As the year that was 2018 begins to wrap up, I just wanted to say thank you to the Irrational Passions editorial team for taking a chance on me. This year may been have the single most impactful year in my life and I am incredibly grateful to the whole team. It’s funny how life works sometimes, last year was incredibly difficult and hard for me and just when you think it’s not going your way, it makes a sharp left turn and goes in the opposite direction.
Games like Into the Breach and Hollow Knight made me come out of my gaming comfort zone, and they are both remarkable in their own way. Those are games which would never have been on my radar if not for the Nintendo Switch. I re-acquired my love for photography due to Marvel’s Spiderman. 2018 was important for me to reconnect with things, but also connect with things for the first time.
2018 was a year where independent games studios flourished, and hell one of my favorite games of all time, Celeste was nominated for Game of the Year at The Game Awards. 2018 has thus been an incredibly special and personal year with games for me, one where I reaffirmed old loves, found new ones, and constantly found myself in awe of what this industry is capable of. Anyway, to the games.
Runner-Up – The Messenger
The Messenger was the game at PAX East where my Editor-in-Chief, Alex O’Neill, came into the press room after his demo in total awe and shock with what the game had done. This was in April, and though I wouldn’t play the game for another six months, my expectations were now set. I didn’t have such a knee-jerk reaction as he did, but I did have a blast when I finally got to sit down and play it.
The level design in The Messenger is so remarkable. For example, my favorite level is Bamboo Creek, which has this green and turquoise look. The music in that particular level is just so fantastic,because it extremely catchy and it is bright and cheery. But the main reason this level stood out to me is because it takes this game’s particular design and turns it on its head.
At the end of each level, we typically find that a boss to fight. However, the shopkeeper tells you that there is no boss. When I first read this, I was shocked. I laughed it off and got to the end of the stage. The shopkeeper was right, there was no boss but instead just an empty boss room. The Messenger is full of moments like this, where it shocks you simply because you weren’t expecting it.
Runner-Up – Donut County
Donut County was a game which I honestly didn’t expect to love so much. From the charming look to the fantastic soundtrack, the game is so extremely simple. But the more you play it, the more calming it becomes. This is one of Donut County’s biggest strengths.
The game revolves around a hole collapsing everything in this fictional town, where everything ends up 999 feet below ground. The story is fun and goofy, alongside the Trash-o-Pedia which is a kind of an encyclopedia but it has BK’s information on that specific item. This was fun to go through after each level and have a little laugh with the short, funny descriptions of every item.
The look of Donut County is also just so remarkable, it’s bright and pastel-y. This allowed the game to pop more when I played it. The characters help bring the world together, and because they are animals this helps make the world feel more unique. Each model is different from the rest, and each level feels distinct.
To paraphrase my colleague, Scott White, “This sounds likes something I would hear in a coffee shop and just write along too.” I totally agree with those words, the soundtrack is just the perfect amount of acoustic and melodic that it makes the game so wonderful.
Runner-Up – Hitman 2
Hitman 2 is more or less the second season of Hitman (2016). This is a great thing because Hitman (2016) is a stellar game. Adding onto an already great foundation, and making quality of life changes makes the game even better, Hitman 2 returns the same fun and goofy aspects of the 2016 remake and expands of them.
Approaching a mission with the intention of goofing off is possible because the game allows you too. Hitman 2 is a game where you can make elaborate plans and execute on them perfectly or have them go terribly awry. It’s more fun to go back and tinker and find the perfect solution as part of the fun. I am the person who plays it as a Stealth game, but if someone tempts me with a wacky loadout then I feel obliged to go in the opposite direction.
For more of my thoughts, you can read my review here.
Runner-Up – Smash Bros. Ultimate
Smash Bros. Ultimate is single-handedly the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. If you told me that for almost a week straight I would play a game with my brother every night for almost two hours, I would have been shocked.
It has provided me with some of the most fun moments I’ve had in recent memory, playing on Battlefield as Little Mac while my brother plays Lucina or Zero Suit Samus, and we devise ways to take the CPUs down the most efficiently. Playing Smash with my brother is one of the best habits I have developed.
Not to mention how much fun I have had with it playing online with my colleagues and friends. Smash Bros. Ultimate is a union of everything that is great with video games.
Runner-Up – Into the Breach
Into the Breach is a game which caught me by surprise,. This is partly due to having not known how smart Subset Game’s FTL was. FTL was a game which I was never able to play, and so when Into the Breach came onto the Switch, and knowing what I do of FTL, I was even more excited. When it released on the Nintendo Switch, it was something that I didn’t think twice about buying.
I instantly found some joy in this game, and I still do. The scenarios in the game are still something which run through my mind, attempting to figure out which moves to chain together. And how to move the units like pawns. The game is so infectious, and it is so thought-provoking. Into the Breach is like playing chess, you have to know what your opponent will do in the next turn and counter that. Subset Games have made a truly remarkable title, and Into the Breach is one of the best games of this year.
Runner-Up – The Gardens Between
The Gardens Between was one of the games which stuck with me after PAX East. I played it and immediately fell in love with it. From the art style to the fun, primary mechanic which revolves around rewinding and going forward in time. Each level is handcrafted, and the three core worlds each have a style to them which is unique.
The objects in each island make you wonder what happened. It tells the story of two best friends recollecting on the adventures they had. The three cores worlds have islands which upon completion show little vignettes showing little snippets of the things they did together. The Gardens Between is so special, and it is one of the few games that really nail the friendships that people have, and what happens when their adventure is over.
For more of my thoughts, you can read my review here.
Runner-Up – Marvel’s Spiderman
Insomniac Games has made some of my favorite games of all time, and they hit it out of the park once more. Marvel’s Spider-Man is Insomniac at their finest, because it nails the sense of fun and exploration that lays at the heart of the studio.
Spider-Man is a testament to how far they have come though, not just as a team but as storytellers too. I am not a big Spider-Man fan, because I have mainly stayed in the DC realm. But this is the first iteration of Spider-Man which made me more invested in his arc. This game grew on me, and it is one of the only AAA game that stood out for me personally this year.
Spider-Man wants to be the best he can to help others, and is always putting himself on the line. He is empathic in a space that is littered with brooding male characters. That is one of the reasons this game stood out to me, how Insomniac wrote Peter Parker. He wants to undo his mistakes, give everyone a second chance, and make the lives of everyone around him better. I also fell in love with the photo mode, the first time a games ever had that effect on me.
Runner-Up – Tetris Effect
I have never played a Mizuguchi game before, and I don’t have a fondness for Tetris like a lot of other people do. I played the first level of this game during the Irrational Passions ExtraLife, and I really dug it. The combination of the ocean effects with an exceptional song just hit me. I was in Alex O’Neill’s, studio watching him play the game, and when we got to the “Downtown Jazz” I just lost my goddamn mind. I had an instant reaction, saying “Holy Fucking Shit,” then walking away from his couch.
This level made me react this way because it knows what the history of jazz is. Jazz has this element of improvisation, which has made it stand out and be special to millions throughout its history. No take is the same as the last. This level understands that, and utilizes that to make this beautiful sound accompanied by a city coming to life at night. While I only played a small slice of this game, Tetris Effect is a game which is so smart and understands the magic that lays at the heart of Jazz.Tetris is a game about spontaneity, and thinking about what to do on the fly, and what feels right. Jazz is figuring out what sounds right on the fly, which notes to play and how to make it fit into a song. The two combined make something absolutely beautiful, which I couldn’t cope with in the moment.
Runner-Up – Hollow Knight
If you told me that I would like a Souls-like game in 2018, I would have happily laughed at you. But I put around 45 hours into this game, and it’s hard for me to parce together what I really liked about this game so much. In the beginning, the game didn’t do it for me, until I got to Greenpath. This was the first moment when I was mesmerized by the game, not only because it significantly changed the aesthetic but it was just this moment of awe. It was totally sublime to see something different, and it felt like reading Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Exploring an underground cave system, you aren’t going to expect to find a lush forest with rivers running through it.
I thought I knew what the game was doing, but then it took a sudden left turn which I think is the perfect way to describe Hollow Knight. It is a game that toys with your expectations, Hollow Knight is so incredibly special. Even though I didn’t finish it, I’m happy with what I have put into it.
Game of the Year – Celeste
Big shocker here. The game I have been championing since I reviewed it for this website is my Game of the Year. The story and level design are some of my favorite ever, and I haven’t remembered specific levels like this since I played Dishonored in 2012. Each level has a unique aspect and a method for traversal. This builds to “The Climb to the Summit”, which is arguably the best level of the year. It combines everything you have done, reminding you that you mastered these things. You have the power to overcome, because if you believe in yourself then you can climb that mountain. It is a really beautiful metaphor, which helps make the game’s story rise above the others this year.
The game’s story is beautiful and true, because it nails what anxiety is. 2017 was a year where I had the most breakdowns due to my anxiety, but when 2018 rolled along I found my anxiety to be almost non-existent. It was still there in certain moments, but it was something which has not affected me the same way as it did the year prior. I climbed my metaphorical mountain, just like Madeline. The story may have not clicked with some, but for those who really struggle with this then it encapsulates what anxiety is really about, and understanding how crippling it can be in certain moments.
Lena Raine’s soundtrack is easily my favorite of the year. It is something which I have listened to over and over again, and when I do I am transported to the level. It’s a surreal feeling that I have never had with a game before. To quote my review back in February “I distinctly remember playing the second stage, and having the soundtrack in the background. It put me in this kind of trance, where I was listening but focusing on my every motion. This was a kind of spiritual moment for me.”
Celeste is a game where it hits everything out of the park for me, and it was something which has stuck with me for longer than I thought. It is a truly special and exceptional game, one that I cannot say enough nice things about. The more I think about it, the more I fall in love with it, and the more it moves its way up to my favorite games of all time.