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.
Arkham City’s heaping helping of infamous rogues let you experience them in their element, and found perfect ways for Batman to foil them via both brain and brawn – leading to some of the best boss fights ever conceived. Each supervillain added to the oppressive weight of trying to save the day with the odds stacked against you, and the story’s climax remains one of the most striking moments in video games.
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.
Though there'd already been two official entries in the Metal Gear series (not counting Snake's Revenge, which we don't talk about) it wasn't until Snake covertly slithered his way onto the PlayStation that this franchise cemented itself as a big deal. Though often lauded for its contributions to the "stealth" genre, it was billed as a "Tactical Espionage Action" game. The moment-to-moment gameplay was about being sneaky, and players were rewarded for outsmarting the defenses of Shadow Moses quietly and cleverly, but things frequently got loud during iconic boss fights and over-the-top action setpieces.
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."
What hooks you in, however, is just how perfectly measured the core gameplay loop of killing, looting and upgrading is. Whether you’re just starting out or wading through Hell with a hardcore character, Diablo II has a momentum that’s impossible not to be swept up in. The odds are always overwhelming, the atmosphere always malevolent, and the reward always worth the risk.
Mega Man 3 took every lesson that Capcom learned from Mega Man 2 and expanded, refined, and remixed it. The third game in the seminal series brought Mega Man into the 90s in true Blue Bomber style, retaining the challenging platforming (though, not the tough as nails version seen in the original) and incredible boss battles the series had become known for. While taking on new enemies like Snake Man and Magnet Man, our plucky robot hero managed to learn a few tricks that would become mainstays for future games in this, and the Mega Man X, series. The slide ability gave Mega Man a much mobility upgrade, and his friendly robot pooch, Rush, allowed him to explore greater heights and find more hidden secrets than in any of his previous outings. Mega Man 3 also marked the appearance of Proto Man who’s short arc established him not only as Mega Man’s older brother but also a series mainstay and occasional foil. There’s a long running debate as to whether Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 is the definitive NES Mega Man game, but for our money it’s the third installment, hands down.
As its name suggests, Mario Kart 8 is a kart-racing video game and the eighth installment in the series. Published by Nintendo for Wii U in 2014, this game was followed up by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, released in 2017 for the Switch. By the end of 2019, it had sold more than 22 million copies around the world, making it the system’s best-selling game ever. 
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 its expansive environments and crafty puzzles, this 2015 installment of Crystal Dynamics' vaunted Tomb Raider series is easily its best (read TIME's review here). It transcends the tired run-and-fight mechanic that dominates so much of the action-adventure genre by instilling genuine feelings of wanderlust and peril. Here, players might dangle from grappling lines tenuously tethered to shimmering walls framing glacial cathedrals, or explore optional booby-trapped tombs, each a study in the art of not repeating puzzles or level design. It's survivalism at its best, and a stunning exemplar in the studio's reinvention of an iconic 1990s franchise.
A sprawling Western that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Grand Theft Auto V as one of gaming’s greatest open-world achievements, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game of rare scope and even rarer quality. A beautiful ode to an ugly era, RDR2 combines Rockstar’s most authentic and lived-in open world ever with its most earnest storytelling to date, filling in the gaps with an astonishing array of deep systems and nearly endless emergent gameplay opportunities. Its slower pace allows us to binge on the world like a virtual museum but, when the lead starts flying, it puts the wild back in the west (and then some). Few games manage the level of uncompromising detail as Red Dead Redemption 2 does. Do we need to discuss the horse balls again?
By no means the first city-builder, SimCity 2000 undoubtedly influenced all those that succeeded it. The 1994 game established a near-perfect balance between the inputs and outputs of running a (virtual) metropolis. Graphics that rendered the corner-view of each building, bridge, road, hill and valley made the series look more true-to-life. And the constant chatter from policy advisers as well as feedback from the local newspaper—precursors to modern notifications—made players’ roles as mayors feel particularly realistic.
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.
Myst is a perfect example of a monumentally influential game that would be almost excruciatingly painful to play today. The 1993 graphical adventure famously let players loose—sort of, since it consisted of a slow-loading series of beautifully rendered photos—on a mysterious island. Despite its now-clunky mechanics, it established an entirely new kind of fiction whose influence can be felt in everything from mythic sci-fi novels to the ABC television show Lost. Its vast popularity also helped establish the then-nascent CD-ROM format.
Suikoden II manages to support an enormous cast of interesting characters by tasking the player with building a stronghold of their own in the world, a frontier nation of sorts populated by men and women from all walks of life eager to contribute their skills to building something better for everyone. It’s a remarkably optimistic and surprisingly fun diversion from the typically-reactive storytelling stance of most RPGs.
As full battles ripped across huge, open landscapes, waged from land, air, and sea, the realization of being able to command a capital ship, lob tank shells from one point to the next, or changed the tide of the war with one well-placed bomber payload was intoxicating. There was simply nothing like the size and scale of Battlefield 1942, and its legacy has only gotten bigger over the last 15 years since.

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. 

What hooks you in, however, is just how perfectly measured the core gameplay loop of killing, looting and upgrading is. Whether you’re just starting out or wading through Hell with a hardcore character, Diablo II has a momentum that’s impossible not to be swept up in. The odds are always overwhelming, the atmosphere always malevolent, and the reward always worth the risk.
Next time you're on a commercial flight, ask your pilot if they ever played Flight Simulator growing up. Odds are the answer will be "yes." The hyper-realistic series puts players in the cockpit of everything from tiny Cessnas to massive jumbo jets. Obsessed flight simmers have built gigantic, multi-screen rigs in basements worldwide to better imitate the real thing. 2006's Flight Simulator X, meanwhile, let players into the control tower, giving birth to a diehard community of simmers who to this day spend hours flying and directing mock routes.
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.

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.


Starting the journey of Fallout 2 as a tribesman with nothing more than a loincloth and a spear to my name and gradually fighting my way up to a power-armored, gauss-gunning killing machine is a fantastic and surprisingly natural feeling of progression – one that few games have been able to match. Exploring a vast and open post-apocalyptic world full of deadly raiders, supermutants, and deathclaws is daunting but exciting, and thanks to attention to detail, atmospheric music, powerfully written morally ambiguous quests, and voice-acted interactions with key characters, the world feels personal and vivid even though we view it from a distant third-person camera.
E3 2007 was memorable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it marked a shift away from the glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles Convention Center, moving to the more low-key setting in nearby Santa Monica. Secondly, it was the first time Call of Duty 4 was shown off, its modern-day setting a dramatic departure from the World War II backdrop of previous games.

“You have died of dysentery.” The Oregon Trail’s notorious proclamation of ultimate doom was only part of the software’s brutal charm. As a simulation of Westward Expansion consisting of choose-your-own-adventure strategy and hunt-to-survive gameplay, it was rudimentary. But in part because it was originally developed in 1971 by three student teachers at Carleton College in Minnesota as an educational tool, The Oregon Trail found a captive—and willing—audience in thousands of classrooms across the country equipped with Apple II computers in the 1980s. There, it helped introduce an entire generation (several, in fact) to video games.


In a universe where Everquest was king, and MMOs seemed like a dominated market, leave it up to Blizzard to turn one of their key franchises into the biggest MMO there ever was, and possibly ever will be. After six expansions, World of Warcraft has shown very little signs of slowing down. Of course, the player-base has always fluctuated, but the massive hype around a brand new expansion is always enough to bring even the most retired player back for more.
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.
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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