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  1. 2 points
    As far as video games go, 2017 was one that was special in a way that’s next to impossible to replicate. The Switch launched with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and was followed throughout the year with a slew of high-quality releases ranging from Splatoon 2 to Super Mario Odyssey. The Yakuza series was reintroduced to the west with a bang in the form of Yakuza 0 and a high-quality remake of the original in Yakuza Kiwami. And there was plenty of RPG goodness across the board, from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Persona 5 to my personal Game of the Year of 2017, Nier: Automata. The sheer quantity of incredible releases last year that may be remembered as generation-defining, if not some of the greatest video games ever made, would be hard for 2018 to top. And truthfully, this year never did hit the absolute highs of 2017 for me. That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of great games this year, but none hit me with the impact of last year’s incredible slate. However, there were still a couple of incredible Yakuza games released this year, as well as a Fist of the North Star-themed Yakuza spin-off that’s still sitting in my backlog. So maybe some of last year’s magic still managed to rub off! Regardless of how quiet or not 2018’s march of releases was, I still had plenty to play, had plenty of fun, and on that subject, that’s all that really matters. 10) Fortnite Though Fortnite was released last year, I’m including it here at the tenth spot on my list because, like so many other people, there was a period of about two and a half months where it was literally the only game I played. Both on the PS4, and later the Switch, the Battle Royale game was one I just couldn’t put down, often ending late nights after just “one more game.” For the record, I was terrible. I only ever came in first place once, but it was through the semi-tactical fluke of managing to win a round without ever firing shot and letting the only remaining opponent get claimed by the encroaching storm. Truth be told, any experience I had with Fortnite after that oddity was a bonus. 9) Attack on Titan 2 Click here to read GP's official review The first of three Koei Tecmo games on this year’s list, Attack on Titan 2 really captured the feel of the anime, but with the twist of inserting the player into an original character slotted into the narrative’s existing events. In a year with an actual Spider-Man game (that I haven’t played yet), Attack on Titan 2 still satisfied that urge to swing through cities and forests with grace and ease. Now if Koei Tecmo would just consider localizing the Ruby Party Attack on Titan game. 8) Warriors Orochi 4 Warriors Orochi 4 was seen by a lot of Musou fans as something of a mea culpa from Koei Tecmo after the generally negative response to Dynasty Warriors 9. While it does introduce new mechanics involving magic and gave powered-up divine forms to select characters, the game doesn’t do much to rock the boat. And if you’re a Musou fan like I am, that’s fine, and it’s comforting, but it also left me with some mixed feelings for reasons that will become clear later down the list. That said, it’s a solid, fun continuation of one of the best Warriors series out there, even if it doesn’t feature the crazier crossover characters from last year’s Warriors All-Stars. 7) BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle Click here to read GP's official review Calling BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle a BlazBlue game is something of a misnomer. It is a BlazBlue game, but it’s also Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and… the Rooster Teeth animated series RWBY?! As crazy a mash-up as the game is in concept, it’s a frenetic fighting game of intense, fast-paced tag battle-style matches that can end in the blink of an eye. The game also holds a special place in my heart for serving as my introduction to competing at EVO. (I didn’t advance very far, but I didn’t go 0-2, either!) 6) Octopath Traveler Octopath Traveler is one of the more unique RPGs to come out of Square Enix in years. On the surface, it might strike people as a cousin to the divisive SaGa series, as it features eight playable characters, each with their own story and path through the game. Unlike the typical SaGa title, however, the gameplay is much easier to learn and understand, and all eight characters become part of the player’s party through natural play (but by no means is the game a cakewalk). Combine its gameplay and engaging characters with a visual style that feels like a pop-up book version of SNES-era RPGs, and it’s the sort of experience that’s right up my alley. 5) Soulcalibur VI Soulcalibur VI feels as much like a return to form as it does something new. After having so much fun and spending so many hours in Soulcalibur II, the third, fourth, and fifth games all had significant issues or gaps that left me wanting. It didn’t help that the guest characters the series brought in could never match the fun feeling of playing as Link from The Legend of Zelda, or even the goofy inclusion of Heihachi from the Tekken series. Soulcalibur VI in some ways takes a back to basics approach with its story, returning to the storyline of the first two titles and exploring it in depth with not one but two different story modes. The game mechanics feel sharp and polished, and the cast of classic characters has never looked better. Even the guest character, Geralt from the Witcher series, fits right in. And hey, 2B from Nier: Automata is joining the fray around the time that I’m writing this list up, so it’s only looking better as time goes on! 4) Dynasty Warriors 9 Click here to read GP's official review There’s no question that, to many, Dynasty Warriors 9 was a disappointment. The mechanical and systemic changes brought about by setting the game in an open world were bold experiments by Omega Force; the boldest shift taken by the series in many, many years. And the game launched with some technical flaws that required several patches to address, many of which were no doubt due to the game not getting enough time in the oven before it launched. And so I can understand where the disappointment comes from. But… I was never truly disappointed. While Dynasty Warriors 9 is flawed, I loved my time with it. I played it for over a hundred hours, and currently sit one trophy short of earning my first platinum trophy for any title I’ve played on a PlayStation console. I’m generally not a completionist by nature, but when I have more time, I’d like to go back and get that last one, because really and truly, I think Dynasty Warriors 9 is a lot of fun. In particular, the new combat system it introduces is a major step forward from the tried-and-true charge system that has existed in most Dynasty Warriors titles since the earliest entries. If anything, I would love to see more of this type of gameplay in a more refined entry, whether that be Dynasty Warriors 10, Samurai Warriors 5, or something else. But given the general response Dynasty Warriors 9 received, I won’t be surprised if Omega Force backtracks and makes more titles of the old form, like Warriors Orochi 4, for example. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised. 3) Yakuza Kiwami 2 Click here to read GP's official review Like last year’s Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is another remake, this time of the second and last entry to grace the PlayStation 2. Built on the Dragon Engine originally developed for Yakuza 6, Kiwami 2 takes an already wild adventure and makes it even better. Punching man-eating tigers in the face has never looked so beautiful! While Yakuza 2 is often credited as the game where the series truly found its voice, Kiwami 2 refines the experience, adding more of what works, taking away a few things that don’t really work anymore, and as a bonus, tying in new sidestory elements to act as a direct sequel to Yakuza 0. Fans of the 80s-era prequel will absolutely love the callbacks, both goofy and heartfelt. 2) Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Click here to read GP's official review Billed as the game that ends the long and melodramatic tale of Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza 6 contains everything that Yakuza fans love, from the action and drama to the more absurdist and comedic set pieces. If it truly lacks anything, such as meatier or more meaningful appearances from several fan-favorite characters, it’s only because the game’s plot is written with Kazuma and the now grown Haruka front and center. As the series has progressed, both star characters have grown older, and their arcs have taken them in some unexpected directions. But good things deserve to come to a proper end, and the Yakuza team elected to do just that. The game tells a story that ties a fitting bow around what has been a long journey for Haruka, and particularly for the lead character Kiryu. And that’s something that very, very few game series that have gone on for as long as Yakuza has can claim to have done as well. 1) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Bros. Ultimate really does feel in many ways like the ultimate Smash Bros. title. With a roster featuring every playable character that ever appeared across the previous entries, including third-parties, in addition to a few brand-new characters, the roster has something for most everyone. And though the size of that roster is the likely reason for why some traditional features aren’t present in Ultimate, like Home Run Contest or trophy collecting, the game has a host of deep, quality features that doesn’t make it feel slimmed down in any way. As someone that’s played Smash Bros. since the original N64 title, it’s fair for me to say that Ultimate may end up being my favorite entry. Not just due to the breadth of its gigantic roster that’s due to grow even further with coming DLC, but with the dev team’s reverence for the source materials that the roster comes from. Even the Spirit Battles, challenges themed after hundreds of characters from Nintendo’s past, as well as some special guests, are as creative and humorous as they are challenging. One battle I found particularly amusing cast three female Corrins with jetpacks as the Elite Beat Divas from Elite Beat Agents. The surprise in how these depictions are crafted, and how they translate specific references, make the battles as enticing as the actual challenge of fighting them. That the game’s Adventure Mode, World of Light, is entirely based around these Spirit Battles, makes for some of the best single-player content in any Smash Bros. game. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has everything it needs to keep me playing it well into the foreseeable future, both alone and with friends and strangers. And being packed with such quantity and quality, it’s easily my personal Game of the Year.
  2. 1 point
    I recently saw both Creed 1 and 2. I love it and it parallel the original rocky very well. Captain Marvel was really good for me. Don't need to see it for Endgame though.
  3. 1 point
    Started playing DMC 5 today and it's awesome as always. :)
  4. 1 point
    Much of 2018 has been a blur for me. It could be because of some bizarre shifts in my personal life but in a gaming context, I keep forgetting which titles even came out this year. If anything, I have been attempting to catch up on some leftover standouts like Horizon: Zero Dawn or even Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle despite how proud I am of my 2017 GOTY list choices otherwise. But to focus on that would certainly do a disservice to the many great video games that dropped in 2018, and while the overall lineup is not quite as impressive as 2017's there are absolutely more than a few releases that I am honored to have had the chance to check out amid a somewhat hectic personal schedule. So, without further ado, here are my personal favorite games of 2018. 10) TimeSpinner With such an influx of 2D Metroidvania titles lately it is easy for me to shrug off the act of playing even the best of them due to sheer quantity (sorry Hollow Knight, but you did get my money at least.). However, of the games that released in 2018, TimeSpinner was one that gathered a bit of a cult following among my Twitter feed. So, sure enough, I eventually picked it up to finally learn why. For as unapologetic as its Castlevania: Symphony of the Night influences may be there is something that is indeed special about its finely tuned mechanics, nifty time control ability, and progressive story themes that has it not only ooze charm but kept having me come back for more. 9) DJMax Respect I have always held the DJMax series on a pedestal amongst rhythm games. From burying many hours into PSP imports like DJMax: Black Square/Clazziquai to a port of the touchscreen-focused arcade game, DJMax: Technika Tune (which I reviewed), there is a finesse the series has always had, from slick menus to intrinsic rhythmic gameplay feedback that very few rival in the genre. Even the creator's own Superbeat: Xonic did not quite succeed in recapturing DJMax's former appeal after a long (mobile-centric) hiatus. Still, as a last hurrah for lingering fans, they decided to make one final entry called DJMax Respect. And frankly, the game is fantastic and is pretty much all I wanted from the series. I may not be nearly as good at playing DJMax as I used to be but I eagerly look forward to slowly closing the skill gap, or at least trying, with the many, many songs at disposal. 8) Octopath Traveler Octopath Traveler is a vivid example in my mind of just how being in the right mood for a game could radically change your opinion of it. Honestly speaking, I did not think that time would arise at all after feeling indifferent about both the demo(s) and thinking it was only more Bravely Default. Turns out, I just needed to wait a couple months for the hype to die down and be in a different head space. It is hardly the second coming of Japanese RPGs, but Octopath is still a great example nonetheless if you like your SaGa styled gameplay quick and Final Fantasy job systems, which I do. With a nostalgic art direction, likable characters, stellar musical score, and rewarding combat system help make Octopath Traveler stand out despite the unreasonably lofty initial expectations placed upon it. 7) Muv-Luv Alternative 2018 was a strange year for me and visual novels. Comparatively, I did not play as many of them as I did last year, but the ones I did play were exhaustive in terms barrier of entry, like the three-part Muv-Luv trilogy. I may have some mixed thoughts on the original two games, but there is a clear reason why the final entry called Muv-Luv Alternative is so beloved aside from obvious signs made by the incredibly successful 2015 kickstarter. To immensely grim (seriously, I can't stress this enough) but very compelling sci-fi storytelling to really impressive character development Muv-Luv Alternative is a worthy finale that answers many burning questions just as much as it tugs at (/brutally destroy) heartstrings. 6) Super Smash Bros Ultimate Cute Zelda Redesign. Uh, I mean, 2018 had no shortage of noteworthy fighters from Dragon Ball FighterZ, Soul Calibur VI or Blazblue Cross Tag Battle and yet the one I have been most charmed by was Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Featuring a far more appetizing single-player approach than its predecessor, it is easy to get lost in modes such as World of Light, Spirits, or even Classic to the very fun additions to the cast like Richter Belmont, Inkling, Incineroar, King K Rool that are overflowing with reverence towards the source material (and some not, like Ridley.). It is clear this game has a long life ahead of it (if the Persona 5 Joker tease is any indicator). Plus, with the smart changes it has made for the competitive scene, in particular, I am just as eager to see the thoughtfully crafted video game fanservice during singleplayer as much as I will be taking on would-be challengers in multiplayer both online/locally with my adorable (and more competitively viable) Zelda. 5) Divinity Original Sin 2: Definitive Edition The ONLY reason why this game isn’t higher on my list is because I played so much of its predecessor just before it (yet another reason why 2018 is a blur for me). And because of that, I could easily guess how much time would be required for me to do a complete playthrough... A ton. Still, for the twenty or so hours that I've already played, I am quite impressed by how much it improved upon its predecessor from highly nuanced world-building, sharp writing, immensely robust character customization, general voice acting, strategic combat system and so on and so forth. It is an amazing game and it is a shame it does not get nearly as much love as it deserves from fellow console players. 4) Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age It has been such a long wait for not only another console mainline Dragon Quest title, but also the English release of Dragon Quest XI. And it has absolutely been worth the wait. Dragon Quest XI may be one of the most traditional Japanese RPGs around but it is truly a showcase example of it from the grand main adventure, lovable primary cast of characters, gorgeous aesthetic, spirited voice work, and rock solid turn-based gameplay fundamentals. 3) Monster Hunter World I never would have I thought that I’d get into a Monster Hunter game. Ever. And I have attempted to play many of them and easily bounced off of each and every one of them -- except Monster Hunter World. They did it. They made a Monster Hunter game that humans can finally enjoy and also not destroy their hands with a claw grip. Monster Hunter World streamlines a lot of the series longstanding issues from controls, interface, progression and pretty much all for the better. I may have thoroughly burned myself out on the endgame content (or lack thereof), but I'd be lying if I didn't say that the hundreds of hours I spent helping friends or bettering my own character/hunting skills were a mostly wonderful time. I look forward to eventually playing that much more when the IceBorne expansion releases, and to party up once again with a team of capable and charismatic hunters. Also, GUNLANCE4LIFE. 2) Dead Cells Click here to read GP's official review I am sometimes a very simple individual when it comes to my enjoyment of games. For as many story-heavy titles as I tend to prefer sometimes, all I need in a game is something that just feels good to play. That is pretty much what Dead Cells is all about -- impeccable control, challenging gameplay, and deeply satisfying combat. After many runs and sleepless nights due to sheer addiction, and even a few very narrowly earned completions on higher difficulties, Dead Cells is simply an excellent game that has somewhat ruined me for both Roguelikes and Metroidvanias that do not play nearly as well as it ...which is pretty much all of them. 1) Valkyria Chronicles 4 Click here to read GP's official review Plainly speaking, the first Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 was more or less my favorite game of last generation. I already have a strong thing for turn-based tactical games and to see such an inspired, beautiful take on the subgenre absolutely blew my mind at the time. But, after poor sales, the series just kind of died out beyond some admirable but not nearly as good handheld entries (and a recent spin-off best left unmentioned...). To finally get my hands on a truly faithful console sequel in Valkyria Chronicles 4 was downright emotional for me from start to finish. Not only because the game itself is stellar, but because after replaying the original title earlier this year, the fourth main entry somehow managed to surpass it in my eyes as a game. Everything from the more mature storytelling/dynamic lead cast, wildly varied objective design, smart tweaks to the combat system, endearing squad stories missions, and, of course, rewarding tactical gameplay did more than enough to win me over as my favorite game of 2018. Heck, I recently bought the Switch version just so I can have an excuse to play the game from scratch once more.
  5. 1 point
    I’ve taken some time off from writing to wander the earth for a bit, but I’m back — however briefly. Most of what stood out to me this year actually... came out before 2018. I’ve played through every localized Ace Attorney romp for the first time, and I’ve stuck with Animal Crossing: New Leaf for 63 hours and growing after years of avoidance. I bought and 100%ed the underrated Sonic Colors DS, when the wait for Sonic Mania Plus was killing me. The Switch port of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was my first time playing that, and I adored it. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze...not so much. And don’t get me started on Hollow Knight. That's one I can only really recommend to the hardest of the hardcore of the exploration-based platformer & Dark Souls people. If you make it past the fifty hour mark and don’t put it down, you’re more grizzled and patient than I am. Despite spending more time in the past, often against my better judgment, I managed to play ten 2018 games that I’ve decided are worth your time and attention. There are plenty of others that I really dig, but didn’t quite make the cut... like Detective Pikachu and WarioWare: Gold. I kind of wanted to throw Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the list, too, but I’m not sure where I’d put it just yet. I haven’t been this figuratively glued to Smash since around 1999 on Nintendo 64, when I was a kid & this was all new to me. The Spirit Board and World of Light both make for near-endless replay value, I managed to unlock the full roster in just one weekend — it’s been pretty fantastic. But will I still feel fantastic about it a month from now? You get it. Still — no matter what this list says, or what I decide to leave on the cutting room floor, my real Game of the Year for 2018 is Ace Attorney Trilogy on Nintendo 3DS. 10) Part-Time UFO This is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to put something exclusive to mobile platforms on a list like this. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that HAL Laboratory is responsible. Much like when Game Freak deviates from Pokémon, I like to see the folks at HAL venture outside of Dream Land to create a series like BOXBOY, and now this. As with most phone-exclusive contemporaries: the concept is easy to pick up, difficult to master. Your cute lil UFO friend (who looks suspiciously similar to a certain UFO sprite from Kirby’s Adventure on NES) is just looking for an honest day’s work. He earns his keep by using crane-based mechanics to put cargo on a truck, meticulously place pillars and a roof on a building according to its design… you know — catch fish while avoiding explosives or eels, arrange cheerleaders in a pyramid, make sure a circus elephant can balance five different animals of all shapes and sizes. The usual stuff! Does one “Platinum” something like this? If yes, this is the first time I’ve done so. All twenty-five achievements are mine to boast about! Now I’m totally certified to head to Japan and play one of those gashapon/UFO crane machines in the real world, right? I love the little touches sprinkled about as you’re completing each job. When you’re on a farm putting stuff in the truck...for this old guy that thinks you’re just some misguided youth... farmhands and animals cheer you on in a colorful backdrop. The girl that knocks over a museum totem pole that you’ve got to rearrange for her starts out crying, gets happier as you go along...and tenses up, bracing herself if you’ve arranged the totems in such a way that they might fall over again. The controls are concise enough that I was able to pull off extra-challenging maneuvers associated with the achievements, without frustration or throwing my phone against the wall. If the Nintendo Badge Arcade had crane controls as air-tight as these, the Arcade Bunny would go out of business. It’s truly the most fun $3.99’s gotten me in years. There’s the usual cute costumes and catchy tunes. It’s better than BOXBOY, to me... with a full-color spectrum and a lesser price, to boot. 9) Yoku’s Island Express The philosophy of most Metroid-likes is to explore some forgotten, isolating place... while cutting down or shooting up anything that gets in your way. You’ll eventually double-jump, earn a grappling device of some kind to reach higher places, and maybe learn to fly. While there’s plenty of outstanding variations on this formula, it’s all pretty samey if you break it down to the fundamentals. Enter Yoku’s Island Express — the road less traveled. It’s the kind of experience I’m describing, but... pinball is your primary means of getting (pretty peacefully) from Point A to Point B. I’m used to seeing pinball articulated as a single-screen, arcadey score-attack, where the point is to just stay alive for as long as possible. With Yoku, it’s not so much about racking up combos and hitting the right places. You've just gotta skilfully smack your lil dung beetle dude to a hard-to-reach area where you’re exploring using the flipper and some precise timing. Nothing’s ever too difficult or punishing; if you fall into “the pit”, as it were, it's just a little loss of (otherwise plentiful) in-game currency, which is used to buy upgrades or access to fast travel. I guess soft, fluffy, ultimately predictable games kind of dominate my list this year. It’s almost like I’m trying to escape a harsh reality. But seriously — Yoku’s world is filled with a ton of cute, interesting characters to meet... and deliver mail to! You’re the island’s (woefully underpaid) pinball postal service beetle. It struck a unique chord with me by making a genuine attempt to subvert expectations of an entire genre through pinball, even if it wasn’t always successful. While contemporaries of games like Hollow Knight and Dead Cells are plentiful in both the past and the modern era, Yoku’s best comparisons are just chilling in 1989. 8) Monster Boy & the Cursed Kingdom If you even moderately enjoyed Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap when it was remade last year, this one needs to be on your proverbial radar. It doesn’t share the same developers, or even name (thanks, trademark disputes)... but it’s Wonder Boy V, for all intents and purposes. The “Monster Boy” can transform into five different critters by his journey’s end, and each lends a unique hand to the q-like exploration series veterans and new fans should come to expect. The pig transformation acts as a mage, with access to different spells like fire and lightning. You can uncover secrets by literally sniffing them out. The snake shoots venom at foes, and it can scale mossy walls to reach new heights. The frog can breathe underwater and use his tongue like a grappling hook. While it’s very tropey and somewhat predictable overall, it feels exactly like a modern Wonder Boy should — almost to a fault. Before I get too critical, let’s heap some praise: This is the part where I flail about excitedly screaming, “LOOK HOW CUTE IT IS??” The level of detail here is apparent just by looking at various screenshots, like the one above, but how lively the world felt in motion honestly took me by surprise. There’s real depth to Jin and other characters’ animations that have only been met by games with zillion dollar budgets, or contemporaries like Owlboy. The locations & various bits of plot are very referential to other games in the series, too! It helps firmly cement this as an officially licensed sequel. And, gosh, having your soundtrack arranged by folks like Yuzo Koshiro, Motoi Sakuraba, and Michiru Yamane is like the perfect marinade for a very meaty experience. As with a lot of meat, though, I feel like Monster Boy may have been a better experience if it trimmed some fat. The difficulty spike in the early part of the adventure, as the pig, is not really the most welcoming sentiment. Things get progressively easier in the opening hours, rather than tougher! I totally understand how the pig is meant to be comparatively weak to most of the other transformations in the game. But I feel like just one too many evil-looking clouds have an affinity for bacon. A few of the later dungeons or quests tend to drag on just a bit longer than I feel they should, too. Still had a ton of fun overall — but the biggest contrast between Monster Boy and the rest of the series is its length, compared to the others’ briskness. For all I know, someone reading this might consider that to its credit, though. More power (and transformations!) to you. 7) GRIS Every moment you’re absorbed in this one is visually stunning. I seriously haven’t ever spammed the screenshot capture button on my Switch this much. GRIS tells an extremely surrealist, interpretive story of a girl in mourning... by destroying someone she cares about, draining the color from her world and robbing her of her voice. In the opening minutes, you truly feel the weight of her grief — you’re only allowed to stumble forward at first, then slowly move. Eventually, you stride...and your goal of restoring Gris and her world to their former, vibrant selves becomes clearer. Both mechanically and narratively, the experience is very light. The story is told with no words; there’s very little text on the screen besides achievements as they happen and little mementos as they’re discovered. The practically peerless (especially on Switch) visuals and outstanding soundtrack are the primary means of conveying a much darker, more threatening message than Journey — the one all your friends will probably fight themselves not to compare this to. Where ThatGameCompany tells the hero’s journey through listless exploring with the help of other strangers... Gris’s escape from grief feels very isolating and melancholic at its core. The friends you do meet are treated and remembered fondly, but they’re ultimately few and far between. The experience is so light, it almost feels like a short film. Gris regains sensibilities and abilities as color is gradually restored to her world. But it's all very brief. Level design is easily understood, never frustrating, and almost wholly linear. Honestly, this is in stark contrast to the nature of grief. Still: even if I saw the credits the same day I bought it, doing so brought me to tears. There’s very little you can do with a narrative that’s largely metaphorical. But the beauty of seeing someone in mourning find the strength to overcome it isn’t lost on me. Even if the story beats and levels are more interpretive than blatant, every last one is impactful. 6) Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu I have no Individual Values-related excuse to strike Pokémon from my list this year, so here we are. Let’s Go Pikachu is honestly proof that what makes this hobby enjoyable for me comes down to so much more than interesting mechanics. Truly... this is like "baby’s first Pokémon." The Master Trainers you can battle with after the credits roll are certainly difficult in comparison to everything else. But the whole shebang is easy like Sunday morning. Despite being considerably more experienced than its intended audience... and pretty averse to mandatory motion controlled throwing when not in Handheld Mode... I still thoroughly enjoyed my latest romp through Kanto. Your partner Pokémon is what keeps the magic going for me, really. At one point when I was playing with her, my Pikachu put out her paw & I high-fived it. Then she did the same with the other paw. After a few boops, she exclaimed with bursts of hearts and glee. This is exactly what I wanted Let’s Go to be. It’s less about a simplified Pokémon experience... and more about a lively Kanto that puts even HeartGold’s level of detail & polish to shame. Ditching random encounters is probably the best thing to happen to the series. The soundtrack is ultra-nostalgic. Being able to soar through the air freely, and interact with individual critters from other trainers just littered throughout the map — these are all nice touches. They went out of their way to make your Partner Pikachu or Eevee stand far out from the crowd with moves like Splishy Splash and (the meta-game-changing) Sparkly Swirl. There was little more than this ambiance and caring for my Pokémon propelling me to the credits. Now, I’m raising my hard-fought-for mythical friend, and engaging in Catch Combos to go for them Shiny Pokémon. But, even as “the post-game experience” is kind of winding down for me... I still poke my lil Pikachu when she chills on my shoulder in Handheld Mode, or talk to Mew or Melmetal when they walk behind me. It’s the little things that matter to me, and they always will. 5) Celeste It’s one thing to create a competent Super Meat Boy-esque experience, where each room is a tough platforming challenge that you’re meant to chip away at (until, inevitably, many get bored with not being good enough and move on before seeing the end). It’s another to respect your entire potential audience enough to create a wealth of Assist Options that can be turned off and on at any time. You can lower the speed of stuff around you by up to 50%, to make that tightly-timed jump as leisurely as you need it to be. You can make it so your grip on walls, that’s normally limited, is infinite. Want to be able to jump/dash twice, or infinitely, instead of just once? Go for it. Want to make yourself invincible so you never have to deal with any harmful obstacles in your way? The sky's the limit. Celeste isn’t just a cute game about a strawberry-loving lady climbing a mountain and conquering inner-demons. You're given the freedom to customize the trials & tribulations of said mountain to your personal liking or ability. I wouldn’t have had the patience to finish this one without Assist Mode. Using it didn’t make the experience any less impactful for me! I still got to meet everyone in Madeline’s corner, get a bit extracurricular, and hear my favorite soundtrack of 2018 in all of its proper context. If I’m being honest, Lena Raine is probably my favorite composer in the past five years. When it comes to most of what I put on these lists each time I'm asked to, I’ll sometimes buy a t-shirt, a poster, or something. But gosh, in this case, I’ve collected soundtracks. There’s a B-Sides album, a Prescription for Sleep album, and more. I went on to play her interactive novel, and was delighted to see her show up on the “guest compilation album” of something a little further on up this list, too. She even covered DELTARUNE music recently! Celeste features wonderfully drawn art, a very personal narrative, skillful level design, customizable mechanics, and music I still listen to eleven months later. Is there even more to look forward to? 4) Kirby: Star Allies My endless, emphatic wishing for HAL to bring back Kirby’s animal friends is well-documented. And during the Nintendo Direct on March 8th, it...finally came true (y’all should’ve seen my Twitter mentions). Here’s how I break this down: If Kirby: Planet Robobot is a celebration of everything Kirby is, then Star Allies is a celebration of everything his friends are. There are 37 friendly friends of the titular marshmallow maestro — ten of which are never-before-or-certainly-not-recently-playable characters from Kirby’s entire history, like Marx from Kirby Super Star, Susie from Robobot, and... yes indeed, Rick & Kine & Coo. It would’ve been enough, for me, to just create these Dream Friends that lovingly celebrate the games they came from... with moves, icons, and victory themes that almost feel like they belong in Super Smash Bros. But each “wave” brought several new Celebration Pictures, what now totals to well over 300 music tracks, art pieces after the credits, specific skits that play while you’re sitting idle on the title or file select screens, and even more bells & whistles. I really could go on forever. In the “Guest Star Mode”, Dream Friends have specific portions of their campaign that feature recreated levels from their games of origin. They even threw in a brand new mode in the latest update that cranks an otherwise leisurely difficulty overall to “the Dark Souls of Kirby”. I’ll see myself out for that one. It’s just... kept me coming back for brand new stuff, again and again. Spacing out each free update like they did made sure I spent a handful of hours with it every few months this year. At this point, there’s so much extra content that it’s hard not to recommend to anyone. Even if you have no idea where some of the special characters come from, they’re still super powerful and fun to play as. I’d love to see a longer, more varied & complex Story Mode in the next game...that actually worked all these wonderful characters into the plot. It just wouldn’t be Kirby if I didn’t keep on dreaming. 3) The Messenger I could write volumes on how masterfully The Messenger controls alone. Making sure a shuriken-throwing, wall-climbing, slowly gliding, water-walking, grapple & sliding ninja feels like you’re freaking cloud-hopping definitely isn’t easy. The folks at Sabotage didn’t just create something that feels a whole lot like you’re playing Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi III — they surpassed them. Handily. I haven’t been this giddy about a platforming game since Shovel Knight. This is my Axiom Verge for 2018 — the one I’ll never shut up about, the one I’ll be hyperbolic about and call “a revolutionary new paradigm.” There’s a shopkeeper that shares witty anecdotes each time you see him in a level. I knew these characters were going to be something special when I wanted to hear the random fables this guy in blue robes would share only slightly more than I cared about actually advancing the plot. Past a certain point, he stops with the stories because you’ve seen a whole lot of what the game has to offer. Then, very close to the end, dude came back with an extremely personal tale that almost made me tear up. And I’m not even talking about the plot. The way every piece, part and random one note of The Messenger messes with the fourth wall, the confines of levels and player exploration, and making all the places you visit feel connected is nothing short of brilliant. I’m pretty well-traveled in the genre, and I can’t think of any peers when it comes to how the proverbial scroll unfolds, mechanically — with much probably hidden behind SPOILER tags. Sabotage released a New Game+ & quality of life update just a few weeks ago. You’ve got to beat the final boss again to unlock the meatiest part of it, so I went back... after two months or so of completely shelving my thoughts & honed “ninja instincts”. To my delight, nothing atrophied over that time. I saw the credits roll again, began New Game+ with all my amassed skills, new moves and equipment, and just... spent a little while completely mowing down the first few levels, that gave me trouble when I first started. So few video games feel like riding a bike, figuratively. This one does. I can’t wait to see the wild picnic they’ve got planned next! 2) Dragon Quest XI They did it, everyone — it’s the polar opposite of Dragon Quest VII. The last time a Dragon Quest title was on my list, it was a niche choice at best... hard to recommend to anyone except the die-hards and the most patient of players. This time — I can scream and shout for everyone to buy and play and enjoy! I’ve even converted people. Here’s the lowdown: it’s still very “old school” at heart. But its closest peer released this year, Octopath Traveler, is much more grindy, difficult, and demanding. DQXI is a very breezily-paced, relaxing RPG from the start until the credits roll, assuming you don’t pick the Draconian Quest option (built specifically for North American folks who scoff at everything breezy). The story works like any game in the series: perhaps it’s a bit slow to start, but once you gather everyone together... it’s a gift that keeps on giving. I mean that — the plot goes places that no other Dragon Quest dares tread... that few other video games dare tread. There are more than a handful of moments where you’ll fan yourself if you’re the emotional type. I’m immeasurably biased when it comes to these blinky Dragon Quest bouts... but there are multiple outlets that sing the narrative’s praises. It feels good to not be alone like I was with VII. When it comes to mechanics, visual presentation, and narrative interest... this is the most streamlined Dragon Quest there’s ever been. It’s like critical darling Dragon Quest VIII, but twice as refined and three hundred fifty-six times as interesting. I’m still sad places outside Japan didn’t get to experience the “3DS demake version” but... gosh. I don’t even feel hyperbolic saying “this is the best Dragon Quest ever made.” It dethrones V as my personal favorite, and that’s not something I say lightly. The only real drawback is its soundtrack. It really is terrible, to me (plus a lot of others)... and a sure sign Sugiyama should probably make his exit. The best possible Dragon Quest would’ve seemed like a shoe-in for my number one choice, right? Well... the only thing better than a new peak for my favorite series...is the underdog I picked up on a whim & never saw coming. 1) Wandersong A video game hasn’t reached out to me and offered a big ole bear hug, like this one, since Undertale. And Wandersong doesn’t have a “Genocide route”. This is a wholly pacifistic tale about a side character... that the world in peril actually has no dramatic role for. The lil bard guy wants to do his part to save everyone... by learning the mysterious Earthsong. His quest takes him to every corner of his world, and there are plenty of happy adventures to be had... as well as knowledge to glean about why the world wound up this way. Tearaway feels like a comparable peer to the warm, fuzzy vibe this tale emanates. While Media Molecule focuses heavily on player creation to deliver its ultimately charismatic message, Wandersong is (as its name might suggest) focused on literally bringing harmony to the player, and the world they’re influencing as the bard. When you’re not singing to solve dilemmas of the people you meet, you’re belting your own melodies for one reason or another — whether it’s to work through innocuous, abstract jumping puzzles, or just because you can. This story is really meant for everyone: you can’t mess up without immediately being able to try again, you’re never scolded for being off-key, and there are a myriad of accessible indicators to make sure you’re always doing the right thing at the right time, when you want to. You spend your entire journey tirelessly defending things that most other contemporaries would have you cut down. You’re always looking for ways to de-escalate situations, give peace a chance. And while it doesn’t work out sometimes... nobody in this world ever tries like the bard and his friends. He’s no hero, by definition. He just makes everything better by being happy at it. I called my lil bard guy “Plea”, because I couldn’t name him after me. Wandersong genuinely feels like a plea for kindness and empathy. It’s the most Jonathan thing I played this year, and is definitely in the running for “possibly ever”.
  6. 1 point
    Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday. Hopefully you don't have to work if you are celebrating and can relax and be with family and friends.
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