By Gruel 0 Comments
Greetings dear readers and welcome to my annual top gaming experiences/moments/favorite games I played in 2018 that may or may not have released in 2018 round-up!!! Consider this my personal greatest hits compilation of my year in videogames that was 2018! Buckle up buck-a-roos because I am going to take you on a several thousand word journey as I count you down my handpicked top 33 gaming ‘experiences’ of the year! This is not going to be any other ordinary quick scroll through of listed top games of the year because almost anything I did gaming related qualifies for a ‘experience’ in 2018. That experience could be my overall time I invested into a certain game or series of games I decided to lump into one list item, or it could be a certain other piece of gaming memorabilia, news item that really struck me or a memorable gaming session with friends and family that makes it perfectly eligible for the list!
So if you have not by now then use your favorite bookmark app (I recommend Pocket) or ‘control + d’ to manually bookmark this page to revisit this feast of words because it is going to take some time to consume! For optimal experience I highly recommend a big cup of coffee and blaring one of those 10-hour YouTube videos of ambient rain because that is exactly what I did to craft this beast! Speaking of YouTube videos I linked to a whole boatload of them throughout the rankings from trailers for most games I discuss and moments that really popped for me if you so desire to click them for a reference to the corresponding footage. If you managed to finish this monster and dare to seek out my similar takes on previous years of gaming experiences then I triple-dog-dare you to check out my write-ups for my best of 2017 and best of 2016 gaming spectaculars. Enough with this intro, to the list we go!
Part 1 - Rankings 36 through 31
Part 2 - Rankings 30 through 24
Part 3 - Rankings 23 through 18
Part 4 - Rankings 17 through 14
Part 5 - Rankings 13 through 10
Part 6 - Rankings 9 through 4
Part 7 - Rankings 3 through 1
PART 1 - RANKINGS 36 THROUGH 31
36) Telltale & Prima RIP
I hate to kickoff this list with a downer, but that is why this is at the bottom of the list. The saga of Telltale announcing its closing in 2018 was quite the affair with all the misguided reactionary hoopla. It initially leaned towards fan outcry of Telltale now being unable to finish the final season of its acclaimed Walking Dead line of episodic games it was in the middle of releasing getting more attention over the developers who lost their jobs and benefit plans. Things were getting heated in the wrong ways real quick, but there was a modicum of redemption with fellow videogame developers reaching out and picking up many of the laid off and publisher Skybound Studios picking up the rights for the remaining episodes of the final season of The Walking Dead and following up that announcement with good news of Skybound being able to re-hire most of the original developers who did not already land jobs elsewhere.
I feel I wronged Telltale this year by having 2018 be the first year in several years where I did not complete a season of a Telltale game. Tales of the Borderlands and both seasons of Batman are in my massive ‘want to play’ stack, and now with The Walking Dead being on its way to being concluded I now feel obligated to pick up where I left off after finishing season two a few years ago.
Prima closing up surprisingly resonated with me. They have been the constant major publisher of videogame strategy guides for what seems like an eternity. Part of me is surprised Prima hung around this long with how easy it is to reference GameFAQs and other online guides, wikis and YouTube playthroughs for free in an instant. I prefer to go that route too, but I would occasionally pick up a Prima guide and would prefer their more detailed layouts and maps when playing Fallout 3 and Skyrim than compared to what an average text GameFAQs guide can offer. I will also give a shoutout to their supplementary NES & SNES Now You’re Playing Power/Super Power guides/nostalgia books that launched alongside the NES & SNES Classic. Both feature lots of vintage scans from Nintendo Power alongside new interviews with developers, pro speedrunners and creators of fan art, music and website communities. When I heard of their closure I went out and ordered Prima guides for other Bethesda games like Fallout 4 and New Vegas. When I went to file them away I hung my head in shame to see I already procured the Fallout 4 guide awhile back, so now I have two copies of that one. Backup copy! There will still be other specialty strategy guide publishers (major props to FanGamer’s guides!), but none with the presence or outreach of Prima established.
35) Non Virtual Boy VR
Last year in the round-up I stated how I have too many reservations about getting on board with the VR craze that has swept up a segment of the gaming world and that I will stick with my Virtual Boy for my VR needs. My Extra Life friends Chris and Lyzz have a Playstation VR headset and had me try it out at their place in 2018 and after trying out a couple games in PSVR…..I was impressed, but still not sold on it overall. I played one or two of the mini-games on the PSVR Worlds mini-game collection that came with the peripheral. I then played about a half hour of London Heist. That experience was a memorable one as I got to admit it was cool looking around the gangster hideouts while being tied up and taking in the unique 360 camera of my surroundings that is only possible in a VR experience. The gameplay was on the money too in some shooting gallery segments and eventually a car chase portion that was the highlight of my time with London Heist.
I was relieved I did not suffer from any of the motion sickness I heard wide varieties of minor and severe reports of from VR players. Then again I only played PSVR for only an hour. I have kept up with the games hitting PSVR since its launch and in its first couple years it has built a library of several games that appear to hold their own as premiere VG single player experiences with bonafide hits such as Moss, Astrobot and Farpoint. After some legit hands-on time with PSVR I will maintain my reservations on VR in general. The price entry point is way too high and I would rather spend the money needed for starting off a proper PSVR experience in upgrading my PC instead. It requires a lot of cumbersome setup, it is a safety hazard by completely blocking off your surroundings and finally after playing for a mere hour my face felt like it was sat on for many more hours after removing the headset. I may try out VR down the line at friend’s places or wherever I run into it at and will likely enjoy my time with it, but as far as owning VR goes I will continue to be happy with my Virtual Boy and reliving the complete Virtual Boy experience in 2019 with Jeremy Parish’s Vitual Boy Works line of videos.
34) Hadoken 2018
Last year’s list I ran down what was popular among the numerous fighting games my friend Chris and I played online throughout the year. We continued that trend on and off throughout 2018, almost always on Saturday mornings while taking brief breaks to cycle loads of laundry. I finally had my first serious, long overdue sessions of Mortal Kombat X and had some great practice rounds doing a few arcade ladders before throwing down online with Chris. I really need to go back and plow through the storyline I love so much out of those Midway fighters before the sequel hits later this year. Tekken 7 was another popular one among us and I loved its slow motion attacks that kicked in on the closing strikes of battles. It was the most fun I had with Tekken since the Tekken Tag 2. Props to Namco for adding my favorite Tekken mini-game, Tekken Bowling as DLC! It is as sweet as I remembered, but Chris and I were seriously bummed there is no online play for it. Street Fighter V was getting fleshed out throughout 2018 with a ton of DLC with its season passes and I grabbed the first two seasons when they were on sale to try out the new characters with Chris a couple of times.
If you do not have it already on last-gen systems, I still would recommend Ultra Street Fighter IV as it collects nearly all the DLC characters and costumes and goes on sale digitally frequently. It was a hit revisiting with Chris, but the surprise SF hit among us online was Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. Aside from collecting 12 of the earliest SF games, it made four of them online and Capcom had a slick online lobby system to make it quick and seamless to jump from playing one version of SF to another. Chris and I got lots of fights in throughout the year and I also did about 20 fights in online ranked lobbies against random opponents in hopes of getting just one win to get a trophy. That proved to be a brutal endeavor as my assumptions of my meek hadoken skills hoping to get lucky once were foolish as I lost every time (thought a couple of times I won once out of three…yay?). The worst was when higher skilled opponents would sit there and wait for me to come at them before schooling me with counter attacks. That happened even worse in Mortal Kombat X online against randoms, but as they say, practice makes perfect.
33)Mass Effect Andromeda Novels
I have seen nobody talking about these…probably because of how lackluster Mass Effect Andromeda was received. I was a huge fan of all four novels published concurrently alongside the original Mass Effect Trilogy and they helped fleshed out the story between games and gave a ton of back story to characters I was thrilled to see finally appear in the third game. I had no idea publisher Titan Books were releasing novels set in the Andromeda universe until about a year after the first one hit. Just a few months ago they released the third of the planned four books set in the Andromeda timeline.
I finished the first two books and enjoyed both of them. I gave more thorough reviews on my GoodReads account and will link to them here. For the quick breakdown though Nexus Uprising deals with a crisis of the Nexus mothership arriving at Andromeda attacked by a mysterious ‘scourge’ and the hysteria that results with its limited crew in charge of a ship barely hanging onto survival. Nexus Uprising leads right into the start of the Andromeda game. Initiation has a new Andromeda recruit fresh off her seven years of Asari training traveling for one last mission before journeying to Andromeda where the new recruit encounters a hostile VI/AI in a facility she must now survive and rescue as many survivors along with her. The latest book, Annihilation, I am only halfway through and I regret to report that I am just not feeling this one.
Annihilation explains why about a third of the original Mass Effect races are not in the Andromeda game as it goes into detail why they all took a separate ship there that wound up having a disastrous journey. I enjoyed the peripheral races in the original games in nice little spurts, but having a book focusing entirely on the volus, elcor, drell and a couple other races so far has been a slog to get through. I will keep my fingers crossed it picks up in the second half.
32) HDMI Cables for Retro Consoles
The past couple of years have seen an emerging trend of either having deluxe HDMI conversion kits for older systems to display at their proper resolutions on newer TVs or having third parties re-release older systems like the NES and SNES with new HD capabilities. Those are great options to have if you want a pristine picture on your HDTV for retro gaming goodness, but they cost a premium and 2018 saw manufacturer Pound release their HDMI cables for SNES, Dreamcast, Xbox and PS2 all for around $30 each. I picked up the Dreamcast and PS2 cables, but have only had time to test out the DC cables so far. I dug out the Dreamcast and tested out several games with regular cables and then the Pound cables and noticed a definite improvement in the graphics! They no longer have that washed out ‘muddiness’ look when I would ordinarily run a SD system on a HDTV with composite/RCA cables. There was a minor caveat where I noticed a minor background graphical effect in menus and only when I took the time to squint and stare during gameplay, but other than that this was a much affordable alternative. I found out about these from YouTuber, MetalJesus and you can see his coverage of it by clicking here with plenty of before and after comparisons to see if they may be what you are looking for.
31) Father’s Day Gaming
I have nostalgic memories of the many long gaming sessions I had with my dad and siblings while spending weekend visitations with him. We went all the way back to the original Pong and Atari 2600 in my childhood years through the NES, SNES and finally N64 during my high school years. While I have wonderful moments of many games with the family in each era the N64 years were the ones I cherished the most because of the ease of four player multiplayer with its four controller ports which was perfect for my dad, my brother Joe and either my sister Ann or another friend that would be over to helm the fourth player spot. Almost a couple hours of every visitation during that time we played countless hours of competitive N64 multiplayer.
That was many years ago though since we regularly played, and while thinking of ideas for what to do for Father’s Day this past year instead of going out for dinner and catching a movie like we would usually do I threw out the idea of staying in and having pizza and doing an N64 gaming day. I was delighted to hear my dad and brother were both up for it and thank goodness the games still held up and were just as much fun to play as they were around 20 years ago. My dad loved New Tetris and was a total pro and would be in a trance when he used to play it all the time so I was mighty curious to see how well he remembered it all these years later. We were all a little rusty, but we all got back into the rhythm of things after a few minutes and it was like we did not miss a beat. I am always disheartened to hear New Tetris get overlooked when I was hearing multiple discussions of past great Tetris games when Tetris Effect took the gaming community by storm in 2018. New Tetris was the first 3-4 player console Tetris game and also the first home console game to debut the incredibly handy ‘hold piece’ which is why New Tetris ranked right up there with Tengen Tetris, OG GameBoy Tetris and Tetris DS for my favorite versions of the legendary puzzle game.
We also played a hefty amount of Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007. I have heard the countless debates over the years, and I will forever contest the N64 Mario Kart as the pinnacle of the series. I have also heard the many people proclaim that GoldenEye is an outdated mess all these years later. Every two or three years I bust out GoldenEye and the same thing happened here as before, after a few minutes of adjusting to the graphics and controls the game had its hooks in us again and we were having intense rounds of deathmatch with muscle memories suddenly kicking in of our favorite map and weapon presets. The three of us went on to have many rounds of fun blowing the crap out of each other! I have been watching Giant Bomb’s line of recent Die Another Friday videos where they try and run through the campaign in Perfect Agent difficulty. Instead of the expected jokes about how dated the graphics were I was relieved to see that most of the GB crew eventually were legit surprised at how fun GoldenEye still is.
PART 2 - RANKINGS 30 THROUGH 24
30) Videogames in Theatrical Form
Longtime followers of my work may recall my podcasting days where my co-hosts and I would go out of our way to track down and cover almost every major and obscure videogame licensed film that hit theaters or direct-to-video. Minus a few exceptions, they were usually painful experiences. Even though my podcasting days are behind me I still like to keep up the tradition of catching any new film that hits the theater or video that is based on or around videogames. 2018 I managed to catch four new films that fit the criteria. The new Tomb Raider featuring Alicia Vikander as the one and only Lara Croft was solid, but nothing spectacular. It had a handful of memorable stunts and captured a few of the moments I recall from the acclaimed self-titled reboot game in 2013 so on the videogame film curve I would categorize that as a ‘win.’ Rampage featuring The Rock totally surprised me how they were able to get a fun movie out of a straightforward arcade smash-em-up from the 80s. Within a half hour I was feeling for the monsters and Rock’s connection for them was surprisingly powerful. Really good stuff that you should not dismiss!
Looking back on Ready Player One several months after its release I can safely recommend it. I loved the book when I read it shortly after its release several years ago and I was somewhat conflicted coming out of the film. This is because of how far it strayed from the book yet essentially maintained a similar over-arching plot on how a world full of gamers playing the same VR game are tracking down the creator’s hidden ‘easter egg’ in order to inherit his riches and become his heir. Avid game player I am I could not help but keep my eyes peeled for as many as ‘blink-and-you-will-miss-it’ cameos from the beloved mascots of videogames and pop culture from over the years. After hearing how the author wrote the screenplay and gave his seal of approval for the changes I eventually was won over by them especially since the changes were entertaining and since the film came out only four or five years after the book it could have been a slog to see the movie play out 100% the same.
To close off 2018 a few weeks ago I took two of my many nieces and nephews to see Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet. That was a unique experience because my middle-school aged niece and nephew were ecstatic to point out a couple of YouTubers they follow that have cameos in the film. The sequel had a similar structure to the first where the first 20-ish minutes circle around Ralph and Vanellope loving life in their arcade they reside and visiting other arcade classics of gaming lore. I love how Tapper got a lot of love in the film with Ralph and Vanellope making that game setting their late-night watering hole of choice! Eventually though their arcade gets hooked up to WiFi and it was fun seeing Ralph and Vanellope take a journey in Disney’s CG version of the Internet with lots of real-life companies like Google, Amazon, etc. having their own fun representations in the film. This sequel was a big hit with me and once I got past the welcomed videogame references in the first 20 minutes I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph 2’s overall plot exponentially more than the first film.
For readers of this blog who may or may not also keep up with my film reviews here, I recently reviewed Die Hard in honor of it being a Christmas film classic (yes, I am one of those people). It should go without saying that Die Hard is one the all-time greatest action films, and after watching it again a few weeks ago I recalled how there were a few PSone and GameCube games I had vague memories of fairly decent receptions at the time and after discovering how low they were priced on eBay I decided to take a chance on them. I loved the arcade game, but do not own a Saturn so I did not hunt down that version, but got the two PSone Die Hard Trilogy games and Die Hard: Vendetta on GameCube. I have not had a chance to play them yet, but I have since watched a few entertaining Game Informer Replay videos on them revisiting these ‘gems’ to varying degrees of quality all these years later that will suffice for now until I get around to them. Here are a few links so you can check them out and do the same!
28) ….And Raging Justice….For All
I referenced in these round-ups before how every few years my friend Matt and I would marathon several random beat-em-up classics usually consisting of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men variety. The last time we did that was around 2015, and the current gen systems have been flooded with a quality amount of re-releases of classics and obscure releases and all-new installments in the genre that we have been neglecting for far too long. Just a couple weeks ago Matt and I finally got around to playing through one of them on the PS4 called Raging Justice.
It had a similar look and feel to Final Fight, but with a slightly pastel-esque touch to the graphics that made the late ‘80s punk ooze right out of the game! The story had all kinds of goofy street punk gang warfare that we both ate up and we were really gelling in our playthrough and we were surprisingly not eating up that many lives. As a matter of fact we only went through one continue between both of us! After plowing through it within two hours we made a list of other similar new beat-em-ups that hit PS4/XB1 over the years so hopefully we will do better at sticking with this genre in 2019.
27) Now You’re Playing With a Power……ed Up NES/SNES Classic
If you do not want to go down the route listed above by hunting down HDMI cables for a system you do not own or a pricey HD-capable 3rd party version of a NES/SNES than there are a couple of grey-area alternatives. I talked about the RetroPie in last year’s round-up, so this year I want to focus on what people are calling ‘modding’ your NES/SNES Classic. I am not going to give you a step-by-step breakdown, but a quick Google/YouTube search will point you in the right direction. Once it is done you can add up to as many games that will fit in the Classic’s internal memory. If you stick with just NES games you can fit a majority of the NES’s library on the internal memory, SNES game sizes are noticeably bigger and if only going that route with ROMs you can fit roughly 200 of them on there…..that is if you in good faith own the original copies.
There is a nice benefit to the NES/SNES Classic compared to the RetroPie and that is a friendlier user interface complete with upbeat background music and the ability to upload your own box art which ostensibly delivers the nostalgic sensation of browsing the shelves at a videogame rental store and thus is more appealing than scrolling through a large text box of games on a RetroPie. Since the NES/SNES Classic is HDMI it provides an excellent HD picture for these classic 8 and 16-bit games. This resulted in busting out both the NES & SNES Classic several times throughout 2018 for some free spirited gaming nights.
26) Tabletop/Pen and Paper Madness
I referenced last year how I started to get into semi-routinely board game nights with my friends Derek, Ryan and Brooke and we managed to keep the board game nights churning throughout 2018. Derek & Brooke have amassed a hearty collection of board games and we were able to rotate a fair amount of games from last year and new ones to try out this year. One of the board games we revisited often was Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill, and they release a spin-off called Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate we were all eager to try throughout the year. We finally busted it out on a day where my brother was able to join us and it was a great medieval themed take on the original game that did not disappoint. Another new board game we tried out was Elder Signs. Thank goodness Derek, Ryan and Brooke are awesome tutors because the game had an elaborate setup with many pieces and by about halfway through our session I was familiar enough with the play style that yielded a fantastic end to that round when all of us were able to mount an insurmountable comeback that resulted in an unlikely, thrilling win for us all!
Shifting from tabletop gaming to pen and paper gaming, I have always been a fan of the SNES/GEN versions of Shadowrun. I always knew a group of friends that have been roleplaying the pen and paper RPG it is based on for quite a few years now and they reached out before to get me to play, but with my gonzo work/sleep schedule I knew it would be impossible to routinely play with them every week. I still had that itch to want to at least give it a honest try all these years later so I reached out to them and asked if I was able to commit to playing at least once a month with them and if they would they find a way to squeeze me in? Thank goodness they found a way to create random characters and place me into their campaign for the three times I made it out there to play with them. Mike is an awesome storyteller and ran a fun campaign, and I will also give props to Justine, Ron & Robb for being very welcoming and tolerant of my noob-ness and by being quite gracious sharing their infinite Shadowrun wisdom unto me. Unfortunately I fell out of the routine of playing with them after a few times, but I am glad to finally tried it out after all these years and would be down to make random cameos in their future sessions.
25) Kicking that Early Access Bug
I am going to cheat a smidge on this one because in December of 2017 through 2018 several games I invested lots of time into and/or have been majorly anticipating finally left Steam Early Access (SEA) and got official releases. Some went onto have official releases on console of well. Gang Beasts has always been silly goofy wrestling/brawling fun with creatures made of a silly puddy-esque substance and it was fascinating watching that game evolve over the several years Gang Beasts was in SEA until its official December 2017 release. I had fun times with friends in that game, and especially witnessing countless Giant Bomb sessions of its madness. FirePro World was another wrestling game that came out of SEA in December of 2017, but it was only in SEA for several months…not years. I have loved previous FirePro games for their faithful representation of a wrestling match and endless customization options, and was thrilled to see it get a physical PS4 release which wound up being the first physical wrestling game I picked up since…..wow…WWE 2K14.
Road Redemption was another game that spent a few years in SEA and I was stoked that it finally got an official release in 2018, with later digital versions that hit PS4 and XB1 in the following months. I raved about it before in previous year-end round-ups, and it is long overdue to finally have a motorcycle combat racer that is finally worthy of being deemed a successor to the heralded Road Rash series. There is a lot more to Road Redemption than being a Road Rash clone, so stick with it as its bizarre rogue-lite nature of its career mode and bonkers weather and weaponry will unleash mayhem you likely did not anticipate coming in. Distance is another driving game that was in SEA for far too long, but after four years Distance emerged a fleshed out release. It is a driving game like nothing else, and the best way I can sum it up is a ‘trippy neon platforming Trials-esque’ driving experience. Its standout feature is a platforming ‘adventure’ mode which was rebuilt for the official release and went on to add so much other tracks and customization features since I last played Distance in SEA that I hope my meek PC can still handle it when I eventually revisit it!
Not done yet because two more driving games trapped for years in SEA also fully released in 2018. Jalopy is another adventure-esque driving game where you take your uncle on a trek across Eastern Europe in the family’s run-down lemon of a vehicle that needs constant attention and repairs and not to mention other tomfoolery the duo stumbles into amidst their travels. I have had my eye on Jalopy for awhile and was relieved to hear when its long SEA cycle also concluded. Finally, Bugbear’s project formerly known as Next Car Game released in 2018 as Wreckfest. It is the spiritual successor to Bugbear’s FlatOut line of demolition derby racing games that I have so many fond memories of. Wreckfest looks and feels like a current-gen FlatOut and I was glad to see it retain its excellent physics engine the series was known for. I was bummed to see the console release get a delay into the second half of 2019, but for those with capable PCs, Wreckfest is fully out now to consume in all its destructive glory!
I do have two quick honorable mentions for this category. Super Indie Karts is an adorable Mario Kart-clone featuring mascots from many hit indie games as drivers that has also been in SEA forever. The developer keeps regularly adding content though and it just released a fresh batch of tracks and drivers (featuring the not-so-indie ToeJam & Earl) to the build a few days ago. I have nothing but super-fun memories of my time with Super Indie Karts so I hope it gets its long-awaited official release in 2019! Finally, while Shaq-Fu 2: A Legend Reborn never was officially in SEA when Shaq accidentally leaked it out in an offhanded interview four years ago shortly before its Kickstarter campaign premiere, it feels like it never left there once the game released to worst game of the year-caliber reception. I own two copies of the 1994 original Shaq-Fu, so I felt obligated to purchase the sequel when I recently stumbled upon it in the clearance bins for $6 just a few months after its release.
24) Good ‘ol Fashioned Videogame Couch Multiplayer
I will also give a quick mention to the videogame nights I was glad to be a part of with Derek, Brooke and Ryan! While 2018 saw us hit up more board game nights we managed to sneak in a few couch videogame multiplayer nights of some old favorites like Sony’s take on the JackBox Party Pack that is called That’s You where the four of us chuckled away the night at its irreverent trivia and doodling nonsense on each other’s faces. We also mixed in a couple other games into the rotation throughout the year. I heard great things about Towerfall before, but finally playing it was a rush and a half with its fast intense bouts of bow-and-arrow deathmatches with sudden death animations that left us in stitches!
Derek introduced us to the bonkers four player game called Ultimate Chicken Horse where users play several quick rounds trying to reach a goal but insert random objects of torture between each round that makes getting to the goal near impossible by the end of the game. It was a big hit with our group. Finally it will behoove me to include the crazy night we had with the 360 game, Cloudberry Kingdom. It is an absurd runner game filled with all kinds of deathtraps just waiting to obliterate our adorable avatars. Cloudberry Kingdom has literally hundreds of levels, and as expected each one got procedurally more nuts but was still a blast to attempt to complete! After a couple hours of the madness and many attempts on one particularly troublesome stage we all had this priceless defeated look on our faces after we finally finished it and we all knew in that instant that we were DONE with it for the night! What a fantastic runner I hope we get to revisit again one day!
PART 3 - RANKINGS 23 THROUGH 18
23) Wanting More Time to Dedicate to 2018’s Top Indie Games
There are a few websites and podcasts I follow that have tons of game of the year coverage, and it is a great place to get a reminder of those indie games that slipped through the cracks and I completely forgot about or neglected throughout the year. I heard enough praise about three of them that seemed up my alley and before the end of the year I was able to put in a 20-30 minute session with each of these. I wish I had more time for each, but my initial impressions were high for all three and I know I will put more time into them throughout 2019. Yoku’s Island Express is a hybrid of a pinball game and a MetroidVania that somehow delivered on both fronts as I unlocked more paths through an island by flipping my character and ball through a variety of colorful environments. My love for both genres makes me want to return to it ASAP.
Minit is a roguelite RPG with an dastardly hook where each session has a one minute timer, but you retain all the items collected on each session that unlocks other paths on the map. I did about 20 sessions and as I got familiar with the game world I already was starting to plan my next steps ahead for my next minute run. Many jovial curses to the developers who intentionally programmed the NPC W-H-O-T-A-L-K-S-T-H-I-S-S-L-O-W to keep me in a nail-biter of a moment to hit the next checkpoint with literally a single second to spare! The last indie game I snuck in some time with was the Super Meat Boy-esque platformer, Celeste. This comes from the same developers who made Towerfall that I just got done shedding some love for above. The instant restarts and checkpoints make its fair-yet-punishing platforming worth the challenge to get through and I can already see its addicting ‘just-one-more-try’ instant respawns reminding me of the longer-than-intended sessions I had with the Trials games and I look forward to them in Celeste! I am only about a half hour in, but have heard nothing but the best of acclaim for its narrative about overcoming personal struggles to make it to the top of a mountain!
22) Fans of Gamers Who Crave Limited Runs
I imagine you have heard of them before, but if not then both Limited Run Games and FanGamer have both been great sites I have been persistently coming back to for primarily physical copies of smaller indie games and top-tier quality gaming memorabilia. I am happy to see Limited Run expanding in 2018 by finally starting to publish games on Switch and landing their more anticipated games in a limited window preorder program so everyone has a shot at getting a copy. It was also encouraging to hear that some of their games will be shipping in smaller quantities to Best Buys across the country so people who do not order their games online have a shot at getting some of their titles the traditional way. Some of the titles I ordered this year from them that I was stoked to get physical copies of include Late Shift, Read Only Memories and Golf Story. That is right, I do not own a Switch yet but ordered Golf Story because I loved the GBC/GBA RPG takes on Mario Golf that Golf Story is the spiritual successor of and I kept hearing how it hits all the right notes for fans of those handheld classics. I anticipate I will get a Switch within the next year pending the inevitable smaller redesign of the system. My only qualm with Limited Run now is with their growth their shipping times have significantly increased. I recall my first few Limited Run games I ordered taking 2-4 weeks to ship, now the last several I got all took 3-5 MONTHS each. Step it up guys!
I will also tip my hat to FanGamer for their plethora of must-have merchandise. I loved their meticulously detailed strategy/companion guides for Earthbound and Mother 3. It is awesome they are collaborating with Jeremy Perish to publish deluxe hardcover books of his transcripts for his excellent Works line of anthology retro gaming videos. FanGamer has a ton of artistic shirts, posters and other memorabilia for many top-rated indie games. I ordered my first shirt from them recently with this design that perfectly captures the spirit of WindJammers. I am also perplexed with their sudden infatuation to the classic run-and-gunner, Sunset Riders, FanGamer recently obtained the merchandising rights for. They celebrated the occasion with a unique cosplay promotional video that almost convinced me to order their Sunset Riders branded wallet….almost!
21) 25 Years of the Real-est Interactive Multiplayer in the Room!
Guys, the 3DO is a pretty neat system! Seriously! Of course I did not spend the obscene $700 when it first launched 25 years ago, but I got it for a bargain in 2007 and went on to hunt down many games that I always wanted to try for the platform. Not all of them were winners, but there were several that wound up as worthy inclusions in my library. My recommended games for the 3DO include the awesome party game Twisted, its mascot platformer Gex and the original Need for Speed. 3DO also has excellent versions of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Family Feud, Madden and arguably the best version of the classic motorcycle racer, Road Rash!
Nearing its 25th anniversary and just in time for Halloween, the good people at Your Parents Basement Podcast invited me on to guest host and commemorate one of the 3DO’s spooooop-iest games, the Tia Carrere FMV thriller, The Daedalus Encounter! I busted out my 3DO from the closet and booted up my old save and came pretty darn close to finishing it before the puzzles got to be too much of a brainbuster for me! Riveting times were had breaking down and dissecting the game with the YPB crew which you can check out and download here.
20) Shmuppreciation 2018
One of my favorite podcasts I have been a listener to for over 13 years now is Super-the-Hardest. They use to be primarily videogame-centric, but have since evolved over the years to focus on whatever topics pique their interest such as craft brews, board games and jamming out to vinyl records! One of their longest traditions has always been dedicating March to shmup/space shooter games. I am not a pro shump player by any means, but always am down to pump in a few credits and blast away for as long as I can survive.
They have a small, but tight-knit forum community I have always been a part of and when March hit the hosts were asking there if anyone was playing any shmups yet. A couple days went by with little response, and knowing how big shmup-month was for that community in previous years I was suddenly inspired to start up weekly high score chases on the forums there with the focus this year being on three random NES shmups each week. I tried to have a consistent rotation of the three games being one common/popular shmup such as Gradius & 1943, another lesser known domestic release like Alpha Mission & Zombie Nation and finally a imported Famicom game that never saw a stateside release with picks this year including Parodius Da & Gradius II. At least a few us participated each week posting our scores and exchanging tips and breaking down how good/awful that week’s selections were. It was a heck of a month and somehow I managed to keep up posting selections each week and got in time with every game! No idea if I will do it again for 2019, but if I do I think it may be time to upgrade to 16-bits!
19) The 3DS Soul Still Burns!!
I somehow managed to sneak in an hour of time into my 3DS each week. I was ecstatic to track down an English translation for Ace Attorney Investigation 2 that never saw an American release. I loved the first game and always wanted to play the follow-up and got most of the way through the first case. I finally played my first Fire Emblem game by putting in several hours into Fire Emblem Echoes. Hearing that Echoes was a good entry point for the series having played Advance Wars many years ago the gameplay was not that difficult to pick up. It has that same addicting strategy gameplay as Advance Wars, but with a medieval theme and a far richer narrative than what I recalled from my Advance Wars days. Just the couple of sessions I had with Echoes I was already starting to get attached to the cast.
Hotel Dusk and its sequel, Last Window are my favorite DS games. They are mystery visual novels, and when I found out earlier in 2018 that some of the developers at Cing who worked on those games went on to make a bite-sized spiritual successor to it on the 3DS eShop called Chase: Cold Case Investigations - Distant Memories I knew I had to get it. I bought this around when it released in 2016 and neglected it until John from the Super the Hardest podcast recapped it earlier in 2018 and inspired me to pick it up. It is essentially a more stripped down version of Cing’s earlier games as it revolves around two detectives interviewing suspects for a hospital blast. Graphics and style remind me of Hotel Dusk and the lead detective in Distant Memories looks quite similar to one Kyle Hyde. It was a decent little visual novel that can be finished in less than three hours, and I hope it gets a follow-up, but it appears this one came and went because I have heard nothing since.
I finally started up Theatrhythm 2: Curtain Call. In case you missed out on it before it assembles the protagonists from past Final Fantasy games and makes a fun battle system/rhythm game of over 100 songs from the rich history of Final Fantasy soundtracks while somehow fitting in a intricate narrative too. Wish I had more time to get into it and I think I will have to restart it I manage to deep dive into it because I spent the bulk of my 3DS time once again this year with Dragon Quest VIII. My save file is currently approaching 110 hours in DQVIII. However, the last 15-ish hours have been spent grinding from levels 40-65 for most of my party members for the final boss. To say the boss is a pain is an understatement. I failed multiple times at vanquishing him, thus the hours at grinding away. I will never forget my time with DQVIII, but am looking forward to finishing it on one of my next sessions so I can finally put more time into other games. The 3DS still had a strong 2018 from Nintendo published games and I wound up picking up Captain Toad, Detective Pikachu and WarioWare Gold which I desperately want to dive into!
18) ‘Get Ready for a Cruise Missile!’
I use to play a ton of sports games until several years ago. I took a long hiatus from them to focus on more narrative-driven games. Madden NFL ‘18 premiering its story mode dubbed ‘Longshot’ got me curious at giving the acclaimed football series another go for the first time in five years. I surprisingly dug Madden’s take on a story mode and loved playing as the fictional Devin Wade working his way through the reality show challenges and playing in flashback high school games with lighthearted local announcers providing the unintentional best sports commentary out there. Longshot also had a well-rounded cast filled with some surprising moments I never thought I would get invested in such as getting them sports feels flowing for the Longshot acoustic sing-a-long! The story mode only took a few hours to play through and even if you are not a fan of football games I would recommend giving it a shot as the football parts are few and far between and the story mode is primarily QTE/mini-game focused.
Story mode aside, I managed to play a few rounds online against my friend Steve I use to play countless sports games with over the years and it felt good to reignite that rivalry. Madden still plays as good as I remember, and one thing I want to point out from the core game is the new NFL commentators they brought in for ’18 & ’19 with Brandon Gaudin & Charles Davis easily being the best announce team in Madden history that added a ton to the presentation unlike any Madden announce team before them! I did pick up Madden NFL ‘19 recently because it has ‘Longshot Part 2’ which promises to conclude the storyline for Devin Wade and his buddy Colt Cruise, but other than a couple rounds online with Steve again I have yet to dive into it. After catching a couple scenes online I am psyched to see how Longshot concludes and plan on blitzing through it around Super Bowl time like I did with part one in 2018.
If you are not a fan of sim-football and prefer arcade style action in the vein of NFL Blitz than I will instead point you towards Mutant Football League which I played nearly a full season of off-and-on throughout 2018. It is the spiritual successor to EA’s awesome Mutant League Football on the Genesis, and part of me is still surprised how the team did not get a cease-and-desist from EA with a slightly altered name change and bring over so much of the look and feel of the original game. It modernized all the things I loved from the first game with a game engine that plays like a amped up version of Blitz, and retains classic elements of the Genesis game like being able to kill your adversaries in all types of gruesome ways and introducing awesome powered up attacks that can be used once per half to up the brutality. And yes, you can still bribe and kill refs! I was a little bummed Mutant Football League did not get that much of a buzz when it finally released because it had a successful Kickstarter campaign and a follow-up to the Genesis game has been long demanded in the sports gaming circles I follow. A physical copy released later in the year with a new Franchise mode included so hopefully that will bring some new eyes onto the game. If you want more over-the-top arcade-like gameplay out of your football games then by all means give Mutant Football League a try!
I also got really into my first basketball-sim in many years. I dabbled with a couple arcade-hoops games over past couple years and really dug the Neo-Geo Arcade Archives re-release of Street Hoop on Xbox One, while the free-to-play Xbox One hoops game, 3-on-3 Freestyle…..not so much. I always stuck with NBA 2K games as my NBA sim of choice since their debut on Dreamcast and picked one up every couple years and played them regularly through 2K11. Early in 2018 however a super cheap digital sale on NBA Live ‘18 convinced me to give it a shot. I have solely been playing its create-a-player story/career mode ‘The One.’ I have been digging it and loved the first several games I played in ‘The One’ proving my worth in street games of 21. Every few games there would be these hilarious FMV updates from a First Take set with Stephen A Smith and Max Kellerman being over-the-top versions of their already over-the-top personalities which convinced me that my created player was going to dominate the street leagues and become the #1 draftee in the NBA….it did not turn out that way, but I am having a blast so far proudly representing the Timberwolves while dishing out far too many three-point attempts than I should be.
Love him or hate hime, Stephen A Smith has always been entertaining with his sports analysis as seen in this video above collecting his best moments. Unlocking more analysis videos from him covering your created player's career in 'The One' mode in NBA Live kept me coming back to it.
PART 4 - RANKINGS 17 THROUGH 14
17) The End Day is a Lie!
I was going to say a couple entries earlier when covering all those NES shmups that I have not played that much NES in years, but that statement would have been false because mere weeks before that I played through the entirety of the post-apocalyptic, action-RPG Crystalis on NES! It was the featured game on the first of two Your Parents Basement podcast episodes I guest hosted on for 2018. I picked up both the NES and GBC versions a couple years ago after hearing countless years of love from the staff at GameCola about it. I managed to play through most of it by the time we recorded that YPB episode and finished it off a few days after that. All these years after its original release, Crystalis is still a fun action-RPG to plow through. I loved the accessibility of the combat, and while the options to choose from to level up seem quaint now, I can imagine how they were top of their league at the time.
After beating the NES version I put an hour into the GBC port to see how it held up. I heard the GBC version get a fair amount of slack over the years, but from my initial time with the handheld port it seemed noticeably cleaner and had some useful tips at the opening town that would have benefitted my first time through. I had a great time sharing my experience with the YPB crew and if you are interested in hearing our takes on SNK’s 8-bit RPG then click here to check out that episode. It seemed only fitting that the NES original got its first retro re-release later on in 2018 on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on Switch.
16) Pinball Quest 2018
Welcome to my yearly blurb all about feeding my addiction to videogame pinball. In case you skipped around this year-end round-up (I do not blame you!) I will refer you to entry #23 for some quick thoughts on Yoku’s Island Express. I only got a few rounds of my favorite PC-exclusive pinball game, Hyperspace Pinball in 2018, and the last time I played it a couple weeks ago I had a great run and was briefly ecstatic until the leaderboard indicated I missed my personal high-score by a smidge! I also gave a couple runs to what appears to be a mobile pinball game ported to Xbox One in Quantic Pinball. It is a fine little pinball game, but its mobile roots are too apparent and not many upgrades are present to make the console release feel warranted.
2018 was a strange year for Pinball Arcade. I wanted to make the switch to primarily playing it on PS4 in 2017, but that proved difficult upon discovery of my dozens of tables I purchased on PS3/Vita not being import-able to the PS4 version like I was able to for the dozens of tables I acquired for Zen Pinball 2 to work on Pinball FX3. So that meant I would have to buy the tables all over again. I held off for a long time, but I wound up spending roughly $200 on all of the DLC for it upon hearing midway in 2018 all of Pinball Arcade’s collection of tables under license from Williams/Bally would no longer be supported for purchase with only a few weeks notice to be able to buy them and add them to your Pinball Arcade library. Plopping down around $200 all at once for that DLC was a punch in the gut, but ultimately I do not regret it because there are some minor, but noticeable enhancements to the visuals on the PS4 version of Pinball Arcade and it has a slightly cleaner feel to the gameplay too. Additionally the developers at Farsight now have a separate game called Stern Pinball Arcade so the newer Stern tables have a flashier place to reside. I perfectly understand the idea to make the Stern tables pop more on their own platform. The Stern tables purchased theoretically work in both Pinball Arcade and Stern Pinball Arcade, but doing so requires reactivating the purchased license in the clunky Playstation Store interface and it once lead to me to inadvertently purchasing the same table twice.
A couple months later I was stunned to find out that Zen Studios gained the license for the Williams tables and by the end of the year would have their first seven tables from the Williams/Bally collection available for download to Pinball FX3 (PFX3). I have mixed feelings about this. I do like Zen’s optional upgraded graphical enhancements to the tables, but the overall physics for the ball movement does not feel like the authentic movement that Pinball Arcade faithfully represented. There is an option in Pinball Arcade for ‘classic mode’ which kind of slows down the speed of play and leans the gameplay to marginally feel like an authentic pinball experience, but it simply does not cut it overall. Hopefully Zen can take the feedback and continue to improve in future DLC tables.
Gripes on the Williams tables aside, I enjoyed the rest of my time in 2018 with PFX3. I have heard the criticism for Zen Studios’ unrealistic style of pinball, but I have always been a fan of theirs and feel there is room for both authentic digital pinball from Pinball Arcade and faster physics with the more fantastical tables from Zen. I finally started to grasp PFX3’s initially intimidating ‘mastery’ system of each table. The mastery system is topping off essentially an experience meter for each table by achieving score goals in each gameplay option available and maxing out several stat meters. I did this for The Infinity Gauntlet, Back to the Future and almost all the way for Medieval Madness. I also got into the weekly online scoring ‘matchup’ league play where PFX3 randomly picks four tables and scores posted by three random players in three skill levels for three minutes of play each week. By toying around with trying to master tables and online score chasing in matchup play it lead to a lot more time invested in Pinball FX3 compared to 2017.
15) Sega Channel 2018
In the summer of 1996 I spent about five or six afternoons a week at my friend’s place playing Sega Channel. No memories of it? Here is some vintage archival footage of its menus of the Sega Channel experience. It was Sega’s sweet-at-the-time service where in coordination with cable companies from 1994-98 you would pay $15/month to have a rotating monthly selection of 40 games playable from a special cartridge that hooked up to the household cable line. Games would download to a temporary internal memory on the cartridge from the cable line over a minute or two and save states were also available. It was the current Netflix streaming of gaming and was way ahead of its time. It was also how I discovered countless Genesis favorites I hunted down at local shops and online after I got my first job a few years later.
It took 20 years after Sega Channel shutdown to get a faithful reincarnation of it, but only far better in every way. GameTap sort of brought it back to the PC for the few years it was around in the 2000s. However, Xbox brought it back in full force with its excellent Game Pass service for Xbox One it introduced in 2018. Instead of 40 games available to play each month there are 100+ rotating games for Xbox. Add on Microsoft’s bold move of making all their first party games available on Game Pass on day one of their release and it would be insane not to recommend it, especially for new Xbox One owners. I actually am that insane though and do not have it because of my massive backlog and lack of time to commit. However for new Xbox One owners and/or game players on a budget like students or parents looking to save lots of money getting games for their kids they would be in an ideal position going with Game Pass and a Games for Gold subscription which additionally nets ownership of four games each month to their Xbox games library.
14) Ride or Die
Like pinball games, I also have a yearly blurb on my experiences with racing/driving games for the year. I felt my year in driving titles slightly nudged out my pinball times, thus it being a couple notches higher ranked. If you dear reader are randomly bouncing around this list then I will refer you to entry #25 where I touch on driving games coming out of Steam Early Access such as Road Redemption, Wreckfest, Distance, Jalopy & Super Indie Kart. There were a few driving titles I dabbled this year in that I wish I had more time to plug away at. As you will see later in this round-up, I am a nut for the Sega 80s arcade driving titles like Hang-On & OutRun, and the PS4/Switch release of Horizon Chase Turbo is the best spiritual successor to that type of racer I have seen over the years. They brought on the same composer from those games and the visuals have a nice modern HD look to them that capture the spirit of those 80s greats. It has been a great while since I played a snowmobile racing game and Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge was a limited, but fun budget title racer on PS3 that reminded me of a fond time when all I wanted was a no-thrills career mode with a few dozen races and simple stat upgrades to deal with in a career mode. Drive!Drive!Drive! was the final racer I put some minor time into, and that was an extraordinary title where I would have to bounce around multiple cameras to control simultaneous races.
At the beginning of the year I was wrapping up the last dozen or so races/events in the 360 version of Forza Horizon 2. I had another good time with it like its open-world predecessor and took advantage of that rewind button to avoid retrying the same track over and over, but looking back I preferred the experience of the first FH more as the sequel seemed more of the same, but in a less spectacular backdrop. Friends are telling me to skip three and jump to the new fourth game in the series getting a lot of buzz online now, but the third game has that tempting Australian outback setting I froth to explore and on top of that the unique Hot Wheels DLC pack I heard nothing but superb things about. So I will continue to be extremely behind on that series and plan to jump into FH3 later this year.
I went on an odd Monster Truck binge in 2018. The Xbox One digital store had Monster Jam: Crush-It available for dirt cheap one week, and having a modicum of nostalgic memories of past entries in the long running budget title series I wound up taking a chance on it. After spending far more time than I should have with it, ‘budget’ is a generous description for Crush-It, because this racer is full of absurd physics, bizarre collision detection and endless other bugs. After a ton of bugs causing too many rage-inducing moments I beat enough tracks and finished all the challenges to make Crush-It of all games to have the dubious honor of being the first Xbox One game I unlocked the full 1000 gamerscore in. After wrapping up my time with Crush-It I stumbled into picking up a copy of Monster Truck Madness 64. Microsoft was developing the series at that point on PC for awhile, but ported it to N64 and had a pre-GTA Rockstar Games publish it for them. Unfortunately the Rockstar branding could not have saved MM64 as it too was also rough around the edges with terribly loose steering that had me dreading every corner. It did feature the nWo muscle trucks at the time though that brought back memories of the old WCW Motorsports advertising.
The racing game I put the most time into in 2018 was The Crew. Not the sequel that came out later in the year, but the original game. I got around halfway in it via staggered play over the previous year or two, but with the release of the sequel approaching I grinded away in the couple of months leading up to its release to finish the avenge your brother’s death storyline which I actually kind of dug. There was a surprisingly gripping cinema building up to campaign’s final race where I was legit getting behind protagonist Alex Taylor. I had fun just messing around and cruising around UbiSoft’s condensed open-world of the continental United States and tracking down their take on iconic landmarks. I messed around a little here and there with their instantaneous online coop/versus multiplayer reminiscent of Test Drive Unlimited, and had a few fun online moments but I enjoyed most of my time in the single player. Gameplay wise it is not five stars by any means, and I would prefer Forza Horizon any day, but there was something about the gritty underground nature of The Crew and its car-culture-gang-warfare story that kept me sticking with it. I eventually picked up the sequel recently on a bargain bin digital sale for the ultimate season pass edition being 60% off so who knows, I likely see myself in 2019 playing The Crew 2 and Forza Horizon 3 concurrently at my regular on-and-off pace.
PART 5 - RANKINGS 13 THROUGH 10
13) Spoooooky Gaming
For Halloween I brought up to my board game/videogame night friends Derek, Brooke & Ryan about doing a spooky gaming marathon. They did me one better and recommend I bring over my copy of Hidden Agenda on PS4 to binge through that I have been occasionally throwing out for an option over the previous months. Hidden Agenda kind of snuck under-the-radar towards the end of 2017 as it came from the same team that made the critically acclaimed teenage spooky thriller, Until Dawn. This is another spooky-thriller, but designed to be played with your friends and finished in one session within three hours. It is a game that requires a smartphone app to play, and luckily it came close, but did not deplete our entire charge by the time the credits rolled. The app had some clever functionality that kept tabs on case notes and presented us with options to vote on which way to take the story next like having to choose which part of the case to investigate, or which path to split off into. While the story was a little all over the place it managed to get us riled up and jumpy a few times, and was still a blast to play through in its entirety in a single night on Halloween weekend. Now I need to replay it on my own to have complete control over the story so on my calendar this October I am going to write a big reminder to replay Hidden Agenda and finally bust open and plow through Until Dawn.
I have been avoiding most co-op gaming that cannot be finished in a single session like Hidden Agenda for a few years now due to lack of time to finish lengthier co-op games. I made one exception this year where my same friend Matt and I met up twice to persevere through A Way Out. It is a coop game clocking in at around a whopping six hours. That is a lot for me nowadays. Matt and I absolutely loved our time with A Way Out. Spending the first couple of hours getting to know the prison system and plan our escape was a rush and it reminded me of the equally awesome first few hours of Xbox’s Chronicles of Riddick. Crawling up the air shaft with that back-to-back mini-game will go down as one of my favorite moments in co-op gameplay.
The plot I found myself getting into where two would-be fugitives found themselves teaming up to escape prison and get back to their loved ones. It kind of disappointingly unravels in the final moments with some bold narrative choices the developers made that I am still processing in my mind on how I feel about the final hour of play. The ‘must talk to everyone’ extremist in me was addicted to talking to nearly all NPCs and have brief choice-based conversations with all of them. The developers at Hazelight Studios cram in diverse gameplay throughout with plenty of exploring, interrogating, QTE segments, platforming, gunfights, intense car chase sequences and a big highlight being a hospital chase sequence where A Way Out seamlessly bounces back and forth between the two characters as they get split up and must evade the police. If you are looking for something fresh and different than the infinite amount of co-op shooters available, then give A Way Out a chance.
11) ‘This is a No-Smoking Flight!’
If you do not recognize that quote it is from the adorable master of cooking eggs, Sunny, at the close of one of the numerous lengthy cutscenes that Metal Gear Solid 4 was known for. The ending cutscene is literally the length of a movie, and the cinemas between each of MGS4’s acts are right around an hour each and I would not want it any other way! MGS4 was the first MGS game I finished nearly 10 years ago and I decided it was only appropriate to revisit it after finishing the first three MGS games in the past couple of years. I got so much more out of MGS4 this way by actually getting the countless past references to the core trilogy of games this time around. I loved that MG4 also had memorable debuting characters like the aforementioned Sunny and the soda-chugging gun-runner, Drebin! Since I last played MGS4 Konami has also patched in trophies so it was worthwhile to hunt down those and look into some that swayed me to approach gameplay in a different fashion which yielded a refreshing second go-around.
After finishing MGS4, I continued my ritual of view that installment’s complete gameplay commentary from Dan and Drew at GiantBomb to get essentially a third playthrough experience out of MGS4. I did not make major progress in the rest of my Metal Gear quest otherwise throughout the year. I did get a little ways into MGS5 at the beginning of the year, but then felt compelled to drop it and play through MGS4 before it instead. That was probably a wrong decision in hindsight, but at least it gives me an excuse to restart it and experience one of gaming’s grandest opening missions yet again. I did pick up the GBC version of Metal Gear Solid last year for a decent price at a local retro shop, so if I ever do finish MGS5 I would like to play the GBC title along with the MSX versions of the original two games.
10) Better Late than Never
I have no idea why I held off seven years on getting around to the highly-touted Saints Row the Third, especially after loving the first two games and finishing them in quick fashion right around their release. The third game in the open-world crime action series upped the zany factor the series debuted in the second game with some of its activities by introducing all kinds of over-the-top elements in the story missions and into the weapons, upgrades, you name it. Here are a few examples so you can see for yourself. Saints Row the Third gave the franchise its own satirical identity when before it was only a pretty solid GTA-clone.
Waiting seven years to get to this classic made certain parts of the graphics seem a little long in the tooth, but for the most part the visuals and core gameplay held up nicely. Experimenting with the huge variety of weapons and vehicles available made cruising through the open world a lot of fun. Same goes for the series trademark offering of mini-game ‘activities.’ The developers at Volition pushed every button to get the most out of that M rating to make its missions standout like no other as they go in places you will not believe. I went on to play both pieces of the story-based DLC content which take the Saints in filming their own Gangstas in Space movie and chasing down an evil mutant clone of series mascot, Johnny Gat. If you missed out on this landmark achievement in open-world gameplay then consider this synopsis somewhat timely since THQ Nordic will be releasing Saints Row the Third later this year on switch.
PART 6 - RANKINGS 9 THROUGH 4
9)Discovering my Favorite Gaming Blog
Early in 2018 I was scouring the webs digging up info on the must-have import games for the Super Famicom/SNES. I came across this top 50 list ranking the most obscure SNES imports from a blog called RVGFanatic. It is a blog primarily dedicated to covering SNES/Super Famicom games, but also has the occasional feature covering a game on another system or a random personal life story. The site has been around for over a decade and RVGFanatic continues to publish a few new entries a month. His writing and coverage reminds me of the writing style dominant in gaming magazines from the 90s and RVGFanatic stated in various articles that was his intention with the design in the blog.
I spent a good chunk of the year revisiting his site and perusing the archives there because there is an earnest quality to his writing that captures the sheer joy of growing up with those games. He manages to be both reflective and current with his writing recognizing pros and cons the games have been known for, while also recapturing the experience of playing that game for the first time. A prime example of this is his recent review of Clay Fighter. It perfectly encapsulated my memories of the much hyped fighter looking wicked cool with its revolutionary graphics which helped hide its haphazard gameplay. His occasional personal blogs were metaphorical page-turners too as I related with him perfectly to his excellent write-up of rental store memories as well with his piece on wrestling nostalgia of the Hulk-a-Mania years of the then-WWF. I can recommend so many more of his articles and reviews, but instead I recommend you dive in and get lost in RVGFanatic’s archives like I did!
8) My Handpicked Top Gaming Videos of 2018
I have been scouring the YouTubes and GiantBombs throughout the year and have some of my highest recommendations of my favorite videos to add to your watch later q! Without further ado, here are my top picks of 2018…
GiantBomb's Die Another Friday series where they play through Goldeneye 007 on its toughest difficulty was priceless all the way through!
Jeremy Parish ‘Works’ Videos - Too hard to pick just one all of them are so informative and comprehensive. Pick a system of Works videos from the playlists indexed here
Norm Caruso did an unbelievably excellent job with his production values and in-depth research breaking down how Tetris came to be and is a must-watch for anyone who has the slightest craving for gaming history.
Game Sack – Star Trek Games
No Clip – History of Bethesda
Same Name, Different Game has some fine breakdowns of various versions of the Punisher back from the 8 and 16-bit era.
That list there is days full of quality videos to last you throughout 2019, I hope you dig them as much as I did!
7) Videogame Vinyl
How the hell did I go down this whole!? I recall first getting clued into the world of emerging videogame soundtracks on vinyl from this music primer episode of Retronauts. Later in 2017 a friend gifted me his old record player since he recently upgrade along with a couple records. Since I had the record player in my possession I figured I had to had to track down a just a few records for it and I heard good things about soundtrack vinyls from Mondo and I went and ordered several records from them. That was the first domino tumbling right there, and from that point it was inevitable to prevent the rest tumbling after them.
Throughout 2018 other websites I follow like Limited Run, Data Disc and FanGamer started to offer videogame OSTs on vinyl and I made several more purchases throughout the year. I do not have hundreds of vinyls mind you, but I finished the year with around 15. I made sure to track down some iconic videogame soundtracks like a few from the Castlevania series, Earthbound and Snatcher. There were also a few oddballs that still boggle my mind why they got a vinyl release like Windjammers and Mortal Kombat I & II that I convinced myself I had to have. I am not buying these to sit on the shelf though as I have been getting some quality use out of my record player jamming out to soundtracks while cleaning the house and doing DDP Yoga three times a week.
6) Hey-a Fellers
It was practically impossible to avoid getting sucked up by the whirlwind of hype in the months leading up to Red Dead Redemption 2’s release. I also loved its predecessor so much that I knew I had to be there day one to be in on the conversation going around the gaming press zeitgeist about RDR2’s opening acts. South Park got in on the RDR2 hype train too with a couple episodes where the whole town is addicted to it. Rockstar does not disappoint with their narrative and audio/visual presentation. I will not bore you with the details you have likely read elsewhere by now, but rest assured the open-world, cast, narrative, visuals and especially the score and voice acting is aces all around!
Not all is aces though as RDR2’s multi-faceted control scheme has been divisive among many in the gaming media. Bottom line, there are too many functions for every button on the controller, and at points I completely forgot certain controls and had to do a quick online search for a refresher on how to do specific abilities like dual wielding and changing coats. Those gripes quickly washed away after extended sessions with RDR2 where I cannot help but get immersed and lose myself in the world. I spent so much time looking forward to getting distracted by whatever quick instant side mission or event that popped up traversing to my next checkpoint. According to my progress I am 36% the way through RDR2 after what seems roughly that many hours in the game, however I am only in chapter two because I keep having so much fun clearing out whatever side missions get accumulated in my checklist. I easily see many more hours to come in RDR2 throughout 2019.
5) The Hidden Beauty of Shield Snow-Surfing!
2017’s #1 pick, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took up so much of my playtime in 2018 that it managed to eeek its way into my top five of 2018! There is simply so much to explore, see and do and I am insane at refusing to take advantage of fast travel due to fear of missing out on seeing cool stuff. The photo I attached here showing my 133 hours of total play time was taken shortly before Halloween and I have put at least several more hours in since then. I will give a shoutout to my co-worker Mike who has been awesome to trade tips and stories with since Breath of the Wild’s launch. He gave me a ton of great pointers and his advice has made my experience with BotW a better one! Mike filled me in all about the wondrous technique that is shield surfing! I later discovered more about it when my random traversing lead me to a corner of the wintry mountainous region of the map where I was taught shield surfing and how that lead to the thrills surfing through the snow blanketed mountains of Hyrule.
I have made so much progress this year! I am down to needing to unlock only two more parts of the map where my one last divine beast to conquer lies before finally taking on Hyrule Castle and Ganon! I loved my time in the Lost Woods and Lomei Labyrinth Island that was a hoot to find my way out of. I finally got the Master Sword. I took some stabs at the DLC trials for the Master Sword which is reminiscent of the extremely tough-but-fair challenge that is Eventide Island. I failed after several attempts, but would like to conquer them to increase the Master Sword’s power! Speaking of DLC I waded around with a handful of the DLC quests available and unlocked the Korok mask from the DLC quests which looks funky as hell, but it has helped me amass at least triple the amount of Korok Seeds I would have found on my own. I want to jump into the DLC quest that unlocks the ‘Master Cycle Zero’ (aka Hyrule Motorcycle) as footage I have seen so far looks straight-up rad cruising through Hyrule in their trippy looking hot-rod. Mark my words, Breath of the Wild, in 2019 I will finally finish the core quest and vanquish Ganon and unlock the Master Cycle Zero!
Oxenfree was my game of the year in 2016. I loved its art style, mysterious narrative and especially its script where the teenagers would one second be trying to solve this multi-layered mystery on an island and the next have a heart-to-heart chat about stereotypical teenage drama. Night in the Woods was receiving a lot of the same buzz over it also being a Narrative Exploration game with a relatable 2D art style and similar plot hooks to the point that among the gaming press it was generating buzz of being 2017’s top Narrative Exploration title. After looking into Night in the Woods I could not help but be reeled in by its plot where a failed college student drops out of college two years in and returns to her small podunk town of Possum Springs to try and recapture her days of chilling with her high school friends but only for them all to be later caught up in local town superstitions proving not to be so superstitious.
As attractive as the plot was I could not help but, I would not say be turned off, but rather mystified about the decision to go with humanoid-structured animals representing all the characters. First impressions watching initial gameplay of Night in the Woods made that choice in character style difficult to suspend my disbelief and maintain my focus on checking out the game. I am not saying that is a bad thing, I am simply stating that is what was perplexing my mind. There must have been others who felt similar to me because there was also a harsher vocal contingent who was upset with people avoiding the game due to the art style who wrote a few articles stating that if you were avoiding playing this because of animals as characters than to F off. That led to me not wanting to get caught up in all that hoopla so I decided it was best to avoid that controversy.
It was only around game of the year time at the end of 2017 where I heard friendlier supporters of the game rally behind it with high praise that convinced me to give it a chance and start it up at the beginning of 2018. I am relieved I did because Night in the Woods is a kickass Narrative Exploration game! The writing is right up there with Oxenfree as all the characters captured that local post-high school angst and rebellion of trying to make it in the real world and things not quite working out. I settled into a convenient routine of daily life gameplay where the player character Mae would check in with her parents and of course with me being me, make sure to talk to every local I would come across because they had something different to say every day! The dialogue for every major and minor character was so spot on that it made going out of my way to talk to everyone worthwhile and random spots in town had special one-time moments going in with periphery characters that if I did not check out I would have completely missed out on such as a poetry reading contest, breaking light bulbs behind a corner store and checking out the stars with your old teacher.
There are a lot of singular moments that really stuck with me in Night in the Woods. Every day in the game you are presented with the option of going out on a side-adventure with one of Mae’s two best friends Gregg or Bae. I chose to do all mine with Bae so if I do get around to playing through this again I will do Gregg’s side stories on my replay to have at least a little bit of new content playable in each day of gameplay. Bae has some priceless moments with Mae where the two have serious chats about their most personal feelings that few other games I have seen dared, and they also have some priceless lighthearted moments where the two get mischievous in a dilapidated mall, complete with a mini-game on trying to steal from a Hot Topic-esque store. The most hard-hitting moment that I vividly recall was when Mae’s mom has a bad day and does a 180 heel turn on her daughter! It hurt so much! Mommmmm!!!!
I was thinking once Night in the Woods was going to focus more on the supernatural mystery it would take away from Mae’s personal drama that was so irresistible to get caught up in. Thankfully, that was not the case as it was doubly entertaining to watch Mae’s crew come together and discover the truth behind the superstitions plaguing Possum Springs. As you can tell I got so into Night in the Woods’ page-turning narrative that within about a half hour of starting the thought of the characters being animals did not cross my mind, and looking back on it the designs of the animals corresponded appropriately to the personalities they were representing. Minus the handful of over-ambitious dream sequences that were a little bit of a chore to get through and I might have given this a nod over Oxenfree. That split hair aside, Night in the Woods is a spectacular Narrative Exploration game and hangs in the upper elite tier of them with Oxenfree, Firewatch and Gone Home so if these games are up your alley make sure you do not make the same mistake I did and hold off on Night in the Woods for this long.
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PART 7 - RANKINGS 3 THROUGH 1
3) Returning to the Midwest Gaming Classic
From 2007-2013 one of my favorite times of the year was attending a local retro game expo, The Midwest Gaming Classic. Many great times were had there hunting down retro games, hanging out with an awesome forum community I once frequented, classic sessions of late-night karaoke and checking out tons of arcade machines and game consoles set up on free play. Unfortunately the timing of it always fell in a rough time of the year for me and it grew increasingly difficult to make time for it each year until it came down to where I had to stop going for four years. I was not going to make it this year again until a couple of my online gaming friends who I hung out with at MGC before and still keep in touch with asked if I was making it and that convinced me to pull some strings at work and manage to split up some vacation days I had coming so I was able to make the 12-hour drive out to Milwaukee and back home with a couple hours to spare before my first shift back at work.
Bear with me as I give yet another shoutout to Glenn and Jeff for reaching out and asking me about MGC because it resulted in an awesome weekend with some wicked weather to dance around to make it there and back. Wound up hanging out and touching base again with tons of great people I had not seen in four or five years. We had a blast hanging out late night after the show playing SNES games on a projector until we were zombies and watching the spiritual successor to King of Kong in Man vs. Snake. It also helped that MGC has moved to a bigger and nicer venue from the last time I went with room to grow. It was like MGC got revitalized by having adequate room for the mammoth vendor halls, game museum, free play arcade and conference rooms for speakers and panels. I caught a few panels on retro gaming and hung out with On the Stick’s Joe Drilling talking wrasslin’ and retro gaming after his panel. I succeeded in my game hunting quest in the vendor hall to hunt down the last couple of NES PowerPad games I did not own, and accidentally came across a homebrew bag toss game I never heard of before called Tailgate Party that I picked up to complete the collection. It proved to be a epic time that I was barely able to pull off at the last minute, but I do not regret it because it was yet another classic MGC weekend for the ages!
2) Forklift Races
It is kind of hard to place how much I love both Shenmue I & II. I got a theory from 1997-2000 for people who played either Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid or Shenmue fresh off their release. For those three games, people would be so blown away by their then-groundbreaking new standards set for their cinematic cutscenes and ambitious narratives that they would remain forever loyal to that particular game and swear by it forever no matter how credible the negative criticism is out there for those games. That is exactly what happened to me with Shenmue as it was the first of those three games I played, and I have seen people react in near-identical fashion to the other two games. I am aware of the criticism for Shenmue and I will not deny it, but there is so much else going for it that won me over that it made me overlook it and enabled me to have one of the best single player experiences in a game ever.
These last few years I was getting the itch to replay the original Shenmue when the Kickstarter was announced and funded in record time for Shenmue III. I was pleasantly surprised Sega quietly announced they were releasing a HD remaster of the first two games for current platforms to cash in on the upcoming sequel. As soon as the remaster collection hit in the summer of 2018 I dropped all other gaming and cruised through the first Shenmue within a month. I was initially trepid that the unique controls would be so outdated that Shenmue would be near unplayable. It was indeed a clumsy control scheme to get reacquainted with for my first 10-15 minutes, but after that I was whisked away back to 2000 again when I first experienced Shenmue and I was reminded how much I loved the setting of Dobuita. There are plenty of cheesy characters filled with so-awful-its-great voice acting that it was a treat reliving it all over again.
Like Night in the Woods I developed a regular daily routine while in the process of hunting down clues to find out more on who killed Ryo’s father so he could avenge his death. I would start off the day going to the local corner vending machines and grabbing an iced coffee and capsule toy. Ryo has got to have his morning coffee with the absurdly drawn-out drinking animation every morning like any other ordinary person! I would talk to as many regular shopkeepers I would about finding the latest clue and occasionally would have to battle off some street thugs for information or chase them down in a QTE sequence that Shenmue helped institutionalize among games. A guilty pleasure was visiting You Arcade nearly every in-game day for a round of a perfectly emulated version of Hang-On that I kind of was starting to ‘get gud’ at the checkpoint-based racer by the end of Shenmue. Eventually I got Ryo his infamous job driving forklifts as the plot came to a boil with Ryo hot on the tail of his father’s killer! Every day at work started off with a forklift race that had a catchy theme song I made up lyrics to nod along with for momentum. There was an achievement for winning a race…..it was the only achievement I failed to achieve! The penultimate 70-man mega-battle leading up to the final boss fight was a rush and a half to experience all over.
Again, there was some outdated controls and other quirkiness that was noticeable, but it did not get in the way from my unabashed love for the series resulting in my replay of the orginal Shenmue being my second best gaming experience of 2018! I cannot recommend it for everyone as I have seen the nature of that game rub some people the wrong way and my only answer for that is Shenmue is not for everybody. My spirits were riding high after finishing it that I started watching GiantBomb’s endurance run of it recently, and I went out and tracked down the vinyl OST for Shenmue and additionally the vinyl OST for Hang-On as well. Yup, I am kind of into Shenmue just a hair or two. I did not start up Shenmue II yet off the remaster set and plan to plow through it before Shenmue III’s currently planned August 2019 release.
1) Oh my God, You Killed Connor!
After 16,000 words we are finally here at #1! I know Detroit: Become Human has some hot-button controversies around it and if you decided to avoid the game I get and respect that. With that out of the way let me start by saying I have been a huge fan of Quantic Dreams going back to Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain. I even dug Beyond: Two Souls regardless of that title getting messy at a few points. I know each game has their fair share of nitpicks, but the thing Quantic Dreams nails is how they branch out their stories with its multitude of choice-based gameplay having actual impactful results in the narrative. This is not like most Telltale games where the greater arc stays the same, but the journey is slightly altered. No, characters can abruptly die when presented with a sudden major decision or major paths can be altered to skip entire levels. That is what I loved about Quantic Dreams’ games is these major chances they take on their games and Detroit absolutely kills it in these departments. Quantic also lives up to their past precedents set by moving the bar for Detroit being a true technical marvel and one of the best looking games this generation of consoles. This is coming from a person playing on a slim PS4 and not a 4K Pro system so I can only imagine the improvements if I were to play on a 4K setup.
Like Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, Detroit follows the story arcs of several characters. All four are androids at different states of becoming ‘deviant’ and thinking for themselves. Each character path has major moments where I had to pause the game and think over the imperative decision I was presented with. Quantic Dreams is clever at masking some choices as right or wrong that created some moments that I will never forget. Android Detective Connor and his human partner Detective Anderson were my favorite characters to follow throughout the game. Connor can get killed off like other characters in the game, but unlike other characters he is always instantly replaceable from the agency. I did not know that when my Connor perished in a jaw-dropping way I did not see coming. I instantly debated on rewinding my last save to play it differently, but I sternly stuck to my decisions the whole game no matter how they played out. I was relieved to see Connor come back and continue his love/hate relationship with Anderson, and eventually became amused by the inadvertent ways my decision making kept getting my Connor killed.
The other characters all had nearly equal major moments to get behind with a few examples such as saving a daughter from her abusive father in one of the most intense escape sequences in Detroit, rescuing a bunch of experimented androids from a psychopath, leading a android-rights revolution to trying to stealthily escape from the madness to the Canadian border. Quantic Dreams always has had Quick Time Events (QTE) button prompts handle the majority of their gameplay, and they have evolved it with each of their games to have the best implementation of QTE in gaming. Minus a few key moments they almost never result in a instant game over if one QTE prompt is missed and there usually is a few chances to correct a mistake in order to recover and win the scene…or you can intentionally fail and flub through a fight or chase scene like a dummy to hilariously disastrous results.
Depending on how you succeed through the prompts and the narrative based decisions made results in an ostensibly infinite amount of endings for each character. Quantic Dreams introduced a remarkable new feature at the end of each scene where a branching tree of decision options is displayed showing the choices made and blank boxes representing other options available and the percentage of the connected PS4 users that picked each option. From this same dialogue tree box checkpoints can be selected to pick up right from there in the gameplay scene to change a decision you were unsatisfied with. After finishing Detroit within two days I took advantage of this and hopped into one key part of the plot where Connor is presented with a choice that essentially gets the ball rolling for the final two-to-three hours of gameplay. I replayed that final chunk of scenes three more times within a week to see big differences in the endings for each character. Some did not survive, others endings all my characters made it to the end while others wound up skipping out on some of the most pivotal scenes in the entire game based on earlier decisions. I knew two other coworkers who were on the fence on picking up Detroit who were fans of Quantic’s previous games and I insisted on borrowing out my copy and we later went on to thoroughly breakdown how we handled key decisions and our various endings. It is insanely rare for a game to cause me to replay it multiple times that soon and that is saying something special about Detroit: Become Human and why it is my #1 gaming experience of 2018.
My word tally count is now tipping over 17,000 words so I think I better end this. It took me nearly 10 days to write this, and I do not blame you if it took that long to read it. That said I hope this proved to be a best of the year list/round-up like no other you experienced! Once again, if you liked what you read and want more of my end of the year ramblings then I will refer you to my best of 2017 and best of 2016 top gaming experiences features.
So until next year…..oh wait I almost forgot it would be inappropriate of me to suddenly end this without rewarding you with a few YouTube recommendations! I failed in unearthing my all-time favorite SNL sketch of Sports Center with Ray Ramono and Tim Meadows, so this sketch on the origins of the iconic NBA on NBC Theme will have to suffice. Need a refreshing beverage after getting through this list; Dusty Rhodes has the answer for you! These sparring kickboxers needed some beverages after getting bombarded in their training session by a acapella group. Mr. Worf wants to drain his sorrows in other beverages after witnessing this montage of his fails. Finally, here is a nice compilation of background music for your home with the top 100 ranked N64 songs of all time.
Ok that is seriously it for 2018, thank you again everyone for riding this out with me!