There are games that establish a genre and there are games that define it. On this article, I’ll focus on those titles that proved that they could breath new life into an already established genre. Before moving on to the top ten list, take into account that I divided this article into ten broad genres, so you won’t find awfully specific such as “interactive movie” or “Christian games.” So what are your favorite video game genres? Which is your favorite game that redefined said genre? Please leave ideas and opinions in the comments section below.
Action/Adventure: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Freedom, exploration, a vast world and an evolving character. If I had to describe what makes Ocarina of Time so special, I’d use those words. Before Ocarina of Time came along and defined what action/adventure games should be, those type of games were fairly limited and derivative. It’s been decades since Ocarina of Time came out, but this is still the blueprint that developers use before creating their own action/adventure games and that’s amazing.
Other notable action/adventure games: Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid, Bionic Commando, Shenmue, Beyond Good & Evil.
A first-person perspective, labyrinthine corridors, hideous demons were some of the characteristic of this hectic shooter. But apart from being a terrific first-person shooter in its own right, Doom innovated on every front. It’s distribution system, which meant that the first episode of the game was available for free, meant that this was a mandatory installation if you had a computer in the 90s. Doom’s popularity also encouraged other developers to clone the same style of gameplay and that’s how this beautiful genre started.
Other notable shooters: Half-Life, Halo, GoldenEye 007, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty IV: Modern Warfare
Rhythm: Guitar Hero
Before Guitar Hero came out, rhythm games were only popular in some parts of the world (read: Japan) and usually involved dancing mats and K-Pop, but Red Octane changed the industry, the look of your living room, private parties and convinced people around the world to spend their hard-earned money on plastic instruments. It also convinced a lot of people to start playing actual instruments, such as this writer.
Other notable rhythm games: Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Freaks, Rock Band, Rocksmith
Fighting: Street Fighter II
Like most of the titles on this article, Street Fighter II was so important for its genre, that few fighting game after it attempted anything remotely different in terms of gameplay. Shoto and charge characters, projectile -based attacks, combos, energy bars, versus mode and more. Street Fighter II was a tremendous success in the arcade scene, but the franchise quickly extended to comic books, movies, clothing, arcade sticks and other products. If you want to stick with the games though, any entry in the main series is highly recommended with the exception of the original Street Fighter which unfortunately hasn’t aged that well.
Other notable fighting games: Marvel vs Capcom, Soulcalibur, Tekken, Super Smash Bros, Street Fighter IV
Survival Horror: Resident Evil 4
Whenever you have to explain what makes the horror genre so unique and special, it’s really hard to articulate. But in the case of Resident Evil 4, those qualities are simple: a campy story that made sense within the context of the game, solid gameplay that never got in the way, a use of camera that was copied ad nauseam, precise aiming, immersive style are some of the defining qualities of this survival horror title.
Other notable survival horror games: Amnesia: Dark Descent, Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill
Graphic Adventure: Grim Fandango
Grim Fandango was the last game of its breed and while there will definitely be more entries in this genre that refuses to die, that game was everything a fan could have hoped for. The funny dialogue, unconventional characters, references to noir film, catchy jazzy soundtrack and heartfelt narrative made Grim Fandango a unique game that no fan of the genre should miss.
Other notable graphic adventures: Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle
Role-Playing: Final Fantasy VII
There are other contenders that were considered before Final Fantasy VII, but what makes this JRPG so special? Well, it basically convinced millions of players of what the genre was capable of. The convoluted narrative and deep characters, technical capabilities that were only possible thanks to the CD-ROM technology and one of the few games of its time where one of the protagonists died made Final Fantasy VII one of the best of its kind.
Other notable role-playing games: Knights of the Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Mass Effect, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
MMO: World of Warcraft
There will never be another game like World of Warcraft, since Blizzard’s MMO was a product of its time. Now that pretty much every game in its genre has moved to the free-to-play model and now that the market is so fragmented, it’s fair to say that there will never be a game like World of Warcraft and the worst part about that is that those who came late to the party won’t understand what that game meant. A vast world, freedom, the possibility of accepting thousands of quests, meeting people from all over the world and more, make World of Warcraft still popular to this day.
Other notable massively multiplayer online games: Ultima Online, Everquest
Platformer: Super Mario 64
There were dozens if not hundreds of platformers before Super Mario 64 came out for the Nintendo 64 and at the time, it seemed like developers couldn’t do anything new in this genre. Leave it to Miyamoto to prove you wrong. Super Mario 64 was a technical achievement in terms of audio and graphics, the controls were spot on, the 3D perspective allowed for exploration and the list goes on and on.
Other notable platformers: Sonic the Hedhehog, Tomb Raider, Donkey Kong 64, Super Mario Galaxy
Simple mechanics, addictive gameplay and the fact that it’s available on every single video game console or device known to man make Tetris one of the most accessible titles ever made. Since its inception there were dozens of iterations that tried to freshen up its classic gameplay and while some of them have succeeded, the classic version is the one that will be remembered for years to come.
Other notable casual games: The Sims