top 100 videogames 2015 edition


Worms Armageddon
100. Worms Armageddon (1999). The feeling inspired most intensely by Worms Armageddon,
oddly but irresistibly, is helplessness—the sensation that, as a friend
locks you in the sights of a bazooka, you can’t do anything about it.
Chaos reigns: Grenades remain in thrall to the mercurial whims of the
wind, ping-pong wildly, as you seize up waiting to see that last,
unpredictable bounce. These are death matches in which you’re about as
likely to shoot your enemy as you are to shoot yourself, though with
mechanics so precisely engineered that the only blame for your mistakes
belongs to yourself. It was maddening. But futility proved fun.  Marsh

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
99. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1995). Phantasy Star
has its fans, a great many of whom jumped on when the series went MMO,
but it’s never been a franchise uttered in the same breath as Square
Enix’s best and Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium releasing hot on the heels of Final Fantasy VI didn’t help. The irony is that Sega’s magnum RPG opus does pretty much everything Final Fantasy
would offer in the years that followed way ahead of the curve: combo
spells, manga-inspired cutscenes, space travel, multiple vehicles to
play around in, and the best, delightfully earnest storytelling the
genre has to offer. This is the system’s quietly ignored masterpiece.  Justin Clark

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
98. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005). The genius of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
is derived from a single word: “Objection.” The game imbued that modest
exclamation with the power to make or break a legal case entire,
invoked like a coup de grace to bring a 10-hour mystery to its final,
satisfying close. A handheld judicial comedy composed largely of text
and 2D animation, Phoenix Wright is clearly a video game apart,
beloved as much for its formal audacity as for its almost novelistic
density as a work of detective fiction. Gather clues. Build a case. And
prepare for a culminating moment of glory: a chance to yell
“Objection!”  Marsh

Wild Arms
97. Wild Arms (1996). Back in the olde days
of the PlayStation, developers seemed a lot more willing to make
reckless gambles, but it led to brilliant oddball titles like Wild Arms,
which combined western themes with science-fiction machinations. The
game freewheeled it from the start, allowing players to choose the order
in which they’d play through the initial three scenarios, and never
looked back. By settling on a small cast (going up against some very
large stakes), the game allowed for a depth of character development
that was missed in other, more well-known titles, to the extent that
even swapping between heroes (each had their own set of puzzle-solving
tools) felt like reacquainting oneself with an old friend. Whether
playing a guitar to summon a monstrous golem or using the power glove to
disrupt a satellite’s transmission, they just don’t make bizarre, wild
games like this anymore.  Aaron Riccio

Pokémon Gold and Silver
96. Pokémon Gold and Silver (2000). Superior in almost every way to their predecessors, Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced a number of significant advancements that have since become staples in modern Pokémon
installments. The real-time clock system, which allowed for certain
Pokémon to make their appearances at specific hours of the day, was a
landmark element that had gamers waking up in the dead of the night to
acquire rare critters. Pokémon item-holding, berries, the Pokégear,
defeated trainer rematches, shiny Pokémon, breeding, and the Dark and
Steel types were also first seen in Gold and Silver. To boot, Gold and Silver arguably boast the best starting trio, protagonist, and expansion edition (Pokémon Crystal) this fabled franchise has yet to deliver.  Mike LeChevallier

Dead Space
95. Dead Space (2008). Resident Evil 4 in space, or a video-game version of Event Horizon. That’s Dead Space
in a nutshell, but that also doesn’t do the game’s fierce commitment to
the horror element of survival horror nearly enough justice. This is a
game not above setting up creatures to jump from behind vents and
corners, or leaving the player low on ammo, but it’s in watching the
Artifact drive the USG Ishimura’s crew into violent insanity, the game’s
Kubrickian use of the cold silence and zero gravity of space, and the
dozens of visceral ways Isaac Clarke can die that raise this game far
above its lackluster peers.  Clark

Advance Wars: Dual Strike
94. Advance Wars: Dual Strike (2005). The most appealing feature of Advance Wars: Dual Strike
is also its most superfluous: Those gloriously, singularly animated
battle sequences, which hurl your tiny armies into split-screen combat
for a two-second rapid-fire skirmish. It’s an entirely unnecessary
design element—a quirky bit of ornamentation that visualizes the damage
calculations chattering away behind the scenes. And yet it’s precisely
what elevates the game from distinguished real-time strategy to
something altogether new. Precisely calibrated mechanics are a solid
foundation. Advance Wars delivers something more: a burst of aesthetic splendor and an inspired flourish of design.  Marsh

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
93. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1992).
In its halcyon days, the side-scrolling beam-’em-up genre produced a
number of standout games that could have easily landed on this list, but
Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time stands
as the king of its kind for a variety of reasons. It effortlessly
defined the comic book-reading, pizza-eating, cartoon-watching,
slang-spouting, arcade-inhabiting zeitgeist by using the then
mega-popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a faceplate for
what’s perhaps one of the most addicting cooperative multiplayer
experiences in video-game history. Teaming up with three friends as the
titular reptilian foursome and mowing down waves of Foot Soldiers and
various mutated hostiles, all set to composer Kôzô Nakamura’s consummate
16-bit score, is a riotous routine that never stales.  LeChevallier

Fallout 3
92. Fallout 3 (2008). The idea of walking
around a nuclear wasteland in 2077 is as much of a fantasy as anything
else in a modern role-playing games, but the attention to details
lavished by Betheseda upon their devastated, mutant-overrun version of
Washington D.C. made Fallout 3 feel all too real. That’s
because the game allowed you to literally choose your own adventure.
Because if you didn’t feel like exploring the various ruined landmarks,
subways, and museums that loosely connected the main plot, you could
simply scavenge the surrounding, fully rendered areas, stumbling over
old military bunkers and warehouses in the mountains, or picking through
suburban homes, supplying your own grim stories and making your own
brand of morality.  Riccio

91. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001). Halo
is about an intergalactic war between humans and aliens, interrupted
with the discovery of an ancient, sinister planet-sized artifact: an
enormous ringworld, with continents and oceans like Earth, that
stretches into an enormous loop. One can see everything continuing way
off into the distance, then look up to the sky to see the ring reach up
into the heavens. This dazzling vision defied the limits of previous
first-person shooters, set across uniquely huge landscapes that could be
freely traversed, and utilized vehicles as well as firearms, both for
travel and as armaments. Its addictive gameplay is accentuated by its
intriguing sci-fi narrative, wherein the player’s interaction with the
technology of an ancient species inadvertently instigates the end of all
life.  Ryan Aston

Saints Row: The Third
90. Saints Row: The Third (2011). You’re the
leader of a gang of ninjas dressed in an enormous pink cat suit,
driving your monster truck over pedestrians as you flee from a gang of
Mexican Luchadore wrestlers. Soon you’ll be flying overhead your bright
pink helicopter, shooting them with a rocket launcher that discharges
sharks. Dispensing completely with any notion of serious tone or
narrative, Saint’s Row: The Third embraces maximum lunacy to
create one of the more ridiculous, hilarious, and insane player
experiences ever offered by a video game. The open-world game to end all
open-world games, it offers players a dynamic sandbox within which to
cause havoc as the head of a fully customizable gang of crazies armed
with the most creative implements of destruction conceivable.  Aston

Valkyrie Profile
89. Valkyrie Profile (2000). More than a mere inoculation against the horrors of Game of Thrones, Valkyrie Profile
was a rarity among games: a mature, adult, unsparing tale of suffering
and struggle. To recruit your party of Einherjar, they first had to die;
to advance in the game, you had to offer them up a second time to the
pending apocalypse in Valhalla. The game played up its themes of
loss—items breaking in the middle of combat, an internal timer counting
down to the end of the world—so as to make the player appreciate all the
more what they had: a smart, challenging RPG in the body of a puzzling
platformer. Which is to say, a heartbreaking hybrid.   Riccio

Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
88. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (2005). For Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, Capcom wisely ditched Devil May Cry 2‘s
gloomy tonal approach in favor of a potent blend of extravagant gore,
tongue-in-cheek comedic jabs, and increased difficulty curves. Being a
prequel, the game was able to reintroduce the character of Dante, making
him less of a grim figure and more of a shamelessly cocky, conceited,
yet unusually magnetic antihero. A brilliant brother-versus-brother plot
sets the stage for a turbulent journey that takes Dante from his humble
shop in the grungy city streets to the innards of a massive flying
leviathan and the tip-top of a hellish tower where family values are put
aside in favor of unabashed personal glory.  LeChevallier

God of War III
87. God of War III (2010). It’s not always true, but in the instance of God of War III, bigger is
equivalent with better, and until this point, no game had ever fully
managed to get the visuals to line up to such larger-than-life
mythology. In this installment, gorgons were mere appetizers for Kratos,
and while he’d deign to spar with “mere” harpies, impressively rendered
and impassively sundered, the meat of the game had him running through
ever-more-colossal environments, at one point even rappelling alongside
the rippling, heaving bodies of the Titans themselves, stunning
destruction occurring all around him. It was the closest a game had come
to making a playable QTE, using its smooth controls to maintain an
illusion long enough to, at times, make the player actually feel like a
god.  Riccio

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
86. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004). Leave it to Hideo Kojima to follow the critical and commercial success of the second Metal Gear Solid with a sequel that abandons its most recognizable qualities. Snake Eater
dropped players into an unfamiliar jungle bristling with hostiles human
and animal alike, where they were left to fend for themselves without
the expected comforts—no radar, no high-powered weapons, and no easily
navigable map. And yet, despite the newfound emphasis on realism (a
respite from the meta-game artifice of its predecessor), this was still Metal Gear through and through: realism laced with the absurd. What else could it be?  Marsh

Child of Eden
85. Child of Eden (2011). Like its spiritual forebear, Rez, Child of Eden‘s
m.o. is the use of synesthesia—the sensory marriage of sight, sound,
and rhythm—as a core mechanic for what’s basically a wildly ambitious Space Harrier clone. Child of Eden
then goes the insane, amazing next step: The playing field here is a
computerized universe of music and natural beauty sent several rungs
down the evolutionary ladder by a virus, and life itself is now your
weapon. The purpose of every shot fired in Child of Eden is to
evolve and bloom, growing simple pulsing beats, tiny single-celled
organisms, and dormant seeds into breathtaking audiovisual glory. It’s
an experience that simply can’t be had anywhere else in this life but on
a console.  Clark

Grandia II
84. Grandia II (2000). Both Grandia and Grandia II are masterpieces of the genre—comparable, sometimes even superior, to Final Fantasy‘s finest hours. The Dreamcast’s Grandia II
is almost flawless, an epic adventure with an extraordinary cast of
protagonists who are constantly ripped apart and reunited again to
battle a treacherous enemy. Although its narrative is heavily focused on
misguided religions and shifting definitions of honor and evil, nothing
ever gets too heavy-handed, due largely to the blossoming,
down-to-earth central relationship between sullen mercenary Ryudo and
oppressed songstress Elena. Memorable for its sensational story alone,
stunning graphics and an immaculate turn-based combat system deftly
elevate the game to magnum-opus status.  LeChevallier

The Beatles: Rock Band
83. The Beatles: Rock Band (2009). By adding harmony vocals to Rock Band‘s already welcoming template, The Beatles: Rock Band
invited more non-gamers to join the fun, even as it led them from
breezy sing-alongs to vocal challenges as brutal as any in gaming. It
was all put together with a fan’s devotion, with nostalgic cutscenes and
marvelously obscure unlockables (for God’s sake, the Christmas
singles!). The collapse of the instrument-game market kept it from real
mainstream awareness. But since Rock Band was the greatest
communal experience in modern gaming, and the Beatles were the greatest
communal experience in pop culture, if it’s ever repackaged and
promoted, it could be the greatest family gathering event since The Cosby Show.  Daniel McKleinfeld

Halo 3
82. Halo 3 (2007). The alien vessel you’re trapped in is less a ship than a living thing.
The rooms are bordered with bloated, swollen pustules stretched from
wall to wall, while sacs of throbbing “organs” hang from the ceiling,
from which disgusting monsters emerge to attack—a stark contrast to the
large endless fields that comprised most of Halo: Combat Evolved.
Beginning on Earth with a bloody firefight in the jungles of Africa,
then teleporting to an ancient structure beyond the edges of the Milky
Way where multiple alien races feud, leading to the rescue mission in
the disgusting living alien ship, before concluding with a recreation of the original Halo, Halo 3 remains notable for its diversity of setting and how it complements its variety of action.  Aston

Rayman Legends
81. Rayman Legends (2013). There’s a dream every kid from the 8-bit era had of platformers growing up: the ability to play a cartoon. Rayman Legends
is the grand-scale realization of that dream. This is a one-to-one
translation of the manic energy and musical genius of a Chuck Jones
cartoon to the digital realm, with full control over the mayhem resting
in the player’s hands. And the sheer amount of that mayhem in Rayman Legends—50-plus original stages, including 75% of Rayman Origins‘ stages and a full-blown mini-game—is staggering in a day and age where a platformer can be blown through in a weekend.  Clark

80. Snatcher (1994). Before Metal Gear Solid
consumed the man’s career, Hideo Kojima managed to fire off a single
bracing shot of point-and-click cyberpunk adventure brilliance before
going gentle into that batshit night. Snatcher is still,
undoubtedly, Kojima’s baby, in that it wears its sci-fi influences,
distrust of military-industrial complex, and its grounding in undeniably
Japanese quirk proudly and boldly. But in the telling of this story,
about body-swapping android assassins and the detective agency that
hunts them in the years after the Cold War goes hot, Kojima finds a
maturity, restraint, and scrappy ambition that, ironically, bigger
budgets and better technology haven’t granted him since.  Clark

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
79. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2005). Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
is a massive game, so much so that booting it up is akin to getting in a
plane, taking off, and touching down in a foreign land. There are no
shortcuts to be found here, no TARDIS-like building substitutes that are
larger on the inside than the outside, no world maps that offer up
miniature views of the dungeons you’ll soon enter. No, by remaining true
to its own scale and scope, Dragon Quest VIII came closer than
any RPG before it to offering the freedom of a pure adventure, where
every lovingly animated nook could be explored.   Riccio

Kingdom Hearts II
78. Kingdom Hearts II (2006). The origin of Kingdom Hearts sounds like a joke. Shinji Hashimoto and a Disney exec walk into an elevator… The rest is history. Kingdom Hearts II
represents the series at its creative zenith, featuring a surprisingly
deep story that daringly fleshes out themes of everlasting friendship
and what it means to be truly heartless. The entire first act is
essentially devoid of main protagonist Sora, with the player taking on
the role of his Nobody, Roxas. It’s unlike an RPG of this sort to drop
twists in its prologue, but when Roxas’s trials are revealed to be
contained in a simulation, Kingdom Hearts II takes a thrilling, fanciful turn away from the norm and refuses to looks back.  LeChevallier

77. Myst (1993). In the days before
high-speed Internet connections, most computer games left you sitting
alone in a dark room, your face lit by a single glowing rectangle. Myst
had a unique understanding of the simultaneous feelings of solitude and
connection that come from sitting alone, reading words that someone
left for you. The game’s slideshow pace invited the player to linger,
absorbing the details of its proto-steampunk environments like the
reader of a dense novel. Just when computer games were becoming a
world-shaking medium, Myst looked back to literature with a
contemplative affection that was uniquely inviting for those
uninterested in gaming’s usual reflex tests.  McKleinfeld

Viewtiful Joe
76. Viewtiful Joe (2003). A dazzling homage
to movie magic, superheroes, and the 2D side-scroller that was warmly
praised when released on the then-floundering GameCube, Viewtiful Joe
employed a battlefield blueprint inspired by cinematic visual effects.
Its VFX powers (Slow, Mach Speed, and Zoom In) put the player in the
director’s chair (or, perhaps, that of the editor), giving them the
opportunity to control and cut their own stylish fight sequences while
dispatching foes and solving puzzles. And with its charming art design
(a nod to both Japanese tokusatsu and American B movies) and cel-shaded
graphics done oh-so-right, it remains a reminder of what enchantment
might result from the civil union of film and video games.  LeChevallier

Grim Fandango
75. Grim Fandango (1998). Grim Fandango
opens with something much scarier than being chased by necromorphs or
overrun by zergs: simply being dead. Plenty of people have nervously
speculated about the afterlife; this game reassuringly suggests that it
will at least look awesome, by mixing Aztec aesthetics with noir tropes
and presenting it with Tim Schaefer’s trademark wisenheimer goofiness.
The widescreen tableaux of the graphic adventure worked like Beckett
landscapes, adding a bracing chill to comic business. Amid the
uncomfortable chuckles of the game’s premise, the absurd logic of
adventure games is a welcome pal, and every hard-boiled cutscene is a
reward worth working toward.   McKleinfeld

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
74. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001).
It’s difficult to overstate the sense of betrayal you feel when your
favorite character is killed off roughly 90 minutes into a game you
assume will star him. It put many of us on the defensive: We resented
Raiden, the story’s makeshift second hero, because he seemed to take the
place of the avatar we wanted as our own. But the bait and switch that
defined Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was instructive,
teaching gamers to appreciate the importance of authorial control, which
we learned meant trusting a creative vision even when its decisions
didn’t cohere with our desires. Games can only be art if they are
governed by artists. Hideo Kojima was the first to risk alienating us to
prove that he governed his.  Marsh

Jet Set Radio
73. Jet Set Radio (2000). By the time Jet Set Radio
came out, the skateboarding game was already in its decadent phase,
with players forced to memorize lists of buttons like bored yeshiva
students reciting the Torah. JSR stripped the controls down to
one stick and one button, replacing combo-memorization with a zen focus
on the environment. Then that environment was filled with awesomeness.
The cel-shaded graphics, witty cutscenes, and hip-hop-meets-J-pop
soundtrack—still the best original music in gaming history—are a fervent
Japanese fan letter to American graffiti street art, imagining kids of
all cultures united against corporate blandness. The game uses style the
way a great pop star does: as the mortar to build a dreamed-for world.

Grand Theft Auto IV
72. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008). Just as Niko Bellic comes to Liberty City to pursue the American dream, so, too, do players boot up Grand Theft Auto IV
for that thrilling fantasy of untouchable freedom. Its twisted version
of New York City, already a melting pot, perfectly conflated the
protagonist’s fantasies with the player’s, to the point that you could
spend hours surfing the (fake) Internet, watching (fake) cartoons on
television, or even attending (fake) live shows near a (fake) Times
Square while ignoring your (fake) girlfriend’s texts. Okay, maybe going
on a rampage and outrunning the N.O.O.S.E. authorities was a bit much,
but everything else vividly blurred the line between art and reality,
between having it all and having nothing.   Riccio

71. Shenmue (2000). To play Shenmue
for the first time was to be introduced to new possibilities for the
medium. A few minutes pottering around downtown looking for distraction
was enough to impress upon you a sense of Yokosuka as a place people
lived and worked and played in, and suddenly the world of gaming itself
seemed bigger: In this sprawling expanse, amid all of this activity,
there seemed an art of limitless richness. Yu Suzuki conceived of a game
that would look and feel as life ought to—bustling, beautiful, and,
yes, sometimes tedious—and, more incredibly, brought it to playable
life.  Marsh

Grand Theft Auto V
70. Grand Theft Auto V (2013). Grand Theft Auto V
was the culmination of a decade’s worth of trial and error in
open-world game design and mature, hard-nosed storytelling. Introducing
three playable protagonists, each wildly different in personality and
motivation, Rockstar created a digital melting pot of with such wide
appeal and expansive scope that its transportive mimicry of a natural
existence is something that won’t be so readily replicated. Hours turn
into days and days into weeks when sitting down to a session of GTA V
(a notion that’s repeatedly made fun of in its candid satirizations of
ultraviolent video games, among other common vices), only escapable when
the necessities of everyday life beckon, or when you simply collapse
from lack of actual sustenance.  LeChevallier

69. Amplitude (2003). Harmonix, a company
that started as makers of virtual instruments, had a unique idea of what
music gaming could be. Instead of using music to make people push
buttons, they used gaming to make music interactive. By visualizing a
musical score as a series of binary triggers, Amplitude drops
players into the staves, making polyrhythmic structures intuitively
visible. It was the rare music game that understood music, and it
remains the best explication of the formal structures of hip-hop and
dance music, two genres often disparaged by people who don’t understand
how they work.  McKleinfeld

Street Fighter II: Championship Edition
68. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition (1992). In the long, storied bible of fighting games, Street Fighter 2 is the first book of the New Testament, and the Championship Edition
is its King James Version. Everything we know about how a fighting game
is supposed to look, sound, and feel comes back to this game providing
the wide array of character designs and mechanics, tweaking the balance
of power between characters, and letting players be the bosses for the
first time. The fact that this is still just as easy to pick up and play
while still remaining challenging enough for tournament play makes it
superior to much of what would follow in its wake.  Clark

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
67. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007).
Updating the battlefield from Axis and Allies to a strife-ridden Middle
East sounded, at first blush, like a novelty designed to reinvigorate a
tired franchise, and yet Call of Duty‘s change of milieu proved
nothing short of revelatory. Few were prepared for the “completely
cynical amusement,” as Nicholson Baker memorably called it, of the
harried first-person blitzkrieg Infinity Ward delivered, a duly
contemporary spectacle replete with drone bombings and suicidal
insurgents. Bleak? Necessarily. But the tinny splink of an armor-piercing round landing in an enemy’s fleshy chest never felt so satisfying. There’s a cynic in all of us.  Marsh

Beyond Good and Evil
66. Beyond Good and Evil (2003). We’ve finally reached a point in gaming history where gamers are finally starting to ask more of The Legend of Zelda as a series, not realizing that what they’re asking for has been staring them in the face since 2004. Beyond Good and Evil
definitely owes much of itself as a collection of gameplay mechanics to
Ocarina of Time, but then takes that crucial creative next step for the
whole idea of what Zelda could and should be. It manages to stay
playful, colorful, and light in the midst of a heady sci-fi tale of
human trafficking and alien civilizations, coupled with the same diverse
world building and character design that Michel Ancel would bring to Rayman over the years.  Clark

Vagrant Story
65. Vagrant Story (2000). There was once a
time when Square, fire under their ass with the freedom afforded by the
PS1, would experiment far away from their comfort zone with formula,
with genre, with gameplay. Vagrant Story was the last of those
experiments that worked, and probably the only one to flirt this closely
with perfection. The video-game company’s typical fantasy affections
are stripped away, leaving a tricky political yarn about an assassin
sent to a Gallic labyrinth of a city to kill a cult leader. And it’s a
yarn powered by possibly the deepest, most intuitive combat and crafting
systems Square’s ever conjured up.  Clark

Donkey Kong Country
64. Donkey Kong Country (1994). Donkey Kong Country
wasn’t a rhythm-based game, but there was an ineffable quality to
it—perhaps the manic momentum and pumped-up precision—that made the
gamer feel as if they were swinging from vine to vine themselves.
Whereas other platformers followed tentatively in the footsteps of
predecessors like Mario, Donkey Kong simply barrel-rolled through,
trusting players to figure out a way through the complex bramble and
coral-reef mazes. Every inch of the game presented a lush,
well-considered obstacle, and never seemed content to repeat itself. It
was the king of the jungle.  Riccio

Silent Hill
63. Silent Hill (1999). Silent Hill‘s
strongest character is its setting, a town as a twisting manifestation
of a broken psyche. Harry Mason awakens from a car crash, his daughter
gone. The fog is thick around him, and he can only see a figure in the
distance: a young girl. She turns and runs, and he pursues her, but the
world around him warps into an evil that kills him. The deeper one
delves into the game’s unsettling, oppressive atmosphere, the further
the curtain is pulled back to reveal the nature of a place where
childhood terrors manifest as corporal demons and the fear of
menstruation makes walls bleed rivers of blood. Every element works in
peerless conjunction to serve the themes of familial loss, childhood
abuse, and the terrifying impact of religious extremism.  Aston

Star Fox 64
62. Star Fox 64 (1997). Rail shooters typically confine players to a predetermined route, but Star Fox 64
made the furthest reaches of the Lylat System feel as if they were
freely explorable, even when your Arwing was ultimately being guided
toward its terminus by unseen hands. On the very first level, swooping
through rocky archways and defeating a hovering assault vessel hidden
behind a waterfall bypasses the standard path to Meteo and sends you to
Sector Y, a starlit space mission complete with mobile suits and
plummeting debris. Select boss encounters even opened up to an
“all-range mode” that allowed for fancy direction reversals and
foe-discombobulating maneuvers. It was this surprising sense of freedom,
as well as clean graphics and spotless controls, that made the game a
classic.  LeChevallier

You Don't Know Jack!
61. You Don’t Know Jack! (1995). What does a Victoria’s Secret model and feldspar have in common? Which video-game series did Nostradamus not predict? You Don’t Know Jack!
offers players the chance to participate in the funniest, craziest,
most irreverent game show imaginable, where historical trivia about Joan
of Arc is filtered through the lens of Dr. Phil, and musical questions
about the 1812 Overture include actual cannon shots firing. The
snarky, insulting narrators allow players to gang up on each other, and
will even take a break from the prewritten multiple-choice trivia to
call up random individuals from the phone book to come up with
questions. It’s exactly the right blend of general knowledge and
insanity that’s kept the franchise strong for nearly two decades.  Aston

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
60. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011). What most stands out about Deus Ex: Human Revolution
is the profoundly detail-rich realism of its near-future world. Every
location is alive with propaganda streaming on billboards and
advertisements for and against the technological movement that drives
the narrative. In a world that changes based on player actions, and
often in subtle way, citizens mix and engage in conflict with criminals
and law enforcement alike. The game demonstrates the power of the
medium, wherein interactivity can reveal new ideas about the core themes
and narrative at every turn. A prequel about ethics and consequences, Human Revolution depicts a world struggling to adapt to changing technology and its often insidious consequences.  Aston

Hotline Miami
59. Hotline Miami (2012). Amid the arms race
of next-gen graphical evolution and the seemingly endless deluge of
triple-A blockbuster shooters arrived a veritable thunderbolt of weird, Hotline Miami, and the landscape of modern gaming would never again be the same. A hallucinatory top-down action game that plays like River City Ransom as imagined by David Lynch, Hotline Miami
is a fever dream of violence and retro gaming, pulling together the
tropes of the medium’s innocent infancy and turning them into something
altogether darker. Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin didn’t simply
make a classic game; they burrowed their way into the deepest recesses
of gaming’s unconscious, and the result feels like a nightmare you just
had but only half-remember.  Marsh

Conker's Bad Fur Day
58. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001). Considering
the reason so many of us play video games, it’s odd how often most
titles follow a very specific set of unspoken rules. Not so with Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a recklessly unfiltered, untapped, superego-filled romp through a parody of inanely inoffensive titles like Banjo-Kazooie.
Conker cursed and solved puzzles by getting drunk enough to extinguish
flame demons with his piss, blithely sent up pop culture as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Saving Private Ryan, Alien, and The Matrix,
and still had time to lob rolls of toilet paper down the gullet of a
giant operatic poo monster. For sheer balls, lunatic ingenuity, and
crass charm, there’s never been anything like it.  Riccio

57. Xenogears (1998). Not one to play second fiddle to the likes of Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears
saw Squaresoft following its mammoth JRPG success with an even bigger
undertaking that pushed the cabalistic boundaries of video-game
plotlines to the extreme. To fully enjoy this complex, vast, and
exhaustively symbolic experience heavily influenced by Freud, Jung, and
Nietzsche, it takes an open mind and supreme dedication on the part of
the player. Its excellent battle system makes the spiritual prequel Xenosaga‘s simplistic combat regimen seem dull by comparison. The exquisite Xenoblade Chronicles did well to resurrect interest in the series, causing curious fans to seek out Xenogears and discover the wondrous origins of this under-appreciated property.  LeChevallier

Mass Effect 3
56. Mass Effect 3 (2012). Everything is on the line in the final chapter of the Mass Effect
trilogy, which profoundly views sacrifice as an imperative. Having long
ignored Commander Shepard’s warnings, every being in the universe now
faces destruction as the genocidal Reapers bring ruin to every world.
The theme of this series has always been inclusivity, and it’s with this
in mind that the player must travel the game’s large and multifaceted
universe to end wars, unite races, and build a resistance to an
absolutely devastating threat. All the way toward the largely
misunderstood climax that brings the game’s themes together in an
intelligent and metaphysical way, one is forced to make difficult and
heady choices, including sacrificing beloved characters and sometimes
entire species toward a common good.  Aston

Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
55. Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (2000).
The marriage of Marvel and Capcom was a match made in heaven.
Spider-Man versus Chun-Li. Wolverine versus Strider Hiryu. Captain
America versus Tron Bonne. The insane bouts went on and on, thanks to Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
and its benevolent roster of 56 fighters, each one able to be mastered
and used to promptly upset even the most skilled of opponents. The
balance in the game remains remarkable; selecting squads of three
fundamentally eliminated the unwelcome perils of facing a drastically
overpowered team. The winning formula carried over to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and its imitators, but New Age of Heroes is doubtlessly the most seamless 2D brawler of its generation.  LeChevallier

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
54. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008). You get the sense, within a few minutes of playing Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots,
that Hideo Kojima has been waiting for technology to catch up to the
vision he’s realized here. The sheer breadth of this thing is
staggering: The globetrotting, continent-spanning action would have been
a technical impossibility before Kojima and Konami strained the limits
of the PlayStation 3 to make it happen. But this isn’t mere feat of
engineering. Kojima’s ambitions are chiefly artistic—idiosyncratic,
instantly identifiable, and utterly weird. Only the Metal Gear series could imagine a world so singular on a $60-million budget. Would that every blockbuster were so strange.  Marsh

Final Fantasy Tactics
53. Final Fantasy Tactics (1998). Not for nothing is one of the 20 main classes in Final Fantasy Tactics
labeled a Calculator. This is a game for math geniuses, with no end to
the mix-and-match job customization offered. Or it’s a game for future
military commanders, with over 60 chess-like scenarios to survive, often
at great odds. Or, with real-world inspirations like the War of the
Roses at heart, perhaps it’s a tale for historians. There’s magic, too,
and yards of in-game lore to read, so it’s for English majors as well.
Other games presented lessons, but Final Fantasy Tactics was
the complete package, a school unto itself. Many strategy RPGs preceded
and followed it, some even hewing closely to the same fundamental
systems, but none have managed to capture this blend of fact and
fantasy.  Riccio

Chrono Cross
52. Chrono Cross (2000). For half of its playtime, Chrono Cross
is simply Square at the height of their creative powers, telling the
tale of a teenager named Serge stuck in an alternate dimension where he
drowned as a child, essentially playing out a less confusing version of
the last two seasons of Lost. The question lingers in those hours of why exactly it invoked the holy name of Chrono Trigger
to tell it. The game starts answering that question in the second half
with the kind of reality-bending timeline gymnastics that would give
Shane Carruth a nosebleed, with the damage done to time in Chrono Trigger used here as a conceptual jumping-off point. The end result is one of the most satisfyingly dense RPGs ever made.  Clark

The World Ends with You
51. The World Ends with You (2008). If the world did indeed end with me, The World Ends with You
is the game I’d probably still be replaying. I might not even notice,
because it’s that absurdly inventive and addictive. This real-time,
dual-screen action RPG was so original that it still doesn’t
have any imitators (though others have borrowed from its customizable
difficulty). With its real-world portrayal of Shibuya, down to the
muddled masses and the mind-altering memes and status-influencing
fashion trends that controlled them, the game wasn’t just a hip response
that imitated life in the modern world, it was a cultural part of it.  Riccio

50. Bayonetta (2010). One of the most hysterically ridiculous games ever made, Bayonetta
is the story of a super-powered 10-foot-tall dominatrix-librarian-witch
with glasses and a skintight outfit made of her own hair who battles
rival witches, heaven’s angels, and finally God himself. An empowered
female protagonist overfetishized to the point of parody, she’s a
corrective to gaming’s view of women primarily as eye candy or damsels
in distress. Bayonetta‘s universe is one in which men are
completely disempowered, impotent against a race of Amazonian women who
rule the world. The clever subversion of the typically male-dominated
action genre is complemented by stunningly deep, addictive, and
rewarding action mechanics, many utilizing Bayonetta’s own hair as a
weapon.  Aston

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
49. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). No game had ever been as cinematic as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,
with a Hollywood actor in the lead and elegant visuals that leveraged
the precision of a virtual camera. But for all its movie envy, its real
greatness was its nonlinear sandbox. You spend a lot of time aimlessly
driving around, so it was a good trick to give every vehicle unique
handling and create so much entertaining audio content that tooling
around listening to the radio was fun. Especially if you set a few of
the NPCs on fire to launch a cheerfully debased Punch and Judy show.
Rockstar’s insistence on the surrealist comedy of pixilated mayhem has
always been controversial, which suggests that they understand their
medium far better than their detractors.  McKleinfeld

48. Journey (2012). A mute, red-cloaked idea
of a character trudges through a seemingly infinite desert, scarf
flapping in the gentle wind. The light from that far-off mountain
beckoned, but not urgently, not if you wanted to smell the digital
flowers. Pride came not from eluding enemies, or from conventional
progress, but from seeing something new. Stumbling over ruins in the
sand left players wondering not at the Ozymandius-like game they might
have missed, but at the dreamy fantasia left behind. And when the game
matched you with a second player, when it let you share that experience, and silently, save for the chirps that served as the game’s internal language, Journey was the Everygame.  Riccio

Max Payne
47. Max Payne (2001). On a winter’s night
some months after the death of his wife and child, renegade DEA agent
and ex-cop Max Payne takes to the streets of New York on a bloody Punisher-esque
quest to avenge his family, cleaning up the corrupt city and uncovering
the conspiracy that cost him everything. Combining graphic-novel noir
storytelling with addictive Matrix-inspired “bullet time” gunplay, Max Payne
still stuns for its rush of varied visual poetry. At the push of a
button, Max moves and aims in slow motion, giving him the edge against
his trigger-happy enemies, and these endlessly replayable sequences
evoke the fantasy-fulfillment of playing Neo in The Matrix‘s infamous lobby scene, or as one of John Woo’s renegade heroes.  Aston

Final Fantasy IX
46. Final Fantasy IX (2000). Final Fantasy‘s
last hurrah on the PlayStation pulled off a neat trick in that it
ditched the flamboyant character, environmental, and combat aesthetics
of FFVIII in favor of a more old-school approach that paid
homage to the pre-3D episodes. It allowed players to focus more on the
story, rather than absurdly large swords, guns, or swords that are also
guns. The saga of Zidane and Garnet remains a romance for the ages,
responsible for one of the most uplifting game endings of the past 20
years. And the battle system remains suitably uncomplicated, showing how
beneficial it can be when Square restrains itself from going over the
top.  LeChevallier

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
45. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995). A 2D pearl with enough creative energy and nuanced artistry to fill two games, this sequel to Super Mario World
gave the Yoshi clan their rightful time in the limelight, and in the
process developed a set of ingenious platforming mechanics that have yet
to be even shoddily imitated. Yoshi’s flutter jump, in combination with
his egg aim-and-throw technique, made for a unique variation on the
typical side-scrolling Super Mario escapade. Certain areas also
allowed Yoshi to transform into a multitude of vehicles that could
navigate previously unreachable areas. Yoshi’s Island is a game that’s absolutely brimming with pioneering ideas, representing Nintendo at its most fearlessly experimental.  LeChevallier

Katamari Damacy
44. Katamari Damacy (2004). It’s impossible to summarize Katamari Damarcy
with the language of literature or film: plot, character, iconic
images, expressive subjectivity. Instead it makes art from gaming’s
preferred values: accumulation, variation, interaction, progress. The
story is absurd, and its visuals and controls are willfully crude. Yet
it’s a well-honed machine that generates pure joy. Because lurking
behind the serious silliness is a glimpse of theme: The game is an
elegant metaphor for growing up, in which the world becomes fuller and
more detailed the bigger you get, beautifully conveying the thrill of an
expanding horizon. If that’s not art, what is?   McKleinfeld

Super Mario 64
43. Super Mario 64 (1996). We didn’t have a template for 3D games until Nintendo conceived of one for us. Super Mario 64
was an architectural marvel designed and built without a blueprint: The
rolling open-world hills and sprawling primary-color vistas that seem
as familiar to gamers today as the world outside were dreamed up out of
nothing more than programmed paint and canvas. Shigeru Miyamoto was
given the unenviable task of contemporizing his studio’s longest-running
and most prominent franchise while remaining true to its 2D legacy.
It’s a testament to Miyamoto’s accomplishment here that, nearly 20 years
later, the result feels no less iconic than the original.  Marsh

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
42. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997). Dozens of games have referred back to the things Symphony of the Night did back in 1997 to veer the traditionally linear Castlevania
series off into completely unknown open-world territory, and few have
done it as spectacularly. The main castle and its spectacular
upside-down counterpart are staggering achievements in art design, and
the score contains two or three of the best classical compositions of
the last two decades. But more than this, the experience of exploring
every haunted nook and cranny of this place, so drowning in secrets,
unique weapons, and non-repeating enemies, is astounding to this day,
whether the player is on his or her first or 40th playthrough.  Clark

41. Psychonauts (2005). In a console generation starved for whimsy, the good-natured charm of Psychonauts
was shocking. There are gruesome scares a-plenty (the kids getting
their brains pulled out through their nostrils will linger in nightmares
for a long time), but the tone is always gleeful and the dialogue
always hilarious. The style makes a great first impression, but what
keeps it on so many best-of-all-time lists is the sugar-high creativity
of the level design. Each level of the game introduced new gameplay
elements that were easy to figure out and tied beautifully to the story.
Psychonauts fulfilled the ludological dictum of making gameplay into narrative, and the much harder trick of making it look effortless.  McKleinfeld

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
40. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009). Take Spielberg’s Indiana Jones
films, set them in the modern day, remove any limitations of budget, or
respect for public property or stuntman safety. That’s the Uncharted series. But where the first Uncharted almost feels timid, the work of a studio getting its bearings with the PS3, Uncharted 2
exudes a more confident swagger. Naughty Dog knew the first time they
could craft any adrenaline-pumping set piece imaginable. It’s in how
much effort they’ve spent making Nathan Drake and his supporting cast
feel like fleshed-out, vulnerable, nuanced human beings who make very
human mistakes, even in the middle of those set pieces, that makes Uncharted 2: Among Thieves seem like a Herculean jump ahead of its predecessor.  Clark

Final Fantasy VI
39. Final Fantasy VI (1994). There’s a classic South Park episode that mocks the fact that if there’s a joke you like, chances are The Simpsons already did it. The same can be said for Final Fantasy VI,
which basically broke and reset every rule for the modern RPG. It would
have been impressive enough to feature 14 playable characters, each
with their own unique abilities (like Sabin’s Street Fighter¬-like
combinations); or to introduce the steampunk combination of magic and
technology to the genre; or to offer branching narrative paths; or to
stuff the game with enough side quests to fill an entire sequel, but Final Fantasy VI
did it all—first and flawlessly. That a game in which the world is
destroyed halfway through also finds time for humor, thanks to a certain
cephalopod, is just icing on an already gluttonous cake.   Riccio

38. Banjo-Kazooie (1998). Here’s the odd
game that boasts a split-personality protagonist: an amiable bear
representing the superego and an obnoxious bird representing the id.
While Nintendo created the 3D-platformer template with Super Mario 64, Rare refined it with their tongue-in-cheek Banjo-Kazooie.
The humor and game mechanics simultaneously develop all the way through
to the hysterical game-show finale and subsequent boss battle that
effectively takes advantage of all skills acquired across the game.
Subbing the blank-faced plumber with a chilled bear and his sassy
backpack-bound avian sidekick, the game stands out for its
self-awareness: An unusually meta experience, it constantly pokes fun at
its contrived storyline, limited characterization, and other gaming
tropes. Few games are so accomplished in both personality and
gameplay.  Aston

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
37. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002). Five hours into Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem,
it asked if I wanted to delete my saved game. I declined, then watched
in horror as my progress was irrevocably erased anyway. This can’t be happening, I thought to myself, gripping my controller in shock. And, in fact, it wasn’t happening, as this was just one of the many meta frights that turned Eternal Darkness
from internal, character-focused survival horror to an external
psychological horror game that messed with players. Were you
accidentally sitting on the remote, or was the game turning the volume
down for you? Were you missing a hidden switch in the room, or was every
door just temporarily locked? There has yet to be a game as
delightfully maddening.  Riccio

Rock Band 3
36. Rock Band 3 (2010). From singing vocals in harmony to hammering away at a four-piece drum kit, Rock Band makes players feel like they’re part of the music. The series hit its apex with Rock Band 3,
the natural evolution of the series that introduced the keyboard to
accompany the drums and guitars, and upgraded the plastic guitar with a
real one. While Activision’s competing Guitar Hero franchise fell apart with unwelcome, irrational, and incompatible yearly iterations, Harmonix treated Rock Band
as a platform, allowing players to buy whatever songs they wanted and
adding valuable features with each release, like the ability to play
music online, expanding the party internationally. How else can I sing
Journey with my friend in Canada from my house in the land down under?  Aston

Power Stone 2
35. Power Stone 2 (2000). Power Stone 2 one-ups its predecessor by introducing four-player battles that, at their craziest, make Super Smash Bros.
and its sequels look comparatively tame. Running around hazardous,
item-heavy warzones, with the short-term goal of repeatedly amassing
three of the titular gemstones, prompting an all-powerful transformation
that decimates opponents with arena-filling special moves was an event
likely to instantaneously change the mind of any Dreamcast naysayer upon
round one of play. With all the chaos at hand, it was astonishing how
little slowdown ever occurred. Power Stone 2 remains exhibit A
to showcase the prowess of the once mighty Sega Dreamcast, a console
that went the way of the dodo long before it should have.  LeChevallier

Dance Dance Revolution
34. Dance Dance Revolution (1998). Dance Dance Revolution
introduced gamers’ feet to the thrill that their hands had long known:
high-speed patterned motion. Or as humans call it, dancing. And it felt
great, because, as people who weren’t spending their nights hunched over
computers knew, dancing is fun. Suddenly a whole generation of kids
returned to the arcades, made abruptly relevant again by the space
requirement of full-size metal dance pads. Long before televised dance
competitions returned to prime-time television, YouTube was packed with
hot-shit kids racing through steps like vaudeville hoofers. Dance Dance Revolution
convinced non-gamers that video games weren’t just for
basement-dwelling trolls, and convinced gamers that their body wasn’t
just something to abandon in a chair.  McKleinfeld

Super Smash Bros. Melee
33. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001). The best games of all time invoke an almost instant sense of nostalgia. Make no mistake: Super Smash Bros. Melee‘s
charms aren’t simply generated from the goodwill of its roster of
characters, classic heroes like Link or Mario, but from its own chaotic
twist on combat, as much a matter of playing evasion ballet as of
mastering the various power-ups and environmental hazards. That said,
taking such a deep bench of characters out of their elements and into a
brawler was not without a special sort of charm, as watching F-Zero‘s
neglected Captain Falcon take revenge on an overstuffed Kirby or having
Jigglypuff knock-out Luigi will simply never get old.  Riccio

Batman: Arkham City
32. Batman: Arkham City (2011). Before him
lay two bodies. One is his nemesis, a deranged serial killer behind
fanatical displays of destruction, the other his lover, a once-innocent
girl caught up in the plots to overthrow Gotham. Only one matters to
him, and Bruce Wayne carries his body out of the tomb for everyone to
see. Arguably the only downfall in Batman: Arkham Asylum was
its finale, a tonally and narratively incoherent victory against the
Joker that went against the bleakness of everything prior, but not so
with follow-up Arkham City,
which boasts one of the most aggressively nihilistic endings in the
history of the medium. As the game’s setting expands from the smaller
sanitarium to the larger city, so does the sense of hopelessness for the
characters, rendering every victory pyrrhic in nature.”  Aston

31. Tetris (1986). Tetris is a game
of pure abstraction, its mastery of the simplest possible visual units
as ideal and impersonal as the Helvetica font. It’s no coincidence that
it came to America as an ambassador from a foreign country; like the
math equations on the Voyager shuttle, it speaks a language even space
aliens could comprehend. The fundamental gameplay imperative of fitting
blocks together is almost offensively infantile, but players who master
the game can feel neurons growing as they learn to stop just seeing the
shapes, and start seeing the negative space around them. The system
recalibrates your perceptions as you explore it, and that’s what a great
game is about.  McKleinfeld


The Walking Dead
30. The Walking Dead (2012). No one would’ve faulted any developer for slapping The Walking Dead name on a lackluster Left 4 Dead rip-off, and waiting for the cash to roll in—like Activision tried to do with Survival Instinct. But instead, in Telltale Games’s hands, The Walking Dead
is going to go down as not only the game that shocked the entire
adventure game genre out of atrophy, but as a brutal and brilliant
Cormac McCarthian tale of terror and human loss unprecedented in this
medium. This is a game where success is almost entirely measured in the
structural integrity of a little girl’s soul, and the decisions you’ve
made to keep it intact. This is the story the AMC show only dreams it’s
built across its four seasons.  Clark

Pokémon Red and Blue
29. Pokémon Red and Blue (1998). The
Internet can be a heinous place, but when the masses use it to cooperate
on a joint task, no matter how seemingly insignificant, wonderful
things can occur. That happened earlier this year with the social
experiment dubbed “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” wherein a populous chat room of participants could input commands that would control an emulated version of Pokémon Red,
painstakingly completing a single run-through of the main game in 16
days’ time. This strange yet continuously alluring examination of
interests and correspondence highlighted, more than 15 years after its
original release, how pivotal, ageless, and unifying the introductory Pokémon games are. The methodology holds strong: see Pokémon, catch Pokémon, live Pokémon. Together, now and forever.   LeChevallier

28. Rez (2002). It takes about five seconds to understand the appeal of Rez.
Its aesthetic is so distinctive, its style of play so radical, that
finding yourself attuned to its wavelength is as easy as turning it on.
The tactility of video games, of course, make them an almost synesthetic
experience, drawing a connection between image, sound, and touch. Rez
seizes on that connection and deepens it, until you believe you can see
and feel the sound around you. The rhythmic touch of a button creates a
flash of DayGlo color and a burst of techno music, all of it pulsing in
the air you’re flying through.  Marsh

Metroid Prime
27. Metroid Prime (2002). On paper, Metroid Prime should’ve been the game that made us all believe that the Metroid franchise should’ve stayed dead after that excruciating eight-year gap between Super Metroid
and this release. In reality, Retro Studios defied every expectation
that came with dragging a side-scroller kicking and screaming into 3D.
Everything that made Super Metroid brilliant—the isolation,
Samus’s varied arsenal, the sheer size of the world—remains. What Retro
added was grand, evil beauty to Samus’s surroundings, a subtly creepy
story of ill-fated alien civilizations told entirely without breaking
gameplay, and a laundry list of FPS innovations that felt next-gen, and
in more than just the graphics, even when the game got prettied up for
the Wii.  Clark

Super Mario Bros.
26. Super Mario Bros. (1985). It’s such a great day when you start up Super Mario Bros.,
skipping across the grass under blue skies while happy music plays. No
platformer had ever made jumping feel so instinctively right—so brisk at
the start and so smooth on the drop. With Super Mario Bros.,
Nintendo unleashed the ability that’s served them well through all
subsequent console generations, a knack for making the repetitiveness of
8-bit physics feel warm and organic. The game went on to work changes
on the theme like a Bach fugue, with secrets that anticipated
world-building games like The Legend of Zelda. But even at its
most controller-smashingly frustrating or obscure, it’s the controlled
delight of the jump that holds the player in a perfect little pleasure
loop.  McKleinfeld

Resident Evil 4
25. Resident Evil 4 (2005). In Resident Evil 4,
your mission to save the president’s daughter from kidnappers quickly
goes south, stranding you in a rural village surrounded by crazed
villagers infected with something very, very wrong. The game offers no
guidance as to how to react or escape, leaving the player in a state of
anxiety as Leon Kennedy attempts to flee only to be quickly cornered and
overcome. The series’s transition here from the stationary camera of
the previous games to a fully 3D environment was a major step forward
for third-person action games, but the sense of uncertainty that wracks
the player throughout the lengthy narrative, of being made the center of
a horrific, frenzied nightmare, is what made this game one of the most
profoundly discomfiting experiences video games have ever seen.  Aston

24. Ico (2001). Single-player video games are lonely. Ico
made loneliness feel magical by giving you a companion, even as it
constantly reminded you how alien her mind must be. Just like Princess
Yorda’s gnomic utterances imply a story that she just can’t share with
you, so does the game’s environment imply a vast narrative of which this
story is only a part, creating a potent illusion of context by
withholding backstory. While the gameplay itself is basic puzzle-solving
and crude combat, it’s the mood that makes it special, the constant
sense that there’s something vast just outside the frame.  McKleinfeld

Final Fantasy X
23. Final Fantasy X (2001). Final Fantasy X
was a great big teenage yawp of a game. But for all the adolescent
strum und drang of the my-father-is-a-monster plot, it’s the
good-natured physical enthusiasm of jocky bro-tagonist Tidus that made
all the wandering around a joy. The game unapologetically embraces
grinding, while decorating the long string of encounters with baroque
style. Of course, it looks cutting-edge gorgeous and has a big,
emotional story—this is Final Fantasy after all. But what made FFX
special was how it cut away the dross of JRPG battles mechanics.
Instead of making the player mindlessly tap the “Fight” button for the
first several hours, the game demanded strategic choices from the
beginning, so that every battle provided satisfying strategic challenge
along with the groovy combat animation.  McKleinfeld

22. SoulCalibur (1999). You know a game has
done something spectacular when most of the people who love it forget
its predecessor ever existed. Considering Soul Edge is one of the best PS1 games in its own right, that should say everything about how far SoulCalibur
pushed the envelope: full 3D movement, stunning environments, one of
the best, rousing scores ever composed, and, of course, the fast, fun,
and fluid combat. Not since the first Samurai Shodown‘s heyday had a developer managed to make epic swordfights feel like, well, epic swordfights, and yet SoulCalibur‘s brand of flying-spark chaos manages to deliver that experience to everyone, regardless of skill.  Clark

21. EarthBound (1994). There has never been a game as irreverently comic and deceptively touching as EarthBound.
It takes place in a darkly skewed version of Earth, with 13-year-old
Ness’s “rockin'” telekinetic powers and trusty baseball bat going toe to
toe with local gangs and bullies, Happy Happy cultists, and drugged-out
hippies. Despite liberally borrowing from RPG conventions (including an
emphasis on grind-heavy gameplay), the game oozed originality in just
about every other aspect, offering more than just escapism, but, in its
battle against loneliness and negative emotions, a reason to ultimately
set the controller down.  Riccio


The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
20. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991). In 1991, a console game of such depth and sophistication as boasted by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
was simply beyond conception. In fact, it was almost beyond
possibility: Nintendo had to expand the capacity of their console’s
cartridges to make room for the breadth of what they’d hoped to do here.
The results were well worth the expense and effort. You didn’t just
play this game, but plunged headlong into its adventure, entering a
story and a world whose fate you felt lay in your hands. Today, though, A Link to the Past ought to be regarded as more than a milestone for a franchise still evolving. It is what is in its own right: a legend.  Marsh

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
19. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996). There was once a time when Square and Nintendo held hands and skipped merrily through fields of sunflowers, and gems like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
remind us of how awesome it was when these two industry titans partied
together. The game turned the Mushroom Kingdom on its head by thrusting
the famous plumber into a quest that was anything but a run-of-the-mill
Mario venture. Bowser wasn’t the Big Bad, but instead a comrade,
fighting alongside his adversary in addition to Princess Toadstool and
newcomers Mallow, a cloud boy, and Geno, a possessed doll. The game’s
razor-sharp wit and intuitive battle system made Super Mario RPG a success and paved the way for the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series.  LeChevallier

18. Portal (2007). One great thing about
video games is that every aspect of them, from how trees look to whether
gravity works, is a decision. Valve’s previous games had expertly
simulated physics; Portal asked what would happen if, like God,
you could make physics different. And it presented that slapstick joke
with sophisticated narrative panache. Melding wunderkind student
designers with veteran comic writer Old Man Murray, Portal
grounded its spatial wackiness in recognizable (in)human resentments.
The story of GLaDOS and Chel is one of the great, Bechdel-test-passing
double acts in gaming history, made all the funnier by Chel’s
classic-FPS taciturnity.  McKleinfeld

Super Mario World
17. Super Mario World (1990). Super Mario World
feels like Nintendo’s own technology finally catching up with every
lofty, unattainable gameplay idea they couldn’t implement between 1985
and 1990. This is from an era where the first game a developer released
on a new system had something to prove, and the chip on Nintendo’s
shoulder shows here. The game still feels massive, teeming with secret
stages, alternate exits, stylish, Rube Goldbergian stage design, and
verticality the likes of which could never have been done prior, and
hasn’t really been done as expertly since. Add the fact that this is a Super Mario Bros. game that actually gives Super Mario a cape, and contains Yoshi’s first appearance, and this is still one for the ages.  Clark

Final Fantasy VII
16. Final Fantasy VII (1997). The death of Aeris Gainsborough heralded a new truth about the medium: Video games can make you cry. The sweep and thrust of Final Fantasy VII
engrossed as few adventures do, of course, but to be moved by the
emotional dimension of this story—to be invested in the lives and deaths
of Cloud Strife and his crew of AVALANCHE eco-terrorists, to feel
compelled to save this world as if it were your own—suggested the
beginnings of a new kind of video-game experience. Love and pain and
beauty are coursing through this thing. Action and adventure are at its
core. But emotion is its lifeblood.  Marsh

Silent Hill 2
15. Silent Hill 2 (2001). Silent Hill 2
is a game about grief. The story is simple: A widower is drawn toward
the eponymous side-side town after he receives a letter from his dead
wife, who asks that he meet her in their “special place,” a hotel off
the shore. In Silent Hill he finds terrible things: monsters, demons,
all glimpsed hazily through a shroud of impenetrable fog. But worst of
all he finds the truth. This isn’t a game about battling creatures or
solving puzzles; those elements hang in the background like the
ornamentation of a bad dream. In Silent Hill 2, you find yourself asleep, and the game is about needing to wake up.  Marsh

Mass Effect 2
14. Mass Effect 2 (2010). In Mass Effect 2‘s courageous opening, Commander Shepard and his personal Enterprise,
the Normandy, are obliterated by an unknown starship. Years later,
Shepard’s body is recovered by shady terrorist-cell Cerberus, who revive
the Commander, then take him or her under their employ, offering their
unlimited resources in exchange for “serving” humanity. It’s a risky,
morally uncertain opening that prefaces BioWare’s emotionally rich space
epic, allowing the player to create their own protagonist and
subsequently form a team to battle a universe-threatening menace, all
the while questioning the morality of their actions and benefactors. The
game allows individual characterization, and the power of one’s
decisions illustrates the great strength of this medium over other art
forms.  Aston

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
13. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003).
Link’s Odyssean adventure is a voyage of discovery, of sailing across
vast oceans and encountering islands where different species inhabit.
Unlike other 3D games whose graphics quickly become ugly with
technological obsoletism, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker‘s
cel-shaded aesthetic suggests a timeless Hayao Miyazaki film made
effortlessly playable, of childhood dreams come to life. Its richness
also derives from the genuine depth and maturity to its narrative, so
redolent of Greek mythology, of children suffering for the sins of their
ancestors and given the lofty task of saving the world from ancient
evils long thought buried, undergoing experiences that will forever
change them.  Aston

12. Ōkami (2006). The sun goddess Amaterasu,
taking the form of an angelic white wolf, sets out to vanquish the
eight-headed demon Orochi from Nippon. So begins a tale worthy enough to
follow any of the most revered Japanese folk legends in a
century-spanning anthology. With aesthetics that pay tribute to the
ancient art of calligraphy and the soulful connection between painter
and brush, Ōkami bleeds beauty from every pore. Combat, too, is
akin to the elegant strokes of bristles on parchment, smoothly
interweaving Amaterasu’s lightning-quick attacks with swipes of the
Celestial Brush, a tool that allows for on-screen drawings to come to
life, aiding in both battle and puzzle-solving. A charming sequel, Ōkamiden,
was later released for the Nintendo DS, but its lack of lasting impact
proved the peerless original wasn’t in need of a continuation.  LeChevallier

Goldeneye 007
11. Goldeneye 007 (1997). Not only was Goldeneye 007
one of the rare film-to-game adaptations that worked, featuring complex
level designs (and bonus objectives scaling to difficulty) that
required equal measures of stealth and shooting, but it also defined an
entire generation of FPS gamers with its heated four-player split-screen
multiplayer. The film lasted only a few brief hours, but the experience
of sitting beside three dear friends, sneakily watching their
screens to get a better read on their position, and then watching as
they accidentally walked into the corridor you’d just riddled with
proximity mines was the sort of halcyon summer haze that memoirists
dream of.  Riccio


10. BioShock (2007). BioShock had
greater narrative and thematic ambition than any previous big-time
first-person shooter. But the real magic came—as it always does in great
art—in how it was told. The FPS is well-suited to immersive
exploration, and every corner of BioShock had some detail that
expanded the story. Even the enemy AI, which gave all NPCs background
tasks, convinced the player that Rapture was a world going about its
business before being interrupted by your murderous intrusion. And no
game has ever been so smart about cutscenes, the bane of most narrative
FPS titles. Bioshock elegantly led you through its levels with
subtle environmental cues, and when it took away control, it did so for a
very good reason.  McKleinfeld

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
9. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000). The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has Link living his own personal Groundhog Day
scenario to prevent a very-pissed-off-looking moon from crashing into
the world, and right off the bat with that premise, the series is in
heavier and more innovative territory than usual. The game still manages
to reuse everything worth taking from Ocarina of Time‘s
template, but also adding just a drop of haunting, elegiac melancholy,
casting a much different and enthralling pallor over the whole thing
than anything the series has seen. Majora’s Mask is as close to grim-and-gritty as The Legend of Zelda
ever needs to be, but it’s also the one game in the series that every
developer, Nintendo included, can learn the most from, when it comes to
adding depth, not darkness, to a series such as this.  Clark

8. Braid (2008). Braid was the
first art game to combine highbrow ambition with rock-solid gameplay.
Like most pioneering works, it’s largely about its own medium,
appropriating the inexorable left-to-right movement and
damsel-in-distress story of a certain famous gaming icon and using it as
a metaphor for…life? Guilt? L’amour fou? Braid doesn’t
answer all the questions it raises, and that’s a good thing. Better
still is how elegantly the story and the game mechanics work together,
with time-reversing levels exploring remorse and single-key puzzles as
metaphors for loss. Like the games it parodies, Braid makes
walking and jumping feel great, but it uses that visceral satisfaction
to draw you into something profoundly disquieting.  McKleinfeld

Portal 2
7. Portal 2 (2011). It’s one thing to outthink a psychopathic computer program, as players did in the original Portal. But this brilliant sequel took things leaps and bounds beyond by asking players to outthink one another.
In a co-op mode to rival all others, players were forced to work
together, but never punished for betraying each other instead. In a meta
move, the real cleverness wasn’t in the exponentially more complex
puzzles, but in the way it asked players to trust in that Charlie
Brown-like way that their friends wouldn’t infuriatingly, comically
sabotage them at the last second. Shooting your friends was simple;
trapping them in an infinite, head-spinning loop was impressive.  Riccio

Half-Life 2
6. Half-Life 2 (2004). The original Half-Life redefined the way players experienced first-person shooters with heavily scripted sequences and a well-written narrative. Half-Life 2
took this to the next level, as silent protagonist Gordon Freeman is
removed from cryostasis and plunged into a future dystopia—a formerly
human-populated city now turned zombie nightmare—reminiscent of Nazi
Germany where the last remaining humans reside, enslaved by an
unstoppable alien threat. Without ever relying on cutscenes, the game
makes you a first-person participant in its storyline, one that turns
the tide from oppression to rebellion fighting for the future of
humanity. It’s a classic whose thrills best those of most action movies
and demonstrates the remarkable innovation the medium is capable of.  Aston

Shadow of the Colossus
5. Shadow of the Colossus (2005). The death
of a colossus is a terrible thing. It feels all wrong: You thrust your
sword into the softness of a great beast’s neck as instructed until it
lurches forward and falls. The only thing you’re asked to do in Shadow of the Colossus
is extinguish 16 impossibly beautiful creatures. There are no hazards,
or enemies, or side quests. There are no power-ups or upgrades to be
found. There is only you, the colossi, and the suffering you inflict
upon them. Every video game is founded on a pretense of control—an
illusion that you have a choice. Shadow of the Colossus dispels the myth by posing a simple question: Why? We should all think hard about the answer.  Marsh

Red Dead Redemption
4. Red Dead Redemption (2010). A true western can’t be afraid to back down from its gritty substance, and Red Dead Redemption‘s
final, unwinnable mission lives up to consequences often promised by
the grim story. But that semi-tragic ending is earned by the
plausibility of its rich open world, which is filled not just with
outlaws to shoot, but also with cattle to herd and tame, animals to
hunt, trains to rob (or protect), and townsfolk with whom you fight,
drink, and gamble. But perhaps the grandest accomplishment was the sheer
beauty of the territory, such that stumbling upon a rare sunset-lit
vista while hunting for buried treasure was often reward enough.  Riccio

Super Metroid
3. Super Metroid (1994). Perfection in game design is like pornography: You know it when you see it. And in Super Metroid,
it’s plain as day. It isn’t exaggeration to say that every element of
the game has been conceived and calibrated to something like a platonic
ideal: its level design feels complex but comprehensible; its difficulty
is precisely balanced; its controls are as smooth as buttercream; and,
perhaps most crucially, its sense of atmosphere is richly palpable. The
greatness of Super Metroid is apparent from the moment Samus
Aran floats up from within her Gunship to stand poised and ready in the
rain. It’s achingly beautiful. This is game craft at the height of
elegance.   Marsh

Chrono Trigger
2. Chrono Trigger (1995). Chrono Trigger
is the easiest, conversation-ending answer to the question, “Why do you
like RPGs?” It’s in the wonderfully written, infinitely endearing
characters that are the best examples of each of their archetypes. The
great, smart-alecky humor balanced with the impending doom waiting in
1999. The twists and turns in the plot, few, if any, of which are
telegraphed from miles away. The consequences of your actions across the
multiple timelines. The combat. The lack of random encounters. The
score. That Mode 7 clock at the start that still feels like the
beginning of something epic 20 years later. This is every JRPG element
working in total harmony.  Clark

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
1. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (1998). During the lengthy, groundbreaking development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,
Shigeru Miyamoto envisioned a worst-case scenario in which Link would
be restricted to Ganon’s castle throughout the game’s entirety, jumping
through portals to enter mission-based worlds a la Super Mario 64.
Let us be eternally grateful, then, that Miyamoto-sensei and his
colleagues got a handle on their newly broken-in hardware before
submitting their final product. There aren’t enough superlatives, in any
language, to describe how important Ocarina of Time is, not
only to the medium of video games, but to the act of telling and being
enveloped by stories. You start the game as a child, and finish it as an
adult, having traveled countless miles, meeting all sorts of different
creatures, both familiar and foreign, and being tested in battle and by a
slew of imaginative puzzles. The Great Deku Tree. Dodongo’s Cavern.
Jabu Jabu’s Belly. The Water Temple (oh God, the Water Temple). Your
premier foray into any of these environments isn’t easily forgotten, and
the dungeons comprise only a fraction of the fantastical pleasures
found in Ocarina of Time, a game that’s not just a game, but the birth of a memory that will be held dear for eternity.  LeChevallier

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