Best of 2018
As we continue to barrel down the pothole-laden highway of this nightmarish timeline, it's nice to know there are still some great games coming along at a regular pace. They allow us at least a momentary escape. I played twenty-seven games this year, which is more than last year. It was relatively easy to whittle it down to about a dozen, then a couple of tough decisions, but let's get to it.
[Obligatory Spoiler Warning]
- Shadow of the Colossus - The third time's the charm. After buying the original and the PS3 HD version, I finally got around to finishing this game and I'm glad I did. Despite the antiquated controls, it's still a classic worth playing (again).
- Moss - The game that kicked off such a great year for PlayStation VR. If it weren't for Astro Bot, this probably would've made my Top 10.
- Burnout Paradise Remastered - I prefer Burnout 3 and Revenge, but beggars can't be choosers when a new Burnout release comes around. I dove head first into this remaster and platinum'd it almost immediately.
- MLB 18: The Show - Sony San Diego's baseball sim has been so good for so long that it never gets the respect it deserves.
- Picross S2 - Just keep giving me more Picross. Hook up an IV and pump it into my arm.
- Fire Pro Wrestling World - Having licensed content in Fire Pro is still so strange. But, who can argue with Tanahashi's gaze?
- Marble It Up - Hey! You remember Marble Blast? You know, the best XBLA game ever created. Well, this is a new one and it's great! Go get it!
10. Donut County
Donut County is one of those games I heard about for seemingly forever, saw it at PAX a while back, and kinda forgot about it. But, there it was releasing right before my eleventh trip to Seattle so I decided to give it a shot. Delivering something that's truly funny has to be one of the hardest things to successfully do in game development, but Ben Esposito did it. That humor combined with the whimsy of a Katamari and a joyous-yet-chill soundtrack made for one of the most memorable experiences of the year. Have a Garbage Day!
The modern Tomb Raider trilogy definitely has its issues (narratively and otherwise), but I've thoroughly enjoyed playing through all three of them at this point. I even did a second run through this one on the hard difficulty to get the platinum. Playing through a game a second time (especially on hard) is not something I typically do. Luckily, they seem to have taken some of the criticism of the first two games to heart, because there's considerably less combat and more puzzles/tombs in this one. At the very least, it's a tour of one gorgeous environment after another, and therefore another reason why every game should have a photo mode. I don't know where they go from here now that Lara is officially "the tomb raider." She's kind of a broken person at this point. Regardless, wherever they go next, I'll be there.
Octopath devoured most of my Summer this year. I poured over 80 hours into it... and I haven't finished it. I know! I'm a terrible person. It's not really the game's fault. I think I just burned myself out after getting to each characters final chapter. The game is stunningly beautiful it's own unique way and it swings for the fences with one of the best soundtracks of the year too. The developers took the combat system of Bravely Default and successfully modified it by eliminating most of the waiting element and installing a strengths/weaknesses system that makes most fights feel like a strategic puzzle that must be solved for optimal success.
The major complaint I saw from other people is that there's no interaction between the characters, but I guess those people weren't paying attention. On multiple occasions in each character's chapter, there's a "Press +" prompt to trigger a little cutscene conversation. Could they have done more to interweave the stories? For sure. But, there are fun interactions in there if you pay attention. Anyway, I love the game and I hope I can get back to it soon. More importantly, I hope this team gets to do another game in this style.
Yes, I'm cheating and counting these as one game. No, I didn't get the names of the games wrong. I actually imported these back May in the bundle that also included P4D. After nearly melting my phone a few times thanks to the Google Translate camera app, I was able to platinum all three games. I loved P4D on Vita, and the remixes in the new games do not disappoint. Persona 3 is so damn depressing, you might be wondering how they take that soundtrack and make it fast and fun. Well, for one example, they take a sad piano solo and turn it into a techno light-saber paintball rave. It's wild. The two new games don't have as deep of a story mode as P4D did (and they're not canon like P4D is), but it's still a blast to get a little bit more from these characters we love.
The VR features are...weird. You can visit each character's home and/or room including ones you never saw in the main games. It's kind of surreal to stand in the attic of the coffee shop and move around or realize how damn claustrophobic Futaba's room is. But, you can also check out Ann's apartment, Makoto's meticulously organized bedroom, or any of the dorm rooms of anyone in P3. It's a fun bonus for an already fun, fan-servicey, rhythm game. Now that the English versions are out, I'd recommend them to any Persona fan. Hell, I might buy them again.
Is Smash a fighting game? Is it a party game? I don't know. I just know it's always been fun. This version specifically may as well just be called "Video Games: The Game" with the sheer amount of love and care they put into every single aspect of it. It's not just about the massive roster full of dream crossovers. The effort they spent on crafting hundreds and hundreds of spirit battles that combine the existing roster with a myriad of modifiers and items is astounding. The spirits system is daunting at first, but it truly keeps the 20+ hour adventure mode feeling fresh throughout its entirety. Smash has always been a blast in multiplayer, but Ultimate provides more single-player content than ever before, and best of all, the single-player is actually good. I can't wait to see what characters they dig up for the rest of the DLC. In the mean time, I'll be over here whittling away at this Challenge board (don't call them achievements).
Surprise of the Year? Definitely. You're telling me that Sony is taking the Playroom robot and making one of the most innovative, joyous, and captivating platformers that I've ever played? I probably wouldn't have believed you a few months ago, but here we are. It's been two years since the launch of PlayStation VR, but I feel like it truly became recommendable this year with games like this, Moss, Tetris Effect, Beat Saber, etc. Astro Bot sold me after just the first level. By the end of the first world, I knew it was special. But, the wildest thing is that it just continues to get better all the way to the very end. All of the power-ups are great and it never stops being fun to lean around looking for all the lost robots and hidden chameleons. This game is amazing and I only hope they (Sony Japan Studio) get to make more of this.
In a world (in a world) where we've seen multiple film reboots and a slew of mediocre-to-terrible games in the last fifteen years, we should be sick of Spider-Man at this point, right? Yet, here we are in probably the best year Spider-Man's ever seen thanks to Tom Holland's portrayal in Avengers, the incredible Into the Spider-verse film, and Insomniac's excellent game. The biggest compliment I can give Marvel's Spider-Man is that it's an open-world game that somehow avoids being a "podcast game." Oh, I certainly tried to listen to other stuff while playing this game at first, but that stopped quite quickly. There's so much going on in this version of NYC that you don't want to miss a moment.
While the combat missions get a little repetitive if you're trying for the platinum trophy, the game doles out side content throughout the story in such a way that it feels like there's almost always something new to do. The story kept me going all the way to the end and I loved the twists they put on the "standard" Peter Parker story. Dude...they killed Aunt May! Choosing to not only skip the origin story, but the entire first eight years of his life in the suit was a bold and wise choice. They could always go back in time if they want, but either way I'm excited to see what Insomniac does next. And who knew that Scorpion would be the most terrifying villain in the bunch?
"But...it's just Tetris, right?"
"Yeah, so what? Fuck you."
If you want to boil it down to being "just Tetris," that's up to you. But, it's the best version of one of the best games of all time. It's "just" that. I had the chance to play it at PAX West 2018 both in VR and regular. I knew then that I was in trouble. Losing track of time in Tetris Effect is dangerously easy. The ebb and flow of relaxing to frantic and back again makes for a much more enjoyable experience than the traditional method of just speeding up until you can't physically play it anymore. The soundtrack is on a whole 'nother damn level. Why the hell is it still not available to purchase anywhere? Let me give you more money, Miz! I think the only person on my friends list with better scores than me in almost every statistic is @fobwashed. But, I think he beat Geometry Wars and Threes, so I can live with that.
As I stated last year, I've loved Assassin's Creed from the beginning. Have they all been amazing? Certainly not. But, I'm a sucker for their brand of mixing of facts and myths. When Ubisoft announced that we were getting another just a year after Origins, I think everyone was a bit skeptical. But, they nailed it. Odyssey took what made Origins fun and streamlined it even further to the point where it feels like you're always moving forward. Everything is fast and fun to do. Do I miss the "old" style of AC games? Yeah, I do. But, I highly enjoy the new style as well.
The way that they weave Greek mythology into the franchise's own mythos is perfectly done. The world they built here is massive, but it's chock full of both grand adventures and personal stories. I spent over 100 hours criss-crossing all over the Aegean Sea with Kassandra. She's easily my favorite new character of this year, and I would love to see a spin-off game focusing on what she's been doing for the past 2000+ years before Layla shows up in Atlantis. And if you just read that last sentence before playing the game; a) I'm sorry, but you were warned, and b) yeah, dude...this game goes places. I'm happy they're taking another year off before the next one, but I could easily see myself dumping 100+ hours into this world right now if given the chance.
1. God of War
They did it. Cory and his team...they fuckin' did it. I enjoyed the first three God of War games for what they were, but I was never invested in the characters. So, when it was announced that they were basically blowing up everything we know about the series and creating something new while not actually rebooting the story, I was both curious and skeptical.
- Over the shoulder camera?
- One continuous shot for the whole game?
- Combat on the shoulder buttons?
- An axe instead of chains?
- One giant escort mission?
- A button dedicated to the kid?
There was good reason to be worried, but the way that they slowly ease you into this new version of Kratos is downright masterful. It may come off as "slow" to some people at first, but letting you get settled into this new take on the series before setting you free in the Lake of Nine was the perfect intro. And even when they set you free, there's a sense of momentum that lets you wander but never lets you get lost or too distracted like many open-world games. You're always heading for that mountain. You can see it. It's right there!
From start to finish, virtually ever element of the game (story, combat, exploration, world building, etc) is excellent. For such a large game, there are very few characters, but over the course of the game their connections are revealed to be deeper and deeper in a way that keeps you pressing onward to learn more.
There are so many memorable, great moments through the game; many of which are amplified if you've played the old games. That entire sequence from the boat to the house to get the blades again...damn. On top everything else, it's absolutely gorgeous. And let's not forget how good it feels to call that Leviathan Axe back to your hand. So...damn...good!