Hey guys, let’s talk graphics. Some oh so enlightened gamers insist they don’t matter, but come on now, they really do. Sure, gameplay is always king, but beautiful visuals can make worlds more immersive, stories more engaging and action more visceral. It’s said you eat first with your eyes, and more often than not it’s impressive graphics that get us to pick up that controller and give a new game a try. So, with E3 (a show that’s pretty much all about showing off the newest, prettiest visuals) looming, we here at GammaSquad have decided to count down the 50 best-looking video games of all time.
But how do you define “best looking”? The games on this list had to meet two criteria.
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).
Basically, the goal was to avoid a list based entirely on polygon count and texture resolution or one overpopulated with recent style-over-substance indie games. Hopefully we hit that sweet spot between technology and art. So, without further ado, the first 10 entries in GammaSquad’s 50 Best-Looking Games of All Time…
EarthBound was already retro when it released back in 1994. The game’s squat characters and flat colors were meant emulate the look of classic NES RPGs, but EarthBound is actually a fairly technically advanced SNES game, packing tons of detail and subtly impressive effects into every screen. EarthBound was one of the earliest cases of a game ensuring it’s longevity by looking to the past — EarthBound’s “retro” graphics hold up better today than many of the SNES’ more opulent offerings.
49) Phantasy Star IV
Most Genesis RPGs couldn’t compete with SNES RPGs in the visual department, but for the final traditional Phantasy Star, Sega went all out. Phantasy Star IV is bright, colorful and varied, taking players from dust blown deserts, to icy tundras to grotesque towers made of living flesh. The game’s story was told through dynamic comic book-esque cutscenes that put most RPGs of the era to shame in terms of style. Just one of many examples of Sega busting ass to make art with the less powerful Genesis.
48) Super Mario Galaxy
The Wii was no visual workhorse, but with Super Mario Galaxy Nintendo took the little white slab beyond its limits and managed to produce a game that can stand toe-to-toe with the best looking games on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Unfortunately whatever magic Nintendo tapped into to make Mario Galaxy happen was lost soon thereafter, because no Wii game (except Super Mario Galaxy 2) ever looked this good again, but for a brief time Nintendo managed to make the Wii look like a contender.
47) Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Konami did some amazing things with the humble NES, with Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse arguably being top of a remarkable field. Dracula’s home base is varied and impressively detailed — it doesn’t feel like an artificial video game playground, but an actual crumbling haunted castle. Castlevania III’s level of verisimilitude is pretty much unmatched amongst 8-bit games.
46) Final Fantasy IX
With Final Fantasy IX Square took a surprising step back from the more realistic approach they’d been pursuing with Final Fantasy VII and VIII and made a game that visually referenced the classic Final Fantasies of the 8 and 16-bit era. The result was a game that holds up far better than its fellow Playstation Final Fantasies. Sure, some folks at the time chafed at the stumpy, intentionally cartoony characters, but they certainly have more personality than anyone in FF VIII and the game’s lush backgrounds remain wondrous to this day.
45) The Walking Dead
Telltale’s The Walking Dead Games took on the challenge of adapting The Walking Dead comic series’ stark black and white art and, for the most part, succeeded with flying colors. Telltale’s visuals may not deliver the most polygons, but they deliver emotions like nothing else out there.
At a time when everyone else was chasing grey-brown gritty realism, Borderlands developers Gearbox Software made the bold decision to go with a stylish cartoon shaded approach. Gearbox backed that style with solid tech, and the result was a game that’s going to outlive the vast majority of shooters released this past generation.
43) Silent Hill 3
Never has a game been more gorgeously grimy. Silent Hill 2 may have been the best in the series in terms of story, but Silent Hill 3 easily has the best visuals. The characters in Silent Hill 3 have an incredible amount of personality — they remain more true-to-life than many of today’s beautifully textured, super HD, next-gen models.