Wednesday, February 10, 2010

GI's "Top 200 Games Of All Time"

In December, Game Informer put out their 200th issue. In it, they published a massive 35-page spread compiling their Top 200 Games Of All Time. If/when they finally put the entire article online, I'll edit this to include a link. For now, here's a bare-bones listing of all 200 entries.

Starting at #200 and working my way to #1, here are my thoughts and comments on several games that made (and a couple that didn't make) the list.

#200... Beyond Good and Evil (PS2/Xbox/GameCube, 2003)

This was one of those games that almost nobody purchased (I'm guilty) but that garnered consistent 5-star reviews from critics, magazines, and players. It's on my short list of GC games I still need to pick up.

#194... Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Dreamcast, 2002)

I might've thought it more appropriate to include the progenitor of the series, X-men vs. Street Fighter. I've not personally played every entry in the series, and the time I have logged has always been in the arcade. Versus games are an insane mix of fun, blending old-style Street Fighter action with the amped-up exaggerated spectacle from X:Men - COTA.

Anyhow, if I were placing a Dreamcast fighter on the list, I'd go with Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Project Justice. Two superb games — if only I had a good fighting-game controller for my Dreamcast, and a willing opponent.

#192... Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube, 2002)

This GC game routinely lands on "best survival horror" lists, yet I've never played it. Anybody have any experience with the title? It's supposed to be quite chilling, and includes a sort of "sanity meter" that, when depleted, results in gameplay effects that include both audible and visual hallucinations, among other things.

#185... SMW2: Yoshi's Island (SNES, 1995)

When I hear people complain that a platformer like Mario 3 or Mario World or Donkey Kong Country is difficult, I think of this game. You've not played a truly difficult platformer until you try Yoshi's Island. This game is so hard it's frightening. In certain levels, we're talking Battletoads tough, folks. However, the genius of the game design can't be emphasized enough: you can play through almost the entire game without encountering more than mild challenge, but if you attempt perfect scores for each level, that's when you will begin to suffer. Balancing difficulty in video games is no small task, and games like this that can be played by the novice and the hardcore veteran alike (without some sort of easy-normal-hard difficulty option) are extremely rare.

#175... Dig Dug (Coin-op, 1982)

Seriously, Game Informer? Dig Dug? This game sucks.

#167... DOOM II (PC, 1994)
#139... Wolfenstein 3D (PC, 1992)
#6... DOOM (PC, 1993)

Admittedly, when it comes to the roots of the FPS genre, I've always been partial to Wolfenstein3D. I've played it more, and I'm still working on finishing a custom set of levels that I started about ten years ago. But even I have to admit that DOOM and DOOM II is where FPS became a viable long-term genre. A genre that today dominates the entire industry (that's not an entirely good thing, but still). Playing DOOM, especially on a modern source port, is still an exhilarating and frightful experience, and most importantly, it's really fun.

Had I written the Top 200, I would've just placed DOOM II in slot #6 and left slot #167 for another game. The sequel added the Super Shotgun and doubled the amount of demonic Deimos monsters you face, basically perfecting the gameplay.

#166... King's Quest VI (PC, 1992)

I can't believe they included a Sierra game in this list.

#156... Gauntlet (Coin-op, 1985)

I only ever played these games at home — usually Gauntlet 2 on the NES with a Four Score. The original games (and for that matter, their modern incarnation) are tedious and boring slogs through endless, pointless mazes and thousands of redundant enemies. They should be on a list of 200 games that were mysteriously played despite their stupidity.

Red Wizard is about to be murdered by his friends for getting stuck in the corner, again.

#148... Super Mario RPG (SNES, 1996)

Spectacular fun, with hilarious dialog and characters. Better than anybody ever could've expected, it spawned the Paper Mario series, which I've yet to play.

#136... Star Fox (SNES, 1993)

As one of the first 3D polygonal games ever made, this game was truly groundbreaking (it was in stores nearly two years before the PlayStation hit the shelves). As the first game in the series, it's also the last time a Star Fox game was released that wasn't hugely disappointing in some obvious way (for instance, the innovatively titled Star Fox 64 had great gameplay but fantastically obnoxious voice work and music). At 17 years old the game is still great fun to play, and other than its complete lack of textures, it has stood the test of time. It's an absolute shame that the completed Star Fox 2 was never released.

#133... Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (PC, 1997)

Excuse me? This entry should have been Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. And yes, the naming in that series got pretty screwy — that's what happens when you have spin-off sequels to spin-off sequels. Anyway, Jedi Outcast is one of the most kick-ass Star Wars games ever made.

#128... Metroid Fusion (GBA, 2002)
#85... Metroid Prime (GameCube, 2002)
#21... Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)
#7... Metroid (NES, 1986)

If you're like me, you may see these four entries and wonder why in hell they included Fusion. It's a solid game, sure, but Zero Mission is also portable while being better in every way I can think of. My other quibble is this: I would've put Super Metroid in slot #7 and left out the original game. They obviously included it because of its innovation and influence, but in this case I think the sequel is more deserving of the ranking. Yes, Metroid opened the door to non-linear platforming, but Super Metroid — from the atmospheric music to the rewarding exploration to the spot-on controls and combat — is quite literally a perfect video game.

#121... Lemmings (PC, 1991)

Definitely one of my past puzzle-gaming addictions. This game is a shining example of how creative design and composition (both in levels, puzzles, and music) can easily overcome hardware limitations.

#110... Halo 2 (Xbox, 2004)
#39... Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001)

Judging by some of the reader responses that GI received, I'm not alone in disagreeing with these placements, though perhaps for differing reasons. I could see including Halo 3 (many fans griped about its exclusion), but the first game at #39? I've played Halo, and it was one of the worst console FPS experiences I ever had. Deathmatch was sluggish and, other than the vehicles, excessively plain, while the solo/co-op campaign struck me as relentless tedium. Yes, I realize that Bungie has vastly improved the series, and yes I understand that the original game was the killer app launch title for the Xbox. Thing is, considering the Xbox's launch lineup, that isn't saying much. From where I'm sitting, the list that Halo: Combat Evolved belongs on is the "Top 200 Overrated Games of all Time."

#106... Resident Evil (PS, 1996)
#41... Resident Evil 2 (PS, Dreamcast, PC, 1998)
#18... Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, 2005)

If you've played the series, you will probably agree with me: RE2 deserves every bit of its #41 placement, but the original game almost certainly should've been left off the list (with the caveat that REmake on GameCube was an absolutely spectacular game).

Now RE4 is another matter. First, my sole complaint: including the GC version rather than the Wii edition is insanity. The Wii version of the game has all of the bonus content from the PC and PS2 ports, plus vastly improved controls and a slick 16x9 presentation — it is far and away the best version of the game available. That said, RE4 is an excellent pick for the top 20. Easily one of the very best action games there is, it ushered in a new era of third-person gaming and mightily revitalized the Resident Evil franchise.

#84... Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, 2005)
#55... Ico (PS2, 2001)

Two of the only games that ever made me wish I had a PS2.

#81... Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES, 1988)
#51... Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)
#47... Super Mario World (SNES, 1991)
#13... Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)
#9... Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)
#2... Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

Only one series has more spots in the Top 200 (see below). The only entry among these six games to bitch about is #81 — a port of Doki Doki Panic is simply not one of the best games ever. Otherwise, we've got five great selections for the list. The original game, of course, which single-handedly resurrected an industry that Atari had all but killed. Or Galaxy, a spectacular game and the first console Mario title since the NES days to get a direct sequel. Mario 64 ushered us into a new era of gaming 14 years ago, and still sets a 3D-platforming standard that a scant few games can measure up to. World was a similarly potent launch title for Nintendo's fondly remembered second-gen console, only ever over-shadowed (as in this list) by the global domination of its immediate predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3 (we're talking 20 million copies sold at this point). The third Mario title is one of those games that's so good, it makes you wonder what it was like to be involved in the development process. Did they know they were about to produce and release a game so legendary that people would still be playing it 22+ years later?

#80... Final Fantasy II (SNES, 1991)

I'm only just now playing through this epic, and in the final revision of its original form (Final Fantasy IV is the correct numerical title). As I play through it, I'm starting to understand why it's had such staying-power in the minds of fans. What other video game can you think of that got a direct sequel 17 years after being released?

#74... Tomb Raider (PS, 1996)

My dad played the hell out of this game. No, I'm serious, he wore out two computers.

#68... Double Dragon (Coin-op, 1987)

Yes, the shitty game that introduced a generation of gamers to the ill-fated series, wherein you are forced to double your dragon (when your dragon is in dire need of being doubled) by repeatedly battling a muscle-headed hand-clapping freak of a mini-boss named Abobo. His pants are too small, he probably has a degenerative skin condition, and his legendary signature finishing move is fearfully referred to as "the working man's overthrow." They should've included River City Ransom instead.

#62... Star Wars: X-Wing (PC, 1993)

Polygonal 3D 1993. Yes, XvT and XWA are vastly superior engines, but it was the original game that first let us hop into the cockpit of an X-wing as an actual pilot. It wasn't some turret-gunner or top-down shooter, it was a realistic simulation that let us experience the fear of being vaporized by a Star Destroyer.

#38... Mega Man 2 (NES, 1988)

Yes, by all means yes. All the proof you will ever need that 8-bit isn't antonymous with tight controls and brilliant music. And by "brilliant," I mean that the music in MM2 is a timelessly epic triumph, and that the composers (Manami Matsumae and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi and Takashi Tateishi) are gods among men.

#32... GoldenEye 007 (N64, 1997)

Perhaps the first game to prove that a quality FPS could be done on a console. Excellent solo and deathmatch play, this title was so great that it paved the way for its spiritual successors in the TimeSplitters series, and was re-built from the ground up as a HL2 mod called GoldenEye: Source.

#31... Tecmo Super Bowl (NES, 1991)

There's football video games, and then there's Tecmo Super Bowl. Something like 90% of my knowledge about football comes exclusively from this game. Because of TSB, I firmly believe that you can routinely kick 55 yard field goals, extra point attempts are always successful, that Jerry Rice could catch an overthrown pass while diving headlong into triple coverage, and that being a lineman involves some sort of sumo arm grappling dance normally resulting in the loser being flung ten yards onto his head.

This game is legendary. People still play it in leagues today, including completely expanded and updated league and team rosters.

#25... Street Fighter II (Coin-op, 1991)


#22... Contra (NES, 1988)

Perhaps the quintessential run-and-gun. Many still know the code, few are tough enough to play and conquer without it.

#17... Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995)

It should probably be considered a sin that I've not played this.

#16... Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES, 1987)

Notable for many reasons, not the least of which is its inclusion of one of the first known gay characters in a video game, Don Flamenco.

#3... Tetris (PC, 1984)

Alexey Pajitnov's creation, and one of the most-played video games ever made. Interestingly, Alexey didn't make a dime off the blockbuster success of his game until nearly 13 years after he created it. Truly fascinating is the study of a spectrum of behaviors and mental phenomenon (OCD-like habitual thinking about objects in the real world fitting together like tetrominos; hallucinations and hypnagogic imagery) associated with and named after the game: the Tetris effect.

#94... The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (GameCube, 2003)
#90... The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, 2006)
#63... The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64, 2000)
#61... The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB, 1993)
#20... The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998)
#12... The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1992)
#1... The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1987)

Being the most-mentioned series, and taking the number one spot, Zelda is clearly the dominant franchise in GI's list (also, note that all seven games landed in the top 100).

Consider ALttP. If you wanted to quibble with the order of these seven placements, your best shot is to argue that the third game should've been further considered for the top spot. This game blew the doors off the adventure genre, and just when players thought they had explored most of Hyrule and were closing in on completing their mission, the world doubled in size and the game tripled in length. Or consider LA: a portable game, ginormous for its time, that proved the series was here to stay. Or, remember when you first played OoT. Recall that sheer sense of scope, and the perfect way the game incorporated the traditional Zelda aesthetic, compelling narrative, rich mythology, and rewarding freedom and exploration. Or think about WW and shun the non-believers: the 10th game in the series is a monumental achievement. Perhaps you're like me and Majora's Mask is your favorite — the world of Termina and their the-sky-is-literally-falling predicament coupled with the three-day cyclic timeline makes the 6th Zelda game emotionally rewarding to a surprising degree.

And last but obviously not least, winning the number one spot in GI's "Top 200 Games Of All Time" list, the original The Legend of Zelda. What can be said about this game that's not already been said repeatedly? It dropped players abruptly into an expansive world open for non-linear exploration and discovery, and challenged them not just to find secrets and dungeons and weapons but also to persevere against an array of enemies. The thought of walking into a room full of blue Darknuts can still cause an adult to break out in a cold sweat. If you've played this game, then you know exactly what I refer to when I mention the full-heart slash-zap "shhhh Bzzz-ink!" sound that meant Link was kicking ass with the Magical Sword. Shigeru Miyamoto left his first indelible mark on video games with this title.

Games Stupidly Left Out

GI received quite a bit of feedback after publishing their Top 200, and of the many games left out, there are at least two that frequently get mentioned that I agree should have been included.

Earthworm Jim (Genesis and SNES, 1994)

An incredibly challenging off-beat amalgam of run-and-gun and platforming, Earthworm Jim definitely should have been included in the Top 200.

Myst (Mac in 1993, PC in 1994)

How they managed to miss including this game is beyond me. Myst was a triumphant achievement both technically and in a gameplay sense. It completely recreated a genre and nearly single-handedly pushed the computer world into the CD-ROM age. It excited both gamers and rookies alike. It captivated players with a subtle soundtrack, simple and intuitive controls, and an interesting and slowly developing storyline, all while leaving players alone to explore a cohesive world that didn't punish them with dead-ends or game over screens. Lastly, it paved the way for an awesome, vast, beautiful and epic sequel called Riven (Mac/PC, 1997).


As the breadth and depth of GI's Top 200 suggests, video games are here to stay. They've outlived the "it's just a fad" response, and they'll outlive their absurd scapegoating detractors. As an industry, growth in gaming has exceeded growth in both the movie and music industries for years, and may have exceeded both (individually, not combined) in gross sales as early as 2008. As an art form, games have been developing, improving, and pushing boundaries for three decades, with no sign of stopping.

Game Informer's list of the "Top 200 Games Of All Time" may be imperfect, but it's a great look back at many of the brightest achievements and experiences in games over the past 30 years.

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