Influenced by the outer space-obsessed late 1970s, this early arcade shooter was a landmark in the early video game invasion. Designed in 1978, it rode the Atari 2600 into American homes in 1980, letting people blast rows of marching aliens from the comfort of their couches. In pop culture terms, it captivated a public weened on War of the Worlds, wowed by Star Wars and waiting for E.T. But as a game, Space Invaders' pixelated baddies moved closer and faster—with crazy-making sound effects to match—players' pulses kept pace. Playing the classic version today is like watching a 1950s monster flick, partly comedic reflection, seeing what once gave us thrills. But without Space Invaders, there'd be no Halo, making it a worthy quarter spent, even today.
Half-Life 2 showed us in 2004 how a developer could approach a genre (the first-person shooter) given to bang and bluster, and dignify it with a mind-bending dystopian tale that at times rivaled the literary. Taking up as a weaponized theoretical physicist, players explored a paranoiac's world, questioning the nature of everything as they cut through waves of alien Combine before taking hold of an ingenious tool that made gravity itself a plaything. Alas, like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, we may never know how protagonist Gordon Freeman's tale ends. But it's a measure of how deeply studio Valve's work resonated, that when it comes to lists of most anticipated sequels, gamers talk of little else.
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.
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.
Where Doom first popularized the first-person shooter, 1996's Quake shifted the genre to a more spatially plausible, performance-hungry 3D world. The single-player campaign, which again pits players against the forces of evil (though with a Lovecraftian twist) is perfectly fine. But Quake's real contribution was in blowing the lid off multiplayer combat. Thanks in part to speedier Internet connections, Quake players—who formed "clans" of like-minded ballistic tacticians—could find deathmatch opponents over the web. And the game's new fully polygonal engine allowed for techniques now a staple of the genre, like bunny-hopping (constant jumping to avoid enemy fire) and rocket-jumping (using a rocket launcher to propel yourself to advantageous positions).
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.
Longtime pointy-eared and green-trousered protagonist Link's 1998 Nintendo 64 odyssey through a vast, three-dimensionally exquisite version of Hyrule routinely tops "best" games lists for several reasons. Its approach to letting players explore a 3D world was so consummate and sublime, that it felt less like Nintendo shoehorning eureka concepts into a new paradigm, than the paradigm bending to Nintendo whims. Its clockwork puzzles, artful area and dungeon levels, and breakthrough interface—we can thank Nintendo for intuitive lock-on targeting that preserves our freedom to execute other actions—were so groundbreaking, they're reverently hat-tipped by just about every designer, prompting some to call the game a "walking patent office."
Taking it a step further, those cutscenes were paired with some truly talented voice acting and narrative design. As I played through the storyline I learned to love the different little characters I interacted with and felt genuine anger when the Zerg managed to capture Kerrigan and bend her to their will. This character had been with you through thick and thin and after she's captured you, of course, begin the mission to rescue her.
But what sets Super Mario World apart from other 2D Mario games is its irresistible complexity. Subsequent Super Mario games, like the New Super Mario Bros. series, simplified the overworld, trading Super Mario World’s cool hidden paths for linear tracks, largely abandoned the skies and treetops of Super Mario World’s vertical levels for ground-based obstacle courses, and did away with flying almost entirely (capes rule, helicopter hats drool!). Super Mario World is the crescendo to the slow build in technology and game design that started with Super Mario Bros. And that crescendo featured a cool, simulated 90s slap bass track.

In 1997, GoldenEye was a revelation. Not only was it a more-than-decent movie tie-in – I’m hard pushed to think of one that’s come close, even to this day – but it became the blueprint for console first-person shooters, serving up a wonderfully engaging single-player mode that made you feel like Bond, with split-screen multiplayer that quickly became a staple in dorm rooms across the world.
I still think about three moments in The Last of Us at least once a week, nearly five years later. The first is when Joel’s life changes in a moment in the game’s intro. I knew I was in for something so narratively special from Naughty Dog. The second moment solidified that, as, late into the game, it demanded I make a certain gameplay choice because that’s how Joel would act, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. That dissonance struck me, but made so much sense. This was Joel and Ellie’s story I was experiencing, and those characters feel so real thanks to the script, animation, and Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s stellar performances. The Last of Us marries its storytelling with its gameplay, and nothing made me feel more than that last moment. The game’s final discussion between its two protagonists that is filled with so much emotional weight because of their experience – because of what you experienced – that it’s difficult to think of another ending so perfectly true to this unforgettable experience.

The first title designed by Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto, 1981's Donkey Kong not only brought Mario into being, it also popularized the platformer—games in which a character has to climb or jump onto platforms. After dominating the golden age of arcades, Donkey Kong went on to have a massive influence on future Nintendo titles, ranging from the NES's Ice Climber to the Wii U's New Super Mario Bros. U. Even today, demanding expert timing and patience, it remains a timeless joy to play. (What's more, Donkey Kong was arguably the first game to feature hazardous barrels.)
What can you say about the definitive fighting game, the game that has spawned countless imitators, acolytes, and sequels? Street Fighter II remains a classic in video game lore, making series mainstays Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li as well as words like “Hadouken” part of the public lexicon. Everyone has a favorite character and that’s because of its diverse, fantastical character design.
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. 

In this era of Trophies and Achievements, completing everything in a game is common. But when Yoshi’s Island came out, the reward for exploration was greater than a Gamerscore: for collecting all of the extremely well-hidden red coins and flowers and then finishing a level with 30 stars (which basically means you can’t get hit), you received a 100% rating. If you did this on every level in a world, you unlocked two more levels in each of the six worlds. And these levels were even harder than the others!
An RPG with enough complexity to satisfy the urge to tinker, but enough character never to feel impersonal, Wild Hunt is a staggering achievement no matter how you look at it. Its story deftly balances cosmic threat and family drama, its choices feel truly meaningful and world-changingly effective, and it looks gorgeous in its own grubby way. Even its two DLC expansions are among the best ever released. Geralt’s final journey might be built on the mundane, but that makes it nothing short of magical.
Released in 2019 by Square Enix for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Kingdom Hearts III is set against various Disney and Pixar worlds. It’s the 12th installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, meant to wrap up the narrative arc that began with the first game. It sold more than 5 million copies in its first week, making it both the fastest-selling and also the best-selling installment in the series. 
The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link laid the foundations Link’s quest, but it was A Link to the Past that built the land of Hyrule into a world. From it’s unforgettable beginnings guiding a swordless Link through the rain, to the final showdown with Ganon and utilizing mastery of sword and bow to defeat evil, Link to the Past measured out a perfect pace of dungeons, exploration, and a gripping narrative that was almost unheard of at the time. It’s open landscape was always inviting but never felt aimless – striking the perfect balance of freedom and purpose in your quest to save Princess Zelda.
Many games attempt to emulate cinema, dealing in the same tropes and stock characters. Initially, it looks like Uncharted does the same thing – it focuses on a treasure hunter who frequently finds himself in danger across exotic locations. But when you play Uncharted, especially the second installment, Among Thieves, you realise it surpasses so much of Hollywood’s recent output with ease.

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.


At its core, Shadow of the Colossus is really a puzzle game. Once you’ve managed to recover from the shock of stumbling across each of the colossi, you’ll need to figure out the best way to scale, and ultimately destroy each monster. Each of these harrowing encounters will not only leave you sweaty, but reveal just the tiniest bit more about the vague, mournful plot that main character Wander has managed to find himself in. Part love story, part monster hunt, part parable, Shadow of the Colossus borrows heavily from what came before, but inspires much of what came after.

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.

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.


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.
This action-adventure game from Nintendo for the Switch and Wii U consoles came out in 2017. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes place at the end of the Zelda storyline: The player controls Link, who wakes up from a 100-year sleep and tries to save the kingdom of Hyrule from Calamity Ganon. This version sold nearly 18 million copies by 2019, to make it the best-selling Zelda game.
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.

Mining veins of content from Scarface, Miami Vice, and other seminal pop culture pillars of the era, Vice City had it all: a cast of larger-than-life characters and a rags-to-riches protagonist who builds his empire on the blood, sweat, and more blood of the sun-soaked, drug-addled, sex-crazed slice of beach city. And it's that ‘80s personality that propped up Vice City any time its open-world gameplay started to falter – much of that personality coming from the incredible soundtrack that is alone worth the price of admission. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a sexy, sour, excellent sendup of the decade that will never die.
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.
In the 1980s, the years that led up to Nintendo's reign were dominated by PC titles, and of these none were better imagined than Sierra's. When honoring their adventure line, critics typically laud the original King's Quest. But it's the third installment released in 1986 that deserves the most acclaim, because it was also twice as big as the first two installments, and as clever as any in the series. Following the adventures of Daventry's 17-year-old Prince Alexander, the game hit closer to home with its primary players, who like it or not were pretty much boys. Yet despite the outmoded graphics (or maybe because of them), the keyboard-controlled adventure is still a joy to play (try it yourself). From amassing all the ingredients to make potions, to avoiding the wizard's evil black cat, to stealing the pirate's treasure, it's pure magic.

Released in 2019 by Square Enix for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Kingdom Hearts III is set against various Disney and Pixar worlds. It’s the 12th installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, meant to wrap up the narrative arc that began with the first game. It sold more than 5 million copies in its first week, making it both the fastest-selling and also the best-selling installment in the series. 
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.
Pokemon GO in 2019 is a game I shouldn’t care about. When it launched in 2016 it was in a lot of ways a mediocre experience. Outside of catching the original 151 Pokemon the game itself relied heavily on the nostalgia of the Pokemon franchise and augmented reality gimmick of having them show up in the real world. If you didn’t care about the IP, the game itself was very lacking. In 2019, the game is flooded with a multitude of tasks, activities, and events that can involve anyone from yourself to a large group of people. These additions create an experience that incentivizes users to be more dedicated to daily play without feeling like a grind. Friendship has been introduced and allows users to now exchange gifts, trade or even battle each other. Quests (research tasks as they are referred to in-game) have been added that reward items and even special Pokemon. Events now fill each month’s calendar with new (and sometimes shiny) Pokemon, exclusive rewards and new ways to play the game. There is even a burgeoning competitive PVP scene which gave Pokemon GO its first-ever appearance at the Pokemon World Championships this year.
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.
×