Michael’s Top 10 2018
2018 did not have the enormous big hitting Switch Games of 2017, which saw the titanic Zelda, Mario, and Splatoon trifecta, but with a weighted back end and some sweet downloadable hits, it was a year that satisfied nonetheless. Big hitting games were abound on other consoles, too.
In no particular order:
Super Smash Brothers Ultimate
The latest in the greatest Nintendo franchise has left nothing behind (except, sigh, Break the Targets, Home Run Contest, and the Cracker Launcher). Single-player fighters will have their money’s worth with World of Light, challenges, and Classic Mode; Multi-player gamers will be content for years to come with the largest roster of Smash history (everybody is here, including Piranha Plant), more stages than even the game seems to know what to do with, and huge swaths of players online. Every new roster addition so far is a blast to play, and every new item is a powerful and intriguing addition to the line-up. I haven’t put it down in the two-and-a-half months since it came out.
My current obsession is co-op 2v2s online, but more of my friends have acquired Ethernet adapters, so the FFA lobbies are hyping up.
As with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey: if you own a Switch, you should own Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. If you won’t do it for you, do it for your friends.
Divinity Original Sin 2: Enhanced Edition
Divinity Original Sin was one of my favorite RPGs back when its Enhanced Edition released on PS4 a few years ago, so being patient for the sequel’s Enhanced Edition was difficult. Long as the wait was, the console edition of Divinity Original Sin 2: Enhanced Edition launched at last at the end of August, 2018.
Of course, I didn’t end up playing the console version. My brother bought it for PC, and we set ourselves on the couch with our Xbox 360 controllers, Steam Link, and 55-inch TV. The (still-ongoing) adventure has been enormously fun, especially with our self-imposed rule-set of “Whatever happens, happens.” Outside of fail-state battle-losses, any accidental theft, any purposeful murder, any mistaken interaction cannot be undone. If we cause a shop-keeper to fight us before we’ve checked his wares, our loss. This is in direct contrast to how I played the first Divinity: Original Sin, and has made the game much more impressing, and made us much more involved.
The combat and writing are just as fun as the original, and while there are nods to Braccus Rex and others who appeared in the first, playing it is unnecessary to enjoying Divinity Original Sin 2.
If you’ve got a buddy or three you want to sit down with for upwards of 100 hours on a strategic, story-driven RPG, then don’t sleep on Divinity Original Sin 2: Enhanced Edition.
If you’ve played Overcooked, you already know this is the height of local gaming. The sequel (which has already received two free worlds’ worth of maps, and a paid DLC pack, with more free content on the way) adds the ability to throw ingredients, new recipes, new chefs, and transforming kitchens to the mix. Online play is also featured for the first time, but after having played the entire game with three friends and lag enough to match, it’s hard to recommend it. If you’re up to the challenge, make sure everybody hard wires to the ethernet. Locally, the game shows its strengths, as everybody shouts at Grandma for getting in the way of the last order- cheating the group at large of the heralded fourth star. Thanks for nothing, Grandma!
And if you haven’t played: Overcooked puts up to four chefs into a cramped kitchen and tasks them with preparing ingredients (and the finished meal) for impatient customers. At its worst, it is a delightful nightmare that will test your ability to plan, strategize, and work as a team.
At it’s best, it’s little different.
Lethal League Blaze
No tracks are as juicy as those featured in Lethal League Blaze this year. From Nakamura’s “Nothing Like A Funky Beat” to Pixelord’s “Killa Swing,” the soundtrack to this local and online-multiplayer fighting/sports title is worth the price of entry alone. Of course, if you’ve played Lethal League before, you know that the mechanics are up to the same pedigree. At its best in 2v2, Lethal League pits players in a 2D arena with a ball and their best reflexes. The ever-increasing speed turns that ball into an attaché to murder, but smart changes to the design make things more manageable. Getting hit once no longer ejects you out of a round necessarily- the ball’s damage is based on its speed, meaning getting hit by an awkward parry gone wrong won’t be the end to your machinations for foul play.
The new characters are great- my personal favorite of them is Jet, whose quick hits and shielded super make for some intimidating mix-ups. Being able to double jump is handy, and throws help to gather your bearings- and steal everybody else’s. This is a multiplayer great in a year of indie multiplayer greats.
It just also happens to have the best tunes.
The evolution of Bomberman comes in the form of a western tale of revenge and rogue-lites. The single-player is fun, quick, and features the replayability necessary to a good rogue-like. A run with bomb power upgrades is just as fun as a run without, and the amount of spells and abilities available for pickup keeps the fun going. But, like Bomberman, it’s in the multiplayer where Bombslinger provides the biggest blast: dodgerolls, shotguns, nuclear warheads, and the ability to hop over terrain make for deathmatches unlike Bomberman before, sped up by rule-sets that don’t mean you’re one and done.
While its difficult to think you’ll be playing anything else locally now that Super Smash Bros Ultimate is out, Bombslinger is worth your party’s attention.
Challenging platformers live or die by their generosity- which ultimately can be summarized by how much the title respects the player’s time. Celeste gives every second back after every death with a screen-by-screen checkpoint system. Missed jumps don’t keep you out of the action, meaning a death defies no rhythm.
And while not enough can be said about the clean platforming on display in Celeste, it would be even harder to sufficiently rave about the story, and the way its woven into the gameplay. I worked in the mental health field for two years, making me worried Celeste’s focus on anxiety and depression would feel like an extension of my job. It never did. The heart and understanding behind Celeste’s writing humanized conditions I’d grown desensitized toward.
Beautiful. Emotional. Powerful. Celeste is the very best of gameplay and design as story-telling devices.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World is a great Monster Hunter game despite its unignorable issues (namely: mandatory cutscenes that must be watched individually before players can lobby up, making co-operative play a headache until story completion- a couple dozen hours at least).
But when you’re not fighting against a questionable set-up, Monster Hunter World provides some of the very best in hunting there has ever been. The map may be harder to read than ever, but the trade-off is a beautiful, realized world and biomes that feel like natural habitats (even when seemingly unnatural). The new monsters provide some spectacular fights and great armor sets, even if the lack of a G-Rank kicks the end-game to the curb.
It’s the best and worst of its franchise in many ways, but the best outweighs the worst so much that it’s hard not to step into MHW in awe. And we’ll have even more reason to return when the 2019 expansion Iceborne hits and adds even more monsters to capture. Co-operative boss-fighters, this is your game.
Dragon Quest XI
It used to be JRPGs all featured parties of eight characters, sci-fi/fantasy globe-trotting, and heart, but the winning combination has become a rarity.
Enter Dragon Quest 11: the modern JRPG for the sensible conossieur.
Dragon Quest 11’s English release in 2018 returned a sleeping giant to American shores, and gave us the opportunity to enjoy the console version with full voice acting. The characters are the stars- especially Vanessa and Sylvando- but the simple combat (it doesn’t get much more traditional than Dragon Quest) does more than service. The globe-trotting may put you on trails you’ve been before, and the short list of music tracks doesn’t produce as many brilliant bangers as one would expect (by sheer virtue of its number- it’s a real shame, because what is here is delicious JRPG jamming), but Dragon Quest 11 is a fantastically complete JRPG package. If you’re a fan of the genre or series, don’t forget the latest Dragon Quest- also coming in 2019 to Nintendo Switch.
Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves was a difficult game for me to keep my hands on- constant travel made sticking around for every update impossible. But what I played in the first couple of months ensured it will be a title I revisit in 2019. Cooperative (and competitive) pirate action on beautiful seas is hard to pass up.
The game has evolved so much since I played it last that it’s difficult for me to talk about it at length. Presumably, nothing is as empty as it was. Hopefully, there are brand new ways to shoot the breeze with friends. Expectedly, everything will have improved.
But even short of those improvements, Sea of Thieves was the short-term co-op romp I needed before my months in Japan. The ship-combat and sailing carried lackluster missions and land combat into story-telling devices that made every day a new adventure (some I’ve written about before: Captain’s Log 1 and Log 2)
I’m looking forward to sharing many more a yo-ho-ho and bottles of rum.
Just Shapes and Beats
Just Shapes and Beats’ unassuming title is a summation of the game in a way that other titles should aspire to. There are shapes, and beats, and that’s just it. Everything you need to know is there. Even the plurality of players is presented with seeming ease.
Just Shapes and Beats plays like a bullet hell, except the bullets are the beat, and your only defense is to avoid what’s coming.
The game is one that has to be felt, as much as played. Watching is insufficient. Listening on its own is not enough. You need to be a tiny shape in a world of beats. And ideally with three of your best mates.
Four player co-op should make the game easier, because you’re afforded the ability to resurrect your friends. It isn’t. The social responsibility to revive the fallen often comes at the risk of your own perfection. Leave them to die. It’s the only way to succeed.
Like many of my other favorite titles from 2018, Just Shapes and Beats is a fantastic local co-op title, on a console that was born for it.
Strange Brigade: Okay, the shooting can be a bit spotty, but this co-op shooter gets points for its goofy narration and light puzzle solving.
Mario Tennis Aces: Mario Tennis hasn’t met this standard since the Gamecube, so it’s nice to finally be able to play some exciting doubles matches.
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido: Meteos and Tetris are the only other puzzle games to make me line up shapes when I’m not playing, so Sushi Striker is in good company.
Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion: This fantastic single-player expansion raises the standard for downloadable content, and for the someday successor.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure: Mobility has changed in this solid slice of strategic content- fans of the base game owe it to themselves to pick up the DLC.
2018 Games I Wish I Had Time to Play
Valkyria Chronicles 4: I loved the original, but the follow-up came at a busy time. Maybe I’ll find some in 2019.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna~The Golden Country: I admit, I’m only 15 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles 2. My brother played my copy at launch, and I only had so much downtime in Japan.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: I love the web-crawler, and I love good games. I’d love to give this one a go, too.
Below: Below was a birthday gift to me the year of the originally expected release. I finally get to collect, but I haven’t had the chance.
Gris: My Switch wishlist for downloadable games is enormous, and at the very top is this gorgeous and evocative platformer.
Octopath Traveler: You know when you buy a game, but you’re too busy with other games to give it its due? My brothers both beat it, and I’m still as far as my demo progress.