2018 on a personal level was a year that kind of challenged my own thoughts about myself, my life and abilities in ways I more or less just let come at me. With the sole exception of proposing to my partner, I feel like, if I were in Vegas, I would’ve been saying “let it ride” more often than anything else, come what may. Despite a seemingly passive go at it, 2018 was a great year. The partner said yes, Nerds Gone Rogue has continued to be more fun than ever, I’m now down to one job and trying my hand at streaming my gameplay in little chunks. There’s more to 2018 of course, but I realize that anyone reading this will have limited time and energy.

Before I get to why I’m here (my favorite games of 2018, of course), I do want to mention something that means a good deal to me. December 20, 2018 was my first Yama victory in Spelunky. Five years of trying on and off. All the frustration roguelikes can bring. Feeling like I was beating my head against a wall that I’d never pass. There have been multiple ‘difficult gaming tasks’ that I’ve walked away from without regret. Post-game bosses in Nioh, the platinum in Super Meat Boy (at least in any focused fashion) and plenty of others. Spelunky  has this quality about it that makes everything seem so simple, so within reach, but just beyond the grasp. I’d gotten to hell in the game once before 2018, but at some point post Spelunky 2′s announcement, I decided it was time. Yama needed to be bested before it released. I used that as my way to start streaming regularly because I wanted to be able to record and save the run in which it happened. I was fortunate enough to have Moose in a party with me while playing and chatting with him about the game helped in a way that cannot be overestimated. Plus it was nice to actually have someone familiar with my struggles in the game to empathize. In fact, he and his Nerds Gone Platinum fellow host Jason were ever-present in my exploits in that game on stream. I never thought I’d be one to care about others watching my gameplay, but when you have folks chatting with you, especially friends, it can be like they’re on the couch with you and it helps. Now, I’m moving on to streaming Hitman and hopefully fun will be had there too.

Now to the games.

Regretful Misses:

Return of the Obra Dinn, Frostpunk, Gorogoa, Yakuza 6: Song of Life, Dragon Ball FighterZ, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, Two Point Hospital, Beat Saber and plenty of others…

Several of these I missed due to platform restraints. I don’t have a PC I play games on. Something I’d love to address in 2019. Dragon Ball and BlazBlue are part of a different problem. I love to watch fighting games now. The further I get from my 20s continually shows that I’m probably done playing them. But oh man will I settle in to watch streams of them. I really love the anime fighters and these 2 may be among the best looking of them that I’ve seen. Yakuza is my own fault. I want to play these games, but keep getting distracted. Maybe 2019. Beat Saber is another ‘my bad’ move as well. Others are just the reality of time. Soon, hopefully…

Honorable Mentions:

Red Dead Redemption 2: I’ll be real. This game got both frustrating and oppressive with the sheer weight of the endeavor. It feels like War and Peace or Infinite Jest in that, I’ve picked those books up several times only to be faced with my own lack of preparedness for the task. I made it to act 3 and Arthur Morgan is one of the best protagonists I can think of and the game just looks magnificent. I’ll keep trying, for sure.

Florence: I came to this literally today after reading and listening to Giant Bomb all week. Yes, Vinny tearing up caused me to check this out. Holy hell, this is a game I needed. Beautiful music, great use of the mobile platform and the best interactively told story this side of Limbo. While I didn’t cry, Florence Yeoh showed me that my path may not be the so bad. Annapurna Interactive may have just become for me what Devolver Digital is for Moose.

Donut County: Elegant simplicity is a beautiful thing. Katamari Damacy is elegant simplicity with an absurdly lovable story. Donut County does that too, but its story has a weird grounding in reality. Not like it’s plausible, but I feel like the dialogue has a realistic conversational style that is missed in many forms of media. Them quacks though… another Annapurna joint.

Hollow Knight: By all rights, this is probably the best game I played in 2018. Don’t have a PC, so I missed it in 2017, but this game is the next great step forward for the Metroidvania style of video games. These boss fights are among the best I’ve ever played in a side-scrolling game. This game is dreary, oppressive and difficult on its face, but as the player progresses optimism seems to follow in touches. Team Cherry hit what is hopefully their first home run.

Burnout Paradise: The first-and-to-date-only game I’ve ever followed through to write an essay about. This game is the most fun racing game I’ve ever played. Its remaster is damn-near perfect. In fact, if you have PS+, play Onrush if you don’t want to spring for a new game.

Minit: A Zelda-esque adventure to be digested in single minute chunks. Silly, right? That is until you play it. This game belongs in the conversation with Undertale with its new spin on old ideas. It even pokes fun at its own limitations in ways both poignant and funny. For you trophy people, it’s an easy platinum too!

There are plenty of other games that belong in my 10 as well. 2018 was a surprisingly good follow-up to 2017. Thank you for all the great games.

Here we go!

10. Favorite Games of 2018

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10. Into the Breach – Subset Games

FTL: Faster Than Light was probably my first real introduction to roguelikes. Like that game, once I started Into the Breach, I couldn’t stop playing or developing attachments to my characters. Permadeath is both great and intimidating as a mechanic. No one likes losing all of their hard-earned progress, but it also creates a unique attachment to the sprites for me. I found myself remembering older runs with different sprites because of said mechanic. Also, through my own choices, I found myself associating sprites with characteristics. One would be the alien killer, one would be the chaotic good that didn’t mind losing a few civilians that weren’t able to be saved. This all rises out of a mech chess game that’s actually a puzzle game with tension ratcheted up in a way Spinal Tap could appreciate. This game is a switch mainstay and when I get a PC, it’ll be there too.

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9. Yoku’s Island Express – Villa Gorilla

That delayed title card though, am I right? That music though, am I right? Who am I kidding? I don’t know how many played this game. I do know this, everyone should. So often nowadays it’s about the next BIG thing. Villa Gorilla delivered a wonderful little microcosm of why I love indies. Very similar to how Drinkbox took the metroidvania and added a great grappling and wrestling combat system, Yoku’s Island Express says, “what if we added pinball?” Silly, huh? It should be, but it controls surprisingly well and is consistently fun to play. Having gone through it on Switch, I can’t wait to do more on PS4.

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8. Fire Pro Wrestling World – Spike Chunsoft

There’s a version of me that never stopped following wrestling. This isn’t so much why I played this game, but it’s why I’m head over heels in love with it. I know nothing about New Japan Pro Wrestling. I’ve heard names mentioned and I’ve expressed interest in Facebook groups, but I think this branching path I’m on may be done attempting to get back in. This is why I love Fire Pro. I don’t need to be all in on the plot between characters and faces and heels and kayfabe. It is pure mechanics. The initial grapple is a good example of rhythm and the overall match is a story. A story I’m telling of these 2 avatars going at it for whatever reason. Fire Pro‘s endurance mechanic plays the most integral role here because you have to gain momentum by wearing down your opponent and keep your own endurance up all while entertaining the crowd. None of this is measured by bars on the screen. It’s all visual cues and intuition. This package is fun as hell to play. That I can create and download wrestlers I know and/or don’t know only sweetens the pot. Don’t let the 1990s arcade visuals fool you, this is the deepest combat system in 2018.

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7. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission – SIE Japan Studio

I remember VR in the 1990s. It was bad. One of the only times I’d ever walked away from a machine at an arcade thinking I should ask for my money back. That bad. When I was on The Platinum Achievement Podcast, I was a naysayer for VR directly because of that memory. It was with great joy that I was able to have a conversation here with Imran and Chris about how much I love VR now. Astro Bot without hesitation is the best use of VR in the home for a video game. It incorporates everything to build the bridge of interaction between those who wish to only use a control and those who want the submergence into a world that VR provides. Also, the little Astro Bots are the most adorable things to come into video games since Sackboy with their dances, emotes, and the way your main Bot will run around the world and look back at you every so-often to check in like a faithful puppy or a young child making sure you think they’re doing okay. I don’t have any answers as to how to make VR sellable to the masses (thank goodness that’s not my job), but I think we’re closer to the headsets becoming more reasonable to jump at than ever before. Thank you, Astro Bot!

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6. Hitman 2 – IO Interactive

I remember working overnight delivery routes for Pepsi in 2002-2003 from 10pm – 6am. My route partner Josh and I had a great system where we’d get done by 4am, park the semi and go to Perkins to eat. We would then clock out at the earliest possible time to still get paid for hours and head to his place and play Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. We would giggle incessantly at both our own stupidity and that of the in-game world and pass the controller with each failure. His wife Tiffany, didn’t like waking up to us having such a fun time when she had to go to work. I would eventually move and lose touch, but I’d find those games in my new home, Philadelphia, and still have a rip-roaring laugh as I played. With no one to enjoy them with me, it wasn’t the same. I fell off after Blood Money and couldn’t find it in me to go back for Absolution. Watching Giant Bomb go through the 2016 episodic installment and hearing friend Captain Canada, mention it slowly got me looking again, but I still missed it. Hitman 2 came out and I said, “Yes, I’m doing this.” It’s great to be back and I actually want to go back to the old ones. Not sure I will because I’ve looked at them since playing this version, but goddamn this game! I’ll play all of season 1 on stream and once I finish a playthrough of 2 myself, I’ll go for challenges on stream as well and elusive targets and escalations. So catch me on stream in 2019 and let’s get into some shit.

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5. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Insomniac Games

Eyyo, you like open world games? Good. You should play Spider-Man. Seriously though, open world games are about as played in this medium as super hero movies are in that medium. Also, I challenge anyone to find an open world game where the open world doesn’t end up being a problem on some (maybe not even a major) level. Insomniac know they made a great open world game by the fact that they included a trophy for using fast travel 5 times. Doing that for the platinum felt stupid, yes. But it also points to the greater triumph that the player more often would prefer to swing through Manhattan taking care of crimes and grabbing backpacks as well as every other task because all of it is fun as hell. The combat is accessibly deep and nuanced without being overwhelming and it’s a great entry game for folks newer to the medium. And the story! Eyyo, you like a good comic book story? Good. Play Spider-Man. The ensemble cast of characters are well rendered, acted, written and executed at every point in the game. If you’re not one to do the open world tasks, I’d say do the police towers if for no other reason than Spider Cop. Insomniac makes great games, this is not a shock. That Spider-Man, a comic hero (a medium I don’t get along great with) might actually challenge Ratchet and Clank as my favorite by them, is the best kind of surprise.

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4. Tetris Effect – Monstars Inc. and Resonair

“Look at this world we’re made for / Come with me, we’ll take tomorrow / Everything you want is waiting for you”

Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s trajectory designing games has had a natural progression to Tetris Effect. The cold, cybersphere of Rez, the electro-chic of Lumines and its various incarnations and Child of Eden, the less-appreciated second go-round at Rez. I’m not sure he’s aiming at synesthesia every time out, but each effort hits it in its own way. None better than his take on Tetris, a 30+ year old game that, at the end of the day, is still Tetris. The difference here is solely presentation. Why does that matter? Well, let me tell you. Tetris can exemplify the oppressive feeling of never being good enough as blocks endlessly drop faster and faster creating the hyperest of tension even within the healthiest of people. Imagine a version full of encouragement, appropriate exhales between and within stages and a soundtrack full of optimism, togetherness and uplifting exaltation. Add onto that visuals that encompass nature, people, technology in a propulsive unison that helps the player remain calm because, it’s all together. Hell, you can just put on the goggles and go into theater mode and relax. If Tetris itself is the greatest video game of all time, Tetris Effect is the best version I’ve played. I’ll finish this by finishing the quote from “Metamorphosis,” the game’s final level song…

“Take it in the lights around us / Perfect love is all around us / Everything you need is waiting for you”

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3. Dead Cells – Motion Twin

The one thing that I can say about my favorite 10 games this year as opposed to other years of lists I’ve written is that there’s a realistic possibility I could’ve had every single game at number 1. Dead Cells is a game that, more so than any other in 2018, is a Matthew Kiel game. It’s an indie, roguelike, metroidvania, sidescroller with tight controls, phenomenal combat, intense worlds, intelligently designed boss battles and so much more. Story definitely has a back seat, but world-building wasn’t given a short shrift at all, but that also folds into the story (which really, I don’t care to know). Also, the pixel art visuals are among the best I’ve seen. The sunsets in the ramparts and the clock tower are things I just sat and looked at. The character and enemy designs use pixel art in the right ways to convey identity in ways that plenty of AAA games don’t come close to. The protagonist is so well designed that its mannerisms especially when interacting with the world are downright funny. There’s humor all over this game that’s good. It’s not Donut County good, but not much is. All the weapons feel different and require adaptability to get better with, but none of the difficulty curves are steep enough that the player would need more than that initial level to be familiar enough with them. It has that ‘one more run’ element that comes from games like Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, and The Binding of Isaac. It sounds silly, but I think that quality is what can keep a modern roguelike vital.

Also this

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2. God of War – SIE Santa Monica Studio

I didn’t like any game in this series that I have played. There’s no reason for me to play this game. Then the new look God of War was announced at E3 and I saw Kratos take an interest in teaching his young companion, Atreyus (whom I would eventually learn is his son). As for my memory of that initial announcement, it’s a blur because I’ve exhausted the hell out of this game in 2018. Holy hell, Santa Monica made Kratos from hate and anger incarnate to a character of measured response, dad jokes, and possibly one of the best protagonists of 2018. The rest of the ensemble is just as well written and fleshed out, especially Mimir. Brok and Sindri have great banter and Freja may be the most interesting character in the game. Visually, it’s a technicolor splendor of style and beauty. Atreyus proved to be a great story unto himself as well as a worthwhile companion in battle especially in the optional Valkyrie encounters. Eyyo, those Valkyries are legit worth going for if you want a good boss fight. All 9 of them are gripping as hell.

What makes God of War special to me is the relationship between Kratos and Atreyus. I remember being a kid, when my parents let me do something that might’ve been out of my grasp or cheered for me as I played soccer or basketball. The culmination of this story is a moment of growth for both father and son, just like those moments were for my family and I. This game, man. This game.

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1. Celeste – Matt Makes Games

There are folks who have leveled statements like “Meat Boy clone” or “oh, another indie platformer, of course.” Matt Thorson has laid a template for the indie platformer going forward (maybe even indie games in general). Find a way to tell a story with it. The story of Celeste is about Madelyn who is going to climb a mountain to prove she can. That’s the outset. What ensues is the use of platforming to go through a meditation on anxiety, self-doubt, self-acceptance and even friendship. Its beauty lies in the vagueness of its story. Very much like the Souls series where the player interpretation is just as important the action. Celeste could easily be a statement on the stages of anxiety. Hell, there’s a full-blown panic attack in the game after a difficult section of platforming only for things to, once again, turn on their head only to enforce the need to keep going. It’s frustratingly difficult to the point that everything is still within reach only find a new way to smack you down while still leaving the carrot of  “Don’t give up. You can do this.” No game this year, did this to me like Celeste. Oh, and you know what? If you don’t want the frustration, there’s an assist mode included so you can experience the story for yourself. You can even get a platinum with it.

And I haven’t even mentioned what may be the best part, the music. Lena Raine with this suite of songs has entered a realm similar to that of Baiyon’s PixelJunk Eden score or anything by Shoji Meguro (listen to the Persona 3, Persona 4 or Persona 5 soundtracks). Since finishing this game and its B and C-sides, I’ve made attempts to listen to her work with Guild Wars and most of her bandcamp page. I want this composer to write for every genre. I want to learn to make a game so I can have this composer write music for it. I’m totally comfortable knowing that, if I made a game that Raine contributed to the soundtrack, the music would win out on everything. Lena Raine’s music is as affecting as the overall narrative of Celeste. One without the other is still better than most things in 2018. Together, they are among my favorite things ever.

That’s it for me with games in 2018. I look forward to more fun in 2019.

Banana and out!

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