These are my favorite 10 games of 2018, a year that was great for games and terrible for everything else! I also included some other honorable mention games that I liked but not more than I liked the main 10. Games are good, y’all.
Platforms: iOS, Android
Florence is a game ahead of the curve on the January resolution boom- it’s already trimmed away all the fat. Every scene and every interaction in this tight 60-minute experience is meticulously crafted and intentional. You often hear with story-based games that the gameplay can get in the way or hinder the experience- Florence doesn’t just sidestep that problem, but brings it forward, and every gameplay interaction feeds into its emotional resonance. It is a game about a new, exciting relationship between a man and a woman, who meet in a romcom-style happenstance and quickly fall for each other. There is very little dialogue in the game, with your initial conversations being characterized by the action of putting puzzle pieces together to form empty word bubbles, slowly forming your thoughts to carry on conversation. This simple action does a lot of heavy lifting as the game progresses- at the relationship’s peak, the word bubbles are made up of just a piece or two, implying the ease of conversation with your partner. As the relationship inevitably hits rough patches, these puzzles become more complex and the time you have to complete them becomes shorter, mirroring the frustration and complexity of navigating the situations. Without spoiling the entire thing (go play it, it’s an hour long and it’s on your phone), I really appreciated the direction they took the story towards the end. It manages to avoid tired cliches and presents a story that feels fresh while also being authentic enough to feel familiar.
9. Donut County
Developer: Ben Esposito
Platforms: iOS, Android, PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Have you ever wanted to play as a talking raccoon who works at a donut shop, playing a game on his tablet that opens up real holes in the ground that slowly swallow up the town and its residents, until they all confront him about the problems he’s causing and he learns a lesson about empathy? And it’s also allegorically about gentrification? Do you also like “weird twitter”?
Anyway, Donut County is really good. It’s a relentlessly charming game about Mira, a human, and her best friend and coworker B.K. the raccoon and how the latter’s destructive behavior is affecting Mira and the rest of the town. The two of them work at a “donut” shop in town that does delivery. The catch is when someone orders a “donut,” B.K. opens an app on his tablet to control a giant hole in the ground and send it to their location. The gameplay involves moving this hole around little diorama sets as it gets bigger and swallows more and more people and property, sending it all tumbling down the hole and out of sight. Each scene is another vignette about the townspeople and their lives, told through the framing device of Mira, B.K., and everyone else being stuck in the underground ruins of what was once their home. They all gather around and chide B.K. about his behavior, while he refuses to apologize and tries to defend himself. Luckily, what could have been a self-righteous fable about a self-centered grump learning empathy is balanced out with a more than healthy amount of great dialogue and humor. Every new object you suck up into your hole gets an entry in the “Trashopedia,” with hilarious descriptions of everyday objects through the lens of a raccoon seeing them for the first time. Also of note are the text conversations between B.K. and MIra, which are presented in believable ways instead of coming off as “hey fellow kids.” This is the funniest game on this list by far, especially if you’re into the so-called “weird twitter” humor that creator Ben Esposito traffics in or just think anything a raccoon does is funny (which is objectively true).
8. Soulcalibur VI
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
The best intentionally misspelled title in fighting games made its triumphant return in 2018, and the world is better for it. In the last 3 years or so fighting games have finally clicked for me, and I give most major releases a shot these days, but Soulcalibur was the one fighting game franchise I always liked. Something about the combination of weapon-based combat, the simplicity of the inputs, and the way it just looked cool even if you were bad at it made me stick with it over the years and get excited about new releases in a way I don’t for very many franchises.
Soulcalibur VI was no different. In the months leading up to release, I regularly checked the mostly-dead Soulcalibur subreddit for character announcements, watched every gameplay demo released, and watched the trailers multiple times to try to pick out as many details as possible. When release day finally came, all my expectations were met. VI is a Soulcalibur game through and through, with the same garbage ring-outs, frantic low kicks to try to end a round, and geriatric mummies with claw-hands. The classic gameplay returned without too much deviation, and the accessibility that allowed me to get my less-fighting-game-enthused family and friends to play was still there. If I had one knock against the game, it would be that it did all the things I wanted, but didn’t have anything new and exciting that I didn’t know I wanted. The online multiplayer is serviceable, but doesn’t have a very compelling progression besides one number going up when you win more. The single player offerings are plentiful, but poor dialogue and a relative lack of polish bring the experiences down a bit.
Possibly the best feature of VI’s package is the character creator. I spent nearly as much time creating characters as I did playing the game. If the single player modes favor quantity over quality, the character creation is the opposite. The amount of customization and clothes options are fairly low for a Soulcalibur game, but the tools encourage you to use them in ridiculous and creative ways, and the things people have been able to squeeze out of it are incredible. The menu option where you can cycle through a random selection of 50 uploaded creations was a great start, and I would have loved more curation and sharing tools.
Soulcalibur VI treads familiar ground, but I happen to love that ground. Even after Nightmare has stomped me into it for the 200th time in a row.
7. Dead Cells
Developer: Motion Twin
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Any game that lets you jump once, dash in the air, then double jump earns itself a spot on my list by default. Luckily Dead Cells is also good in a lot of other ways! Rather than writing three extra paragraphs on the distinction between roguelikes and roguelites, I’ll just say that Dead Cells is a run-based game where you unlock new weapons and items to use for future runs. When you die you start all the way over, but the next time you might start with the shiny new sword you picked up on the last attempt. Or if you’re me you’ll start every run you can with either the cool lightning whip that aims at enemies automatically or the point-blank ice blast that freezes enemies solid. There’s a huge variety of weapons and loadouts you can end up with, and the way that each run selects randomly from your collection of unlocked items constantly forces you out of your comfort zone.
The game felt fairly complete when it launched on early access, but the most impressive part is the way they iterated on the base concept and added weapons, enemies, and areas along the way. This is an example of early access done right- they used the extra development time to add content, balance items and weapons, and sometimes rework entire systems when they determined that they weren’t landing as intended. The crazy thing is I never once checked back in after weeks or months away and saw something that made me think “oh, why would they change that?” It was always change for the better. There was always some new unlock to work towards or new area to explore, which is important for keeping the frustration out of a game that makes you start over every time you die.
In most games that update frequently and expect you to keep coming back over weeks or months, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by getting back used to the controls. Dead Cells feels fluid and natural enough that it’s easy to just pick up a run or two here and there without feeling like you’ve lost anything. It has rightfully earned its place among the modern indie roguelite pantheon along with the likes of Rogue Legacy and Enter The Gungeon, and I look forward to seeing how they keep it alive.
6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
There’s so much to love about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, mostly because there is just so much of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. With 70 characters, 100 stages, 800 music tracks and more, Ultimate is a celebration of all things Nintendo and- with the inclusion of historically non-Nintendo characters like Cloud and Snake- video games at large. This is the type of game you would want to be your “Desert Island” game, that you’re stuck playing until the end of time. Even just unlocking the full roster of characters takes a good 10 hours or so of playing, because having 70 to pick from when you first boot it up would probably cause permanent lifelong choice-paralysis. Each character has a Classic Mode ladder, the World of Light mode is about 40 hours long, and the variety of the roster, items, and different rule sets allow for endless entertainment even if you’re just playing standard battles on the couch. Desert Islands have couches, right?
I loved the way Classic Mode would theme the fights for each character around that character’s backstory and original games. Marth from Fire Emblem fights a series of dragons, like Marth does. Pikachu fights every other Pokemon in order on the Pokemon Stadium stage as if it were a tournament from the show. Discovering these little touches throughout the game makes you want to poke around in every menu and mode to see as much of it as possible. The other main single-player mode, World of Light, is a cool surprise with the way it finds ways to include EVEN MORE characters. It does things like representing Juri from Street Fighter by making you fight a version of Bayonetta that only uses kicks and has a standard health bar instead of Smash’s traditional percentage based knockback win condition. If none of that last sentence made sense, don’t worry! Smash still has the series’ easily approachable control scheme that allows anyone to sit down and give it a shot. “Ok, these two buttons plus different directions do attacks. This stick moves around. Try not to fall off the level.”
The breadth of options also allows for players of all skill levels and intensities to get invested. Whether you like playing with items and final smashes on because your little sister has more fun that way, or you play 3-stock, 7 minute, no items, Battlefield only in emulation of the pros, the game supports that option. In some cases (especially in the case of wanting to play hardcore online games) I wish the game focused a little more on one direction rather than spreading itself so thin. It’s awesome that people can queue up for online games with whatever rulesets and settings they want- it’s less awesome when those people are combined in the same pool of the people playing to win and get better competitively, and it randomly selects whose rules to use game-by-game. Having a separate queue for Ranked play would have alleviated most of these issues, and it’s just another entry in a long history book of Nintendo not understanding what people want from their online services. Either it’s their fault or I’m just mad I still haven’t gotten into Elite Smash. One of the two, for sure.
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Platforms: PC, Mac
Florence is definitely still the best love story on this list, but the most surprising romance this year was between me and Battletech. It started rocky, and we had our ups and downs, but ultimately I ended up falling for it and cherishing the 50 hours we spent together. Battletech is a turn-based tactics game where you command a squad of four 30-90 ton mechs to stomp around and blow up the enemy team of giant mechs before you get blown up yourself. Your pilots can die permanently, and every part of your mechs that gets destroyed will take time and money between missions to be repaired. This gives your actions immediate consequences, and amplifies the intensity of both your mistakes and your triumphs. I had heard rumblings about Battletech earlier in the year when it came out, but it came off as a more complicated X-COM, which sounded like more thinking than I wanted to do at the time. Eventually, enough people said enough good things about it (and it went on a deep enough sale) that I was willing to be set up with it.
My first date with Battletech did not go well. My surface level attraction to the idea of Battletech was strong. I loved the idea of a tactical strategy game involving giant mechs punching each others’ arms off and shooting missiles at each others’ heads. I loved the concept of having to repair and redesign individual pieces of your mechs as they got destroyed in missions, and waiting out your pilots’ injuries before sending them on another dangerous assignment. Unfortunately, on that first night, the chemistry just wasn’t there. I got frustrated at systems I didn’t understand like targeting specific limbs on enemy mechs, different weapons having different ranges, and the difference between “Repairing” and “Refitting” a mech between missions. One of my pilots died on the tutorial mission, and I immediately mismanaged my funds in a way that was irrecoverable.
“This isn’t going well, let’s start over,” I said to the giant mech at the other end of our table for two.
It took me 4 or 5 times restarting the game, each time learning just a little bit more about the interlocking mechanics and systems at play, for the game to finally click. Oh, you can re-order the build queue for your mech repairs. Oh, the little yellow chevrons tell you if you’re in range of the enemy for the next turn. Oh, it turns out I’m an idiot. It’s a good thing the aesthetic and idea of playing Battletech (as well as my unwillingness to admit I was too dumb for it) carried me through, because once I fell, I fell hard.
I became intensely invested in the well-being of my mercenary company and their mechs as well as the story the game tells about warring empires, betrayal, and triumph in the face of impossible odds. There were still some frustrations- the nature of percent chances to hit enemies when you attack makes for high highs when you hit that 2% chance headshot to incapacitate a strong enemy and low lows when your enemy cripples your mech’s legs with a surprise missile carrier driving over a ridge. I was passionate about the game in way that often caused frustration when things went wrong, but also had me playing multiple hours every night for two weeks. It was all I played. My fling ended when I saw credits roll, but I don’t regret the time we had. In retrospect, the problems in our relationship were my own. I sent my scout just a little too far forward. I could have protected my flank better. Compared to a similar game like X-COM, where it often feels like the game is actively fighting your ability to have fun and trying to screw you over, Battletech justs brings to light the flaws that you already have as a tactical commander. It’s not you, Battletech, it’s me.
4. God of War
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
When you stare into the tired, sad eyes of Kratos, his face marked with the scars and wrinkles of dozens of years of god-on-god violence, “glow-up” is not the first thing that comes to mind. It is an apt description, however, of the evolution that the once-juvenile God of War franchise showed this year with its new self-titled PS4 debut. I’m as surprised as anyone that the same series that once prided itself on sex minigames and filling the screen with as much Greek mythological blood as possible was able to tell a thoughtful, reserved story about the relationship between Kratos and his son, Atreus. God of War eschews the franchise’s Greek roots in favor of a fresh start in the land of Norse mythology. This mirrors Kratos’ own decision to leave Greece behind and retire to a quieter life in a cabin with his new family. Every aspect of the game reflects the same tonal shift.
The God of War games of old trafficked mostly in spectacle. The camera would pull out slowly to show Kratos as a speck of dust, ripping the fingernail off a Titan. The gods of Olympus and the inevitable fights that Kratos had with them were flashy and memorable, but never had any lasting impact beyond “damn, that looked cool.” The way the camera would zoom way out in favor of spectacle would also make it feel impersonal. Kratos would tear through dudes by the hundred, but it was always Kratos doing it. You, the player, were just along for the ride.
Presentation in 2018’s game has drastically changed. The camera is one continuous shot for the entire game, never straying too far from Kratos’ shoulder or zooming far enough out to lose his perspective. It’s also entirely less frenetic than the previous entries. It isn’t afraid to sit in a moment or allow time for the player to contemplate Kratos’ thoughts as he processes the situations and events he finds himself once again a part of. This, coupled with the combat and narrative changes, makes the series feel personal and intimate for the first time. The combat similarly gains impact by narrowing its scale. The wide-sweeping Blades of Chaos have been set aside in favor of the single-target Leviathan Axe. This makes combat more personal because of the range of engagement with Kratos’ foes as well as his inability to easily handle many enemies at once. It’s easy to get surrounded or overwhelmed, and the combat arenas can quickly start to feel claustrophobic as draugr and other Norse ice monsters close in. In most cases just a few enemies can feel actually threatening, whereas in the previous games most enemies were just fodder in between Kratos and the next god he needed to kill.
The same intimate scale of the visuals is woven into the narrative, and for the first time in the series it adds up to being more than a series of boss fights and macguffins. The relationship at the forefront of the story is that between Kratos and his son Atreus, and their quest to bring Kratos’ wife’s ashes to the top of the tallest mountain, per her request. Kratos struggles with trying to steer Atreus away from his own failings, and the two clash as Kratos comes to terms with how his past affects his ability to teach someone else to, as he says, “be better.” Their relationship feels nuanced and complicated in a way that is grounded and believable, which is not something I or anyone familiar with the series would have expected from a God of War game going in. The story is mostly successful, but is unfortunately also the only aspect of the game that I had major problems with. Without getting too deep into end-game spoilers, I was really disappointed in the arc of the mysterious Witch character that the lead duo meets early on. She is a character who has a lot in common with Kratos and has wisdom to spare early on, but very quickly turns into something else entirely in the endgame. She’s all but reduced to the same base rage that defined Kratos up until this game. This turn felt steeped in genre tropes, and sharply contrasted the way the rest of the game felt thoughtful and fresh. It was especially disappointing when the only other female character in the story was “fridged” before the story even began. Regardless, this game is a fantastic first step away from the outward misogyny and juvenile violence of the series’ past, and I’m excited to see what the millions of copies sold allow the studio to do with their inevitable sequels.
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
It would be easy to write Celeste off as just another ultra-challenging Super Meat Boy-inspired platformer if you looked at screenshots or videos, but the cohesion of the music, characters, and the ebb and flow of challenge makes the game a shining example of “greater than the sum of its parts.”
When I first started Celeste, I had heard it was a really hard, really good platformer and that was enough for me. The controls immediately feel great. It’s one of those games where there’s nothing to blame but your own skill when you land on some spikes or fall into a pit. It keeps the player input simple with just a jump and a mid-air dash, which lets them play around with the level design and the “gimmicks” in each stage in really creative ways. Some levels might have floating crystals that reset your airdash, letting you chain together multiple precise dashes and stay airborne over otherwise unconquerable gaps. Others might have enemies that emulate your own moves from a few seconds ago, meaning you can’t slow down or turn around. Each of these mechanics is immediately understood on a basic level, but built upon in unexpected ways that keep them from getting stale. None of them overstay their welcome before you’re shuffled along to a new world with a whole new set of unique mechanics to kill you over and over. As with any such game, dying over and over on the same difficult jump can get frustrating. The promise of new things to see and new twists on the formula just past the next screen, however, was always more than enough to keep me going and push through until I got it.
The frustration of the player and the idea of banging your head against the wall on a hard section is completely intentional. The story follows a girl named Madeline climbing a mountain (the titular Celeste Mountain). She hasn’t really climbed any mountains before, and seems reluctant to start out, but knows it’s something she has to do. At the beginning of the game, I was surprised it had a story at all. Most similar games might have a quick setup cutscene at the beginning and then just say “I don’t know, jump over this stuff for a while.” By the end, I realized that the story of Madeline’s journey was integral to the package. Some aspects of the metaphoric work are more obvious than others- Madeline has mental health issues and the mountain is representative of her “conquering” herself. The Dark Version of herself (who describes herself to Madeline as a Part Of You) represents the illness Madeline is fighting on her journey. But the impressive part of the narrative and its themes is how they’re woven into the gameplay. The difficulty spikes and recedes with Madeline’s mental state. When she’s at her most vulnerable in the story, the gameplay is at its most difficult. There are more timed sequences or things chasing you when she’s feeling afraid. When she makes small victories, the following section is often relatively breezy or empowering. The player’s mastery of the systems also plays into this- as Madeline gets more of an understanding of herself and the Part Of Her she doesn’t want to let out, the player is slowly becoming more comfortable and confident with the controls. Madeline’s triumphs are the player’s triumphs, and vice versa. I loved every part of this game, just as Madeline learned to love and live with all the parts of herself.
If you looked on this year on paper, it should be no surprise to anyone that the PS4 exclusive big-budget Spider-man game made by a studio I love is one of my favorite games of the year. Chances are I would have been happy with it barring anything but a complete trainwreck (go ahead and add your own joke about Tobey Maguire stopping a train, this list is already over 5000 words). The good news for me and everyone else with a PS4 is that they didn’t stop at making a decent Spider-man game- they made what is probably the best superhero game of all time.
For the sake of brevity I’m going to assume that everyone reading this knows the basic outline of who Spider-man is and what his whole deal is. Insomniac did the same with this game, starting at a point in the story where Peter has been Spider-man for 8 years and Uncle Ben has been gone a long while. By not weighing themselves down with the origin story, they allowed themselves to explore new areas and tell old stories in new ways. It paid off. They somehow found a way to make Spider-man feel at once authentic and fresh, even in a year that saw a live action movie featuring Spider-man AND an animated movie featuring a bevy of Spider-people. Spider-man himself is largely unchanged from past iterations, albeit a little more mature and experienced than the high-schooler a lot of the audience associates with him. Peter is altruistic, brave, and caring in all the ways we’ve come to expect from the character. The characters around him and their portrayals are what make it all feel new again. New takes on old standbys like Mary Jane and Otto Octavius kept even weathered Spider-man fans like me guessing and the inclusion of Miles Morales in the continuity made me feel like anything could happen. Judging by the teases at the end of the game and the billions of dollars the game surely made, we just might get to see those things happen in future installments.
As surprising as the stellar story and performances were, it’s even more impressive that they nailed the rest of the package too. Swinging around the city is positively joyous. After an awkward 15-20 minutes figuring out the controls, I was reflexively using every move in Spider-man’s arsenal to zip, bound, and thwip around New York City. It’s a testament to how good it all felt that I wasn’t once tempted to use the subway to fast-travel around. I always swung to my destination manually. Over the course of my 50 or so hours towards 100%ing the game, I developed my own routes around the city as if I actually knew it. For the first time in my life I could tell you the general layout of the boroughs, and which direction to go to the Empire State building. The attention to detail in the city is staggering, and convinces you to take it at face value as a living, breathing world. You can high-five civilians as you pass or take pictures of landmarks on your way to stopping a robbery or turf war. Spider-man feels like a participant in the world, rather than the world feeling like it exists to serve Spider-man or the player.
The combat feels like a natural and modernized progression of the Batman Arkham series’ crime-fighting but tuned in a way that favors Spider-man’s superhuman agility and speed. You’re free to dash around from enemy to enemy, prioritizing and crowd controlling dozens of goons with a variety of webs, gadgets, and good-old punches and kicks. It never feels like the game is fighting you or you’re fighting the controls- just you and Spider-man fighting bad guys. Spider-man is an extension of the controller, which is an extension of you. It’s all as fluid as the web-fluid in the canisters on Spidey’s wrists!
1. Return of the Obra Dinn
Developer: 3909 LLC
Platforms: PC, Mac
In my favorite game of 2018, you play as an insurance adjuster.
The Obra Dinn was an ill-fated East India Trading Company transport ship with a crew of 60 people. By the time you get there, the entire crew is either missing or dead, leaving you to pick up the pieces. Your job is to determine what happened on the ship. I don’t mean that in the broad sense of “the ship crashed, that’s what happened.” You need to figure out everything that happened to each and every passenger. Each passenger has a name to match to a picture to match to a cause of death to match to a killer. Finding all these pieces of information for all 60 people on a derelict ship would be an impossible task at first blush. Luckily, you have a magic pocketwatch that can let you re-experience the moment someone died, assuming you can find their body. Each body you find on the ship unlocks a new vignette to walk around as well as an audio clip from just before the moment. These vignettes are snapshots of the exact moment of death- the crewmembers are frozen in place as you poke around and try to get different angles to get new pieces of information.
The game eases you into the first couple of identities in really smart ways that tutorialize the interactions while still making you feel like you did it yourself. The guy getting shot while someone else yells “This is a mutiny, captain!” is proooobably the captain. The situations get progressively more complicated and the links between characters and their fates require more and more of you as the game goes on. Before you know it you’re sticking post-its all over your wall with little strings connecting them screaming “WHO IS THE GUY WITH THE TATTOOS??” Like a sudoku puzzle, you can pencil in what you think the solution is before locking it in ink. When you have correctly identified three people and their causes of death, the game plays the most satisfying musical queue of all time and locks those passenger’s fates in your log book. This strikes a perfect balance that allows you to make educated guesses or leaps of logic while still making it nearly impossible to get by on brute force. This is also due to there being 60 fates, each containing multiple variables. It’s the type of game where I lost track of how much time I’d been playing and would tell myself “just one more solution” three or four times before prying my bloodshot eyes away from it.
The minimalist visuals are exactly tuned to give you just enough information to solve the puzzles, and nothing more. The entire game is presented in the style of old two-tone PC monitors. The faces are fuzzy and grainy in a way where you can probably identify them if you’re standing next to the person, but will have a much harder time with people who are a bit out of reach. As much as I want this game to come to other platforms so more people can play it, there’s something to the way the old pixelated PC monitor style makes you lean in and focus. It lends itself incredibly well to the meticulousness of your job as an insurance adjuster trying to non-sequentially piece together the story. And man, the story goes some places. Sea monsters, ancient curses, mutiny, it’s really got it all. Each vignette is a part of a chapter, and each completed chapter gives you a little bit more towards answering the larger “What happened here?”
The reason this game is at the top of my list, and the reason I haven’t stopped thinking about it months after I finished it, is it’s the only game I played in 2018 that feels like it’s creating an entirely new genre. It’s a unique treasure in a sea of sequels and iteration. Every other game on this list can be described in terms of how it relates to other games. It’s like X-COM with mechs. It’s like if God of War was Uncharted. You know Batman? It’s like that but Spider-man. Return of the Obra Dinn defies easy description. And it’s my favorite game of 2018.
Sort-Of Ordered Honorable Mentions:
Astrobot: Rescue Mission
The first time Astrobot turns around and waves at you, and you forget yourself and wave back to that adorable little robot is magical. The first time you realize you have to move your real-world head to look around a corner to see where you’re going is mind-blowing. The setup time and overall finicky-ness of VR, however, is just enough to distract from the charm.
A confession: I didn’t start watching Dragonball Z until this year. It had become clear that I couldn’t be a real nerd until I had. It’s good! I can definitely see what caused it to become a crossover mass appeal hit. FighterZ does a good job at simplifying ArcSys’s fighting engine and making it accessible to the huge population of DBZ fans, but the single player story is bad and I suck at tag games.
Into the Breach
Into The Breach is like chess, if in chess you controlled a team of mechs and your enemy controlled a team of giant bugs. Also you can see what your opponent is about to do before they do it. Also you play a bunch of short chess games in a row and when you lose one you start over. Look, it isn’t a one-to-one analogy, but Into The Breach feels streamlined and strategic in a way that feels classic. It’s perfectly balanced and everything that goes wrong is your fault, but I prefer the relative chaos and adaptability of something like Battletech for my 2018 Mech Tactics Game of the Year.
Tetris is a pretty good video game, it turns out. Add great visuals and a varied soundtrack that reacts to every little move you make, as well as a whole bunch of interesting modes and VR support, and you have a product that somehow justifies being a $40 version of a 30-year-old game.
Batman: The Enemy Within
Batman has a ton of great villains, and I’m always disappointed when writers lean on the crutch of making another story about Joker. Luckily, Telltale (R.I.P.) didn’t take the easy way out when it came to characterizing Batman and Joker’s relationship, by making it a completely new take on the relationship and the characters. Throw in an incredibly well-voiced and likable Catwoman and I was incredibly invested with the story and decision-making. My one complaint would be the way some characters, specifically Gordon, react negatively to your actions without giving you a chance to talk it over and explain yourself.
Mario Tennis: Aces
Don’t let the title fool you- Mario Tennis: Aces is a fighting game. It’s all about the rock-paper-scissors mind-games of lobs, top spin, and drop shot, managing your super meter, and you can even beat your opponent by lowering their racket’s “health.” There isn’t much to do in it besides standard local play, but the gameplay and character variety kept it going for a while. Plus, the animation Daisy does where she skips around the court after winning a point is among the best of the year.
Yoku’s Island Express
I made a prototype for a game EXACTLY LIKE THIS about 3 years ago, but Villa Gorilla made it better than I ever could have hoped. It’s a side-scrolling adventure platformer starring a beetle that you move around by playing pinball in the environment and helping people around the island solve their problems. On paper it sounds like it wouldn’t work at all, but “little round rock being rolled around by an adorable beetle mailman” beats paper.
Monster Hunter: World
This game made huge strides towards making this series easier to like, but it still stumbled across some pretty basic things like getting a multiplayer session going and tutorializing the many different kinds of weapons and their nuances. The in-game tutorials were fairly lacking, often leaving out entire mechanics and forcing you to go to YouTube and have someone explain it to you better. Anyway, charging in a straight line for a half-mile with the Lance, jumping off a ledge and stabbing a T-rex in the head is pretty dope.
Pillars of Eternity 2
If I won the lottery and didn’t ever have to work a day again, maybe I would finally play one of these long-ass CRPGs to completion. This game seems great, and the pirate setting of going island to bite-sized island getting into fantasy trouble ALMOST makes it seem like something I could get through, but I never finish any of these games before something else I want to play comes along.
This is one of those games that you would see 3 seconds of in a sizzle reel of 20 different upcoming games and immediately stand up and yell “WHAT WAS THAT I WANT THAT.” The game mixes classic SNES-era pixel art characters with modern VFX and some great use of parallax to make it pop and feel unique. The gameplay was interesting enough for a turn-based RPG, but the characters didn’t do anything for me. They mostly felt like tired genre tropes and the lack of interaction between them makes them feel like passengers to the other characters’ stories rather than active participants.
A Way Out
This game had some really interesting ideas about splitscreen co-op and how asymmetrical interactivity between the two players can make for a more interesting experience than you could get out of tv or film. Shame about the dialogue, voice acting, story, and gameplay.
Thanks for reading! I’ll leave you with my favorite song off of Obra Dinn’s soundtrack, Soldiers of the Sea.