Ten Games That Changed Everything

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I like thinking about video games, something you may have picked up on by now if you’re a site regular (do we have those? That would be just fantastic if we did). The more I think, the more I eventually cycle back to a handful of games that seem to define everything that is video games. Not necessarily as a “Best Games Ever” list, but rather in terms of “This Is Where It Started” list. There are just some games that defined a style that was repeated incessantly immediately after, and typically never stopped getting repeated. This list consists of some of the most influential games ever, but not for necessarily good reasons. Regardless of why, here are Ten Games That Changed Everything.

10. Guitar Hero:

This was the biggest thing at the time it came out. Now where is it?

The idea of a video game hinging completely on a peripheral was nothing new. Dance Dance Revolution had made a huge name for itself as one specific music-based genre, and while it had imitators of its own, nothing compared to the amount of imitation that Guitar Hero would spawn from the simple concept of playing music on fake musical instruments. Five buttons and a strum toggle were all the buttons found on the first Guitar Hero controller, making it incredibly simple and accessible. But while Dance Dance Revolution still has its niche carved out, Guitar Hero carved out an entire chunk of the video game market, allowing Rock Band to sneak in with it, and then imploded the genre entirely within a few short years. It’s hard to think that just a few years ago Guitar Hero was one of the biggest franchises on the market but is now entirely absent from any future lineups.

9. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare:

Suddenly the military became cool again.

Perks and XP and online name-calling. These things all existed prior to Modern Warfare, but not all at the same time in a well-known entity the way Call of Duty 4 made them common-place in just about every multiplayer mode in a First-Person Shooter released these days. Beyond simply the multiplayer framework, the narrative framework- gritty “realism” painted with browns and grays and hoorahs- has permeated further than I’d prefer to acknowledge. These days every new FPS that has a war-type setting is required to call itself “the answer to Call of Duty,” a claim that rarely has any sort of merit. When other games are going out of their way to exist purely as a reason to attempt to outdo you, then it sort of places you on a list like this.

8. Super Mario 64:

Well well, a giant bomb lives atop this mountain. How quaint.

People take Mario for granted. They really do and it’s a shame. While a new Mario game pops up like clockwork every new console cycle, sometimes more than once if we’re lucky, it was Super Mario 64 that changed things the most. Before Super Mario 64, the architecture wasn’t in place to see how a 3D platformer was built. The ideas were there, but it took Mario to place the bar high up and say, “Alright, clear this.” Even Mario games themselves are subject to the old question, “So, is it better than Super Mario 64?” Open areas to explore and secrets to find were fleshed out here for everyone to ogle over and demand more, something that Rare would do over and over and over again, each time making a variation of Super Mario 64. Simply, Mario just showed that he knew how to transition into 3D better than any previous franchise, something that his chief rival, Sonic, is still struggling to get right.

7. Final Fantasy VII:

How often did you hear Latin chanting in games before this?

A lot of RPGs have made us laugh and made us cry, but few have started something in motion that can never be undone: Oversappy melodrama. Final Fantasy VII burst onto the PS1 with graphics that amazed and a story that overwhelmed gamers everywhere, but in its earnest attempt at creating a connection to the player, something happened that allowed the genre to slowly spiral out of control into a never-ending battle against goofy dialogue, uncanny graphics, and an over-abundance of drama played up for the sake of drama. Don’t get me wrong, Final Fantasy VII is a good game in its own right. Unfortunately it is also the grandfather for every game or even character in a game that can be summed up with dark eye shadow and the phrase “Whyyyyyyyyy?! :(“

6. God of War:

Such a tragedy, literally.

Hacking and slashing are now commonplace in video games, but the Hack n’ Slash genre is essentially just the descendant of another mostly retired genre called the Beat ‘em Up. The concepts are the same with typically one guy running through a gauntlet of the same enemies over and over, literally just fist-fodder, until a boss is conquered and you are declared a Bad Dude. The main difference is blood, and God of War decided to set the tone for exactly how relentless a manly 3D Hack n’ Slash needed to be, partly through an upgradeable attack combo system and partly through the bane of many gamers’ existence: Quick Time Events. All too often reviewers utter the statement “Like God of War but…” when reviewing new games, something that solidifies my thoughts on God of War setting a standard that all games of its ilk are judged upon.

5. Grand Theft Auto III:

A cathartic release for so many gamers, but an unsatisfying release in the long run.

One aspect that most childhoods consist of is the ability to play with toys in any environment and do whatever you want with them. Total freedom. Video games have been trying to replicate this concept for ages, but no game succeeded in pushing us closer to that goal in one hearty jump than Grand Theft Auto III. It effectively created the sandbox style of gameplay, i.e. a world completely open for you to screw around in. You see a car you’d like? Take it and have fun. Want to jump your car off bridges? Go for it. Want to go on crazy killing sprees? Ye-yeah, okay, you can do that as well. The only regret is that the medium of the sandbox game began with a title hinged entirely on theft, drugs, and murder. And even though we’ve come a long way since GTAIII’s release, the most popular titles in the sandbox genre tend to be GTA games and games similar to GTA.

4. Street Fighter II:

The introduction to the realization that no matter how hard you try, you'll never be as good as everyone else.

Video games are serious business. At this point in time you can go out and train every week to hone your skills for a chance to compete head-to-head against other skilled opponents in all sorts of fighting games. But before Street Fighter II, there really wasn’t a game suited for competition of that nature. It didn’t invent the fighter, but it did tap into the core of what a fighter needs- balanced mechanics- and go nuts with the concept. Suddenly every character, used correctly, could prove victorious. Strategy was involved and mastery of controls was needed. The limitations of the buttons and joystick could no longer be blamed for a missed punch or a failed special move, leaving only yourself at fault for a painful defeat at the hands of someone better than you. I don’t even want to try listing the clones that Street Fighter II spawned, but I don’t mind giving props where props is due.

3. Halo: Combat Evolved:

Wonder why all sapce armor looks like this now...?

I just don’t like the Halo games, despite how hard I’ve tried. I don’t believe that they’re awful games, but I could never get into them. Regardless of my personal feelings though, Halo: Combat Evolved really did take the FPS genre and standardized a handful of mechanics that are still routine today such as the two-gun carry limit, regenerating health, and online multiplayer for an FPS on a console. More than anything, that’s what Halo demonstrated: That a First-Person Shooter could not only work on a console but work well. Unfortunately, it also meant we’d have to suffer through wave after wave of space marine games where the main characters are faceless one-man-armies who are too gruff to even care about the things going on around them. Even so, Halo is the reason the Xbox is alive today. Without it, we wouldn’t be mentioning Microsoft among the gaming companies these days because they wouldn’t even have a gaming division anymore. Man, talk about huge industry-shifting changes.

2. World of Warcraft:

If you had the choice, would you decide to live in the real world?

Gaming addition has become worse and worse, but it’s not because people are any weaker. Rather, it’s because games are just getting better and better to the point that a handful of players begin to prefer their lives as a Night Elf over that of a delivery guy. World of Warcraft wasn’t the first MMORPG to find success by far, but the level of success it has reached is unfathomable. It dominates its genre and refuses to share. Entire development companies go under just attempting to create a game to share the Internet with WoW. What World of Warcraft has done is create a model for a self-perpetuating game, one than never ends due to constant additions to the world. Instead of having to create a new installment of the series every few years, Blizzard is able to just release another expansion pack to WoW, snagging more and more users every year. It’s unreal what WoW has accomplished, but it’s certain that few other games have changed everything we knew about the medium like World of Warcraft.

1. Super Mario Bros.:

Hail to the king.

Except for maybe the granddaddy of all game-changers. The video game industry was in a freefall during the early 1980’s thanks to an over saturated marketplace full of poorly-made titles. The whole “home console experiment” thing that Atari had got going was winding down and it seemed that video games were doomed to become a fad that had already died out. But then came the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario Bros. Everything changed at that point as players experienced precise controls, clever level design, hidden paths and secrets, power-ups, collectibles, iconic music, and a princess that was forever in another castle until she just had another quest for you to conquer. As soon as Mario demonstrated what a video game was meant to play like, developers rushed to replicate the formula with such notable conventions as the aforementioned power-up system, a coin-like item that when collected to a certain number rewards with more lives, and the simple “platformers go right” rule that wouldn’t be broken until Super Mario Bros 3 changed the rules yet again. No game deserves more respect for changing everything like the squat little plumber in red, and that’s why he tops my list.

So there you have it, Ten Games That Changed Everything. Did I leave off any games you feel should be on here? Leave a comment and let me know since I’m sure I didn’t cover every single game out there worth mentioning. Let your voice be heard and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll succeed in changing my mind as well.

Want more video game Top Ten Lists? Then check these out:

Top 5 Franchises That Should Get a LEGO Spinoff

5 Aspects of Pokemon That Make No Sense

Five Games I’d Like To See On The 3DS Without 3D

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

6 Comments

  1. I agree that my list is incomplete and that there is certainly room for addition and subtraction, but I stand by my choices, including Call of Duty and Halo, specifically due to how permeating and polarizing they’ve made those who play video games. For that matter, I feel now I should have included Farmville for the same reason insomuch as the game is so well-known and spawned both imitators and titles existing purely to oppose said title’s permeation of the industry. Picking one single FPS that got the PC crowd going is tricky as some will say Doom or Wolfenstein got people going and others will say it was Counterstrike or something of that nature, but undeniably, Halo pushed the FPS genre on consoles to a degree that few other titles ever have.

    Surprisingly, I thought I was being a fairly objective writer leaving Zelda titles off the list as usually every Zelda game would be up here if it was just games I liked. Ocarina of Time was on the list for a while until I realized I’ve already said it all before and that while all the Zelda games were great, what they did is perpetuate more Zelda titles.

    Street Fighter II was yes, an arcade title, and I don’t see why it doesn’t deserve to be here based on the amount of imitation it spawned and allowing the head-to-head aspect of gaming to get a foothold based on a technical skill level rather than a fortunate moment or two or a lucky barrel drop or something of that nature. Street Fighter II popularized the player vs player style game rather than the player vs computer game that was seen previously.

    And Mario is never a cop-out for me. 🙂

  2. I suppose there’s reasoning behind the lack of Wii Sports, but it will no doubt belong to lists like this in the future, when we realize just how much it opened video games up to new audiences.

  3. I think Mario is a cop out at this point. And I know it’s obvious from the games on the list, but should have said from the get go that this is a *console* game list…otherwise we all know there are a ton of games from the arcade and PC that made some serious impact too prior to Mario.

    Although Street Fighter on this list kind of breaks the curve on this list since it was an arcade game *way* before it landed on the SNES.

    And I have to agree with Bob that CoD and Halo should not both be on this list. Halo might – might – get a pass because it brought FPSes to the console but I vote “no” for CoD.

    And where the hell is Zelda?! I don’t even like Zelda but can’t deny how it changed/made the modern console RPG.

  4. Good List. You know, it’s funny, because while I love me some open sandbox games, I have never played a GTA game before. My favorite sandbox games are Jak 2, Jak 3, and InFamous. If you consider the Assasin’s Creed franchise a part of that genre too, I did enjoy AC 2 as well.

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