Looking back at the last two of these I’ve done (2017 & 2018) I realize that I’m sinking into a theme with these intros, so this time I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’ll just note that it was really interesting for me to look back at each of the games from my list and then mentally review where I was (I’ve lived in three different countries last year) and who I was playing them with while I wrote this. Each of them evoked very different mindsets and emotions based on the climate and the environment at the time.

But first, before the best of the year…

Best trend: Game Pass has been a boon to me as a player. There have been so many games that I was uncertain about (Clustertruck, Outer Wilds, Crackdown 3, Afterparty, My Friend Pedro, Bad North, Hue, World War Z and many more) that Game Pass allowed me to mess around with and, in most cases, really enjoy. Having something that works flawlessly, whether I am in South East Asia, Europe or North America was a godsend after the way Microsoft locked down its film content, and how Nintendo and Sony put a wall around their digital game content. My hope is that Game Pass continues into the next gen of consoles and continues to provide both AAA experiences and indie gems at a reasonable price for consumers, while also inspiring other publishers to do the same. Death to region locking!

Best game from last year that shouldn’t have been released in December, seriously when do reviewers have time to look at it?

Kingdom: Two Crowns PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Mac

The original Kingdom might be one of my games of the decade, the sequel (in what seems to be a trend for sequels) rolls back the difficulty and makes it a better entry point for newcomers. It also adds two-player splitscreen and makes priorities differ, allowing for more breathing room. As a simple, accessible, side-scrolling RTS with only two inputs, I think it’s close to perfection. 

Runners up: Rival Megagun, Donut County and Mutant: Year Zero

Now, with those out of the way, here are my top ten!

10> Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan PC, PS4, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

I almost didn’t play this and then ended up looking for a good Halloween title to play with friends. This one takes the format from Until Dawn (horror game based around QTEs and making choices) and then leans into the way people played it — sharing a controller on a couch and looking away when one of the players has to go into a darkened room. I think the anthology approach fits this experience better, and the shorter run time makes the chapter we played feel more like a movie than the very long Until Dawn. The problem I still have with it is that the game wants you to play like you’re the director of a horror movie by conjuring up characters’ grisly demises, but the way it positions you in the game makes you feel like the protagonist – it’s a little too easy to keep everyone alive.

9> Cat Quest II iOS, Android, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

I came for the cute cats and dogs battling other cute cats and dogs and stayed for the wonderfully relaxing action-RPG dungeon crawling. This game is incredibly smart in how it simplifies loot collection and leveling up, and there aren’t reams of barely-distinguishable gear — instead, finding the same equipment type levels up what you already have. This means less time in menus and more time running around hitting and shooting things. The co-op is great and perfect for someone with a partner, sibling or child that wants to adventure but would like someone’s help.  

8> RICO PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

Slow motion, door-kicking action from a first-person perspective. Having 24 minutes to crack a case mean 24 minutes of shooting everything and everyone. Both the singleplayer and splitscreen are worth the time once the game’s rhythm and flow are figured out. That said, while it’s quick to understand, but I have yet to master it.

7> For the King PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

One of the gems on Game Pass, it’s a wonderful procedurally-generated RPG/board game hybrid. The singleplayer is good, but it comes into its own when there are 2-3 players taking on each of the characters. There’s also meaningful progression that kept me coming back to try quests with new encounters and new playable classes. It could have used a good tutorial, and maybe a fourth player, but otherwise it was a delightful experience.

6> Void Bastards PC, Mac, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

I may never forgive Cara Ellison for her review of EDF 2025 (this is a joke) but her writing and vocal deliveries, on Void Bastards would go some way to assuaging my fanboy ego. A first-person shooter with roguelike elements, the game combines horror and a very British sense of humour that suits its art style. I absolutely loved playing it and said that the game does not outstay its welcome, but there is a part of me that wishes that there was just a little more of it to return to.

5> Metal Wolf Chaos XD PS4, PC, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

Metal Wolf Chaos and I share a long history together. Basically, if I hadn’t introduced the game to two young Canadians I worked with, there’s a good chance it would have remained an interesting curiosity that people like me would order from Japan and pay 130 bucks to own. As such, it was impossible that this HD remake wouldn’t end up on my top ten of the year. That said, I think it holds up with a swarthy charm when it comes to the gameplay, and the story is still solid. The president of the USA gets in a mech and goes stomping across a nutty Japanese vision of what America is, and somehow nails it.

4> Samurai Shodown PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

There was a period in my life where I would sit down and immerse myself in a fighter. The last time was over 10 years ago, when I got really into SNK vs Capcom 2 and Samurai Shodown V and I’d pretty much given up on being sucked into another fighter until this year’s Samurai Shodown. Focusing on limited combos and punishing mistakes with devastating single slashes, each match is short and brutal. if a player learns ‘footsies’ (the art of attacking and provoking attacks) they can even make themselves viable at a mid-level without any complex inputs. With this and the new King of Fighters, SNK is making me excited to play fighting games again.

3> Fade to Silence PC, PS4, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

Back in June, I wrote that this was likely to feature prominently on my top ten list, and I wasn’t wrong. A survival game in the arctic wastes of a post-apocalyptic Earth, it did a good job of putting me in the shoes of a desperate survivor. That desperation wasn’t always intentional, though — some came from the inordinate number of bugs present in the review build. I could talk about all the times I put my controller down and went for a walk instead of screaming at a crash, but I haven’t stopped thinking about Fade to Silence in the last eight months and I hope Black Forest get a chance to expand on what they’ve created here.

2> Vigor PC, Xbox One

Gamecritics preview here

I have a feeling that I’ll go back to Vigor in the New Year and actually write a full review. The preview pretty much covers everything that a reader might need to know, other than the developers messing around with the economy to make people spend real money and that there are now new maps and guns that change the dynamic of the encounters. Otherwise, Vigor is still as good as it was when I previewed it.

In fact, I actually uninstalled Vigor because it got its hooks into me to such a degree that I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I was playing on my lunch break instead of eating, the tension of shoot outs were draining me, and I was having trouble thinking about anything other than the strategy for the next upgrade in my shelter.

Vigor felt all consuming and would probably have been number one if I hadn’t dipped into Game Pass on the next title, which I had heard good things about…

1> Slay the Spire PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One

Gamecritics review here

In some ways Slay the Spire and Vigor should share the top spot, as I see them completing each other. Vigor is tense and harrowing, whereas this RPG card battler is relaxing and therapeutic — it’s a bit like a tumbler of mellow, warm whiskey by a roaring fire after a treacherous trek through a frozen countryside. What Slay the Spire gets right is that, as a single player card battler, it has no problem with letting me create game-breaking builds, and in some ways it encourages it. I think Brad’s review is right in that sometimes the randomness results in a dud playthrough and can feel a little unfair, but that’s balanced out by the times when I combined my cards to let me block 999 damage against a boss and felt invincible. Incredibly satisfying and endlessly replayable.

AJ Small
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