I’m sure I end up saying this in some form every year, but… 2018 was a weird year for games, huh? I feel like there weren’t any particular standouts (besides maybe God of War) that were universally agreed on to be “The Thing” of the year. That isn’t a bad thing. What we got instead were a buuuuunch of niche projects made specifically for a very specific group of people. So while PUBG, Breath of the Wild, and Mario Odyssey, among others may have been the crowd pleasers that led to 2017 being The Greatest Year for Video Games Of All Time, 2018 had its moments. Let’s chat about ’em.
Honorable Mentions (in no order):
ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission
Astro Bot is a super chill throwback to stuff like Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, but linear and driven by setpieces. You’re tasked with collecting a bunch of doodads throughout a level while, like, a giant monkey tears town a building or something. It’s really neat! I’ve heared this game praised for how well the VR works (it’s good!) but honestly if you were allowed manual 3D camera control there aren’t too many tweaks that would be necessary. If you miss Super Mario 64, Astro Bot is here to save the day!
The morning I played Florence, it ruined my entire day. It actually sent me into a spiral of bad moods because of how realistically it portrays the beginning and end of a loving relationship. Pick this one up if you want to have about an hour of wiping away tears and then switching your phone to something slightly less heartbreaking. Like the news. Wait no don-
Minit is short! Minit is sweet! It plays like Link’s Awakening but on a timer and fast! Go play it! Hurry!!
Detroit: Become Human
I know nobody likes David Cage, and there’s plenty of merit in that, but for whatever reason I still get quite a bit out of Quantic Dreams games. Taken as a whole, they’re always complete messes. But on a scene-by-scene judgement, every single one of them has something that I immediately want to go tell someone about after I’ve done it. If you have any interest in choose-your-own-adventure stories and can handle some clunky dialogue, rough plotting, and misguided (at best) metaphors, Detroit’s another solid thing from an odd studio.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Not much to say about these bad boys except had I played them in their respective years, I would have placed them in those Top 10s. Thank you almighty Switch.
La-Mulana 2 is much, much more accessible and fun than La-Mulana, a game I’ve wanted to like for a long time. It still isn’t perfect, but if you’ve bounced off of the incredibly difficult series before, this may be your ticket to hop onboard.
Maybe the best entry in one of my favorite series, but in 2018 it feels just a bit too slight. If you want an incredible three hours of (mostly) recycled mini games, or have never played a WarioWare game before, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. I’m serious, WarioWare rules now as much as it ever did. Wa.
The meat and potatoes. The crème de la crème. Some real cool thingys. Here’s my ten favorite video games of 2018.
Game of the Year – #10: The Messenger
There are moments in The Messenger that I think surpass Celeste in terms of platforming achievement. If The Messenger stayed the same quality for its entirety, it’d be at a very different end of this list. But, unfortunately, it super doesn’t. The first handful of hours in The Messenger are some of the best and most exciting a 2D platformer has been in a good while. The pace is near perfect, the secrets are satisfying to find and then execute on, the dialogue is surprisingly witty. And then the game decides it isn’t happy with being one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time anymore, and becomes a Metroidvania. This was a mistake. The backtracking becomes infuriatingly tedious as the pace grinds to a halt for you to stumble through the same dozen areas again and again. And again. And then, yeah, again. I 100% completed everything in The Messenger because the highs are so high, even after the midway point, but I’d estimate that 12 of my 15 hours were good to great, and the other 3 were miserable. I’m telling you that ahead of time for you to decide for yourself whether it’s worth it. It still made my top ten, but, maaaaan. What a game it could have been.
Game of the Year #09 – CrossCode
Don’t feel bad if you missed this one. I’m pretty sure there was less than a 24 hour period where The Discourse made us known of its existence and then moved on. CrossCode deserved better. What if someone made an offline MMO filled with other “players”, an expansive loot and upgrade system, a story that outdoes anything JRPGs even attempted this year, and dungeons filled with puzzles as good as or better than A Link to the Past? You’d have one of the best games of 2018.
Game of the Year #08 – Hitman 2
It’s more Hitman, and better Hitman. Read anything on the internet about why Hitman 2016 ruled so hard, and this is just a more refined version of that, including literally all of Hitman 2016 in the package as well. Get a bunch of friends together and let everyone take in the chaos as a hit goes awry and the chaos unfolds. Secretly the best/funniest party game of all time.
Game of the Year #07 – Enter the Gungeon: Advanced Gungeons & Draguns
2018 was the year that Enter the Gungeon became the game it was meant to be all along. It’s fitting, then, that development will be stopping and further expansions will be canceled in favor of Dodge Roll making a brand new game to spread their wings a little further. Since the game’s launch in 2016, I’d always felt that it was incredibly neat but missing something. In 2018, Gungeon found its footing. Even before this year’s major expansion, returning to Gungeon in 2018 was a treat. Many tweaks and improvements had made the game wildly more satisfying to shoot through than during its launch phase, and tossing in such a major expansion that added a myriad new features was just the icing on an already delicious cake. If you, like me, played Enter the Gungeon in 2016 and found it wanting, now’s the time to hop back in.
Game of the Year #06 – God of War
The reboot of God of War wasn’t even on my radar until about a month before its launch. I finally watched a trailer that showed off some of the combat… and it looked realllll good. Turns out it was! Though the story elements don’t pay off as hard as I wanted them to, and the scarcity of setpiece bosses I loved from God of War 3 was a bit disappointing, there’s more than enough good stuff here to make up for any nitpicks I could make. The mix of Legend of Zelda and the modern Tomb Raider games kept me exploring every single tiny area to see what puzzle I could solve next, and the interactions were so good I kept sailing as often as I could to find what weird little incidental dialogue I could trigger. There’s a lot to love about this reimagining of a series I felt had lived past its prime, and I’ll be waiting to see how they top it with a sequel however long it takes.
Game of the Year #05 – Just Shapes & Beats
We’re in the heavy hitters now. THIS GAME RULES. Imagine playing through an electronic music video mixed with bullet hell chaos while some raaaaadd tunes are thumpin’. That’s this thing. I’m telling you, it rules so hard. Over the course of a three hour journey you’ll see some of the most clever ideas in a game all year. Half rhythm game and half bullet-hell, you’re constantly dodging tougher and tougher obstacles to awesome music. As you dive and dodge through a bunch of music videos, and surprisingly heartfelt story plays out that gave me some real Undertale vibes towards the end. Just watch a trailer and go play this game, I don’t know how else to tell you this game is incredible. And the multiplayer rules too! And they’re still putting out new songs for free! Yeah!!! Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Game of the Year #04 – Celeste
From beginning to end, Celeste is one of the greatest 2D platformers ever made. Hands down. When putting it up against competition like Super Meat Boy, The End is Nigh, and Super Mario World… it still hangs. I’ve heard this sentiment echoed throughout the year but it’s very true, it reminds me a lot of how well the later 3D Mario games design platforming. Over the course of roughly 30 hours, somehow it stays fresh. It isn’t afraid to have an incredible idea and then simply toss it out after a stage or two to move onto an even better one. And unlike the rest of its peers, there’s a truly warm story told as you progress up and up the titular mountain. The story doesn’t get in the way of providing pure platforming bliss though, and it has as many challenges as you’re willing to take on. If you could only buy one platformer and play it forever, man, this one might just top the list.
Game of the Year #03 – Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII
Right??!!? I thought my love affair with Call of Duty had ended about a half-decade ago when the series started heading off into more experimental directions. I was always glad for them to try new things, but I always felt like the core of the series had been lost forever. It’s back, baby! Though I primarily bought Black Ops IIII (those fake roman numerals are still so dumb) for the PUBG ripoff mode, I ended up sinking just as many hours into the game’s incredible multiplayer offerings. Yes, Blackout totally ate PUBG’s lunch because it’s better in nearly every conceivable way, but the multiplayer is as good as its ever been, and the best Call of Duty’s been since Black Ops 2 back in 2012. If you’ve ever enjoyed a multiplayer FPS or just want to see how the Battle Royale formula improved over the course of 2018, Black Ops IIII is the best you’re gonna get. And yeah I think there’s some zombie mode or something but literally who cares.
Game of the Year #02 – Tetris Effect
I had never liked Tetris and couldn’t fathom why people were getting excited about a boring 100 year-old block game but in VR. A few months later, there were several moments during Tetris Effect where I thought, “Maybe this is the best video game I’ve ever played?”
I don’t think it is, but I think it’s something incredibly special that everyone should experience if they’re curious about what video games can be. It’s not always shooty killy. It’s not always about “Where we droppin’ boys?” Sometimes it’s about having the Album of 2018 playing in your ears while a giant virtual reality headset sits on your face and you stack some blocks up. I’ve played it without VR and it’s still fun, but the experience is not the same. There’s something about having nothing but wonderful backgrounds and music literally enveloping you as you play a very simple game that doesn’t come across without the virtual reality. If you don’t have a VR headset, go find someone who does and lose yourself in Tetris Effect. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
Game of the Year #01 – Monster Hunter World
It feels a lot longer ago than this because I’ve spent so many hours chasing weird T-Rexes, but I only started playing Monster Hunter in February of 2015. It was weird, convoluted, and I probably watched just as many hours worth of guides as I did playing the actual game. I loved it. Then came Generations on the 3DS and it played better and more monsters, and I still looked up hours upon hours of guides to learn everything that I needed to. It felt necessary.
With Monster Hunter World? Not so much. I realize that my experience is different from those who are coming into this one blind, but even those people didn’t seem to be utterly confounded in the ways I was when I began. Monster Hunter World doesn’t make things easy per se, but it polishes the rough edges enough that even people without a spare 45 hours of YouTube tutorial watching in them can find something to love. I had more fun playing this with friends than with any other game this year, and those newbies loved it enough to be ready to hop back in for the next one. It isn’t just the ease of use stuff that’s excellent, the vast changes to how the game functions on a base level are just as good. Hunting for pets is new, and it rules. Having actual, real, able-to-be-used-by-human-beings third person controls for the ranged weapons makes them feel less like a punishment for people who hate themselves. The monsters can have battles with each other now and it RULES EVERY SINGLE TIME!! Nearly every single thing from the old games is back, better, and easier to use. My one quibble is the lack of monster variety when compared to how many beasts are in a game like Generations Ultimate, but I wouldn’t recommend that game over World in a million years.
Monster Hunter World is a culmination of years upon years poured into a franchise. It’s one of the best series in gaming at the absolute top of its game. And it’s my very, very favorite game of 2018. Now bring on that expansion; one or two hundred hours wasn’t nearly enough.