BEST OF THE BEST:
The TOP 50 Console Video Games
Part II

Updated April 30, 2016

In case you missed it, read Best of the Best Part I before proceeding further!

#25 Vandal Hearts

Playstation (1997)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 1999/7/15

Top 50 Remarks: A perfectly-balanced strategic adventure that had me hooked from beginning to end.

screenshotI don't play a lot of RPG/strategy titles, but Vandal Hearts won me over in a big way. This is truly one of my all-time favorites. You control a band of warriors caught up in an intricate storyline far too complex to explain here. The basic gameplay consists of a series of turn-based battles. You individually tell your warriors what to do, and then sit back and watch the action unfold. Vandal Hearts is surprisingly gory, with each kill causing a geyser of blood to spring forth. The battlefields range from rolling meadows to claustrophobic dungeons, and each requires a different strategy. Warriors range from powerful knights to frail magic users, and some of the spells you cast trigger amazing visual effects. The story line is absolutely enthralling, and the throught-provoking gameplay will have you hooked until the very end. Every Playstation fan needs this title in their collection.



#24 Snatcher

Sega CD (1994)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2002/3/12

Top 50 Remarks: Oozing with an electric atmosphere, Snatcher is a futuristic adventure with style to burn.

screenshotThis outstanding graphic adventure is one of the best games I've ever played on my Sega CD. It's set in a futuristic city where nocturnal "Snatchers" murder people and assume their identities. You are a detective with amnesia whose mission is to locate and destroy the source of the Snatchers. While the game is dark, serious, and intense, the tongue-in-cheek dialog occasionally borders on hilarious. A good example is when the hero reveals, "Since my girlfriend has amnesia too, there's not much there to base a relationship on." Tools at your disposal include a robot companion, a computer database, a videophone, and a "turbocycle" to get you around town. The intriguing storyline borrows heavily from movies like Blade Runner and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The game screen consists of a partially animated graphic above a menu of text options. Dramatic music, distinctive sound effects, and outstanding comic book-style graphics really immerse you in this mysterious world. The text option menus, which are often several layers deep, allow you to look, investigate, move, talk, ask, use, and show possessions. There are always plenty of options available at any given time, but since they are limited, you're not likely to get stuck in any one place for too long. The menus are easy to navigate, the load time is practically non-existent, and you can save your place to memory at any time. While Snatcher is mostly an adventure, there is an occasional shooting sequence that requires quick reflexes. Although Konami's Justifier light gun is supported, a normal controller is actually easier to use in these stages. Snatcher is like a good book that you can't put down. The graphics and sound are above average, but it's the thrilling storyline that makes it a classic.


#23 Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Playstation 3 (2009)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2009/12/20

Top 50 Remarks: The Uncharted series tried to top Tomb Raider's brand of third-person adventure, and succeeded.

screenshotMany critics failed to recognize the greatness of the first Uncharted, but now I see they've all jumped on the bandwagon. Better late than never boys! No question about it, Among Thieves is an exotic adventure that hones the Tomb Raider formula to perfection. This time our hero Nathan Drake (hey, isn't that Nick Lachey?) is on the trail of Marco Polo's lost expedition in search of a mythical stone in the Himalayan Mountains. At any given time, you can expect Nathan to have a shapely chick - or two - at his side, and who's complaining? Uncharted 2 has a substantial initial load time, but once the action kicks in, disk access is undetectable. The game's diverse environments include a war-torn city, a dense jungle, a Turkish museum, icy mountain passages, and a snowy monastery. There are elaborate tombs with immense statues, gears, and pulleys. The scenery is astonishing, and there were many times when I wanted to stop and look around but couldn't due to the breakneck pace of the game! Cleverly-designed stages constrain your movements without having you feel constrained. The city stages offer breathtaking views and realistic details like pigeons that flutter away as you approach. The jaw-dropping "shootout-on-the-train" stage defies description - it's incredible! Uncharted 2's gameplay offers an ideal combination of stealth, exploration, climbing, puzzles, pulse-pounding chases, and chaotic shootouts. The controls are supremely forgiving. Nathan will automatically grasp ledges while falling and reach out to indicate if the next ledge is close enough to leap to. The ability to fire a gun while hanging from any ledge adds a whole new dimension to shoot-outs. You can save your progress at any time, and frequent checkpoints ensure you'll never have to repeat long stretches. Among Thieves places a heavy emphasis on the story, with frequent cut-scenes that initially give you the feeling of being strung along. That would be a liability in most games, but Uncharted 2's cinematics are a real treat. Yes, they latch onto every action movie cliche you've ever seen, but it's all in good fun. The likeable characters are rendered with subtle facial expressions, and the voice acting is fantastic. Whoever wrote this dialogue is brilliant! I love it! The characters consistently toss out genuinely funny one-liners, and the profanity is thankfully restrained. Last but not least, the triumphant orchestrated musical score is momentous - worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. The game clocks in at about 11 hours, and while many adventures pad their playing time with repetitive, time-consuming tasks, Uncharted 2 has zero filler. Among Thieves is so grand and well produced that pointing out minor glitches like awkward camera angles or stuttering animations seems almost petty. When it comes to making a playable video game, the Naughty Dog development team really "gets it", and with Uncharted 2 they've delivered one for the ages.


#22 Dr. Mario 64

Nintendo 64 (2001)
Grade: A-
Reviewed: 2001/6/2

Top 50 Remarks: This long-running puzzle franchise has more depth, longevity, and multiplayer fun than even the original puzzle king, Tetris. My friends are not thrilled with this decision. Even the cats are giving me the cold shoulder.

screenshotIt's hard to be critical of a game you can't stop playing. Dr. Mario 64 is so addicting, I think I could make a full time job out of playing this! The graphics are simple, the music is so-so, and the sound effects are annoying, but tight controls and engrossing gameplay more than make up for these deficiencies. Dr. Mario is the type of game that appeals to men and women of all ages, and its four-player mode makes it an ideal party game. The gameplay is a variation of Tetris where you need to strategically place multi-colored "pills" to eliminate "viruses". It's the same Dr. Mario that's been released on the SNES (and NES), but this one contains more options and playing modes. If you enjoy puzzle games and you haven't tried Dr. Mario yet, you need to pick this up in a hurry. For the record, this is one of my wife's favorite video games of all time.



#21 Metal Slug

Neo Geo (1994)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2015/7/29

Top 50 Remarks: This delirious rapid-fire shooter is often imitated but never duplicated.

screenshotThe Metal Slug franchise was the flagship of the Neo Geo console. The series consistently delivered side-scrolling shooting mayhem with gigantic sprites, gratuitous destruction, and an outrageous sense of humor. After six iterations on the Neo Geo the series migrated to other systems in the form of Metal Slug X (Playstation, 2001) and compilations like Metal Slug Anthology (Wii, 2006). Frankly the first Metal Slug was the best of all. The AES version costs a fortune but the MVS cartridge is affordable enough. The game plays like a Rambo parody as your one-man-army plows through the jungle mowing down soldiers, blowing up helicopters, and bringing wooden forts crashing down. The enemy reactions and shrieking sound effects are hilarious. The rapid-fire shooting is ideal for the Neo Geo controller with its big tappable buttons. The oversized sprites, detailed scenery, and massive carnage is a feast for the eyes. At one point you'll witness a screen-sized building collapse. Wow. And just when you think things couldn't get any more chaotic, you hop into your Metal Slug tank and unleash a whole new level of whup-ass. Granted, slow-down does occur and at times it can be onerous. Still, I love the subtle details like reflections in puddles and visible breath in the cold winter stages. The heroic soundtrack really pumps your adrenaline and reaches operatic proportions during boss encounters. The number of continues is set at three which turns out to be an ideal number. A classic shooter in every sense of the word, Metal Slug is the definitive title for the Neo Geo system.


#20 Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (CD) (Japan)

Turbografx-16 (1993)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2003/9/3

Top 50 Remarks: As the most celebrated of all Castlevania games, Rondo of Blood is a cinematic treat.

screenshotThis rare title, only available in America as an import, is considered by most Castlevania fans to be the best of the series, and they'll get no argument here. Rondo of Blood is visually stunning, even today. The graphics are painstakingly detailed and high resolution, and the use of color is nothing short of brilliant. The demons and creatures you encounter are highly inventive, and effective animations usher in the appearance of bosses. For example, before your encounter with the werewolf, you can see his silhouette in front of the moon in the distance before he leaps into the foreground. The gameplay is typical Castlevania, where you use your whip and special weapons to battle monsters while collecting items hidden in candles. One aspect I especially like about Dracula X is although you can take multiple paths, the stages don't contain a myriad of confusing staircases like so many other Castlevania titles. I should warn you that this game is extremely hard and will frustrate novice gamers. Complementing the gorgeous graphics is the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a Castlevania game, along with crisp, distinctive sound effects. You can save your game and return to any stage you've completed. Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood is a classic, and if you can get your hands on it, an excellent addition to your Turbo Duo library.



#19 Hydro Thunder

Dreamcast (1999)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2004/9/30

Top 50 Remarks: High-speed boats, turbo boosts, and gorgeous scenery are a gamer's ticket to paradise.

screenshotThis "launch title" (released on the same day as the system) is my favorite Dreamcast game of all time. Hydro Thunder is pure arcade bliss, with eye candy galore, simple controls and some of the most exhilarating gameplay you'll ever experience in a video game. Imagine an amusement park water ride that moves at the speed of a roller coaster, and you'll start to appreciate what Hydro Thunder has to offer. This racer features 13 power boats and 14 astonishing tracks. From the exotic jungles of the Lost World, to the gigantic ice formations of the Arctic Circle, to the majestic ancient ruins of the Greek Isles, each track is magnificent in scale and full of surprises. Complementing the smooth graphics is a dramatic musical score and some hilarious sound effects. The intuitive control scheme makes it easy to maintain control even as your boat is careening down rapids at high speeds. Large floating icons provide turbo, and using your turbo power efficiently is key to winning. Numerous ramps allow for plenty of opportunities to catch big air, and your stomach will drop as you go over huge waterfalls, some over 400 feet tall! A split screen mode allows two players to race head-to-head, and while it's a step down in terms of speed, it's still a lot of fun. Two minor complaints are the lack of a restart option and an automatic save. But all in all Hydro Thunder truly delivers on the promise of the Dreamcast.



#18 Adventure

Atari 2600 (1980)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2002/5/25

Top 50 Remarks: Its graphics are decidedly abstract, but Adventure's brilliant gameplay consistently delivers an experience far more than the sum of its parts.

screenshotAdventure's amazingly rich gameplay transcends its primitive sound and graphics, creating an experience brimming with strategy, action, and suspense. Your mission is to return a chalice to a gold castle, and your character is a simple square you move around contiguous screens. The screens can be wide open or maze-like, and in "dark" areas only the immediate area around you is visible. The world of Adventure features three castles (gold, white, and black), which contain even more areas. The castles look superb and even have working gates that can lock objects (or creatures) in or out. Objects scattered about this virtual world include a magnet, bridge, sword, and three castle keys. Your quest is fraught with peril in the form of three dragons: the slow yellow Yorgle, the nastier green Grundle, and the vicious red Rhindle. Granted, these creatures aren't much to look at - they look more like zombie ducks than dragons. You have to remember that Adventure was made when the programmers did their own artwork! The dragons often guard items, but won't hesitate to chase you around. I love how after a dragon eats you you appear in its hollow belly, where you can continue to struggle in vain. Add in an item-swapping bat that continuously redistributes items, and you have a very dynamic and unpredictable world. Variation #3, which randomizes the items, is a unique experience each time you play. If there was ever a good example of a sum being greater than its parts, it's Adventure. This was also the very first video game to feature an "Easter Egg" (hidden secret).



#17 Bioshock

Xbox 360 (2007)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2007/9/1

Top 50 Remarks: The Bioshock formula wore a bit thin after repeated updates and sequels, but at the time of its release there was nothing else like this avante-garde masterpiece.

screenshotIf you thought the future of first-person shooters (FPS) was limited to strangers sniping at each other on-line, this amazing story-driven epic may alter your perspective. Bioshock does for FPS games what Resident Evil 4 did for survival horror, elevating the genre to the next level. It combines the dark, claustrophobic environments of Doom 3 with the twisted occult themes of Silent Hill, and throws in elements of "The Shining" to create a distinctive, unsettling style of its own. The undersea city of Rapture is part fun house and part haunted house, with bulletproof windows offering magnificent views of a submerged metropolis. Set in the year 1960, the vintage advertisements, neon lights, chrome moldings, and plush furniture call to mind a more elegant, wholesome era. No game has ever tackled this period before, but Bioshock succeeds in spectacular fashion due to its brilliant art direction and unflinching attention to detail. The story begins with a water plane crash, and early stages gradually usher you into the dark world of Rapture. The water effects are astonishing, and the deteriorating environments look properly damp and aged. Buildings are connected by glass walkways, allowing you to explore diverse facilities including a medical center, atrium, farmer's market, and lavish theater. Items and ammo are sprinkled throughout the rich scenery, and rifling through desks, trashcans, and file cabinets is fun and habit-forming. Your adversaries are masked lunatics disfigured by demented surgical procedures. Upon gunning one down, I was really impressed by how its body realistically slumped between two pieces of furniture. Completing each stage requires you to "save" or "harvest" infected little girls protected by imposing figures in deep-sea diving suits. The heavy footsteps and distinctive groans of these "big daddies" is enough to instill an overwhelming sense of fear. In addition to standard weaponry, you acquire injectable "plasmids" providing a wide range of unconventional powers, including telekinesis, lightning, incineration, and even the power to hypnotize big daddies! As a result, most challenges can be solved in a variety of ways. You have the option of "hacking" vending machines, safes, and attack droids by playing a frantic "connect the circuit" mini-game. Bioshock's audio is unnerving, with jarring noises, alarming footsteps, and muffled voices in distress. The storyline is convoluted and a bit over-the-top. Audio tape recordings enlighten you to the sordid history of Rapture, and some are rather disturbing, like when a surgeon muses "It's time we did something about symmetry" as his female patient screams in horror. The voice acting is convincing, and a sensational soundtrack incorporates vintage phonograph music. Thoughtfully designed and expertly programmed, Bioshock's developers skillfully side-step the pratfalls so many other FPS games fall into. You can save your progress or adjust the difficulty at any time, and there's even an auto-save in case you forget. An arrow keeps you headed in the proper direction, and hints are readily available. With its stunning originality, engrossing storyline, and fantastic production values, Bioshock practically defies criticism. Hours literally melt away as you become caught up its fantastic tale of an undersea utopia gone mad.


#16 NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Super Nintendo (1994)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2004/8/26

Top 50 Remarks: The original NBA Jam was pure dynamite, and this tournament edition gave everybody what we were pining for: four player action!

screenshotCapitalizing on the unbridled success of the first NBA Jam, Acclaim's Tournament Edition retains the fast-paced gameplay of the original while spicing things up with interesting new options. Each team now has three players to choose from instead of two, and you can substitute between quarters. The gameplay places more emphasis on defense, so you can expect to see more steals, blocked shots, and "boings" off the rim. The expanded options menu lets you customize more aspects of the game, as well as enabling power-ups and "hot spots" on the floor that are worth extra points. The new "juice mode" speeds up the action and sends things into overdrive. But the most valuable new addition is the inclusion of a much-need four-player mode. Statistics are now saved via battery backup instead of a long password. NBA Jam Tournament Edition retains the magic of the original game but offers more options, more unpredictability, and more fun.



#15 Streets of Rage

Genesis (1991)
Grade: A-
Reviewed: 2004/4/24

Top 50 Remarks: Outstanding side-scrolling beat-em-up with memorable foes, interesting scenery, and a soundtrack for the ages. Streets of Rage 2 may be superior in some regards but I never tire of the original.

screenshotFor many years I've taken this game for granted, but after recently playing similar games on other systems like Final Fight (SNES) and Burning Fight (Neo Geo), I've gained a whole new appreciation for this classic side-scrolling brawler. Streets of Rage takes the Double Dragon-style of gameplay to a whole new level, with more attacks, realistic-looking characters, and interesting backdrops. Two players can fight side-by-side, and there are three characters to choose from, including a muscle-bound blonde guy (Axel), the high-kicking black dude (Adam), and a hot chick in a red miniskirt (Blaze). The punch and jump buttons let you execute a surprising variety of moves, including throws, jump-kicks, head-butts, and body slams. The "special attack" button calls in a police car which fires a cannon that rains down fireballs on everybody but somehow doesn't harm the good guys one bit. There are a wide variety of thugs to beat the crap out of, but after a while they start repeating, showing up in different-colored outfits. You'll face fire-jugglers, dominatrixes, guys with turtle-like jackets, and a parade of generic thugs. At the end of each stage, some pumping "boss music" kicks in as you face a metal-clawed punk, a Cro-Magnon man, a fire-breathing fat guy, or some acrobatic ladies. Speaking of music, the Genesis isn't known for its audio, but the music in Streets of Rage is simply amazing. Each of these catchy techno jams gets under your skin and really pumps the adrenaline. In terms of graphics, the characters are nicely animated and the scenery is quite detailed, especially the gorgeous city skylines. You can smash up some of the scenery (like phone booths) to reveal power-ups and weapons. And like most fighting games, it's perfectly acceptable to eat strange food you find laying in middle of the road. Weapons include baseball bats, pipes, and - my favorite - the bottle. Not only can you smash it over some goon's head, but then you can stab him with the broken end! The gameplay is remarkably tight in terms of control and design. Bad guys don't require an inordinate number of hits, and the stages are just the right length. Streets of Rage is an absolute classic that seems to get better with time. Play it and love it.


#14 Galaga '90

Turbografx-16 (1990)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2001/4/25

Top 50 Remarks: This is what happens you get when you take a classic arcade shooter and improve upon it in every conceivable way.

screenshotAn A+?! Has the Video Game Critic finally lost his mind?? No, Galaga '90 is so extraordinary that it pretty much justifies buying a whole Turbografx 16 system. I'm a huge Galaga fan (who isn't?), but I didn't think any sequel could match the brilliant gameplay of the original. But not only does Galaga '90 push the series to new heights, it does so while preserving the classic look, sound, and control that made the original such a winner. Like the old Galaga, levels consist of space bugs flying around in patterns before settling into formation. There are a wide variety of enemies here, including some fat turtle-looking things that burst into nice explosions. Some enemies drop exploding bombs, and others merge to form larger foes. In a nod to its predecessor, you can double your firepower by "sacrificing" a ship and later rescuing it. Been there done that, right? Well, what would you say about tripling your firepower?! Yes, this game is out of control. In addition to the normal and "challenge" stages, there are even a few "boss" stages that add some extra spice. The background music mimics the style of the original game, but expands upon it. Galaga 90's graphics are smooth, colorful, and vibrant. There are even some non-intrusive, nicely-drawn background graphics. And don't be afraid to use the turbo feature on your controller; this game was tailor-made for that thing. Galaga '90 is a top-notch shooter, and an absolute must-have for every Turbografx owner.



#13 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

Dreamcast (2001)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2001/8/16

Top 50 Remarks: This follow-up to the groundbreaking extreme sports title is one of the most addictive games ever.

screenshotThis fine sequel builds on the strengths of the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater game. The intro video is jaw-dropping, with professional boarders that seem to defy gravity. The game itself is just as fun as the original, but there's more of everything, including additional options, tricks, techniques, courses, skaters, and playing modes. You can even choose a female character this time. Pro Skater 2 is more challenging than the original, but the scores tend to run much higher. The graphics haven't changed too much, and I'm surprised there's no blood when you take a nasty spill. Locations include New York, Venice Beach, Philadelphia, and Mexico, and each contains its share of hidden areas and surprises. Not only is a create-a-player option included, but also a nifty create-a-skate-park feature as well (wow!). The new soundtrack is awesome, with tunes by Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Papa Roach. With award-winning gameplay and ample replay value, Tony Hawk 2 proves itself a worthy sequel.



#12 Mario Kart Double Dash

GameCube (2003)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2003/12/16

Top 50 Remarks: Just about any Mario Kart title could fill this slot, but I think franchise really hit its stride with this particularly timeless battle/racing opus.

screenshotKart games are always fun, but Double Dash perfects the formula, and is truly a joy to play. Each kart can hold two characters, one to drive and one to hang off the back and employ weapons. This two-man concept was first realized in the gladiator racing game Circus Maximus (Xbox, 2002), and it was pretty effective in that game as well. While the second character doesn't make a huge difference here, it does add a few subtle nuances to the strategy. Pairing up characters introduces weight factors, gives the ability to "juggle" power-ups, and lets you team up with a friend. Characters can switch places on the fly, and each can hold a different power-up. The tracks here are absolutely gorgeous, and many are reminiscent of the exotic worlds in Mario Sunshine. There's a tropical paradise, jungle, castle, and a desert track complete with a Sarlacc (for all you Star Wars fans out there). My personal favorite is the track that winds through a giant cruise ship - it's incredible! The one track I didn't care for was the giant rainbow, which incidentally appears at the end of every Mario Kart game (and always sucks). Most courses tend to be wide open, so it's not difficult to stay on the road. Even if you do crash or get hit by a weapon, you're back in action almost immediately. All your favorite weapons are here, including the bananas, heat-seeking shells, and the lightning bolt that makes all the other racers tiny. You receive three shell projectiles at a time and can shoot them in a rapid-fire fashion. Control is responsive, although the handling depends on your character combination and vehicle. All the characters and most of the tracks are available from the start (thankfully), and the new Mario, Luigi, and Bowser "baby" characters are absolutely hilarious. The races are extremely fun and unpredictable, and the "Battle Modes" are also worth checking out. Double Dash is a must-have for GameCube owners, and for you non-GameCube owners, this may be the excuse you've been looking for.


#11 Realsports Baseball

Atari 5200 (1983)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2008/4/7

Top 50 Remarks: Realsport Baseball strips the sport to its bare essentials, bringing out the fun in the process. Modern baseball titles aren't even in the same league.

screenshotThis is, without a doubt, my favorite classic baseball game. It may not have all the features of Intellivision's World Championship baseball, but it beats that game hands-down with superior graphics, awesome control, and impressive voice synthesis. Realsports Baseball gives you uniformed players, a sharp-looking diamond, and a stadium complete with a homerun fence -- and a crowd. There's even a scoreboard that displays the complete line score. The pitching controls are outstanding! You can choose between nine pitches, and even control the ball in flight. Thanks to the helpful shadow, each pitch is visually distinctive. The batting controls are also innovative, taking full advantage of the unique Atari 5200 joystick design. You swing by sliding the joystick left to right, and can even control the height of your cut. Fielding takes a while to get used to, but the computer is surprisingly adept at choosing the appropriate fielder. The whole baseball experience is captured in this game, complete with tagging up, hit and runs, squeeze plays, no wind-up pitches, base stealing, and throwing errors! Thanks to some nifty voice synthesis, an umpire calls strikes, balls, and outs. The menu screen allows you to fully configure the number of players, difficulty, and number of innings. No game is perfect, and waiting for the teams to leave the field between innings gets old after a while. But when it comes to classic baseball, Atari 5200 Realsports is second to none!



#10 Warlords

Atari 2600 (1981)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2010/7/10

Top 50 Remarks: The ultimate multiplayer video game is a perfect blend of skill, strategy, teamwork, betrayal, redemption, and luck. Always a riot with four players.

screenshotLet's get one thing straight: Warlords is the best four-player game ever invented. Period. It looks a little crappy you say? Okay, I'll give you that. Even back in 1981 I was less than enthused about the graphics. But this game is far more than the sum of its parts. Each corner of the screen holds an oddly-shaped "knight" (use your imagination) surrounded by a chunky wall. Using a paddle controller you move a shield around the perimeter of your fortress, protecting it from a firewall that you can either catch or deflect. The ball tends to destroy chunks of bricks, and as holes appear the action becomes more intense. The last knight remaining wins the round, and the first player to win five rounds is the victor. The dynamics of this game are sensational, as new alliances are constantly being formed and disbanded. Naturally players tend to gang up on whoever is winning. From round to round your neighboring warlord can go from being a helpful ally ("you're my boy, blue!") to a bitter rival ("kill that blue bastard!"). Trash talking is pretty much mandatory. Even when a player is eliminated from a round, he can still affect the outcome. By carefully positioning his "ghost" shield, he can deflect the ball enough to facilitate new angles for the remaining players. It could be a bug in the game for all I know, but it really adds a new dimension. In fact, it's the game's quirks that make it unpredictable and exciting. Warlords offers 23 variations, but the CPU opponents are pretty dumb, and variation 1 (four players) is all you really need. Often imitated but never matched, this universally-loved game is the king of multi-player mayhem.


#9 NHL '94

Genesis (1993)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2003/6/29

Top 50 Remarks: Perhaps the most legendary sports video game ever made, NHL '94 is held in the highest esteem by the gaming community.

screenshotIn my humble opinion, NHL '94 was the absolute pinnacle of hockey video games. This edition introduced a number of new features including penalty shots, four-player support, and reverse-angle instant replays. But NHL 94's best addition is its "one-timer" shots (aka "quick-stick"), allowing a player to quickly redirect the puck into the net after receiving a pass. It really adds a whole new dimension to the offense. Other bells and whistles include a season mode, statistic tracking, and player cards. The game is fully customizable, and I'd advise you to turn those penalties off! NHL 94 doesn't have any fighting or blood, but that's okay, because they would only interrupt the flow of the action. Interesting animations include a little boy in the front row of the crowd who occasionally walks up to the glass. When a player turns a hat trick, yellow hats are thrown onto the ice, although this looks so sloppy that I initially thought it was a glitch in the game! NHL '94 has held up well over the years, and I'd take the Pepsi Challenge between this and a modern hockey game any day of the week.



#8 Guitar Hero

Playstation 2 (2005)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2006/1/24

Top 50 Remarks: There have been plenty of great Guitar Hero games, but it's hard to recapture the magic of the original.

screenshotguitarBeing the jaded critic I am, it's rare that a game comes along and totally knocks my socks off. But Guitar Hero provides an adrenaline rush few other video games can match. The first time I played, I was jumping all over the place like a maniac. One hour later I was sitting on the edge of a chair, somewhat tired but still concentrated like a laser. An hour after that, I was sprawled out on the couch, but still clutching that guitar and forging ahead! Since then, I've played it almost every day. Guitar Hero follows the footsteps of a long line of musical video games, including Parappa the Rapper (Playstation, 1997), Samba De Amigo (Dreamcast, 2000), Amplitude (Playstation 2, 2003), Donkey Konga (GameCube, 2005), and of course the popular Dance Dance Revolution (Playstation, 2001) series. Guitar Hero is packaged with a special controller shaped like a small guitar, and it's absolutely essential. About 2.5 feet in length, the thing is sturdy, comfortable, and comes with a convenient shoulder strap. Lining the neck of the guitar are five colorful Fisher Price-style buttons you hold in to play notes and chords. From the base of the guitar protrudes a thin plastic strip that rocks in place, allowing you to "strum" up or down. This controller is ingenious in design, and a joy to play. As colored circles ride down a "track" on the screen, you must hold in "fret" buttons of the same color while "strumming" to the beat. There's even a whammy bar and tilt sensor! An excellent tutorial helps you get the hang of it in just a few minutes. The 30+ songs include plenty of familiar riffs, including Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), Bark at the Moon (Ozzy Osbourne), Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie), More Than a Feeling (Boston), Fat Lip (Sum 41), and You Got Another Thing Comin' (Judas Priest). While the "made famous by" disclaimer reveals these are not performed by the original artists, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. In fact, I was absolutely stunned at how faithful these songs are to the originals. Certain songs require a lot of practice to get a feel for their complicated note sequences, but you always improve with each try. Miss too many notes and your performance will come to an abrupt conclusion. Typically those nasty guitar solos throw you for a loop, but the familiar chorus always returns to save you in the end. Once you get a "feel" for the controls, they come so naturally that you can play without even thinking. As a former guitar player, I really found myself really getting into "the zone" playing this. Besides a barrage on notes, the screen also depicts animated musicians performing in front of a audience, and the crowd's energy is determined by how well you perform. In the addictive career mode, you begin by playing in a cramped basement but gradually work your way up to expansive arenas. With four difficulty levels, the challenge is immense and the replay value is outstanding. But as good as the single-player mode is, there's nothing quite like "dueling guitars" with a buddy. Not only can you compete for score, but other people in the room can judge for "style" points. I also have to commend Guitar Hero for its attention to detail and self-deprecating sense of humor. The comical load screens convey advice like "Never let the drummer handle the money" and "Never eat anything tossed up onto the stage". Menu screens look like high school notebooks with hilarious doodles in the margins, and the general tone of the game is clearly inspired by Spinal Tap. Red Octane pulled out all the stops to produce a polished, high-quality product. I can't recall the last time I've had this much fun playing a video game.


#7 Crash Bandicoot

Playstation (1996)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 1999/7/15

Top 50 Remarks: The flagship title for the Playstation system, Crash Bandicoot proved 3D platforming can be just as fun as its 2D predecessors.

screenshotThis fantastic 3D action/platform game served as the perfect showcase of the Playstation's graphical capabilities. When released in 1996, nothing else could touch it. The frame-rate is silky smooth as our marsupial hero traverses lush, tropical environments with fantastic overgrown ruins. The audio is also first-rate, with excellent bongo drum music adding to the game's exotic flavor. Although Crash can move on any axis, he is generally restricted to a narrow pathway, although some stages do branch. Your goal is to traverse a series of hazards while smashing crates and defeating animals with well-timed spins and pounces. In most stages you run "into" the screen, but in a few you run "out" of the screen, and there are even some side-scrolling levels. From its shimmering water stages, to Indiana Jones-inspired giant rolling boulder stage, Crash Bandicoot's 3D world is loaded with fun surprises. If this isn't a Playstation classic, what is?



#6 Contra

NES (1988)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2005/10/31

Top 50 Remarks: Classic run-and-gun shooting action with outstanding graphics and playability. Two-player coop doesn't get much better than this.

screenshotContra's rousing theme song is instantly recognizable to many gamers raised on the NES. Most of my buddies played this game religiously as kids, and still love to play it today. Contra set the standard for commando-style, side-scrolling shooters, with top-notch graphics, memorable audio, and a superior control system. Incorporating stages with various points of view and intimidating bosses, Contra keeps you coming back for more. Your Rambo-like character battles soldiers, cannons, and aliens as he traverses jungle, snow, waterfalls, hangars, and a climactic alien lair. The control is dead-on; you can jump, duck, and aim in eight directions. The fact that you can fire diagonally was actually quite a luxury in 1988. Power-ups abound, but the "spray" weapon is by far the most desirable. The finely-detailed, side-scrolling stages are expertly designed to provide multiple routes and allow for strategic crossfire opportunities in the excellent two-player simultaneous mode. You know it's not your typical side-scroller when you fall off a platform into water below, but instead of losing a life, you can wade safely to shore. Well-executed pseudo-3D shooting levels elevate the game to the next level, and the bosses are immense but never frustrating. This game is challenging - the standard three lives is hardly sufficient - so don't hesitate to use the popular 30-life cheat code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start at title screen). Contra is a classic NES shooter, and one of the definitive titles for the system. Konami released a sequel called Super C.



#5 Super Street Fighter 2

Super Nintendo (1994)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 1999/9/29

Top 50 Remarks: Street Fighter II was a worldwide phenomenon, and this was the ultimate home edition.

screenshotThis was the third edition of Street Fighter 2 to appear on the SNES. It added four brand new characters, bringing the grand total to sixteen. Of the new challengers, Fei Long, is a Bruce lee look-alike, Cammy is a scantily clad British soldier, Dee Jay is a tall guy from the Caribbean, and T. Hawk is a huge American Indian in a sissy pink outfit. The game also includes a new tournament mode for multiple players, and I recall having fun with that way back in the day. Super Street Fighter's graphics have been tweaked from the previous game to look slightly more realistic, and the music has been remastered for better or worse. Most regard this as the ultimate Street Fighter game for the SNES.



#4 Resident Evil 4

GameCube (2005)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2005/3/10

Top 50 Remarks: With white-knuckle thrills and haunting atmosphere, this boldly original title took a floundering series and lifted it into the stratosphere.

screenshotNo game is perfect, but Resident Evil 4 (RE4) comes about as close as you can get. I'm starting to think this could be the best video game I've ever played. A masterpiece of great length and substance, RE4 is such a huge leap forward for the series that it doesn't even feel like a Resident Evil game. Perfectly conceived with originality to burn, the game is madly addictive and supremely satisfying. What makes it so compelling? First of all, the rural mountainside setting is pure genius, bringing to mind films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blair Witch, and Night of the Living Dead. The desolate forest is so fully-realized that it's practically a character in and of itself. Although your movements are limited to a predetermined path, you'd never know by the natural-looking surroundings. The dilapidated old houses you stumble upon look authentic and foreboding. You even explore an old church on a hill surrounded by a graveyard - it doesn't get much better than that. The adventure begins on a dark cloudy day, and only gets scarier as night falls and a thunderstorm rages. Resident Evil 4's audio adds to the sense of urgency with harrowing sound effects that seamlessly meld with the haunting musical score. The perfectly balanced gameplay features brisk pacing, extraordinary variety, and a very reasonable difficulty level. The puzzles are interesting but mercifully easy. Don't rest during the cut-scenes, because "quick action events" prompt you to hit certain buttons at critical moments to escape injury. The game constantly keeps you on guard, but you never feel hopelessly stuck. When you die, you always continue close to where you left off. The storyline involves rescuing the President's daughter from a cult, and you'll spend a large portion of the game escorting her to safety. Instead of conventional zombies, RE4 features chanting monks and brainwashed townsfolk armed with pitchforks, torches, and axes. The violence is unflinching, and when a farmwoman freaks out after being shot in the face, it's actually quite disturbing. But nothing strikes more fear in this game than the sound of a chainsaw - it's downright alarming. RE4's control scheme may seem awkward at first due to the lack of a strafe button, but the limited mobility just adds to the tension. The over-the-shoulder view is a nice compromise between a first-person shooter and third-person adventure, and the jumping controls are practically automatic. Your firepower is astounding, and a powered-up shotgun can blow several attackers across a room with a single blast. The game incorporates a surprising amount of sniping action, so before you enter a new area you'll want to weed out as many creatures as you can from a distance. Unlike previous RE games, item management is not tedious at all, and a mysterious cloaked figure appears every so often to buy and sell goods, or upgrade weapons. A testament to RE4's greatness is how many memorable moments are packed into this single game, including a battle with a giant "troll" monster, a wild encounter on a ski lift, a crazy mine cart ride, and a row-boat sequence as thrilling as the movie Jaws. It should be noted that the game is definitely intended for mature audiences, due to excessive violence and gore, along with use of the "S" word. Although it never takes itself too seriously, there are some genuinely intense moments and gruesome images. Resident Evil 4 is one for the ages. The bar for survival horror has now been set very, very high.


#3 Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Genesis (1992)
Grade: A
Reviewed: 2014/2/23

Top 50 Remarks: Arguably the pinnacle of Sonic franchise, this superior sequel recaptured the magic of the original game while incorporating one of the most userful moves ever: the spin dash!

screenshotThe first game was a hard act to follow, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 adds interesting elements that push the fun to new heights. The title screen introduces Sonic's new sidekick, a fox named Tails. Tails actually has two tails - an unfortunate byproduct of living too close to a nuclear reactor. In theory Tails can be controlled by a second player, but it's hard to keep him on the screen. Sonic is now armed with a "spin-dash" move that lets him "rev up" before taking off like a bullet. It's a huge step up from the rolling spin attack of the first game. In fact, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it! Sonic 2 offers ten zones with two acts each. The Emerald zone follows closely in the footsteps of the Green Hill zone from the first game, with inviting vegetation and shimmering water that reflects the clouds and mountains in the distance. If you liked the loops in the first game, wait until you get a load of the corkscrews in Sonic 2! The Chemical Plant is an industrial-themed zone with a striking red skyline, and the gorgeous Aquatic Zone depicts flooded ancient ruins. The difficulty is low and the zones are short, so it's not hard to make considerable progress. One exciting new addition are the half-pipe bonus stages which were positively jaw-dropping in their time. Although the 3D graphics are somewhat chunky, they still make you feel like you're on a rollercoaster as you gather rings while avoiding bombs. The excellent musical score meets the lofty standards set by the first game. The coop aspect was a nice thought, but in practice the fast action doesn't lend itself to that kind of gameplay. If a second player isn't around, the CPU takes control of Tails to a very minimal extent. Unhelpful and distracting, he may even contribute to the occasional slow-down. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 also includes a split-screen "racing" mode but its visuals are distorted (smushed) and frankly it's nothing to write home about. Sonic 2 isn't quite as polished as the original game, with occasional graphical and collision glitches (I once got stuck in the Chemical Plant). Still, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 packs more fun and imagination that most 2D platformers can only dream of.


#2 Super Mario Bros. 3

NES (1990)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2003/12/13

Top 50 Remarks: The quintessential 2D platformer, this game took the unbridled joy of the original Super Mario Bros. and increased it exponentially.

screenshotAfter taking a detour with Super Mario Bros 2, Nintendo got "back to the basics" with this third edition, giving gamers what they really wanted. Super Mario Bros 3 uses the same gameplay as the first, but there's a lot more to discover here, with eight huge "worlds" to explore, each with its own collection of stages and bonus games. This was one of the first video games to employ interactive maps, allowing the player to move freely between the stages. New power-ups allow Mario to transform into characters with special abilities including Racoon Mario, Fire Mario, Frog Mario, and Tanooki Mario. Numerous mini-games add variety and supply bonus items you can activate between stages. The stages themselves are expertly designed and many feature multiple routes. You can't save your game, but there are continues available and "warp whistles" that let you skip ahead. Like the first game, the graphics and music are simple but brimming with personality. It's no surprise that most NES fans regard Super Mario Bros 3 as the greatest Mario Bros game of all time.



#1 Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The

Super Nintendo (1992)
Grade: A+
Reviewed: 2002/7/12

Top 50 Remarks: Superb in every facet, I firmly believe this is the most perfect video game ever produced for any console. And the fact that it didn't rely on fancy graphics or advanced technology ensures it will age like wine.

screenshotHow many superlatives can the Video Game Critic use in one review? As it turns out, quite a few! If Legend of Zelda Link to the Past isn't the best video game ever made, then it's easily in the top 10. Even the acclaimed Nintendo 64 incarnations of Zelda couldn't improve upon this perfect blend of exploration, action, and puzzle solving. I've never been a huge fan of role-playing games, but Zelda has always managed to straddle the line between role-playing and arcade action. Although your character "Link" develops skills and manages an inventory much like an RPG, all of the action is played out in real time. Despite the game's cartoonish appearance, each object is meticulously crafted and cleanly animated. The gameplay is strictly 2D, but overlapping areas convey the illusion of multi-tiered castles and dungeons. The enemies are extremely imaginative, and each has its own distinct personality and attack patterns. Skeletons leap away from your attacks, soldiers block with shields, and one-eyed crab monsters fall asleep and wake up unpredictably. The battles are challenging but never repetitive, and the puzzles tend to be on the easy side, eliminating the frustration factor. Zelda's audio is fantastic, with crystal clear sound effects and a sweeping musical score. But what really makes Link to the Past shine is its superior gameplay. The pacing is steady and new areas open gradually, never allowing you to become bored. The carefully designed "world" is perfectly sized, so there's always plenty of room to explore, yet you never feel lost or overwhelmed. The difficulty is ideal, and you can save your progress even after you die. Brilliantly conceived and expertly programmed, Zelda: A Link to the Past is a captivating experience that will appeal to gamers of all ages. It simply doesn't get much better than this.


Honorable Mentions

Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360)
The Incredible Wizard (Bally Astrocade)
Tempest 2000 (Jaguar)
Tetris (NES)
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Mike Tyson's Punch Out (NES)
Sega Rally Championship (Saturn)
Radiant Silvergun (Saturn)
Tecmo Super Bowl (NES)
Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
Twisted Metal (PS3)
River Raid (Atari 2600/Colecovision)
Burgertime (Colecovision)
Frogger (Colecovision)
Dig Dug (Atari 5200)
Shovel Knight (PS4)
Worms World Party (Dreamcast)
Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Centipede (Colecovision)
Thunder Force III (Genesis)
Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)
Resident Evil (Playstation, GameCube)
Ghouls and Ghosts (Genesis)
Street Fighter Alpha 2 (Saturn)
Mortal Kombat (Genesis)

Back to Best of the Best Part I

COMING SOON: WORST OF THE WORST: THE BOTTOM 50!