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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
275. Axiom Verge (2015) | Various
You may not have noticed it the first time you played it but the title screen of Super Metroid is a mini horror movie unto itself. There’s a weird looking alien, ominous music and a handful of corpses lying on the floor. It’s an evocative image that conjures a number of endless possibilities, all of which the game delivers on but as good as it is, it skimps on the horror. Axiom Verge lives up to the promise of that title and then some. Set on the horrific alien world of Sudra, you play a scientist who must follow a disembodied voice to find out how he got there and how to leave. You must contend with horrible aliens and inhospitable environments in your quest for freedom and the truth. You’ll die many times and will have to backtrack constantly but since the level design and atmosphere is so compelling, you’ll have no problem pushing past the difficulty and going for 100% completion.
274. Super Mario Odyssey (2017) | Switch
Mario has endured and for 35 years and counting because Nintendo refuses to oversaturate the market with sequels (he’s been in more titles than any other character but there’s usually no more than two main entries released within a console’s life cycle), which makes every release feel like an event and more importantly, it constantly reinvents itself. They introduce a gimmick with each new game and that game fully commits to that gimmick. Say what you will about Sunshine but you can’t say they didn’t explore every avenue with that water pack. The same can be said about Galaxy and 3D World but the king of the gimmick has to go to Odyssey. In this one, Mario can turn into any enemy that he throws his hat onto, which means you’ll be constantly be adapting to an assortment of different play styles. The Goombas stacking ability make them essential for it of place collectables and ledges, Bullet Bills break apart walls so that you can access new areas and so on and so forth. The need to switch between characters, sometimes back to back, would feel like a chore in a lesser game’s hands (I’m looking at you Balan Wonderland) but it never feels tedious and it certainly never stops feeling like a Mario game. A great one at that.
273. Gunstar Heroes (1993) | Sega Genesis
The developer behind this game couldn’t have picked a more appropriate name if they tried. Simply put, each game Treasure makes is a treasure—a gift of originality and fun. Most of their output has garnered cult classic status, with Gunstar Heroes being arguably their biggest hit. Playing like a cross between Contra and Metal Slug, Gunstar Heroes is a side scrolling run and gun game that stands apart from its contemporaries in a number of ways. First of all, it’s fast as shit. There’s no point in standing still to clear a screen because enemies will just keep coming, so you’re encouraged to just keep running and shooting. Second, there’s acrobatic moves to help you climb obstacles quickly and to maneuver over oncoming projectiles with ease and lastly, there’s the weapon system. There’s four weapons available that can be combined to make different types of shot. Mix a shotgun with a laser to have a powerful blast of beams or combine a handgun with a flamethrower to shoot fire bullets. I’m not 100% sure those are accurate examples but you get the gist. The game doesn’t reward you with bigger guns as you play, it let’s you create your own Frankenstein weapon at the onset. A feature more games should implement.
272. Tomb Raider (2013) | PS3 Xbox 360, PC
After the release of Uncharted, the makers of Tomb Raider, the game that inspired it, took a real long look in the mirror and decided that it was time for a change. The series had laid stagnant for years and even when it was releasing games, the vast majority of them were uninspired. In order to successfully reboot and rebrand itself, it needed to borrow from the games that were borrowing from it. Tomb Raider took what made Uncharted a massive success (great protagonist, fun puzzles, interesting locations, engaging story, memorable side characters) and just slapped that Lara Croft magic all over it. Was it a shameless rip-off? Yes, but so was Resident Evil and Doom, so who cares. All that matters was whether or not it was good and that’s a resounding yes. It helped revitalize the franchise and lead to two critically acclaimed sequels. Croft is a professional tomb raider after all, lifting shit is part of her job.
271. Harvest Moon (1996) | SNES
I can only imagine how pissed off actual farmers are that this game and everything it spawned exists. A farmer’s life is difficult — tiling the fields, planting crops, harvesting, fishing, feeding your livestock, and buying seed is exhausting before you realize you’ll be repeating that process every single day till you drop down dead. It’s a hard life but Harvest Moon somehow makes it seem relaxing and even fun. A time management exercise that hooks you into a repetitive rhythm and won’t let go, Harvest Moon is the reason you still have FarmVille installed somewhere on your computer and why you had that reoccurring dream of pulling shrubs out with your bare hands.
270. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019) | PC, PS4, Xbox One
From Software created such a rock solid blueprint with Dark Souls, that it can just copy and paste it indefinitely and it’ll still produce a hit. Just change the setting and you’re good to go. If all Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice did, was swap out medieval European fantasy and Gothic horror for feudal Japanese fantasy, it would’ve been fine. The fans still would’ve loved it but From Software ain’t no one trick pony. This game still retains the elements everyone loves about their previous games but now with lightning fast gameplay. The other games were methodically paced, with an emphasis on dodges and slow deliberate attacks. Sekiro throws that shit out the window. You can block, parry, jump, dive — all sorts of ninja shit. That doesn’t make the game any less difficult but it is a welcome addition to their formula.
269. Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (2004) | PS2
Poorly designed platformers usually fall into the collect-a-thon category and while all you do in the Rachet and Clank is literally shoot things and collect bolts, it never feels like a collect-a-thon because you’re being rewarded for your collecting. You never have to get a set number of something to unlock more of a level; your progress is never held ransom by lazy developers who don’t know how game progression is supposed to be. You collect things to buy bigger and better guns and you want those guns. Some deal devastating damage, while others have silly transformative powers such as turning baddies into chickens or shooting out a disco ball that stuns enemies into dancing, which makes them easy targets. The cost of weapons is always just out of reach, which feeds your need to grind to get the item that’s catching your eye and with each level being a blast (literally) to play, it’s the easiest grind in the history of games.
268. Into the Breach (2018) | PC, Switch
Best described as Pacific Rim themed chess with a strong emphasis on disaster management, Into the Breach is a robot vs giant bug strategy game about planning and sacrifice. Every move you make can and most likely will result in the deaths of civilians and/or the destruction of your favorite mechs. Unless you play every round flawlessly, every win will come at a price. But like most roguelikes, things tend to get easier as you progress. The more you lose, the better you become and even if you don’t, the game comes with a nifty twist to help you out. Since the game deals with time travelers returning to the past to stop humanity being overthrown by said giant bugs, they can shift back to the future when things start to get a little too difficult. That means you can take all your xp and abilities, chuck a deuce and peace the fuck out. It’s an invaluable failsafe that helps minimize the pain of losing it all and starting from scratch inherent in so many games of this type.
267. Contra III: The Alien Wars (1992) | SNES
I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the only note given to the makers of this was “make it bigger” because it takes everything fans loved about the first one and cranks it up to 11. The power ups make your weapons feel much more powerful, the enemies feel never ending, the levels are much bigger and the enemies are at least triple the size of anything found in previous titles. The first mini boss in this is probably the same size as the final boss of the last game. It took the cliché saying “go big or go home” to heart and delivered a gargantuan slice of 80s action cheese. Before Broforce put exaggerated versions of action icons in one game, this felt like the closest we were going to get to the ultimate Arnold and Sly team up.
266. Pitfall! (1982) | Atari 2600
In twenty minutes, you’re tasked with guiding Pitfall Harry on his quest to collect all the gold spread across 256 hazard filled screens. The obstacles include: quicksand, tarpits, rolling logs, crocodiles, snakes, scorpions, campfires, and swinging vines. Since you have limited time and and even less lives, the game becomes a test of memorization. In order to successfully beat Pitfall!, you need to have the timing of the ropes just right, which screens coming up have the most jumps and your path mentally mapped out ahead of time. There was nothing else like this released at the time. When arcades were gobbling up your allowance with high score obsessed quarter munchers, this game presented you with an actual challenge and gave you your monies worth because it made you work to beat it. A revolution in gameplay, graphics, and sound, Pitfall! closed down the Atari 2600, but opened the doors for hordes of platformers to come.
265. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (2010) | PSP
The shadow of Final Fantasy Tactics looms so great and wide, that games released before it can’t even escape comparison. FFT owes its entire existence to this series and while they’re great for their time, don’t play them after you play this or they’ll feel slight by comparison. Which isn’t fair to Let Us Cling Together because while it doesn’t have the iconic FF IP to pull from or the level of depth, it’s still a remarkable entry in the turn based RPG genre. The story has branching pathways (something that FFT doesn’t have), the difficulty is punishing but never feels cheap (you will be tested), the music is suitably epic and with each match progressing the story forward, they all feel important which means you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time on each one just to make sure you don’t fuck up. Just make sure you play the PSP one, it’s superior to the original in every way.
264. Left 4 Dead 2 (2008) | PC, Xbox 360
Before it came out, there was a small but vocal group of so called fans that immediately bitched that this was more of the same. They wanted a proper sequel and not glorified DLC. People on the internet bitching about a thing that isn’t even out yet, doesn’t surprise me but what I don’t understand is why they wouldn’t trust Valve in the first place. If they announced a third, I’d be a bit skeptical but at that time, they were the best sequel makers in the biz. They know what to keep, what to trim and what to tweak and improve. The survivors are better this time around and so are the special infected. They added just enough that it feels like a fresh experience and even if they hadn’t, it’s still more of the thing you already like. Even if Left 4 Dead 2 was DLC, it would be a strong contender for the best downloadable content ever.
263. Silent Hill (1999) | PS1
Not content to let Capcom corner the market on survival horror, Konami skipped right over throwing they’re hat into the ring and went straight to putting their dick on the table. They had something to prove and they came out swinging. As far removed as it could be from Resident Evil, Silent Hill is almost completely bereft of action and does away with fun jump scares and focuses instead on tone and atmosphere. The titular town is creepy as shit and that’s before it turns into a decrepit hellscape. Everything is covered in fog, the only inhabitants are deformed ghouls and the general vibe just feels off. Set aside the demons that are trying to kill you and the curse that periodically turns the entire town into a Hellraiser fun house and the town still feels like a place you don’t want to be anymore and shouldn’t have come. Capcom gave you interactive Romero movies, while Konami gave you interactive nightmares.
262. Out of This World (1991) | Various
On a stormy night, physicist Lester Knight Chaykin arrives at his underground laboratory, the heart of which is a giant particle accelerator. He passes a routine full body scan, sits himself down at a computer, and sets his experiment in motion. A bolt of lightning strikes right when the particle accelerator is at its peak sending Lester into a strange alien world. The rest of the game has you try and survive to get back home. While not impressive to any gamer today, the game’s plot and setting were mind blowing back in ’91. Instead of just text over a black screen, you see in detail every step of how Lester gets to the planet. Again, remember that this came out just five years after Super Mario Bros. and it not only has cutscenes but cutscenes that are graphically indistinguishable from gameplay. Due to its Laserdisc technology, the game looked unlike anything else at the time and because lead programmer Eric Chahi was inspired by Karateka and Impossible Mission, it doesn’t play like anything else either.
261. Mortal Kombat X (2011) | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Not including the spin-offs or what have you, the Mortal Kombat video game series is eleven games deep. It’s been going strong for thirty something years now with no signs of stopping. And that’s due mostly to the appeal of its trademark brutal fights and fatalities. Gamers love themselves some blood and guts and the series has provided that in spades. The gory carnage is what fans love about them but what makes them great is the fact that NetherRealm simply never stopped revitalizing the series, or the genre as a whole. The fact that X, the tenth game in the series, is arguably the best they’ve ever made and is one of the best all around fighters ever, is a treatment to this fact. A wealth of modes and multiple fighting styles for each character gave fans more ways to compete than ever and The Living Towers mode also added massive doses of replayability, with constantly changing scenarios. Mortal Kombat will continue to crank out games long after we’re all dead but considering they’re still making hit after hit, I’m not complaining.
260. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2001) | Nintendo DS
The Phoenix Wright games are all built around the notion that yelling “objection!” is the most exciting thing ever and each game proves that that is correct. Each game has you defending a client you know is innocent by investigating the crime scene, searching for clues and evidence, questioning witnesses and then going to court to argue your defense. The first half acts as sort of slow build up to the second half which allows you to put all of your detective skills to the test. If you found all of the evidence, correctly questioned the witnesses and pieced the crime together like a puzzle, all you have to do is patiently wait for someone in court to contradict themselves, lie or just fuck up so that you can utterly destroy them with an “objection!” It never stops feeling satisfying, even after all the sequels.
259. Okami (2006) | PS2
Many Zelda clones have tried and failed to capture that series magic and of the few that have succeeded, Okami comes the closest. Combining Japanese mythology and classic folklore, Okami tells the story of how the land was saved from darkness by the sun goddess Amaterasu (who took the form of a white wolf) who then has to come back generations later to do it again. The story is standard hero legend stuff, it serves to get you from point A to point B. Like any Zelda title, it’s the least memorable thing about it. The selling point is its gorgeous cell-shaded visual style and the Celestial Brush, a gesture-system to perform miracles. By holding down one of the shoulder buttons and moving around one of the analog sticks, you can paint certain things to progress the story. Draw a circle to make a bomb to damage enemies or reveal hidden paths, draw a line over a stream and you have a bridge and so on. It’s a clever mechanic I’m amazed the makers of Zelda haven’t tried to steal yet.
258. Catherine (2011) | Various
Vincent Brooks is in a bit of a pickle. On one hand, he’s in a stable if slightly rocky relationship with his long-time girlfriend Katherine (with a K). On the other hand, he’s also catching feelings for the sexy and mysterious Catherine (with a C). Oh, and he’s also being tormented by surreal dreams involving a tower and sheep people. If you couldn’t tell, Catherine is a puzzle game unlike any other. Most of it involves conversations between Vincent, his friends, his girlfriend and Catherine, which, depending on your choices, will lead to different endings. And the other half involves Vincent trying to navigate a series of platform puzzles before he succumbs to his nightmare. You have to move blocks to form a path to go up without blocking yourself. It’s like a reverse Mr. Driller but with far more sexual innuendos.
257. Cave Story (2004) | Various
Cave Story‘s success is not unlike, say Paranormal Activity or El Mariachi. The game, like the movies, were super low budget but due to their overwhelming popularity, studios acquired them and put money into them to make them better. Cave Story + is a graphical overhaul of the original that’s superior in every way but as good as it is, the original deserves a slot on the list more for being the greatest free to play game ever made. Cave Story + is a top tier platformer but you only ever see it compared to over indie platformers, not the big dogs of the industry. Because it was free and because everyone who played it loved it and wouldn’t shut up about it, the original Cave Story actually was compared to them constantly. It was routinely referred to as “the Super Mario Bros. of free to play games”, a title of which it still holds almost twenty years later.
256. R. Type (1987) | Various
Even though it was its primary source of inspiration, R.Type blew so far past Gladius that many mistakenly believe the latter came out after when in reality, it came out two years before. That’s how much of an impact R.Type had on shoot ’em ups, that history has rewritten it so that it was the progenitor of the entire genre. It’s biggest contribution was the the inclusion of the Force, an orange ball that can either fly freely while detached or can it be attached to the front of the ship. Both locations offer the player different modes to play. Attached, the player gets one of three powerful weapons, while detached gives you more firepower or a shield. That trade off introduces enough of a strategy that it elevates it above the majority of every other title within the genre.
255. Ninja Gaiden Black (2005) | Xbox
Considering the original is infamous for its brutal difficulty, the reboot couldn’t pull any punches lest it disappoint the fan base but I don’t think anyone was prepared for how hard this damn thing was going to be. The makers saw the first one, knew most hadn’t beaten it and then said “hold my beer.” Ninja Gaiden Black’s name is appropriate because it will throw your ass into a tumbler and leave you feeling black and blue. Every single encounter is a fight for survival that you may not walk away from. But, if you man up and learn the combos (and have a shit ton of skill, luck and patience), you’ll soon feel like an unstoppable ninja warrior. Before Dark Souls, there was Ninja Gaiden Black.
254. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996) | SNES
Nintendo’s iconic mascot has done everything from go-kart racing, to every sport imaginable and he even become a doctor for a bit. He’s done it all but yet, it still came as a shock that he was going to star in his own RPG. Any doubts were quickly assuaged and within minutes, it was evident that the Italian plumber can and has done everything well. Mario’s first take on turn-based combat was incredible thanks to unique 3D-rendered graphics technology, a zany cast of characters (some of which have never made an appearance outside of this game, which really bums out the fans of Smash Bros who are desperately awaiting a return), and a humor-packed story about recovering star pieces. He’s released a fair amount of RPGs at this point but his first remains his best.
253. Bayonetta 2 (2014) | Wii U
If Bayonetta was a live action movie, it would cost more to produce than every MCU movie combined. As you battle your way through legions of heaven’s minions as the eponymous witch, you’ll encounter what seems like at least a million foes, each bigger than the last, with each one throwing you into a bigger set piece than the one before it. One moment you’ll be fighting a giant snake with a human face who vomits out other giant snakes, another you’ll be surfing the ocean on a piece of airplane wreckage as you battle a mechanical shark and the next you’ll ride a rocket heading towards an enemy base, all while shooting monsters out of the air. It’s one insane moment after another and as crazy as it sounds, that’s not the best thing about the game. These ridiculous set pieces and boss fights would be in service to nothing if the game controlled like shit but since Platinum Games is behind this, it controls spectacularly. She has a wide variety of acrobatic moves to pull off that are easy to master and even easier to control. Bayonetta might be the most responsive character in all of gaming. And the most badass as well.
252. Virtua Tennis (1999) | Dreamcast
The most underrated of all of the sports, tennis has proven time and time again that it is every bit as exciting as the more popular sports. It’s just you, your opponent and your quick reflexes. Some games try and spice up the gameplay with power ups or other such nonsense but Virtua Tennis proves that all of that is wholly unnecessary. There are mini games you can play and different modes that don’t adhere to reality but the core game sticks to the fundamentals and it’s all the better for it. With both two player and four player modes, the game can create a strong bond between you and your teammate or ruin multiple friendships at the same time because whoever your stuck with doesn’t know how to properly pull off a top spin. Whether you play it by yourself, go 1v1 or decide to ruin three other people’s nights, Virtua Tennis will no doubt give you hours of enjoyment.
251. Far Cry 3 (2012) | Various
The Far Cry series has always excelled at exotic locations. While other shooters take place on spaceships or military bases, this series offers sunny, beautiful locales like beaches and tropical rainforests. The beauty is offset by dangerous cartels or homicidal lunatics but in between the gunfights, the games are just fun to walk around and look at your surroundings. They’re like interactive vacations. Dangerous vacations but vacations nonetheless. Far Cry 3 takes advantage of that mindset and actually makes turns that desire to just wander around at your leisure against you. The main villain kidnaps your friends and actually makes you choose between their lives or your life, a life of Island fun. Now, anyone who isn’t a psychopath is going to choose the good ending but the fact that the game knows how fun their sandbox is that they try and leverage it against you, says a lot.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?