GOTY 2018 (Adjusted)

Same deal as the other "GOTY (Adjusted)" lists, found here (2013), here (2014), here (2015), here (2016) and here (2017). The idea is to build GOTY lists that are constantly in flux, ever adapting themselves to a new year's worth of catch-up gaming. Like the Borg, but for video game lists. With enough time I should be able to play through every 2018 game that piqued my interest and construct a list that ideally represents what that year meant to me in terms of games, but that wasn't going to happen on the year in question: too many full-price new releases, too little time.

2018 was a come-down year after the many highs of 2017's expansive library, but we live in an era now where if you have any specific tastes and peccadilloes when it comes to games, there's more than enough releasing every year from every direction to sate that appetite (why am I making this sound so sexual?). 2018 was still very densely packed, if not quite to the same extent as 2017, and even though there's a whole new console generation on the horizon I'm in no rush to jump on that bandwagon with so much of this year left to try out.

(2018 Games Yet to Play: Aggelos, Catmaze, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, Gris, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Tower of Time, Unravel 2, The World Ends With You Final Remix, Ys: Memories of Celceta (Steam ver.).)

(2018 Games Yet to Buy: Fist of the North Star: Paradise Lost, Labyrinth of Refrain, Life is Strange 2, The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories, Octopath Traveller, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Unavowed, Underworld Ascendant, Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna - The Golden Country.)

[Up to date as of January 2021.]

List items

  • 2018 Rank: 1

    2019 Rank: 1

    2020 Rank: 1

    Deadfire delivers on everything you could want from an old-school CRPG - deep tactical combat, rich storytelling and characterization, a whole open world to explore - and frames it within a swashbuckling pirate adventure with tenuous alliances, ancient cities, rogue gods, and the subtle evils of colonialism. It's peak Obsidian.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 2

    2020 Rank: 2

    Speaking of derring-do on the high seas, Return of the Obra Dinn presents an ever-expanding mystery as you piece together the fates of those on the titular doomed ship, building its tale in snapshot scenes and giving players enough respect to figure out the wheres, whys, and whos on their own. The low-res presentation is striking, as is the excellent use of sound design.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 3

    I was as surprised as everyone else that the once edgelord Greek mythology brawler suddenly became this thoughtful (though still violent) open-world game that cared more about lore and atmosphere and establishing its central relationship, using ancient Norse mythology as a backdrop to a momentous father/son trip that was at times moribund, joyful, tense, and conciliatory. Throwing that axe around was fun too.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 4

    If you're trying to nail the energy that comes from an elegiac send-off to a protagonist that's been through hell and back several times over, the more relaxed pace and generally truncated and focused Yakuza 6 would be the way to go about it. It feels like the first Yakuza to really present Kiryu as a middle-aged man with middle-aged interests, like amateur baseball and going down to the bar to talk about nothing with salarymen, while still presenting the usual Yakuza mix of a serious story of revenge and betrayal, with the adorable baby Haruto at the center of it all, and the silliness that comes with its many sub-stories and side content. Certainly not as ambitious as some of its predecessors, but then ambition is a young man's game.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 5

    The sudden revival of Wonder Boy in 2017 must've stirred some fond old memories, because it was soon followed with this spiritual sequel to the '80s Westone series. Like the Wonder Boy reboot, Monster Boy enjoys an incredible hand-drawn artstyle in addition to some of the most fun I've had with an explormer for a while. A tough but rewarding game befitting its ancestry.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 3

    2020 Rank: 6

    Created specifically as the be-all and end-all of the Super Smash Bros. franchise, Ultimate offers fans of both the single-player and multiplayer modes of the platfighter everything they could possibly want, with the largest roster yet and some smartly designed battles based around over 1,000 Nintendo and guest characters and cameos.

  • 2018 Rank: 2

    2019 Rank: 4

    2020 Rank: 7

    Reducing the bloat and grinding of the original, while retaining the charming Ghibli visuals and quality storytelling, Ni no Kuni II is the best game Level-5 has produced in years. While the overworld RTS sections might be a little too easy, this is a world packed with imagination and compelling combat and dozens of little systems to explore, and is everything I used to love about the studio's PS2 era work (Dark Cloud 2, Rogue Galaxy, etc.).

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 5

    2020 Rank: 8

    Spider-Man's always had the most success of any superhero franchise in transitioning to a video game format, despite the amount of high-speed acrobatics that are involved with web swinging across a city and hitting crooks from every angle, and Insomniac already had plenty of experience with this thematic genre thanks to their inFamous series. In some ways it felt like the safest bet out there that Marvel's Spider-Man would turn out great, and it even exceeded those expectations with a deluge of fan service and a better-than-average central story.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 6

    2020 Rank: 9

    Though a remake of a 2008 Wii game, the use of static photos and text makes a visual novel like 428 effectively ageless. Set in Shibuya during a particularly busy day, the player follows five very distinct personalities as they each take on their personal albeit interconnected struggles. The way you had to keep switching storylines as each met impasses or cliffhangers that only other branching decisions could resolve was also beneficial to the breakneck narrative flow, and the game's extremely earnest mix of comedy, drama, thriller, and surrealism made for an unforgettable tale.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 10

    An explormer with a neat time-manipulation gimmick and a customizable weapon system that has you choosing two projectiles of various properties to take into battle. It scratches the SOTN itch like many explormers of a more RPG bent do, but I had more fun working out its fourth-dimensional puzzles and using the time-stop ability to reach areas earlier than expected. Vision Soft Reset came along a little later with an even wilder time-travel conceit, but Timesplitter is still a total package with little to drag it down.

  • 2018 Rank: 3

    2019 Rank: 7

    2020 Rank: 11

    I can't get enough explormers, but after so many you start to appreciate the off-kilter ones that aren't so much trying to be the next Metroid or Symphony of the Night but something else entirely. Yoku's Island Express is replete with a certain Buffett-esque chilled tropical energy but its core conceit of combining explorational platforming with pinball found many symbiotic boons, such as the speed of pinball rolling mitigating the backtracking of explormers or the way your abilities would expand to open more regions and areas on pinball "tables" you'd previously explored. A great combination.

  • (Jazztronauts)

    2018 Rank: 4

    2019 Rank: 8

    2020 Rank: 12

    To attempt to explain the goal of Jazztronauts is about as challenging as explaining why it's so compelling. Helping a quartet of sarcastic interdimensional cat thieves rob user-made maps in Gmod of all their props and textures is the sort of madcap recycling project of old Valve assets that Gmod fanatics are naturally very good at exploiting, but to say that is the sole appeal of Jazztronauts would be to undermine the brilliantly written comedy at its heart. It's not even a real game by the laws of our own wiki, but remains one of the year's best surprises.

  • 2018 Rank: 5

    2019 Rank: 9

    2020 Rank: 13

    I really admired the first Valkyria Chronicles for taking some extraordinarily shaky concepts - anime World War 2, juxtaposing real-time gunplay with turn-based wargaming strategy - and managing to create a game that was a thrill to play and an earnest jeremiad of the personally traumatic travails of soldiers and the far-reaching and long-lasting destructive effects of global armed conflict. The fourth game - the first non-portable game in the series since the first, as well as the first localized one since 2 - ably iterates on the strengths of the first, with its few new additions and new cast of characters being welcome changes.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 10

    2020 Rank: 14

    An excellent HD remaster of three PS1 collectathon platformers I was a fool to ignore back in their day. While I'm appreciative of the treatment these three games received for this 20th anniversary remaster, I'm more appreciative that they were given this new lease of life and how through that I was able to finally discover them many years later.

  • 2018 Rank: 6

    2019 Rank: 11

    2020 Rank: 15

    One of the year's best explormers is also, oddly, one of the more narratively dense games to emerge in 2018. With a story composed of theocratic regimes, its superhuman agents, a hardscrabble rebellion, and an eldritch being from beyond the stars, the game presents a series of great narrative set-pieces and boss fights connected together with some solid Metroid style explormer run-and-gunning.

  • 2018 Rank: 7

    2019 Rank: 12

    2020 Rank: 16

    Minit's basic conceit of minute-long playthroughs - where the player has only sixty seconds to complete or as progress as many objectives as they can for successive runs to expand upon - is a truncated version of time-loop games like Majora's Mask or Half-Minute Hero (though I guess in Half-Minute Hero's case, it's twofold expanded) with a Link's Awakening type minimalist top-down look. The resulting package, while feeling deliberately compact, provides all sorts of surprises as you keep reaching further and further afield in spite of the ubiquitous ticking clock.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 17

    Daniel Mullins's follow-up to Pony Island takes a similar route of looking into the laborious travails of video game design and the involvement of the player in that process, but somehow gets even more meta and strange with it by following a weary group of former video game heroes drinking away their woes in a ramshackle bar, each telling their stories with a certain throughline that builds towards an unexpected climax. I didn't like every one of its myriad scenarios - some of its "genres in a nutshell" were better implemented than others - but the twisty narrative was a treat to watch play out.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 18

    A somber and haunting narrative sim that has an interloper looking around the grounds of an old cult compound. Using an epistolary storytelling method that very gradually reveals what happened to the people living there and why, its low-rez appearance and slow descent into nighttime is an effective mood-setter for a game that doesn't shy away from the real-life danger and tragedy of such a congregation. I played it for a Halloween feature, but it turned out more discomforting than macabre.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 19

    A very competent take on Recettear's balance of manning a storefront and looting your way through hordes of monsters for more stock to sell. Its Zelda-like dungeons offered a moderate challenge, its store sequences required some nuance to properly profit from, and the dingy pixel visuals were remarkably detailed.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 20

    A cute and funny puzzle game inspired by Katamari Damacy, Donut County had you creating ever bigger holes to dump an entire town and their treasured possessions through. The gameplay is extremely basic and limited, given there's always one single route to completing each stage, but the presentation and humor around it made the journey worthwhile.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 13

    2020 Rank: 21

    Another imaginative point and click adventure from the masters of cartoonish whimsy over at Amanita Design, and of all their games Chuchel is the most pronounced in its Looney Tunes style set-piece buffoonery. Each "stage" of the game presents a simple scenario with the same goal - Chuchel really wants to eat that cherry - but the trial and error process of clicking the specific correct order produces a lot of amusing dead ends. A very simple game, but highly entertaining all the same.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 22

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 23

  • 2018 Rank: 8

    2019 Rank: 14

    2020 Rank: 24

    There's some "git gud" sarcasm in the writing that leaves a smudge on an otherwise fine platforming experience, as The Messenger first explores a linear series of tough platforming levels before breaking out for an unexpectedly more involved second half. Liberally borrowing from previous Indie explormers and the challenging dexterity of the NES Ninja Gaiden games, it feels like a game built for speedrunners or at least those so dedicated to overcoming challenge and weathering trash talk that they don't mind how often the game talks down to them.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 15

    2020 Rank: 25

    Another quick-paced explormer, Dandara takes advantage of an almost vertiginous use of switching planes of gravity, hopping between floors, walls, and ceilings with sufficient speed to avoid the many enemy projectiles bearing down on the player. It takes a while to get used to, and by the time you get the hang of its mechanics it's about ready to abruptly end, but it's one of the slickest and aesthetically intriguing 2D games of the year.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 26

  • 2018 Rank: 9

    2019 Rank: 16

    2020 Rank: 27

    I realize others appreciate Celeste far more than I do, and I can't begrudge its beating heart and Lena Raine's heartful beats, but I simply can't be doing with games this deliberately difficult. Frustration sets in as the goalposts are moved ever further afield until I eventually found myself quietly and sullenly giving up somewhere around the B-Sides portion of the game when it simply becomes too much, which effectively betrays the game's own message about never giving up.

  • 2018 Rank: 10

    2019 Rank: 17

    2020 Rank: 28

    A proof of concept that was given away for free (with the sobriquet of "Survey Testing Program" to keep its secrecy intact for a very brief time), Deltarune was still more enchanting than most of the games that came out in 2018. Either a sequel or spin-off to Undertale (it's an anagram, and a shockingly Zelda-apropos one), it has many new mechanical and UI changes, not least of which is a three-person party and actual skills and abilities to rely on when "Mercy" and "Act" aren't enough. The finished result should be something to behold one day.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 29

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 30

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 31

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 18

    2020 Rank: 32

    A strategy RPG built for endless replayability due to a very smart algorithm that tosses various challenging - but never impossible, supposedly - scenarios at you in the endless struggle between mechs and giant alien bugs. The strategy involved is definitely more in the vein of an older Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, where creating emotional attachments to your team is discouraged due to how often they croak, which is also the type of strategy game I'm less into (nor am I into roguelike mechanics for that matter). Even with my aversion to its core mechanics, it's hard to overlook just how intelligently designed this game is.

  • 2018 Rank: 11

    2019 Rank: 19

    2020 Rank: 33

    A short free prequel adventure for Life is Strange 2, an episodic adventure game I should probably check into sooner rather than later now that the series is complete. Though paper-thin, there's plenty of DONTNOD's increased confidence with setting scenes and worldbuilding, letting players explore a space full of observable hotspots on their own terms, and a few minor inventory puzzles that rely on the protagonist's strong sense of imagination.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 34

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: 20

    2020 Rank: 35

    Technically the twentieth best 2018 game I've played, though I've only played twenty, Treasure Adventure World isn't terrible but although I was charmed by its 2D side-scrolling Wind Waker aspirations it had a few too many bugs and irritants to fully appreciate. Gotta say though, there aren't too many explormers that leave me scratching my head on where to go next, and I sort of miss that macro level of puzzling things out.

  • 2018 Rank: N/A

    2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 36