zophar53's Blog

Posted on Jan 3rd 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Top 10, GOTY, Game of the Year

2018 was a weird year for me, with some high highs and low lows. On the broad scale, the world continues to be....what it is. We'll just have to see how things go there. But for me it was a year of rebuilding, one in which I had a plan. Kind of a one step back in order to make two steps forward thing. Thankfully, I was for the most part able to achieve what I'd set out to do. Not necessarily in the ways I'd hoped or expected, and there were some bumps along the way, but the last few months of the year were pretty great, and my efforts were met with reward.

What does this have to do with games, you ask? Well, unfortunately, the work that needed to be done took a toll on some things. I didn't read as much as I wanted, I didn't game as much as I wanted, and in the last month or so in particular I unceremoniously withdrew from quite a lot of things to make sure I ended up where I wanted to be, one of which being the video game golf tournament on this very website. Still, I was able to make it out to RetroWorld Expo 2018, which was a fantastic trip, the RFCinema feature I started was met with success, I had a great time taking part in the Doom 2016 playcast, and I was pretty proud of the content I was able to produce for RFGen. And while my list this year is more of a "Top 8 Games of 2018 and Top 2 Games of 2017 That I Didn't Play Until 2018", I did manage to play some great stuff. And that's what it's all about, getting all the enjoyment we can from the time that we have. So here's to putting a bow on 2018 and making 2019 all it can be! Let me know what you think of my selections in the comments below.

10. South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Ubisoft

I was worried we wouldn't get a sequel to one of my favorite games of 2014. Matt Stone and Trey Parker had gone on record as not wanting to make another video game due to the struggles it took to get the first one done. I'm not sure what made them change their mind, but I'm glad they did. Instead of the Lord of the Rings style parody that was The Stick of Truth, Fractured But Whole has South Park's vulgar child population playing super heroes. As I said four years ago, if you either fell off the South Park train a long time ago or never clicked with its brand of humor in the first place, this game isn't going to change your mind. But as someone who still thinks the show can be pretty funny when it tries, and who loved the heck out of the first game, I was pretty excited to be playing through another adventure. 

9. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice,  Ninja Theory

This game might have flown under my radar, but the more I heard of it, the more intrigued I became. After trying it for myself, I can attest to its quality. At first glance it looks like a third person action game like so many others, but the main character, Senua, is not mentally well. She hears voices and sees visions which affect her actions and state of mind. Ninja Theory worked with actual neurologists and doctors to make sure the depictions of her symptoms were both as accurate as possible, and handled with an appropriate level of sensitivity and respect. The payoff is obvious, and can't really be described with any justice. Playing this game with a good pair of headphones and the lights off, it was very cool but also a bit disturbing to experience mental instability through Senua's eyes and ears. The game itself is no slouch either; the combat gets a bit repetitive but is fun, and the visuals are stunning. But it's the audio/visual uncertainty Hellblade instills that elevates things to another level and makes you question what you're seeing right alongside its protagonist.

8. Diablo III: Eternal Collection (Switch), Blizzard Entertainment

Yeah, I know, this game is six years old. But you know what? It's still darn good, and now that it's on the Switch I can play it anywhere. ANY. WHERE. At home, in the doctor's office, on the bus to work, on a rooftop Switch party with my friends (if those existed anywhere but in Nintendo commercials). I really don't need to say anything else. We all know what this game is by now, and it's been continually added to since its release, so that combined with a new SKU makes me feel more than justified in putting it in yet another one of my year-end lists.

7. Burnout Paradise Remastered, Criterion Games

Like Diablo, I don't need to say much about this one, as it's 10 years old. The remaster upgrades the visuals, brings it to modern consoles, and includes every single piece of DLC for the game. I actually liked Forza Horizon 4 a lot more than I expected, and if not for this remaster it probably would've ended up on this list, but Burnout Paradise is still my favorite racing game of all time. Since Criterion was dissolved into EA and most of its staff sprinkled across the dev landscape, we'll probably never see another Burnout game, so I gotta get my fix any way I can. The just-barely-keeping-it-together sense of speed, the physics-bending power slides that make the brake button all but unnecessary, a vast, sprawling city that I still know almost as well as my own home town, crashes that are still the best you'll ever see in a video game, and hundreds of hours of content mean I'll likely never play another racing game that I have more fun with. Ever. I'm not sure if I should consider that a good thing or a bad thing, but as long as I have a console that can play Burnout Paradise, I think I can live with that possibility.

6. The Messenger, Sabotage

Take one look at this game and you'll be thinking, "oh look, someone made a Ninja Gaiden clone in 2018." I mean, you wouldn't be entirely wrong. but once you get into it you'll see there's more going on here. It's not quite to the level of what Shovel Knight did, but with the ability to get another jump in after touching a wall, and the ways in which the later levels throw different mechanical twists at you, there's some great stuff here. Add in the fourth-wall-breaking dialogue that had me cracking up at almost every line and mid-game surprise (which I had spoiled for me, unfortunately), and this ain't the Ninja Gaiden we all grew up with. I can't wait to see what the speedrunning community does with this game. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty killer, as well.

5. Marvel's Spider-Man, Insomniac Games

Wait, Insomniac makes more than just Ratchet & Clank games??? Why yes! There was Spyro (which just got a highly-praised anthology collection release), the Resistance series (which was pretty underappreciated in my humble opinion), and Sunset Overdrive (which I still haven't played). As surprised as I was to see this developer branch out again though, I was excited once I got my hands on Spider-Man. To say it's the Batman: Arkham formula combined with that Spider-Man game everyone loves from way back when would be reductive. I'm not too far into it yet, but so far what I've played has been a whole lot of fun, and seems to capture the spirit of the character pretty well. Between the MCU and Into the Spider-Verse (which is just as amazing as everyone says it is. Seriously, go see it as soon as you're done reading this, if you haven't already. And if you have seen it, see it again), Peter Parker is going through quite a resurgence. I haven't had a dull moment yet with the game in my first handful of hours with it, and it's one of the first games I'll be looking to put more time into going into 2019.

4. God of War, Sony Santa Monica

Well I'll be. They actually did it. They made me care about Kratos again. Despite my annoyance at the whole let's-not-subtitle-our-game-because-it's-a-reboot thing, the trailers made me cautiously optimistic. I was a huge God of War fan back in the day, but Kratos was always a one-dimensional guy, so once God of War III completed his arc I was pretty done with the franchise. I couldn't get excited enough about Ascension to stick with it for more than a few hours. But with a switch to Norse mythology in the wake of literally bringing ruin to everything and having a new son to think about, Kratos finally has depth. Like Spider-Man, I'm only a handful of hours into the further adventures of The Greek Formerly Known as Sadsack McGrumpypants, but the changes to the setting, combat, and character motivations have me more invested in this series than I've been in close to a decade. Bravo, Cory Barlog, bravo.

3. Donut County, Annapurna Interactive

This game is in the same category as Katamari Damacy in my mind. It's similarly quirky, fun, nonsensical, and even the gameplay is vaguely similar. You play as a literal hole in the ground, or more specifically, the bratty racoon manipulating a hole in the ground. Somehow, he has a tablet computer and uses said hole to swallow up everything and everyone who annoys him, and like all bratty teenagers, shirks responsibility for his actions, makes excuses, and fails to see how what he's doing is hurting his friends and foes alike. The gameplay is fun, but the presentation is what makes Donut County really shine. The personalities of the characters are genuine and realistic, the quasi-cell-shading really makes the visuals pop, the writing is hilarious (read the trashopedia!), and the soundtrack is a groovy mix of indie tunes that is so delightful I've been listening to it outside of the game for weeks now. It's one of those games that had me smiling all the way through. I completed it on PS4, just picked it up on Switch, and if it ever gets an Android release I'll be playing it there too. And if it doesn't, I may play through it again on Xbox One just because I love it so much.

2. Dead Cells, Motion Twin

Technically, the PC release of Dead Cells came out in 2017, but 2018 was when it left early access and because an official release, with console versions to match, so I don't consider this cheating. The game is a run-based roguelike platformer similar to Rogue Legacy, and like that game, it grabbed me hard. If you haven't played it since the early access days it's worth giving it another look, as it's received nearly constant updates since then. It's practically an entirely new game, and the developers continue to tweak it to this day as they look at how the community is responding. Like all good games of its ilk, Dead Cells has incredibly responsive controls, fun, satisfying combat, and is balanced so that you can feel yourself get incrementally stronger and better at the game with every run. I'm not even halfway through the game yet, but that's the nature of these types of games. Eventually my pool of items and weapons will be big enough, I'll be powerful enough, and I'll have the skill to make that run. The one that sees me all the way through to the end. It took a long time for that moment to happen for me in Rogue Legacy, but when it did, I felt like a gaming god. I look forward to that moment happening with this game.

1. Tetris Effect, Enhance Games

If someone had told me I'd be putting a freaking Tetris game at the top of one of my game of the year lists, I'd have told them they were crazy. Call it what you want. I've heard Happy Tetris, Rave Tetris, even Drugs Tetris. But whatever you choose to call it, Tetris Effect took a game I've been playing for 30 years and made me care about it in ways I never have before. The Twitter-length sales pitch is "the music and visual skins of Lumines, but applied to Tetris." Seems simple enough, but anyone who's played Tetsuya Mizuguchi's other masterpieces can attest to how awesome his presentations can be. More than simply giving the blocks a new coat of paint, the visualizations present settings around the block bucket that change and animate as the songs do. Every movement of a tetrimino adds a small bit to the song, and every line completed is rewarded with a celebratory surge of movement in the environment. Playing it in VR adds a whole other layer. It may sound like hyperbole, but being able to have the visualizations all around me, together with the music, it was nearly overwhelming on an emotional level. More than a few times I almost failed out of the game because I was too busy gawking in wonder at my surroundings, and once I even accidentally smacked my cat in the face when I reached out and mimicked trying to touch one of the giant translucent jellyfish as it swam by my head (sorry kitty!).

When I first started playing Tetris as a kid, there was no infinite spin, there was no hold piece, there was no placement outline, and if you were lucky and skillful enough you might be able to get in one T-spin rotation. I was always pretty curmudgeonly about the changes the game has gone through over the years, but not only has this game made me accepting of those additions to the tried-and-true formula, it's made me pay attention to Tetris strategy in a way I never have before. The Effect Modes highlight certain skins or focus on a particular mechanic that makes it easy to jump into and practice. I can already see myself becoming a better, faster Tetris player, and now that I'm so invested in the experience, I can see myself playing this game for many months, if not years, to come.

Words like "transcendent" and "synesthesia" are used a lot when hearing people talk about Tetris Effect, and they're 100% appropriate. At the end of the day, this is still just Tetris. For those who aren't as into Mizuguchi's previous work or this kind of music, it's not much more than a really great version of Tetris. But music has historically been able to effect my moods and emotions in powerful ways, so having that presented in this specific package, with the kinetic visuals and comforting familiarity of the gameplay, Tetris Effect for me was uplifting, encouraging, and moving in a way that games rarely achieve, and was an unexpected catharsis as 2018 drew to a close. Without exaggeration, it was nothing short of profound.

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I just started playing The Messenger a couple days ago, and it's pretty great so far. Yeah, the Ninja Gaiden comparisons are both warranted and unavoidable, as there's plenty of that in its DNA, but there's definitely more to it, and it does enough to stand on its own. I agree about the dialogue and story. I'm glad the game doesn't take itself very seriously, because it provides a nice contrast to the high intensity action.
@MetalFRO: Agreed, I liked the contrast. It's heavy enough that I can see some people having issues with it, but I loved it.
I bought Diablo III for the third time this year, along with a 2nd Pro Controller for my wife and y'know what? Money well spent. Diablo III is perfection.

Glad to see some Dead Cells love. That was my GOTY this year. Absolutely brilliant game.

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