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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
475. Frog Fractions (2012) | PC
Just like how The Blair Witch Project inspired a wave of inferior imitators, every game after Frog Fractions who’s only hook is being meta, feels redundant. Even if they go trippy like Pony Island or extremely dark like Doki Doki Literature Club, the end result, unless you hadn’t played this game first, will always feel a bit “eh, Frog Fractions did it”. As far as I can tell, it’s the first game to start as one thing and then pivot drastically to another, leaving the playing with whiplash in the process. As the title suggests, it starts as a simple math game involving a frog jumping from lilly pad to lily pad, colleting a set number of bugs on the way down but the longer you play, the higher the frog jumps and the further from a math game you get. Impatience and boredom will eventually lead you to try and jump off of the lily pad into the water below, revealing more ways to break the game, until the facade is completely broken and the real game begins. To reveal anymore than that would be criminal, suffice it to say, you’re not prepared for the mind bending journey this frog goes on.
474. Nidhogg (2014) | PC, PS4, PS Vita
The design and premise of this game feel so obvious, you’d swear it had been done decades earlier. Two players, each equipped with a fencing sword, lunge at each other until the other is dead and then surviving player races to their goal before the other player respawns and kills them. It doesn’t take but a couple of seconds before they’re back and with one hit kills, the game quickly goes from a gentleman’s duel, to a frantic mad dash to victory. Throwing your sword, knocking theirs out of their hand and sliding into your foe are viable strategies, so playing dirty, if you can get away with it, is encouraged. It’s not a game you’re going to spend hours and hours on at a time but in ten minute bursts, it’s fun as hell.
473. Just Cause 2 (2010) | PS3, Xbox 360
It can not be overstated how important fun is to the success of a game. It can have the greatest graphics and the tightest controls, but if it’s not a blast to play, who gives a shit. And the inverse is also true. Gamers will overlook a lot of problems, as long as they’re having fun. Just Cause 2 didn’t have the best graphics, nor did it have a memorable story, but it offered an action packed thrill ride that was a ton fun to play. The game combines the over the top sensibilities of a Robert Rodriguez film with the high octane energy of a speed and red bull mixer to create a balls to the walls shooter that is nothing but one awesome set piece after another. And it should be mandated that every game from now on should include a zipline grappling hook. Doesn’t matter what the genre is — zipline grappling hook. It’s impossible to play this and not spend hours upon hours just zipping around the city. It’s as addictive as it is fun.
472. Duck Hunt (1984) | NES
This crude light gun game was the first time many gamers felt the white hot blinding rage that many games, most notably Dark Souls, would later tap into. Dealing with that annoying cackling dog primed an entire generation for a lifetime of frustration. Before that damn dog, games were easy. You moved whatever you were playing as with the directional pad and either jumped or shot with a button. They were simple distractions, so when you messed up, there was no pressure to improve. But with the mockery, came shame. He was to our generation, what over caffeinated, horribly racist and misogynistic teenagers are to this one. The only thing missing is him teabagging you after your failure. The game might’ve popularized light gun games but it’s true importance is getting us prepared for the true object horror of online players. Oh, and it taught us to read that damn manual. Bet you didn’t know this was two player and that the second player could control the birds, did you?
471. Gravity Rush 2 (2017) | PS4
A true testament to the power of a vocal fanbase, Gravity Rush 2 only exists because the diehard fans would not stop bugging Sony for a sequel. The first game was an open world playground that, because of the player’s ability to manipulate gravity, literally turned the genre on its head. Shifting directions on the turn of a dime, so that you alternate between flying and falling (or vice versa) is as addictive a mechanic as web slinging in a Spider-Man game. So addictive in fact, that gamers needed more. The game wasn’t a hit, so a sequel was off the table. Until, the petitions started. And the constant emails. And the non-stop begging and pleading. Finally, someone listened and actually decided to throw them a bone. A 24k bone as it turned out because Gravity Rush 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in every way. The graphics are sharper, the story is funnier and more eventful, the soundtrack is catchy as hell and the gameplay is just as slick as it ever was. We’ll most likely never see a 3rd one but it’s hard to complain when we were gifted a sequel this good.
470. Untitled Goose Game (2019) | Various
Untitled Goose Game is like a series of Rube Goldberg machines you have to construct in order to achieve your goal but seeing as you’re a pain in the ass goose, your goal is just to steal shit from people or cause general mischief. An example of a puzzle would be something along the lines of knocking over a plank, so that a ball will roll, which in turn will push over a radio and when someone bends down to pick it up, you steal his hat so that you can throw it in the pond. There’s nothing in the pond that needs the hat, that’s the end of the puzzle. It puts you in the headspace of the worst animal on planet Earth but after living the life of a colossal asshole for a couple of hours, it starts to feel real good. Even the honk mechanic (there’s a button reserved just for honking) stops being annoying after a couple of minutes. You get brain teasers and the chance to be the worst, what more do you want?
469. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017) | Various
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Traveling to the underworld to save the soul of a loved one, is the premise of many an action game but Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice proves it’s not what a game is about that’s important, it’s how it’s about what it’s about. This isn’t your typical hack and slash fantasy game. Your most valuable asset in your quest to save your deceased lover is also your curse. Senua suffers from psychosis, a condition that helps her see the world around her differently, an integral mechanic in the game’s puzzle solving sections but it also drains her mentally and emotionally. Ninja Theory worked with a number of experts as well as people experiencing psychosis to be as respectful and accurate as possible. This isn’t a gimmick, it’s a faithful representation of a condition that adds some much needed depth to a genre content with the familiar. Add to that its Norse setting (which was novel at the time), its unexpected but welcome horror elements and its incredibly tight gameplay and you have one of the best action titles of the last decade.
468. S.T.AL.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (2009) | PC
The Fallout series has countless mods and player created load outs to stimulate what this game perfected years ago: the thrill of skin of your teeth survival. Players familiar with the Metro games already know the importance of item management, ammo conservation and the pains of weapon degradation but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. amplifies those problems tenfold. Unlike Pathologic, the game is still playable but the challenge is considerably harder than what you’d find in a typical FPS. Taking place inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone, the game is divided into three large areas known as Zaton, Yanov, and the ghost city of Pripyat. Each area is filled with its own unique challenges, including mutants, scavengers or any number of beasts or other humans who will kill you just because you can. Much like the aforementioned Fallout series, the game is a combination of post-apocalyptic horror, as well as tactical role-playing action. Where they differ is their approach to realism and the difficulty. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is among a handful of games that can appeal to both the casual and the hardcore. It’s hard but not impossible and it’s fun without sacrificing challenge. It’s perfectly blended to give you the ultimate survivalist experience.
467. WWF: No Mercy (2000) | N64
It’s been over two decades since this game was released and there still hasn’t been a wrestling game that tops No Mercy. It’s so beloved, that there are tons of mods out there for gamers looking to include current WWE and NXT superstars on the roster. It speaks volumes to the quality of every game released after this that wrestling fans stick to a game so old, it was released four consoles ago in order to get their wresting fix. With a huge roster, tons of match types, and the deepest create-a-wrestler mode ever made, No Mercy was and still is, infinitely replayable. Almost every kid, at some point in their lives, wants to be a professional wrestler. No Mercy lets them live out that dream without the fear of steroid abuse and shattered bones.
466. Don’t Starve Together (2013) | Various
In the first game, you play as a scientist named Wilson who accidentally transports himself to a vast and unforgiving open world after tinkering around in his lab one morning. Clearly not a survivalist by trade, you’ll have to use your wits and creativity to keep yourself fed, warm, and safe from the hordes of monsters that appear every night. It’s a game that requires the player to constantly explore and manage supplies to stay alive, which lends itself perfectly to multiplayer. Unfortunately, for players, it wasn’t. Designers weren’t convinced of the game’s ability to support multiplayer but soon relented after fan support for the idea built to a fever pitch. Now, up to six players can work together, each with their own skills and strengths. One of the most impressive elements of the experience is how seamless the game feels in multiplayer. Whether you’re playing on your own or with friends, this survival rogue like is perfectly balanced.
465. Kid Icarus (1986) | NES
Pit’s journey through Angel Land to save Palutena from Medusa redefined what players had become accustomed to from platformers. Games before this simply went from left to right but Kid Icarus made you go left and right as well as backwards/forwards and up/down. It’s a stretch to call the level design revolutionary but it did offer something new, which for players, is sometimes enough. But the idiosyncratic level design isn’t all it has to offer. There’s also its original take on mythological creatures, challenging yet rewarding gameplay and the additional side rooms where you could shop, heal, power-up, and pick up treasure. Nintendo may have long since abandoned the series but it still holds a place in many a gamer’s heart.
464. Picross 3D (2009) | DS
The original Mario Picross (as well as its subsequent follow ups) had players shading in Sudoku-esque number grid puzzles to form pictures. They were essentially paint-by-numbers games but with a teensy bit of math thrown in. Picross 3D on the other hand, has more in common with sculpting than pixel art. Each piece of 3D art begins life as a cube covered in numbers that represent the number of blocks in any given row or column the finished piece will contain. Using a minute amount of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive reasoning and logic, you’ll need to make sure the numbers between grid and row match before you’re able to chip away at the unfinished cube. Watching the image slowly reveal itself to you as you work on a series of micro spatial puzzles, is never not rewarding
463. Guardian Heroes (1996) | Saturn
A true successor to the Streets of Rage and Golden Axe series, Guardian Heroes retains all the fun of those games’ beat ’em up action and enhances it with new additions like multi-hit combos, linking moves, and a branching storyline with multiple endings. It also adds RPG elements to further differentiate itself from the pack. The only reason it isn’t more well known and beloved by players, is the fact that it came out on the ill fated Sega Saturn. If it had a life outside of the consoles (this would’ve been a huge arcade hit) or even just that console in particular, it would be as fondly remembered as Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom.
462. No Man’s Sky (2016) | Various
There’s no two ways around it: No Man’s Sky was sold on a lie and delivered far less than it promised. It wouldn’t have been so egregious if the developers hadn’t pulled a Peter Molyneux, and hyped up a bunch of features that were no where near the final project. A little exaggeration would’ve led to some disappointment but these were flat out lies. The only game in recent years to promise so much and deliver so little, is Cyberpunk 2077 but the difference between that game and No Man’s Sky is, this actually made the effort to fix things. Crawling out of the crater like hole it dug for itself was no easy feat but against all odds, this intergalactic adventure game finally won over the fans it lost and converted everyone else who was turned off by its reputation. What was once game barren with content has quickly become a living, breathing ecosystem of unmeasurable size. With new vehicles, missions, and multiplayer options, as well as reams of fixes, changes, and general sprucing, No Man’s Sky is finally the massive playground it promised us all those years ago.
461. Rez (2001) | Various
Rez is almost impossible to sell to someone who hasn’t played it already. It’s an on rails shooter with wire frame graphics that has you synch up your shots in tune with the beat. That description makes it sound no different than a million other games and any screenshot of it makes it look considerably worse than any other game but it’s not something you play as much as you experience. Everything from its intentionally low fi graphics, to its trippy visuals, to the thumping soundtrack is designed to create a sense of synesthesia. If playing Tetris for so long leads one to dream about falling blocks, this could lead to someone seeing sounds.
460. Beat Saber (2018) | PC, PS4
You know a game is amazing when you don’t care how much of a jackass you look like while playing it. Beat Saber will have you flail around like an idiot to anyone watching but to you, the player, you might as well be a ninja for as fast as your hands are going. It’s a virtual reality rhythm game where you try and hit the blue and red blocks as fast as humanly possible, so there’s no time to feel self conscious. It’s an exhausting (exercise games are less strenuous than this) and exhilarating rush that everyone with a VR headset should own.
459. Pyre (2017) | PC, PS4
After just four games Supergiant Games have already proven themselves a powerhouse within the industry. Each and every one of them have been critical darlings and all but one of them is on this list (Transitor was this close to making it). They have a flawless track record and while they’re clearly improving with each new release, I do hope they take more chances like Pyre. An insane hodgepodge of ideas and gameplay mechanics, Pyre is a story driven sports game with a heavy emphasis on combat that’s all about failure. There’s a lot to unpack there but trust me, it all works. Played in a top down perspective, the game involves you throwing balls at your opponents pillars and stopping them from breaking yours. It’s Rocket League and Transitor plus a smidge of Defense of the Ancients. In short, it’s a wholly original work from a studio that makes nothing but gold.
458. Mother 3 (2006) | GB Advance
The lifeblood of the internet (besides cat videos and porn) seems to solely consist of people bitching and moaning about literally anything and everything, with video games being no exception. When it comes to games, the only thing gamers complain about more than Half-Life 3, is the fact that Nintendo has yet to release a proper translation for Mother 3. It’s gone from being a legitimate gripe to an absurd joke like Duke Nukem Forever, the difference being that that game actually got a release. But while that game, much like Chinese Democracy, was no where near worth the wait, Mother 3 is a masterpiece unplayable to most gamers. The sequel to the much beloved Earthbound, Mother 3 follows Lucas, a young boy with psychic abilities, and a party of characters (including a cowboy and a dog) as they attempt to prevent a mysterious army from trying to take over the world. Equally as charming as the previous entry in the series but with a slightly darker tone and heavier emotional stakes, Mother 3 is by far the greatest game you’ve never played.
457. Enter the Gungeon (2018) | Various
Deep within a dungeon on an alien planet, there resides a gun so powerful, that it can kill the past. Many have tried to claim it and all have failed but for three desperate individuals with nothing to lose, the risk is worth the reward. There’s The Convict, with a sawn-off shotgun and Molotov cocktails; the Master Chief-esque Marine, with a sidearm and body armor; and The Hunter, equipped with a crossbow and hunting dog companion. Each have unique skill sets but all will require luck in order to get through the Gungeon alive because a gun that powerful isn’t going to be easy pickings. Not only are there procedurally generated dungeons filled with waves of enemies to get through but there’s also the toughest and meanest bosses around. You will die. A lot. But since there’s over 300 different weapons to find and unlock and a fair amount of secrets to discover, you’ll be playing for a long time before the repetition ever kicks in. And with the recent updates that made it a tad more forgiving to newcomers, there’s no reason not to jump into one of the best rouge likes of this or any generation.
456. Thomas Was Alone (2012) | Various
In the time before indie studios challenged triple A game developers, Thomas Was Alone was considered the gold standard when it came to low budget narrative based games. This was the king of a niche market created solely through word of mouth. You had to recommend this game to someone in order for them to play it because nothing about its gameplay would sell anyone. Controlling various colored shapes, each with their own abilities, to solve maze-like puzzles doesn’t sound that enthralling, but the narration (done impeccably by Danny Wallace) adds a new dimension of context to an otherwise abstract experience. As the player progresses, more of the shape’s innermost thoughts and feelings are revealed until it’s impossible not to identify with these oblong shapes. Without giving anything away, the world these shapes reside in, along with the shapes themselves, represent more than meets the eye. Don’t go in expecting a twist, it’s just another layer in an already deep experience.
455. Dig Dug (1981) | Arcade
Arcade games before the 90s only needed a simple hook in order to be successful. Take Dig Dug for example: you start each level on solid ground and your only objective is to eliminate the two enemy types, the red goggle wearing Pookas and the green dragons called Fygars. You accomplish this by digging into the ground, collecting points the more dirt you remove. It’s a deceptively simple mechanic because you’ll soon realize, the points you try and acquire, the easier it is for the monsters to get you. No dirt means there’s nothing stopping them from going after you. Soon the game switches from the hunter, to the hunted with you frantically trying to pump and pop for dear life. And if there’s only one enemy left, they make a mad dash to the top to try and escape, which adds another level of anxiety on top of an already hectic game. Who knew a game about a cute lil miner and some adorable dragons would result in more panic sweats than being a guest on an episode of Maury.
454. Super Monkey Ball (2001) | GameCube
Marble Madness got there first but when you think of games in which you have to tilt a board in order for a ball to go to a designated goal, Super Monkey Ball is the game you think of. Fast paced and filled with as many challenges as it does tension, Super Monkey Ball will have you raging at the heavens, while eagerly anticipating the challenge. I can only imagine how difficult it is making a game that balances frustration and the need to improve without ever tipping over into being mad the game but somehow Sega pulled it off. Every time you fail, you blame yourself because you know you can do it, it’s just hard enough that you can’t do it the first time. Which adds into its “just one more time” gameplay loop. A loop you’ll never escape until you finally finish it.
453. Crazy Taxi (1999) | Arcade, Dreamcast
Assuming the role of a taxi driver who must accumulate money by delivering passengers to their destinations in the fastest time possible, Crazy Taxi is a racing game that actively encourages the player to be as reckless as humanly possible. You’ll earn tips by performing “crazy stunts” before the time runs out but lose tips by causing to much damage. Drive crazy, do crazy shit but don’t hit anyone. As anyone who’s actually tried to drive correctly and not a madman in a GTA game can tell you, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Especially when your car is faster than greased lightning. Playing this game is like riding in a cab in New York in the 70s except there’s 150% more The Offspring playing on the radio.
452. Sinistar (1983) | Arcade
“Run, Cowards!” “I Hunger!” “I Live!” I believe it’s those three sentences, not the creepy house in Alone in the Dark or the zombies of Resident Evil, that’s the true beginning of survival horror. Before you hear those terrifying words, the game plays near identically to Asteroids. You go around shooting planetoids and collect the crystals and power ups that are released until enough time has passed and you have to take on the ultimate evil himself, Sinistar. Gamers today who grew up getting jump scared by animatronic bears and fancy dressed anorexic giants, have no idea the ball dropping fear that is hearing “I am Sinistar!” from off screen because you knew you were fucked. It’s like running into Jason in one of the cabins in that god awful Friday the 13th game for the NES except far scarier because there’s at least a chance you could win. Odds are, you won’t but you have the ability to win. It gives you hope and like the cruelest of monsters, snatches it away along with your quarters.
451. Herzog Zwei (1989) | Genesis
Herzog Zwei, like Hydrox, ruined any chance it would have of making history because of that dumbass name. I have no idea what Oreo stands for or what it even means but it sounds good and doesn’t conjure images of digesting peroxide. The same can be said of Command and Conquer and Dune II, games that are often credited for creating the RTS genre simply because they’re names are more popular. Your mind outright rejects Herzog Zwei as if it was a horrible curse word you’d feel ashamed of saying aloud. Which is horribly unfortunate for both the game and you because it’s not just the first real-time strategy game, it’s one of the best. Birthing the genre almost fully formed, the game has most of the template that will be used by some of the most successful titles in industry already in place. There’s two armies (a red one and a blue one), four bases (including the home base and three neutral bases ripe for capture) and a variety of fighting units to deploy. A brilliant mix of resource management and strategy coupled with a compelling split screen two player mode, Herzog Zwei is ground zero for a revolution. Too bad that title is awful though.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?