2018 always had an uphill battle going for it. After all, how do you compete with an amazing year in video games like 2017 had?
And yet, even though it predictably did not reach those lofty heights, 2018 still had its share of good video games. Especially indie games, which really seemed to get more of the spotlight thanks to a lesser amount of super high profile AAA games out on average.
A few of the titles that didn’t quite make my list but deserve shoutouts include No Man’s Sky, which had a great update that added a lot of content and made the story way more meaningful. Surviving Mars is an excellent simulation game where you attempt to build and sustain your own colony on Mars. Swords of Ditto is a neat little game with a creative twist in that you play as a new hero in a changed world (100 years in the future) each time you die. Runner 3 is great fun and much improved from its predecessor. Miles & Kilo is a neat, 8-bit-esque runner that could almost be summed up as “Uncharted action setpieces if they were attempted on the NES.” And The Gardens Between is one of the most creative games I played this year that I didn’t get to spend quite as much time with as I wanted.
But I digress. Here are my top 10 games of 2018.
10) Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido
If I’m being completely honest, Sushi Striker almost didn’t make my list. I didn’t fully understand the nuances behind the gameplay until maybe about halfway through, meaning I was coasting on my knowledge of the basics until that point.
That said, developer Indieszero did an admirable job creating something entirely new and fresh. Amidst the fast-paced (and admittedly stressful at times) puzzle gameplay there is a full-blown anime that has a completely ridiculous yet fun and self-aware story about sushi and a resistance that is fighting against an empire trying to control it. Sadly, Sushi Striker is likely a one-and-done deal since it didn’t sell well, but I’ll cherish my time with it as one of the more interesting chances taken in gaming lately.
9) Kirby Star Allies
Star Allies is the first game since Kirby’s Return to Dreamland to really make me feel like a kid again. Having three allies fight alongside you seems like an unnecessary gimmick at first since Kirby titles aren’t usually known for their difficulty (at least not upfront). But HAL really found a way to make having four characters on-screen at once compelling, and it’s just plain cool to see Meta Knight or other series stalwarts fighting alongside Kirby (especially in boss battles). This might also be the most beautiful game in the series to date (Epic Yarn and Rainbow Curse aside), thanks to the increased capabilities of the Switch. Also, this particular entry has the most Dragon Ball Z-like ending ever and it’s something you need to see to believe.
8) Mini Metro
Mini Metro is a great example of a game that’s simple to play, yet difficult to master. I love how simple it is; you literally drag your finger across the screen to create lines for trains. And... that's pretty much it.
At first, you’ll have only a few trains to work with, but as both the city and your infrastructure grow, you’ll need to allocate your resources in such a way that you can meet the needs of all the people needing to get to their respective stops. I do wish the game had more achievements and was more goal-oriented, but the basic score attack mode is so addictive that I lose hours at a time just trying over and over to create the best train system I can. If you love strategy games, you can’t pass up Mini Metro.
7) Overcooked! 2
Somehow I didn’t play the first Overcooked! until shortly before 2 came out. I think it’s because I always viewed it as a multiplayer-only title and since I don’t have many other people to play with locally, well, you get the picture. However, the critical acclaim of the first original spoke to me and I was determined to play the sequel when it launched.
And I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. Even as a single-player experience, Overcooked! 2 is a blast to play. You’ll need patience to master controlling two characters by yourself; just imagine it as a sort of relay race that goes on for a few minutes each time. Preparing each meal and keeping up with each order is fast and frantic fun, especially when combined with the way each level throws different curveballs at you and tries to impede your progress in different ways.
Overcooked! 2 is easily a strong contender for the best co-op multiplayer game of the year; it’s that good.
6) Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom
I grew up in a Nintendo household so I really had no experience with the Wonder Boy/Monster Boy series until last year’s excellent Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Playing through it made me feel like I had pretty much experienced all I needed to from that series, but boy was I wrong. Although Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom still feels like a SEGA Master System/Genesis game at its heart, it’s also a much more in-depth experience. It’s a happy marriage between Metroidvania and Zelda 2 with so much exploration, new skills and abilities, and puzzles to solve that it’s impossible for me not to love every moment of it.
Cursed Kingdom is also gorgeous; I can now see why it took some 5+ years for this game to finally come out. All of the callbacks to previous games in the series, whether through new musical arrangements of older themes, visual nods, and cues also help make this one of the most memorable and charming games of 2018, if not a bit difficult in spots.
5) Octopath Traveler
Going into 2018, I thought Octopath Traveler had real potential to be my favorite game of the year. Upon playing it, there are a few things that unfortunately prevent this, but I really can’t complain too much since most of the characters have compelling stories to tell and the game features one of the best battle systems and possibly the best soundtrack of the year. Octopath Traveler is that rare game I couldn’t put down because I just had to see what was next; hopefully its success means it won’t be too long before we see another entry.
4) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate absolutely lives up to its name as the best Smash game to date. An insane 74-character roster (at least starting out) with great new additions (shoutout to King K. Rool in particular) gives this game tremendous replay value. It also offers some of the most entertaining, challenging, and creative fights I’ve played thanks to the new Spirits mode and World of Light, which acts as the game’s single-player campaign. We might not get another Smash for a long while now, but that’s okay because Smash Ultimate will be played for a long time to come.
3) Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion + Season 2 content
With over 750 hours of game time and counting, Splatoon 2 is still my most played Switch title by far, and it’s gotten even better in its second year. The free updates that have been provided for the main game have added everything from new levels to new weapons and gear, great Splatfests, and even new Salmon Run stages.
But let’s talk about Octo Expansion for a sec. To date, it’s the single best piece of DLC I’ve ever played. It’s what Super Mario Galaxy 2 was to its predecessor. Forget the main campaign -- the creative scope of Octo Expansion’s 80 levels is nothing short of incredible. Not every level is a winner, mind you, but most are thoroughly enjoyable. Octo Expansion also adds a great new piece of lore to the Splatoon universe with the Deep Sea Metro and all its weird inhabitants. If you thought Splatoon had a weirdly cool, urban vibe to it before, the DLC dials it up to 11. And the story and final boss make up one of the most memorable and unique moments in the series so far. If you’ve ever been a fan of Splatoon 2, Octo Expansion is a must-play.
2) Yoku’s Island Express
Every year there is at least one game that resonates with me in a deep way, usually because it has a great atmosphere that I connect with. Yoku’s Island Express is that game in 2018. I can’t fully express to you why, but it hits all the right notes for me. The art style is superb, the characters are charming as heck, the gameplay is a wonderful marriage between Metroidvania adventure and pinball, and the plot is like something out of a Pixar film (even if it’s a bit anticlimactic in the finale). Even the soundtrack is possibly my favorite from the whole year, borrowing from more lighthearted Polynesian/Hawaiian fare to trip-hop and more; it’s wonderful. Heck, I even platinumed the game, which is only my second time ever.
Yoku’s Island Express is an incredible debut for developer Villa Gorilla and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
1) Marvel’s Spider-Man
I knew Marvel's Spider-Man was going to be a good game. Heck, I even imagined it’d be great. How could it not be after those incredible E3 demos, two years in the running?
What I didn’t expect, however, was for it to completely shatter my expectations and give us the best cinematic Spider-Man story to date (save for Into the Spider-Verse, which just recently released at the time of this writing and is amazing, no pun intended).
Spider-Man really is the complete package. It offers a fully-explorable New York, tons of sidequests and enemies to fight (too many, some would even say), lots of collectibles, and a combat system that is extremely fluid and well done. But at the end of the day, it’s the story that really makes the game special for me. To explain why would delve into spoilers, but there’s an emotional narrative that’s pulled off extremely well, and the climax and final battle are a huge payoff for the story arc that slowly builds throughout the game.
This is the single best representation of Peter Parker as Spider-Man and, without a doubt, the best superhero game to date. Bravo, Insomniac Games.
Edited by Jason Clement