The announcement of the Retro Video Game System, a cartridge-based console, is the latest case study in the debate of whether gaming should continue evolving beyond its roots.
The Top 50 Games Of All Time
Here we are, the end of the line. The Top 50 Games of All Time. I won’t waste your time with a fancy intro or anything, but I would like to share a few notes.
This was really hard to do. I was constantly second-guessing my list, and as soon as I would make one change, another mistake would become glaringly obvious. I’m still not completely happy with, mostly because of the absence of GTA III. It wasn’t an oversight. I tried to group games in the same series that featured very similar mechanics (a la GTA III and San Andreas, or Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood), and then find their collective spot on the list. This is opposed to entries like Resident Evil 2 and 4, (and of course GTA III and IV) which are entirely different beasts. Of course if that is my logic, I probably should have put it higher than 25th. Oh well. For the most part, I’m okay with how it all turned out. Whether or not you will be is an entirely different question.
50. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
49. Gears of War 2
48. Twisted Metal 2
47. Castle Crashers
46. Gran Turismo 2
45. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
44. Resident Evil 2
43. StarCraft II
42. Grand Theft Auto IV
41. Mario Kart
40. God of War 3
39. Arkham City
38. Red Dead Redemption
37. Ms. Pac-Man
35. Diablo 2
34. Uncharted 2
33. Rock Band 3
31. Mario 64
29. Mega Man X
27. Fallout 3
26. Mass Effect 2
25. San Andreas
24. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
22. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
21. Goldeneye 007
20. Secret of Mana
19. World of Warcraft
18. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
17. Street Fighter II
16. Chrono Trigger
15. Super Mario 3
13. The Legend of Zelda
12. Metal Gear Solid
11. Final Fantasy VII
10. Resident Evil 4: The best part of video games, in my humble opinion, is the enablement of living the power fantasy, being able to put yourself in situations you could never experience in real life. We may never get the opportunity to kill a thousand zombies or slay a dragon in real life, but gamers get to do all that, and more, every day. One sensation that we never get tired of experiencing vicariously is fear, thus our fascination with scary movies and games. Resident Evil 4 let us live out that fear fantasy in a most intense fashion. Completely overhauling the fabled Resident Evil franchise, RE 4 stepped up every aspect of the original series, scrapped the archaic tank controls and offered one of the most polished and frightening game experiences ever. Surviving the initial village assault is one of the most absolutely terrifying experiences I’ve ever been through, and Resident Evil 4 treats moments like that almost carelessly. But of course it is anything but careless; the perfectly paced story gives you just enough time to catch your breath before sending you back on the roller coaster again. Resident Evil 4 set out to prove two things: Capcom was (and is) still a relevant developer and fear wasn’t done in video games. It did both dramatically.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: While the switch to 3D gaming was a recipe for disaster for a lot of games, but Nintendo treated them like they had been doing it all along. The first N64 entry into the vaunted Legend of Zelda series was an absolute smash hit, and set the bar for the future of the 3D action genre. Everything that made Link to the Past such a great game was suddenly made even more magical by exploring it in 3D. Excellent level design, smart puzzles and myriad secrets hidden everywhere have been hallmarks of the series since the NES days, and Ocarina of Time presented all of them in top form. Making your way through the Great Deku Tree was a spell-binding introduction, but things got real when the Temple of Time was introduced. The time-traveling mechanic of Ocarina of Time was an excellent and logical evolution of Link to the Past’s light/dark world paradigm, and allowed for some of the best puzzles we had ever seen before. Out of respect for those left behind, we will not discuss the Water Temple. Building off the blueprint presented here, the Legend of Zelda has continued to wow the world once again with each successful entry.
8. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: The Castlevania series has been a mainstay on the video game landscape for over twenty years, and, despite a few bumps along the way, it’s still going strong. While the early games are some of the most fondly remembered of the NES era, the series truly hit its stride with the PS1 classic Symphony of the Night. Fusing the platforming elements of its past with the addictive world traversal of Super Metroid, SotN upped the ante with addictive leveling and an expansive inventory system. Giving the classic Dracula tale a unique Castlevania spin, Alucard’s journey through his dad’s castle is full of inventive enemies, smart puzzles and more secrets than you could possibly imagine. Exploring the huge map to its fullest involves a hefty time investment, an insane amount of backtracking and a little luck with your timing. As if that weren’t enough, beating the “end” boss a certain way unlocks a whole new version of the castle, complete with new enemies, secrets and the real last boss. This was an idea that was absolutely mind-blowing at the time. Spawning an incredible line of handheld games from its distinct blueprint, Symphony of the Night has lived on in the collective mind of gamers strongly, and is right now one of the highest rated XBLS games on the service. A true classic.
7. Shadow of the Colossus: While the debate as to whether or not video games are art will probably rage on forever, you can’t deny that some games offer a legitimate argument for the fact. I’m not denying that video games don’t produce their fair share of artistically empty pieces, but for every gorefest/dancing game/military shooter out there, there is another game that speaks on a deeper level. Movies and music have their share of emptiness (“Call Me, Maybe”, anybody?), but few people look down on the medium as a whole because of one bad apple. If one game could potentially ruin somebody on the idea of games as art, then Shadow of the Colossus has to be the antithesis of that argument; a game that could single-handedly redeem it. While it’s a great game in its own right, the true worth of Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece is in its disturbing portrayal of protagonist Wander’s quest to save his love, and the terrible price he must pay. Shadow of the Colossus asks a difficult question: How far would you go to save a loved one? As Wander begins to systematically destroy an ancient race of Colossi to fulfill his end of a bargain, you begin to wonder if you are perhaps making a terrible mistake. As gamers, we are conditioned to reach the end of a game, be it a 100-hour journey or simply jumping onto a flagpole. The fact that Shadow of the Colossus makes you question your motives, almost enough to make you want to stop playing, is quite incredible. It’s moot, though, because anybody who has started this frightening, yet beautiful quest would have an awfully tough time not seeing it through.
6. Super Metroid: The original Metroid is one of the most ambitious games of the NES era, rivaling The Legend of Zelda in its complexity. The free-form exploration and fun shooter mechanics were riveting in 1987, and was an early sign that video games were evolving beyond simple high score contests. An absolute hit with gamers, Metroid shook up expectations (notably with its female protagonist) and became a big part of Nintendo’s stable. When the Super Nintendo released, Nintendo showed a willingness to iterate its stars, pulling out upgraded versions of Mario and Zelda early on. Coming a few years into the SNES’s life cycle, Super Metroid took the basic concept of its predecessor; the open-world filled with secrets, varied weaponry and platforming elements, and turned it into one for the ages. Even played today, almost twenty years later, Super Metroid shows off a level of polish and fun that is absolutely unreal. Although the term Metroidvania is used to describe the genre this game created, don’t be fooled. Symphony of the Night was built completely on top of the house that Samus built. Time hasn’t been as kind to her as Mario or Link, and when you have a blueprint like Super Metroid, that is a true shame. As a pure game experience, Super Metroid has few equals.
5. Halo: When Microsoft released its new Xbox console, a lot of questions were up in the air. Would third-party developers buy in? Could Microsoft show the internal development chops to stand against the established stars of Nintendo and Sony? Why was the controller so darn big? At least one of those questions was answered at launch with Bungie’s breakout hit Halo: Combat Evolved. Despite the success of Goldeneye 64 and the Medal of Honor series, first-person shooters were nowhere near as popular as they are now, at least on consoles. Halo didn’t do much that had never been done before, but it did it far better than anybody had done before. The addictive split-screen action of Goldeneye was polished to a fine sheen, and could be enhanced even further with the mind-blowing system-link function. It’s hard to imagine now, but playing Halo on back-to-back TVs was as powerful an experience as I have ever encountered as a gamer. A stellar campaign that featured, ahem, legendary cooperative play really sold Halo as a viable franchise, and Halo’s slick controls, dead-on gunplay and myriad shooter innovations changed the genre forever. Love it or hate it, the positive influence of Halo on the industry is hard to deny. Although Bungie is no longer in control, Halo has flourished, and its future looks bright as well.
4. Tetris: If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that more people have played Tetris than any other game, ever. I’m probably wrong, but I bet it’s at least close to the top of the list. I’m not sure if Nintendo knew quite how good an idea it was packing Tetris in with the original Game Boy, but it is scary how predictive that move was. Fast-forward a couple decades later and mobile casual games are all the rage. Of course, they are all just trying to emulate the formula that Alexey Pajitnov created in 1984. If the mantra of a good game is “easy to learn, impossible to master”, then Tetris is a great game, having commanded billions of man-hours of attention since its inception. Laying the groundwork for every “casual” title that has ever been made, Tetris redefined the idea of fun in a video game. Simply put, the whole landscape of the video game industry would be radically different had Tetris never been created. Thankfully, we got perfection out of the way early, so we had a pretty good building block. If you know what I mean.
3. Super Mario World: If there was an official textbook on good game design, it would probably be Super Mario World. Sticking with the formula that made Mario a household name in the first place, Super Mario World brought a host of innovations that elevated it to one of the finest games ever created. Despite being a launch title (a window that Nintendo seems to excel at anyway), Super Mario World is a marvel of technical excellence, featuring absurd polish, tight mechanics and enough content to keep gamers busy for a couple decades and then some. Finding your first alternate exit was cool enough, but discovering all 96 stages for yourself is quite a task, and is something that should be on any self-respecting gamers resume. A top-notch soundtrack and vibrant art style rounded out the stellar presentation, but it is the pitch-perfect gameplay that truly puts Super Mario World near the top of the list. Another candidate for the Most-Played List, an absurd number of gamers have experienced the brilliance of Super Mario World, and it remains a perennial fan favorite.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: I’m not sure if the perfect game has been created yet, but you have to consider Link to the Past as belonging on the short list of candidates. Taking everything that made the original such a classic and bringing it to a whole new level, Link to the Past featured everything you could want in a game: a finely detailed world jam-packed with secrets, a top-notch soundtrack, precise mechanics, great puzzles ; a feature set that sounds like a wish list for my dream game. A timeless art style brought the kingdom of Hyrule to life, but it was the first trip to the Dark World that sealed the deal for me. (Re)visiting the familiar yet twisted world was a powerful experience, and Link to the Past was packed with moments like that. Every time that “puzzle solved” jingle went off I got goosebumps, and that simple validation offered so much more satisfaction than any headshot I’ve ever pulled off (and I’ve had some beauties). The sheer elegance of Link to the Past, both simple and infinitely absorbing, has a strength that is impossible to deny.
1. Final Fantasy VI: Where should I start? Perhaps with the powerful story. Eschewing the classic (but already stale) RPG tropes, Final Fantasy VI spun a deep and mature yarn that absorbed players into its world with startling rapidity. The tale begins with the enigmatic Terra, but quickly expands to include a truly magnificent cast, making it difficult to pin down who the protagonist is. Dealing with such topics as war crimes, racial persecution and betrayal, Final Fantasy VI pulls no punches in its plotline. Heck, the entire world gets rearranged and near-destroyed, and that’s only the halfway mark! Or maybe I should discuss the mechanics, which all these years later still stand up as some of the absolute best the genre has to offer. Each character features their own unique abilities, and the esper system was a fun way to learn new spells. A wealth of weapons, armor and accessories are waiting to be exploited, and there is enough secrets and content to keep even the loneliest gamer busy for days. So many moments from this game are simply astounding: General Leo’s demise, the poisoning of Doma, the Ghost Train, trying to save Cid as Celes, the MagiTech armor intro, not to mention the legendary opera scene…I could seriously go on for hours. Throw in some of the best artwork and writing of the era and a sublime soundtrack, and Final Fantasy VI has everything you could want in a video game. I have been honored to play some terrific games throughout our careers, but FFVI truly is in a class of its own. I’m proud to announce that Final Fantasy VI is a true masterpiece, and the greatest game ever made.