Yes, this list is… late. Quite late. I’m sorry, I’m busy!
Part of the problem was me trying to be more critical – again, it would have been easy to just once again have a list entirely dominated by the Nintendo Switch but frankly, that’s just being boring at this point. So I went back and with a fine tooth-comb tried to unpick everything and make sure I could honestly justify this list.
Which was probably a mistake. Because in doing so, I knocked God of War off the list. I like God of War. A lot. But for as great as it is… something stops me loving it, perhaps the egregious amount of press-loving it got, or perhaps I do just miss the simple shouty Kratos more than I’d care to admit. No Red Dead Redemption 2 – I… drifted from that game really fast and haven’t remotely had the desire to go back. Tetris Effect is a given for my “Sorry but No VR” situation, though I know everyone loves it, and I even booted Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee off this list – I really enjoy that game, but one – my Eevee was a monstrously overpowered abomination by the fourth gym and the game largely rolled over without a fight. And two… it’s a business proposition. It’s a bridge to help ferry the Mobile Pokemon Go! crowd to the mainline series and it’s fantastic at doing that but… I’m an old Pokémon hand. I need and want the game to fight back a little. Not much fun when a simple Eevee just overpowers everyone. (I do admit though I think I prefer the catching mechanics though – I know, blasphemy, don’t start…)
And I also disqualified Monster Hunter: Generations Ultimate – it’s a port. An enhanced port and another hideously generous game on a machine with an abundance of hideously generous games, but a port. Same with Dragon Quest Builders – though it wouldn’t have made last years list even if I had played it on the PS4. It certainly had more time to shine on the Switch this year, but… that’s Square-Enix’s problem. Likewise with Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition. At least it’s nice to see the 3DS content on a machine that can run the game properly.
Whew. That was a severely loaded intro, wasn’t it? So… I guess it’s time to bite the bullet and talk about games I liked. As normal – Released in 2018. No remasters or direct port jobs (like Dragon Quest Builders) and I have to have LIKED the game.
Can I back out of this? Seriously, I don’t know if I can find five games that I li…
#5 – RETURN OF THE OBRA DINN
(Lucas Pope / 3909)
The mind behind Papers, Please! dropped this surprising little gem; a first-person puzzle game with a remarkable sepia map-tinted classic adventure games art style that of course was going to tickle most of us who like to venture off the beaten track.
It’s essentially a murder-mystery; you are on an abandoned ship, with the remains of the previous crew strewn about, and with the aid of a magical pocket watch your task is to effectively piece together what happened. It’s not a complicated concept, but it’s done with such a knowing nuance that it’s very easy to get suckered in.
What I like and respect about this though is how hands-off it largely is; your task and your story is effectively in your hands. You can get a bit lost, but eventually you start to piece together who killed who, and things start to open up. It’d have been easy to follow trends and signpost everything but this is just smart and detailed enough that you need to trust your eyes, and your gut, as you traverse and unfurl the mystery of the ill-fated Obra Dinn.
I mean, it’s great. What more do you want?
Take a bit of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, a little Clock Tower, a little inspiration from Resident Evil 1‘s Spencer Mansion and then layer on lashings of classic adventure RPG Alundra. The end result is… Viviette, one of the more surprising games for me this year.
This edged out Obra Dinn partly because of exceeding all expectations. Viviette is an Alundra-styled Survival Horror, and I’m going to say it; it’s challenging, it’s atmospheric, it’s at times layered and witty but all in keeping with its spooky atmosphere. The visual puzzles eventually click into place as you work through the mansion, and the light and dark system is skilfully employed here in a way most big-budget games can’t even manage.
For me, the only risk of calling this one of my Games of 2018 isn’t the disagreement; it’s the fan base of Viviette, who seem to be rather eager to keep this as their dirty little secret. Nah, it shouldn’t be a dirty little secret. You don’t get success that way. And I’d like to see more games like this, with modest origins and sharp execution.
Also, the best and funniest death animation 2018. There. I said it.
3. OCTOPATH TRAVELLER
Well, at least it wasn’t a total disaster for Square-Enix this year. They got at least ONE game onto my best list.
And… yeah. Octopath Traveller is one of those retro-throwback JRPG’s with modernist touches, sort of like Bravely Default meets Seiken Densetsu 3 and if that’s the sort of description that sends shivers down your particulars then… yeah, Switchward bound, ho. Damn you Obra Dinn, now I’m making nautical puns.
What’s more surprising for me though is that Octopath Traveller (and yes, I maintain the name is, was and forever will be stupid) is a surprisingly mature game, with more lofty themes and goals than the vast majority of modern JRPG’s. Fear, revenge, lust, betrayal – and that’s all one character, there’s plenty more, with plenty of jobs and classes, layers of mechanics and a fantastic soundtrack – only beaten to best soundtrack by one game. Which we’ll get to.
I just thought Square-Enix knew this is what we wanted. After all, didn’t they profess to learn this lesson after Bravely Default? How many times do these games need to succeed before you stop professing surprise at their success?
2. SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE
(Sora Ltd. / Nintendo / Various Companies)
… well, this is going to come as literally no surprise to anyone, is it? This is, again, probably on everyones list. It’s sold close to 10 million units in a month, became Amazon’s biggest-selling gaming product of the year in about three weeks and with Joker from Persona 5 being the first DLC Challenger, I’ve sat back and watched people on YouTube who didn’t expect to buy this game throwing money at their screen.
What can you say about this game that hasn’t been said by everyone? It’s incredibly generous in the amount of content in the box, there’s more characters than I’d ever know what to do with, more options than I can realistically begin to conceive of, 100 stages plus of course simpler variants of those stages, every fighter has their own Classic Mode set-up and World of Light, the “Story” mode with 20+ hours of content alone.
It looks amazing, the soundtrack content here alone is more than worth the entry fee for some of us… I mean, Nintendo did need something to make us sit up and pay attention this year, but by golly Nintendo, ease up guys. You’re starting to make everyone else look bad.
1. DEAD CELLS
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand this was predictable.
I’ve been following Dead Cells’ progress since it was turfed out onto Early Access and I’ve resisted the urge to name it Game of the Year a couple of times now because it wasn’t… technically… finished. But it now is! It’s on everything! And it’s GREAT!
Few games defy simple descriptors, but Dead Cells is a little 2D Dark Souls and GODS. It’s a lot Metroidvania and Rogue-Lite. It can be played with you taking your time, or speeding through as quickly, skillfully and stealthily as you are able. There are many areas and branching paths, there are tons of in-game and gaming-related references in the art design, there are tons of enemies and weapons and sub-weapons, there’s a daily challenge mode, you can eventually increase the difficulty at your own pace…
I mean, again with the volume of content. But it all works. It handles beautifully, the levels feel seamless despite their randomisation, the art design and aesthetic is absolutely top-notch and I want to cry and hug the artists and say “Thank you. Thank you.” And the sound is excellent as well.
And so… yeah, here we are. Dead Cells is my Game of 2018. Man, that was an anti-climax.
Really shouldn’t have bothered. I’m sorry. This was boring and predictable.