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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
300. P.T. (2014) | PS4
Not technically a full release game (P.T. stands for playable teaser), this hour long demo still provides an unforgettable experience … for those lucky enough to have played it at the time. Due to the falling out between game creator Hideo Kojima and Konami, the game was cancelled (it was supposed to be a Silent Hill reboot) and the demo was taken off of the PlayStation store. So, unless you downloaded it and saved it to an external drive, it’s impossible to play now. P.T. opens with an unnamed protagonist who awakens to find himself trapped in continuously looping L shaped hallway. After the first sequence, a radio will turn on a news cast reporting a case of familicide, the details of which sound suspiciously like the one that happened in the house you’re in. After a couple more sequences, you’ll encounter an apparition standing in the middle of the hallway. Unmoving and starring at you. Approach it and it disappears. And then shit gets weird. You’ll hear unnerving sounds coming from the bathroom, see a bloody chained up refrigerator hanging from the ceiling, and eventually encounter Lisa, a terrifying ghost that doesn’t seem to like your presence. A collaboration between the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series and Guillermo Del Toro, P.T. is far more than just a demo. It’s the scariest game ever made.
299. Oxenfree (2016) | Various
When it comes to survival horror, the conversation begins and ends with AAA titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, with Indies getting left by the wayside. One of those that got ignored due to its smaller budget and cartoony graphics, was Oxenfree. Although it’s aimed at a younger audience, Oxenfree has one of the best supernatural tales in all of gaming. With fleshed out characters that feel three dimensional, a coming-of-age story that’s emotionally deep and branching dialogue trees that lead to multiple endings, this is the game Telltale tried and failed to make since The Walking Dead.
298. Doom II (1994) | Various
Before Super Mario Bros 3 needed a thinly veiled 90 minute commercial in the form of The Wiz to capitalize on its enormous anticipation, Doom II held the record for the most anticipated sequel. The phrase “it flew off the shelves” isn’t even applicable because it wasn’t stocked on shelves, it was sold on specialty pallets stores needed to assemble to carry the damn thing. That’s how many copies each store had, it needed to be by itself in its own kiosk. Gamers desperately needed to get back to Mars to kick some demon ass and Doom II delivered the goods and then some. It refined what everyone loved about the original and didn’t fuck up the new things it brought to the table. Even the divisive American McGee levels don’t detract from the entertainment. In a world where Doom doesn’t exist, this might be considered the masterpiece it so clearly is.
297. Nier: Automata (2017) | PS4 Xbox One, PC
When it comes to crazy ass action, no one does it better than PlatinumGames. With a line up of games such as MadWorld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta, Wonderful 101, Astral Chain and Vanquish under their belt, they’ve more than proven themselves the god emperors of over-the-top gameplay. All of those games are nuttier than a metric ton of squirrel shit but Nier: Automata might have ’em all beat in the crazy department. A sequel to a game most stopped playing before they realized it was sci-fi insanity, the game is set during a proxy war between alien-created machines and human-crafted androids, the story follows the trials of a combat android, her companion, and a fugitive prototype. But you don’t get all of that information at once. It’s broken up and served piece meal and in order to get the complete story, you have to beat the game at least three times. Which is 50+ hours of robot shooting action but since it’s always fun to shoot robots, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.
296. Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (2010) | PS3, Xbox 360
There’s a reason there has only been five official entries in the Street Fighter series, because Capcom keeps releasing amazing special editions. When it originally released, Street Fighter IV was largely responsible for the resurgence of mainstream fighting games. It brought everyone back who left the series years ago and rewarded the faithful devotees. It was the ultimate fighter but as they always do, Capcom improved upon perfection. The Super Arcade Edition added more characters to the roster, tightened the already impressive gameplay and balanced the combat so that no one was over or under powered. Those tweaks, along with everything else the game brought to the table, proved Capcom was and still is the best at making fighting games and while it will forever live in the shadow of the second one, it’s the definitive way to experience the most influential modern fighters.
295. Firewatch (2016) | Various
If Firewatch was the horror game it so desperately wants to be, it would’ve been considerably higher on the list. The characters and story (for the most part) are still great enough to get it on the list but it needed a great ending and it just doesn’t have one. You play as volunteer park ranger who’s job is to clean up the park, kick people out of restricted zones, prevent and/or stop the spread of fires and a wide array of different duties. It’s a unique setting for a game and again, if that’s all this game offered, it would be enough but there’s also an undercurrent of a mystery you start to unravel. Your only contact is with a fellow female park ranger and while you two hit it off, sometimes you feel like she’s hiding something from you. You have no idea what but since you, the player, have played a video game before, you know unseen guides tend to be malevolent. The game doesn’t go where you expect it to but sidestepping the obvious clichés, it also shot itself in the foot by having a lackluster ending. It’s still great but if it nailed the landing, it would’ve been a masterpiece.
294. Cuphead (2017) | Various
As I’ve explained in the intro, graphics are only ever a plus, never a minus. Since they are the first thing to age, it’s not fair to judge a game that looks like ass now because it could’ve looked amazing at the time. As long as it’s still playable and fun, I’ll always overlook the graphics. On the flip side to that, I will however, add points if the graphics are unique and add to the overall experience. Limbo for example, has a distinct shadowy look to it that’s unlike anything else. The same can be said about Ape Out, Okami and certain levels of Psychonaughts. They get a minor bump due to the uniqueness of their art style. Cuphead however, does look like something else but since that thing hasn’t existed in almost 100 years (Fleischer cartoons from the 1940s) and since it’s imitating that style so well, it too, deserves a bump. It’s impossible to not be immediately drawn to the game’s graphics. It looks and sounds and feels like an old timey cartoon, a cartoon you get to control. If you’re already a fan of these types of cartoons like I am, just looking at this game would be enough to get you to shell out some coins but the fact that it also plays like a dream doesn’t hurt.
293. Excitebike (1984) | NES
As a racing game, Excitebike is perfectly serviceable. It would make any list of the best racing games of all time (as long as that list is more than 25) and is still beloved amongst old school NES fans to this day. It has enough going for it, that even if it didn’t include the map editor, which is why it made the cut, I believe it would still have a devoted cult. It also could’ve sucked and still been considered great because of how good the map editor is. Don’t like the developers levels? Make one with nothing but bumps and oil spills if you want. That freedom was unheard of to players back in the day and it lead to hours and hours of us trying to get our courses just right. Or horribly wrong if your a sadist who likes torturing your friends with frustrating races.
292. Metal Slug 3 (2000) | Various
I’ve always preferred the Metal Slug series to the Contra series. Both are similar enough for the comparison to make sense (they’re side scrolling shoot em ups that require the player to move from the left to the right, shooting as much as they can) but are different enough that it’s impossible to mistake the two. Even though the series deals with aliens, the Contra games are the furthest from wacky as you can get. They take evil extraterrestrials seriously, whereas Metal Slug treats everything as a silly joke. There’s aliens and yetis and mummies and even robots. All adorably drawn and visually distinct thanks to the game’s tremendous art style. There’s also cute little touches like the fact that eating too many fruit shaped points in row will make you fat or that you can turn into a frog or a mummy through spells that help distance itself from Contra and every other arcade shooter
291. Disco Elysium (2019) | Various
The tagline asks you “what kind of cop are you?” which is brilliant since it has multiple meanings. You can look at it as someone literally asking what kind of cop the lead Harrier “Harry” Du Bois is or you can look at it as an invitation to create the cop you want to be. A dialogue heavy combat free RPG, Disco Elysium has you level up by focusing on or suppressing certain emotions or character quirks. Want the ability to detect lies more easily? Well that comes at the cost of increased paranoia and hysterical outbursts. Want to buff your defense? Well now you’re addicted to drugs you have to take on the regular. Every pro comes with a heavy con, every conversation has the potentiality to change how NPCs interact with you and every choice you make shapes the world around you. The game isn’t about multiple endings or branching plotlines, it’s about the multitude of different types of people we can all choose to be and how that positivity or negatively effects everyone and everything around us. It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon and is prettier to look at, too.
290. Spider-Man (2018) | PS4, PS5
For years, Spider-Man and Batman were neck and neck when it came to video game adaptations until the Arkham games killed their non-existent rivalry dead. It’s hard to top one masterpiece, let alone two so the dark knight was sitting comfy knowing he’d bested every other superhero in the biz. That is of course till ol’ webhead came out of nowhere with an uppercut and knocked bats on his ass but good. The 2018 version did everything the Arkham games but it also came with the never not entertaining web slinging mechanic the Batman games don’t have. They try and make up for it we grappling and gliding around the city but it just isn’t the same. Throw in a compelling story, phenomenal voice acting and perfectly designed combat and you have a strong contender for the best action adventure game of the last two decades, not just within the superhero genre.
289. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1991) | Arcade, SNES
Their first arcade beat ’em up is a certifiable classic but as good as it is, it can’t hold a candle to the all encompassing love this game has for the series. This puts every single thing you love about the turtles into one game and since it’s all about time travel, it all makes sense. Well, it makes about as much sense as a property involving talking turtles, ninjas and robots could. Due to the fact that each level is a new time period, each level feels distinct and helps it stand out from typical games within the genre. The Streets of Rage games never had a stage set on a pirate ship and not a single Double Dragon game had you fight dinosaurs in the past or androids in the future. The gameplay is typical Konami great and the graphics are vivid and do a great job of recreating the feel of the cartoons but the soundtrack is on another level. Each track slaps harder than the one before it and by the time you get to the end, you’ll feel like you just got pummeled by a heavyweight boxer. That is if you can even hear it over the sound of you and your friends declaring this is the best game ever loudly and constantly.
288. Superhot (2016) | Various
In Superhot, time doesn’t move until you do, so every level feels like the most extreme version of Bullet Time from the Matrix. It also turns every shoot out into a mini strategic puzzle. Even though you can slow down time to a snail’s pace by simply doing nothing, you still have to think on your feet because once you make a move, the enemy can as well. So you’ll have to master throwing something at one person, catching their weapon mid air and immediately throwing it at someone else (because throwing is faster than shooting) and repeating the cycle until you can safely shoot the baddies not in your general vicinity. It’s hectic and sometimes maddening but if you can pull it off successfully, you’ll feel 10x more badass than Neo.
287. Combat (1971) | Atari 2600
There’s not a player alive today that would pick this up and play for more than five minutes. Slowly controlling a tank and trying to shoot the opposing tank while also not getting shot, is about as much fun as watching a sloth lick molasses in slow motion but multiplayer games had to start somewhere. This is as vitality important to gaming as selfie filters are to the Kardashian sisters Instagram and Snapchat. If the FPS genre was a tree, Doom would be the trunk that has roots below it and branches above it and this would be the seed that eventually grew into that tree. It’s just you vs another player in a game to the death and if perfectly timed ricochet bullets don’t kill you, the inevitable boredom will.
286. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Racing games have long made ducking and dodging from the police, the most fun thing ever but in a rare move, Hot Pursuit flips the script and has you chasing down outlaw speed devils. You can still choose to live your best Dukes of Hazzard life but this is the first game that actually makes hunting as fun as being the hunted. Each cruiser is loaded with with spike strips, EMPs and deployable roadblocks, while the racers have additional boost and a defensive jammer, making for a perfectly balanced police chase. Both playstyles are well served and with a beautiful open world to explore and tons of cars to unlock, you’ll be chasing or running for a long time.
285. ActRaiser (1990) | SNES
Combining traditional side-scrolling platforming with urban planning god game sections, few games mash as many unlikely elements together as skillfully as ActRaiser. An allegory for Christian monotheism, Nintendo changed the main characters names for the American release but the Japanese version explicitly states that the game is about God fighting demons and rebuilding temples in order to wrestle back power from Satan. Which makes the game sound like a lame attempt from a “hip” youth pastor to try and connect with teens but since most of us don’t speak Japanese, religion is an inconsequential aspect of the game. For us yanks, it’s just a stellar action game with a kick ass soundtrack and city building sections that were way ahead of their time.
284. Titanfall 2 (2016) | PS4, Xbox One, PC
The making of the Titanfall series reminds me of the film Snakes on a Plane. When SOAP was first announced, it had a different title and was originally supposed to be a bit more serious in tone. And then the memes happened. The internet thought it was hilarious that the short tempered, foul mouthed Sam Jackson would be inconvenienced by snakes on a plane and made joke after joke about it until the producers, misconstruing the attention for actual interest, decided to shape the film to accommodate the fans. Which proved, well, you know. Cut to 2014 and the release of Titanfall. A game that garnered solid reviews from both critics and gamers but for whatever reason, didn’t sell well. So the devs decided to listen to the fans. They reworked their engine, improved the multiplayer, tightened up the game-play, and crafted one of the best FPS campaigns in years—and the game tanked. They did everything right, but they made one crucial mistake: they listened to the fans. The fact that this game failed but Fortnite has made over 2 billion dollars, is proof positive that fans don’t know shit.
283. Super Castlevania IV (1991) | SNES
Count Dracula may be the one unifying element of this entire franchise but his castle is really the main character. Each game has their own spin on his huge ass estate and while Symphony of the Night might be the best one (after you beat it, the damn thing flips upside down and you have to go through it all over again), that game couldn’t have taken off like a rocket if Super Castlevania IV hadn’t have created the engine in the first place. If you’re a fan of the series, the game feels like a remake of the first one, a collection of the best bits of the sequels and a reboot all rolled into one. The boss fights are among the best in the series, the levels are some of the best designed and the graphics were mind blowing for its time. It’s actually telling that Konami decided to take Symphony of the Night in such a radically different direction, they themselves know they couldn’t top this one, so they didn’t even try.
282. Kingdom Hearts II (2005) | PS2
The mixture of Final Fantasy characters with Disney worlds and icons, is the weirdest peanut butter cup ever, but thank God for the Japanese who aren’t afraid to swing for the moon. American publishers would never think to do something that wild, nor would they fill it with a story as batshit insane. You need a roadmap, a very patient guide and a lot of time to unpack and unravel the convoluted lore of the series OR you could just skip it and focus on the fun worlds based on movies you love. The first one covered the big ones, while this one dug a little deeper. There’s a Tron level and even a black and white Steamboat Willie stage, complete with old timey sound effects. Many fans consider this to be the apex of the series and while it’s certainly great, the tedious beginning and overly complicated end rob the game of some replayability.
281. WarioWare, Inc: Mega Micro Games! (2003) | Game Boy Advance
If a video game could have ADHD, it would look a helluva lot like WarioWare. Chopping up a million different types of games and condensing them down to extremely short mini games (no game lasts more than 10 seconds), WarioWare might be the perfect desert island game. Unless you have the attention span of a goldfish with a head injury, it’s impossible to get bored of the games. Wait literally a couple of seconds and you’re doing something radically different. And different is the optimal word here because your tasks will range from jumping on a desk quickly to pulling a tooth to pushing the right button before the time runs out. There’s no heads up either, you’re thrown face first into each game without any idea of what you’re supposed to do, so not only is time and accuracy your enemy but so is unpredictability. But you’ll soon befriend and even embrace unpredictable and strange because you’ll be too busy laughing not to.
280. Alan Wake (2010) | Xbox 360, PC
Frequently listed among the best games to never get a sequel, Alan Wake is a horror game heavily inspired by the work of Stephen King. In the game, you play as (you guessed it) Alan Wake, a successful thriller novelist who, along with his wife, travel to the small town of Bright Falls in an effort to fix a terrible case of writer’s block. After a long night of writing, Wake is awakened to find his wife missing, and, while trying to uncover the mystery of her sudden disappearance, he slowly starts to realize everything happening to him is taken directly from his latest novel that he doesn’t remember writing. Structured like a television series with episodes that contain plot twists and cliffhangers, the game is more psychological thriller than outright horror. It slowly cultivates dread until every sound, every shadow makes you jump out of your skin.
279. Elite (1984) | Various
What started life as an experiment in three-dimensional starfield, quickly turned into a game of galactic dog fights that the creators felt were too boring, so they decided to add in a trading mechanic and an entire genre was suddenly born. It’s a vast open world shoot ’em up that doubles as an economics sim. You’ll spend as much evading danger as you will figuring out exchange rates and haggling for the best price of your wares. Elite was so far ahead of its time, that developers are inspired by the games that ripped off the games that ripped off this. They may not even know what this is or have even played it but they owe it a debt. There is no Eve Online or No Man’s Sky without this.
278. Baseball Stars (1989) | NES
SNK is primarily known for their fighting games but when they dabbled in other genres, they usually scored a home run. That pun was most definitely intended because Baseball Stars is not only a great game, it’s a great baseball game and while I famously know next to nothing about sports, I can say with confidence, that you hit home runs in baseball. With its customizable teams and players, full season play, stat tracking, and easy to master gameplay, Baseball Stars introduced many modes that are commonplace within the genre and is still considered by many, the gold standard when it comes to baseball games. Pretty impressive for a game without any recognizable athletes and teams.
277. Twisted Metal 2 (1996) | PS1
Twisted Metal created the vehicular combat genre but its sequel turned it into a cottage industry. After 2, every studio needed their own version of it. Some of them were good, most of them were trash but none could hold a candle to this game. The story, which is a combination of the Death Race 2000 meets Fantasy Island, involves a mysterious figure known as Calypso who grants the winner of his death match tournament anything they want and their wishes do not need to be within the realms of reality. He can give you a billion dollars, send you back in time to fix a mistake or just give you a paper bag you lost once. Most of of the time, the rewards are ironic like a cruel genie, so it’s worth beating it multiple times to see everyone’s fates. But you’ll start with Sweet Tooth because everyone starts with Sweet Tooth. He’s the face of the franchise and a bona fide gaming icon. He’s the reason every other rip-off is garbage by comparison. Why would I want to kill people in a tank or sub or Weinermobile when I can play as an insane murderous clown driving an ice cream truck?
276. NeverWinter Nights (2002) | PC
The best RPGs are the ones that recreate the feel of a tabletop pen-and-paper campaign. Since flesh and blood DMs (dungeon masters for you newbs out there) are able to create the most in depth adventures as long as they’re creative enough, video games will always play catch up since they’re limited by their own hardware. NeverWinter Nights is among a handful of games that come pretty damn close to the feel of sitting at a table with a group of friends raiding imaginary dungeons. Since it comes loaded with customizable tools that shape each individual experience, it opens up the door for infinite possibilities and technically, never ending gameplay. And since the virtual DM isn’t in the same room as you, it might actually be better.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?