2018 has been an interesting year, both in games and for the website. So, to celebrate, some of the team have come together for a little introspective on the year in review.
This will be the third time that the team have come together to write their game of the year selections, and this will also be the third year that at least one member of the team has come to me and told me that they have had a rough year — that choosing a game for the year would be hard as they’ve not really had time to do much more than simply live. It’s not a site specific issue, of course, life isn’t easy — it’s damn near unforgiving at times. Sometimes we haven’t even got time to sit down and think due to the intensity of it all. Sometimes that just doesn’t stop at year end either.
I’ve looked back at the games which I have played this year and, frankly, the number pales in comparison to previous years. I’ve done a lot of travelling for the site, so a lot of my articles are hands on pieces. I’ve also been doing more admin work for B3, and taking on other work outside of the site — my article count has really waned. I’ve also been going through some personal issues of late, and have been more than a little consumed with that.
When people tell me about their rough year I normally say something similar each time: This isn’t a Best Games of the Year list, this is a space for us to write about a game which we will remember when we pluck the year out of our memories. It could be because of a single moment in the game. The game could even be a decade old. It is simply a chance to talk about a game which has been important to your year. This year, then, I’m following my own advice.
Grace Bruxner’s The Haunted Island is a project I’ve been waiting quite some time for. Her ‘The Fish Market’ is a somewhat guilty pleasure of mine as it summons up a lot of memories of my childhood — clarification, I’m not an aquatic animal. The Haunted Island promised to summon up the innocent, wholesome spirit of Fish Market, but with, well, more.
Almost every line of The Haunted Island, is some form of a pun or joke; the kind of simple, silly jokes which pepper children’s TV shows. Pure, harmless humour and silliness. It is, very much, a panacea for the troubles and strains of adulthood.
It is also delightfully bite-sized, and feels like it could be serialized (I eagerly anticipate more outings for frog detective), coming in at about 20-30 minutes long. Everything wraps up nicely, there’s a happy and silly ending — once again, in the fashion of child shows, is there truly ever any monster other than a friendly one? — and it is just simple fun.
I think best of all, it clearly feels like the creator had a lot of fun making it as well. Something which doesn’t always shine through in games.
If you’re feeling down and out, or a bit overwhelmed, I sorely recommend The Haunted Island. It has really helped me along during this last short while.
Of all the games that I have played this year, there are two that stand out for me. The first of these (and my honorary mention) has to be Super Daryl Deluxe, a 2D platform RPG by Dan and Gary Games available on PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. I waxed lyrical about this game back in my review of it in April — deservedly so, as it is truly excellent to play, has a great graphical style and a wicked sense of humour. In fact the only reason why this game isn’t my GOTY is purely down to this next game, which has to take the podium position for me simply for the amount of enjoyment I have received from playing it…
I am, of course, talking about the brilliant Northgard.
As I said in my review, Northgard is a hard game to classify as it is part-strategy and part-survival game set in Norse mythology. Developed by Shiro Games, this PC-only title has devoured many hours of my time, and I love it. The gameplay is excellent, the graphics are lovely, the music and sound effects are perfect — it ticks all the boxes! Add to that the continued development of new content, and Northgard just pips Super Daryl Deluxe at the post to become my 2018 Game of the Year.
For me, my favourite game of the year has to be the exceptional Celeste.
A brutally hard platformer, it tells a story of acceptance and redemption through the mechanic of climbing a stonking great mountain. A super-fast platformer, you must ascend the mountain Celeste to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, harassed along the way by a vengeful ghost, angry bits of ice, and a dark representation of yourself all the way up the mountain.
Hopping from snow covered peak to snow covered peak, dashing past some malevolent ooze, and sliding down a wall to dodge the evil ghost feels great, especially when you have about 50 failed attempts of the section sitting under your belt — each attempt getting better than the last. Beside the gloriously simple sprite graphics, amazing soundtrack and just overall excellence, arguably Celeste‘s greatest feature is its accessibility. Despite, at least for me, being a tough as nails platformer, right from the get go you have option to change the games speed all the way down to 50 percent for those with slower reaction times or just those who want a more relaxed ride, the option to have infinite climbing stamina, have more or infinite mid air dashes and even be invincible.
These options existing in a game billing itself as a twitch based platformer is great, both making this level of accessibility more common and accepted, and also just letting more people enjoy a darn good game. Besides Celeste, my runners up this year are Sea of Thieves, Far Cry 5 and Return of the Obra Dinn.
My hands-down favorite game this year is Tetris Effect. Originally, when I heard it was going to be a music-based, reactive puzzle game, I was skeptical, but man did it really deliver. The nearly thirty or so songs in the game really work well with the block-stacking, and having the level of speed based on the parts of the song make it that more exciting. I can’t believe it’s 2018 and there’s a new version of Tetris, in VR no less, made by one of my favorite game developers: Tetsuya Mizuguchi.
I do recall my first playthrough that I played, in VR, through the entire game in one sitting. It was a very emotional journey as it was my first time playing the game, and I had no idea what to expect. The visual buffet on display (especially in all directions) is magnificent. Each nuance of the game, from the blocks to the backgrounds, reacts to the music and it feels like something entirely new. Whereas Mizuguchi’s game Rez was meant for you to experience the melding of senses with synesthesia, Tetris Effect kinetically makes you the conductor of the ride. You can choose when to clear lines and further the music, and that control, both as a player and what the game gives you back for your efforts, is just transcendental. I’ve been a fan of Tetris since the original release on the Game Boy, but this game is so much more.
For me, Battletech takes the crown. The Kickstarter campaign got my attention immediately simply because I can’t think of a better combination than tactical turn based combat and giant stompy robots. Harebrained Schemes took that concept and ran with it, developing a full campaign in which you take back control of the sector from a family of usurpers.
Solid combat within the campaign would have been fairly good, but you also lead your band of mercenaries however you wish. Take on contracts to earn money and salvage so you can grow in power. Gain favour with one house to access better equipment at the expense of your relationship with their rivals. Build ‘mechs to maximise their utility based on the mission’s landscape. There’s a huge amount of depth here.
Every battle feels hard won as you try to outmanoeuvre your opponents to fire upon their unarmoured backs without damaging the salvage you want. You’ll rarely come out unscathed, resulting in you needing to spend precious time and money repairing and rearming your battlemechs. I enjoy everything about this game, the depth of customisation, the combat, and the campaign. And that’s without mentioning all the multiplayer options! Go play it!
Over the years, no one has ever asked me for my games of the year. This year, two different places that I write for wanted them. I don’t really believe in games of the year, I play so many games that taking the time to figure out which ones are ‘the best’ is insane to me.
So, firstly, I cut out game jam games, which make up around 3,000 games that I have played this year. Within this much limited pool of ‘released’ indie games I have had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into — I have scanned through and found some games that haven’t been covered on Big Boss Battle but really deserve some attention.
2018 has been a really hard year for me, and I have struggled greatly to play so many games, struggled with writing and working in general, and struggled with staying within this industry. With all of that in mind, I am so happy to be moving forward into 2019 and hope things will look up. Let’s talk about some games:
Storm Boy is a beautiful game based on Colin Thiele’s 1964 children’s book. You play a young boy who lives on an island with his father. Throughout the boy’s life, you interact with various parts of the island and eventually get to take care of a bunch of pelicans who are on the island, and one really loves you.
Storm Boy is very unique in the way that it looks like a beautiful walking simulator, but has optional little mini-games — with no goal, end time, or need to play. You can wander around the island and dig up muscles, or draw in the sand, or dive in the lake with your bird friend. These relaxing bits of gameplay split up cinematic portions of story and walking through the world. Storm Boy is a very emotional game, that I really enjoyed exploring.
Forager is a more happy game, currently in a closed beta (so you need to join the Discord to get access) where you play a character in a very newly-formed world. You need to attempt to survive in this world by chopping trees, picking berries, mining resources, and crafting loads of objects to make the world a bit better. With the entire day to use, you can slowly build up the world with furnaces, houses and coins — as well as defend it from monsters like slimes that are looking to destroy you.
You can end up purchasing different lots of land that you can’t see at first, and exploring to see what you discover. I really loved just building this cute world around me, trying to craft new items and see what they do. There is also a skill tree and a lot to be discovered — you can sink a lot of time into this!
Good Pizza, Great Pizza is another cheery, food based game. This wouldn’t be my ‘favorite games of the year’ without including something food based. Basically, this is a really cute, wholesome game where you are trying to run a pizza restaurant — but there is a rival pizza restaurant trying to be a jerk to you!
Each day, customers come in and order pizza — some directly asking for what they want, and others providing riddles towards their desired pizza. You must then make that pizza by putting the sauce, cheese, and whatever else on it, baking it, and cutting it, before handing the perfect pizza back to the customer. You will earn money and tips depending on how good your pizza is. Creating pizzas do cost money, and you can also use the money you earn to purchase upgrades. Before the start of the new day, you can watch Pizza news. During the day, you sometimes get homeless customers, big orders, and special customers who give you gifts!
It’s a joy to play.
This is always so difficult to have to choose, as I feel like I play 7,834 games a year. Back when I was an art instructor, students would always ask what my favorite piece was. There was never an answer. It’s like picking your favorite kid.
Having just said that though, this year I had a much easier pick: Aggressors: Ancient Rome. Simply everything in the game clicked with me. It’s turn-based, highly complex and extremely customizable. The ‘easy-to-learn, hard-to-master’ cliché applies as well. The more you play, the deeper it gets. Plus, the AI will kick your ass for you — It’s Roman-era war on an entirely different level.
However, I can’t just have the one choice. I’m currently working on BATTLETECH’s Flashpoint DLC. BATTLETECH was already great, but Flashpoint really jump-jetted the game up into something even better. Mech battle has never been done better.
Having already done the first DLC for Battlestar Galactica Deadlock’s first DLC, The Broken Alliance, I’m currently working on their second: Anabasis. Whether you’ve ever watched the 2005–2009 TV show or not, Anabasis turns Battlestar Galactica Deadlock into even more hardcore… plus instils the panic of humanity’s survival of the TV series. Frakkin’ toasters!
Getting ready to be released soon is my review for Matrix Games’ Cold War-turned Hot wargame Armored Brigade. This is a brilliant and incredibly flexible 1965 -1991, RTWP, ahistorical… hypothetical. What if the Cold War had gone sideways and badly? Armored Brigade is ferociously deep and an absolute blast (not nuclear) to play.
I told you it’s hard to choose, but finally (yeah, finish it up already!), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two more pieces quickly coming out. The first one will be on Slitherine’s last three Field of Glory II DLCs, which made a monster game gigantic. The second one will also be Slitherine’s: Strategic Command WWII: World at War. This is the definitive, crowning achievement of the Strategic Command series. It’s just. Too. Good.
Mutants In The Night. Full Stop. Not just Game Of The Year 2018, but a tabletop RPG so powerful that it could very well change the shape of gaming for years to come in the future. And it already has. From the recently released game bio:
“It’s the year 2044.
Mutants have been struggling to survive since humanity divided in two, 10 years ago. They now live in Mutant Safe Zones; rundown slums and ghettos surrounded by mighty walls, to placate humanity’s fear of the unknown.”
The mythology of super human “mutants” and the intersection of their storytelling with the real life struggles of marginalized people across the world has long been discussed, but it has never been implemented into a piece of work like this. The plot doesn’t just tell the story, it weaves its way through the mechanics in a way that larger, more mainstream games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder could only hope to achieve. MITN’s creator and developer DC (@dungeoncommandr on Twitter) is an impressive, inspiring, and incredible writer with integrity — their work has brought together a robust community of creatives and activists, who are hell bent on making the gaming world a better place.
And speaking of making the world a better place, Mutants In The Night captures the feeling of being any kind of activist in a real world with many moving and complicated parts, *picture perfectly*. As someone who attends marches, feed ins, and Saturday morning planning meetings: there is so much I recognize here and so much to learn from and then apply to my real life in how I interact with the world. Pick up the game today, you will be blown away!