Turtle picture strictly as obvious metaphor.
Hi. So, I’m bad at this. I planned this all out with the actual top ten lists and whatnot and thought I gave myself a decent time-table to put some picks in. Well, I got lazy. Not a surprise. So let’s honor the best games of 2018 before next week brings into gear the 2019 game slate (Resident Evil 2 Remake and Kingdom Hearts III are planned future reviews on this site if, you know, I’m not lazy.). But unlike every list before, I have eight games that I’m not listing in an order. If you pry me to do it, I will, but I honestly feel like just talking about what I like is a better exercise and I am not officially tagging this as a Top Ten Season list because of that. Alright! Here we go!
Best Wii U Game That People Played for the First Time Because It Got Ported to Switch — Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Switch, July 13th)
Captain Toad was born out of some puzzles of another Wii U game you ought to play when it inevitably gets a Switch release, Super Mario 3D World, but it’s the simple charm and pleasant puzzle-solving of the separate Captain Toad game that is an experience that feels just about right in length. Even when you kind of see the bare bones of what the game is (there are cutscenes that are repeated only switching Toad and Toadette), it hardly hurts the game and allows the puzzles to shine. I don’t really know any other way to explain this other than that it matches the joy of Mario’s mainline works and is a nice match to the spectacular Mario Odyssey.
The “Finally, This Sports Game Doesn’t Feel As Much Like Bullshit” Award — NBA 2K19 (PS4/Xbox One/Switch/PC/even a phone but not as good, September 7th)
Over the past few years, I’ve become the cliche that is rightly mocked. I would be the guy on the Steam reviews of any ongoing game that plays it for 2,000 hours and has a “not recommended” review of the game. And every year since at least 2K15, I’ve poured dozens of hours into the NBA 2K series and I genuinely think they have done some things right in those past installments but I also don’t think I’d want anyone to really dig into it. MLB The Show is far more refined in terms of accessibility to a general audience, and I can’t even stand baseball. Madden is what it is, but it’s still the video game of the most popular sport of these United States so of course that’s there. And FIFA is FIFA. But NBA can kind of lose you in the weeds in terms of its control scheme and hardwiring those refinements year over year. And its VC system is genuinely one of the most viciously awful systems in video games, especially when for as money-hungry EA is with its Ultimate Team, they still leave those financial hooks mainly in that system.
Yet NBA 2K19 did it again. I have poured hundreds of hours into the wild world of good ole pro basketball. When I got a new computer and despite owning a Xbox One copy, I bought 2K19 on PC and ran it through its paces. I just bought several boxes of Reese’s Puffs because it was cheap cereal but also because it had VC codes inside that are pretty good value for boosting up my dude. And I don’t really know how. I think that at times 2K does and doesn’t understand the appeal of their grind. They’ll be quick to reward your MyPlayer with Gatorade contracts and be kind of scared to make your guy seem like a bum, but your overall rating will make you look like one (unless you spend that real money, of course). And I actually kind of wish it was the opposite. I purposefully chose to grind my 7’3″ center Froggy Fresh behind ole Anthony Davis on the Pels and watch as my minutes went into space. I think it was too quick, even. I kind of want to see the bench a lot more. And maybe that’s the appeal. I bounce off of Madden or even FIFA if I start getting too good too quickly. And I got a 99 in MLB The Show and I’m just kind of done with it for like five years. Maybe I’m the world’s worst skinner box.
Oh, it is bullshit that you can move a team to Athens but not Birmingham. Also, Rob Huebel and Haley Joel Osment are in the MyCareer story mode. What the hell!?
Favorite Punch Time Fight Thing — Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch, December 7th)
Smash Bros may have the benefit of being equal parts the most weird and accessible new fighting game this year. Sure, there is a lot of rightful hubbub has been given to Dragon Ball FighterZ and Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, both games that nail the accessibility aspect. But simply put, they still aren’t games where you can play some of the most famous figures in video gaming and general pop culture. I guess Goku is close but eh, he’s not Mario fighting Simon Belmont, is he? I’ll admit, this game is also probably a skinner box thing. FighterZ’s system is probably more satisfying and even its story mode has features that Smash doesn’t, like cutscenes and voice acting. Smash has a Street Fighter II homage, though. This isn’t really deciding much. I’m sorry. I just like the Mario punch more.
“Not To Be Pretentious But Games Are Art, Mmkay” — Tetris Effect (PS4, November 9th)
Tetris Effect is at once a beautiful pure transfixing experience that is the best version of a Tetris game since the Game Boy and possibly the reason you got agitated and don’t read much from academia. Which is funny because it’s not really the game’s fault. Tetris Effect is beautiful on either the original PS4, PS4 Pro, or (I assume since I don’t own one) the PS VR. It is beautiful at blending an eclectic soundtrack of what you would sometimes call “world music.” It’s even beautiful at taking imagery like light shafts and steampunk knobs and whatnot into looking like the tetriminos that inspire the phenomena the game is based on. It fucking rules.
This is to say that I don’t fully feel on board with the folks viewing it as a transcendent experience but it’s probably just my hangups with lofty interpretations of it. Like, it’s a fucking good video game and it does a hell of a lot right without some goofy mechanic or story beat getting in the way. That alone is insane in a culture of big releases that have to find some way to falter. Maybe I’m bad at expressing the “why” here, though. I mean, fuck, it’s a rad Tetris game, not that those aren’t out of range this generation (last year’s localization of Puyo Puyo Tetris is a weird and delightful take). And yes, Tetris is still a classic game, aging far better than anyone could anticipate. Hell, even match 3 fatigue hasn’t hit the series. That we’re looking at a Tetris 30 years on from the Game Boy version is probably proof enough.
Best Dancing Game Spinoff From The Beloved JRPG Franchise From Atlus That Was The Spin Off From The Shin Megami Tensei Games — Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight (PS4/Vita never die, December 4th)
It’s usually a bad idea to recommend a game that tacitly admits “yeah, you’re going to have to at least watch a super long YouTube video of all of the story bits to even get any enjoyment out of this.” So of course, I recommend one of two games that will require you to play its source material to get anything of it. Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight is, as the title suggests, a spinoff of Persona 3, an RPG currently unavailable on the lead platform of this game’s release (PS4). To get P3, you’ll have to either track down a PS3 and spend the $10 on Persona 3 FES, get a PS2 with a probably more expensive disc copy of the same game, or buy an even more expensive used Vita and buy Persona 3 Portable for $10/20 bucks (I forget its current price and this is far too long already). I know you’ll never read this, Atlus, but fucking remake Persona 3 for PS4 so I don’t have to caveat my enjoyment of your fine dancing game.
Anyway, Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight takes the mechanics of the extremely rewarding Persona 4 Dancing All Night (yes, another spinoff dancing game) and doesn’t do much to really alter that formula but does have entertaining localization, the right type of fanservice in interactions with characters, and just a warm feeling of returning to see old friends. There’s not much story but what is there is a light adventure that holds the series themes of camaraderie and realizing your true self. Also, there’s multiple songs featuring a rapper named Lotus Juice. This one gets in just above its same-day release partner Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight and–quit looking at me like that, they can put out three dancing spinoff games if they want. Anyway, the song selection on this one over P5D is stronger, does better by its characters, and the cutscenes are hysterical.
Rubbin’ Is Racing — Burnout Paradise Remastered (PS4/Xbox One/PC, March 16th)/Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One/PC, October 2nd)
It’s nice and wild that both the remaster and the sequel of popular racing stalwarts like Burnout and Forza Horizon both nail the pure glee of driving in an open world, either doing stuff or doing nothing at all in particular. And yet both are completely different in their totality. Burnout Paradise does play like a decade old game at times but also doesn’t give a shit about some of the complications that come with licensed racing games. You can chunk up your cars however you want and the crashes look equal parts gnarly and satisfying. Forza Horizon 4 on the other hand just leaves the crashes to some fender detail and glass since Lamborghini probably doesn’t want its showcase car getting smashed up in high detail.
And while this would feel like a detriment, it heavily emphasizes everything else about Horizon 4 that is remarkable. The seasons system is a unique gimmick, not exactly made solely to add content but it changes so many variables about the full world. It reminds me a lot of when I would play an old sports game like a Madden and see the game visualize the rainstorm or snow before the game starts. And then it wouldn’t affect anything and the AI would still hose me on some play and I’d turn the game off in anger. In Forza, though, it’s just beautiful to honestly look at water puddles or snow or some nice lil’ trees I can run the fuck over. Ain’t nothin’ better than that.
When A Classic Is Still A Classic — Katamari Damacy REROLL (Switch/PC, December 7th)
Katamari Damacy is an all-time great game from Namco, this much is certain. I don’t know how to define this except in explaining its simple “you have a ball and you roll up items into that ball and it gets bigger” mechanic. Yet even a great concept can fall on its face in execution and yet at every turn, Katamari never falters. The soundtrack is an all-time great piece of music complete with an all-star cast of multiple decades of Japanese music. The damn art style is basic to the point of stylization, giving a shock to the more well-formed figures of the King and Prince of All Cosmos. Oh, I forgot, your dad fucked up the sky and you have to unfuck it up while seemingly causing chaos on earth that no one notices. So upon its 2004 release, the game was rightly lionized and given many sequels.
Yet the reveal of this port to the Nintendo Switch and PC came truly out of the blue. It may have been some perfect timing for folks longing for something truly joyous in a sea of, well, you know what this shitstain year was like. And so the December release came and Katamari was something wonderful. Funnily enough, the port job for this isn’t even amazing. If I dug into all the technical bullshit, I’d complain of a locked frame rate on PC, weird choices involving cutscene languages, and not doing much to necessarily adapt the control scheme to modern tastes. So of course, those gripes mean absolutely nothing for my enjoyment. It takes a special game to wrap all of the crap in a ball and push it away. I want to wad it up into my life again.