50. Double Dragon (NES)
Not as polished as the arcade version, Double Dragon is still one of the greatest co-op games to play. The levels are fairly simple – it is not a tough game – but coordinating with your friend is a necessity. You go high, I go low. Double teaming an enemy was sometimes needed if one player was on the cusp of kicking it. The best part though was the ending, where you are pitted against your co-op buddy in the final stage. Such a gut punch when it first occurred but so exciting.
49. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)
While the Grand Theft Auto games always felt big in comparison to other titles, San Andreas was the first one that felt MASSIVE. The map was gigantic but it was also varied and detailed. Grove Street remains one of the best fleshed out neighborhoods the series has to offer and the characters were ten steps up from their predecessors. The newest entry, Grand Theft Auto V, borrows heavily from San Andreas not just in location but also in the excellent story structure. You definitely feel like your working your way up in the world but sometimes the world just pushes you back down.
48. Blast Corps (N64)
This is a game that went largely unnoticed upon release, but has since gained a bit of a cult following. Blast Corps is one of the most basic games, in terms of gameplay, to be released for the Nintendo 64, which at the time prided itself on the idea that the more players the better. The single-player experience was straight up environment destruction, and while there were differing elements between levels, it was about the same gameplay as you progressed. Blast Corps is the arcade platformer that the Nintendo 64 never asked for but got anyway.
47. Wolfenstein 3D (PC)
Wolfenstein 3D represented the first foray for many gamers my age into the first-person shooter. It still holds up to this day, and that has a lot to do with its fast-paced nature. Similarly to Doom, the bouncing and gliding protagonist blasting his way through Nazis and collecting power ups is still a lot of fun.
46. Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter (N64)
I’ll get a lot of crap for this entry, but screw you guys: Turok was a lot of fun when it came out. It was an odd FPS because it was both futuristic and prehistoric. As if the developers said “fuck it” midway through the process and just through in a bunch of spare weapons. A fun, fun game at the time and when I revisited it a couple of months ago, it still held its ground.
45. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2)
Sure, the newest Grand Theft Auto is being labeled the best of the series, but Vice City still beats it in my mind. While the third installment is arguably the best of the bunch, Vice City offered a retro landscape that felt like it was alive. The mission were better as most were borrowed from the best cheesy 80’s action movies, but the true star of the game was the soundtrack. Unbelievable collection of songs that rounded out this experience. Still the Grand Theft Auto titled I invested the most time in.
44. Day of Defeat (PC)
Originally a mod for the game Half-Life, this title ranks as one of the best World War Two shooters the PC has ever seen. The online-only Day of Defeat featured giant FPS battles between the Axis and Allies that felt strategic and chaotic. The maps were anchored in reality, but built for the multiplayer arena. The absence of vehicles didn’t matter – Day of Defeat dropped you into the World War Two simulation that gamers truly wanted. One of the greatest mods of all time, it was eventually developed as a standalone game, much like the most popular mod in history, Counter-Strike.
43. Sim City (PC)
I played this game on pretty much every platform, but the best experience was on PC. Nowadays, Maxis can’t get shit right with the series – the abysmal SimCity released this year is among the worst game launches ever – so perhaps they should take a cue from the original and simplify things. I still play this version today and it is a ton of fun.
42. Star Fox 64 (N64)
“Do a barrel roll!” Man, I invested some serious time into StarFox 64 and it is one of the rare games that I beat multiple times. That’s always been the sign of a good game because that means it was a) quick, b) well made, and c) a lot of fun. It was an obvious step up graphically from its SNES original and it retained most of its mechanics. The voice-acting is top-notch and the dialogue was engaging, something that had been missing from most N64 games at the time. Plus, you got a Rumble Pak with it – a piece of technology that is a must inside any modern game controller.
41. Metal Gear Solid (PS1)
! (If you understand that, you know how awesome and frustrating Metal Gear Solid was.)
40. Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
A truly cinematic experience, Shadow of the Colossus seems like a game that couldn’t be produced now because of the industry’s penchant for bigger and more complex gameplay. Colossus was just a series of boss battles anchored by a simple storyline that emphasized emotion over complication. You feel elation when you defeat one of the giant creatures but also see the physical pain you cause. Ultimately, you identify with every character and discover that the line between protagonist and antagonist is quite blurred. A touching and expertly produced game.
39. System Shock 2 (PC)
People have described System Shock 2 as one of the scariest games ever made – it wasn’t, not even when it was released. It was a horror game, no doubt about that, but it played out more like Jacob’s Ladder than Halloween. Well-versed gamers can see shades of Deus X in SS2‘s construction, but I always found the game’s kindred spirit to be Half-Life.
38. Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade)
The female iteration of Pac-Man will always trump the original. Maybe it was the smoother graphics and gameplay. Or maybe it was the bow. Who knows.
37. Starcraft (PC)
You can have StarCraft II, the first entry was my jam back in the day. I can totally understand how this grew to be a decade-long addiction for some people: it monopolized the summer of 1998. For those familiar with WarCraft and the unaffiliated Command & Conquer, this title represented the marriage of both of those mechanics. The multiplayer was bonkers – especially the underrated Capture The Flag mode. Unfortunately for me, I never gravitated towards any of Blizzard’s other titles, including their immensely popular World of Warcraft.
36. Shogun: Total War (PC)
The first game in an incredibly consistent franchise, Shogun: Total War was intriguing because it was both turn-based and real-time. Strategy games typically ascribe to one or the other to draw strength, but Shogun captured two gaming audiences: those who enjoyed the long-term progression of a Civilization-type gameplay and those who just wanted to have massive battles. Even today, the developer Creative Assembly is producing hits – Rome: Total War 2 is a massive success and a giant step forward for the series.
35. Portal (Xbox 360)
I initially approached Portal as a throwaway title on the Orange Box collection produced for the Xbox 360. Half-Life 2 was such a massively important and excellent game, the anchor of this particular release, so I didn’t expect much of this “Portal game”. Boy was I wrong. The gameplay is simplistic, yes, but the surprising star of the show is the plot. It’s smart, endearing, intricate – everything you expect from a game like Half-Life but here it is in this puzzle shooter.
34. NHL 94 (Genesis)
Growing up in Wisconsin, I wasn’t really introduced to hockey. Sure, there were a couple of indoor rinks and apparently college hockey is a big deal elsewhere in the state, but the absence of a NHL franchise didn’t really invigorate me to watch the sport. But when NHL 94 came out for the Sega Genesis, all you would read about in video game magazines is how much fun the game was – especially as a head-to-head matchup. So next time we were renting games at the local Blockbuster, I picked it up. And since then, I’ve always held hockey video games in high regard. The game’s controls mimicked the sport better than any football or baseball game of its generation. Playing against my brother and my friends became intense battles and eventually led to real-life skirmishes.
33. Excitebike (NES)
I wanted to put Excitebike on here strictly for the sound design. I find the aural elements of the game to be soothing and in tune with the limitations of the NES at the time. They weren’t trying to pack in a complicated score, nor we’re they trying to do that fake dialogue thing that sounded like someone talking through a fax machine (what was with that anyway?). The bike sounded like an 8-bit bike. The running footsteps sounded like they belonged in a cartridge holding only 100kb of data. But alas, Excitebike was still a fun game, even though racing against NPCs got a bit old. And when that happened, you would just switch over to the design mode and create your own track. Fairly advanced for 1984.
32. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (NES)
I went back and forth about whether to designate this title a NES game or sub in the actual arcade version. In the end, I went with what version I had the most time with, and naturally that was on the Nintendo Entertainment System. While it is not the ultimate co-op game for the NES (that one is coming up shortly), for children of the 1980’s and 1990’s, playing as a Ninja Turtle represented something of a life goal. While there was one previous TMNT game for the NES – the absolutely shitty side-scrolling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – this port was far superior because the three-dimensional level design of the arcade game translated seamlessly and the action mechanics were spot on.
31. Mario Kart 64 (N64)
At my house, Mario Kart 64 is still a thing. I can’t think of a better “party game” than this one. The greatest quality of Mario Kart 64 is that anyone, no matter their skill level, can pick it up and play it. My father, who wasn’t a gamer at all, would frequently sit down and take me on in a couple of races. That was weird sight (even weirder was the shared fascination with the game Soldier of Fortune later on in life), but it is a testament to one of Nintendo’s greatest strengths: they have always made the most accessible and addictive games. The best part of Mario Kart 64? Watching two well-versed players leverage glitches and tricks to outsmart one another is still a lot of fun as a spectator.
Editor’s Note: Using the wall jump trick on Wario Stadium is still cheating. That’s a Busch League play.
30. Sid Meier’s Civilization II (PC)
The Civilization series has been one of the more consistent PC simulation franchises to ever grace our screens. While Sim City may stumble from time to time – that newest game was a fucking horrible shitbox – Sid Meier’s game about world domination has evolved in subtle and interesting ways since the first one came out in 1991. While people are swearing by the most recent edition, Civilization V (it’s very good, by the way), the best came in 1996 with Civilization II. The improved graphics and broadened scope of gameplay was kind of a game-changer for the turn-based strategy market, and the game is still playable today. Hell, there’s a guy who has been playing the same game – he’s dubbed it “The Eternal War” – for ten years. Check out his story…on goddamn CNN.com.
29. Medal of Honor (PS1)
The grandaddy of them all – the first historically-accurate (right…) World War Two shooter. Okay, I know – the game looked pretty horrendous. It was dark most of the time, making out enemies was difficult, and the animations were pretty bad, even for a Playstation game. But I still logged a lot of hours on this game because there was nothing else like it. They finally got their shit together for Medal of Honor: Allied Assault but this is an important game for a world filled with Battlefields and Call of Duty spin-offs.
28. Tecmo Super Bowl (NES)
27. Contra (NES)
Remember when I said we hadn’t seen the best co-op game for the NES yet? Well, here we are. Summers upon summers were spent honing my skills in Contra, with a friend and without, which at the time represented one of the toughest challenges for a gamer. It was a lot easier with a second player (or with the Konami code), but for one player, it was such an arduous task. Not as tough as, say, Battletoads, it finds its way on this list to represent the undeniable allure of games that are insanely hard to beat. Games are meant to be difficult so achievement is sweeter and more rewarding. In a world filled with respawns and multiplayer-only arenas, I feel like this quality is forever lost.
26. Super Mario 64 (N64)
As a child of 90’s consoles, I can remember the exact moment when I flipped on a Nintendo 64 for the first time and it’s because of Super Mario 64. Nowadays, kids expect a three-dimensional, open-world type Mario experience, but back in 1996, this was a significant sea change for the series and for video games in general. Even though it took great strides forward in its graphics, it never felt completely disassociated with the titles that preceded it. Running through the levels felt like taking a Super Mario 3 level and spinning it along an axis you didn’t know existed.