Happy 2019, everyone! Is it just me or do the years feel like they are flying by these days? Before we get too far into the new year, let's not forget to take a look back at the one that's just passed and make note of all the truly great gaming experiences we got out of it. As it turns out, 2018 was a pretty fantastic year for video games - and I have quite a bit of praise to heap on some of them. So without further ado, here are the 12 best games of 2018 (as selected by me).
Games For Dads is a column featuring new or recent games that I feel are ideal for being played and enjoyed together by parents (dads, in my case) and their kids.
Welcome back to Games For Dads! It's been a few years now, since my first and only entry. At the time I had kind of assumed that the coming years would be rife with great Nintendo titles for me to enjoy with my son. Since then, my wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family (who I look forward to gaming with in the coming years), but I haven't seen nearly as many must-play co-op experiences from Nintendo as I'd expected. There were one or two, to be sure (Yoshi's Woolly World is definitely worth a mention), but between the relatively quiet closing year(s) of the Wii U, and the fairly sparse opening year of the Switch, it's mostly just been titles with pretty lackluster co-op options (if any at all), or Switch ports of stuff I could have covered already on the Wii U (Mario Kart, for instance).
Yoshi aside, (I chose not to cover Mario Kart because my son isn't that big into racing games yet), there's been shockingly little else worth mentioning. Until recently, that is. Last month, Nintendo (and HAL Laboratory) gifted us with what is arguably the best original couch co-op multiplayer game to come to the Switch so far, as well as one of the finest Kirby games ever made.
It should go without saying that Kirby games are always family-friendly. Boys and girls of just about every age seem to adore the little pink puffball. Even with my son having grown a little bit older and more discerning, Kirby: Star Allies was still an instant hit for him. I picked the game up on a Friday and he basically played it for the entire weekend, only stopping to take breaks when he was hungry or his parents asked him to.
You've Got a Friend In Me
Every new Kirby release in recent years has done a good job of bringing some unique new feature to the table that has helped to differentiate it from past titles. Kirby: Triple Deluxe had a power-up that bestowed Kirby with the ability to inhale extra-large items, including obstacles and sometimes even scenery; Kirby: Planet Robobot introduced various fun little mechs for Kirby to tool around in. Kirby: Star Allies features a mechanic that, though similar to something that had previously been seen in Kirby: Super Star, has been significantly revamped and improved upon here - the ability to create friends.
Unlike the single pal you could have in Super Star, and only by swallowing and then dropping an enemy, in Star Allies you can instantly make multiple friends just by throwing hearts at them. Once hit by a heart, most enemy types will instantly convert into computer-controlled allies (hence the title). What's more, you can have up to three of them at any time.
The "make friends" mechanic is pretty ingenious as it offers a quick and easy way to assemble a fairly varied, super-hero team style crew of helpers to assist you. Additionally, the game offers local same-screen co-op for 2-4 players. That means you can recruit up to three real-life buddies (or family members) to play as any, or all, of your virtual ones. Meta Knight, indeed! While his sister is a bit too young still (and his mom doesn't play many games outside of Tetris and Dr Mario), I can tell you that my son and I had quite a blast playing it together, just the two of us.
With Your Powers Combined
In addition to the fantastic four-player friending frenzy, Star Allies also brings back an improved power-combining mechanic similar to the ones found in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Kirby: Squeak Squad. What it allows you to do is combine just about any two powers in the game. So, for instance, crossing parasol with sword creates a splash sword. Beam and bomb gives you zap bombs. What do you get when you cross a staff with fire? A fire staff, naturally! And those are just a small portion of all the possible power pairings; there are literally dozens of others that are discoverable throughout the course of the game.
My son and I were only too happy to try and figure out all the different power combos as we played. One of our favorite discoveries was what happens when you cross stone with ice. A couple months ago, I had just introduced my son to the wonderful world of winter sports, thanks to the detailed television coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games. So, you can imagine our excitement and surprise at traversing a level in our brand new Kirby game and then suddenly seeing him transform into a familiar-looking slip-sliding (enemy-smashing) curling stone.
Figuring out how to combine (and utilize) all the crazy power combinations is easily half the fun of Star Allies. What's also cool is that the ability to combine powers isn't merely limited to Kirby himself, as even his frienemies can get in on the fun. What this invariably results in is a delightfully chaotic ballet of different characters bounding all over the screen, hurling various elemental powers every which way. Moments like these are a joy to behold and kept my son and I endlessly entertained.
Easy On the Eyes
So, even though Kirby: Star Allies does feature awesome AI/person-controlled multiplayer as well as slick new power combination options, it is a touch on the short side. My son was actually able to beat the game (with really not a whole lot of help) after only a few days. But, like past Kirby games, there are a couple of mini-games available from the start, in addition to a couple of extra modes that unlock upon completion of the game. Between these, the fantastic variety on offer in the main game, and also items to find and collect in every level, Star Allies does feature enough content to make it worthwhile.
As the first Kirby game to arrive on Nintendo's current most-powerful system, Star Allies is also pretty nice to look at. While Kirby games aren't typically known for pushing the envelope where graphics are concerned, they are always colorful. And this title does a great job of utilizing the Switch hardware to really make those colors pop. Even my little daughter seemed to be entranced by what she saw on the screen. (And I have a feeling that when she's ready, Star Allies will likely be one of the first games that she takes to.)
The music and stages are a great mix of the new and familiar. My son played enough Kirby titles over the past couple years to feel right at home with Star Allies. The great thing about the Kirby franchise, one of the key reasons it enjoys such mass appeal and staying power, is that the games are so easy and inviting to pick up and play. Yet, a truly great Kirby game manages to be engaging and fun despite the familiarity and simplicity. That's what you get with Kirby: Star Allies - the perfect blend of old and new that is easy to learn and a whole lot of fun to play. Whether you're a longtime fan of Kirby or you've just been introduced, you're sure to enjoy this one. Kirby: Star Allies is a winner for kids and parents alike.
(This is a repost of an article that also appeared on 12/12 Games.)
January's almost over but before we get too far into 2017, I'd like to share my picks for the top 12 games of 2016. As usual, the year offered up dozens of great titles to choose from and whittling down my list to a mere 12 was no easy task. However, I feel pretty good about my selections and I'm fairly confident that you will agree with at least a few, if not several of them. So without further ado, I present to you, my picks for the 12 best games of 2016:
#12 Pokkén Tournament
Best Wii U Exlusive
-Developer: Bandai Namco
-Available On: Arcade, Wii U
Pokkén Tournament is quite an interesting title simply because of several notable distinctions. First, it was (sadly) one of only about a dozen retail releases to appear on the Wii U this past year. Second, it is the first non-portable Pokémon game to come out in almost nine years. Third, it is the first and only Pokémon game ever to be released in the arcade. And lastly, it is, to my knowledge, the only fighting game ever to be released to arcades with a console-style gamepad. (Not sure why they would even do that.)
Having been developed by veteran arcade company Namco Bandai (emphasis on the Namco part of the name), Pokkén Tournament is no slouch when it comes to delivering solid entertainment. The gameplay even bears more than just a passing resemblance to Namco's own legendary Tekken franchise, hence the name. If you are a fan of Pokémon, Tekken, or both, you really ought to check this game out.
#11 Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-
-Developer: Arc System Works
-Available On: Arcade, Steam, PlayStation 4
Believe it or not, even though the arcades of yesteryear are all pretty much dead and gone now, some companies are still putting out occasional releases over in Japan. While the likes of Sega, SNK, Capcom, and Namco may have been the undisputed kings of the arcades of yore, today, only one company wears the crown: Arc System Works. With nearly yearly updates and new installments to two of the biggest franchises in fighting (to say nothing of side projects like Persona 4: Arena, and non-fighting spin-off games) Arc System Works is possibly one of the hardest working companies in gaming.
2014's Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- represented a massive, wondrous, and beautiful HD revamp to the long-running series. It was nearly perfect in every way, save for the unfortunate lack of a few fan-favorite charaters. Enter 2016's exciting follow-up, Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-. Everything you loved about Sign but with a more respectable roster (along with a few other tweaks and balance changes). If you missed or sat out on Sign, there's really no excuse to not own Revelator. Without question, the best fighting game of the year. Street Fighter who?
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Much like 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order, 2016's Doom was an absolutely outstanding entry in one of id software's (and really, all of gaming's) most legendary franchises. This go-round, id has pretty much done away with the storyline distractions from Doom 3 (though whether for better or worse is somewhat debatable) and traded them for the kind of immediate and relentless action found in the first two Doom games. As with Wolfenstein, the graphics in Doom are incredible, the action is great fun, and the thrills are enough to keep you satisfied way longer than you might expect. This installment more than lives up to its pedigree.
#09 Dark Souls III
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
FromSoftware is no stranger to best-of-year game lists. Last year, they even made it onto a few with their excellent PlayStation exclusive, Bloodborne. In 2016, they went back to their standard-bearer series with Dark Souls III. Bloodborne borrowed much from it's older brother (to its credit), and Dark Souls III borrowed a bit from Bloodborne in return. The series also benefited greatly from the jump to the newer consoles as III is by far the prettiest and most action-packed Souls game yet. It's a little baffling that FromSoftware could even find a way to make this game better than the ones that came before it, but somehow they managed to pull it off. While doubt has already been cast upon the earlier rumors that III would serve as the final entry, I can't really imagine a better way to end such a legendary series.
#08 Kirby: Planet Robobot
Best 3DS Exclusive
-Developer: HAL Laboratory
-Available On: 3DS
Few franchises are as consistently fun, yet utterly formulaic as the Kirby series. Sure, there have been a few exceptions along the way (for better or worse). Kirby's Block Ball, Kirby Air Ride, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, to name a few. By and large though, most Kirby games have all felt pretty much the same. Just take 2014's Kirby: Triple Deluxe as a perfect example. Great game, lots of fun, but nothing we hadn't really seen before.
This last year, however, the mad scientists over at HAL Laboratory finally came up with something ingenious (if slightly insane). The answer of course, was mechanized suits. Yes, in Kirby: Planet Robobot, Kirby gets to pilot a mech. And the resulting gameplay is just as crazy awesome as you might hope (though not necessarily expect). Kirby: Planet Robobot is without a doubt the 3DS game of the year. Watch out Gundam, Kirby came to play!
#07 Forza Horizon 3
-Developer: Playground Games
-Available On: Xbox One, PC
Upon reading through these picks, you may notice that there isn't any best Xbox One exclusive. That's because, thanks to Microsoft's new Play Anywhere initiative, there pretty much weren't any Xbox One exclusives this year. At least, none that would come close to qualifying as one of the 12 best games of the year. But if not for that pesky Windows 10 version (rest assured, I actually don't mind having more ways to play), Forza Horizon 3 would definitely be the One.
When the first Forza Horizon game debuted four years ago, it was pretty darn good. 2014's sequel was even better. But with the 3rd installment, British developer Playground games achieved near-perfection. Everything about the game is bigger, better, and more fun than those that came before it. The studio doesn't even really need to make a 4th game. If they wanted to, the entire staff could just say "mission accomplished" and all go retire to a beach somewhere. Even so, I hope there's a 4th.
-Available On: GOG, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
In 2010, indie developer Playdead released the simple yet incredible gem, Limbo. The genius of Limbo was the surprising depth of emotion they were able to capture with such a minimalistic audio-visual approach. Limbo received universal acclaim and was widely regarded as one of the best games of the year. 6 years later and Playdead managed to catch that very same lightning in a bottle with their fantastic follow-up, Inside. Inside boasts emotionally engaging gameplay to rival Limbo's, in addition to a much greater level of visual detail. The result is another resounding critical success for Playdead.
#05 Titanfall 2
-Developer: Respawn Entertainment
-Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Origin
The first Titanfall had a lot going for it, famed developers, a huge publisher, guns and mechs... What more could anyone ask for? Well, a campaign, for one thing. Really, that was the only thing it was missing. So Respawn decided to give the fans what they wanted, Titanfall 2. Everything that made the first one so popular, plus the inclusion of a proper campaign.
In all honesty, Respawn probably could have just slapped a simple by-the-numbers story onto the existing Titanfall 1 game and called it a day. Instead though, they overhauled the multiplayer portion with smart new maps, weapons, and features to make it much more varied and compelling than ever before. Then they topped it all off with a campaign that is simply superb. You may have had your reasons for skipping the first Titanfall (platform exclusivity, no single-player portion, etc...), but Titanfall 2 is not to be missed under any circumstances.
#04 The Witness
-Available On: GOG, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Similar to Inside and its developer Playdead, The Witness isn't Jonathan Blow's first critical success. Unlike Playdead, however, Blow's second hit bears very little resemblance to his first. But that only makes what he has achieved with The Witness seem all the more remarkable.
A first-person puzzle-solving walking simulator, The Witness takes a healthy amount of inspiration from the early '90s computer classic, Myst. While Myst was highly praised at the time of its release, it also received its fair share of criticisms. That hasn't been the case with The Witness. That's because there isn't anything critical to be said about The Witness. Not really. The puzzles are challenging but solvable, the visuals are beautiful, and the whole experience is one you are sure to treasure for years to come. So, step aside, Myst. There's a new classic in town.
#03 Battlefield 1
-Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Origin
Despite what you may assume by the misleading title, Battlefield 1 is not a remake of the first Battlefield game. Battlefield 1 is actually a shining example of revisionist history, both in terms of the series itself, and of the war the game is about. I say shining because even though Battlefield 1 is not now, and has never been the first entry in the series, it could certainly be considered number 1 as far as quality is concerned. Likewise, although many liberties may have been taken as far as historical accuracy is concerned, I don't think World War I has ever been quite so much fun. So, they want to call this game Battlefield 1? While that may not reasonably apply in every sense, I'll certainly allow it.
#02 Dishonored 2
Best Multi-Platform Game
-Developer: Arkane Studios
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Arkane Studio's 2012 hit, Dishonored, was a masterclass in worldbuilding. Seldom can a game so totally immerse you in such a compelling and believable, yet totally fictitious, place. Not only did they succeed at creating an amazing setting, but they then used that setting to contain a thrilling action game and a finely-crafted stealth game, both rolled into one glorious whole. Dishonored was easily one of the better games to come out in 2012; and in 2016, Dishonored 2 was one of the best. That's because that same fantastic attention to detail was married to an even better game with superior graphics, a new city to explore, improved gameplay, and an optional second character with all new abilities. Put simply, Dishonored 2 is perfection perfected.
#01 Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Best PlayStation 4 Exclusive, Game of the Year
-Developer: Naughty Dog
-Available On: PlayStation 4
The first Uncharted was good. Not necessarily great, but very, very good. Many developers probably would have been happy with having a very good game. Not Naughty Dog, though. They went back to the drawing board, figured out how to really make their formula shine, threw in an addictive multiplayer mode, and returned two years later with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves; one of the best games of all time. You might think that that would have been enough to satisfy their aspirations of excellence. But, no, it wasn't. Another two years later and they released the somehow equally-good Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Evidently, they didn't want to stop there either because, just this past year, they decided to blow all of our collective minds still one more time.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is presumably the last game in the series, and it's hard to imagine a better way to leave it. Everything about this game is both stunning and masterfully executed. I don't know if the people at Naughty Dog made a deal with the devil or what, but they basically managed to put out the game of the year with all three of the sequels in this franchise. If you haven't played any of them yet, then you haven't experienced the very best of what gaming has to offer.
That concludes my list of the 12 best games of 2016. I hope you enjoyed reading about them almost as much as I enjoyed playing them. As always, feel free to share your thoughts or even your own picks in the comments below.
[Images: Bethesda, Nintendo, FromSoftware, Microsoft, Playdead, EA, Thekla, Sony]