In the world of video games, there are good years, there are bad years, and then there are those years when you’re not really sure which way to lean. 2018 was certainly the latter, as numerous games came out over the course of year that I enjoyed, but there were very few of the heavy-hitter, “this game is absolutely in my top five” titles like there had been in the previous two years.
Yeah, I know, there was some fantastic triple-A offerings as is evident from our top 25 list, but as I’ve said before, that’s not the kind of stuff that wins me over at the end of the day. So, when looking at the games that do grab my attention—those games that make it our way from Japan, the unique indie titles, the niche releases, and others—here are the five that left the biggest impact on me in 2018.
|#5||Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Digital Eclipse
|SNK 40th Anniversary Collection|
When putting together our best of the year lists, we here at EGM tend to have a rule about remakes or retro compilations: don’t include them. Especially these days, with the crazy number of games released month after month, those honors should go to the titles that strive to add something new to our hobby, instead of ones that already had that chance years before. And yet, in a year filled with some great re-releases or remasters, one stood out to me enough that I simply had to give it credit: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. It’s not just the look back at SNK’s pre-NeoGeo era of game development that I enjoyed, it’s the copious amount of time, care, and love that were obviously put into the release. Far beyond just a few ROMs slapped onto a cartridge, SNK 40th is a celebration of a company’s legacy, and a chance to experience all of that history in ways that do honor to every included title.
|Yakuza 6: The Song of Life|
This year, I made up for one of my long-running shames: I finally played a Yakuza game. While many would argue that jumping into the final chapter of the saga is the worst decision one could make, getting my proper introduction to Kazuma Kiryu via Yakuza 6 was actually pretty interesting. Instead of seeing a young upstart trying to climb the ladder of Tokyo’s underworld, I was introduced to a legend wondering if he even has a place in the world anymore. After all of the mythical stories I’d heard of Kiryu’s life and adventures, seeing him as an older, retired man now almost separated from those stories made him more human and relatable. Combine that with all of the glorious drama, side characters, gameplay ideas, and burning masculinity that the Yakuza team is notorious for, and I got to have a heck of a good time while also checking another item off of my list of shame.
|#3||Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Nomada Studios
Platforms: Switch, PC
Two weeks ago, I was certain that this spot was going to be going to a different game. The amazing Tetris Effect, perhaps. Swery’s heartfelt The Missing was a serious contender. Maybe even the why-did-it-take-so-long-for-me-to-play-this 428: Shibuya Scramble. And then, right as we were finalizing out top 25 games of the year, I tried Nomada Studios’ Gris—and I fell in love. Gris initially grabbed me with its utterly striking visuals, which are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a game in my seven years here at EGM. (As someone who grew up in the 2D era, a younger me never could have believed that games could look like this.) And yet, Gris’ beauty isn’t just skin deep. While it certainly is more of an “experience” platformer than a challenging one, there wasn’t even a single moment where I wasn’t loving the world I was exploring, or enjoying the challenges that did exist, or simply taking in the creativity blossoming around every corner. Gris, more than anything else, simply made me happy—and that was all I could ask for. If Celeste is the platformer that pushes you to your limits and tests what kind of gamer you are, Gris is its equally wonderful yet totally different sibling.
|#2||Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Undead Labs
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
|State of Decay 2|
I could present a list a mile long of the things I hate about State of Decay 2. There’s the boring maps, the blatant reuse of previous assets, the puddle-deep relationship system, the ridiculousness of giving plague zombies the ability to infect you when regular zombies don’t have said ability, on and on and on. So why is a game that frustrates me so damned much so high up on my list? Because Undead Labs is the only developer actually attempting to give me what I want. Even with every one of its faults, State of Decay 2 still provides a proper zombie survival experience, something absolutely no other game or developer is offering. Until my dream zombie game finally exists, I have to make do with what I’ve got, so I’ve got a lot of love for the team at Undead Labs and its game for at least making an attempt. Just, seriously—work on the core mechanics and relationship possibilities in the next game, versus spending too much time on features that work best as back-of-the-box bullet points.
|#1||Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platforms: PS4, PC
|Fire Pro Wrestling World|
In my time working at EGM, I’m not sure if there’s ever been a game that had an easier time slipping into my #1 spot for a given year than Fire Pro Wrestling World. Having waited nearly 11 years since the last proper chapter of the series, all World had to be was a standard Fire Pro Wrestling game released on the current generation of consoles with an upgrade or two. That’s exactly what we got—but the execution is far more exciting than it may first sound. While some of the upgrades here are indeed small, they go a long way, in part because the core of Fire Pro Wrestling has already been so strong for years. While Aki’s 3D efforts to capture the spirit of professional wrestling have sadly been lost to time, Spike Chunsoft showed us that Fire Pro Wrestling is still as alive and healthy as ever, and I couldn’t be happier.
|My Biggest Non-Shame of 2018
I love playing Fortnite
My most-played game in 2018 wasn’t even a game from 2018—it was Epic’s now monstrous Fortnite, which I ended up getting into right around the start of Season 5. While saying that you play X or Y game usually isn’t that big of a deal, I’ve seen a growing hatred against Fortnite as I’ve come to play it more. Popular games receiving backlash isn’t anything new, but some of the hate here feels especially venomous, including the popular insult that it’s a game only for little kids. First of all, it’s definitely not, but even if it was, so what? Kids deserve to have great games to play just as much as anyone else, and all of us were children at some point. Calm down, take a moment to think about the stupidity behind your hatred, and just let others enjoy the games they enjoy in peace. If you can’t, then have fun going away and finding a new hobby—because we don’t want you.
|The “I Love You, I Hate You” Award
For a good chunk of my life, I’ve loathed guest characters in fighting games. For me, every game in the genre is its own established, carefully created universe, so suddenly tossing some outsider character into the mix that in no way fits the lore was as far from “cool” as possible. Link in Soulcalibur II? Yuck. Mother-effin Darth Vader and Yoda in Soulcalibur IV? UGH. And then, suddenly, I could feel a change inside of me beginning in the middle of last year. It started with The King of Fighters’ Geese Howard showing up in Tekken 7—but, I mean, he’s a fighting game character too, so it made some sense. However, when Final Fantasy XV’s Noctis also hopped aboard the Tekken train, the usual disdain I’d feel was replaced by amused curiosity. The shift was complete this year when I found myself actually rooting for the idea of NieR: Automata’s 2B showing up in Soulcalibur VI—and then being super hyped when she actually was. I still kind of hate the idea for particular franchises or situations, but I now feel legitimate excitement for the prospect of other potential cameos. Next stop: Kazuma Kiryu in Tekken 7 in 2019 dammit!
|The “Alright, Fine, Now It’s Dead” Award
For the last two years, I’ve argued how the PlayStation Vita wasn’t dead yet, despise the countless people out there wanting to see it buried and gone as soon as possible. This time, however, my protests and arguments have come to an end. While the Vita actually isn’t technically dead—it still has a handful of games coming in 2019—the party is clearly beginning to wrap up. What’s helping me move on is that, on a personal level, I’ve finally become okay with the idea of the Switch taking its place. I still think Nintendo’s hybrid is too big, bulky, and heavy as a portable for my liking, but I’ve mostly come to terms with those objections. I will say, however, that there was one way in particular in which the Vita was alive and well this year, and will still be in the next: in its PlayStation TV incarnation. Link your PSN account, download some PS1 games, attach a DualShock 4, and you end up with a far better PlayStation Classic than the actual PlayStation Classic could ever be.
We’re taking a look at the best games of 2018 all week, from December 24th through January 1st. Check back every day for our Top 25 Games of 2018, as well as our personal lists for the games we loved most this year. Check here for everything that’s been posted so far.