Best of 2018

Honorable mentions for me include:

  • Hollow Knight - This definitely would have been on my list if its actual release date was 2018, but I wanted to play by the rules here. I played a ton of the Switch release and loved it!
  • Tetris Effect - This is a really great Tetris!
  • Dead Cells - A really fun game with excellent combat.
  • Unavowed - Really great narrative-heavy point-and-click game. Probably would have taken my #9 spot if I hadn't played 428 (which is just a fantastic visual novel).
  • Yakuza Kiwami 2 - I love this series, and this is a great remake, I've just played a LOT of these games in the past couple years now.
  • Hitman 2 - Another great murder puzzle box simulator.
  • The Messenger - This was almost my #10 spot, but Yoku is a more unique concept that is executed pretty flawlessly, so it won out.
  • Into The Breach - I enjoyed this quite a bit when I played it on PC, but it really got its claws into me after I double-dipped on the Switch version. It's very nice to be able to do a couple battles here and there and then put the game down.
  • Dragon Quest XI - I've played a good 60 hours of this so far, but still haven't finished it as of yet. It's a very good DQ game :)

List items

  • I am surprised as anybody that this game took my top spot for the year. The game looks amazing, the combat is fantastic and dynamic (and only gets better as your options open up over the course of the game), and the dad-son journey of Kratos and Atreus really feels natural and fleshed out (although Mimir is probably my favorite character overall, he's just a lot of fun).

    Honestly, what really escalates this game is its juxtaposition with this series as a whole (both narratively and gameplay-wise). Honestly, I'm not sure how they were able to take such a one-note caricature and make him into a character I give a damn about.

  • My wife and I were both enraptured by this game in the time it took us to finish it. It is an expertly designed mystery / logic puzzle that both you can't put down & also is very mentally taxing. I cannot imagine how long it must have taken to map out all these lives into a cohesive mystery to be solved. I can safely say I have never played something with this art style either - and the art style actually plays into the gameplay, with the vagueness of faces and events feeding into the mystery.

  • Most of the time, when I think of lauded 2D platformers, most of the time it is for their mechanics: "oh, the movement & jumping feels great", "the level design is excellent", etc. But to have that married to a heartwarming and bittersweet story that I found quite relatable is really something special.

  • This was a late entry in the year, but I have nothing but praise for this game. It makes me happy on every level - art, gameplay, music (the soundtrack is truly fantastic), just joy all around (even when the gameplay gets pretty darn challenging around halfway through).

    There is a ton of great level design, interesting mechanics (one late game dungeon has you suddenly possessing objects for a few hours and solving a ton of interesting puzzles this way) - it feels like an older Wonder Boy/Monster World game but with all the modern game design sensibilities.

  • This was my first VR experience after picking up a PSVR for Black Friday, and it truly wow-ed me. Like Monster Boy, it is a joyous game that had me grinning the whole time, all the while the game introduces new mechanics. I am really invested in VR experiences and can't wait to see what comes next.

  • I know a lot of folks found this game repetitive in terms of its structure and were disappointed that the stories didn't intertwine as hoped, but this game checked all my JRPG boxes in a big way. Central to that is the fantastic combat system - most fights are challenging and feel like a puzzle to be solved with the way the weaknesses system is designed. The art (the gigantic boss sprites bring me great joy) and music are top tier, and I actually thought most of the character stories were interesting enough to compel me to see them through.

  • I cried my eyes out at the end of this game (which my wife was very confused by: "are you sure this is the weird game where you chop yourself up?!?") - I cannot believe SWERY was able to take such a bizarre premise for a game and stick the emotional landing, but by jove, he did. I don't want to say much more than that to avoid spoiling folks.

    Oh, and the last section of the game does some excellent storytelling via gameplay mechanics (which is criminally underutilized) that I loved.

  • This game isn't breaking too much ground, but it is polished to a sheen, and basically had me addicted to it for a good couple weeks. I'm a real sucker for fun traversal mechanics in open-world games, and the web swinging here nails it. Plus the combat is really fun, and as someone who doesn't care too much for superhero stories, the narrative and characters are surprisingly well handled.

  • This probably will be on like maybe 1 other person's list, but I like visual novels, and this is one of the best, for sure. Its "multimedia" storytelling approach (mainly real-world photos and some videos in the back half of the game over text) is very unique and initially caught my eye (and turns out to be quite well done, with scenes framed well and actors being very expressive).

    It also might have the most actual gameplay I've seen in a visual novel (I don't think I've ever gotten stuck or stumped while playing one until now). There are multiple characters' storylines you are juggling, all who effect each other based on your decisions (and there are a LOT of decision points, some mundane and just for flavor text, some very important). It's all laid out smartly in an easy to read grid, and you can jump around at will.

    The characters are all pretty interesting, and the central story / intrigue you are following is well-written and compelling. I was well and truly sucked in, like a good book (but better!). I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes the genre.

  • Metroidvania-pinball is not a game I expected to ever exist, but the crazy folks at Villa Gorilla did it. This is such a chill, fun game, and the concept is executed pretty flawlessly. The world feels very natural, despite being full of little pinball tables and flippers and everything.

    I love the art style and the island vibe - you meet a lot of weird, interesting characters on your journey around the island. There's some good tunes, and it's fun to just explore the island a look for hidden secrets and such.

    I'm really looking forward to what this team makes next (I believe this was their debut game!).