2018 has come and gone and left us with some great titles that will be talked about for years to come. Before we get into my list proper, here are some quick mentions.
Red Dead Redemption 2
I am not a fan of this game and do not see myself going back and picking it back up again anytime in the foreseeable future. This isn’t because I feel it is a bad game. It didn’t click with me, and that’s ok. I can appreciate it for the exquisite example of craftsmanship and the wonders of tech that went in to create this game though.
So many to try and playthrough and I certainly didn’t beat many, but man-oh-man the time I did spend with the likes of Hollow Knight, The Messenger, and Dead Cells left an impression on me. All of them had unique and well-done art styles, tight and responsive controls and were blasts to play. Those are just the ones I’ve played some too. I have not had a chance to pick up the likes of Iconoclasts yet, which I hear is amazing too!
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Started playing it. Seemed like another strong entry in the series but haven’t put in more than a few hours into the game yet, so I don’t really have enough to go on to include on my list.
Now, onto the main event and my top 10 games of 2018!
A quick little disclaimer for my list, with the exception of my favorite game of the year, the games listed are not in any specific order. One game of the year, and nine runners-up.
Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee / Pikachu
I will be the first to admit I was wrong about the Let’s Go titles, and I’m so happy that I was. What started off as a mild disinterest in Let’s Go was quickly burned away and I was left with nothing but a giddy child-like excitement and nostalgia-fueled high. I grew up with Pokemon Red/Blue and opening Red on Christmas morning will always be one of my fondest childhood memories, but I never really jumped on the Pokemon Go! Hype train. It was fun for a time, but living in an area where I would have to drive a bit to get to a good concentration of PokeStops and a lack of trading or battling killed it for me. With these latest titles I was worried that they would be watered down, bare-bones console versions of the Go mobile game, just with a story, and the only solace I could take was that a TRUE next-gen title would be coming out this year. Instead, what I got was a beautiful remake of the games that made me fall in love with the series, taking me back in time to simpler days and happier times. Seeing all the creatures now roaming freely in the open world, no longer confined to random encounters, turned the quiet landscape into one that teemed with life and energy. Being able to have our favorite Pokemon walk alongside us as a feature once again added to that feeling, and the first time I rode my Onix around or clung to the tummy of Chubbs, my Snorlax, made me smile ear to ear. I was literally playing out my childhood imagination with this game.
I do miss some aspects from the other games, like the battling wild Pokemon, whose removal was one of my initial complaints of the game prior to playing, but I had forgotten how many trainer fights y were actually in the original games. I love that the combat feels just how it should, and I don’t find myself minding the capture-only aspect of Let’s Go , but I do hope that in proper Gen VIII titles releasing this year, GameFreak manages to find a happy medium between battling every Pokemon and having to catch tons and tons of them.
No other game this year made me more nostalgic and miss the simpler times of being a kid, than the charming and warm embrace of Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
The west was finally treated to the latest in Square Enix’s other monolithic series with the first localized home console release in 13 years, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age. The beautiful character and monster designs are visual treats, with each new monster you encounter bursting with charm and personality.
Your ragtag band of adventurers is filled out with your “chosen one”, a flamboyant performer, a thief that is really more attractive then he should be, a femme fatale, and an old man with an interest in naughty magazines. The story found in XI is one of the stronger entries of the series that had some genuinely shocking moments that left me awestruck, deepening my connection with the characters. Dragon Quest is that series that remains true to its old turn-based roots that can be depended on with each new entry, and it feels so so good in XI.
It makes me happier than I could tell you that turn-based RPGs can still perform and sell well in the west in 2018. Hopefully, we are on the precipice of a new renaissance of these style of games.
The unique visuals, symphonic melodies, and rich complex characters drew me into the world of Octorpath Traveler from the moment it was announced. Being a huge fan of the Bravely series on the Nintendo 3DS, having a new RPG on a brand new home console was a no-brainer to pick up day one.
The team at Square breathed new life into what 16-bit style games could be, by bringing them into the third dimension in a way that hadn’t been seen before and made Octopath instantly recognizable and memorable. The intricate and detailed monster and enemy sprites are some of the most masterful examples of pixel art done by Square period. It’s character sprites struck me as a natural evolution of the ones from Final Fantasy VI. After playing Octopath, I couldn’t help but wonder and imagine how the cast from all the old Final Fantasy titles would look in this style.
The swelling musical melodies flowing into one another during combat and out in the open world added to the grand scale and wonder that this new world presented to the player. Each of the eight playable characters struggled with their own troubles and doubts over the course of their unique tales. While I do wish that the characters tales and interactions were more intertwined with one another’s, I still fell in love with each of them and their equally memorable musical themes tied to each one.
I want to stress this, if you own a Switch and remember fondly the golden-age of 16-bit Square RPGs, get Octopath Traveler.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter has always been one of those game series I promised myself I would really sink my teeth into and master all that there was to offer in the games. That never really ever happened with the previous entries. I bought and played a bunch, but they never were able to grab me and keep me hooked.
With Monster Hunter World returning the series in the West to the home console space after a legacy on the handheld platforms, I jumped head first into this game and fell in love. The quality of life improvements fixed many of my annoyances I had with the earlier games (no more mining for sharpening stones!). The update to a single large open space made the game feel so much more like a living breathing monster-filled world that was mine to conquer.
I haven’t found a game that I had as much of a blast playing with friends as I have with MHW in a long while. The zany and exciting cross-collaboration promotional quests have kept my interest in the game throughout the course of the year, and with the looming Iceborne expansion coming in the fall, fellow Irrational Passions Hunters and I are already discussing our plans to get our gear upgraded and out weapons ready for that. The series that created the monster-hunting genre has now perfected it and while I may not be a master yet, I can proudly say I get now what all the hype for this series is about and why it is worth sinking your time into.
God of War
God of War fatigue set in for me after the second title. While the games played great I got over angry Kratos pretty quick and fell off of the series entirely after the third game. Luckily this time around, Kratos’ character is greatly expanded which drew me into the new worlds that laid before Kratos and his son.
The greatest pleasure I took from the latest title was the abandoning of narrowly focused stories of the previous main entries of kill enemies on the way to kill/get revenge on god x or y, and instead decide to craft a narrative which dove deeper and made Kratos a much more complex and rich character. I loved the interaction between Kratos and his son, the moments when you could see Kratos restraining his legendary temper and rage which made for the moments he did let himself succumb to it all the more powerful.
All this set in a world with some of the most breathtaking vistas and visuals in the entire history of the medium with equally impressive performances by the cast. The combat had depth and complexity bubbling under the surface that could be experimented with and honed over your course of the adventure on all manner of Nordic foes. With just the right about of challenge is strewn about with dastardly evil extra side encounters as a bonus made God of War the full package. If you turned your back long ago as I did on the series, please give this latest entry a shot, and while it may drag occasionally, it is still a wonder of a game that will be remembered as one of the best of this console generation.
Astrobot Rescue Mission
The best way I can describe Astrobot Rescue Mission is that it is like being sucker-punched with charm and happiness. This is a game that has no right to be as fun and pleasant of a joyride that it turns out to be, starting out as a VR demo-disc selection, but now after being fleshed out, touted by many as the Super Mario 64 of VR Platforming games. What?! What struck me as gross hyperbole, an impossible comparison was instantly banished from my thoughts the moment I booted up the game and started running around the first level. I got it.
Astrobot Rescue Mission is one of those video games that oozes charm and personality with their cute little robots you must run around rescuing, with spot-on controls that tie it all together. It was one of the view games I played this year that I had a smile on my face the entire time I played it that took me back to a simpler and happier time, a time without bills and adult responsibilities. A time when Saturday mornings were filled with lounging in PJs, cartoons, your favorite overly sugary cereal and the latest Mario game. When games were just about fun and we weren’t debating microtransactions or games as a service.
I give Astrobot bonus points as well for being the game that managed to pull my girlfriend into VR and have a blast too! If you have a PSVR, get Astrobot Rescue Mission, simple as that.
Not being much of a mobile game player, the inclusion of Florence on my list comes as a surprise even to me. The gameplay of Florence to me is something that could be removed and the experience that is Florence would still be just as impactful and meaningful. After the game came HIGHLY recommended by senior staff big-boys Jurge and Logan, I decided to give it a try. At only 3 dollars and 30-40 minutes in length, the commitment and investment was low, what could it hurt?
40 minutes later I came out of Florence with my mind in a swirl of different emotions and thoughts, ranging from a warm sense of hope, a creeping grip of worry, and tender sadness. I found myself able to relate to a number of the different acts. From the initial act where Florence contends and struggles with her sense of loneliness, the isolation of seeing people you know happy and in relationships while being just an odd wheel. To the awkward dance spectacle of finding someone and growing a budding relationship into a flowering joy.
I found myself relating most to Act IV where the two move in together, and the adjustment that comes from 2 lives coming together under one roof, because as of the time I played Florence, my girlfriend and I have now been living together for only a month. I chuckled and smiled when I was tasked with deciding where to put Krish’s stuff on the shelves that were filled with Florence’s belongings already.
I don’t want to spoil more as I think this is an experience any young game player, man or woman, I feel can relate to in some way. It was an experience that I am glad I got to enjoy and will be one that I will think about far longer than many games I played this year.
This game right here did something truly special starting from the moment it was announced. Right out the gate it dethroned and destroyed the reigning team-based fighter series, while generating gratuitous amounts of hype from fighting game players around the entire community. When the game was released it became the Dragonball Z game that I have dreamt of ever since I first laid my eyes on the chaotic wonder of Goku and friends in the 90s.
FighterZ I would argue is the most faithful to source material fighting game out there when it comes to the visuals. The attention to detail taken when crafting the animations and character models, ripping them straight from the anime and manga, was a delight for longtime fans like myself to pour over and compare. Each fighter popped with power, and attacks crackled with excited energy with each hit and blast fired.
Finding the perfect synergy in the lineup of fighters, discovering flashy and effective combos, an expanding roster of Gokus and Vegetas (and occasional other fan-favorite characters) kept me coming back and throwing my hat in the ring to test their power. While recent events have left me worried about the longevity of FighterZ in the tournament space, I have confidence that Bandai Namco will be able to work things out, and let this game shine as the premiere tag-based fighting game for many years to come.
Super Smash Brothers ULTIMATE
Let’s keep this one short and sweet, It’s mother-fuckin SMASH BROTHERS! Favorite party game of my friends and I, and now with all the characters and Joker from Persona 5 coming to it next year, this was an easy addition to my list.
From the 28 hours of amazing compositions of music, every character ever, hundreds of stage options, a multitude of updates to characters moves, animations, and added details make this truly the Ultimate smash experience. Calling my friends up and having a Smash Ultimate launch party took us all back in time to our teens when we would do it with Melee and the other previous titles. The frantic fast-paced action still feels just as good as it always has and I know that this game will be a mainstay in my Switch library until its successor inevitably one day is released, but really, where can they go from here?
FAVORITE GAME OF THE YEAR:
Marvel’s Spider-Man captured my imagination and my time in a webbing of nostalgia and wonder. No other game in 2018 left me with such a feeling of having fun as this game did. From the moment I gained control of ole Web-head, the city of New York in front of me, I had a smile on my face.
Picking up later in life with years under his belt, having hints of Peter’s past as Spider-Man comes in the forms of his backpacks were an addictive and creative take that left me scouring the landscape until all were collected. The not-twitter, JJ’s radio show, and photo locations all added such depth and life to the city and this universe that it came across as an old friend we were returning to and not a brand new spin of the character.
The storyline was deliciously comic-booky and gave me the same feelings I had growing up when I would read an exciting comic and be on the edge of my seat as I turned the page. I enjoyed the stealthy segments as MJ and Miles, as I felt they acted well as a strong counter-balance to the open and fast nature of the rest of the game, it enhances the freedom when you are swinging through the streets or the power you have at your fingertips when you are taking on waves of foes with guns firing and rockets headed your way. It kept the game in perspective for me. The interactions you have while on this wild ride will invoke laughter, shock, and perhaps even some tears.
The love that Insomniac had for this game showed through in all aspects of the title. The subtle yet elegant transitions in animations while swinging. The brilliant writing with some pretty epic Spider-Quips and gags. The terrific fast-paced combat, and so much more screamed love for the property. The inclusion of Greg Miller’s Shirtless Spider-Man, retweeting out works of art that players created in the intense photo mode, and adding in the Raimi Spider-Man suit as a free holiday DLC showed that they care about their fans too.
Other games wowed me with their brilliant characters in 2018. Other games were just a joy to play. Some left me gawking with the beautiful visuals of their worlds. There were those that shocked me with the amount of content they were packed with. And some left me looking inward and reflecting on the tales they shared with me.
None, however, with the exception of Marvel’s Spider-Man, was able to give me all of this in a single package. This was and forever will be an example of what can be done when a game studio is given a property they are passionate about, the time and resources they need, and the freedom to create are all mixed with expert execution.