Mario's brick-breaking, Goomba-stomping antics were enough to mesmerize the world's gamers in Nintendo's idiosyncratic side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. games. But 1996's Super Mario 64 transported Nintendo fans into Mario's universe as no other game in the series had, simultaneously laying out a grammar for how to interact with 3D worlds (and in its case, divinely zany ones). At more than 11 million copies sold, it was one of the bestselling games for the Nintendo 64, but its real impact was arguably off-platform, where it tectonically shifted the design imperatives of an entire industry. As Rockstar co-founder and Grand Theft Auto V cowriter Dan Houser put it: "Anyone who makes 3-D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario or Zelda [on Nintendo 64] is lying."

This action-adventure game published by Electronic Arts came out for Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in November 2019. The game takes place in the universe of Star Wars, following Jedi Padawan as he tries to complete his Jedi training and restore the Jedi Order — while action ensues. Fallen Order was the fastest-selling digital launch for any Star Wars game in its first two weeks on the market.
Not only did RE4 totally redefine the 3rd person shooter, but it did so in the seemingly incongruent genre of survival horror. Turns out, it totally worked and led to some incredible set pieces battling against chainsaw-wielding maniacs, giant men, giant fish, tiny men in Napoleon costumes, and medium-sized centipede men. RE4 unlocked the true potential of the series in a way that hasn’t been matched before or since, and will probably always be the most universally beloved Resident Evil title.
For all its inter-dimensional threats, monster hunts and magic powers, I’ve always thought The Witcher 3’s key achievement is in how it nails the mundane. Geralt’s fantasy world is one of mud, thatch and metal, his main quests are freelance work, and he loves a game of cards down the pub. That sense of reality is what helps you empathise with Geralt, understand the world, and really understand how bad things have gotten when the crazy shit starts popping off. 

Mario's brick-breaking, Goomba-stomping antics were enough to mesmerize the world's gamers in Nintendo's idiosyncratic side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. games. But 1996's Super Mario 64 transported Nintendo fans into Mario's universe as no other game in the series had, simultaneously laying out a grammar for how to interact with 3D worlds (and in its case, divinely zany ones). At more than 11 million copies sold, it was one of the bestselling games for the Nintendo 64, but its real impact was arguably off-platform, where it tectonically shifted the design imperatives of an entire industry. As Rockstar co-founder and Grand Theft Auto V cowriter Dan Houser put it: "Anyone who makes 3-D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario or Zelda [on Nintendo 64] is lying."
Achtung! If Doom is the father of modern first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D is their granddaddy. Made by id Software and released shortly before Doom in May 1992, Wolfenstein 3D cast players as William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an Allied spy captured by Nazis in World War II. As Blazkowicz, your job is simple: Escape from Castle Wolfenstein and shoot a bunch of bad guys in the process, which was (and remains) the definition of "thoughtless catharsis"—words that to this day define so much of Wolfenstein 3D's progeny.
But it’s Super Metroid’s ability to consistently invite the player to be curious – and then rewarding that curiosity – that makes it one of the greatest video games ever made. It’s not just that there are secrets hidden everywhere (although there are, and it’s awesome) – it’s that the game teases you with tantalizing clues – items, always just out of reach. An energy tank embedded in a seemingly impassable wall. A pair of missiles only obtainable from the collapsing blocks above, leaving you no idea of how to get up there, just with the knowledge that you can get up there.
When Monkey Island 2 came out, we knew who Guybrush Threepwood was, so we knew what to expect. Or so we thought. Somehow, creator Ron Gilbert threw everyone for a loop, ending Monkey Island 2 in a carnival, leaving us to wonder if everything we'd played in the first two games took place in a boy's imagination, or if the ending itself was simply another LeChuck voodoo spell. Regardless, the story, jokes, and pacing were all tightened up for the second Monkey Island, making it arguably the best of the incredible run of LucasArts adventure games.

Before you can catch all 151 Pokémon, Pokémon Yellow first teaches you how to respect and care for the sometimes temperamental creatures. Pokémon Yellow takes all the best elements from Pokémon Red and Blue and upgrades it to make it feel more like the anime. The best change to the originals, of course, was a Pikachu following you around on your journey. Suddenly, the Pokémon weren’t just creatures you summoned for battle; they become emotional creatures that accompany on your adventure. They’re no longer just fighters you bring along. The small story elements that link Pokémon Yellow back to the anime were a fun way to let the player relive the beginning of Ash’s journey, but ultimately, Pokémon Yellow is simply one of the best ways to experience the Pokémon universe – it's as simple as that.
History buff Sid Meier had played and admired both Maxis’s SimCity and Bullfrog’s Populous when he set out to design something grander that intermingled warfare, exploration, diplomacy, city-building and elements of political philosophy. 1991’s Civilization launched a series of widely played, deeply loved turn-based strategy epics in which players lead a society from the stone age far into the distant future. Civilization IV, released in 2005, was the apotheosis of the series, and universally acclaimed for its many innovations—from its 3D graphics to its much-improved artificial intelligence. It's arguably the greatest strategy game ever made, and remains a reference design for developers today.
Contra was one of the few cooperative video games of the 8-bit era where player two didn’t feel like a burden dragging you down with every step. With plenty of weapon drops to go around and hordes of enemies coming from every direction, a partner’s firepower was a welcome addition in most situations. And if a friend couldn’t keep up the pace on the waterfall level, you could easily incentivize them to improve their skills by scrolling the screen upward and killing them, which I did whenever my little brother lagged behind. 

I believe the defining characteristic that draws people to the game is the freedom to play the game as you see fit. Like grouping with friends? If so, the game gives you the ability to start with a crew and play through the entire game together, regardless of race or class. Want to make a go at it solo? Then feel free to take on quests alone. The higher level dungeons and raids demand teamwork, but with its stellar Looking for Group system, finding people to tackle a hard boss has never been easier.
Transforming competitive racing into zany fruit-tossing fun, Super Mario Kart was much more than one of the smartest-looking games on the Super Nintendo. As the first in what would become a dynastic line of racers, this 1992 gem was full of kart-racing firsts: a circuit mode with varying degrees of difficulty, a split-screen versus mode so you could take on your friends and a battle mode to break up the monotony of straightforward sprints. And Super Mario Kart launched the series to a rocket start with memorable tracks like Rainbow Road, expert tactics like drifting and maddening equalizers like the lightning bolt.
I came to the Diablo II party incredibly late. The first time I actually played it properly was in 2011, more than ten years after its initial release. Could this iconic game possibly live up to my lofty expectations that late in the day? Absolutely. In fact, I was surprised by just how good it was. After all, Diablo II doesn’t exactly go out of its way to be user-friendly. Even choosing a class and build is daunting, let alone learning the quirks of its many systems.
Akin to Chrono Trigger in stunning art direction, mechanical simplicity, and musical significance, Suikoden II diverges from Square’s masterpiece in its sense of moral ambiguity and dark storytelling. For the longest time, Suikoden II was locked behind a near-impenetrable wall of scarcity that kept it out of the hands of most American gamers. Now that it’s finally available to a wide audience, it’s a must-play for any RPG fan.
BioShock will likely always be remembered for its game-changing “Would You Kindly?” twist, but the first adventure in Rapture is so much more than a dressed-up dupe. From first encountering a splicer caring for a gun the way a mother cares for her baby to the still-enrapturing Andrew Ryan twist toward the game’s end, BioShock delivers one enrapturing setpiece after another. That’s largely in part thanks to one of the most memorable locations in gaming history. So much story is embedded in the dilapidated hallways and shuttered rooms of Rapture, a decaying underwater labyrinth that demands to be investigated. The mark of a good experience is one that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it. And I still haven’t stopped thinking about BioShock, its incredible location, and those awesome Plasmids, over a decade later.
Before Grand Theft Auto III, game levels were essentially designed as a series of boxes. Rockstar’s crime epic broke that pattern in 2001, ushering in a golden age of go-anywhere, do-anything open worlds. Designers since have been trying to recapture the sense of freedom and possibility created by GTA III’s gritty take on New York City, which allowed players to amass a criminal empire—or simply manage a mundane day job, like schlepping citizens around in taxis or putting out fires.
There's a reason first-person puzzle games far and wide are constantly compared to Portal — though a brief adventure, its gameplay, tone, writing, and structure so cohesively work together to create one of the most memorable, challenging, and fascinating puzzle games around. Arming players with the now-iconic Portal gun and the devastating - and lethal - wit of Glad0s, Valve guided players through a fantastically orchestrated and escalating set of physics-based puzzles. Learning to use the seemingly simple Portal gun in increasingly more complex, all culminating in perhaps one of the most memorable end-credits songs of all time.

Thief II gave the player all the right tools for the perfect heist, along with interactive maps for writing notes. It rewarded taking your time, and of course, listening to some of the best guard banter in any game to date. Silently sprinting along rooftops, ducking through secret mansion passages – the game didn't just make you feel like a thief, it made you feel like a master of the craft.
By marrying an open-ended approach to quest structure with the ability to freely explore a vast, beautiful, intriguing world with little specific regulation, the 3D Zelda game template was shattered about as fast as the average breakable weapon in Breath of the Wild. The result is a gorgeous, freeing open-world action/adventure experience that evokes the wonder and fear of exploring a bold new place with the empowering tangibility of becoming its hero.
The story of Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo's journey across a strange, slanted version of America was such a vast departure from previous RPGs I'd played like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It wasn't drenched in fantasy tropes and pathos, but rather brimming with color, humor, and some of the weirdest characters and events I'd ever seen in a game. Simultaneously, it knows how to pack an emotional punch.
When you walk into a room full of arcade games, something looks different about Donkey Kong. Its pastel blue cabinet is a bit shorter than the others; a bit rounder, more welcoming. The glowing marquee and art on the game depicts characters that belong on a 1960s pizza delivery box. This machine clearly doesn’t hold a Star Wars-inspired space battle – but what’s in it? When you put a quarter in, the machine shows you a little cartoon of an ape clambering up a ladder, mocking you. It asks “How High Can You Get?” and the instructions end there. Barrels and fire fill the screen while the characters’ intricate animations for every movement continue the illusion that you are playing this cartoon. You probably don’t get very high. Hopefully, you have more quarters.
To me, everything about Skyrim was a vast improvement over its predecessor, Oblivion. The craggy, intimidating peaks of the Nord homeland and the saga of the Dovahkiin were much more interesting than the relatively sedate happenings of their neighbors in Cyrodiil. But what’s more, there’s so much lying just around the corner, off the beaten path, that you could never even stumble upon it in a hundred hours as the Dragonborn. But the fact that such care for detail, for world-building, for exploration and for immersion was paid to every tome, tomb, and quest, is enough to cement Skyrim as one of the absolute best role-playing games we’ve ever seen, and one of the best games of all time.
Akin to Chrono Trigger in stunning art direction, mechanical simplicity, and musical significance, Suikoden II diverges from Square’s masterpiece in its sense of moral ambiguity and dark storytelling. For the longest time, Suikoden II was locked behind a near-impenetrable wall of scarcity that kept it out of the hands of most American gamers. Now that it’s finally available to a wide audience, it’s a must-play for any RPG fan.
Game designer Will Wright has said The Sims, first released in 2000, was intended as a satire of American consumer culture. Millions of players seem to have missed the joke, happily occupying themselves with the mundane tasks of running a digital minion's life—from kitting out a new pad to managing bathroom breaks (or else). It innovated both the “sandbox” category of game in which “goals” are loosely (or not at all) defined, as well as the kind of minutely detailed task management that's a common feature of so many games today.
Iconic monsters – most notably the Alien facehugger-like Headcrabs that transform scientists into gruesome zombies – and impressive soldier AI gave Half-Life a spooky atmosphere backed up by enemies that pose a real threat. Great and memorable weapons, from the simple crowbar to the silent sniper crossbow and the biological homing weapon that shoots alien bees, made fighting through the spooky ruins of Black Mesa a fantastic battle.

We were justified in doing so. Rock Band literally invented a new form of multiplayer – one that was not only cooperative, but also one where four of you could share a physical energy in the room. It remains a feeling that no game has replicated, and the very act of learning the "language" of the game – teaching your hands to work the guitar neck, or your hands and feet to work in concert to "play" the drums – was a game in and of itself. Even once you learned that language, moving up the ranks, from Easy to Expert, was an adventure with a tangible payoff: you could see and feel the results. And dominating a classic song you and your friends all know and love as a four-player "band" playing on the highest difficulty made memories that last long after the console turned off.
When I was younger, few games settled an argument like GoldenEye. Living in a flat with three other people, if we couldn’t decide like rational adults whose turn it was to do the household chores, it was decided over a game of GoldenEye’s multiplayer. The battleground was always the Facility and to truly sort out the men from the Bonds it was Slaps only. Anyone who picked Odd Job was instantly disqualified.
Resident Evil 2 Remake redefined what a ‘remake’ could be. For players new to the game, this was a meticulously crafted survival horror experience that felt completely in step with the genre in 2019, while veterans got to enjoy a lovingly crafted piece of nostalgia that vitally, felt like the game they remembered from 1998. It trod a brilliant tightrope, capturing the inherent weirdness of the original - the baroque architecture and labyrinthian environments that flipped the bird to logic - while updating the control scheme to a fluid over-the-shoulder camera far more suited to the way we play games today. The result was uneasy but never frustrating, subversive but familiar. All remakes should learn from this one.
Everything about DOOM was incredible. The graphics were colorful and convincing. Lightning was spooky. It felt like you were on a Martian moon. It's music was memorable. Weapon design was brilliant, and enemy design even more so. From the imps to the Cacodemons to the Cyberdemon, nearly every creature in DOOM was the stuff of nightmares – and in a then-unheard-of gameplay twist, they hated each other as much as they hated you.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic almost single-handedly rescued Star Wars video games from purgatory. It was also one of the first times the beloved IP was handed to a world-class developer in BioWare. The result was not just one of the best role-playing games ever made, but one that helped legitimize Western RPGs on consoles and establish the fledgling Xbox as a destination for top-tier third-party games. 

Playdead's bleak, gorgeous puzzle-platformer builds on its predecessor Limbo in all the right places – hello, colour palettes; goodbye, boring gravity puzzles. It leaves us with a game that sleekly, wordlessly pivots from brain-teaser to body horror, until hitting an ending that ranks among gaming’s best, a masterpiece of animation, design and outright strangeness.
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