Ranking the thousands of games that have come out over the years is no simple task. Some folks have personal favorites that may not have been stellar releases, but they loved them for one reason or another. Maybe it’s nostalgia; maybe it’s just a game that appealed to them. Other people have an idea of which games they really like, but putting one above the other to determine a “best ever” title seems daunting.
The three main folks from At the Buzzer (Chris, Dave and Shaun) have assembled, along with friends of the show Gary, Jason, Nick and Michaela. Each person was tasked with putting together a list of his or her top 25 games ever. Those lists were combined, tossed into a giant spreadsheet with a points system, and the final tally was put together. For more information on how the whole thing went down, click here.
These are our top 25 games of all-time. Click on a game’s title, picture or “read more” to see a title’s full article.
(1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Of course, the namesake of OoT is what really makes it special. Going back and forth seven years should and does manipulate numerous things about the world, and is used to great effect. Plant a seed, and in seven years, it will grow. Turn into a kid to access tight entrances adult Link is too big for. Create a paradox and break the time continuum completely by visiting the guy in the windmill. The opportunities are endless, and they’re intriguing every time. The time mechanic doesn’t just affect the gameplay; it also plays heavily into the story, elevating it to become the one I remember the most fondly. It was the most epic, tragic, powerful tale I had ever seen in any game, and it continues to break me to this day with heart-wrenching moments. (read more)
(2) Resident Evil 4 (GC)
Resident Evil 4 was so unique because it prioritized, more than anything, incredible pacing. Rather than get complacent after perfecting its core gameplay, RE 4 continued throwing new angles at the player, relying on quick time events and dynamic boss battles to change up the formula. Yes, quick-time has been abused to the point of absurdity know, but at the time, it was a great mechanic to immerse the player in cutscenes. The title’s portrayal of Leon Kennedy is one of the biggest reasons he remains one of gaming’s most cool, iconic characters, and I don’t think the game gets enough credit for doing the loathed “escort mission” right (in fact, in some cases, the player can exploit Ashley for aid in the fight). RE 4 is balanced, progressive, and brilliant. (read more)
(3) Chrono Trigger (SNES)
This game makes you care about the world, its people, and the problems they face. Trying to repair the mystical Sun Stone? You can do it, but it’s going to require thousands of millenniums of work and you’ll have to create trust in two different eras with an act of kindness. Need to salvage a dying forest? You’ve got a robot who doesn’t age who can work tirelessly on the project, but is it fair to subject a being with consciousness to 400 years of solitude? Do you love Crono’s versatility as a silent protagonist? Too bad; even the main character is at risk from the mighty Lavos. You want him back? It’s going to take some work, but if you don’t feel up to the task, you can go try to save the world without him. In fact, you can choose to battle Lavos at almost any time in the game — and there’s a multitude of different endings depending on your success (or failure) at certain points. (read more)
(4) Mass Effect 2 (360/PC)
By making the gameplay vastly superior, and implementing the perfect blend of shooter mechanics and space power usage, it allows the player to focus more on the story. And damn, what a story it is. Taking a cue from what many regard as the best bridging chapter in cinema trilogy history, The Empire Strikes Back, ME 2 is dark. It starts dark, with your Shepard suffocating to death in space after his ship is attacked by a fearsome new enemy. In the first two minutes. It stays dark, with thousands (millions?) of humans being abducted and harvested, requiring Shepard to team up with an enemy to solve the threat. It ends dark, implying that the fight is far from over, and the enemy invasion is imminent (or even darker if you made poor decisions and got your crew killed in the final mission). (read more)
(5) Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox/PC)
As I was growing up and watching the Star Wars movies and seeing the expanded universe around them, I started to really like Jedi. I know, crazy. The more I learned about the cool stuff they could do, and how powerful the Force could be, I thought that I kinda got screwed over in the movies because all the Jedi were pretty much dead. I loved the world that Star Wars was in and wanted more. Well, in comes the #1 reason I bought an Xbox in the first place. KOTOR seemed to have scanned my brain and figured out what I imagined a galaxy with Jedi and droids and everything else Star Wars would be. As you travel from world to world, finding the clues to an ancient source of power, you feel as though your choices really affect the people you come in contact with. (read more)
(6) Pokemon Red/Blue (GB)
Pokemon changed the face portable gaming forever. Sure, you could link up a couple Game Boys and play two-player Tetris or Dr. Mario or something, but nothing like this. Pokemon encouraged players to work together, make trades to catch exclusive creatures they couldn’t find in their game, and then have their teams fight to the death. There was a certain magic to the formula that was so perfect that Game Freak has left it largely unchanged in the five generations of games since then — for better or worse. All the little details keep you coming back for more, the perfect experience on a portable system because you always want to get just one more badge, fight one more battle, catch one more Pokemon, hatch one more egg, try the Safari Zone one more time. Red and Blue set a standard for gaming like few other series have. (read more)
(7) Portal (360/PC)
Portal really changed the way I could think about first person shooters (though I was only shooting portals) and incorporated mind-blowing puzzles with hilarious dialogue. I really could even throw it out there that GLaDOS is the best villain of video gaming history, and some people would agree with me. GLaDOS starts out as just your instructor to help you deal with the reality bending levels that the portal gun lets you maneuver through, but as you continue to play, you realize that she’s the reason you’re stuck there…and she wants to make you feel really bad about yourself. Oh yeah, she killed everyone in the Aperture Science facility too. The hilarity of GLaDOS’ dialogue is the only reason I could get on board with her being the best villain ever. (read more)
(8) Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
VI is also home to some of the most emotional moments in gaming, a remarkable achievement considering that it was released almost 20 years ago. Cyan’s family. Shadow’s (possible) sacrifice. Locke’s heartbreak. Celes’ stunning opera performance, and her later despair. Setzer’s companion. Terra and the children. And the biggest heart punch of them all: the entire world’s destruction. That’s right: just as you’re coasting along, thinking you’re going to save the world, the exact opposite happens, throwing the planet into chaos and uprooting all of the characters. Three-fourths of the cast is optional — you can beat the game with just a handful of characters if you head straight for revenge. Or you can gather everyone together again and then travel to Kefka’s tower to battle a god. (read more)
(9) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GC)
When Nintendo is allowed to follow their unique vision, they create one of the most beloved games ever made. And one of the most beloved it is. The art style is visually striking and gorgeous. The puzzles, equipment, and level design are impeccable. The story and characters are second only to Skyward Sword (which also utilizes a cel-shaded-esque art style). And hell, I even enjoyed the sailing. Sure, it got a little tedious, but the sense of freedom and exploration it granted are practically unmatched. To top it all off, Wind Waker includes the best third act in the series; after fighting through a Hyrule Castle frozen in time under the ocean, you take on a fatter, more samurai Ganondorf in his castle. Wind Waker possesses all the qualities that embody Zelda so well – exploration, combat, and a sense of wonder with every new discovery. (read more)
(10) Super Mario 64 (N64)
Mario 64 changed the face of gaming forever. It didn’t raise the standard of 3D platforming; it WAS the standard. From the hubworld of Peach’s castle, Mario can jump through paintings and enter the finest collection of worlds in the series, each one feeling unique and inspired. Mario’s search for the 120 stars was filled with memorable moments and brilliant secrets that encouraged curiosity and experimentation. Completing unique tasks for rewards was such a departure from the previously linear “complete all the levels and beat the castle” formula, and it reinvigorated the franchise and the character for generations to come. Super Mario 64 was the blueprint for 3D platforming gaming and, I’d argue, most of modern gaming in general. (read more)
(11) Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
Perhaps the game’s greatest strength is its characters; nearly every individual in the game, from the tortured, completely badass Riku, to the surprisingly sympathetic Organization members (they just want validation!) are thoughtfully written and complex. Even Sora, the absurdly naive, incorruptible series star, struggles with some of his decisions, and his interaction with Roxas sends a single tear of sadness down my cheek to this day. All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the much improved gameplay that focused on speed and fluidity, making it one of the most enjoyable action RPG systems ever developed. KH II has made its mark as one of the most complete RPGs ever, and it’s no wonder why the prolonged wait for a true third entry is so frustrating. (read more)
(12) Persona 4 Golden (Vita)
Let’s talk about why Golden is the perfect version of an already classic game. Do you remember the nebulous and confusing Persona fusions from before? Those are gone now, replaced by a list of possibilities, so you can make whatever Persona you’d like out of the choices (and choose which abilities it gets, rather than having it be at random). Did you have nightmares about Social Links, constantly forgetting which day of the week certain characters were available or if hanging out with them would even progress their story? That’s fixed — you can instantly tell whether your time will be well spent. And we haven’t even mentioned the synergy of having this game be on a portable system instead of a console. Persona 4 has some of the best characters in the business, a fantastic story, a phenomenal soundtrack and a clever battle system. This just expands it all. (read more)
(13) Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Oh the items, how awesome they were. Not only could you get the traditional mushroom and fire flower, but now you could fly (as a raccoon…what?), turn into a statue, a frog, a hammer brother (by far the most underrated power up in Mario history) and even jump into a shoe to squish stuff. The items kept the experience ever-changing, making it fun to go back and play it, even when you’ve played that first level at least 300 times. The music was amazing, the secrets that were found in the levels were intriguing, and if a level ever got too hard to beat, well then you just slapped on the P-Wings and flew over everything. You could beat a level in 30 seconds or take your time exploring every square foot of the level. The options were yours and the options were endless. (read more)
(14) Halo (Xbox/PC)
Halo was unique to me because it blended an awesome “behind enemy alien lines” story with the tightest shooter controls I’d ever used. On the harder difficulties, mismanagement of field position, melee charges, and grenade usage spelled death frequently. Thankfully, the forgiving checkpoint system emphasized battle freedom, encouraging me to try epically risky maneuvers without fear that I’d have to replay the entire level to get back to the same point if things went awry. Say what you want about the Chief’s lack of personality or the sometimes repetitive level design; the fact is that Halo advanced the “shooter” so drastically that it — along with Half Life 2 — revolutionized the genre, leading the FPS shooter to being gaming’s most dominant genre today (for better or worse). (read more)
(15) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
Link to the Past took the series, which was already established as one of the best in the business, and set the stage for everything we expect from a Zelda game today. The Light/Dark World mechanic is the forefather for both Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, two games that are frequently misinterpreted as the best. You know what else Link to the Past innovated? Let’s see. It’s the first game with the Master Sword. It’s the first game with Pieces of Heart, which increased the exploration aspects of the series. It’s the first game with the ocarina (yes, you read that correctly). And it’s the only game where Link acquires the entire Triforce, meaning he can actually use its power instead of being stuck with Courage. The end result is an extremely tight, perfectly paced and relentlessly fluid experience that has the most replayability of any game in the series. (read more)
(16) Super Smash Bros. Melee (GC)
Melee expanded upon the original in almost every way possible. Featuring more game modes, including the excellent Adventure mode, and 13 more playable characters, it was so much bigger and better than its predecessor that it borders on absurdity. Then — I’m not done yet — you add in the expansive trophy system, which chronicles every point of Nintendo history under the sun (and which I can only surmise was the original inspiration for Microsoft points and PlayStation Trophies), and you have a title with a staggering amount of replayability and content. AND finally — still not done — you can’t forget about the multiplayer, which to this day is one of the most addictive and dynamic competitive (or co-op, depending) gaming experiences ever. (read more)
(17) Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Maybe that’s why I love Super Mario Galaxy 2 so much — a title that trumps its predecessor in almost every way. What’s so special about Galaxy 2 is how it took these ideas to their full potential, exploring the mechanics and physics in brand new ways. The real clincher for me, however, was the inclusion of the Green Stars. These collectibles were available post game as a means to further explore the game world; however, unlike the standard regular stars, these puppies were completely hidden throughout the level, requiring deep exploration and, in some cases, a masterful handle on the game’s platforming mechanics. It was the true test that advanced Mario fans were clamoring for, and added another layer of depth to this already rich game. The most advanced platformer ever, Galaxy 2 is a game everyone should experience. (read more)
(18) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)
If “epic” has to involve a bunch of roided-out freak shows spouting dumbass one-liners as they chainsaw through hordes of silly monsters…then no, Ace Attorney’s not for you. If “epic” is defined by sharp writing, complete characterization, and dramatic atmosphere, then look no further. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like more of a badass in a video game then, when defending my own innocence in a case where I’ve been accused of murder, I call out the most subtle contradiction that slowly makes the prosecution’s case start to unravel. The combination of me feeling like I out thought my opponent, along with the accompanying “Objection” and awesome score, make playing Phoenix Wright unlike anything else in gaming. (read more)
(19) Final Fantasy IX (PS)
The hipster of Final Fantasy games, IX has actually grown in popularity since its release. At the time, IX’s cartoonish characters and upbeat protagonist were a stark contrast to Spikyhair Cutwrists and Brooding McScarface. However, that’s what made the game so endearing; for the first time, Square took players back to the heyday of earlier Final Fantasy titles, where the story mattered, and a sense of enchantment took priority over teenage angst. The characters were diverse, likeable, and complex, and learning abilities through your equipment was fun and encouraged experimentation with a variety of weapons and armor. Add in a great plot, interesting locations, and a traditional Final Fantasy feel, and it’s easy to see why Final Fantasy IX is now regarded by many as the best PlayStation entry in the series. (read more)
(20) Star Fox 64 (N64)
For its simplicity, the gameplay was extremely deep. There were only about 6 levels that you had to complete to finish the game, but there were a myriad of paths to get there. The corny dialogue and annoying voices just made the game that much more memorable. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned was how great the multiplayer mode was. I would spend hours playing that mode with friends on such a simple map. The multiplayer was just a square area with the four characters fighting one another, with a few mountains and a couple of structures thrown in. If you hit the end of the map, no big deal, you’ll just pop out on the other side. Much like my feelings toward Sonic the Hedgehog, I find it incredibly sad that a series peaked with the first game made for that series. (read more)
(21) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Skyward Sword was everything that I imagined the Wii would be when it first came out. I remember hearing stories about the Wii, how you’d be able to use the controller exactly like a sword or a bow and arrow to totally immerse you in the experience. Then Twilight Princess came out, and while I enjoyed it, it was disturbing how much I just flailed my wrist around for the sword play. Skyward Sword changed all of this with the Wii Motion Plus. Finally I was able to swing my sword upward in order to take out an enemy with his shield over his head, or stab my sword through a monster without pressing a button. I felt like I was more of a master swordsman like Link. Everything put together made me want to complete every side quest without any help from a game guide, merely because I wanted to keep fighting with my “sword.” (read more)
(22) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64)
Welcome to this new dimension, Link. Your horse has been stolen, your body horribly changed, and…oh, there’s a giant, menacing moon in the sky that’s going to fall on your dome in three days. Good luck! Even though a lot of the characters look similar to their counterparts in OoT, the differences are staggering — and in a lot of cases, I would argue that the folks in Majora’s Mask have even more personality. The Anju and Kafei sidequest is heartbreaking if you don’t see it all the way through. Same with the two girls at Romani Ranch if you don’t protect them from an invasion. Hell, it even turns the Skull Kid from a minor character to an intimidating threat. The boss battles are outstanding and the 72-hour mechanic gives the game a constant sense of urgency in a very organic way. (read more)
(23) Fallout 3 (360/PS3/PC)
If you played through the “evil” path in Fallout 3, you’re a terrible person. End of story. An hour into the game, I was presented with decisions where the “dark” path was so brutally evil and harrowing it tore my heart out. Leave a poor old woman to die. Ruin the lives of everyone you grew up with. Mercilessly kill your childhood friends. IN THE FIRST HOUR. I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t just an apathetic choice in a game I was making anymore; I was consciously altering these characters’ lives, as invested as I would be in any film or novel. This is Fallout 3’s true achievement; dumping the player into this incredible sandbox and, instead of simply giving the player options, ensuring that your choices matter, and that you felt them. This investment is what allows Fallout 3 to transcend the typical RPG experience, and that’s why it’s one of the most unforgettable video games ever crafted. (read more)
(24) StarCraft (PC)
Has there been a bigger PC game than StarCraft? Some other franchises have also been pretty huge (The Sims, Diablo, WarCraft, etc.), but at the very least, StarCraft has to be way up on the list. SC became the blueprint for the real-time strategy game because of its tactical depth and emphasis on resource management. Its multiplayer through Battle.net became wildly popular, thanks in part to being able to get eight players on board with just one CD and product key. StarCraft also set the stage for competitive play in the genre, a blueprint that recent games like Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends have followed to create a booming eSports scene — where hundreds of thousands of people watch live streams and tens of thousands of dollars can be won as prize money. (read more)
(25) BioShock (360/PS3/PC)
From BioShock’s opening moments, I was already hooked. Never before had I played a game that possessed that level of atmosphere, a game of suffocating detail and mood so rich it completely immersed the player into the world. The atmosphere alone would have been enough to propel BioShock to “classic” stature, but it wasn’t content to stop there. Instead, the title chooses to push the boundaries of video game writing, forcing the player to ask questions about the human condition, but also about the medium itself, and their role as “player.” BioShock uses its solid shooting mechanics and innovative powers system as a means to challenge the way the audience thinks. Through its excellent writing and complex characters, BioShock took three simple words and made it one of the medium’s most iconic, and haunting, phrases. (read more)
5 thoughts on “Best Games Ever”
There are so many great games out there, it is difficult to narrow down the Top 25 – and everyone’s list is bound to be different. I really enjoyed the list you provided here, and had fun reflecting on all these great titles!
Thanks! We got some pretty great feedback overall about our list, but we also accept that others will have their own favorites. To me, anyone’s list is fine as long as they don’t push their choices onto someone else.
Really need to try lttp. But persona 4 golden is damn good closes i get to a perfect jrpg, i would like to see it a tad bit higher ,but fair enough good list. How would this list been today about the same?
Around half of these games would be on my list, i prefer portal 2 over 1 due to mods tough and coop. Also there is alot of games herei have yet to finish or play… i havent played smg 2 , but the orginal, i havent played oot, havent finished ct or mm. Havent played halo and so on. But good list. A list that seems to take into account gameplay first and then story second
We’ll probably redo this list at the start of next year, when five years will have gone by. Seems like a good time to check in and see what’s changed (for example: Skyward Sword will not make the cut. lol). Persona 4 Golden actually made it higher than I ever expected considering most of the voters hadn’t played it. It’s definitely still one of my favorites.
I think our ideal games are ones that do both gameplay and story well, but you might be right about which one comes first. Obviously nobody played classics like Mario 3 or Melee for their narratives, so they had to nail the gameplay instead.