75. Ico (PS2)
Ico has the appearance of an RPG – lush visuals, fantastical storyline, strong and emotional characters – but it is actually a highly-addictive adventure platform. I was introduced to this game by a friend who consumed video games at a higher rate than myself. I was skeptical to partake in Ico: I wrongfully gauged it as a RPG and I wasn’t a fan at the time of such titles, especially on the PS2. But the experience of going through Ico was breathtaking. The careful hands that constructed this entire world were responsible enough to make the story something worth telling. It remains one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played and outpaced the PS2 by many years.
74. Starseige: Tribes (PC)
It looks unimpressive, I know. It looked unimpressive all those years ago, and it paled in comparison to titles like Unreal: Tournament and Half-Life. But as an online multiplayer game, my preference was Tribes over Quake 3: Arena and Team Fortress. While the maps were basic – two bases on either side – the inclusion of jet packs made them seem so dynamic. You weren’t running around with your head chopped off, blasting away at whoever you saw – it was a ballet of violence in the sky. There was something about dropping into an opponent’s base from the air, and sneaking around before blasting off back towards your home. Its successor, Tribes 2, improved on graphics, but the core gameplay remained the same and it has a special place in my multiplayer-obsessed heart.
73. NFL Blitz 2001 (N64)
This sports title was a one-shot deal – it worked in a particular time and it hasn’t been replicated since. I don’t know why it didn’t work later on with baseball or basketball, but NFL Blitz 2001 had its day in the sun on the Nintendo 64 (and, to a lesser extent, in the Arcade). As a kid who loved fighting games and following the Green Bay Packers, this was a perfect combination and executed to perfection. It also represented one of the most competitive gaming experiences of my young life, often leading to minor in-life shouting matches. Who said video games don’t cause violence?
72. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (PC)
Back in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, WWII buffs were treated to a host of quality narratives: Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and the legendary miniseries Band of Brothers. Using that as a jumping off point, producer/director Steven Spielberg kickstarted the Medal of Honor series, dropping young gents like myself into Nazi-occupied France. It flourished on the PS1 and then the PC version gave everyone what they wanted with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. The opening sequence of landing at Normandy on D-Day was my dream situation, as I grew a fondness for WWII history through incessantly watching Saving Private Ryan. While Ryan had the leg up on realism, Allied Assault gave WWII gamers that first taste of a proper, immersive FPS based around the last great war.
71. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (SNES)
The SNES was big graphical leap forward, but a lot of the titles didn’t reflect that. Developers stuck with platformers and tried-and-true games, but no one was really pushing the envelope and innovating these popular gameplay elements. The creators of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest did just that and it quickly became an important entry for the SNES, even though it was towards the end of the system’s life-cycle. Rare, who were responsible for its creation (along with a few other titles on this list), made full use of the much larger SNES controller, forcing players to use more than just two buttons and a D-pad to move Diddy Kong across the well-dressed levels. And on top of all of this, it was a hard game – it wasn’t like the Marios that came before it.
70. Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360)
Zombies are a huge part of my life. I recognize the ridiculousness of that statement, but it is beyond the truth. I’ve been obsessed with the undead since I first saw Night of the Living Dead when I was nine years old on a local midnight television creepshow. Last year, myself and a friend made a trip to visit the filming locations of the Living Dead series. We are pretty serious fans. The reason Left 4 Dead makes it on the list is that it was the first zombie game to capture that frenzy that I love about movies like 28 Days Later. The heart-pounding fright and growing sense of doom is a staple of the zombie genre, and Left 4 Dead made that central to the game’s formula. While I prefer slow “Romero”-type zombies, the variety of ghouls in Left 4 Dead made it a standout game in this often-mediocre video game genre.
69. Theme Hospital (PS1)
Simulation games were central to my gaming past. Now, I stick to FPS titles and sports annuals, so simulations rarely make the cut in my busy gaming life. Theme Hospital is a simulation I’ve kept playing over the years though, first on Playstation then on PC and now on PS3. Rarely does a simulation get everything right like Theme Hospital did. It has a gradual and useful tutorial beginning, soft goals early on, a sandbox feel, and an evident increase in difficulty. As the hospitals you build get bigger and busier, the more hectic and demanding the gameplay. Theme Hospital remains a staple of my ongoing gaming experience and it is one everyone should revisit or discover.
68. Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle (PC)
A lot of the time writing is about the last thing on a developer’s mind during the creation of their game. First off, it is a hard thing to do, and secondly, there isn’t a high demand in the market for well-written dialogue. People just want mildly-entertaining plots and excellent gameplay. So when a game surprises you with the deftness of its exchanges and the quality of its linguist structure, it takes gaming to a whole new level. Day of the Tentacle is similar to its predecessor, Maniac Mansion, but the humor found within this classic is what makes it a memorable experience. You could print out the script for this game and enjoy yourself just reading it. Oh, did I mention the gameplay is fantastic? Yeah, this game has it all.
67. Super Smash Brothers Melee (GC)
The ultimate party game is…well, its probably a Mario Kart game, but Super Smash Brothers Melee is high on that list! The first real “all star” fighting game, this game is built for social interaction. I didn’t have many experiences playing Melee by myself, it was always in a setting like a party or a bunch of us skipping school to beat the virtual hell out of each other. What seperated Melee from other fighters is that everyone had a unique favorite character – in other words, no one was fighting over Sub-Zero before every tournament. I was a Luigi fan because I’m a huge fan of the underdog and also, fuck Mario – that guy gets all the attention.
66. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64)
When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was in the process of writing this list, his first question was whether Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was on it. For sure. Ultimately, when the conversation of Star Wars video games come up, everyone has a favorite and usually it had to do with their genre of choice. RPG fans love the Old Republic games, the flight sim guys love the TIE PC titles, and the platformers still roll Super Empire Strikes Back from time to time. But for me, I wanted to be either Han Solo or Luke Skywalker when I was young, so adventure shooters were right up my alley. Shadows of the Empire felt like the Han Solo game we never got, and secretly, the developers must have thought that during the making of it (otherwise explain why a cheat code was included to fly the Millennium Falcon in the last level of the game). While there is another Star Wars game higher up on this list, Shadows is the reason that one even came into being, borrowing a lot of functionality from this great entry.
65. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (N64)
Sometimes games are just violent and profane just to be that. Postal is a great example of developers just selling a half-baked game on the fact that it was “shocking” but honestly that whole series is juvenile – even for juveniles. Conker’s Bad Fur Day executes successfully on so many levels that the violence and brashness of the content seems perfect for the tone that Rare was looking to strike. Also, it was a wet dream for anyone who loved film: the amount of references in Conker rivals any of those crappy spoof movies, just the writers for Bad Fur Day did it a whole lot better. The opening homage to A Clockwork Orange is among my favorite moments in all of games and just thinking about it warms my heart.
64. Fifa 95 (Genesis)
There are a few sports titles on this list – none of them very high, but that is the nature of the genre. One of the biggest complaints about sports titles is that the change from year to year is very little, and often it takes a complete upgrade of hardware to push series to the next level. So, most times, I have to think back to which game from a famous sports series, like Madden or, in this case, Fifa, did I play the most. For the world’s most renowned soccer game, 95 was the one where it took a graphical and functional step towards responding like a true match. The pitch was bigger and the movements were more realistic, but obviously it still had a long way to go. The hours logged and enjoyment had makes this my all-time favorite Fifa entry in the series.
63. Day Z (PC)
It is a little early to call this a great game, mainly because it isn’t even finished. But if what Day Z is now is phenomenal, then it will only get better the closer we get to its standalone. Again, a bit of repeat in game type: open world, zombie related, simulation-type shooter. Obviously, I’m pretty one-note when it comes to my personal preferences, but this is the game that a ten year-old me dreamt of after a long night of watching Dawn of the Dead. The thing about a particular set of great zombie films (aforementioned Dawn, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, etc.) is that they were less about the monsters and more about survival. The most frightening aspect of these films aren’t the living dead, it is desolate world they created in their wake. Fighting for food, shelter, and security is about as base as it can get for a human being, and Day Z kicked the ever-loving shit out of that premise.
62. Pilotwings 64 (N64)
Remember when you could rent systems from Blockbuster? They would come in this big, black plastic case and the security deposit on them were, like, a hundred bucks but if it was your birthday or something, your parents would throw down and get you something you want for $10 a day, inadvertently making you obsolete in their world for the next half of a week. When Nintendo 64 was released just before the holiday season in 1996, I desperately wanted to give it a test drive, so my always accommodating mother rented it out for myself and my brother. One of the launch titles we grabbed was Pilotwings 64. From what I recall, my brother hated it and he stuck to Wave Race 64. But I loved the maps – especially the miniature United States, flying under a departing space shuttle in your gyrocopter was an exhilarating experience. So in summation: my brother was wrong and my taste in Nintendo 64 launch games is beyond reproach. Also, thanks Mom.
61. All Star Baseball 99 (N64)
In the Fifa 95 post, I mentioned “famous sports series”. This one didn’t have the legs to last in the marketplace. But if you were looking a baseball game that replicated the experience of both playing and watching a game, All Star Baseball 99 was the undisputed king in the late 90’s. The interface was simple but informative, but the stadiums were the first to feel kinetic – when you were playing in Yankee Stadium, it finally felt like it. The inclusion of play-by-play commentary, which was innovative for its time, introduced the interesting question of whether we want a sports game to be more participatory or voyeuristic. Some later games in other sports, like NFL 2K series, experimented with this even further, adding in first-person elements to the formula, but All Star Baseball took that important first stride into making a realistic baseball game that could be approached and enjoyed from many angles.
60. Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360)
You won’t find a Call of Duty game on this list. Sorry, fanboys, it just isn’t happening. Sure, I love the franchise and have dedicated some serious man hours to pwning angry, 11-year-old noobs online, but it just doesn’t accomplish enough to be included amongst the best FPS experiences. Making a war-based shooter is paint-by-the-numbers nowadays, so when Battlefield 3 came out and expanded the arena, I took notice. While the single-player campaign lacks the drama and sharp plot construction of the Call of Duty series, the multiplayer is way more ambitious and rewarding. The inclusion of vehicles and aircrafts makes Battlefield 3 feel more like a real modern battle, not just some Quake-like deathmatch.
59. Super Mario Kart (SNES)
The king of party games – at least on the Super Nintendo. I wore this game out. Physically. I had to buy a new copy not long before the SNES went out of production because the frequent trips in my backpack to friends’ houses and constant gameplay took its toll on this poor cartridge. One minute you were on cloud nine, and the next, you were angrier than you’ve ever been. That is what one sitting of Super Mario Kart is like. This game solidified and tested the strength of friendships, making it one of the purest in-person multiplayer experiences of all time.
58. Asteroids (Arcade)
When I was growing up, we didn’t have much to choose from in terms of arcades in my hometown. There were two at local malls, but they were overpriced and housed a lot of Sega light-gun games – blah. But there was once a place where retro cabinets sat next to the wave of the future. Where high school workers dejectedly opened jammed ticket dispensers and reimbursed tokens to livid parents. This place was called Fun World, and it was glorious. While my friends were lining up for Lazer Tag or playing Skeeball (we have an original Fun World Skeeball machine at the Optix Gaming office, no big deal), I liked to take a stroll down the older arcade aisle, and Asteroids was one of my favorites. Most people my age experienced Asteroids as a console or PC game at some point, but its purest form was as an arcade cabinet. It remains one of my favorite arcade games as well as one of the most difficult.
57. Sonic The Hedgehog 3 (Genesis)
When Sega went down the tubes after the Dreamcast, it took with it one of the most consistently good franchises in gaming history: Sonic The Hedgehog. I recognize that Sega is still producing games and Sonic has had a long life, but they are both shells of what they once stood for. Sonic The Hedgehog 3 wasn’t completely innovative – it was still mainly a side-scrolling platformers sharing much of the same objectives as its first entry. But Sonic just did it better than other fast-paced games at the time. They were firing on all cylinders: the graphics were rich and interesting, the gameplay was flawless, and the music was out-of-this-world good. Sadly, this title was the swan song for good Sonic games. Unless Sega gets its act together.
56. Unreal Tournament (PC)
I was a huge multiplayer proponent when I was younger, whereas most of my friends stuck to sports and single-player games. I tried to show many of them the light of online PC gaming, but they seemed overwhelmed by the hoops you regularly had to jump through to even get online. Admittedly, they were right: interacting with the game, then the GameSpy Arcade or whatever platform, making sure all the settings are right, downloading the custom maps…it was just too inaccessible. And they missed so many great early PC titles, one of them being the original Unreal Tournament. This was the first legitimate step forward for LAN-based or online shooters, emphasizing weapon variety and improved graphics. It is just a bummer that it wasn’t embraced more at the time.
55. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (PC)
The lightsaber is probably the best fictional weapon of all time. As a kid, I attempted to fashion my own out of a flashlight and some paper towel tubes, until I got a retractable plastic version for my birthday. Every Star Wars video game that came around was consumed by like-minded fans, but they were always missing a huge component: lightsaber duels. This was wholly a limitation of delivery methods: the systems and PCs at the time just couldn’t replicate this type of combat. Until Jedi Knight II. Not only were lightsaber’s included, but they were the center of the entire experience. Battles against Siths and arena bots were highly addictive because there was an actual clash of the swords and your character could flip around at will to gain an advantage. Now if you excuse me, I’m totally going to load this game up.
54. Ghost’N Goblins (NES)
I hate Ghost’N Goblins. I hate the shit out of it. But goddamn, it is just a fantastically simple game. I don’t think I’ve ever beaten this title, but I don’t care: it is one of the most aggravating and engaging video game experiences out there. Period. It isn’t necessarily fast-paced like a Contra, but it is absolutely nerve-wracking. There is little room for error in Ghost’N Goblins and that’s part of its charm. Games made today offer players too many reprieves from death and failure – no one seems to lose anymore because that just wouldn’t be rewarding. But to me, never beating a game is one of the highest forms of praise I can heap upon a title. Congratulations, Ghost’N Goblins. You son of a bitch.
53. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Again, not a huge fan of the Zelda franchise but I do have a soft spot for developers that truly care about their properties on a long-term scale. The care given to the Zelda series is unmatched. Every title is a seminal moment in whatever console it is released on, and Nintendo has not allowed Zelda to saturate the market. I tried to fight Ocarina of Time because EVERYONE liked it. There wasn’t a review where someone said “it is alright” – they were all stellar notices. Naturally, I was skeptical but I broke down and rented it one day. Boy was I wrong. Arguably the best Zelda plot in its storied history, it was also one of the best Nintendo 64 experiences. It felt like the entire purpose of the system was to deliver this narrative.
52. Quake 3: Arena (PC)
The Midwest Gaming Classic is routinely held in my hometown, so I decided to go down there this year with a couple of friends and check it out. If you are ever in the Milwaukee-area around March, you should take some time and visit this odd collection of enthusiasts and vendors. I was able to pick up a couple of titles on this list for a reasonable price and was also exposed to a bunch of retro and custom titles (my favorite: Bill Paxton Pinball). My friend was pumped to jump on an original Robotron 2084 cabinet, and I sat down and played a LAN match of Quake 3: Arena. It brought back so many blood-filled memories and it surprisingly still holds up after all these years. While the Quake engine is its longest lasting legacy for gaming, in the realm of online multiplayer games, this one is close to being the king.
51. Max Payne (PC)
Bullet-time. ‘Nuff said.