Roger Ebert once questioned the idea that video games could ever be considered “art.” Back in the days of Pac Man and Pong, this was an actual debate; however, the line between games and art has gotten increasingly thin over the years. Look at the incredibly detailed scenery of the Uncharted series and the complex and moving plots of Life Is Strange and Undertale, and it’s clear that even the great film critic Ebert could be mistaken.
Whether or not you agree with Ebert about the artistic potential of video games, it’s undeniable that video games have inspired at least two generations of aspiring artists of varying talent, pushing them to create their own games as well comics, fan fictions, and videos based off their favorite games. Even if you limit the selection of fan tributes to web videos, there are enough video game tributes on YouTube to fill up thousands of top 5 lists like this one.
To make this easier, I have set several arbitrary guidelines. First, I’m only using one video per game. As much as I would love to just fill the list with Undertale videos, I’ve been told that if I write too many more articles about Undertale, game creator Toby Fox will file a restraining order against me.
Second, if I’ve featured a video in a previous article, it is ineligible for this list. This eliminates Undertale The Musical and anything by Smooth McGroove, Jason Yang, and SharaX, although they would all be more than welcome here. Finally, I’m eliminating music videos compiled from other video clips and dubbed fan comics, because if I didn’t do this, I’d be overrun with fantastic videos like this one.
Within these guidelines, I still had too many possible choices for a top 5 list, so here are my top 6 choices for best video game tribute video.
6. Minesweeper: College Humor’s “Minesweeper: The Movie”
This one was only barely squeezed out of the top 5, but it’s a classic, so it gets to stay here anyway. Nearly everyone who owned or used a computer before 2002 will remember Minesweeper, the original Windows game only slightly less popular than Spider Solitaire. Many of us had no idea how to play and just randomly clicked on squares until the smiley face in the corner gave us a game over. Some of us learned over time and eventually got smarter. Admittedly, I was not one of these people until sometime in the mid 2000s, but in 2007, released a fake movie trailer for “Minesweeper: The Movie.” With swelling music, military gear, and delightfully hammy performances, the College Humor team told us, “If there’s a one in a corner, IT’S A MINE! 3 on a wall? THEY’RE ALL MINES!” and if we get an 8, “God help us all.” Between the faux action movie tone and the digs at the confusing yet somehow easy game play, this two minute long video is a must see for anyone who ever procrastinated on a term paper in the 90s and early 2000s.
5. Undertale: v0idless’s “Undertale: Echo – Animation”
You all knew indie RPG Undertale would wind up on this list somewhere. There are hundreds of eligible and arbitrarily disqualified Undertale fan videos out there, but very few have I replayed as many times as this gorgeous animation by v0idless (whether or not my endless replays have contributed a larger number of the over 9 million views is a mystery hidden by YouTube’s algorithms). It’s baffling that v0idless doesn’t already have a contract as an animator for a major studio, since their 3 minute video already looks more professional than most full-length cartoons out there, but at least the Undertale fandom has recognized their genius. Using a distorted cover of Crusher-P’s song “Echo,” the video tells an original story about Undertale character Sans engaged in an epic battle with the mysterious W.D. Gaster, a character almost entirely removed from the original game. While Sans is a main character in Undertale, Gaster’s existence is only hinted at in easy to miss in-game clues and in unused game files that require players with determination and too much free time to physically code back into the main game (and yes, I am one of those players). Due to Gaster’s ambiguous nature, Undertale fans have decided he’s everything from good to evil to Sans’s father or brother, so v0idless’s interpretation of Gaster as a disembodied spirit symbolizing Sans’s inner battle with depression is as valid as any other. With visuals as stunning as these and a story this complete and compelling with only three minutes and no dialogue, v0idless could animate a trash can dancing the “Hokey Pokey” and still earn close to another 10 million views.
4. Legend of Zelda: IGN’s “Legend of Zelda (April Fools’ Day) Movie Trailer Premiere”
Ah, April Fools’ Day. That glorious day every year that over the past decade has moved from middle schoolers putting whoopee cushions on their classmates’ seats to the day when no one can trust anything said on news sites or search engines. In 2008, IGN broke the hearts of many nerds when they released a trailer for a non-existent upcoming Legend of Zelda adaptation. In the years after Lord of the Rings but before The Hobbit, fantasy geeks still craved the magic they were given so freely in the early to mid 2000s. With Silent Hill, debatably the least awful video game adaptation as of 2008 still getting a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the idea of a decent adaptation of any of the games in the Legend of Zelda series should have been a pipe dream. On April 1st, 2008, fans were initially tricked by this IGN trailer and preemptively psyched, since the realistic high fantasy setting and cinematography actually seemed worthy of one of the highest rated and most successful game franchises of all time. Alas, the trailer was a fake one, so Zelda fans will still probably have to wait another decade for an adaptation of Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, Twilight Princess, or any of the other dozen or so titles in what is arguably Nintendo’s second most popular franchise. In the meantime, watch this video and angrily imagine what you’re missing.
3. Skyrim: Lindsey Stirling and Peter Hollens
Violinist Lindsey Stirling may now be an international superstar, but before selling out concert halls, she was known a little for a brief stint on America’s Got Talent and a lot for her post-show videos on YouTube. For many fans, myself included, the first Lindsey Stirling video to make them subscribers was her Legend of Zelda medley. That video is unfortunately ineligible for this list due to the #4 slot; however, even if it was eligible, it would lose out to her cover of multiple themes from Skyrim, the open sandbox RPG from the Elder Scrolls series that was impossible to escape from the end of 2011 through the first half of 2012.
Two out of five of my “Underrated Musicians” winners (Jason Yang and SharaX) have also made their own tributes to Skyrim, but as I have arbitrarily disqualified them from the list, I’m giving this award to the more than worthy Lindsey Stirling and Peter Hollens.
Even those of us who’ve never seen or played Skyrim can appreciate the artistry that went into this recording. In professional-looking cosplay, Lindsey Stirling and Peter Hollens are already fun to watch as they hunt each other through the forest on a snowy mountain terrain. But the real draw of this video is the musicianship that went into it. In addition to Lindsey’s always killer violin additions, Peter Hollens added a whopping 114 tracks of vocals, making it sound like an entire orchestra is backing these two musicians. It truly needs to be heard to be appreciated. Be forewarned, though—the video has over 61 million views for a reason. You’re likely to get trapped in an endess cycle of replays.
2. Five Nights At Freddy’s: Random Encounters’ “FNAF The Musical”
I didn’t even know this video existed before I started writing this top 6 list. Originally, I had chosen Piemations’ hilarious tribute to Five Nights At Freddy’s 2, “5AM At Freddy’s: The Prequel.” And while I still love Piemations’ deconstruction of the franchise, it doesn’t even compare with the gloriously surreal half hour long musical by Random Encounters, starring YouTubers Markiplier, Nathan Sharp, and MatPat (and yes, I’m aware that I’ve sort of broken my own rule by listing a video starring Markiplier when I just put out a whole article about him a week ago. Sue me).
When I first found this video at 4AM two days ago, I had to watch it three times. The first was because I wasn’t entirely sure it was real—after all, it was 4AM, and very clearly a video of Markiplier and Nathan Sharp singing to a bunch of hand puppets. It was roughly as disorienting as the first time I saw Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” video.
Once the shock and confusion wore off, I had to watch “FNAF: The Musical” a second time to see if the video was actually any good, since I hadn’t absorbed any of it the first time. The third and every subsequent time I’ve watched it since then have been because it’s just so damn addictive.
It’s hard to tell if this video would have any real appeal to anyone who has no background in the Five Nights At Freddy’s franchise. For those still uninitiated into the dark depths of YouTube Let’s Play fandoms, it’s a series of indie horror games where you usually play as a nighttime security guard at various incarnations of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a twisted parody of Chuck-E-Cheese where the animatronics try to kill you. “FNAF the Musical” pays tribute to the plot of the original games with a whole lot of alternate character interpretation, strangely cuddly hand puppets, and catchy tunes carried surprisingly well by Markiplier and Nathan Sharp, only one of whom is actually known for singing. Just be sure to watch it in the middle of the day when you’re fully awake, lest you go mad.
1. Super Smash Bros: Machinima’s There Will Be Brawl
It almost feels inadequate to call this miniseries a tribute to the Super Smash Bros games. True, all of the characters are versions of the classic video game characters that make up the franchise, and there are a ton of nods and in-jokes to Super Smash Bros and the characters’ original games, but the series is so much more than that. Midway through the series, the cynical Police Chief Link of Hyrule says, “None of us are the heroes we’re supposed to be,” and it’s true; no one is the squeaky clean Nintendo character we remember from our childhoods. In the gritty style of an old time film noir, Princess Peach shakily rules a kingdom ravaged by crime, supported only by Luigi and Mario. Rival mob bosses Ganondorf, MewTwo, Bowser, and Dedede wearily control the underworld, and everywhere, everyone whispers about Kirby (a creepy nod to Hannibal Lecter), and an unknown butcher kidnapping characters and leaving only entrails behind. The acting is surprisingly genuine, with Matthew Mercer, Rebecca Denise, Tony Rago, Paul Duraso, and Matt Key giving particularly good performances as Ganondorf, Samus Aran, Link, Mario, and Luigi, respectively. There are poignant reflections on the fall of civilization, including a memorable monologue from Ganondorf in his first appearance, and the final plot twist will surprise all but the most Nintendo-obsessed fans watching. However, this series is a must-see for anyone with even a cursory knowledge of classic video games.