Well I made it through another year and boy did I play a whole lot of video games this year. I even made a whole list on my phone this past year and I believe I managed to play 38 different games from a variety of platforms. There are some games I chose to pass on this year that maybe could have interested me (God of War, Spider-Man, Pokemon Let’s Go), but I feel strong enough about each game I’m going to talk about below that not playing those does not feel like I “missed out” on anything. So… here are my thoughts on the games of 2018.
(There may be some slight spoilers to these games, but I’ll try not to blurt out the endings to them)
Honorable Mention for Pretty Game: GRIS
Before the year ended, I pushed myself to finish several games in my backlog that I actively thought looked good, but also goals that I could reasonably obtain. Which meant no fifty hour adventures, but rather different experiences that lasted at maximum maybe ten hours most. Of the games I played in that bunch, GRIS stood out to me as one of the most beautiful experiences I had playing a game this year. What probably sold me on shouting it out was one of the first puzzles this platformer presents, as your character needs to find shelter before a sandstorm shows up periodically to push you back quite a bit. The storm is accompanied by an organ playing a menacing theme reminiscent of something from Bach.
Maybe if this game came out months earlier, I’d place it on this list if I had more time to reflect. I remember almost crying by its conclusion. You should play it. Play this game please.
Honorable Mention for best Yakuza game: Yakuza Kiwami 2
I was sadly unable to finish this game due to a variety of distractions, and it’s a dang shame because this game is quite good. In fact, I’m going to finish it in 2019 because it’s worth it. Of the two Yakuza games to be localized this year, Kiwami 2 is by far a truer evolution of the successes made with Yakuza 0. The cabaret club manager mini game returning as a new feature in the remake is such a triumph considering how it is by far the greatest mini game they have made in the entire franchise (even better than the karaoke!!!). I will say that I am still having a hard time getting used to the new engine introduced in Yakuza 6 when it comes to moving Kiryu around the map and fighting enemies, but I am hopeful that by the release of Judgement that I will grow accustomed to it.
It still feels weird to me that what was once a franchise that was considered to hard to localize outside of Japan has now reached a following large enough that Sega has deemed Yakuza Team’s games more important than Sonic! It’s incredible! Also the team currently translating the Yakuza games are doing a great job as well getting the word out. It’s not easy to sell people on an English subbed only game, but I’m glad people have caught onto how good these games are.
Also you get to fight against a diaper fetishist branch of the Yakuza in this game. It’s very good.
Honorable Mention for my favorite DLC campaign: Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion
2018 was not a year I was heavily into playing more multiplayer Splatoon 2, but i was heavily invested in this out of nowhere announced story mode that would let me play as * GASP * an Octoling. The crux of the DLC campaign involves your Octo Kid maneuvering through different subway lines filled with honestly quite challenging levels as you are trying to find a way to the surface world utilized as the hub in the main game. Along the way, your character gets to meet up with the main idols of Splatoon 2, Pearl and Marina, alongside the mentor of the last game, Cap'n Cuttlefish, who is searching for his lost protege that served as the protagonist of the original Splatoon’s story mode. The primary way you communicate with them all is through an old style IRC chat system that just rules. It will even include links to photos and even MP3 files you can listen to as well. It’s so well done.
Other than being the only DLC expansion campaign that I played this year, it is the final 1/3rd of the game that makes this worth shouting out. Without really spoiling anything, it has by far one of the most anime as hell feeling climaxes I have ever seen in a game. And said climax also utilizes elements from the muliplayer aspect of the game that culminate into a really powerful finish. I still re-watch it from time to time on youtube.
Overall it’s just an excellent deal for people who maybe got tired of the Splatoon multiplayer experience, but have enough investment in the lore and the world of these squids and octopuses fighting and later just chilling out with each other.
Honorable Mention for Pretty Neat JRPG: Ni no Kuni II
There was once a version of this list that had Ni No Kuni II on it. I really love this game, and I love the way it has sort of grown up since the original PS3 game. The Leafbook section of the game especially felt very fitting and well timed for 2018 given the various ways Facebook has fucked up our world, alongside a growing disdain for tech companies union-busting tendencies. It has a much more action based combat system and it looks gorgeous.
So why did it move to the honorable mention list?
Honestly, I think some of it comes from my disappointment over Roland (the president of the US who travels to the fantasy world after being hit by a nuclear bomb) being underutilized given the strong introduction to his character. That’s not to say that I did not like Evan. Far from it, he’s actually really great, and even better than Oliver from the first game. I just felt it was weird that the game positioned the two as equals near the start, and then practically throws him away at moments.
I still highly recommend the game to anyone interested in a good anime-inspired video game. Just understand that Roland may not be developed the way you’d like.
Depending on what social media platform you use, there might be an effect where enough people are either playing or talking about a specific game enough times that leaves one to go, “Okay… let’s see what this is about.” Paratopic was that game for me this year due to a variety of folks I follow on Twitter dot com praising this game as potentially the best horror game they played this year. I’m not usually one to play horror games that often, but I found myself curious enough about this game to check it out. I knew absolutely nothing about the game going into it other than two screenshots that reminded me of a PS1 era aesthetic.
For as purposefully short the game is (it even tells you up front that it is meant to be played in one sitting), I’m still thinking about that initial experience I had with it. The game feels almost like the sensation of a bad dream, where the setting/POV/situation can change almost instantly in a disorientingly way to leave you vulnerable to what comes next. From what I could piece together, the game periodically switches between 2-3 characters who are all either in or about to be in a bad situation. Some involve some sort of drug-like VHS tapes that turn people into horrifying Cronenberg monsters. Sometimes you suddenly find yourself behind the wheel of a car while your passenger seat is constantly shifting whenever you look away. At some point you end up at a gas station enjoying a mild conversation with the guy at the counter until he tells you there’s someone else filling up your car outside.
The faces of each character and the sounds that come out of their .jpg mouths cements the unending discomfort that comes from such a short game. I could tell there was some hints of familiarity in the way they talked, but it came off as a terrifying take on the fake language used in The Sims games. There truly wasn’t a moment where I felt peace while I engaged with this work.
I played through this once and I never replayed it. Someone might tell me there’s alternate paths I could take, but I personally feel like the path I took is the only one that matters.
If any of this interests you, please download it so we can share this dread.
9: Tetris Effect
Before E3 2018 even happened, I was amazed that Sony decided to announce this game on a blog post instead of their actual E3 press conference, because it was by far the best looking game they showed off all year (and before you say Death Stranding, maybe watch this first). Tetris has always been a beloved game since I was a kid playing a game boy and as a teenager playing Tetris DS during long school trips. I will admit that I have not played a single Q Entertainment game, but at the very least I played Rez HD so I knew the potential magic of such a crossover. At least, that’s what I thought until I finally played it this year.
What makes this game pop is how perfectly ingrained the music is inside the framework of modern Tetris mechanics. Every time the block changes positions, it adds another layer to the music already happening within the background. Block spins could become added beats to a drum, a vocal sound effect, snaps, whatever else is possible within music is done simply through movement. Not only that, but the more lines are cleared, the more layers are added to the tracks themselves.
The environments of each level also become a highlight as they shift and change with line counts and block spins. Sometimes said environments can be lost when you’re engaged with the act of Tetris, but I can still acknowledge what’s happening even if difficulty spikes put me into a panic. It’s the kind of game that makes me wish I had a VR headset for my PS4, but I still can’t quite justify paying for it just yet. I would still like to experience it one day. I’ve heard wonderful things about letting the world go and giving yourself over to Tetris. I hope I can be that brave one day.
8: Octopath Traveler
Octopath Traveler may not be one of the best JRPG games I’ve played in the past couple of years, but I find it to be incredibly ambitious and experimental for a a Square-Enix published title that was first revealed during the Nintendo Switch launch event. Initially what struck me about the game was its visual aesthetic of combining Super Nintendo-era sprite-art with some visual flare from the Unreal 4 engine to turn it into their “HD-2D” look that the developers strived for. I can understand what also lead people to get excited about the game was growing up with the Super Nintendo, but given that I was born during the transistion period of 2D to 3d games, such nostalgia is lost on me. It already had what I really wanted, which was a JRPG experience that I could just take wherever I wanted to go.
Perhaps the most argued upon point when it comes to discussing this game is how it handles its eight playable characters. Unlike a vast majority of JRPG’s that feature a gang of people from various background who team up to kill a king and then maybe kill some dick god in their spare time, Octopath Traveler does not have a grand story. In fact, the protagonists themselves do not really interact with each other other than short vignettes that can happen periodically depending on how parties are assembled. The game is simply eight different stories about each character’s personal journey that varies in tone and scale. One person’s journey might be a lighthearted adventure to find treasure, while another’s tale may be the culmination of a lifelong desire for revenge against a bird cult. It does not fully work, but I found myself engaged anyway in completing each of their stories. I even ranked them based on how much I enjoyed them.
What helped the experience was the combat system, which pushes a Boost system designed to either to strengthen or multiply abilities based upon how many turns have passed. There’s a level of strategy to these fights that I appreciated, and said system only gets better when specific “Jobs” are unlocked to allow characters to utilize unique ability combinations when fights could have become stale. Each character also has an ability they can change the outcomes of future battles as well, like recruiting monsters/people to join you in battle, healing special illnesses, or being able to take items from NPC’s.
Speaking of NPC’s, by far the most interesting aspect of the game is the ability to read a short backstory to almost every single NPC in the game. By successfully pressing for more info, you can potentially learn their names, ages, and even interesting quirks about their lives. It’s one of the few games that has ever made these non-playable characters in the world feel alive.
These various systems intrigue me to great lengths, and I can only hope that if a followup game were to ever arrive, that it would be just as ambitious as its predecessor.
7: Super Smash Bros: Ultimate
This might come off as a weird statement, but Super Smash Bros: Ultimate is the game I found myself most immersed in a story mode all year. The way I hear people talk about living their cowboy lives in Red Dead Redemption 2, I have a similar sensation when it came to playing the World of Light mode in the game.
When this story mode was first announced through the cinematic trailer of a giant orb murdering every video game in existence, with the exception of Kirby: the killer of gods, there was a line that series creator Masahiro Sakurai said that was along the lines of, “the rest I will leave to your imagination.” That line flew right over my head the first time considering how emotional I got when an anime song started playing while Kirby stared at a rainbow, but I’ve been thinking about it more in the weeks since the game released. Instead of having cutscenes forcing me to view what is happening with a specific lens like in the Subspace Emissary from Super Smash Bros: Brawl, I was allowed to decide how to approach and to interpret each battle that takes place.
The World of Light itself is structured around collecting “Spirits” that represent characters both recognizable and completely unknown using characters, stages, and battle rules as a framework to re-create the essence of that character. For example: The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3 is represented by Zero Suit Samus, who now has immensely powerful throws. It was really difficult to defeat her, but I had a fun time imaging just what the hell the Boss would be saying to each character I tried to throw at her. Telling Mario that he’s a wannabe hero in a world where heroes are dead, treating Marth as a worthy adversary for being a fellow warrior, and being surprised by the survival tactics of Kirby to the point of comparing them to Naked Snake. These are ridiculous thoughts on their own, but Smash Ultimate makes these thoughts make sense in my head.
Smash Ultimate also encouraged me to try my first ever attempt at a Smash Tournament in a local bar. I lost 0-2 in my first match, but I had tons of fun and I learned from that experience about how to play better. In fact, I’m going to try again at playing this tournament style when I go to Pax South later this January. In the meantime, I was able to play this game with friends visiting from out of town, and we had a blast playing around with the 100+ stages and the current 69 characters in the game.
There really isn’t an experience quite like Smash Bros., but this is the best Smash Bros. game I have ever played in my entire life as someone that has played them all. It’s truly the Ultimate Experience in just about every way.
When I first saw glimpses of Celeste, I simply considered it to be one of the various “Splatformers” that show up from time to time that I suck at. The aesthetic definitely looked nice from what little I saw, but I did not want to play a game that I would suck at and feel bad for playing. Oddly enough it was The Game Awards nominating it for best game that made me finally decide to just buy the dang thing and see what the fuss is about. As it turns out, the fuss is that the story is remarkable and the game actually felt possible to complete.
The story of Celeste involves Madeline, a young woman dealing with some heavy shit that has decided the only way she can find some peace within herself is to climb what is essentially a mountain acting as a living metaphor. As Madeline climbs up, she meets as a variety of characters including a mirrored version of herself that wants her to stop climbing and go home. It has been a long time since I felt a game and its story felt so intertwined with each other, maybe not since The World Ends With You' back on the Nintendo DS.
What made this game work for me as apposed to other games in its genre that came before it is how dedicated it is to ensure that I don’t quit out of frustration. The platforming itself felt very accurate to how I wanted to jump, and I don’t remember ever screaming “THAT WAS CHEAP” even once. The checkpoint system also felt very reliable given how challenging some parts of each section can be. If it booted me to the end of the level, or if there was some limited lives mechanic in the game, I would probably never have finished it. But this game felt like it was rooting me on the whole time. There is even a point made to showcase how many times Madeline “died” in each level not as a way to mock the player, but rather as a way of showing just how hard she worked to persevere through the climb upwards.
I never made much of an effort to collect the strawberries littered throughout the mountain, nor did i even bother trying to find or do the B-Side sections of the game, but i still feel like I accomplished a major feat when I reached the credits. I felt happy for Madeline, but I also patted myself on the back for stepping outside my comfort zone and giving a game genre another chance.
5: Jackbox Party Pack 5
Jackbox Games creates some of the very best party games to have ever existed, not just in the realm of video games, but the concept of games period. I cannot stress enough how amazing and important the Jackbox Party Pack franchise has been when it comes to allowing both people who play video games and people who have no interest in them whatsoever to sit on a couch and have a fun time together with relative ease. These games made my sister get a Steam account so she could play these games with friends at her apartment, and those are the only games she plays. That’s amazing to me. These games are magic, and I feel that Party Pack 5 continues that magic in a variety of ways.
For my friends who have supported the developers since the days Jackbox Games was better known as Jellyvision Games, You Don’t Know Jack 2018 felt like an friend coming home after years of separation. It learned the lessons since its last appearance in Jackbox Party Pack 1, by making it friendlier to play both locally and streamed to friends across the world. There is a particular craft to the way each trivia question is worded, even as someone who often gets tricked up by the question.
As someone who often engages in spontaneous humor, Pattently Stupid is perhaps my favorite of the five. It involves coming up with a silly problem, coming up with the title to said problem solver, drawing it on a cocktail napkin, and then finally presenting said invention to the rest of the players. Each time I’ve played it, I have so much fun coming up with such things as “BIBLE 2.85” and “Maybe Poison Pizza”.
Split the Room and Mad Verse City are the two games that definitely benefit from having 5-8 people playing alongside you, but they’re still incredibly fun with unique styles to both. The only real stinker of the bunch is the experimental game, Zeeple Dome, which plays the most like a traditional video game out of the bunch.
One other thing I want to mention is that being able to have this game on the Switch is like a drean come true. Before, I used to have to carry my big ass PS4 around with me in order to share these party games with other people. Now, the Switch feels like I’m carrying a portable party kit with me… a literal Jack Box if you will. It just feels like the perfect system for it, the rooftop party pitch made reality. Thanks Jackbox.
4: Deltarune: Chapter One
Deltarune came out of fucking nowhere. After the release of Undertale, I did not expect that Tobyfox and various others would not work on a followup to the game, but would release it for FREE. All you had to was download the game and make a pact to not talk about it for the next 24 hours. And for the most part, it felt like people committed to this promise. But the one thing I could not keep secret during that time, was the fact that it was freaking amazing. Like with Undertale, it can be difficult to talk about why I loved the game without potentially removing the surprise both from people who have played Undertale and also for folks who haven’t. But, given that time has past since the release, I feel like it’s fair game to talk about the game in a bit more detail now.
While Undertale created a story that featured both the pure and cruel nature that can exist in kids, Deltarune is exploring the complicated emotional hellscape that is being a teenager in high school. Non-violence continues to be a prevailing ideal in this game, but what changes is that the player character is no longer the one you should be the most worried about when it comes to killing creatures you wanted to spare. This is due to the inclusion of an in game party. There are now three characters to keep track of during each fight, and a specific party member does not want to spare anyone. This leads to creating situations where you may need to warn your attackers in advance that they might bite it at the cost of potentially getting hurt yourself. It’s an evolution to the original fighting system that I did not expect, but I openly welcome.
As for the humor of the game, I will make the claim that it has bits that are even more hilarious than the ones brought up in the original Undertale. Comedy is hard to pull off in a video game, but I am amazed by the way Deltarune makes such things look like a piece of cake.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game is the fact that it’s considered a proof of concept title that may or may not continue from where it stops. And yet, there are several arcs within just this “first chapter” that feel so complete that I would be okay if this is where Deltarune ends. The fact that this game was released for FREE when it could have been a 10-20 dollar game still amazes me. Literally the video game equivalent of an album drop. What an achievement.
3: HITMAN 2
Despite its title, HITMAN 2 is one of many different games featuring world class drummer and assassin, Agent 47. This at one point was probably the season 2 to the excellent episodic styled HITMAN, released back in 2016. Of course, when Square Enix decided to sell off the developers from its conglomerate, I began to think that there would never been a followup to it… until the developers managed to pull themselves out and began turning this into something of its own. In fact, despite my belief that was conceived as a DLC campaign, it manages to become an even stronger game than its predecessor.
HITMAN 2 continues the trend of the “World of Assassination” tagline of encouraging players to not only follow the scripted murder methods provided by the development team, but to also create their own murder method on the various assholes 47 is assigned to kill. This sequel introduces a massive game changer with something seemingly so minor, a briefcase. A briefcase that can smuggle items both from the items within said level, and from items in 47’s personal collection. A briefcase that will not be examined by any security guard in the gang. It’s amazing what something so small can change strategies so drastically.
Unlike the previous game that released different maps over the course of the year, every level is available the moment you boot the game. You can even download the levels from the previous game if you own it, or you can buy them if this is your first time playing. It’s a wonderful way to have all the Hitman I want inside one package. I think this is beneficial to the story campaign in the game, which I absolutely adore in this game as apposed to the previous one where I simply tolerated it. The writing in the game feels more engaging by allowing the player to finally see this Illuminati group that is revealed during the events of HITMAN. In fact it’s the class differences that are highlighted especially in the last level of the game that makes it feel so topical (You should read this excellent analysis of it).
The post game content continues to shock and surprise me not just with the return of escalation missions, which involve you killing under incredibly scrutinous conditions, but the return of illusive targets, enemies that can only be killed during a specific time frame, being launched with killing Sean Bean of all people. The self aware humor leveled with its serious nature makes it all work so well. I just hope more people latch onto this game so we can see more of it.
2: Hollow Knight
(While I’m sure people will quickly point out that Hollow Knight came out last year on the PC… I did not play it until they put it on the Switch this year. So to ME, it’s a 2018 game so HA)
Hollow Knight was a game I initially avoided in 2017 given the onslaught of games I drowned myself in. There was no way I would have time to play this game when I was already being bombarded with long ass games like Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, and Nier: Automata. Thankfully with 2018’s “Big Games” not enthralling me enough to buy them this time around, I was finally able to try out Hollow Knight when it came out on the Switch. I had heard the game was considered great, but I had not idea what I was in for.
Hollow Knight feels like the culmination of years of various games not only trying to replicate the emotional highs that came with playing 2d Castlevania and Metorid games, but also the triumphs that come from surviving a Souls game. Hollow Knight manages to capture all of these emotional sensations in probably the most fitting of worlds, the world of bugs. Bugs can be cool, disgusting, or a mix in between depending on the person, but they are all small in the grand scheme of the world, and they are also incredibly vulnerable. A bug can just be minding its open business in an unfamiliar environment before being overcome by some sort of parasite or some type of big ass bug. Hollow Knight let me experience this dread by handing my little bug protagonist a sword and dropping it down a hole to fend for itself.
Overtime, the bugtagonist gains more abilities to combat the variety of dangers that lurks within the caverns, witch each change making me more confident that I can actually finish this game unlike other Souls games I’ve attempted in the past. But even said upgrades didn’t make me feel fully comfortable. Each time I entered an unfamiliar area, I was on edge hoping I could find a mapmaker bug that could give me some sense of where I was going. New bugs showings up would always make me worried that I was about to face my end. But I persevered onward and managed to finish the main story.
While I do not believe I touched much of the DLC included with the game, I felt incredibly invested in the world of Hollow Knight. It’s by far the best Soul-like game I’ve ever played, and I think folks who may not be a fan of the genre should still give this game a chance. It’s magnificent.
1: Into The Breach
2018 was the year that Pacific Rim: Uprising came into theaters. While I was bummed out that an already unnecessary sequel to a movie I adored turned out to be just okay at best, there was already a game I was playing on my computer that helped to recapture what I loved about Pacific Rim while having an identity all of ifs own. That game is Into The Breach, and it was my favorite game in 2018.
Into the Breach was made by the same developer team behind FTL, a hard as hell game involving a spaceship traveling through space in the hopes of escaping death at the hands of other ships while preparing for a battle with a massive warship that I lost to almost every single time. Into The Breach takes some of that unpredictable nature and strategic planning behind FTL and applies it to an entirely different game that I feel stands above it.
The game involves you choosing a specific Giant Robot pilot from a doomed future timeline that has traveled back to stop an impending giant bug monster race from destroying the last pieces of civilization. Whereas FTL was a real time strategy game that would allow you to pause, Into the Breach is entirely turn based to the point of almost being a puzzle game in a sense. The goal of the entire game is to ensure you have fought off the alien race without losing too much of the city’s power grid. Failure to do so means the alien race wins and the game is over…. or so you may think. Unlike FTL, Into the Breach allows players to send their main pilot back in time with all the experience they gained to try at it again. In fact, you can send your pilot back in time at any point if you think there is no hope for victory, or if you are just frustrated.
i should also mention that there are a variety of giant robot teams that can be picked that each have their own specific play style and methods of survival. From giant robot that punches, to planes that create storms, to flamethrower robots, etc, there is an ever growing variety of methods to play through the game even if you have managed to secure a successful run of the game. I actually went back and played several of the different teams, and they all feel great to play, but more importantly they feel like they have their own methods to victory.
While the game itself may not have a story beyond “CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE”, the storytelling that can emerge from different playthroughs can lead to interesting stories players can tell each other. Sometimes you can find yourself stuck on a turn for over 20 minutes hoping you can pull off a victory without dooming the human race, or even one of your own pilots. The game is really good at making you think hard if you can live with one building full of people collapsing if it means saving an entire island of people once and for all. You can sweat while playing, but it’s the good kind of sweat from something engaging.
Being able to complete a successful run of the game is by far one of the more emotionally satisfying feelings I have had this year playing a game. When you finish the fight, and you see how many people survived what seemed like the end of all things, it feels earned and you feel validated for how you played. Moments like that, are why I love playing video games in the first place.
Now if only Del Toro could just direct a film adaptation of this….