15. The Bard’s Tale
Most of the games on this list offered more revolutionary innovations. The Bard’s Tale, true to its humble namesake, was more about small steps that eventually had a big impact. Also, the game’s graphics were a little bit better than most other early dungeon crawlers, though not a big enough step forward to make any “best of” lists just for that.
What really set the game apart from other similar titles was the bard himself, who used songs to debuff enemies or strengthen his party. Some of these songs were even required to complete the game’s puzzles. It was a nice early example of how RPGs didn’t need to just be turn-based grind fests that lives on in some of the best modern RPGs with complex character-building options.
14. Castle Wolfenstein
Long before the zombies, Mecha-Hitler appearances, trips to Venus, and the improbable decapitation survival of a protagonist, Wolfenstein was an early pioneer in more realistic stealth games. Yes, the first Wolfenstein game looked incredibly basic, but the actual gameplay was surprisingly deep.
As an allied prisoner, you need to get through dozens of procedurally generated rooms to escape the Nazis. But instead of just avoiding guards, you can get them to surrender (even if your gun is out of ammo), or sneak past them using stolen uniforms. Even though Wolfenstein went on to change gears dramatically to become an immensely successful first-person shooter series, the influence of this first game in the series can still be seen in series like Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed, as well as pretty much every annoying, unnecessary stealth section in games of other genres.
13. Prince of Persia
By the late ‘80s, the video game market was completely oversaturated with platformers. The genre was so big, that pretty much any halfway popular movie, TV show, comic book, or toy line ended up with a platformer. And as you’d expect, most were pretty terrible. But in 1989, Prince of Persia arrived with little fanfare with several new ideas that actually moved the genre forward.
First, there was the Persian aesthetic, rarely seen in games up to that point. And the combat, which emphasized strategic swordplay, was unheard of at a time when most platforming protagonists were still jumping on enemies and hurling fireballs (regardless of how much sense that made in context). But what most people remember about Prince of Persia is the rotoscoping: an animation style that traced over live footage, making for extremely smooth animation. And while that rotoscoping never really caught on with video games, it did show gamers that they didn’t have to settle for jerky slideshow animations.