The 52 Most Important Video Games of All Time
Some of the games on this list are great. Others are downright awful. But all 52 games on this list have influenced the medium of video games in a lasting, meaningful way. Here are 52 games for the ages.
*[NOTE FROM THE EDITORS]:
This list was surprisingly challenging to write because it ranks importance, not necessarily quality or popularity. The GamePro editors generally decided that, in order to make a spot on the list, the game had to meet the following criteria:
Have a lasting influence that's still observed in modern gaming. This automatically rules out huge but largely irrelevant series like Sonic the Hedgehog (which sprung from the same pool as Super Mario Bros. anyway). Ditto for Castlevania.
Serve as a focusing lens, not just an empty industry "first." Okay, so Quake was the first 3D shooter. So what? Other, earlier shooters had far more gameplay influence -- id's own trend-setters Doom and Wolfenstein, for instance. Same goes for Virtua Fighter...yeah, it's cool, but how important is the super-nichey 3D fighter genre in modern gaming?
Impact the industry in a way beyond mere sales. Innovation trumps sales every time -- it's all about influence. For one reason or another, the games on this list changed the way things were done. Sometimes, sadly, these changes are for the worse.
Table of Contents
The first home console game to successfully translate the frenetic arcade action of games like Donkey Kong, Mr. Do! and Dig Dug, Pitfall took the Atari 2600 to a whole new level and made Activision the first major third party player, a legacy that continues to this day.
51. Mystery House
In 1980, there was no HDMI or progressive scan, just a bunch of white text on a black screen. But this text-based adventure game, created by Sierra On-Line founders Ken and Roberta Williams, was revolutionary for one simple reason: it featured graphics at a time when most computer games did not. The first adventure game to feature a visual component, Mystery House was a commercial success, selling copies in the tens of thousands, which, in those days, qualified it for blockbuster status. Its most significant contribution was to prove that the visual element is crucial to the success of a video game title....something gamers take for granted in this age of anti-aliasing.
Contra for the NES*
Up, Up, Down, Down... ahhh, you know the rest. Though a classic in its own right, the NES version of Contra forever changed gaming by popularizing the use of cheat codes, which played a major part in early gaming culture.
After the Konami Code, gaming would never be the same.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2X
49. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
Simply revolutionary in premise and execution. When THPS hit the PlayStation in 1999, it was an instant hit among gamers of all persuasions and became the key cash cow for publisher Activision. Though the later installments are more conventional, the first game changed perceptions about what form sports games -- and console games, for that matter -- could take.
48. Gran Turismo
Racing games were stuck in low gear until Polyphony Digital's landmark Gran Turismo: The Real Driving Simulator came along in 1998 and changed everything. Where to start? Gran Turismo upped the ante in every single way, from the insanely realistic driving physics to the endless component customizations. Even the graphics were remarkable for its time (real-time reflections!), and its early use of the Dual Shock analog controller set standards across all genres. Modern racing titles, which pride themselves on their realism and customization options, are standing on the shoulders of Gran Turismo.
Duke Nukem 3D
47. Duke Nukem 3D
More influential than Quake and funnier than Doom, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first games to feature a protagonist with a real personality...in this case, the hard-drinking, wise-cracking Duke Nukem. His snarky one-liners may have been cribbed from Evil Dead, but Duke's gravel-throated voice and deadpan delivery lent the game a thick layer of sarcasm. Add in countless B-movie references, interactive environments that have yet to be matched, and an arsenal of off-the-wall weapons, and you've got yourself one of the most important shooters ever released.
Super Mario Kart*
46. Super Mario Kart
Though not instantly recognizable as an earth-shaking game, Super Mario Kart holds up on closer examination. This fast-and-furious racer turned the racing genre on its ear, spawning a "kart racing" phenomenon that prospers to this day. More importantly, the SNES original paved the way for combat racers like Wipeout, Twisted Metal, and Burnout.
At first glance little more than a gorgeous console shooter, Halo's innovation lie curled within its scores of subtle gameplay refinements. By making the player's health meter recharge, Halo eliminated the need for frustrating health pickups (though they appeared in an almost vestigial fashion in the first game). This recharging health meter has since appeared in hundreds of games and is the current model for nearly all action games. Other trend-setting developments included limiting players to carrying two weapons at a time, a design choice that highlighted strategy and realism, and putting a key focus on vehicular combat -- an unusual but defining choice for a first-person shooter.
Though not everyone appreciates this choice, Nintendogs clearly represents a turning point for modern video games based purely on its accessibility. Based on the foundation of digital pets like Tamagotchi, Nintendogs introduced millions of non-gamers to video games. Along with non-traditional games like Brain Age, Nintendogs turned the Nintendo DS into a bonafide cultural phenominon.
Enter the Matrix
43. Enter the Matrix
A landmark evolution in the relationship, and marketing budgets, shared between filmmaking and video game design, as well as an international mega-hit, thanks to intertwining storylines and game cutscenes filmed during the actual production. And yet another example of fans' perpetual disappointment with games licensed from films. All of which started with...
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial*
42. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Notorious as the most colossal flop in the history of the industry, E.T.-- reportedly made in just five weeks and by many accounts the worst video game ever made -- cost Atari millions of dollars in unsold cartridges and did even more damage in consumer trust. E.T. is also greatly responsible for the video game crash of 1983, which spelled disaster for the once omniscient Atari. Nintendo rose from their ashes, Atari never again regained market relevance, and gamers who had learned a major lesson about licensed titles spoke definitively with their wallets.
41. Wii Sports
With its revolutionary controller that presents tried-and-true game scenarios in a whole new way, the Wii may change the way we interact with games forever. Gaming meets exercise, interactivity is raised to a whole new level and so many interface conventions are shattered.
40. NBA JAM
Though sports simulation titles hog the limelight, NBA Jam reminded us not to take sports too seriously. Its off-the-wall presentation paved the way for a whole generation of arcade-influenced sports games, most notably NFL Blitz, the EA Big series, and even crash-happy racers like Burnout.