AJ McRae’s Top Ten Games of 2018
Hi! I’m AJ McRae, Owner of Fanatix Four, a Nintendo-centric YouTube Channel, Website, & Podcast producer (sometimes) that creates weekly content about the past, present, and future of Nintendo and their IP. That said, I feel compelled to preface this list – as a result of this, I mostly play Nintendo games. My job demands it. However, I am fortunate enough to be a multi-platform owner and every once in a while carve out the time to go outside that Nintendo wheelhouse. I also feel the need to inform you that I am a Nintendo Brand Ambassador, and as such, am required to disclose that every Nintendo-published game on this list was provided by them. So, grab as many grains of salt as you see fit. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get started!
Honorable Mention: Red Dead Redemption 2
This game is a masterpiece and a technical marvel. A true crowning achievement in this industry we all love so much. That said, this game is not for me. I was VERY excited to dive into this game in the lead up to its release. Everything about it was ticking every box imaginable and threatened to do something UNFATHOMABLE for a Nintendo YouTuber – take the GOTY 2018 title. I love deep, system-driven games with wide open world design that allows for those coveted water cooler moments: “You won’t believe what my horse did in the middle of a Train Heist!” or “Man, did you see how the mud cakes on Arthur Morgan’s clothes when he falls to the ground?” All of that fun stuff. The problem for me was and is that to facilitate this vision that Rockstar had for ultimate immersion, a lot of the gamification elements that typically keep me engaged in a game are lacking. The fluidity and ease of control aren’t there for me. I didn’t particularly care for the story. None of my friends seem to be excited for Red Dead Online. So, it is with a heavy heart that I chalk RDR2 as a miss for me – that I acknowledge is much, much more for a lot of other people. Hence, the Honorable Mention slot.
10. Mario Tennis Aces
I love Mario. I couldn’t care less about tennis. Somehow, when you slap the two together and put it on Nintendo Switch – I’m all in. The chaotic matches that are possible with the elements that are commonplace in the Super Mario universe are a perfect fit for tennis, almost better than that, even, given the aforementioned lack of interest in tennis otherwise. What isn’t perfect, though, is the execution in a few areas of the online, particularly at launch. For example, the nomenclature of the match types aligns in misshapen ways in the actual game. The same nomenclature used in tennis for playing two on two matches is also used specifically for playing any match with a local player and two online players. If you would like to do something like play on a team with a friend online while a separate set of friends do the same, you would need to go on solo. Duos is for two people on one Switch. That was very confusing to me at first. That said, if there was an award for “Most Improved Nintendo Game”, Mario Tennis Aces would be a strong contender because Nintendo has done an excellent job at supporting this game post-launch & they’re still not done yet.
9. Super Mario Party
This one is a game I REALLY wanted to love but dreaded I would end up hating. Luckily, I landed somewhere in between. The Mario Party series was on a downward trend since the release of Mario Party 8, which was released over a decade ago, so I had my doubts. Super Mario Party, though, has managed to retain enough about the classic Mario Party formula to land with me. The group of mini-games chosen for the game are great for the most part, HD rumble is handled in a pretty smart way, and the boards that are there have interesting twists. To add to that, I played this game with the perfect mixture of people. The experience of playing these games is always heightened when enjoyed with friends and family that are all in on the game. Despite the chaotic random nature, trash talk is abundant, upsets are guaranteed, and as a result, fun will be had.
8. WarioWare Gold
WarioWare games are always a great time in my book. After all, the series effectively created the formula for so many great pick up and play mobile games. They’re quick bursts of targeted challenges with a ton of personality & charm across the board. WarioWare Gold is a tribute to that with its set of included microgames being entirely made up of the best of the best from past games reworked for 3DS. Prior to this, my 3DS was EXCLUSIVELY my Pokémon machine. I had no interest in changing that but when I learned of this game, I had to check it out and I’m glad I did. Quick sessions with the aim of topping a high score is how I consumed and continue to consume this game.
7. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a port of a Wii U game. I was one of the five Wii U owners the world over but I somehow missed it the first time around so it’s new to me! The idea of going a few layers deep into the Mario universe is brilliant & that applies twofold with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker because not only does Toad, a classic Mario character, now star in his own game but said game is also literally ripped from a Mario game: Super Mario 3D World. It is pure comfort food with a good amount of clever puzzles that aren’t crazy difficult to clear or even to complete but at the same time aren’t mind-numbingly easy. The portable nature of the Switch also really adds to this game’s pick up and play strength. Very little commitment required here & sometimes that’s exactly what I need.
6. Dragon Ball FighterZ
I have a troubled past with Dragon Ball games. Like many, the franchise was my childhood, so I’ve played and loved many past DB games. My problem, though, is that I was a dumb kid with dumb kid sensibilities and didn’t realize that the lot of them are bad to average-at-best. I later grew to lament the sacrifice to gameplay developers of those game made to make people “feel like Goku” or whatever overused platitude that’s common when talking about licensed games. This seemed to be enough for some while others resigned themselves to thinking that a good Dragon Ball game may never be possible.
(EditorZ Note: A great Dragon Ball game exists. Bust out your DS, AJ, and play Dragon Ball Origins. You’re welcome.)
Thankfully, way too many years later, Dragon Ball FighterZ proved to me that that doesn’t need to be the case. DBFZ is just as mechanically interesting & challenging as the best fighting games while also maintaining the reverence for the source material that can be found in those other Dragon Ball games. I originally played this game on my Xbox One & later repurchased it again on Switch and it has remained a constant in my rotation of games to play with friends who also grew up with Dragon Ball and have wished for a game like this to appear.
5. Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion
Splatoon has to be one of my top three favorite Nintendo franchises of all time. I love everything about it from the style, to the music, to obviously the gameplay. I am the type of gamer that embraces the whole “New Way to Play” thing that Nintendo strives to provide as long as the mechanics make sense with the experience and it doesn’t feel like I’m fighting with the game to play it. I’m also the type of gamer that loses themselves in the mechanics of a game like some do to a good story. The original Splatoon was one of those games that fundamentally changed the way I thought about shooters and made me just want every shooter to allow for a similar control scheme. The one thing that both that game and the base Splatoon 2 experience lacked for me, though, was enough content to really push those shooting mechanics alongside the transformation, swimming, and inking mechanics that the games are known for at this point to their limits. Both Splatoon and its sequel had really short campaigns that for the most part play it pretty straight and therefore don’t really use those mechanics in any unexpected ways. Octo Expansion changed that with its 80+ new challenges that use varying degrees of the mechanics that are unique to Splatoon in levels that are designed around them. I never thought I’d want to play pool in a shooter, but, the Octo Expansion made me want to. I never thought I’d enjoy a level in a shooting game where I wasn’t able to shoot, but again, Octo Expansion made me want to. The format of the expansion also encourages that pick up and play nature that a lot of the games on this list do as well, which if you couldn’t tell, is a big winner for me.
4. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu was a game I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy. Pokémon Yellow was amongst the first games I ever beat on my own so when I heard Game Freak was remaking it I was excited, but when I heard the changes they were making I was deflated a bit. As a longtime Pokémon fan, I’ve grown tired of the longstanding formula and I’ve wanted Game Freak to shake things up a bit so I was open to them doing something different. That said, I did fear that it could end up worse for it if not handled correctly. Luckily, I actually enjoy a lot of the changes. Pokémon: Let’s Go is a pleasant game that actually made me want to catch them all again rather than only grabbing the ones I wanted for my team and nothing else. I no longer dread traversing caves, forests, or bodies of water thanks to them axing random encounters. Not needing to use HMs is a literal godsend. Quality of life adjustments like that are why I love this game. The fact that it also adds to the lore with developments since my first adventure through Kanto in Pokémon Yellow is a cherry on the top of the cake that is Pokémon.
Celeste is a game that completely blindsided me. It received a fair amount of promotion in Nintendo Directs and the like but I honestly ignored it in favor of the bigger budgeted games showcased there before it came out. I was very wrong for doing this because as it turns out, for a respectable portion of this year, Celeste was my pick for Game of the Year. The thrilling trio of the mid-air dash, momentum-based platforming, & climbing is brilliant. It’s a very challenging game that refreshingly opts out of the “git gud” mentality that is prevalent with games on the harder side. There’s a powerful message that many people relate with that plays out throughout the duration of its story, and it’s another one of those games that are perfect for snack-sized sessions that can continue even after the initial campaign thanks to platforming challenges called B, & C Sides. I still need to go back for those…
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Every year I try to carve out a month or so to dive into the multi-platform games that interest me and Marvel’s Spider-Man was that game this year. Everything that people have been saying about the joy of swinging through the truncated New York City-based open world is fantastic and could have kept me playing for hours even without the goals in place. Fighting crime outside of the main story always felt like something I had the privilege to do rather than the thing the game was forcing me to do, and of course, the main campaign itself was no slouch. Combat is pretty open thanks to how webbing is handled. Shooting various forms of Spidey’s webbing to defeat henchmen was a highlight for me especially once I realized the game tries to keep them alive. I had to try to break it. I failed…but I had fun trying! I, unfortunately, haven’t had the time to jump into the DLC. I chose to save it for when it was all released but I am very excited to pick it up again later this month.
1. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I know a lot of lists are barring Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from consideration but I simply could not do the same. Out of every game that came out this year, SSBU is the only one that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about when I’m not playing it. By no means does it reinvent the wheel but I’d argue that isn’t necessary. The wheel we had was already really good, it just needs some retreading every once in a while. The new characters are perfect fits (although at this point, I’m not sure what character Sakurai and co COULDN’T manage to fit in naturally), the returning characters all feel different and re-learning my favorites has been just as much fun as picking up new ones. The new mechanics added to the game noticeably change up the pace from Smash 4 in favor of a much more aggressive play style. New items and stages are cool and all but to be real, the best part for me is the improvement to online play. It is by no means perfect but it is good enough to fuel my urge to play this game and nothing else for hours and hours.