revalidation

Best Video Games of All Time: A Comprehensive List

best-video-games

From the classic arcade games that defined our childhood to the modern masterpieces that continue to push the boundaries of storytelling and immersion, video games have left an indelible mark on popular culture.

The best games of all time not only entertain but also shape the industry, inspiring innovations in gameplay mechanics, graphics, and narrative depth across various platforms and genres.

This comprehensive list celebrates the greatest video games, spanning genre-defining classics, modern masterpieces, and cult indie favorites that have captivated gamers worldwide.

From iconic franchises like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris to groundbreaking titles such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Red Dead Redemption 2, and The Last of Us, this article explores the games that have redefined the boundaries of what's possible in the gaming industry.

It delves into the timeless appeal of these acclaimed titles, analyzing their impact on the industry, innovative mechanics, and ability to resonate with players on a personal level.

Genre-Defining Classics

Video game genres are categories of games related by similar gameplay characteristics, not by setting or story. Some major video game genres include action, action-adventure, adventure, puzzle, role-playing, simulation, and strategy [4].

The following titles have left an indelible mark on their respective genres, redefining the boundaries of what's possible and captivating gamers worldwide.

Super Mario Bros

This iconic platformer revolutionized the genre with its tight controls, memorable levels, and the introduction of power-ups like the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower. Its impact on the gaming industry cannot be overstated, as it set the standard for 2D platformers and inspired countless imitators.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Transitioning the Zelda series into 3D, Ocarina of Time took Link on a grand adventure through an explorable Hyrule, influencing countless 'Zelda clones' in the open-world action-adventure genre. Its innovative gameplay mechanics, intricate puzzles, and epic storytelling established it as a genre-defining masterpiece.

Tetris

Simple yet addictive, Tetris defined the puzzle genre with its deceptively straightforward gameplay of arranging falling tetrominoes. Its timeless appeal, coupled with its ability to induce a state of "flow," has made it a cultural phenomenon that transcends generations.

These genre-defining classics not only revolutionized their respective genres but also left an indelible mark on the gaming industry as a whole. Their innovative mechanics, memorable characters, and captivating gameplay continue to inspire and influence game developers to this day.

Super Mario Bros

Super Mario Bros was a landmark game that helped revive the video game industry in the mid-1980s after the video game crash of 1983. Its success and quality helped establish Nintendo as a major player in the industry and set the stage for the company's continued dominance. The game introduced many iconic elements of the Mario franchise, including:

  • Enemies like Goombas and Koopa Troopas.
  • Characters like Luigi and Princess Peach.

The Mario series has gone on to influence and shape the video game industry in numerous ways over the decades, such as:

  1. Establishing 3D platforming
  2. Pioneering motion controls
  3. Expanding into new genres.

Mario has become one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time and a true icon of the industry. The franchise has been a consistent source of revenue and critical acclaim for Nintendo, helping establish the company as one of the most important players in the video game industry.

Mario introduced innovative gameplay mechanics that have become standard in the video game industry, such as the use of power-ups like the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower. Mario's biggest influence on the industry is the way it breathed life into the platformer genre, which has since become one of the most popular in video games. As of 2022, the Mario franchise has sold an estimated 826 million copies, including around 386 million from the Super Mario series alone.

Key Highlights

Details

First Mario Game

Super Mario Bros, released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Sales Success

Sold over 40 million copies, a huge success.

Cultural Impact

Mario's "average-ness" as a humble plumber made him relatable and iconic in American and global popular culture.

By 1990, American children were more familiar with Mario than Mickey Mouse.

Catchphrase

It's-a-me, Mario!" became widely recognized.

Nintendo's Growth

Helped drive the growth of the NES and Nintendo's profits in the 1980s, bringing fresh perspectives to video game culture.

Global Phenomenon

Mario has become a global cultural phenomenon, with the Prime Minister of Japan dressing up as Mario for the 2016 Rio Olympics closing ceremony.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64, was a groundbreaking title that revolutionized the action-adventure genre with its transition to 3D graphics. Acclaimed by critics and consumers alike, the game was praised for its visuals, sound, gameplay, soundtrack, and writing, earning numerous accolades, including Game of the Year from multiple publications.

Ocarina of Time's impact on the video game industry cannot be overstated:

  • It popularized features like the target lock system and context-sensitive buttons, influencing countless games that followed.
  • With over 7 million copies sold worldwide and over 500,000 pre-orders in the US (more than tripling the previous record), it was a commercial success.
  • It has consistently been ranked as the greatest video game of all time by numerous publications and holds the highest rating on Metacritic.

Key Highlights

Details

Groundbreaking 3D Graphics

First game in The Legend of Zelda series with 3D graphics, setting a new standard for action-adventure games.

Innovative Gameplay Mechanics

Introduced features like the target lock system and context-sensitive buttons, which became industry standards.

Immersive World and Storytelling

Offered an explorable 3D world with intricate puzzles and an epic storyline, captivating players with its depth and attention to detail.

Critical and Commercial Success

Received numerous Game of the Year awards and sold over 7 million copies worldwide, with record-breaking pre-orders.

Enduring Legacy

Consistently ranked as one of the greatest video games of all time, influencing countless developers and leaving an indelible mark on the industry.

Ocarina of Time's impact on the gaming industry is undeniable, as it pushed the boundaries of what was possible in terms of graphics, gameplay mechanics, and storytelling. Its innovative features and immersive world set a new standard for action-adventure games, inspiring a generation of developers and cementing its status as a true masterpiece.

Tetris

Tetris, created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov, a Soviet software engineer, has become a global phenomenon and one of the most iconic video games of all time. Despite its simple premise of arranging falling tetrominoes, the game's addictive gameplay and timeless appeal have captivated players across generations and platforms.

  • Origins and Licensing: Tetris quickly spread across Moscow as Pajitnov's co-workers shared copies on floppy disks. When the game reached Hungary, it caught the attention of Robert Stein, a UK-based software company owner, who secured the licensing rights through a new Soviet agency called Elorg. Stein licensed Tetris to distributors in the US and UK, making it the first Soviet-created software to be sold in America.
  • Commercial Success and Porting: After a legal battle with Atari Games, Nintendo secured the handheld and console rights for Tetris, bundling it with every Game Boy sold, solidifying its dominance in the market. Tetris has been ported to over 65 platforms, setting a Guinness World Record for the most ported video game. It has sold over 202 million copies, including 70 million physical units and 132 million paid mobile downloads, making it one of the best-selling video game franchises.

Key Highlights

Details

Global Reach

Estimates suggest at least 1 billion people have played Tetris worldwide.

Cognitive Effects

The 'Tetris Effect' or 'Tetris Syndrome' refers to players seeing Tetris shapes in the real world and dreams, as the game appeals to the problem-solving part of the brain.

Potential Benefits

Studies have shown Tetris may help patients recover from post-traumatic stress, aid smokers in quitting nicotine, and improve spatial awareness.

Accolades

Inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2015 and holds the Guinness World Record for 'Most Variants of a Videogame' with 215 official variants as of 2015.

Tetris' enduring popularity and cultural impact are a testament to its simple yet addictive gameplay, which has transcended generations and platforms, cementing its status as one of the greatest video games ever made.

Modern Masterpieces

The gaming industry has witnessed a remarkable evolution in recent years, pushing the boundaries of storytelling, graphics, and immersive gameplay experiences. Among the modern masterpieces that have captivated gamers worldwide, three titles stand out for their groundbreaking achievements and critical acclaim: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Red Dead Redemption 2, and The Last of Us.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

  • Developed by CD Projekt Red and released in 2015, The Witcher 3 is a critically acclaimed action role-playing game that immerses players in a vast, meticulously crafted open world.
  • Praised for its compelling storytelling, branching narratives, and the meaningful impact of player choices, the game offers a rich and rewarding experience.
  • The combat system is a significant improvement over previous Witcher games, with a focus on timing, positioning, and utilizing Geralt's arsenal of swords, signs, bombs, and crossbows.
  • With its attention to detail, high-quality side quests, and technical accomplishments, The Witcher 3 is considered a masterpiece that elevates the RPG genre to new heights.

Red Dead Redemption 2

  • Developed by Rockstar Games and released in 2018, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece that has redefined the open-world gaming experience.
  • With its stunning visuals, immersive storytelling, and attention to detail, the game has been hailed as a technical and artistic achievement, pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in open-world gaming.

The Last of Us

  • Released in 2013 by Naughty Dog, The Last of Us is a critically acclaimed action-adventure game that has been praised for its emotional storytelling, compelling characters, and cinematic presentation.
  • With a Metascore of 95, the game has received numerous accolades, including multiple Game of the Year awards, for its ability to resonate with players on a personal level.
  • The game's narrative explores themes of survival, love, and the lengths people will go to protect those they care about, delivering an emotionally charged and unforgettable experience.

These modern masterpieces have raised the bar for storytelling, graphics, and immersive gameplay experiences, captivating gamers with their expertly crafted narratives, memorable characters, and groundbreaking technology.

The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a massive, critically acclaimed game that left a lasting impact on the gaming industry. It brought the Witcher franchise into the upper echelons of gaming excellence, with incredible scores and Game of the Year awards. The game offered new experiences to gamers and perfected others, elevating the open-world genre to new heights.

  • Vast Explorable Landscapes: The Witcher 3 featured vast, explorable landscapes that were more detailed and breathtaking than previous open-world games, setting a new standard for the genre. The game discouraged fast travel, instead rewarding players for taking the time to explore and experience the world.
  • Atmospheric Visuals and Attention to Detail: The game's atmospheric visuals, dynamic weather, and meticulous attention to detail made the world feel truly alive, capturing the mood of a war-torn country with remarkable authenticity.
  • Narrative Excellence: The Witcher 3 combined a detailed, massive open world with an in-depth, well-written story, setting a new standard for narrative in open-world games. The game elevated side quests by combining deep lore with interesting and well-written stories, making them an integral part of the experience.

Key Highlights

Details

Established Protagonist

The game featured a strong, established protagonist in Geralt, rather than a blank slate for the player.

Commercial Success

The Witcher 3's massive commercial success helped prove that single-player games were still viable and in demand.

Indie Developer Triumph

The game's success showed that smaller developers like CD Projekt Red can compete with industry giants.

Cultural Impact

The successful Netflix adaptation of The Witcher further elevated the game's impact on popular culture.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt set a new benchmark for open-world games, combining breathtaking visuals, immersive storytelling, and innovative gameplay mechanics that captivated players worldwide.

Red Dead

Developed by Rockstar Games and released in 2018, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece that has redefined the open-world gaming experience. With its stunning visuals, immersive storytelling, and attention to detail, the game has been hailed as a technical and artistic achievement, pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in open-world gaming.

Key Highlights

Details

Critical Acclaim

Metascore of 97, universal acclaim from critics.

Immersive Open World

Praised for its detailed environments, compelling story, and characters.

Technical Achievement

Pushed boundaries of graphics and open-world gaming

Development Efforts

Over 1,000 developers, $80-100 million budget, proprietary engine enhancements.

  • The game's meticulous attention to detail, from the realistic animal behavior to the dynamic weather systems, creates a living, breathing world that immerses players in the harsh realities of the American frontier.
  • The narrative, which follows the story of outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang, has been praised for its depth, nuanced characters, and exploration of complex themes such as loyalty, redemption, and the consequences of one's actions.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece that has redefined the open-world gaming experience, pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in terms of graphics, storytelling, and immersion. The game's meticulous attention to detail, from the realistic animal behavior to the dynamic weather systems, creates a living, breathing world that immerses players in the harsh realities of the American frontier.

The narrative, which follows the story of outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang, has been praised for its depth, nuanced characters, and exploration of complex themes such as loyalty, redemption, and the consequences of one's actions. The game's cinematic presentation and exceptional voice acting further enhance the emotional resonance of the story, making it a truly captivating experience.

Key Highlights

Details

Critical Acclaim

Metascore of 97, universal acclaim from critics.

Immersive Open World

Praised for its detailed environments, compelling story, and characters.

Technical Achievement

Pushed boundaries of graphics and open-world gaming

Development Efforts

Over 1,000 developers, $80-100 million budget, proprietary engine enhancements.

Red Dead Redemption 2's success can be attributed to Rockstar Games' unwavering commitment to delivering an unparalleled gaming experience. With a development team of over 1,000 people and a budget estimated between $80-100 million, the game benefited from proprietary engine enhancements and cutting-edge technology that allowed for unprecedented levels of detail and realism.

The Last of Us

The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, is a critically acclaimed action-adventure game that has left an indelible mark on the gaming industry. Within three weeks of its release in 2013, the game sold approximately 3.4 million copies, and by July 2014, it had sold over 7 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling PlayStation 3 games.

The game received widespread critical acclaim, with a Metacritic score of 98 based on 98 reviews. It won numerous awards and accolades, including Game of the Year awards from various prestigious organizations such as the Game Critics Awards, Golden Joystick Awards, SXSW Gaming Awards, and the D.I.C.E. Awards. The Last of Us also won awards for its animation, writing, audio, and performance at events like the Annie Awards, Writers Guild of America Awards, British Academy Video Games Awards, Game Developers Choice Awards, and Game Audio Network Guild Awards.

Key Highlights

Details

Critical Acclaim

Metacritic score of 98, numerous Game of the Year awards.

Commercial Success

Sold over 7 million copies, one of the best-selling PlayStation 3 games.

Accolades

Won awards for animation, writing, audio, and performance.

Enduring Legacy

Often ranked among the greatest video games of all time.

The Last of Us franchise has also expanded into other media, with the HBO TV series already winning 8 Creative Arts Emmy Awards and receiving a total of 24 Emmy nominations so far. The show has received critical acclaim, with a strong debut on HBO and plans for a second season adapting elements from The Last of Us Part II video game. Additionally, The Last of Us Part II Remastered is set to release on PlayStation 5 in January 2024.

Indie Gems and Cult Favorites

When it comes to indie gaming, a few standout titles have captured the hearts and imaginations of players worldwide, offering unique experiences that push the boundaries of creativity and innovation.

Stardew Valley

Developed by a single person, Eric Barone, this farming simulation RPG has become a cultural phenomenon, selling over 20 million copies across various platforms. Its simplicity, polish, and balance between casual and hardcore gameplay have redefined the farming simulator genre, inspiring numerous imitators. Stardew Valley's success serves as a beacon of hope for aspiring indie developers, proving that a single individual with a vision can create something remarkable without a large team or budget.

Celeste

This critically acclaimed 2018 platform game from indie studio Maddy Makes Games follows the story of Madeline, a young woman dealing with anxiety and depression, as she climbs Celeste Mountain. Praised for its gameplay, narrative, visuals, and audio, Celeste has garnered numerous accolades, including the Games for Impact award, recognizing its positive social impact. The game has fostered a dedicated fan community, including an active speedrunning scene, with developers accommodating speedrunning techniques.

Hollow Knight

This atmospheric 2D action-adventure game has captivated players with its intricate world-building, challenging combat, and stunning visuals. Developed by Team Cherry, Hollow Knight showcases the potential of indie games to deliver immersive and polished experiences on par with AAA titles, garnering critical acclaim and a passionate fan base.

Indie Gems

Highlights

Dredge

A single-player fishing game with a dark, ominous atmosphere, featuring over 125 deep sea creatures, valuables, and secrets to discover across various islands.

Sea of Stars

A classic turn-based RPG with an engaging story, fantastic soundtracks, and stunning visuals, where players control two children who must use Eclipse magic to defeat the evil Fleshmancer.

Cult of the Lamb

A unique mix of genres where players take on the role of a cute cartoon lamb leading a cult of colorful animals, involving satisfying follower needs, increasing power, and sometimes sacrificing followers.

Night in the Woods

A quirky side-scrolling adventure game focused on dialogue choices and mini-games, following a 20-year-old protagonist named Mae as she moves back home and interacts with the town.

Dead Cells

A challenging action game that blends roguelike, Metroidvania, and Dark Souls-like elements, with each run feeling unique due to the procedurally generated levels and variety of weapons/abilities.

The rise of indie games, fueled in part by the success of titles like Stardew Valley, has had a profound impact on the gaming industry as a whole. Indie developers now have a platform to showcase their creativity and take risks that larger studios might shy away from, resulting in a richer gaming landscape that offers diverse experiences catering to a wide range of players.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley, the brainchild of Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone, has become a cultural phenomenon since its release in 2016, captivating players with its charming simplicity and addictive gameplay. Developed by a single person over four years, the game's success serves as a beacon of hope for aspiring indie developers, proving that a single individual with a vision can create something remarkable without a large team or budget.

The game's appeal lies in its perfect balance between casual and hardcore gameplay, offering a relaxing farming simulation experience while also providing depth and challenge for dedicated players. Stardew Valley's pixel art graphics and catchy soundtrack contribute to its nostalgic charm, while its engaging characters and storylines keep players invested in the game's world.

Key Highlights

Details

Sales Success

Sold over 20 million copies across various platforms.

Indie Development

Created by a single developer, Eric Barone, over four years.

Gameplay Balance

Offers a perfect blend of casual and hardcore gameplay.

Nostalgic Charm

Pixel art graphics and catchy soundtrack evoke nostalgia

Engaging Narrative

Compelling characters and storylines keep players invested.

Stardew Valley's success has not only redefined the farming simulator genre but has also inspired numerous imitators, cementing its status as a true indie gem. Its enduring popularity and dedicated fan base are a testament to the game's ability to captivate players with its simplicity, charm, and endless replayability.

Celeste

Celeste, the critically acclaimed 2018 platform game from indie studio Maddy Makes Games, follows the story of Madeline, a young woman dealing with anxiety and depression, as she climbs Celeste Mountain. Praised for its gameplay, narrative, visuals, and audio, Celeste has garnered numerous accolades, including the Games for Impact award, recognizing its positive social impact.

  • Innovative Gameplay: Celeste's challenging yet accessible gameplay combines tight platforming mechanics with a unique "air-dash" ability, allowing players to navigate intricate levels and overcome obstacles. The game's difficulty curve is carefully crafted, providing a sense of accomplishment and encouraging perseverance.
  • Emotional Storytelling: Beneath its charming pixel art visuals, Celeste weaves a poignant narrative that explores themes of mental health, self-doubt, and the pursuit of personal growth. Madeline's journey to the summit of Celeste Mountain serves as a metaphor for overcoming one's inner struggles, resonating with players on a profound level.

Key Highlights

Details

Speedrunning Community

Celeste has fostered a dedicated speedrunning scene, with developers accommodating speedrunning techniques.

Accessibility Options

The game offers a range of accessibility options, including assist modes and customizable controls, ensuring a welcoming experience for players of all abilities.

Indie Success Story

Celeste's critical and commercial success serves as an inspiration for indie developers, showcasing the potential for small teams to create impactful and meaningful gaming experiences.

Celeste's enduring popularity and dedicated fan base are a testament to its ability to captivate players with its challenging yet rewarding gameplay, emotional storytelling, and inclusive design. The game's success has not only contributed to the indie gaming renaissance but has also demonstrated the power of video games to explore complex themes and foster a sense of community among players.

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight, the atmospheric 2D action-adventure game developed by Team Cherry, has captivated players with its intricate world-building, challenging combat, and stunning visuals. Praised for its meticulously crafted environments, haunting soundtrack, and tight gameplay mechanics, Hollow Knight has garnered critical acclaim and a passionate fan base, cementing its status as a true indie gem.

  • Immersive World-Building: Hollow Knight's underground kingdom of Hallownest is a masterclass in environmental storytelling, with each area meticulously designed to convey a sense of history and lore. Players unravel the kingdom's mysteries as they explore its forgotten depths, uncovering ancient civilizations and encountering enigmatic characters.
  • Challenging Combat: The game's combat system is a perfect blend of precision and fluidity, requiring players to master dodge-rolling, nail arts, and various charms to overcome formidable foes. Bosses are particularly challenging, demanding pattern recognition, quick reflexes, and strategic use of abilities.

Key Highlights

Details

Critical Acclaim

Received numerous accolades, including multiple Game of the Year awards.

Artistic Vision

Praised for its hand-drawn art style, atmospheric soundtrack, and attention to detail.

Dedicated Fan Base

Fostered a passionate community of players, artists, and speedrunners.

Indie Success Story

Showcases the potential of indie games to deliver immersive and polished experiences on par with AAA titles.

Hollow Knight's success has not only solidified its place as a beloved indie gem but has also demonstrated the potential of small teams to create immersive and polished gaming experiences that can compete with AAA titles. Its dedicated fan base, comprising players, artists, and speedrunners, is a testament to the game's ability to captivate and inspire, leaving an indelible mark on the gaming industry.

Conclusion

The enduring popularity and cultural impact of video games is undeniable. From the classic arcade games that defined our childhood to the modern masterpieces that continue to push the boundaries of storytelling and immersion, video games have left an indelible mark on popular culture. This comprehensive list celebrates the greatest video games, spanning genre-defining classics, modern masterpieces, and cult indie favorites that have captivated gamers worldwide across different platforms and genres.

The genre-defining classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris revolutionized gameplay mechanics and storytelling in their respective genres, leaving an indelible mark on the gaming industry and continuing to captivate gamers with their timeless gameplay, memorable characters, and innovative design. Meanwhile, modern masterpieces such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Red Dead Redemption 2, and The Last of Us have raised the bar for storytelling, graphics, and immersive gameplay experiences, garnering widespread acclaim for their narrative depth, cinematic presentation, and emotional impact. Indie gems and cult favorites like Stardew Valley, Celeste, and Hollow Knight have gained a dedicated following despite their smaller budgets, showcasing the creativity, charm, and gameplay innovation of indie developers who push boundaries and contribute to the diversity and richness of the gaming landscape.

FAQs

1. What game is often regarded as the greatest of all time?

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has been voted the greatest video game of all time by the readers and community of Game Informer, following a poll with over 200,000 votes. Previously, in 2018, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had won the top spot with The Last of Us as the runner-up.

2. Which video game holds the title of the best-selling ever?

Tetris is the best-selling video game of all time, with over 520 million copies sold according to data from The Tetris Company as reported by IGN.

3. What is the highest-rated video game?

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time holds the title for the highest-rated video game.

4. What are the most popular online games currently?

As of 2024, the most popular online games worldwide include Minecraft, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), World of Warcraft (WoW), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Among Us, Apex Legends, Roblox, and Valorant.