A video game pal of ours is doing this survey to create a list of the 25 greatest video games of all time, any system, any platform. An informal poll, the goal is to avoid marketing influence and base the games on actual popularity and enjoyment. The call is to list your greatest 25 video games, in no particular order. (If you have a few minutes, you should send in your list!) Seems like a simple enough project right?
It's hard. Really hard. If you've been playing video games for more than a decade, that usually means through at least two generations of gaming systems or 50 generations of PC gaming, then chances are good you have more than 25 games that you really enjoy that could easily go on this list. For me the number was 32, and that was with some brutal cuts that hurt a little bit to make. The final cut down to 25 was like Sophie's Choice (more on that later; the cuts not Sophie's Choice).
In constructing and subsequently narrowing this list, I tried to think of games that I really, really love. Games that I can play over and over and never get tired. Games I can play pretty much at any time and not get bored. Games that I find myself going back to over and over. Games that always hold something new to discover or become ever more fun to play through repeated play-throughs.
All of the games on this list are incredible games that I could pick up and play at any given moment. I think the games on this list demonstrate what I find to be great about video gaming and I would strongly recommend every single one of these games to anyone who likes video gaming. Honestly, I think that this list of games represents who I am as a player and what video games mean to me. I think lists like this are a very personal thing and I applaud the folks who are compiling a master list based on them. It will be very interesting to see the final tally.
Since I was already doing this list for that project, I thought it would be fun to carry the list over here and share it with you folks. I have included brief commentaries and reviews along with each game so that you get a little insight into why I love each game so very much. This list is in no particular order, nor would I ever propose it to be. Assume that every game here is #1 on this list because it easily could be. So without further ado, here are my 25 greatest video games of all time, ever.
Legend of Zelda: The first adventure game that I ever played. LoZ blew my mind and still provides several hours of solid entertainment every time I plug it in. It does not matter that I know the first quest by heart and can speed run it. The game is so well built that it continues to be one of the greatest adventure games of all time.
Castlevania: Easily the best side-scrolling, arcade-style adventure game I have ever played. When I was a kid, this game was hard as nails. Now I speed run it and play for points. I keep scores in a notebook. I can play this game through, finally die, then start a new game and do it again. For hours. Knowing each level inside and out and being able to play through on a single life does not kill my enjoyment. Maybe it's the Dracula/horror theme or maybe it's just an incredibly well-made game.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Honestly, this is the first ES game I have played, but I can promise you it is the best Western RPG I have ever played. The replay value is infinite. Character creation is the heart of the fun. You can play the game a hundred different ways. I have sunk upwards of 750 hours into this game easily and will likely double that number. The game is vast and additional expansions have only increased it's appeal. The only shame is the sudden drop in support from the Bethesda, but that will not stop me from playing this game for a very long time.
Super Metroid: I love Metroid. I really do. It was a dark, strange game that seemed to go on forever. But Super Metroid, takes all of that greatest and promotes it all to the next level. Super Metroid is fun from start to finish and never dries out. The world is big and there is plenty to discover. The boss fights are epic. SM is always a fun play-through.
Pitfall II: Ok, I lied when I said LoZ was the first adventure game I had ever played. Pitfall II was really the first adventure game I ever played, but honestly, the differences are SO vast that they really aren't the same thing at all. This is another game that was played to death in my youth and still holds infinite joy for me today. I blame Pitfall II for deciding what kinds of games I would like going forward through gaming. It might be simple, but it is tough, and for its time, incredible.
Pokemon Yellow: Really, this could have been Blue or Red also, but Yellow gives you Pikachu straight away and he's the franchise mascot, so we'll give his game the nod. Pokemon is a collection game and a turn-based RPG and its no end of fun. Replay value is high as you can go after different Pokemon or types of Pokemon with each play-through. You may want to hate the game because it's "for kids" or "obnoxiously marketed," but you really cannot knock the game play. Pokemon is fun.
Dragon's Lair: The holy grail of arcade games. I used to watch this game on Starcade in absolute awe. A cartoon that you could play. Insane. Even today I can play the Wii version and never tire of running Dirk through the paces over and over. I had the PC version in the 90's. This game will always hold a mystique for me because of our history together, but it is also a lot of fun to play.
Super Mario Bros. 3: This is the game that defined a franchise. A vast improvement over the original and never bested by subsequent entries in the series (although Mario64 comes very close), SMB3 is everything that is great about the Mario franchise. Smart level design, lots of secretes, challenging but not impossible game play, SMB3 has it all and never looks back.
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: If you want a game that encompasses everything that has even been great about the Zelda series Skyward Sword is it. An adventure game on par with the original, spanning beautiful and diverse environments and backed by an incredible story. I cannot wait to play this through another time.
Mario Kart Wii: A good racing game should be fast-paced, easy to pick up and play, and addictive. Mario Kart Wii is defined by these qualities. Super fun in single player and ridiculous in multi-player, MKW edges out several other incredibly good racing games to be the best racing game I have ever played. Great tracks, racing action that is not marred by the Mario influence, but instead well enhanced by it, and lots of different kinds of karts to race, you simply cannot go wrong with this one.
Solaris: What is a shooting game this complex and vast doing on the Little System that Could? Few greater challenges exist on the VCS than trying to reach the legendary planet Solaris. Not just a shooting game, Solaris is also a strategy game and an exploration game. There are many paths to Solaris, but all of them lead to death unless you are one hell of a pilot. I've never been there, but some day I will make it!
Final Fantasy VII: If Skyrim is the best Western RPG I have ever played, FFVII is the best JRPG that I have ever played. It just never gets old. I have played through with every character over and over and I still want to start over and play it again. I've beaten all of the hidden bosses and leveled up every materia and I still want to play it again. Great storytelling, exceptional turn-based battles, and a compelling character set, if I were to recommend a JRPG to anyone, this would be it.
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour: Some of the more technical golf games are too demanding, but the Mario Golf series keeps the balance of golf and Mario just right and presents a fun, engaging, and accessible golf experience. I like the Tiger Woods series, but for the casual golfer this is where golfing is at its best. The course designs are smart and challenging, and the controls are just savvy enough to give experienced golfers something to do and novice golfers a chance to compete. I can play a round any time.
ChronoTrigger: If FFVII didn't exist, this would be the JRPG I would recommend to you. Sort of the precursor to FFVII, ChronoTrigger does many of the same things right, but due to its time travel platform, gives the player interesting control over the course of the plot. The stable of playable characters is large and diverse and the turn-based battle system is innovative, even by contemporary standards. I missed this game when it came out, but I have since gone back and fallen in love with it. You should too.
Soul Calibur II: The greatest fighting game I have ever played. Quick to pick up, but deep enough to warrant hours to master, SCII features a huge cast of fighters, most of which are distinct and interesting. In addition to the VS fighting mode, the survival and story modes provide the single player with lots and lots to do. The GameCube version is listed here as it also features the bonus character: Link from LoZ.
Wolfenstein 3D: The game that brought me back up to speed in PC gaming. Wolfenstein was the first real FPS that I had played and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of gaming. Despite the blocky graphics, I maintain that the game play is good enough to hold up even today. Lots to explore, palpable danger around every corner and a surprisingly well told story are not necessarily things I would expect to find in what is basically a shoot-em-up, but W3D has all of those things and more. I'm ready to play through again just writing this.
Pokemon Snap: I realize this might seem like an odd choice for this list, but it was an automatic one for me. Pokemon Snap is an insidious little time waster that is endless amounts of fun to play. It could stand to be a bit longer and maybe feature all 151 original Pokemon, but those quibbles are minor compared to how much fun the game is. If you've missed this one, go get it.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: THREE Zelda games on this list? Somebody is a fanboy. Maybe, but there was no way I could honestly argue against any of these games. OoT is a nostalgic pick for me, but if you spend some time wandering around 3D Hyrule you easily see why this game belongs in any collection. Great adventure, engaging storytelling, and some of the best puzzles in the franchise. OoT is a defining game in the series.
Metroid Prime: I'm not a fan of FPS and you'll not find many on this list, but Metroid Prime dials down the testosterone, blood-bathing and supplements it with great exploration and discovery that pays unexpected homage to the original Metroid. This is an adventure game that plays as a FPS and it welcomes replay in a way that most FPS fall flat for me.
Katamari Damacy: This is a gaming experience that should be had by everyone who has any love for video games. Plenty of Japanese insanity skins this addictive roll up game. The premise is so absurdly simple, but the scale is enormous. The J-Pop soundtrack is as good as the game it supports. It would be a disservice to try to describe the majesty that is Katamari.
Shadow of the Colossus: It is surprising how powerful atmosphere can be as a game play element. SoC is basically a series of absolutely awesome boss battles, but those battles are played out across a vast and desolate landscape that creates a feeling of isolation that is unparalleled in video gaming (and that's saying something because Ico, Tomb Raider and Lost in Shadow are dripping with ambiance). This is another gaming experience that is not to be missed.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: The term "Metroidvania" makes my skin crawl, but call it what you like, you cannot deny that SotN took the Castlevania franchise to a whole new level, an incredible new level. There is so much to explore and the adventure is so well constructed that even once beaten, there is a lot of meat left to the game. The revelation that there was an entire second castle to explore was mind-blowing, even for a seasoned player.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 2: I love sandbox games. (Minecraft very nearly made this list) I love amusement parks and roller coasters. RC2 is a dream come true. Build amazing amusement parks with breath-taking roller coasters, then manage those parks to great success! What more could you want?
Heroes of Might and Magic III: While I fell in love with HoMM2 in college and wasted many hours that I was meant to be studying playing that game through the night, the following effort would prove to be even more addictive. I love strategy games. I'm kind of shocked not to see more of them on this list, but I think that HoMM3 shines as the example of what a great adventure-strategy game is. Multi-player only makes this game more fun.
Might and Magic VI: Mandate of Heaven: Fanboy strikes again, perhaps, but 3DO really was hitting their stride in the late 90's. MMVI was one of the first free-roaming PC RPGs I had ever played, and it was mind-blowing. My (then) girlfriend and I played this game for 4 days straight when we first bought it. We played in shifts. One of us would sleep whilst the other played, when we could not both be playing simultaneously. Nostalgia aside, I played through this game again a few years ago, and it retains its coolness.
So there's the list. 25 games I highly recommend you play. 25 games that are the very best that the hobby has to offer. I have no doubt your list contains other games that are near and dear to you. There were 7 games that I had to cut from the above that honestly could have just as easily been in the list. I'd like to take quick moment to pay tribute to those that ending up on the cutting room floor.
Ducktales: (NES) Charming, fun, and challenging enough to betray the "kids' game" reputation that often maligns games based on cartoons.
Pokemon Puzzle League: (N64) Addictive puzzler with a fun Pokemon skin. Aimee and I still play marathon sessions of this game.
Tomb Raider: (PSX) 3D platforming at its best. Insidious puzzles and action sequences set against an ominous environment. Tomb Raider sets the standard for this kind of game in the modern era.
Blaster Master: (NES) A sleeper hit from a sleeper developer. I played this game for hours and hours as a kid trying to beat the final boss. I succeeded and then immediately played it through again. Surprisingly challenging and extremely well made.
Betrayal at Krondor: (PC) The predecessor to incredible games like Might and Magic in my gaming experience, this adventure RPG uses riddles as the locks on treasure chests. That alone makes it worth playing. There is also a very unique battle system.
LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy: (GC) For me, this game was LEGO gaming at its apex. The Star Wars doesn't overpower the LEGO fun.
Wizardry II: Knight of Diamonds: (NES) A hardcore Western RPG that is not for the faint of heart, but is Western RPG at its finest.
Thanks for taking a stroll through these awesome games with me. I'd love to see your list and hear what games define you as a player.