So yeah, I rented it. Obviously, it didn't come with the pack-in player's guide, so I only made it so far before I had to return it. Then I rented it again. And again. And again. Eventually, my parents noticed that my college fund was being given to Blockbuster, so they nipped the problem in the bud and bought it for me. It's been my favorite JRPG ever since.
Sure, there's undeniable nostalgia associated with this 1986 NES classic, but there's no arguing how engrossing the original Zelda was to play. Mixing upgradable weapons with a (then) sprawling map and some pretty good puzzles, Link's original adventure delivered an experience unlike anything console players had experienced. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game's legendary designer, set out to create a world that felt like a "miniature garden that [players] can put inside their drawer." And through the cartridge's ability to save games (the first console title to offer the option) they could do exactly that. Instead of toiling to beat Zelda in a single sitting, players could instead pace themselves, scrutinizing every last nook and cranny of Hyrule at leisure—an obsession that's continued through all 18 games (and counting) in this storied series.
There’s a reason a snake’s skeleton, and not a snake itself, features prominently in the title sequence of Snake Eater. This was the game that stripped the Metal Gear formula down to its very core and proved that it could still function even outside our expectations. It forced us to take what we knew about espionage and infiltration and learn how to apply it in a new, unfamiliar environment, and it did so with a bold and elegant understanding of its own systems. You could have all the stealth know-how and military training in the world, but out there in the unpredictable jungle of the Russian wilderness, you were exposed, vulnerable… a Naked Snake. And it worked.
In nearly three decades no game has supplanted Super Mario World as the best game ever made... Which is stupid. I’ll get to that in a bit. Super Mario World is a relatively simple game to describe. It’s a Super Mario game, and we all know what that means: Mushrooms; perfect running and jumping action; and a giant world to explore, crammed with secrets.
Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as the greatest RPG of all time, and for good reason. What begins as a typical “day-in-the-life” adventure, quickly spirals into a sprawling, epoch jumping romp that is equally exhilarating and endearing. Created by a “dream team” at Squaresoft including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and character designs by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger’s pedigree was only outshined by its universal praise upon its release in the spring of 1995. Even at the twilight of the SNES’ lifespan, Chrono Trigger’s branching narrative, colorful characters and unforgettable soundtrack were are more than enough to earn it a place on our list in this timeline or any other.
Super Nintendo players knew Final Fantasy VI as Final Fantasy III for years after its release in 1994, because no one expected this Japanese series to become so popular stateside that the original II and III would be localized and the series renumbered. What made Final Fantasy VI one of the exemplars—not just of console roleplaying, but the genre in general—was how pitch-perfectly it synthesized so many different tangents: real-time battles, summonable magic-bestowing creatures, indelible characters, party-swapping, heartrending plot twists, an unforgettably iniquitous villain, a four-minute play-along opera and its artful inflection of dark fantasy steampunk.
Mortal Kombat has always distinguished itself from the excess of fighting games that made their way from arcade cabinets to players' living rooms with its unapologetically sadistic violence. Gore isn't an afterthought to your blows in this 1992 brawler, it's the main spectacle. Mortal Kombat and the controversy it stirred were crucial in shifting the video game market from one that was evidently aimed at kids, to one that could appeal to teens and young adults. But it wasn't thanks to the game's bloodiness alone: Its smooth controls, rewarding combinations and imaginative roster of characters earn it a top spot on our list.
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.
While it may not be as old as Super Mario Kart or Road Rash, when it comes to arcade racers, Burnout 3: Takedown is an undeniable classic. I must have logged 60 hours in this game, and that was well before the days where I got paid to do that. I defy you to bring up arcade racers and not have someone mention Burnout 3. Its predecessor, Point of Impact, had fine-tuned the balance of high-speed racing and vehicular destruction, but Takedown perfected it.
Journey is the closest a video game has come to emulating the effects of poetry. In terms of structure it’s so simple: you must reach a snowy mountain peak visible in the distance. Along the way, your character surfs across glistening deserts, hides from flying creatures made entirely from cloth, and occasionally meets other players embarking on the same pilgrimage.
Snicker all you want about its two-dimensional graphics, Pong deserves a slot on this list because, as the first arcade cabinet to catch fire with the mainstream, it's arguably most responsible for the modern video gaming phenomenon. A table tennis simulator developed by Atari and first released in 1972, the multiplayer game consisted of a pair of dial-controlled paddles and a bouncing ball—just enough to qualify it as the first sports video game. The popularity of the arcade version led to an in-home setup that was sold by Sears in 1975. And when imitators including Coleco and Nintendo followed, the first shots were fired in the console wars. Sure, by today's standards it's not as riveting as others on this list, but then that largely depends on who you're playing against.