Funny To A Point – The Best And Worst Calls Of G.I.'s Top 300
As faithful readers are well aware by now, this month marks G.I.'s 300th issue. Like previous milestone issues, we decided to honor the occasion with the noblest pursuit of video game journalism: a Top X Games Of All-Time list. By "noblest," I mean "most stupidly futile," naturally.
Look, here's the thing: All best/worst/sexiest/whatever lists are an intellectual farce. That's why we're hopelessly drawn to them; our brains are hardwired to classify and quantify everything around us, and ranked lists trick us by compiling their entries in a way that looks and feels objective – they're numbered, after all, and numbers don't lie!
But no matter how hard we try, there is no way to transform a personal, subjective opinion into a numerical representation of irrefutable value. Whatever fancy mathemagics I employ to make my case, at the end of the day my favorite game still means crap-all to countless other players out there, and your favorite game probably means crap-all to me (especially if it begins with a "B" and ends with a "reath of the Wild").
The problem isn't just that the attributes which make a game good or bad are entirely subjective (is it the gameplay? Tell that to adventure game fans. Is it a meaningful story? Tell that to Overwatch fans, etc.). It's that "good" and "bad" themselves are subjective.
What does "good" mean in the context of a video game? Fun? Challenging? Thought provoking? Emotionally impactful? Is it all those things combined? If so, in what quantities? Everyone has a different measuring stick for what's "good," and they all sport different sizes and units of measurement. You might be measuring in meters, while I'm measuring in fart jars.
Saint's Row: The Third, a game where you play as a literal toilet, is #274 on the list, by the way.
If you're thinking, "Hey, doesn't all this apply to review scores too?" right now, you're 100-percent correct – and super late to the party. I've been wrangling together G.I.'s Feedback section for over eight years now, and I can't count the number of times I've told respondents that a review score isn't an objective representation of a game's quality, but rather a subjective representation of the reviewer's enjoyment of that game. I also can't count the number of times a Feedback letter has acknowledged this differentiation upfront, only to follow it up with a "but" that negates everything that came before it:
Dear G.I., I know that reviews are subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG AND STUPID AND SHOULD ALL BE FIRED AND CANCEL MY SUBSCRIPTION IMMEDIATELY!
Well, today I'm sharing my "but" with you.* We here at G.I. took on the ridiculously impossible task of ranking the top 300 games of all-time, and we did it in the fairest way we could – by individual editors making impassioned and entirely subjective arguments for each and every game in hopes of winning over the wider staff to their point of view. We argued for weeks; first about what games were on the list, and then about the actual ordering (oh god, the ordering arguments...).
The monumental challenge resulted in a hell of a great read that lovingly looks back at and celebrates hundreds of amazing, creative, one-of-a-kind games. BUT...
Note: The following entries are in no particular order, because I've done enough ranking to last a lifetime and making a ranked list about a ranked list is so meta I could puke. Also, I realize labeling entries "good" and "bad" is the exact same problem I was just complaining about, but I have to call them something so give me a break already!
Bad Call: Goldeneye 007 > Super Bomberman?!
Don't get me wrong: My high-school friends and I played a ton of Goldeneye back in the day, and it was as mind-blowing and transformative to my gaming tastes as it was for everyone else. But better than Bomberman? You can still dig an SNES out of the closet at any party, plunk that cartridge in with a multi-tap and a hopelessly tangled mess of controllers, and have an absolute BLAST – bomb pun thoroughly intended.
If you plugged Goldeneye in, on the other hand, it would devolve into Stand By Me's pie-eating contest as everyone tries to figure out the janky controls and squint hard enough to make the blurry blobs resemble human beings. And yet Super Bomberman ended up 98 spots lower than Goldeneye. 98!
Bomberman is about as timeless as multiplayer games get. You lob bombs at your friends, grab power-ups from exploded bricks, and scream maniacally when the skull item inflicts you with diarrhea bombs. Yes, that's real, and it's spectacular.
Good Call: No Pay-to-Win Bullsh**
Cultural significance played a big role in our rankings, as did the amount of time editors logged into certain games. Part of the reason Overwatch cracked the top 25 was because a ton of editors still play it on a daily basis. Seriously, they have a problem.
Both arguments could certainly be made for a game like Clash Royale, but it didn't make the list. Why? Because it's EVIL. We made a call early on that, in a list celebrating the best that gaming has to offer, we should exclude games that ruin their design to shamelessly extort money from their players. It was the right call, and I'm glad we made it!
...And yes I know there are still a bunch of games with microtransactions on the list – if we blacklisted them altogether, we never would've made it to 300!
Bad Call: Did We Really Need Super Mario World 2?
Super Mario World is still one of my favorite games of all time, so when I heard they were making a sequel, I was thrilled! Then I learned it starred a whiny-ass baby Mario. Less thrilled.
In hindsight, I can begrudgingly acknowledge that baby Mario doesn't really make that much of a difference – you're still running around, jumping on platforms and dodging enemies like any other Super Mario game, with some nifty bonus mechanics that are exclusive to Yoshi. But the childlike art style never really clicked for me and it didn't have the impact on gaming that so many other Mario titles did. I mean yeah, it forced that one Nintendo lady to knit crochet Yoshis for the rest of her life, but is that the kind of legacy we really want to celebrate?
Good Call: The Stanley Parable As The Best Walking Sim
The so-called narrative-based "walking sim" genre has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years. Some players love them for telling mature stories and dealing with serious issues. Others find them boring and overly self-important, and if I really wanted to inspect a bunch of random old junk for hours on end, I've got plenty of real-life closets of my own to rummage through.
Anywho, those common criticisms of the genre simply aren't true of The Stanley Parable. Galactic Café's take on interactive fiction doesn't just pose intriguing philosophical questions – it's also wildly inventive, self-deprecating, and laugh-out-loud funny! And instead of treating gameplay like an afterthought, The Stanley Parable experiments with its mechanics and game design as much as it does its storytelling. I have enjoyed other walking sims like What Remains of Edith Finch, and I'm happy we included a few of them on the list – but I'm even happier that The Stanley Parable landed at the top of the pack.
Bad Call: No Into The Breach
To be fair, this wasn't really a call per se – Into The Breach wasn't even out when we put together the list, and you can't exactly call a game "the best" when you haven't even played it. Those facts didn't lessen the sting of playing Into The Breach a week after we went to print, however, and realizing it totally would have earned a spot. And now the list is completely ruined and invalid. Oh well – issue 400 is only eight years away!
Good Call: 2D Picross Is The Right Picross
Kyle and I recalled this argument on the 300 livestream, but it was certainly one of the weirdest arguments that took place during our meetings, and an example of how you sometimes find yourself fighting for games you never would've imagined.
Everyone was in complete
apathy agreement that Nintendo's picture puzzle series deserved to be on the list, but which entry was hotly contested. I, along with the other sane staff members, argued for the obviously correct Mario's Picross; it was the first entry in the series, it was the most-played entry in the series, and it was a huge success for the Game Boy. It single-handedly made picross into picross, and none of the other clones or spin-offs would exist today without it. Furthermore, it's the only Picross game that actually had a theme, and it fit the gameplay perfectly – you kind of felt like an archeologist as you studied the image and tapped blocks off one guess at a time (I realize that's not how archeology actually works, but you don't do it on a Game Boy either).
Kyle's insane choice was Picross 3D, because according to him, it's the "better" game because it's more complicated. And he was surprisingly condescending about it – he even called himself and Reeves the "Picross experts" on staff, as if the rest of us aren't qualified to weigh in because we're dummies who can only handle 2D pixel puzzles.
And here's the thing – I don't even care about Picross that much! I've solved hundreds of picross puzzles over the years, but is it really worth getting into a literal shouting match with coworkers over which entry to include on the list?
The answer is apparently yes. And I won. Probably because I scared everyone else into submission – but a win is a win!
And that's how entry #248 was chosen.**
Bad Call: The Witness Is Too Low
The Witness is probably the most ingenious puzzle game ever made. It takes a dead-simple concept and spins it into hundreds of unique challenges, each more devilishly tricky than the last. Then it layers on dozens of "oh sh**!" meta-puzzles that you discover as you explore the Mad Puzzle Island of Dr. Blow. I don't think I've ever played a game with more mind-blowing, "aha" moments. There is no filler here – it's all gold, and slowly builds up your puzzle-solving lexicon with surgical precision.
The Witness is ranked 21 spots below PEGGLE.
Another Bad Call: Peggle Is Also Better Than Mario Odyssey?!
Okay, maybe the problem is just Peggle, which somehow rose through the ranks all the way to 223, beating out Mario's latest smash-hit adventure*** by a single spot. I mean don't get me wrong, I love...watching a ball bounce around? What were we thinking?! Is half of G.I.'s staff comprised of cats? You won't believe how high Chasing A Laser Pointer and Pooping In A Box are ranked. They're modern-day classics!
Let's move on before my brain explodes.
Good Call: Not Starting With #1 (Seriously, What Were We Thinking?)
For the Top 200 issue, and many other lists in-between, we laid out our rankings in the magazine starting with number one. As such, you immediately got the big payoff of which game reigned supreme, and then slowly lost interest as you read about crappier and crappier games (oh boy, can't wait to see what #195 is!).
The logic makes a certain kind of sense for a magazine's horizontal format, but I'm really happy we gave that up and turned it into a countdown. Even if it took us 300 issues to figure out...
*I know how that sounds and I regret NOTHING. (back to top)
**I'm sorry I yelled at you, Kyle. (back to top)
***I realize linking to Metacritic as evidence is wildly hypocritical. Sue me. (back to top)
Bad Call: The Breath Of The Wild And Horizon: Zero Dawn Disparity
Look, you had to know this was coming, so I'll make it quick. We ranked Breath Of The Wild WAY too high (it's #100, which is how many hours it takes to actually become fun), and Horizon: Zero Dawn WAY too low (it's #132, which is how many slaps in the face that ranking feels like). Not only that, but the 32 games in between that are supposedly better than Horizon and worse than Breath Of The Wild makes my head spin.
Ah, that feels better. Now we can go back to recognizing that everyone has different opinions and that "good" and "bad" are only subjective concepts.
Good Call: Super Mario Kart Is Where It Should Be
Super Mario Kart landed at #35, making it the highest entry in the series – and racing game in general – on the list. Everything about that feels right. I like giving the nod to a casual kart racer as having the biggest and longest-reaching impact on gaming (sorry, gearheads), and Super Mario Kart is the O.G. of the bunch. And guess what? It's still fun today!
Then again, I am completely biased on this one. I was 11 when Super Mario Kart came out, and my brother and I played it to death. Princess Peach was the bane of my childhood, and the super-cheap rubber-band A.I. left me in actual tears during one particularly wicked losing streak to her. My older brother went the anger route – I still remember watching in horror as he smashed one of our SNES controllers to pieces on his bedpost while trying to master Rainbow Road. God, those were good times.
??? Call: The Last Of Us Better Than Super Mario World?
I remember this match-up popping out at me on one of the early drafts of the list. The Last Of Us: #25. Super Mario World: #26. Months later, I still don't know how I feel about it. I guess?
Part of what's throwing me is Super Mario World's placement; I consider it the best entry in the series, but we gave that nod to SMB 3. If you give the historical and cultural significance to its predecessor, then World drops considerably (the inner child in me is screaming, "But World is better!" right now, but let's move on).
I can't for the life of me explain why The Last Of Us is so low, though. The top 20 is without a doubt a murderer's row of amazing, industry-changing games, but so is The Last Of Us. Despite ranking World two spots higher on my personal list, I could waffle between them on any given day. Clearly the only solution is for Nintendo and Naughty Dog to team up and create an epic Super Mario/The Last Of Us crossover, depicted in the above (and decidedly rushed) Photoshop. It worked for Mario and Rabbids, right?
(Maybe) Bad Call: Dota 2 Beat A LOT Of Classics
This may have something to do with my eyes instantly glazing over whenever I hear the term "MOBA," but Dota 2 beat out a stunning number of genre-defining classics. Metroid, The Legend Of Zelda, Resident Evil, Halo, and Super Mario Bros. were all left in Dota 2's immediate wake, which feels wrong.
Or at least it did feel wrong. Then I learned Suriel has played Dota 2 for over 3,000 HOURS. If you translate that to a standard 40-hour work week (and it would certainly feel like work to me), that comes out to a year and a half of Suriel's life! Talk about a productivity drain – Suriel could've written the next great American novel during that time! Or built a damn cathedral!
Regardless though, a game that can keep players engrossed for that many hours is clearly a monumental achievement, so I guess I'm ultimately okay with its placement. As long as I don't have to play it.
Good Call: Wii Sports Made The List
I never thought I'd be willing to die on Wii Sports Hill, but as Calvin Coolidge once said, "Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion." Thankfully, I had enough reinforcements in the battle to get the game on our list.
I wasn't working at G.I. when Wii Sports came out, so I don't know what happened to some of the staff to foster their extreme hatred of the game. I can only assume that Reggie personally showed up at the office one day to demo the game, locked them all in the conference room, and then beat everyone with Wii remotes until they begged for mercy. It's not the most plausible explanation, but it's the only one that I can think of.
To the rest of the gaming world, however, Wii Sports was a cultural phenomenon, and probably the single biggest system seller of all time. It's easy to forget that the Wii was a crazy success, selling over 100 million consoles over its lifespan. Much of the console's early success, if not all of it, was due to Wii Sports. The collection of simple minigames instantly transformed yet another underpowered Nintendo system with a weird controller into a must-have item as soon as you bowled your first virtual strike or hit your first homerun.
Wii Sports single-handedly made the entire gaming industry lose its mind – both Microsoft and Sony couldn't jump onto the motion-control bandwagon fast enough and rush their own projects to market in hopes of capturing a tenth of the popularity or financial success of Wii Sports. Sony's first Move game was even called Sports Champions, for crying out loud. I hate motion controls as much as the next gamer, but you can't just ignore the billions of dollars and years of time and effort companies spent trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Wii Sports.
We've all heard the jokes about how all Wii Sports players wear diapers – i.e. they're either too young or too old to know what a good game is. As fun as being elitist is, however, it's actually pretty damn cool that Nintendo made a gaming experience that can be enjoyed together by everyone from little kids to grandparents. "The more the merrier" has always been G.I.'s stance on gaming; whether you're playing a casual match-three on your phone or the kind of intricate PC strategy title that only the Dan Tacks of the world can comprehend, gaming is big and diverse enough to include everybody. And the bigger and more diverse the gaming community itself becomes, the better off we all are. No game has exemplified that spirit more – or drawn in more non-gamers –than Wii Sports.
I don't really have a closing joke here, so enjoy this TV-breaking Wii Sports montage instead. How is that NOT one of the best games ever?!