Favorites of 2018

This is very late. I kept thinking I was gonna clear out my backlog, but eventually I had to realize that 2018 was months ago. So, shoutouts to Return of the Obra Dinn, Guacamelee! 2, The Missing, Spider-Man, and any other games that didn't make it.

List items

  • The 2D Platformer is maybe the only genre that I’ve fallen out of love with. I’ve never had a grip on RTS’s and lacked the attention span for point-and-click adventures, so it doesn’t impact me that much when I come across one that’s not for me. I remember being there with sidescrollers, though. I grew up with them. But these days all I see are physics and squares and a pastiche of what is constituted as “good” fun. What happens when you stop having fun, though?

    If you’ve played Celeste, this diatribe might come off a bit strange knowing that it is, by most measurements, still a 2D Platformer. Its design isn’t scorched-earth; if it’s transcendent, then it’s not because of a paradigm shift. But all you have to do is look a decade back to Super Meat Boy, the indie darling that brought these games back into the mainstream, to see what Celeste had the sense to change. It’s electro-pixel simplicity with a handle on its nostalgia, it's difficulty without the searing attitude, and, most importantly, it's an escalation with an identity. It felt purposeful to me. For a few weeks in February of last year, I found myself with a reason to run and jump again.

    If you’re somehow like me and have been lost in this way, Celeste might be a beacon for you. I cannot guarantee it; but for me, however, it’s the first sign in a long time that maybe there’s something to look forward to.

  • Well, Nintendo, you did it. You made me pull out my 3DS one last time. If it was any other series -- Mario, Zelda, even Metroid -- I wouldn’t have done it. But hearing about a fissure in the decade of Wario’s stagnation was enough to make me go looking for it and a replacement for my long-gone-by-now stylus (I ended up using a small tube of oral gel, which worked pretty well).

    What resulted was probably my happiest time with a game in 2018. I sat in my bed, with only a glowing screen illuminating my face, laughing at the incredible new personalities of the characters and enthusiastically toying with the parts I already knew I’d enjoy. As a jaded and depressed adult, I gotta say: I haven’t had a childish glee like that in a good, long while. The game’s a bit short, and my favorite parts are in rare supply, but the fact that I have my 3DS charger plugged in at all speaks volumes to how much I love this game.

  • I feel dumb every single time I come up to bat for a fighting game. It’s a genre that single-handedly vindicates whoever first phrased “the devil is in the details”. I like a lot of these games, but how am I, a dumbass, supposed to tell you why? Should I pull up a spreadsheet of frame data? Tell you how many times I go “OH SHIT”? Pretend I get it and lie even more than I already have?

    The newest Smash Bros. makes me feel more hopeless than ever in this regard. I spend so much time thinking that my relationship with it is purely through the spectacle of seeing Donkey Kong fight Richter Belmont, and that the intricacies are the means to an end. But every time I get my hands on this game, it pulls me in for hours. At its height, I think I might actually want to... get better?

    With some time away, I honestly just think I wanna play more of it with my friends and at least win enough to not feel like I’m the KO dispenser they’ve been hoping for. I don’t think I’ll ever be fully comfortable with the party / fight paradox that is Smash Bros., but I do think that my enjoyment of it is too easy to see for pessimism to take hold.

  • NOTE: Not actually about Sonic for the Genesis. This is about SRB2Kart.

    For the uninitiated, SRB2Kart is a standalone mod of a Sonic fangame made in the legacy DOOM engine called Sonic Robo Blast 2. The amount of mental gymnastics you’ll pull to even understand what it is mars the immediacy of its fun; as the name suggests, it’s a kart-racer -- an even blend of 64-era Mario Kart and Sega’s arcade racers -- but even that fails to get across the charm.

    The original SRB2 has had an active modding scene for years and years, but its Kart offspring is picking up unprecedented speed. Its rapid expansion of the game’s core tenants are the best parts of modding and fangaming distilled into an enthusiastic pipeline of pure community vision. What was once a Sonic fangame is now the game where I race as Bubblun on a rainbow track called Gay Energy Zone. And you know what? It feels like fucking home, y'all.

    Its simplicity and feel made it a good game, but the time my friends and I have spent prodding at its possibilities made it leagues better than you could hope for.

  • One of the most common complaints I’ve seen leveled at this game’s praise is the idea that Good Tetris is still Tetris, and is therefore not worth getting that excited about. It being on this list shows that I clearly disagree, but let me explain why:

    Effect provides an appeal to Tetris that hasn’t been there in a good long while. I mean, I love Tetris deeply, but I don’t think I’ve enjoyed the /package/ of a Tetris release quite like this. Since the late 90s, it’s often ported in the most sterile and inoffensive way possible, both in style and mechanics. In contrast, Effect bucks both trends.

    Outside of the feature set, it's maybe the most presentable gateway drug into the higher echelon of play that gets “Tetris people” so enthusiastic. If you think about it, Journey Mode is kind of TGM-lite, and there are several supplemental modes that seek to push beyond your abilities. But not only does Effect hoist itself up to a higher standard than most -- it allows others to see why getting there is even worth the trip.

    Though honestly, if Tetris for the NES was released in 2019, I’d probably still like it more than most of the releases that I didn’t put on this list. It’s justifiable for this reason alone, frankly.

  • Between several friends and family members, the Party Packs have become staples of our time spent together. But after years of consistent play with these compilations, “put funny in prompt” has been revealed to be as fugacious a design as any. Luckily, Jackbox took a real risk with Party Pack 5 and it bore some great fruit.

    (Well, 3 of the games are good. You know how these packs go.)

    Special thanks goes to Patently Stupid, which allows players to go so far out there that the game might as well not be running. It's the ideal slate for the ambitious player who wants to steal the show, and produces the closest thing to a Hail Mary that a Jackbox game has had. If that's not your speed, then failing miserably in Mad Verse City is pretty fun, too.

    Jackbox has done great work over the past half-decade to get new folks in on games, and I think that's as commendable as anything. I’ve habitually forgotten to highlight these games, but this year’s entry is as good a place to start as ever.

  • Horizon 4, known by its working title Comfort Food: The Game 4, is a continuation of the series that I didn’t expect to love quite as much as I do. Microsoft and co. seem to have struck a fine line between “car fetishization” and “Dayona USA by Sega” that fits my style quite nicely, and it being so goddamn pretty is only icing on the cake. Can’t help but notice how dreadful the rest is however, including but not limited to the downright bad pacing of the seasonal portion and the boredom that stains every spoken piece of dialogue. In a year where I could probably say the same for any other AAA game that came out, it’s hard to explain why I let it slide with this one. My guess? The photo mode is really nice.

  • All it took was Katamari Damacy re-releasing in the same year as Donut County for the bubble to burst on my praise of the latter. It’s so... that! What the fuck? I Love Katamari and all, but never has “standing on the shoulders of giants” felt more appropriate. Especially considering the size of the King. He’s big is the joke- sorry, anyway:

    What does this have to do with Giraffe Town? Well, only a little. Giraffe Town also wears its influences on the forehead in bold font, but where it differs is the direction it takes them. It takes them off of a cliff and into an ocean of boiling piss. It’s frustrating, borders on unplayable at times, and I can’t help but also think that it’s essential. Most of it was a struggle, but by the time I was done, I had concluded that “Katamari, but for disaffected American youth” is, at the very least, a less interesting pitch than “Silent Hill fan-fiction projected by someone who’s convinced that the UFO endings were canon.”

  • God, what a bad name. Suspect titles aside, this is clearly the pinnacle of the Dragon Ball game lineup, right? I’ll have you know that I watched DBZ in 5th grade, so you can absolutely take my word for it.

    Not only is Arcsys’ mastery of 2.5D at its most translucent here, but, much like Kai’s work on the series itself, FighterZZZZ makes an honest attempt at extracting what is so loved about the series and baring its roots. This is the most enjoyable slamming your virtual Gokus together has been for the franchise, and it deserves highest honors for giving me some things that I didn’t even think I wanted, like a 3v3 fighting system and Yamcha.

    I have some qualms, chief among them being both the languidly-paced story mode and the skimpy lineup pre-DLC, but c’mooooon. It’s a lot of fun, and I hope this particular landmark of DBZ-game achievement finds many years of support and adoration. God knows this is the first time it's really deserved it.

  • In all honesty, I didn't actually play that much of this game. But what I did brought me back to those days of playing MH3U and slamming a gigantic sword-axe into reactive beasts for 20 minutes or so. Which is to say that, despite itself, it's still pretty good.

    I think the spongy gatekeeping that prevents multiplayer from being easily accessible was what did me in, unfortunately. It felt like those days in class when you're forced to stay in and do work while your friends enjoyed recess, except sometimes you're the one outside. The sheer fact that I'm comparing it to school should get across my feelings.

    However, I have hopes that I'll find my way back to this game, pull through the drudgery, and find the call of the wild again. My cat deserves better.