Best of 2018: Top 5 Game Consoles

Console time.

On our increasingly stretched list of five this year we see two players in the definitive final stages of their lives, two perhaps approaching the dawn of their successors and one still young with a lot to prove. This is a transition period of sorts in the console space but 2018 was also a year for big-budget, high-impact exclusive games. And exclusive games remain the number one most important factor I use to order this list, although other elements will always be important too. How I feel a console has grown via aspects like associated services, system-level improvements and that nebulous “how I feel playing it” quality all come into consideration.

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VR BEST OF 2018 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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5. PlayStation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

Yep, it’s actually dead now, I know, I know. This year finally saw Sony announce that 2019 would see the end of Japanese production of this wonderfully misunderstood and mishandled portable. As Japan – the Vita’s home, after all – was the only place still manufacturing Vita consoles and accessories, not to mention the only place said consoles and accessories were still selling decently, that’s quite a death knell. There were still worldwide game releases on the platform in 2018, though, and so even though I finally got rid of my lovely lime green Vita for good this year, I can still technically use the thing to hold up the bottom of this list. Because there is literally nothing else to qualify it as a top five. Here’s hoping for new consoles next year…


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4. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

Though I was quite vocal in my feelings that the 3DS had a really strong 2017 given the circumstances it faced, at the time of writing it now looks like that (arguable) third major gust of wind for the mighty handheld is starting to peter out. There are still some notable 2019 releases coming to the 3DS family – which lest we forget now encompasses a whopping six hardware iterations – but Nintendo’s increasingly telling press statements in its home country of Japan regarding the re-positioning of the Switch as a multiple-per-household product is accelerating the 3DS’ obsolescence, if only by Nintendo’s ever-glacial standards. Still, good 3DS releases speak for themselves. Remakes and re-releases seem to be the order of the day in the 3DS’ final phase of life, but just like in 2017 those revisitations of past classics this year were packed with quality and hard to regret purchasing.

Starting with the long-awaited official re-release of Pokemon Crack Crystal and ending with a wonderful return to the original Luigi’s Mansion, 2018 also saw the ill-timed remake of an ill-timed DS cult classic, Radiant Historia, as a deliciously tragic (accidental?) meta joke, while the appearance of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux was well-received by RPG fans and critics and a surprisingly polished pocket version of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker delighted those who seeked it out. You can add to this tidy pile of remakes a sprinkling of fresh stuff worthy of raising a few eyebrows, such as arguably the superior version of Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, the comfortingly traditional but entirely fresh JRPG Alliance Alive, the reimagined take on a modern minor phenomenon that is the Yokai Watch Blasters twins, the surprisingly thrilling if overambitious Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers (hey, I enjoyed what I played of it) and then perhaps the three highest profile 3DS games of 2018, Detective Pikachu, Yokai Watch 3 and WarioWare Gold. All tallied up, this wasn’t all that bad of a year for the 3DS. It’s going out rather gracefully, I think.

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3. Xbox One

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

I hinted on last year’s list that the Xbox One X’s extremely impressive hardware and software advancements might set it up to carve out a nice little corner of the market for itself in 2018, and though many still kept playing their PS4s this year like nothing had changed, for me it marked a significant alteration to my gaming habits. Not since 2011 has an Xbox tempted me with enough bullet points to be my default destination for third-party game releases, but in 2018 that’s what the X did, and did handily. Backed by insane power that makes my 4K HDR television shine, extra-mile audio support and snappy loading across the board, the Xbox One X seemed like a no-brainer to turn on and play even when the likes of Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 ended up so disappointing to me for their own individual reasons. Much of that was also due to Xbox’s ongoing additions to their backwards compatibility initiative, which managed to get games such as the original Red Dead Redemption and Portal running in lovely 4K, but truly got my attention when the original Star Wars Battlefront I and II appeared with 4K support alongside one of my gaming white whales, Conker: Live & Reloaded (and boy, did I have fun with that one). Then there was the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy… It just went on and on.

The first-party wonders of Xbox Game Pass added a tempting – if inconsistent – element to the joys of owning an Xbox and that truly massive September patch for Halo: The Master Chief Collection was something to behold. Yes, it probably also helps that Xbox did not happen to block cross-play support during that one month or so during the middle of the year when I was playing a heap of Fortnite. Microsoft also “won”E3 in the eyes of many a pundit this year, myself included. And of course I need to separate out a sentence just for the magnificent Forza Horizon 4, which just – well, you’ll hear more about it later, but suffice to say it’s quite good. A lot of little things and a fair few large things added up to what ended up a pretty solid year – maybe even a pretty good one – for the Xbox One, even without a bag of quality new exclusives. And that’s saying something.

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2. Nintendo Switch

(LAST YEAR: 1st)

Some people – multiple Nintendo-focused YouTube channels among them – will tell you that 2018 was Nintendo’s to lose. That the insanely quality-stuffed 2017 was a harbinger of an even better sophomore outing in terms of stunning brand-new first party games. I could tell you that was a rather far-fetched assumption but I don’t have to – The proof is now history. There weren’t many. Yet its library grew so substantially this year anyway that it’s hard to call 2018 a bad year for the hybrid machine. Ludicrous, even.

The Switch still had a very high quantity of game releases in 2018 that weren’t on the other major current platforms, but a significant portion of them were enhanced Wii U ports. Good games that almost no-one played originally, but hardly fresh. The big new releases perhaps weren’t spaced out as evenly as some would have liked, but even if you exclude the Nintendo LABO releases, when you see them all on paper together it ain’t a bad list. Kirby Star Allies, Mario Tennis Aces, Octopath Traveller, Super Mario Party, Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee / Pikachu and Super Smash Bros Ultimate each offered something substantial to a different kind of player and excluding the pink puffball’s new adventure, I played and thoroughly enjoyed them all. The appearance of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Paladins, Dragonball FighterZ, Dark Souls, Diablo III, Civilisation VI, Warframe and yes, Fortnite gave the Switch an unusual look for a Nintendo console as one could conceivably have grabbed one in the mid-year sales and ignored all first-party efforts while still having a decent selection of meaty triple-A games to play on the go.

The addition of Inside, Guacamelee, Transistor, Runbow, Towerfall and Rogue Legacy to the embarrassingly rich Switch eShop through 2018 means I am now genuinely struggling to think of a single indie title to ever meaningfully capture my time in past years that is still unavailable on Switch (Seriously, I’ve racked my brain and aside from the ones financially locked to other platforms [Journey, #IDARB] or the ones that wouldn’t work without their original control schemes [Her Story, Affordable Space Adventures, Doki-Doki Literature Club] I can think of maybe two all-up: Braid and Castle Crashers. That’s it). New indies were of course also abundant, and if they weren’t there on the same day as they appeared on Xbox One / PS4, they were out earlier or even console-exclusive. I’d say all of that added up to a very good year to own a Nintendo Switch.

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1. PlayStation 4

(LAST YEAR: 2nd)

For only the second time (and potentially the last if what we know about next year’s release schedule holds true) the PS4 did enough for me to take top spot this year. Even though its two primary competitors offer me more these days as destinations for non-exclusive games, it’s difficult to argue with Shadow of the Colossus, Ni No Kuni 2, God of War, Yakuza 6, Detroit: Become Human, Yakuza Kiwami 2, Dragon Quest XI, Spider-Man and the Persona: Dancing double pack. Like, really difficult. I only played half of those games, but they’re easily among my favourite games of the year and they house some of my favourite moments in videogames, ever.

The Playstation 4 truly showed in 2018 how much its market philosophy opposes the Xbox One’s, because it changed as a platform even less than it did last year. If it ain’t broke, don’t throw a bunch of extra features at your players, I guess. Outside of the admittedly extremely welcome double change of the PSN store search system and the unshackling of 12 year-old PSN IDs (FINALLY), the PS4 looks largely identical as a system as it did two years ago. It isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be to turn on my PS4 and just browse through the menus, sifting through new releases with eyes wide looking for the next indie gem to discover. My patience for the terrible battery life of those controllers has all but worn out at this point. Sony seems more reluctant than ever to play nicely with the other major platforms (and they don’t have to, of course). I now look at Trophies as a symbol of a not-too-distant past when I was playing games for reasons I didn’t like, and it makes me slightly queasy.

But God of War. But Detroit. But Spider-Man. But freaking Dragon Quest.

By the primary criteria I use to order this list, there was no arguing. The PS4 absolutely killed it in 2018.

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