Skip to main content

The 100 best games ever

20. Journey

Perhaps more than any other developer, thatgamecompany has never made the same kind of game twice. Yet they're all alike in one very important detail. The common thread is that each taps into certain primal emotions, but the most personal experience of the three is surely Journey.

The character, the lost world, the symbolism, even the overall allegory itself: each player's interpretation of all these things will be shaped dramatically by their individual beliefs and leanings. But no what matter your ideologies, you'll be utterly blown away by the time you reach the ending. (The astonishing and timeless beauty certainly doesn't do any harm in that regard.) The most moving two-hour experience in gaming? You'd have to walk a long way to find a stronger contender.

Buy it on Amazon

Even by today's standards, A Link to the Past is a masterwork of game development. The quest is perfectly paced, with challenging dungeons, memorable boss battles, and a massive world to explore. Plus, the 16-bit graphics are just as charming today as when it was first released on the SNES.

A Link to the Past is the game that set the bar for all of the Zelda titles that came after it. Even modern 3D Zeldas (and countless other copycats) still use the LttP formula. Every dungeon you explore as the green-garbed hero is an intense experience. Puzzles challenge your mental prowess, while tough enemies test your patience and skill. Traveling the vast light and dark worlds, scaling Death Mountain, and defeating the evil Ganon are but a few of the highlights from Link's grandest adventure, and some of the most satisfying accomplishments in gaming.

Representing: The 2D Legend of Zelda games

18. Mario Kart 7

There's an argument for most entries in the Mario Kart series being on this list. The Wii U version is one of the slickest video games ever made, the SNES original is a proper racing game underneath all the shells and Thwomps, and the DS' multiplayer remains impeccable. But Mario Kart 7 combines all of these facets to deliver the perfect arcade racer.

The addition of underwater and flight sections may offer little in the way of new tactical opportunities, but the sensation of scooting through rising bubbles or soaring past a windmill's moving blades is joyous. Link-up play is rock-solid, and you can even let your friends join in for free with Download Play. With better tracks than Mario Kart 8, better graphics than MK DS, and visual effects that literally jump off the screen, this is a showcase not only for the 3DS hardware, but for Nintendo gaming itself.

Buy it on Amazon

17. Super Mario World

Mario games defined the platformer in the '80s, after basically inventing the genre with Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. The SNES launch title Super Mario World became the high water mark for 2D sidescrollers, dropping the mustachioed mascot into a colorful 16-bit world full of dinosaurs and bottomless pits. And, thanks to the then-new tech on display, SMW packed in even more bits of ingenious design to the already impeccable core gameplay.

World is packed with new moves and abilities only hinted at in previous games, with improved flight, ridable dinosaurs, and more built on top of the perfect jumping action. Meanwhile, the stages are much more intricate, adding replayability and exploration to a series that already rewarded the curious. The 2D platformer still hasn't been bested more than two decades later, despite some admirable attempts from Nintendo's own New Super Mario Bros. and Yoshi's Island.

Representing: The 2D Super Mario games

16. BioShock

It would be easy, and understandable, to focus on the astonishing "Would you kindly?" reveal when discussing the brilliance of BioShock. But the strongest suit of Irrational Games' masterpiece is its world-building, and the narrative experience within that environment. The underwater dystopia of Rapture remains one of the most wonderfully realized locations in all of gaming, given life by its architecture and incidental detail as much as its well-rounded cast.

Listening to every audio diary and reading every poster realizes an astonishing sense of place, while the idea of a city under the sea seems too obviously compelling to have never been done this well before. Then there's your journey through it, a phenomenal rollercoaster of mystery, intrigue, and revelation that astonishes time and again. And yeah, that twist. Would you kindly let us take a little lie down in a cool, dark room?

Buy it on Amazon

15. Mass Effect 2

It takes guts to kill off your lead character in the first five minutes of a game, but that's exactly what happens in Mass Effect 2. Sure, it's a bit of a cheat, but it sets the tone perfectly for the rest of this epic space opera. This is the Empire Strikes Back of the Mass Effect series; the dark middle-child with amazing narrative depth, a host of great characters, and a willingness to punish mistakes with a severity most games shy away from.

It's a richer experience as a result. The heightened emotional consequences of your decisions make every action more meaningful. It helps that ME2 gets the basics right - the combat is slick, exploring the galaxy is compelling - and the 'group of galactic misfits' story draws everything together so neatly. Overall, this is one of the best action RPGs ever made, and maybe - just maybe - the best Star Wars game ever, even without the name.

Buy it on Amazon

14. The Last of Us

Games have, quite appropriately, done the apocalypse to death. Of all the many wonderful things The Last Of Us achieves, its greatest accomplishment may be making the end of the world feel meaningful again. While a phenomenal script takes most of the credit, it helps that every aspect of Joel and Ellie's dirty, deeply unglamorous cross-country trek is utterly convincing.

It's beautiful in a startlingly unshowy way; all wonderful low-key lighting and gorgeously scuffed-up surroundings. Its brand of stealth has more balls than any other game - it constantly holds you accountable for your horrific-but-necessary actions by depicting violence as a disturbingly intimate act. Its zombie-ridden nod to Cormac McCarthy's The Road is brilliantly written. Not 'good for a video game' written, but honest-to-god 'you could air this on HBO' written.

Buy it on Amazon

13. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim

Be who you want to be in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. Play as a stealthy Khajiit archer and creep through dungeons, scoring insta-kill slow motion headshots and pausing to pluck the arrow from the corpse. Be a powerful conjurer able to summon otherworldly weapons, call down monstrous beings, and raise the dead, or walk the path of a destructive mage who can spread fire, frost, and shock from his fingertips. Or beef up your muscles, grow your hair, and be a Conan-the-Barbarian type who wields an axe in one hand and a sword in the other.

The point is, Skyrim is so unbelievably vast that you can carve out your own ideal experience and play precisely how you want to. Choose your quests, pick your factions, and live a new life in this incredibly rich fantasy land.

Buy it on Amazon

12. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Hit the Back button and you can instantly switch between classic 2001 Halo and 343 Industries' remaster. Resist the temptation to perform this disruptive comparison every 30 seconds (like you probably do with your special glasses when watching a 3D movie), and you'll find plenty to admire in this decade-on polish-up.

Yes, on some superficial levels it's basic by today's standards, as Halo's once-progressive features - like rechargeable shields and a two-weapon carry limit - are now commonplace among shooters. But solid fundamentals endure. Alongside those mechanics sit a bevy of improvements, such as online co-op, re-recorded music courtesy of the 75-piece Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, and striking new cut-scenes, making Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary a trip down memory lane worth taking.

Buy it on Amazon

11. Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime stands as one of the most effective perspective shifts in video game history. This 2002 GameCube classic takes a 2D platformer starring a mysterious power-armored bounty hunter and puts you inside her iconic helmet. Exploring a distant alien world in first-person not only makes the action more tactile, but the isolated beauty more palpable.

The change in viewpoint results in some truly memorable moments. Heat from bubbling lava fields steams up your visor; icy wastes freeze the screen's edges; flashes from Samus' cannon reflect her blue eyes back at you during the brutal fights with local fauna. There's also more room for subtlety; stepping out into Phendrana Drifts as the area's signature piano theme strikes up is a wonderfully evocative moment. Here, no longer do you control Samus; here you are Samus.

Representing: The 3D Metroid games

Buy it on Amazon