I don’t know how 2018 managed to do it, but it simultaneously felt like the longest and shortest year of my life. It was tumultuous to say the least, but we made it through and there’s no way things could get any worse, right? But throughout it all we were graced with some pretty phenomenal games to play. Here are what I consider to be the best of the year.
#10 – House Flipper
This is a weird one to kick off the list with, but hell, I played so much of this damn game that I’d be lying if I didn’t put it somewhere on this list. I wrote about the function of games like House Flipper in my life earlier this year, and this was the one that spurred it on. Oddly enough, the reason why I enjoyed House Flipper so much was because of my ability to disengage with it and just play it in the background. Despite it being janky, and a little crashy at times, I really enjoyed the loop of restoring, decorating and selling homes.
There’s something oddly therapeutic about House Flipper and games of its ilk, and that’s mostly why it now is immortalized in my list.
#9 – God of War
So look, I really enjoyed God of War this year, but definitely not as much as a lot of people out there did. Don’t get me wrong, it was a joy to play given the rewarding combat and engaging story, but that was about it for me. I didn’t get hooked by any of the side missions or additional challenges, and I felt a little underwhelmed by some of the enemy encounters. I really got sick of fighting that ogre with the rock, over and over again. But still, God of War is a tremendous game that I enjoyed from start to finish, even if I did just power through the story to get to the very satisfying ending.
#8 – Celeste
For the first few levels of Celeste, I was pretty lukewarm on it. I didn’t hate it or anything, it was just fine. But a few levels in and Celeste started to show a little more of its hand, and hint at what the game was really about. Celeste isn’t just a game about climbing a mountain, it’s about coping and acceptance. The game, very literally, reveals that it is about the main character accepting herself for who she is and utilizing every aspect of herself to continue pushing forward.
That’s when I was on the hook and and really started to feel compelled to press on. Celeste is one of those games that’s so good that any quibbles you might have with it are overshadowed.
#7 – Hitman 2
Hitman 2 is more Hitman 2016 and there isn’t a damn thing wrong with that. I love the new Hitman games and everything they’re bringing to the table. Blending into crowds and bushes are welcome additions to the formula, but overall this is just more of a good thing. I can’t say for certain, but in terms of objectives, map design and just what options are available to you, it feels like the developers are leaning into Hitman being less of a serious game, and more of a comedy sandbox. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
#6 – The Messenger
Holy moly The Messenger caught me off guard this year. When I heard people raving and ranting about this game, I was fully expecting it to be mostly hyperbole. It looked like a pretty neat homage to Ninja Gaiden and the like, but the more I played of it, the more The Messenger made it clear that first impressions are deceiving and that there was something truly special here. The Messenger was a blast to play and honestly, it’s really well written too. There’s also a pretty insane twist in the middle of the game that fundamentally changes everything, and while the change itself isn’t groundbreaking, it was definitely surprising.
In a year of phenomenal platformers and action games, The Messenger is definitely one of the best.
#5 – Dead Cells
Speaking of killer platformer and action games, how about we talk about Dead Cells? Boy howdy is Dead Cells a good game. If there was an award for “Best Feeling Game to Play,” Dead Cells would win it. It’s one of those games that whenever things go bad for you, you’re immediate thought isn’t to blame the game, but rather yourself. Dead Cells will punish you and try to break your spirit, but will leave you feeling so accomplished when you clear a level or beat a boss. Aside from that it’s also got a real good look to it that I appreciate.
My only real gripe is that I’m not a big fan of rogue-like games, and Dead Cells is most certainly one of those. While it wasn’t ever difficult to make it through the first few stages, I did start to feel burnt out on them and just wished for some sort of level skip feature or something. Despite that though, I love the hell out of Dead Cells.
#4 – Yoku’s Island Express
I’ve had a passing interest in pinball at best throughout most of my life, so the concept of a pinball based platformer wasn’t something that I had pictured I’d enjoy as much as I did. But here we are, talking about a game that in addition to having a really unique take on the Metroidvania style of game, is also immensely charming. Within moments of booting up Yoku’s Island Express it managed to win me over.
It’s also an immensely chill game to play. There aren’t really any enemies or fail states, and there never is any real pressure put on you. But what I really appreciated was that the game is tight experience that didn’t take more than a few hours to complete. It never overstayed its welcome, and left me satisfied at the end.
#3 – Dragon Ball Fighter Z
I did not expect to enjoy a fighting game as much as I did, let alone a Dragon Ball Z themed one, but here we are. Dragon Ball Fighter Z was a constant for me throughout the year, being one of my go-to games whenever I was looking to pass some time. I think what I really appreciate is how accessible the game is, and how whether it’s through some visual cue or mechanical one, it always makes you feel as if you’re playing well. The auto combo system is generous and allows new players to feel competitive early on, while also rewarding players for learning actual combinations and moves.
Dragon Ball Fighter Z can be a little hectic though. Sometimes I’ll lose myself in the action and lose track of what’s happening or where I’ve gone, but I think that’s just me admitting that I’m getting old.
#2 – Marvel’s Spider-Man
I really loved Marvel’s Spider-Man this year. Sure it had some problems, like bad stealth sections and bland side activities, but it was still overwhelmingly fun to play. Like a lot of people out there, it was one of the only games in a while I achieved 100% completion in. Normally I don’t try to achievement hunt in games, but I was looking for any reason to play more of the game that I could find.
I fear I’ll sound like a cliche here, but it felt so damn good to swing around as Spider-Man and just make my way through the city. What helped even more was the music that would swell every time you’d pick up momentum. Even the combat, despite being repetitive, felt so good. Something about just launching dudes off buildings and watching their bodies automatically web to the nearest surface was just so satisfying.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is not a perfect game, but I had a hell of a lot of fun with playing it. Also, turning J. Jonah Jameson into an Alex Jones-esque podcast host may have been the best decision ever.
#1 – Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily my favorite game of the year. It’s also ironic that the parts I least enjoyed about it were the parts where you actually played it. It felt like the game had an identity crisis at some point, wavering between being a survival game and an action game, but ultimately being extremely mediocre at both.
But it was everything around the periphery of the core mechanics that really won me over. Aside from a very enjoyable story with some really gut-wrenching moments, the random encounters and side missions were such a pleasure to track down and complete that it was worth fumbling around with the muddy controls to get to.
It’s one of the few game worlds that I enjoy taking my time in and exploring. It’s one of the few games that I just like to boot up and waste time in. Rockstar did something more impressive than make a good game, they made a world worth visiting. A place that is so rich and diverse, that rewards me whenever I decide to spend time in it.
Red Dead Redemption II isn’t a perfect game, in fact, I’d hazard a guess that it’s actually an incredibly polarizing game. But for me, coming into Red Dead Redemption II expecting a rewarding action game isn’t going to get you very far. I found that it was better experienced as a sort of cowboy themed life simulator, where you can just experience life in old west as an incredibly deadly man who also likes to pet dogs and get into bar fights.
The Gardens Between
The Garden’s Between is a short puzzle game about two children reliving their memories one last time before one of them moves away. The hook is that you control time, and not the children. You’ll solve puzzles by manipulating the flow of time in ways like changing the order in which they punch in numbers on a giant calculator, or rewinding debris that’s floating in a river to provide a bridge for both of the children who are walking at different paces.
It’s all extremely stylized and has a soothing ambient soundtrack which I was very much a fan of.
What I liked about Florence the most was how it reveled in the mundanities of daily life, in and out of a relationship. You play as Florence, a girl who is increasingly dissatisfied with her life. She meets a nice young gentlemen and eventually falls in love with him. Through this, you explore their relationship by doing things such as moving some of your stuff off of the shelves to make room for his things. It’s simple yet effective in the message it sends and how it sends it.
The story went some places, and maybe I got a little choked up, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. Regardless, Florence is a delightful little experience that you can play on your phone and finish in about 20 to 30 minutes.