At last, our journey takes us here, to the end of all things.
And by that, I mean it’s time to wrap up my long-delayed 2019 video game awards (celebrating the best of 2018 video games) with the big “Game of the Year” award.
While 2018 wasn’t quite on par with 2017 in regards to video games (which would be no small feat), it still produced some truly memorable gaming experiences. Enough that I could once again compile a full top 10 list, as opposed to my usual top 5. And also, with my gaming purchases beginning to slow down, who knows if I’ll be doing a full top 10 again any time soon. Best to take advantage of what I’m given when I can.
So, what were the best games of 2018? Well, according to me, anyway, they were these following ten titles.
10: Kirby Star Allies
I can understand why some people think Star Allies is a slight step down from other recent Kirby titles such as Triple Deluxe or Planet Robobot, as the stages don’t have the same fun gimmicks that made those games pop. But Star Allies still provides a solid Kirby platformer for up to four players.
Combining the four player shenanigans of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland with the “enemies to allies” schtick of Kirby Superstar (an element that was long overdue to return to the series), Kirby Star Allies also adds a dash of Kirby 64 into the mix with the power to combine certain copy abilities (unfortunately, this doesn’t stretch to every available ability as in Kirby 64). So it’s basically a Frankenstein’s monster of Kirby’s past.
No, it’s nothing groundbreaking. But Kirby Star Allies is another testament to Kirby’s often overlooked consistency. It’s pure, simple fun. And the music’s pretty awesome, too!
9: Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
The first Ni No Kuni was one of my favorite games of its generation, and my personal Game of the Year for 2013 (though Super Mario 3D World provided stiff competition. Eat your heart out, The Last of Us). I was ecstatic when a sequel was first announced, though my enthusiasm was admittedly reduced a bit when it was announced that Studio Ghibli were not partnered with Level-5 Games for Ni no Kuni 2’s production as they were for the original. And the tweaks to the battle system raised a few concerns as well.
Still, with some of Ghibli’s former animators still in the loop, and the music still composed by Miyazaki’s maestro Joe Hisaishi, Ni No Kuni 2 still exhibits much of the charm that was present in the original.
I have to confess I still haven’t beat this one, which partly explains its ranking here. It is a bit of a shame, as I was completely engrossed in the first game, while Ni No Kuni 2 is more of a game I chip away at when I can. Hopefully I can fix that in not too long, because what I’ve played so far is pretty fun (if maybe a little rough around the edges), and the new battle system helps distinguish it from its predecessor gameplay-wise, which is actually a pretty big deal for RPGs of this nature.
The “almost but not quite there” aspects to Ni No Kuni 2’s association with Studio Ghibli in comparison to its predecessor may be reflected in the quality of the games themselves, but Ni No Kuni 2 was still one of the better games of 2018.
8: Deltarune: Chapter 1
Another (kind of) sequel to one of my past Game of the Years (2015’s Undertale if you don’t know), Deltarune may have been placed higher if it were a finished game. Unfortunately, as charming as it is, the Deltarune we have now is only the first part of a game that designer Toby Fox may or may not actually finish.
Hopefully Mr. Fox manages to round up the development team he needs to finish the game, because Deltarune continues both the unique gameplay and writing that Fox brought to the RPG genre with Undertale.
Granted, I’m still not sure how the story will continue from where it leaves off. Maybe the end will be retconned like some of the after-credits sequences of some Marvel movies – like the first Thor or Captain Marvel – in order to continue with these characters? Or maybe each chapter will feature different characters? Who knows?
One thing’s for sure, Toby Fox has a stunningly unique talent for game development. And by combining Undertale’s “fight or act” mechanics with a more Final Fantasy-esque, team-based battle system, Deltarune stands out from its predecessor while still building on what it started.
Here’s hoping we can play the full version of Deltarune in not too long…
7: WarioWare Gold
WarioWare, much like Kirby, is one of Nintendo’s secret weapons. Never released to the same fanfare as Zelda, Metroid or Mario proper, WarioWare has nonetheless been a consistent showcase of Nintendo’s mastery and innovation in video game design.
Taking elements from every past WarioWare (and even a few from the disappointing Wii U title, Game & Wario), WarioWare Gold is like a greatest hits of the series. It uses the gameplay gimmicks and quirks of each of its predecessors (the original’s single button-focused games, Twisted’s motion sensor, Touched’s namesake touchscreen mechanics) to create and recreate an astounding amount of microgames.
The humor is always present (how could it not be with a mug like Wario’s?), and so is the fun. No matter which play style or game mode you choose to indulge in, WarioWare Gold is sure to give you a memorable time with its rapid-fire bursts of gaming brilliance.
6: Tetris Effect
Of course I’ve heard more than a few internet cynics claim Tetris Effect is “Just Tetris with fancy graphics and music.” But I have to retort; what about that is a negative thing?
Not that those claims are accurate, as Tetris Effect boasts a host of new modes that will keep even the most diehard Tetris pros surprised. But even at it’s most ‘straight-up Tetris,’ Tetris Effect uniquely uses its vibrant visuals and high quality music to make this one of the most immersive versions of one gaming’s most timeless titles.
The only real downside to Tetris Effect is its baffling omission of a multiplayer mode (humorously enough, 2019’s Tetris 99 is absent of a proper single player mode). If it featured the ability to play with friends and rivals both locally or around the world, Tetris Effect may have been one of the quintessential versions of the iconic puzzler. But even without the ability to play with or against friends, Tetris Effect was still one of the best games of 2018.
“Tetris with fancy graphics and music?” Yes, and it kicks ass!
One of the truly great indie games, Celeste is a puzzle-platformer that’s not to be missed.
Jump. Dash. Climb. Wall jump. With those simple few mechanics, Celeste is able to create one gauntlet of inventive stages after another. And when those stages start showcases innovative gimmicks of their own, it makes for a beautiful marriage of ingenuity in both character control and level design. Celeste is a game that never ceases to impress.
To top it all off, Celeste even boasts a meaningful story and some stellar music. The graphics are pleasantly simple, with the only drawback being a number of instances when you can’t tell what you can and can’t jump on.
That’s a small price to pay, however, when you consider all the things Celeste does right. To say it excels at all the points it hits is an understatement. Celeste is one of the most finely-tuned indie games I’ve ever played.
4: God of War
Considered by many to be the best Playstation 4 game (even though that’s still actually Bloodborne), God of War is a stunning, impressive achievement. Combining action, exploration, and narrative, Kratos’s latest journey has matured the character into, well, an actual character.
No longer the simplistic, vengeance-seeking meathead that defined much of gaming in the mid-to-late 2000s, Kratos now seeks to be as good of a father and guardian to his son Artreus as he can be. This melds its way into the gameplay, with Artreus actually contributing to the combat and puzzle sections of the game in a way so many AI-controlled secondary characters have promised, but not delivered (isn’t that right, Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite?).
In terms of narrative, Kratos’s newfound maturity is reflected in the game as a whole. God of War on PS4 almost seems to work as a meta-commentary of the series’ past, as well as where gaming as a whole was at the time of the original’s release, and how far both have come in the years since.
Sure, the puzzle sections can get repetitive at times, but the excellent, ever-evolving combat, engrossing story, myriads of side content, stunning visuals, epic score, and fun twists on Norse mythology add up to make God of War stand tall above all of its predecessors.
3: Red Dead Redemption 2
It seems like everyone else’s Game of the Year for 2018 went to either God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2. While I (obviously) don’t quite agree, it’s hard to argue with the acclaim either one has received. While both games are great enough to warrant their praise, I do have to give the edge to Red Dead 2, on the sheer grounds that I spent so many hours getting lost and absorbed in the experience of it all.
No, Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t perfect: its sheer size and scope comes with the caveat of several technical issues, and the chapter which sees Arthur Morgan and company get stranded in Guarma feels as unnecessary and sidetracked as the seventh episode of the second season of Stranger Things (love the show, but that episode!).
Even with these shortcomings, Red Dead Redemption 2’s sheer ambition and attention to detail are breathtaking. There’s always something to be done, no matter where you are in Red Dead 2’s massive open-world. No matter how big or small, how important or trivial, every nook and cranny of Red Dead Redemption 2 is filled to the brim with content. I am not exaggerating when I say I probably spent as much time in the game playing poker with socialites (as bearded swamp-hobo Arthur, naturally) as I did with the main story.
With so much to see, do, and experience at every turn, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a video game I won’t soon forget.
2: Marvel’s Spider-Man
I’m still a bit dumbfounded how Marvel’s Spider-Man hasn’t found a higher place among so many other Game of the Year lists. 2018 was quite the year for Spidey, with his animated feature Into the Spider-verse not only being one of the year’s best films, but his earlier PS4 outing proved to be one of its best games as well.
No, it’s not as immense of a game as Red Dead 2, nor is it as epic as God of War. But Insomniac’s take on Marvel’s iconic web-slinger is a winner through and through, and arguably the best super hero game ever made.
Marvel’s Spider-Man tells what was the best Spider-Man storyline since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 hit theaters fifteen years prior (I say ‘was’ because, again, Into the Spider-Verse was released just a few months afterwards). More notably, however, is that this PS4 exclusive feels like the definitive Spider-Man video game.
It’s hard to explain without playing it for yourself, but this is exactly how Spider-Man should control. The web-shooting, web-slinging, wall-climbing, bad guy-pummeling action just feels right.
Insomniac Games put so much time and effort into crafting the definitive Spider-Man game, that it’s hard to tell just where its sequel (which we get a hint of, story-wise, after the credits) can possibly go to improve it. But I’m more than happy to find out.
1 (Game of the Year): Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Yes, I am well aware that this is a “safe choice.” But I don’t care. Despite my constant gripes with the series (for the love of all that is sacred, no more Fire Emblem characters!), I only complain because I love Super Smash Bros. I’m passionate for it. And Ultimate, somewhat miraculously, just about lives up to its lofty title.
Simply put, Super Smash Bros. is one of the best multiplayer franchises in gaming history, and Ultimate is its most refined and satisfying installment to date. Sure, the story mode is poo, but that’s easy to look past in what has always been a multiplayer-focused series. And sure enough, the series’ indelible ‘sumo-style’ fighting mechanics are more finely-tuned and polished than ever.
With every character from the series’ history making a return, as well as a host of newcomers, along with nearly every stage and music track present, this really is like the greatest hits of the twenty-year history of Nintendo’s crossover brawler.
No, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may not be as groundbreaking as Breath of the Wild, nor as perfect as Super Mario Odyssey, but it is a perfect companion piece to such Switch titles by virtue of being the definitive installment in one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises.
It may not reinvent its series, but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate really does feel like the ultimate Super Smash Bros. experience. And the best game of 2018.
Past Game of the Year winners
2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
2016: Dark Souls 3
2017: Super Mario Odyssey