So, I umm played a lot of video games this year…. In 2017, I thought I had an unhealthy enough year at 36 games, but this year, thanks mostly to the insane amount of ports/remasters that came to the Switch and my inability to say no to $15 purchases at 11 P.M., I basically doubled that with a ridiculous 71.
Quite a bit even changed with my gaming habits. Sure, I still spent an inordinate amount of time in my single player comfort zone, which dominated my top 10, but I also really explored the world of online gaming and being called a n00b by strange preteens for the first time. Most importantly, though, I even finally kicked a 3 year mobile game habit that was taking up far too much of my daily life.
Games Released Prior to This Year
Katamary Damacy Reroll (Switch)
Aside from drunkenly watching some friends play the original way back in my college days, I had never experienced Katamary Damacy firsthand. Now, with the delightful remaster on Switch, I finally got to spend about 10 hours or so getting lost in the somehow relaxingly stressful task of rolling up junk to create the stars. The twin joystick controls feel right at home in handheld mode, and testing the limits of what your ever expanding junk ball can pick up is always a thrill. Katamary is known as being the first “Weird Japanese” game to make a mark in the states, and the eccentricity still holds up 14 years later. I feel the cosmos!
Thimbleweed Park (Switch)
This Kickstarter game answers the question of what would happen if you mixed The X-Files with the classic point-and-click LucasArts adventure games like Day of the Tentacle. The 10 hour or so game has some great humor and meta discussions about the genre that will keep you engaged throughout. Some extremely difficult character switching solutions that suspend belief to complete mar a few of the chapters, but when it comes to that old school adventure game feel, you won’t find anything else quite like this.
A Normal Lost Phone (Switch)
One of my major gaming weaknesses is short, cheap games that I can finish in one evening. It’s like I’m taking myself out to a movie that I don’t actually have to leave bed for. A Normal Lost Phone was an intriguing hour and a half distraction where you get to turn your Switch vertical like a cell phone while you unravel the mystery of whose phone it is and why they lost/left it.
Night in the Woods (Switch)
This touching tale of friendship and finding yourself in the uncertain times of your early 20s definitely works best for those at a similar stage of life, but it still has a lot to offer for those who have long gone through that period of self-discovery. The surprising supernatural story takes a backseat to the joyful friendship building of “doing crimes” with your buddies for an indelible indie adventure.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)
No Switch party is complete without a few rounds of Mario Kart to test your friendship. In their 8th iteration, Nintendo has assembled the finest collection of racers, karts, and tracks to ever get ruined by a diabolically timed blue shell.
Mom Hid My Game (Switch)
Over the course of 50 very strange levels, you solve increasingly ridiculous puzzles to find where your mom hid your 3DS. It only takes about 2 hours to complete, but the lovable weirdness is well worth your time.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Switch)
There’s no purchase I regret more than this sad follow-up to the incredible The Stick of Truth. After absolutely loving the previous hilarious and inspired South Park RPG, I was thoroughly disappointed with the profoundly unfunny and tired The Fractured But Whole. Everything just feels off in this game including the ridiculous load times. I have a bad problem with almost always finishing games I start, but that wasn’t a worry here.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES Classic)
I dabbled in quite a few games on the SNES Classic this year, but I’ll only focus on the lone one that I completed. After many 3D Zelda’s since the N64 days, I finally went back and played what many consider to be among the best 16-bit games of all-time. Not surprisingly, this game still holds up after all these years as the fantastic dungeon design and fairly large sense of adventure aged well. Plus, it was a blast to go back and have glitch-filled speed runs after I was done.
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (Switch)
If you loved A Link to the Past and want a slightly updated spiritual successor, look no further than Blossom Tales, which builds upon the already perfected mechanics of its inspiration and tells a charming tale reminiscent of The Princess Bride.
Civilization VI (Switch)
What if you could combine Risk, Settlers of Catan, and Sim City into one extremely complicated game? You would end up with Civilization VI. I just started my first journey into a Civilization game, and even in the tutorial I find myself overwhelmed by the five million systems to keep track of. There’s definitely a lot of depth here for anyone interested in this empire-building game, but I’m not sure I have the patience to learn it.
Hyper Light Drifter (Switch)
I can only play so many games in one year that feature someone dying of what appears to be tuberculosis. I won’t say what the other was for spoilers, but this definitely wasn’t the appropriate game to pick to follow it up. While highly stylized, I just couldn’t get into it.
What at first seems like yet another game about being a complicated teenager quickly morphs into a horror story centered around time-loops that will thoroughly creep you out. Turn the lights off, and spend a night finding the right spooky radio frequencies to save you and your friends.
Resident Evil 7 (PS4)
For the second straight year, I tried to get into this new take on the Resident Evil series, but again I just couldn’t get invested in it. Perhaps the new first person view just doesn’t do it for me, or maybe my older self isn’t as in to gore scares as my younger self was. At least this game taught us some valuable medical lessons like if a limb is cut off in a horrible accident you merely have to sew it back on and spray it with first-aid spray. It’s the dirty secret doctors don’t want you to know!
Opus Magnum (Steam)
I have never encountered a puzzle game that executed its central mechanic this brilliantly. In Opus Magnum, you are an alchemist who builds increasingly complex machines that turn reagents into desired products. It’s so masterfully presented that for one brief moment, it almost made me miss my previous life as a far less exciting actual chemist. Thanks to a handy GIF-maker, I could at least commemorate my grandest inventions and see how they stack up against the rest of the would-be alchemists out there.
Papers, Please (Steam)
Papers, Please is quite possibly the most depressing game I have ever played. In it, you occupy the role of an immigration officer who is charged with inspecting passports and other documents at the border then deciding who gets to enter the country and who doesn’t. Be careful though because you may let a terrorist in or get caught by your bosses and have your pay docked, which will affect your ability to keep your fictional poor family alive! Maybe this would have been a more fascinating exploration of humanity when it first came out in 2013, but it has only gotten more abysmally bleak given the current political climate. I’m glad I checked it out, but I much prefer developer Lucas Pope’s newest game, Return of the Obra Dinn, which appears much later in this post.
Stardew Valley (Switch)
As stressful and depressing as Papers, Please is, Stardew Valley is the exact opposite. My third favorite game of 2017 remained a blast well into 2018. After over 80 hours of hardcore farm life, I finally stepped away from the bliss inducing chores and friendly neighbors of Pelican Town for the less green pastures of the rest of my backlog. I can’t wait to experience it all again one day.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (PS4)
I purchased the Castlevania Requiem collection mainly for Symphony of the Night, which I have yet to get to, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challengingly and cheesy Rondo of Blood that I had never before played. If you’re looking for a quick fix of classic Castlevania action and can’t get a hold of the greatest entry, Castlevania III, then this is a wonderful afternoon diversion.
Despite many hours racking my brain trying to solve the teleportation puzzles of Portal 2, I had never tried my hand at the original until a fortuitous Steam sale changed all that. While less deep than its sequel, there’s still an endless sense of wonder produced by breaking the laws of physics with your portal gun to transport yourself to victory. Just be glad your good buddy GLaDOS is there to help you through it all.
Bridge Constructor Portal (Switch)
Building contraptions and transporting objects via teleportation with portals (yes from that game mentioned above) should be a perfect combination. Unfortunately, the controls on the Switch are a little off, and it doesn’t come close to matching the enjoyment and scale of the puzzles in the actual Portal. Still if you’re looking for another helping of that trademark Aperture Science humor, you could do worse.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)
I have to admit that part of me is afraid to play this 2015 open world game because I’m a little late to the party. In the past 3 years, countless others from Horizon Zero Dawn to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey have taken large swaths of inspiration from this game that many consider to be among the best of this generation. Will it seem outdated now that other titles have had several years to perfect the formula, or is it the gold standard because it got things so right to begin with? My first attempt at navigating the monster filled world as Geralt was entertaining if mildly dinged by the several overly complex systems it tries to get you to learn. Regardless of minor quibbles with combat, I absolutely loved the card game Gwent and found it to be the finest in-game card game since Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad. Next time I pop into The Witcher, I’ll be sure to give myself plenty of opportunity to really take the world and the uber distracting standard-bearer side quests in.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch)
If you’re looking for an extremely well designed and challenging platformer, look no further than Tropical Freeze. The 2014 Wii U game is perfect for the Switch and plays out in gorgeous and inventive 2.5D ways. Be sure to play as the original DK in “Funky Mode” for a much need additional heart, and shoot to get Dixie as your partner for the ultimate world beating pairing.
Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy (Switch)
The first game I ever played on my once shiny and new original Playstation was the adventures of this titular marsupial. Somehow despite their best attempts to recreate Poochie from The Simpsons, Naughty Dog managed to inject new life into the platforming genre by helping usher it into the third dimension with appropriate levels of difficulty and humor. Every few weeks I find myself endlessly scrolling through my Switch library looking for something to distract myself with only to pick this up for two or three levels of nostalgia before letting it sit untouched for another month or so until the dance continues anew.
Bayonetta 1 & 2 (Switch)
Once you get past the uncomfortably hyper-sexualized main character, Lady Gaga’s favorite game (not kidding) has a lot to offer with some of the best bullet-hell gameplay that pairs nicely with the temporal distorting “Witch Time”. The original Bayonetta does show its age, but the sequel is a perfect illustration of a dev team that thoroughly understands the central mechanics of their game. Plus, this is important research material to learn more about the character who always kicks your butt in Smash.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PS4)
The second game in the latest Wolfenstein reboot works so well because it embraces the absolute batshit insanity of this alternate reality where the Nazis won World War II and have taken over the U.S.. The story more than makes up for some lackluster firefights and level design as the best parts take place at your base in between missions. Definitely start with the first in the series, The New Order, prior to this one to build camaraderie with your ragtag crew of rebels trying to topple Hitler’s regime for maximum enjoyment.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4)
It turns out you don’t need the world’s most dashing thief, Nathan Drake, to make a compelling Uncharted game. Sure, this one is a little bit shorter and slightly less cinematic than previous entries, but it’s extremely refreshing to see a game succeed so well with two female leads among a sea of dumb jock male heroes.
I, Zombie (Switch)
The Switch’s eShop wasn’t always as good as it is now. Back when the pickings were slim, I grabbed this $5 port that should have stayed a mobile phone game. The central conceit is simple. You clear levels by turning people into zombies and then using them to help zombify the rest of the area’s denizens until only the undead remain. While the premise is solid, it gets old pretty quickly and seems like something that should be saved for wasting time in a waiting room. It also loses extra points for not letting you take screenshots.
Draw a Stickman Epic 2 (Switch)
Here we have yet another impulse buy during the exceedingly thin days of the Nintendo eShop. In this barebones but charming game, you literally draw yourself, your enemy, and various items throughout. While definitely an amusing time for younger gamers, the novelty will quickly wear thin for the more experienced crowd. That being said, I still beat it because I wanted to see what happened next.
What Remains of Edith Finch (PS4)
Anyone who has an issue with so called “Walking Simulator” games should be forced to play this genre-bending gem that is one of the best titles of 2017. As pregnant teen Edith, you visit your childhood home while trying to figure out why your family is cursed with so many tragic early deaths. Each family member’s vignette features its own specific gameplay mechanic, and the overall result is extremely emotional and on par with any 2 hour movie in terms of storytelling. This is a game that I highly recommend to get those who aren’t big into gaming to get their feet wet.
Gone Home (Switch)
Yup, we have officially hit full on “Walking Simulator” territory in this list. One of the original mainstream ones finally made its way to Switch, so I decided to do some research into the genre’s humble beginnings. The experience is decidedly dated, but still emotionally satisfying as you guide a girl returning from college through her home while she learns about her sister’s secret life. Again, this fits wonderfully into my love of 2 hour movie like adventures I can have from the comfort of bed.
I played the vast majority of this game on a plane, and I found myself incredibly sad that the Switch’s battery didn’t let me complete the final hour or so of my 4 hours as a forest lookout. Some gripping dialogue, beautiful wooded environments, and a suspenseful mystery help this game continue to make a strong impression 2 years after its initial release. Plus, it taught me that I’m terrible at reading maps without waypoints in games as I found myself continually getting lost in the forest just like I would in real life.
I have never understood the appeal of gaming in VR until I floated weightlessly around the space station in Tacoma and wished I had a headset to better immerse myself in this skillfully constructed version of outer space. This “Floating Simulator” provides a distinctive take by having you replay system logs of the crew members and revisiting them from various angles to piece together what happened. Naturally, all is not what it seems, but uncovering the truth is thrilling.
The Stanley Parable (Steam)
Anyone looking for a true “Choose Your Own Adventure” video game should check out this 2011 classic about an office worker whose every move is being narrated. Do you follow the narration or set your own path? Half the fun is replaying countless times to see what happens. If you found yourself enjoying the Black Mirror interactive movie Bandersnatch, then play this game that handles it so much better.
Mark of the Ninja Remastered (Switch)
Sometimes stealth games can be boring or tedious, but this 2-D game from 2012 presents stealth gameplay in the most easy to understand and enjoyable fashion I’ve come across. Add in some awesome ninja gadgets/takedowns, beautiful sprites, entertaining animated interludes, and tons of challenges that lend themselves well to replayability, and I was glad to finally experience this indie darling once it released on Switch.
Diablo III: Eternal Collection (Switch)
Diablo III is a fascinating tale of a game that went from disappointment to smashing success thanks to some post game patches. Your fingers will hurt from the button mashing, but you won’t want to stop the seemingly endless grind of this isometric RPG. For optimal demon squashing, choose the necromancer whose main powers include cheesing the hell out of the game by shooting spikes up from the ground and causing heavy damage by exploding the corpses of your fallen enemies!
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (Steam)
Yup, this game is exactly what it sounds like. As a single dad, you take turns dating the other eligible hot dads in your neighborhood while raising a precocious teenage daughter. The date mini-games are often a little underwhelming, but the suitors themselves are so lovely to get to know that I actually found myself giving up before the final dates just because I didn’t want to have to choose.
Doki Doki Literature Club (Steam)
The other dating sim I played this year replaces all the pleasantness of Dream Daddy with unsettling horror that is openly antagonistic to the player itself. This free game is absolutely worth a playthrough and then worth convincing your friends to torture themselves with, so you can enjoy their horrified reactions like I did.
This 16-bit throwback RPG has quite the following, and this is the year I finally got to join their number thanks to its Switch release. The humor and many oddities alone make it well worth a playthrough, but the game completely subverts expectations by allowing you to approach the game as a pacifist and never kill a single enemy producing something truly memorable and special.
When this appeared on the list of free Playstation Plus games, I knew it was finally time to give the game that many consider to be the finest to ever grace the PS4 a chance. I then immediately got confused about what I was supposed to do and gave up after an hour. Maybe one day, I’ll actually give this a real shot, but I should probably tackle its predecessor Dark Souls first to see what the fuss is all about.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Switch)
Damn it feels good to endlessly hurl fireballs in the Switch’s handheld mode. Even 7 years after its initial release on PC, the many branching quest-lines still provide some of the most satisfying and organic feeling tales containing dragons out there. You haven’t lived until you’ve had an entire orphanage cheer you on after killing their evil abusive headmistress.
Super Meat Boy (Switch)
Before you experience the zen-like bliss of frequent failure in Celeste, you should check out the much less forgiving Super Meat Boy to see what started the abusively hard platformer genre. It’s even free on the Epic Games Store right now!
Tecmo Bowl (NES Classic)
Between purchasing an NES Classic and the introduction of the Switch’s Netflix-esque Nintendo Online, I played quite a few retro 8-bit games this year. Even with all the wonderful advancement in current-gen gaming, my favorite gaming experience of the year came from the wonderfully absurd Bo Jackson challenge I gave myself to win the Tecmo Bowl by only running the lone play to the greatest 2-sport athlete ever. It was 5 hours of an insanely tough time against the best A.I. that 1989 had to offer.
For two glorious months, I was actually really good at this global phenomenon. Then, the meta completely changed as part of weekly updates, and I was left in the dust. Thanks to some fantastic in-game events that help engage the community in ways other than mass murder, I had a surprising amount of fun in the months that I regularly competed in Fortnite, but I was more than happy to leave it behind instead of learning how to utilize all the new tools it gave me.
Rocket League (Switch)
My first introduction to the addictive world of competitive online gaming came with this glorious amalgamation of cars and soccer. Easy to pick up yet difficult to master, there is a ton of depth to this rather simple concept. Unfortunately, I eventually discovered the upper limits of my skills and began spending more time getting frustrated than enjoying myself while playing others and called it a rocket career. Perhaps, I’m sensing a theme emerging from me playing online….
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes (Mobile)
2018 was the year that I finally quit this game. After almost 3 years of logging in at all hours of the day just to complete daily activities and avoid pissing off my overly aggressive and annoying guilds, I finally decided to delete this from my phone. Once I reached the pinnacle of the game by placing in the Top 10 for the daily arena, I realized I would be spending the foreseeable future futilely grinding to complete yet another obscure Star Wars character that I had never heard of before just to keep pace with the current meta, and I knew that it was time to kick this bad habit. There are a lot of fond memories I made throughout the years, but I don’t miss it at all. I even earned bonus life points for convincing a coworker to quit. It was like a no-smoking gaming pact.
Games from This Year
Best of the Rest
This beautiful water-colored look at fear, depression, and self doubt was a fantastic bookend to a year in gaming that started with the similarly themed Celeste. As your character comes to terms with some unspoken tragic event, colors slowly begin to return to your world that feels like you’re living in a painting. While only 3-4 hours long, the empowering and touching journey is a must play.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4)
The somewhat disappointing year for JRPGs got its start with this fun but flawed game. The kingdom of Evermore is easy to get lost in with the beautiful Studio Ghibli art, but the story is kind of a mess and the game is far too easy (note: a patch after I finished did add difficulty settings to address this). Still, there’s a lot to love here including a robust Kingdom building system that will require you to recruit tons of interesting characters with unique skill sets to make your empire the envy of the world. Also, the overwhelming positivity of the main character is a welcome distraction from some of the more nihilistic tendencies of other games even if his haircut is the worst to ever grace a protagonist’s head.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (Switch)
Perhaps it’s Metroidvania fatigue, or maybe it was the poor pacing and unexpected difficulty spike in the middle, but this game dropped out of my Top 10 list after an extremely promising start. Unlike other Metroidvanias, Monster Boy is far more straightforward when it comes to navigation, which was a super welcome change. Additionally, being able to switch between 6 different forms provides some sublimely innovative mechanics. When this game is on it’s really on with deft platforming challenges that have you seamlessly transition between your various anthropomorphic forms, but when it decides to be cheap and extend sequences for far too long, it becomes a drag. I definitely recommend playing it if you’re looking for something unique in the genre.
Yoku’s Island Express (Switch)
It’s a pinball Metroidvania with a healthy dose of the cuteness of games like Little Big Planet! The randomness of pinball can at times get a little frustrating, but there are plenty of smiles to be had in your 8-10 hour journey as the world’s most adorable mail delivery bug.
The Gardens Between (Switch)
At first, I thought this time-bending indie puzzler would be this year’s Gorogoa. About half of the 20 levels produced awe-inspiring solutions that will have you smiling uncontrollably at just how clever they are. The other half, however, become a little too routine and cumbersome. Still this whimsical tale of childhood friendship is worthy of a place in your backlog.
If you’re looking for a cheerful game where you save the world through singing, then Wandersong is the cure for all your life’s worries. It’s the kind of game where you’re provided with a button that allows you to awkwardly dance whenever. Throughout the 12 hours or so that it took to beat this game, I never stopped laughing at deciding to bust a move at the most inappropriate times. Overall, the game is about 1/3 too long as the singing and dancing aren’t nearly as deep as they could be, but the entire world is so endearing that you’ll want to make sure everyone gets saved.
Madden NFL 19 (PS4)
Every year I tell myself that I’m not going to buy the new Madden, and every year I find myself downloading it on launch day. Even despite the fact that my Saints had a wonderful season, I couldn’t really push myself to play more than about 6 games because there were just too many other worthy games out there and not a whole lot has changed from the previous season. It also didn’t help that this year’s Longshot mode sounds like it was more of an afterthought than a fully immersive and rewarding experience that we saw in Madden 18. Still, I look forward to continuing this wasteful tradition next year.
Super Mario Party (Switch)
I finally got my wife momentarily interested in playing video games with me thanks to the welcoming and fun hour-long Mario Party matches. The boards themselves provide plenty of comical hazards and the hundreds of mini-games add a ton of variety to each session. Our favorite part was picking a computer controlled character that we hated each match and actively rooting against them. Truly, this game will bring many families together.
Overcooked 2 (Switch)
I attempted to get Robin to try this as well, but since I had never played the original, we just ended up super confused and failed a lot. Now that I’ve gone back and learned a little about the game’s intricacies in the decidedly more stressful single player mode, maybe I’ll be able to convince her to join me for some co-op kitchen chaos.
Dead Cells (Switch)
This roguelike Metroidvania has appeared in a lot of top 10 lists this year with some even arguing that it’s the best Metroidvania ever. For about 10 hours, the humor, difficulty, and run-planning really worked for me. I mean, hell, you can even turn all the food into delightful French baguettes if you so choose. Eventually though, I found this game suffers from the same fate many rougelikes have when it comes to my attention span. Even though the levels are procedurally generated each time, it does get old going through the same basic environments and enemies. I have still yet to have a successful run leading to my headless hero’s freedom, but maybe after some time away I’ll be ready to experience it all again.
Octopath Traveler (Switch)
This branching tale has everything you could want to scratch the classic 16-bit JRPG itch, but a story full of trite tropes and an overly repetitive structure keep it from being the all-time great game it should have been. Eventually, completing chapters in this game turned into an enjoyable nightly routine, and while I enjoyed my time in its world, I’ll never stop wishing it had been something more.
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (Switch)
Really, buying this was all about getting the SNES classic Street Fighter II Turbo on my Switch. Even all these years later, nothing quite feels like throwing some Hadoukens and landing a few Hurricane Kicks while dominating your friends as Ryu. While I don’t have as much history with the other games, it was still amusing to explore the history of the series including the incredibly janky original Street Fighter.
Mega Man Legacy Collection (Switch)
So it turns out those old NES Mega Mans are kind of cheap in their difficulty. Thankfully, Capcom included a handy rewind button with this collection allowing you to easily overcome some of the more devastating obstacles for a breezy tour through gaming history. In my limited time with the game, I completed both Mega Man and Mega Man 2 and received appropriate doses of evil robot battling nostalgia.
Imagine if the 8-bit Legend of Zelda unfolded in 1 minute intervals, and you have the concept behind Minit, one of the most unique games that came out this year. As the proud owner of a cursed sword, you have one minute to complete basic quests and gather items until you die and respawn at your home with some minor progress saved each time. This game is definitely worth checking out as the first 30 minutes will put a huge smile on your face. Eventually, the novelty starts to wear off as the second half features some multi-part quests that are less straightforward, but at only 90 or so minutes, it’s more than worth your time and fantastic for anyone into trying out speed running.
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido (Switch)
Part puzzle game, part fighting game, all weird Nintendo! Sushi Striker looked like the most confusing game I had ever seen when watching videos, but I absolutely loved my time learning the art of sushi fighting thanks to the heart-pounding fast-pace, overly dramatic anime scenes, and Pokemon-like sushi sprites that help you maximize your capacity for and mastery of delicious raw fish.
Old School Musical (Switch)
At first, Old School Musical appears to be a fairly basic rhythm game that pulls you in with clever nods to a lot of old-school gaming favorites. The real treat, however, comes in the post main campaign mode “The Chicken Republic” that introduces increasingly odd and hilarious obstacles like button commands that drunkenly swerve across the screen or a strange shirtless Josh-Gad lookalike covering up the prompts. For anyone who used to love games like PaRappa the Rapper back in the day, definitely check this out.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
If not for my lack of people to brawl this with, the latest incarnation of Smash would have likely found its way into my top 10. Despite limited multi-player domination, the game itself is the ultimate collection of everything you love in Smash and works incredibly well even in single player modes. Most importantly, the big fighters have been reworked so now my personal favorite Donkey Kong is much more capable of holding his own against the smaller, faster crowd.
The Top 10
10. Monster Hunter World (PS4)
This is the only game in my top 10 that I have yet to finish, but the undeniable charm and weirdness it possesses at every turn helped earn it a spot. What at first seems like a very simple interpretation of the title, turns into something surprisingly deep as your hunts revolve around learning the secrets of your terrain, tracking and gathering information on beasts, choosing the right weapon among 14 to match your playstyle, and managing battles to gain an advantage by setting traps or getting the various ferocious beasts to become preoccupied with each other instead of turning you into lunch.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in the game is giving you a customizable cat helper known as a palico. Since I modeled mine after my cat, Swarley, I thoroughly enjoyed yelling “Dammit, Swarley” repeatedly at the game while waiting for some life-saving vigorwasps to be delivered. And more often than I’d like to admit, I was confused by the extremely realistic meowing coming from the game and was convinced my real life cats were in trouble.
9. Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)
Perhaps nothing I have seen better encapsulates the difference between my 9th and 10th best games of the year than the following tweet from Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton:
Now, you may be wondering why a game from 2005 made its way into this year’s top 10. This one skirts by on a technicality since it’s a full remake and not simply a remaster. Having never experienced the original, I was surprised at how well it all still works both mechanically and emotionally as you guide your young hero through the slaughter of 13 magnificent creatures to reawaken your dead love. Even all these years later, it’s hard to find more memorable and well designed bosses than the Colossi that roam these forbidden lands.
8. Into the Breach (Switch)
This game cost me so much sleep with the “just one more round” approach I constantly took to playing it. In this roguelike tactics game of “Kaiju Chess”, you control a squadron of 3 mechs while defending what remains of the Earth against a giant alien monster invasion. It’s part XCOM and part The Edge of Tomorrow as your knowledge of the monsters upcoming moves and the ability to send a lone surviving pilot to another timeline with a fresh start leads to a ton of interesting decisions about collateral damage and what sacrifices should be made to ensure humanity’s survival.
Do you sacrifice one of your pilots to save a building and the ever important crumbling power grid, or do you give up hope on this timeline and send a highly experienced mech warrior back for a round with better odds? My men suffered heavy losses and all seemed lost more than once, but finally destroying the Vek and saving a timeline stands as one of my proudest gaming accomplishments of the year.
7. Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4)
While this is definitely the most technically impressive game I played all year, it’s often not all that fun as the game is full of chores and purposefully difficult controls. The 60 hours or so of gameplay can get repetitive, but the story of Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang attempting to survive in a world that no longer supports their outlaw way of life keeps you invested throughout. The tedium actually turns out to be a blessing as it forces you to slow down and really makes you feel like a part of the final fading remnants of the Old West. Just when I thought I was ready to be done with the seemingly constant gun battles and treks on horseback, a truly beautiful epilogue made me wish it would never end.
6. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4)
The latest and best entry in the Assassin’s Creed series succeeds so well thanks to possessing the best video game character of 2018 in the Xena/Wonder Woman badass Kassandra. There are so many systems in place that this game could have been an absolute mess, but instead they all work just well enough to keep things interesting and prevent the level grinding from getting too tedious.
Ancient Greece is presented in the largest map I have ever encountered in a video game, and it’s easy to spend hours just exploring every new island, each of which feels alive and distinct from all the others. You’ll likely find yourself completely consumed with uncovering the identities of the nefarious cultists trying to shape the world, and fortunately you’ll have Socrates there by your side to let you know how often you screw up the whole morality and ethics side of things.
5. Celeste (Switch)
I’ve never had a better time repeatedly dying than I did in Celeste. Unlike similar games, the point of all these failures isn’t to crush your spirit. It’s actually to lift you up through an inspiring tale about dealing with fear, anxiety, and depression. The game throws plenty of obstacles your way, but it finds ways to support you at ever turn so you feel empowered and not overwhelmed.
There are really two completely different gameplay experiences while playing this. First there is the lengthy and punishing difficulty of your first play-through of each level while you learn how to master the crisp jumps and dashes. Next, comes the thrilling speed-runs as your accumulated skills allow for shockingly fast times that you will constantly be trying to perfect by knocking precious seconds off. You won’t want to let this game go, but it will have prepared you to do so.
4. Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)
Swinging through virtual New York as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man elicits exhilarating and unadulterated fun. As much as the Arkham series truly captured what it might feel like to be Batman, this game is the closest you will ever come to being everyone’s favorite nerdy webslinger. Even better, it turns out it’s a lot more invigorating to play as the someone who appears to enjoy being a super hero instead of a grizzled billionaire psychopath! Throw in a fantastic photo-mode, and you’re sure to have plenty of unforgettable comic book moments worth commemorating.
3. Hollow Knight (Switch)
Much like my third best title of 2017, Stardew Valley, Hollow Knight first appeared on PC in a previous year but truly came into its own on the perfect vessel for its magic, the (yup, you guessed it) Nintendo Switch. At times crushingly difficult yet always engaging, Hollow Knight‘s most electrifying rewards come from the victory achieved by studying balletic boss battles and turning your actions into involuntary muscle memory. It’s a game about being painstakingly precise and constantly learning, and your fearless insect knight is up to the challenge.
2. Return of the Obra Dinn (Steam)
Just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see in games, along comes a little insurance adjuster murder mystery that showcases creative heights you didn’t think were possible. Return of the Obra Dinn will consume your every thought while you spend 8-10 hours attempting to piece together the fate of all 60 crew members who embarked on this doomed voyage. The combination of Clue, Where’s Waldo, Tacoma, and scurvy blends together brilliantly for a once in a lifetime gaming experience you’ll wish you could relive for the first time over and over again.
1. God of War (PS4)
The adventures of middle-aged dad Kratos was easily my game of the year because nothing else felt this good to play. Even after 35 or so hours, I could gladly spend another 35 throwing the Mjolnir-like Leviathan Axe at enemies and puzzles, listening to tales from Mimir’s severed head, and grimacing watching Kratos try not to screw up his son the way his own father did.
Santa Monica Studio took a huge leap by shifting the story to focus on Norse Mythology and a more grown-up and worn down Kratos instead of the misogynistic frat boy of day’s past, and the results were undeniably successful and groundbreaking as the game received universal praise and far more prestigious game of the year awards than this one. Every second of combat feels superbly smooth, especially when utilizing the young archer Atreus to help tilt the scales, but it’s the family and world building moments in between that shine the brightest. Be sure to pour yourself a glass of nice whiskey to help you take in the final poignant moments before the credits roll.
At last we’ve reached the end of my year in gaming! Even though 2017 brought us all-time great games like Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, and Persona 5, 2018 somehow managed to keep pace with several truly remarkable releases that pushed the limits of what’s possible in this current generation of gaming. Perhaps, what I’ll remember most about it, however, is how the Switch’s ever expanding eShop allowed me to catch-up on all the little gems I missed over the last 10 or so years. I truly hope this trend toward making games more available continues in the years to come (and by that I mean putting everything on Switch) and that we preserve all these treasures to enjoy throughout time. 2019 has a lot to live up to, but if the trajectory of the past few years is any indication, we should have some truly astonishing projects coming our way.