvious and apparent to me, I felt like Mugatu at the end of Zoolander. I was the only sane one in a sea of crazy. While I still consider it overrated, I can at least recognize what others love about it. And admittedly, there’s a lot to love about it. First and foremost, this was the Skyrim of its day. Not in terms of mimicking an open world or anything but in the way it transported players into a magical land. Hyrule was their Skyrim in the sense that it was impossible for many to want to leave it. Since this was the first 3D Zelda game, that essentially meant it was the first 3D adventure game and because of that, it was responsible for the first bit of video game magic many experienced. That’s always been the difference between Mario and Link, Nintendo’s two big flagship characters. No one wants to be Mario, they just like playing his games. Some gamers live vicariously through Link’s adventures and at the time, no adventure was more grand than Ocarina of Time.
12. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990) | NES
For years, there was a theory that this game was all an elaborate stage play and that Mario and friends were merely actors playing parts within the game. That explains why there’s a curtain that opens to start the game, why certain platforms look like they’re held aloft by wires, why levels look handmade, as if they were made from cardboard and why Mario appears in so many non Mario games. Like so many other theories, it comes off as someone on the internet with too much time on their hands due to it sounding so crazy and elaborate. But it’s actually true. A developer confirmed it years later. They wanted Mario to be their Mickey Mouse (Mickey Mouse plays a character in every cartoon he’s in, like an actor in a movie) and they wanted this to be his greatest role yet. Well, they accidentally overshot their goal because it’s not just the creative apex of the 8 bit era, it’s the greatest platformer ever constructed. It introduced a map which gives players the choice to skip certain levels, it added iconic power ups such as the Tanuki and frog suits and sprinkled secrets throughout the game to keep players coming back. It’s a high water mark in a series filled with masterpieces.
11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
What is there to say about Skyrim that already hasn’t been discussed to death? This game changed the industry forever with its brilliant open-world, plethora of quests to complete, and a fantastic modding suite that supports a talented and passionate modding community to this day. Elder Scrolls purists would try and convince you that Morrowind is better because of x, y, and z or that Oblivion is better because it doesn’t water down its mechanics to cater to non gamers but those are the opinions of contrarian hipsters who are trying to gate keep a thing that they discovered first. Because Skyrim brought so many new people into the franchise, the ones who were their since the beginning became defensive and resentful. So much so, that they turned against this game but everything they hate about it, is what makes it a masterpiece. It still has what made those earlier Elder Scrolls games great but in a package that appeals to everyone. It’s multiple ports are a well deserved meme at this point but they wouldn’t keep porting it if gamers didn’t keep buying it. Many players who had already spent hundreds of hours in it, bought it again on the Switch, just so that they can play it on the go. That’s how much people love this game.
10. The Last of Us (2013) | PS3
In the intro to this list, I said I was going to be as objective as possible in the rankings and that was a bit of of lie. I knew going in that The Last of Us was going to be in the top ten, which technically, if I was being objective, wouldn’t be the case. There are at least one hundred other games that are more important and more influential and while I could make the case for any of them, the fact of the matter is that none of them touched me emotionally. No other game besides The Walking Dead has. If you Google lists of the greatest games of all time and go to the earliest one and work your way to now, you can chart what year that list was made just by looking at their number 1. It starts with Mario 64, then Ocarina of Time holds onto it for a bit till Half-Life 2 comes out and now about five or so titles are fighting for the crown but with no clear consensus pick but the one thing to notice, is that none of them hold the crown for more than three years. There’s always a better game just around the corner waiting to snatch that crown. The Last of Us has been out for almost a decade and not a single game released in that time has come close to topping it. Grand Theft Auto V, Skyrim and Minecraft may have about a billion hours worth of play time but the best moments within those games are usually something the player did. You built an insane structure or pulled off an insane heist with tank cheats.
The Last of Us sticks with you because of its impeccable story and characters. If this was a list of the greatest moments in games, I would cheat again and just put the whole damn game as one entry. There’s the first fifteen minutes, the last hour and every moment in between. Every bit of dialogue, from Ellie’s terrible puns to Joel’s descriptions of the old world is memorable. Every piece of world building (what happens to Ish and the people in the sewer is the best bit of storytelling I’ve ever encountered in a game) is brilliant. It’s the only game I can think of where walking around and looking at things is just as fun to play as the combat. Joel explaining what and how an ice cream truck is to a couple of bewildered children is as rewarding as sneaking up behind an enemy and stabbing them in the head with scissors. There are masterpieces that have created whole genres or pioneered new ways to play due to them changing the industry and then their are masterpieces who’s impact is a little less visible but no less important. The Last of Us didn’t kick-off a wave of imitators or change the medium in some radical way but what it did do was inspire everyone who played it to step their game up. The bar has been risen.
09. Minecraft (2011) | Various
I think it’s appropriate that a game created by one person would be the thing to finally succeed Tetris, another game famously created by just one person. That’s not to say Markus ‘Notch’ Persson (the creator of Minecraft) is on the same level as Alexey Pajitnov (the creator of Tetris), it’s just a fascinating coincidence. A little less fascinating is the origin behind Minecraft. Unlike Pajitnov, who’s a design genius, Persson is a thief. He took a semi popular game that was cancelled due to technical difficulties named Infiniminer, stripped it of any of its assets, slapped the iconic blocky graphics everyone knows and just changed its name. It’s the same exact story as Facebook, except that got a great movie out of it and the original creators still got some money. Zachary Barth (the creator of Infiniminer) got 2 million dollars, while Perrson made 9 billion. It’s a goddamn travesty. But, credit where credit is due, Perrson did finish the game and his designs are iconic, so it’s hard to argue with his success. What’s also hard to argue with is the success of this game. And by hard, I mean impossible. For ten years now, it’s been insanely successful amongst children. Even the ones who don’t play it, enjoy watching YouTube videos of others who do. It’s a phenomenon the likes of which might not ever happen again. Unless Microsoft decides to release a sequel that is.
08. World of Warcraft (2004) | PC
It’s crazy that this game is only 17 years old. WoW feels like its been in my life forever. I had no idea what an MMORPG was when this was released, and while it wasn’t the first one released, it’s unquestionably the one everyone borrowed from that point onward. By simplifying the mechanics, it introduced the genre to a much bigger audience than either RuneScape or EverQuest ever did. I had heard about both before this came out but had no idea what they were. Nerd games for nerds, I probably thought. Due to its addictiveness, I still consider the genre as a whole, nerdy but I at least understand what it is now. Hell, even my mother, who can name maybe five video games total, knows what it is. It broke through in a way few games do. I honestly think it’s one of the things that helped push nerd culture into the mainstream. Video games and anime and manga and all that shit have always been niche because they weren’t the mainstream. That’s why fandoms exist in the first place. People became so defensive over the thing they loved, that they formed groups. But once everyone loves something, it’s no longer nerdy. Comic books are mainstream now because of the MCU and I think gaming, computer gaming to be specific, became accepted because of how popular WoW was and continues to be.
06. Final Fantasy VI (1994) | SNES
Square created a brand so successful, it could slap its name on anything (and it has) and it’ll be successful. They’ve earned a lifetime of goodwill that even their most questionable properties (I’m looking at you mobile games) get a pass. Depending on when they jumped in will usually dictate which title is someone’s favorite. X and VII seem to have the most nostalgia tied to them and while both titles are phenomenal, they simply wouldn’t exist without VI. It took the mold they themselves created for the first Final Fantasy, snapped it in half and then reset it. Every rule that was written was thrown out and replaced with a better, more improved one. This was the game that mixed fantasy and steampunk. This was the game that fractured its narrative, giving you multiple focal points of interest. This was the game that somehow made all its 14 (!!!) party members distinct, all with their own special moves and abilities. This was the game that pushed the SNES’ graphics and sound chip to the limit. This was the best of the best in a golden era of RPGs and remains an important title in the history of the genre.
07. Grand Theft Auto V (2013) | PS3, Xbox 360
I seriously considered putting GTA Online as its own entry. It’s technically its own game but since the two are inexorably linked, it didn’t feel like. But that also meant, there was no way it wasn’t going to be in the top ten. The base game alone is a masterpiece, with it having some of the best missions and characters in the series (with Trevor being a real standout) but as great and as big as it is, it can’t compete with GTA Online. In fact, nothing can. Because of everyone’s desire to buy expensive and fancy swag, such as gold plated guns, giant airplanes, fashionable clothes and gun food for your rocket launcher, the game has gone on to sell more copies than any other game in history. Not only that, it’s the most successful anything in any form of media. Players have spent a gajillion dollars in the game, with no signs of stopping. And to keep them invested, Rockstar has constant updates that add everything from new missions, to new weapons, to new clothing. They wouldn’t have to do anything and they would still make a billion dollars. That’s how much people want to experience GTA with friends. It’s a marriage made in heaven.
05. Ms. Pac-Man (1982) | Arcade
A modification kit for the original Pac-Man titled Crazy Otto created by a couple of teenager engineers proved to be so popular, that Midway (after some legal wrangling) hired the two to officially turn it into a Pac-Man sequel. They slapped a pink bow on his head, gave him a beauty mark and turned him, into a her and the rest is history. The wife of everyone’s favorite pellet muncher was clearly the bread winner in that relationship because she proved far more popular than her hubby. Perhaps due to the fact that she had personality (the side of the cabinet presents a desirable vixen, whereas the Pac-Man cabinet has a weird yellow looking Q-Bert knockoff with rabbit feet) or because the gameplay was more refined. With different maze layouts, which changed in different intervals, improved ghost AI, movable fruit and bright, colorful graphics, Mrs. Pac-Man was a dominating presence in the arcades and proves to be just as popular on consoles.
04. Doom (1993) | PC
So controversial that it helped form the ESRB, which inadvertently ushered in a wave of games aimed at adults, Doom didn’t just open the door for games like Grand Theft Auto, it practically kicked it open. This, not Sonic or any other cutesy mascot, was Mario’s true competitor. Those types of games were just playing in the same sandbox with the same types of toys. Doom was the first game to lead you away from the kiddie park to the local gas station where the cool kids in leather jackets hung out. It opened gamer’s eyes to a world beyond Nintendo, a world of incredible of violence and action. A world Mario could never and would never inhabit. It made everything else feel like a baby game, which is why everyone you knew ditched the plumber and the hedgehog for an unnamed space marine hunting demons on Mars. The game proved to be so popular that many schools and offices formed polices that forbid people from playing it during peak hours because the number of players playing it at the same time, clogged the network. Its reported that Id received as many complaints from irate mother’s over their child’s failing grades as they did death threats. But that didn’t stop them from releasing expansion packs, encouraging player created mods and porting it to every system imaginable. No letter, no matter how nasty or threatening would stop the beast known as Doom because it knew, that at the end of the day, it owned every child in America. And it was right.
03. The Legend of Zelda (1986) | NES
Shigeru Miyamoto has been described as the “Spielberg of video games” since 1986 but that’s not quite accurate. Even if Spielberg directed Star Wars and produced Elvis’s biggest hits, he’d still not be as important as Miyamoto is to video games. That’s not hyperbole, the only man more important is Ralph Baer and he invented the damn things. But even then, Miyamoto still got into the Hall of Fame before him. His three biggest contributions are Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda, all of which have had enormous ripples throughout the industry. Donkey Kong was one of the most successful arcade games ever made, Super Mario Bros. saved the industry and Zelda is the nucleus of all modern role-playing games and the precursor to open world sandbox games. Inspired by his love of exploring the woods behind his house as a child, the game lets the player so the same thing but in a virtual setting. It tapped into the imagination in a way no game had done before. It gave you a sword, an objective and set you on your way. While it did guide the player slightly through ingenious level design, it never got in their way either. If a passage was blocked, the player would instinctually know to make a mental note to come back later. It didn’t tell you that you needed a bomb to progress, you just knew. Miyamoto was a genius at creating worlds of discovery, his games have built in nostalgia which is why they’ll last forever. No one forgets the imaginary adventures they got into as a kid nor do they forget the layout of this game’s first dungeon. The two are seemingly unrelated but are connected by memory proximity. Even if you played this for the first time as an adult, it took you back to when you were a kid, which places both memories in the same place in your brain. He somehow distilled your childhood into 8 bit adventures.
02. Tetris (1984) | PC
I’ve said it about a million times but I believe Tetris might be the only perfectly designed game in history. If you removed just one block, the entire game falls apart. That’s why not a single sequel, ripoff or imitator touches its design, they just add on top of it. Because that’s all they can do. Few things are as fully formed out the box as this. And what makes it all the more genius, is that you understand what it is instantaneously. The most important and often overlooked thing about successful design, is its ability to convey what it is at a seconds glance. Advertisers get paid millions of dollars to simplify whatever their customer is trying to sell you. You need to know what the product is, what it does and why you want it at just a glance. Even though we see them every day, we never stop to think about how efficient they are. Tetris works the same way. You can explain what it is and what you’re supposed to do in it with a quick sentence or, just by watching someone play for five seconds, you can pick it up immediately. It strips away every non essential element to deliver the ultimate puzzle game.
01. Super Mario Bros. (1985) | NES
There’s not a single metric in which to judge a game’s greatness that this doesn’t exceed. There is no game more popular, Mario is as iconic as Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse or Hello Kitty. The only continent on Earth that wouldn’t immediately recognize his image is Antarctica and that’s only because penguins don’t play video games. There is no game more influential, it created the modern day platformer. Technically, Jump Bug got there first and deserves a modicum of credit for going horizontally instead of vertically, which became the norm after this but has anyone played it, let alone heard of it? Even if Miyamoto was a fan and wanted to rip it off, he did so in such a way, that it’s impossible to compare the two. It’s like Lucas using Flash Gordon as his inspiration to create Star Wars, whatever kernel of inspiration was there, blossomed into a plant that turned into a forest by the time he was done. There is no game more important, by the time it was released, video games were all but dead. After the infamous video game crash of 1983 (which was not all E.T.’s fault), video games were seen as a fad who’s time was up. If Super Mario Bros. wasn’t a hit, the NES may have died and with it, the future of video games. There’s no way of knowing if that’s the case but it’s a irrefutable fact that the success of the NES is what brought video games back to life and a part of that is due in large part to the success of Mario. This game didn’t just change the industry, it saved it. Which is a feat that neither Star Wars or the Beatles can claim. It undeniably hits the big three (popularity, influence, importance) but what’s endured it, kept it relevant all these years is the simple fact that it’s still fun to play. It hasn’t aged a day in over 35 years. You still remember where that first 1 up mushroom is or where the hidden warp pipes are. You still know the sound Goombas make when you stomp on ’em and can hum the tune of every level. Super Mario Bros. is perfectly designed masterpiece that will still be played long after our grandchildren have died. It will outlive us all.
What did you think of the list? What are some of your favorite games that missed the cut?