What are the best video games of all time? I asked our team to help decide.

What are the best video games of all time? I asked our team to help decide.
Image: Mashable composite; Nintendo, CD Projekt Red, Naughty Dog, Rockstar, Eidos, Bungie, EA Mobile

By Adam Rosenberg

Video game fans frequently try to crown one favorite or another as “The Best.” There are tens of thousands of words scattered across the internet, all devoted to identifying the titles that represent the absolute pinnacle of games one can play. 

There’s also no consensus: My dull experience is another person’s transcendent awakening. Even the basic definition of “best” and how it’s applied to one or a list of games is open to debate. 

That’s why we’re not having it.

Instead of trying to crown a set of games as the one-size-fits-all best video games of all time, I turned to the members of Mashable’s games-loving team and asked them to share what they considered the best games for them. No other context given, and no guidance as to how “best” should be measured. Just tell me your best video games, and briefly explain why.

I ended up with eight sets of opinions and not a single repeat among them. Here’s what we all had to say about the best video game of all time.

Adam Rosenberg, Senior Reporter and Weekend Editor

1. A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985)

I was raised on Infocom’s classic text adventures, and none made more of an impact than Steve Meretzky’s A Mind Forever Voyaging. Your journey as an AI that learns about human nature by traveling backward and forward in a fictional person’s life showed me at a young age how even the most rudimentary story-driven games can afford players the freedom to experiment and discover. It’s exceedingly hard to play AMFV or any other Infocom game these days because of rights issues and a lack of support for older software, but I still think about it often.

2. Sid Meier’s Civilization III (2001)

There are newer Civilization games, and better ones too. But Civilization III was my first, and the one I’ve put the most hours into by far. The premise of the series hasn’t changed much over time: Starting from the Stone Age, you guide your chosen civ through scientific, cultural, militaristic, and diplomatic advancements over a period of centuries. The degree of control you have over the development of your people lets you do things like turn the Roman Empire into a modern nuclear powerhouse, and the turn-based “just one more click!” format makes the game hard to put down. I’ve stuck with the series ever since, and it’s still one of the few games I can binge for double-digit hours without breaking a sweat.

3. Destiny (2014)

Destiny is a special game for me. It’s great fun to play, of course: the first-person running and jumping and shooting just feels right, and the RPG-style progression is sticky in a way that makes it hard to put down. But it’s the social aspect of Destiny, from forming a small fireteam just for the hang to spending hours solving a raid’s mysteries with five other friends, that carries the real power. I’ve made memories in this game. Formed friendships, too. And while I’ve since moved on to put more time into the sequel — mainly because that’s where the crowds went — I still keep the original installed and ready to play at a moment’s notice, in case the old gang wants to get back together for a raid.

Bob Al-Greene, Senior Illustrator

1. Crash Bandicoot 2: The Wrath of Cortex (1997) 

In trying to describe what makes Crash 2 special, I considered a lot of different elements: the lush and vivid environments, the funky soundtrack, the crisp and memorable sound design. But ultimately I settled on one word: pacing. Wrath of Cortex is set at a frenetic pace, practically begging you to sprint through its linear levels and smash every wooden box to splinters, trigger every TNT crate, suck up every Wumpa Fruit. In some levels, our hero rides a hypercharged baby polar bear; in others, the camera reverses itself and Crash has to outrun a boulder like a tiny, marsupial Indiana Jones. Platforming at this breakneck speed demands precision, but ultimately delivers a breathless experience that left me heaving a well-earned sigh of relief (right along with Crash) at the end of every stage. 

2. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2003) 

Every Grand Theft Auto since Grand Theft Auto III has pushed the limits of what an open-world game could be, whether through improved graphics, map size, or online multiplayer capabilities. But as the recent games have strived to simulate a “real” world, the spark of whimsy that defined Vice City has waned. Less interested in rendering a simulacra of Miami, Vice City created a wondrous ‘80s fantasy decked out in pastel blazers and mirror shades. Setting was so important to this game — a place, a time, an era, an aesthetic. The feeling of tearing up the shorefront drive in a Cheetah with Hall & Oates blasting on the soundtrack… pure magic. The voice cast is stacked — including Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, and Dennis Hopper, just to name a few — and the scope feels truly cinematic as our protagonist goes on a rags-to-riches journey a la Scarface. It’s a shame that only the immediate follow-up, San Andreas, followed Vice City’s lead by leaning into a vivid setting of time and place. 

3. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (2011)

The “Tetris Effect” is a condition in which you spend so much time with a game that it begins to pattern your thoughts. You find yourself daydreaming about it, running scenarios again and again in your head. For me, MvC3 was that game. The vibrant colors, cartoonishly exaggerated animations, incredible roster, and razor-thin margin of error made this game a pure addictive delight. Even after playing 30 matches in a night, I kept running it over and over as I drifted off to sleep — stringing devastating combos together as Wesker, getting in a game-ending grapple as She-Hulk, launching an air combo into a super hadouken as Ryu. The energy of this game seemed legitimately too big for any screen to contain, but if you could find a way to harness that energy, to learn a few combos, to start approaching getting good, you could turn your opponent into a rag doll in seconds and come away feeling like a champion… until the next match.

Elvie Mae Parian, Associate Animator

1. Golden Sun: The Lost Age (2002)

Golden Sun was an incredibly formative title for me during the Game Boy Advance era that helped me get into more turn-based role-playing games. I vividly remember standing in an Electronics Boutique store, drawn to the game’s box art. It wasn’t until much later that I realized The Lost Age is technically a sequel, and I had to backtrack to play the first game in a series. I loved the characters and squeaky pitch of their digitized “voices.” If I were to play it again, I might find it dated in some ways, but I think the game’s puzzles remain unique and creative even today. 

2. To the Moon (2011)

To the Moon is less a game and more an interactive film. You play as a pair of scientists who work for a company that alters the memories of clients who are nearing the end of their life, according to each person’s requests. With a charged premise like that, you’re gonna get something inevitably upsetting, touching, and sad. The game is clunky to play now and didn’t age well, but I’ll never forget how much I cried after finishing its very emotional story. I think it was my first real experience with a great indie game, and it inspired me to actively look for more. 

3. Bejeweled (2001)

This may sound like an odd choice, but during my old flip phone days, Bejeweled was a very playable, go-to game that wasn’t painfully laggy. I turned to it on long, cold nights while waiting for the bus after school. And look: What are all the mobile puzzle games like Candy Crush and the latest Disney Tsum Tsum reiteration all drawing their mechanics from? Bejeweled. Why? Because the formula works! Even now, it’s still widely available, and it has this legacy of inspiring so many other puzzle games. To me, Bejeweled is a perfect game. It never faltered. It’s never failed me.

Dylan Haas, Shopping Reporter

1. The Last of Us (2013)

For me (and I think many others), The Last of Us was a turning point for storytelling in games, specifically in the mainstream space. It took the already well-treaded ground of the zombie apocalypse backdrop (mind you, The Walking Dead was still highly popular at this time), and used it to tell a deeply affecting and nuanced story about a growing relationship between two characters we would come to love, even if one of them was extremely flawed. I know some find it overrated, but I think The Last of Us is a very special game that hasn’t lost its luster.

2. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)

Red Dead 2 caught a lot of flak for being plodding, meandering, and hyperrealistic. I actually don’t disagree with any of those things — but they led to some of my favorite moments in the game. What genuinely affected me wasn’t the set pieces or Wild West shootouts (if anything, I think Rockstar’s games aren’t that great with high-action moments); it was the more organic moments. Every awe-inspiring vista and intriguing character I accidentally stumbled upon made it one of the most immersive games I have ever played, creating a world I didn’t want to leave. The poignant story that tied it all together was just the icing on the cake. 

3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

The Witcher 3 is the amalgamation of everything I love about RPGs. Throughout the more than 100 hours I put into it, I was reminded of the enrapturing world of Jade Empire, the memorable characters and choices of Mass Effect 2, and the sense of wonder I felt when I first played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Except The Witcher 3 expands on everything those games did so well. None of it felt bloated to me, though it’s packed to the brim with things to do even before you get to the two 20-hour add-ons. Every side mission and every Witcher contract is its own fleshed-out story, always rewarding me with a rich and unique experience that’s utterly engaging.

Alex Perry, Tech Reporter

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

I wouldn’t call this the “best” Zelda game by traditional standards. That’s either Ocarina of Time or Breath of the Wild, depending on my mood. But Majora’s Mask only becomes more impactful over time, with a pervasive sense of dread, themes of loss and healing, and masterful time-based mechanics to bring it all together. It’s a weird, melancholy masterpiece, warts and all.

2. Chrono Trigger (1995)

Years before Square and Enix became the same company, the minds behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest teamed up with Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama to create my favorite RPG of all time. Chrono Trigger doesn’t just have top-tier combat, the greatest RPG soundtrack ever, and a dope time machine. It also has a memorable story that smartly weaves together cliches without taking itself especially seriously.

3. DJ Hero 2 (2010)

The plastic instrument rhythm game boom of the late 2000s was never really my bag, but the short-lived DJ Hero series made an exception of itself with earnest creativity. The second and last entry milked everything it could out of the incredibly fun turntable peripheral, allowing players to toy with original remixes and mashups of hip-hop and dance classics. No disrespect to Rock Band, but it didn’t let me mix Armand van Helden and Salt-N-Pepa together like DJ Hero 2 did.

Kellen Beck, Entertainment Reporter

1. Paper Mario (2001)

The original Paper Mario on Nintendo 64 is a gem. The art style of this game has, for me, remained the peak aesthetic in video games with its bold colors, adorable 2D characters, and warm music. As a turn-based RPG, it stands out as having some of the most simple-yet-effective mechanics, with just enough player interactivity during moves to make it feel engaging without bogging it down. The locations in Paper Mario — from the dark and eerie haunted mansion to the magma-filled volcano on the jungle island — along with the inventive boss fights, the humor, and the endearing sidekicks Mario meets along the way have all left indelible marks in my brain. It’s a game packed with personality, and looking back on it feels like remembering an old friend.

The Virtual Console version of this game that I have downloaded on my Wii U is the only reason I still hang onto that dusty console.

2. World of Warcraft (2004)

I don’t know how much time I’ve put into World of Warcraft since I started playing the vanilla version in 2005, but I have likely racked up thousands of hours in that game. From the beginning, the sense of escape, progression, and discovery that World of Warcraft provides is addicting. The questing is excellent, the diversity in landscapes and characters is mesmerizing, and the music continues to send shivers down my spine. One of the best things about WoW is the plethora of ways to play, whether you enjoy grinding materials to sell in the auction house, participating in player vs. player battlegrounds, or taking on challenging raids with groups of 10, 25, or even 40 other players. It’s hard to get bored in a game that offers so many different avenues.

And then there’s the lore, of which there is frankly too much, but with such a plethora of characters, stories, and histories to dig into, so much of the game feels important and full. That makes exploring Azeroth and beyond that much more enriching. Over the years I have drifted away from WoW, but I still come back to it semi-regularly to check out the new content and sink hours into adventuring because it’s just such a satisfying experience.

3. Super Meat Boy (2010)

Super Meat Boy is an absurdly well-made, tightly designed, and addictive platformer with one of the fastest death-to-reset features in gaming, which is very important because there is a lot of dying. With the pulsing music from composer Danny Baranowsky pumping, running as fast as possible through each world feels like a constant rush. The average length of each level is nine seconds, but they can stretch on for minutes or even hours due to the precision, accuracy, and speed they demand of players. After bursting into a blood smear dozens of times throughout a single buzzsaw-choked level in Super Meat Boy, it’s an incredible feeling to finally make it through and move onto the next challenge. Beating the whole game is a feeling like no other. 

Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter

1. Stardew Valley (2016)

I’ve never fallen for a game quite like I fell for Stardew Valley. Sure, there are other farming simulators I’ve really, really liked (Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the hundreds of hours I’ve spent with it come to mind), but Eric Barone’s magical world of easy living and grounds maintenance forever found a place in my heart once I played it. With charming design, heartfelt characters, and secrets to spare, Stardew Valley is an uncomplicated yet completely transporting play experience. Returning to Foreman farm always comforts and reassures me — never once has it made me question why I love this game or the emotional importance I’ve imparted on it. Pared-down and perfect, Stardew Valley is an obvious “Best” for me. Plain and simple.

2. Tomb Raider II (1996)

Tomb Raider II may not be the best adventure platformer out there. Hell, it may not even qualify as the best Lara Croft game available since the hero’s badass rebirth under Square Enix. Still, there’s something about this classic 1996 release that never fails to engage me and the people I play it with. Solid voice-acting, decent action sequences, fun mechanics, and an exquisite score make for an all-around compelling narrative worth investing in. Plus, the quirks in this game give me such immense nostalgia, I can’t help but revel in every blocky boulder, pointy tiger, and weirdly blurry bat. Oh, and locking Winston in the refrigerator? Don’t even get me started. Perfection.

3. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997)

In my mind, few franchises are as criminally underrated as Oddworld. Everyone’s favorite game with a dedicated farting button, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee began the legend of Abe, breaker of chains and liberator of Mudokons, in 1997 with a stunning (and incredibly difficult) game that perfectly captured the hero’s journey. Detailed art direction, an inventive narrative, and timeless themes offered a truly one-of-a-kind gaming experience that inspired strong feelings in fans who would follow the franchise for years to come. One of the most charming yet disturbing fantasy worlds out there, Oddworld has always been an underdog compared to genre competitors. And yet, when I think of the “best” games, Abe’s is always the first face I see.

Joseph Volpe, Deputy Tech Editor

1. Wipeout (1995)

Back in December of 1995, when I’d finally unwrapped and set up my PlayStation on Christmas morning, there was only one thing on my mind: Wipeout. Just a few short months earlier, I’d gotten my first glimpse of the Psygnosis-developed anti-gravity racing game with its soundtrack of techno bangers via the movie Hackers. This was a game that somehow managed to connect to my burgeoning teen identity. It was a mash-up of next-gen video gaming culture (and let’s be real here, the 3D visuals were nothing short of revelatory at the time) with the raver culture I was already steeped in, much to my parents’ chagrin. 

Shortly after, in January of 1996, New York got walloped by a massive blizzard. I remember that time fondly because I spent the duration of it in my bedroom in a flow state blissfully glued to my lil’ off-white, 13-inch CRT TV, trying to master hairpin turns at high speeds with nothing more than a D-pad, some shoulder buttons, and the forward momentum of those adrenaline-thumping CoLD SToRAGE tracks. (No analog sticks. Can you even imagine?) Since then, the game has stayed with me, making the leap to the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, and PS Vita. All the while, I’ve never forgotten the muscle memory required to navigate those unforgiving, low-poly tracks with their impressively aggressive AI. I can even still make it to Mars, the secret track that’s only unlocked once you’ve beaten all other six tracks in the faster Rapier mode. 

2. Metroid Prime (2002)

Two words immediately spring to mind when I think of this GameCube classic: Phendrana Drifts

Stepping out into that vast, sandboxed “ice level,” and ascending its snowy heights for the first time induced a sense of quiet awe and exhilaration within me. There was something eerie about the sense of presence developer Retro Studios imbued into its first-person adventure game, which fully enmeshed players in the isolation and desperation of being stuck on an unexplored alien planet. I still have PTSD from the late night I first encountered those panic-inducing Chozo ghosts in that darkened, airy chamber backed by a spine-tingling score and punctuated with their screams.

And while the gameplay is undoubtedly excellent, the true beauty of Metroid Prime is in its atmosphere — in the believable world Retro crafted with its mysterious lore, shortcuts, hostile aliens, and hidden items. It’s why, decades later, I’ve continued to play Nintendo’s underappreciated early aughts gem — whether that’s been on my Wii (with those upgraded motion controls), my Wii U, or even the Dolphin emulator in HD-quality. And it’ll hopefully be the first menu icon on my Switch’s UI whenever Nintendo gets around to re-releasing the remastered trilogy. 

3. Gravity Rush (2012)

When it comes to first-party PlayStation developers, no other studio consistently wins me over like the fine folks at Japan Studio. (Puppeteer, anyone?) And Gravity Rush is no exception. Its mix of iconic cel-shaded character designs, endearing comic book-style cut scenes, a mysterious but provocative plot, and frantic, gyro-based, gravity-shifting controls make for a game that was seemingly designed just for me. To this day, I can spend hours free-falling through the air as Kat, the game’s amnesiac protagonist, and still never tire of it. And that sense of liberation as a gameplay mechanic is why I keep coming back for more, even with the remaster on the PS4. It’s also why I’ve happily made an absolute fool of myself in public playing it — twisting and turning frantically in my seat, whipping the Vita in every direction in an attempt to gravity-kick those Nevi baddies to their doom. 

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