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.

While some longtime family favorites are still popular, violent video games like online multiplayer shooters are also dominant, which could be concerning for parents. That's why each video game comes with an age and content rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board, making it crucial for parents to educate themselves about these ratings, so they can decide which video games are appropriate for their child. “Video games get a lot of scrutiny, but parents should also keep in mind the other places their kids might be exposed to violence like movies, TV, and the Internet. At the end of the day, parents have to make a call when it comes to their kids and violent video games," says Umang Jain, co-founder of the ed tech gaming company SplashLearn.


Thief II gave the player all the right tools for the perfect heist, along with interactive maps for writing notes. It rewarded taking your time, and of course, listening to some of the best guard banter in any game to date. Silently sprinting along rooftops, ducking through secret mansion passages – the game didn't just make you feel like a thief, it made you feel like a master of the craft.
Since the original launched on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, the Super Smash Bros. games have become no-brainers for Nintendo fans. The game, which borrows from Nintendo's stable of iconic characters, introduced something radical to the fighter genre: Rather than pounding the bejesus out of your opponents until they bow out, you're basically playing an elaborate variant of King of the Hill, trying to successfully knock your enemies off platforms in a given stage. What's more, players could romp through stages freely, expanding the canvas upon which to doll out whuppings. And unlike other fighters that require players memorize arcane buttons combos to execute a character's special maneuvers, Super Smash Bros. employs the same button template for everyone, making pickup simpler, and mastery about learning how best to synthesize all of the above.
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.
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.

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.
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. 
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.
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.
Spelunky is a game about triumph. When you finally make it to a new area for the first time, when you finally beat Olmec, when you finally beat your best time, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You earned this. You did it. But maybe you should go back and try to beat it. You can shave a few seconds off, right? Spelunky is a game about always being able to improve.
Portal undoubtedly came out of nowhere and shattered the mold, but Portal 2 took that raw and incredible concept and managed to shape it into a more polished and impressive package. It cranked the dials up on just about everything that made the original so special. The mind-bending puzzles, the surprisingly dark story, and the ridiculous humor that balanced it out - each piece of that picture was refined and refreshed to build a sequel that actually surpassed the ambition of an already extremely ambitious game, making something both familiar and altogether new.
Resident Evil 2 Remake redefined what a ‘remake’ could be. For players new to the game, this was a meticulously crafted survival horror experience that felt completely in step with the genre in 2019, while veterans got to enjoy a lovingly crafted piece of nostalgia that vitally, felt like the game they remembered from 1998. It trod a brilliant tightrope, capturing the inherent weirdness of the original - the baroque architecture and labyrinthian environments that flipped the bird to logic - while updating the control scheme to a fluid over-the-shoulder camera far more suited to the way we play games today. The result was uneasy but never frustrating, subversive but familiar. All remakes should learn from this one.

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.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may be a re-release of the original Wii U kart racer, but its function as both a fantastic kart racer in its own right and a more complete package of an already great game. Its selection of classic and brand new tracks make for an excellent rotation of races that keeps things fresh no matter how much you play, with a thorough roster of racers and plenty of kart customization options.
When I was younger, few games settled an argument like GoldenEye. Living in a flat with three other people, if we couldn’t decide like rational adults whose turn it was to do the household chores, it was decided over a game of GoldenEye’s multiplayer. The battleground was always the Facility and to truly sort out the men from the Bonds it was Slaps only. Anyone who picked Odd Job was instantly disqualified.
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.
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.
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.
Guitar Hero reanimated the music video game genre when it launched in 2005, magically transmogrifying players into bona fide fret-shredding, tremolo-slapping Rock Gods. Sure, you had to provide your own sweatbands, eyeliner and hair extensions. But for the price of the game and its eponymous accessory, players hammering buttons on faux guitars were able to rhythmically glimpse what it might feel like to be a Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jake E. Lee. While games like Dance Dance Revolution had proven popular with smaller audiences, it was Guitar Hero's rolling collection of classic and modern rock anthems that drove it to mainstream accolades (to say nothing of all the impromptu house parties).
In fact, it’s a game you have to replay just to appreciate how flexible and open it really is. I’ve done it so many times, experimenting with the ways in which different character builds and perks would dramatically affect the way events unfolded, from killing the final “boss” using stealth to playing all the way through with a character so dumb they can only communicate through grunts. Plus, you never knew when you’d stumble upon random events that would sometimes deliver game-changingly powerful items. Fallout 2 will surprise you again and again.
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.

Super Metroid’s minimalistic environmental storytelling set a bar, way back in 1994, that I believe has still yet to be eclipsed. The planet Zebes is atmospheric, oppressive, and extremely lethal. At first glance, there doesn’t even appear to be any story. But then you start to look more closely. The parasite-riddled dead soldier outside of an early boss room. The crashed, half-submerged alien spaceship that may or may not be haunted. The techno lair of the space pirates hiding under your nose the entire game. It’s brilliant and confident. It doesn’t explain to you what each new area is all about. It’s all there, for you to figure out (or ignore) on your own.


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.
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.
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.

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.

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.


Contra was one of the few cooperative video games of the 8-bit era where player two didn’t feel like a burden dragging you down with every step. With plenty of weapon drops to go around and hordes of enemies coming from every direction, a partner’s firepower was a welcome addition in most situations. And if a friend couldn’t keep up the pace on the waterfall level, you could easily incentivize them to improve their skills by scrolling the screen upward and killing them, which I did whenever my little brother lagged behind.
The improbable sequel to a fan mod for a Blizzard game that came out in 2002, Dota 2 stormed the e-sports scene in 2013 with its sophisticated twist on real-time resource management and turf control. Arguably the pinnacle of the multiplayer online battle arena genre (or MOBA, which is just another way of saying "competitive real-time strategy game"), it sees two teams of five jockey for sway over lush, jungled terrain beset by ever-spawning computer armies, locking horns at a river that cuts diagonally across a symmetric map. Difficult to master but thrilling to watch, Dota 2 matches unfold like frenetic attention-deficit sprees, camera views pinballing around battlefields flush with antagonists converging on dozens of flashpoints, as players battle to demolish the other team's "ancient."
This weird shift in tone, structure – it all worked beautifully, and with a poetic edge that is unrivaled in other Metal Gear installments. Snake Eater is arguably one of the most interesting love stories ever told in a game, one of the strangest and most exciting Cold War-era adventures, and one of the first games to truly make me reflect on my actions as a player. It manages to be tragic, sometimes devastatingly so, and yet still maintain that absurd comedic flair that I admire about this series.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may be a re-release of the original Wii U kart racer, but its function as both a fantastic kart racer in its own right and a more complete package of an already great game. Its selection of classic and brand new tracks make for an excellent rotation of races that keeps things fresh no matter how much you play, with a thorough roster of racers and plenty of kart customization options.
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.
This was one of those games you could easily lose hours playing, either alone or with friends. Among our nerdy cadre, there was no greater source of joy, sorrow, or white-hot rage than Burnout 3. Few things could ruin a friendship faster than wrecking someone's ride just before the finish line – though thankfully all was (usually) forgotten during the next round of Crash Mode.
Rovio’s debut 2009 mobile game, now one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, definitely benefitted from being one of the earliest titles for the iPhone. But the studio's quirky avian-flinging physics puzzler—players have to slingshot roly-poly birds at likewise rotund, entrenched pigs—also honed in on key elements of smartphone gaming's then-nascent purview: bite-sized levels for on-the-go play, easy to pickup (if grueling to master) gameplay, and eventually a free-to-play biz model built on micro-transactions. It's safe to say Angry Birds established the template for all the untold numbers of mobile games vying for our e-wallets since. 

But, personally, Baldur’s Gate II was a truly digital representation of the world and rules of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D video games have historically been hit-or-miss, and as a kid I was enamored with games like Eye of the Beholder, but these virtual dungeon-crawling adventures were a far cry from the real thing. Baldur’s Gate II changed that for me, finally making good on the digital promise of its tabletop ancestry. And though it may be a little dusty, it’s still as good today as it was when the saga of the Bhaalspawn first unfolded.
For whatever reason, it's not often you get a decent video game based on a movie. Rare's 1997 Nintendo 64 shooter GoldenEye 007, which ties into the 1995 James Bond film, is a glorious exception. A heart-pounding single-player campaign let gamers slip on the (doubtless immaculately tailored) shoes of the man with a license to kill. But as with other shooters on this list, multiplayer is where GoldenEye truly shines. Grenades bounce off walls, golden guns perform single shot kills, and cheaters prefer Oddjob because he's a smaller target. It was, for many, the reason to buy a Nintendo 64. One word of advice: Don't even bother with the Klobb.

I know you can hear them too – the plucky strings accompanied by pleasant woodwinds that greeted us every time we opened Buy Mode. The Sims is iconic for so many reasons, from its soundtrack that is undoubtedly burned into our brains to cheat code prompts that live in the memory space right next door. This unique simulation game made day to day life exciting. We could concoct drama and design our own stories, complete with the tools to build dream living spaces. The Sims gave us an incredible playground to be creators and destroyers, and though The Sims' newer iterations make Sims far more complex, the original stands as a classic. Plus, it allowed us to drown our Sims in pools, which is, as we all know, an essential Sims experience. The new Sims are too smart for that.
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. 
But, personally, Baldur’s Gate II was a truly digital representation of the world and rules of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D video games have historically been hit-or-miss, and as a kid I was enamored with games like Eye of the Beholder, but these virtual dungeon-crawling adventures were a far cry from the real thing. Baldur’s Gate II changed that for me, finally making good on the digital promise of its tabletop ancestry. And though it may be a little dusty, it’s still as good today as it was when the saga of the Bhaalspawn first unfolded.
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.
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.
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.
This iteration of Hyrule was more than just moving between enemy-filled screens, it encompassed everything an immersive experience should be: a vast open world that teased you with secrets hiding just beyond your reach, begging you to come back with new and inventive tools. Each zone – whether in the cheerful overworld, dimly lit caves, or the intimidating Dark World – was brought to life through a culmination of details like the sound of the Tempered Sword cleaving the air, the catchy jingle of a puzzle well-solved, and the ambient tunes of Koji Kondo’s score. This version of Hyrule more than any other before or since, is the one I fell most in love with.
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. 
It’s right there in the name: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is quite simply the ultimate Smash Bros. game. Purists will no doubt claim that SSB: Melee is the game that put the series on the map, but it’s impossible to ignore the sheer wealth of content that is present in Ultimate, from the insane roster size of 70+ characters that is still growing, to the enormous World of Light story mode, to the library of over 800 classic video game songs jam-packed within its cartridge.
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.
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