We rank the 100 greatest early video games
We rank the 100 greatest video games
Our skin is pale. Our thumbs are sore. And when we close our eyes, we hear the theme from Donkey Kong. Yet, only through such sacrifice can EW — with help from the experts at the all-video game cable network G4 — bring you this 2003 list of high-scoring titles: 100 games that represented both the history and the future of interactive entertainment. Our criteria: replayability, pop-cultural importance, and impact in shaping the first 30 years of the medium. (Don't fret, most of the older classics here are available on at least one of the current gaming platforms.) Some of you will bemoan the fact that Pole Position is not in the winner's circle, or complain that we rated Tetris too high. We know: We've had the same arguments. But, at the end of the day (or night) we're all just fans of this gloriously geeky pastime. As noted gamer William Shakespeare once wrote: "The play's the thing."
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991)
The history of video games can be split into the pre- and post-Zelda eras. Before Zelda, adventure games had rigidly linear story lines interwoven with obstacles that, once overcome, offered little more than a high score to brag about. But Link to the Past, as imagined by legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, gave players a quest in which mindless scoring took a backseat to heroic acts. It was clear that gaming would never be the same — and continued refinements ensured that subsequent Zelda titles became bestsellers. Each button-thumping and symbol-filled world elevates the simple journey to save a princess into a successful franchise that continues to advance the notion of interactive entertainment.
Did you know: Robin Williams' daughter is named after Link to the Past's heroine, Princess Zelda.
2. Doom (PC, 1993)
Doom did for video games what Toy Story did for animated films: both introduced 3-D technology that forever changed their respective media. Along with its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom's first-person perspective pushed games a step closer to virtual reality: Players weren't just role-playing — they were the main character. Doom's violent play may have stirred controversy, but it also marked the beginning of a horror-filled — and lucrative — genre.
Did you know: Legend has it the game takes its name from a scene in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money, in which Tom Cruise's character boasts that he has "doom" in his cue case.
3. Tetris (PC, 1985)
Ridiculously simple but utterly addictive, this timeless tale of person vs. geometry was invented by Russian computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov and subsequently converted to run on every computing device you can think of. Bucking the trend set by every other game on this list, it has no plot or story, is saddled with rudimentary graphics, and spills nary a drop of blood — unless, of course, you count violence toward rectilinear shapes.
Did you know: In 2000, a group of students at Brown University programmed a computer to control lights on the Sciences Library to play a 10-story-tall game of Tetris on the side of the building.
4. Grand Theft Auto III (PS2, 2001)
Vice City's 100-plus-song soundtrack alone merits an entry. But it's the sprawling griminess of GTA III's Liberty City that makes the franchise — which has sold upwards of 20 million units worldwide — the Pulp Fiction of video games. The story line turns prostitution, drug dealing, and murder into gameplay (carjacking becomes something of a chore, it's done so often).
Did you know: Although there is a Luigi in GTA III, he bears no resemblance to Mario's kind brother — no matter what the kids lusting after this game tell you.
5. Madden 2003 (Multiplatform, 2002)
Nearly one-quarter of the 131 million console games sold in 2002 were sports sims. And the Madden series, a gridiron staple since 1989, leads the blitz each season. At the time, 2003 was the best version yet, with new features, including online playability, which brought together armchair quarterbacks from around the globe. Are video games eligible for Nobel Peace Prizes?
Did you know: NFL players regularly lobbied John Madden to boost their in-game stats.
6. Half-Life (PC, PS2, 1998)
Until Half-Life, action games were essentially shooting galleries with lots of high-tech gloss and little emotional involvement. But Half-Life showed what could happen when plot, character development, and pacing were embedded into a first-person experience. Half-Life has something of a half-life itself: The popular online game Counter-Strike is an offshoot of this seminal shooter.
Did you know: A fan letter from actor Geoffrey Rush is displayed in the lobby of Valve L.L.C., the game's developer.
7. The Sims (PC, 2000)
The mundanity of everyday life — taking a shower or watching TV — hardly sounds like the stuff of a computer game. But tell that to the over 9 million people who made this oddball sim the best-selling PC game of all time. Some have gone deeper, writing original fan fiction (100 stories were published daily on the official website), and creating new costumes and props for their Sims.
Did you know: Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne appeared in the Superstar Expansion Pack in 2003.
8. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)
Mario is Charlie Chaplin for the video game generation: both are taciturn, mustachioed icons who defined the early days of an emerging art form. Whether it was the original Super Mario Bros. (1987) or the 3-D world of Mario 64, these games are exasperatingly cute, unimpeachably addictive, and imbued with enough rich and varied play to make a plumber synonymous with transcendent gaming.
Did you know: In the early 1990s, more kids recognized Super Mario than Mickey Mouse.
9. Starcraft (PC, 1998) and Warcraft (PC, 1994)
These powerhouse franchises proved that real-time strategy games could incorporate humor and storytelling into the mental thicket of war planning and resource management. In a tightwire act that ought to serve as a model for the U.N., Starcraft featured three different but balanced sets of human and alien units.
Did you know: In the early 2000s, tournaments in South Korea drew huge crowds, Internet cafes were dedicated to the game, and it was owned by 1 out of every 24 citizens.
10. Street Fighter II (Multiplatform, 1991)
Before Mortal Kombat, before Tekken, before just about every other game in which players pound the living daylights out of one another, there was Street Fighter. An arcade staple that was successfully "ported" to home game consoles, SF and its various sequels still inspire a devoted cult following.
Did you know: At the height of SF II's popularity, a video game magazine published a code that would unlock a secret character named Sheng Long. Too bad the elusive character turned out to be an April Fools' Day prank.
The best of the rest:
11. GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64, 1997)
12. Final Fantasy VII (PS, 1997)
13. Grand Turismo (PS, 1997)
14. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Multiplatform, 1999)
15. Civilization II (PC, 1996)
16. Halo (Xbox, 2001)
17. Tomb Raider (PS, 1996)
18. Soul Calibur (Sega Dreamcast, 1999)
19. Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade, 1981)
20. Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)
21. EverQuest (PC, 1999)
22. Resident Evil (GameCube, 2002)
23. Metal Gear Solid (PS, 1998)
24. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS, 1997)
25. Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (PC, 1999)
26. Command & Conquer: Red Alert (PC, 1996)
27. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (PC, 1991)
28. Galaga (Arcade, 1981)
29. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (PC, 2002)
30. Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64, 1997)
31. Diablo II (PC, 2000)
32. Tekken 2 (PS, 1996)
33. Duke Nukem 3D (PC, 1996)
34. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (Multiplatform, 1985)
35. Battlefield 1942 (PC, 2002)
36. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (Xbox, 2002)
37. SimCity (PC, 1989)
38. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis, 1991)
39. Mortal Kombat II (Multiplatform, 1994)
40. Dance Dance Revolution (Arcade, 2001)
41. Deus Ex (PC, 1999)
42. Quake II (PC, 1997)
43. NHL '93 (Sega Genesis, 1993)
44. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (PC, 1999)
45. Donkey Kong (Arcade, 1981)
46. Unreal (PC, 1998)
47. Tron (Arcade, 1982)
48. Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995)
49. Pokémon (Game Boy, 1998)
50. Pitfall! (Atari 2600, 1982)
51. Contra (PC, NES, 1987)
52. Wing Commander 1 and 2 (PC, 1990/1991)
53. Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! (NES, 1986)
54. NBA Jam (Arcade, 1993)
55. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (Multiplatform, 1998)
56. Lemmings (Multiplatform, 1990)
57. Tempest (Arcade, 1981)
58. Virtua Fighter 4 (PS2, 2002)
59. Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC, 1998/2000)
60. Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 (PC, 1997)
61. Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn, 1998)
62. Max Payne (Multiplatform, 2001)
63. R-Type (Arcade, 1988)
64. Samurai Shodown (Neo Geo, GameBoy, 1993)
65. Devil May Cry (PS2, 2001)
66. MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (PC, PS, Saturn, 1995)
67. Tennis 2K2 (Dreamcast, 2001)
68. Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC, XBox, 1999)
69. Centipede (Arcade, 1981)
70. Homeworld (PC, 1999)
71. Bust-A-Move 2 (PS, 1998)
72. Animal Crossing (GameCube, 2002)
73. Driver (PS, PC, 1999)
74. Robotron 2084 (Arcade, 1982)
75. Wave Race 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)
76. Phantasy Star (Sega Master System, 1988)
77. Saturn Bomberman (Saturn, 1997)
78. Defender (Arcade, 1980)
79. King's Quest (PC, 1984)
80. Silent Hill 2 (PS2, 2001)
81. Gauntlet (Arcade, 1985)
82. Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Arcade, 1988)
83. Daytona USA (Arcade, 1984)
84. Asteroids (Arcade, 1979)
85. Prince of Persia (PC, 1989)
86. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (Arcade, 1996)
87. Battlezone (Arcade, 1980)
88. FIFA Soccer 2003 (Multiplatform, 2002)
89. Castle Wolfenstein (PC, 1984)
90. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (PS, 1998)
91. Spy Hunter (Arcade, 1983)
92. Super Star Wars (SNES, 1992)
93. Joust (Arcade, 1982)
94. IL-2 Sturmovik (PC, 2001)
95. Golden Axe (Arcade, 1983)
96. M.U.L.E. (Commodore 64, 1983)
97. Secret of Mana (SNES, 1993)
98. Frogger (Arcade, 1981)
99. X-COM: UFO Defense (PC, 1994)
100. Missile Command (Arcade, 1981)
Edited by Wook Kim