Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

Best of 2021 Closer

Ah, 2022. Welcome. It’s good to see you. Such promise you hold.

I mean, I’m sure we’ll get some good Marvel movies, and maybe even the last of the 2020-delayed crop (Top Gun Maverick and Mission Impossible 7 are at the top of the hype pile for me). And K-Pop will do its thing and continue to mutate in enough directions to produce quality tracks. But most of all, 2022 promises a properly spread-out videogame release schedule, perhaps to an extent not seen since the legendary 2017. The first quarter alone looks unambiguously stacked, ready to start millions of players off already behind on their backlogs. Bring it on.

Until it gets going, here’s the best stuff I watched, played and listened to in 2021:

1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 5 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

Thank you.

Best of 2021: Top 15 Games

You can try to tell me 2021 was a bad year for good videogames. Tell that to my backlog. Look it in the eyes and tell it.

Don’t get me wrong: 2021 definitely was, without a shadow of a doubt, a slow-starting year for videogames; maybe even the slowest since I started writing these lists. It was also a bit light on Playstation exclusives thanks to development delays. But this was also the first full year of a brand-new console generation out in the wild; the year League of Legends finally began to make good on its promise to expand into other genres (and a Netflix show too); the year Apple Arcade finally drew some attention from core gaming audiences with a suite of nostalgic releases and the exclusive new Mistwalker RPG Fantasian; the year the whole Pokemon Unite thing happened; the year Microsoft’s XCloud mobile streaming service expanded to PC, Xbox consoles themselves – and Australia.

There was real, exciting movement in the games industry throughout 2021, and the big games – eventually – followed suit. When they did arrive they were continuously scoring over 80 on review aggregate sites, leaving September in particular packed with games lining up to try and distract from one another. More than half of this list’s games come from the release window starting late August and going through October – and only one from traditional powerhouse November. A weird year indeed.

But a good one: I always set a five-hour playtime minimum for a game to qualify for this list, yet I’ve actually finished 12 out of the 15 games on this 2021 list (and two out of the remaining three are JRPGs). Any of my friends will tell you that’s a sky-high conversion rate for me. Quarantines will do that, but so will great videogames. It’s hard to believe I had no room this year for Hitman III, Scarlet Nexus, Returnal, Mario Party Superstars, Monster Hunter Rise, Monster Hunter Stories 2 or Deathloop – into which I put a combined 60+ hours, and all of which I enjoyed. I’ve never actually been in that kind of a position before.

If you don’t see a 2021 game on this page, I didn’t play it enough to qualify. Parentheses indicate on what platform(s) I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2021 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. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. New Pokemon Snap (NS)

Over the two decades since the original Pokemon Snap came out, the idea of a sequel has naturally been thrown around all kinds of Pokemon fan circles; what most nostalgia-seeped memories tend to forget, however (mine included), is just how short the original game was. Pretty much accidentally designed for the repeatable game rental market, you could see all the game’s content in an afternoon if you knew what you were doing. Knowing this Bandai Namco concocted the clever New Pokemon Snap, which is not only the sequel we’ve been asking for, but the significantly more substantial sequel we didn’t know we wanted.

Carrying many more areas stuffed with randomly-shifting occurences, stacked with secrets, and teeming with Pokemon hiding four different scoring poses each, the completionist player has a ton to do in New Pokemon Snap – even before the chunky free content update released months after launch. The week of near-day-long sessions I played with my siblings passing the controller around was an absolute blast.

14. Shin Megami Tensei V (NS)

As a “JRPG guy” without the time or attention span for the truly unforgiving genre entries these days, the entire mainline Shin Megami Tensei series has mostly passed me by. That finally changed with the long-awaited open-world-ish fifth entry, a truly ambitious shift for both the series and Nintendo – who slapped their publishing label on the game and gave it their main first-party slot right in the middle of November (knowing Pokemon was coming out the following week to clean house, sure, but it was still a big deal).

SMT V may not care all that much about its story or supporting human characters, but it stands as a shining testament to the merits of a rock-solid battle system using a crisp UI – especially when paired with deep team customisation mechanics built to last. Boasting a stunning main character design and truly rewarding nook-and-cranny exploration, this is a game I suspect I’ll be playing for a long time yet.

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Best of 2021: Top 10 Gaming Moments

While this year provided plenty of unscripted moments during the chaos of multiplayer videogames (I could probably make an entire second list made up of just Monster Hunter Rise, It Takes Two, Knockout City, WarioWare: Get It Together, and Halo Infinite shenanigans), I was fortunate enough to play through a ton of new single-player story-driven adventures in 2021, so only some of those multiplayer games make the cut. That’s not to say it wasn’t a really good year for playing games with friends – it really was – but it was also good eating for the spoiler-type moments that are so much fun to talk about at a time like this.

And so, much like with yesterday’s list, today needs a hefty spoiler warning. Proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2021 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. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

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10. Fireworks – Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

In late June 2021, we arrived once again at that special moment that comes around maybe twice a decade: The first exclusive videogame made for a new Playstation console by a Sony-owned studio. And Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is extraordinarily keen to mark that occasion with a celebration of both its own series history and the unique technical possibilities of the shiny new PS5. Our titular heroes must navigate a parade and re-enact key moments from the series (all of it went over my head personally, as a franchise newcomer) as beautiful effects whiz past them – then suffice to say things go wrong and the seams between dimensions start showing.

Cue colourful effects-laden battles, instant portal-based relocation and that money shot from the game’s first trailer with all the rapid-fire playable segments in entirely new worlds that load instantly. The fruits of Mark Cerny’s hardware design team in building that PS5 SSD storage interface are plain to see right here – and nowhere else in 2021. This is a breathtaking way to start a game, and the moment “next-gen” arrived for me.

9. Compton’s Cook-Off – Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 is an unbridled fever dream of level ideas, some of which feel almost purely conceptual – such as the psychedelic sense-collecting saturation overload that changes the game’s art style – and some almost too real – like the lavish casino as a direct metaphor for the American medical system. But the most ludicrously pitch-perfect combination of idea, presentation and gameplay I found in the game is Compton’s Cook-Off, a section where you must participate in a hilarious imaginary game show called “Ram It Down”.

You’re given anthropomorphic ingredients to pluck from the audience and place in bigger anthropomorphic kitchen appliances – which you must reach within a strict time limit using precise platforming towards increasingly-difficult recipe requirements – all while a boisterous television host throws sly taunts your way. The sequence is frequently hilarious, decently challenging and a ton of fun.

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Best of 2021: Top 5 Game Consoles

In all kinds of ways, 2021 was a tired, drawn-out sequel to 2020; a reminder that the rollover to January 1st each year is ultimately pretty arbitrary. But while there was arguably more room for optimism in some parts of life this year, just try to get yourself a PS5 to see how little has changed in others.

Indeed the first full year on the market for Sony and Microsoft’s new machines was slower than some might have hoped, both in getting stock to people and in releasing mind-blowing exclusive games; this kept their last-gen siblings well in the conversation all year. But the experience of using each console did improve substantially, and Nintendo predictably bounced back strongly to keep them on their toes.

This is how I would rank the current five major consoles (disregarding PC and mobile) in order of the impressions they made on me in 2021.

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VR BEST OF 2021 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. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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5. Playstation 4

LAST YEAR: 1st

It feels pretty weird having the Playstation 4 at the bottom of this short list, especially after a show-stopping 2020 when the sales titan ushered in its much scarcer successor with a powerful final salvo of acclaimed exclusive games. But even though the lack of PS5 availability has funnily enough made the PS4’s 2022 look mighty tasty – as plenty of next year’s Sony headliners will land for the last-gen machine as well – 2021 will still enter the pages of history strangely blank.

In terms of games not available on Nintendo or Microsoft consoles, the PS4 got a simultaneous release of Kena: Bridge of Spirits alongside the PS5, and received a down-port of uneven PS5 launch title Godfall nine months after the fact. Spider-Man made his promised Sony-exclusive debut in Marvel’s Avengers as DLC, but that’s… it? The only actual 2021 PS4 exclusive of any note I can find in the data is Chicory: A Colorful Tale, which was thankfully extremely well received, but I’m drawing a blank on anything else worth mentioning (EDIT: less than a week before I published this Chicory came out for the Switch and no longer counts, oops). The champion console also received essentially no new firmware features, although I doubt many people were expecting any. So, uh, bring on 2022 I guess.

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Best of 2021: Five Special Awards

It’s been ten years of this and I finally have a small window to talk about TV shows. Kinda. Marvel and Disney made sure of that. So as you’ll soon see we have not one but two new special awards in 2021, alongside three returners. I have no idea which ones will be here next year and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The category I felt worst about cutting to make room was Best K-Pop rookie, but I just wasn’t following the industry for long enough this year to give a decent account of that one (for the record, it probably would’ve gone to Purple Kiss). Let’s get stuck into the standalone good stuff.

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VR BEST OF 2021 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. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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Best Third-Party Game Publisher

Square Enix

I know I hit them pretty hard at the pointy end of this year’s disappointments list, but that was largely because of how good Square Enix’s game releases were this year. Beginning 2021 with a meaty JRPG on the level of Bravely Default II, especially at a time when almost no other third parties were showing up, put them in the early driver’s seat, but then… well, the months went on and still no real competition. Remember how the only new multi-platform games on physical shelves before May were Nier Replicant and Outriders? Yeah, both Square Enix.

Even when the other heavy hitters came out to play, neither the Western or Japanese publishing arms of Square were ready to put the cue in the rack. The long-awaited Neo: The World Ends With You delighted fans as a huge part of the JRPG July festivities, joined in that genre this year by SaGa Frontier Remastered and another surprising Yoko Taro joint in Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars. The PS5 appearance of Final Fantasy Remake Intergrade drew massive praise, with its fantastic new story DLC in tow. Five of the company’s six planned Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters launched on PC and mobile throughout the year, each to promising general reception; then in quick succession came absolute narrative gems Life is Strange: True Colors and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Even a release as disastrous as Balan Wonderworld couldn’t mess up a year like this.

Only Capcom and Bandai Namco gave this title any real competition in 2021: the former with hugely successful brand-new Monster Hunter and Resident Evil releases; the latter absolutely bringing the quality with shock (Scarlet Nexus), reinvention (Tales of Arise) and high-value horror sequels (Little Nightmares 2 and House of Ashes). EA did put out unexpected wins in Knockout City and It Takes Two, but missed the mark on Battlefield 2042. Ubisoft failed to impress with a mix of flops and delays, Bethesda isn’t a third-party publisher anymore, and it sure wasn’t a good follow-up year for Activision-Blizzard, now was it?

Oh that reminds me, I only forgot to mention that 2021 was absolutely the year of Final Fantasy XIV, which not only released its titanic expansion Endwalker this year but is now the world’s most actively played MMO. It even needed to suspend all purchases earlier this month to try and give the servers a break. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever see a 12-month period this dominant for Square Enix ever again in my lifetime.

Runner-Up: Bandai Namco

Best Indie Game Publisher

Devolver Digital

This one was truly spicy in 2021, without a clear leader but plenty of worthy contenders. No major indie publisher from last year’s round-up failed to release a game that caught my attention this year, so ultimately I can’t help but feel we’re all winners in this world where cool game ideas are boosted to the top of the pile by smart marketing support.

Chucklefish bears the first mention, because they actually brought a game this year – and that game was the absolutely wonderful Eastward. They do seem to be going for quality over quantity still, but I’m totally fine with that if they keep spotlighting and releasing games at their current level. Team 17 seemed to fall off the radar slightly despite quite a few releases, but those releases did include Greak: Memories of Azur and Narita Boy, the latter of which I played quite a bit. Curve Games (formerly Curve Digital) brought crunchy graphical showcase The Ascent to the world and so cannot be discounted.

But the big four of 2021 pushed this one to the wire: Raw Fury released noir adventure Backbone and unwinding toy-builder Townscaper as strong support for their long-awaited headliner Sable, which launched with rough performance on some platforms but soared to critical success regardless. Annapurna Interactive and Humble Games both came mighty close, the former with the triple-threat Twelve Minutes, The Artful Escape and Solar Ash among others; in fact if the ridiculously cool Neon White had made its 2021 release date Annapurna may just shot up to top spot. But Humble well and truly held its own after an amazing 2020 by snuggling up to Microsoft with a suite of winners that all game to Xbox Game Pass day one: Dodgeball Academia, The Wild at Heart, Into the Pit, Unsighted and Unpacking are all so good -and so different from one another – that the publisher’s name should arguably have appeared under all the XGP ads running everywhere this year.

But after a classy, diverse, powerful 2021 display, Devolver Digital deserves to take this one. From solid shipwrecked platformer Olija to surprising free mobile sequel-ish thing My Friend Pedro: Ripe for Revenge to absolutely bonkers shock spin-off Minit Fun Racer, Devolver embraced their modern status as the deranged cousin of the stuffy triple-A elite with a line-up that didn’t skimp on quality; they fully leant into the hype around Loop Hero and Inscryption, neither of which disappointed once they released. But there can be little argument about what was their crown jewel this year: Isometric roguelike Death’s Door is the closest 2021 got to a Hades in terms of sheer word-of-mouth energy, and it was all Devolver’s to reap.

Runner-Up: Humble Games

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Best of 2021: Top 10 Disappointments

I’m finding it even harder to be deliberately negative at the end of 2021 than at the end of 2020. It was a rougher year for me personally, but I know I’m not exactly alone there so let’s get to the point. It’s the same point as last year: There’s enough genuinely terrible stuff going on in the business of entertainment media, so this list is just gonna be real personal, real first-world and real petty.

What it will not be – for once – is gaming-only: the return of blockbuster movies with the rich potential to disappoint made sure of that. On that note, I’m giving a very light spoiler warning for No Time to Die.

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VR BEST OF 2021 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. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. The Same Old Slow Aussie Movie Schedule

It’s come up a few times on this list over the years, under varying degrees of specificity each time: For all manner of reasons, in Australia we still have to wait weeks to months for many movies to hit cinemas. This still happens even though such a problem has been long-gone in gaming and music circles for ages, and the increasing presence of streaming-exclusive films hitting on the same day worldwide makes the disparity feel even worse.

Two things brought the issue back into discussion this year: 1) There was a whole lot more to talk about on the blockbuster front; and 2) usually the bigger the movie, the less likely there will be a big delay, but even before the big lockdown extensions we were looking at extra waits of a month or more for the likes of No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Dune. The sheer familiarity of this whole situation leaves it low on this list, but in the age of widespread and early reaction content the phenomenon looks increasingly baffling each year.

9. Couches Passing in the Night

Of course the late movie situation was also exacerbated by the timing of lockdowns on the Australian east coast – and a couple of supremely unlucky videogames also felt the pinch. It wasn’t long into the year before fans of local multiplayer shenanigans had June circled as a month worth celebrating: We were set to see the long-awaited HD debut of the Mario Golf series with Super Rush alongside the impossibly good-looking Guilty Gear Strive, which stood out as easily the historic fighting game series’ best-ever chance to attract newcomers.

I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I was hyped. I had plans for these games; plans that kinda required people to be around. But the rest is history and long-story-short, neither of them held much appeal for me without local multiplayer. They were merely victims of bad timing and nothing more, but as a huge fan of the underappreciated Mario Tennis Aces and a regular dabbler in Arc System Works fighting games, I can’t help wondering what could have been.

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Best of 2021 Intro

A year of two halves: That’s how I’ll always remember 2021.

Down here on the east coast of Australia, we were fortunate enough to open the year with almost six straight months of false security in this post-2020 world. As our North American and European friends weren’t quite in the same position, new release movies were rather difficult to come by – and those debuting on US streaming services didn’t always match up 1-to-1 with our offerings. What’s more, the starved extrovert in me was very keen to make up for lost time, and it turned out one of the routines of my life that made way for the extra social time was (most of) my Korean music listening.

As for videogames, 2021 was positively grisly for people with free time in the early months of the year; between January’s Hitman III and May’s Resident Evil Village the triple-A videogame needle barely moved for the home console crowd. Although the picture for Switch owners was definitely more consistent, the widespread game delays 2020 had promised all seemed to hit at the same time, leaving very little in their wake. Luckily, more room opened up for some unexpected gems, but a legendary half-year it was not. Even this blog stayed dead-silent for almost six months.

Then 2021’s entertainment media came alive, just as the lockdowns came back with a vengeance down under. The PS5 actually received a couple of exclusive games, the Switch enjoyed a fabulous JRPG July, Bandai Namco and Square Enix unleashed some real surprise gems, and Xbox Game Pass enjoyed a sustained watershed moment with a full handful of the best-reviewed games of the year. Two summers of pent-up American blockbusters started to hit movie theatres and streaming services in earnest, and they kinda haven’t stopped since. I slowly picked up the K-Pop again with the help of some unexpected new friendships, and it turned out I had missed some pretty good stuff.

It’s a tired observation these days, but you really would be forgiven for feeling like you lived two years this past year; I certainly feel that way. But I promise these next ten countdowns will not focus purely on that bountiful second half: We’re looking at all of it.

Regardless of how many lists you click on, I’d like to thank you for joining me for Vagrant Rant’s 10th annual year-end countdown celebration!

Oh yeah, I kinda buried the lead there.

Ten years. Wow, there you go.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

The following lists represent my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting them as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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Best of 2019: Top 15 Games

Your mileage may vary on 2019’s strength as a videogame year. As I daresay my consoles list would suggest, that mileage will probably depend on whether you have a Nintendo Switch, but not just because that console enjoyed more exclusive new releases than any other this year. Much like the improved Xbox Game Pass, the Switch offered a raft of opportunities for time-poor players to enjoy older games in a new form. This definitely contributed at times to a feeling that I was helplessly drowning in stuff to play, but I do have friends who look back on 2019 with more laid-back attitudes and shrug. It wouldn’t have helped that the heavy-hitting North Americans largely sat 2019 out, taking up only two slots on my list; this was a year utterly dominated by Japanese and European developers, after all, with a strong line-up of perfectly toasted indie treats along for the ride.

To help me cut down this list to a usable 15, I always use the same rule: A game can make it on if I played it for 5+ hours or finished it (whichever comes first), unless it’s a multiplayer-focused game; then I just need to have played it once. I feel like this has always served me well as an indicator that I’ve given a title a fair shake, but it once again disqualifies a bunch of fantastic games that make me wince just typing them out: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Devil May Cry 5, Baba is You, Gears 5, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. If you don’t see a game either on the main list or in this paragraph, you can safely assume I just did not rate it highly enough or lacked the interest / awareness to try it.

Parentheses indicate where I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Rage 2 (XBO/PC)

2019 was positively laced with games that one might call 7/10 experiences; titles that do plenty right but have a noticeable permeating flaw or simply don’t do much to distinguish themselves (see the honorable mentions for a few examples). Many count Rage 2 among these, but I feel like it’s got plenty enough going for it to carve out a unique voice. The environments – especially outdoors – are absolutely stunning at times, thanks to Avalanche’s gorgeous Apex Engine; the popping colours in the most intense firefights are instantly identifiable to this game; and the gunplay is well fitting of Doom developers Id Software. Rage 2 was knocked by critics and audiences for repetitive open world design, but I often feel like modern criticism is too quick to undercut the importance of well-designed movement flow. Actually playing Rage 2 feels amazing moment-to-moment, gun-to-car, which is the main reason it makes my GOTY list in 2019.

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The Seven Stages of Videogame Remakes

It’s been a topic at the forefront of gaming for the entirety of the last generation and a significant part of the one before. The videogame industry these days is old enough to look back and draw from its past, and in an age where some games of yore are ridiculously difficult to experience with anything approaching legality, re-releases and remakes are as commonplace as they are guaranteed to attract online discontent. In many cases, they also represent a near-guaranteed source of revenue for publishers keen on mining nostalgia, so whether you love them, hate them, or pay them no mind until one of your favourites arrives in the spotlight, they aren’t going anywhere.

I’m not here to defend the practice of re-releasing games in various stages, however. Some of that may happen accidentally as I write, but the topic has been covered to death, including on this very blog years ago. KingK also made a pretty good YouTube video on the subject earlier this year that is worth a watch. No, more interesting to me at this very moment is this idea that the quality and validity of some of these re-releases oftentimes seems to hinge on what labels people are willing to attach to each one. As with most things in life, enjoyment is regularly determined by expectation. So I feel like it’s worthwhile to break down and categorise those labels as I see them defined. Because seven is a poetic number that looks great in post headers, that is how I will attempt to divide them. This is all based on my feelings on the topic – and I can definitely see people disagreeing on the order of the categories – but I’ll try to articulate with examples as best I can.
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Port

Your basic “Take Game A from Platform B and get it to run on Platform C” situation. Nothing more, nothing less. This is regularly seen when a period of platform exclusivity breaks and a title shows up on a competing platform within the same generation, whether that period was motivated by a publishing deal or the game in question was simply developed with one target platform in mind and the ensuing gremlins from the porting process take time to smooth over. Because timed exclusivity within the console space is a rarity nowadays, the platform that is usually either early or late to the party is the PC, but you see more variety of circumstance the lower down you go on the production budget scale. For every big-budget early access title on the Steam/Epic Games storefront, every surprising eleventh-hour Yakuza/Square RPG arrival, there’s a “Nindie” debuting on Switch first, a small ID@Xbox game flying the Microsoft flag straight out of the gate. When these games inevitably cross over to find new homes – grabbing a handy second wave of buzz in the process – they invariably do so without significant gameplay changes or extra content that hasn’t already been added to their initial versions.

The overwhelming majority of PC ports do offer more flexible graphical options due to the open nature of the PC environment (usually related to resolution, frame rate caps/unlocks, and previously unavailable visual effect toggles), just as a huge amount of Switch ports require technical downgrades by very imaginative and talented people in order to run at all (The folks at Bluepoint and Panic Button come to mind). But if that’s all she wrote, you’re looking at a bread-and-butter port between platforms. There are many who hold the untouched port as the most ideal form of game preservation, and many more who don’t see the point of a fresh release of an older game if the developers don’t update anything, but the simple fact remains that basic ports allow more people to play more videogames and they’re an unavoidable part of the landscape.
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Enhanced Port

These next two categories are where things get muddiest for me, but I’m fairly sure I’ve got my head around them. A game qualifies as an enhanced port in my mind if there has been little to no discernible graphical work done under a game’s hood since it’s original release, thereby qualifying it as a straight port if not for one or two clear and significant gameplay changes that have been implemented. Weirdly enough, this opens the door for re-releases to occur on the same platform as their source material, a practice for which the Kingdom Hearts franchise used to be infamous and something the Pokemon main series continues to do to this day. This is definitely a curious semantic pocket of the industry, because while you can theoretically port a game to the platform it’s already on, without any noteworthy enhancements such an endeavour would be literally pointless.

Of course, most of the qualifiers for this category actually do cross over to new platforms, and as you might expect if you’ve invested in any of their recent consoles, Nintendo features heavily among them. Of late the notoriously port-happy current crop of Big N executives have greenlit a veritable catalogue of exports from the tragic Wii U to the hit-making Switch, packing little more than a resolution bump in the visuals department but almost always carrying a smattering of bullet points to set the new version apart. Hyrule Warriors packs new character skins and integrates content from multiple previous versions of the game, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe and DK Country Tropical Freeze add new characters and abilities, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fundamentally changes the flow of gameplay with more granular kart stats and an extra item slot per player (in addition to new characters). Older examples of this include the Gamecube release of Sonic Adventure 2 with an entire multiplayer mode in tow, the transformed controls and gameplay balance of Resident Evil 4‘s Wii edition and the enabling of the mythical “Stop n’ Swap” functionality in the Xbox 360 version of Banjo-Kazooie.

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Best of 2018: Top 15 Games

It’s truly fascinating to me to watch the cooldown period after a universally-acknowledged year of videogame greatness. Sometimes the vaunted 2007 gets the wonderful afterparty that was 2008 – with the likes of GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Fallout 3 and Bioshock – and sometimes 1998 gets the uneventful ’99 hangover. In the age we live in, packed as it is with more games and more types of games than ever before, it’s difficult to argue that any year can be truly bad for releases. That said, 2018 mixed in the kinds of critical and commercial disappointments that might have sunk an older year but only seemed to add a footnote to an annum of tremendously successful standalone titles – especially if you owned a PS4.

This is, of course, my personal favourites list, so games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are absent (for reasons I’ve already touched on). There are fewer indie games on this list than usual, which doesn’t reflect a poor year for smaller-budget games (not even close) so much as it does that sweet spot near the end of a major console life cycle where a number of ambitious projects in development for years all seem to hit at once. There are iterative sequels that perfect a formula, refreshing surprises and a not-insignificant combination of both. Overall it’s a list defined by games I did not expect to fall in love with – either because they were entirely new or because I had not ever properly been grabbed by their respective series. In fact, I’d say I was only confident I would enjoy four out of these fifteen games before I played them – and trust me, that’s an undeniably low conversion rate for me. Yay for the unexpected.

Eligibility for the countdown is simple. Excluding multiplayer-first titles, I need to have played each game for more than five hours or completed its main path – whichever comes first.

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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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15. Unravel Two (XBO)

E3 week was pretty uniquely special this year because for the first time in a long while, I was just as excited to play unexpected games that had just come out as I was about those on the horizon. One of several surprise “out now!” releases during E3 2018 was Unravel Two, a sequel to one of the indie darlings of E3s gone by. While I didn’t hear great things about the first game in terms of mechanics and ended up skipping it entirely, I was extremely happy to find that the sequel picks up the slack in a big way while presenting a world just as visually stunning. The rope physics in this game are the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of finding in a 2D platformer and they are used to great effect for both fluid movement and puzzle solving – the two often going hand in hand – but the kicker is that the entire 5-hour adventure absolutely sings in co-op. I played Unravel Two start to finish with my sister, who rarely plays games, and she was as glued to the screen as I was.

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