With 2018 coming to a close and Christmas just around the corner, most game companies have taken the next few weeks off, well, except people releasing games for the Switch. There are something like 40 games coming out in the eShop between now and the first week of January, but I won’t be covering those, sorry.
Instead, I will be giving you a buyer’s guide for each month, with my top picks for each month in BOLD. What were the best games to come out; which ones sucked, and which ones flew under the radar and deserve your attention? I had originally planned for this to be the entire year, but I realized rather quickly that this was going to be a long one, so here is part 2, July-December (January-June can be found here). Get your pencils ready folks, the games are coming and you better take notes.
Best – The Banner Saga 3 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (3DS/Switch), Octopath Traveler (Switch), Sonic Mania Plus (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
Avoid – Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded (PC/PS4/Switch)
Hidden Gem – Code of Princess EX (Switch)
Growing up I always associated Final Fantasy, and pretty much all JRPGs, with Nintendo. As a kid I didn’t understand the concept of third party publishers, they were just all “Nintendo Games”. As I got older I started to realize that particular companies were behind these games, and then it became really clear to me what a third party publisher was when Final Fantasy jumped ship and became a PlayStation staple. When Nintendo and Square Enix announced Octopath Traveler was coming out for the Switch I was so excited to see them back in business with Nintendo, and when I saw the graphics I was immediately transported back to my youth. I would spend my weekends playing JRPGs in my bedroom on a tiny 16 inch CRT television set (on channel 3), and revel in the pixelated glory of whatever massive world I was in. Octopath Traveler isn’t a perfect game, nor is it the best JRPG I’ve ever played, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun. I had a blast going around and finding each character, learning the (admittedly convoluted) battle system, and using each characters unique ability to solve puzzles. I’ve yet to complete many of the characters second chapters, but that’s okay, I’ll get around to it, eventually, just like every other JRPG in my home library.
The rest of July was a bit slow, but we had some decent releases, with two great ports and the final installment of a trilogy. Continuing with their Wii U apology tour, Nintendo re-released Captain Toad for the 3DS and Switch, letting you bring the puzzle platformer on the go. Fans of what Sega does and Nintedon’t, were treated to a deluxe version of Sonic Mania, which added two new characters and a slew of other changes, including new cut scenes and changes to the level design to accommodate the new characters. After Octopath Traveler I spent the most time playing The Banner Saga, the three part tactical RPG featuring some really great characters and stunning artwork. The third entry in the series saw you and your clan trying to survive the oncoming darkness, with a story split in two narratives (the series’ M.O. since part 1), with a group outside the darkness that deals with the treachery and misery that humankind inflict on one another when the going gets tough, and another group inside the darkness, trying to destroy it before they also turn on each other. It’s a wonderful game that I think deserves to played all in one go (what I’m saying is you should pick up the trilogy set they released).
This month’s “avoid” title is a bit of a cheat, I didn’t actually play it, nor do I know much about it, but last year’s Touhou game was one of the worst things I’d ever played, so there was no way in hell I was going to give the next title a shot. Sorry Touhou. What you should pick up is the wonderfully fun Code of Princess EX; a Guardian Heroes-esque adventure RPG that has wonderful anime style graphics and one of the most scantily clad protagonists I’ve ever seen. Male-gazing aside, there is a lot of fun to be had with this game, as you hack and slash your way across a war torn kingdom.
Best – Dead Cells (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Donut County (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Overcooked 2 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), WarioWare Gold (3DS), Yakuza 0 (PC/PS4), Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PS4)
Avoid – We Happy Few (PC/PS4/Xbox One)
Hidden Gem – Tanglewood (Genesis/Mega Drive/PC)
The Yakuza train kept rolling in August with the release of 0 and Kiwami 2 (did you know that “kiwami” means “extreme”). Taking everything they learned developing Yakuza 6, the team was able to perfect their craft with Kiwami 2. Played together with Yakuza 0 and the first Kiwami re-make, you could view the three entries as the “Birth of Kiryu” trilogy, or something like that. Featuring a gripping story about (what else) family and honor, you must try and negotiate a peace between the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance (spoiler alert, this is not the last game in the series to feature the Tojo/Omi feud, so maybe you can infer just how successful Kiryu is). Even though Yakuza 6 was Kiryu’s final chapter, having Kiwami 2 come out just 4 months later was both a welcome return of one of my favorite characters in any medium, and also, in a way, a more proper send off. Kiwami 2 is a meditation on who Kiryu was and a celebration on the man he would later become. Good night, sweet prince.
PC owners were also treated to their very first Yakuza game with the port of 0 coming to Steam. The second best game in (what I’m now forever calling) The Birth of Kiryu Trilogy, this game has it all, karaoke, slot car racing, Fantasy Zone, intrigue, deception, break dance fighting, phone sex, hostess management, dudes with eye patches, dudes with dead arms, a car chase sequence that goes on too long, BREAKING THE LAW, BREAKING THE RULES, and a chicken who sells real estate. The weirdness continued on PC with the release of the reverse Katamari game, Donut County. Released by Annapurna Interactive, the company continued to show that it not only knew how to make great movies, but also great games. Couch co-op king Overcooked got a sequel that ramped up the chaos, and another pixel graphic rogue-like was released when Dead Cells came out of early access and dropped on PC and all the major consoles.
August also had the worst game release of the year, the disappointing mess We Happy Few. What originally looked like an interesting single player retro futuristic, sci-fi mystery, was eventually shown to be a bug filled train wreck, with half realized ideas, a faux AAA aesthetic, and boring, bland missions that had you pulling your hair out from the unusually high difficulty and, of course, numerous bugs. This is a game that screams “look at me” and then face plants when it tries to do a back flip. To get the bad taste of We Happy Few out of your mouth, why not play a brand new Sega Genesis game! Tanglewood is a brand new platformer for the Sega Genesis (released on cartridge and everything), that was a labor of love for Big Evil Corporation and Matt Phillips. Using original Sega development tools, this game looks, sounds and plays just like those old 90’s classics you know and love. If for some reason you don’t still have your Genesis lying around, you can also get it for PC.
Best – Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PC/PS4), Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4), Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
Avoid – Senran Kagura Reflexions (Switch)
Hidden Gem – Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (PC/PS4/Switch)
There was buzz around certain games all year in 2018, from God of War to Mario Tennis: Aces, but nothing up to this point had as much hype and buzz as Marvel’s Spider-Man. This game was everywhere, talked about by everyone, and the Tuesday New Games column that highlighted the game has the the most comments out of all of them (183, nice). Was it worth the hype? Well, yeah, sort of. It’s a really fun game filled with tons of Spider-Man lore that would make even the biggest die-hard fan rush to Wikipedia just to understand a reference. This wasn’t my favorite game of the year, I think Spider-Man requires you to be of a certain age to really appreciate the character, but in terms of pure enjoyment, I probably didn’t have as much fun doing anything this year in video games as I did swinging around New York City.
As if a massive open-world Spider-Man game wasn’t enough to fill up your time, two huge JRPGs came out; the first, Dragon Quest 11, was the latest entry in the series and the first to be on a home console since the PS2’s Dragon Quest VIII (not counting the Japan only DQ: X). Praised for its story and gameplay, it went on to be a big seller for Square Enix around the world with over 4 million copies sold. Our second JRPG of the month came from Sega, and also saw the home console return of a game that had been mostly on portable systems, Valkyria Chronicles 4. This tactical JRPG is a wonderful game that isn’t without its faults. A horrible menu system and never ending tutorials drag down an otherwise fantastic JRPG experience. Tons of characters, many of which have side missions/stories you can take part in, and a very simple to learn/hard to master battle system makes this a flawed, but beautiful gem. Finally, if you thought Square Enix was done then you were wrong, because they also released the first episode of their coming-of-age sci-fi drama Life is Strange 2, and the end of the Tomb Raider re-boot trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Now I’m not sure if Senran Kagura Reflexions is a bad game, and I don’t think I’ll ever find out; why, because it’s fucking creepy. In this game you play as a tutor who is helping a girl (or maybe various girls) relax by giving them deep, sensual massages using the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. You can actually “feel” their bodies as you slap their thighs around…ughhh, I just can’t. I mean, I’m not against sex, I like sex, I have sex, it’s fun, but this game is just too god damn weird and gross for me to ever try out. It’s all of the ugly stereotypes of male video game players rolled up into one disgusting package. Blech. Where do we go from here? Well, how about the THIRD massive JRPG of the month, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, a game that also has its own weird sex hang-ups (there’s a horny lesbian Nun), but thankfully that is not the game’s only focus. You play the role of a witch who is looking for a source of magic deep inside an underground labyrinth. Since it is filled with toxic gas you cannot go down there, so instead you send living puppets down into the dungeon, going deeper and deeper, collecting treasure and fighting monsters. Played in a first person perspective akin to The Bard’s Tale and Eye of the Beholder, I found this to be much more forgiving as those titles with the inclusion of an on screen map, and easy to use quick travel points. Getting lost never felt so fun!
Best – Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4), Mega Man 11 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4/Xbox One), Soulcalibur VI (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Super Mario Party (Switch)
Avoid – Gal Metal (Switch)
Hidden Gem – Starlink: Battle for Atlas (PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
October was probably the biggest month for games in terms of huge releases. Studios were putting their all into the titles they released, hoping to cash in on that lucrative Christmas money. It’s not surprising then that Rockstar, one of the most consistently high quality game developers out there, released their biggest and best game of all time, Red Dead Redemption 2. A stunning masterpiece that will undoubtedly influence generations of games in the same way that their Grand Theft Auto III did back in 2001; the Houser brothers deconstruction of the Wild West and its “heroic” male protagonists will do for games what Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven did for movies. The level of detail in RDR 2 is some of the most intense and intricate that I’ve ever seen in a video game, from the cigarette cards, to the flight paths of birds, to the daily routines of the NPCs. If we ever got close to a real life Westworld, then Rockstar have done it. I think what makes RDR 2 so special is the idea of futility, and what you do in the face of it. Futility is around every corner in this game, Mrs. Adler losing her husband, the fate of the Indian people, the fate of anyone who isn’t in the first Red Dead game (including Arthur), the fate of original RDR protagonist John Marston and his family, all seem like reasons to give up, but you don’t. Despite all of the futility headed your way, Arthur still presses forward. Near the end of the game you are shown a cut scene after helping the Indian chief, Rains Fall, that seems to sum the whole experience of playing Red Dead Redemption 2. You meet the Nun from Saint Denis and have a conversation with her about your life, and at one point the Nun says she continues to have faith because she often meets good people like Arthur, selfless people who try and do right. Arthur replies that the Nun doesn’t know him, but she returns with what I thought was a really powerful line, she tells him that she knows exactly who Arthur is, who he REALLY is, inside. It’s Arthur who doesn’t know himself, not yet at least. As fantastic as this game is, we all know the story about the poor working conditions at Rockstar, and I’m sure many of us agree that things need to change in that company, but you can’t deny the art that these men and women put out into the world. Games have been “growing up” for a while (you can probably find think pieces written about this from the last three decades), but after the father/son dynamic of God of War and the neutering of the testosterone fueled male id of Red Dead Redemption 2, I’d say we are well past the “growing up” phase of video games, we’ve reached full adulthood.
With the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, I didn’t get to play much else from this month. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey continued Ubisoft’s successful reinvention of the stale series, Mega Man 11 came out and showed that Capcom still knew what to do with the Blue Bomber if given enough effort, Bandai Namco put out a great Soulcalibur game that had such a deep character customization tool that it produced some truly horrific abominations, and Nintendo returned Super Mario Party to its roots, opting not to port the Wii U’s Mario Party 10, and instead release something that was actually fun to play. In the few weeks before RDR 2 came out I had the pleasure of playing the pseudo-spin-off to Yakuza, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. Using the engine from Yakuza 0, the team created a post-apocalyptic world for protagonist Kenshiro to explore, from junk filled shanty towns to desolate wastelands teeming with marauders. While I didn’t find the game to be as engaging as Yakuza, I still had fun with the mechanics of it. The biggest drawback is the fighting, which while true to the anime/manga, doesn’t translate very well to games, with many attacks killing opponents in one hit and requiring QTE button presses to do correctly. This led to rather boring fights that I, at times, actively avoided because I didn’t want to do them.
Like April, this month didn’t really have anything that I completely hated, but was mostly just disappointed with. Gal Metal is not a bad game, it’s actually very charming with a lovable cast of characters. However, this rhythm game fails in the one area it shouldn’t have, the rhythm game part. Incredibly frustrating controls make the drumming sections a complete waste of time, and seriously lacking in fun, when while playing in TV mode. There are no on screen prompts so you just “make your own beat” but there’s no rhyme or reason as to why the drums make any sound, the game just kind of plays whatever drum sound it wants to. On the other hand, take this thing on the go and you’re treated to a screen filled with drums that you can tap on with your finger, making it a much more fun game on the go than at home. Basically, unless you plan on playing this in handheld mode, I’d just steer clear of it. Despite my feelings for Gal Metal, my three-year-old daughter LOVED watching me play it, and this month’s hidden gem is another game she adores, Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I initially wrote this off as another failed toys-to-life game, particularly with the generic characters and setting. However, a Black Friday deal on the Switch version was too good to pass up, particularly because of the Star Fox mini figures, and I ended up popping this into my Switch. Soon I started to see that this was more than just a simple space shooter, and that Star Fox wasn’t just another skin for a pilot and ship, but had its own full story and tons of voice acting. It’s so well integrated that I’m not sure how the PS4 and XBone versions can play without it, it must have been a challenge for the developers to remove that content without totally breaking things. Well, as I said, my kid LOVES this game. She has no idea what she’s doing with it, but she doesn’t care. She’ll fly that ship around the planet, crash into trees, shoot peaceful animals for no reason, and scream when the bad guys show up. I’m having tons of fun with this better version of No Man’s Sky, and I think you will too.
Best – Artifact (PC), Diablo 3: Eternal Collection (Switch), Hitman 2 (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Killer7 (PC), Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee! (Switch), Tetris Effect (PS4/PS VR)
Avoid – Fallout 76 (PC/PS4/Xbox One)
Hidden Gem – SNK 40th Anniversary Collection (Switch)
November was when we started to see Nintendo bring out the big guns with Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee! releasing for Switch. A remake of the Game Boy title Pokemon Yellow, the game was a welcome bit of nostalgia for us 90’s kids & teens, as well as another fun title I could play with my daughter. Using the mechanics of Pokemon Go, you would instead flick your Joy-Con at the screen to catch the little pocket monsters instead of fighting them. This led to some frustration on my part, as I found the throwing mechanic to get tedious, but the bright, crisp graphics, as well as my own love of the original Game Boy game, overshadowed that drawback.
We also got two fantastic ports in November with the release of Diablo 3: Eternal Collection on the Switch, as well as the Suda51 mind bender Killer7 being released on PC (please god let us get a Switch version in 2019…). Warner Bros. Interactive released their follow-up to Hitman, the re-boot of that series for modern consoles, and the creator or Rez and Lumines got a crack at the most popular puzzle game in the world when Tetris Effect came out for the PS4 and PS VR, putting the music and rhythm in the forefront. Online retailer Valve decided to get back to, let’s see here…ah, making video games, and released a digital card game called Artifact, developed by the creator of Magic: The Gathering. Artifact takes place in the DOTA universe, and tasks you with destroying two of your opponent’s towers before they destroy two of yours. Deep strategy and a well maintained secondary market should keep this game afloat for some time.
When word got out that there was a new Fallout game coming, people got ecstatic. We had just been treated to Fallout 4 only a few short years ago, and now ANOTHER game was coming in the popular single player franchise, what could possibly go wrong? Oh, it’s online only? There’s no NPCs? You’re actively trying to nuke other people in a game series that is staunchly anti-nuclear war? Fallout 76, to borrow a line from Jurassic Park, had all the problems of a major MMO and a major single player open-world game. Constant disconnection issues, tons of bugs that caused the game to crash, and a boring, repetitive slog were enough to get the game discounted by 50% or more after only two weeks on the market. Bethesda claims that the game is going to get better (they’re listening, just be patient, they say), but it’s a perfect example of why you should never pre-order a game before you read a review, and that companies are more concerned about meeting a release date than they are shipping a finished product. Fallout 76 is, unfortunately, both the present and the future of games (i.e. bug filled messes that will be patched up and finally ready 6 months after release), but what about video games’ past? Didn’t they used to make GOOD game? Well then you need look no further than the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection for Nintendo Switch! Featuring 24 classic SNK games from the arcades to the NES, this collection is a gold standard for how to present a games collection. There was so much detail and care put into this game that it makes the jack-off’s at Bethesda look like a bunch of money grabbing assholes who only care about their bottom line (like most corporations).
Best – Katamari Damacy Reroll (Switch), Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection (PS4/PS Vita), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
Avoid – PlayStation Classic
Hidden Gem – Carcassonne (Switch)
Okay, I know I said Spider-Man had a lot of hype, and then Red Dead Redemption 2 had a lot of hype, but honestly, nothing this year might have been more hyped up (for realsies this time) than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Teased earlier this year with a dramatic launch trailer featuring the Inklings from Splatoon, we got the mic drop of “2018” at the end and saw the internet’s collective head explode. Over the course of the year we got treated to long sought-after character announcements like Ridley from Metroid and King K. Rool from Donkey Kong Country. This game is insanely popular, every time I turn on my Switch I see at least 5 or 6 people on my friends list playing this game. As with many other great games this year, the level of ,and attention to detail is staggering. Playing the game, and over the course of the year watching the trailers, you get a real sense that Sakurai and his team took careful steps to honor video game history. The reverence they hold these characters in is akin to the way Martin Scorsese talks about early motion pictures. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sakurai didn’t one day open up a video game museum dedicated to the preservation of video game history. Heck, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is kind of like the digital version of that museum already.
This December has some fairly slim pickings as the video game companies do their best to get you to buy their titles released over the last 3 months, but that doesn’t mean nothing new came out. We got a port of Katamari Damacy for the Switch, one that takes advantage of the Joy-Con’s motion control capabilities, a spiritual successor to the Wonder Boy series with the adventure RPG Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, and for all you Persona and rhythm game fans out there, we got the Endless Night Collection, featuring new games with the casts of Persona 3 and 5, and a port of the Vita exclusive Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
One company that could use a lesson in video game preservation is Sony. Their dreadfully underwhelming PlayStation Classic came out in December and hit with all the force of a wet paper towel. This…thing, came loaded with 20 classic games, and while it had some gems like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, it was absent other classics like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Parappa the Rapper, and Tomb Raider. Add to the fact that the console runs horribly, has a terrible menu system, and is easily cracked (code wise, not physically), and the $100 price tag starts to look like yet another money grab from a soulless major corporation. Even the commercial for the system is better than the actual system. What can you do instead? Why not grab a board game to play with your friends and family. “But Andy,” you’re saying out loud to your computer, “this is a video game buyer’s guide. Why would I want a board game”? Well, this is a DIGITAL board game, you see what I did there? Carcassonne is a tile laying, worker placement game released in 2000 to critical and commercial success. Digital versions have been released over the years for mobile phones, Xbox 360 and PC, so why not a Switch version! Board games have grown in popularity over the past few years and seem to show no sign of slowing down. The next natural evolution is to bring these games into the digital realm where it takes zero time to set up/put away and you’ll never lose any pieces!
That’s it folks! I hope you were able to pick up some great games this year, and I hope I was able to help you navigate through the crap and find some hidden gem’s you might have overlooked. Since there are still barely any games coming out, I’ll see you here next week on Christmas Day with a brief history of gaming in 1988, 1998 and 2008. Take care folks, be safe on your drive to the mall this week!