Dishonored managed to breathe new life into a faltering stealth genre by invigorating players with a host of magical abilities and wickedly clever tools for every occasion. By allowing you to get creative with stealth (or a total lack thereof), players could slip through levels like a ghostly wraith, or slice up unsuspecting foes as a murderous spirit of vengeance. Dishonored revitalized the stealth genre with its approach to rewarding each playstyle: whether challenging yourself to remain unseen and getting your revenge without ever spilling blood, or springing deadly traps and disposing of targets in the most gruesome way possible. Its levels are impeccably designed to reward careful exploration and planning, and provide multiple ways to complete objectives with secrets crammed in every corner.
Say it with me: “UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START.” The most iconic secret in video game history became a litany for the millions of kids who joined Bill and Lance on their quest to destroy Red Falcon. While a truly skilled player can clear Contra on a single credit, the power of the thirty lives code gave all of us a fair chance to power our way through the gauntlet of alien invaders, or more likely die trying.
Compared to the other entries in the series, the game hits that player agency sweet spot so you feel like you’re empowered to save your city without being overwhelmed by choice. You need to make sure your Sims have access to electricity and water, but also that they’re safe, have access to healthcare, and the roads are maintained. As your city grows, you’ll have to keep track of things like mass transit, entertainment, and the economy but the difficulty curve never feels too steep, and success always seems just a stadium away. Plus, there’s never been a more satisfying feeling than zoning a land for residential and first seeing people move in.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn was very much a leader of the pack during the RPG renaissance of the early 2000s and is still an excellent example of that genre’s strengths. From its fantastically written characters and story to its vast arsenal of weapons, armors, and magic, Baldur’s Gate II was an adventure that you could not only get lost in, but that could be lived in, spending hundreds of hours exploring every hidden secret and mystery.
These are the greatest games of all time, as voted on and reranked by gamers like yourself. Video games are more popular than ever. Since the early '80 when gaming systems like Atari, Nintendo and Sega first took arcade favorite and made them available to a wider audience, video games have become a part of the pop culture lexicon. Many of the best video games are action and adventure games, usually with an ultimate goal to reach in the end. That could mean rescuing a princess, like in games like the Super Mario franchise and Legend of Zelda, or it could mean battling it out with iconic villains like in Goldeneye. Sometime whooping some butt is fun and if that's your favorite type of video game, then you would be partial to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Contra and Mortal Kombat as the best video games.
The seven-year gap between A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time saw Zelda fans eagerly anticipating Link’s next adventure, and they weren’t disappointed. Garnering nearly unanimous critical praise and fan adoration, Ocarina of Time was quickly regarded as one of the most important and groundbreaking games of all time, and for good reason. A sweeping, epic tale that introduced new characters, new lore, and an ever-expanding timeline theory, this version of Zelda took what was great about its predecessors and expanded on those themes and ideas exponentially.
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.)
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.
The premise of Minecraft is incredibly simple. Mine materials such as first and wood, and build things with it. Yet the possibilities are incredibly limitless. An epic gaming moment many people have reflected on is what they call, “The First Night in Minecraft.” The world always begins as a bright sunny day, and you use this time to chop down trees, dig, and maybe even slay a few animals for food. It’s great, until the sun starts to set and the actual enemies start to appear. It’s at this point you realize this is actually a survival game, and you’re forced to either burrow underground or make a quick makeshift wood cabin. Then as the sun rises and you watch all the enemies burn to a crisp, you are finally free to explore again, you are hit with a joyous urge to explore and dive even deeper into the game. Will you keep your first house, or search for a better landscape? Will you become an unground dweller, or live atop a mountain? These are the freedoms Minecraft offers, and the only thing that’s standing in between you and literally anything, is imagination.
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.
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.
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."
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.
Super Mario Bros. has been re-released many times, but there's no such thing as too many times because it's still fun and it's still some kid's first time ever playing a game. Super Mario Bros. spawned an industry and fueled a mushroom-powered empire. Its influence cannot be overstated. Example: literally everyone reading this can hum its theme song, right now, from memory. See? Now it's playing in your head again. You're welcome.
This meant we de-emphasized the importance of longer influence on the industry, even if many of the games on 2019’s list were hugely influential (if it were all based on influence, 90% of the games would be from before 2003). Although some of the games on this list may be a little long in the tooth, we still believe every one of them stands up as an incredible gaming experience to this day.
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.
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.
While some would vote Final Fantasy VI the better game, 1997's Final Fantasy VII is arguably the bolder one in this anything-but-final roleplaying series. Laying complex polygonal graphics over beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds, Japanese developer Squaresoft took advantage of the PlayStation’s compact-disc drive to craft an experience Sony rival Nintendo—who’d rejected Sony’s pitch for a disc-based add-on to the Super Nintendo—simply couldn’t. The operatic, labyrinthine and often wonderfully weird tale of ecologically minded heroes out to save their “living” planet from corporate energy raiders proved the most popular in the series, selling over 10 million copies worldwide and prompting perennial cries for a remake (that's finally happening).
Still, the highlight of StarCraft is easily its multiplayer. Few gaming moments are as satisfying as defending your base against a Zerg rush as the Protoss or successfully sending in a fleet of Terran to decimate an enemy's base. StarCraft is still played competitively in parts of the world, making it remain relevant for longer than almost any other video game in existence. There's a reason too. It's because the gameplay is so expertly crafted and balanced that players can continually go head to head with a different result each time. It's those near losses and photo finish victories that keep you coming back and have kept the series alive all these years.
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."
Designed by a Russian computer scientist, mass-distributed by a Japanese company and devoured by gamers—casual or compulsive—around the world, Tetris has been a global phenomenon since its arrival in 1984. In 1989, Nintendo put the legendary tile-matching puzzler on the NES and Game Boy, where it catapulted the latter to meteoric success. It's been available on nearly every platform since, a testament to our never-ending zeal for stacking blocks. However addictive, Tetris also appears to have modest health benefits, like cravings control and PTSD prevention. Devotees would probably nod and note how much a high-scoring, in-the-zone session can feel like meditation. And speaking of Zen, the game's also generated its share of life lessons, including this apocryphal truism: "If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear."
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.
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.
SimCity 2000 may not be the most complex or original of the city-building series, but it’s definitely the most iconic. The sequel to the original SimCity is a beautiful, funny, detailed sandbox that gives players control of a huge, customizable map that they can manage how they see fit. You can build the perfect metropolis – see little sailboats in your marina and cars on your streets, get a statue built in your name, keep your advisors happy by building mass transit and hospitals. Or you can burn it all to the ground with catastrophes like earthquakes and alien attacks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Counter-Strike is the game that’s been with me the longest, in one form or another, but for me, it all started here. Many of the things I value most in skill-based games, I value because of Counter-Strike: good level design, team-based dynamic, the dedication required to master it, a friendly sense of competition, and a solid sense of community. It taught me the joy of earning my victories in a game, but also the importance of learning from my failures. It’s the reason I love first-person shooters and the reason I stuck by PC gaming at a young age, and I owe it all to its earliest iterations.
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.
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.
It’s hard to fathom how exceptional Street Fighter II was at its time. While exceptionally balanced, the imaginative design and high-end graphics for its time helped set it apart. Street Fighter II became perhaps the first fighting game global arcade smash. Over the years, Capcom kept updating and refining the combat, allowing players to play as more characters, speed up the combat, and see new special moves for their favorite characters. Its ports kept getting nominated for awards years after its initial 1991 release. That’s how enduring and exceptional Street Fighter II remains.
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.
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.