30 Most Influential Games of All Time

Video games have came a long way since their beginnings. Some franchises have been successful, and others have been destroyed. Some have always prospered, and others failed miserably. But what makes a good video game? Is it the games of the past that make the games of the future?  In some ways, it is, and gamers have always wondered what games have really shined and influenced the games we play today.  Well, it seems those gamers will get their answer today.  TGR staff and writers have given their input; fights have been fought and words have been exchanged, but in the end, we have come up with our list of the 30 Most Influential Games of All Time. 

Contra

If you were a gamer during the 8- or 16-bit eras, then you have played this game. To put it simply for any gaming newcomers who may be reading this, Contra was the Halo of 1987. Fast-paced and action heavy, the Contra series mastered the art of the side-scrolling shooter, until finally hitting it’s peak with Contra 3: The Alien Wars, which is constantly seen on Top Games of All Time lists.

Dance Dance Revolution

Although Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), seemed to start as a niche game, it quickly turned into much, much more. It didn’t take long before the game became a hit all over the world. Dance Dance Revolution has changed perceptions of video games, while also influencing the music/rhythm genre as well.  While most music/rhythm games had consisted of musical instrument or “rapping” games, DDR flipped the switch and made a dancing game. Yes, it still involved music, but now you were dancing to the beat instead of making the beat. There have been a ton of DDR wannabes, but none have been anywhere near the caliber of the original.

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong was one of the first platformers to hit the US, and influenced many future games, including Mr. Jumpman’s starring role in Super Mario Bros., which created possibly the most prominent video game character in history, Mario. Donkey Kong is also considered one of the first games to have a cutscene, and as you know, the cutscene has become a staple in video games of today.

Dragon Warrior

Before the Dragon Quest franchise became popular, it was simply known as Dragon Warrior. It spawned four classic rpgs on the NES alone, and hasn’t stopped since. Dragon Warrior was one of the first RPGs and featured something that has now become a staple in role playing games — menu based combat.  Dragon Warrior was one of the first games with a menu based combat system, and almost every popular RPG since has featured it.

Final Fantasy VII

While Ocarina of Time’s influence may not be extremely easy to determine, Final Fantasy VII’s is very easy. For decades afterward, RPG designers have strived to reach the high watermark set by the seventh installment in the series. While FF6 is almost universally considered a better game, there is no match for FF7 in terms of leaving an imprint on the audience, and bringing new people into a once exclusionary genre.


GoldenEye 007

Although not the first fps, GoldenEye 007 brought something new and original to the table. The single-player mode in this game was good, but let’s face the facts, that isn’t why we played it. GoldenEye featured a multiplayer deathmatch that we couldn’t get enough of, and this is what makes the game so influential.  Now, it is a necessity for first-person shooters to have multiplayer modes and deathmatches, and this started with GoldenEye 007. Who has the golden gun?

Gran Turismo

Racing games had been in existence long before Gran Turismo was even thought of, yet it has had such a huge impact on the racing genre. Gran Turismo was really the first racing game to feature realistic cars, realistic courses, and realistic gameplay.  Racing games before GT were fun, but I can’t remember one that was quite as true to life.  GT set up the standard for what a racing game should be, and racing games have pretty much gone by that ever since.

Grand Theft Auto III

The Grand Theft Auto Series was rising in popularity, and then Grand Theft Auto III hit the shelves.  This game took what was good about the first two games, used it as a basic outline, and went 3D. GTA III took the open world from the first two games, and expanded it far beyond what had yet been seen. This game has influenced a number of games, including Saint’s Row, Wheelman, Crackdown, and Mercaneries, to name just a fraction.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero hit the scene back in 2005, and was an almost instantaneous party hit. Before long, the word was out, and your party wasn’t worth squat if you didn’t have a Guitar Hero setup. Now, the novelty has worn off, but its mark has been made. Millions more people now consider themselves gamers because of the influence Guitar Hero had on their life. Even that fact notwithstanding, we have to give it props for giving nerds something to do at parties rather than sit alone on the couch and look awkward.

Halo 2

At some point a few years back it became the “hip” thing to do to hate Halo 2, but love it or hate it, none can deny its positive influence on modern console games. It’s about one word: matchmaking. Even if you didn’t enjoy the gameplay, Halo 2 was still a very fun game to play online because every single match was a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire affair. This was due to the game’s elaborate matchmaking system that pitted players against competitors of similar skill levels which has since become the standard.

The Legend of Zelda

Classic songs, classic gameplay, and the master sword. It doesn’t get much better than The Legend of Zelda for the NES. This game revolutionized the action/adventure genre with its gameplay and open world. This was one of the first games to define the open-world environment. You could go to any dungeon you liked at any time; you could go anywhere you wanted to go. Gamers loved it the first time they saw the open world, and that hasn’t changed one bit.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Some games on this list are easy to comprehend. Perhaps they inspired imitators for generations, or presented a paradigm shift in how games would be played. However, others were simply so good that even though there weren’t very many imitators, everyone who was around at the time knew that gaming had changed forever. Ocarina of Time’s influence is harder to discern, because it didn’t present a change in a genre, but in the expectations of what video games could achieve.

John Madden Football/Madden NFL

Madden, for over two decades, has been the cornerstone around which EA has built its expansive empire. Beginning on the Apple II and continuing today on high definition consoles, Madden NFL has been a constant in gaming, and has been a wonderful introduction for many non-geeks into the realm of gaming. Though it has gained a reputation as a stagnant series in recent years, ages ago it was a pioneer. Madden NFL was the first action sports series to feature a Franchise mode, which has now become the meat and potatoes of all sports games. 

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear’s early life started on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but didn’t fully develop until it was reached the PlayStation as Metal Gear Solid.  The Metal Gear series is now one of the most popular on the Sony platform. The original Metal Gear Solid brought us a very good first look at what stealth games would be about in the future.  The stealth action game has since become a major genre, spawning games such as Splinter Cell, the Hitman series, and most recently Assassin’s Creed.

Metroid

The first title in the Metroid series proves to be one that can’t be forgotten.  Metroid was a cavalcade of firsts. Metroid was one of the first games to feature a woman heroine, and one of the first games to feature a huge twist at the end of the game. Metroid has influenced many games with its vast world map and power-ups.  Many games today have power-ups much like those found in Metroid. Female lead Samus Aran has also influenced game design, as many games have featured women heroines since her unforgettable unmasking.  Of course, most games still have the typical male hero, but if it wasn’t for Metroid, we may have never had a Yuna, Nariko, or Lara Croft.


Pac-Man

To this day, Pac-Man stands alone as the only video game character to grace the cover of TIME Magazine. There is nary a man, woman, or child alive who has never played at least one round of Pac-Man. The influence of Pac-Man is still felt today in popular media as it is essentially the flagship series of the Golden Age of gaming that the popular media still portrays.

PaRappa the Rapper

People can argue which game really started the music/rhythm genre. In the US, many games fought for defining the genre, but none have been as influential as our main man, PaRappa.  PaRappa the Rapper gave a new feel to the genre with its interactive music and fun gameplay. PaRappa showed the US how a music/rhythm game should be made, and other game developers listened.  Even theinsanely popular Guitar Hero has drawn from PaRappa, as have nearly all other rhythm/music games to date.

Pokemon

From the first time gamers saw Ash Ketchum training and becoming friends with his Pikachu on the television show, they have been absolutely hooked on the games. Nintendo released the first Pokemon games on the original Game Boy, which did wonders for the RPG genre in the US, and brought tons of young people into gaming. Pokemon’s formula hasn’t changed much, and that is because it is so good. Its influence can be seen in a number of handheld rpgs, and itsstyle of gameplay remains a very successful formula.

Pong

There is no way we could leave Pong off of this list. Pong is often considered the first successful video game, and almost single-handedly paved the wave for the video game industry. Pong’s release spawned a flood of clones, and eventually resulted in the creation of other types of video games and genres. Who knows where we might be if Atari had never released the classic video game we all know and love as Pong.

Resident Evil

Resident Evil wasn’t the first survival horror game, and it wasn’t even the first good survival horror game. That honor belongs to the Alone in the Dark series. However, there is something to be said about bringing a genre to the masses. Despite incredibly steep barriers to entry with controls and gameplay difficulty, Resident Evil managed to popularize the survival horror genre, and continues to inspire horror games today.


The Sims

The Sims has had casual gamers playing on their computers for years.  The Sims could arguably be called the game that invented casual gaming.  The best-selling PC game’s original and creative gameplay brought people into gaming to live a new life outside of their real one.  Since The Sims’ release, all kinds of casual video games have been made. Rollercoaster Tycoon, iPhone games, and many others might not have been as popular if The Sims wasn’t released in 2000.

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II has been a mainstay in the fighting genre since it was released in 1991. Street Fighter II can be credited as being the fighting game that started it all. Its gameplay, multiple characters, and unique fighting styles have been seen in almost every fighting game since, making Street Fighter II one of the most influential fighting games of all time.

Super Mario 64

The NES Mario games defined platform gaming, but Super Mario 64 revolutionized the series for the modern era.  Super Mario 64 not only took the series into 3D, but took platformers (heck, everything but some shooters) into 3D.  Super Mario 64 defined the 3D platformer with its level design and creative layout, and modern video games are still trying to outdo the platformer twelve years later. 

Super Mario Bros.

You can’t say enough about this game. Before the bros hit the video game world, there wasn’t really a staple game everyone talked about. Sure, Pong and a few others were popular, but the Super Mario Brothers totally blew open the video game industry. No one could resist taking control of Mario and Luigi, and busting through levels and enemies. I would even attribute a number of other popular, as well as horrendous games that Super Mario Bros. helped to created. Its gameplay and level design is still influencing games to this day. 

Super Mario Bros. 3

Really? Both the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 have been mentioned. Could Super Mario 3 have had that big of an impact? Absolutely. Super Mario 3 took everything its predecessors started and made it 100 times better. This was the first time we really got to see the personality of Mario and the crew, and the level design and creativity was something no game had done successfully before. Since the SMB3, Mario has not been the same. He still shines through tons of games today, and has really defined many video game character personalities.

Tetris

Ah, Tetris. Tetris is one of the first puzzle video games to ever be made.  The game is one of the most cloned games of all time, and is beloved by gamers everywhere. But the gamers’ love of the game is not what we are after. Tetris’ influence is seen in all kinds of games. Tetris’ gameplay in design is still seen in puzzle games being designed today, and will be seen for years to come.

Ultima Online

The game that started all of this WoW madness. With servers still operating today, and a dedicated user base, it looks doubtful that Ultima is going to perish anytime soon. That’s remarkable considering it’s already almost 13 years old, and has inspired a legion of imitators along the way. Most standard MMO mechanics can be traced back to Ultima Online, though UO is widely considered to be like the wild wild west when compared to the more structured MMOs of today.

Wii Sports

Packaged with the Nintendo Wii, I don’t think gamers knew how huge Wii Sports would become. There have been numerous companies trying to clone this game, but none have been as successful as the original. Wii Sports has done something a lot of games have tried to do but failed. It got people of all ages to play a video game. This game will continue to be cloned for a long time.

Wolfenstein 3D

The first-person shooter genre has been influenced by so many different games it is ridiculous, but one game that stands out is Wolfenstein 3D.  This one was of the first 3D fps, and really made first-person shooters popular on the PC.  This gave rise to a number of popular modern day fps for the PC including Counter Strike, Half Life, and many others.

World of Warcraft

It may be a little early to declare World of Warcraft one of the most influential games of all time, but we feel confident that the future will prove us correct. The only problem with considering WoW “influential” is that it’s presence in the modern MMO marketplace still crushes and strangles any and all opponents who might take inspiration from this masterwork. While some consider the game a mediocre MMO, there is no denying that it has resonated with gamers, and in doing so turned a once-niche genre into one of the most popular.

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