IGN recently ran a poll for the best video game of all time. God of War (2018) would come out on top, pipping Grand Theft Auto V to the title. There were some strange choices available. Sega games were greatly underrepresented and there was a significant recency bias, shown by the two finalists being games available on the last generation of consoles (at this rate, Grand Theft Auto V will probably be in every generation going forward). However, it did work in IGN’s favour, giving them a strong reach and heavy interactions from gamers around the globe. I decided to parody this with some questionable choices of my own, including Superman 64, Shaq Fu, Bubsy 3D and Ride to Hell: Retribution. It was all in good fun with the final being between Shaq Fu and Bubsy 3D (the poll is still live as I’m writing this). All of this did get me thinking: what is the best video game ever made? It’s an odd question as it is highly subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all. Any “best ever” lists often include a variety of different games across different genres. It’s not uncommon to see The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Super Mario, Streets of Rage, God of War or Grand Theft Auto appear in these lists but even then, the actual game selected might be different. Rather than try to explain what the best game ever is as it would just be an opinion, I thought I’d have a look a different set of categories.
If you grew up in North America, especially in the 80s and early 90s, your preference may lean more towards Nintendo. For many, Nintendo saved the gaming industry. This is a gross over-simplification but I have heard it uttered many times. This stems from the North American video game crash in 1983. Long story short, consumers had fallen out of love with video games due to a gluttony of sub-par titles and no quality control. Often E.T. is used as a scape goat but E.T. is actually a piece of development masterclass. Developed by one man in a very short space of time, it’s amazing it made it out on store shelves in time and wasn’t a complete mess. It was just a very small piece of a much larger issue at the time. Nintendo would rebuild consumer confidence with their impressive Nintendo Entertainment System, designed to not look like a child’s toy. It had easy to pick-up but difficult-to-master games, a strict licensing policy to control what was released (although bad games still found their way onto it) and a strong marketing campaign along with a dedicated magazine. For a lot of gamers, this is where they’d pick some of their favourites. The console gave us three Super Mario Bros. games, with Super Mario Bros. 3 being the pick of a very strong bunch,two Legend of Zelda titles and a mixture of other great titles such as Mike Tyson’s Punch-out, Kirby’s Adventure, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Metroid and Ninja Gaiden. It felt like it had something for everyone. All of these games would be the start of great franchises, some of which are still going today. Super Mario Bros. 3 is often considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, platformers ever made, with fans unable to decide between it and its successor, Super Mario World. The NES did well to provide so much entertainment with so little power. Of course, if you’re European or Asian, then the 1983 video game crash means nothing to you. Gaming here enjoyed a boom through personal computers and with many games being significantly cheaper than their NES counterpart, Nintendo didn’t quite get as strong a foothold as they did in North America. The Sega Master System would be a lot of people’s first console this side of the pond (it was certainly my first) and it had its own share of classics such as Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog and Wonder Boy. For many, this introduction to Sega would continue through to the Sega Mega Drive, where some gamers all-time favourites would appear. Shining Force, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and, of course, Sonic the Hedgehog would all make their debut. These games upped the ante, giving us never before seen graphics and gameplay. This would be the console that would hook many Sega fans, holding them through the Saturn and Dreamcast days, and some would even point to the systems vast library to find their “best game ever”. Nintendo wouldn’t wait long to enter the 16-bit era and in 1990 gave the world the Super Nintendo. Increased processing power, improved graphics and a much larger colour range, the SNES dragged NES classics to new heights. It was massively successful everywhere and brought both old and new challenges to gamers. Mario made the jump with Super Mario World as well as appearing in Super Mario Kart. The Legend of Zelda had one of its best ever entries in A Link to the Past. Metroid became Super. JRPG fans were spoiled with two of the best ever Square games appearing with Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. A lot of gamers who grew up with this era will fondly remember the classics of this time. Some will even point to this as the “Golden Age”, with the best ever game sitting among the vast fourth generation’s library. It was a bountiful time for gamers.
With the fifth generation on the horizon, a juggernaut announced its plans to enter the gaming scene. At the time, Sony weren’t exactly a big deal and their new console would have to compete with two veterans releasing new hardware: Nintendo and the Nintendo 64, and Sega and the Saturn. In 1994, Sony would unleash the PlayStation on the world. To call it a success would be a bit of an understatement. It grabbed hold and never let go. At the time, games were moving from 2D to 3D. A difficult transition that some pulled off but others failed miserably. CDs also allowed for more in-depth cutscenes, driving narrative-lead games. Games were becoming more complex but also reaching a larger mass. As this was the early years of 3D, a lot of the games haven’t aged as well as their 16-bit counterparts. That doesn’t mean some of the best ever games weren’t released then. In fact, each system had its own games that could be described as “best ever”. The Saturn had cult classic such as Panzer Dragoon and Guardian Heroes. It still pains me to have missed out on these. The Nintendo 64 successfully brought 2D franchises to the third dimension. Super Mario 64 showed us that platformers could make the jump with its fun level design and fluid controls. Ocarina of Time would use a lock-on system to help solve its combat conundrum. Both games are often listed among the best games ever created. The PlayStation brought with it the likes of Resident Evil (dodgy voice acting and all), Metal Gear Solid (a lot of people’s favourite franchise), and my personal favourite game, Final Fantasy VII. JRPGs didn’t always travel well, especially to Europe but the PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII changed that. We were finally able to experience pure JRPG goodness. This generation holds a lot of nostalgia for people. It wasn’t without its flaws but many games from here would end up in a lot of people’s top 10s. Even now, several games from this era make their way into Metacritic’s best games list, including the No.1 game, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Using myself as an example, the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were what heightened my interest in video games. Sure, I had a Master System and SNES but there was nothing like this generation for me. I’m sure a lot of people felt the same way and were hyped for the next round of consoles. The sixth generation brought with it the best-selling console of all time, the PlayStation 2, a new entry in Microsoft’s Xbox, some Nintendo goodness in the GameCube, and Sega’s swansong in the Dreamcast. Due to the explosion in console sales, this is probably the generation with a lot of people’s “best ever games”. We had Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 3, Resident Evil, Shenmue, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Devil May Cry, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Skies of Arcadia and Onimusha among many, many more. The graphics, gameplay, stories and voice acting were greatly improved. With every one using some sort of disc-based medium, we got some of the best looking and smoothest running games ever. Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 produced wonderfully complex narratives, explosive gameplay and new mechanics not possible on the PlayStation 1. Grand Theft Auto moved from top down to third-person and simply exploded in popularity. We could do so much more, with each game increasing in scope along the way. It would lay the foundations for the success of Grand Theft Auto V a generation later.
As we move into the HD era, nostalgia plays less of a role even though some of these games are over a decade old. They feel fresher to me and don’t invoke the same feelings as, say, Mario Kart 64. Games in this era really launched into the stratosphere. They added new layers such as visuals, story and gameplay that hadn’t been present before. First-person shooters on consoles had been successful before with Halo: Combat Evolved, GoldenEye and Perfect Dark but the growth of Xbox Live and PSN pushed them to new heights. Halo 3, Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Borderlands connected players around the globe and gave us excellent gameplay using the dual analogue sticks. Grittier stories could be told as demonstrated with Uncharted and The Last of Us. Grand Theft Auto V made its first appearance. Games had come a long way since the 8-bit era. This is probably the generation (along with the one after) where “recency bias” probably plays a part in choosing “best ever game” but to deny nostalgia having a large role when selecting one from a previous generation would be foolish. Games are so much more now, providing something for everyone. They’re much more accessible (even if some hate this) and the large variety is something to behold. I might not care about tactical JRPGs or shoot’em ups but the fact there are so many for fans of those genres is a great thing. Gaming is meant for everyone and that’s why choosing the “best ever” is so difficult. They mean different things to different people. Some love playing their childhood classics such as Super Mario World, others love what modern games such as God of War have to offer. Even if we were to break it down to statistical analysis, such as sales numbers, review scores or number of errors, its still impossible because at the end of the day, we all experience things differently and isn’t that what really matters.