In the past twenty years, the popularity of video games has grown immensely. The simple amount of games being released each year is incredible. It can’t be denied that a lot of these games follow a certain pattern/formula. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as creators have proven themselves adept at bending the narrative or style of play or artwork to make a majority of the games unique. Only a few video games suffer from feeling like a replica of something else. Nonetheless, amidst the bounty of video games that are coming out each and every year, there are some that do more than simply bend the rules. These games truly push the envelope and require us to rethink the way games can be approached as an artistic medium. Without further ado, let’s talk about the top 10 games that push the envelope and make the medium of video games so fascinating.
10. Hatoful Boyfriend
- System: PC, PS4, Vita
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Hatoful Boyfriend is a dating sim game. You go through school life while trying to romance a number of males. The trick is that you’re a pigeon, the boys are pigeons, and there are secret societies that might very well kidnap you at the conclusion.
Hatoful Boyfriend might not seem to be that innovative, but it proved something that some people probably never thought about. It proved that people are willing to date pigeons! Okay, seriously, it extended the level of acceptable ridiculousness that people will willfully jump into. This game is proof that if the characters are strong enough to support their actions and that the overall writing is strong, then a game can go in just about any direction. People simply want a game that is entertaining. They want something that is out of the ordinary that will make them laugh.
9. Conker's Bad Fur Day
- System: N64
- Publisher: Rare Ltd.
- Developer: Rare Ltd.
- Release Dates: Mar. 4, 2001
Conker’s Bad Fur Day begins with Conker being a long way from home after a night of binge drinking. Despite his hangover, he decides that he must get home to see his girlfriend. Thus, he sets off but soon finds himself embroiled in numerous wacky adventures.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is one of the older games on this list, and it proves an extremely valuable point. It proves that a game can capture the hearts and imaginations of people by mixing childish aesthetics with adult humor. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is essentially the South Park of the video game industry and it shows on how many different levels a game could entertain a player.
8. Katamari Damacy
- System: PS2
- Publisher: Namco
- Developer: Now Production
- Release Dates: Sep. 21, 2004
In Katamari, you are a prince, and your father has tasked you with putting the cosmos back together. To do this you are sent to Earth where you are required to roll a small ball over smaller objects that will then attach to the ball and cause it to grow, which will allow it to pick up bigger items.
Katamari proved that games don’t really need to make any sense to be a ton of fun. Okay, so the game did have an overall plot that strangely made sense. However, the whole point of the game was simply to roll objects into a massive ball, and the slight bit of dialogue could easily be forgotten (even though the speaker, the great king, will never be forgotten). Overall, the game was random, but strangely satisfying, if not calming, proving that games don’t need intense bosses. All a game truly needs is a thorough environment that immerses the player (even though Katamari is all about deconstructing that environment).
7. Revelations: Persona
- System: PC, PS
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Atlus
- Release Dates: Nov. 1996
Taking place in Japan in 1996, Revelations: Persona places you in the town of Mikage-cho as a second-year high school student. You and a bunch of your classmates are imbued with the power to summon Persona, mythical spirits, just as the town starts to experience some strange phenomena. The culprit is the Saeki Electronics & Biological & Energy Corporation and it’s your job to stop them.
Some people are probably not surprised that a Persona game is on the list. This series has helped maintain the respect and pedigree of JRPGs in the western world for a long time. It’s ability to mix dungeon crawling, philosophy, and life-simulation is quite an astounding feat. However, the true reason why Revelations: Persona is on this list is because it’s use of the demon compendium and overall adult themes restricted it from coming into US territory. Yep, the first Persona was such an intense game, diving fearlessly into taboo categories (especially for a medium like video games), that the US was simply not ready for it. Well, at least some people were not.
- System: PS2, PS3, PS4, PC, Wii, NS, XONE
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Clover Studios
- Release Dates: Sep. 19, 2006
Okami takes us on a mythical adventure throughout feudal Japan. You see, you play as Amaterasu, the sun goddess in Shintoism, in wolf form. Your mission is to restore order to Japan after the corrupting influence of quite a few bad guys. To do this you must collect celestial powers as you journey across the land of the rising sun and defeat a plethora of enemies.
Okami is on this list for a lot of reasons. One of those many is that the gameplay and story are both extremely innovative by seamlessly mixing traditional Japanese elements into both aspects. However, the number one reason why Okami is on this list is because of its incredibly gorgeous artwork. Okami showed just how quickly a game can prove itself to be art. From the get go, this game’s style of art stands out. It draws you in, it turns the world into a rolling scroll of art as the land rolls past with flowers blooming behind you. The amount of detail in Okami’s art truly made it a masterpiece.
5. The Sims
- System: PC, GC, PS2, XBOX, PS3, X360, PS4, XONE
- Publisher: Maxis, Electronic Arts
- Developer: Maxis, The Sims Studio
- Release Dates: 2000-2014
The Sims is a series that puts you in control of living people. You basically decide how people live their lives. You control their emotions, their daily activities, and so much more. Are there any rules? No. Okay, so you were pretty limited in what you could make a Sim do in the earlier installations, but with each addition, the creators gave players more control over the Sims. By the time The Sims 3 came out, players could do just about anything they wanted to their Sims. You could make your Sim the happiest person alive. You could also kill your Sim through various means. Overall, The Sims represents the ultimate freedom. It gives you a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth…infinite lives. It not only proves that people love having a second life but proves that people are addicted to power.
4. Echo Arena
- System: PC, PS4
- Publisher: Ultra Ultra
- Developer: Ultra Ultra
- Release Dates: Sep. 19, 2017
Echo Arena is a VR game that pushes you into a fast-paced multiplayer game. In this game, you are a robotic unit that is placed in a gravity-free playing field. In this field, your goal is simple: grab the disk and send it into your opponent’s goal.
Echo Arena is the game we’ve all been waiting for since VR took off. It’s an out of the body experience in the truest sense as you are placed in an environment that is free of gravity. You actually feel weightless and free as you move around the environment. On top of that, the gameplay is actually really intense and really enjoyable. It requires quite a bit of tactics, and the thrill of being on a good team taking on an equally strong opposing team is absolutely incredible. If you are looking for a truly immersive experience, then you need to try Echo Arena.
3. The Stanley Parable
- System: PC
- Publisher: Galactic Cafe
- Developer: Davey Wreden
- Release Dates: Oct. 17, 2013
Stanley Parable is a rather simple looking game. You play as Stanley, your average guy who is working as a data monitor. However, one day his computer screen goes blank, and he gets up to find that his office space has been abandoned.
This game became such a hit because it pushed the envelope for what a game’s story can be. Yeah, there are a lot of open-world games out there, but this was not a game where you can go on an hour-long stroll in unmarked territory simply for the fun of it. Nope, every single action you take affects the outcome, because you are directly challenging the narrative. You see, every single action you take is narrated and at many points the narrator suggests what you’ll do next, but you can gladly do the exact opposite, forcing the narrator to change his narration. Overall, this game tests players’ abilities to understand cause and effect. It forces players to interact with the game’s environment. It truly makes you wonder about life and your day-to-day routine in a way that is almost intrusive.
2. Papers, Please
- System: PC
- Publisher: 3909
- Developer: Lucas Pope
- Release Dates: Aug. 8, 2013
Papers, Please puts you in charge of letting people cross the border of Arstotzka as you become an immigration officer. With every paper you file correctly, you can expect a full salary to support your family. You make any mistakes and that salary diminishes a bit. At a first glance, you might not think much of this game. You might think it’s a simply procedural-type game that tests your ability to spot errors or inconsistencies with forms and paperwork. However, the game proves to be so much more than that.
Papers, Please excels at presenting you with moral/ethical dilemmas, unless you are simply heartless and don’t care about the trials and difficulties of others. In this world, characters come to you for various reasons with fake documents that you can decide to accept or reject. Each document has a story and the game becomes increasingly difficult to manage as you realize that there is a ton of people who are simply trying to find a better life, but you can’t accept them all. However, you need to support your family and of course there is the threat of spies. Overall, the game makes you think about a dozen or so factors with every single choice you make.
- System: PC, PS, PS3, X360, SNES, GBA
- Publisher: id Software
- Developer: id Software
- Release Dates: Dec. 10, 1993
Doom is sci-fi horror game that utilized a first-person perspective. The plot was rather simple. You play as an unnamed space marine who has to fight through a ton of demons that are invading from Hell. In today’s world that is not anything too amazing, but back in 1993, this game revolutionized everything.
You cannot make a list such as this without mentioning Doom. The original Doom was a trailblazer and defined what games could be at that time. It really led the way into an immersive world with enemies that felt real and threatening. Its first-world perspective, AI, and overall intensity were beyond its time, and these elements helped cement the longevity of video games in mainstream popular culture. This is the game that led the way for first-person shooters, which have become essential to the video game industry (Call of Duty, Battlefield, and so many others).
There you have it, people. These are the top 10 games that push the envelope. The list was made to try to incorporate a range of aspects, because the list could have easily been only about games that pushed the artistic level of video games or games that pushed the interactivity of a game’s narrative. That’s why the list ranges from games that push the narrative to games that push the technology to games that push our funny bones. Be sure to let us know if you think there are any games that should have made it on the list.