As faithful readers are well aware by now, this month marks G.I.’s
300th issue. Like previous milestone issues, we decided to honor the
occasion with the noblest pursuit of video game journalism: a Top X Games Of
All-Time list. By “noblest,” I mean “most stupidly futile,” naturally.
Look, here’s the thing: All best/worst/sexiest/whatever lists are an intellectual farce. That’s
why we’re hopelessly drawn to them; our brains are hardwired to classify
and quantify everything around us, and ranked lists trick us by compiling
their entries in a way that looks and feels objective – they’re numbered, after
all, and numbers don’t lie!
But no matter how hard
we try, there is no way to transform a personal, subjective opinion into a
numerical representation of irrefutable value. Whatever fancy mathemagics I
employ to make my case, at the end of the day my favorite game still means
crap-all to countless other players out there, and your favorite game probably
means crap-all to me (especially if it begins with a “B” and ends with a “reath
of the Wild“).
The problem isn’t just that the attributes which make a game
good or bad are entirely subjective (is it the gameplay? Tell that to adventure
game fans. Is it a meaningful story? Tell that to Overwatch fans, etc.). It’s
that “good” and “bad” themselves are subjective.
What does “good” mean in the
context of a video game? Fun? Challenging? Thought provoking? Emotionally impactful?
Is it all those things combined? If so, in what quantities? Everyone has a
different measuring stick for what’s “good,” and they all sport different sizes
and units of measurement. You might be measuring in meters, while I’m measuring
Saint’s Row: The Third, a game where you play as a literal toilet, is #274 on the list, by the way.
If you’re thinking, “Hey, doesn’t all this apply to review
scores too?” right now, you’re 100-percent correct – and super late to the
party. I’ve been wrangling together G.I.’s Feedback section for over eight
years now, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve told respondents that a
review score isn’t an objective representation of a game’s quality, but rather
a subjective representation of the reviewer’s enjoyment of that game. I
also can’t count the number of times a Feedback letter has acknowledged this
differentiation upfront, only to follow it up with a “but” that negates
everything that came before it:
Dear G.I., I know that
reviews are subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but YOU ARE
TOTALLY WRONG AND STUPID AND SHOULD ALL BE FIRED AND CANCEL MY SUBSCRIPTION
Well, today I’m sharing my “but” with you.* We here at G.I.
took on the ridiculously impossible task of ranking the top 300 games of
all-time, and we did it in the fairest way we could – by individual editors making impassioned and
entirely subjective arguments for each and every game in hopes of winning over the
wider staff to their point of view. We argued for weeks; first about what games
were on the list, and then about the actual ordering (oh god, the ordering
The monumental challenge resulted in a hell of a great read
that lovingly looks back at and celebrates hundreds of amazing, creative,
one-of-a-kind games. BUT…
Note: The following
entries are in no particular order, because I’ve done enough ranking to last a
lifetime and making a ranked list about a ranked list is so meta I could puke. Also,
I realize labeling entries “good” and “bad” is the exact same problem I was
just complaining about, but I have to call them something so give me a break
Bad Call: Goldeneye
007 > Super Bomberman?!
Don’t get me wrong: My high-school friends and I played a ton of Goldeneye
back in the day, and it was as mind-blowing and transformative to my gaming
tastes as it was for everyone else. But better than Bomberman? You can still
dig an SNES out of the closet at any party, plunk that cartridge in with a
multi-tap and a hopelessly tangled mess of controllers, and have an absolute
BLAST – bomb pun thoroughly intended.
If you plugged Goldeneye in, on the other hand, it would devolve
into Stand By Me‘s pie-eating contest
as everyone tries to figure out the janky controls and squint hard enough to
make the blurry blobs resemble human beings. And yet Super Bomberman ended up
98 spots lower than Goldeneye. 98!
Bomberman is about as timeless as multiplayer games get. You
lob bombs at your friends, grab power-ups from exploded bricks, and scream
maniacally when the skull item inflicts you with diarrhea bombs. Yes, that’s real, and it’s spectacular.
Good Call: No Pay-to-Win
Cultural significance played a big role in our rankings, as did the amount
of time editors logged into certain games. Part of the reason Overwatch cracked
the top 25 was because a ton of editors still play it on a daily basis.
Seriously, they have a problem.
Both arguments could certainly be made for a game like Clash
Royale, but it didn’t make the list. Why? Because it’s
EVIL. We made a call early on that, in a list celebrating the best that
gaming has to offer, we should exclude games that ruin their design to
shamelessly extort money from their players. It was the right call, and I’m
glad we made it!
…And yes I know there are still a bunch of games with microtransactions
on the list – if we blacklisted them altogether, we never would’ve made it to
Bad Call: Did We Really Need Super Mario World 2?
Super Mario World is still one of my favorite games of all time, so when I
heard they were making a sequel, I was thrilled! Then I learned it starred a
whiny-ass baby Mario. Less thrilled.
In hindsight, I can begrudgingly acknowledge that baby Mario
doesn’t really make that much of a difference – you’re still running around,
jumping on platforms and dodging enemies like any other Super Mario game, with
some nifty bonus mechanics that are exclusive to Yoshi. But the childlike art
style never really clicked for me and it didn’t have the impact on gaming that
so many other Mario titles did. I mean yeah, it forced that one Nintendo
lady to knit crochet Yoshis for the rest of her life, but is that the kind
of legacy we really want to celebrate?
Good Call: The
Stanley Parable As The Best Walking Sim
The so-called narrative-based “walking sim” genre has gotten a lot of attention
in the past few years. Some players love them for telling mature stories and
dealing with serious issues. Others find them boring and overly self-important,
and if I really wanted to inspect a bunch of random old junk for hours on end,
I’ve got plenty of real-life closets of my own to rummage through.
Anywho, those common criticisms of the genre simply
aren’t true of The Stanley Parable. Galactic Café’s take on interactive
fiction doesn’t just pose intriguing philosophical questions – it’s also wildly
inventive, self-deprecating, and laugh-out-loud funny! And instead of treating
gameplay like an afterthought, The Stanley Parable experiments with its mechanics
and game design as much as it does its storytelling. I have enjoyed other
walking sims like What Remains of Edith Finch, and I’m happy we included a few
of them on the list – but I’m even happier that The Stanley Parable landed at
the top of the pack.
Bad Call: No Into The
To be fair, this wasn’t really a call per se – Into The Breach wasn’t even
out when we put together the list, and you can’t exactly call a game “the best”
when you haven’t even played it. Those facts didn’t lessen the sting of playing
Into The Breach a week after we went to print, however, and realizing it totally would have earned a spot. And
now the list is completely ruined and invalid. Oh well – issue 400 is only eight
Good Call: 2D Picross
Is The Right Picross
Kyle and I recalled this argument on the 300
livestream, but it was certainly one of the weirdest arguments that took
place during our meetings, and an example of how you sometimes find yourself
fighting for games you never would’ve imagined.
Everyone was in complete
apathy agreement that
Nintendo’s picture puzzle series deserved to be on the list, but which entry
was hotly contested. I, along with the other sane staff members, argued for the
obviously correct Mario’s Picross; it was the first entry in the series, it was
the most-played entry in the series, and it was a huge success for the Game Boy.
It single-handedly made picross into picross, and none of the other clones or
spin-offs would exist today without it. Furthermore, it’s the only Picross game
that actually had a theme, and it fit the gameplay perfectly – you kind of felt
like an archeologist as you studied the image and tapped blocks off one guess
at a time (I realize that’s not how archeology actually works, but you don’t do
it on a Game Boy either).
Kyle’s insane choice was Picross 3D, because according to
him, it’s the “better” game because it’s more complicated. And he was
surprisingly condescending about it – he even called himself and Reeves the
“Picross experts” on staff, as if the rest of us aren’t qualified to weigh in
because we’re dummies who can only handle 2D pixel puzzles.
And here’s the thing – I don’t even care about Picross that
much! I’ve solved hundreds of picross puzzles over the years, but is it really worth getting into a literal
shouting match with coworkers over which
entry to include on the list?
The answer is apparently yes. And I won. Probably because I
scared everyone else into submission – but a win is a win!
And that’s how entry #248 was chosen.**
Bad Call: The Witness
Is Too Low
The Witness is probably the most ingenious puzzle game ever made. It takes
a dead-simple concept and spins it into hundreds of unique challenges, each
more devilishly tricky than the last. Then it layers on dozens of “oh sh**!”
meta-puzzles that you discover as you explore the Mad Puzzle Island of Dr.
Blow. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with more mind-blowing, “aha” moments.
There is no filler here – it’s all gold, and slowly builds up your puzzle-solving
lexicon with surgical precision.
The Witness is ranked 21 spots below PEGGLE.
Another Bad Call:
Peggle Is Also Better Than Mario Odyssey?!
Okay, maybe the problem is just Peggle, which somehow rose through the
ranks all the way to 223, beating out Mario’s latest smash-hit
adventure*** by a single spot. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love…watching a
ball bounce around? What were we thinking?! Is half of G.I.’s staff comprised of
cats? You won’t believe how high Chasing A Laser Pointer and Pooping In A Box are
ranked. They’re modern-day classics!
Let’s move on before my brain explodes.
Good Call: Not
Starting With #1 (Seriously, What Were We Thinking?)
For the Top 200 issue, and many other lists in-between, we laid out our
rankings in the magazine starting with number one. As such, you immediately got
the big payoff of which game reigned supreme, and then slowly lost interest as
you read about crappier and crappier games (oh boy, can’t wait to see what #195
The logic makes a certain kind of sense for a magazine’s horizontal format,
but I’m really happy we gave that up and turned it into a countdown. Even if it took us 300 issues to figure out…
*I know how that sounds and I regret NOTHING. (back to top)
**I’m sorry I yelled at you, Kyle. (back to top)
***I realize linking to Metacritic as evidence is wildly hypocritical. Sue me.
(back to top)