My love of gaming started early and still burns bright, even if my relationship with it is a little weird right now (feeling pushed out of the AAA scene via boredom). Last year, I kept a quick ranking of every game I touched by enjoyment and thought I’d write a little about my favorites.
Donut County: The game design is a bit simplistic but it’s an ear-to-ear grin inducer from start to finish with wonderful characters, snappy, aware writing, playful graphics, and a soul that exudes joy. And raccoons.
Deltarune: Who would have thought we were going to get a fully functional and super enjoyable first act to a sequel to Undertale out of the blue? Great music, interesting new characters and nostalgic hooks made for a really fulfilling experience and gave way to the excruciating wait for the final product someday, hopefully.
Forza Horizon 4: I’m actually kind of bummed that this didn’t make my top five, but the changes to the world economy and introduction of extremely silly personalization options really took me out of the perfect formula the team crafted for the previous iteration. That aside, the game is still one of the best racing games ever made and a wonderful co-op experience that shouldn’t be missed.
My Top 5 of 2018
5. Tetris Effect
It’s Tetris. But with a killer soundtrack, eye-melting visuals, more modes and objectives than you could ever hope for, leaderboards, trophies, a VR mode, and new mechanics. It’s the best version of Tetris ever made.
4. Return of the Obra Dinn
A logic puzzle, a non-linear story, unique graphic design: a complete, engrossing experience in essentially a new genre. Watch this trailer, it’s better than reading about it.
It’s an amazing ride. It’s a little slow and more than a little challenging, but it never felt unfair and was persistently satisfying to work through. It’s a perfect game to tackle with a partner or friend (save yourself the struggle of missing tiny clues along the way) and sharing the joy of discovering another trio of matches is a feeling I won’t soon forget.
3. Hollow Knight
I’ve heard it described as a near-perfect Metroid-vania experience, maybe the best yet. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m inclined to agree.
There’s no detail missed in this game: controls are tight, graphics are diverse and immersive, items and power-ups feel valuable and exciting, characters have unique and endearing personalities through indecipherable chirps, and locations are unique and recognizable. Even the story is backgrounded away but interesting when investigated. It checks almost all the boxes you could want.
I could stand for a tiny bit more direction and some missing quality-of-life options (like fast travel), but I know that’s just my impatience talking. I’ll report back when I finish it, but I struggled slotting this in at 2 or 3.
2. Dark Souls: Remastered
I avoided this series for awhile, figuring it would suck me in but frustrate as I persevered, chasing some stupid notion of “beating” the game while enjoying none of it.
I canceled my Detroit: Become Human preorder after terrible initial reviews and picked up Dark Souls on a whim, rolling the dice against my better judgment. I thought I would regret my decision.
I was wrong. Dark Souls is a tremendous game, willing to leave me alone to learn, grow and thrive in a scary world without frustrating me or leaving me feeling lost (more than a couple times anyway). It’s dire difficulty reputation isn’t entirely fair; it’s ruthless, sure, but conquerable and almost entirely fair. It was easily more fun than every AAA game released this year and the game I put the most time into in 2018. I can’t wait to play the rest of the series.
I played through Celeste at the beginning of 2018 and was elated from start to finish, even if the game purposefully rakes you over the coals as it shows you the joy of perseverance. The pixel-art engine is colorful and alive but vague enough for imagination to fill in the gaps, the controls are amazingly responsive and fair, and the music is so unbelievably masterful it occasionally outshines the game itself.
But the story the game tells is what stuck with me. I’ve never experienced a tighter coupling of the actions on-screen with my emotions—the main character’s struggles were my struggles, literally. As she travels to Mt. Celeste to conquer a random, unknown motivation, I was starting a new game expecting to conquer it. As she experienced stress and self-doubt, I struggled to cope with an escalating difficulty. The game even teaches real-world panic attack de-escalation techniques that require your direct interaction, setting the stage for controller-busting intensity in the levels to come.
I struggled with new, challenging anxieties for the majority of last year, fears that have always lurked around my periphery but never dominated my every day thoughts like this. The first two times I conquered Celeste I appreciated and admired the tonal core of the narrative but I couldn’t directly relate. I booted up my newly-acquired third copy of the game in early January (as an Xbox Live freebie). The familiar shimmering pixels greeted me as I hopped and skipped through the introduction with gleeful, familiar ease. After the first mid-air dash is taught, the screen panned up to a blank snowy evening as the game painted “You can do this.” across the screen. My eyes watered, filled with understanding and determination. Celeste is the best game of 2018 and one of the most important games I’ve ever played, and I couldn’t give it a higher recommendation.
I’m excited for gaming this year. It’s the best landscape there’s ever been for gamers of all types. Look past the cookie-cutter, photo-realistic hyper violence and find the smaller experiences that speak to you. That’s my plan in 2019.
Now if you’ll excuse me (the hypocrisy), I have a Resident Evil remake to dive into. 🐾