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Jack Gallagher's Top 10 Games of 2018

The consummate gentleman (and occasional villain) weighs in on his favorite games of 2018.

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Jack Gallagher is currently employed by WWE as a variety act in its Cruiserweight Division. He is one of the stars of the weekly show 205 Live. He’s 95% Moustache and 6% Very British. Where the extra 1% came from is a mystery that puzzles people to this day. He can be found both on Twitter and Instagram mostly being sarcastic.

Hello again! Lovely to be back. Hope you’ve all been well. 2018 was the year that I finally purchased a Switch to play whilst I travelled, and that was a bloody good investment, I’ll tell you. I have yet to play Breath of the Wild. Don’t worry, I’m as disappointed in myself as you are in me, maybe more so.

Zelda aside, I did spend a good portion of this year catching up on games I’d missed, both from the Switch and things I didn’t have time to complete last year, and at first I thought this might be a list mostly comprised of 2017 games. However, 2018 delivered with some great ones. Let’s talk about them.

10. Little Dragons Café

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On a whim, I bought this for the simple reason that it looked quite sweet, and a particularly low stakes affair compared to the save the world from total (Mortal Kombat) annihilation stories, that are ever so popular in games.

There are not hundreds of hours of side quests that further your understanding of the world and its people. Nor do you have to make life and death decisions in order to move the story in the way you’d find satisfactory. Even the very simple tasks that take up your day, the gathering of cooking items, finding recipes, and serving the customers, can become a bit tedious as they game goes on, because there’s so little at risk, day-to-day.

So, why is this on my game of the year list? Because this game is charming, and funny, and continually absurd. I was happy to greet each part of the story as it arrived and meet the next ridiculous character whose problems are mostly going to be solved thanks to my culinary skills. Whenever I needed to relax, I’d retreat to my Little Dragons Café, listen to my ghost friend’s problems whilst my Orc chef offered advice, feeding Thistle, the dragon, his favourite salad.

9. Pokémon Let’s Go

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My baseball cap goes on, my friend, Steevee the Eevee, is at my side, and I’m ready to relive my childhood! Well, as close as I’m getting right now, that is. I have played and replayed Pokémon Red so many times throughout the years. The sounds and sights of that Game Boy release are imprinted upon my memory, and because of that I am predisposed to like Let’s Go, but at least I’m aware of that.

This is an easier game in the series. I flew through this game, frankly. It seems to be an attempt to take advantage of the mass success of Pokémon Go from a few years ago, by lowering the game difficulty, upping the cute factor, not having to beat every Pokémon into near unconsciousness in order to capture them, and no random battles! It’s a different game, to a large extent. This is a game that was already a diet version of the full JRPG experience to begin with, as well.

But if I may present an argument for these changes though: my Eevee is pretty cute.

8. EA Sports UFC 3

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I will begin by saying that in a year that Dragon Ball FighterZ and a new Soulcalibur was released, this was not the best fighting game of 2018. This, however, is definitely the one I had the most fun with.

Whilst they added a few new options in the clinch and ground portion of the game, the real revamp to this was the stand up. The complete change in how you deliver, defend, and counter strike, as well as what combos are available to which fighters, made this game for me. It was a system that I could immediately understand and practice and become better at.

Originally, this was a completely social game for me. The few free hours we had at work, with nothing to do but wait for the show to begin and the day to end, we’d boot up this game and have at it. I say this was a completely social game, because after I felt that I’d achieved a certain level of proficiency against the local arcade that was my work colleagues, I took to the online fights--something I’m always weary of doing given the constant horror stories that I’ve heard about the slew of homophobic and racist language that appears with little to no prompt. A quick “mute the opponent” option and the most that anyone could do to hurt my feelings was beat me up and taunt me… which a few did, granted.

The elements of wrestling and jiu jitsu have yet to be gamified in a fully satisfying way, but this is without a doubt my favourite kick boxing game of 2018, taunting aside.

7. Minit

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It’s The Legend of Zelda, but, Thanks to the cursed sword you Find on the beach, you can Only make sixty seconds worth of Progress before you die and the World resets. Trapped in this gaming Groundhog Day, you must save the World. A simple concept, executed wonderfully. More like a poem, than novel.

This poem is sixty words long.

6. Into The Breach

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“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, for another timeline needs us.” - William Shakespeare (probably)

A strategy game that, lack of touch controls aside, seems tailor made for the Switch. I am aware it’s a port, dear reader, but the average length of each run feels perfected suited to the portability of the Switch and a plane trip.

Each new game gives you a timeline of familiar yet slightly different problems to solve, meaning although you’re never truly going to master one mission, you slowly accrue knowledge on that type of situation and what the best approach is. With only one “Reset Turn” to use per battle and the inability to save scum your way through encounters, you can be left with little more than a hope or a prayer at times. You must learn from your mistakes in this game.

Finally, I loved the inclusion of achievements in this game. By having all these side challenges to complete I had more legitimate reasons to dive back once more… Into The Breach. (Writing!)

5. Shadow of the Colossus

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One of the great gaming shames of mine was never playing Shadow of the Colossus during its release. I also quite shamefully did not pick it up for cheap when I saw it in second hand game stores some years after its release. However, in 2018, the shame ends, for I have played Shadow of the Colossus!

Even with all the hyperbole that has surrounded this for many years, I must say that this remaster manages to deliver in all the sadness and wonder that has been promised to me. There’s a princess to save and a hero with a horse and sword, but this is a story of how the fight won with good intentions does not make the good guy, and the monsters he’s defeating might not need to be vanquished. You marvel at the beasts as they rise, but there’s a grief in their deaths, and loneliness in your ride to the next one.

Even after so many years, it’s a shame if you haven’t yet played this.

4. Marvel’s Spider-Man

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Don’t confuse this with anyone else’s Spider-Man, this is Marvel’s Spider-Man! They had to strike deals to retrieve this Spider-Man! And as Spider-Men (Mans?) go, this is a good one.

How’s the swinging? I hear you reflexively ask. Very good… is that all? No. Well, okay then...

Marvel’s Spider-Man exists in a unique world that mixes the comics, the films, the Netflix series, and some of their own interpretations of the web head together. Do we have to deal with that same tedious origin story where we’re counting down the minutes until that spider bites him and that uncle leaves him? No, thank goodness. This video game operates under the assumption that you, the player, are familiar with perhaps the most famous superhero in the world--second only to Animal Man, to some, obviously--and throws you into his life.

Peter Parker struggles to pay the rent, the lab he works at can barely keep their experiments going, his best friend Harry Osborn is away in Europe, and his on-again off-again relationship with Mary Jane Watson seems to be in the off-again stage. It’s not easy being Peter Parker, nor fun most of the time. So, despite the menagerie of supervillains that lay waste to the city, and the thugs that operate on the streets, you understand the release that is becoming Spider-Man for this little kid from Queens.

Most open world games tend to become simple power fantasies once enough perks are unlocked, and whilst you are quite evidently super-powered, you’re not free to web any innocent bystander in the face. Instead of punching an unsuspecting person on the street, you shoot them finger guns or offer a friendly neighbourhood high five. Marvel’s Spider-Man does not simply attempt to appeal to the fan base through its exhaustive references to the Marvel Universe, it stays true to the defining aspect of the character and makes it the theme of the entire game: how those with power, both good and bad, react to an imperfect world.

No, the stealth missions were not my favourite part of my experience, however it was never too long until I was swinging through skyscrapers again, orchestral music swelling around me, in my favourite Spider-Punk suit.

3. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

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This game did not come out in 2018. I did play it for the first time this year though! So, ha!

I have done everything in this game. Everything. I have beat every battle, boss, easy challenge, hard challenge, ultra hard challenge, piece of DLC, and I got a perfect score in all of them. I am not a completionist with most games, but for some reason, something about this one drew me in.

The bizarre Rabbids somehow fit within the Super Mario World and there’s a novelty that hasn’t worn off seeing Mario and Luigi wielding actual weaponry for the first time.

The lads packing heat aside, it was a well produced, turn-based strategy game that I just couldn’t help but sink my teeth into. This was actually the beginning of me really putting time into turn-based strategy games this year--which have littered this little list.

I’m not sure I can add more to the conversation regarding this game that hasn’t been said the year previous, aside from if you haven’t played this game yet, it’s still great game.

2. Hitman 2

If Minit is a finely tuned pocket watch, Hitman 2 is Big Ben. All of its moving parts come together like a modern marvel to give you a spectacle of assassination. Yes, a spectacle of assassination. There can be no better way of describing the multitude of ridiculous and ostentatious methods in which you eliminate your targets throughout the campaign.

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The attention to detail from its predecessor remains, as does the humour in the face of what potentially could be very dark situations. It might be the occasion where Agent 47 dressed up in Miami as a pink flamingo mascot, giving it his all in his performance, to blend in; or when he assumed the identity of a Whittleton Creek real estate broker, calmly describing each area of the house to the client with regards to its facilitating of stealth, murder, and/or cleaning up evidence, only in order to trap his target in an explosive laden vault in the basement; but I’m beginning to imagine 47 as being more a Leslie Nielsen role than a Daniel Craig one.

It is a mad, mad world that we find in Hitman, and it is up to us to break it. It is in our breaking of the script that often our most memorable moments happen. In Mumbai we’re given three targets, but only given enough information in order to find two of them. It is up to us to comb the area and discover the identity The Maelstrom, our secretive target. I believed that this would be a long process, so I set out to sneak into the nearby film set in order to get my first target, the producer. Finding one of his stars throwing up in the gutter nearby, I swiftly knocked him out, only to realise a passerby had noticed and was about to alert the local authorities. A quick briefcase toss and down goes my little nuisance before he became a bigger one. Then it happened...

“Good job, 47, you found The Maelstrom.”

What?! I’d found him and knocked him out within ten minutes of being on the map. One quick neck snap and I was on my way to deal with the other two.

The small improvements here and there to the UI are more than welcome, as is the addition of foliage, but bringing these to the previous game and making that all accessible in the same menu is more than I could have been asked for. Hitman was my 2016 Game of the Year. Hitman 2 came very close…

1. The Banner Saga Trilogy

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If I’d have played the first Banner Saga when it was released and then had to wait for its sequels, I would have still enjoyed them and picked them up when they came out. But to be able to pick the first up for Switch and play through it in its entirety, immediately jump into the second one, and then the third, was a treat.

This is as much a dirge as a saga. This is a story about the end of the world, the end of all its peoples, long after the gods are already dead. You march onwards, dangers all around you, and all you have is your people, under your banner.

There was no game this year that struck the balance between investment in the story and good, challenging gameplay better than Banner Saga did for me. I genuinely cared about the morale of my people, trying to make sure they were always fed, always stopping for them when I believed we could. All the time wondering how on earth we were going to stop this apocalypse.

The world they’ve constructed has a Lord of the Rings quality to it, in that we enter the story in its final chapter. So much of its land and its history has already been written, and you’re free to ignore it, or spend almost as much time as it takes to play one of the games in the series to completion reading it.

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Lore aside, the actual gameplay alone would’ve gotten this trilogy onto my top ten list. All the varying assortments of team members you can have, as well as the upgrade paths that you put them on, mean that there’s a multitude of different approaches towards every battle. I thought that by the third game I’d have grown somewhat tired by the constant encounters, and needed a small break, but quite the opposite. By the third instalment in the series, I could not put it down. I wish there was a fourth game.

This is a game about waging war and breaking bread with enemies. It’s an epic that tells personal stories. It’s my favourite game of the year.