21 Video Games Everyone Should Play Before They Die

How many have you conquered?

08/13/2015 02:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2015

There's only so much summer left to spend locked in your room playing video games. We advise that you use the remaining days well. 

While we hesitate to call these the "best games ever made," they certainly are strong contenders. But we prefer to think of this as a collection of titles that could help the layman get a sense of what video games are all about. We're not including historically relevant but stuffy things like "Pong" -- instead, we're focusing on fun, great games you'd actually want to play today. 

We expect that you'll have quibbles or suggestions of your own: Please sound off in the comments below.

  • 21 Donkey Kong (1994)
    Why: This version of the arcade hit is a thick, airtight package of puzzle action with forward-thinking sensibilities. The maze-like levels are a sort of precursor to 2014's "Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker," while Mario's flipping leap feels like an early version of the triple-jump in "Super Mario 64."

    Play it today: "Donkey Kong" is available for $3.99 on the Nintendo 3DS' eShop.
  • 20 ZiGGURAT (2012)
    Why: It's arguably the best smartphone-only game out there at a pivotal moment when smartphone games are starting to dominate the market. Play it today: "ZiGGURAT" is 99 cents on iOS.
  • 19 Pokemon X and Y (2013)
    Why: Kiddie or not, the "Pokemon" franchise revolutionized handheld multiplayer gaming and proved anew that video game characters like Pikachu can take on a cultural relevance well beyond the realm of basement-bound teenagers. (There's a Pokemon airplane!) "X" and "Y" aren't the original games, but they're arguably the most accessible, fun entries in the series. Play them today: "Pokemon X" and "Pokemon Y" are $39.99 each, and they're available digitally and physically for the Nintendo 3DS.
  • 18 Resident Evil 4 (2005)
    Why: While games like the first "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" were lumbering puzzle games punctuated by moments of extreme tension, "4" flipped the formula completely, becoming a landmark action title that inspired the highest-ranking game on this list. Play it today: Versions of this game exist on many platforms, from the Nintendo Gamecube to the Sony PlayStation 3.The $19.99 PC port might be easiest to grab.
  • 17 Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993)
    Why: It's not the most elegant game of all time, but "Sam & Max" -- with its hilarious, bizarre script and obtuse puzzles -- can help you understand how narrative works (and sometimes, doesn't) in interactive media. Play it today: Got a computer? It's a $5.99 download on
  • 16 Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (1997)
    Why: This game -- which is about a, uh, slave-turned-messiah escaping from an evil alien snack food company called "RuptureFarms" -- is a weird amalgam of things you won't find elsewhere. It's a tough-as-nails reflex game wrapped in a puzzler and shaped by offbeat 1980s, "Dark Crystal" vibes. You won't play anything else like it. Play it today: A high-definition remake is available on modern consoles for $19.99, or you can grab the original for $5.99 on 
  • 15 Portal (2007)
    Why: Shooters can actually give your brain a workout -- if you're shooting portals, anyway. The mind-bending "Portal" is about exploiting space and gravity with your gun, which shoots two connected entryways: You might have to place the orange portal on the ceiling and the blue on the wall in front of you to make it to a closed-off room, for example, which is liable (nearly guaranteed) to fundamentally change how you observe the world around you in real life. Play it today: It's $9.99 for Windows and Mac via Steam.
  • 14 Heroes of Might and Magic III (1999)
    Why: Hipsters are accepting "Catan" and "Dungeons and Dragons" into their diets, and this multiplayer fantasy game should be next. Games can stretch for hours, there are awkwardly animated creatures that look (much) worse than something from Jason and the Argonauts, and you are guaranteed to feel like the king of the world after winning a round. It proves that there is a place for complex, ponderous gameplay even in a multiplayer environment. Play it today: You can get the "complete" edition of the original for $9.99 on or plunge into an HD remake for Windows, iOS or Android for $9.99 - $14.99.
  • 13 Minecraft (2011)
    Why: "Minecraft" is one of the best-selling video games of all time, which means you're more or less alone if you play video games but haven't touched it. People love it most as a do-whatever-you-want simulator, though it also contains a mode where you're dropped into a world infested with hostile enemies that you must defend yourself from. Each offers a profound sense of accomplishment if you stick with it. Play it today: "Minecraft" is available on basically every platform, including smartphones. See your options here.
  • 12 Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)
    Why: Without "Warcraft III," "League of Legends" -- a modern eSport powerhouse with millions of players -- might not exist at all. "Starcraft II," a spiritual successor to "Warcraft III" that also sees massive competitive play (and payouts), was also clearly influenced by the mechanics presented here.  Play it today: It's $9.99 for Windows
  • 11 Ikaruga (2001)
    Why: This "bullet hell" game offers a sort of transcendence to those who master its five incredibly difficult stages. You'll basically need your body (or fingers, at least) to become one with your mind to succeed, which feels pretty zen when accomplished. Play it today: You can download it for $9.99 if you're a Windows user. A version is also available on Android smartphones, if you're masochistic.
  • 10 Halo 3 (2007)
    Why: "Halo" is famous for a reason -- nothing brings friends together like blasting one another in glorious space combat. It's like having access to unlimited laser tag. "Halo 3" is perhaps the most emblematic of what the series is loved for: local multiplayer, an over-the-top story with no shortage of operatic music cues and fairly robust character customization. Games like "Destiny" and recent "Call of Duty" titles want to be this, but are not. Play it today: It's available for just under $15 on the Xbox 360 via Amazon.
  • 9 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
    Why: "Symphony of the Night" showcases one of the most immaculately designed, gorgeously rendered 2D worlds ever featured in a video game. There's a secret around every corner, even though the world is "flat," making this a true testament to the enduring power of side-scrolling gameplay. Play it today: Download an updated version for $9.99 on the Xbox 360, or go for the original on PlayStation systems.
  • 8 The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)
    Why: Everyone has a favorite "Zelda" game. But "A Link Between Worlds" captures the best aspects from the series: There's a world to explore at your leisure, snappy combat, oddball characters and a magnificent score. The game is more accessible than previous entries and far less bloated than recent titles -- a perfect choice for the uninitiated. Play it today: It's $39.99 for the Nintendo 3DS.
  • 7 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
    Why: You could write books about the "Metal Gear Solid" series (people have) -- there's a lot to dissect between the meta-as-heck story and the groundbreaking "tactical espionage" gameplay. What we can say about "Snake Eater" is that you may weep openly when you reach the moment on display here -- and perhaps for that reason alone, you should play it. Play it today: A recent HD re-release (which includes "Metal Gear Solid 2") will run you $20-$30, depending on where you buy it.
  • 6 Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (2010)
    Why: "Pac-Man" is a classic, but this recent "Championship Edition" is an improvement in every way. It's a fast-paced remix of the tried-and-true formula that's infinitely playable -- a reminder that it's never too late to reinvigorate an old favorite. Play it today: There are versions on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, iOS and Android ranging from $2.99 to $9.99.
  • 5 Final Fantasy VI (1994)
    Why: It's the most confident entry in the storied "Final Fantasy" franchise, basically unparalleled in the Japanese roleplaying game genre 21 years after its original release. Modern RPGs often do a little with a lot -- unending cinematic cutscenes with cutting-edge graphics look pretty but often fail to tell a compelling story, for example. "Final Fantasy VI" teaches the lesson that games can do a lot with a little. While it was certainly advanced for its time, the pixel art has its limitations but conveys full, gorgeous worlds and characters like you've never seen. Play it today: There's a not-bad $15.99 release on iOS and Android. A port of the original Super Nintendo title is also available for $4.99 on several PlayStation consoles.
  • 4 Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
    Why: Perhaps the only thing on this entire planet that qualifies as an emotionally moving experience involving the player-controlled genocide of ancient, regal beasts, "Shadow of the Colossus" proves that action games can evolve well beyond explosions and mindless shooting into something truly worthwhile. Play it today: You can grab an HD remake (with its precursor, "Ico") on the PlayStation 3 for around $20.
  • 3 Papers, Please (2013)
    Why: Few games manage to marry their mechanics with legitimate storytelling -- which is to say, games might try to tell a story through cutscenes, say, but that story has nothing to do with how you actually play the game. "Papers, Please" puts you in the role of a checkpoint officer in a fictitious and oppressive regime, burdened not just by increasingly strict entry requirements (check the person's passport, make sure they have a special ticket, confirm that the capital city on their identification matches the country it purports to be in) but also by gut-wrenching choices about what to do with whatever limited income you manage to generate -- keep the heat on, medicate your sick family, put food on the table? "Papers, Please" is perhaps one of the most brilliant games of the 21st century, a work that could legitimately be woven into social studies curriculums, if only teachers were bold enough.  Play it today: It's available on many platforms, ranging from $7.99 to $9.99.
  • 2 Super Mario World (1990)
    Why: Like "Zelda," everyone will have an opinion on the best "Mario" title. We believe "Super Mario World," with its varied, secret-filled levels remains the best, a true encapsulation of everything that makes the franchise great. Play it today: It's $7.99 on Wii U.
  • 1 The Last of Us (2013)
    Why: This is cinematic gaming at its very finest, a substantial leap forward for storytelling in interactive media that also happens to be a completely satisfying, crunchy action game. "The Last of Us" is the benchmark that all future action games will be measured against: You cannot miss it.  Play it today: There are versions on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 ranging from $19.99 to $49.99 depending on your retailer.


Damon Beres covers consumer technology, video games and the many ways humans interact with their devices. He is based in New York. You can contact him at or on Twitter: @dlberes.


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