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Merry-Go-Round’s Top Games of 2018

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2018 has come and gone, but the games we played are still in our hearts, minds, and disc drives. Some made us laugh, some made us cry, and some made us scream with rage. There were so many titles that we enjoyed, but only one game can be the best. With that in mind, check out the following list for the Merry-Go-Round staff’s Top Games of 2018!

Top Games Far Cry 5

20. FAR CRY 5

At the end of the day, we play video games for escape and raw thrills, and no game in 2018 exemplified this better than FAR CRY 5. Charged with taking back rural Montana from a violent cult, your Deputy is afforded a host of weapons and tools to set the entire county aflame in your hunt for the group’s ringleader. The game—especially its narrative—is by no means perfect, but after you clear those opening moments and all of Hope County opens before you, it becomes hard to drop the controller. This is a playground where you are free to tackle any mission the way you choose, whether it’s by plane, speedboat, flame-spewing 18-wheeler, or on foot with a relentless attack dog by your side. Absurd, wild, and at its best when it isn’t trying very hard, FAR CRY 5 is an explosive ode to the simple joys of virtual mayhem. [Jason Pedroza]

Top Games J.J.

19. THE MISSING: J.J. MACFIELD AND THE ISLAND OF MEMORIES

With so many prominent Japanese developers jumping ship from their publishers in recent years, a bustling, auteur-driven indie scene has emerged in that country. While Kojima Productions’ flagship title DEATH STRANDING shows what can be accomplished with a (incredibly well-financed) solo act, no game better demonstrates that magical combination of vision, ingenuity, and DIY chutzpah than THE MISSING: J.J. MACFIELD AND THE ISLAND OF MEMORIES. Ever since Hidetaka Suehiro, AKA SWERY65, formed White Owls studio, his team has been in overdrive churning out an eclectic range of games. The DEADLY PREMONITION director continues to wear his Lynchian influences on his sleeves, and on cursory observation his newest work is reminiscent of Playdead’s LIMBO, but to call THE MISSING unoriginal would be a grave mistake. SWERY delivers the goods on a risky story of self-love that’s full of both heart and gore. While it has no shortage of rough edges, there’s no denying THE MISSING is a deft puzzler with truly outrageous visual flair. A gem for anyone looking for something different. [Ed Dutcher]

Top Games Overcooked 2

18. OVERCOOKED 2

Few party games fulfill my appetite for challenge quite like OVERCOOKED 2. Where most indie devs have found comfort in multiplayer experiences that just about anybody can pick up and master, Ghost Town Games are giving gamers the adrenaline kick of a lifetime, turning kitchens into frantic juggling matches of slicing ingredients, grilling meats, serving dishes, and cleaning plates. This is the legacy of OVERCOOKED, an indie masterpiece that’s as snappy and thrilling as the life of a passionate line order cook. It’s a silly little premise, an easy game to pick up, and one with a surprisingly high skill ceiling, bolstered by a charming art style and some explosive level design. Where franchises like Mario Party and Super Smash Bros. have gamers yelling and cheering each other on, OVERCOOKED 2 has cemented its place among the kings of current-gen party games through its fostering of coordinated teamwork, dialogue-driven communication, and wonton culinary madness. [Sergio Zaciu]

Top Games Dragon Quest

17. DRAGON QUEST XI: ECHOES OF AN ELUSIVE AGE

DRAGON QUEST XI is as much a love letter to the glory days of the JRPG genre as its subtitle suggests; the game’s storybook narrative and elementary gameplay are blissfully reminiscent of an era long past, like exceptionally well-kept relics in a beautiful new museum. DQXI knows exactly what it aims to be, and excels at it; this simple accessibility allows the game to truly shine in an age where the AAA experience is so often defined by technical marvel and gargantuan scope. DQXI is no slouch—environments and battle effects are vivid and stunningly detailed—but its brilliance is defined far more by its masterful writing and intricate world than by its visuals. (I could spend a year talking about the quality of the script alone!) DRAGON QUEST XI stands out amongst its allegory-heavy contemporaries by telling a classical fantasy tale championing life, love, and friendship, but underneath that bubbly-sounding veneer lies some truly impactful, emotional surprises that often left me emotionally gutted and in need of a break. It may be old-school, it may be straightforward, but that doesn’t make DRAGON QUEST XI any less of a wild ride. Go fall in love with it like I did. [Angelo Rivera]

Top Games Gris

16. GRIS

GRIS is probably best described as “the ambient music of video games,” and not only because of its knock-down soundtrack by Berlinist. Running with the ambient music metaphor, the beauty of the genre is that it leaves just enough out of its sketches of mood that the spaces in between are what we identify with, encouraging us to transpose our own hopes, fears, triumphs, and joys to fill in the blanks, a unique effect that GRIS brings in spades. That seems melodramatic, but as the kids like to say, GRIS does nothing else if not “put you in your feelings.” The journey and arc are obvious at first glance, but what is GRIS really the story of? A long-simmering slow-blossom out of depression? Learning to embrace emotion and vulnerability and enjoy the implicit powers it brings? Coming to terms with the death of a loved one? The fact that it works as well for all of these explanations, with infinite permutations, is a testament to its fundamentally universal humanity, one of the most subtly evocative artistic statements of the year across all mediums. Oh, also, words fail, but the artwork is jaw-dropping and entirely one-of-a-kind. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Top Games Dead Cells

15. DEAD CELLS

Like the mutant abominations that roam its abandoned catacombs, DEAD CELLS is a strange and thrilling fusion: familiar, tough, and surprisingly satisfying in equal measure. Splicing a loot-based RPG with the popular, run-based roguelike genre, DEAD CELLS is easily addictive. Its short runs are characterized by difficult combat and weapons with strange effects. Progress trickles by, collected cells dumped into new skills and mutations and blueprints for new items, but largely the game is about inching a little bit further, collecting a little bit more, and leveling until the next death. In this way, DEAD CELLS is the bastard, Nickelodeon-infused child of earlier roguelikes (CASTLEVANIA and DARK SOULS had a baby and it loves DIABLO): it controls well, it feels good, and it has a big attitude in a bite-sized package. Add in the legitimately exciting corporate structure of its developer and you’ve got a winning game in 2018. [Ian Campbell]

Top Games Donut County

14. DONUT COUNTY

You can sell an entire game on one mechanic. One solid piece of gameplay that works just so. Sometimes a game feels like flipping open a lighter, or clicking a pen, or the vibration your phone gives off to let you know you’re moving a cursor, a crossroads of good design and pure, physical satisfaction. DONUT COUNTY is just that, a small, satisfying, mechanically-driven game, that just happens to be about big holes. The game is structured as series of physics “puzzles” (the hole gets bigger! It can have atmospheric heat and wind effects!) strung together with visual novel-style conversations and text exchanges. It’s set in a fictional LA populated with anthropomorphic animals and a raccoon-backed conspiracy that stands in for not-so-subtle commentary on gentrification, tech culture, and the very easy way people completely misunderstand the lives of others. It’s a fun game with a silly sense of humor and a welcome strained friendship betweens its leads Mira and BK. The still largely unspoken culturally appropriative origins of the game linger in some of the visual design, and the fact that the raccoons (a native species to the North American west coast) are the “gentrifiers” in the game is bizarre, but there was definitely something to DONUT COUNTY in 2018 and it didn’t take much to get sucked in. [Ian Campbell]

Top Games Shadow

13. SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER

Finally finding its way back to its roots, SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER is the first game in the modern series that truly embodies the spirit of the originals. From secluded villages to dark jungles and crumbling ruins, SHADOW beats with an ever-present pulse of perilous adventure—a challenge and an invitation to explore. Firefights and large-scale battle sequences take a backseat this time, letting the ambient blockbuster horror-thriller plot drive the experience. With the Mayan apocalypse as the backdrop, SHADOW plays like a more sophisticated, dark version of THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Lara Croft is at last injected with a refreshing dose of humanity, connecting to her journey in a much more personal and emotional way. All the stealth missions, fetch quests, and wave clearing become a bit more meaningful in the context of Lara’s (at times selfish) quest for truth. It’s a strong finish for this prequel trilogy, leaving me optimistic for the series’ next direction. [Tracy Nicoletti]

Top Games A Way Out

12. A WAY OUT

There’s no way around it: A WAY OUT is kind of dumb. But this is the primal, beer-swilling, roided-out stupidity that has pushed forward any Friday night fun for time immemorial, and there is truly no more important update to the party game than that which exists within. Forcing us to take narrative co-op, long abandoned in favor of Nintendo novelty or anonymous online orgies, seriously, A WAY OUT consistently demands cooperation and mutual participation, hearkening back to the days of yesteryear where games let us play together in something other than unfettered competition. Working together to see Vincent and Leo safely out of prison and on their redemption tour is nothing short of a blast, and what the game may lack in emotional depth, it makes up for in narrative twists and turns you don’t see coming. Simply put, you’re in for one Hell of an interactive action movie ride, and any way you slice it, it’s going to have you hooting, hollering, and debating the best course of action with a bud. Surely that’s somewhere along the lines of what this entire medium was based on. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Top Games Hitman 2

11. HITMAN 2

Optimizing an already near-perfect formula, HITMAN 2 gives gamers even more reasons to be afraid of immaculately dressed bald dudes. Agent 47 is back and fresher than ever, offing scumbags in some truly inventive ways. Along with a host of deceptively impactful tweaks and a fresh veneer, Io Interactive’s world of assassination gives players even more opportunities for mayhem with the addition of several new game modes. But for all the mechanical upgrades and graphical facelifts, HITMAN 2 realizes that its most powerful weapon is just how good it feels to pull off the perfect execution, and it doubles down on that aspect in the latest installment. Leaving the drier hits of its predecessor to the wayside, HITMAN 2 fully embraces its Bond-esque universe of super spies and their ultra-rich quarry. While cutscenes have been cut entirely from this entry, HITMAN 2 somehow manages to be the most cinematic in the series. Extravagant set pieces and clever mission design bring make this a most welcome addition to the canon of murder simulation. [Ed Dutcher]

Top Games Yakuza 6

10. YAKUZA 6: THE SONG OF LIFE

YAKUZA 6: THE SONG OF LIFE provides an ending to the story of the franchise’s main protagonist Kiryu, and in true Yakuza style also provides a million different things for the player to do other than follow the melodramatic twists and turns of the story. These activities usually stick to the bombastic style that the Yakuza franchise has come to be known for, whether you’re playing darts against an actual darts champion, wooing camgirls, or trying to get your suddenly-existent grandson to calm down and go to sleep. This is all in between some of the most satisfying combat I’ve encountered, with equally bombastic finishers. Partly a brawler, partly a collection of party games, and partly a travel ad for Japan, YAKUZA 6 was one of the most engaging time sinks released this year.  [Steven Porfiri]

Top Games Captain Spirit

9. THE AWESOME ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN SPIRIT

It says a lot about French studio DONTNOD’s eye for emotional detail when even their smallest serving to date holds such rich depth. Snuck in as a supposed “demo” for LIFE IS STRANGE 2, THE AWESOME ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN SPIRIT once more takes players to the Pacific Northwest, this time in the shoes of Chris, a young boy who uses his active imagination to cope with his mother’s death. While his father, Charles, is zoning out in front of the television attempting to relive his basketball dreams, Chris is free to roam around their humble abode. Because this is LiS, you know that absolutely every nook and cranny is explorable and cleverly reveals more and more about Charles’ and Chris’ lives. Whether you’re shuffling through old pictures of mom or stealing dad’s cigarettes, every interaction feels significant, be it for fun laughs or stirring profundity. Even mundane chores, which have piled up now that mom’s gone and alcoholism is getting the best of Charles, are turned into caped crusader spectacles thanks to Chris’ innocent perspective. Tears inevitably flow, but overall, CAPTAIN SPIRIT is a wholesome, uplifting experience that fits perfectly into the strong Life is Strange saga. [Alexander Larios]

Top Games Into the Breach

8. INTO THE BREACH

What a breath of fresh air INTO THE BREACH was in 2018! As the turn-based strategy genre largely looked to the popularity of XCOM as a source of inspiration, INTO THE BREACH zagged in the opposite direction, favoring chess-like “perfect information,” balletic mech action, and simple-but-intense design. INTO THE BREACH is a time-travelling, bug-killing, turn-based strategy game where you have everything you need to win, except the experience and foresight necessary to execute. It’s a game with straightforward mechanics (each team and mech has its own playstyle and variation on the game’s core “shoot to kill bugs” interaction), but complex ways for them to interact. It’s a game where failure is welcome and survival is preferred. A game where sometimes maneuvering around enemies (and maneuvering them) is far more important than getting any kills. It’s frustrating at times, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you can clear an island, earn a hard-won kill, and save your team for the next time jump. INTO THE BREACH is the game to get into if you’ve always wondered about but never been able to get into a strategy game. Truly one of the gems of 2018. [Ian Campbell]

Top Games Monster Hunter World

7. MONSTER HUNTER WORLD

2018 started off strong with plenty of worthwhile contenders, but few engaged its audience all year long like MONSTER HUNTER WORLD. This Japanese staple has finally made its big splash in the West, bringing many new hunters into the fold by being the series’ most visually stunning, streamlined, and accessible game to date, while sacrificing none of the nuance that keeps veterans coming back for more. While the presentation is certainly a step up from previous installments, it doesn’t try to hide what the main conceit of the game really is: hunting some badass monsters with some big-ass weapons. The addictive grind of “Hunt, Craft, Repeat” never manages to feel stale, whether it’s with friends or flying solo (Felyne companion notwithstanding), and the sheer amount of variety to hunting the big beasties of the New World makes every multi-hour excursion a blast. Tie this in with frequent events and continual free content, and you have a massively engaging experience few games this year can match. [Jon Farah]

Top Games Spider-Man

6. MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN

Spider-Man is one of the most iconic superheroes: a web-slinging, punny journalist, swinging in to save the day in a bright, idealized version of New York. Universally adored by comic fans, Peter Parker brings light-hearted fun to the Marvel universe, and is an obvious jumping-off point for a video game adaptation. Though there have been many, none quite captured Spidey’s specific je nais se quois until last year’s MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN. Insomniac Games’ fresh take on the friendly neighborhood crimefighter immerses gamers in a modern, open world, with the freedom to explore Spider-Man’s abilities at their own pace. While the campaign clocks in around 15 hours, the game never drags. The storytelling is masterful, as equally engaging as the mechanics. With the focus on exploration and honing Spider-Man’s abilities, missions never feel quite like missions. All elements are blended together in service of the narrative, which shapes a unique and crisp experience that guarantees engagement. No matter the obstacle, be it a rollicking chase or a tricky fight, you truly feel like you can do anything. Like you are Spider-Man. So grab a controller and save the city, Parker. New York is waiting. [Tracy Nicoletti]

Top Game Dragon Ball

5. DRAGON BALL FIGHTERZ

Having grown up with DRAGON BALL Z BUDOKAI (aka the best anime fighting game of the early 2000s), my expectations were high for DRAGON BALL FIGHTERZ. Part interactive anime, part Street Fighter, and part meta extravaganza, FIGHTERZ is an explosive, ridiculous, corny, over-the-top experience. And if that isn’t the spirit of Dragon Ball, I don’t know what is. FIGHTERZ captures the essence of the series, without having to sacrifice anything for balance. The cel-shaded, stylized 3D models seamlessly replicate the 2D world of the show. The fights are blitzy, a thrilling three-on-three system that is beginner-friendly and combo-centric. Much like an actual Dragon Ball story arc, the single-player campaign is drawn out and at times sluggish, but the mode’s bizarre elements have a charm of their own. FIGHTERZ is a beautiful update of a classic franchise, and will appeal to otakus and fighting game enthusiasts alike. [Tracy Nicoletti]

Top Games Celeste

4. CELESTE

“Cute,” “Charming,” and “Inspiring” are not the words usually associated with ultra-difficult 2D platformers, but I’ll be damned if CELESTE isn’t any of these things. What could easily be confused for a SUPER MEAT BOY clone with a cotton candy color palette belies a simple but affecting story, an incredible soundtrack, and a core gameplay loop that always manages to remain absorbing, even after the player dies 100+ times trying to pull off a single jump. No matter who you are, you will die many times in CELESTE, but this is a game that is wholly unconcerned with punishing failure and entirely dedicated to make each victory hard-fought and fulfilling. It marries the best elements of accessibility and challenge, relying more on learning the rules of the mountain’s treacherous landscape than mastering precise button inputs. Forcing the player to think more critically about their approach, and by extension making them both better gamers and problem solvers, means that CELESTE is as much an indispensable learning tool as it is a masterpiece of game design. Yes, everyone should play this game, but not just in their living rooms—this is a game that should be in schools. It’s not every day that a purchase on Steam can enrich your life in a quantifiable measure, but CELESTE manages to do so with poise and pizazz. [Ed Dutcher]

Top Games God of War

3. GOD OF WAR

For a long time, the only “complex” parts of Kratos were the horrific finishing moves the demigod unleashed on his enemies. The Spartan warrior’s only mood was anger and his sole purpose in life to seek revenge, a man whose utility as a character seemed concluded after he finally killed his way through the entire Greek pantheon. It was no small surprise then that the newest iteration in this exceptionally violent series shifted the story in a new direction. In providing a son for him to protect, Santa Monica Studio has created an empathetic, nuanced, and greatly matured version of Kratos. Simply titled “GOD OF WAR,” this game was as much a rebirth for Kratos as it was the next chapter in his saga. With a focus on new beginnings, wondrous sights, and a heartfelt bond between father and boy, GOD OF WAR shattered expectations at every turn. Of course, there’s still plenty of killing, and Kratos’ Leviathan Axe is one of the most satisfying, brutal, and powerful devices to grace a video game. Framed through a breathtaking one-shot and set in a gorgeous, Norse-inspired landscape, GOD OF WAR delivers an unforgettable journey. If you own a PS4, this is an essential addition to your library. [Jason Pedroza]

Top Games Super Smash

2. SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE

It should surprise nobody that SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE is the runner-up for MGRM’s Game of the Year, even amongst the other story-driven AAA haymakers that had the gaming world abuzz in 2018. What is a shocker, however, is the fact that SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE outdoes its own predecessors on almost every conceivable level; the core party brawler gameplay remains the same, but numerous mechanical tweaks from SUPER SMASH BROS. FOR WII U, as well as the series’ largest cast to date (69 characters and counting, nice), make it feel like a culmination of everything Nintendo has learned, both from development and from its fervent player base. Add to that an utterly overwhelming amount of iconic music tracks, a plethora of returning stages, a robust single-player campaign, Nintendo literally and figuratively stealing the show with its promotional stunts, and the promise of more still to come with the upcoming Fighter Packs… I’ll have to double check with our editor to see if ULTIMATE’s DLC makes it eligible for GOTY in 2019. [Angelo Rivera]

Top Games Red Dead1. RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2

Perhaps unlike any other game to release in 2018, it’s just as hard to love RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 as it is not to be impressed by it: a game of astronomical proportions and massive ambitions. Over the course of six enormous chapters (and an additional epilogue), Rockstar has released their most emotional yarn to date, a western epic that could confidently stand side-by-side to Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH, taking its gang of outlaws from the snow-capped mountains of Colorado to the Reconstruction South. And though its campaigns bevy of missions would often rely on the well-worn rootin-tootin-n-shootin that has made Rockstar’s brand so indelible, it was the open-world RPG components that really came as a surprise. From fishing to buying a 10-gallon hat, “Yee-Haw SKYRIM” is at its very best when it isn’t a high noon shoot-‘em-up. It’s those slow rides into town, hitching your horse to a post, buying a newspaper off a local vendor, petting a dog, and discovering a secret basement in a shopkeeper’s store that are the real wonders of Rockstar’s creation. As we move closer and closer to full immersion, it appears the year’s greatest games move ever so slightly in the direction of interactive experiences that allow the gamer to shape and create their own stories. Where every other game on this list is great in what it intends to do, RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 is maybe the first game to ever be at its very best in all the things adjacent to its western fable. [Sergio Zaciu]

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