In the last few slow video game months, several media outlets have released their top video games of all time. Fans have poured over these lists and debated them extensively in comment sections. While these lists seem like click bait, and in many ways are, there are several things we can glean from the lists.
No matter who puts out the list there is one thing that is consistent, Nintendo is the best video game maker of all time. No other company has put out more quality games than Nintendo.
A decade ago, the consensus choice for best game of all time was Zelda Ocarina of Time. Then as time went on, it was trendy to recognize Mario’s historical impacts in gaming by choosing either Super Mario Bros 1 or 3. Now, in an effort to be edgy (or attempt to surprise people in these yearly lists) Zelda: A Link to the Past takes the top spot for Game Informer while IGN has selected Super Mario World.
Each one has a legitimate claim for the top spot. Many of their other games float around the top ten, including Super Metroid, Zelda: Wind Waker, Super Mario 64, Metroid Prime, Donkey Kong and Super Smash Bros. Melee. Multiple entries of Zelda and Mario crack every top 100. Most lists also include Metroid Prime, Animal Crossing, and an entry of Mario Kart. We have not even mentioned current generation gems like Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey. No other developer has as many classic games as Nintendo can boast.
Ash might not ever get there, but Nintendo, it is clear that you are the very best that there ever was. We are not worthy!
Discredit the List if Heavy on Current Gen
Psych studies have shown that we remember the first and the last best. What came in the middle is harder to recall. Ranking video games falls prey to this tendency. We fondly remember the first games we ever played. We also buy into the hype for the most recent good games we have played.
Doing this though ignores one of the most important tests a game can pass, the test of time. It is rare that a game should even be considered if released in the last year, let alone the current generation. Games need to move beyond simply being a graphical marvels and show that the narrative, gameplay, and style hold over time. Unless explicitly stated in the criteria of the list, all top 100s should include historical impact. Games that permeate culture and change video games forever need to be recognized and considered for inclusion.
Let us look at some of the most recent gaming flings. If we buy into the hype and forget to allow time to test games then the most recent Call of Duty (every year) might be included. Destiny would have cracked the top fifty. Current gaming fads, Fortnite and PUBG would be on every list, but in reality will not have the longevity. PokemonGo would have busted into the top 10 a month after launch. Now I would not put that garbage in the top 300 unless the criteria is heavy on cultural impact.
This can work in reverse too. Zelda: Wind Waker upon released was trashed by fans because of being too cartoony. They had seen a tech demo of what Zelda could be and angered by the childish version that was produced instead. Vindictively fans dismissed the game. In recent years, players have gone back and seen how well the game has aged. It now is a mainstay on most lists for best 100 games.
The test of time is crucial to make sure a game’s quality and replay value are where they should be as a top 100 game. New games just have not had enough time to prove it yet. Give them time, and the real gems will rise to the top.
Sports Games Must Suck
Any legit list should have representatives from every genre of video game. Survival Horror? Silent Hill and Resident Evil, check. Platforming? Mario of course! Open world adventure? Witcher 3, Skyrim, and Zelda: BotW. Puzzle? The Witness and Tetris. First Person Shooters? Metroid Prime, Half-Life, and Halo, check. Simulations/building? Minecraft, The Sims, and Civilization. Point and Click? Look no further than Monkey’s Island 2. MOBA? League of Legends. RTS? Starcraft. RPG? Final Fantasy VI and Mass Effect. Sports games…nothing?
Surprisingly, this genre is neglected more often than not. This trend has seemed to increase with the esports focus in the gaming community. Secondly, these titles have become annual iterations with minimal competition. Fans tend to want to play with their favorite players and team. With only one company getting the license to use the professional properties, competitors are non-existant. With no competition for these companies drastic innovation and improvement seems to have died.
There are a few sports titles though that still garner attention and tournaments that should be recognized. If we include the historical and cultural impact, then Tecmo Super Bowl is almost a must on any list. NBA Jam TE also must be considered for its gaming style and overall impact on sports gaming. When Mario copies you, then it is a good sign! NHL ’94 is revered by hockey fans and even found its way into the movie Swingers. Wii Sports could be included, as a title that practically sold 100 million Wii systems all by itself. The point is that there are options. Good options. Leaving a genre out because it is not a personal preference ignores the massive fan base and impact of the genre.
Excluding sports titles in a top 100 is unacceptable. Even for a gamer who does not play sports titles! No genre should be completely neglected. Well, that is unless we are talking casual shovelware.
Story vs Gameplay
As graphics, voice acting, and cut scenes have become commonplace for all AAA games, one question has nagged the industry. Is it story, or gameplay, that makes a video game great?
Each list reveals how that set of reviewers answer this question. When you see the top ten of any list, you can see where they settled with this question. If Nintendo still dominates the top spots then gameplay is the key for greatness. The big hitters for Nintendo, Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, do not boast deep engaging story lines. Gameplay is what makes these games what they are.
My litmus test for how essential story is viewed for critics is where The Last of Us ranks. Make no mistake, I love The Last of Us and would put it in any top 100. If we ranked just on gameplay however, the game would be near the bottom of the list. What succeeds in the game is a riveting narrative that draws you into the lives of the characters. The storytelling is second to none and sets The Last of Us apart from other similar games. Role Playing Games (RPGs) are typically story driven and show a plot is a focus for reviewers. Other titles like Halo, Half-Life 2 also can signify a lean toward a plot driven game.
The ideal is beautiful story matched with unparalleled gameplay. With these powers combined we get legendary games. Modern big budget games tend to lean more on an intricate story. The retro indie games however keep things simple and rely on in-depth gameplay like Shovel Knight.
Top 100+ lists are usually click bait during slow news times to draw in hits. They create arguments and create debate in comments sections. They also have given us some different lenses with which to view the industry as a whole. Often I become so focused on the tree right before me (like Breath of the Wild!) that I forget to see the entire forest. These lists provide a reminder and opportunity to do just that. I am in awe as I think back of all Nintendo’s great games. I wonder what the future of gaming will be. Will narrative and gameplay blend, or will one dominate the other?
Let us know what trends and themes I missed in the comment section below.