Garland's Top 5 Games of 2018

2018 was a solid year for video games. Personally, there wasn’t anything in particular I was waiting for besides a couple of games from series that I hold nostalgic ties to. Luckily, a game came out near the tail end of the year easily landing at number one. I missed out on all the obvious AAA releases like Spider-man, Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War due to a slight lack of interest and disillusionment with the western AAA development scene. Both Killer7 and Delta Rune would’ve easily landed on the list if not for one being a remaster and the other not being finished. On the indie development side, a lot of great creative games came out, but I still haven’t tried the indie darling Celeste. Regardless, the last quarter of the year’s indie games really struck a chord with me after the so-so first three quarters. Though 2018 is nowhere near the incredible peak that was 2017, it still had a few gems sprinkled here and there.

Favorite Game Released Before 2018, Played in 2018: A Hat in Time

As I looked back at 2017, I realized that I had missed out on an indie game that evoked the 3D platforming sensibilities of the sixth generation of consoles. A Hat in Time takes us to a simpler time, while providing a polished, charming experience throughout the decently compact campaign. In terms of narrative, the game’s light, quirky writing was surprisingly engaging and enjoyable. Each world heavily deviates from the next leaving a diverse and experimental journey. It’s another amazing game from last year that further solidifies 2017 as a year worth remembering.

2018 Honorable Mentions

Spectrum Break

Top 5 Games of 2018

5. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Despite series composer Koichi Sugiyama being a war crime denying bigot, I can look past the views of one of the countless people who worked on the game. Dragon Quest XI is a highly streamlined version of the Dragon Quest formula. The series has always been fairly static in terms of design, so the general focus seemed to be one of quality of life improvements. It’s jam packed with features that make the long journey so much more easier to get through. As a result, this allows the game to shine in the modern day. With a great attention to detail from the towns to the often foreshadowing dialogue, each area has a lot to explore. It’s a game with a lot to do and it’s very enjoyable at that, but it’s not a game without faults. The story is very old fashioned and lacking in nuance, while the music quality is rather dated. The game is an excellent time sink that calls back to the roots of JRPGs, while modernizing it for a newer audience.

4. ZeroRanger

Shoot'em ups have always been a genre that I’ve been hesitant about. The biggest issue is how much practice and precision they require to succeed in. ZeroRanger makes the experience a lot more approachable with checkpoints at every level and a progression system that incentivizes practice by providing additional credits every time the Buddhist themed experience gauge goes full circle. Despite the easier experience, it’s still a challenge and the enticing one credit clear is available for the experienced and the insane. Beyond that, the game subverts many expectations towards the end and has strong thematic ties to Buddhism leaving a game worth remembering.

3. CrossCode

As I was reviewing games this year, CrossCode was a clear turning point. It’s undoubtedly a passion project made by a team dedicated to doing their best. The game is a puzzle-heavy action-RPG game that really shines with its dungeon design and fun cast of party members. The game is jam-packed with content from the lengthy main storyline to the sidequests and trading system. Story in CrossCode is a mix between heavy drama and fun, comedic character interactions. The dungeons are filled with head-scratching puzzles that demand attention and analysis. CrossCode is a testament to what developers can really achieve through hard work and dedication.

2. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Usually, Super Smash Bros. is a series that I just enjoy. Most of the later games don’t improve much past what Melee already established and I’m often just happy enough dabbling. However, the diehard director and student of video games, Masahiro Sakurai has hit gold with the latest entry. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has reinvigorated my passion for the series. With the return of a more straightforward Classic mode, the very engaging feedback system that is Spirits mode, incredibly polished gameplay, and the overwhelming character pool, the game heavily improves on the pre-established formula in a post-Melee world.

Having played Smash 4, Ultimate hardly resembles its predecessor. The benefits of building the game off of Smash 4 provided Sakurai with an opportunity to craft a game with the time and effort required for the celebration of video games that the series has become. If there has ever been a time to get into the series, it is now.

1. Gris

Here I was at the end of the year, getting engrossed in the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate experience when suddenly, Gris appeared. It’s an indie game with a minimalist story, gorgeous visuals, impactful music, and a distinct focus on connecting the many parts that make up a game. The sheer artistic craft easily drew me in, while the highly emotional and introspective journey kept me engaged. It’s a work that’s easy to pick up and play with its simple controls and mechanics.

The experience felt a lot like Journey with its light on details approach to story and unique visual style. However, Gris comes off as a lot more personal and mechanically interactive. The beautiful watercolor aesthetic was put up front and center due to how the story tied the return of color to narrative progress. This unique approach to storytelling through visuals was enhanced by how the colors would affect the environments and atmosphere, while informing the gameplay. Gris is easily my game of the year through its inventiveness and effectiveness in telling a compelling, emotional story about dealing with the past.