The Best Games of All Time (Part 1: Criteria)

I’ve been following the internet explosion over at GameFAQs with some amusement. Essentially, Undertale is beating out some highly beloved classics in a “for funsies” series of polls for “best game ever”. I think Undertale is a great game, and does a lot of things that require you to be conversant in some fairly diverse and long-held gaming tropes, but I doubt it’s up there for “best game ever”, for a few reasons. It’s nice to see it get recognition, though.

The Best Games of All Time (Part 1: Criteria)

It’s gotten me thinking about what I would pick for the Best Games Ever, though. I use the plural because picking a single one is a laughably meaningless prospect, but there are some that are absolutely brilliant and deserve continued recognition. I’ve worked on coming up with some criteria to narrow the list down, see what you think:

1.) The game must be at least five years old.

This isn’t a slight on newer games, simply a nod to the fact that a game needs to be able to stand the test of time. I use five years because that’s on the long end of the development cycle for games, so games released more than five years ago aren’t going to be able to get by on the quality of their graphics or technology alone. It also ensures that the game has had time to fade into obscurity; if it hasn’t, that’s a good sign.

The Best Games of All Time (Part 1: Criteria)

2.) The game must contain original concepts for its time.

This is a nod to the need for games to continue to evolve. The very best games aren’t just masterpieces in their own right, they push the medium forward into new spaces. The “for its time” clause is there because some games may use those same concepts later, and may build on them, but aren’t necessarily moving the medium forward.

3.) The game must display a near-perfect refinement of its mechanics.

Some games are brilliant but buggy. Some games are very good at a number of things, but excel at none of them. Something worthy of being called ones of the “best games ever” can’t be either– they need to showcase the best of a given genre, be polished and complete, and would benefit little to not at all from any changes made.

The Best Games of All Time (Part 1: Criteria)

4.) The game must have had at least two of the following: at least one re-release on a new platform, have given rise to a remake, have created its own media web of spinoffs/sequels/etc.

This is a nod to games that are enduring, financially successful, and significant or beloved enough that new development offers enough further sales to justify the cost. Re-releasing on the same platform doesn’t count– no “Greatest Hits” reprint releases here (though many of the games probably would have that, too). Whether there’s a remake, a series of sequels, or other media, this addresses both the enduring appeal of the game as well as its footprint on the medium as a whole.

5.) The game must be good at more than one thing.

Maybe it’s got great combat and platforming. Maybe it’s got great voice acting and multiplayer. Maybe it’s got fantastic art and music. Maybe it’s excellent at teaching you how to play it and endlessly replayable. Maybe it’s a lot of these things. Some games are really, really good at a single one of these; these games don’t make the cut. A game need not be multiple games in one and good at all of them, but it needs to be more than a one-note experience.

The Best Games of All Time (Part 1: Criteria)

6.) The game has to be fun or otherwise significant, even now.

Super hard one, and very difficult to determine. It’s a question of whether or not a game has truly stood the test of time, or if it’s a nostalgic hit but doesn’t *really* stand up. It’s the least objective of the list, but I think it’s important. It’s hard for me to claim a game is one of the best of all time if I couldn’t see myself sitting down and playing it or having a drawn out conversation about it in context of more recent games. I don’t necessarily think every one of the “best games of all time” need be a game I could sit down and play again, but they also shouldn’t be games that I can’t compare favorably with games I’ve played recently.

This is the list I’m going to work with, and mull over a ton of games this week. Let me know if there’s some important criteria I missed; I’ll consider adding it to the list.

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