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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
350. Mirror’s Edge (2008) | Various
After the release of Casino Royale, which begins with a twenty odd minute parkour chase, everyone and their brother became obsessed with the recent trend. Not enough to try it mind you, but watching acrobatic daredevils run through environmental obstacle courses was thrilling. Professionals can make anything look easy but even the most annoyingly cocky armchair athlete knew that shit was impossible. Mirror’s Edge lets you cosplay as the world’s most dangerous parkourist (is that a word?) without fear of dying for real. You’ll still perform jumps so outrageous, that your stomach will drop and your balls (if you have them) will suck up into your body but you’re in no real danger. The only thing you should fear is how much time you’re going to put into this because once you start playing, it’s hard to stop.
349. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010) | Various
The first MGS game made for a handheld that Kojima himself wrote and oversaw, Peace Walker, while restricted by the limitations of its hardware, still feels as sprawling as any mainline entry and has a story equally as integral to the mythology. Further fleshing out the story of Big Boss and how he eventually becomes the series’ big bad, the game picks up after Snake Eater and tells an equally over the top story filled with insane sequences and crazy plot twists the franchise is known for. It also introduced the mechanic that would be a selling point for Phantom Pain: the Fulton Recovery System. Every enemy soldier you see, can be extracted to add to your base. Depending on their skill set, you can assign them to various different jobs to improve your base’s overall stats. The higher the stats, the better the weapons and equipment they’ll make you and the more side missions you’ll unlock. Even on a handheld hardly anyone owned, the series still managed to innovate and evolve.
348. Star Fox 64 (1997) | N64
You can potentially go your entire childhood not knowing about the secret in-level triggers that unlocked different paths and levels because nowhere in the game does it tell you about them. But the reason we all still remember them, is because nothing was more mind-blowing to us than accidentally going off the beaten path or shooting a thing we had never shot before and getting to see new content. It was a radically different approach to the branching system seen in the last game and was so ballsy a decision, games today are still afraid to use it. Hands down one of the best games on the N64, Star Fox 64 had precise analog control, memorable boss designs, unparalleled rumble pak implementation and outstanding cinematic cutscenes.
347. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (2003) | PS2, Xbox
The Fatal Frame series is kinda like Pokémon Snap except instead capturing adorable monsters with your camera, you’re taking pictures of terrifying ghosts that are trying to kill you. Following twin sisters Mio and Mayu who stumble across an abandoned village and soon become targets of a vengeful spirit, the game’s story is a direct response to the criticisms of the last one. Not that it was bad, but that the game was so scary, players couldn’t finish it. Which lead the makers to create a story so intriguing, it would hook the player immediately, forcing them to power through their fear. Their plan worked because this is routinely named one of the scariest games ever made and yet, it sold like gangbusters. Which would also technically make this one of the best written as well because ain’t no butterfly gonna get me through no haunted house. I don’t care how red it is.
346. Daytona USA (1994) | Arcade
Taking aim at Tecmo’s Ridge Racer, Sega wanted to make sure their shot was enough to take on the king of racing, so they pumped every available resource into making Daytona USA a worthy competitor and they not only achieved their goal but easily surpassed it. A record smashing hit, Daytona USA is one of the most successful arcade cabinets ever, with unconfirmed reports stating it was among the first five cabinets to be ordered by any business. That means, that if a movie theater or bowling alley wanted a mini arcade, this was guaranteed to be one of the titles they’d acquire. Because it was guaranteed to make money. Since the graphics still looked good a decade after its release and because the gameplay never aged, it wasn’t just a good money maker at the time of its release but an investment for the future because gamers were never going to stop playing it. And they haven’t.
345. Littlebigplanet (2008) | PS3
You know you’re confident in your game when you name the main character Sackboy. Excuse the pun but it takes real balls to stand behind a name like that. And yet, it’s never produced so much as a snicker because anyone who’s played it, is far too engrossed with everything Littlebigplanet has to offer to care. Not content to just being an excellent platformer, it’s also a platformer making game. The base game can be completed in a matter of hours and while it’s wonderfully designed and fun to play, it really feels like a tutorial for the game making mode. Littlebigplanet gives you enough tools to make anything you want, they don’t even have to be games. Clever amateur have developers have recreated every genre and have even gone so far as to make rollercoasters, animatronic photo albums and even a functioning calculator. It’s a game where you get whatever you put into it and what you can put into it is everything.
344. Baba is You (2019) | Switch, PC
Because its easier to just copy and paste Tetris or Bejeweled, true innovation within the puzzle game genre is as rare as hen’s teeth. But as the mutant chicken Talpid proves, it does sometimes happen. Case in point: Baba is You. A puzzle game with a gimmick so ingenious, you’d swear it’s been done a million times by this point. Each screen has a simple challenge to complete but in order to accomplish said goal, you have to do a bit of light coding in the form of manipulating words to stimulate the desired action. By pushing around blocks of different variables and effects, you can, for example change “rock is wall” to “rock is push,” and just like that, the boulders blocking your path can be freely shoved out of the way. Baba is You is so devilishly clever, that it forces you to think outside of the outside of the box in order to beat it.
343. Time Crisis (1995) | Arcade
The debate over which is better: Time Crisis or Virtua Cop has long been a fight amongst video game nerds but I’m going to settle it right now. It’s Time Crisis. Virtua Cop is a fantastic title but it lacks the innovation that made Time Crisis a classic. Standing apart from other light gun shooters of its time, the game incorporated unique mechanics such as the ability to duck into cover to dodge attacks, and it was also the first arcade shooter to let the player reload their weapon. It also introduced a time counter that forced the player to complete battles in each level within a set amount of time. Since the time allotted is more than enough, It’s a mechanic that doesn’t offer much but the modicum of tension is at least appreciated. The only reason it’s not the best light gun game ever, is simply due to the fact that there’s no zombies in it.
342. Infamous (2009) | PS3
For exactly three months, this was the greatest superhero game released up to that point. It gave you a sandbox to fool around in and the powers to make even the most banal task, like getting from point A to point B, fun. With your ever evolving electrical powers, you’ll go from clinging to walls and surfing along power lines to eventually soaring through the sky. And that’s just traversal. The game is loaded with combos to memorize, abilities to unlock and utilizes the electrical powers in interesting ways, that help spice up the combat. It was a comic book fans dream until Batman: Arkham Asylum came and pissed on its lawn. It was still successful enough to spawn a highly regarded franchise but in a world where Arkham Asylum never came out, this might’ve been the pinnacle of superhero games.
341. Dead Space (2008) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
John Carpenter has mentioned his love for this game numerous times and it’s easy to see why. Dead Space is just The Thing on a space ship. That’s an over exaggeration of course but the similarities are undeniable. The plot is closer to Alien (with a little bit of Event Horizon thrown in) than Carpenter’s classic but few, if any, love this game because of its story. No, you love this game because of the execution of its jump scares and because of the design of the enemies. Shambling, grotesque looking humanoids, its here, with these walking nightmares, that the Carpenter influence is at its most apparent. The design of them looks like the alien from The Thing but in a constant state of mid transformation. They’re all sharp angles, claws and tentacles. Walking nightmare fuel that requires strategic dismemberment to eliminate. The best survival horror games make you conserve your ammo but how many actively make you plan your shots?
340. Hotline Miami 2 (2015) | Various
If the director Nicolas Winding Refn could be digitized and turned into a game, that game would be Hotline Miami. If he was digitized while tripping balls on ayahuasca and then turned into a video game, that would be Hotline Miami 2. It builds upon its predecessor by going overboard on excess. More levels, a crazier story, a harder difficulty and tons more ultra violence. I’ve beaten it a handful of times and I have no idea what the hell is happening from level to level but since the game is harder to put down than a peanut butter and crack sandwich, I don’t care. At a certain point, you just accept the fact that you’re stuck in a 16 bit madhouse and the only way out is by killing everything in sight. That point should be around the time you first kill someone with a baseball bat. After you have that epiphany, it should be nothing but blood and guts for the next couple of hours.
339. Valkyria Chronicles (2007) | Various
Valkyria Chronicles is a story and character heavy turn based tactical strategy RPG that makes you seriously consider who you take to battle as much as where you position your squad. Not just because of character stats but because of their personality. Since their personalities are so well drawn, you want to fight alongside all of them but the game is not unlike Sophie’s Choice in that it forces you to make the impossible choice. The gameplay, while great, is vastly improved in the sequels, as are the graphics and acting but they wouldn’t even exist if the writing of this game didn’t inspire a cult following loyal and dedicated enough to make the franchise in the first place.
338. Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999) | Various
The last entry in the Fatal Fury series before it folded into King of Fighters, Mark of the Wolves is a proper series and ended on such a high note, that many gamers are still mad it merged. With it’s simple but elegant move set, respectable roster of fighters, crisp graphics and fluid gameplay, the game had a ton for players to latch on to but it was the introduction of the Tactical Offense Position (T.O.P) system, that truly got them hooked. At the start of each round, you get to choose whether you want to be powered up while your health is high, medium or low. It creates a strategic gamble that could turn the tide in battles. You can establish an early lead and hope you can keep it or perform an impressive comeback. It adds another layer to an already delicious parfait of fighting.
337. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005) Various
If the Splinter Cell games had more memorable plots, they would easily be the best stealth games ever. Until The Phantom Pain finally nailed down the camera and controls, Splinter Cell handedly beat MGS when it comes to stealth mechanics. There’s both a sound and light meter you have to keep an eye on to be as invisible as possible and to be no quieter than a church mouse. A ton of gadgets to help you see into rooms before you enter them, incapacitate enemies you run into and various different lockpicks and other little James Bond doodads. Later games even let you approach each mission as you saw fit, with no real right or wrong answer. Chaos Theory has all of those classic staples that make up the series but it also has a brand new multiplayer option and the best level design in the franchise. The bank heist mission alone is good enough to rank it against the best in the genre
336. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018) | Various
As meticulous and well crafted as the pocket watch at the center of the game’s story, Return of the Obra Dinn is a time traveling puzzle game that has you retrace the last moments of a dead man’s movements in order identify who they were. But like the game’s signature mechanic, let’s back up. You board an empty ship called the Obra Dinn with a magical pocket watch that can rewind time. You’ll use this to go back a few moments in time, to catalogue the missing and unidentified crew. An interactive crime scene with fantastical puzzle solving mechanics and a story by Lucas Pope (Papers, Please), The Return of the Obra Dinn is a singular experience nothing else can even duplicate.
335. NHL 09 (2008) | Various
Since there’s a new one released every year, sports games typically focus on the little changes (new players, different team rosters, Etc.) over refinement. No need to tweak an established formula. But NHL 09 said fuck that noise and threw out the formula and introduced big changes while refining the little changes. The “Skill Stick” maneuver was introduced as were improved defensive styles and zone strategies, like forechecking and dump-and-chase, were also included in the game. Furthermore, the PS2 version of NHL ’09 featured the “Be-A-Pro” mode which allowed the player to create a customized player and it also let them choose their NHL team. These changes did not go unnoticed by both critics and fans considering it was very well received and it received multiple “Best of the Year” awards from respected gaming outlets. All in all, NHL ’09 is one of the greatest games of all-time, and one that many still play today.
334. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991) | SNES
There was a time when this was the go to word for difficulty. You couldn’t even pretend you beat in on the playground because the other kids would call bullshit because none of them could beat it either. They couldn’t confirm your bullshit was true, so it was just agreed upon that it was unbeatable. Arthur’s quest to save his beloved from the Insidious Emperor Sardius is so hard, most can’t beat it today even with the addition of save files and to rub salt on the wound they themselves inflicted, in order to get the true ending, you have to beat the damn thing twice. That’s so unnecessarily punishing, it might as well be a crime. You’ll most likely never beat this but the level design, score, various enemy types and vivid colors are good enough that you’ll want to keep trying over and over again.
333. Dead Cells (2018) | Various
Balancing the frustration that comes with dying multiple times with the desire to keep playing due to the belief that their progress will be rewarding, is as hard as trying to keep five hacky sacks in the air at once but Dead Cells not only does it but makes it look effortless. Like most rouguelikes, the game focuses more on the pursuit of power over character and narrative and It does so better than most. You’re flooded with power ups, new abilities and since the combat is as fast paced as it is addictive, you’ll want to keep playing and killing to hit the next level. It rewards your desire to be the greatest badass by making you feel like the greatest badass.
332. Trials HD (2009) | Xbox 360
With its exaggerated physics, steep difficulty curve and tracks that feel nigh impossible to beat, Trials HD is an obstacle course you’d swear was made by the devil himself. All you have to do, is get your lil bicyclist from one end of the stage, to the other but even with checkpoints, it’s harder than teaching a snail to tap dance. In addition to nailing every landing with pinpoint precision and hitting every jump with the skills of Evel Knievel, you also have to work against the weird as hell physics. It’s not like QWOP or anything insane like that, they’re just unrealistic enough to add another layer of frustration on an already difficult but delicious cake of addictive madness.
331. Alien Isolation (2014) | Various
Every game that used the Alien license before this one was clearly taking cues from Aliens. Even if they were meant to be scary, the goal of all of them was to defeat wave after wave of xenomorphs. Even the games based on Alien 3 and Resurrection were more in line with the action of the second one. Isolation is the first game that takes it back to the roots. There’s only one xenomorph to kill in this but just like in the first movie, it’s smart, tough as nails and scary as shit. It was programmed to always know where you are and to fight against the urge to go after you immediately. That means, as long as you don’t make too much noise and if it doesn’t see you, you’re still only kinda safe. It will look in lockers and under bed and tables for you. It will scan the area it thinks will be the best hiding spots. Few games have moments as tense as trying to navigate around that giant death machine and it’ll be a long time before we see a video game enemy as terrifying as this game’s depiction of the xenomorph.
330. Splatoon (2015) | Wii U
Since Nintendo is a family friendly game developer, they have to work around portrayals of violence. It took them years to figure out how to make a fighting game not feel brutal and even longer to throw their hat into the shooter arena. Due to the fact that shooters consist of the player shooting things (it’s in the title), it’s near impossible to have them be non violent but leave it to the masters of innovation to figure it out. Splatoon still has you shoot things but since the bullets are ink and the goal of the game is to cover more of the battle area in paint than the other team, eliminating the competition is merely a means to an end. Kills don’t earn your team points, so it feels like more of a competition or race than a death match. And even if it was a death match, it would win the award for the cutest, most colorful death match ever.
329. Castle Crashers (2008) | Various
The video game landscape is littered with as many side scrolling beat ’em ups as a bus stop is with crazy homeless people. It’s absolutely rotten with them. So much so, that even the ones that have offer an RPG leveling up system aren’t special anymore. It takes a certain something special to stand out from the crowd. Or better yet, a combination of a bunch of great elements. Perhaps something like laugh out loud humor, outlandish character designs, beautifully rendered cartoony graphics, a wide variety of weapons to use and moves to learn, a slapping soundtrack and even a wealth of costumes to unlock, if you’re in that kinda thing. I bet if a game offered all of that, it would surely be among the best beat em ups ever. Too bad we have to settle for shit like Castle Crashers. A boring slog of a game with zero laughs and like two swords. I mean, what did you expect from the developers of Alien Hominid and BattleBlock Theater, something good?
328. Destiny 2 (2017) | Various
Bungie spent a half a billion dollars on the first Destiny in the hopes that it would be the ultimate FPS. They created Halo and they wanted to have the Halo killer. While their plans didn’t exactly pan out (Halo is still very much a thing and other first person shooters don’t really consider it a threat), they were successful in laying the groundwork for an amazing series. Not because of its celebrity cast or ridiculous story (there’s a wizard on the moon!) but by combining two elements players love: the ‘just one more level’ addiction of leveling up and the fun of multiplayer. It’s Diablo in space with guns. Which is honestly what all first person shooters be.
327. Shinning Force II (1993) | Genesis
Not content to let Square own a complete monopoly of the RPG landscape, Sega decided to throw a couple of hats into the ring but none landed as hard as Shinning Force II. At first glance, the game reeks of ‘baby’s first RPG’ but behind the appealing character models and slight cartoonish graphics hide a surprisingly deep combat system and a story filled with unpredictable twists and turns. Similar to the Fire Emblem games where the focus is more on positioning and attacking over stats, battle conditions and various other defensive considerations, Shining Force II has tighter, faster battles than most strategy RPGs. And for my money, it has the most underrated cast of characters within the genre. Peter the Phoenix is better than Frog from Chrono Trigger. I will die on this hill.
326. Resident Evil 2 (2019) | Various
When it comes to their remakes, their first time up to bat was a home run, while their second time was a grand slam. Resident Evil (2002) redefined what a ‘remake’ could be. It brought new players to the franchise, while veterans got to enjoy a lovingly crafted piece of nostalgia that vitally, felt like the game they remembered from 1996. It’s a fantastic entry point whereas Resident Evil 2 (2019) feels like an evolution. 7 and Village are taking the series in wildly different directions, so in order to get that classic RE feel, you have to play this game. It updates and fixes the flaws of the original, ports over the control scene and camera angles of RE4, revamps Mr. X to be more like (and ultimately better version of) Nemesis from RE3 and the graphics got a fresh coat of paint. All remakes and sequels should learn from this one.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?