AJ’s Picks: The 12 Best Games of 2018

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).

12. Spider-Man

-Developer: Insomniac
-Available On: PlayStation 4

Unlike the Batman franchise, whose games had been more or less terrible until the groundbreaking Arkham series, there have been a number of halfway decent Spider-Man games over the past couple of decades. While 2010's simply-titled Spider-Man doesn't quite reach the same skyscraper levels of excellence as said Arkham games, it's probably the closest the web-slinger has come yet. The mechanics (such as web-swinging and combat) are satisfying and engaging enough for a standard AAA affair, as are the story and voice-acting. Everything about the game actually feels pretty spectacular, yet it's hard to shake this nagging sense that it isn't quite as amazing as it could have been. Basically, in a world where those Arkham titles didn't exist, 2018's Spider-Man would undoubtedly be the new standard of excellence for a superhero game. But because those games already are that standard, and this one wasn't quite able to eclipse them, well, Spider-Man may have been the title gamers needed this past year, but the Dark Knight is still the hero gamers deserve.

11. Iconoclasts

-Publisher: Bifrost
-Available On: GOG, Steam, PlayStation 4, Switch

Iconoclasts was just one of several notable "metroidvania" type games that came out this past year, with an emphasis more on the "metroid" half of the term. Like Nintendo's classic action platformer series, this game also features a heroine with a blaster (as well as the occasional carbon copy enemy). But Iconoclasts manages to differentiate itself in some pretty meaningful ways. For instance, whereas Samus largely relied on her aforementioned sidearm, the main tool in Robin's belt is an actual tool, a wrench that she uses for solving puzzles as well as bashing heads. In addition, instead of the dark and foreboding alien worlds of the Metroid series, Iconoclasts is set in an almost Sonic the Hedgehog-looking world that is incredibly bright and vibrant (though not without it's own dark side). Iconoclasts may wear a lot of its inspiration on its familiar-looking sleeve, but this is one knock-off you most definitely shouldn't be caught without.

10. Dead Cells

-Developer: Motion Twin
-Available On: GOG, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch

Another great imitator, Dead Cells was, for my money, the best metroidvania of the year (and it definitely falls on the "vania" side of the equation). I would argue that it was actually the most Castlevania-esque new game to come out in years. That being said, French indie studio Motion Twin did manage to spice things up a bit by adding a touch of roguelite to the formula. But the resemblance is definitely striking. The homage is so strong that the title even includes an option to change the in-game food items to the same ones you would find in a Castlevania game. I'm not sure what Konami has been doing with the actual Castlevania franchise for all this time but they would be advised to wake up and pay attention. While their beloved series is lifelessly resting in its coffin, Motion Twin's new game is basically devouring their lunch.

09. Mario Tennis: Aces

-Publisher: Nintendo
-Available On: Switch

Even though the Mario tennis series has long been a staple in the digital sports world, Ultra Smash (the previous entry on the Wii U), though solid, was pretty disappointingly light on content. It's satisfying then, that for Mario Tennis: Aces, Nintendo wasn't content with yet another quick and dirty port to the Switch, as has seemed to become their routine as of late. Rather, Aces was a fresh, full-featured installment with more characters, options, and game modes than you could shake a racket at. That isn't to say that this title was perfect. There were still one or two head-scratching omissions (such as the inability to select a specific AI partner in multiplayer doubles). When you consider, however, the fact that Mario Tennis: Aces is one of the better entries in an already highly-acclaimed, immensely enjoyable tennis series, you pretty much can't not include it among the best games to come out last year.

08. Monster Hunter: World

-Developer: Capcom
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Another year, another Monster Hunter game. If you include remakes and spin-offs, that's about how frequently Capcom has been releasing them over the past decade. And the popularity of the franchise only seems to be growing. There's good reason for that though, as, much like the monsters themselves, every new title that appears is somehow bigger and stronger than the last. As the newest installment in the series, Monster Hunter: World is no exception. Not only is it the best looking Monster Hunter game to date (thanks to Capcom's welcome decision to release it on PC and current generation home consoles), it is also one of the largest and deepest as well. Yet, despite the crazy number of skill trees and customization options the game threw at you, it still managed to somehow feel strangely accessible (at least, more so than previous titles). Monster Hunter: World presented a fantastic world to discover that was perfect for new players and series veterans alike.

07. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

-Developer: SEGA
-Available On: PlayStation 4

In addition to 2017's Yakuza 0 and Yakuza: Kiwami, and last year's Yakuza: Kiwami 2, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was one of four Yakuza titles to land on the PlayStation 4 in two years. That's an awful lot of Yakuza in a short amount of time. Fortunately, the exciting combat, crazy misadventures in a Japanese criminal underworld setting, and mini-games galore are all a winning combination that is pretty difficult to grow tired of. Yakuza 6 represented those elements well with flashier, more spectacular combat, a story that was both outlandish and dramatic enough to satisfy, and nearly all of the best classic mini-games from previous titles. Sega even included two fantastic new arcade selections to enjoy, Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (both of which included the obligatory, but much-appreciated, two-player versus option). Like the other recent Yakuza games, The Song of Life was also beautiful to behold (which also usually helps). As a game that would appeal to fans of dramatic crime stories, Japanese culture, insane street brawls, and/or classic Sega arcade games, Yakuza 6 (like those other entries) had a little something for everyone. I don't know about you, but I don't often tire of too much of a good thing.

06. God of War (4)

Best PlayStation 4 Exclusive

-Publisher: Sony
-Available On: PlayStation 4

It's been a while since Sony added a new installment to their mighty God of War series. 2018's entry marked five years since the release of the previous title, as well as the first to appear on their PlayStation 4 console. Luckily, this fantastically fresh franchise update happened to not only be a celebrated selection for the PS4, but one of the best games to arrive on any platform all year. Along with the upgrade in graphical power, the new Norse setting and enemies were also welcome changes that really helped this title stand apart; as was the surprisingly tender father/son dynamic, which did an outstanding job of balancing out the satisfyingly familiar blood-soaked brutality the series is famous for.

05. Kirby: Star Allies

-Publisher: Nintendo
-Available On: Switch

Kirby: Star Allies wasn't the first HD Kirby game. Nor was it the first to feature 4-person multiplayer. When you get right down to it, Kirby: Star Allies didn't actually do anything that was all that different than other Kirby games that had come before it. What it did do though was deliver an incredibly solid and beautiful adventure that was an absolute joy to play with multiple people (or even by yourself). Basically, it's easily one of the most recommendable entries in an already highly recommendable franchise, and to be quite honest, that's good enough for me.

04. Red Dead Redemption II

-Developer: Rockstar
-Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

The first Red Dead Redemption was one of the greatest video games ever made. Undoubtedly, there are some who might shake their heads at that statement but most critics would likely agree with it. That being said, the sequel had some mighty big cowboy boots to fill. Though developer, Rockstar, wasn't able to fully meet that challenge, they still succeeded for the most part. Especially where immersiveness was concerned - it's pretty staggering. Between the amazing scenic vistas, the incredible life-like graphics, the plethora of activities to choose from and things going on around you, it all feels like a living representation of the Wild West. The story and gameplay mechanics, on the other hand, did leave something to be desired. That's not to say they weren't good enough, but they just didn't feel like they were at the same level of quality as the rest of the game. The mechanics, in particular, felt like they hadn't improved much since the eight-year-old previous installment (and in fact, they sometimes felt like they had become slightly worse). All things considered though, Red Dead Redemption II was a remarkable achievement. It may not have been quite as good as the first one, but that's still second best to one of the greatest games ever made.

03. Forza Horizon 4

-Developer: Playground Games
-Available On: Xbox One, PC

Two years ago, Forza Horizon 3 occupied a spot on my 12 Best Games of 2016 list. In that article, I wrote that FH3 was so incredibly well-made, developer Playground Games would never need to make a sequel (but I hoped they would anyway). Thankfully, they did, and wouldn't you know it? Forza Horizon 4 is on my list too! Why shouldn't it be? It was only the best racing game of 2018; possibly their finest work yet. And that's saying something! Whereas 3 took you around parts of Australia, 4 took you to the United Kingdom, and let you experience driving there in all four seasons, no less. Once again, the cars were dreamy, the racing was epic, and the graphics were like nothing you'd ever seen in a racing game before. I don't know how Playground Games manages to keep pushing the envelope further with every subsequent game they release, or how much further it can possibly go, but here's hoping they've got enough left in the tank for at least one or two more goes.

02. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Best Multi-Platform Game

-Developer: Arc System Works
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch

Dragon Ball Z games have been an annual affair for a good 15 years or so now; and for every single one of those years, they have pretty much all been terrible. But at long last, Bandai Namco finally decided to let a developer with some actual talent take a crack at the franchise and the results were absolutely spectacular. Arc System Works drew on their extensive experience creating some of the finest arcade fighting games around to make this title something fans have (in some cases) been literally waiting their whole lives for. With its beautiful graphics, impeccable gameplay, and ample fan service, Dragon Ball Fighter Z is undeniably one of the finest fighting games ever made.

01. Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Best Switch Exclusive, Game of the Year

-Publisher: Nintendo
-Available On: Switch

So much more than a game series, Smash has been a way of life since its second installment on the GameCube. While each of the two previous entries added new characters, they both had characters cut as well. True to its name, Smash Bros Ultimate made up for this (and then some) by not only adding several additional great new fighters to the mix, but also including every single previous fighter, ever; resulting in a mind-smashing total of 74 characters. In addition, the game featured the vast majority of stages from every prior Smash game as well (even the ones previously exclusive to the 3DS). Who knows if there will ever be another Smash game after this one? Even if not, they certainly ended things on a heck of a high note. Super Smash Bros Ultimate is the only Smash game you will ever need. Period.

Well that'll do it for my top 12 of 2018. I once again hope you enjoyed checking out my picks. I really can't recommend them enough, so go check them out if you haven't already. Also, feel free to share your thoughts and/or own personal picks in the comments. I'm definitely looking forward to all the great gaming experiences 2019 will bring.

[Images: Arc System Works, Insomniac, Bifrost, Motion Twin, Nintendo, Capcom, SEGA, Sony, Rockstar, Playground Games]


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