Videogame reviews, 2008

  1. The ratings are my reaction to each game as art, not as entertainment. They roughly correspond to my film ratings. (But remember, film is a mature art. Shadow of the Colossus is impressive for videogames of 2005 as Birth of a Nation was impressive for films of 1915, not as I'm Not There is impressive for films of 2007.)

  2. For a quick snapshot, just read the bolded entries.

  3. Other people who occasionally write about games as art: Gamestudies, Grand Text Auto, The Escapist, Action Button, Jason Rohrer, Select Button, The Brainy Gamer, Tale of Tales, The Artful Gamer, The Ludologist, electronic book review,

  4. Upcoming reviews: The Night Journey, Fez, Braid, The Sentinal, Disorientation, Resident Evil, X-Com, The Path, 8, PixelJunk Eden, LittleBigPlanet, Heavy Rain, Spore, Prototype, Fallout 3, Resident Evil 5, Alan Wake, Infamous, Fable II, (suggest others)

  5. [No] Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors (1995, Absolute) An unreleased SegaCD game that contains 6 minigames: What's Your Sign?, Mofo the Psychic Gorilla, Desert Bus, Buzz Bombers, Sun Scorcher, and Smoke and Mirrors. Each minigame, and the game itself, is introduced by a video of Penn & Teller. You can read the minigame descriptions here. The only one worth talking about is Desert Bus, in which you must drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas in 8 hours of continuous gameplay. It's not exciting or fun, but is rather "stupefyingly like reality." The bus veers to the right, so you can't put a weight on the controller and walk away. You also can't pause the game. It is a kind of anti-game like Takeshi no Chosenjo, and has its own fan site. (No, I did not waste my time playing Desert Bus all the way through.) If you want to play this bizarre game, I put together a .zip file that contains the full game, a SegaCD emulator, the SegaCD BIOS file, a clip of Penn & Teller's podcast about the game, and scans of the manual and promotional material. Download it here.
  6. [No] Assassin's Creed (2007, Patrice Desilets) A fine mainstream product with good graphic design and immersive gameplay.
  7. [No] Company of Heroes (2006, Josh Mosqueira) What's the hype about? This is a standard RTS.
  8. [No] Thief (1998, Looking Glass) Translated stealth gameplay to the FPS format.
  9. [No] Takeshi no Chosenjo (1986, Takeshi Kitano) Often described as the worst videogame ever made, Takeshi no Chosenjo was designed by a Japanese celebrity who hated videogames: Takeshi Kitano. It was designed to aggravate all traditional gaming modes and skills. For example, one choice on the main menu results in a game over, even though the game has not begun. Much of the gameplay is nonsensical or literally impossible. In one sequence, the player must sing into a special Famicom controller to pass a karaoke test. At one point, the player must not touch the controller for a full hour in order to proceed. This might be the earliest "experimental game" I know of.
  10. [No] Enter the Matrix (2003, Shiny) Max Payne did it better. Very flawed.
  11. [No] Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003, Jordan Mechner) An athletic action-adventure-combat title with a well-tuned time-control feature.
  12. [No] Mass Effect (2007, Bioware) An update of Knights of the Old Republic, but with problems.
  13. [No] S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007, GSC Game World) A sandbox RPG/FPS that did not quite live up to the potential of its concept. The huge map was not actually contiguous, and there is not enough variety in the game world.
  14. [No] Final Fantasy VII (1997, Square) Wait. I take that back. Final Fantasy VII is the most overrated game ever.
  15. [No] Halo: Combat Evolved (2001, Bungie) Slick, to be sure, but nothing else. When I think of first-person shooters, I think of 25 other games before I think of the Halo series. Maybe the most overrated game of all time.
  16. [No] Black & White (2001, Peter Molyneux) At first, the concept seems awe-inspiring; the game Molyneux has been trying to make all his life. After a while, one realizes it is not as innovative or as tight as it first seems.
  17. [No] American McGee's Alice (2000, American McGee) A macabre take on the Lewis Carroll tale. Wonderful art direction but stifled gameplay.
  18. [No] Resident Evil 4 (2005, Capcom) A fast, intense revision of the survival horror genre.
  19. [No] Metroid (1986, Yoshio Sakamoto) The first major nonlinear platform/shooter/adventure game. Very immersive level design for the time.
  20. [No] Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002, Silicon Knights) The horror genre proves to be among the first genres with artistic intent. Here there is a "sanity meter" that runs low when the player encounters disturbing things. As your sanity decreases, the game's camera angle skews and schizophrenic voices interfere with your gameplay.
  21. [No] Phantasmagoria (1995, Sierra On-Line) One of those awful "interactive movies."
  22. [No] Geist (2005, n-Space) An ambitious shooter that didn't go far enough. After your character dies, the game really begins. You play a ghost that can possess objects and characters to take on their unique traits and solve puzzles.
  23. [No] System Shock (1994, Looking Glass) A fully 3D action RPG. Some of the takes place in a wireframe "cyberspace."
  24. [No] Shogun: Total War (2000, Creative Assembly) A sequential (rather than simultaneous) combination of turn-based strategy and real-time tactics, with AI based on The Art of War.
  25. [No] Civilization (1991, Sid Meier) Easily among the most important strategy games ever developed, though it would function nearly as well as a pen-and-paper game.
  26. [No] Silent Hill 2 (2001, Konami) Just an update of the original.
  27. [Meh] Ultima IV (1985, Richard Garriott) A revolutionary game. You do not face a tangible evil, but must instead develop a virtuous life. Epic and, in its own way, awe-inspiring.
  28. [No] Fallout (1997, Black Isle) A slick RPG, but nothing more.
  29. [No] Pikmin (2001, Shigeru Miyamoto) A confident new take on the RTS genre, one of the most uninventive genres. Thank God.
  30. [No] Omikron: The Nomad Soul (1999, Quantic Dream) An ambitious action-adventure game (with FPS and fighting elements). Quantic Dream showed its promise here, and upped the ante with Fahrenheit.
  31. [Meh] Ocarina of Time (1998, Eiji Aonuma) Probably the best game that doesn't reach a 6.0 on my scale. :) One of the greatest games of all time by other review models, Ocarina of Time is a flawless action-adventure experience that looms over every game in the genre to come after it. Its cinematic camera and Z-targeting combat system, in particular, are now ubiquitous. Playing an action-adventure game before Ocarina of Time now feels like watching a film before D.W. Griffith's work.
  32. [No] Planescape: Torment (1999, Chris Avellone) A typical RPG with startling literary impact.
  33. [No] Beyond Good and Evil (2003, Michel Ancel) A slick incarnation of action-adventure format.
  34. [No] Battlefield 1942 (2002, Digital Illusions) Codename Eagle done right.
  35. [Meh] Half-Life (1996, Valve) Its innovative use of scripted sequences and its lack of level breaks provide a sharp break from the less immersive experiences of past first-person shooters. I still remember playing the Uplink and thinking, "Holy shit, this is a whole new kind of game."
  36. 6.0 Homeworld (1999, Relic) The most spiritual and satisfying game ever released, Homeworld is the epic journey of a troubled race trying to find its long-lost home in the cosmos. The first truly 3D RTS immediately mastered the genre and will probably never be surpassed. Its presentation drops the player into the vast emptiness of space. The graphics engine makes all gameplay look cinematic, from any angle. The score is an ambient masterpiece, the story a non-hokey space opera. One of the most assured and successful games ever made. A game at the borderlands of serious art.
  37. [No] The Graveyard (2008, Tale of Tales) Meant to be a kind of explorable painting in contemplation of frailty and death. Clearly an art-game, though it has some limits.
  38. [No] Impossible Creatures (2002, Relic) An ambitious but failed project to create an RTS in which the armies are designed by the player, who combines abilities. There are 127,392 possible combinations.
  39. [No] E.V.O.: Search for Eden (1992, Almanic) A classic sidescroller platform/RPG where you collect "evolution points" to upgrade your body parts.
  40. [No] Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008, Hideo Kojima) Kojima wants to be a techno-pulp film director.
  41. [No] Grand Theft Auto IV (2008, Rockstar) A superb entertainment product. Epic. Endless fun.
  42. [No] Bad Mojo (1996, Pulse) A bizarre adventure in which you play a cockroach, crawling across every surface. Momement is your only control. You must explore the environment and trigger events that move the story forward. Absurdist cut-scenes offer rhyming clues.
  43. [No] Magic Carpet (1994, Bullfrog) Technologically astonishing for its time, but little else.
  44. [No] Sacrifice (2000, David Perry) An inventive RTS in which all units are created and managed by casting spells as a 3D character, rather than as a "god" character with an overview of the whole battlefield. A bold concept well-executed.
  45. [No] Stonkers (1983, Imagine) A primitive experiment in real-time strategy, later to be wildly surpassed by Dune II.
  46. [No] NiGHTS into Dreams... (1996, Naoto Oshima) Basically a flying version of Crash Bandicoot/Sonic.
  47. [No] Mario Adventure (200?, DahrkDaiz) A ROM hack of Super Mario Brothers 3 with all-new worlds, modified graphics, new features, new power-ups, and brilliant levels. See for yourself.
  48. [No] The Sims (2000, Will Wright) A brilliant virtual dollhouse.
  49. [No] Metal Gear Solid (1998, Hideo Kojima) A stealth action game that can basically be reviewed as if it was a movie.
  50. [No] Katamari Damacy (2004, Namco) One of the most shocking and entertaining abstract games of recent years. Roll around a giant ball of junk that collects other junk on every scale as it grows.
  51. [No] Galatea (2000, Emily Short, short) An advanced interactive fiction title that features a conversation with a single NPC, with over 70 possible endings.
  52. [No] Little Computer People (1985, David Crane) A virtual dollhouse like The Sims, but without compelling gameplay.
  53. [No] Viva Piñata (2006, Rare) A sandbox life simulation like Harvest Moon, except you grow piñatas instead of crops.
  54. [No] Darklands (1992, MicroProse) A sandbox RPG with more advanced gameplay than most RPGs for several years to come.
  55. [No] Ninja Gaiden (2004, Team Ninja) A mix of Ocarina of Time and fighting games, with lightning-fast gameplay and one of the deepest combat engines available.
  56. [No] Bully (2006, Rockstar) Grand Theft Auto III set in a boarding school, with lots of in-class minigames.
  57. [No] Grim Fandango (1998, Tim Schafer) A triumphant Aztec film noir "last hurrah" for the point-and-click adventure genre.
  58. [No] The Neverhood (1996, Doug TenNapel) A hilarious claymation point-and-click adventure with one of the best videogame soundtracks ever composed, by Terry Scott Taylor.
  59. [No] M.U.L.E. (1983, Dan Bunten) The seminal economic simulation. Perhaps the first game to make effective use of multiplayer in the modern sense (not the Pong sense), M.U.L.E. set players on planet Irata, competing with each other for resources but also cooperating to ensure the colony's survival. Gameplay rules were elegantly simple but allowed for an infinite number of strategies and gameplay scenarios.
  60. [No] Syndicate (1993, Bullfrog) An isometric tactical game, maybe the closest experience to Grand Theft Auto available at the time.
  61. [No] Alone in the Dark (1992, Frédérick Raynal) A vital game however primitive; the first game with 3D characters and the first modern survival horror.
  62. [No] Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005, Headfirst) A promising concept. No HUD. The player's condition, and specific injuries, are represented visually and aurally. Unfortunately, there are some bad bugs in the programming and the story is uninspiring.
  63. [No] Otocky (1987, Toshio Iwai) The first game to include generative music. A musical side-scrolling shmup.
  64. [No] xBlocks (2005, Tristam Sparks and Victor Szilagyi, short) A simple platformer projected onto a 3D structure.
  65. [No] Orgasm Girl (2007, Dark Street, short) It should be no surprise that one of the first genres colonized by videogames was pornographic. I fully expect porn games to be developed with a teledildonic gameplay, if they haven't been already.
  66. 6.0 BioShock (2007, 2K) A successor to the first-person storytelling success of Half-Life and the first-person sci-fi survival/horror RPG of System Shock 2. Perhaps the best visual design in the history of videogames. A philosophical tale to rival the Metal Gear Solid series. Makes heavy use of immersive camera effects. The entire game is a surreal nightmare. It is a critical of Objectivism as it is of Christianity and paganism. Here is a nice appreciation of this sophisticated thriller. Perhaps games will offer a more thoughtful brand of blockbuster entertainment than film currently does, though I doubt games will ever be as profound as the greatest works of literature and film (and that, coming from a true games-as-art enthusiast!).
  67. [No] Rez (2001, Tetsuya Mizuguchi) A rail shooter in which the game's soundtrack is influenced by gameplay.
  68. [No] The Howard Dean for Iowa Game (2003, Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca) The first game developed for a political campaign. As in a campaign, each player's results affect all future games that would be played.
  69. [No] Lumines (2004, Tetsuya Mizuguchi) Tetris played with sound and light.
  70. [No] Cel Damage (2001, Pseudo) A delightful cartoon style that predates The Wind Waker. Poor gameplay.
  71. [No] Viewtiful Joe (2003, Hideki Kamiya) A stylish and tightly crafted brawler with some time-slowing effects.
  72. [No] Loom (1990, Brian Moriarty) A puzzle fantasy adventure in which the main interface is a musical instrument.
  73. [Meh] Fable (2004, Peter Molyneux) A new kind of RPG in which player choices and customization affect how the player appears, how NPCs interact with the player, and how the story develops. The basic features of Fable may one day become standard, such that any RPG lacking these elements feels as primitive as an RTS without the basic innovations of Dune II.
  74. [No] Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003, BioWare) A compelling tale told via real-time RPG gameplay. The most successful innovation is the ability to play as good or evil in every action, which will affect one's force abilities, appearance, and story.
  75. [No] Shenmue (1999, Sega-AM2) Its overhyped FREE system offers great variety of gameplay, but it is not as well executed as, say, Ocarina of Time (1998). Quick Time Events, borrowed from Dragon's Lair and Die Hard Arcade, were popularized here. The story and culture here are nicely designed, but the gameplay is like a 3D text adventure. Yes, you can go anywhere and do anything, but almost everything leads to a dead end. The only truly innovative part of the game is the weather system.
  76. [No] God of War (2005, SCE Studios) God of War is a marginal step forward in cinematic imitation via a cinematic camera ala Ico, Quick Time Events ala Shenmue, and well-designed stages based on Greek mythology. The puzzles are quite lame. This is a very enthralling game product, but has no intentions toward art.
  77. [Meh] Myst (1993, Cyan Worlds) A rather ingenius title with not only impressive graphics and inventive puzzles, but also unique gameplay and atmospheric, nonverbal storytelling.
  78. [No] Valkyrie Profile (1999, tri-Ace) An RPG with sidescrolling movement and Norse mythology. Whoopee.
  79. [No] The Ghost in the Cave (2003, Marie-Louise Rinman, short) An experimental game in which teams must work together and with their avatars on the screen. For oen team, body gestures influence the avatar. The other team controls its avatar by singing into a microphone.
  80. [No] Savage (1988, Firebird) Badly designed, but unusual in that it begins and ends as a sidescroller, but the middle part is a pseudo-3D experience.
  81. [No] Mudcraft (2006, Brian Winn and Jason Tye, short) A backyard RTS without violence.
  82. [No] You Have to Burn the Rope (2007, Kian) A joke, I guess.
  83. [No] On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (2008, Ron Gilbert, short) A simple RPG with a fun art style.
  84. [No] Zork (1979, Tim Anderson et. al) Bland interactive fiction ala Colossal Cave Adventure.
  85. [No] Fahrenheit (2005, David Cage) Aka Indigo Prophecy. Plays like Shenmue, except that you play multiple characters, and your actions have more effect on the game plot. A very multi-branched narrative, and very cinematic presentation - to the point that it is overbearing and even ludicrous. Standard soundtrack by Badalamenti. Frustrating controls. Dramatic use of multiple cameras.
  86. [No] Yume Nikki (200?, Kikiyama) An adventure game made with RPG Maker in which you play through different dreams. Dream-like worlds and scenarios, but poor gameplay and nothing special.
  87. [Meh] Super Mario Bros. (1985, Shigeru Miyamoto) Super Mario Bros. was not made with art in mind, in the way that Shadow of the Colossus or The Night Journey seem to been. There is no visual art. No story. The music is a Raymond Scott-esque theme. There is no compelling symbolism. Despite all these shortcomings, the game is an artistic masterpiece with regard to one of its elements: gameplay. How can gameplay (aka rules) be art? It will be hard to think of gameplay this way if you have in mind Checkers, Baseball, and Pong. Think instead of the rule-based musical compositions of Christian Wolff and John Zorn. Or think of Nomic, an interesting meta-game in which players compete to change the initial rules of the game such that they create a paradox. The rules that hit maturity with Super Mario Bros., and have been used in all platformers since, as well as many other genres, are that kind of art.
  88. [No] Patapon (2007, Pyramid) Just as Bust a Groove brought rhythm mechanics to the fighting genre, Patapon brings rhythm mechanics to its sidescrolling RTS-lite gameplay. Like LocoRoco, its main strength is the art direction.
  89. [Meh] LocoRoco (2006, Tsutomu Kouno) A cross between Mario and Super Monkey Ball, but with superb art direction. The pure embodiment of "whimsical."
  90. [No] TwinWorld (1989, Blue Byte) A crappy platformer.
  91. [No] Chase (1966, Ralph Baer, short) The first light gun game. A rough translation of shooting to the video game format.
  92. [Meh] SpaceWar! (1961, Steve Russell, short) SpaceWar! is to videogames what the Lumiere brothers' shorts were to film. Not art, but vital to the development of the form. Amazingly, it remained the most creative and complicated videogame for more than a decade.
  93. [Meh] Max Payne (2001, Remedy) Combines pulp noir style with John Woo/Matrix gameplay and graphic novel cutscenes, with surreal nightmare sequences where you run around Max's tortured mind.
  94. [No] Condemned: Criminal Origins (2005, Frank Rooke) Horror is one of the least artistic film genres today, but one of the most artistic video game genres. Condemned is an survival/horror FPS in which you use melee weapons and forensic tools more often than guns. This scene sums up the idea.
  95. [No] Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007, Infinity Ward) The same old formula plus a marginal step forward. Does not lack for intensity. Might as well have been titled American Hero Patriot: Gott Mit Uns.
  96. [No] Darwinia (2005, Chris Delay) A unique visual style like Tron. Otherwise, a sub-standard squad-based strategy game.
  97. [No] Toribash (2006, Hampus Soderstrom, short) A turn-based ragdoll fighting game. You contract or extend joints to set up your attack move.
  98. [No] Warning Forever (2005, Hikoza, short) A shmup in which you face only one enemy, which evolves after each stage into variations on the same theme.
  99. [No] Cortex Command (2007, Data Realms) Nice little shooter based on Liero.
  100. [No] Wally: Land of the Wallows (2004, Mark Essen, short) Boring platformer.
  101. [No] Punishment: The Punishing (2007, Mark Essen, short) Same thing as before.
  102. [No] Punishment (2005, Mark Essen, short) Each stage, you're inside a picture frame. As you get toward the top (end) of the stage, the picture moves from blurry to clear. A normal platformer except that if you hit a political icon, your controls reverse. Also, the level rotates when you touch eyeballs, and some stages rotate on their own. Deliberately difficult controls.
  103. [No] Flywrench (2007, Mark Essen, short) Brilliantly simple and challenging game mechanics.
  104. [No] Bool (2004, Mark Essen, short) All the text, including the game menus and instructions, are in an alien language. You have to figure out how to play the game by the seat of your pants, and then you can "buy" translations of some of the text. Nice.
  105. [No] Booloid (2005, Mark Essen, short) A flying saucer action game.
  106. [No] Chalk (200?, Joakim Sandberg, short) A typical shmup, except you draw with chalk instead of shooting projectiles.
  107. [No] Cave Story (2004, Daisuke Amaya, short) A bad Castlevania clone.
  108. [No] La-Mulana (2007, GR3, short) A rom hack that is a clone/parody of MSX games like The Maze of Galious.
  109. [No] You found the grappling hook! (2008, Mark Essen, short) Almost the simplest platformer imaginable.
  110. [No] Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist (2008, Mark Essen, short) Dancing baby heads and wild flashing colors. In one level, Randy is "drugged up" and has to drive a truck down a straight road. Problem is, the road keeps rotating, other cars drive crazy, clouds of smoke or explosions of colorful confusion fog out the road, and the steering controls switch randomly. Perhaps the essence of what I'm looking for in an art game, except that it has only, like, 4 ideas. If this was a short film, it'd be 12 seconds long.
  111. [No] Ocular Ink (2006, Pistachio) A Link to the Past with a Celestial Brush.
  112. [No] Depths of Peril (2007, Soldak) Diablo II with more strategy.
  113. [No] Prince of Persia (1989, Jordan Mechner) A repetitive platformer with good graphics for the time.
  114. [No] Knytt Stories (2007, Nicklas Nygren) A sub-standard adventure platformer.
  115. [No] Cloud, (2005, Jenova Chen, short) Apparently critics do not realize this is just another gather-and-match game. The gameplay of Chip's Challenge is far more inventive.
  116. [No] Aquaria (2007, Alec Holowk) Ecco the Dolphin plus Ocarina of Time's song-playing (color matching) mechanic.
  117. [No] Super Columbine Massacre RPG (2005, Danny Ledonne, short) Art? Gimme me a break.
  118. [No] Electroplankton (2005, Toshio Iwai, short) A toy like Sim City, but without any progression. Reminds me of SimTunes.
  119. [No] Chronicle of Dungeon Maker (2006, XSEED) Your mission: Build a dungeon for monsters to play in, so they are kept away from the edible populace. But you can be sneaky. You battle the monsters, steal their shit, sell it in town, and that way you can afford cool new stuff for your dungeon! A fun premise, and deep than it sounds, but also repetitive.
  120. [Meh] Portal (2007, Valve) A direct but formally flawless remake of Narbacular Drop. Every non-art game should be as well-designed as Portal, or not exist.
  121. [Meh] Everyday Shooter (2007, Jonathan Mak) The end of shooter games. Each level presents a different shooter game mechanic from the past, without first explaining it to the player; a summation of all shooter games. Music is procedurally generated from the gameplay, as seems to be all the rage these days.
  122. [No] Average Shoveler (200?, Carlo Zanni, short) A boring non-game in which live news is downloaded from the internet and thrown at you.
  123. [No] September 12 (2003, Gonzalo Frasca, short) Launch missiles and watch the effects of terror.
  124. [No] The Nerve Game (2001, Van Sowerwine, short) Answer "Yes" or "No" a million times.
  125. [No] Orsinal (2001, Ferry Hallim, short) A collection of uber-simple, delightful minigames.
  126. [No] Another World (1991, Eric Chahi) A cinematic platformer ala Prince of Persia; basically, a movie told with 2D sprites, except you to get to run and shoot for some of it.
  127. 6.3 Okami (2006, Hideki Kamiya) A Zelda-esque game that basically takes place in the greatest sumi-e ever drawn - bursting with color and life, movement and grace, style and fantasy, passion and philosophy. It's a living painting that you help draw. A true landmark of videogame art. And of course there is the Celestial Brush; it is not original to Okami but it is well-executed here.
  128. [No] LostWinds (2008, Frontier Developments) A puzzle platformer adventure game where you control the wind to move your character.
  129. [No] Ruckblende (2006, Nils Deneken, short) A man walks around a summerhouse in the woods where he used to spend holidays. Wherever he goes, he is confronted with childhood memories. The dreamy music shifts moods as the flashbacks change. The (sparse) interface shows characters and objects of interest as animated line-drawings atop the game world of hand-craft models (paper, clay, etc.) A barely interactive short film with great art direction but not much purpose. Download.
  130. [No] And Yet it Moves (2007, Christoph Binder et. al., short) A great visual style made of cut-out objects. A platformer-puzzler with a central game mechanic of rotating the level (which also effects which direction gravity pulls). Download.
  131. [No] Gravitation (2008, Jason Rohrer, short) A tiny platformer in which the illuminated part of the level is continuously contracting around you: death and futility always at your side. You can keep them at bay by playing with a young child, and the love gives you brief bursts of energy, but melancholy always overhwlems you. Download.
  132. [No] Passage (2007, Jason Rohrer, short) An overhead maze game in which your entire life passes in 5 minutes. As you age, your character appears further to the right of the screen. As Rohrer says: "The early stages of life seem to be all about the future: what you're going to do when you grow up, who you're going to marry, and all the things you're going to do someday. At the beginning of the game, you can see your entire life out in front of you, albeit in rather hazy form, but you can't see anything that's behind you, because you have no past to speak of. As you approach middle age, you can still see quite a bit out in front of you, but you can also see what you've left behind - a kind of store of memories that builds up. At its midpoint, life is really about both the future (what you're going to do when you retire) and the past (telling stories about your youth). Toward the end of life, there really is no future left, so life is more about the past, and you can see a lifetime of memories behind you." You really only have two goals: seek out treasure chests (money), or seek a wife (which then limits your movement).Download.
  133. [No] Cultivation (2007, Jason Rohrer, short) A social and evolutionary simulation focused on a group of farmers. Like Spore, almost everything in the game is procedurally generated. A stunning example of art and message being expressed in gameplay mechanics. But I will not write more because I cannot add anything to this great review. Download.
  134. [No] Transcend (2004, Jason Rohrer, short) Pick up glyphs and drop them at the center of the grid while enemies shoot at you. The power-up system is musical; as you progress through the game you are also making a piece of music (unfortunately, it is lame).Download.
  135. [No] The Marriage (2007, Rod Humble, short) Two squares bounce off each other and symbolize the relationship dynamics of a marriage in about 7 different ways.Download.
  136. [No] Stars over Half Moon Bay (2008, Rod Humble, short) Grab stars in the sky and lead them around to make them bigger, then drop them into the encroaching darkness to keep it at bay. Eventually darkness will overwhelm the screen. Download.
  137. 6.0 Façade (2005, Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, short) One of the most important games of all time, Façade is an interactive story in which you play a man visiting a couple whose relationship is falling apart. Your job is to converse with them (typing in your sentences, wording them however you like) and keep their relationship together. Look at different things in their apartment, talk to them, read their facial expressions and try to manage their emotions.Download.
  138. [No] game, game, game and again game (2007, Jason Nelson) Oh my God! It's the Twin Infinitives of videogaming! Nelson's lo-fi (crappy technology, crappy visuals, crappy music), punk-rock (shouts its ideas at you and has no intention of being fun or marketable or nice) is really just an art installation of poetry, line scribblings, and home videos. Gameplay is irrelevant, almost nonexistant. Though a noble experiment, this does not realize the potential of games as an art form.
  139. [No] The Endless Forest (2004, Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, short) An online social screensaver. You are a deer that wanders around a forest. You eat, drink, listen, pick up flowers, hop, show emotions, and cast enchantments.
  140. 6.4 Shadow of the Colossus (2005, Fumito Ueda) The playable character, Wander, and his steed, Argo, must explore a vast and empty fantasy landscape to find sixteen giants and kill them. Each colossus must be climbed, the weak point found, and stabbed to death. It's visual and sound design are among the best to be played. Even its controls are a masterwork of art. The story is not "told" to the player; rather it is revealed through the visuals in the game. This is wonder and loneliness crystalized into gameplay. If Maus (1992) was the comic book that showed people the medium could be a serious artistic medium, Shadow of the Collosus might be the game that is remembered as the one that showed everyone how games could be art.
  141. [No] Crayon Physics (2007, Petri Purho, short) Draw cute objects in crayon to coax a rolling ball toward a target.
  142. [No] Psychosomnium (2008, Cactus, short) A simple platform game with silly, illogical levels.
  143. [No] Samorost 2 (2007, Jakub Dvorsky, short) A point and click game. Surreal scenarios and art.
  144. [No] Burn the Trash (2007, Cactus, short) A bad shooter.
  145. [No] Clean Asia! (2007, Cactus, short) Another bad shooter.
  146. [No] God Came to the Cave (2006, Cactus, short) A bad maze game.
  147. [No] flOw (2006, Jenova Chen, short) Basically, the first stage of Spore. The main innovation is Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, which adjusts the difficulty of the game on-the-fly based on the player's ability. This technology is meant to get you into "flow" (ala Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).
  148. [No] Society (2002, Panoplie) Four minigames of different styles, which supposedly symbolize something.
  149. [No] Play With Me (2002, Van Sowerwine, short) Stupid little art installation done in clickable Quicktime.
  150. [Meh] Arcadia (2002, Eric Zimmerman, short) Basically the videogame equivalent of Mike Figgis' Timecode, Arcadia has play 4 different games simultaneously, trying to stay alive in all of them.
  151. [No] Attack of the Killer Swarm (200?, Kyle Gabler, short) Control a swarm of bugs, pick people up, get them to fall as hard as possible and splatter blood as far as possible.
  152. [No] Tower of Goo (200?, Kyle Gabler, short) Get climbing balls of goo to connect to each other and create a superstructure of goo that doesn't fall over.
  153. [No]On a Rainy Day (200?, Shalin Shodan, short) Grow a tree that holds umbrellas to protect passing paper boats from the rain.
  154. [No] Humpsters (200?, Petri Purho, short) Pick body parts for strange monsters to go bezerk at each other.
  155. [No] Cytoplasm (200?, Shalin Shodan, short) Control a swarm of cellular thingies to dominate a cell.
  156. [No] Big Vine (200?, Kyle Gabler, short) Grow a tree. More of a toy than a game.
  157. [No] Gish (2004, Alex Austin et. al.) A platformer with unusual abilities, since you control a ball of tar.
  158. [No] N (2004, Metanet) A puzzle platformer starring a stick figure ninja.
  159. [No] Eets (2006, Klei) A fun puzzle game. A cross between Lemmings and The Incredible Machine.
  160. [No] Deadly Rooms of Death (1997, Erik Hermansen) Among the hardest and best-designed puzzle/maze games ever made, but nothing too artistic about it.
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Nice list! (and another listology first of its kind)

Re: Super Mario Bros. having no compelling symbolism...

I think not, my friend. Have you seen this?

Love it! Thanks for the link.


I'm a kid who likes the computing! So why do I find this so horrifying?

Oh. Now I remember...
The symbolism is perfect...

Oh, I get it. The projectile that looks like VETO is a symbol for John McCain vetoing a bill. Great symbolism! 6.3

Wait, the all-caps aren't as artistic as a lowercase script typesetting would be. 6.2

There was some debate as to whether Universal Healthcare Game: Yes We Can should be a shooter game. I wanted to see 'Honkey Kong.'

I'd never heard of Rappin' Granny. How I wish that was still true.

How can this be allowed in today's America; the Straight Talk Express rolls on while these geezers ended their tour last night?

My vote goes to my plush b-girl, Velma Middleton, lockin' at 250 plus.

You don't have a job. Or maybe you're one of the 20 people putting out work under the name Piero Scaruffi. Or you're test subject. Or you're this guy.

I'm definitely not that guy (or the other guys.)

I do take a phenomenal amount of Modafinil (aka Provigil™.) Still, if I'm kept horizontal for more than four minutes I will fall asleep. Doesn't matter where or when.

It can come in handy... most of the time. The end of Yoga class can be embarrassing problematic. Besides, I know you go through periods where you sleep very little.

How do you get through so many? Surely getting hold of them on so many different platforms is extremely difficult. Also, do you play these games fully before judging them? I find it very hard to believe you've completed EVERY single one on this list, it would be far too time consuming surely?

It varies. Some of these games, like SpaceWar, I don't feel I need to play if I've seen it in action. Many of these games I've fired up on emulators or, rarely, the original platform. Some are very short and I have indeed completed them.

For most, I don't need to play through them. There's no way that after the 10th hour World of Warcraft is going to be a different game than after the 2nd. And I can fill in the gaps with gameplay videos to confirm this. This is different than a movie or music album, where the second half might make all the difference.

It suddenly dawned on me why I get excited about reviewing videogames as art when I have so many better things to do.

Partly I like it because there is no chance for me to be influenced by the opinions of other critics, because I know of no others.

And partly I like it because I actually have a chance to watch and criticize an art form basically from its inception. Maybe I will still be tracking the videogame art form in 2040, whenever everybody sees videogames as art, and I'll know the entire history of videogames and be able to say I was critiquing them as art with the very first wave of people to do so? Cooooool...

Have you played the God Of War series?

No. I don't suspect much from it, but it's gotten such rave reviews I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

Just as a friendly bit of..advice (for a lack of better term), I think some games do require a great amount of time before you realize just how good they are. I say this in reference of your statement that World Of Warcraft will not be different in the 10th hour than the 2nd. I haven't played Warcraft but for God of War, you really must play it for a bit longer to realize it's potential as a piece of art (the gameplay is fantastic from the word go and that will probably help).
Also, have you played the Burnout series (especially Burnout 4 : Revenge)? I suggest you do check them out. If nothing then pick up Burnout Revenge directly.

Can I say [No] to Diablo III yet, or would that be premature?

I like this thought about games as the poetry of action.

If poetry is the, erm, poetry of langauge; music the poetry of sound; painting the poetry of image; literature the poetry of story and meaning; film the poetry of moving images; sculpture the poetry of 3D form; then maybe video games are the poetry of action. (Games can simultaneously be the poetry of moving images, 3D form, sound, story and meaning, but what makes them great games are their poetry of action.)

Young arts are backward-looking. They imitate older arts. Games imitated novels, then movies. Maybe games will have a Citizen Kane moment where they express themselves in a way that is thoroughly and radically game. (Of course, the idea that Citizen Kane did that for film is itself a distortion of history.)

You do realize that the same people who created Narbacular Drop also created Portal?

Indeed. It was a bit classy of Valve to buy them instead of just taking their idea.

Here is a fun but failed attempt to recreate Un Chien Andalou in machinima, using Half-Life 2 and Garry's Mod.

Have you played Bad Mojo? i never did but the reviews made it sound pretty damn interesting.

Great suggestion! I'll look into it.

I realise this is not the purpose of the article as you're looking at games as art

but what did you think of Bioshock as a game in terms of enjoyment and all that?

my thoughts are : at first i was amazed by the detail, the music, the presentation, the story which i maintain is fantastic. However, i wasn't a fan of the control layout system (xbox360), the spawning also annoyed me. The fact you respawned with no new ammo and if you were doing badly you may end up hitting a big daddy with a wrench untill he dies because you've used all other weapons. My thought is this, its not like doing that is more realistic, because if that was the case, get rid of respawning all together, so i couldn't see why couldn't have frash ammo, but hey.

I really enjoyed BioShock. Respawning without ammo was a nice punishment for dying in the first place. I dunno; didn't bother me much.

That Takeshi's Challenge game is friggin' hilarious. I want to see you get a high score on Desert Bus and come up with a review.

8 hours! Hah!

But thanks for pointing me to such a bizarre game.

Perhaps that eight hour bus game is something people should put on their 1000 things to do before they die lists if they run out of ideas! It's almost like The Cure For Insomnia of games.

Yes, nice analogy.

What do the [No] and [Meh] ratings mean? Are you saying that one of the two most innovative games, according to you, just gets a "meh" rating? That the best games released so far only get a 6.0 or so rating? Is it possible you just don't like video games that much?

Innovation alone doesn't equal art, hence why Birth of A Nation isn't considered great cinema, just a milestone for technical progress. I believe that (and excuse me if I'm wrong here) lukeprog is only rating them a six in terms of content when compared to his favourite albums or films, and as most games aren't aimed to be art as of yet, they won't start getting those higher ratings until they start aspiring to different things. I think he does like them, as he is one of the people who believes that they have potential as an artform.

If games like Okami aren't aimed at being art then what is? I mean it's ridiculous to rate them on the same scale as film or music based but give them lower ratings since you think that there will be better ones coming along. That's why the Scaruffists on here never rate an album 10/10, but leaving the upper third of the rating scale to waste for what 'could be' is confusing. It seems odd that these people can insist that we listen to their favorite albums over and over until we like them, and yet lukeprog tosses off [No] ratings to games he hasn't even played.

Now if he's comparing them to albums, this means that there is not a single video game CLOSE to being 'as good as', say, Dead Kennedies debut album.

Comparing them to the film ratings makes more sense, but I think games have evolved to the point where graphics are nearly perfect and thus most games that can be imagined can be made. They could evolve to include more (such as VR) but then they're way above the scope of a movie anyway. I mean we don't know if innovations in sound can produce an album that gives you an orgasm - surely this would have to be ranked higher than "non-orgasm" albums.

I love videogames, and I think they can be better art than most people seem to think.

neptune's got me pegged. Half-Life and many other games on here are fantastic, entertaining, innovative games - but they don't quite match my criteria for art (see my Author Comments here).

Half-Life gets a WooHooFuckYeah from me as entertainment, but a Meh from me as art (which is better than 80% of the games I've "reviewed" in this list).

My videogame rating scale does correspond most closely to my film scale. And yes, no videogame has been made that comes close to being as great art under my own particular criteria as Persona or even There Will Be Blood. Not yet.

I don't rate any album as 10/10 because I've never heard a perfect album. I rate lots of albums as 5/10 because I think they are "average," which to me means "not worth my time." I rate only a few albums as 7/10 or 8/10 or 9/10 because I think few albums are very good. I'm not wasting half the scale. I just don't think there are as many good albums out there as other people seem to think.

But again, that's only according to my criteria. It shouldn't threaten your criteria or your opinion at all. I'm almost a total relativist when it comes to theories of art.

I have never insisted that people listen to the albums I like.

I may not have played all the games on this list, but I have at least watched all them being played. I suppose this is a bit like reading the score for a piece of music and figuring out whether it stimulates me intellectually or not. I don't need to play each game to figure out how well it meets my own criteria. If you have different criteria that require that you play each game, that's fine.

Graphics are nearly perfect? I don't feel that way at all! I wish I could jump forward 20 years so I could see some real progress in graphics (and physics).

It is not true that most games that can be imagined can be made. The software engines do not yet exist, and neither does the hardware.

I never assert my opinions on art as "true." They needn't threaten your opinions or your approach or your ideas at all. I'm just sharing what I like in art, what I've found to be compelling and stimulating, and how I see things.

A few people find that they enjoy the same type of stuff I do, and appreciate what I turn them on to.

But mostly, I keep these lists for myself, so I can remember what I've consumed and considered.

I thought about your post a bit more, JAMOOL.

When I use words like "great" or "good" or even "meh", it doesn't sound like I'm talking about "according to my specific criteria and opinion." In fact, the same thing happens when I talk about "art," which might sound like I have a theory of universal values for good art, and I am Proclaiming Judgment on music, films, and videogames.

I wonder if it would be better to avoid that language altogether.

Maybe I could say "great lukeprogian game" or "good lukeprogian music" or "not interesting as a lukeprogian film." That is verbose and annoying, but it would make it clear that I'm not talking about value and art in the context of a universal or objective axiology.

I think you may run into misinterpretation from the "Meh" and "No" ratings just because they evoke such personal-sounding feelings. They sound like gut reactions rather than the result of an analysis of these videogames based on artistic qualities. Maybe it would be clearer to say "Little Artistic Value" or "No Value As Art" instead, although yeah, they would be a bit wordier.

By the way, I'm not convinced of the truth of your statement that you "just don't think there are as many good albums out there as other people seem to think." I think a lot of people just find more value in that WooHooFuckYeah rating than you do (and there is much more art out there that dazzles than there is that meets your criteria of great art); either that, or they use a more subjective rating scale. For example, if I rated albums on a scale out of 10, I would rate a number of albums as 10/10, but not because I thought these albums were perfect; just because I would find it more interesting and useful to spread things out on the scale a bit more. 10/10 would just represent the top tier of all albums that actually exist.

Yup. I think we're using different words to say the same things and the same words to say different things.

Perhaps it's the criteria of art that's making me confused. Whenever I think of a videogame as art I think of how the mechanics get the player involved. When a game puts me on the edge of my seat and actually makes me forget I have a controller in my hand, to me, that's art. The reason why I don't think these really compare to film or music is that music is generally judged on the principles of art rather than entertainment.

Which is why you may be waiting a loooong time for the 'work of art' game that is cinematically and philosophically powerful, completely original, etc. etc. Game delevopers will always focus on mechanics, strategy, and fun factor before trying to make something 'artful'. Stuff like Metal Gear Solid is kind of the exception though. I don't think it's quite accurate to say today's video games are parallel to "Birth of Nation". I'm not exactly sure what great innovation you're expecting that's going to put video games in the 8-9 rating category.

I don't know what those innovations will be, either. I'm excited to find out!

If I have to wait 30 years for a game that is a masterpiece according to my criteria, that's fine. I'm not going to change my criteria because videogames disappoint me.

Your concept of art is just as valid as mine. I, too, would rather play a game that sucks me in than one that intellectually surprises and stimulates me. I just don't call that art... I mean, "lukeprogian."


Do videogames really disappoint you? If so why are you playing so many of them?

Obviously it's your scale and I'm not saying you should do it differently, or whatever, but I just don't really get the logic behind grading games based on a scale where the upper 1/3 is unattainable given what's out already. By saying that the current most artistic game deserves a 6.4, then you somehow know a video game's artistic capacity is exactly 3.6 more points on the scale, after which they can get no better. Out of curiosity how did you come up with that number?

Videogames disappoint me just like music and movies do, but that doesn't stop me from trying to find the gems among those media, either.

The upper 1/3 is not unattainable! Just unattained as yet, which isn't that surprising because almost nobody is even trying to make artistic videogames.

My videogame scale was adjusted in such a way that it roughly corresponds to my film rating scale. I think Shadow of the Colossus is roughly as good a videogame (artistically, by my criteria) as George Washington (2000) is a film (artistically, by my criteria), accounting for the history of videogames and the history of film (had George Washington been made exactly as it is in the first 30 years of the medium of film, it would be one of the greatest films of all time. Made in 2000, it is still impressive, but "only" a 6.4 on my scale).

Or, perhaps he DOES like games, but the rating system makes no sense. For example:

Its innovative use of scripted sequences and its lack of level breaks provide a sharp break from the less immersive experiences of past first-person shooters. I still remember playing the Uplink and thinking, "Holy shit, this is a whole new kind of game."

Final rating? "Meh".

re: Graphics are nearly perfect? I don't feel that way at all! I wish I could jump forward 20 years so I could see some real progress in graphics (and physics).

I felt the same thing while playing Shadow of the Colossus.

As for the gameplay, it is repetitive, which if the first red flag when calling a game 'great!'. It is engrossing, but only if you look at the video game as an intellectual exercise. For me, it doesn't have the 'fun' value attached to it that is so amply evident in say... The Incredible Hulk.

The art aspect to it - what is so great?

The animation is choppy, the Colossi don't look...well, real, the hero is a cardboard cut out, the landscape doesn't feel like wow either.
The music is engrossing though, no doubt.

I have more fun playing Super Mario Bros. 3 than playing Shadow of the Colossus.

I don't think any videogames have realism down very well.

There are many things I love about Shadow of the Colossus.

I love that there's no story. Just confusion, mystery, lots of boring tedium (the most realistic part of the game), and moral dillemmas.

It's not even clear the Colossi are evil. Some of them seem quite lovable to me. You have to climb them, stab them, hear them roar in pain, then stab them again and feel the collapse.

Riding Argo is a delightful experience of frustration. You can't pull to hard, or Argo will go wild. But if you cede to Argo, you'll have to accept a wild ride... generally in the direction you want to go but with many detours. Kind of like a marriage.

I love that it's minimalist and epic all at once. Everything has been stripped bare. No story, no dungeons, no levels, few NPCs. And yet it is not a minimalist game like "Pac-Man"; it is epic and awe-inspiring.

Rarely have I had such fun as climbing on and hanging for my dear life to a Godzilla-sized creature that is lumbering about the landscape or flying in circles.

The graphic design is not realistic but it is beautiful, especially the lighting. And I'm sure the design of the Colossi will be outdone one day, but for now they are the finest beasts I have seen.

Everything in the game's design converges on a paradoxical aesthetic: calming, despairing loneliness. The length periods of wandering in emptiness between each thrilling fight give you time to get some perspective. To ask the meta questions. To sit back and stare at the beauty in this world (framed by excellent interactive cinematography).

There. That's not a review. But I don't have time to write a review.

an article on video games as art from the nytimes