And finally we reach the end of our celebration of the best visuals in gaming history. Maybe we missed a few you think we should have included, but hopefully we also made the case for a few games you may have never considered.
Once again, here are the two criteria games on this list had to meet…
a) They need to have been technically impressive at the time they were released, and…
b) They have to have held up aesthetically (or at least have the potential to hold up aesthetically).
Okay, now onto the final five entries in our 50 Best-Looking Games of All Time…
Before we go on, a quick recap!
49) Phantasy Star IV
48) Super Mario Galaxy
47) Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
46) Final Fantasy IX
45) The Walking Dead
43) Silent Hill 3
42) Resident Evil 2
41) Chrono Cross
40) DmC: Devil May Cry
39) Metal Gear Solid 3
38) Zone of the Enders
37) BioShock Infinite
36) Secret of Mana
34) Ratchet & Clank
33) Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
32) Earthworm Jim
31) Metroid Prime
30) Final Fantasy X
29) God of War II
28) Super Metroid
25) Ni no Kuni
24) Super Mario Kart
22) Grim Fandango
21) Star Fox
20) Conker’s Bad Fur Day
19) The Last of Us
18) Crash Bandicoot
17) Samurai Shodown
15) Super Mario Bros. 3
14) Street Fighter II
13) Super Mario 64
11) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
10) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
9) Mickey’s Castle of Illusion
7) Donkey Kong
6) Super Mario Bros.
…and now, the final five.
5) Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Blast Processing wasn’t real. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news Genesis kids, but it’s true. The Sonic games, in particular Sonic the Hedgehog 2, were just so fantastic looking Sega was able to convince gamers there must be some sort of magic lurking within the humble Genesis.
The reality was Sonic 2 was just so well programmed it managed to move faster and generally outshine a large portion of the games on the beefier SNES hardware. Sonic 2 wasn’t just a technical marvel, it was absolutely bursting with detail, personality and, dare I say it, ‘tude. Sonic looked so good he set off an entire console war — how many games can say that?
4) Resident Evil 4
How the hell did they manage to pull off Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube? Resident Evil 4 was of course bleeding edge stuff that continued to hold up well against even HD games well after its release. Unlike more recent Resident Evils it was also an effective horror game, playing brilliantly with light, shadow and atmosphere.
3) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a major milestone for 3D gaming. For the first time gamers had a polygonal environment to explore that wasn’t just an abstract collection of triangles and cubes, but felt like a living, breathing world. The haunting, ethereal Lost Woods, the bracing, adventurous feeling of Hyrule field, the dread-soaked Ganon’s Castle — Ocarina of Time brought together technology and art design to create indelible, evocative locations the likes of which gamers had never seen before, and have rarely seen since.
2) Shadow of the Colossus
The massive, shambling Colossi of Shadow of the Colossus are masterpieces of technology and art design — to this day few video game characters are as awe and dread-inspiring as Team Ico’s creations. The world these monsters inhabit shouldn’t be underappreciated either though. Vast, misty and wind-swept, it’s a world that provides you with no mercy or hiding place once you encounter one of its massive denizens. Shadow of the Colossus almost doesn’t feel like a game. Sure, there are challenges to best, but simply existing within its beautiful world often feels like reward enough.
1) Yoshi’s Island
We all know the story by now — Yoshi’s Island was created when Nintendo higher ups wanted Shigeru Miyamoto to make a Mario game using then-trendy pre-rendered Donkey Kong Country style visuals. He rebelled, instead creating a game that looked like it had leapt from the pages of a children’s coloring book.
Yoshi’s Island was one of the first really overtly stylized video games ever made, and that style still holds up brilliantly. Even today, Yoshi’s Island still seems to pop right off the screen, beckoning you into its immensely charming world.
Why is Yoshi’s Island #1 on our list? Because it represents the ideal all video games should pursue when it comes to visuals — create a unique style all your own, then back it up with the best technology available (Yoshi’s Island was secretly the most technically advanced game on the SNES). That’s what making great-looking games is all about.
So there you have it, the full 50 in all their gorgeous glory. As always, it’s been fun hashing this thing out with you guys, so don’t hold back — hit the comments and let us know where we got it right, and where we got it rage-inducingly wrong.