Video games have always been a passion of mine. I was a game journalist for 8 years, from 1999 to 2007. Then I went on to make a few WWE video games at THQ. I’ve owned a lot of consoles and literally thousands of games. Back in November of 2009, I compiled a Top 100 Games list.
Years later, I still play games constantly and keep up with the industry. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to do another list. After all, the PS3/360 generation was one of the best, and the current gen is no slouch either. To spice things up a bit, I decided to lift my rule only allowing one title per franchise. But I still need to have played a lot of any game that makes my list, which means there are some so-called shoo-ins that I couldn’t add.
Comment with your own Top 10, or harass me about something you feel deserved a spot. Or get mad at me for starting with number 100 instead of number 1. I will happily (and respectfully) engage. And maybe let me know if you’d like to see me put some capacity of it into a video.
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Note: I scoured the Internet for these screenshots. The majority came from MobyGames.com, a great resources for information on any and all video games.
100. Dig Dug
1983, TI-99/4a by Namco
Previous Rank: 67
Let’s start out my list with an obscure port of a classic. Like most in its era, Dig Dug levels featured a single screen. But you were free to explore every inch of that screen, provided you could pop the baddies before they killed you. The cat-and-mouse gameplay is very satisfying with both sides having vulnerabilities. I played this a ton on my TI computer as a kid, chasing the Guinness Book high score.
99. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
2005, Game Boy Advance by Capcom Flagship and Nintendo
The first Zelda game on this list, and a 2D Zelda at that. This one makes my list, and it’s portable, and it wasn’t even done in-house by Nintendo! Link shrinks down; his hat is a sassy bird; and socially-driven stones play a big part in the story and gameplay. I gave this a perfect score when I reviewed it, and I wasn’t alone. Personally, I just didn’t connect with 3D Zelda games as much.
98. Mortal Kombat II
1994, Super Nintendo by Midway
Previous Rank: 59
A big feather in arcade-game developer Midway’s cap, this sequel went all-in on aspects that set MK apart from the crowd. The roster is beefier, the stages more mysterious and the Fatalities sicker (and often funnier) that fans could ever imagine! Sure, everyone’s base moveset is essentially the same, but it felt more balanced, smooth and playable. It wasn’t just about Fatalities, but it was also damn sure about the Fatalities.
97. Aggressive Inline
2002, PlayStation 2 by Z-Axis and Acclaim
Previous Rank: 44
This game that out-Tony Hawked Tony Hawk, wiping the floor with THPS4! The gameplay was tremendously tight; missions could be stockpiled; and every level had some world-changing elements. I’m still bitter at how Activision bought then sat on the studio; I wanted to see more of what Z-Axis could do!
96. Tomodachi Life
2014, Nintendo 3DS by Nintendo
Similar to Nintendo’s other life sim Animal Crossing, but it’s about relationships between you and fully-voiced humans crafted after friends and celebrities. Maybe it doesn’t reach the same addiction level of Animal Crossing, and there are definitely fewer things to do. Still, Tomodachi Life is a fascinating, clever, and daring piece of software.
2010, PC by Terry Cavanagh
A retro-inspired game that actually captures the feel of the era and not just the look, VVVVVV trades in the jump button for the “reverse gravity” button. Its varying difficulty and tight but surprise-filled map make it a speedrunner’s dream. I’ve played it on four different platforms while completing it at least six times.
94. NBA Jam Tournament Edition
1993, Arcade by Midway
A perfect meld of game-ification and sports, NBA Jam is legendary. But Tournament Edition makes my list because of its abundance of secrets and the much beefier roster of NBA players. And in the arcade, you can of course go two-on-two. Midway’s arcade division in the early 90s could do no wrong, am I right?!
93. Crystal Castles
1983, Arcade by Atari
Previous Rank: 56
Exploring an aesthetically pleasing isometric plane by way of an intuitive trackball (remember Centipede?) is one of my favorite arcade experiences ever. This game doesn’t get nearly enough love. But at least it didn’t get some ugly, polygonal action/adventure reboot on the PSone or something.
92. Everblue 2
2003, PlayStation 2 by Arika and Capcom
Previous Rank: 80
I’m forever fascinated by the ocean. Everblue 2 let me explore the depths, scavenging items, entering wrecks, and collecting wildlife in first-person. Its open-ended structure was pleasing and it was a welcome respite from intense, violent games. I’m betting you never heard of it. That’s cool. How about the Wii follow-ups, Endless Ocean?
91. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
2010, PlayStation 3 by Namco
This is three scoops of pre-workout in game form! I didn’t fall in love with Pac-Man, but what Championship Edition DX did for its tired formula woke me up like an adrenaline shot to the heart. I beat every stage, climbed the leaderboards, and woulda nabbed a Platinum trophy if it had one. (I still have zero Platinum trophies)
2012, Xbox 360 by Arkane and Bethesda
I knew I wanted this: It had Deus Ex’s lead designer behind it; open-ended mission structure; and stylish stealth. It was even the impetus for me to start a blog. I didn’t anticipate just how replayable Dishonored would be, or how reflective your play style was on the world around you. I must have beat every stage fives times, each using different paths and tactics. My parents have yet to send me the sequel, which I bought Black Friday 2016 and had shipped to their house. Why are they holding it hostage like my NWA tape when I was 11?!
1999, Dreamcast by Namco
Previous Rank: 75
My favorite 3D fighting game. Maybe the best third-person launch title ever. The prettiest graphics for years afterward. There are a lot of wonderful things you can say about Soulcalibur. I personally loved Soul Blade on PSone, so it was an easy sell. Every aspect of this title screams artistry and mastery. And nunchuks. Industry-conquering leaps in quality like this don’t happen too often.
1988, NES by Konami
Previous Rank: 35
Typifying side-scrolling action, Contra tells you to hold down the fire button, run right, and die a hell of a lot. But that’s not all. Bosses of all shapes and sizes require strategy. Weird third-person stages break things up. And you can bring a buddy along. Dodging weird claw traps while using the spread shot with a few dozen lives in the reserves (thanks, Konami code!) is a pretty righteous definition of gamer joy.
2014, PlayStation 4 by Bungie and Activision
I don’t play games online. The exception has always been Halo. Destiny is an evolution on Bungie’s winning online philosophy – adding loot, large worlds, and plenty of cooperative play. I got the vanilla version cheap, dug it, then went full Taken King. So I missed the early times. The world is still a bit void of interaction – especially as I was also playing Fallout 4 – but it definitely scratched my FPS itch.
86. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game
1989, Arcade by Konami
I LOVE Double Dragon. But the way this game did justice to an exciting license and supported four players at once convinced me to add it in Double Dragon’s place. You’re skateboarding; you’re surfing; you’re battling against all the action figures sitting in your closet. It’s totally radical or some shit, dude! I feel retro TMNT offerings sometimes get undue praise because of nostalgia. In this case, it’s justified.
85. Blazing Lazers
1989, Turbografx-16 by Hudson
Previous Rank: 83
An early title on a console stuck between 8- and 16-bit, Blazing Lazers became the blueprint for the quality shoot-em-up. My second TG-16 game (Alien Crush, free with the console, was my first), I played it a ton. The ever-upgrading power-ups, smooth performance, and good graphics all wowed me even if I couldn’t beat it.
2016, PlayStation 4 by Playdead and 505 Games
An indie darling for good reason, LIMBO’s follow-up is like that quick knockout punch you didn’t see coming. It flips the script several times – deadly mermaids and gravity manipulation and midair mind-control helmets – but does so smoothly as to appear natural. Maybe the most amazing thing is, despite the flair and flash and finesse, there’s not an ounce of pretention with Inside. It’s pure. Play it.
83. NBA 2K11
2010, Xbox 360 by Visual Concepts and 2K
Since the Dreamcast days, Visual Concepts and the NBA 2K series has owned the court. EA’s Live dominated 16-bit, but was benched so fast it never recovered. To me, 2K11 represented the “in-the-zone” period for this franchise. It looked back on the career of Michael Jordan in a great supplementary mode to the already robust offering of simulation, stats, and player growth. And it’s always demanded you to play smart.
2003, PlayStation 2 by Harmonix and Sony
While Frequency was neat, its sequel Amplitude blasted music/rhythm games into the stratosphere. With visuals that complemented the gameplay’s frantic pace, and control that relied heavily on the Dual Shock’s four shoulder buttons, you were making the music. Button presses had a direct effect on what you were hearing – in actual songs that were almost all kick-ass. That something so revolutionary was so under-the-radar is a shame. Of course, Harmonix would hit it big a couple years later with Guitar Hero. And I can’t forget Karaoke Revolution, which Harmonix also released in 2003.
1981, Arcade by Namco
Previous Rank: 41
Like most early shmups, in Galaga you kind of just hang out at the bottom of the screen and let the enemies come to you. But their fluid movement, your tight control, and the simplistic-yet-perfect audio keep you hypnotized. The tractor-beam enemy and bonus waves were ahead of their time and still amuse today. Still worth a quarter or two 36 years later.
80. God of War 3
2010, PlayStation 3 by Sony
While I may prefer the slick combos of Bayonetta, the barbaric style of Kratos and the God of War series is not far behind. History’s angriest man will not be deterred by even the largest enemies or darkest of worlds. I chose the third installment because the bump to PS3 upped the ante in every possible category. With apologies to Souls and MGS, God of War may have the best boss roster in video games.
2014, PlayStation 4 by Mossmouth
Originally a 2008 PC game, that still feels like about 20 years off. Spelunky has a lot of retro aspects to it, but done with today’s knowledge of design and longevity. Essentially Indiana Jones in random dungeons, each play is unique and unpredictable. It held its own on my PS4 for many months. Binding of Isaac is another delightful throwback indie game, but I played this more.
78. Duck Tales
1989, NES by Capcom
Previous Rank: 38
Capcom was in the zone back in the day! Duck Tales: the game took the charm (and catchy intro theme) of Duck Tales: the cartoon and crafted a shockingly great platformer. I don’t think Scrooge ever pogo’d on his cane before this game. Or used it as a golf club. But they worked so well. Level design, graphics, and music were all top-notch. The remake shows the game still holds up excellently. Woo-ooh!
77. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
2015, PlayStation 4 by Kojima Productions and Konami
I was almost scared to play this. Despite my love of MGS, Ground Zeroes was an expensive demo; Konami booted Kojima; and open-world Metal Gear?! What saved it was the most under-appreciated aspect of gaming: the gameplay loop. Airlifting enemies (and animals) by strapping a balloon to them is the best thing since stealth! Recruit soldiers, level-up allies, and go for optional objectives. But don’t be surprised when it gets the Poochie the Dog ending treatment.
76. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
2005, Nintendo DS by Konami
This is my second-favorite favorite Castlevania (the first comes much later). The GBA games amazed by being such fully-featured Metroidvania titles, but DoS blew them away. The DS’s second screen kept the map visible at all times, and absorbing the varied enemy souls gave grinding more purpose. I did miss Ayami Kojima’s character art in favor of an anime style, however. Dawn of Sorrow is a true milestone in a storied franchise.
75. Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time
2009, PlayStation 3 by Insomniac and Sony
This series took platform-game conventions, threw in a slew of creative weaponry, and injected more humor and plot than almost any of its peers. Does Crack in Time stand out as the best in the series? Maybe not, but it’s the last one I played and I struggle to find flaw with it. It’s a game-design master-class that excels in nearly every way, showing why Insomniac is one of the most respected developers in the world.
74. Animal Crossing: Wild World
2005, Nintendo DS by Nintendo
Animal Crossing is a time-suck, to be sure. The DS’s portability factor turns the addiction to near-unhealthy levels, as you’re not stuck to your television. The fact that it’s so similar to its predecessor drops it down the list. However, Wild World does what it does so well, and the small additions like wireless options are more than enough to make it worth a repeat visit.
73. Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection
2009, Xbox 360 by Crave
Previous Rank: 66
I love pinball. There have been countless great pinball video games over the years, but Hall of Fame’s faithful reproduction of over a dozen real tables complete with achievements and leaderboards is amazing. Included are Fun House, Tales of Arabian Nights, and my personal favorite Medieval Madness. The physics are perfect, the visuals are accurate, and it’s endlessly replayable.
72. Mario Kart 64
1997, Nintendo 64 by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 42
While everyone else was going polygonal and CD-based, Mario Kart 64 represents one of many times in the late-90s Nintendo said “Hold my beer.” All the weird decisions made with the N64 seemed designed expressly to make this incomparable racing game. Shortcuts are abundant, drifting to gain speed around corners is absolutely intuitive, and of course there’s 4-player races and battles via the console’s built-in multi-tap.
71. Papers Please
2013, PC by Lucas Pope
Titles like Harvest Moon and even Animal Crossing to an extend make a game out of work. But Papers Please isn’t a cute, whimsical piece of software; it’s a grueling, detail-oriented, high-stakes 9:00-5:00 slog at the immigration window of a third-world country. How Lucas Pope could turn a bleak concept into something top-100-worthy is near unbelievable. There’s no game like this; I urge you to play it.
70. Wario Ware: Touched
2005, Nintendo DS by Nintendo
I’ve played and loved almost every Wario Ware (and Rhythm Tengoku) title. What a great concept: Cotton-candy minigames tied together by a wacky character and his quest for greed. I chose Touched not because of its ingenious, thorough usage of the DS’s touch screen and stylus – though that helps. It’s because Ashley, the femo preteen witch, has one of the best songs in video games.
69. Batman: Arkham City
2011, PlayStation 3 by Rocksteady and Warner
Following-up a universally acclaimed game is a superhero feat by itself. Then Rocksteady went and put all the mystery, atmosphere and great gameplay of Arkham Asylum into an open world full of countless thugs to drop and countless (attainable) Riddler Trophies to pick up. And this game’s story takes a backseat to nothing. Joker once said, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” How about, “Where did he get those wonderful games?”
68. Super Punch-Out
1994, SNES by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 37
NES Punch Out deserves the love it gets, but I think this heavyweight is grossly underrated. It didn’t change much, but updates to audio and graphics, along with adding time attack mode, caused me to really get into it. This was an era where fighters were often cultural stereotypes (Bob Charley?!), but it made for a unique roster of characters with their own style. Except the boss twins, oddly. But unlike Tyson, I beat them.
67. Space Griffon VF-9
1995, PSone by Panther and Atlus
Previous Rank: 65
Haven’t heard of this? No worries. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! A big-box PSone title, you pilot a transforming mech via first-person in an anime-style horror mystery with RPG elements. The graphics don’t even look good for early PSone; the gameplay is pretty clunky. But Space Griffon struck me as an absolutely engaging experience. Slow burn indeed. Recently discovered there are (Japan-only?) Dreamcast and PC ports, too.
66. Metroid Prime
2002, GameCube by Retro and Nintendo
Previous Rank: 55
Me, professional game critic, in 2002: “There’s no way you can make a proper Metroid game in first-person! The exploration and platforming define the series, and can’t be done in this style! Besides, who the heck’s Retro Studios?” So of course it ends up one of my 100 favorite games ever. The atmosphere, scanning, and how it puts you in Samus’s suit defy all expectation. 2D is still too-sweet, but what they did here is incredible.
65. King’s Bounty
1991, Genesis by New World Computing and EA
Previous Rank: 18
Another pick that may not make anyone else’s list – including the game’s own developers. But King’s Bounty is such a beloved strategy game to me, constantly rented from the local video store. I eventually bugged the store owner to sell it to me. He checked records to see it rented often, but only to me. The amount of troop types (ghosts, dragons, peasants) blew me away, and the random map was a great touch. My first-love tactical RPG game.
64. Parappa the Rapper
1997, PSone by Sony
Previous Rank: 58
Parappa was as unique as games came in the late-90s. Its funky art style, its focus on music, and the fact that it was about the length of an EP all put it in a class of its own for better or worse. I jumped on it immediately, and made a video of my playthrough to play on the VCR at the back of the Funcoland where I worked. The other day, I was called a little turkey. But I’m a chicken, got it? Ya beef jerky.
63. Street Fighter II
1992, SNES by Capcom
The SNES is easily one of the best consoles – responsible for nearly 10% of the games on this list. But honestly, Street Fighter 2 was the reason I pulled the trigger on purchasing the console. After playing the game in arcades at the Wisconsin State Fair (spamming E. Honda’s Hundred-Hand Slap), I fell in love. Once it was in my house, I studied it with fervor – clearing it with every character. Only one fighting game got played more.
62. Guitar Hero 2
2006, PlayStation 2 by Harmonix and Activision
Previous Rank: 51
The first Guitar Hero was a bit of an indie darling. I championed it as a journalist, but few people were onboard early on. With the sequel, the series (and sub-genre) gained mainstream attention. It helped that some tracks were the actual songs rather than covers. The new co-op mode showed that rocking out was far superior when you were sharing the stage. “Crazy On You” is still arguably my favorite guitar-game song to play.
61. GoldenEye 007
1997, Nintendo 64 by Rare and Nintendo
Previous Rank: 28
It was a first-person shooter on consoles; it had a real-world setting; it was based on a movie license. Yet GoldenEye ended up such an immense success. What a testament to the geniuses at Rare. I was working at Funcoland when this came out, and we experimentally popped it in. I was sold, despite not being a Bond fan. Even with my employee discount it cost me $85. However, it was worth every (money)penny.
60. Secret of Mana
1993, SNES by Square
Previous Rank: 34
Overshadowed a bit even amongst its SNES peers, Secret of Mana is nevertheless a wonderful game. Three playable characters, a bunch of leveling-up weapons, and patience-demanding real-time combat were all unique as well as a little clunky. The graphics and audio, on the other hand, are top-shelf all the way. So much color! So many catchy tracks! Mana’s quantity of loot is an unsung feature, helping the grindy nature.
59. You Must Build A Boat
2015, iOS by EightyEight Games
The sequel to 10000000, YMBAB gives you typical slide puzzles with atypical results. The rezzed-down retro aesthetic may not be everyone’s taste, but once you start fighting monsters, collecting gold, and building muscle(?) by matching tiles, you’ll be helpless to stop playing. And your ever-growing boat shows your progress. Everything seems goofy but also has a purpose. And even when you lose YMBAB, you win. Congratulation!
58. Bioshock Infinite
2013, PlayStation 3 by Irrational and 2K
Let me first say I have not completed Bioshock 1. I played it on 360 and stopped six hours in, and was recently sailing through it on PS4 before Persona 4 Golden bogarted all game time. Infinite shows a world of optimism with a seedy underbelly. It gives you a partner with a curious past who’s the least-problematic AI companion ever. It gives you a satisfying resolution that few pieces of fiction have pulled off.
57. Super Mario Bros. 2
1988, NES by Nintendo
No, it wasn’t originally a Mario title; but Doki Doki Panic 2 was still a Nintendo- and Miyamoto-made platformer that was extremely awesome. It breaks the Mario formula in a ton of satisfying ways: Pick-up and throw replaces jumping on enemies; bad-guys, bosses, and stages are vibrant and surprise-filled; you’re given four distinct playable characters (Toad!). This surely deserves its place on my list. And yours. If you make one.
56. Super Smash Bros. Melee
2001, GameCube by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 53
I’m not here to debate Smash’s merits as a “true” fighting game. I’m here to talk about how much fun it was to play. Fan-service filled every contour of the game disc, bringing joy to Nintendo fans. The gameplay was simplistic, but stages, pick-ups and secrets made Melee anything but boring. But my favorite two parts: the statue-like trophies (even if they spawned Amiibo) and the Home Run Contest. Winner!
55. Mega Man 2
1989, NES by Capcom
Previous Rank: 31
While Mario could pretty much dodge every danger and Link slashed everything in his path, Mega Man 2 represented a more difficult, hardcore gaming experience to my young mind. And when I completed it, the sense of accomplishment is what video games are all about. It’s stuck with me ever since, even inspiring me to create a parody song about it. Strangely, few subsequent Mega Men did much for me.
54. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
2002, GameCube by Silicon Knights and Nintendo
Previous Rank: 56
While Resident Evil was still a tank and Silent Hill 2 was good but not great (IMHO), Silicon Knights put out the best survival-horror game of all-time on the purple lunch-pail called GameCube. The main aspect was the sanity meter and the unbelievable results of letting yourself get too crazy. But the combat and overall story were high-quality as well. How did the studio put out this and MGS Twin Snakes, and then choke?
53. Picross 3D: Round 2
2016, Nintendo 3DS by Nintendo
Not every jump to 3D is successful, says this old purist. Picross in 3D added a lot of complexity, spinning a cube around and chipping away pieces. However, each puzzle culminated in a neat 3D image to rotate and enjoy. Round 2 uses multiple colored blocks – one for straight squares and one for odd shapes – allowing for more intricate results. I devoured this game and loved every minute.
52. Mario Kart: Double Dash
2003, GameCube by Nintendo
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite Mario Kart. There’s nary a bad one in the batch. Double Dash evolved the graphics and took advantage of disc-based memory to blow out the scope: more racers, more intricate course, more modes. It’s funny that the main bullet-point of two riders per kart didn’t really do a whole lot for me. It was little more than a gimmick, but Double Dash nabs the gold in this quality series.
1996, PC by Blizzard
Previous Rank: 22
Click, click, click. Such a simple concept made brilliant by brutality, online co-op and loads of loot. The genre Diablo spawned is full of great titles – it’s a simple formula to succeed with – but I still hold the original in the highest regard. Heck, I played the little-known PSone port as much as I did the PC version! “Hello, my friend. Stay awhile, and listen!” Also, just discard lower-tier loot all over the town; it’s fine.
50. Super Mario 3D Land
2011, Nintendo 3DS by Nintendo
Here it is: my favorite 3D Mario game. See, I never got down with Mario 64 or Sunshine; they didn’t feel “Mario” to me (same can be said of 3D Zeldas). But 3D Land retained the essence of classic Mario, just given lots of shiny new toys. It’s not an open world with a cumbersome camera, but one with wiggle room for still-tight gameplay. I adored the bevy of very challenging special stages that felt like DLC included for those good enough.
49. Kirby’s Adventure
1993, NES by Nintendo
First a cute, colorless blob on the Game Boy, Kirby came to the NES with a game that gave the Mario series a run for its money. You had an overworld and minigames here, not to mention battery backup for saving your game! Kirby took on the powers of many enemies he ate, resulting in a ton of variety. And it’s up there with the best in NES audio and graphics. Easy but vast, check it out if you haven’t.
48. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
2007, Xbox 360 by Infinite Ward and Activision
Previous Rank: 30
Call of Duty has always been a big deal – as is the game it stemmed from, Medal of Honor. But when the crack team at Infinity Ward decided to delve into the future instead of the past, bringing modern weapons and a dramatic plot to the game – not to mention revolutionary multiplayer maps and progression – it started a gaming revolution. I didn’t ride the wave much past, but I enjoyed the hell out of this game and its direct sequel.
47. Streets of Rage
1991, Genesis by Sega
Previous Rank: 74
I have long loved games that featured tough people walking right and punching gangs of weaker people in the face. Please allow Streets of Rage to be the genre’s prime representative. It may not have had the legacy of Double Dragon or the giant sprites of Final Fight; but it’s a co-op ass-kicking juggernaut with bad-ass music and even a narrative twist. Streets of Rage 2 is also tremendous, making this a toss-up.
46. The Witness
2016, PlayStation 4 by Thekla
The only “walking-simulator” to make this list, The Witness came after creator Jonathan Blow’s other great indie hit, Braid. It takes the framework of Myst, but makes it a free-roaming, beautiful journey through 500 puzzles. These puzzles are similar, but the variety is unbelievable – as is the way the game teaches you their intricacies. If only I hadn’t burned out whiffing the randomized post-completion puzzle relay…
45. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
2000, PSone by Neversoft and Activision
A perfect sequel retains what the original brought, and expands in every direction. Such was Pro Skater 2. Manuals allowed for more trick-linking; levels had more to do; the soundtrack had tracks by Rage and Anthrax/Public Enemy; and the park editor was way ahead of its time. Tony 2 filled its predecessor’s big shoes with ease, then hung them from a power-line – honestly making it tough to go back to THPS 1.
44. Chrono Trigger
1995, SNES by Square
Previous Rank: 24
Super-groups exist in all forms of entertainment: Miami’s Big Three, the Expendables, Traveling Wilburys (look it up). This was the video-game equivalent. Final Fantasy’s Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest’s Horii, Dragon Ball artist Toruyama, and composer Uematsu highlighted a team that made an RPG that some view as the best of all time. Time travel, fun combat and multiple endings are just the beginning. I need to play it again.
43. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
2009, PlayStation 3 by Naughty Dog and Sony
Previous Rank: 39
Uncharted 2 is a hit single, a fried-chicken sandwich, a rollercoaster ride, and a blockbuster popcorn movie in game form. And I mean that as a compliment or it wouldn’t have made this list. It’s fun over anything else, designed for pure enjoyment. It’s got a witty star traversing breathtaking set-pieces and getting into all kinds of trouble. Unlike Uncharted 1 and 3, this struck a perfect balance for me. Gotta play Uncharted 4.
42. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
2002, PlayStation 2 by Rockstar
Previous Rank: 10
I was second-opinion on the Game Informer review of this game. I also wrote a strategy guide for it – daunting, considering the game’s world and scope. I worked a 90-hour week to finish, and upon arriving home would only want to play it more! GTA 3 was monumental and important, but Vice City showed how far style goes to making a true masterpiece. I can’t really explain why this went from #10 8 years ago to #42, but perhaps the pastels have faded and the neon has burnt out a bit.
41. Persona 4: Golden
2012, PS Vita by Atlus
This is my most recent gaming obsession. I’ve always loved the concept of this series, but this was the Persona I completed. Demon-summoning and modern-day Japanese high school life meld to make one of the most satisfying gameplay loops I’ve ever played. The writing, music, and (English) voiceovers are sublime, and I can’t get enough of both its dungeon-crawling and life-sim aspects.
40. Sonic CD
1993, Sega CD by Sega
Previous Rank: 72
Easily my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game. What was great about Sonic, aside from the obvious speed, were the branching levels with lots of verticality. Sonic CD excelled at this aspect, and there were various time periods for each stage to boot. Special areas gave Mode-7 graphics a run for their money. The game’s been ported to everything – iOS has a great version – meaning you have no excuse to not play it.
39. WWF No Mercy
2000, Nintendo 64 by AKI and THQ
Previous Rank: 54
The Attitude Era may be the peak of pro wrestling, and No Mercy was definitely the peak of wrestling games. AKI’s engine was simple on the surface but so deep – something modern versions of WWE (and NFL, NBA) fail to grasp. Having low-poly characters and being on a cart didn’t sacrifice detail or options. If it was in WWF, it was probably in this game. Even I miss it, and I wrote/designed 3 PS3-era WWE titles.
38. Half-Life 2
2004, PC by Valve
Previous Rank: 16
Calling it the king of adventurous first-person shooters doesn’t do it justice. What Half-Life 2 did for graphics, character models, physics, first-person puzzles, and gaming narrative are all gigantic contributions to the medium. This game warrants an entire grove of ‘member-berries. ‘Member the can scene? ‘Member the headcrabs of Ravenholm? ‘Member taming antlions? ‘Member Dog? Yeah, I rated this too low…
37. Street Fighter Alpha 3
1998, PSone by Capcom
Previous Rank: 25
My favorite fighting game, Alpha 3 does what a lot of my favorites of any genre do: It adds RPG elements and blows out single-player. Three styles, 34 characters, and various modes give your money’s worth in a genre I often peter out on quickly. It’s gratifying to outfit your character with new abilities, amazing to tackle multiple adversaries at once, and dizzying to think how long it’d take to conquer everything.
36. Super Mario Bros.
1985, NES by Nintendo
Sure, I put it in the high 30s, but make no mistake: Gaming may not exist in near the capacity it does were it not for this gem. It’s the Michael Jordan of video games. Nothing with its level of polish had been accomplished before: 32 worlds to conquer, jaw-dropping secrets (remember the 3-1 endless lives trick), and physics that still destroy modern games (looking at you, LBP). Maybe the most must-play game ever.
2010, Xbox 360 by Platinum and Sega
With apologies to the Batman and Assassin’s Creed series, there are two types of action games: the Souls-style and combo-heavy titles like Devil May Cry and God of War. Bayonetta is the best example of the latter category, going balls-out in every aspect. Your hair-covered witch outrageously kills outrageous devils and angels by the hundreds as you forget to blink. Great progression, wacky story, and it plays like a dream!
34. Hotline Miami
2013, PC by Devolver Digital
This is the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater of murder simulators. Every brutal overhead-view level is packed with dudes (and dogs) that will kill you in one shot/punch. But as soon as your blood spills, you respawn at the start of the floor. It’s tense and manic and such an essential video game experience. Masks and trophies change things just enough to jack up replay value. I’ve cleared this on PC, PS4 and Vita, and never tired of it.
33. Yakuza 3
2010, PlayStation 3 by Sega
This series must be played to be appreciated. It’s a Japanese mafia-themed RPG that uses brawler-style combat in place of turn-based battles. The level of detail of Kabukicho (a seedy area of Shinjuku ~25 minutes from my current apartment) is staggering, as are the options to get you sidetracked (karaoke, golf, batting cages, dating, etc.). And you can walk around holding your adopted niece Haruka’s hand. D’awww!!!
32. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
2012, Xbox 360 by Firaxis and 2K
They say not to name farm animals, because it’s harder when they die. The same holds true for XCOM soldiers. You craft them, outfit them, and level them up, only to have them exterminated at the hands of sneaky alien scum. But it’s that loss that makes for such a compelling tactical/strategy RPG. Of course, every other aspect of the game is rock-solid, even if it can tip the scales a bit too much against you (brainwashing).
31. Portal 2
2011 PlayStation 3 by Valve
Equally brilliant as both a single- and multiplayer co-op game, Portal 2 succeeded in its lofty challenge: Make a worthy follow-up to the small, ingenius Portal, and get people to pay full price. For a game featuring just one human, personality simply floods out of this game – from Cave Johnson to GLADOSpud to “Wanna go to space.” Is there a bit of filler? Sure, but with new gimmicks, a respectable length and again some of the best co-op I’ve ever played, I can’t complain.
30. The Last of Us
2013, PlayStation 3 by Naughty Dog and Sony
I almost quit this game about 6 hours in. I was not enjoying my time. Then I stopped playing The Last of Us like other action games, and it finally took hold of me. A master class in story-telling, game design, and building relationships; Last of Us is a mature experience that will guide you through so many things that you’ll almost be fatigued afterward. They don’t often make games like this, which is a damn shame. I still need to play the PS4 remastered version.
29. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
2006, Xbox 360 by Bethesda
Previous Rank: 11
I didn’t like Morrowind; it was too open, with little structure and no choice but to wander around aimlessly. Oblivion shows how a few tweaks can make all the difference. Its ability to fast-travel and a more cohesive main storyline caused me to fall in love! It doesn’t hurt that the lush hills reminded me of my youth in Upper Michigan. Skyrim usurped it fairly easily, but my time with Oblivion remains precious.
28. Pokémon Snap
1999, Nintendo 64 by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 20
I didn’t think it would work: Take pictures of Pokémon on a glorified Disney attraction. That’s the game?! Hell yeah it is! Few things are as satisfying as snapping the perfect picture as Prof. Oak dishes out points based on aesthetic requirements. Snap is just interactive enough to keep you coming back for more, as you experiment to reveal new Pokémon and poses. Why has no sequel materialized??? Maybe the success of Pokémon Go will inspire an augmented-reality version? A gamer can dream…
27. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
2003, Xbox by Bioware and LucasArts
Previous Rank: 14
How do you create a Star Wars game with zero recognizable characters? Make your own! And have it take place 4000 years before the films! As my first experience with a Bioware game, I was enthralled by the dice-roll aspect of battles. The mission structure and dialog tree were new to consoles as well. My Xbox was dying when I got this – every load screen had a 50% chance of crashing – but I couldn’t stop playing! Anyone who’s unraveled the mystery of Darth Malak knows what I mean.
26. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
2006, PlayStation 2 by Konami
One could rationally argue this is the best of the Metal Gear Solid series. After the middle-finger that was Raiden in MGS 2, we got Snake back. Only now, he was in the 1960s without a proper radar, but with a hungry belly and a penchant for camo. Kojima and crew threw the kitchen sink at us here in terms of inventive bosses, plot twists, and an epic finale. The Subsistence version (as opposed to 2004’s Snake Eater) added a proper third-person camera. Perhaps if the radar was more intuitive it’d rank even higher.
25. Super Mario Bros. 3
1990, NES by Nintendo
Has a game company ever had a right to be as cocky as Nintendo with the release of Mario 3? It held the industry in the palm of its hand already, then delivered something that blew away every aspect of its world-beating predecessor, Super Mario Bros. I loved the overworld; flying was endlessly cool (especially the P-wing); it had even more secrets; the sun tried to eat you; and you battled giant Koopas! Admittedly, I didn’t beat it until playing on my 3DS (anytime saves FTW).
24. The Legend of Zelda
1987, NES by Nintendo
Zelda showed just what video games could be. Instead of a single screen or some short scrolling levels, you had hundreds of screens of adventuring as Link took on a large roster of monster and tackled ominous and mysterious dungeons. You were free to tackle it all in your own way. It was the game for its time and place, setting a tone that made the medium feel more mature. But it also holds up; like Mario 3, I first completed it on 3DS.
23. Fallout 4
2015, PlayStation 4 by Bethesda
Quite possibly the game I’ve put the most time in (the game timer unfortunately didn’t pause while the PS4 was on standby). It’s another sprawling Bethesda open-world RPG, equal parts brutal and clever. Crafting weapons and customizing bases didn’t turn me on initially, but I definitely warmed up to them and embraced them. The story ended weakly in my opinion, but these games are as much about making your own adventures. And the amount of time I spent in post-apocalyptic Boston can’t be denied.
22. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
2003, PlayStation 2 by NIS and Atlus
Previous Rank: 15
I love the tactical/strategy RPG genre, and Disgaea 1 is still my favorite. It came to me as preview code that I played obsessively in the Game Informer offices. Never had a game’s story been so funny before, with voiceover that did the narrative justice. Gameplay was infinitely deep, ensuring you could spend 100 hours easily – which I did, exploring item worlds and making new troops. For whatever reason, I didn’t connect with the series and its spiritual peers the same way again; but Disgaea 1 will always rank highly to me.
21. Mass Effect 2
2010, Xbox 360 by Bioware and EA
Much like Empire Strikes Back, this is the middle and best entry in an epic trilogy. Also an apt comparison because Bioware created this franchise/universe after making Star Wars RPGs. Mass Effect 2 starts heavy and rarely slows down, shedding the clunky combat, boring driving and endless elevators of the first game. It also doesn’t end with a whimper like ME3; rather, you can and likely will lose beloved allies in the final fight. And each character is so deep, so interesting that you’ll mourn the loss.
20. Batman: Arkham Asylum
2009, PlayStation 3 by Rocksteady and Warner
Previous Rank: 47
I’m placing this game among all-time legends, and ahead a lot of its peers, but hear me out. I say Arkham Asylum is a tight, inventive, narrative-packed, fan-service-filled, atmospheric title that’s also the best licensed game of all time. It has the gameplay loop of a Metroidvania (but in 3D), the story of a good action flick, the timing-based combat of Assassin’s Creed, and the gadgets of a Zelda. And freaking Batman. Case closed, detective.
2015, PlayStation 4 by From Software and Sony
Sony publishing this game made my current-gen console decision cut-and-dry. After all, this was basically a continuation of the beloved (and sometimes feared) Souls series – with all the gruesome, difficult, action-game glory. The more horror-themed aesthetic was a wise decision in my opinion, as was all but removing shields to speed up gameplay (I often tank in Souls). It’s still got giant bosses, cryptic lore, and brilliant level design.
1989, Game Boy by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 17
Widely hailed as the puzzle game, Tetris is something anyone can grasp immediately. However, the randomness and speed and propensity for mistakes you have to fix keep you playing indefinitely. I played it on NES and in arcades first, but Tetris on the then-new portable Game Boy was a game-changer for our culture. Think of how significant it was! You never had to be bored anywhere again – which of course begat smartphones and apps. But Tetris is also just a super-fun, well-designed video game.
17. Katamari Damacy
2004, PlayStation 2 by Namco
Previous Rank: 21
“Quirky” defines this game, but doesn’t do it justice. I always dug games where you’re tiny in a big world. But Katamari lets you gradually grow in size as your ball picks up “stuff,” and eventually you can roll up entire continents! While one of the most technically janky game on my list – slowdown, camera issues, and imperfect 2-stick control – the charm factor, weirdness and simple joy of playing forgives all of it. The King ain’t bad, either. I’ve played nearly all the mixed-bag sequels, as well.
16. Animal Crossing
2002, GameCube by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 33
A game with a real-time day cycle, a home to decorate and pay off, and surprisingly realistic animal neighbors could only come from Nintendo. Rather than a game you could sit down and binge, Animal Crossing told you, “That’s enough for today, but come back tomorrow.” Some of its tasks seemed menial, but the rewards were well worth it. Write neighbors for presents. Hit rocks for money. Fish to fill up an aquarium. Come back this day for a special visitor. You wanted to experience it all – including a list of playable NES games hidden within. Just don’t reset! Well, do it once to meet Mr. Resetti.
2007, Xbox 360 by Valve
Previous Rank: 27
Part of Valve’s Orange Box, with Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, Portal took us all by surprise. Not only was it a first-person puzzle game; it bent your brain in shocking and inventive ways. How can I go in a hole here, but emerge up over there? All the while, GLADOS is berating you in the most passive-aggressive and hilarious manner. She may be the greatest troll ever. And the Companion Cube the saddest fallen ally. Even the world itself has its own story of disrepair and broken promises. But the game delivered.
14. Rock Band 2
2008, Xbox 360 by Harmonix and EA
Previous Rank: 23
How will history look back upon the plastic-instrument boom of the mid-to-late 2000s? Those of us who were there will remember all the good times standing up, facing our TV, and mimicking the rock-and-roll cream dream along with an epic soundtrack. Rock Band 2 stands as the best of the bunch. Nobody put notes to buttons like Harmonix. RB2’s story was cohesive; its game-ification mechanics on point; its song options endless. I’d call it the best cooperative game experience of all time as well. Man, what a time!
13. Picross DS
2007, Nintendo DS by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 13
This deep in my list, I still stand by this pick; after all, it was the same ranking last time. To me, Picross is the best puzzle series. Using a grid with numbers on the margins, you craft simple pixel puzzles by stamping squares. Picross gives a real goal to your puzzles, and lets you challenge yourself to be fast and flawless. I almost gave this spot to the Game Boy original, but the DS’s stylus/touch control was such an upgrade to control. But really you can’t go wrong with any iteration (save the F2P Pokemon Picross).
1993, PC by id
Previous Rank: 9
A heavy-metal song in video-game form, DOOM was as cool as games have ever been in any period in time. The work of both technical geniuses and self-described rockstars, DOOM transplants you to Hell. Or space? Bah, just shoot everything! And click every wall to find secrets! Most art with this much historical significance ages poorly; but I replay DOOM every few years and it’s always kick-ass. You don’t need jumps or cover or reloading or polygons. DOOM gives you everything you need.
11. Final Fantasy VI
1994, SNES by Square
Previous Rank: 5
A monumental RPG in both the gaming industry and my personal gaming history, FFVI (called Final Fantasy 3 in the US) seemed to effortlessly elevate the medium and the hobby all on its own. After all, it got teenager like me to dig an opera scene. It ended the vast and fleshed-out world halfway through. It had some complex plot threads with real ramifications, and characters you give a damn about. It also let you suplex a ghost train. My personal favorite Final Fantasy game and JRPG in general, though it previously ranked a prestigious #5 in my first list.
10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
2001, PlayStation 2 by Neversoft and Activision
Previous Rank: 12
And now we hit the top 10! The first 3 Pro Skaters are all legendary; they brought a manic fun to “sports” games and made you look at your world differently while also making score mean something again. Tony 3, as the first on PS2, had bigger stages and better, smoother graphics. It also added the revert, allowing you to keep combos going after your vert tricks. This was HUGE for crafting epic lines! It’s hard to describe what makes rolling around, doing tricks and completing challenges such a top-notch experience. Having a dope soundtrack (Ramones, Rollins, Motorhead, Del) accompanying your runs definitely helps. Activision’s licensed music was so on-point in this era.
1994, Sega CD by Konami
Previous Rank: 6
Acclaimed game director Hideo Kojima’s love letter to sci-fi films like Bladerunner and Terminator, Snatcher is a comic book in game form. Actually, no it’s not; because I like it more than any comic book I’ve ever read. While Metal Gear Solid serves its plot via action and stealth gameplay, Snatcher is more like a choose-your-own-adventure book. But with every image being a pixel-art masterpiece and accompanied by stupendous voiceover. I never got into point-and-click adventure games, but here choices you make are usually met with something interesting instead of a waste of a click. It was graphic and full of surprises, and why can I not play this any other way now Konami damnit thisiswhypeoplehateonyouarghadfsi8093rakd!!!!111
8. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
1992, SNES by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 7
Link has pink hair. Now that all my complaints are out of the way, let me gush about this game. This is the prototypical adventure. You have friendly areas and hostile areas, along with an entire second “dark world” that twists it all around. It encourages you to go everywhere and try everything, often rewarding you (or punishing you, in the case of cucco retribution). Finding new equipment makes you look at the world with fresh eyes to opens up new areas. Zelda’s isometric view was already intuitive, but LTTP’s added plane of depth further immerses you. This remains the pinnacle of Zelda for me.
7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
2011, Xbox 360 by Bethesda
Like its predecessor and longtime favorite Oblivion, Skyrim is a sandbox first-person RPG. It shines the spotlight on dragons, uses a more Norse aesthetic and environment, and once again sucked me in for hundreds of hours. This massive world has loads of insanely clever storylines with both quantity and quality; it’s honestly worth it to do them all. But it’s equally satisfying to merely set off in a random direction and find dozens of hours of adventure with monsters and loot and level-ups. You’ll be amazed at the details and lore you’ll run into away from the critical path. I have the PS4 remake; however, I’m a bit scared to enter the world again and its time sink.
6. Super Metroid
1994, SNES by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 2
I have often considered Super Metroid and Castlevania: SOTN as two sides of one coin, and that coin always rates very highly with me. Super Metroid stresses exploration without sacrificing gameplay, and its eerie science-fiction aesthetic was and still is fresh. Unlike the NES original (which I’m not a big fan of), you can navigate with relative ease and usually know what your next task is. It pushed the SNES in ways few titles did. I’ve beaten it quite a few times; it always seems daunting, but can actually be done in about 6 hours. Such is the brilliance of its game design that it feels much larger. Still, it’s dropped a few spots since my previous list. That said, ranking #6 is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t suggest Samus sneezes in that helmet.
5. Metal Gear Solid
1998, PSone by Konami
Previous Rank: 8
Hideo Kojima is a Kogenius. He took a relatively new CDROM format, relatively new PlayStation hardware, a new controller with dual analogs and vibration, and crafted something that blew everyone away! The story he told – and continued to tell – basically made video-game narrative relevant. His cutscenes and characters made the entertainment world take notice. Then he just kept throwing new things at us with a smirk like, “Check this out!” Crawling around in first-person? A boss that reads your mind? A puzzle that required reading the game box? Dogs that marked their scent on your cardboard box? MGS had everything!
4. Super Mario World
1991, SNES by Nintendo
Previous Rank: 3
I consider Mario World hands-down the best Mario game of all time, which of course means I consider it the best platformer of all time. Probably best launch game of all time, too, and a few other superlatives I could throw at it. After monumental releases on the NES, Nintendo used every trick of the new 16-bit SNES hardware to create a sprawling world with 96 levels to immerse yourself in. The addition of Yoshi, switch palaces, and the cape’s extended flight expanded gameplay in unique ways, and some of the Star worlds will challenge any gaming expert. You’re always finding secrets, replaying your favorite levels, and trying out new strategies. It’s a game you don’t want to end.
3. Dark Souls
2011, PlayStation 3 by From Software and Bandai Namco
Like others favorites like Mario World and Super Metroid, Dark Souls contains flawless gameplay and sublime level design. But its ability to do that in 3D and with the difficulty knob cranked to 11 puts it ahead of even the best of the last few generations. The world seems to shoot off in random directions, but somehow doubles back into familiar areas. Never before have enemies treated you with such disrespect – and not just the colossal bosses. Everyday bad guys will kill you if you’re not careful, as will the fact that there aren’t gifts like railings to keep you from plummeting to your death. You learn from Dark Souls’s unapologetic and sinister lessons. You respect its strength. And you grow to love it like very few other games. I beat every game in this “series” except Demon’s Souls.
2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
1997, PSone by Konami
Previous Rank: 4
This masterpiece was not just a stellar action game. Instead of individual levels, it gave you one giant castle (two if you count the upside-down version) where every turn could be a dead end or a key to expanding your possibilities. The success of its execution cannot be understated – like the dream game of everyone who’d ever held a controller. The action mechanics remained perfect: You could glide back and equip an item in each hand. It oozed style: The gothic art still looks great, and the music owns. It’s gigantic: I think I’ve only uncovered all 200.6% of the castle once. Super Metroid came first; but SOTN is bigger, has more secrets, uses RPG elements, and has a staggering variety of equipment to make everyone’s experience unique. When you replay it, it’s both familiar and new at the same time. You can’t possibly remember all the paths; you can always switch to fists or broadsword or nunchuks.
1. Deus Ex
2000, PC by Ion Storm and Eidos
Previous Rank: 1
This was my number-one in the previous list, and it maintains the top spot. But even now, after reading my previous entries and deciphering what kind of a gamer I am, it may not seem an obvious choice. After all, I’m very much a console gamer, into the classics, into quirky. Deus Ex is a PC title that plays it pretty straight. It’s a thinking-person’s game, because of all the options you must weigh and the reward for exploration. It maybe wasn’t the best RPG or best FPS every made, but the complete package was revolutionary and hasn’t been surpassed since. The plot and characters were leagues above where other games were at the time, and still tower over all but the best since. This futuristic world was rooted in fact, making it believable and fascinating. You go from soldier to rebel to god, and the transition is smooth and natural. The multiple endings didn’t disappoint, either – making them worth your consideration. Deus Ex’s gameplay allowed you to do basically whatever you wanted in order to complete missions. And amazingly, the developers thought of everything and subtly laid the path for you regardless of your preferred style: tank, ninja, marksman, or anything in between. Kill the target, get him to surrender, or put him to work for you. I did play the first reboot (Human Revolution), which was a fun homage, and I thought very highly of Invisible War. But they had some huge shoes to fill.
I enjoy checking out statistics, and I enjoyed putting this list together. So naturally, I tracked some stats I found interesting about this list. Will you find them interesting, too? Let’s hope so!
Top publishers of games on my list
1. Nintendo: 25 games! (25%)
2. Konami: 8
3. Sony: 7
4. Namco: 6
5. (tie) Activision: 5
5. (tie) Capcom: 5
Preferred platforms for games on my list
1. Xbox 360: 13 games
2. PlayStation 3: 10
3. SNES: 9
4 (tie). NES: 8
4 (tie). PlayStation 2: 8
4 (tie). PC: 8
Franchises represented by multiple games on my list
Mario: 5 games
Metal Gear: 3
Souls: 2 (Bloodborne counts!)
Elder Scrolls: 2
Tony Hawk: 2
Animal Crossing: 2
Street Fighter: 2
Mario Kart: 2