Put five humans of different ages in a room and, whether they are hardcore gamers or they once played a Nintendo 64 at a friend’s house and haven’t really touched a game since, you’re likely to get five different responses when asked what the top 5 action games of all time are.
That said, some titles transcend differences of opinion and manage to win over gaming critics and the general public alike.
5. Grand Theft Auto V
Released in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V rewrote the rules for what action games could be. An amazingly detailed and fascinatingly ruined version of Los Angeles is the backdrop for this combination car-chase and heist game that mixes brutal, consequential violence with a very involved storyline. GTA 5 is one of only a few action games where the characters exist not only as avatars of the player but as actual characters like in a film or a book.
4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
This 1997 action game is widely held to be the greatest side-scrolling video game ever made. Made during the twilight of 2D, it makes linearity into a virtue, letting you explore a hauntingly beautiful Dracula’s Castle that brims with detail that remains outstanding some 20 years later. The original PlayStation disc contained a secret audio track which would play if you put the disc in a CD player, too. Incidentally, the Castlevania series has some of the best loved video game music ever.
3. Super Metroid
Another game that combined masterful atmospheric visuals with intuitive, yet surprising action, 1994’s Super Metroid definitely added a layer of complexity to the video game universe and helped inspire a generation of amazing platforming action games. Set amid ruined spaceships on an alien planet riddled with secrets and genuinely disturbing bosses, Super Metroid is one of the most memorable games of all time. Maybe better than any platforming game since, it mixed curious puzzles with thrilling action.
2. Super Mario 64
The first 3D game in the beloved Mario franchise from Nintendo, this is the game that redefined action games for a generation. Its graphics felt a century ahead of the previous Nintendo Mario games, and it made full use of the Nintendo 64’s processor to render beautifully detailed and imaginative worlds. Even today, its pacing and exuberance makes it one of the most inviting games ever made. When it came out in 1996, Super Mario 64 crossed all kinds of demographic lines and was as appealing if you were an adult or teenager as if you were a little kid, which is one reason it has such a lasting cultural impact today. Super Mario 64, perhaps more than any game since, truly had something for everyone.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
An action game where the action involved not just shooting or squashing enemies but playing music, Ocarina of Time is often seen as the realization of the video game as art form. Released for Nintendo 64 in 1998, Ocarina of Time’s beautiful and emotive mix of action and puzzles not only dazzles and thrills but invites the player to engage creatively, making you feel as if you are not just witnessing a beautiful story but directing one. This action game, still a favorite among critics, nostalgic fans and new fans alike, is one of the only video games that makes you feel smarter, more creative and even, arguably, like a better person after playing it. For that reason The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often considered the greatest action game of all time.
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