Moises Taveras’ Top Ten Games of 2018

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Hey, if you’ve read next to anything written on here in the last year, you’re probably familiar enough with me that I don’t have to do an introduction. Not even sure I’d have the energy to. While I’m going to espouse(there’s my big word for the piece) about ten games I loved this year in a second, I gotta be real with you all for even a second. This year stripped me of everything. This year I learned to hate interacting with games and writing about them. I learned to hate expressing myself for fear of having a dozen people jump down my throat for, frankly, trivial fucking reasons. I learned to hate putting myself out there because I’d frequently get hurt. I learned to hate myself in ways I didn’t before. It was a rough one, the worst since the worst even.

Despite that, games have been there for me. They’ve bridged the gaps between me and friends they always have. They’ve given me a platform to express myself and do work that I thought was important. They gave me a receptive audience that I might have abused that one night I literally sold like a dozen of you all on Hollow Knight (more on that game much later). In turn, that has provided me opportunities to do stuff I’ve always wanted to do like travel, get early access to cool stuff, and have artists trust me with their work. I’ve been granted connections and chances to speak with people I admire. For fucks sake, Austin Walker knows who I am and interviewed me for an internship months after I walked up to him and told him I’d work for him. So life gives and it takes and games and the culture surrounding them have definitely given me more than I could ever truly express. In a year where I felt everything being taken from me, that was especially important.

So about my favorite games this year…

10) Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is an outstandingly charming game. I can’t not say that at the outset. Everything about the game is cute, from the music to the environments to the characters that you interact with and especially the sounds they pass off as dialogue! It could almost deceive you into thinking it’d be this straightforward and simple game for kids…and then you wash up on the shore of this Polynesian isle with a ball for no particular reason and the game reveals itself to be some hybrid of a metroidvania and pinball game making for the oddest pair of genres that still somehow come together to make an ingenious little project with enough heart to forgive some blemishes. Yoku’s Island Express isn’t perfect. Sometimes its platforming tendencies aren’t aided by the inaccuracy that frequently brings pinball games to a screeching halt, for example. However the commitment to the bit, the injection of fun and the actual fluidity of bouncing yourself around the whimsically realized world far outshines any brief inconsistent snag in an otherwise lovely game.

9) Dragon Ball FighterZ 

Dragon Ball FighterZ is an art form that eludes me and yet it likes to haunt me. Everywhere I go, someone wants to play it. I can recall a hot summer night where a bachata was playing and my friends practiced tech while I sat back with a beer and in good company. On a cold wintry one months later, folks who love and dedicate themselves to this site all came together to play it in order to raise money for sick kids, which by the way we did outstandingly. Months ago, a handful of us put together a small tournament where I got decimated, but where I had fun nonetheless. I can’t tie myself to this game in any other way but a fascination that prompts me to reach for a controller whenever it’s invoked, regardless of the fact that I can never seem to actually grasp it. Dragon Ball FighterZ is the DBZ game I wanted growing up, and while Budokai 3 remains one of the best fighting games I’ll ever play, it now just seems like a longstanding placeholder for the one true king. 

To speak on the greatness of this game is to call upon its art that looks better than the show ever did. It’s to call out the frenetic pace of any one match, even if you’re not the one playing. I especially feel the fervor when I’m watching because to be quite frank, I’m garbage at competition and especially fighting game competition. The finesse and precision you need to make anything in those games happen is a skill I’m wholly devoid of, but watching people execute combos in Dragon Ball FighterZ is magnificent thanks to its embrace of its own lunacy. When people do big things, it looks like a big thing. It keeps the spirit of Dragon Ball alive. The participants and observers are equally met with jaw-dropping action in a way no fighting property ever manages to convey. So continue as it might to eternally confuse me, Dragon Ball FighterZ will remain the fighting game that, some way or another, I’ll find my way back to. Especially as long as SonicFox keeps dunking on dudes in it.

8) The Messenger

Ambition is a little bit of a theme on this list and The Messenger is no slouch. As a send up of what came before, The Messenger more than satisfies. It’s a game content being at least partially done in service of the incredible things that inspired the folks who made it, a sweet and sincere motivation to make a game, especially in a time when most heavy-hitters are very happy to absorb and erase the work of those that came before. It’s not content, however, being just fan service for people who loved Ninja Gaiden. Instead, at every turn, it tries to subvert everything that game is. 

If Ninja Gaiden is too rigid, The Messenger is flexible. If it’s too cool-headed, The Messenger is buck wild. If it plays it too straight, The Messenger is laugh out loud funny and this is a specific thing The Messenger revels in. Despite being a game framed in its very own nostalgia, it’s also one willing to point at that stuff and have a laugh at how serious games have gotten to be and have sort of always been. A shopkeeper, who’s the best character in the game, chastises you time and time again for looking for deeper meaning in stories that don’t have it and that’s true of the entire experience. Sometimes things are just dumb fun. Sometimes ninjas need to time travel and ride a dragon who wants to be a butler. The Messenger is a game-ass game and it’s very fucking good for it.

7) Gris

The latest entry on this list and maybe the last game of this year I’ll actually play before I recede into a hidey-hole of comfort food and blanket forts, Gris is a deeply beautiful and impactful game that never fails to provide an elegance to the ugly feelings it’s working through. It’s premise of restoring color to the world delivers as it literally paints a picture of a place you keep coming back to that looks different every time you do. Gris is about the ways we can’t help but feel and how that changes your perspective of the world around you. To quote my own review, “It’s reflective of the place you go to when you have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. It’s a game that, in some of my darkest days of late, has been a bit of a beacon of hope. If something as splendid as Gris can come out of something so dark, maybe there’s hope after all.”

6) Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

As a kid I read a lot. Yes, I got Harry Potter but I also got really into Percy Jackson, a series centered around a kid who finds out he’s the bastard child of Poseidon. It was the spark that inspired my fascination with Greek mythology: a litany of stories that hammered home the idea of moral quandaries, flawed characters, larger than life stakes and epic journeys. These are the stories I still recall to these days. As a freshly minted adult, my classes have me reading the musings of philosophers of those times in preparation for the day my life becomes a cliche indie movie and I meet the love of my life over drinks at a dead end pub, debating the merits of the Socratic method. My life has informally taken shape around Greek teachings, stories and philosophies. It was my first obsession and it’ll be my last.

Assassin’s Creed has always been some twisted form of celebrating these societies we’ll never get to be a part of. It’s the ability to weave yourself into the tapestry of a rich history as an agent of chaos. It’s History 101…with some liberties taken. It’s dumb as hell but that lends itself well to this game and Greece particularly. It was a complicated place with complicated people and ideas. Politics were forming in a way they never had before, thought was pushed further than it ever had, war was being waged like it was no one’s damn business, art was finding its form and popularizing it, tall tales were passed down like gospel and everyone was drunk, having sex with everyone else or drunkenly having sex with everyone else and goddamn does Odyssey get most of this astonishingly right. Each one of these aspects finds a place in Odyssey somehow and for once, I felt like I was actually peering into a society I thought long gone.

5) Florence

Florence reminds me of what earnest and true love is. It’s both simple and not. It’s a motivating force. It gets you out of bed, onto a bike and crash lands you in front of the place you need to be or person you need to be with. It makes you take those steps you might not have been comfortable taking. It’s the bravery to chase what you want. It’s the best and worst of times. It’s unrivaled in how much meaning it bestows on you and how much its absence hurts you. And its absence hurts. It tears you up as much as it puts you together. Florence is about how love makes someone whole and the ways in which it contorts to accomplish that. Love’s flexibility makes it a hard thing to nail down which is why much like Florence, it’s a thing that just needs to be experienced to be understood. It’s beautiful, uncomplicated magic in the moment and Florence captures that beautifully in the shortest amount of time, with the sparsest dialogue and the most minimal mechanics because love’s the simplest thing we do. Florence is grand and beautiful and simultaneously so small and intimate, making it one of the most thoughtful navigations of the ups and downs of the best feeling we allow ourselves to explore.

4) Into the Breach

Into the Breach is the only game on this list I knew would be a sure thing before I even got my hands on it. I discovered some years ago that I had a soft spot for strategy games. The next year I discovered kaiju were incredibly my shit. And in the year of our lord 2018, a couple of brave souls mashed the two together into a sci-fi time-traveling epic chess game that has kicked my ass more times than I can count. Into the Breach is quite possibly my favorite strategy game for a whole bunch of reason but the one that trumps them all is how thoroughly satisfying it is to make these units interact with each other to complete common goals.

Help looks like so many different things in this game. It can look like standing in the way of a shot to protect one of your own or to protect a city because that unit is uniquely bulletproof. It can mean standing on a tile to prevent a monster from rising through the ground and overwhelming you. But the best ways look like sequences of incredibly fortunate events like cracking a lightning whip onto a foe and chaining it through a building and your hesitant partner to reach a second threat. It looks like launching a mortar that will push every unit just enough to move him into place to rock a bug in the face, even if it just pushes it rather than squash it. Then using a unit with a grapple hook to rescue that guy from taking a hit he didn’t have to. I love how varied your approaches can be but more than that, I love that in order to really succeed, you have to dominate on all fronts. Into the Breach may not look it, but it’s an incredibly smart game that’s not afraid to chew you up if you make even one misstep and so it’s important to truly get how to work together to prevent the end of the world.

3) Minit

Minit is the best three or so hours I spent with any game this year. If it weren’t for the time sink and mind-numbing devotion I put into the top two entries, Minit would’ve walked away with top honors. It’s monochrome style and Zelda-like tendencies throw me back to before my time. See I never played The Legend of Zelda considering it predates me by eleven years…Nonetheless, it doesn’t take a sharp mind to look up a video of it nor does it take a keen eye to observe its influence in games since. Its tone and themes and the way it turned that into mechanics that fueled explorative experiences is mythological at this point, as is the real life story of Miyamoto’s motivation for making that game how it is. Here’s the thing: that game is old, that execution dated and that series has evolved past that. Minit though dares to use the same framework as the original work and tries to innovate. Minit imposes a hard constraint: explore as much of the world in 60 seconds, die and do it again. And it uses this marvelously. It marries an entirely different and kinetic way of playing video games with a style of game that emphasizes prolonged accruement of knowledge to be whimsical. Whether it be a cute bit like waiting in line for a reward or putting you in a seemingly never-ending maze that you’re just too slow to finish, Minit consistently rewards you for absorbing its rules and taking them into consideration when plotting your next move. Sometimes it’s abstract and nonsensical, but it’s always fresh and exciting and when I call it what I’m going to call it in a moment, know that I mean this sincerely. Minit is The Legend of Zelda for a new generation. I only ironically wish there were more game to there to explore in minute long chunks.

2) Monster Hunter World

I’ve long had a fascination with Monster Hunter that could never quite materialize. Owning a PSP meant shopping through its marketplace and constantly finding two or three of these at the top of the charts, leaving me confounded as to why exactly it was so high up there. Exposure to the actual thing only further puzzled me as its scope seemed contradictory to the selling points of a handheld system and the realities of what it could do. Eventually, Monster Hunter Tri came to the Wii and I longingly ogled at any footage of it, dreaming of the day I could convince friends of mine to join me in this game where we could take down big monsters together and eat . That’s always been the dream…right? That fascination came and went as Monster Hunter made the rounds to platforms I could never entirely get behind until Monster Hunter World came out at the outset of 2018. Boy, did it knock me on my ass.

Monster Hunter World is my de facto GOTY 2018. It actually came out this year, brought me in and possessed me like a demon. This is owed to one thing: it feels like a living world. It’s a turn of phrase I’ve also grown tired but hear me the fuck out. It realizes Monster Hunter like it never had been before. 

Monster Hunter World is a game that first and foremost cares about interaction. It’s a vision that stresses the effects of both the small and big things. It’s a game concerning with imprinting upon you the millions of ways you are connected to everything around you. So it drops you in an ecosystem where you are the invasive element and where everything is especially interactive. In the year after Breath of the Wild happened, a game where everything was ripe for you to do literally anything you wanted with it, this was an important step for any game of that ilk to take. Where Monster Hunter World likely beats it for me is its constant affirmation of your specific place in it all. You often feel small in both these games, but Monster Hunter has a few dozen ways to remind you that you will never be the biggest. There’s also another dozen to remind you you’re not the smallest. And within these margins, you strategize to turn your foes and your environments and their weaknesses against them because lord knows you can’t do it with a charge blade alone. It’s hard to be intimidating after watching a a Pukei Pukei get laid into by a Diablos only to then be interrupted by a Barroth. It’s also hard to get over the spectacle of such a sight. Monster Hunter World is an incredible game to play but goddamn, if it isn’t also a joy to just watch unfold sometimes.

1) Hollow Knight

I’m going to spoil the shit out of Hollow Knight.

When I think of Hollow Knight, I think of Quirrel.

Quirrel is a bug who finds himself returning to Hallownest for reasons he does not know. It just calls for him and he heeds its call. It’s the same call he invokes when you meet outside of Monomon’s archives in the heart of the Fog Canyon. He’s sure it’ll be his undoing but he does it anyway. He can’t not. He follows that feeling all the way to your encounter with Uumuu and lends a helping hand from a gentle soul. Quirrel finds peace in knowing that he aided you in restoring it to the place he once gave his life to. His sword remains in the sands of Blue Lake as he departs.

I also think of Zote the Mighty. Zote’s a little lost and is just here trying to find himself. He’s looking in the wrong places. In the Colosseum of Fools, I smacked him around just enough for him to learn that I think. On the surface, in Dirtmouth, he spends the rest of his days with a new companion to regale with tales of his greatness because in someone, not something, has Zote found what he came to Hallownest for.

I think of Tiso, who came for glory. I think of the lessons he could’ve learned from watching Zote. I think of his body decaying at the bottom of Kingdoms Edge, sure to join the leagues of others who just couldn’t cut it. I’m sorry it had to be that way.

I think of Cloth, the unlikeliest of heroes. A gentle giantess by bugs standards, who could never bring herself to harm a thing. I think of how she saved me from the Traitor Lord. I think of the sacrifice she had to make to do that for me. She’s the greatest hero of Hallownest and no one will ever know. But I will.

Hollow Knight is a composition of perfectly flawed human stories like this. Like all of them, I am unspeakably drawn to Hallownest. Hallownest holds so much promise. It changes people and makes them feel whole, or at least that’s what it promises. Like a lot of those stories, we can’t tell how it all ends but know that some resolution will come of the journey. We just have to take the leap. 

Hallownest may be a metaphor here, y’all.

I’ve found myself in a place in life where everything is up in the air. I’m on the precipice of setting into motion a series of changes that could alter everything for a long time. This is uncharted territory for me. As far as all-time great treks into the unknown go, there’s adulthood and Hollow Knight. It understands the fear of leaping into something new and mysterious but also gets why we do it anyways. It succeeds at letting you derive your own meaning from the perils of the path laid out before you. More importantly it allows you the time to explore the world of possibilities before you, even if the thing beyond the doorway is utterly frightening. There’s no more perfect a game to capture what life has been like for a while and I’m eternally grateful to it for what it’s been able to give me: a renewed excitement about the future despite the mystery surrounding it.

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