“The following is a contributor post by the Middle-aged Horror Mage.”
While 2017 blew me away with its onslaught of major releases (namely Persona 5, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Yakuza 0, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, NieR: Automata, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and Mass Effect: Andromeda — yes, I liked that game quite a bit!), 2018 was a different story altogether.
There wasn’t much in the way of larger retail games that really grabbed my attention, with the exception of Sony’s God of War. Although I loved Assassin’s Creed: Origins, it still felt fresh enough that I wasn’t ready to do more of that in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. I’m also one of the few people on the planet that didn’t bother with Monster Hunter World, Marvel’s Spider-man or Red Dead Redemption 2. On the Xbox front, even with a Game Pass subscription for most of the year, I couldn’t get into stuff like Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 4, and State of Decay 2. Even as a big Dragon Quest fan, I wasn’t mentally prepared for another 100+ hour RPG so my copy of its newest entry is still in the shrinkwrap.
This is doubly true when I take a look at 2018’s major Switch releases. Mario Tennis Aces, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Super Mario Party do nothing for me, I’d already played Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Bayonetta 2, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze back on the Wii U, and I’ve yet to dive into the copy of Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu that I received for Christmas.
However, 2018 did receive a plethora of meaningful and interesting indie games that really impressed me throughout the year. That’s not to say I didn’t find some of the bigger titles entertaining, but 2018, for me, was all about the indies (and the Nintendo Switch).
Before I get into my top 10 favorite games of 2018, let me start by clarifying that I do own the following games and have yet to play them: Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu, Dead Cells, Mega Man 11, Moonlighter, Rain World, Katamari Damacy REROLL, Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Crossing Souls, Forgotton Anne, Black Bird, The Messenger, West of Loathing, and The World Ends With You: Final Remix.
I… apparently have a bad habit of picking up games and never playing them.
In addition to that, I really wish I had played more of Lost Sphear, Fire Pro Wrestling World, Into the Breach, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] (UNIST for short), Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Hollow Knight’s Switch release. I haven’t put enough time into any of those to decide whether or not they’d make the cut, but I have enjoyed whatever time I’ve spent.
So now, without further ado, I give you… not my top 10 list yet. Instead, here are five honorable mentions that I really enjoyed but ultimately ended up not making the cut.
Aaero: Complete Edition (Switch)
Aaero is a pretty incredible music-heavy game that blends high-speed line-riding with the lock-on shooting mechanic of Panzer Dragoon (one of my favorite games). I’ve already reviewed it here at The Well-Red Mage so I won’t go into it too much, but I will say that it’s one of the most fun games I’ve played this year and I probably would have added it to my top 10 had it not released the year prior on other platforms.
The music, the gameplay, the visuals… it’s all top notch.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4)
I never got into the original Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on the PS3, but I definitely clicked with its sequel earlier this year. And, as it turns out, they have very little to do with one another.
Unlike its predecessor, Revenant Kingdom is an action RPG that focuses heavily on literally building a new kingdom from the ground up while trying to convince the world’s other kingdoms that war is bad. Because it is.
Its storybook visuals are fantastic and I really enjoyed the more action-focused combat, but ultimately felt the characters were never given enough attention and growth to really make the narrative shine. Not that it was bad, mind you. It just… existed.
Octopath Traveler (Switch)
When I first began my journey into Octopath Traveler, I was sure it’d end up somewhere in my top 10 list. The aesthetic captured my 16- and 32-bit RPG nostalgia, the turn-based combat was spectacularly executed, and the music… man, the music is SO GOOD!
Unfortunately, the narrative didn’t keep me entertained for long as it was split into 8 different stories that required a lot of grinding to keep up with. And once the grinding was finished, the entire flow of the game never strayed from the formula it introduced in hour one — cutscene, dungeon, boss, done.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I did have quite a bit of fun with Octopath Traveler, but I just wanted a tastier carrot to chase as a reward for all of the grinding.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology (3DS)
I missed out on Radiant Historia when it initially released on the DS many years ago but fell in love with its Perfect Chronology revamp earlier this year on the 3DS. In fact, it was the only 3DS game I played throughout 2018, and, much like Aaero: Complete Edition, would have likely cracked the top 10 if it didn’t fall into the remake/remaster category.
It’s a time traveling JRPG that has you entering alternate timelines in order to change them for the better. Actions taken in one will undoubtedly affect another, but not always in the ways you’d expect. There was a lot of trial and error, which I’ll admit did cripple the pacing at times, but I enjoyed its unique blend of turn-based and grid-based combat enough that I didn’t mind it too much.
Home Sweet Home (PS4)
2018 was a pretty lackluster year for horror fans, but this first-person fright-fest was a terrifying delight the first time through.
Home Sweet Home is heavily rooted in Thai folklore and tasks the player with sneaking around a stalking schoolgirl armed with a box cutter and the ability to manifest from pools of blood. And just when you think you’re safe, you’re dodging the massive mitts of a gigantic monster with a gruesome backstory.
The core narrative wasn’t very strong, but I did enjoy the folklore and ritual descriptions found through scattered documentation. However, Home Sweet Home is the epitome of “one-and-done,” since replay value is virtually non-existent.
NOW! With THAT out of the way, here are my top 10 favorite games of 2018! Woo! *confetti*!
10: A Case of Distrust (Switch)
This is an interesting little whodunit visual novel that takes place in 1920s San Francisco. You play as a female private investigator (women weren’t commonly on the police force during this time period) who is asked to look into a threatening letter received by a local rum-rummer. Before you can do too much investigating, though, your client ends up dead with a bullet in his chest. Was it the wife? The rival? The barber? That’s up to you to find out.
The gameplay itself is mostly a visual novel where you talk to a handful of suspects and informants before questioning and contradicting them using whatever evidence you find along the way. There were a handful of moments where I was truly stumped, but it was never too difficult to progress the story.
A Case of Distrust has a distinguished art style full of silhouettes and varying color tones, as well as a fitting soundtrack. My favorite part of the game was chatting up cab drivers whenever I had to segue between destinations, who always had interesting things to say about real historical events of the era.
It’s kind of like a point-and-click adventure game without all the inventory management and obtuse puzzles. If you like a good detective story, then give it a shot.
9: Donut County (Switch)
Who knew moving a hole around and swallowing things up could be so fun? Well, I guess the visuals, music, and characters of Donut County provided the lion’s share of my enjoyment, but there was something satisfying about the game’s reverse-Katamari approach to gameplay.
You mostly play as BK, a raccoon who works at a donut delivery shop and is currently obsessed with a mini-game on his tablet that summons these aforementioned holes across town. The more the hole sucks up, the higher his level, and he’s just about to reach level 10 and unlock a rad quadcopter.
Liked I mentioned above, the gameplay is kind of secondary to everything else. It’s a super easy game that doesn’t put up much of a fight, but the characters and their interactions with one another are genuinely hilarious.
8: Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch)
I have a lot of nostalgia for the NES years of Castlevania, especially Dracula’s Curse. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a love letter to the third entry in every way imaginable, from the pixels and music to character swapping and gameplay.
Curse of the Moon is a retro-style prequel to the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Similar to Dracula’s Curse, it has branching level paths and a handful of playable characters. You have your whip wielder, wizard, vampire, and sword swinger, each with their own array of sub-weapons and abilities. The entire cast is fully playable and can be switched between on the fly with a press of a shoulder button.
This short-and-sweet throwback was far better than I anticipated and part of me even thinks that it’ll end up being better than next year’s Ritual of the Night. We’ll have to wait and see, though.
7: The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories (Switch)
My final game of 2018 was Swery’s emotionally draining puzzle platformer, The Missing. You play as the titular J.J. Macfield who explores a nightmarish world looking for her missing friend. Something weird occurs and J.J. is “gifted” the ability to live on, despite becoming dismembered. After using her own body parts to solve puzzles, she can regenerate them all and continue along. It’s… different. And amazing.
The actual platforming is fine, though admittedly not great. It’s good enough to get the job done, but the true star of The Missing is its sincere narrative of self-discovery, love, and friendship. I was truly gripped from beginning to end as more of the story played out through a series of small cutscenes and text messages.
Swery pulls no punches and his team delivers one of the most memorable, narratively important games of 2018.
6: Minit (Switch)
One of the year’s biggest surprises is actually the shortest game on the list! Minit is a brief action-adventure game where you discover a cursed sword that kills you every 60-seconds. When you die, you wake up in your house with all of your newly discovered items and abilities intact.
It’s a bit like a monochromatic, bite-sized Legend of Zelda with the humor of Undertale. Every death presents you with a new opportunity to explore a new section of the map, solve a puzzle, maybe increase your heart gauge, before exploring more and progressing further on the next attempt.
I had a blast with Minit and really loved its charming humor and unique approach to a genre we’ve all seen for 30+ years. When a game can breathe new life into a classic, especially one that can be finished in under two hours, you know it’s something special. And not only does Minit look and feel great, but has musical chops as well. Everything comes together in a nice, neat package, and I highly recommend checking it out if you have a Switch.
5: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Torna: The Golden Country (Switch)
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is currently my favorite game for the Nintendo Switch. Although I wasn’t too wild about it at launch, I eventually got into the groove and sank over 100 hours into Rex’s world-saving adventure. I knew that I was going to drop whatever I was playing the day its standalone prequel chapter, Torna: The Golden Country, released, and I did just that. Sorry, Octopath Traveler!
Set 500 years in the past, The Golden Country features a playable cast of somewhat familiar characters and their accompanied Blades (living weapons bound to the user). Unlike the core game, however, you can switch between playing as the Driver and their Blades, rather than simply wielding them during combat.
This is a meaty prequel, clocking in ~25-30 hours, so if you’re looking for more information then allow me to redirect you to my review right here. I will say that despite it being a prequel, I don’t think the narrative will land as hard if you haven’t played through the core game. It also has a few loose ends it fails to patch up, but all in all made for an incredible experience. The new flavor of combat is refreshing, the new zones are gorgeous, and the rearranged soundtrack is one of the year’s best (especially the new battle theme!).
4: GRIS (Switch)
It’s not very common to see fantastic new releases so late in the year, but the puzzle platformer GRIS is exactly that. Not only does it feel great to play, but it’s easily the most jaw-dropping game of the year. The hand-drawn characters and environments, and the way everything animates are awe-inspiring, to say the least.
Gameplay-wise, it’s mostly a standard puzzle platformer, though you do unlock additional abilities as the story progresses. You can eventually transform into a heavy block, double-jump, glide, and swim, and all of it is introduced at an admirable pace that kept things fresh throughout its 3-hour runtime.
GRIS is yet another shorter game in my top 10 list this year. 2018 provided no shortage of these emotional and brief experiences that packed quite the punch. GRIS was one of many games that I just picked up and played through in one go and felt wholly rewarded in the process. My time was respected and I still walked away with that memory forever etched in my mind.
GRIS is not to be slept on. It’s a masterclass in visual design and a prime example of “games as art.”
3: God of War (PS4)
The only major release in my top 10 list, God of War completely reinvigorated a series that I never really cared for. I enjoyed playing the series beforehand, but the characters and their stories never did anything for me. This year’s game proved to be a whole different beast.
God of War is insanely gorgeous and each new environment left my jaw on the floor. The combat is tense and has a lot of weight to it, which I liked a lot. I didn’t care too much for the skill trees outside of some of the earlier unlockables, which made leveling up a bit unrewarding late in the game. Still, I never tired of hurling my ice-coated axe at someone and then decapitating someone else during its magical recall.
God of War was as fun to play and look at as it was to uncover its story. Its refreshing take on Norse mythology was most welcome along with the characters and plot twists that come with it. Boss battles are as epic as the music, the voice-overs are top notch, and everything just comes together rather nicely. Whether I was exploring or sailing with Kratos and his son Atreus, or beheading enemies, I was having a great time soaking it all in.
Single-player games with a narrative-heavy focus are why I enjoy the PlayStation’s brand of games, but only God of War landed for me this year. That proved to be enough, though, as I had plenty to keep me occupied on my Switch. Clearly.
2: Wandersong (Switch)
Wandersong was a game I was offered to review and knew nothing about going in, but turned out to be one hell of an adventure!
You play as a bard who’s told he’s the hero the world needs in order to avoid extinction. How does he combat the evilest of evils, though? Singing, of course. Wandersong is a puzzle platformer with a lot of heart and soul within its narrative. It’s bright and colorful and chock-full of optimism — until it isn’t. The game is all about doing your best and having fun, but also tackles heavy subjects like depression, war, and racism in ways that make you feel like you can make a difference.
Like I said above, I did have the chance to review Wandersong and if you’d like a deeper dive into why I loved it so much, then I encourage you to clink the link provided. In a world that constantly feels like it’s being thrown in the dumpster, it’s nice having a little color and positivity in my emotional rollercoasters.
1: Celeste (Switch)
Challenging platformers aren’t usually my thing, so I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d like Celeste going in. Without going in-depth, I’ve had a rough year dealing with a friend’s suicide and my 12-year-old cat dying of cancer, so the last thing I wanted was to slam my head against the wall in a frustrating platformer. However, Celeste’s challenges and Madeline’s story helped me deal with my depression and anxiety in a healthy manner.
Celeste is an incredibly special game about overcoming our self-doubt as much as it is a satisfying, well-designed platformer. The creative team behind the game worked on the fantastic competitive couch multiplayer TowerFall, but also consisted of my favorite artist (Amora B), one of my favorite 2D animators (Saint), a personal favorite audio team (Power Up Audio), and one of my favorite composers (Lena Raine). That’s a lot of favorites! This team knows how to craft memorable experiences that play as good as they look and sound.
While comprising this list, my top two spots kept shifting back and forth. However, in the end, I felt that Celeste packed an equally emotional punch and did so while looking better, having a superior soundtrack, and providing the finely-tuned platforming that Wandersong lacked a bit. Both games are absolutely worth checking out, but in the end, Celeste is my favorite game and experience of 2018. It’s deeply personal and will always have a home on my Nintendo Switch.
Well, that about does it for me… and for 2018. Here’s hoping for another stellar year of gaming in 2019 and beyond!
What about you, folks? What were some of your favorite games of 2018? If you’ve already listed them out over on your own blog, toss a link down in the comments so we can all check it out!
Trash is the Middle-aged Horror Mage here at TWRM, an irregular co-host on The Unlikely Herocast podcast for CA! Radio, and sole contributor for his own games-related website, Cheap Boss Attack. Follow him on Twitter @Trashlevania!
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