Greatest video game franchises of all-time, best video game franchises, best video game series


Greatest Video Game Franchises of All-Time

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The annual E3 conference is the biggest video game convention in the world, and for three days each year, big-time video game companies and game developers show off the best of what’s to come. Unfortunately, a majority of the hype is concentrated on the new hardware set for release later in the year, and not the software that will debut beside it. What these companies seem to forget, however, is that the software is the key to success, and by creating a core group of popular titles -- as Nintendo has done over the course of the past two decades -- you can earmark your place in the industry for eternity.

Creating a franchise is no easy feat, either, but that doesn’t stop developers from littering store shelves with enough sequels to give Hollywood pause, and while there are plenty of popular video game series that need to be put to rest for good (*cough* “Grand Theft Auto” *cough*), there still are a few favorites we simply just can’t get enough of. As dedicated fanboys on the lookout for the goodwill of gamers everywhere, we decided to come up with a list of the 10 greatest video game franchises of all time, along with the best title in each series.

Debut: 1987 (NES)
Total Titles: 62

The Blue Bomber was introduced to the world in 1987, and though he experienced a bit of a downward spiral in the late ‘90s, our favorite little android has bounced back with a brand new look and a fresh style of gameplay. Equipped with a shoddy arm cannon that shoots little balls of light, Mega Man’s true appeal was in the specialized weaponry that was acquired by defeating different bosses…all of whom curiously shared the same last name as old Baby Blue. Could Man be the next Smith? Created by the evil Dr. Wily, the series’ always new rotation of robots was the spotlight of each title, and was so immensely popular that developer Keiji Inafune teamed up with Nintendo Power Magazine to create a contest where readers submitted new robot designs each year. “Mega Man 2,” the sequel to the character’s 8-bit debut, is long revered as the Blue Bomber’s finest hour. Featuring quite possibly the best lineup of robot heavies, not to mention that annoying laser gauntlet and the giant robot dragon, the game launched Inafune’s franchise into the height of its popularity, where it remains today. ~Jason Zingale

Best of Mega Man: Mega Man 2 (NES)

Debut: 2001 (PlayStation)
Total Titles: 5

There have been racing games aplenty shortly after "Pong"'s success. They’ve ranged from the abysmal to the fantastic. Some players will undoubtedly scream that the “Gran Turismo” series is the greatest racing franchise ever, but let’s not forget that racing games were born in the arcade, and those fast, easy thrills are still what attracts most casual gamers. There is no racing game faster than those in the “Burnout” series, and so far, the best of the lot has been the most recent “Burnout Revenge.” It’s one of those games that just takes your breath away due to the speed. There’s no framerate drop, and the game is as smooth as silk. You just can’t believe how fast the damn game goes when you’re gripping the controller playing it. Dodging traffic, crashing into traffic, blazing through shortcuts that can stop you as easily as they can help you, causing huge pileups and explosions in “crash” mode, and so much more is packed into this title. It also sports a super online mode that anyone can enjoy. No, you can’t soup up your cars or change the gear ratios or any of that crap, but that’s all unnecessary bullshit that only gets in the way. At the end of the day, you just want sheer racing thrills that leave you feeling like you just went on the greatest roller coaster ever. “Burnout Revenge” is that game. ~Jason Thompson

Best of Burnout: Burnout Revenge (Sony PlayStation 2)

Debut: 1992 (Arcade)
Total Titles: 16

Parents worried about their kids playing the super-popular “Street Fighter II,” but when Ed Boon and John Tobias unleashed their gory groovefest “Mortal Kombat,” moms (and maybe dads) everywhere were up in arms. The MK series advanced the fighting game genre by adding cool weapons, secret moves, and the ever-popular fatalities. The first one was good, but “Mortal Kombat II” was terrific. With 12 fighters total, the game boasted three fatalities per character, as well as the classic “babalities” in which a winning player could turn his opponent into an infant, and the whimsical “friendships.” You could also pull off killer combos with the likes of Kitana (the best MK character ever), and who could forget goofy old Baraka and the pathetic Reptile? So many quarters sucked down thanks to this game. After “MK II,” the series went downhill by just getting too complex with the special moves and endings. “MK 3” added a crappy “run” button, and the less said about “Mortal Kombat 4” the better. The best place to get “toasty” is still “Mortal Kombat II.” ~JT

Best of Mortal Kombat: Mortal Kombat II (Midway Arcade)

Debut: 1999 (N64)
Total Titles: 10

The first “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” game sold well enough that it landed on PlayStation’s “Greatest Hits” line of games. But it was “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2” that really hit the mark. Soon, Hawk and skateboarding exploded into the consciousness of every gamer and his brother. What had still been a relatively underground sport soon became big time. The game was phenomenal, with a super mix of skate park locales, cool tricks and moves, and easily the best soundtrack out of any of the THPS games. After this, there were a ton of imitators, but no one ever got it right. “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3” made a nifty transition to the PS2, but the fourth entry into the series started feeling a bit been-there, done-that. If you want to catch all the thrills where everything ignited and blew up magnificently, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2” still shines and is one of those classics well worth dusting off an old PS1 memory card for. Hawk and his crew have come a long way since, but they never did it any better in the video games. And, Bam Margera is nowhere to be found. Ah yes, remember those good old days. ~JT

Best of Tony Hawk: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Sony PlayStation)

Debut: 1996 (PlayStation)
Total Titles: 13

The new millennium welcomed in not only a scare-free Y2K, but a zombie renaissance in pop culture, specifically in video games and on the big screen. Strangely enough, Capcom’s “Resident Evil” series had a hand in both, with the large Japanese gaming developer literally inventing the survival horror genre by way of its first entry into the series. No game is scarier to play in the daytime, and we won’t even try it in the dark anymore. Who knows what could be at the end of that corridor? It’s pretty much always too dark to see anything, and your ammo is always thisclose to running out. And don’t even get me started on the zombie dogs, which have a tendency to come crashing through a window when you least expect it. The franchise hasn’t always been about zombies either. The company took a major risk by making its latest (and best) sequel, “Resident Evil 4,” about a bunch of crazy villagers that have been brainwashed by a freaky baddie that looks like a bearded Nosferatu. It not only changed the basic story premise of all the other sequels, but it completely made over the gameplay mechanics and pushed the limits of the current-gen graphical abilities. Simply put, “Resident Evil” will always have a place in our rapidly-beating hearts. ~JZ

Best of Resident Evil: Resident Evil 4 (Nintendo Gamecube)

Debut: 1989 (PC)
Total Titles: 17

No other sports franchise has withstood the test of time better than the John Madden football series, and with EA Sports’ recent acquisition of the full exclusivity rights to the NFL, we don’t expect another sports title ever will. It’s actually pretty funny to think that the series debuted on the old Apple II computer, but this is precisely where the plans for world domination began. What made the game that much more appealing than the dozens of other football titles wasn’t in its fancy graphics or character models, but in the very thing that made Madden such a great coach in the first place: attention to detail, and the “Madden” series is swimming in it. As the best-selling sports game in the world, most fans would probably argue that it deserves a higher spot on the list, but we’re afraid that the franchise may have finally climaxed with the 2004/2005 releases of the game. Offering a combination of stunning visuals, endless playbook options and the newly added ability to control your own club franchise, there’s not much more to expect from future installments. Of course, we’ve been proven wrong before, and we’re looking forward to a new season more than anyone. ~JZ

Best of Madden: Madden 2004 (Sony PlayStation 2)

Debut: 1986 (NES)
Total Titles: 15

If Johnny Cash played video games, there’s no doubt in our mind that he would have written a song called “A Boy Named Link.” It would have charted on Billboard, and instead of a crappy “Super Mario Bros.” movie, we would’ve had a crappy “Legend of Zelda” movie to embody our childhood memories. The unprecedented success of “The Legend of Zelda” remains untapped by Hollywood, and instead, the series lives on in both the console and handheld markets. And what a lucrative concept it’s been. Not very different from the epic journeys that Mario embarks on every few years, “The Legend of Zelda” tells the tale of Link, a boyish elf who takes on the responsibility of rescuing Hyrule’s own Princess Zelda when she’s taken by an evil dark wizard named Ganon. The series has always delivered on beautiful environments (even in its 8-bit days), classic soundtracks, and excellent gameplay mechanics that combine all the best elements of an action/adventure game. Link’s greatest adventure yet looks to hit store shelves this year when “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” is made available for both the Gamecube and Revolution, but for now, the clear favorite is the N64 charmer “Ocarina of Time.” The first title to see Link in a 3-D environment, and one of the most innovative games in recent years, “Ocarina” will forever bring us memories of fishing at the pond, riding on our horse and playing a tune on our magical flute. Man, that sounds gay… ~JZ

Best of Zelda: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

Debut: 1980 (Arcade)
Total Titles: 22

Sure, there was “Pong” and “Space Invaders” before it. But the “Pac-Man” franchise turned the coin-op business into a mega-million dollar enterprise. Everywhere you looked there was Pac-Man merchandise to be had, from cereals to frozen treats, and everything in between. Pac-Man had many spin-offs, but none better than the very first sequel, “Ms. Pac-Man.” The allure of the game was a whole set of different mazes, more tunnels, and bouncing edibles. Plus, she sported a bow in her hair, a beauty mark, and some lipstick! Thanks to all the new innovations, “Ms. Pac-Man” was and continues to be that blast from the past that will always be as fun and addictive as it was the very first time. Plus, the Atari 2600 port of the game was very respectable, unlike the disaster that was “Pac-Man” on the system. Ms. Pac-Man never had a sequel of her own, but that’s all right because she was perfect from the start. ~JT

Best of Pac-Man: Ms. Pac-Man (Midway Arcade)

Debut: 1987 (NES)
Total Titles: 36

The king-of-the-hill RPG franchise is undoubtedly the “Final Fantasy” series. It was so named because the Square company was about to go under at the time and the developers felt like the game was going to be the last thing they ever issued. Little did they know it would become the greatest RPG series ever. However, the crowning achievement of the whole kit and caboodle is “Final Fantasy VII,” where Square decided to move away from the Nintendo consoles (where the series had launched) and find a new home on Sony’s more powerful PlayStation system. The move paid off in spades, with the title attracting people who were not even interested in RPG’s. The cinematics of the game were beautiful, and mixed with the powerful soundtrack, the game made for a fantastic movie as much as a thrilling game. It was a sprawling, magical masterpiece. Since then, the series has continued to evolve, spawning its first true sequel in “Final Fantasy X-2” and even going online in “Final Fantasy XI.” The next installment should be just as amazing and continue to push the parameters of what a great gaming experience can be. ~JT

Best of Final Fantasy: Final Fantasy VII (Sony PlayStation)

Debut: 1985 (NES)
Total Titles: 31 (58, including all spin-offs)

What would a list of the greatest franchises be without the best-selling video game series of all time? In fact, if it weren’t for a Japanese developer named Shigeru Miyamoto and his creation, a short Italian plumber named Mario Mario (yes, that’s his real name), video games probably wouldn’t be where they are today. Originally appearing in the arcade classic “Donkey Kong,” the Mario character was given his own title when Nintendo’s Famicom system debuted in 1985. Along with his brother, Luigi, Mario is called upon to save the Princess when she is kidnapped by the evil Bowser, and must rely solely on his ability to smash his opponents by stepping on them; we know, it’s kind of rude, but it gets the job done. Simply put, it just don’t get much better than the original trilogy, and though the series continued to flourish on the SNES, as well as when the franchise made the jump to 3-D, our hearts will eternally pitter-patter for “Super Mario Bros. 3” (“Wizard,” anyone?), hands down the Best. Game. Ever. ~JZ

Best of Mario: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)