TE’s Top Ten Video Games of 2018

The unthinkable has happened: I’m changing the format of my Game of the Year feature.

In previous years, I’ve always used the caveat “best games I beat in 20XX” as a way to extend my list beyond games released that calendar year. But in 2018, I actually played enough Very Good Video Games released in 2018 that I could make up a top ten (and more!) without extending beyond that time frame. This is a very poor paragraph, I think.

The point is, there were a lot of great games released in 2018, and it took me for-gosh-darned-ever to come up with this list. In fact, I had so much trouble even picking a top ten that I’ve decided not to number them. They’re all spectacular in one way or another, and it may be important to notice that six of them are 2D platformers. Just saying.

HOWEVER! I have maintained the rule that I must have beaten the game for it to qualify. Rest assured that Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest XI would absolutely be included if I were to relax that particular rule.

That said, I now present to you, in no particular order, TE’s Top Ten Video Games of 2018!

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Torna: The Golden Country

I didn’t include Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on my 2017 GOTY list because I didn’t finish it in that year. I figured it would be a shoe-in for a spot on the 2018 list. But then I changed the format, and you’ll never know how much I enjoyed playing that game (Spoiler: LOTS).

Its expansion, however, did come out in 2018, and boy howdy did I ever play the heck out of it! Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country is a prequel to the main game, set 500 (500?) years prior. This is a stand-alone adventure that takes everything that was great about XC2 and somehow makes it even better. The story is a little more grounded and personal, finishing with a spectacular finale and the longest ending of anything ever. The combat has been tweaked to be a little more engaging and streamlined. The sidequest log has been reimagined as a fun “fan club” of sorts for your party, to make doing those (requisite) sidequests feel more important. Most importantly, it’s a JRPG that takes only about 25 hours to finish, and that’s if you wring every little bit of gameplay out of it like I did. Fantastic game, and I’d love to see Monolith Soft do another smaller game like this.

The Messenger

What more can I say about The Messenger that I haven’t already? I typed up a massive review right after finishing it because I was smitten, and all those feelings are still applicable.

For the TLDR crowd, The Messenger is a retraux 2D platformer that takes inspiration from a plethora of classic games and mashes them all together in a neat, little package. While it starts out as a linear, level-based game where you play a ninja on a world-saving mission, eventually it opens up and allows you to freely explore the entire game world. I greatly enjoy the formula here, but what really makes it click is how tight the controls are. I can’t get over just how perfect it feels to play, and how you eventually get to feel like you’re actually a ninja – bouncing, grappling, and gliding across stages with style and ease. The Messenger is perfectly catered to my tastes in video games, and has earned a solid place as one of my favourite games of all time. Also the soundtrack is mmmmmmmmmm good.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Part of my rationale for not numbering my list this year is because no matter what else happened, Super Smash Bros Ultimate would land at number one. And even though it was largely because of my personal bias, I felt that was unfair to all the other excellent games.

What do you want me to say? It’s Smash! And it’s better than it has ever been! Ultimate addresses pretty much all of my complaints with Smash 4: Classic Mode is (mostly) great again! There’s a huge, wonderful Adventure Mode! Snake and Wolf are back! …That was about it, actually. Ultimate has a lot of content to keep me playing Smash without the need for friends, and that’s what I wanted most. Quite frankly, it’s just nice to finally have a Smash on Switch. It was annoying to have to go back to Wii U when I needed a fix. Plus, being able to take it on the go is nice. Playing with a single Joy-Con actually isn’t all that bad a trade-off for always being able to get in some two-player action.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Again, this is a game that resonated so well with me that I wrote a full review immediately after finishing it. You can go ahead and follow this link to read that if you so desire, or you can just go with the paragraph below to get the gist of it

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is another retraux throwback game, but this one is a direct homage to Castlevania III specifically, rather than classic games as a whole. The gameplay is basically exactly the same as an NES ‘Vania, and you have a party of four characters that are recruited along the way, each of which has different abilities and can be swapped in at any time. I know it makes me sound like a wuss, but one of the things I like most about this game is that it isn’t excruciatingly difficult. It’s not easy by any stretch, but I was able to beat it without liberal use of cheats or savestates. So that’s something. Oh, and of course I had a great time along the way. It’s a fun, colourful action game that really emphasizes all the best things about the classic Castlevania games.

Mega Man 11

Mega Man 11 is plagued by one of those things that really makes me angry at nerds. People who call it bad because “it’s not the same as the NES games” need a firm kick in the teeth. MM11 is a solid game, and shouldn’t be condemned for having its own identity.

But that’s enough bad vibes from me. This is supposed to be an overwhelmingly positive listicle! And wouldn’t you know it, I wrote a full review for this game as well! Only… I haven’t actually gotten around to proofreading and posting it yet. Coming soon! To start rattling off some of the key points, Mega Man 11 does a great job of making the series feel a little more modern. It has a wonderful, cartoony visual style (but less cartoony than Mega Man Powered Up!), the controls are rock solid, and the new cast of robot masters are some of the best and most charismatic in the series. The new “double gear” system adds an interesting new wrinkle to otherwise familiar gameplay, and Rush’s coil and jet modes are mapped to their own buttons! Horray! It’s not the best Mega Man game of all time or anything, but I had a darn good time playing it, and look forward to the inevitable release of MM12.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man has always been my favourite super hero. There’s never been any competiton. Despite that, I’ve skipped pretty much every Spider-Man video game since… Spider-Man 2 on GameCube, I guess? Seems like they’ve all been varying levels of Bad since then.

That all changed in 2018. The newest Spider-Man game, simply titled Spider-Man, was pretty much spot-on as far as what you need to do to make a good game featuring everyone’s favourite wall-crawler. You’ve probably heard people raving about how much fun it is to simply swing around New York, and they’re right! It’s great! That sense of freedom is nearly intoxicating, and 100% of the reason I never used the game’s fast-travel system. The combat is just about as good; while it can be mercilessly difficult, once you really get a handle on it, it flows so very nicely. It seems like many reviewers knocked the forced stealth missions where you have to play as Mary-Jane or Miles, but to be fair, they add some needed variety to the swing-fight-swing-fight formula. It’s also relatively brief for an open-world game; I think I clocked around 20 hours to get my platinum trophy. Excelsior!

GRIS

While I can appreciate “art” games from a distance, it’s not all that often that one actually clicks with me. There has to be something very special about it, and telling a story without words or taking the player on an emotional rollercoaster are not enough.

This is where GRIS comes in. GRIS does both of those things, and it does them well. It also does some platforming, though to a much higher degree than most art games. You have vanishing platforms, a swimming level (that’s actually really good), a level where you invert gravity… all the platformer mainstays, and some other stuff too. It’s pretty fun, and there are even extra collectibles hidden behind the more intense sections. But what GRIS does best is look good. GRIS is so friggin’ pretty, and looks like no other game I’ve seen. Perhaps at a glance, it might resemble other art games, but when you truly look at the watercolor style and the way that it moves, and how fluidly the main character is animated, you lose yourself in it. I don’t know that I’ll actually play GRIS again, but I saved a bunch of screenshots on my Switch, and I often find myself looking at them just to admire how beautiful this game is.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate

One of the greatest tragedies of human history is that I couldn’t include Monster Hunter World on this list of video games I really like. While it makes Monster Hunter better by adding roughly a million cool quality-of-life improvements, the overall feel didn’t quite gel with me.

And that’s why I have a Switch port of a 2016 3DS game on the list. To be honest, when I started playing Monster Hunter Generation Ultimate, I longed for all the little things that MHW did better, but as I got back into the groove, I realized that this is what I truly wanted. It’s a little more than a port though, as it adds several truckloads worth of new content to the original Monster Hunter Generations, including Valstrax, which is one of the coolest and most deadly creatures in the series. A silver dragon with jet engines on its wings. So cool! Plus, it adds the much-needed feature of playing on the TV to a previously portable-only game. MHW is excellent and I played it a ton, but I’d estimate that I put at least three times as many hours into MHGU, a game that I had technically already played for over 200 hours. …I don’t have a problem…

Kirby Star Allies

There are sometimes things in life that really don’t make sense, things that defy all logic and end up being the exact opposite of what anyone would expect them to be. But that’s a somewhat pessimistic way of looking at Kirby Star Allies.

The newest Kirby game is, by all intents and purposes, the same as the last three main series Kirby games. Oh, sure, it has a neat little helper system reminiscent of the best Kirby game of them all, but on the surface, it’s a stock-standard sequel. But there are also a ton of cool little things that make it unique. I wrote a massive article about some of them. And then you take a closer look and realize that very few games are made with such pure love for their franchise. While it’s not tagged as a special “Xtieth Anniversary” release, Kirby Star Allies is a loving celebration of Kirby’s long and prolific history. It’s a beautiful, creative game that spares no expense in being the best that it can be. Also, you get to play as Marx for the first time ever, which basically makes it my favourite game of all time.

Chasm

These days, the indie games scene basically works in two genres: roguelikes, which I can’t stand, and Metroidvanias, which I have gotten a bit sick of. Not for the sake of there being too many, but rather because I find it very hard to find any that click with me like their namesakes.

And that’s where Chasm comes in. Chasm, to put it bluntly, strives to emulate the basic feel of the exploration-based Castlevania games. And I think it does a splendid job of that! Playing it often brought back fond memories of playing through the GBA ‘Vanias. But it also does more! Like how the maps are partially randomly-generated to keep replays interesting. Or the very satisfying subquest of having to save all the town’s residents to re-open their shops or get helpful rewards. I’ve already played through it twice, and think that’s saying a lot in a world where it seems like the time that I spend playing video games is continually dwindling.


Hororable Mention:

Metal Gear Solid V

Alright, so, I have to make an exception. Because Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is probably one of my favourite games of all time. It deserves a blurb. Yes, it’s very obviously unfinished and can be very rough around the edges, but I don’t think I’ve ever played something that satisfies me so completely. You are constantly unlocking new toys to play with, there are billions of options for how to handle any given situation, a grinding loop that’s weirdly addictive, and an asynchronous multiplayer mode that simultaneously drives me batty and makes me want to excel at it. Easily one of the best games that I’ve played this year, and (probably) the best game that I didn’t play in 2015.


And a bunch of runners-up :

They can’t all be winners, so here’s the list of video games that were up for consideration, but didn’t quite make the cut. I thoroughly enjoyed them all, but didn’t quite go head-over-heels for them. While they may not have been the cream of my crop, they all have something unique and special to offer, and are fully deserving of at least a little attention. Please give them a hand!

  • Into the Breach
  • Pokemon Let’s Go
  • Part Time UFO
  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero – Pirate Queen’s Quest
  • Wario Ware Gold
  • Agatha Knife
  • Monster Hunter World
  • Picross S2
  • Iconoclasts
  • The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

And that’s it, the article is done! There’ll be another one next year!


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