Honorable mentions include DELTARUNE, Mutant Year Zero, and Return of the Obra Dinn.
Honorable mentions include DELTARUNE, Mutant Year Zero, and Return of the Obra Dinn.
I absolutely love Celeste. The last time I felt this strongly about a 2D platformer was Super Meat Boy (one of my all-time favorites) back in 2010. Both games showcase an expert command of the genre, with their reliance on tight controls and inventive level designs that expand simple mechanics in meaningful ways. But Celeste provides a different feeling when I play. SMB relishes in its masochism. Celeste, on the other hand, wants to guide players with friendly words of encouragement on cute postcard interludes. It includes a robust assist mode so players of all skill levels can experience the game. It's still hard as hell, but not once did I feel down or overly frustrated as I collected all the strawberries and completed all the B-side levels (perhaps my proudest game accomplishment of 2018).
Celeste also played a part in one of my segments for the 2018 Community Endurance Run in which the Giant Bomb community raised $8,425 for charity. I participated in a speedrun race and then proceeded to play the game with my feet. It was silly, fun, and one of my favorite moments of 2018.
Yes, Slay the Spire's first release on Steam Early Access was in 2017 and it officially comes out in 2019, but I played a ton of it THIS year. My list, my rules!
I know very little about card games, both physical and virtual. But there's something incredibly addicting about Slay the Spire's mix of character-specific decks and game-changing relics. I still don't think I'm particularly good at it after 80+ hours, but I've managed to beat the game a handful of times thanks to its intuitive design and simple mechanics. A lot of that comes down to synergy - there's nothing quite like building the perfect deck so you can deal 100+ poison damage to an enemy or raise your strength so much that you crush a boss in a few turns. Good times.
I'm sure it's been said a million times already, but Into the Breach is as much a puzzle game as it is a strategy game. It clearly lays out what each enemy will do on every single turn. Few strategy games give that kind of information to the player upfront. Thus, each combat encounter feels like a small puzzle. There will certainly be casualties and mistakes along the way, but more often than not, there's that one perfect solution to a seemingly impossible situation. I sat looking at the final screen for 30+ minutes before I found a way out and beat the game for the first time. Now I've finished the campaign with every single squad and even beat it on hard difficulty a few times. Mission accomplished.
Despite playing video games for 20+ years, I've never truly felt like part of a specific game community. I tend to bounce from one release to the next in an effort to see everything the industry has to offer, so very rarely do I stick with a game for an extended period of time. That's especially true of competitive multiplayer games. Thus, I don't consider myself to be part of a dedicated fan base. I simply admire and view those communities from a distance.
SpyParty feels a bit different.
Yes, it's been in development for a very long time and only came out in Steam Early Access this year, but the main conceit of 1v1 multiplayer competition in which a sniper tries to shoot a spy in a cocktail party remains novel in 2018. That novelty carries the experience a long way and offers tense back-and-forth matches with loads of depth and complexity. On the surface it's simple, but the room for growth is staggering. I truly think SpyParty is a fantastic game and one of the best I've played in 2018, but that's not the main reason it sits at the top of my list.
The dedication and kindness of the SpyParty community is why it's my GOTY. I still remember my first few matches back in April. In between each round my opponent and I would chat with each other, trading jokes and strategies as we tried to carry out spy objectives or shoot party-goers amid screams and dropped cocktail glasses. The next day a SpyParty veteran with THOUSANDS of games under his belt played a few rounds with me and gave me tips along the way. I wasn't expecting this from a 1v1 multiplayer game.
Then I joined the official Discord channel and met a bunch of really cool folks who clearly love SpyParty. Some of them have been playing the beta for many years and know each other in real life. The main creator who does most of the work on the game – Chris Hecker – maintains a presence there and posts design thoughts and updates. A lot of the technical jargon goes over my head, but there's no question about his dedication to the project, especially with how long he's been working on it. It's all a bit intimidating at first, but practically everyone is super nice and encouraging.
Eventually I joined the SpyParty Competitive League and put up a respectable 5-3-2 record in the challenger bracket of the tournament. I even made it to the third round of the playoffs! Every weekend members of the community would broadcast the biggest SCL matches on Twitch, complete with expert commentary and slick overlays. Even as a spectator sport, SpyParty is fascinating. Then I went to PAX West in Seattle and dropped by the SpyParty booth. They were a bit shorthanded at the time so Chris Hecker and a community member asked me to literally run one of the demo stations and explain the game to new players (I think I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself!). Despite all the cool games I saw at PAX this year, that was probably my highlight of the event.
All of these memorable experiences are coming from a guy who mostly lurks on the Discord channel and has maybe 60 hours of in-game time with SpyParty. As I write this it's been a couple months since I last played it. I'm not some well known person within the SpyParty community. And yet I still feel like I'm part of it. That kind of feeling speaks to the power of games and demonstrates why SpyParty is my 2018 GOTY.
I played more Dead Cells in Steam Early Access last year than I did when it officially came out in 2018, but it's just as good now as it was back then. The roguelite/Metroidvania design is integral to its identity, but in all honesty the combat is the main reason why I enjoy Dead Cells so much. The combinations of weapons and abilities are so much fun to play around with, and it touches on something I talked about in my 2017 GOTY entry for Super Mario Odyssey. Game feel is such a hard thing to quantify or explain, but it can truly elevate an experience. That was the case with Odyssey last year, and I feel the same way about Dead Cells in 2018.
I've always wanted to like Monster Hunter. I had a decent time with friends when I played Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, but the tiny screen and uncomfortable controls just weren't for me. Enter Monster Hunter: World, the first big console release since Monster Hunter 3 for the Wii U. The core experience is still there, but everything around the periphery feels more user-friendly. Most of the mechanics are less obtuse than previous entries in the series, and the new visuals are a huge upgrade over the portable releases. Thus, I'm able to focus on what really matters: the incredible depth of each weapon (long sword baby!), the grind for badass armor, and fun boss fights with friends.
Yakuza is awesome. I finally saw the light last year. Just take a look at my 2017 GOTY list and you'll see my praise for Yakuza 0. Yakuza Kiwami felt like a step back, but Kiwami 2 kicks things back into high gear with a more involved story, an impressive visual overhaul, and a ridiculous amount of content. Everything feels better and more polished, especially the combat. But honestly, the story of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima is why I love the series so much. I'm truly invested in the world of Yakuza. Hopefully that PS4 remaster of Yakuza 3 comes to North America sooner rather than later!
I finally entered the world of VR in 2018 with my purchase of a PSVR so I could experience Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. There were plenty of games I wanted to try, but Astro Bot pushed me over the edge. I'm really glad it did, because Astro Bot feels like a watershed moment for the platform. It channels the creativity of Nintendo's finest 3D platformers and uses VR technology in smart and creative ways. The use of perspective in particular is truly a sight to behold. The first time I lost track of my cute little robot buddy and had to literally crane my neck around a corner to find him was one of the cooler game moments of 2018.
In many ways Spider-Man feels like a dated open-world game. It features a ridiculous number of collectibles, uninspired side missions, and some truly awful stealth sections. Fortunately, the joy of swinging around a beautifully realized New York City makes up for a lot of those flaws. It reminds me of the first Red Dead Redemption back in 2010, in which I spent a lot of time just riding my horse and taking in the sights. I spent a lot of time in Spider-Man just swinging around and taking in the sights. Same activity, different mode of transportation. I also appreciate the fact that Spider-Man isn't an easy game. It encourages players to use all of the superhero's powers and abilities to take down a wide variety of bad guys. Oh, and Insomniac's portrayal of Peter Parker and Mary Jane might be my favorite from any comic, film, or game.
Obviously this is a very late addition to the list since it came out on December 14. Reception so far has been very mixed, and it's not a huge shock. The game leans heavily on some very divisive mechanics, namely hunger/thirst and permadeath. I admit it's a brutal, unforgiving game. I've found myself frustrated with it on occasion. But few games nail an aesthetic as brilliantly as Below. It's an audiovisual masterpiece - I can't stop hitting F12 to take screenshots. I only play in short bursts late at night to avoid its inherent stress, but I often think about it when I'm not playing it. That has to count for something.
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