The 100 Best Video Games of All Time

Greatness is about the way a game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or canonical status.

The 100 Best Video Games of All Time
Photo: Nintendo

Two years doesn’t sound like a long enough time to justify updating a list, but as a medium, video games move in bounding strides. Trends come and go, hardware changes, and brand-new games emerge as towering influences on the medium. When we published our initial list of the 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time in 2014, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were only a year old. The same can be said with the Nintendo Switch and our 2018 iteration of the list. If four years is just about an eternity, two years is only slightly less so. The medium continues shifting, regardless of when we decide to stop and take stock.

Some games from the two prior iterations of our list have shifted positions, while others are absent entirely; old favorites have claimed the spots of what we treated as new classics, and vice versa; and some of the ones that vanished have triumphantly returned. Those changes speak to the fluidity of an evolving medium as well as to the broadness of experiences to be had within it. How can the same narrow handful of games, the accepted canon that looms large over every games list, hope to represent that diversity? How can a list of the greatest ever be anything but constantly in flux?

When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact and influence. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife

Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of the titles that made the original incarnation of our list on June 9, 2014.


100. 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 through the very act of 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. Daniel McKleinfeld

The Talos Principle

99. The Talos Principle (2014)

The Talos Principle articulates the conflict between skepticism and the order of God. This juxtaposition comes in the context of a series of puzzles, implying that human and deity have a natural interest in making sense out of chaos. Without moralizing about sin or catering to secularist values, the game implies that inquisitiveness mechanically binds humanity to a common fate. This conflicted but life-affirming perspective trumps the adolescent nihilism that oversimplifies player choice as an illusion. Even if the philosophical angle in The Talos Principle didn’t exist, the game would still be outstanding. The world design allows you to bounce between puzzles while also requiring a certain degree of completion to try higher challenges. Developer Croteam’s gradual integration of several puzzle types is as accessible as it is shrewdly brain-twisting. Jed Pressgrove

Spec Ops: The Line

98. Spec Ops: The Line (2012)

The ever-shifting sands of Dubai make for a good setting in Spec Ops: The Line: It’s an unreliable environment that matches what turns out to be the game’s unreliable narrator. The military, squad-based action also fits with the theme of responsibility, frequently forcing players to choose between two equally unsavory options. The game’s “Damned If You Do” and “Damned If You Don’t” achievements, earned from killing either a soldier or a civilian, make it clear just how blurry that titular “line” is. Spec Ops: The Line never permits players to rest easily in the distance or abstraction of a long-range war or the novelty of a video game. Players can only focus on the beauty of a blood-orange sandstorm for so long before it dissipates, revealing the gruesome consequences of your violence within it, just as the bird’s-eye view from a dispassionate drone eventually gives way to the revelatory moment in which your squad must wade through the charred bodies of the innocent civilians they just mistakenly dropped white phosphorus upon. The horror, the horror indeed. Aaron Riccio

Hitman 2

97. Hitman 2 (2018)

In the exclusive VIP room of the Isle of Sgàil castle, the five members of the Ark Society council gather to discuss their plans to hold power over the world. During this Illuminati-esque gathering, the members of this privileged elite wear masks to conceal their identities—to discuss how they will profit from fixing the climate change disaster they created. But unbeknownst to them, one member isn’t who he seems. The elusive Agent 47, having earlier tossed member Jebediah Block over a balcony, has infiltrated their ranks, and he sets out to murder them all, dishing out his unique brand of darkly comedic justice. Hitman 2, a fusion of escapist wish-fulfillment and satire, has the player deploy its familiar and new stealth mechanics across inventive scenarios. Whether in an exotic jungle or a Vermont suburb, 47 exploits the hyper-detailed nature of his surroundings to complete his executions, and frequently in hilarious disguise. The game gives players the tools to make their own amusing stories within various open worlds, from choking an F1 driver while disguised in a flamingo outfit, to blowing up a Columbian drug lord using an explosive rubber duck, to reprogramming an android so it can gun down an MI5 agent turned freelance assassin played by Sean Bean. Ryan Aston

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

96. 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 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

Star Fox 64

95. Star Fox 64 (1997)

The N64 was an awkward era in Nintendo’s history, as the company was getting its sea legs as it was transitioning into 3D gaming. And because of that weird third leg protruding obnoxiously from the center of the system’s controller, it wasn’t exactly easy to play the second title in the Star Fox series. But the controls were responsive, meaning it was at least easy for players to endure Star Fox 64’s steep learning curve. Reminiscent of games like 1985’s Space Harrier and 1995’s Panzer Dragoon, this compelling on-rails space shooter gave us anthropomorphic animals piloting what were ostensibly X-Wing starfighters in a galactic battle against Andross. The game featured local co-op, which made it even more enjoyable because of the multitude of additional explosions on screen. And though it came out toward the end of the 20th century, Star Fox 64 was very clearly inspired by cubist art, making it a perturbing and exciting departure from the vibrant and richly detailed worlds players were exploring in other Nintendo titles. Unsurprisingly, we’re still doing barrel rolls to this day, so we can thank Peppy Hare for the tip all those years ago. Jeremy Winslow

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

94. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is unusually sensitive for a horror game, rejecting as it does the trend of using mental illness for cheap scares. As disturbing as the contradictory voices in the titular protagonist’s head might be, her fractured psychological state doesn’t exist to leave players feeling frightened, but to serve up a philosophical inquiry with universal resonance. Between fights with scores of mythic beings (the one-versus-all war in the Sea of Corpses is among the most ominous action spectacles in gaming history), the player learns that Senua loathes the voices within her as much as she does anything else—and that self-hatred must be recognized and managed in order for her to attain some form of peace. This dark but life-affirming parable amplifies its emotional power through mesmerizing audiovisuals, where hallucinatory whispers argue over whether you’re ever going the right way and motion-capture graphics ironically seem like reality when juxtaposed against full-motion video. Pressgrove

Cart Life

93. Cart Life (2010)

Video games usually de-personalize business management. They shift the perspective upward, letting us look down on workers and customers as they go about the mechanical tasks we designate from on high. Designer Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life keeps things street level, building a life sim around its business management. Its monochrome characters barely scrape by, stretching cash as far as they’re able while making time to feed cats or pick daughters up from school. Though the game can easily wear you down, it also gives weight to the small victories, like selling enough to keep going. Video games have considerable power to communicate experiences to the player, and it’s used most often for saving worlds and amassing collectibles and jacking cars. Cart Life is a reminder of the humanity the medium is capable of. Scaife


92. Ikaruga (2001)

The standard shooter tasks players with dodging enemy fire and collecting power-ups while unleashing a steady torrent of bullets at one’s foes. Ikaruga masterfully bucks that trend by introducing a polarity system, wherein your ship can only be damaged by bullets of the opposite color of your ship. The game stands apart from other titles in the subgenre of shoot ‘em up known as bullet hell by, well, leaning into the hell of gunfire. This bold choice, which turns like-colored bullets into tools, stylishly revitalizes the genre, forcing players to unlearn old habits and adapt to new ones that see them boldly flying into a stream of white lasers, swapping polarity, and then releasing a barrage of fully charged black homing missiles on one’s foes. Everything in these often claustrophobic corridors becomes an elegant puzzle, one where players must, judo-like, turn the enemy’s barrage against it. High-score runs and harder difficulties require even more elegance and precision, as these modes now also expect players to pinpoint foes so as to kill identically colored targets in combo-creating sets of three, or to recharge ammunition by bathing in enemy bullets. Every single bullet is an opportunity in Ikaruga, assuming the player is bold enough to make them count. Riccio

Xenoblade Chronicles

91. Xenoblade Chronicles (2010)

Xenoblade Chronicles, like fellow 2012 JRPG revivalist (and Chrono Trigger-indebted) Final Fantasy XIII-2, cleverly uses the thematic components of shifting destinies and humankind versus higher powers as ways in which to depict the oscillating mental states of its central characters. You won’t be likely to find a more fleshed-out batch of heroes than 18-year-old sword-swinger Shulk and his ragtag group of Mechon-battlers. Creator Tetsuya Takahashi clearly understands that a great RPG starts and ends with its cast, and how well players can identify with their specific, often extrinsic, ambitions and dreams. Monolith Soft’s ambitious epic is beautiful, challenging, emotionally gripping, and, above all, effortlessly transporting. Mike LeChevallier


90. Superhot (2016)

It’s a simple five-word concept that opens the door to brilliance on par with the best action films and games of recent years: Time moves when you do. It’s bullet time in its loosest, freewheeling form. Every stage is the kind of bullet carnival that would make John Wick applaud. Because time grinds to a snail’s pace until you make your move, the tension of every split-second decision stretches out forever. Every hit, then, is given time to simmer, and every new target opens up a world of possibilities that aren’t reliant on your twitch reflexes, but on your creativity and deviousness. All the while, the game’s framework takes a paranoid, cyberpunk, eXistenZ-style tack that somehow fits in with the minimalist aesthetic of the core game perfectly. Superhot takes the blissfully familiar and completely twists the whole first-person shooter genre to fit its own ends. Justin Clark


89. 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. The mastermind of Robyn and Rand Miller, Myst exhibited 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

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

88. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

Rockstar Games’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas captures the essence of gang life and the hood with effectively grotesque accuracy. Controlling Carl “CJ” Johnson, you traipse through Los Santos committing acts of delinquency, crime, and murder, all in the name of the Grove Street Families. An internal battle starts to brew between members of the street gang just as other gangs begin to make their move, and you watch CJ go from gangbanger to murderer to businessman—just about the most brilliant display of character development from the PlayStation 2 era. The game’s Los Santos was neither as large nor as detailed as its recreation in Grand Theft Auto V, but the setting, a fictional depiction of Los Angeles, was distinct and realistic enough to feel like a livable city. It’s no wonder Rockstar returned to the well. Winslow

Missile Command

87. Missile Command (1980)

Missile Command is the definitive thinking person’s shooter. With limited counter-missiles at your disposal and multiple cities to protect, you must quickly observe the trajectory of every incoming enemy missile, and your shot placement must account for the radius of every ensuing explosion so as to destroy as many projectiles at once. This anticipatory approach makes the experience unquestionably distinct from other shooters of the time, such as Space Invaders, Combat, Centipede, and Asteroids, all of which featured unlimited ammo and only asked players to aim for one target with each shot. But just as important, Missile Command is culturally significant in how it reflects the anxiety of the Cold War era. The game envisions a scenario where civilization must be protected from an unpredictable foreign enemy—one that doesn’t come from outer space. The gravity of this theme is amplified by the unique control layout of the game’s arcade cabinet, which gives the illusion that you’re manning a war station rather than merely playing another machine in the arcade. Few games have captured widespread geopolitical paranoia like Missile Command. Pressgrove

Elite Beat Agents

86. Elite Beat Agents (2006)

Ouendan, the Japanese rhythm title Elite Beat Agents is based on, boasted unique, tactile gameplay that felt just as much like drawing elaborate art as it was tapping to a beat. The cherry on top were the visuals, a series of vignettes about Japanese citizens having trouble in their daily lives, and the Ouendan showing up to cheerlead the courage they need. Elite Beat Agents managed to somehow translate all of that to the West but with an extra injection of full-on cartoon-madcap antics, set to some of the most well-known hits ever written. And so, we have a game where a dance troupe dressed like the Men in Black gives an adventurous pug the courage he needs to save a baby who wanders onto a construction site, set to the Jackson 5. We tap along to a lone truck driver’s harrowing night killing zombies with canned nuts to Destiny’s Child. A meteorologist gets her entire city to fight the bad weather off with electric fans so she and her son can have a picnic, while you tap along to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” None of these elements combined should work, and yet, here they all are in Elite Beat Agents, one of the most delightful concoctions ever to grace a portable system. Clark

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

85. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)

For as memorable as the classic Super Mario worlds have been, they feel every inch the platforming gauntlets they’re designed to be. You never really picture them as places where people live. The great triumph of the Mario RPGs is how effortlessly they build that world outward and fills in its blanks, and no game reveals Mario’s world to be such a wonderful, bizarre place as well as Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. It’s the sort of game where our hero infiltrates a secret society’s equally secret moon base. He enlists the local Pianta mafia to get him to a big arena in the sky, wherein he fights alongside a punk infant Yoshi as a sort of amateur wrestler called “The Great Gonzales.” The timing-based battle system is relocated to a stage in front of an audience that grows as Mario levels up, letting you play to the crowd for power-ups. More than just a Mushroom Kingdom coat of paint over a well-worn template, this is one of the most inspired RPGs ever made and the reason people still clamor for Paper Mario to return to its roots so many years later. Scaife

God of War

84. God of War (2018)

The eighth entry in the God of War series is full of classic, epic combat, as you’ll slay your share of elemental trolls, winged dark elves, and giant thunder dragons throughout the game’s campaign. But whereas its precursors placed mindless violence front and center, this game brings a new weight to protagonist Kratos’s every move. It’s in the heavier Leviathan Axe that he wields this time around, as well as in the lessons his actions convey to his son. The new Nordic setting also refuels the franchise’s creative roots. The game overflows with ideas and fresh locations throughout Kratos’s journey across the Nine Realms, with some side quests so expansive that they don’t just introduce an extra area, but an entirely different dimension with its own set of rules. There’s a double meaning to everything, especially the more visceral combat, which forces players to think about how to best engage foes, but about what they’re teaching their in-game son. This collection of mythic stories is made more relatable, not more mundane, through the lens of parenthood. Riccio

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium

83. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1993)

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. Clark

Hotline Miami

82. 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. Rather, 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. Calum Marsh

Streets of Rage 2

81. Streets of Rage 2 (1992)

Streets of Rage 2 is a beat ‘em up, not a rhythm game, but you can still get lost in its groove. The electronica- and funk-driven soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro is catchy, startling, and enrapturing. The way the four characters feel as you fight—as you punch, kick, slide, grab, throw, perform backbreakers, counter fools standing directly behind you, and more—mirrors the soul of the music: Everything is tightly constructed but flows like an improvisational avalanche. This game doesn’t hold back on the challenge front either. At times, the screen fills with so many moving bodies that the timing and decision-making required to dispatch the crowd of foes might seem impossible to perform. But when you do manage to come out of a brawl without losing a life, Streets of Rage feels like one of the hippest dances you can nail. Pressgrove

Viewtiful Joe

80. 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 players 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 marriage of film and video games. LeChevallier

Ninja Gaiden

79. Ninja Gaiden (1988)

Though tough and not infrequently cheap with its hits and enemy respawning, Ninja Gaiden rewarded your perseverance. It’s a game of foreboding, arcane temples and ancient demons with creepy little details. Using comparatively little horsepower—especially compared to the flashier but slower Shinobi titles—the game lets players feel like a ninja, a fast, powerful warrior with both speed and power, able to manipulate physics and do impossible things. The most vital and important part of its spectacle, however, were its cutscenes, the first time such a thing had been implemented in a console game, and still some of the best implemented until the PlayStation era. And those cutscenes managed to replicate the language of cinema, telling a simple, fantastical story, and yet an effective one, full of twists, unexpected plot turns, tension, and stakes. Ninja Gaiden marked the moment where your primary motivation to complete a stage wasn’t a high score, but to see what happened next, and what happened next was actually interesting enough to be worth the effort. Clark


78. SimCity (1991)

Will Wright’s SimCity was a philosophical challenge to the notion that video games must be more like fantasies to be engaging to a general audience. Real-world complexities, such as tax rates and zoning, drive the mechanics of this revolutionary title where the player assumes the role of an omniscient mayor of a city. Rather than present a series of rigid, designed tests of skill to players, SimCity asks us to imagine the kind of world we want to see and then to build it accordingly. Sometimes mistakes will be made or disasters will strike, dooming our dreams of a highly functioning metropolis, but failed agendas and catastrophes give us insight into how to plan for contingencies next time. Games as different as the political simulation Democracy or the sandbox hit Minecraft all owe something to the open, meticulous gameplay of SimCity. Pressgrove

Halo 3

77. 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

Three Fourths Home

76. Three Fourths Home (2015)

Through a family’s yearning for solidarity and economic security, Three Fourths Home finds a spiritual connection between seemingly disparate generations. You make dialogue choices as twentysomething Kelly, whose disappointment about her lack of self-sufficiency could have made for a pandering tale of millennial angst. Developer Zach Sanford avoids this mistake by also emphasizing the vicissitudes of her family’s life, whether it’s her father being out of work due to injury, her younger autistic brother’s trouble at school, or her sometimes-overbearing mother trying to hold the whole unit together. This approach gives Three Fourths Home a mature social consciousness, allowing the characters to illustrate common American anxieties that transcend the party politics of our time. Pressgrove

The Binding of Isaac

75. The Binding of Isaac (2011)

Two titles are more responsible than any other for turning these last few years of gaming into the era of roguelikes. If Derek Yu’s Spelunky is the indisputable prodigy, the preppy Ivy League candidate parents love to show off to neighbors, then Edmund McMillen’s The Binding of Isaac is the problem child, the surly metalhead most likely to snub the guests and stay in the garage smoking pot and listening to Slayer. It’s a game sprinkled with visual references to terminal illness, substance abuse, abortion, religious fanaticism, and matricide—one where digging into sunflower-colored turds can net you some cool treasure and passing gas is a viable mode of offense. Yet the core mechanics operating behind this repulsive and fascinating façade are no less impeccably engineered than Spelunky’s. Alexander Chatziioannou

Mega Man 2

74. Mega Man 2 (1988)

What Street Fighter II did for both the Street Fighter series and the fighting-game genre, Mega Man 2 did for both Mega Man and the entire platforming genre. Not content to simply perfect all the things its predecessor had done wrong, Mega Man 2 represents a lightspeed jump in ambition. Every enemy not immediately ported over from the first title hides a surprise. Every platforming challenge is tougher but fairer. The powers that Mega Man grabs from the bosses are wildly varied from just “gun that shoots [blank].” It’s in the Dr. Wily stages that the game achieves perfection, however, with a series of challenges that are still jaw dropping in their execution on an 8-bit system to this day, from the shocker of a dragon chase leading into a precarious mid-air boss fight, to the final stage, a slightly incongruous but effectively creepy grace note that takes Mega Man through a silent catacomb, punctuated by dripping acid. Better graphics and more gimmicks haven’t gifted the series with nearly the creative bravery as its very first sequel. Clark

Goldeneye 007

73. 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


72. 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 take advantage of all the skills you’ve 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

Half-Life 2

71. Half-Life 2 (2004)

The original Half-Life, released in 1998, 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 demonstrate the remarkable innovation the medium is capable of. Aston


70. Dishonored (2012)

Dishonored combines elements of other immersive sims, like BioShock and Thief, to create a mechanically enjoyable first-person stealth game that challenges your awareness and resourcefulness. While its narrative about betrayal and revenge is rote, the game is enticing for the autonomy it offers players. This is very much a gamer’s game: It hands you a target—kill High Overseer Campbell, for example—before then turning you lose, giving you the freedom of the world and Corvo’s powers to deal with your target however you see fit. Though the end of every mission may resort to a binary lethal/non-lethal choice, the ways you can approach any mission are bountiful, making each run different enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. Winslow

Katamari Damacy

69. Katamari Damacy (2004)

It’s impossible to summarize Katamari Damacy 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

Titanfall 2

68. Titanfall 2 (2016)

Given its predecessor’s sole emphasis on multiplayer matches, it’s almost shocking that Titanfall 2 sets such a high bar for single-player missions. The game’s focus on the creative integration of wall-running, double-jumping, sliding, shooting, and melee attacks makes even the tutorial section a blast. More importantly, this highly customizable action encourages the player to take risks that would be suicidal or impossible in everyday first-person shooters. But that’s only half the fun. Titanfall 2 ingeniously alternates between this fluid soldier-based play and weighty, deliberate mech face-offs—a juxtaposition of styles cleverly hammered home by the dialogue between the go-getter pilot and Spock-like AI of the walking machine. Everything in the campaign is designed to give you a rush, from laughably over-the-top villains to the remarkably fast burrowing through tight places to platforming sections that will make you think you’re seeing sideways. The greatness of the game’s campaign raises a controversial question in our globalized world: Who needs an internet connection or other players when the proceedings are this electrifying alone? Pressgrove

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting

67. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1992)

In combat sports, speed kills. Such is the philosophy behind Street Fighter II’s third iteration, which can test your reflexes and execution like no other fighting game, especially when you put in a special code on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System version and dial the turbo all the way up. This update also gives several of the champions from Street Fighter II new ways to cover ground and space on the screen, presenting an even greater demand on players to develop smart plans of attack and defense. Otherwise, this is the same ingenious title that popularized an entire genre, established a slew of video-game icons (the menacing M. Bison, the powerful Chun-Li, the too-fast-for-his-size E. Honda), and captured the public’s imagination with its visionary depiction of the intersection between geography and violence. Pressgrove


66. Galaga (1981)

It’s the little details that define the unique and absorbing personality of Galaga. Each enemy makes its own sound when you hit it with a blast from your ship, giving your frenzied attempt to vanquish all the aliens an almost musical quality. The behavior of your foes—their crisscrossing fire, their doubling back once you think they’ve left the screen, their synchronized circular dives toward your ship—is practically an Olympian display of agility and misdirection. And what of your own style of shooting? Do you just frantically tap the fire button, hoping to eliminate everything in sight based on luck and aggression? Or do you methodically determine the vertical channels where you will launch bullets, catching your adversaries in the middle of their deceptive shenanigans? Popularity isn’t a valid or reliable measure of quality, but there’s a reason you’re still likely to see a Galaga machine in random spots across the country. This isn’t just another series of explosions in space, but a timeless work of art and a rip-roaring sport that almost anyone can grasp. Pressgrove

Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island

65. Super Mario World: 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 Bros. 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

Rock Band 3

64. Rock Band 3 (2010)

From singing vocals in harmony to hammering away at a four-piece drum kit, Rock Band makes you feel like you’re part of the music. The natural evolution of the series that introduced the keyboard to accompany the drums and guitars, Rock Band 3 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


63. 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

Grim Fandango

62. Grim Fandango (1998)

Grim Fandango opens with something much scarier than being chased by necromorphs or overrun by zergs: the simple acknowledgement that you’re dead. Plenty of people have nervously speculated about the afterlife, and 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 Grim Fandango’s premise, the absurd logic of adventure games is a welcome pal, and every hard-boiled cutscene is a reward worth working toward. McKleinfeld

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!

61. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (2003)

While, obviously, Nintendo at their best makes accessible, creative masterpieces for kids and kids at heart the world over, the Nintendo we don’t praise nearly often enough is the wacky esoteric lunatic Nintendo that runs with the most bonkers concepts right into the end zone. Recently, this is the Nintendo that gave us Splatoon. That Nintendo also gave us WarioWare, a game whose lifeblood is an almost Dadaist cocktail of absurdity. A collection of minigames, all of which can be completed within seconds, is a great and logical little gimmick, especially for a title made for a portable system. But having those games hosted by disco clowns in blue afros and monkeys in VR helmets trying to evade the cops, and having the games themselves range from “collect four coins in 3 seconds” to “make this sad princess sniffle up the giant line of snot hanging out her nose in 3 seconds,” is the stuff of inspired lunacy. Though the sequels raise the stakes, and add more gimmicks, none are a perfectly curated a package of unfiltered crazy as the original GBA title. Clark

Batman: Arkham Asylum

60. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

What should be a night unlike any other, with Batman returning a deranged Joker to Gotham’s correctional facility for deviants and delinquents, is turned on its head as the criminals that have plagued the city are suddenly released from their cells and quickly take over the joint. Batman: Arkham Asylum is exceptional for how it allows players to feel as if they’re the Dark Knight, whether he’s carefully sneaking up on and inspiring fear in his rogues’ gallery, applying detective skills to solve crimes, or utilizing the technology at his disposal to navigate the game’s expanding setting. A fight with the muscular Bane is action-oriented, taking full advantage of the game’s superb beat-’em-up controls, while encounters with the twisted Scarecrow has Bruce falling victim to hallucinatory nightmares that make Arkham Asylum feel as if it’s in the dominion of a horror game. It all builds to a climax where Batman’s core ideology is put to the test. The worst night of the Dark Knight’s life makes for one of the best superhero games of all time. Aston

Beyond Good & evil

59. Beyond Good & 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 & Evil definitely owes much of itself as a collection of gameplay mechanics to 1998’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but it takes that crucial creative next step for the whole idea of what a Legend of Zelda game 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

Super Mario Kart

58. Super Mario Kart (1992)

Nintendo’s Super Mario Kart defined the kart-racing genre with the innovative way in which it doubled down on the wackiest of mechanics. The game’s adorable characters jump and slide, as well as fire weaponized banana peels at one another, while simultaneously navigating, for example, Thwomp obstacles in Bowser’s Castle and adapting to the chocolaty mud of Choco Island or the icy traction of Vanilla Lake. The result is an amped-up arcade racer—a drift-hopping romp through a variety of obstacle courses, with each of the eight drivers handling in a completely different fashion. That variety (and the increasing speeds of each new engine class) keeps the game fresh to this day, especially in Battle Mode, which allows players to directly square off against one another, creating their own gauntlets out of endlessly ricocheting green turtle shells. Riccio


57. Inside (2016)

While the cult of the indie puzzle-platformer has waned in recent years, Playdead’s follow-up to the critically beloved Limbo lit a pale, shimmering fire right in the heart of the genre. Deft configurations of the familiar crates, levers, and ladders that make up the expected trappings of Inside’s puzzles produce some of the most memorable conundrums of the past few years in gaming. Rather than trying to ignore the long shadow cast by its predecessor, the game maintains an active, fruitful conversation with Limbo but never to the point of sheer repetition. Immaculately authored and coiffured by six long years of development, Inside has some of the most memorable moments that the genre has yet seen. The game may only have a few tricks in its repertoire, but its success at those is difficult to overstate. Steven Wright

Super Mario Galaxy 2

56. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an ever-moving avalanche of expert game design, built from the ground up to be an experience of play, of whimsical engagement, and not just agency, a turnkey required to fulfill some clichéd predetermined narrative. In all the years that Super Mario Bros. titles have been synonymous with “good” video games, perhaps that’s the crucial element that gives them their lasting appeal and keeps drawing people in, whether they are first-time players or have been with Mario from the beginning. Games can simply be fun, and light-hearted, and wondrous. The infatuation with “adult” and “artistic” pretenses in gaming remain popular among its advocates, but in the context of what video games used to mean and why millions grew up loving them, Super Mario Galaxy 2 may be its best example yet. Kurt Shulenberger

Mega Man 3

55. Mega Man 3 (1990)

Although the previous Mega Man games had already combined platforming and shooting to entertaining effect, Mega Man 3 innovated that formula in a way that remains unsurpassed. This sequel exemplifies how seemingly minor tweaks to the mechanics and audiovisuals of a signature style can supercharge a game’s kinetic potential. With the addition of a slide maneuver for the blue protagonist—the most significant alteration to the series up to that point—this entry didn’t rely on trial-and-error positioning as its predecessors did and invited audiences to escape harm or death within split seconds. And while such changes made Mega Man 3 a more dynamic action romp, the energetic but bittersweet melodies composed by Yasuaki Fajita gave the game a more complicated emotional core, hinting at some existential reluctance at play when a robot must fight other robots, including Mega Man’s own brother, Proto Man. The series was never this evocative again. Pressgrove


54. Bayonetta (2009)

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 over-fetishized 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 deep, addictive, and rewarding action mechanics, many utilizing Bayonetta’s own hair as a weapon. Aston

Return of the Obra Dinn

53. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)

The Obra Dinn is silent, with the ship’s crew either dead or disappeared. Gifted with a kind of supernatural pocket watch, you observe freeze frames of each person’s last living moments, looking for clues to their name, occupation, and cause of death to jot down in your little book. For insurance purposes, of course. Lucas Pope’s follow-up to Papers Please places soulless, dehumanizing record-keeping on a collision course with unimaginable horror, morphing the story of the crew’s last days into a logic puzzle as an indictment of capitalism. Many games have flirted with crime scene investigation in a guided capacity, but Pope actually turns you loose to sift through myriad, missable details on your own. Tattoos, accents, crew assignments, blood trails, and more must all factor into your calculations in one of the most satisfying, complex detective games ever created. One scene finds you jammed into a narrow space that restricts your movement, forcing you to only peek through a hole in the wall at the frozen terror beyond. It’s one astounding composition among many, proof that Return of the Obra Dinn is as meticulously wound as the pocket watch that sets it in motion. Scaife

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

52. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)

Link’s quite Odyssean Gamecube adventure from 2002 is one of discovery, of sailing across vast oceans and encountering islands where different species inhabit. Unlike other 3D games whose graphics quickly become ugly due to 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 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

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

51. 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 titular 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. Super Mario RPG’s razor-sharp wit and intuitive battle system made it a success and paved the way for the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. LeChevallier

Jet Set Radio

50. 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. Jet Set Radio 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. McKleinfeld


49. 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

Ms. Pac-Man

48. Ms. Pac-Man (1981)

Even after about 40 years, the immediately recognizable goal of Ms. Pac-Man—to consume every pellet in a maze without running into a ghost—continues to attract novices, experts, and everyone in between on the skill chart. There’s nothing quite like that touch of panic as you guide the spherical titular heroine through narrow passages with enemies practically breathing on her as she gobbles up the last few stray dots to clear a stage. Advancing to the next board comes down to whether you keep making the right lightning-fast decisions to elude imminent death, all the while taking advantage of the limited power pellets that briefly transform the protagonist into an annihilative force. Whether you perish within the first few levels or are able to reach a kill screen, the hurried, obsessive-compulsive nature of Ms. Pac-Man leaves one breathless in a way that can never be forgotten and that has rarely been surpassed, even by far more complex titles. Pressgrove


47. Killer7 (2005)

If the hallmark of auteur theory is that, without any knowledge of its production or even seeing its credits, you can tell who wrote and directed a film, then Suda51, né Goichi Suda, is undeniably one of the few legitimate auteurs in gaming, and Killer7 remains his magnum opus. Something akin to a psilocybin experience, Killer7 starts off as a linear rail shooter about a hitman with dissociative identity disorder, even then managing to be one of the most fundamentally creepy, psychologically horrific takes on such a thing. It then proceeds to mutate the entire genre to fit his needs, slowly blossoming into a profane, fever-dream manifesto on sex, politics, murder, Eastern religion, and, somehow, pro wrestling. It’s very safe to say that that isn’t a sentence that has been or will be written about any other video game. Clark

Animal Crossing

46. Animal Crossing (2001)

It feels somehow naïve for Animal Crossing to exist. The game’s focus on customizing your own space, accumulating items, and playing at a measured, even limited pace is the sort of thing we associate with crass monetization. Games like this are usually built to chase whales, but Animal Crossing knows the simple pleasure of cracking dad jokes as you catch sea bass, red snapper, and pond smelt. It finds wonder in the mundane, through quirky doodads you buy at the store or find in the dump, as well as through conversations with your neighbors that sparkle with personality. Seasons change, celebrations happen, visitors sell their wares, and your animal friends disappear into the wild world, leaving only their memories behind. Plenty of games are about managing life, but Animal Crossing is one of the few about living it, about brushing up against a vast unknown and taking things as they come. It’s almost relentlessly pleasant, built on a love for your relationships and a space to call your own. Animal Crossing isn’t naïve, then. It’s aspirational. Scaife

Left 4 Dead 2

45. Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

What sets Left 4 Dead 2 apart from similar first-person shooters is its core ethos of co-operative gameplay: If you don’t work with your three partners, you’re toast. You and three other survivors of an apocalypse must fight against the hordes of the undead that now reside where America’s middle class once thrived. The manic baddies (shades of 28 Days Later) will quickly overwhelm your team, though you’ll frequently encounter creatively grotesque “special” zombies that present unique threats like trapping and dragging individual players away from the group, or blinding players unlucky enough to be vomited on. Left 4 Dead 2 immerses you intently into its world by way of thrilling gameplay, character dialogue, and environmental storytelling, punctuated with rich detail and world building (will the plight of Chicago Ted ever be resolved?). Custom campaigns and add-ons made the game endlessly replayable, enforcing its status as a modern classic. Aston

Grand Theft Auto V

44. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Grand Theft Auto V’s plot takes the greatest of joy in throwing maximum shade at its audience for enjoying what the series has always done. It’s something of a brilliant bait and switch, where the stunning veneer houses the most reprehensible digital society ever created. It’s all a dark, scathing satire on all of America’s flaws—the American dream as interpreted through by a vast prism of gluttony, lechery, and sociopathy. As much as Rockstar could and should be aiming to get a female perspective into one of their games, and sooner rather than later, their response a couple years back on the matter made sense: Grand Theft Auto V isn’t just a story starring men, but about manhood, about what’s expected of them in the real world, about their agency in the hyper-violent digital world, and what it’s all supposed to mean. Clark

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

43. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

Another timely franchise reinvention, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild discards the linear formula of previous 3D Legend of Zelda titles, offering up what may be considered gaming’s first truly open world. When the game begins, the war is already over, the battle lost a century ago. The world is in ruins. Link awakens and is immediately drafted back into a conflict where little can ever be restored to how it once was. And after a brief introduction, Hyrule is entirely yours to traverse in any way that you want. Throughout, your curiosity is aroused: Unbelievably vibrant sights abound across this seemingly endless dominion, and if one such sight in the distance catches your eye, you’re encouraged to run to it and discover the secrets it may or may not contain. You need not enter the many shrines littered across this land, but if you do, a plethora of often-tricky puzzles will stoke your imagination every bit as evocatively as the many legends that elaborate on Ganon’s takeover of Hyrule. And that no one path toward victory will ever be the same as that of another player attests to the game’s thrilling and imaginative sense of design. Aston

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

42. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

Whereas some games put their emphasis on discovering new and ever-more-powerful loot, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is too focused to be distracted by shiny objects. Its best content is in the narrative, and there’s arguably a greater variety of monster-hunting quests than weapons to collect. Simply put, there’s a richness to the folklore- or fairy-tale-inspired monster hunts—a house undone by tragedy and betrayal, a vengeful wrath summoned up by injustice—that compels players to scout out every inch of the game’s territory (as if the poetry of a moonlit copse or the sunset from a mountainside vistas wasn’t already enough). The beauty of the game is tempered by the ugliness of the monsters (this sometimes refers to the acts of deplorable humans), just as the fantasy setting is given a solid foundation thanks to political machinations that would make Game of Thrones proud. Wild Hunt, then, feels far more real and important than its individual parts. Whereas other titles may captivate or spellbind an audience for a few hours, this game’s mature narrative manages the singular feat of keeping players invested for nearly 100 hours. Riccio

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

41. 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. Metal Gear Solid 3: 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


40. 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 a far-off mountain beckons, but not urgently, because you might want to smell the digital flowers. You will feel a sense of pride from seeing something new, rather than from eluding enemies, or from making conventional progress. This isn’t a game about the ruins left behind in the sand—the past, the what-might-have-been—but rather about the narrative ahead that still lies open for players to experience. Even when the game matches you with a second player, you can communicate only through cryptic chirps, leaving it to you to interpret intent. In this, Journey is the Everygame. Riccio

Gone Home

39. Gone Home (2013)

Set in 1995 Oregon, Gone Home sees Kaitlin returning from a year-long pre-college trip through Europe to find her family’s house in a state of disarray, with only a foreboding message left from her little sister that she will never see her again. What appears to be the setup for a horror game is instead misdirection for a powerful coming-of-age story. Kaitlin’s house is indeed haunted, but only by the sadness and longing of its inhabitants. Exploring each room reveals more about each member of her family and builds the unique narrative, ending in a wonderful inclusionary climax that speaks to the maturation of the medium of video games. Aston


38. 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 prior games expertly simulated physics, while 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

Outer Wilds

37. Outer Wilds (2019)

There are six unique planets in Outer Wilds to explore, and your curiosity will lead you to die in dozens of ways on each of them, before a time loop returns you to the start (shakes of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask). Stand in one of rustic Timber Hearth’s geysers, and you’ll learn that being propelled through the trees isn’t what kills you, so much as your subsequent landing. Spend too much time marveling at the labyrinthine corridors and fossilized remains hidden within Ember Twin and you may learn firsthand that the sand is going to keep rising, gravitationally pulled off nearby Ash Twin like an orbital hourglass, until it either crushes or suffocates you. Falling through a black hole surprisingly enough doesn’t kill you, but running out of thruster fuel before reaching the science satellite at the other end of that wormhole certainly will. Death is at the center of Outer Wilds—literally so, in that its solar system’s sun is going supernova in 22 minutes—but what makes the game such a unique and enriching experience is how much it has to say about life. It’s not about winning so much as it is about what you accomplish and learn along the way. Riccio


36. Spelunky (2008)

Playing Spelunky often seems like a quest to find out how many different ways your underground explorer can die. This uncompromising and darkly comedic 2D platformer has some of the most dynamic consequences you can fall prey to, or take advantage of once you learn the ropes, in a video game. Arrows can bounce off walls and enemies and still hit you for damage, rats can be picked up and thrown to set off traps, a bomb intended for a large foe can destroy part of a shop and cause the storeowner to hunt you down wherever you go—the possibilities are innumerable in developer Derek Yu’s randomized yet themed levels. Die once in Spelunky and you have to start all the way over, but the serendipitous and unusual discoveries you’ll make along the way are more valuable than any treasure you might hold onto for a couple of minutes before perishing. Pressgrove

The Last of Us

35. The Last of Us (2013)

Come for the zombies, stay for the giraffes. Dead Space fans will smile as they navigate claustrophobic sewage tunnels, Metal Gear Solid veterans will have a blast outmaneuvering a psychotic cannibal, Resident Evil junkies will enjoy trying to sneak past noise-sensitive Clickers, Fallout experts will find every scrap of material to scavenge, Dead Rising pros will put Joel’s limited ammunition and makeshift shivs to good use, and Walking Dead fans will be instantly charmed by the evolving relationship between grizzled Joel and the tough young girl, Ellie, he’s protecting. But Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us stands decaying heads and rotting shoulders above its peers because it’s not just about the relentless struggle to survive, but the beauty that remains: the sun sparkling off a distant hydroelectric dam; the banks of pure, unsullied snow; even the wispy elegance of otherwise toxic spores. Oh, and giraffes, carelessly walking through vegetative cities, the long-necked light at the end of the tunnel that’s worth surviving for. Riccio


34. Psychonauts (2005)

In a time when retro throwbacks are ubiquitous, and the platforming genre has been riding a creative high for some years now, it’s almost hard to remember the environment Psychonauts was released into, where the glut of platformers had been reduced to scavenger-hunt simulators, bred for ease of use and waste of time rather than genuine inspiration. As immensely boisterous and entertaining as Psychonauts still is today, it’s miraculous once you think about the logic guiding its creative peers at the time, and Tim Schafer choosing to fly in direct opposition to most of it. The game’s concept alone would make for some fine storytelling in just about any medium with any tone—trade summer camp for corporate espionage and, well, you’ve got Christopher Nolan’s Inception—but combined with Double Fine’s abstract, exaggerated visuals, a willingness to push the absurdity envelope for humor’s sake, and truly unique, meticulous mechanics, Psychonauts remains a work of creative and comic genius that works wonders out of that concept. Clark

Super Mario Odyssey

33. Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

The joy of Super Mario Odyssey is in your self-made journey. This is a game that invites you to dwell within and interact with both the old and the new. Wander around a recreation of Peach’s Castle (from Super Mario 64) to your heart’s content, maybe enter the retro 2D levels ingeniously embedded into certain flat surfaces throughout the game’s kingdoms. You can also adopt a completely new identity throughout by possessing foes, allies, and sometimes random objects: You can rocket around as a fragile Bullet Bill, spring into action as a stilt-walking sprout, or swim up a volcano as an adorable lava bubble. However you play this game on your way to saving Peach from a forced marriage, it’s start-to-finish fun, and the travel-guide presentation of the in-game map suggests that Super Mario Odyssey aims to serve as a kind of vacation. The game’s collectible Power Moons reinforce this leisurely emphasis, as you’re as likely to get a reward from performing agile acrobatics as from paying close attention to that dog wandering along a sandy beach. This freedom elevates Super Mario Odyssey, making it not just a game, but a colorful, creative playground. Riccio

Disco Elysium

32. Disco Elysium (2019)

Disco Elysium suggests a playable William S. Burroughs novel, and even he would’ve needed a lot more drugs to connect the dots in all the labyrinthine and utterly bewildering ways that player choices here wreak utter havoc on the world and your sloppy, drunken burnout of a detective. It’s not enough that solving the game’s central mystery—a murder tied to a worker revolution in the city of Revachol—takes so many cruel and bizarre twists and turns along the way, but the protagonist’s stats actively work both for and against you the whole time. Your mental and emotional health is a torrent that can carry you away at any moment whether you feel prepared for it or not, which might be the most real part of such a deeply surreal experience. Your detective’s failures can weigh on him, making him emotionally unqualified to make certain decisions down the road, arrogance can lead him to take actions based on his rage, and his embarrassment can give away his secrets when his self-confidence drops. His every emotion has a voice, sharply written and impossible to deny, and they will have their say, during one conversation or another, and if the dialogue goes awry, never has a game of this sort made it so abundantly clear that you have no one to blame but yourself. Clark

Fallout 2

31. Fallout 2 (1998)

As stated in that ridiculous fake country song in Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police, freedom isn’t free. Expanding greatly on its predecessor’s maniacal open world, Fallout 2 will pretty much let you attempt to do whatever you want—whether that’s playing all sides in a gangster war, freeing slaves, having an affair with either the daughter or son of an overprotective father, or just being a horrible violent psychopath—but don’t expect the nonplayable characters in this game to just stand by. They’ll always remember your sinful or moral deeds, and thus, so will you. There isn’t a popular open-world game today, including the neutered Bethesda-produced Fallout sequels, that matches Fallout 2’s sarcastic commitment to freedom of choice. This classic is wilder than the Wild West, depicts a society that makes the real world look relatively sane, and reminds us that escapism comes with consequences. Pressgrove


30. Doom (1993)

An ominous metal riff immediately trumpets a distinctive brand of intensity in the first level of id Software’s Doom. From there, the game more than lives up to the implications of its title, as the player wades through cold corridors, battles demon-corrupted human bodies, and sprints across deadly ooze. With loads of secret rooms containing precious items, Doom also welcomes you to comb an environment that seems alive, especially when you, after being lulled into complacency by the allure of an empty area, become the victim of abrupt and devilish traps, like an entire wall that slides down to unleash a menagerie of aggressive demons behind you. Because you can only aim straight ahead with a gun or chainsaw, the game forces you to take advantage of the protagonist’s running and strafing abilities, but the speed of your movement can be as discombobulating as it is enlivening. All of these aspects, more so than the game’s graphic violence, cement Doom as a horror masterpiece that transcends the first-person shooter label. Pressgrove

Final Fantasy Tactics

29. Final Fantasy Tactics (1997)

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

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

28. 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 game’s 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 in gaming. 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, remains astounding to this day, whether the player is on his or her first or 40th playthrough. Clark

Max Payne

27. Max Payne (2001)

On a winter’s night some months after the death of his wife and child, renegade D.E.A. 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


26. StarCraft (1998)

It has long been said that any encounter with extraterrestrial life would carry with it drastic changes to our world, such as forcing us to adapt to new technologies overnight. Though the aliens in StarCraft are fictional, their arrival upends pretty much everything that’s expected from real-time strategy games. The old, traditional Terran forces serve to showcase the asymmetric balance of the new alien races, with old fog-of-war conventions and the rock-paper-scissors combat of Command & Conquer and stolid swarm tactics giving way to forced innovation. The Zerg slowly web their “creep” across the map, blocking and burrowing their menacing, swift-tendriled troops, while the Protoss rely on regenerating energy shields to make the most of a more limited number of troops. The campaign further emphasizes the compelling clashes between species, a dynamic that allowed StarCraft’s multiplayer to thrive long after the game’s release. Riccio

Dark Souls

25. Dark Souls (2011)

The labyrinthine world of Dark Souls is a source of almost constant suspense: With no map at your disposable or straightforward path for you to follow, you must learn to move deliberately through doorways, dim passages, wooded areas, and winding ridges, as a wide variety of deadly monsters wait to rid the environment of your meddling presence. Because you must fight and then, after getting a much-needed break at a bonfire (a symbol of false salvation), refight these unholy creatures, only to stumble upon one ominously titled location after another, the game channels a purgatorial vibe unlike any other. Dark Souls invites you to question the meaning of its repetitious combat as you observe more signs of ruin, madness, and demonic life run amok. If played online, with other players either guiding or hindering you, you’ll likely feel as if you’re part of a demented community of outcasts and riffraff. But play it alone and that’s when the deepest emotions—loneliness, morbid curiosity, hopelessness, relief—are liable to take full possession of you, and in the blink of an eye. Pressgrove

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

24. 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, however, A Link to the Past ought to be regarded as more than a milestone for a franchise still evolving. It is, in its own right, a legend. Marsh

Kentucky Route Zero

23. Kentucky Route Zero (2020)

Kentucky Route Zero is a game often content to remain as mysterious as its namesake, an underground highway seemingly unbound by physical laws. Any fights, between unions and predatory companies, have already happened or doubtless will happen again. Instead, it explores the aftermath of cultural devastation, of how people survive in the ruins of the American experiment and how they build atop (or beneath) that wreckage, with the strange reality meant to represent what capitalism has done to the world. The magic is there, only contained and warped by the society that has grown around it. The characters’ paths narrow as the game continues, as the fist of an unfeeling system closes and people are overwhelmed by weaknesses; you drift from the role of driver to the person being driven to a simple observer of what’s to come. The people you encounter are refugees of greed and exploitation and obsolescence, and there’s a sliver of hope as they defiantly continue, finding pleasure in creation and companionship. They write, they compose, they perform, and they record, inspired by past struggles and a world content to forget its own history beyond facile preservation attempts in arbitrary little museums. Scaife

Super Mario World

22. 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, 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 features Yoshi’s first appearance in the series, makes it one for the ages. Clark


21. 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 second act. LeChevallier

Mass Effect 2

20. Mass Effect 2 (2010)

The Mass Effect universe was too big to stay confined to one platform, and with Mass Effect 2, Bioware finally let PlayStation 3 owners explore the galaxy on their system of choice. Gamers will probably be divided forever about whether this sequel streamlined or dumbed down the combat, but the appeal of the Mass Effect series isn’t the fighting, it’s the world. Lots of design docs have concept art that seems straight out of OMNI magazine, but only Mass Effect 2 managed to implement that in-game, creating thousands of beautiful planets with obsessively detailed backstories for everything on them. Even more than the ambitious Elder Scrolls games, Mass Effect 2 realizes the potential of video games for executing the kind of rich world-building that fantasy and sci-fi fans love, and very much unlike Elder Scrolls, they tell the story with acting, writing, and direction that you don’t have to apologize for. McKleinfeld

Planescape: torment

19. Planescape: Torment (1999)

The leads of most video games tend to come in two varieties: pre-defined and blank slate. With its immortal protagonist The Nameless One, Planescape: Torment goes for both. He awakens in a morgue with no memory, and he soon learns this is par for the course; his many past selves have left scars on the incredible, unorthodox world and on the imaginative characters that have crossed his path. The game is about learning who he’s been, as well as defining who he’ll be. It asks hard questions about the nature of the self, and about whether it’s truly possible to become a better person after so many transgressions. Though nearly 20 years old, Planescape: Torment is still one of the benchmarks by which we measure the quality of video-game writing, with a level of choice and complexity that’s rarely equaled in any other RPG. Scaife

Final Fantasy VII

18. 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

Super Mario 64

17. 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. And it’s a testament to the designer’s accomplishment here that, more than 20 years later, the result feels no less iconic than the original Super Mario Bros. Marsh


16. 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 oozes 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

Portal 2

15. Portal 2 (2011)

In its co-option of a perspective (and its attendant controls) typically associated with homicidal adventures for a fundamentally cerebral, bloodless affair, Portal 2 turned out to be a beautifully rendered and addictively engaging piece of form/content subversiveness. As a single-player quest, the game is so consistently inventive that it can be downright exhausting, though alleviating the strain of its toughest segments is the laugh-out-loud humor, which comes in the form of tutorial graphics and PSA displays that playfully mock dystopian sci-fi conceits, as well as its cast of characters. Moreover, as superb as the game’s solo mode is, even more impediments await via a unique cooperative campaign whose two-player traps are just as devilishly complex, and also further rework tried-and-true FPS aesthetic and interface formulas into something thrillingly unique. As innovative, challenging, amusing, and downright entertaining as they come, Portal 2 refutes the dim-witted contemporary adage by proving that the most fun comes from turning one’s brain on. Nick Schager

Super Smash Bros. Melee

14. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

The best games of all time invoke an almost instant sense of nostalgia. But Super Smash Bros. Melee’s charms aren’t simply generated from the goodwill of such classic heroes as Link and Mario. They also result from its 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 wasn’t 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

Super Metroid

13. 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

Silent Hill 2

12. Silent Hill 2 (2001)

Silent Hill 2 is a game about grief. The story is simple: A widower is drawn toward the eponymous 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

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

11. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

During the lengthy 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. Let us be eternally grateful, then, that Miyamoto 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. Along the way, you will have traveled countless miles, met all sorts of creatures, and been tested both 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 initial 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 you’ll hold dear forever. LeChevallier

Red Dead Redemption

10. Red Dead Redemption (2010)

Red Dead Redemption is the game Grand Theft Auto always wanted to be. This pseudo-sequel to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver—a functional if underwhelming third-person western saga—thrusts you into a roam-all-you-want Old West sandbox environment, allowing you the freedom to concentrate on the storyline’s primary missions or simply gallop about the vast plains, dusty deserts, and Mexican mountains, collecting rare herbs, hunting wild animals, and rescuing whatever damsel in distress you might happen upon along the way. Far less limiting than GTA’s urban metropolises, which always felt constructed out of paper houses, Red Dead Redemption’s settings are fully, thrillingly alive, their functioning ecosystems, sudden dramatic occurrences, and operative economy all helping to create a sense of participating in a universe that operates independent of (rather than revolves around) you. To spend time in this adventure’s locales is to feel a part of a wider world. And, consequently, to catch a glimpse at gaming’s immersive potential. Schager

NieR Automata

9. NieR: Automata (2017)

If NieR Automata were just a straightforward open-world action title, one that could be completed in some 10 hours, stretching from the first line of dialogue until Ending A, it would still stand tall for being a fundamentally odd game about machines pondering their humanity, ending on a quaintly sentimental but earned grace note. Ending A, though, is the tip of the iceberg, partially obscuring what eventually reveals itself to be one of the most unique ludological and existentialist exercises in any medium. On one hand, it’s a love letter and celebration of everything games are, as its mechanics flit joyously between genres; it’s a hack-and-slash power trip one moment, a shooter the next, sometimes even a platformer. On the other, it’s pathologically obsessed with tearing down everything about what those genres have done up to this point in gaming. NieR Automata performs a philosophical autopsy on the post-apocalyptic corpse of humankind through the lens of machines finding themselves bound to make sense of their burgeoning sentience from the scraps we leave behind. It’s a game that revels in the destruction of one’s enemies, and also forces players to recognize their own role in creating them, and the imperative of understanding them to truly move forward, a pensiveness framed by one of the most glorious, eclectic scores ever composed. Clark

Resident Evil 4

8. 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 nameless rural village in Spain in the midst of crazed villagers infected with something very, very bad. The game offers no guidance as to how to react or escape, leaving you in a state of anxiety as U.S. government special agent 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

Metroid Prime

7. Metroid Prime (2002)

On paper, Metroid Prime should’ve been the game that made us all believe that the Metroid series should’ve stayed dead after the 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—its sense of isolation, Samus’s varied arsenal, the sheer size of the game’s world—remains intact. What Retro added was grand, evil beauty to Samus’s surroundings, a subtly creepy story of ill-fated alien civilizations told entirely without breaking the gameplay, and a laundry list of FPS innovations that felt next-gen, and in more than just the graphics, even when the game was prettied up for the Wii. Clark

Chrono Trigger

6. 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. 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 more than 20 years later. This is every JRPG element working in total harmony. Clark


5. Tetris (1984)

The mastermind of Alexey Pajitnov, 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

Shadow of the Colossus

4. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Since 2005, games that examine players’ bloodlust haven’t exactly become commonplace, though many have effectively wrestled with our feelings of doubt and guilt. One of Shadow of the Colossus’s triumphs is its refusal to make murder feel good. None of the colossi, no matter how alien or invertebrate, are necessarily hostile. They all suggest frightened animals protecting their territory, and whatever catharsis you feel in slaying one comes from the selfish, uniquely human ideal of being something very small and frail standing toe to toe with something unfathomably enormous and seemingly all-powerful. The game then treats your victory with all the pomp and circumstance of having slain the last kitten on Earth. Every triumph in Shadow of the Colossus is a tragedy for which Wander pays a deep physical and spiritual price. Clark

Super Mario Bros. 3

3. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)

Some games have one great world. Super Mario Bros. 3 has eight, and its numerous inventive obstacles—from the sun that drops from the sky to attack you in Desert Land to the convoluted passages of Pipe Land—make the game delightfully overwhelming. At Mario’s disposal is an array of fantastic power-ups, which grant full flight—sometimes literally—to the player’s imagination, providing you with new ways of navigating stages and finding tucked-away areas outside the typical boundaries of platforming levels. The game also remains revolutionary because of its world map, whose various elements often communicate a powerful sense of place and mood, as with the unusually encouraging dancing trees of Desert Land and the dread-inducing blacked-out paths of Dark Land. And the secrets throughout this epic title are among the most unusual you’ll encounter in a video game—none stranger than your being able to enter the background of a level by squatting on a white block. Such unforgettable discoveries show that Super Mario Bros. 3 isn’t just another well-crafted franchise sequel, but rather the epitome of unrelenting creativity in game design. Pressgrove

Final Fantasy VI

2. 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 such a perfectly scored 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 impeccably gluttonous cake. Riccio

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is antithetical to everything we’re conditioned to feel about popular game design. We’re meant to appreciate the bombast and big open spaces that let us assert our dominance over and over again. But Majora’s Mask is about looking inward, about confronting our own powerlessness. It’s the smallest 3D Legend of Zelda game that Nintendo has ever produced, focused as much on its main quest as on observing daily lives and routines. You come to know people and places with an intimacy that few video games can claim, and you especially come to know your continued failure to save them. The moon obliterates the town of Termina again and again, and the people gaze upward to accept their fate as Link looks on, caught in the cycle of his own defeat. You can intervene and provide brief moments of respite by beating side quests, but the people never step out of line on their march to inevitable death. The small victories are just that: small in the face of what’s to come. You must eventually play the ocarina to restart the time loop, and you must eventually watch those victories evaporate as you move incrementally forward, powerless to save them all. Though you finally come to the solution and break the time loop to save the world and its people, you accomplish this only after so many failures, only after seeing death through the eyes of so many. Masks function in the game as a way to hide, as well as a way to empathize. The ones you’ll use most often, the ones empowered by ghosts, remind you that you’ve only arrived in the middle of a larger life cycle that you have no power over. Majora’s Mask still lets you play the hero and even manipulate the flow of time, but it never lets you bend to your will a world that exists only for you, the player. Though the moon may rise with your help this once, it’s perfectly capable of going on alone. Scaife

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