2018 has been anothe-yadayadayada never mind the bollocks. Videogames are great, they’re always great, here’s what y’all came for.
2018 game I desperately want to play more of in 2019: Floor Kids
I remember hearing about this game earlier in the year and picked it up last week on Switch after having some leftover funds and Nintendo coins from buying Super Smash Bros. What was originally an impulse buy afterthought has become a recent fascination, as Floor Kids is one of the more interesting rhythm games I’ve played in a while. The idea for a breakdancing rhythm game is a good one, and if I gave out an award for freshest game of the year, these killer beats combined with the fun art style would give Floor Kids a huge edge. So many games got released this year and we all have a potentially shameful backlog to get through, but don’t miss out on this one.
2018 game that might’ve made this list if it didn’t release last week: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Five years from now, if I was to tally my hours played for all the games released in 2018, there’s a pretty good chance Super Smash Bros Ultimate is going to be at the top of the list. But, damn Nintendo, this game came out four days ago as of this writing! With 40 characters left to collect and an ungodly amount of stuff to do in the World Of Light mode, I can’t in good conscience put it on my list, despite the fact that it seems pretty damn awesome so far. There’s always a December release that slips through the cracks during GOTY discussions, and Smash takes that title this year.
2018 turd of the year: Metal Gear Survive
Ok there’s some people on the staff here that actually like this game. They’re my friends and colleagues and I deeply respect all of their varied opinions, so I’m going to pass on calling them complete dolts who slip crack into their coffee in the morning while I scream from the mountaintop about how incredibly putrid I find this pile of crap to be. I was actually willing to give this game a chance. Seeing a new game using the engine from Metal Gear Solid V, which I believe to be (from a core gameplay mechanics standpoint) the best open world action game and the best stealth game ever made, obviously sounds great! Yeah, Kojima wasn’t involved, but there had to be some talented people at Konami who know what they’re doing, right?
Turns out the answer is a big, fat ‘no’. The defenders of this game (man, I feel sorry for them) will tell you how it’s actually an interesting survival game, but as a huge Metal Gear fan who sees the words ‘Metal Gear’ on the box, this game categorically fails at every single aspect of being a Metal Gear game. And before you tell me ‘well Jarrod just because it’s different from other Metal Gear games doesn’t mean it’s bad’ or ‘you just don’t like survival games’, know that I hate card battle games and Metal Gear Ac!d is one of my favorite titles in the series. I don’t hate this game because it’s different. I hate it because it sucks.
The setting is completely uninteresting, the music is bad, the cast is dull, there’s no cool team of bosses to fight, the story is barely there, and what is there is an incomprehensible mess (which is saying A LOT considering it’s a Metal Gear game), the in-game economy and micro-transactions are borderline offensive, and poking zombies with a stick through a fence for 40 hours is about as entertaining as poking yourself with a stick through a fence for 40 hours. Metal Gear Survive (abbreviating it to MGS is a line that I will not cross) is a shocking, horrendous, shameful waste of data that only a complete idiot would enjoy.
Brad, stop liking terrible things. [Editor’s Note: This game is awesome.]
2019 story of the year: The future government regulation of microtransactions
This is coming, folks. The EU, the UK, China, Japan, and the USA are all opening investigations, and they either already have findings that show that lootboxes are essentially gambling, or already have legislation in place restricting the sale of them. Due to people in government bodies still seeing games purely as entertainment for children, this is going to have far-reaching and potentially dire consequences for the industry. Before everyone here starts jumping into the air singing hallelujah, don’t be so sure that government regulation is the answer, as all of your favorite AAA publishers are currently using microtransactions in games to essentially keep the industry afloat and fund the games we actually like to play. If tomorrow the EU decided 50% of EA’s revenue was illegal, how does that affect their lineup? What if the EU outlaws them, but the US rules they’re perfectly legal? Does this bring back region-locking where the European version of a game has a completely different economy compared to the North American version, then leads to situations where players can’t play each other on different continents? Make no mistake, I think lootboxes are one of the worst things to happen to games in the last 25 years, but the fight over how they’re implemented is going to be a messy one. We should be careful what we wish for, because if they go away, a lot of funding for games is going with it.
The Be-all, End-all, 100% objectively correct list of the top ten games of 2018
2018 Honorable Mentions: A four way tie between Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
The first two years of the Switch cannot be judged as anything other than a spectacular success with Nintendo releasing a wide variety of great-to-exceptional titles. With that said, the beginning of this year through the summer definitely had a bit of a lull when compared to releasing Zelda and Mario in the first seven months of its existence. Luckily, Nintendo knew what few people seem to remember — the Wii U was actually awesome and had some kick-ass games on it. With their releases looking a little light, they made the very smart decision to go back into the Wii U catalog and re-release four outstanding games with a few enhancements.
Captain Toad is a fun little puzzler that the whole family can enjoy. Hyrule Warriors may be the best Musou game ever released and features an ungodly amount of content with all of the Wii U DLC bundled in from the start. Bayonetta 2 is a bonafide classic and included the original release to boot for extra value. Lastly, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the best 2D platformers in years, and holds its own in that category of the Nintendo pantheon. These releases served their purpose extremely well and it’s a great thing that people who skipped the Wii U got to experience these excellent titles.
10. Warioware Gold
Hey guys, remember the 3DS? It’s still here! And there’s still some good stuff coming out on it. Warioware is a truly one-of-a-kind experience, providing fast paced microgames infused with great style and some of the best Nintendo-based nostalgia around. Gold serves as a greatest hits mashup of the best from the original GBA game, its gyroscope-based sequel Warioware Twisted, and the DS’s Warioware Touched to create the definitive Warioware experience. For people who haven’t played a Warioware game before, I cannot recommend this distinct type of zaniness enough. The package surrounding it is also exceptional, featuring clean renditions of classic games split equally into episodes book-ended with some truly weird, humorous, fully-voiced cutscenes. This also may be Charles Martinet’s finest hour with his jubilant, hysterical performance as Wario. It won’t take more than a few hours to get through the main story mode, but chasing high scores and playing faster, more difficult versions of the games is a great time. Dust off your 3DS and don’t miss out on this great title.
9. Valkyria Chronicles 4
The name of this game works against it. Nobody played the damn PSP games (the third one didn’t even get an official release) and for anyone like myself who absolutely adored the original PS3 game, just get a marker and put a big ‘2’ on the box, because this might as well be Valkyria Chronicles 2, and rest assured it’s exactly the game fans of the original have been hoping for over the past decade. It takes place on a different front during the second Europa war, features another fantastic cast, and the sublime turn-based strategy RPG combat that made the first one such a joy is intact here. The fact that it’s another Valkyria Chronicles made it an easy addition to my list, but keeping it from being higher is a distinct sense of deja vu –this might as well be DLC for the first game, as outside of a couple of new character classes, it’s nearly identical. That’s not…bad, I guess? The distinct art style still looks great, but it definitely looks like a PS3 game, and anyone looking for a reinvention of the wheel isn’t going to find it. It will, however, make fans of the original extremely happy, and as a member of that group, I’m quite satisfied with it.
8. Red Dead Redemption II
While not the best game of 2018, Red Dead Redemption II may just be the most impressive from a technical standpoint. When they say this game cost over $200 million to make, took seven years, and was created in a studio with a… questionable… work culture, I believe all of it when I see maybe the best rendition of mother nature ever pressed to a disc. Combine that with being able to see 40-minute-long vaudeville shows, moving pictures, an excellent poker simulation, and the astounding litany of things to do and see, this game certainly is a marvel. And frankly, it’s a damn good thing all that stuff is in here and as astonishing as it is, because by the end of it I was pretty sick of actually playing it. For all the advancements, for all the people they have on staff spending four years making sure the muscle definition on my horse’s ass is correct, this game is essentially the same damn game Rockstar has been making since Grand Theft Auto III — follow the minimap until you get to a letter representing a character, they have you go do something, you tag along with them, we arrive, somebody starts shooting, there’s a shootout, we kill everybody, get away before the cops show up, the other character says something like ‘WHEW! That was a close one. Thanks for coming!’, you get some money for your troubles, and then wash, rinse, repeat. Except now, in the name of realism, the main character moves like a 2000lb marionette. The story, the detail, and the amazing atmosphere were more than enough to keep me hooked through the game, but I fear this is the last time Rockstar can pull this. It’s time for the core of their design to go through some changes.
7. The Messenger
There was a point where I was convinced this was going to be my favorite game of the year, as I played through the opening levels and enjoyed this wonderful update to Ninja Gaiden that features silky-smooth controls and some of the best 8-bit music of any retro game released in the past decade. Combine that with a surprisingly funny script, and I thought this game was damn near perfect. Then the game plays its major trick, changing from a killer NES game to a killer Sega Genesis game, and my jaw hit the floor. After that moment, the game also changes from a rock-solid 2D platformer to yet another Metroidvania indie title, a genre that I was pretty sure I never wanted to play again after so many damn indie Metroidvanias. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a damn good one of those, but it’s yet ANOTHER one of those. This padded the length and unfortunately killed my buzz slightly. If it was shorter and had stayed a level-based platformer, The Messenger would have been much, much higher on my list. As it stands, it’s still a fantastic game, but my personal genre fatigue worked against it.
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man
This is the part where I say the same thing everyone else says about this game — the swinging is so damn fun. It just feels awesome being Spider-Man, moving around, doing Spider-Man stuff. It rules. The thing that impressed me the most is how the traversal through New York makes everything so darn seamless. I’m not a side-quest guy and never have been, but by maneuvering through New York, I simply run into a gang hideout or see a crime or want to take a picture or grab a backpack or any number of other distractions. By the time I get to the next main mission, damn near an hour has passed and I’ve done like ten different activities just because I wanted to. To me, that’s a surefire sign of an expertly-designed game, and given that it was put out by Insomniac, that’s hardly surprising. The fact that it’s also an tremendous game to look at with stellar production values and a top-shelf Marvel storyline is just icing on the cake. Licensed AAA games are nearly extinct due to piles of disappointing releases and ballooning costs, and that makes the tremendous success of Spider-Man even more impressive.
5. Tetris Effect
One gets the feeling that it was destiny itself that led Tetsuya Mizuguchi to finally make a Tetris game. It’s pretty easy to see that it was brought to us by the people that made Rez and Lumines — it’s a game so aesthetically pleasing that one may quite literally have to remind themselves to blink, as going through a leg of the Journey mode can be both tranquil in the quiet moments and exhausting when things get heated. It’s quite the trip. All the sights and sounds are great, but what makes Tetris Effect so special is how rock-solid the Tetris is. While having no multiplayer is a bummer, there are countless options to customize and craft the exact Tetris you want to play, so all the purists who say Tetris died when piece-spinning became a core part of it can eliminate that and play some ‘Tetris-ass Tetris’ as producer Mark Macdonald likes to call it. Even without the sheer audio/visual spectacle on display, this is one of the best Tetris titles ever released, and anyone needing a puzzle fix will be in for a treat. Now, once we get the Tetris Battle Gaiden expansion pack, we’re looking at a potential GOAT contender.
4. God Of War
I still find it astounding how much I like this game considering how little I actually wanted to play it. As someone who liked the original God Of War trilogy, I was also quite certain I was done with it. I’d spilled enough blood, banged enough women through silly QTE events, seen angry Kratos be quite angry for three solid games, and the crescendo of insane carnage was enough for me. I was done, so I was quite surprised to find how riveted I was with this complete transformation of a series. It turns out being that pissed off all the time can really affect you in our old age, so playing as Kratos trying (and failing often) to be better while hoping that his son doesn’t follow him down the same path is really something to see. Never before in any game have they made me care about a character that I previously cared zero about, and it’s SUPER rare to make a child like Atreus so likable and endearing. Much of this is due to the exceptional vocal talents of Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic. It’s not just a story reinvention either, as the gameplay is almost completely unrecognizable from previous entries. The slower, methodical pace of the game makes for a very different experience while still providing all the tasty tasty gore the series is known for, while adding a surprising amount of depth. All the accolades it’s received are well-deserved, but one achievement above all else makes God Of War such a spectacular success in my book — It is, without question, the greatest escort mission in the history of videogames, and that deserves some major praise.
There’s just so much to love about Celeste. I’m usually a gameplay-first kind of guy, and the continuous comparisons to Super Meat Boy really don’t do Celeste justice. Yes, it’s a fast paced 2D platformer with a lot of dying and quick restarts, but the core dashing and climbing systems provide far more depth in both traversal and level design than most games of this ilk. Celeste also features some of the best 8-bit themed music you’ll find anywhere. (and yes, I’m aware I just said this with The Messenger, but I guess it was just a good year for retro soundtracks, as The B-side level mixes in particular really stand out.) The story shines with a great cast of fun characters, and the mountain story also serves as a subtle, excellent allegory to protag Madeline and the pressures she faces. It’s far more subtle with its meaning and symbolism than most games are, leading to one of the very few games that actually made me think about my life in relation to what the protagonist goes through. Not many videogames made me go to bed at night wondering if I’ve made the right decisions in life. It’s not the game of the year, but no game released in 2018 had a bigger heart than Celeste. It would be unwise to miss this enthralling platformer.
2. Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise
Sega struck absolute gold in October when they combined the Yakuza series (the current torch-bearer of the entire beat-’em-up genre) with the show that defined the animated concept of stylistically beating people up in Fist Of The North Star. The end result is maybe my favorite thing to come out of either franchise, as the Yakuza team CLEARLY love them some Fist Of The North Star and have created a over-the-top brawler that does the name justice. While making dudes’ heads explode while yelling ‘AAAAAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAAAAAAAAAAaaa’ never, ever, EVER gets old, they’ve surrounded the game with a fun world full of Yakuza-style activities that are as enjoyable as they are weird and random. Want to see the master of the Hokuto Shinken mix drinks with the same vigor that he does dispensing justice on thugs? HAVE I GOT THE GAME FOR YOU, SON. With a great Fist Of The North Star story, expressive visuals visuals, a big open world to explore, and so many dudes to make explode, no game this year put a permanent shit-eating grin on my face throughout the duration quite like Lost Paradise. In a year with so many games try to move us emotionally or make us think, sometimes it’s just fun to beat a bunch of dudes into hamburger. You are already buying this game.
1. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Elusive Age
Calling Dragon Quest XI videogame comfort food is the understatement of the year. This is your sweet grandmother at a cozy cottage on top of a hill cooking your favorite casserole and cooling a freshly-baked apple pie on the windowsill. There’s bluebirds singing directly next to the pie, but not eating it. You’re sitting in front of a warm fire wrapped in a handmade quilt while grandma tells stories about the old days, then she warmly compliments you on how proud she is of the person you’ve become sipping on her perfectly-mixed honey tea. I feel warm, fuzzy, and at peace when I play this truly masterful game.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Elusive Age is the gaming equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting. It is the personification of everything good and wholesome of not just the JRPG genre, but of the entire medium. We start as a young, mute farm-boy from a simple village, find out we are the legendary warrior of light, meet a truly memorable and eclectic cast of interesting characters, and through the power of friendship we triumph over evil, restoring peace to the land. It’s a tale as old as time, and I truly admire the developers’ ardent commitment to conventions. It’s not a retread, but rather, a truly loving homage released on the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s inception. DQXI is everything great about Dragon Quest expertly wrapped into 100+ hours of awesome while still providing some incredible surprises in the second half. Yes, it’s formulaic, and yes the MIDI tracks aren’t as impressive as what a full orchestra would be, but it also represents the kind of game that I’m frankly terrified isn’t going to exist in five years. The disc went into the PS4, and there was no in-game patch on day one, nor was there ever a patch released during my play-through. It never told me to head to the Playstation Store to check out DLC. I never needed to be connected online. It is one of the few disc-based releases over the past seven years that I feel is truly self-contained. In a contentiously interconnected world, it sits alone, and can be slotted right next to anyone’s favorite SNES or PS1 RPG’s as a permanent, historical artifact. I don’t just love and adore Dragon Quest XI. I am thankful it exists. I hope that anyone who plays it has the same joyous, positive experience I had with it. I truly cherish it, and in a extremely crowded year for games, it’s my favorite by ten lengths. I want to go to the people that made it and give them all warm hugs.
In search of a dramatic change of pace, he sold everything he had (including 950 videogames) and shipped off to Asia where he's taught English and lived in Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, and now China.
He still loves his games, priding himself in his varied taste and playing everything from Disgaea to Madden. After getting a taste of the glitz of Beijing last year working at a Chinese mobile game developer, Jarrod went back to teaching and currently works in Qitaihe, Heilongjiang provide where the weather is cold and the noodles are poppin'.
Jarrod used to write for sites like GamesRadar where he had the esteemed pleasure of reviewing Wii ports and PS Move launch games for peanuts. After a multi-year hiatus, he is happy to get back into reviews with GameCritics.
...He read the site as a kid, which should make Brad, Mike, and Daniel feel old as hell, considering he's almost 30.