Barrett Courtney’s Top Ten Games of 2018

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Hi! I’m Barrett Courtney, producer of gameplay videos and IGN’s Beyond. So, we’re finally here. After what feels like five years, 2018 has finally come to an end. And even though the real world has seemed like a trash fire all year, there have been many beautiful experiences in the world of gaming Barrett Courtneythat we’ve been able to escape to.

(Insert joke about gamers rising up or something here.)

2018 turned out to be a weird year for me in gaming. I was constantly updating my personal favorite GOTY list throughout the year but before Fall, that list felt very weak for me.

But then everything changed when the fall season attacked.

So by the time I started writing this piece, I was really surprised by how many games I’ve loved so much this year. Let’s go through my weird spicy/non-spicy list of favorite games in 2018.

(Spoilers will vary from game to game…so be wary)

Honorable Mention:

The Adventure Pals (Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC)

This year, Massive Monster hit it out of the park with their first commercial release, The Adventure Pals. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an action platformer that centers around a young boy, accompanied by his Giraffe friend and pet rock, on a quest to save his dad from being turned into a hotdog.

If what I just described to you sounds like an homage to weird late-2000s Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows like Misadventures of Flapjack, Chowder, Adventure Time, and (to date a little further back) Invader Zim….that’s because that’s exactly what this game delivers while also keeping it fresh with its own wit and continuously fun and familiar gameplay throughout its 9 hour campaign.

While its gameplay is nothing revolutionary, The Adventure Pals was still able to find ways to make every level challenging in its own right and constantly made me change my play style, which helped shake off any feeling of repetitiveness and keeping the game exciting and engaging.

If you’re looking for a reason to giggle every couple minutes due to wholesome humor, silly character quirks, or the fact that YOU CAN DRESS UP YOUR PET ROCK AND IT’S TRULY THE BEST THING…play The Adventure Pals. It was a game that wrapped up the first quarter of 2018 in a goofy little experience and one that made this year, as a whole, a little brighter.

10. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)

super smash bros. ultimate

To preface here, before you throw your pitchforks at me…I’m not a huge fighting game person. And least of all…Smash Bros. I eventually picked up the Wii U version (the first Smash I ever owned myself) and started to see why people constantly obsess over it. And this ULTIMATE version of the series that people love finally hooked me into staying up until 2 in the morning, unlocking every character and running through World of Light.

I can’t speak too much about the design in actual battles and fighting game nonsense (which is super fun..but that type of game is just not something I’m an expert in) but I know every aspect of this game was crafted with so much care and respect for all of Nintendo and gaming history. The amount of times I’ve smiled because a certain DK64 track or old school Pokemon music popped up is countless. And though I think the weird World of Light RPG is sort of pointless…I still laugh at references made in every fight while you try to obtain new spirits (Ness’s dad is an obvious example).

This time around I’ve focused on so many character strengths and juggled around mains like crazy. But of course, no one else will matter when Joker from Persona 5 steals all of our hearts.

9. Tetris Effect (PS4/PSVR)

Tetris Effect made me give a shit about Tetris for the very first time in my life. I’ve never hated Tetris, I’ve just never been super interested in it. But when you add so many elements to the most classic video game ever, you can finally grab the attention of a piece of shit millennial who has a slight attention span problem.

Seriously though, the design in sound and visuals for this game are some of the most enticing to come out of this year. Did I ever think I could tear up while playing Tetris? Of course not, but Mizuguchi was not playing around with the original songs on some of these levels.

You want to feel inspired? Or creeped out? Or so stressed because tetris blocks (I don’t know the proper name and I don’t care) are coming down so fast while fireworks and dolphins and other shit are popping up out of the corner of your eye?! Tetris Effect does all of that. And it even takes the time to come up with silly challenges that helps you take a break and have fun with upside down mode and huge tetris blocks.

And a reminder, the full name of this game is Game of the Year Contender: Tetris Effect.

8. Guacamelee! 2 (Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC)

We’ve gone through a wave in the last few years where smaller platformers have had a resurgence and have pushed through the noise of major AAA games. Guacamelee! came out back in 2013 and took mostly everyone by surprise with its fun art style, goofy referential humor, and the perfect combination of traversal and combat. That last point is an important one because platformers stand out to me when they know how to combine those two elements to make gameplay feel fluid and intuitive.

Guacamelee! 2 expands on everything the first game had to offer. While the opening hours of the tutorial were longer than I would have liked, once you get back into the groove from the end of the first game, the sequel adds so many more layers to the gameplay that it was worth spending another 9 hours with Juan and his group of friends.

And on top of all of that, Guacamelee! 2 also has a personal story (which is slightly buried by the whole “Mexi-verse” plot) about Juan being sort of a washed up hero. He has a family now with Lupita and they are very happy together, but you see in the opening moments that Juan misses his glory days. And seeing his arc throughout the game, where his ultimate foe is an obvious foil to himself, makes you realize that maybe having power when you no longer need it is a very dangerous path.

The goofy references to other games is top notch. And some of the gameplay challenges you go through, my favorite being a level that is completely invisible on a white canvas, made for some frustratingly satisfying moments of triumph.

Oh, and the commentary the devs make on people hating the memes from the first game is hands down the funniest moment from any game this year.

7. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4, Xbox One, PC…..and technically Switch if you’re in Japan)

I constantly forget that I’m a huge Assassin’s Creed fan. It’s always when the new release of the series goes into some dumb and deep lore shit that I remember, “Oh yea…I’ve played every AC game and like almost all of them!” I did that again this year with Odyssey (even though Origins was only last year).

Odyssey has been the second installment since the series has pivoted hard into being an open-world RPG and this one expands on and makes small adjustments/improvements to the core gameplay, skills, and enemy systems that makes it hard to walk away from. While I think this entry added too many activities that felt very surface level by the end of my 80 hour playthrough, the core gameplay and heart of the story motivated me to explore the many corners of the map with Kassandra.

(Fun fact: My 80 hour playthrough was done in two weeks. That’s like Odyssey being my full time 40 hour/week job for two weeks…..on top of my real full time 40 hour/week job. I don’t think I had ever felt more delirious in my life.)

Although there was a lot added to this game that I wasn’t a fan of, there were so many new and improved systems in this game that made it hard not to love. My favorite activity to go through was finding and killing every member of the Kult of Kosmos. Even though they’re not technically the Templars, it was the first time an Assassin’s Creed game made your enemy feel so real and scary. The fact that not every member was tied to the main story and you knew there were so many unknown people out in the world to discover on your own gave a breath of fresh air to this series.

The other systems, while not as satisfying, were still fun in their own right. I tried not to pay any mind to the Mercenary chart (AKA Nemesis System Lite) but eventually I did become obsessed with being THE BEST MERC IN GREECE. And the amount of side quests that offered so many epic moments like fighting in the battle arena or taking on a giant boar with a stomach problem kept me smiling throughout my time with the game.

6. Red Dead Redemption II (PS4 and Xbox One….suck it PC nerds)

I have now gone two years in a row where the game I think will be my game of the year gets outshined by other surprises. And while I love Red Dead 2 for some of its fantastic character development and true dedication to making you feel immersed in the world, the archaic gameplay kept pulling me out of feeling a true sense of immersion.

My personal reservations aside, Red Dead 2 delivered on so much that it’s impossible to not recognize it for the fantastic game that it is. Arthur Morgan became one of my favorite protagonists in recent history due to his struggle between loyalty and knowing when it’s time to give up. He helped embody the tone of the game, which overall was an apocalyptic one. The world of outlaws is slowly coming to an end and the feeling of utter destruction feels like one more score away.

Red Dead 2 also makes you care about so much from so little. Lenny and Hosea were early favorites of mine from the beginning because of how much they felt like family. And seeing their lives come at the price of this lifestyle was a devastating experience that I should have known was coming. Didn’t make it any easier though. And the small moments Arthur shared with people throughout, where you realize how much tragedy he had gone through, made me fall in love with him and I never wanted to let him go.

The major reason why this isn’t higher on my list is because the last 15 hours of the campaign became very predictable and not in a satisfyingly Breaking Bad kind of way. The tropes this series has now doubled down on made the final hours of the story feel bland to me, although there were a few key moments when I couldn’t help but get emotional. Due to the way the story shakes out, I no longer felt compelled to explore the rest of the world because I no longer had the person I wanted to explore it all with.

I know I’m coming off more negative on this game than I would like, especially because it is still in my Top 10, but I really did love most of the journey throughout. This game knew how to highlight both the small, personal moments and the crazy action that all connected in a wild, wild emotional rollercoaster.

Also I kept my horse, BoJack Horseman, alive THE ENTIRE GAME AND THEY HAD THE AUDACITY TO KILL IT ANYWAY FOR STORY REASONS?! Fucking. Rude.

5. Deltarune (PC…okay PC Nerds, you win this time)

Okay. I know this isn’t a “complete” game per se, but the fact that this new project from Toby Fox is about the same length as his first game makes it count in my book. Hell, when I opened the game I thought I was actually just going to be answering a survey.

But no… Deltarune feels like a complete experience that is full of heart, creepiness, and crazy twists that rivals its predecessor. Fox was able to perform a great balancing act of keeping key features and tones from Undertale and changing the formula and universe up JUST enough to not feel overshadowed by his first game. Of course, not too much was changed…mainly just the battle system, but the dynamic of how Fox changed that system to fit more with what was going on in the narrative is a prime example of how successful he is at having every element of his games fit together perfectly.

And of course, the story on the surface level is one that focuses on friendship, self-doubt, hope, and the ability to believe in others. You play as Kris (though the game does ask you your own name in the beginning), a normal boy, in a town filled with a diverse cast of monsters that look very familiar, who gets sucked into what seems like an alternate dimension with your school’s biggest bully, Susie. Also, bully is an understatement…..she is straight up terrifying.

But there’s also all of the meta storytelling going on as well where fans are still trying to connect this world to the world of Undertale. I believe it’s no coincidence that we see a lot of the same cast of characters from the first game very briefly. So that bit of trying to figure out how these two games will all fit together eventually has added another level to the game. I mean…what was that ending all about?! Is Kris a murderous psychopath? Or are we?

The grand quest you’re immediately sent on hits all of the notes it needs to have the familiar taste of Undertale and that brought up a weird sense of nostalgia for the first game. I know it’s only been a couple of years since Undertale but the fact that I was in another world that still felt very similar brought a feeling of comfort for me. And I can’t wait to see what the full version of this game looks like. I can only imagine what Toby has cooked up for us.

4. Pokemon Let’s Go (Switch)

Before Let’s Go came out, it was not really on my radar. The marketing kept pushing the whole “it’s not a mainline game” story and the more they did that, the more I kept ignoring it.

But I couldn’t help but be pulled back into Kanto only because I was curious to see if the nostalgia of Gen I could retain me. And it did. All it had to do was open up with Professor Oak and have him tell me about the world of Pokemon and make some goofy jokes. Even the little details sold me immediately, like the poster in your bedroom of the Gengar/Nidorino battle from the opening sequence of the original game. Nintendo knew what they were doing and I was finally on board.

The game itself is mainly the same old Pokemon you remember: building up your main team. Collecting the 8 badges. Fighting the Elite Four. The main difference, which was what I was unsure about, is the major shakeup of grinding. Instead of focusing on leveling up your Pokemon at a consistent rate, the grind in Let’s Go encourages catching more Pokemon and the rest kind of takes care of itself. Catching Pokemon this time around is now done in the style of Pokemon Go (throwing Poke Balls, berries, or whatever and getting as many “excellent” throws as possible to eventually catch the Pokemon) rather than battling them.

And I think I weirdly prefer this style. It encourages you to go out and actually collect all 151 Pokemon and, if you’re dedicated enough, to catch one Pokemon a number of times in a row to help spawn more rare and shiny Pokemon. It’s definitely different but I think it’s a great modern translation of what the original games were without keeping the original mechanics that actually make those games feel slow today.

Of course there are a bunch of new features this time around, especially in the post game, that kept me interested and not feel like I was just playing the same game from 20 years ago. It’s also just incredible to go back to this world and remember how important it was for me growing up and it even made me watch the show again so I could relive the charm of this world for a little bit longer. Pokemon is rad y’all.

3. Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

The last two years have been amazing for everyone’s favorite web-head. And it felt too good to be true that one of the reasons why is because we were getting a full on Spider-Man game. It had been too long since a good Spider-Man game was released and all eyes were on Insomniac after their initial announcement because of that. Everything before launch had looked too ambitious in some parts and not ambitious enough in others. And before I got my own hands on the game, I was worried that Spidey was going to get another bland entry in the long list of bland games he’s had in the past.

But Bryan Intihar and Insomniac knew what they were doing with almost everything in this game. Traversing around New York City itself is so satisfying that I still pop in the game every once in a while just to feel the swinging again. And the little labors of love from how Spidey runs up and through fire escapes to the collectibles throughout made the game all the more immersive…maybe not the science puzzles though.

On top of all that, Insomniac delivered a fantastic first story to their universe without making itan origin story (for Peter at least). Spider-Man has never felt this interesting this late in his career and I think that’s because Insomniac knew how to make Peter actually feel like a 23 year old (my age, for reference). Every aspect of Peter’s character in this story felt so relatable..whether it was running late on bills, not knowing how to communicate with MJ, or making dumb jokes about being a detective. Insomniac pulled from all of the best parts of Spider-Man’s history to make what I now consider the best interpretation of Peter Parker.

And I haven’t even talked about the amazing supporting cast of friends and foes. Peter’s story is also great because of his relationships. And the big two, which relate to one of the bigger themes of the game, have to do with mentorship. The foils between Peter, Otto, and Miles create such a powerful sense of investment and there are several times where you are rooting for all of them. And the fall of one of those relationships and the rise of the other were such a real representation of how life throws many things at us. And that’s only one example of why this game feels so special not only as a Spider-Man game, but as a story about growing up.

Reminder that Shirtless Spider-Man is now canon.

2. Celeste (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)

I had not heard of Celeste before Tom Marks had started raving about it a few days before it had officially come out. And I believe that holds true for a lot of people. So it has been amazing to see love for this game, that now means so goddamn much to me, spread around like wildfire purely by word of mouth.

Celeste is very important to me because of its message of anxiety and how to address and deal with it in a way that works for you. Not everything is going to work every time. When you find yourself in different situations in life, you’ll have to try to find a different strategy to help yourself. And even more importantly, never give up…you’re only going to get better. And the reason why Celeste is one of the best games this year not only because of that very important message and how well it’s told throughout the story…but also how that message connects to the gameplay. You’ll have to adjust throughout the game to keep pushing through. And the tough challenges you find yourself on, no matter how many times you fail, is only making you better at assessing what your situation is.

Also, real quick, the soundtrack to this game is definitely one of the most unique and exhilarating soundtracks for a game in recent memory. Celeste will go down, for me, as having some of the most iconic music that perfectly fits every piece of the game.

Anyway…Madeline’s journey is an important one just for her. There’s no big picture or grand scheme to all of this. She just needs to accomplish something for herself to feel a sense of closure and find a new beginning. And that’s something we all can understand and connect to, which easily makes her one of the most relatable characters ever in video games.

1. God of War (PS4)

I can’t believe that two years in a row, my game of the year is tied to a series that I have never understood before. Persona 5 will go down as one of my favorite games of all time for many reasons, but at the core it was a game about relationships and learning how to grow with them.

God of War is solely about growing the most important relationship you could possibly have. And the internal journey Kratos had to take to keep that relationship strong had struck a lot of unexpected chords for me. I have struggled throughout my life with communicating with people and Kratos was the perfect subject to help me realize how much I have grown with others and how our experiences, whether good or bad, have made us all grow in ways we couldn’t expect.

Not only did God of War succeed in telling a very personal story, which at the end of the day was also just about climbing a mountain, it created such a cool and unique interpretation of Norse Mythology that can make people interested in its lore more than Marvel’s surface level interpretation. The characters you meet like Baldur and Thor’s sons have personalities that explode off the screen and makes you invested even though they aren’t well known characters from this mythology.

The world itself also feels so alive and filled with history thanks to Mimir and Atreus sharing and discovering stories about the Nine Realms. I’ve never done so much actual research after playing a game to learn more about stories that were just teased and that also helped me appreciate this fully realized world even more.

The gameplay has a constant feeling of satisfaction. Whether you’re still learning or pulling off crazy stunts you never thought possible, you really feel the victory after every encounter…no matter how big or small. And that’s mainly thanks to the feel of the Leviathan Axe. Using the axe has got to be the best feeling gameplay mechanic from this year (with Spidey swinging at a close second). Early reviews of the game were mocked because of reviewers sharing stories of just standing around and throwing and recalling the axe because of how good it felt just doing that. Everyone stopped when they felt it for themselves.

God of War hit so many home runs in this installment that there’s too many to list. But the two major things that have stuck with me are the slow bonding between Atreus and Kratos and how the narrative of this game will make for some very interesting follow ups. After reading so much about Ragnarok and how it truly comes to be (not the way the Marvel movie does it) and how Kratos’ presence have shook things up so much that Ragnarok is beginning about 100 years too early, I keep running through how the rest of what I assume is a trilogy will end up playing out. I’ve never been so excited for a follow up to a game and I never expected my most anticipated sequel to be God of War 2 (I know it probably won’t be called that but you get it).

I’ve also never jumped out of my chair like I did for the reveal at the end because GOD DAMN that was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever experienced in a game.

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