Metacritic has been a mixed blessing for gaming. On the one hand, it's incredibly useful to be able to see many reviews from trusted sources gathered together, organized not with a simple "thumbs up"/"thumbs down" system like Rotten Tomatoes but actually measuring how much individual critics liked or disliked a game. On the other hand, over-emphasis on Metacritic has been bad for both critics (who often get inaccurate scores assigned to reviews that don't even use a scoring system) and game developers (for whom Metacritic scores can affect bonuses). This isn't even getting into the minefield of brigading in the user score section of the site.
Regardless of the site's impact for good and ill, it is interesting to look through Metacritic at just how different games have been received over time. Metacritic started operations in 2001, the end of the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 era and the beginning of the PS2/GameCube/Xbox era, so the data collection only goes so far back. If they haven't been ported to other systems, you're not gonna find Atari, NES or Genesis games listed on the site, which explains why you don't see Super Mario Bros. 3 on the list of highest ranking games and you don't see E.T. The Video Game on the lowest ranking list. Even so, two decades of game criticism history preserved is a valuable resource. We might not rate all these games the same today, but it sure is fascinating to look at what game critics once absolutely loved and which games were the most loathed.
25 WORST: GAME PARTY CHAMPIONS (Score: 24)
The original Wii had a bad reputation for cheap shovelware, but at launch, it looked like the Wii U was on track to be even worse. The shovelware became less prominent on the Wii U over time mainly due to the fact the system didn't sell much to the family base that would buy these cash-in games. Some Wii U launch titles, however, were anticipating that market. Both made this list.
Game Party Champions, with its Metacritic score of 24, is the more relatively competent of the two lousy minigame collections. Pard Madrid at Gamereactor Sweden, offers one of the most passionately angry takes: "This game is probably what the Mayans meant when they were talking about all this 'end of the world' stuff."
24 BEST: TONY HAWK'S PRO SKATER 3 (Score: 97)
Remember when the Tony Hawk games seemed unbeatable? The series fell rapidly in both commercial popularity and critical estimation as the years went on and the games switched developers from Neversoft to Robomodo, but the first few titles were huge hits. The PS2 version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 ranks as the 10th best reviewed game on Metacritic, with a score of 97 (other systems' ports score in the lower 90s and high 80s).
The first entry in the series for the PS2, gamers at the time loved the graphical improvements, and the gameplay built upon the series' strong foundation with additional complexity. G4's X-Play review show declared it "a rare and beautiful thing, a nearly perfect game."
23 WORST: PULSE RACER (Score: 24)
One thing you'll quickly notice is that this worst list contains a ton of racing games, making up a third of all entries. It seems this is both one of the easiest genres to just pump out a game in and one of the hardest to do well. Pulse Racer, a 2003 game for the original Xbox, is one such racing game that failed spectacularly.
You know something's up when Jaleco, the Japanese developer of the game, wouldn't even release it in its home country. Critics in North America, meanwhile, gave it an overall score of 24 on Metacritic. Game Informer, Official Xbox Magazine and TotalGames.net all called it the worst Xbox game released at the time.
22 WORST: FIGHTER WITHIN (Score: 23)
This is a game which sounds genuinely exciting if you didn't look at the reviews... or actually play it. Using the Xbox One's Kinect motion controls for a fighting game, if done right, could have been an incredible experience. Too bad that in practice, the idea didn't work... at all.
Fighter Within's Metacritic score stands at 23, and the game's infamous enough to make Wikipedia's "List of video games notable for negative reception." Danielle Riendeau, writing for Polygon, summed up the issues saying, "The game that actually came out is broken, hampered by a control scheme that doesn't work more than half of the time."
21 BEST: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (Score: 97)
The swan song of the Wii U, as well as the must-have launch title for the Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, scored one point better on Metacritic for the newer console (97 for Switch vs. 96 for Wii U). Part of that might be that more critics reviewed the Switch version, but the ability to play this massive adventure anywhere also gave the Switch version a little extra spark.
Breathing new life into a series that seemed like it had settled into formula, the open world experience was compared favorably to previous series high-points like Ocarina of Time. Some critics like this one even better than that classic; Daniel Vuckovic of Vooks told the N64 title to "hand over the crown."
20 WORST: CHARLIE'S ANGELS (Score: 24)
Oh, terrible movie tie-in games. We don't see as many of them anymore, but there was a time where every blockbuster movie got a video game. Only a few were genuinely good and many of them were downright terrible. The 2003 Charlie's Angels game for the GameCube, made to promote the Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle movie, has gone down in history as one of the worst examples of the genre.
Its Metacritic score of 24 is half of what the already unimpressive movie received. Considering that game reviews tend to be a lot more generous with their scores than movie reviews are, that's another magnitude more embarrassing. GameSpot's Alex Navarro summed it up as "a horrific display of ineptitude."
19 BEST: GRAND THEFT AUTO V (Score: 97)
You couldn't really go wrong no matter which console you chose to play Grand Theft Auto V on. The initial 2013 PS3 and 360 releases, as well as the upgraded 2014 PS4 and Xbox One ports, are all tied with a Metacritic score of 97 (the PC version scores only slightly lower at 96).
The world design and gameplay were as exceptional as one had come to expect from Rockstar's controversial series. If the reception for GTAV was just slightly more muted than IV, it was because games criticism had become slightly more critical about storytelling and representation issues. Carolyn Petit at GameSpot, who caught unfair flack for her critical but mostly positive review, described GTAV as "an imperfect yet astounding game."
18 WORST: RAMBO: THE VIDEO GAME (Score: 23)
Another bad movie adaptation, Rambo: The Video Game's PS3 release is the version that makes this list, with a Metacritic score of 23. The Xbox 360 version was just slightly better reviewed with a score of 28 and the PC version managed a 34. None of these scores are anything to be proud of, though. No matter what system you're playing it on, you're not likely to have a lot of fun with the 2014 Rambo game.
Poorly recreating scenes from the first three movies into a rail shooter, critics agreed you'd be better off just watching the movies. Julien Inverno from Gameblog.fr wrote "Rambo: The Video Game is a complete mess...," later adding that it was bad enough to become a cult hit.
17 WORST: FAST & FURIOUS: SHOWDOWN (Score: 21)
If both racing games and movie tie-ins stink so frequently, it's only fitting that a game belonging to both genres ranks here. The 360 and PS3 releases of 2013's Fast & Furious: Showdown almost tie in their Metacritic scores, with the 360 version scoring 22 and the PS3 version scoring 21. The Wii U version would also be down there if more than one critic actually bothered to review it.
Set between Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, all the potential fun was squandered. Coming at a time when the quantity of licensed games was decreasing and their average quality increasing, 4Players.de's Jan Wöbbeking was not giving the game a compliment when he described it as "licensed gaming goes back to the roots."
16 BEST: RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 (Score: 97)
The third installment in Rockstar's Red Dead Western series, Red Dead Redemption 2 for the Xbox One and PS4 was greeted with even more enthusiastic critical acclaim in 2018 than its predecessor. Both systems' versions earned a score of 97 on Metacritic.
RDR2 was praised for its storytelling, beautiful setting and attention to realistic detail. Some players have found the game too realistic at the expense of fun; in contrast to critics, the user review score average is only 7.4/10. Tim Biggs of The Sydney Morning Herald acknowledged the game had flaws, but said in spite of them, "it's hard to argue that Red Dead Redemption 2 is not a masterpiece."
15 WORST: DRAKE OF THE 99 DRAGONS (Score: 22)
Somehow Pulse Racer wasn't even the worst-reviewed XBox game of 2003. That dishonor goes to Drake of the 99 Dragons, a third-person shooter with high ambitions but tragically fumbled execution. The Majesco release's Metacritic score stands at a lowly 22.
Though some appreciated the indie comic art style, the controls were flat-out broken. Gimmicks like firing multiple weapons and bullet time slowdowns didn't work at all, creating an absurdly frustrating experience. The review from eToychest was particularly brutal: "It's so bad, in fact, that I briefly considered driving my car off a cliff on the way home one day, just so I wouldn't have to play it anymore."
14 BEST: SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 (Score: 97)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but you can build on it. Where the first Super Mario Galaxy created something entirely new out of the Mario formula, all its sequel had to offer was more of the same excellence with enough small changes to stand out. The result is a game just as good if not better than the original.
This 2010 Wii title has a Metacritic score of 97, equal to the first game and with even more reviews counted. Its lower position on Metacritic's rankings is either arbitrary or due to some fraction of a percentage difference. The A.V. Club's Scott Jones wrote, "It's confounding how this simple world can evoke feelings of curiosity, wonder, and dread all at once."
13 WORST: AFRO SAMURAI 2: REVENGE OF KUMA VOLUME ONE (Score: 21)
This is one of those failures so huge you kind of feel sorry for the people who made it. Takashi Okazaki's Afro Samurai manga should be translatable into a great action game. It was already made into a passable one in 2009, with a Metacritic score of 65. The score for this sequel? A pathetic 21.
The game did so badly that it got pulled from sale and the proposed second and third volumes were scrapped. As for the future of the series, we agree with PSNStores' review of the game in saying "let's all dream that one day Platinum Games will get to make a great Afro Samurai game."
12 WORST: SPOGS RACING (Score: 18)
The loss of the Wii Shop Channel inspires mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's a chilling reminder of the impermanence of digital media, one of the most accessible libraries of gaming classics and worthwhile indie experiments lost to the sands of time. On the other hand, no one will ever have the misfortune of purchasing Spogs Racing.
This 2008 release is yet another bad racing game, scoring only 18 on Metacritic. The gimmick for this one is you can customize your rides with pogs (remember those?). Regarding the gameplay, Nintendo Gamer magazine's review claims "there's more fun to be had in reading instruction manuals for toasters."
11 BEST: SUPER MARIO GALAXY (Score: 97)
The crown jewel of the Wii, Super Mario Galaxy blew everyone away when it hit the system in Fall of 2007. The mustachioed plumber's first foray into outer space earned a Metacritic score of 97 and the highest ranking in Nintendo's legendary franchise (though for what it's worth, the latest game, Super Mario Odyssey, has the same score but ranks slightly lower in Metacritic's rankings).
With fresh mechanics, ingenious design and graphics that pushed the relatively under-powered console to the limit, many critics found themselves addicted to the game. The GameTrailers review stated "It's a perfect blend of the established and unexpected... The only real uncertainty is how much you'll allow it to take over your life."
10 WORST: DOUBLE DRAGON II: WANDER OF THE DRAGONS (Score: 17)
The 1988 arcade game Double Dragon II: The Revenge is one of the all-time classics of the beat-'em-up genre, and its 1989 NES port is similarly beloved. Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons, a loose remake released in 2013 for the 360, was nowhere near so successful. Its Metacritic score? Only 17.
With the difficulty turned up to impossible and the new 3D graphics not easy on the eyes (to say the least), no critics would recommend this game, and many declared it the worst of its generation. David Jenkins of MetroGame Central got particularly colorful with his descriptors, declaring it "the interactive equivalent of irritable bowel syndrome."
9 BEST: SOULCALIBUR (Score: 98)
Hardly anyone bought a Dreamcast, but those who did found themselves with some incredible games. The most critically acclaimed title on the system was the fighting game Soulcalibur. One of the system's 1999 launch titles, this was one of the rare home console ports to surpass the graphics of its original arcade inspiration, and it played like no fighting game before.
Soulcalibur was, for almost a decade, one of only two games IGN ever gave a perfect review score of 10/10 (starting in 2008, either games got a whole lot better or IGN got a lot more generous). The port for the 360, unfortunately, was less successful, missing the Dreamcast's Missions Mode and only getting a 79 on Metacritic.
8 WORST: VROOM IN THE NIGHT SKY (Score: 17)
The Switch has been a great console for indie games, promoted by Nintendo as "Nindies." Not all Nindies are created equal, however. Vroom in the Night Sky, one of the system's 2017 launch titles, currently stands as the worst reviewed game on the console period with its Metacritic score of 17.
One of the weirdest games on this list, this magical girl racing adventure was so insubstantial and poorly designed many wondered how Nintendo could have approved its release to begin with. Mathias Oertel of 4Players.de wrote of the game, "the visuals are reminiscent of the N64 era and there is hardly any game to be found."
7 WORST: LEISURE SUIT LARRY: BOX OFFICE BUST (Score: 17)
The original Leisure Suit Larry games are definitely of their time, but beyond their shock value and questionable gender politics they were still well-made games. Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, the 2009 entry in the series, upped everything problematic about the series while removing anything that made the classic games fun. The result was, appropriately, a bust.
The PS3 version got the worst reviews, with a 17 on Metacritic. The 360 version just barely escapes this list with a score of 25, while the planned Wii port was canceled due to just how much hate the initial release got. IGN's Charles Onyett wrote that it had "nearly no redeeming qualities or interesting ideas... and which under no circumstances should be purchased by anyone."
6 BEST: GRAND THEFT AUTO IV (Score: 98)
Grand Theft Auto IV arrived with more hype than any other game in 2008. It was IGN's first 10/10 score in nearly a decade. Game Informer compared the experience of playing it to watching The Godfather for the first time. The Metacritic score for both the 360 and PS3 releases? A nearly-unmatched 98.
In retrospect, where the game ranks in the GTA series depends largely on how much you appreciate its slightly different goals. While there were still plenty of opportunities for ridiculous hyper-violent mayhem in its wide open world, GTAIV took a darker, more serious route in its narrative. Even if its not what you're looking for in GTA, though, it's still an impressive accomplishment in game design.
5 WORST: YARIS (Score: 17)
Nobody expects a free Xbox 360 Live Arcade to live up to same standards you'd place on a full price video game. For a free game to receive true scorn from reviewers takes a true disaster. That is exactly the case, however, with Yaris, a 2007 title made to promote Toyota's line of Yaris subcompact cars.
The Metacritic score for this glorified advertisement is a pitiful 17. Reviewers across the board agreed the game wasn't even worth the free download. The only positive review of the game, not counted by Metacritic, was by Frank Karon on Ars Technica, and even that review had an addendum noting the site's other writers hated the game.
4 BEST: TONY HAWK'S PRO SKATER 2 (Score: 98)
Coming out a month before the American release of the PS2, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 was the last major hurrah for the original PlayStation in 2000. It was an awesome note to go out on: the PS1 release's Metacritic score is 98. The Dreamcast version also earned high praise with a score of 97, while the Nintendo 64 port, with its technical limitations, scored an 84.
The first Pro Skater offered an strong engine to build off of. Pro Skater 2 was able to recapture the magic while offering improvements in graphics and gameplay. Critics were amazed by its accomplishment; Daily Radar's review called it "a staggering achievement in video gaming -- not only building on its stunning predecessor, but actually eclipsing it."
3 WORST: RIDE TO HELL: RETRIBUTION (Score: 13)
You can argue where is the fairest place to rank Ride to Hell: Retribution. The 360 version of the game, with a Metacritic score of 19, would place between Afro Samurai 2 and Spogs. The PS3 version doesn't have enough reviews to rank on Metacritic's complete best-to-worst rankings, but its score is even lower at 13, a score so astonishingly awful we have to list it as the second worst of all time.
This biker gang adventure had a troubled production, and it shows. Nothing about this game earned any praise. PlayStation Official Magazine Australia wrote, "If The Last of Us is gaming’s Citizen Kane moment, this is its Plan 9 From Outer Space."
2 WORST: FAMILY PARTY: 30 GREAT GAMES OBSTACLE ARCADE (Score: 11)
A picture is worth a thousand words, and honestly, just looking at any individual screen-cap from the 2012 Wii U title Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Arcade says more than any review could about just why this game has a score of 11, the lowest for any video game, on Metacritic. How such horrible graphics were ever approved for a release on a high-definition console defies description.
The only thing that could be even worse than these graphics? The gameplay. Having 30 mini-games ain't worth squat if they're essentially unplayable and broken. The blurb for one of the nicer reviews, from Official Nintendo Magazine UK, reads "ONM Coroner's Report: Patient suffered a psychotic breakdown while playing this game. No treatment possible."
1 BEST: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME (Score: 99)
Is it even possible for anything to unseat the 1998 N64 release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the best-reviewed game of all time? There might be better games made since, arguably even better Legend of Zelda games, but the consensus needed to get a Metacritic score of 99 seems unlikely these days.
Of the 22 reviews counted for the game on Metacritic, 18 of them give a perfect score of 100. Ocarina of Time was the first game to ever receive a perfect score from the Japanese magazine Weekly Famitsu (24 games have received such an honor since). For a look at how Ocarina holds up for modern critics, the 3DS remake holds a still mighty impressive Metacritic score of 94.