Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.
Quick, name your favorite modern first-person shooter. Maybe it's Call of Duty, or Halo, or Counter-Strike. All of those games—and dozens, if not hundreds more—owe an immense debt to Doom. Developer id Software's 1993 classic pit an unnamed space Marine against the forces of Hell, plunging gamers into a high-intensity battle for Earth. Another id title, Wolfenstein 3D, may have arrived a year earlier. But Doom became a true phenomenon, introducing millions of gamers to what have become bedrock principles of the genre, from frenzied multiplayer deathmatches to player-led mods that can alter or completely overhaul a game's look and feel.
So look, we want to play a better game than Super Mario World. There’s no great, existential reason for Super Mario World to remain at the top of IGN’s list. Let Super Mario World’s placement on this list be a challenge to future game developers. We dare you to make a better game: Puzzling, but not opaque; tough but not intimidating; beautiful, funny, joyful, and universally recognizable. And, while we have your attention, dinosaurs are always a plus.
Nearly every facet of Sony Santa Monica's Norse epic is working in concert with one another to craft a thrilling, memorable, and engrossing adventure. From its haunting score, to the beautifully written and acted story of Kratos and Atreus, to the incredible feel of the Leviathan Axe, God of War's impressive craftsmanship shines through at every step, honoring the past while forging its own path.
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.
Few games had more of a buildup prior to their release than Halo 2, and even fewer managed to live up to them in the way that Halo 2 did. Master Chief taking the fight with the Covenant to Earth was epic, action-packed, and visually stunning on the original Xbox. Sure, the campaign didn't so much end as much as stopped, but the shocking reveal of the playable Arbiter and his story that mirrored the Chief's was a twist no one saw coming.
With 14 unique weapons that all control entirely differently, endless armor customization options that change more than just fashion, and incredibly difficult (but fair) fights that reward players with an incomparable sense of accomplishment, Monster Hunter: World is in a world of its own when it comes to endless replayability and challenge. Add in the fact you can hunt with your best friends, and you have a recipe worthy of the Meowscular Chef himself.
If you've ever had trouble wrapping your head around the fact that e-sports is on pace to become a billion-dollar industry by decade's end, just spend half an hour watching world-class teams play Counter-Strike. Originally designed in 1999 as a modification of Half-Life, Counter-Strike and its modern incarnations are some of the top e-sports games in the world. Players are divided into two teams, "terrorists" and "counter-terrorists," then the former tries to bomb an objective or kidnap hostages while the latter labors to stop them. Watching the world's best Counter-Strike players is often more fun than actually playing yourself—hence the rise of game-streaming sites like Twitch, acquired by Amazon in 2014 in a roughly billion-dollar deal.
It gave us a deeper look into the wonderful world of Aperture Science without completely dragging all of its mysteries out into the light. It also mixed its “thinking with portals” puzzles up even further by weaving in gel mechanics that felt entirely fresh and completely natural at the same time - while simultaneously and subtly using them to tie gameplay mechanics into the story, patiently waiting until its incredible finale to pay off those setups with one of the weirdest and most spectacular video game endings around. Couple that with a seriously good co-op campaign and even a full-on custom level builder and sharing systems added post-launch and Portal 2 has stayed the high bar by which all first-person puzzle games should be measured, even nearly a decade later.
Where Mass Effect set the stage a futuristic Milky Way, Mass Effect 2 let you explore and experience so much more of it. As Commander Shepard, I traveled the galaxy on the best recruitment trip I could have wished for, and experienced possibly one of the most heart-wrenching stories – but whether or not the game ends in tears is entirely up to you.
The list goes on of all the mechanics and elements that make Pokemon GO a game that’s worth playing every day in 2019. As Andrew Goldfarb stated last year when we named Pokemon GO our hundredth game, “it is as relevant for what happens outside of the game as what happens in it,” and to this day that could not be more true. Few games in history have done as much to bring together communities of the most disparate interests, locations, cultures, etc as much as Pokemon GO has. The experiences I have had, the places I have gone and the people I have met because of Pokemon GO are all part of why it is still so special to this day. With the game having its highest-grossing month since launch, it's safe to say Pokemon GO isn't going...anywhere, especially not off of this list.
Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, Halo 2 was the killer app for Xbox Live. It brought the party system and matchmaking hopper concept to consoles, instantly making every other online console game look archaic in its infrastructure by comparison. Of course, it helped that the multiplayer gameplay was, well, legendary. The maps were almost all memorably brilliant, the match options were vast, and the ranking system kept you fighting night after night to try and move up. Halo 2 remains the gold standard for console first-person shooter multiplayer, despite the fact that it's been 15 years since its release.
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.
Symphony of the Night is much more than just a fun side-scroller with an awesome twist, though. Dracula’s castle has never been more varied, filled with gorgeous gothic pixel art and backed up by a fantastic soundtrack. Alucard and all of his monstrous foes are lusciously animated. It’s basically the entire package. Art, animation, sound, gameplay, design… even replay value, thanks to multiple playable characters. It all comes together perfectly.
BioWare has built its reputation on classic RPGs, but it's unlikely that any will represent its legacy as well as the Mass Effect series, and the original ME was an astounding introduction to that world. Who can forget the first time they opened the galaxy map of their very own starship Normandy for the first time or the outcome of their standoff with Wrex? Mass Effect managed to create an intricate new universe and fill it with compelling lore and secrets to discover, and one of the most intriguing campaign arcs of a sci-fi game to date. While later entries in the series may have failed to deliver on the seeds planted in this first chapter, the momentous choices that ME1 offered us were - and remain - some of the most compelling branching plot points out there, ones that won't be forgotten any time soon.
So often action exists for action sake – to look cool – but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves uses it to reveal more about its central character, Nathan Drake, and his relationships with a strong cast of supporting characters. That’s not to say the action isn’t spectacular. From being pursued by a helicopter on a moving train to being harassed by an angry tank in a Himalayan village, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves set a new benchmark for cinematic action, graphical fidelity, and established Nathan Drake as one of the great video game characters of his time.
Soulcalibur is that rare sequel that supplants the original. The successor to 1995’s Soul Edge, Soulcalibur perfected the formula for 3D weapon-based fighting games. A smash-hit in arcades and the first “must-have” game for the Dreamcast system, Soulcalibur is remembered for its balance, imaginative characters, and smooth combat. In the flood of new fighting game franchises that were introduced in the mid-90s, Soulcalibur separated itself from the pack because the core gameplay mechanics were so strong. Any fighter – whether a ninja, pirate, knight, or warrior monk – could challenge any other and the outcome would depend on the skill of the player. There is a reason why this fantastical tale of swords and souls has spawned so many sequels.
BioShock's gripping metaphysical plot, over-the-top art deco levels and motley cast of hauntingly broken personas intermingle to furnish an experience so riveting and simultaneously disturbing that it fueled (at the time perfectly reasonable) conversations about games as more than dopamine-fueled diversions. Studio Irrational Games' 2007 first-person shooter takes the player on an imaginative journey through the fictional undersea city of Rapture, built by fanatical industrialist Andrew Ryan (whose name references Atlas Shrugged novelist and self-described objectivist Ayn Rand). The game set new standards for video games on so many levels, from its horrifying forms of self-augmentation, to its ecology of intersectional enemy behaviors and its sublime ways of channeling what amounted to a withering deconstruction of extremist modes of thought.
Portal's unexpected balance of wit, dark comedy and captivating, reality-bending puzzles made it a surprise hit in 2007. Its sequel, Portal 2, built on that success by adding additional polish and puzzles that were more involved and complex when it launched in 2011. 3 million copies of Portal 2 were reportedly sold within three months of the game's launch, proving that the franchise had turned into much more than just a casual puzzle game.
If you’re doing it right, you’ve named each of your very mortal soldiers after your friends and family, making the inevitable casualties you’ll take in combat sting far more than losing nameless fodder. Randomly generated maps ensure you never quite know what might be lurking around the next corner, and destructible terrain means that knocking down a building is always an option. The unpredictability makes the feeling of going from scrappy underdog to elite alien-butt-kicking futuristic super soldier squad incredibly rewarding, every single time. Except when you lose horribly.
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.
After Arkham Asylum laid the groundwork for a superhero game that hit all the right beats, Batman: Arkham City took everything to the next level by letting Batman loose in the streets of Gotham (sort of). Not only did it nail the feeling of stalking and beating down thugs with an impressive array of gadgets, it raised the stakes of what a caped crusader could deal with in a single night.
Along with its incredible story and soundtrack, Final Fantasy VI also features a fantastic combat system, which includes the ability to freely swap out party members between battles. (There are a whopping 14 playable characters in all.) The tetradeca of heroes isn’t stacked with useless filler characters either, something I remember very much appreciating when I was faced with a tough Boss fight and needed to adjust my strategy. I also liked switching out spells and abilities using magicite, which allows players to freely customize characters however they see fit.
Blizzard’s bracing 2004 fantasy simulation World of Warcraft introduced millions of players to the concept (and joys and frustrations) of massively multiplayer online worlds. Like so many influential products, it didn’t invent so much as refine and perfect—from the way gamers meet-up and socialize online to how to populate large digital worlds with satisfying stuff to do. It was one of the first games to render a landmass that felt “real” and un-gated, allowing players to run from one end of the continents in its fictional Azeroth to the other without seeing a loading screen. It also de-stigmatized and normalized online gaming by, over time, revealing that its millions of players (some 12 million at its peak in 2010) were no different from non-players. The massive revenue it generated for years also spurred legions of game designers to try to create similar online playgrounds.
He may not be officially recognized by the new Star Wars canon, but there’s no Jedi I’d rather have in my corner than Kyle Katarn. Dark Forces 1 and 2 may have built up his character, but it wasn’t until Jedi Outcast that we really saw Kyle at his best (or worse, if you went down that path). More than just making choices about good and evil, Jedi Outcast allowed us to live out our force-using fantasies in a time where lightsaber battles were mostly relegated to the movies.