Looking back on 2018, I’ve been constantly exhausted by how long it’s felt. There was a time I felt like the years were just zooming by, but this year was the opposite. Maybe it’s just the constant nightmare that is The World right now, and how every day is often just too much. I can’t count the number of times I’ve that moment of “wait, that was this year?!” happen to me. Things that happened last week feel like ages ago. Time feels like it’s moving slower, making a long year feel like an eternity. I’d like to say I hope 2019 won’t be this way, but… well, I’m not holding my breath.
At least we got a lot of good games this year. Here’s some that most stood out to me:
I don’t think any game this year has simultaneously provided so much fun and elicited so much anger as Overcooked 2. One moment we’d all be laughing at the sheer absurdity of whatever situation we found ourselves in, the next we’d be ranting about how hard and unfair this one level was. Our moments of failure were as common as our moments of triumph, both equally entertaining as we either celebrated or commiserated in unison.
Local multiplayer games are always my favorite form of multiplayer precisely for those reasons. The fun of having a group of people in the same room all sharing in the highs and lows the action is infectious and never fails to be a good time. While there are certainly no shortage of games that provide those kinds of thrills, Overcooked is consistently the one I most look forward to playing.
Somehow they made Tetris better. Tetris Effect is both a fantastic version of Tetris and a heck of an uplifting and emotional journey — which is a weird thing to say about Tetris of all things. But it really is affecting. The way music and visuals interact with the simple act of play on screen never ceased to impress. Just a beautiful game all around.
I’ve been playing Dead Cells off and on all year. In part because it served as a good podcast game (never can have enough of those), but mostly because it just felt so darn good to play that I couldn’t stop going back to it for a run or two. I don’t often stick with rogue-likes in the long-term — usually finish them once then slowly stop playing them altogether. But Dead Cells has kept me hooked. The random weapons and skills that spawn at the start of each run make a perfect excuse to try out new builds, which in turn keeps each new playthrough fresh. Kinda wish the game didn’t lock some of the progression behind the ridiculously harder difficulty settings, but that aside, I can see myself continuing to dive into Dead Cells for the foreseeable future. Excited to see how it evolves in future updates.
Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st]
I’m not usually one for fighting games. They’ve always come off as too complex and intimidating for me, what with all the long, complicated inputs for attacks and combos, the number of underlying systems to keep track of, and all the minutiae that’s unique to the genre. Every time I’ve tried to pick one up in the past, I’ve never really learned them past the most basic level (that is, button mashing out the auto-combo and hoping for the best). That’s in part due to simple execution barrier (can’t pull off some inputs consistently, let alone in quick succession), but a lot of it is just sheer lack of knowledge.
Under Night is different. Where I’ve bounced off trying to learn so many other fighting games before, Under Night is the first one I felt empowered to learn. That’s due to a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the incredible tutorial. Where most fighting game tutorials (if they even have one) at most cover their own specific systems, Under Night goes out of its way to explain everything: from the very basics to game specific systems to general advanced techniques and concepts. It feels like a proper guide on how to play 2D fighters. It’s definitely helped me get better — I’ve got some combos down, and I’ve actually been able to hold my own online for once. Given how often fighting games assume a certain level of knowledge and familiarity with the genre, that one would go so far out of its way is a welcome surprise.
The things that make Paratopic work are tough to explain. It’s the way the game shifts perspective at a moment’s notice through jump-cuts, the way the camera sometimes lingers uncomfortably on certain angles, the way it purposely obfuscates the nature of what’s going on. You’re just dropped into the thick of it with no context, swapping between scenes and characters trying to piece together what’s happening, every new sequence raising more questions than the last as that creeping sense of dread only intensifies.
Like Anatomy back in 2016, Paratopic is some top-notch horror. It’s masterful use of low-poly PS1 style visuals is effective at giving the game style while also making it feel deeply uncanny. I love that developers are diving into that era of graphics now, and if Paratopic is anything to go by, there’s a ton of potential there to tap into.
Shape of the World
Exploration is always one of my favorite aspects of games, so any game that’s based solely around that is a winner in my book. Of the ones I played this year (admittedly fewer than I would have liked), Shape of the World is one I kept returning to. Its premise of a world that grows around you caught my attention way back when and the final game delivered on it wonderfully.
Wandering around its ever-transforming spaces is a delight. Watching the world grow around me, seeing how the shifting colors would change my surroundings never ceased to awe. I spent so much time in each area enjoying the sights and sounds just letting it all wash over me. It was precisely what I needed during the more stressful moments of my life this past year.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy
I love Spyro. The original PS1 games are some of my all-time favorites. A bit of me was worried that the remakes would change something substantial or that I would find they didn’t hold up like I remember (it’s been a while since I last played through them), but I was glad to see those fears were unfounded.
The three games haven’t changed a bit, and they still play exceptionally well. The Reignited Trilogy served as a good way to revisit them, and provided a fun look at what a modern Spyro (in the right hands) could be. Part of me hopes this could lead to the series being revived, continuing in the footsteps of the original PS1 games. But at the same time, that they were acknowledged at all, that they were given such a loving remake is enough.
Quick aside: the lack of subtitles is ridiculous and I’m glad Activision and Toys for Bob have been taken to task for neglecting to include them. While these remakes are impressive in their faithfulness, not adding such a baseline accessibility feature is just plain absurd. Hope they’ll be patched in.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say about Where the Water Tastes Like Wine that I haven’t already said better in my review, so… just go read that. In short, though, I’m really impressed with how it well it came together. Getting a bunch of talented writers to create a ton of short stories and microfiction is a fantastic idea that’s executed brilliantly. It’s something I’d love to see more games do.
Lucah: Born of a Dream
It’s tough to articulate what exactly makes Lucah: Born of a Dream such a standout for me. It’s such a dense, complicated game — yet also a very lean, sharply designed one. It blends stylish Platinum Games character action with some light Souls-like elements to create exciting, satisfying combat that feels and looks good in equal measure. (It also has some very strong accessibility options!) Its sketch-like art style is rough and beautiful, creating suggestions of familiar, mundane spaces (forests and suburbs, subways and arcades) that feel warped and sinister. It’s a very dark and often depressing game, but also hopeful.
Upon finishing Lucah, you’re greeted with a message from one of the developers. It’s sort of a “thank you for playing message,” but addressed to the character. It talks about how inspired they are to have seen Lucah make it through all trials and hardships, how maybe there’s still hope yet for the rest of us. Maybe it’s just the headspace I was in when I finished it, but that message really resonated. Given the dire state of things, I’ll take whatever bits of hope and positivity I can get.
You Are Jeff Bezos: Bankrupt the head of Amazon in the best way possible: by spending all his money to make the world better.
ESC: A brilliant game about identity and role-play with a ton of style.
Extreme Meatpunks Forever: It’s queer, has mechs, and you get to fuck up fascists. What more could you want?
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: They made another Smash Bros. and it’s still great. World of Light is a fantastic addition after how lacking Smash 4 felt in single-player content.
Deltarune: It’s basically more Undertale, but that’s not a bad thing. Looking forward to seeing how the full game shapes up.
September 1999: A horror game that achieves a lot in just five minutes.
Hollow Knight: Look — I know I already included Hollow Knight on my list last year, but I played it again this year (because I bought it on Switch; almost got it on PS4 as well because I’m a fool) and was once again impressed by just how good it is, so I’m shouting it out here.