After doing a dozen of these lists, it's quite remarkable this hasn't happened before: but there's a tie for the tenth spot on this list. Rather than only listing one of these games, here's a little bit about each: first of all, Galaga, released in 1981, takes the Space Invaders formula and enhances it with more complicated enemies and bosses, as well as several other game play features. It's recognized for its influence in helping popularize the old "shoot 'em up" genre ("Most Influential Games", "Most Influential Arcade Games"), as well as one of the best games of the genre itself ("Shmups of All Time", "Games That Significantly Involve Shooting", "Greatest Shmups Ever", "Greatest Vert Shooters Of All Time"). On this list, it ties with the second Mortal Kombat game. Mortal Kombat II was the sequel to the first Mortal Kombat, which will be discussed more extensively later in this list. It was a great game in its own right, and is rated as one of the best Arcade games ("Arcade Games Made After The 1980s", "Arcade Games That Will Take Your Money"), fighting games ("Fighting Games Of All Time") and hyped games ("Blockbuster Games Of All Time"). Specifically, Mortal Kombat II is remembered for its difficulty, landing on lists of the top "Most Frustrating Meta-Moments In Gaming" and "Bosses That Are Harder Then Seth". Both these games end in a tie with the slightly more comical 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game spawned very popular sequels, and is itself remembered as one of the best license-based games ("Best Usages Of A License", "Comic Book Based Games"), as well as one of the best games of its genre ("Best Beatemups Ever", "Greatest Side-Scrolling Beat 'Em Ups") and on the Arcade medium ("List Of Arcade Games That Had The Longest Lines", "Arcade Games That 30 Year Old's Played As Kids"). All three of these games appear on 10 total top ten lists.
We've noticed some definite trends on other consoles and systems in terms of the genres of games that are commonly seen. Console games were dominated by platformers and RPGs. The PC mostly held first-person shooters and real-time strategy. Handheld games saw lots of turn-based strategy installments. Arcade games? Fighters and beat 'em ups. Already two of the 12 games mentioned here fall into these two categories, and we'll see several more. First is the third Street Fighter game, Street Fight III: 3rd Strike - Fight for the Future. Besides having an unnecessarily long title, 3rd Strike is a somewhat surprising entry in this list. It is the most recent game on this list after its 1999 release date, and is the third game in a spin-off series of Street Fighter III games. In many ways, it's a very niche game, but yet it appears on 12 top ten lists, good for 9th on this list. Personally, I'm not sure why it's praised so much more highly than its two predecessors, but it receives some incredibly high recognition: it is undeniably one of the greatest fighting games ever, landing on lists of the top "Fighting Games Of All Time", "Fighting Games Of All Time", "2D Fighting game", and "Japanese Arcade Fighting Games". Its bosses and characters also receive a lot of recognition, earning it appearances among the top "Fighting Game Boss Characters", "Most Unique Fighting Game Characters", and "Ridiculous Fighting Game Bosses", while its soundtrack is also very underrated ("Most Underrated Soundtracks Of All Time", "Songs That Can Be Played In Clubs").
After another fighting game comes another beat 'em up on this list, though this entry is more of a hybrid between the two. Released in 1989, Final Fight was largely the brainchild of a pair of developers who would later work on Street Fighter II, and their influence is felt. While the game is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up style game, there is a definite presence of some head-to-head fighting elements, including more complicated moves and character-specific strengths and weaknesses. The game also featured a co-op mode, not yet standard in gaming. Undoubtedly, however, the game's biggest recognition among the top ten lists is for its overall quality among beat-'em-ups: the game is an absolute mainstay among all lists recognizing the genre -- among these, "Best Action Beat-'em-ups", "Capcom Beat'em Ups", "Beat 'em Ups Developers Should Emulate To Revive The Dying Genre", "Best Beatemups Ever", "Must-Play Games For Genre Fans" and "2-D Arcade Beat-em Ups". Its music is often praised though underappreciated, appearing on the lists "Songs That Can Be Played In Clubs". It'd be unfair to mention Final Fight without also mentioning the controversy that it brought with it -- it, along with several other fighting games of its age, featured increased violence and sexual themes and eventually helped lead to the creation of the ESRB to oversee the content of future video games. Overall, Final Fight appears on fifteen top ten lists, including others for its characters as well ("Manliest Game Characters", "Video Game Characters That Would Do Well In The UFC", "playable characters in a beat 'em up", "Manliest Men In Video Gaming").
Now this one might be a surprise to anyone who didn't frequent arcades as a youngster. Games based on TV shows and movies are typically pretty terrible, typically aimed only at profiting from the source franchise's popularity and not towards creating a great game in and of itself (E.T., anyone?). But there are always exceptions, and here is one of the earliest. Released in 1991 (when the show was still relatively young), the Simpsons arcade game was a surprise -- it didn't play like the show at all, but rather just borrowed the characters for a standard beat-'em-up. Yes, a Simpsons beat-'em-up. Marge swings a vacuum cleaner, Lisa uses her jump rope like a whip, Bart beats people with his skateboard, and Homer is generally fat in everyone's faces. Despite the obviously comical nature of the game, it did contain some series innovations, including healing items and co-operative attacks. Among the top ten lists, The Simpsons is recognized for precisely two things -- the more obvious is that it is one of the best games based on a show or movie, featured on lists of the top "Best Usages Of A License" and the humorously specific "Games Based On The Simpsons". But what's surprising is that the game really is one of the best beat-'em-ups of all time. Despite its light-hearted and comical nature, the gameplay was as deep (though that might not be saying much) as other beat-'em-ups like Final Fight, and the controls were remarkably intuitive. This overall quality led to the game's appearance on lists of the top "Best Action Beat-'em-ups", "Best Beatemups Ever", "Greatest Side-Scrolling Beat 'Em Ups", "Arcade Games That Will Take Your Money", "2-D Arcade Beat-em Ups" and "Arcade Games That 30 Year Old's Played As Kids", on its way to 16 total top ten list mentions and a tie with a true behemoth of video game history...
#6: Pong (ARC)
Finally, the big kahuna -- the original -- the one that got the whole darn thing started. The... wait, only 16 mentions? Really? Do people just not know where to find it? Released in 1972, Pong wasn't the first video game, but it was the one that largely triggered the industry's creation. It netted a level of commercial success that other games had not yet tapped, nearly single-handedly spawning the creation of video arcades and inspiring dozens of knock-offs and similar (but improved) games. It has to be noted that a lot of Pong's influence wasn't strictly due to its Arcade implementation, but also from its home versions and other re-releases it inspired shortly thereafter. Among the top ten lists, Pong's recognition is extremely predictable -- it can't be recognized for its graphics, music, plot, characters, or anything else we've seen plenty of lists about. Maybe that's why it appears on a rather humble (considering its influence) 16 lists. But the game is a mainstay among those lists that recognize historical significance -- it appears on lists of the top "Most Influential Games", "Games Even Non-Gamers Should Know", "Most Revolutionary Games", "most influential arcade games", "Games That Influenced Gaming Today...", "Most Important Games In The History Of The Gaming Industry", "Defining Moments In Video Game History And The Games That Best Represent Them", "Most Revolutionary Games" and "Games That Changed Our World". It's quite a simple recognition, with over half of its 16 lists focusing on its historical significance. The others praise its simplicity ("Simplest Video Game Titles", "Games Without A Plotline", "Games That Does Not Require A Story") and broad appeal ("E-or-KA Rated Games You Will Play Forever", "Arcade Machine Games"). But overall, Pong is simply one of -- if not the -- most historically significant game of all time.
Released in 1981, the influence of Donkey Kong is incredibly underrated -- in many ways, it was as important to the video game industry as Pong itself was a few years prior. Consider all the different elements that Donkey Kong introduced to the video game industry: it spawned the platformer genre that would dominate gaming for the next 10 years; it introduced Jumpman, who would go on to become Mario, the most iconic figure in video game history; it introduced the save-the-princess plotline that would form the backbone for numerous subsequent Mario games; and, perhaps most importantly, it represented Nintendo's final penetration of the American market, setting up for its dominance of the industry for the following 15 years. The game's top ten list recognition reflects this historical significance: it is rated among the top "Games Even Non-Gamers Should Know", "Most Important Games In The History Of The Gaming Industry", and "Most Revolutionary Games" -- but it is also recognized among the best games and series in Nintendo's history ("Greatest Game Sagas/Series of All Time", "Nintendo Franchises", "Game Series Of All Time", "Nintendo Games EVER", "Greatest Nintendo Games Of All Time") and is praised for the characters it introduced to the gaming world ("Most Badass Characters in the Mario Series", "Manliest Video Game Characters", "Most Influential Women Of Gaming", "Most Memorable Video Game Couples"). Overall, Donkey Kong is recognized on 20 top ten lists, the 5th-most among arcade games.
Like Street Fighter III, Street Fighter II is actually a series of arcade games. Six games were released in the series, and in this case, it's the original that receives attention from the top ten lists. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was the first of these games -- it was later ported to several other mediums due to its immense popularity in arcades, a popularity that would also lead to the follow-up Street Fighter III series several years later. In no uncertain terms, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was the tipping point for the fighting genre in arcades; its popularity led to an explosion of the genre, numerous similar games and a huge increase in arcade popularity. It is credited by many as being one of the most popular games of all time, and its influence in the industry is rather underappreciated. The top ten lists, though, do accurately reflect the game's immense influence: it is recognized broadly for popularizing the fighting game genre ("Games That First Defined Their Genres", "Games That Redefined A Genre") and influencing the industry as a whole incredibly ("Games that Redefined the Gaming Market", "Most Revolutionary Games", "Games That Changed Gaming During The 1990s", "Icons Of Video Game History"). Its individual innovations, such as combo moves, are also praised ("Gameplay Innovations"), as well as its role as a great sequel ("Most Improved Sequels", "Seconds In Series Which Are Also 'Best In Series'") and great game of its genre ("Fighting Games Of All Time"). Overall, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior appears on 27 top ten lists, the fourth-most overall among arcade games, and the second-most among fighting games.
Without a doubt the most unconventional game on this list, the third-place finisher does not rely on buttons or joysticks, combos or special moves, enemy swarms or boss battles. Dance Dance Revolution skips all these conventions and instead uses a multi-button dance pad for the player to stomp on in rhythm to earn points. With fast-paced music, adequately ascending difficulty and enough challenge to give anyone a goal to shoot for, Dance Dance Revolution took arcades by storm. But it was not the basic quality of the game itself that earned it its recognition -- the game itself could've been played with four buttons instead of a dance pad. Dance Dance Revolution's acclaim comes from the way it involved its players entire body in truly physical gameplay. The game, as anyone who's played can attest, is a true cardiovascular workout. Among the top ten lists, this is a major point of recognition -- it is featured on lists of the top "Games that Redefined the Gaming Market", "Games That Redefined A Genre", and "Most Revolutionary Games Of The 90s". It's also featured as one of the best music- and rhythm-themed games ("Music Game Franchises", "Games to Get Your Groove On", "Rhythm/Music Games") and best arcade games ("Arcade Games", "Arcade Games Made After The 1980s"), as well as general lists aimed at the game's unorthodox style ("Games Most Likely To Get You Stared At Strangely", "Fad Games", "Aimless Time Wasters", "Good Ideas That Sounded Like Bad Ideas At The Time"), appeal to the casual gamer ("Games For Non-Gamers") and overall quality ("Best Video Game Series"). Overall, Dance Dance Revolution is featured on 30 top ten lists, third-most among arcade games.
#2: Pac-Man (ARC)
There are certain games that so truly iconic that people from all walks of life -- gamers and non-gamers, young and old, boys and girls -- recognize them. These are games like Pong, Mario and the second-place entry on this list, Pac-Man. Released in 1980, Pac-Man was one of the most complicated games released at the time. It incorporated a real element of strategy and pre-planning that was absent from its predecessors, and truly stood out against the shooters and Pong-clones of the day. In fact, it's difficult to actually put Pac-Man into a genre -- it's not a platformer, a shooter, a puzzle game, or anything else; it really is a unique entry, and it played an important role in increasing the visibility of video games to a mainstream audience. Its top ten list recognition reflects this -- the vast majority of its acclaim comes for its overall quality ("Most Timeless Games", "Killer Games", "Blockbuster Games Of All Time", "Classic Games In Modern Collections", "Icons Of Video Game History", "Most Original Games") and role in revolutionizing the gaming industry ("Most Important Games In The History Of The Gaming Industry", "Most Influential Classic Games", "Games That Influenced Gaming Today...", "Defining Moments In Video Game History And The Games That Best Represent Them"), while its broad appeal ("Games For Non-Gamers", "Games Even Non-Gamers Should Know") and arcade game quality ("Arcade Machine Games", "Arcade Games That Will Take Your Money") are also praised. Overall, Pac-Man appears on 32 top ten lists, second only to...
Picking up where Street Fighter II left off, Mortal Kombat took the arcade world by storm. While it preserved the same basic style of previous versus fighting games, it utilized a vastly different and largely more flexible and intuitive control scheme, and included a slightly more modern overall atmosphere. But possibly equally as notable as the game's popularity is the controversy that ensued -- the game featured more graphic displays of blood than its predecessors, and an incredibly violent fatalities system. The most cited example of these fatalities is when a certain character -- Sub-Zero -- defeats an enemy and physically rips their head off with the spine still attached. Such unnecessarily graphic displays of violence helped set into motion the events that would eventually lead to the creation of the ESRB (although I'd argue the ESRB's existence itself actually legitimized such violent displays by accounting for them in its rating system). What's interesting about Mortal Kombat compared to the aforementioned Street Fighter games is that its top ten list recognition comes from a much wider variety of aspects -- like its predecessors, it is recognized as being extremely influential for its day ("Most Revolutionary Games", "Most Revolutionary Games Of The 90s", "Gaming Innovations"), but it is also mentioned on lists that cite its violent and controversial content ("Most Controversial Games of All Time", "Most Violent Video Games", "Most Violent Videogames Ever", "Ways To Die (in A Videogame Of Course!)"), its characters ("Most Bizarre Fighting Game Characters", "Most Suprising Characters Elaborations", "Video Game Characters Who Wear Sunglasses"), its auditory elements ("Sound Effects You'll Hear In Your Sleep", "Videogame Themes", "Most Innovative And Memorable Voices In Gaming History"), and its individual moves ("Coolest 'Ultimate' Moves", "Moves And/or Abilities"). It is notably absent from most lists of the top fighting games of all time, but ranks #1 among arcade games as the most-listed arcade game of all time with 33 lists.
That brings us to the end of this unnecessarily large project. We've covered the console generations, the handheld generations, PC games and Arcade games, and no other major console-based category remains to be discussed. It's been suggested by some people that I do some of these lists for consoles that weren't featured largely, like the Sega Genesis and the Sony PSP, or for specific genres, like RPGs and first-person shooters. But overall, I think this project has reached is natural end. I still plan to do a couple more lists based on it, looking at games that are mentioned surprisingly-often and surprisingly-rarely, but there won't be another strictly fact-based "most-listed" list for at least a year. I may pursue the recommended 'genre' idea later, once enough new lists have been posted to warrant an update to the rankings, but it won't come soon. As I've mentioned before, if you're interested in seeing the list, let me know and I'll be glad to send it over -- and if you're interested in reading back over all the lists, I'd recommend searching the Top 10 list page for "Most-Listed" to get them chronologically rather than going through the alphabetical listing in my contributor profile. Other than that, that's it -- back to writing those much-maligned opinion-based top ten lists. It's been fun!
List by DDJGames (08/25/2009)
Discuss this list and others on the Top 10 Lists board.