Friday, July 31, 2015

Stupid Bro Country reflection on local culture.

The pickup pulls at county fairs.  But as someone who grew up loving and being forever affected by the true greats of country music, I simply have to offer up this plea to the Nashville country music industry to reclaim the identity and poetic greatness that once was our format. The well-written poetic word of the country song has disappeared. There appears to be not even the slightest attempt to “say” anything other than to repeat the tired, overused mantra of redneck party boy in his truck, partying in said truck, hoping to get lucky in the cab of said truck, and his greatest possible achievement in life is to continue to be physically and emotionally attached to the aforementioned truck as all things in life should and must take place in his, you guessed it...truck. I didn’t mind the first two or three hundred versions of these gems but I think we can all agree by now that everything’s been said about a redneck and his truck, that can possibly be said. It is time to move on to the next subject. Any subject, anything at all. Our beautiful, time-honored genre, has devolved from lines like, “I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday ... holding Bobby’s body next to mine,” and “a canvas covered cabin, in a crowded labor camp stand out in this memory I revive. Cause my Daddy raised a family there with two hard working hands….and tried to feed my Momma’s hungry eyes,” down to “Can I get a Yee Haw?” And the aforementioned Truck! “Come on slide them jeans on up in my truck! Let’s get down and dirty in muh truck, doggone it I just get off riding in muh truck, I love ya honey, but not as much as muh truck!” Oh and we can’t leave out the beautiful prose about partying in a field or pasture. Now I’m not saying all songs should be somber ballads or about heavy, profound emotional subject matter. On the contrary, great fun, rockin’, party songs, describing the lifestyle of blue collar country folk have always been a staple of the genre. But compare for a minute the poetic, “middle American Shakespeare” infused lyrical prose of classics like Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” or Hank Jr’s “All My Rowdy friends are coming over tonight” or Garth Brooks’ “I’ve got friends in Low Places” or his “Ain’t going down till the sun comes up” to the likes of contemporary offerings like “That’s My Kinda Night,” or any of the other 300 plus songs from recent years that say the exact same thing in pretty much the exact same way. It’s like comparing a Rolls Royce to a ten speed. Finally, I’m not pointing a finger at the artists and especially not the songwriters. They’re simply doing what they have to do to make a living. It’s the major label execs, the movers and shakers, the folks who control what is shoved down radio’s throat, that I am calling out. They have the power and ability to make a commitment to make records that keep the legacy of country music alive, and reclaim a great genre’s identity. Who knows? Some of these Bro’ Country guys could actually be awesome singers with potential to be great artists! But we‘ll never know, as long as they’re encouraged by the industry to continue being redneck flavors of the day. Now you know why i listen to rock music or something else.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Top 100 videogames 2015 edition

Worms Armageddon
100. Worms Armageddon (1999). The feeling inspired most intensely by Worms Armageddon, oddly but irresistibly, is helplessness—the sensation that, as a friend locks you in the sights of a bazooka, you can't do anything about it. Chaos reigns: Grenades remain in thrall to the mercurial whims of the wind, ping-pong wildly, as you seize up waiting to see that last, unpredictable bounce. These are death matches in which you're about as likely to shoot your enemy as you are to shoot yourself, though with mechanics so precisely engineered that the only blame for your mistakes belongs to yourself. It was maddening. But futility proved fun.  Marsh
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
99. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1995). Phantasy Star has its fans, a great many of whom jumped on when the series went MMO, but it's never been a franchise uttered in the same breath as Square Enix's best and Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium releasing hot on the heels of Final Fantasy VI didn't help. The irony is that Sega's magnum RPG opus does pretty much everything Final Fantasy would offer in the years that followed way ahead of the curve: combo spells, manga-inspired cutscenes, space travel, multiple vehicles to play around in, and the best, delightfully earnest storytelling the genre has to offer. This is the system's quietly ignored masterpiece.  Justin Clark
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
98. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005). The genius of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is derived from a single word: "Objection." The game imbued that modest exclamation with the power to make or break a legal case entire, invoked like a coup de grace to bring a 10-hour mystery to its final, satisfying close. A handheld judicial comedy composed largely of text and 2D animation, Phoenix Wright is clearly a video game apart, beloved as much for its formal audacity as for its almost novelistic density as a work of detective fiction. Gather clues. Build a case. And prepare for a culminating moment of glory: a chance to yell "Objection!"  Marsh
Wild Arms
97. Wild Arms (1996). Back in the olde days of the PlayStation, developers seemed a lot more willing to make reckless gambles, but it led to brilliant oddball titles like Wild Arms, which combined western themes with science-fiction machinations. The game freewheeled it from the start, allowing players to choose the order in which they'd play through the initial three scenarios, and never looked back. By settling on a small cast (going up against some very large stakes), the game allowed for a depth of character development that was missed in other, more well-known titles, to the extent that even swapping between heroes (each had their own set of puzzle-solving tools) felt like reacquainting oneself with an old friend. Whether playing a guitar to summon a monstrous golem or using the power glove to disrupt a satellite's transmission, they just don't make bizarre, wild games like this anymore.  Aaron Riccio
Pokémon Gold and Silver
96. Pokémon Gold and Silver (2000). Superior in almost every way to their predecessors, Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced a number of significant advancements that have since become staples in modern Pokémon installments. The real-time clock system, which allowed for certain Pokémon to make their appearances at specific hours of the day, was a landmark element that had gamers waking up in the dead of the night to acquire rare critters. Pokémon item-holding, berries, the Pokégear, defeated trainer rematches, shiny Pokémon, breeding, and the Dark and Steel types were also first seen in Gold and Silver. To boot, Gold and Silver arguably boast the best starting trio, protagonist, and expansion edition (Pokémon Crystal) this fabled franchise has yet to deliver.  Mike LeChevallier
Dead Space
95. Dead Space (2008). Resident Evil 4 in space, or a video-game version of Event Horizon. That's Dead Space in a nutshell, but that also doesn't do the game's fierce commitment to the horror element of survival horror nearly enough justice. This is a game not above setting up creatures to jump from behind vents and corners, or leaving the player low on ammo, but it's in watching the Artifact drive the USG Ishimura's crew into violent insanity, the game's Kubrickian use of the cold silence and zero gravity of space, and the dozens of visceral ways Isaac Clarke can die that raise this game far above its lackluster peers.  Clark
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
94. Advance Wars: Dual Strike (2005). The most appealing feature of Advance Wars: Dual Strike is also its most superfluous: Those gloriously, singularly animated battle sequences, which hurl your tiny armies into split-screen combat for a two-second rapid-fire skirmish. It's an entirely unnecessary design element—a quirky bit of ornamentation that visualizes the damage calculations chattering away behind the scenes. And yet it's precisely what elevates the game from distinguished real-time strategy to something altogether new. Precisely calibrated mechanics are a solid foundation. Advance Wars delivers something more: a burst of aesthetic splendor and an inspired flourish of design.  Marsh
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
93. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1992). In its halcyon days, the side-scrolling beam-'em-up genre produced a number of standout games that could have easily landed on this list, but Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time stands as the king of its kind for a variety of reasons. It effortlessly defined the comic book-reading, pizza-eating, cartoon-watching, slang-spouting, arcade-inhabiting zeitgeist by using the then mega-popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a faceplate for what's perhaps one of the most addicting cooperative multiplayer experiences in video-game history. Teaming up with three friends as the titular reptilian foursome and mowing down waves of Foot Soldiers and various mutated hostiles, all set to composer Kôzô Nakamura's consummate 16-bit score, is a riotous routine that never stales.  LeChevallier
Fallout 3
92. Fallout 3 (2008). The idea of walking around a nuclear wasteland in 2077 is as much of a fantasy as anything else in a modern role-playing games, but the attention to details lavished by Betheseda upon their devastated, mutant-overrun version of Washington D.C. made Fallout 3 feel all too real. That's because the game allowed you to literally choose your own adventure. Because if you didn't feel like exploring the various ruined landmarks, subways, and museums that loosely connected the main plot, you could simply scavenge the surrounding, fully rendered areas, stumbling over old military bunkers and warehouses in the mountains, or picking through suburban homes, supplying your own grim stories and making your own brand of morality.  Riccio
91. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001). Halo is about an intergalactic war between humans and aliens, interrupted with the discovery of an ancient, sinister planet-sized artifact: an enormous ringworld, with continents and oceans like Earth, that stretches into an enormous loop. One can see everything continuing way off into the distance, then look up to the sky to see the ring reach up into the heavens. This dazzling vision defied the limits of previous first-person shooters, set across uniquely huge landscapes that could be freely traversed, and utilized vehicles as well as firearms, both for travel and as armaments. Its addictive gameplay is accentuated by its intriguing sci-fi narrative, wherein the player's interaction with the technology of an ancient species inadvertently instigates the end of all life.  Ryan Aston
Saints Row: The Third
90. Saints Row: The Third (2011). You're the leader of a gang of ninjas dressed in an enormous pink cat suit, driving your monster truck over pedestrians as you flee from a gang of Mexican Luchadore wrestlers. Soon you'll be flying overhead your bright pink helicopter, shooting them with a rocket launcher that discharges sharks. Dispensing completely with any notion of serious tone or narrative, Saint's Row: The Third embraces maximum lunacy to create one of the more ridiculous, hilarious, and insane player experiences ever offered by a video game. The open-world game to end all open-world games, it offers players a dynamic sandbox within which to cause havoc as the head of a fully customizable gang of crazies armed with the most creative implements of destruction conceivable.  Aston
Valkyrie Profile
89. Valkyrie Profile (2000). More than a mere inoculation against the horrors of Game of Thrones, Valkyrie Profile was a rarity among games: a mature, adult, unsparing tale of suffering and struggle. To recruit your party of Einherjar, they first had to die; to advance in the game, you had to offer them up a second time to the pending apocalypse in Valhalla. The game played up its themes of loss—items breaking in the middle of combat, an internal timer counting down to the end of the world—so as to make the player appreciate all the more what they had: a smart, challenging RPG in the body of a puzzling platformer. Which is to say, a heartbreaking hybrid.   Riccio
Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
88. Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening (2005). For Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, Capcom wisely ditched Devil May Cry 2's gloomy tonal approach in favor of a potent blend of extravagant gore, tongue-in-cheek comedic jabs, and increased difficulty curves. Being a prequel, the game was able to reintroduce the character of Dante, making him less of a grim figure and more of a shamelessly cocky, conceited, yet unusually magnetic antihero. A brilliant brother-versus-brother plot sets the stage for a turbulent journey that takes Dante from his humble shop in the grungy city streets to the innards of a massive flying leviathan and the tip-top of a hellish tower where family values are put aside in favor of unabashed personal glory.  LeChevallier
God of War III
87. God of War III (2010). It's not always true, but in the instance of God of War III, bigger is equivalent with better, and until this point, no game had ever fully managed to get the visuals to line up to such larger-than-life mythology. In this installment, gorgons were mere appetizers for Kratos, and while he'd deign to spar with "mere" harpies, impressively rendered and impassively sundered, the meat of the game had him running through ever-more-colossal environments, at one point even rappelling alongside the rippling, heaving bodies of the Titans themselves, stunning destruction occurring all around him. It was the closest a game had come to making a playable QTE, using its smooth controls to maintain an illusion long enough to, at times, make the player actually feel like a god.  Riccio
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
86. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004). Leave it to Hideo Kojima to follow the critical and commercial success of the second Metal Gear Solid with a sequel that abandons its most recognizable qualities. Snake Eater dropped players into an unfamiliar jungle bristling with hostiles human and animal alike, where they were left to fend for themselves without the expected comforts—no radar, no high-powered weapons, and no easily navigable map. And yet, despite the newfound emphasis on realism (a respite from the meta-game artifice of its predecessor), this was still Metal Gear through and through: realism laced with the absurd. What else could it be?  Marsh
Child of Eden
85. Child of Eden (2011). Like its spiritual forebear, Rez, Child of Eden's m.o. is the use of synesthesia—the sensory marriage of sight, sound, and rhythm—as a core mechanic for what's basically a wildly ambitious Space Harrier clone. Child of Eden then goes the insane, amazing next step: The playing field here is a computerized universe of music and natural beauty sent several rungs down the evolutionary ladder by a virus, and life itself is now your weapon. The purpose of every shot fired in Child of Eden is to evolve and bloom, growing simple pulsing beats, tiny single-celled organisms, and dormant seeds into breathtaking audiovisual glory. It's an experience that simply can't be had anywhere else in this life but on a console.  Clark
Grandia II
84. Grandia II (2000). Both Grandia and Grandia II are masterpieces of the genre—comparable, sometimes even superior, to Final Fantasy's finest hours. The Dreamcast's Grandia II is almost flawless, an epic adventure with an extraordinary cast of protagonists who are constantly ripped apart and reunited again to battle a treacherous enemy. Although its narrative is heavily focused on misguided religions and shifting definitions of honor and evil, nothing ever gets too heavy-handed, due largely to the blossoming, down-to-earth central relationship between sullen mercenary Ryudo and oppressed songstress Elena. Memorable for its sensational story alone, stunning graphics and an immaculate turn-based combat system deftly elevate the game to magnum-opus status.  LeChevallier
The Beatles: Rock Band
83. The Beatles: Rock Band (2009). By adding harmony vocals to Rock Band's already welcoming template, The Beatles: Rock Band invited more non-gamers to join the fun, even as it led them from breezy sing-alongs to vocal challenges as brutal as any in gaming. It was all put together with a fan's devotion, with nostalgic cutscenes and marvelously obscure unlockables (for God's sake, the Christmas singles!). The collapse of the instrument-game market kept it from real mainstream awareness. But since Rock Band was the greatest communal experience in modern gaming, and the Beatles were the greatest communal experience in pop culture, if it's ever repackaged and promoted, it could be the greatest family gathering event since The Cosby Show.  Daniel McKleinfeld
Halo 3
82. Halo 3 (2007). The alien vessel you're trapped in is less a ship than a living thing. The rooms are bordered with bloated, swollen pustules stretched from wall to wall, while sacs of throbbing "organs" hang from the ceiling, from which disgusting monsters emerge to attack—a stark contrast to the large endless fields that comprised most of Halo: Combat Evolved. Beginning on Earth with a bloody firefight in the jungles of Africa, then teleporting to an ancient structure beyond the edges of the Milky Way where multiple alien races feud, leading to the rescue mission in the disgusting living alien ship, before concluding with a recreation of the original Halo, Halo 3 remains notable for its diversity of setting and how it complements its variety of action.  Aston
Rayman Legends
81. Rayman Legends (2013). There's a dream every kid from the 8-bit era had of platformers growing up: the ability to play a cartoon. Rayman Legends is the grand-scale realization of that dream. This is a one-to-one translation of the manic energy and musical genius of a Chuck Jones cartoon to the digital realm, with full control over the mayhem resting in the player's hands. And the sheer amount of that mayhem in Rayman Legends—50-plus original stages, including 75% of Rayman Origins' stages and a full-blown mini-game—is staggering in a day and age where a platformer can be blown through in a weekend.  Clark
80. Snatcher (1994). Before Metal Gear Solid consumed the man's career, Hideo Kojima managed to fire off a single bracing shot of point-and-click cyberpunk adventure brilliance before going gentle into that batshit night. Snatcher is still, undoubtedly, Kojima's baby, in that it wears its sci-fi influences, distrust of military-industrial complex, and its grounding in undeniably Japanese quirk proudly and boldly. But in the telling of this story, about body-swapping android assassins and the detective agency that hunts them in the years after the Cold War goes hot, Kojima finds a maturity, restraint, and scrappy ambition that, ironically, bigger budgets and better technology haven't granted him since.  Clark
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
79. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2005). Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a massive game, so much so that booting it up is akin to getting in a plane, taking off, and touching down in a foreign land. There are no shortcuts to be found here, no TARDIS-like building substitutes that are larger on the inside than the outside, no world maps that offer up miniature views of the dungeons you'll soon enter. No, by remaining true to its own scale and scope, Dragon Quest VIII came closer than any RPG before it to offering the freedom of a pure adventure, where every lovingly animated nook could be explored.   Riccio
Kingdom Hearts II
78. Kingdom Hearts II (2006). The origin of Kingdom Hearts sounds like a joke. Shinji Hashimoto and a Disney exec walk into an elevator... The rest is history. Kingdom Hearts II represents the series at its creative zenith, featuring a surprisingly deep story that daringly fleshes out themes of everlasting friendship and what it means to be truly heartless. The entire first act is essentially devoid of main protagonist Sora, with the player taking on the role of his Nobody, Roxas. It's unlike an RPG of this sort to drop twists in its prologue, but when Roxas's trials are revealed to be contained in a simulation, Kingdom Hearts II takes a thrilling, fanciful turn away from the norm and refuses to looks back.  LeChevallier
77. Myst (1993). In the days before high-speed Internet connections, most computer games left you sitting alone in a dark room, your face lit by a single glowing rectangle. Myst had a unique understanding of the simultaneous feelings of solitude and connection that come from sitting alone, reading words that someone left for you. The game's slideshow pace invited the player to linger, absorbing the details of its proto-steampunk environments like the reader of a dense novel. Just when computer games were becoming a world-shaking medium, Myst looked back to literature with a contemplative affection that was uniquely inviting for those uninterested in gaming's usual reflex tests.  McKleinfeld
Viewtiful Joe
76. Viewtiful Joe (2003). A dazzling homage to movie magic, superheroes, and the 2D side-scroller that was warmly praised when released on the then-floundering GameCube, Viewtiful Joe employed a battlefield blueprint inspired by cinematic visual effects. Its VFX powers (Slow, Mach Speed, and Zoom In) put the player in the director's chair (or, perhaps, that of the editor), giving them the opportunity to control and cut their own stylish fight sequences while dispatching foes and solving puzzles. And with its charming art design (a nod to both Japanese tokusatsu and American B movies) and cel-shaded graphics done oh-so-right, it remains a reminder of what enchantment might result from the civil union of film and video games.  LeChevallier
Grim Fandango
75. Grim Fandango (1998). Grim Fandango opens with something much scarier than being chased by necromorphs or overrun by zergs: simply being dead. Plenty of people have nervously speculated about the afterlife; this game reassuringly suggests that it will at least look awesome, by mixing Aztec aesthetics with noir tropes and presenting it with Tim Schaefer's trademark wisenheimer goofiness. The widescreen tableaux of the graphic adventure worked like Beckett landscapes, adding a bracing chill to comic business. Amid the uncomfortable chuckles of the game's premise, the absurd logic of adventure games is a welcome pal, and every hard-boiled cutscene is a reward worth working toward.   McKleinfeld
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
74. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001). It's difficult to overstate the sense of betrayal you feel when your favorite character is killed off roughly 90 minutes into a game you assume will star him. It put many of us on the defensive: We resented Raiden, the story's makeshift second hero, because he seemed to take the place of the avatar we wanted as our own. But the bait and switch that defined Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was instructive, teaching gamers to appreciate the importance of authorial control, which we learned meant trusting a creative vision even when its decisions didn't cohere with our desires. Games can only be art if they are governed by artists. Hideo Kojima was the first to risk alienating us to prove that he governed his.  Marsh
Jet Set Radio
73. Jet Set Radio (2000). By the time Jet Set Radio came out, the skateboarding game was already in its decadent phase, with players forced to memorize lists of buttons like bored yeshiva students reciting the Torah. JSR stripped the controls down to one stick and one button, replacing combo-memorization with a zen focus on the environment. Then that environment was filled with awesomeness. The cel-shaded graphics, witty cutscenes, and hip-hop-meets-J-pop soundtrack—still the best original music in gaming history—are a fervent Japanese fan letter to American graffiti street art, imagining kids of all cultures united against corporate blandness. The game uses style the way a great pop star does: as the mortar to build a dreamed-for world.   McKleinfeld
Grand Theft Auto IV
72. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008). Just as Niko Bellic comes to Liberty City to pursue the American dream, so, too, do players boot up Grand Theft Auto IV for that thrilling fantasy of untouchable freedom. Its twisted version of New York City, already a melting pot, perfectly conflated the protagonist's fantasies with the player's, to the point that you could spend hours surfing the (fake) Internet, watching (fake) cartoons on television, or even attending (fake) live shows near a (fake) Times Square while ignoring your (fake) girlfriend's texts. Okay, maybe going on a rampage and outrunning the N.O.O.S.E. authorities was a bit much, but everything else vividly blurred the line between art and reality, between having it all and having nothing.   Riccio
71. Shenmue (2000). To play Shenmue for the first time was to be introduced to new possibilities for the medium. A few minutes pottering around downtown looking for distraction was enough to impress upon you a sense of Yokosuka as a place people lived and worked and played in, and suddenly the world of gaming itself seemed bigger: In this sprawling expanse, amid all of this activity, there seemed an art of limitless richness. Yu Suzuki conceived of a game that would look and feel as life ought to—bustling, beautiful, and, yes, sometimes tedious—and, more incredibly, brought it to playable life.  Marsh

Grand Theft Auto V
70. Grand Theft Auto V (2013). Grand Theft Auto V was the culmination of a decade's worth of trial and error in open-world game design and mature, hard-nosed storytelling. Introducing three playable protagonists, each wildly different in personality and motivation, Rockstar created a digital melting pot of with such wide appeal and expansive scope that its transportive mimicry of a natural existence is something that won't be so readily replicated. Hours turn into days and days into weeks when sitting down to a session of GTA V (a notion that's repeatedly made fun of in its candid satirizations of ultraviolent video games, among other common vices), only escapable when the necessities of everyday life beckon, or when you simply collapse from lack of actual sustenance.  LeChevallier
69. Amplitude (2003). Harmonix, a company that started as makers of virtual instruments, had a unique idea of what music gaming could be. Instead of using music to make people push buttons, they used gaming to make music interactive. By visualizing a musical score as a series of binary triggers, Amplitude drops players into the staves, making polyrhythmic structures intuitively visible. It was the rare music game that understood music, and it remains the best explication of the formal structures of hip-hop and dance music, two genres often disparaged by people who don't understand how they work.  McKleinfeld
Street Fighter II: Championship Edition
68. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition (1992). In the long, storied bible of fighting games, Street Fighter 2 is the first book of the New Testament, and the Championship Edition is its King James Version. Everything we know about how a fighting game is supposed to look, sound, and feel comes back to this game providing the wide array of character designs and mechanics, tweaking the balance of power between characters, and letting players be the bosses for the first time. The fact that this is still just as easy to pick up and play while still remaining challenging enough for tournament play makes it superior to much of what would follow in its wake.  Clark
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
67. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007). Updating the battlefield from Axis and Allies to a strife-ridden Middle East sounded, at first blush, like a novelty designed to reinvigorate a tired franchise, and yet Call of Duty's change of milieu proved nothing short of revelatory. Few were prepared for the "completely cynical amusement," as Nicholson Baker memorably called it, of the harried first-person blitzkrieg Infinity Ward delivered, a duly contemporary spectacle replete with drone bombings and suicidal insurgents. Bleak? Necessarily. But the tinny splink of an armor-piercing round landing in an enemy's fleshy chest never felt so satisfying. There's a cynic in all of us.  Marsh
Beyond Good and Evil
66. Beyond Good and Evil (2003). We've finally reached a point in gaming history where gamers are finally starting to ask more of The Legend of Zelda as a series, not realizing that what they're asking for has been staring them in the face since 2004. Beyond Good and Evil definitely owes much of itself as a collection of gameplay mechanics to Ocarina of Time, but then takes that crucial creative next step for the whole idea of what Zelda could and should be. It manages to stay playful, colorful, and light in the midst of a heady sci-fi tale of human trafficking and alien civilizations, coupled with the same diverse world building and character design that Michel Ancel would bring to Rayman over the years.  Clark
Vagrant Story
65. Vagrant Story (2000). There was once a time when Square, fire under their ass with the freedom afforded by the PS1, would experiment far away from their comfort zone with formula, with genre, with gameplay. Vagrant Story was the last of those experiments that worked, and probably the only one to flirt this closely with perfection. The video-game company's typical fantasy affections are stripped away, leaving a tricky political yarn about an assassin sent to a Gallic labyrinth of a city to kill a cult leader. And it's a yarn powered by possibly the deepest, most intuitive combat and crafting systems Square's ever conjured up.  Clark
Donkey Kong Country
64. Donkey Kong Country (1994). Donkey Kong Country wasn't a rhythm-based game, but there was an ineffable quality to it—perhaps the manic momentum and pumped-up precision—that made the gamer feel as if they were swinging from vine to vine themselves. Whereas other platformers followed tentatively in the footsteps of predecessors like Mario, Donkey Kong simply barrel-rolled through, trusting players to figure out a way through the complex bramble and coral-reef mazes. Every inch of the game presented a lush, well-considered obstacle, and never seemed content to repeat itself. It was the king of the jungle.  Riccio
Silent Hill
63. Silent Hill (1999). Silent Hill's strongest character is its setting, a town as a twisting manifestation of a broken psyche. Harry Mason awakens from a car crash, his daughter gone. The fog is thick around him, and he can only see a figure in the distance: a young girl. She turns and runs, and he pursues her, but the world around him warps into an evil that kills him. The deeper one delves into the game's unsettling, oppressive atmosphere, the further the curtain is pulled back to reveal the nature of a place where childhood terrors manifest as corporal demons and the fear of menstruation makes walls bleed rivers of blood. Every element works in peerless conjunction to serve the themes of familial loss, childhood abuse, and the terrifying impact of religious extremism.  Aston
Star Fox 64
62. Star Fox 64 (1997). Rail shooters typically confine players to a predetermined route, but Star Fox 64 made the furthest reaches of the Lylat System feel as if they were freely explorable, even when your Arwing was ultimately being guided toward its terminus by unseen hands. On the very first level, swooping through rocky archways and defeating a hovering assault vessel hidden behind a waterfall bypasses the standard path to Meteo and sends you to Sector Y, a starlit space mission complete with mobile suits and plummeting debris. Select boss encounters even opened up to an "all-range mode" that allowed for fancy direction reversals and foe-discombobulating maneuvers. It was this surprising sense of freedom, as well as clean graphics and spotless controls, that made the game a classic.  LeChevallier
You Don't Know Jack!
61. You Don't Know Jack! (1995). What does a Victoria's Secret model and feldspar have in common? Which video-game series did Nostradamus not predict? You Don't Know Jack! offers players the chance to participate in the funniest, craziest, most irreverent game show imaginable, where historical trivia about Joan of Arc is filtered through the lens of Dr. Phil, and musical questions about the 1812 Overture include actual cannon shots firing. The snarky, insulting narrators allow players to gang up on each other, and will even take a break from the prewritten multiple-choice trivia to call up random individuals from the phone book to come up with questions. It's exactly the right blend of general knowledge and insanity that's kept the franchise strong for nearly two decades.  Aston

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
60. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011). What most stands out about Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the profoundly detail-rich realism of its near-future world. Every location is alive with propaganda streaming on billboards and advertisements for and against the technological movement that drives the narrative. In a world that changes based on player actions, and often in subtle way, citizens mix and engage in conflict with criminals and law enforcement alike. The game demonstrates the power of the medium, wherein interactivity can reveal new ideas about the core themes and narrative at every turn. A prequel about ethics and consequences, Human Revolution depicts a world struggling to adapt to changing technology and its often insidious consequences.  Aston
Hotline Miami
59. Hotline Miami (2012). Amid the arms race of next-gen graphical evolution and the seemingly endless deluge of triple-A blockbuster shooters arrived a veritable thunderbolt of weird, Hotline Miami, and the landscape of modern gaming would never again be the same. A hallucinatory top-down action game that plays like River City Ransom as imagined by David Lynch, Hotline Miami is a fever dream of violence and retro gaming, pulling together the tropes of the medium's innocent infancy and turning them into something altogether darker. Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin didn't simply make a classic game; they burrowed their way into the deepest recesses of gaming's unconscious, and the result feels like a nightmare you just had but only half-remember.  Marsh
Conker's Bad Fur Day
58. Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001). Considering the reason so many of us play video games, it's odd how often most titles follow a very specific set of unspoken rules. Not so with Conker's Bad Fur Day, a recklessly unfiltered, untapped, superego-filled romp through a parody of inanely inoffensive titles like Banjo-Kazooie. Conker cursed and solved puzzles by getting drunk enough to extinguish flame demons with his piss, blithely sent up pop culture as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Saving Private Ryan, Alien, and The Matrix, and still had time to lob rolls of toilet paper down the gullet of a giant operatic poo monster. For sheer balls, lunatic ingenuity, and crass charm, there's never been anything like it.  Riccio
57. Xenogears (1998). Not one to play second fiddle to the likes of Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears saw Squaresoft following its mammoth JRPG success with an even bigger undertaking that pushed the cabalistic boundaries of video-game plotlines to the extreme. To fully enjoy this complex, vast, and exhaustively symbolic experience heavily influenced by Freud, Jung, and Nietzsche, it takes an open mind and supreme dedication on the part of the player. Its excellent battle system makes the spiritual prequel Xenosaga's simplistic combat regimen seem dull by comparison. The exquisite Xenoblade Chronicles did well to resurrect interest in the series, causing curious fans to seek out Xenogears and discover the wondrous origins of this under-appreciated property.  LeChevallier
Mass Effect 3
56. Mass Effect 3 (2012). Everything is on the line in the final chapter of the Mass Effect trilogy, which profoundly views sacrifice as an imperative. Having long ignored Commander Shepard's warnings, every being in the universe now faces destruction as the genocidal Reapers bring ruin to every world. The theme of this series has always been inclusivity, and it's with this in mind that the player must travel the game's large and multifaceted universe to end wars, unite races, and build a resistance to an absolutely devastating threat. All the way toward the largely misunderstood climax that brings the game's themes together in an intelligent and metaphysical way, one is forced to make difficult and heady choices, including sacrificing beloved characters and sometimes entire species toward a common good.  Aston
Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
55. Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (2000). The marriage of Marvel and Capcom was a match made in heaven. Spider-Man versus Chun-Li. Wolverine versus Strider Hiryu. Captain America versus Tron Bonne. The insane bouts went on and on, thanks to Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes and its benevolent roster of 56 fighters, each one able to be mastered and used to promptly upset even the most skilled of opponents. The balance in the game remains remarkable; selecting squads of three fundamentally eliminated the unwelcome perils of facing a drastically overpowered team. The winning formula carried over to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and its imitators, but New Age of Heroes is doubtlessly the most seamless 2D brawler of its generation.  LeChevallier
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
54. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008). You get the sense, within a few minutes of playing Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots, that Hideo Kojima has been waiting for technology to catch up to the vision he's realized here. The sheer breadth of this thing is staggering: The globetrotting, continent-spanning action would have been a technical impossibility before Kojima and Konami strained the limits of the PlayStation 3 to make it happen. But this isn't mere feat of engineering. Kojima's ambitions are chiefly artistic—idiosyncratic, instantly identifiable, and utterly weird. Only the Metal Gear series could imagine a world so singular on a $60-million budget. Would that every blockbuster were so strange.  Marsh
Final Fantasy Tactics
53. Final Fantasy Tactics (1998). Not for nothing is one of the 20 main classes in Final Fantasy Tactics labeled a Calculator. This is a game for math geniuses, with no end to the mix-and-match job customization offered. Or it's a game for future military commanders, with over 60 chess-like scenarios to survive, often at great odds. Or, with real-world inspirations like the War of the Roses at heart, perhaps it's a tale for historians. There's magic, too, and yards of in-game lore to read, so it's for English majors as well. Other games presented lessons, but Final Fantasy Tactics was the complete package, a school unto itself. Many strategy RPGs preceded and followed it, some even hewing closely to the same fundamental systems, but none have managed to capture this blend of fact and fantasy.  Riccio
Chrono Cross
52. Chrono Cross (2000). For half of its playtime, Chrono Cross is simply Square at the height of their creative powers, telling the tale of a teenager named Serge stuck in an alternate dimension where he drowned as a child, essentially playing out a less confusing version of the last two seasons of Lost. The question lingers in those hours of why exactly it invoked the holy name of Chrono Trigger to tell it. The game starts answering that question in the second half with the kind of reality-bending timeline gymnastics that would give Shane Carruth a nosebleed, with the damage done to time in Chrono Trigger used here as a conceptual jumping-off point. The end result is one of the most satisfyingly dense RPGs ever made.  Clark
The World Ends with You
51. The World Ends with You (2008). If the world did indeed end with me, The World Ends with You is the game I'd probably still be replaying. I might not even notice, because it's that absurdly inventive and addictive. This real-time, dual-screen action RPG was so original that it still doesn't have any imitators (though others have borrowed from its customizable difficulty). With its real-world portrayal of Shibuya, down to the muddled masses and the mind-altering memes and status-influencing fashion trends that controlled them, the game wasn't just a hip response that imitated life in the modern world, it was a cultural part of it.  Riccio

50. Bayonetta (2010). One of the most hysterically ridiculous games ever made, Bayonetta is the story of a super-powered 10-foot-tall dominatrix-librarian-witch with glasses and a skintight outfit made of her own hair who battles rival witches, heaven's angels, and finally God himself. An empowered female protagonist overfetishized to the point of parody, she's a corrective to gaming's view of women primarily as eye candy or damsels in distress. Bayonetta's universe is one in which men are completely disempowered, impotent against a race of Amazonian women who rule the world. The clever subversion of the typically male-dominated action genre is complemented by stunningly deep, addictive, and rewarding action mechanics, many utilizing Bayonetta's own hair as a weapon.  Aston
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
49. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). No game had ever been as cinematic as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, with a Hollywood actor in the lead and elegant visuals that leveraged the precision of a virtual camera. But for all its movie envy, its real greatness was its nonlinear sandbox. You spend a lot of time aimlessly driving around, so it was a good trick to give every vehicle unique handling and create so much entertaining audio content that tooling around listening to the radio was fun. Especially if you set a few of the NPCs on fire to launch a cheerfully debased Punch and Judy show. Rockstar's insistence on the surrealist comedy of pixilated mayhem has always been controversial, which suggests that they understand their medium far better than their detractors.  McKleinfeld
48. Journey (2012). A mute, red-cloaked idea of a character trudges through a seemingly infinite desert, scarf flapping in the gentle wind. The light from that far-off mountain beckoned, but not urgently, not if you wanted to smell the digital flowers. Pride came not from eluding enemies, or from conventional progress, but from seeing something new. Stumbling over ruins in the sand left players wondering not at the Ozymandius-like game they might have missed, but at the dreamy fantasia left behind. And when the game matched you with a second player, when it let you share that experience, and silently, save for the chirps that served as the game's internal language, Journey was the Everygame.  Riccio
Max Payne
47. Max Payne (2001). On a winter's night some months after the death of his wife and child, renegade DEA agent and ex-cop Max Payne takes to the streets of New York on a bloody Punisher-esque quest to avenge his family, cleaning up the corrupt city and uncovering the conspiracy that cost him everything. Combining graphic-novel noir storytelling with addictive Matrix-inspired "bullet time" gunplay, Max Payne still stuns for its rush of varied visual poetry. At the push of a button, Max moves and aims in slow motion, giving him the edge against his trigger-happy enemies, and these endlessly replayable sequences evoke the fantasy-fulfillment of playing Neo in The Matrix's infamous lobby scene, or as one of John Woo's renegade heroes.  Aston
Final Fantasy IX
46. Final Fantasy IX (2000). Final Fantasy's last hurrah on the PlayStation pulled off a neat trick in that it ditched the flamboyant character, environmental, and combat aesthetics of FFVIII in favor of a more old-school approach that paid homage to the pre-3D episodes. It allowed players to focus more on the story, rather than absurdly large swords, guns, or swords that are also guns. The saga of Zidane and Garnet remains a romance for the ages, responsible for one of the most uplifting game endings of the past 20 years. And the battle system remains suitably uncomplicated, showing how beneficial it can be when Square restrains itself from going over the top.  LeChevallier
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
45. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (1995). A 2D pearl with enough creative energy and nuanced artistry to fill two games, this sequel to Super Mario World gave the Yoshi clan their rightful time in the limelight, and in the process developed a set of ingenious platforming mechanics that have yet to be even shoddily imitated. Yoshi's flutter jump, in combination with his egg aim-and-throw technique, made for a unique variation on the typical side-scrolling Super Mario escapade. Certain areas also allowed Yoshi to transform into a multitude of vehicles that could navigate previously unreachable areas. Yoshi's Island is a game that's absolutely brimming with pioneering ideas, representing Nintendo at its most fearlessly experimental.  LeChevallier
Katamari Damacy
44. Katamari Damacy (2004). It's impossible to summarize Katamari Damarcy with the language of literature or film: plot, character, iconic images, expressive subjectivity. Instead it makes art from gaming's preferred values: accumulation, variation, interaction, progress. The story is absurd, and its visuals and controls are willfully crude. Yet it's a well-honed machine that generates pure joy. Because lurking behind the serious silliness is a glimpse of theme: The game is an elegant metaphor for growing up, in which the world becomes fuller and more detailed the bigger you get, beautifully conveying the thrill of an expanding horizon. If that's not art, what is?   McKleinfeld
Super Mario 64
43. Super Mario 64 (1996). We didn't have a template for 3D games until Nintendo conceived of one for us. Super Mario 64 was an architectural marvel designed and built without a blueprint: The rolling open-world hills and sprawling primary-color vistas that seem as familiar to gamers today as the world outside were dreamed up out of nothing more than programmed paint and canvas. Shigeru Miyamoto was given the unenviable task of contemporizing his studio's longest-running and most prominent franchise while remaining true to its 2D legacy. It's a testament to Miyamoto's accomplishment here that, nearly 20 years later, the result feels no less iconic than the original.  Marsh
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
42. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997). Dozens of games have referred back to the things Symphony of the Night did back in 1997 to veer the traditionally linear Castlevania series off into completely unknown open-world territory, and few have done it as spectacularly. The main castle and its spectacular upside-down counterpart are staggering achievements in art design, and the score contains two or three of the best classical compositions of the last two decades. But more than this, the experience of exploring every haunted nook and cranny of this place, so drowning in secrets, unique weapons, and non-repeating enemies, is astounding to this day, whether the player is on his or her first or 40th playthrough.  Clark
41. Psychonauts (2005). In a console generation starved for whimsy, the good-natured charm of Psychonauts was shocking. There are gruesome scares a-plenty (the kids getting their brains pulled out through their nostrils will linger in nightmares for a long time), but the tone is always gleeful and the dialogue always hilarious. The style makes a great first impression, but what keeps it on so many best-of-all-time lists is the sugar-high creativity of the level design. Each level of the game introduced new gameplay elements that were easy to figure out and tied beautifully to the story. Psychonauts fulfilled the ludological dictum of making gameplay into narrative, and the much harder trick of making it look effortless.  McKleinfeld

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
40. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009). Take Spielberg's Indiana Jones films, set them in the modern day, remove any limitations of budget, or respect for public property or stuntman safety. That's the Uncharted series. But where the first Uncharted almost feels timid, the work of a studio getting its bearings with the PS3, Uncharted 2 exudes a more confident swagger. Naughty Dog knew the first time they could craft any adrenaline-pumping set piece imaginable. It's in how much effort they've spent making Nathan Drake and his supporting cast feel like fleshed-out, vulnerable, nuanced human beings who make very human mistakes, even in the middle of those set pieces, that makes Uncharted 2: Among Thieves seem like a Herculean jump ahead of its predecessor.  Clark
Final Fantasy VI
39. Final Fantasy VI (1994). There's a classic South Park episode that mocks the fact that if there's a joke you like, chances are The Simpsons already did it. The same can be said for Final Fantasy VI, which basically broke and reset every rule for the modern RPG. It would have been impressive enough to feature 14 playable characters, each with their own unique abilities (like Sabin's Street Fighter¬-like combinations); or to introduce the steampunk combination of magic and technology to the genre; or to offer branching narrative paths; or to stuff the game with enough side quests to fill an entire sequel, but Final Fantasy VI did it all—first and flawlessly. That a game in which the world is destroyed halfway through also finds time for humor, thanks to a certain cephalopod, is just icing on an already gluttonous cake.   Riccio
38. Banjo-Kazooie (1998). Here's the odd game that boasts a split-personality protagonist: an amiable bear representing the superego and an obnoxious bird representing the id. While Nintendo created the 3D-platformer template with Super Mario 64, Rare refined it with their tongue-in-cheek Banjo-Kazooie. The humor and game mechanics simultaneously develop all the way through to the hysterical game-show finale and subsequent boss battle that effectively takes advantage of all skills acquired across the game. Subbing the blank-faced plumber with a chilled bear and his sassy backpack-bound avian sidekick, the game stands out for its self-awareness: An unusually meta experience, it constantly pokes fun at its contrived storyline, limited characterization, and other gaming tropes. Few games are so accomplished in both personality and gameplay.  Aston
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
37. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002). Five hours into Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, it asked if I wanted to delete my saved game. I declined, then watched in horror as my progress was irrevocably erased anyway. This can't be happening, I thought to myself, gripping my controller in shock. And, in fact, it wasn't happening, as this was just one of the many meta frights that turned Eternal Darkness from internal, character-focused survival horror to an external psychological horror game that messed with players. Were you accidentally sitting on the remote, or was the game turning the volume down for you? Were you missing a hidden switch in the room, or was every door just temporarily locked? There has yet to be a game as delightfully maddening.  Riccio
Rock Band 3
36. Rock Band 3 (2010). From singing vocals in harmony to hammering away at a four-piece drum kit, Rock Band makes players feel like they're part of the music. The series hit its apex with Rock Band 3, the natural evolution of the series that introduced the keyboard to accompany the drums and guitars, and upgraded the plastic guitar with a real one. While Activision's competing Guitar Hero franchise fell apart with unwelcome, irrational, and incompatible yearly iterations, Harmonix treated Rock Band as a platform, allowing players to buy whatever songs they wanted and adding valuable features with each release, like the ability to play music online, expanding the party internationally. How else can I sing Journey with my friend in Canada from my house in the land down under?  Aston
Power Stone 2
35. Power Stone 2 (2000). Power Stone 2 one-ups its predecessor by introducing four-player battles that, at their craziest, make Super Smash Bros. and its sequels look comparatively tame. Running around hazardous, item-heavy warzones, with the short-term goal of repeatedly amassing three of the titular gemstones, prompting an all-powerful transformation that decimates opponents with arena-filling special moves was an event likely to instantaneously change the mind of any Dreamcast naysayer upon round one of play. With all the chaos at hand, it was astonishing how little slowdown ever occurred. Power Stone 2 remains exhibit A to showcase the prowess of the once mighty Sega Dreamcast, a console that went the way of the dodo long before it should have.  LeChevallier
Dance Dance Revolution
34. Dance Dance Revolution (1998). Dance Dance Revolution introduced gamers' feet to the thrill that their hands had long known: high-speed patterned motion. Or as humans call it, dancing. And it felt great, because, as people who weren't spending their nights hunched over computers knew, dancing is fun. Suddenly a whole generation of kids returned to the arcades, made abruptly relevant again by the space requirement of full-size metal dance pads. Long before televised dance competitions returned to prime-time television, YouTube was packed with hot-shit kids racing through steps like vaudeville hoofers. Dance Dance Revolution convinced non-gamers that video games weren't just for basement-dwelling trolls, and convinced gamers that their body wasn't just something to abandon in a chair.  McKleinfeld
Super Smash Bros. Melee
33. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001). The best games of all time invoke an almost instant sense of nostalgia. Make no mistake: Super Smash Bros. Melee's charms aren't simply generated from the goodwill of its roster of characters, classic heroes like Link or Mario, but from its own chaotic twist on combat, as much a matter of playing evasion ballet as of mastering the various power-ups and environmental hazards. That said, taking such a deep bench of characters out of their elements and into a brawler was not without a special sort of charm, as watching F-Zero's neglected Captain Falcon take revenge on an overstuffed Kirby or having Jigglypuff knock-out Luigi will simply never get old.  Riccio
Batman: Arkham City
32. Batman: Arkham City (2011). Before him lay two bodies. One is his nemesis, a deranged serial killer behind fanatical displays of destruction, the other his lover, a once-innocent girl caught up in the plots to overthrow Gotham. Only one matters to him, and Bruce Wayne carries his body out of the tomb for everyone to see. Arguably the only downfall in Batman: Arkham Asylum was its finale, a tonally and narratively incoherent victory against the Joker that went against the bleakness of everything prior, but not so with follow-up Arkham City, which boasts one of the most aggressively nihilistic endings in the history of the medium. As the game's setting expands from the smaller sanitarium to the larger city, so does the sense of hopelessness for the characters, rendering every victory pyrrhic in nature."  Aston
31. Tetris (1986). Tetris is a game of pure abstraction, its mastery of the simplest possible visual units as ideal and impersonal as the Helvetica font. It's no coincidence that it came to America as an ambassador from a foreign country; like the math equations on the Voyager shuttle, it speaks a language even space aliens could comprehend. The fundamental gameplay imperative of fitting blocks together is almost offensively infantile, but players who master the game can feel neurons growing as they learn to stop just seeing the shapes, and start seeing the negative space around them. The system recalibrates your perceptions as you explore it, and that's what a great game is about.  McKleinfeld
The Walking Dead
30. The Walking Dead (2012). No one would've faulted any developer for slapping The Walking Dead name on a lackluster Left 4 Dead rip-off, and waiting for the cash to roll in—like Activision tried to do with Survival Instinct. But instead, in Telltale Games's hands, The Walking Dead is going to go down as not only the game that shocked the entire adventure game genre out of atrophy, but as a brutal and brilliant Cormac McCarthian tale of terror and human loss unprecedented in this medium. This is a game where success is almost entirely measured in the structural integrity of a little girl's soul, and the decisions you've made to keep it intact. This is the story the AMC show only dreams it's built across its four seasons.  Clark
Pokémon Red and Blue
29. Pokémon Red and Blue (1998). The Internet can be a heinous place, but when the masses use it to cooperate on a joint task, no matter how seemingly insignificant, wonderful things can occur. That happened earlier this year with the social experiment dubbed "Twitch Plays Pokémon," wherein a populous chat room of participants could input commands that would control an emulated version of Pokémon Red, painstakingly completing a single run-through of the main game in 16 days' time. This strange yet continuously alluring examination of interests and correspondence highlighted, more than 15 years after its original release, how pivotal, ageless, and unifying the introductory Pokémon games are. The methodology holds strong: see Pokémon, catch Pokémon, live Pokémon. Together, now and forever.   LeChevallier
28. Rez (2002). It takes about five seconds to understand the appeal of Rez. Its aesthetic is so distinctive, its style of play so radical, that finding yourself attuned to its wavelength is as easy as turning it on. The tactility of video games, of course, make them an almost synesthetic experience, drawing a connection between image, sound, and touch. Rez seizes on that connection and deepens it, until you believe you can see and feel the sound around you. The rhythmic touch of a button creates a flash of DayGlo color and a burst of techno music, all of it pulsing in the air you're flying through.  Marsh
Metroid Prime
27. Metroid Prime (2002). On paper, Metroid Prime should've been the game that made us all believe that the Metroid franchise should've stayed dead after that excruciating eight-year gap between Super Metroid and this release. In reality, Retro Studios defied every expectation that came with dragging a side-scroller kicking and screaming into 3D. Everything that made Super Metroid brilliant—the isolation, Samus's varied arsenal, the sheer size of the world—remains. What Retro added was grand, evil beauty to Samus's surroundings, a subtly creepy story of ill-fated alien civilizations told entirely without breaking gameplay, and a laundry list of FPS innovations that felt next-gen, and in more than just the graphics, even when the game got prettied up for the Wii.  Clark
Super Mario Bros.
26. Super Mario Bros. (1985). It's such a great day when you start up Super Mario Bros., skipping across the grass under blue skies while happy music plays. No platformer had ever made jumping feel so instinctively right—so brisk at the start and so smooth on the drop. With Super Mario Bros., Nintendo unleashed the ability that's served them well through all subsequent console generations, a knack for making the repetitiveness of 8-bit physics feel warm and organic. The game went on to work changes on the theme like a Bach fugue, with secrets that anticipated world-building games like The Legend of Zelda. But even at its most controller-smashingly frustrating or obscure, it's the controlled delight of the jump that holds the player in a perfect little pleasure loop.  McKleinfeld
Resident Evil 4
25. Resident Evil 4 (2005). In Resident Evil 4, your mission to save the president's daughter from kidnappers quickly goes south, stranding you in a rural village surrounded by crazed villagers infected with something very, very wrong. The game offers no guidance as to how to react or escape, leaving the player in a state of anxiety as Leon Kennedy attempts to flee only to be quickly cornered and overcome. The series's transition here from the stationary camera of the previous games to a fully 3D environment was a major step forward for third-person action games, but the sense of uncertainty that wracks the player throughout the lengthy narrative, of being made the center of a horrific, frenzied nightmare, is what made this game one of the most profoundly discomfiting experiences video games have ever seen.  Aston
24. Ico (2001). Single-player video games are lonely. Ico made loneliness feel magical by giving you a companion, even as it constantly reminded you how alien her mind must be. Just like Princess Yorda's gnomic utterances imply a story that she just can't share with you, so does the game's environment imply a vast narrative of which this story is only a part, creating a potent illusion of context by withholding backstory. While the gameplay itself is basic puzzle-solving and crude combat, it's the mood that makes it special, the constant sense that there's something vast just outside the frame.  McKleinfeld
Final Fantasy X
23. Final Fantasy X (2001). Final Fantasy X was a great big teenage yawp of a game. But for all the adolescent strum und drang of the my-father-is-a-monster plot, it's the good-natured physical enthusiasm of jocky bro-tagonist Tidus that made all the wandering around a joy. The game unapologetically embraces grinding, while decorating the long string of encounters with baroque style. Of course, it looks cutting-edge gorgeous and has a big, emotional story—this is Final Fantasy after all. But what made FFX special was how it cut away the dross of JRPG battles mechanics. Instead of making the player mindlessly tap the "Fight" button for the first several hours, the game demanded strategic choices from the beginning, so that every battle provided satisfying strategic challenge along with the groovy combat animation.  McKleinfeld
22. SoulCalibur (1999). You know a game has done something spectacular when most of the people who love it forget its predecessor ever existed. Considering Soul Edge is one of the best PS1 games in its own right, that should say everything about how far SoulCalibur pushed the envelope: full 3D movement, stunning environments, one of the best, rousing scores ever composed, and, of course, the fast, fun, and fluid combat. Not since the first Samurai Shodown's heyday had a developer managed to make epic swordfights feel like, well, epic swordfights, and yet SoulCalibur's brand of flying-spark chaos manages to deliver that experience to everyone, regardless of skill.  Clark
21. EarthBound (1994). There has never been a game as irreverently comic and deceptively touching as EarthBound. It takes place in a darkly skewed version of Earth, with 13-year-old Ness's "rockin'" telekinetic powers and trusty baseball bat going toe to toe with local gangs and bullies, Happy Happy cultists, and drugged-out hippies. Despite liberally borrowing from RPG conventions (including an emphasis on grind-heavy gameplay), the game oozed originality in just about every other aspect, offering more than just escapism, but, in its battle against loneliness and negative emotions, a reason to ultimately set the controller down.  Riccio
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
20. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991). In 1991, a console game of such depth and sophistication as boasted by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was simply beyond conception. In fact, it was almost beyond possibility: Nintendo had to expand the capacity of their console's cartridges to make room for the breadth of what they'd hoped to do here. The results were well worth the expense and effort. You didn't just play this game, but plunged headlong into its adventure, entering a story and a world whose fate you felt lay in your hands. Today, though, A Link to the Past ought to be regarded as more than a milestone for a franchise still evolving. It is what is in its own right: a legend.  Marsh
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
19. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996). There was once a time when Square and Nintendo held hands and skipped merrily through fields of sunflowers, and gems like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remind us of how awesome it was when these two industry titans partied together. The game turned the Mushroom Kingdom on its head by thrusting the famous plumber into a quest that was anything but a run-of-the-mill Mario venture. Bowser wasn't the Big Bad, but instead a comrade, fighting alongside his adversary in addition to Princess Toadstool and newcomers Mallow, a cloud boy, and Geno, a possessed doll. The game's razor-sharp wit and intuitive battle system made Super Mario RPG a success and paved the way for the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series.  LeChevallier
18. Portal (2007). One great thing about video games is that every aspect of them, from how trees look to whether gravity works, is a decision. Valve's previous games had expertly simulated physics; Portal asked what would happen if, like God, you could make physics different. And it presented that slapstick joke with sophisticated narrative panache. Melding wunderkind student designers with veteran comic writer Old Man Murray, Portal grounded its spatial wackiness in recognizable (in)human resentments. The story of GLaDOS and Chel is one of the great, Bechdel-test-passing double acts in gaming history, made all the funnier by Chel's classic-FPS taciturnity.  McKleinfeld
Super Mario World
17. Super Mario World (1990). Super Mario World feels like Nintendo's own technology finally catching up with every lofty, unattainable gameplay idea they couldn't implement between 1985 and 1990. This is from an era where the first game a developer released on a new system had something to prove, and the chip on Nintendo's shoulder shows here. The game still feels massive, teeming with secret stages, alternate exits, stylish, Rube Goldbergian stage design, and verticality the likes of which could never have been done prior, and hasn't really been done as expertly since. Add the fact that this is a Super Mario Bros. game that actually gives Super Mario a cape, and contains Yoshi's first appearance, and this is still one for the ages.  Clark
Final Fantasy VII
16. Final Fantasy VII (1997). The death of Aeris Gainsborough heralded a new truth about the medium: Video games can make you cry. The sweep and thrust of Final Fantasy VII engrossed as few adventures do, of course, but to be moved by the emotional dimension of this story—to be invested in the lives and deaths of Cloud Strife and his crew of AVALANCHE eco-terrorists, to feel compelled to save this world as if it were your own—suggested the beginnings of a new kind of video-game experience. Love and pain and beauty are coursing through this thing. Action and adventure are at its core. But emotion is its lifeblood.  Marsh
Silent Hill 2
15. Silent Hill 2 (2001). Silent Hill 2 is a game about grief. The story is simple: A widower is drawn toward the eponymous side-side town after he receives a letter from his dead wife, who asks that he meet her in their "special place," a hotel off the shore. In Silent Hill he finds terrible things: monsters, demons, all glimpsed hazily through a shroud of impenetrable fog. But worst of all he finds the truth. This isn't a game about battling creatures or solving puzzles; those elements hang in the background like the ornamentation of a bad dream. In Silent Hill 2, you find yourself asleep, and the game is about needing to wake up.  Marsh
Mass Effect 2
14. Mass Effect 2 (2010). In Mass Effect 2's courageous opening, Commander Shepard and his personal Enterprise, the Normandy, are obliterated by an unknown starship. Years later, Shepard's body is recovered by shady terrorist-cell Cerberus, who revive the Commander, then take him or her under their employ, offering their unlimited resources in exchange for "serving" humanity. It's a risky, morally uncertain opening that prefaces BioWare's emotionally rich space epic, allowing the player to create their own protagonist and subsequently form a team to battle a universe-threatening menace, all the while questioning the morality of their actions and benefactors. The game allows individual characterization, and the power of one's decisions illustrates the great strength of this medium over other art forms.  Aston
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
13. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003). Link's Odyssean adventure is a voyage of discovery, of sailing across vast oceans and encountering islands where different species inhabit. Unlike other 3D games whose graphics quickly become ugly with technological obsoletism, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker's cel-shaded aesthetic suggests a timeless Hayao Miyazaki film made effortlessly playable, of childhood dreams come to life. Its richness also derives from the genuine depth and maturity to its narrative, so redolent of Greek mythology, of children suffering for the sins of their ancestors and given the lofty task of saving the world from ancient evils long thought buried, undergoing experiences that will forever change them.  Aston
12. Ōkami (2006). The sun goddess Amaterasu, taking the form of an angelic white wolf, sets out to vanquish the eight-headed demon Orochi from Nippon. So begins a tale worthy enough to follow any of the most revered Japanese folk legends in a century-spanning anthology. With aesthetics that pay tribute to the ancient art of calligraphy and the soulful connection between painter and brush, Ōkami bleeds beauty from every pore. Combat, too, is akin to the elegant strokes of bristles on parchment, smoothly interweaving Amaterasu's lightning-quick attacks with swipes of the Celestial Brush, a tool that allows for on-screen drawings to come to life, aiding in both battle and puzzle-solving. A charming sequel, Ōkamiden, was later released for the Nintendo DS, but its lack of lasting impact proved the peerless original wasn't in need of a continuation.  LeChevallier
Goldeneye 007
11. Goldeneye 007 (1997). Not only was Goldeneye 007 one of the rare film-to-game adaptations that worked, featuring complex level designs (and bonus objectives scaling to difficulty) that required equal measures of stealth and shooting, but it also defined an entire generation of FPS gamers with its heated four-player split-screen multiplayer. The film lasted only a few brief hours, but the experience of sitting beside three dear friends, sneakily watching their screens to get a better read on their position, and then watching as they accidentally walked into the corridor you'd just riddled with proximity mines was the sort of halcyon summer haze that memoirists dream of.  Riccio
10. BioShock (2007). BioShock had greater narrative and thematic ambition than any previous big-time first-person shooter. But the real magic came—as it always does in great art—in how it was told. The FPS is well-suited to immersive exploration, and every corner of BioShock had some detail that expanded the story. Even the enemy AI, which gave all NPCs background tasks, convinced the player that Rapture was a world going about its business before being interrupted by your murderous intrusion. And no game has ever been so smart about cutscenes, the bane of most narrative FPS titles. Bioshock elegantly led you through its levels with subtle environmental cues, and when it took away control, it did so for a very good reason.  McKleinfeld
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
9. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000). The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has Link living his own personal Groundhog Day scenario to prevent a very-pissed-off-looking moon from crashing into the world, and right off the bat with that premise, the series is in heavier and more innovative territory than usual. The game still manages to reuse everything worth taking from Ocarina of Time's template, but also adding just a drop of haunting, elegiac melancholy, casting a much different and enthralling pallor over the whole thing than anything the series has seen. Majora's Mask is as close to grim-and-gritty as The Legend of Zelda ever needs to be, but it's also the one game in the series that every developer, Nintendo included, can learn the most from, when it comes to adding depth, not darkness, to a series such as this.  Clark
8. Braid (2008). Braid was the first art game to combine highbrow ambition with rock-solid gameplay. Like most pioneering works, it's largely about its own medium, appropriating the inexorable left-to-right movement and damsel-in-distress story of a certain famous gaming icon and using it as a metaphor Guilt? L'amour fou? Braid doesn't answer all the questions it raises, and that's a good thing. Better still is how elegantly the story and the game mechanics work together, with time-reversing levels exploring remorse and single-key puzzles as metaphors for loss. Like the games it parodies, Braid makes walking and jumping feel great, but it uses that visceral satisfaction to draw you into something profoundly disquieting.  McKleinfeld
Portal 2
7. Portal 2 (2011). It's one thing to outthink a psychopathic computer program, as players did in the original Portal. But this brilliant sequel took things leaps and bounds beyond by asking players to outthink one another. In a co-op mode to rival all others, players were forced to work together, but never punished for betraying each other instead. In a meta move, the real cleverness wasn't in the exponentially more complex puzzles, but in the way it asked players to trust in that Charlie Brown-like way that their friends wouldn't infuriatingly, comically sabotage them at the last second. Shooting your friends was simple; trapping them in an infinite, head-spinning loop was impressive.  Riccio
Half-Life 2
6. Half-Life 2 (2004). The original Half-Life redefined the way players experienced first-person shooters with heavily scripted sequences and a well-written narrative. Half-Life 2 took this to the next level, as silent protagonist Gordon Freeman is removed from cryostasis and plunged into a future dystopia—a formerly human-populated city now turned zombie nightmare—reminiscent of Nazi Germany where the last remaining humans reside, enslaved by an unstoppable alien threat. Without ever relying on cutscenes, the game makes you a first-person participant in its storyline, one that turns the tide from oppression to rebellion fighting for the future of humanity. It's a classic whose thrills best those of most action movies and demonstrates the remarkable innovation the medium is capable of.  Aston
Shadow of the Colossus
5. Shadow of the Colossus (2005). The death of a colossus is a terrible thing. It feels all wrong: You thrust your sword into the softness of a great beast's neck as instructed until it lurches forward and falls. The only thing you're asked to do in Shadow of the Colossus is extinguish 16 impossibly beautiful creatures. There are no hazards, or enemies, or side quests. There are no power-ups or upgrades to be found. There is only you, the colossi, and the suffering you inflict upon them. Every video game is founded on a pretense of control—an illusion that you have a choice. Shadow of the Colossus dispels the myth by posing a simple question: Why? We should all think hard about the answer.  Marsh
Red Dead Redemption
4. Red Dead Redemption (2010). A true western can't be afraid to back down from its gritty substance, and Red Dead Redemption's final, unwinnable mission lives up to consequences often promised by the grim story. But that semi-tragic ending is earned by the plausibility of its rich open world, which is filled not just with outlaws to shoot, but also with cattle to herd and tame, animals to hunt, trains to rob (or protect), and townsfolk with whom you fight, drink, and gamble. But perhaps the grandest accomplishment was the sheer beauty of the territory, such that stumbling upon a rare sunset-lit vista while hunting for buried treasure was often reward enough.  Riccio
Super Metroid
3. Super Metroid (1994). Perfection in game design is like pornography: You know it when you see it. And in Super Metroid, it's plain as day. It isn't exaggeration to say that every element of the game has been conceived and calibrated to something like a platonic ideal: its level design feels complex but comprehensible; its difficulty is precisely balanced; its controls are as smooth as buttercream; and, perhaps most crucially, its sense of atmosphere is richly palpable. The greatness of Super Metroid is apparent from the moment Samus Aran floats up from within her Gunship to stand poised and ready in the rain. It's achingly beautiful. This is game craft at the height of elegance.   Marsh
Chrono Trigger
2. Chrono Trigger (1995). Chrono Trigger is the easiest, conversation-ending answer to the question, "Why do you like RPGs?" It's in the wonderfully written, infinitely endearing characters that are the best examples of each of their archetypes. The great, smart-alecky humor balanced with the impending doom waiting in 1999. The twists and turns in the plot, few, if any, of which are telegraphed from miles away. The consequences of your actions across the multiple timelines. The combat. The lack of random encounters. The score. That Mode 7 clock at the start that still feels like the beginning of something epic 20 years later. This is every JRPG element working in total harmony.  Clark
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
1. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (1998). During the lengthy, groundbreaking development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto envisioned a worst-case scenario in which Link would be restricted to Ganon's castle throughout the game's entirety, jumping through portals to enter mission-based worlds a la Super Mario 64. Let us be eternally grateful, then, that Miyamoto-sensei and his colleagues got a handle on their newly broken-in hardware before submitting their final product. There aren't enough superlatives, in any language, to describe how important Ocarina of Time is, not only to the medium of video games, but to the act of telling and being enveloped by stories. You start the game as a child, and finish it as an adult, having traveled countless miles, meeting all sorts of different creatures, both familiar and foreign, and being tested in battle and by a slew of imaginative puzzles. The Great Deku Tree. Dodongo's Cavern. Jabu Jabu's Belly. The Water Temple (oh God, the Water Temple). Your premier foray into any of these environments isn't easily forgotten, and the dungeons comprise only a fraction of the fantastical pleasures found in Ocarina of Time, a game that's not just a game, but the birth of a memory that will be held dear for eternity.  LeChevallier