Game Of The Year 2018: Editor's Spotlight Awards
By GameSpot Staff on
Our Personal Favorites From 2018.
Though GameSpot's countdown of the top ten Best Games on 2018 is complete, with Red Dead Redemption 2 taking the number one spot, we've still got plenty to talk about for the year that was 2018. It was a particularly interesting time for gaming, offering up an impressive amount of indies, AAA titles, and remasters of classic games. Whether it was a massive open-world adventure game, or a more intimate puzzle-platformer that pulls on your heartstrings.
Just like in 2017, GameSpot is here to present our picks for the 2018 Editor's Spotlight Awards. Pulling together write-ups from the staff across the globe, we're taking the time to highlight some of our favorite games that really struck a chord with us. Though these games didn't make it into our top ten, they're still noteworthy in their own right.
In the list below, there were a lot of special games this year across all platforms--PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One--that offered a unique kind of experience that left an impression on us. Some of these highlights include indie-platformer Celeste, the involved crime-drama Yakuza 6, and Dragon Quest XI, the first console-based entry in the long-running RPG series to hit the US in more than a decade.
If you want see which titles made it onto our list of the Best Games of 2018 across various categories, as well as our look back on the year that was 2018, be sure to visit our Best of 2018 hub. With that said, kick back and take some time to read our thoughts on some of our favorites from this year. Did any of your personal picks make it on this list? If not, give your favorite game a shout out in the comments below.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey | PC, PS4, Xbox One
Traditionally I'm a fan of dense RPGs coupled with challenging turn-based combat, but this year one of my favourite games was one that put up no boundaries between myself and unfettered fun. In fact, it actively pulled them down. For instance, upgrading Leap of Faith at level 20 in Assassin's Creed Odyssey eliminates fall damage. This is a microcosm of everything I learned to love about the latest Assassin's Creed entry. It's a game that doesn't want to get in your way. You can respec your abilities at any time for a minimal fee, money and loot are abundant, you can climb almost anything you want with no stamina bar dragging you down, and you're free to head in any direction at practically any time.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey is acutely aware it has a breathtaking world to show off. As a massive ancient history buff, it was overwhelmingly exciting to see the sprawling ancient Greek cities, meet the heroes of the time, and climb towering historical monuments.
Odyssey is a game with far too much game in it and a multitude of missions which will keep you occupied if you want to play it all year. That said, it will also begin to grate if you're a completionist like me who likes to cross off every objective. Underneath all of that fat, though, is a genuinely great experience with an intriguing central plot, a heap of colourful characters to meet, a beautiful world that will swallow you up with all it has to offer, and a soundtrack I can't stop singing along to. Kassandra's strength, wit, and charm shines through every step of the narrative and her strong characterisation and physicality amplify the story's highest and lowest moments. In a year of games that were uniquely challenging or dramatic, Odyssey is the game I can't stop coming back to for sheer reliable fun. I think I might have to get that 'Misthios' tattoo after all. | Jess McDonell
Celeste | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Matt Makes Games achieved something quite magical in 2018: in Celeste it made a piece of art that dealt with a sensitive topic in a deft and mature way while simultaneously and simply being A Good Video Game™. This delightful little platformer was amazingly satisfying--if difficult--to play, with varied obstacles, environments, and abilities. But what marked Celeste apart was how it portrayed protagonist Madeline and her mental health struggles, which are masterfully depicted through gameplay and in dialogue. Exquisite writing mean Celeste is easy to empathize with--her struggles thereby feel even greater and her successes even sweeter.
That's before you mention the beautiful art style and soundtrack, which help this wonderful world come alive and make it a pleasure to immerse yourself in. Celeste truly is one of 2018's greatest games, and you should absolutely play it. | Oscar Dayus
Destiny 2: Forsaken | PC, PS4, Xbox One
I definitely didn't think I'd be writing this in the year of the Traveler 2018. Ever since the first game launched, I've had a love-hate relationship with Bungie's shared-world shooter. The gunplay is great, the world is huge and weird, and the grind is horrible. Destiny 2 alleviated a lot of what was so frustrating about the first game, but after two big missteps in Year One with the Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions, I thought I'd forever be playing Destiny 2 for my job, and never really enjoying it too much.
Forsaken changed that.
It finally feels like Bungie is finding its footing with Destiny 2. In its second year, Destiny 2 is filled with content that changes week to week, and there's a lot more variety in the grind that makes tuning in every Tuesday a lot more fulfilling. New modes like Gambit and the limited-time events such as the Haunted Forest in the Halloween-themed Festival of the Lost and the space-baking activities in the holiday-themed The Dawning are helping keep things fresh. Generally, there's enough to do in Destiny 2 right now that you can just do what you want, if you want, when you want.
But the thing I'm loving the best is that Bungie is finally, slowly, embracing Destiny 2's weird side. The endgame area called the Dreaming City is full of dimension-hopping monsters and metaphysical intrigue, and there are tons of story tidbits to uncover. Destiny's world has always been filled with really interesting stories, but they've usually been relegated to ancillary materials like weapon descriptions and tough-to-find lore drops. Now, Bungie is starting to slip those stories into the game. The developer finally feels a bit more willing to embrace the strange and fun ideas that have been in the game all along, and I love it.
With Forsaken, it finally seems like Destiny 2 is figuring out what its creators really want it to be. It's hitting a stride in gameplay that makes revisiting it over and over again feel like a journey, more than a treadmill. And I'm completely on board with the game embracing its stranger side and bringing more of its vast lore into the game. Bring on all those weird stories, Bungie--I want to hear (and play) them all. | Phil Hornshaw
Dragon Ball FighterZ | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Dragon Ball was one of the shows that inspired my love of anime, and fighting games were instrumental in igniting my obsession with video games. Sadly, for as long as I've loved both, my dream of the two coming together remained unfulfilled. The history of Dragon Ball games is, for the most part, one of uninteresting brawlers that at best function and at worse are obvious cash grabs.
That is until 2018, when Dragon Ball FighterZ was released. Developed by Arc System Works, a studio with a proven track record of creating intricate, rewarding fighting games, FighterZ is a love letter to Dragon Ball created by people who are clearly fans of it themselves. As a long-suffering devotee, it gave me everything I could ask for, from impeccable visuals that bring a new level of vibrancy to the world of Dragon Ball to dozens of niche references the make up each character's moveset. Every aspect of FighterZ reciprocates the reverence I have for the series, and it's an absolute joy to see the care and attention that it has been given.
But beyond that, FighterZ is an accomplished game that takes the frenzied action of the manga and anime and transplants it into the framework of a 3-on-3 fighting experience. It's mechanically deep and layered in the way fighting game fanatics love, but at the same time the barrier to picking up a controller and making outrageous Dragon Ball things happen is very low. Sure, it may have a forgettable story mode and a less than intuitive lobby system, but those are small stumbles in an experience that otherwise Kaiokens its way into being the best Dragon Ball game ever created. | Tamoor Hussain
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age | PC, PS4
One of the things that stuck with me when playing through Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was how it wholeheartedly embraced the tone and formula of a classic RPG adventure. Though many role-playing games in recent years actively tried to reinvent familiar trends and mechanics and apply them to different settings, DQXI's upbeat nature and adherence to the more traditional style of fantasy epic was something that I not only admired, but also found surprisingly refreshing.
Over the course of Dragon Quest's 30 year history, the series always stuck close to its classic adventure roots, only wavering ever-slightly when certain entries--particularly the MMO Dragon Quest X--call for a change. In isolation, the premise of DQXI is rather quaint, if somewhat well-worn by genre conventions. Playing as a long prophesied hero, you'll band together a merry crew of rogues, wizards, and warriors to defeat an encroaching evil that puts the fate of the world at risk. It's all very familiar, however the legacy that this game brings--along with its challenging turn-based combat gameplay, a wealth of side-quests, and a charming story filled with fun characters--helped push it to become my favorite RPG experience this year.
This particular game is also the best the series has looked to date, bringing Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama's expressive and endearing art style to life in a more pronounced way. There were moments during exploration, which DQXI offers up in droves, where I had this heartwarming feeling inside--likely due to how vibrant the world itself was and how close-knit my hero and companions had become throughout the expansive journey. Despite some particularly dark and stressful turns in the story, there's always a strong undercurrent of optimism and hope throughout, which not only made it a game that felt worthwhile to dive into, but epitomized the best of what the Dragon Quest series is all about. | Alessandro Fillari
Far Cry 5 | PC, PS4, Xbox One
Far Cry is consistently one of the best-selling franchises in all of gaming, but--to paraphrase the late comedian--it doesn't get much respect. Sure, the games receive admirable review scores, and the usual small controversies spark a flurry of editorials, but Far Cries come and Far Cries go and the gaming world moves on. That's largely because--even when they travel back to prehistoric times--these titles stick closely to the formula established in 2012 by Far Cry 3.
That remains true with Far Cry 5, but I can't find it in my heart to complain. I had a hell of a good time this year exploring Hope County, Montana and gunning down members of the apocalyptic Eden's Gate cult. The game world is sprawling and filled with outposts to clear, stunt races to win, animals to hunt, prepper stashes hidden behind environmental puzzles, and much more. This is a game that gives you the keys to semi trucks and helicopters and all but begs you to destroy them in fiery explosions.
Does Far Cry 5 have anything interesting to say about the world we live in now? Almost certainly not. Does that matter? Not when the game is this much fun. These are heady times. Sometimes shutting off your brain and exploring a digital amusement park is all the remedy you need. | Chris Reed
Forgotton Anne | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
If you've ever watched a Studio Ghibli movie and wished you could live through it, then you'll love Forgotton Anne. Between the game's character designs and the type of story it tells, you'll wonder if ThroughLine's debut title is secretly a forgotten Hayao Miyazaki work.
You play as the titular Anne, a young woman who lives in a parallel universe where all lost objects from our world end up and gain sentience. Anne is the only Enforcer, someone who keeps the peace by using a device that can suck the life out of others. She's tasked with stopping a rebellion that's trying to prevent her master from building a bridge to our world--a seemingly straightforward conflict that turns out to be anything but.
Forgotton Anne is a strikingly gorgeous side-scrolling adventure game, both when it comes to visuals and music. However, the game's selling point is its story, which naturally evolves depending on how you handle each situation. Is it worth taking the time to deescalate a mob when people might get hurt, or would it be better to threaten the agitators into compliance? You could also just kill everyone or ignore the crowd and walk away. No matter your choice, it will affect others' perception of Anne. Even off-handed remarks can have unforeseen ramifications at the eleventh hour. | Jordan Ramee
Gris | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
When I play games, I tend to get very wrapped up in the process of exploration. Talk to everyone, check every corner, try every door--I'll slow my progress to a halt if it means finding one last collectible. So at first, it was hard to give myself up to Gris.
I first noticed Gris because of its stunning watercolor art style, and it's definitely one of the most visually impactful games I've played all year. But its most breathtaking beauty is in how it plays. It's not a platformer that challenges your skills or tasks you with hunting down scores of collectibles; it simply asks that you flow through its ethereal world and allow yourself to go where it takes you. Sometimes, that means taking a leap of faith off a ledge, not knowing if you'll ever make it back to where you'd been--but sure that you'll find something beautiful when you land.
Aside from a few slightly tricky environment puzzles, moving through Gris' world is more incidental than intentional. You need to collect motes of light to progress, but getting them is almost always a consequence of following the path that beckons you rather than seeking them out. Even if you do "miss" something by taking the left path rather than the right one, you're not missing anything at all; you'll always end up where you need to be. There's a peacefulness in that, and while it's not the same kind of beauty that drew me in, it's what will stick with me the most. | Kallie Plagge
Iconoclasts | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Iconoclasts was the first game I reviewed this year, and while other big games have since taken up my time, I could never quite shake the impact it left upon me. A vibrant 2D Metroid-like adventure, Iconoclasts puts you in control of mute protagonist Robin, a mechanic hunted down by a corrupt theocracy. What begins as a deceptively simple side-scrolling action game quickly unfurls to reveal a wave of complex puzzles and a heart-wrenching narrative.
While playing Iconoclasts is a joy, the story is what hits me the most. Its depiction of grief is realistic and powerful, never shying away from exploring the cast's emotional issues. There's a real sense of growth, with each character transcending their wit-laced dialogue and evolving into people with affecting, relatable plights. But it was my interactions with these characters as Robin that were the most significant.
Robin's endless strength in the face of a world dominated by religious and political corruption--not to mention her own emotional issues--served as rays of hope in the darkness. When I witnessed Robin's willingness to help even in moments when it clearly inconvenienced her, I was compelled to push her through it, if only to see how she might hope to restore the wounds inflicted by the world's atrocities. The inevitable conclusion gutted me, but it left me hopeful.
Pain and fear often throw us into doubt, but Iconoclasts reminds us how important self-sacrifice and empathy can be in aiding those around us who may feel weak, cynical, and alone. The unwavering, unspoken compassion and grace Robin exhibits unexpectedly furthered a resolve within me to try to help others, reminding me why we aren't solitary beings. And it's that encouraging notion that makes Iconoclasts one of my favorite games of 2018. | Matt Espineli
The Messenger | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Back in 2014, Yacht Club Games took the gameplay of Mega Man and Duck Tales, and merged them together with were, at the time, stand out game design elements to create something truly special. For 2018, it was Sabotage Studio modernizing the design elements of Ninja Gaiden that created an incredible new gaming experience in The Messenger. And, as a huge fan of platform games ever since the NES days, this was something I had to check out.
Similar to Ninja Gaiden, you control a ninja set on a quest to stop evil. However, unlike Tecmo's classic platformer, you earn an additional jump anytime you swing your sword and connect with an obstacle or enemy. From here, the game is a somewhat traditional platformer, but, similar to Shovel Knight, instead of lives, you’ll lose currency for each death. The gameplay is consistently excellent, with level layout and enemy placement always well thought-out and at times challenging, but never overtly-so.
And while all of this is designed well, it's the writing, and a major plot twist halfway through the game, that steal the show. While elements of this twist are shown in the trailer, I don’t want to spoil too much of it, as it’s really worth experiencing for yourself.
The writing is hilarious, consistently pointing out and making fun of video game tropes… even occasionally tying directly into the gameplay itself. I found myself regularly laughing out loud and falling in love with the Shopkeeper for all of his antics. Between this brilliant writing and modern take on a traditional platformer, The Messenger is easily one of the best platform games of the past few years, and a game both new and veteran players can enjoy alike. | Dave Klein
Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden | PC, PS4, Xbox One
Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden was one of several December releases that blindsided me right in the middle of our Best Of The Year discussions. I was scrambling to find more time to play it because its premise and execution is so strong, a refreshing twist on tactical turn-based strategy that introduces significant elements of stealth and exploration, forcing you to rethink your habits.
If you're fan of the genre, you'll likely begin to approach Mutant Year Zero skirmishes head-on like a game of XCOM--but that's not an approach that keeps you alive for very long. Mutant Year Zero puts an emphasis on careful planning, sneaking, hiding, and setting up ambushes. The key to being successful lies in how diligent you are in scouting the area, how patient you can be in waiting for guards to move on, and how well you can plan set up surprise ambushes to whittle down enemy forces. It's a great, compelling mix of real-time stealth and a wonderfully slick execution of the style of turn-based tactics popularized by Firaxis.
Of course, that's not to neglect the game's fantastic execution of a distant, overgrown post-post-apocalyptic world. The mutant animal/human hybrids are fascinating characters, and their sincere but amusing speculations of a long-lost human society are amusing. The scarcity of materials to help keep your team well-equipped and the high stakes of combat enhance the feeling of desperation. 2018 has been a great year for strategy games--Into The Breach, Battletech, Frostpunk, Civilization VI: Rise and Fall, and numerous Paradox expansions--and Mutant Year Zero, whose thematics and mechanics come together in a superb package, is another that shouldn't be missed if you love tactical strategy. | Edmond Tran
NHL 19 | PC, PS4, Xbox One
As a lifelong ice hockey fan and fan of sports video games in general, the NHL franchise has always appealed to me. NHL 19 in particular is my favourite of all sports games of 2018, and one hockey fans should absolutely check out.
The game hooked me right away when I learned it would feature an outdoor pond hockey mode where you play 1v1v1 battles on frozen ponds inspired by real-world places. Having grown up skating on lakes, ponds, and rivers in the northeast United States, it was such a rush to be able to finally do this in a video game. And now that I live in sunny Sydney, Australia, where there is no outdoor ice, it certainly gives me a huge hit of nostalgia every time I play it. NHL 19's pond hockey debut wasn't perfect, and I would like to see it grow and evolve with future instalments, but I still had a blast decking out my character in a beanie and sweatpants and cutting up the ice with friends.
NHL 19 also made a major stride forward this year with the introduction of legendary players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, who appear in period-accurate clothing and gear--and this includes Gretzky's untucked jersey. Some of the very old players even have wooden sticks and don't wear helmets. It's a great nod toward authenticity and a representation of classic-era hockey.
The best part of NHL 19 is how it controls, creating a feeling of player embodiment that is unparalleled in sports games in my eyes. Completing a crisp tape-to-pass feels great, the action of crunching an opponent with a big-time bodycheck will make you glad you're home and not on the ice, and once you've had enough practice, deking opponents with well-timed toe drags and blowing past a defender is so very satisfying.
NHL 19 has been out for a few months now, so if you own a PS4 or Xbox One and you're into ice hockey, you can pick up one of the best sports games of 2018 on the cheap--and you really should. | Eddie Makuch
Octopath Traveler | Nintendo Switch
I was quite critical of Octopath Traveler's short-story structure when I reviewed it earlier this year, chiefly because I struggled to grow attached to the characters or their bite-sized sagas. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. I still feel that way today, yet when I reflect back on the games I enjoyed the most in 2018, Octopath Traveler is a natural fit on my list of favorites. And even though I don't love the end result of its narrative design, I have grown to appreciate the risk involved with deviating from the norm, and wouldn't mind if the team gave it another shot in the future.
If you haven't played Octopath Traveler and you have an inkling that it might be up your alley, it's definitely one to prioritize. It has an excellent soundtrack and a fascinating retro-meets-modern look. The combat system pushes you to be creative, and quite often you're forced to execute complex patterns spells and attacks when facing bosses--demanding fights that can last upwards of 30 minutes. Octopath Traveler may not nail every facet that I normally look for in an RPG, but its stronger qualities make it easy to recommend, especially to anyone with a fondness for 16-bit console RPGs | Peter Brown
Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight | PS4
For me, there's no comfort game quite like Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight. My love for rhythm games, Persona 3's cast, and the music born from the 12 year-old RPG's history all come together masterfully. A simple, yet exhilarating rhythm system makes you a part of the music with clever note patterns that sync perfectly to the beat, melody, or vocals. Sometimes you're keeping up with all facets of a track as the notes seamlessly transition to line up to different parts of these beautiful, layered songs.
Dancing In Moonlight works because it leverages one of Persona's greatest strengths: its soundtrack. I still get chills hearing the melodic-punk remix of "Heartful Cry" as it punches with raw, emphatic instrumentals; it feels like a recontextualization of the hard-fought battles Aigis endured throughout Persona 3 FES. Having a full, remastered version of "When The Moon Reaches For The Stars" makes my memories of Gekkoukan High's after school activities feel fresh again. The theme song "Our Moment" is written as a sentimental ode to those who still hold the strenuous, heartbreaking journey with SEES dear. Even songs unique to Persona 3 Portable come to life with bold, new arrangements. I could literally call out every single song (including the background music in menus and social events) and explain their impact, which is also a testament to the powerful work of series composer Shoji Meguro.
It's not just the superb tracklist that got me in my feelings; the recreations of Persona 3's wonderful crew in new 3D models struck me in an unexpectedly profound way. Everyone is voiced by their original actors, and reimagined in a modern art style that breathes new life into characters I feel like I've known for a lifetime--and Social Events top it all off since I basically get to hang out with them again.
Even though there's a vast library of great games installed on my PS4 that I still haven't finished, I keep getting pulled back into P3D. I've landed perfect combos on the highest difficulty with several challenge modifiers in nearly every song, yet I'm still drawn to doing it all over again. It's more than just a silly fan-service game. Despite Persona 3's dark, somber tone, Dancing In Moonlight is a celebration of the many things that made that RPG so special. | Michael Higham
Rival Megagun | PS4
I'll be honest in saying I've spent far too much of my childhood among the blinking lights of arcade cabinets, shooting enemy ships to oblivion until my pockets ran dry of quarters. While those days have all but vanished, Rival Megagun brings me right back to them, as you can almost taste the nostalgia dripping from every facet of its aesthetic. The detailed sprite work almost encases the game in some sort of shmup time capsule, and the pulsing music would be fit for any coin-op establishment.
The real star here, though, is the head-to-head gameplay. Pulling from games like Twinkle Star Sprites and Tetris Attack, Rival Megagun sees you facing off against a fellow gunship, sending drone ships, mines, homing missiles, and laser barricades at your opponent, just to name a few. While dodging the hellscape of bullets launched at you might seem familiar, there's a surprising amount of depth imbedded into the game. Keeping up your combo meter, choosing power-ups, and deciding how and when to use your bombs all make a difference in the heat of battle.
Rival Megagun also satisfies a power fantasy that I never knew I wanted fulfilled. By shooting down enough ships to fill up a power meter, you'll get a chance to transform yourself into a giant ship and face off against your opponent on their side of the screen, triggering an intense ship-to-ship battles that'll leave the victor thirsty for more.
Everything about Rival Megagun feels like it was made with shoot-em-up fans in mind, and it’s exciting to play a game that cherishes its genre's history just as much as it expands upon its formula. | Joey Yee
State of Decay 2 | PC, Xbox One
Upon release, State of Decay 2 emerged as broken and battered as the zombies that filled its world. Leaving aside the mechanical bugs and world-clipping glitches that would become the stuff of GIF legend, an array of UI issues also filled Undead Labs' suburbia. Survival and item management should have been key conceits--instead, they were frustrating chores.
Several months and numerous patches later, State of Decay 2 has become one of 2018's boldest games. It's still extremely flawed, to be sure: poor dialogue combines with spotty AI to make some of my least favorite characters in recent memory. But Undead Labs has made so many quality-of-life improvements that it's hard to complain. Interacting with survivors, switching to other allies, and trading items have become painless affairs. There's more room to appreciate the harsh, flexible world on display here.
State of Decay 2 is a testament to the power of emergent storytelling, a school of design that's become a buzzphrase in recent years thanks to AAA titles embarcing it. Undead Labs offers as little guidance as possible, choosing instead to provide the player with survival systems and an open-ended world before getting out of the way. I almost never followed objectives in the traditional sense. Instead, I created my own. I spent four hours seeking a new outpost. I combed the Midwestern map for skilled survivors. In one case, I set out to find our lost vehicle in the middle of the night with just a rookie ally by my side, worried she would slow my veteran character down.
She survived. My veteran didn't.
Moments like these are what make State of Decay 2 so memorable--specifically because I created them, in the sandbox Undead Labs provided me. It takes skill to make a memorable story. It takes daring to let players do it themselves. | Mike Mahardy
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life | PS4
As someone who played through the entire Yakuza franchise in 2018, it’s no surprise that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life hit me so hard. The series has always been great at delivering gripping drama, and this game is the culmination of everything that has led up to this point. While a number of endearing characters have made a lasting impact throughout the overarching plot, the Yakuza series has always been about Kazuma Kiryu's journey, and The Song of Life is a fitting final chapter for his story.
Kiryu has endured so much over the years and he carries all that baggage with him while trying to solve another mystery involving his adopted daughter Haruka and her infant child Haruto. Using the new Dragon Engine, the seedy red-light district Kamurocho never looked so good, and it also paints the beautiful picture of the new location of seaside town Onomichi. More importantly, the detail from the new visuals is put to great use with the characters. Expressions and emotions are conveyed with stronger impact, elevating one of Yakuza’s greatest storytelling strengths.
It also wouldn’t be a Yakuza game if it weren’t for the charming and absurd side activities that make for genuine laugh-out-loud moments. These aren’t just silly for the sake of being silly, but they still manage to build upon Kiryu’s character, a man who can’t help himself from reluctantly helping those in need. The best example being how Kiryu gets roped into dressing up and acting as the town’s adorable mascot Ono Michio, eventually inspiring the local kids to be strong. There’s also karaoke, managing a baseball team, and making friendships with bar patrons and hostesses.
Rarely does a series follow one character for seven full games spanning most of their adult life, but Yakuza has done that amazingly. Kiryu may have always had that hard-boiled attitude, but it never wore thin. He’s taken down crowd-after-crowd of bad guys single-handedly, but his story is one that I’m happy to have found and experienced entirely. | Jean-Luc Seipke
Yoku's Island Express | PC, PS4, Xbox One
If you told me one of my favorite games of 2018 would be a Metroidvania-slash-pinball game starring a beetle who delivers mail, I'd ask you to stop filling out Mad Libs in the office. But that crazy combination of mechanics totally works. Yoku's Island Express manages to make Metroidvania cliches feel fresh by changing how you navigate and making your abilities more than just simple power-ups.
Sure, you can explore minute portions of the map by rolling along the ground, but any vertical movement is achieved by using one of the many pinball flippers found across the island. Launching yourself up mountain paths, between branches, and through the clouds high above terra firma is thrilling--especially when you might hit a bumper along the way. Where a typical Metroidvania can fall into a rut of finding a new power-up and backtracking, Yoku's Island Express makes exploring every nook and cranny exciting by making each zone a new pinball table; you won't just be high-jumping your way across platforms here.
That said, Yoku's power-ups do give you new ways to explore. For example, the Dive Ball lets you sink underwater, and the Sootling Leash serves as a grappling hook. While these abilities may sound cliche, their place in the game's lore makes them much more fun to discover. The Sootling Leash is composed of an actual Sootling, a dust-like creature that lives on the island. Its attraction to flowers is what lets you hook onto buds in the environment and swing around.
All these elements come together into a hybrid game the likes I've which I haven't played before. Marrying pinball to Metroidvania tropes makes exploration fresh and exciting, and twists on standard power-ups makes new abilities feel special. I totally recommend a trip to this island. | Tony Wilson