The graphics whoring continues! We’re counting down the 50 best-looking video games of all time, but how do you define “best looking”? Well, 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).
30) Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy on the PS2 and it made a big impact. Really, few RPGs on the system ever topped it visually (as long as you overlook some of the characters’, uh, creative wardrobe choices).
29) God of War II
God of War II does things with the PS2 hardware you wouldn’t think possible — the game’s visual polish and sense of scale were simply off the charts. The original God of War and God of War III are also great looking games, but they don’t quite match GoW II’s “How the hell did they do that?” visual bravado.
28) Super Metroid
Super Metroid is pretty much the pinnacle of 16-bit 2D visual design. The game’s massive bosses are an impressive technical display, and the game plays with atmosphere the way only movies had until its release. Every inch of Zebes is absolutely soaked in dread and mystery — if the upcoming Alien: Isolation captures the Alien vibe as well as this 20-year old game, it’ll be very lucky.
The Sega Saturn wasn’t really designed to play with polygons, and most of its 3D games aged very quickly, and yet somehow Sonic Team managed to squeeze NiGHTS out of the ill-fated system. NiGHTS tosses all realism to the side, and instead creates a strange world of upside-down floating islands, rings and vibrant color, which still holds up as a trippy wonderland today.
Dark, mature games don’t need to be visually bland — Darksiders is a perfect example of that. Darksiders is an M-rated game about the living embodiment of War fighting the forces of hell, which is dark stuff to be sure, but the game’s visuals, based on the work of star comic book artist Joe Madureira, pop with personality and color. Darksiders is the increasingly rare example of a game that features top-notch art, but doesn’t come across as pretentious in the least.
25) Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Do I need to explain why this one makes the list? Ni no Kuni is a living, interactive Studio Ghibli movie. When Ni no Kuni was first announced it seemed impossible that it could live up to the hype and the Studio Ghibli name but, visually at least, it may have actually exceeded expectations.
24) Super Mario Kart
Sure, blasting your palls with red shells is fun, but let’s not forget the fact that the original Super Mario Kart was an eye-bursting technical achievement when it first came out. No racing game had been this complex or varied before. Today the game also holds up well artistically with its large selection of different course themes and a wealth of cool little visual touches.
BioShock was the game that proved seventh generation consoles could be used for more than higher polygon counts and sharper textures — they could be used to create bigger, deeper, more believable worlds. BioShock provided a lot of people with their first, “Ohhh, okay, so this is what this next-gen business is all about” moment of discovery. Bioshock: Infinite may be the more ostensibly stylish game, but the original BioShock has a deep, dark beauty that may just endure longer.
22) Grim Fandango
During the late 90s adventure games went through a phase of jumping on any trendy new visual style that came down the pipe — it mostly led to a lot of FMV and crude 3D games that are best left forgotten. Thankfully, before trundling off to obscurity for a decade, the genre got a gorgeous send-off in Grim Fandango. The game combines beautiful, detailed Art Deco backgrounds and characters that make up for a lack of polygons with tons of personality. Few 90s PC games have held up as well as this one.
21) Star Fox
The first big time popular game to use 3D polygonal graphics, Star Fox absolutely blew minds back in the day, and shockingly it hasn’t become an eyesore since. A single PS4 character model may contain more polygons than everything in Star Fox combined, and yet there’s a certain lasting grace and charm to Star Fox’s collections of floating triangles.
That’s it for today! Dan will have the next 10 next Monday, then we’ll wrap things up on Tuesday. How do you think the list’s shaping up so far? Any predictions for the top 20?