Jurge Cruz is a senior member of Irrational Passions’ editorial team and the Social Media Editor when he’s not busy with school and work.
What a season, what a season. Video games have come a long way since Pac-Man, folks. All of the kids keep talking about how they’re living life two weeks at a time with this Fortnite business, but I’m not here for that!
In all seriousness, 2018 was a year where not a lot of new releases connected with me on a passionate level. Of course there are some exceptions. There have also been dozens of smaller, unique experiences that I wish I had the time and money for this year, but it is what it is.
Games aside, I think it has been one of the most rewarding years in the time I’ve been with Irrational Passions, and boy I’m looking forward to 2019. Both in terms of what we do and the games that are coming.
That out of the way, here are some cool games I played in 2018!
Best Retro Game I Discovered in 2018
Clock Tower – Super Famicom (1995)
2018 was the year I finally played a translated version of the original Clock Tower for the Super Famicom that I installed on my SNES Classic back in 2017! Turns out that thing is more than a nice paperweight!
Clock Tower is a side-scrolling adventure/horror game that was never released in the United States, but it very much helped shape what horror in games would look like. I only played a couple of hours, but this game has style for days. It’s deliberate and strange, a specific flavor of horror that is more than just a haunted house. At times it’s reminiscent of the works of Dario Argento, Director of the horror classic Susperia. It’s also an impressive technical feat for a game running on a Super Nintendo. I highly recommend you giving it a look if you’re a fan of horror or want a games history lesson.
10. Detroit: Become Human
Lord help me I think I like Detroit Become Human
— Jurge Cruz-Alvarez (@jcruzalvarez26) May 27, 2018
Become Human is unbelievably appropriative of the Civil Rights Movement. Has very specific ideas about protest and revolution. I believe, and am upset about the goings on at developer Quantic Dream during the game’s development. The writing misses the mark most of the time and can at times feel laughable, but I liked it, all things considered and it’s here on my Top Ten of 2018. I thought the way your choices splinter off was really impressive and each character, perhaps with the exception of Marcus, has strong moments. I feel good about it in the same way I might feel good about an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, as in it had just enough intrigue and good moments throughout that keep me invested. I’m sorry.
I covered Gorogoa for our Indie Highlights video feature, and I’d recommend giving it a look there to get a better visual idea of how Gorogoa works and why it’s an almost profound puzzle game. In some ways it’s like a hidden object game, but what it does with perspective and the layering of its tile system really is something that’s worth seeing or better yet, playing.
8. Mega Man 11
I was not that person asking Capcom to make a new Mega Man game. I wasn’t even that moved either way when they finally announced that they were going to make a new one, but giving Mega Man 11 a shot was one of the good decisions I made in 2018 because it’s one of my favorite core Mega Man games. Takes will vary, but for me this is a perfect modern take on the retro Mega Man style. To me it feels like what Mega Man 8, the last entry where they tried to give classic Mega Man new life, should’ve been. Levels are challenging and creative. Characters are animated and cute. It even tells an alright story and is accessible to players who may find the series’ difficulty offputting. I’m not sure where Mega Man goes from here, but I’m glad Mega Man 11 was more than just a nostalgia trip or a product that solely exists to satiate a very vocal audience.
Not too dissimilar from Clock Tower, Detentionis a Taiwanese developed horror game in that same style that takes place during the White Terror period of Taiwan. This game has some very striking imagery and a story that, apart from all of the surreal horrors you run into, is very human and tragic. I’m not well-versed in the history of Taiwan, but this game made me curious to learn more through its setting, story, and the way it incorporates pieces of Taiwanese folklore. This game came out in 2017, but I’m so glad I checked it out this summer and I’m looking forward to the developer’s next project.
Arkane Austin’s Prey and I have had a very strange relationship since its release. I played the demo of it, which had the first hour of the game, and bounced off it. Replayed that same hour months later, and bounced off it again. But I guess there really is something to the notion that third time’s the charm because I gave it a go one more time in 2018, and it finally clicked.
I do not like Prey. It’s not for for me.
— Jurge Cruz-Alvarez (@jcruzalvarez26) May 13, 2017
Not only did it click, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Its art, characters, and the countless possibilities Prey’s mechanics can create make it one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had this generation. The game has such a steep learning curve and its final act is so frustrating that its hard for me to recommend Prey, but it really is a diamond in the rough. The soundtrack put together by the composer of Doom (2016) and the modern Wolfenstein series, Mick Gordon, sounds like if Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and John Carpenter got to score a sci-fi horror flick together. The game’s art scattered throughout the Talos 1 space station as posters, pamphlets, and consumables looks fantastic, I will eventually purchase the game’s coffee table artbook. I really like Prey, but that statement will always be followed by a disclaimer.
Towards the end of 2017, I was bitten by some sort of driving game bug. Not that I got really into a driving game, but I realized that it had been so long since a game in that genre had spoke to me and I realized how much I missed the good vibes that come from an exceptional driving game. I also spent some time reminiscing on great driving games like Burnout: Paradise, Ridge Racer Type-4, and more. The disappointment of 2017’s Gran Turismo Sport and Need for Speed Payback also probably had a hand in lighting that spark in me. I wanted something light that had some of that arcade spirit, but with a modern take. A game that made me feel the rush of excitement that comes with traveling dozens of miles per hour in a metal machine underneath a bright blue sky. In the first half of the year, Onrush scratched that itch. Developed by the team behind Driveclub and the Motorstorm series, this objective and team based driving game has DNA from games the like Burnout 3: Takedown and the Cruisin’ arcade series. It takes risks and does things no other game in that space has done in a long time. It’s also such a blast to travel down its muddy trails at speeds over 100 miles-per-hour while smashing into other unsuspecting players.
4. Donut County
Donut County always looked like it would be extremely my thing and I confirmed that it was my thing when I previewed it at PAX East! Turns out that the final product is also extremely my thing! I don’t have a lot to say about it other than it lived up to my expectations of being a good ol’ time. The Trashopedia is some of the funniest writing I’ve seen in a game this year and I think it’s such a warm and cozy experience. Good soundtrack, also.
3. Forza Horizon 4
So remember how I said that I was really hungry for a good driving game this year? A game that simulates the excitement of driving? My body and mind was prepared to embrace Forza Horizon 4 with open arms.
This is my first Horizon game, so maybe I’m just late to the party, but boy does it feel special to me. Racing through the countryside with no limits or barriers, driving through a golden field of wheat, and then drifting back onto the track as you reach the city limits of Edinburgh right before the finish line, fills me with a special type of joy. I should also stress that I’m not a person obsessed with cars, but I am capable of appreciating them. Horizon 4 has the cool cars you, a car affeciatendo, may want, but it presents them and the culture around them without any gatekeeping or an attitude. It’s just a celebration of driving, and I plan on playing this one well into 2019.
Forza Horizon 4 really feels more than just another installment in a series that is built on follow-ups every other year.
It’s so colorful and carefree. It’s the “Game With the Most Outurn in its DNA this Generation.” Glad I was able to get my hands on it pic.twitter.com/mMO7V5Cggx
— Jurge Cruz-Alvarez (@jcruzalvarez26) December 24, 2018
This game got talked to death during our Game of the Year discussions and I don’t really want to repeat what has already been said, but I will say this. I enjoy a good love story, and there are a lot of bad ones across all sorts of media. Florence is not a stand out because a group of developers decided to tell a story about romance within the confines of a video game, it is a stand out because it is a great story about love that defies the conventions and pitfalls stories about love usually suffer from. Granted, it is also a heterosexual love story, there have been a lot of those and I’m sorry if it’s hard to stomach a lot of us losing our minds over it. I understand. That being said, not only does it tell a great story about love and the messiness of relationships, but it perfectly marries it with the interactive nature of a game. Because of that it hits hard, and fast with a playthrough lasting about forty minutes. The music and art are fantastic, and I sometimes get misty eyed listening to that same music. I played this game right before our Game of the Year discussions, and boy would those conversations sound a lot different if I hadn’t.
1. Tetris Effect
While I acknowledge that Tetris is probably the greatest video game of all time, I’ve never had a huge affection for it or have had a Tetris game that really spoke to me. When I was young, I would play Tetris Plus for the original PlayStation with my mother because it was the one video game we could share and enjoy together. See my mother was not only not familiar with video games, she also didn’t speak or understand English, but she understood Tetris.
That’s probably the last time I cared about Tetris in a meaningful way. Since then I’ve dabbled with Puyo Puyo Tetris and Tetris Ultimate, that Tetris game put out by Ubisoft that somehow had frame rate issues, but I haven’t had a moment where Tetris clicked for me.
The work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, producer and creative on Tetris Effect, has always fascinated me. Space Channel 5, Rez, Child of Eden, and Lumines have always seen like such distinctive, original works. These are games that have enriched the medium in one way or another. So when it was announced that his studio, in collaboration with two others, was going to make a VR Tetris game, I figured if this didn’t get me into Tetris nothing would.
Guess what? I really like Tetris now!
Tetris Effect’s style may seem superficial to some, and yes it does look/sound really cool, but it uses that style to tell a story of togetherness that I find really hard to be cynical about, and I’ve reached maximum cynicism in the year 2018. It’s beautiful, but simple in form. It was able to present Tetris to me in a form that I was able to finally connect with. So thank you Tetris Effect for opening this new, Tetris filled chapter in my life. I think I’m going to track down a copy of Tetris Plus now.