Man, 2018 huh? A year in which we came face-to-face with our stupidity and shortsightedness as a species as we edge ever closer to total environmental collapse and the final stages of capitalism, which will see us all thrown to the wolves in due time. But that's nothing to do with video games, right? Bless these little distractions and their soothing bleeps and bloops. (This is facetious political humor, like The Onion or Fox News. Don't be mad. If you gotta be mad, just be mad at how crude the doodles are again this year.)
I ran into the slight tactical error one always fears when curating a video games awards show, besides booking Josef Fares two years in a row, in that I only played ten games from this year. Not a huge sample from which to pull far more than ten awards, you might say, but then I have a gift for repetition. A gift, I say. Repetition is my gift.
Best 2017 Game of 2018
- A Hat in Time
- Hollow Knight
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Persona 5
- Snake Pass
- SteamWorld Dig 2
- Super Mario Odyssey
- Tales of Berseria
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
2017 was one of the most impressive years for game releases in a long while, and since I've spent most of 2018 playing catch-up - over twenty games! - I decided to expand the usual five nominees into a list of ten. I'll be integrating all these into an "adjusted 2017 GOTY" soon enough, which is going to shake up last year's top-ten something fierce, but suffice it to say that it was a good year (for games at least) that I'm far from done with. Who knows? I might even have a "Best 2017 Game of 2019" category if I play enough of what's on my 2017 backlog/wishlist.
Getting into the specifics for those first five:
- Super Mario Odyssey is everything I want from a Mario game. It is, in essence, my platonic ideal of what a 3D platformer should be: lots to explore in terms of both size and variety, a decent level of challenge, a huge amount of glowy collectibles to find, and an infectious sense of carefree joy throughout.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had some quirks I wasn't on board with (equipment degradation, yuckers), but was by far the most significant Zelda entry Nintendo had created since Ocarina of Time. They not only raised the stakes with this immense version of Hyrule, but gave so much agency to the player not only in how much they felt like exploring or the order they wanted to tackle the dungeons, but in experimenting with the mechanics and resources available to them to complete short-term goals. A prohibitively high bar for future Zeldas to follow.
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was a game I had high hopes for which it met and surpassed. Far from being bogged down by a huge open-world and a fifty-hour-plus runtime, Ys VIII made every moment count with its frenetic combat and rocking soundtrack, and reaffirmed what I loved most about this series.
- Tales of Berseria recovered from the fumble that was Zestiria, adjusting that game's mechanics for the better and providing a much more sympathetic and nuanced group of party members with which to spend the game's long running time. Though Tales games look functionally identical from the outside in, each one adds a plethora of new tweaks and features, but only rarely do they all improve the foundations in place like Berseria does.
- Hollow Knight, like Salt and Sanctuary before it, knows deep down that the FromSoftware's Souls franchise are really gothic 3D spacewhippers. By retaining the tone, the mystique and the challenge level of the Souls series, but reimagining it as this wonderfully eerie hand-drawn 2D journey through an immense bug nest, Hollow Knight gets to the heart of that franchise's appeal in a whole new context.
Best 2018 Game of 2019?
As always, I like to start a fresh year on a positive note by considering the many recent, fantastic but currently unplayed games that might brighten it. While I put God of War slightly ahead because of its universal GOTY accolades I'd be happy playing any one of these games, all of which have piqued my interest and/or belong to beloved established franchises. I'm particularly excited to play another large-scale Dragon Quest again, though I could just as easily lose myself in hours of Smash Bros. trophy-wrangling or Return of the Obra Dinn's methodical deductive data-gathering. (Some runners-up include: Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Into the Breach, Yakuza 6, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and Octopath Traveller.)
Bucket List Tick-Off of 2018
- Another Code: R
- Demon's Crest
- Might & Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen
- Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
To qualify for this category, a game has to be both A) around ten years old or older, and B) something I've had my eye on for almost that length of time. This year's old games-focused "May Maturity" feature coughed up a couple of winners with Ultima Underworld II and Might & Magic IV, but so too did my recently concluded SNES Classic Mk. II feature, which finally gave me the opportunity to finish Terranigma and Demon's Crest along with several other 16-bit gems. Another Code: R was more of an impulse play and technically doesn't count for this category as a 2009 release, but I was glad to be one step closer to finishing my CING collection.
Best New Character
- Cellist - Jazztronauts
- Madeline/Badeline - Celeste
- Maia - Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
- Roland - Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
- The Entire Squad E - Valkyria Chronicles 4
Despite only having the dramatis personae of ten games to choose from, this proved to be a pretty tricky category this year.
- The duality of Madeleine/Badeleine of Celeste is one of the most insightful manifestations of how depression becomes this part of you that wants you to fail and be miserable because you deserve it, and how the condition effectively turns you into your own worst enemy and greatest life obstacle. The game's titular mountain and its eldritch magics makes this negative side of its heroine Madeline become manifest, and she's a constant threat and source of discouragement throughout your adventure. While the game is ostensibly about climbing a big-ass mountain one tough screen of platforming at a time, it's really more about learning to live with oneself.
- Pillar of Eternity II's Maia was this hard-drinkin', wise-crackin', parrot-rockin', girl-smoochin' aumaua (shark person) arquebus sniper who internally struggled with the ethics of her all-conquering empire and her unofficial role as a silent assassin for same. She reminded me a lot of Mass Effect's Shepard, in particular the way her duty was important to her but not necessarily the be-all and end-all of her sense of morality or path through life.
- It's heavily implied that Ni no Kuni II's Roland was the President of the United States: a principled man who had nonetheless become far too pragmatic in his role as a world leader, with a journey to the "second world" of the title being the sort of introspective journey he needed to understand what true leadership involved. As much the protagonist of the game as the idealistic King Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, Roland was our audience surrogate to the fairytale realm of the game but also the one with the richest inner life. Also, how great was it to see a POTUS in 2018 that wasn't a garbage criminal asshole?
- Jazztronauts's Cellist is one of the finest comedy creations of this year: an inveterate self-medicator and explorer of new chemical and pharmaceutical frontiers. That is, a guy who will snort, imbibe, inject, smoke, or butt-chug any narcotic you put in front of him. His endlessly quotable dialogue and surprisingly deep knowledge of art history put him on a similar tier as the cats from Achewood, an internet institution I miss dearly.
- Another cop-out, but I couldn't pick just one member of Valkyria Chronicles 4's Squad E. The main characters - tank operator Claude Wallace and his struggles with leadership decisions, grenadier Riley Miller and her Oppenheimer-esque involvement with the war's WMDs, sniper Kai Schulen and her split loyalties, scout Minerva Victor and her overwhelming inferiority complex, or shocktrooper Raz and his simple pleasures - are all uniformly great, nuanced war heroes, but I would just as often get attached to the quirky disposable weirdos in your unit like Ferrier, a shocktrooper who never removes her helmet, or Odin, a scout who is actually named Thomas who creates aliases because he's a socially anxious shut-in fanfic writer. The best part of Valkyria Chronicles 4 are its Squad Stories: unlockable mini-chapters that let you get to know two or three of these interchangeable squad members in more detail.
Weirdest F'n Game
One of my favorite categories I like to revisit every year, which initially started as a "why did this get made lol" jeer but slowly became a respectful nod to those games with an abundance of imagination and off-beat style. Yoku's Island Express had the novel idea of combining spacewhippers with pinball, while Iconoclasts chose to compound its shooter gameplay with an elaborate story full of cults, theocracies, superpowered agents, alien gods, and artificial planets. Minit's repurposing of a Zelda-style adventure game with a minute-long timer was nothing short of inspired.
However, the two big weirdos this year (in my limited experience) were: Deltarune, a.k.a. SURVEY_PROGRAM, Toby Fox's sorta sequel/sorta alternate universe version of Undertale, which served as a free prologue to the far more comprehensive game to come; and Jazztronauts, which began with the bizarre premise of an interdimensional criminal gang of immortal cats and routinely became even stranger with the unpredictable user-created Garry's Mod maps it spits out.
Best Indie Game of the Week
- Endless Legend
- A Hat in Time
- Hollow Knight
- SteamWorld Dig 2
- Yoku's Island Express
Taking a list of fifty Indie games and pruning it down to just five wasn't easy, but it did get a little more manageable when I remembered that I gave them all scores. I'm happy with the five above games as a mix of genres and styles, though I wish I went back to Endless Legend to complete that one game I had going on. Apparently all modern Civ-likes have to take forty hours for a single campaign. A Hat in Time had more promise than flawless execution, though it was the first 3D platformer from the Indie set that had me considering the new directions that genre could go, and the top three are just excellent spacewhippers I had a hard time choosing between.
Best Soundtrack of 2018
I didn't take in the full width and breadth of this year's best VGM, and honestly the music is usually better when you have the context behind it, hence my not digging too deep into a bunch of OSTs from games I've yet to play.
Celeste's chiptune jams not only complement the lo-fi arcade nature of Celeste's platforming, but they also nail the emotional moments of the plot in ways I didn't think music of that style could. While The Messenger delivers a lot of music inspired by the Mega Drive, which is like choosing Betamax over VHS for your throwback found-footage horror game, I can't deny how catchy a lot of it was. Every Yakuza has an insanely good soundtrack, often throwing in a number of fun parody tracks along with the more slow-paced atmospheric stuff (like bar music) and harder rocking battle themes. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an enormous celebration of Nintendo past and present, which includes faithful remixes of memorable tracks throughout that company's long history as well as those from many third-party guests. Jazztronauts... well, Jazztronauts stole their mostly licensed jazz music soundtrack, as they're wont to do, but it fits so perfectly with that game's smooth and chill vibe that I can't be mad at them.
Best Original Tracks of 2018
- Celeste - Reach for the Summit
- Deltarune - Rude Buster (Battle)
- Iconoclasts - Moonlight (Ivory Beast)
- Into the Breach - Old War Machines
- The Messenger - Civilization in the Sky (Future)
- Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Close to Board
- Octopath Traveler - Decisive Battle 2
- Valkyria Chronicles 4 - Theme of Squad E
- Yakuza 6 - Dirty Boy
- Yoku's Island Express - Welcome To Mokumana Beach
I like to pick out a few individual tracks from the soundtracks I appreciated most, and give a shout out to games that maybe had one or two musical standouts worth highlighting. It's sometimes worth checking out a piece of music or two from a game you're interested in to see if the tone and timbre is for you; there's a lot you can tell about a game from its music, after all. I'll hopefully keep discovering new jams as I play the 2018 games I missed out on this year.
Giant Bomb's Best Feature of 2018
- Breaking Brad: Super Mario Bros.
- Die Another Friday (a.k.a. GolDanEye)
- Giant Bomb East PlayDate: Total Distortion
- Mass Alex (a.k.a. Alexy Quest a.k.a. Wolf in Shepard's Clothing)
- Thirteen Deadly Sims
It wouldn't the Mento Game Awards without a nod towards our gracious hosts, the industrious and ebullient staff of both Giant Bomb West and East. I've had tremendous fun revisiting the first Mass Effect through the eyes of series zealot Vinny Caravella and series neophyte Alex Navarro, almost in spite of the name, and can't wait for their Mass Effect 2 run. Thirteen Deadly Sims was just an inspired idea borne largely from Abby wanting to make Sims out of everyone, but made solid gold by everyone's tampering with the lives of their virtual selves (and the long build-up and pay-off of a certain unkillable journalist). Die Another Friday ably demonstrates that the GBEasters are in their element best when building an elaborate show idea around a well-loved older game, such as Dan's many attempts to conquer GoldenEye 007's hardest difficulty setting. That isn't to also say that Brad didn't inspire a lot of laughs and cheers with his pro-moves playing the original Super Mario Bros.. Finally, though it's hardly a feature with any consistency, the GBE PlayDate of rock and roll fever dream Total Distortion is something that will forever live in infamy.
Best Game of 2018
- Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
- Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
- Yoku's Island Express
- Valkyria Chronicles 4
- The Messenger
Here we are, the ten games I played this year put into an appreciable order based on quality and personal enjoyment. I go into far more detail on the list itself as to why these choices were made, but as always my GOTY lists tend to be very malleable things. Don't be surprised if I pick up something over the holiday break and decide on a last-second substitution, or the top-ten of next year's "GOTY 2018 (Adjusted)" ends up looking completely different as I continue to fill gaps.
I'm at least reasonably satisfied that I've chosen ten games here I could happily recommend to anyone. They all deserve placement on a top ten games of the year list, regardless of how temporary that time in the limelight may be.
That's going to wrap up this year's batch of chickenscratches and accolades! Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful holiday/GOTY season. See you all in 2019! (And be cool when the site's GOTY content arrives!)