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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
425. River City Ransom (1989) | NES
Incorporating RPG elements and a nonlinear, sandbox style open world map to a traditional beat em up was so ahead of the curve, it fundamentally changed how beat em ups are made from that point forward. Going to shops to buy regenerative items with the loot you got from killing enemies is as commonplace now as picking up a random fully cooked turkey after smashing certain items or busting up bigger fools. As is acquiring new moves and combos. The nonlinear structure is still novel however, with only a handful of games (not including the many sequels this game spawned) implementing it, but the ones that did, are among the best of the genre. If it wasn’t for the fact that the gameplay still consists of beating people up (and the fact that you have to save your kidnapped girlfriend, again), there would be nothing tying this to a typical beat em up. It’s that radically different than else.
424. Track and Field (1983) | NES
The only thing that would’ve improved this addictive button masher, was if it was released under its original Japanese title, Hyper Olympics. That title isn’t just cooler to say, but is a much better representation of what this game actually is. While including all of the sports associated with track and field, the game has as much to do with them as Mike Tyson’s Punch Out has to do with boxing. All you do is tap as fast as you can to throw a javelin or jump over hurdles, or throw a hammer, etc. You get the point. Since you have to alternate button presses, the game starts becoming a fight against finger cramps but the real winners rise above the blood and agony.
423. Ori and the Will of the Wisps (2020) | Various
Moon Studios is like that doctor who refuses to stop defibrillating a patient who’s flatlined for far too long but the patient is the 2D platformer genre and the paddles are excellent games. Thank God they refuse to let it die because they’re the only ones keeping it alive. Releasing some of the greatest entries in the illustrious genre’s recent history, the studio is hell-bent on making a game that can stand toe-to-toe with Mario, Sonic and Crash, and I’d say they already have. Ori and the Will of the Wisps took everything the first game did and made it better. With a fantastic story, a breathtakingly gorgeous world, and dynamic, fluid gameplay that allows you to run, jump, and fight through any challenge like a beautiful acrobat mixed with the most graceful parkour expert, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an action-packed platformer that Nintendo wishes it could make.
422. To the Moon (2011) | Switch, PC
Although built using the RPG Maker XP engine, which is used to create 16-bit 2.5D role-playing games, in the style of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, To the Moon forgoes the turn based battle system and dungeon crawling mechanics of typical RPGs and focuses on a story driven narrative. Set in the future, the story follows two doctors who offer to fulfill a dying man’s last wish using artificial memories. Featuring relatively few gameplay mechanics, the game is more of an interactive story with the occasional puzzle to solve. Like the inverse of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, To the Moon is an emotion journey you will never forget.
421. Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (2004) | PS2
Unless a new Rouge Squadron comes out and blows everyone away (which I doubt will happen), Ace Combat 5 will forever hold the title of the best combat flight simulator. A series known for excellence, this game takes the best elements of each game and just improves upon them. They overhauled the targeting and radar system so that they felt more realistic, they integrated the story missions and gameplay more seamlessly and made the action more tense and exciting. The radio chatter can be a bit annoying at times but overall, the constant interaction between wingmen creates a believable atmosphere. That, along with everything else, help sell you on the fact that you are actually in a cockpit during a hectic do-or-die dogfight.
420. Terraria (2011) | Various
To dismiss this game as simply a 2D Minecraft clone would be foolish at best and utterly inaccurate at worst. The two are similar in concept but so are all procedurally generated sandbox games. Exploring your environment and mining for supplies to create shelter, all while trying to survive your constant need for food and water and monsters who are trying to eat you, aren’t ideas born from Minecraft. It popularized the genre but it wasn’t the first game to introduce those ideas. It doesn’t own them anymore than Mario owns the concept of jumping on enemies. Even if it was a clone, why would gamers complain that they now have another great thing to enjoy? It evokes the same freedom to explore and sense of accomplishment as Minecraft does, just in 2D.
419. Path of Exile (2013) | Various
New dungeon crawlers make as much sense to me as a company trying to get into the facial tissue business. Kleenex is so synonymous with the product, that we collectively ceased calling them facial tissues and just called them Kleenex. The same goes for Diablo when it comes to action role-playing hack and slash dungeon crawlers. They did it so well, anything else feels redundant. So instead of taking on the king directly, Path of Exile decided on a different strategy. No matter what they did, there’s no way they weren’t going to get compared to that series, so knowing this, they decided to embrace the comparisons and offer something Diablo excelled at: a dark fantasy setting. The two games play pretty much identically but it’s the dreary atmosphere (Diablo is more heavy metal hellscape, Path of Exile is Bloodborne Victorian drudge) that separates it from that game and every other game in the genre. It’s not a groundbreaking sea change to change up the setting, but when it comes to RPGs, as long as you nail the fundamentals, any change in locale is enough to put you in the top tier.
418. Slay the Spire (2019) | Various
Made by a studio with less than 5% of Blizzard’s money and resources, Slay the Spire is a small indie game that challenged Hearthstone, the king of the collectible battle card business, and while it didn’t dethrone it, it certainly dented its crown. By creating an ever-changing dungeon for players to battle through without fear of failure, the game hop skipped over the frustration players felt over the deck building complexities of Hearthstone by offering a perfect safe place to learn how to build a deck on your own. Traversing the game’s titular tower provided as many thrills and fist pumping victories as any other game in the genre but also acted as its own tutorial by teaching the fundamentals at the players own pace. By the time you reach the top, you will have mastered how to play it and every other card building game and you’ll be excited to play it all over again.
417. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (2012) | Various
Abducted and forced along with eight other individuals to play the Nonary Game, which puts its participants in a life-or-death situation, you must work with the others to figure what the game is and why you’re all playing it, while also working on a strategy that may or may not include betraying them in order to save yourself or someone you like more. Welcome to the Nonary Game, a cruel test that could potentially end with you and/or everyone in the game dead. The gameplay is divided into two sections: Escape and Novel. The former are escape room puzzles that make you think on your feet against a clicking clock that signals your doom if you hadn’t figured out that room’s puzzle fast enough. And the latter are a series of visual novel type cutscenes that allows the player to make decisions that can positively or negatively affect which ending you get. With 24 different endings to unlock (all of which you can replay with the Flow Chart), you’ll be stuck in these horrible games for days and maybe weeks due to its replay-ability.
416. Bastion (2011) | Various
Set in a world shattered to pieces following an event called the Calamity, you’ll have to explore and scavenge to find anything you can as you struggle to understand this world-changing occurrence. Guided by the rough yet smooth narration of Logan Cunningham (who sounds like a mix between Morgan Freeman and Tom Waits), the game has an interesting approach to its story by having him react to everything you do and sometimes not do. Pick something up? He’ll mention it. Stand idly by to take in the gorgeous environments? He’ll wax poetic about the yearning in your heart. Go beast mode on some breakable jars looking for loot? He’ll make a note of it. It’s this touch, more than the excellent everything else, that Bastion will be remembered for.
415. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 (2004) | Various
When it comes to golf, the biggest name in the sport, is also the best series in games. The series perfected golf simulations, with each entry up till this one getting better. It’s not that they stopped being good past PGA Tour 2005, it’s that they just kept remaking this game. The gameplay was vastly superior to its predecessors. Every small alteration and tweak to the gameplay, made massive ripples. You could hit various strokes, including chips and flop shots, and adjust the area you strike the ball. For non golf players, just trust me, those changes make a huge difference. As good as the gameplay was (and still is), Legends Mode was undoubtedly the game’s best feature. It allowed you to unlock various legendary golfers and courses, as well as face-off against them. This game is the complete package and for that, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 wins the green jacket.
414. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997) | PS1
When it comes to world building, few do it better than Lorne Lanning. His Oddworld is unlike any other universe in games. Nothing else looks or feels like this. The world is ugly and decayed, the characters are familiar looking, like you’ve seen them in something before but are clearly original in concept and the general tone is downbeat and depressing but there’s beauty within the ugliness. After discovering his fellow Mudokons are being used as cattle by the gluttonous Glukkons, Abe, our klutzy protagonist, decides to free them but that’s easier said than done. Similar to the Lemmings series in that you have to manipulate a group of mindless idiots to a goal, this takes that a bit further by having insta death puzzles, traps and enemies on every screen. Figuring out how to navigate around them while also keeping them all alive requires tons of trial and error but once you start playing for long enough, the puzzles start to click and you’ll be guiding them to freedom much easier. Due to its difficulty, the gameplay may not be for everyone but for those willing to test themselves, they’ll be treated to a world unlike anything else.
413. Mario’s Picross (1995) | GameBoy
Cross referencing numbers to locate pixels that you must uncover to create a picture sounds about as entertaining as doing your taxes while at the DMV, but in the case of Mario’s Picross, it becomes an addictive time suck. Since it was portable, the Gameboy became a haven for those stuck doing boring or monotonous things. Long road trip? Gameboy. Going to a cousin’s house who is poor and has nothing fun to do? Gameboy. It’s a lifesaver and the best games on it were the ones that kept you entertained for hours and hours. Mario’s Picross may not have had the fun platforming gameplay of one of the official Mario games but it kept you busier for far longer.
412. Doom (2016) | Various
Rebooting the Doom franchise as a fast paced action extravaganza is so obvious, you wonder why it hadn’t happened earlier. Doom was always known for its quick traversal times and swarms of enemies but the 2016 one cranks the dial up to such a degree, that it feels closer to a Serious Sam game. It feels like the only time you’re not killing enemies, is when you’re looking for ammo to kill more enemies. And even then, if you constantly perform brutal take downs (watching Doom Guy rip limbs off demons and sticking grenades in the orifices never gets old), you should be flush with ammo and health. Just so long as you don’t suck at the game. Doom proves you can always pump new blood into old veins. By ripping those veins out and covering everything in it.
411. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2012) | 3DS
Not including the Japanese only releases, a new Animal Crossing comes out once every ten years. Not because Nintendo has abandoned the franchise or forgets it’s part of their catalog, but because they know they don’t need to. One of these things keeps motherfuckers busy for a decade. If you’re a fan of the series, there’s a good chance you’ve wasted hundreds of hours on each entry doing nothing but walking around, talking to people, catching bugs and redecorating your house for the billionth time. There’s something about these games that sucks time out of people’s days. One more hour can turn into still playing when the sun comes up real quick. And that’s just when you were an indentured servant. When you’re a Mayor, like you are in this game, you’ll spend even longer trying to make everyone happy and the Town a success. Nintendo made the perfect sequel by doing the impossible: they listened to the fans and gave them what they wanted. Who’d have thunk?
410. Job Simulator (2016) | PC, PS4
Virtual Reality wasn’t the game changer the industry hoped it would be. Due to a combination of factors, it never caught on with the public. The biggest one being: it simply doesn’t have enough console selling games. There are great games to be sure, but the overwhelming majority of them are glorified tech demos. You don’t need a million games to show off what VR can do, you only need one: Job Simulator. A game that has you sit in an office cubicle, surrounded by stuff to interact with and gives you the freedom to just figure stuff out due to boredom. Flip some switches to find out what they do. Make a paper airplane to see if you can. Open up drawers to see what’s inside. Poke this, touch that and pick up everything. Half Life: Alyx is most definitely the best game made for VR but Job Simulator is the one you’d show anyone who was curious about the hardware.
409. Qix (1981) | Various
While you may not know it from its title, there’s no question you’ve played Qix or at least one of its many clones before. One of the most imitated games in existence, Qix has spawned so many ripoffs, they constitute a legitimate sub category of video games. Stop me if this sounds familiar: each level is a large, empty rectangle, containing a stick-like entity (the titular Qix) that performs unpredictable motions within the confines of the rectangle. The objective is to draw lines that close off parts of the rectangle to fill in a set amount of the playfield without the Qix touching your line. It’s appeal among copycats is obvious — the concept is easy enough that anyone can figure it out within seconds but its risk vs reward gameplay will get hooked immediately.
408. Hollow Knight (2017) | Various
If you cringe at the sight of words like ‘Metroidvania’ or ‘Soulslike’, you might want to skip to the next entry because it’s impossible to talk about Hollow Knight without those descriptors. It marries those two genres brilliantly, while also having Tim Burton design the reception. As you’d suspect, the gameplay consists of backtracking and exploration, while the combat is precise and often times brutal. It punishes as often as it rewards. If it’s not gifting you with new abilities to feel slightly more powerful than everything around you, it’s giving you exquisite backgrounds and environments to look at. The inhabitants of this weird underground bug world are cute and frightening, from spore-spewing toadstools, to ghastly looking wizard slugs with bulging eyes, to a flamboyant dung beetle overflowing with Ricardo Montalban-esque bravado. Filled with interesting looking creatures, fantastic level design, a memorably haunting score and challenging, yet gratifying action, Hollow Knight is the ultimate Soulsvania game. If that’s not a sub-genre already, it is now.
407. Dwarf Fortress (2006) | PC
A cult classic with such a devoted following that it somehow made its way to the Museum of Modern Art, Dwarf Fortress does everything it can to alienate and frustrate the player, yet so many of them can’t get enough of it. With overly complex gameplay, extreme difficulty spikes, text based graphics and an unwinnable goal, the game makes you accept and embrace failure. That’s not an exaggeration either, there is no way to win. Every fortress, no matter how successful, is always destroyed somehow. Since there’s no mission structure, explaining the “goal” isn’t exact easy but to break it down to its most basic components, the game tasks you with maintaining the health, wealth and happiness of a group of dwarves. You need to make shelter, fight goblins and collect materials. It’s far more complex than that, but that’s the gist. Oh and the failure. Your fortress WILL be destroyed. So no matter how many hours you put into it, you will inevitably lose. But don’t forget: Losing Is Fun!
406. Beyond Good & Evil (2003) | Various
Michel Ancel must fucking despise Jak II. If that didn’t come out around the time of this game’s release, we would’ve gotten at least four sequels already. This should’ve been Ancel’s second big franchise behind Rayman and honestly, it had all the potential to be bigger. But unfortunately it had the misfortune of coming out the same time as a game with the exact same story and gameplay, except that game (Jak II for those of you not paying attention) had name recognition and this one didn’t. And the real kicker is, that game is worse. It’s a stellar game, don’t get me wrong but Beyond Good & Evil offers everything it has and more. A platformer with stealth, Pokémon Snap mechanics and fluid combat, the game refuses to be put in any one box. Every time gamers complain about the amount of sequels as opposed to original ideas, remember you choose the game with emo elf with the edge-lord goatee over one of the best games ever made just because it had a II in the title.
405. Lode Runner (1983) | Various
Its clever melding of puzzles and action, while ahead of its time, isn’t enough to land Lode Runner on a list of the greatest of all time. Nor would its 150 levels, which makes this one of the longest games of that era. No, what solidified its place in history, is the fact that it’s one of the first games to offer a level editor. Giving players access to the building blocks of Lode Runner‘s maps guaranteed this game would be played in perpetuity (note to game developers: you want to extend the life of your game? Let players build their own levels) and that it would generate future generations of game makers. The kids who kept playing this when the NES dropped a couple years later, are the ones who went on to make the games we play today. Saving Princess Toadstool is fun and all but making mazes out of bricks and ladders? That’s an experience Nintendo wouldn’t provide for another thirty odd years.
404. Samurai Shodown (1993) | Various
In contrast to other fighting games at the time, which were set in modern times and focused primarily on hand-to-hand combat, Samurai Shodown is set in feudal-era Japan and utilized period authentic weapons. Not just katanas either, there’s the shakuhachi, shamisen and other hard to pronounce but no less deadly instruments of death. Focusing more on quick, powerful strikes than combos, the game is renowned for its quick pace and lightning fast rounds. The addition of slow motion to enhance the look of hard hits, making them more cinematic, is a feature I wish would make an appearance in more fighting games. That feature alone is good enough to consider this an all timer but add on top of that the characters, weapons, story and speed, and you have one of the best fighters that doesn’t have the words “fighter” and “kombat” in the title.
403. Valkyrie Profile (1999) | PC, PS1
Since there’s an overabundance of amazing RPGs out there, to stand out from the pack requires a little something extra. That certain je ne sais quoi that really makes it special. Earthbound had its charming setting, Chrono Trigger had time travel and Valkyrie Profile has Norse mythology. Tasked by Odin to retrieve souls to fight during the last battle of Ragnarok, the player must locate and strategically level up warriors to ensure they survive the war. Imagine a Pokemon game in which the goal isn’t to collect as many Pokemon as possible, but to level up the right ones in order to fight alongside them during a massive battle at the end. That’s Valkyrie Profile. Pokémon but with Norse gods. If that doesn’t sell you, nothing will.
402. Her Story (2015) | PC
Her Story isn’t a conventional video game. First of all, the entire experience takes place on an old police desktop. Then there’s the fact that the only gameplay mechanic is tagging and ordering old interview footage. And finally, there’s the fact that it’s an FMV game released a good two decades after that genre fizzled out. The game literally just consists of watching videos, making observations, tagging videos and taking notes and yet, I defy you to name a more engrossing experience. You’re tasked with piecing together the story of a grisly murder by watching clips and snippets of interview footage and trying to put everything in order. Think of the tags and dates as the corner pieces of a puzzle, you focus on that and work your way to the center. And what a tantalizing center it is. The story structure is intriguing and the mystery itself is captivating but without the central performance by Viva Seifert, it would be all for naught. Analyzing every gesture she makes, every tick, every nuance in her body language, is the key to the mystery and is one of the most compelling and involved things I’ve ever done in a game.
401. Shadowrun (1993) | SNES
Certain combinations are obviously good like chocolate and peanut butter, while others sound bad on paper but are actually delicious like macaroni and cheese, peas and tuna. If you’ve never had it, that sounds god awful but those who have, swear by it. The ingredients shouldn’t go together but somehow, they do. Just like cyberpunk and fantasy. It couldn’t be a more but Shadowrun not only made it work, but turned it into a genre. A film noir mystery with a cyberpunk aesthetic that has fantastical elements such as shamans, minotaurs and magic, Shadowrun took the best elements from old-school tabletop games and mixed them with the mechanics of the best RPGs of the time, to create a role playing game still talked about all these years later.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?