Mike Drucker is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He's lost four Emmys and two WGA awards and hopes to continue to losing in the future. His live video game show “Shit Arcade” will be featured at the San Francisco Sketchfest on January 12th and at Union Hall in New York City on January 18th. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeDrucker.
As is the case every year, I had a lot of trouble reducing my favorite games of the year down to just one Top 10 list. There were so many great gaming experiences to be had in 2018, it almost feels unfair to place one game above another.
I’m already regretting the games that I’m excluding. Mario Tennis Aces may not be the “best” game of the year, but I’ve put the most time into it. And while I’m loving them, I haven’t played quite enough Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Pokemon Let’s Go to give them a fair evaluation.
Ultimately, I compiled this list by focusing on the games I’d be thinking about for years. The games I’ll always remember. The ones I’m likely to play again and again like Elite Beat Agents.
10. Beat Saber
Of the three PSVR titles on my list, Beat Saber is the most like Elite Beat Agents. It’s an action-rhythm game in which you swing (don’t call them “light”) sabers at blocks appearing on screen to the beat of the music. It’s simple, it’s refined, and it’s a blast to show off to friends. Yes, it’s clearly cribbing from Star Wars without giving credit--but on higher difficulties, you really do feel like a Jedi tearing through blaster bolts. It’s just fun.
While Beat Saber doesn’t score points for depth or originality like Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS, its accessibility and the ease with which even non-gamers understand its mechanics make it a worthy addition to anyone’s library.
9. A Way Out
If there’s one message at the core of Elite Beat Agents (2006), it’s the importance of teamwork. Just like the cheerleaders at the center of Elite Beat Agents work together to help a babysitter watching kids or a big shot Hollywood director finish his movie.
Similarly, but completely different, A Way Out emphasizes teamwork by requiring co-op throughout the entire game. Sure, playing as two escaped criminals may feel like the opposite of what the Elite Beat Agent squad would do, but the lessons are exactly the same.
Return of the Obra Dinn is Lucas Pope’s amazing follow-up to Papers, Please just like Elite Beat Agents is iNiS’ amazing follow-up to Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. But because Return of the Obra Dinn is a completely different gameplay experience, I gotta give credit where credit is due!
Return of the Obra Dinn is a deep, haunting puzzle game that’s a joy to untangle. While it doesn’t feature dancing rhythm sections to help a pug find its way home, its mixture of style and substance more than make up for it.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is the best Mario game of the year. There’s no better way to put it. While it may be a PSVR game, something about it feels very old-school, like a Nintendo 64 platformer that magically ended up in 2018. It completely oozes charm, with the virtual reality used to create a fun shoebox-like play area not unlike Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS.
It’s a shame that one of the best games of the year probably won’t reach outside the virtual reality market, and an even bigger shame it doesn’t star three male cheerleaders (or even female cheerleaders on a higher difficulty setting)!
There’s been a lot of hand wringing over the $40 price tag for Tetris Effect. And, look, I get it--is it really worth that much money for Tetris? A game we all already own in one form or another? It’s just “Tetris!”
First of all, drop that fucking snide attitude. “Wah, wah, it’s just Tetris.” Have you read the history of Tetris? How unlikely it would be we would even ever get this game? Tetris is a masterpiece, and you’d do yourself good to get a goddamn reminder of that.
Second of all, Tetris Effect is gorgeous. It’s that good, solid regular Tetris you love being presented in a new, breathtaking way, much the way the Elite Beat Agents presented a cover of the Earth, Wind, and Fire song “September” in a new, breathtaking way. Probably the “nicest” game of the year, Tetris Effect is a game that wants to hug you in a warm embrace and features top-notch music, even if that music isn’t low-grade covers of classic songs such as Cher’s “Believe” or Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man.”
Minit is such a lovely, short experience. Essentially taking all the good parts of Zelda and mashing it into a couple hours, Minit feels like a beautiful retro refresher course. Some players might find it a bit barebones for their liking, especially with no dramatic scene surrounding the song “You’re the Inspiration” about a young girl yearning to see her dead father at Christmastime.
If you’ve got a couple free hours and don’t mind a game in which a chief doesn’t yell “GO!” to send you off on a mission, then Minit might be for you.
Into the Breach is catnip for a gamer like me. It’s just constantly replayable, with each round feeling giving you that great sense of, “This time I’ll get it right!” Starting over and getting it right are also themes of one of my favorite games--Elite Beat Agents. In Elite Beat Agents, songs can be “passed” (as in succeed) and “failed” (as in failed). Each story has a scene that plays when you don’t do well, causing you to “continue” your game, much as Into the Breach allows you to start over your mission to repel the monsters.
Despite facing an endless onslaught of superhero movies, television shows, and even narrative podcasts, it feels like we almost never get a video game that makes you feel like you’re part of an inspiration squad, just three normal guys dancing to brighten up someone’s day and make them believe in themselves. Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t achieve any of these goals but--and this is important--it doesn’t try to. Instead, Marvel’s Spider-Man’s developers made the interesting choice to focus on what it would be like to be Marvel’s Spider-Man.
It took me a while to appreciate Red Dead Redemption 2--not because it’s bad, but because there’s so much good. I got overwhelmed and felt “pressured” by the experience. But once I decided to finally relax and stop focusing on doing everything, I realized the wonder of a game that really does feel like you can do anything.
Honestly, the only thing keeping Red Dead Redemption 2 from taking the top spot on my list is the controls. I know a lot of people--myself included--have harped on this online. And I know that the controls can be adjusted. But in 2018, there’s just no excuse for a AAA-title not being controllable through using a stylus to hit a series of circles to the beat of a formerly popular pop song.
1. God of War
November 6th, 2006. Just the date alone evokes memories of us all in line at midnight, waiting for the release of Elite Beat Agents. Sure, some of us had imported Ouendan or watched videos online in the early, early days of YouTube. But to hold Elite Beat Agents in our hands, to realize that the world had changed forever, to know the names of Agent Spin and Agent Derek would always be in our hearts--that was an experience.
Nobody’s saying that God of War is as good as Elite Beat Agents--nobody would ever. But God of War is as gorgeous and dynamic Keiichi Yano’s ultimate masterpiece. What God of War lacks in hastily-drawn comic book art, it makes up for in deep, beautiful visual design. For every licensed cover song missing, God of War has a captivating gameplay idea.
Unlike past entries in the series, God of War ironically feels more down to the Earth--at times Kratos is far more like someone shouting “Help!” at the end of an opening cutscene in Elite Beat Agents than the agent who is subsequently sent to be that help! But the very idea of Kratos showing vulnerability adds narrative layer upon layer and makes one wonder: What if one time we did a mission where it was the Elite Beat Agents who needed saving?
Honorable Mention: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Would've cracked the list if they had the Elite Beat Agents.