Super Jump Magazine’s Top Games of 2018

The titles we enjoyed playing most this year

Now that the year is coming to a close, video game publications around the world are starting to consider their Game of the Year awards. Some outlets, critical of the traditional jostling for a place on the podium, have taken different approaches (like Polygon’s top 50, which is a great read). Regardless of the approach taken, it’s definitely true that most of us have some interest in reflecting on the year that was before we embark on the promise of a new one.

In that spirit, we’d like to present Super Jump Magazine’s Top Games of 2018. This year’s retrospective is something of an evolution of last year’s format. Rather than go through a painful — and perhaps reductive — process of defining the single best game of the year, we wanted to do what we do best: celebrate awesome video games. Throughout the course of a year, most of us — especially those of us who write about video games professionally — tend to sample a lot of different titles. And, typically, there will be a few key games that will sit in the forefront of our consciousness through the year.

It might be that these are the games we couldn’t stop playing and kept coming back to, despite other releases clamouring for our attention. Maybe we played a game only once but if left a lasting impression on us for one reason or another. And sometimes we just had so much fun with a game, even if we don’t see it as necessarily the “best” game of the year, when viewed through the lens of professional critique.

Most of us could fairly easily reel off at least five —perhaps as many as ten — games released in 2018 that we would recommend without reservation. But the idea here was to encourage the team to really think carefully about the games that genuinely rise to the top without necessarily selecting a single Game of the Year. So, in that spirit, the Super Jump editorial team was asked to each choose their three favourite games of 2018.

As you read through this retrospective, you’ll certainly notice places where several of us overlapped strongly. But we hope you will also be pleasantly surprised by the variety on offer here.

Before we kick off, let’s introduce the editorial team who collaborated to produce this article. We’ve brought together writers and editors from across Super Jump Magazine who each have their own unique gaming tastes and histories.

Finally, a couple of notes on how we have presented this list.

All games (and writers) included here are listed alphabetically. We have done this in an effort to present the titles “as is” without adding editorial emphasis to one game or writer over another.

You will also notice that a couple of games on this list were not originally released in 2018. There are really two exceptions that could open the door to an older release appearing here:

  • The title may have seen a new release (or port) in 2018.
  • There may have been significant content updates for the game in 2018, even if it was originally released several years ago.

The first point is important because in one special case here, we reference a game that was originally released on PC, but which arguably became a true global phenomenon upon its 2018 Nintendo Switch debut.

And the second point is simply becoming a more common situation for video games in general. It is increasingly likely that some games are dramatically more interesting and content-rich well after launch (in some cases, this could be several years post-launch).

Now that you have a clearer picture of our approach and rationale, we hope you enjoy Super Jump Magazine’s Top Games of 2018.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Ubisoft Quebec

Chris Harrison

In early 2007, my very prestigious job as a video game store manager granted me a chance to visit Ubisoft and play a very early press-preview version of the first Assassin’s Creed.

To say I was blown away is an understatement. In 2007 there was nothing like Assassin’s Creed. The city was enormous, full of interesting NPCs and amazing architectural detail. The movement was unlike any game I’d ever played, and watching Altair navigate through the environment left me awestruck.

But that was a long time ago. The magic behind open world games has all but evaporated, as expansive ‘living world’ gameplay has become the status quo for most AAA adventure games. This is doubly true for Ubisoft, whose library over the past few years has been almost exclusively open-world (Rainbow Six Siege and For Honor being the only notable exceptions).

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and it’s de-facto prequel — Assassin’s Creed Origins — both come after Ubisoft took a break from yearly releases to reevaluate the franchise as a whole. It’s clear playing either of these two latest entries that they’ve tried to learn from the plethora of high-quality open world adventure games that have been produced since that first game in 2007. The influences of games like The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V are hard to miss. Odyssey is a clear attempt to learn not only from the past, but from the present, and produce a quality product worthy of its contemporaries.

Odyssey isn’t without its flaws; Greece isn’t the most varied landscape, and many of the towns feel lacking in their own personal flavour. The side-missions, and characters within them, feel especially one-note at times. Without the paid for XP boost, it certainly overstays its welcome before you’ll finish the game’s three campaigns.

None of that mattered for me, however. I found it impossible not to feel invested in Kassandra’s story, and equally impossible not to feel invested in the protagonist herself. Despite the occasional repetitiveness, Odyssey’s Greece is full of wonder, mystery, and has some truly breathtaking setpieces and points of interest.

At the time of writing this, Odyssey has been out for around three months. In that time, a number of strong titles have released: Battlefield V, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate just to name a few.

But no matter what new exciting game comes out, I just keep returning to Odyssey. I’ve finished every quest, completed all the available DLC, and invested hours more in simple exploration and side activities.

Odyssey is a game that lives up to that first moment in 2007 when I saw that early build of Assassin’s Creed, and I can’t wait to see where the franchise goes from here.

Celeste

Matt Makes Games

Josh Bycer

Celeste is a game that is many things to different people: it’s an emotional rollercoaster about dealing with depression, a casual platformer that allows anyone to finish it, and a brutal challenge that will test every aspect of your skills. What makes Celeste such an amazing game is that it is able to balance all those aspects, along with a beautiful soundtrack.

The developers wanted to make a game that was challenging, yet still approachable to anyone, and that was handled via the options menu. This was a platformer that allowed players to literally turn on “no dying” and “infinite jumping” if you just want to get through every level without a care in the world. The game neither rewards or encourages you to play at a specific difficulty level, and leaves it up to you to figure out what kind of experience you want.

Those looking for a real challenge can find satisfaction here: Celeste featured some of the trickiest 2D platforming seen in a long time. Going through the game’s three difficulties (two are hidden), there is plenty here for expert players. The colorful graphics and charming music are just smokescreens for the amount of technical skill required if you want to play this on skill alone.

Celeste is a game that you can tell that the developers put everything they had into making it, and is honestly a must-play for anyone with even a remote interest in platforming.

Wyatt Donigan

If Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was the game that gave me an escape from some of the bigger issues I was dealing with in life, Celeste is the game that gave me the realization that some of those issues existed in the first place.

Prior to playing Celeste, I didn’t really know what I was in for. I knew it was an incredibly hard platformer, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I didn’t know what the story would be or even what the game would look like since I somehow hadn’t seen a trailer before it or anything. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I booted the game up and experienced all it had to offer.

Starting with the aesthetics, Celeste is an incredible homage to every 16-bit platformer that came before it. The beauty of this game is in its simplicity. Rather than try and go for some ultra-realistic feel, the developers simply turned less into so much more to create a gorgeous looking product. Right along with the visuals, this game has the best soundtrack of any game this year, in my opinion. For a good two months after I finished the game, the soundtrack was my go-to music to throw on while I was writing. If you haven’t heard it yet, do yourself a favor and go give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

While Celeste might borrow elements from classic games, it does so much more than that. It takes those formulas and truly turns them up to 11 with the difficulty of these levels. While nowhere near Cuphead levels of hard, Celeste was by far the hardest game I have played in quite some time. But whereas Cuphead just felt unnecessarily difficult at times, Celeste was difficult in the way that just pushes you to try even harder on your next life. Every death was a learning experience as you try and solve the many puzzles the game has to offer.

Speaking of puzzles, every puzzle in this game ties beautifully into a much deeper and more emotional story than I was anticipating. As you guide your character up one of the tallest mountains in the world, each puzzle symbolizes a form of anxiety and depression the character deals with. Each failure shows off the self-doubt that courses through her body. Perhaps what struck me most with this story, though, was how much I identified with her struggles.

Each time she talked about her anxiety or the depressive state she was in, I immediately felt the same emotions, despite never have identified those emotions within me previously. More than that, it helped me realize that I, too, suffered from anxiety and depression. For this small, indie platformer to have this effect was absolutely shocking and unexpected to me. It was also amazingly great, though.

Many games tend to stay away from these kind of subjects and stick to the lighter side of things to create a more enjoyable experience. I appreciate that these developers not only made a fairly small budget game, but also truly went for it and gave us one of the best experiences of the year.

Mitchell Wolfe

Celeste is a modern masterpiece in the platforming genre and deserves to be held up with Mario, Donkey Kong, Meat Boy, and Shovel Knight as one of the best platformers available.

Celeste tells the story of Madeline, a young woman who decides to climb Celeste Mountain as an escape (or a solution?) from her problems. Her specific blend of self-doubt, depression, and anxiety is never fully spelled-out to the player, but it is made clear that her mental health is not great. In order to scale the mountain and achieve what she sets out to do, Madeline will have to confront the parts of herself she doesn’t like and accept them as part of what makes her able accomplish her goals.

Celeste tells this story through gameplay. It is an unmistakably difficult game. Veteran platformer fans might have an easy enough time reaching the credits of the game, but those happen after only the first seven levels. There are a total of 24. The 23rd level specifically had a single screen, just one screen, that took me over five hours to complete. Though hard, the game is never cruel. Celeste propels the player forward with sheer optimism. Like Madeline, you will likely come to areas that you think are simply not possible for someone with your set of skills. Also like Madeline, however, you’ll be given reason after reason why that’s just not true and that you’re capable of so much more.

The game begins by giving the player a sentence that will become their mantra throughout their play time, “You can do this.” When the player is met with a difficult jump, an unfortunately-placed pattern of obstacles, or a need to act more quickly than they are comfortable acting, their death triggers an instant teleportation back to the start of the screen. There’s hardly enough time to be upset about failing when you’re already trying again less than a second later. Also, every single screen is a checkpoint from which you can start again at any time. This style of platformer isn’t completely novel. It borrows heavily from Super Meat Boy’s instant retry system. What makes Celeste’s approach different is how unflinchingly kind it is.

The folks at Matt Makes Games made a challenge that they want you to clear. As difficult as it is, it’s also friendly and courteous of your time. Players who need a little help have a few options to make the game a little bit slower or to give Madeline extra air dashes, but it’s advised allowing the game to be as difficult as is comfortable, or maybe even a bit more difficult than that. Its strengths lie in the feeling the player gets when they succeed in something they thought was impossible and letting them know that the ability to get there was inside them the whole time. What Celeste provides for its players is a beautiful sense of self-worth and validity. It is absolutely one of the greatest games of the year.

Cultist Simulator

Weather Factory

Josh Bycer

Fans of mine know that I’m all about gameplay first when it comes to the titles I enjoy. For a narrative-focused game to hook me is something special. Cultist Simulator is a hard game to break down with its combination of Lovecraftian storytelling and rogue-like play, all tied to a tabletop aesthetic.

The game is its own metaphorical rogue-like puzzle box for the player to figure out, with the possibilities for failing always just around the corner. All of this is tied together thanks to game designer Alexis Kennedy’s brilliant writing to describe all the strange machinations at play.

Using a blank tabletop and a variety of icons, you will found a cult with the ultimate goal to ascend mortality and take your place in the manus; or you could end up insane, dead, or worse: stuck in a dead-end desk job. What makes Cultist Simulator so fascinating is that the game leaves it up to the player to figure out the rules and start to piece together how to win.

Advanced players will soon be going on expeditions, raising Eldritch forces to aid them, all in the pursuit of reaching one of the game’s end conditions. With each run you play, you start to learn a little more about how the world works and begin to push things further.

Since I reviewed the game earlier this year, the first of several major patches and DLCs have been released, along with many quality of life/balance patches. Similar to some of my favorite rogue-likes, Cultist Simulator is a perfect canvas for continued support and development, and the potential is as endless as the manus itself.

With that said, there is one important caveat about this game; this is one of the best examples of a “love it or hate it” experience. You’ll find there’s no in-between when it comes to the unique design of Cultist Simulator.

Dead Cells

Motion Twin

Josh Bycer

From the moment I first tried out Dead Cells all those months ago on early access, I knew that there was something special here for action rogue-like fans. Combining amazing aesthetics with one of the best 2D combat systems I’ve played, the game has a ton of potential for fans of the genre.

The game challenges players to make do with an ever increasing pool of weapons that can appear through a run. If you match the right weapon combinations along with raw skill, you can rush through levels taking on anything that gets in your way. The game’s persistence system continues to unlock new toys for the player, all while keeping the momentum going.

It’s hard to put into words the feel of playing Dead Cells. This is a high-speed game that tasks players to react to attacks coming in every direction, while hopefully getting in the necessary hits to win. Even though the game does feature metroidvania aspects, the basic movement is more than satisfying enough to make you feel like a headless ninja.

The only thing stopping me from playing it was the fact that I burned through the content during the early access phase and the first month of it being out. Even though it is one of my favorites of 2018, I’m really looking forward to how this game will continue to grow in 2019 with new content.

Detroit: Become Human

Quantic Dream

Chris Harrison

Detroit: Become Human wasn’t really a game that was on my radar at the start of 2018. I’d tried Heavy Rain, and had a look at Beyond: Two Souls, but neither had held my interest beyond the opening sequences.

In May, I had a friend down from Sydney for a few weeks and, more or less on a whim, we decided to give Detroit a go. My friend drove the Kara sequences, while I ran with Conner, and we shared responsibilities when it came to Markus’ sequences.

This was a totally unique way to play Detroit, and watching half the game play out without having input gave it a sense of tension that I suspect it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Knowing the choices I made as Connor might affect my friend’s Kara playthrough — and vice versa — put a tremendous weight on each choice we made.

Playing through the game that first time was really memorable for me. The game’s story, although flawed, is touching and well considered. The number of meaningful decisions in the game is truly breathtaking when viewing its depth, and knowing that the scope of those possibilities adds even more weight to each important decision. Furthermore, it was the perfect experience to share with a friend whom I rarely get to spend time with, as it felt like we had shared a difficult, emotional journey together.

My second playthrough of Detroit was one I actually had no part in — instead, I watched my partner play through the game. In her very first session, I witnessed the death of a character who was pivotal to the plot of my first playthrough. I remember literally shouting in surprise, jumping off the couch, and clutching my head in my hands. I knew the game had branching paths, but had no idea something so drastic could happen so early and truly change the course of the game.

Sitting through my partner’s playthrough and witnessing a completely different story unfold was just as remarkable as that first run.

I played Detroit a third time, too. This time, just on my own. I wanted to attempt to build ‘my’ story, the story I could treat as my own canon. It didn’t work, of course — despite knowing so much more about the game, I still couldn’t bring myself to make the harder choices, or make decisions I didn’t think Connor, Kara, or Marcus would make. In my head, I knew who these characters were now — I couldn’t simply make a choice they wouldn’t make.

I ended up playing Detroit a fourth time, and then following closely as my brother and his wife played through the game. I was riveted to hear their stories — how they experienced the journeys of the three protagonists, and what choices they made along the way.

Detroit: Become Human isn’t a perfect game — in fact, it’s got real issues around gameplay and some occasionally poor writing. All that being said, it undoubtedly left a meaningful impression on me, and much like the other games on this list, gave me treasured memories as I shared the experience with my friends and family.

Daniel Ware

There were a lot of expectations for David Cage and Quantic Dream’s latest release. Detroit: Become Human was in development for years before it was unveiled on the PS4 in 2018. Whether or not you think it does enough to earn the title of a “game,” Detroit certainly does more than enough to make you feel; this ability to elicit such emotion is important and cannot be understated. Sure, you may not have the degree of control you’re used to when you first enter the futuristic vision of Detroit in the USA. But make no mistake, you have more control over the outcomes of the three protagonists than many conventional game experiences that purport to offer branching path narratives.

The core gameplay mechanic at play here is choice. It may not sound like much, but it ended up being extremely powerful and striking to reduce the player’s experience down to such a simple action. A huge issue soon beckons early into the game though — no choice or action is as straightforward as it ever seems. Detroit realised the butterfly effect in a beautiful and significant way. Because of this, the game possesses a ridiculous amount of possibilities, with branching trees of the different outcomes activated by the choices you decide to make.

You soon find that choices will not turn out the way you hoped. The easiest decision isn’t always the safest, and the simplest one not always right. It’s a powerful and also subtle way of delving into the human condition (outside of the game’s obvious surface references to free will). Indeed, the way in which Quantic Dream can create such a finessed and dynamic experience based on something as simple as an android uprising is a testament to their hard work and development on Detroit. Nothing feels half-baked or meaningless, a factor which should not be underappreciated given the current climate of gaming, where many people mindlessly hand over cash for cosmetic items and virtual cash.

The three protagonists in Detroit are written and acted superbly, buttressed by the gorgeous visuals. When I played the game it was on an original PS4; I can’t imagine how much better it would look in 4K on the PS4 Pro. It is perhaps the best looking game I have ever seen on a gaming console. Particularly well done is the minute and barely detectable facial changes in the characters, especially as you can see some of the protagonists start to become more and more self aware.

At first glance, Detroit might seem narrow and uninteresting, but in reality it is the depth of the experience that matters and shines through. Sure, it may not provide the sheer scale of exploration enabled by games like Red Dead Redemption 2, but the last thing Detroit does is act like it’s something which it’s not. Call it an interactive movie if you wish, but it simply doesn’t do justice to the nuances of Detroit and the world it immerses you in. It provided a refreshing break from the usual stream of predictable new releases.

God of War

SIE Santa Monica Studio

James Burns

As my colleagues have all said, so much has been written about God of War that it can feel redundant to sing the game’s praises now, at the end of 2018. But I think it’s worth pausing to consider just why this game has captured the imaginations of so many people. I also feel that I’m in a slightly unique position, because I played about half of the game when it came out, and then stopped for a few months to play other things. It wasn’t that I didn’t like God of War — far from it — it was just simply about making time available to sample the year’s other major releases.

I jumped back into God of War again recently to finish it off. Upon returning to Midgard, it felt like I’d never left. Kratos and his young son, Atreus, were lazily rowing across The Lake of the Nine. As the pair discussed their family history — Kratos was deftly avoiding Atreus’ probing questions — Jörmungandr, the utterly gargantuan World Serpent, quietly surveyed its endless kingdom from the far end of the lake. The enormity and frightening majesty of the World Serpent, juxtaposed with the quietness of a father and son’s conversation in a rickety old row boat, seems like the perfect visual image for God of War. It is at once a vivid, fast-paced, dream-like experience with set pieces so large you’ll get vertigo sitting on your sofa. At the same time, it’s quiet, subtle, and deeply personal.

There is a heartwarming and fascinatingly complex father-and-son plot that itself is worth the price of entry, but it is enveloped neatly within an extraordinary meta-narrative that is concerned with the titanic clashes between ancient gods. The extent that the these two narrative realms intertwine — and often come into heart-stopping conflict — is the extent to which God of War is perhaps the most masterful example of video game narrative ever conceived. All of the constituent parts are here with their A-game, too: voice acting is thoroughly brilliant without exception, and it supports some of the very best writing I’ve seen in any video game (or film, for that matter). The continuous one-shot cinematography isn’t simply a quirky IMDB footnote, either: yes, it’s technically and artistically impressive in itself, but the way it facilitates and uplifts the core narrative (and somehow manages to equally buttress sublime gameplay mechanics) is, honestly, nothing short of genius.

And I think that’s the point which really hits you in the guts: it’s not just that there’s a great story with great acting and writing here. It’s not just that the graphics are both technically and artistically incredible. And it’s not just that the soundtrack complements every story beat and action-packed moment flawlessly. It’s that all of these elements coalesce with moment-to-moment combat mechanics that are bone-crunchingly satisfying.

It’s an understatement to say that God of War is expertly paced. There is a rhythm — a push and pull — that ebbs and flows between unbelievable, epic combat encounters at one end, and quiet contemplation at another. The game regularly and deftly shuttles you back-and-forth across the continuum between these two extremes in a way that feels incredibly seamless. The continuous single shot is partly to credit for this, but it goes so much deeper; the characters themselves always seem to be aware of the world around them in a way that feels almost sentient. This even extends to environmental puzzles — there are some direct UI cues to assist you here and there, but quite often, you’ll find a way forward because Kratos and Atreus are quite literally problem solving out loud right in front of you. That their entirely natural conversations are both narratively important and convey useful gameplay information for the player all at the same time is simply incredible.

God of War is the best game I’ve played since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That’s high praise from me, because I think Breath of the Wild also happens to be one of the greatest games Nintendo has ever produced. I have absolutely zero hesitation comparing Santa Monica Studio’s achievement here to the very best creations in the history of video games — the many accolades this game has received (and will continue to receive) — are entirely well-deserved. If you own a PlayStation 4, you simply must play God of War. And if you don’t own a PlayStation 4? Well, there’s no better reason to pick one up.

Wyatt Donigan

While there have probably been millions of words written about this game so far this year, I’ve going to add in a few hundred more because why not? I have to start out by saying that I wasn’t even intending to play this game when it first came out. I had played every main entry in the franchise prior to this and loved every minute of it. Over the years, though, I’ve simply grown away from lengthy single-player titles and gotten more involved with mainly competitive games. But damn, am I glad that I decided to dive into what is perhaps one of the best games of all time.

I don’t think there’s a better place to start than the visuals of this game. It’s quite simply an absolute masterpiece. I don’t even have a PS4 Pro and this game looked incredible from start to finish. While the God of War franchise has always had some incredibly scenic views, especially every scene dealing with Titans in God of War III, this one truly took the cake. At almost every moment, you just couldn’t help but look around at the scenery and admire what was around you.

Right along with the visual was the sound design. From the various monster noises to the soundtrack itself, this game was a joy to listen to from beginning to end. If you just let the game idle while doing something else real quick, you stayed immersed in the world due to all the overall sound design being superb.

With those elements out of the way, it’s time to talk gameplay. I have to admit, throughout the first half of this game, I wasn’t a fan of the combat. Perhaps it was three games of using the Blades of Chaos, but I just couldn’t fully get into the swing of the Axe. It still felt satisfying to use, though, even if it wasn’t my favorite since the audible “thunk” of each hit really made you feel the powerfulness of Kratos. Once you reached one of the pivotal moments of the game, however, everything changed for me. I won’t spoil it here, but it has to do with a river and those who have played it will know what I mean. From that point on, everything fell truly into place and the final stretch was some of the greatest moments I’ve spent playing a game.

The reason for that isn’t just the combat, though, as this story was the best and deepest of any God of War to date. While the sole motivation for Kratos’ character in the past had been grief, revenge, and rage, this time he does everything in the name of protecting his son. Many developers would greatly hesitate to give their character such a 180 in terms of motivation and actions, but they did that here with Kratos and boy, was it a great choice.

Gone were all of the more juvenile aspects of Kratos’ character and in its place was a man who had clearly learned from his past mistakes and decided to move on from them. Well, he doesn’t completely move on from them from the entire game, which is what makes that one sequence on the river halfway through so damn powerful. The manner in which that moment is handled and, more importantly, that it doesn’t fundamentally alter how Kratos carries himself throughout the second half of the game. The way in which he’s able to tap into a bit of his old self while still retaining the essence of the “new” Kratos is masterful and I loved every minute of it.

If all that wasn’t enough, they crafted one of the best twist post-credits scene I have ever seen in a video game and I absolutely can’t wait to see what’s next for the series.

Chris Harrison

In the eight months since it released, I have seen God of War praised for just about everything —including its incredibly tight gameplay, wonderful music, stunning graphics, and a touching story.

God of War truly lives up to the hype on all those accounts — it’s a phenomenally well-produced and directed game that gets better every moment you spend with it. While its predecessors were very good action-adventure games, 2018’s entry upped the ante in every conceivable way, and has clearly paved a path for Santa Monica Studios to reinvent themselves.

For me, God of War impressed for all the well-publicised reasons that have attracted near-universal praise, but it’s so much more than that. God of War touched me on a really personal level, and came at a time in my life where I was not only ready, but needed a story like the one God of War told.

At its deepest core, God of War has two themes woven intrinsically around its narrative: loss and parenthood.

The game’s opening centres on Kratos giving his late wife her burial, and embarking on the journey to bid her the farewell that she deserves. It’s his grief and pain that immediately takes 2005’s spartan war machine and turns him into a human being, feeling human emotions. It’s a tale as old as time, told again and again in fiction; the quintessential human story told in the framework of the inhuman.

Despite the trope, God of War tells us this story in a way that is completely unique, because we already know Kratos. While we don’t experience him becoming a husband, or a parent, or losing his wife, we do witness the aftermath. We see how he’s changed and evolved — for better, and for worse. The story of Kratos’ personal growth after 13 years of God of War games is reflected in its audience.

Its other narrative is far more surface-level, and centres around Kratos’ relationship with his son Atreus. While the first God of War series was a tale of hyper-masculine violence and power, Kratos’ relationship with Atreus shows us the softer side of masculinity; how fatherhood can be about education and empowerment, but also about nurturing and care — a side of traditionally male relationships that is rarely explored in AAA action games. A side of traditional masculinity that might not have resonated with a 17-year-old in 2005, but hopefully will with a 30 year old in 2018.

Growing up is hard, and if you’d told 2005 me that Kratos would one day be a strong role model, I’d have been horrified beyond belief. Despite that, here we are in 2018. Kratos is a loving husband and father who’s simply trying to find his place in the world. He’s grown up, left the antics of his early adulthood behind, and now has more responsibility than he ever asked for. However, he’s still flawed, and coming to terms with the man he is, and the man he wants to be.

God of War found me just a few short weeks before I was about to turn 30 and showed me that even someone like Kratos can mature and find his place in the world. God of War made me think about who I want to be in the future, and I can’t think of a better reason to call it my favourite game of the year.

Jared Johnson

When the new God of War was first announced, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. I had been very familiar with the series up to that point, having played every installment across every platform Kratos graced his presence with prior to the announcement. The return of Cory Barlog was certainly welcome news, as his previous efforts in the series led to the incomparable God of War II, but I could muster little more than tepid excitement. I was going to get another God of War, right? It’ll be good, but what’s the rush?

The first trailer for the reimagined sequel was interesting, but I remained skeptical of how much they’d really disrupted the tried and true (and increasingly tired) formula. That skepticism lingered even after the reviews began to trickle in, until I finally capitulated and picked it up to see for myself. And holy shit was I wrong.

Looking at the God of War franchise as a whole, it’s very easy to think of Kratos as a one-dimensional, murderous rage-beast. Certainly anybody who played even five minutes of God of War III would get that impression. After all, no other game had me force a sex slave into a massive cog and then give me a trophy making fun over her mangled corpse. But it was God of War II, directed by Cory Barlog, that first gave Kratos depth of character, and gave root to his trademark rage. We might not agree with Kratos’ outbursts, but we understood where it came from, and were sympathetic through his journey. So it was fitting to see Barlog return to the franchise to remind us there’s more to Kratos than a pair of mitts that can tear Helios’ head off in glorious 1080p.

I could spend 10,000 words talking about God of War and never even get to the gameplay, which deserves another 10,000 all its own. But what’s maybe most impressive is the manner in which God of War weaves its two halves together into a unified piece of genuine artwork. Hoity toity critics will often bemoan the cognitive dissonance in many video games, where the story the developers want to tell is in direct conflict with the mechanics they’ve built around that story. God of War throws that out the window, folding the actions of its characters seamlessly into its narrative. The violence Kratos and his son inflict upon the world around them lingers like a poison, in spite of our heroes’ efforts to keep their exploits in check. Kratos is a thorn in this world, and it’s responding by swelling around him.

God of War excels at everything it does, and effectively tells a story that is both emotionally resonant and exhilarating on an epic scale befitting its franchise. It’s a game we never should have gotten, and will probably never get again. I can’t say if it’s the best game of 2018, but it is my favorite.

GRIS

Nomada Studio

James Burns

When I am at an art gallery, admiring an especially beautiful painting, I often find myself walking through it in my mind’s eye as if it were a physical space. I think the greatest painters have an uncanny ability to convey motion, heat, and light through their brushstrokes in ways that beckon the viewer’s senses in the real world. Have you ever stood in front of a painting and basked in its glowing sunlight? Maybe you have witnessed a scene of busy conversation, leaving you with the distinct sense that you could almost hear the din of chatter around you?

This is how it feels to play Gris, the debut title by Nomada Studio, which launched only recently. Yes, the proverbial sheets haven’t even cooled down and I’m already including this title in my top three games for the entire year. How can that be?

Well, I have to first make the point that this is just the type of game I like playing. It echoes the mysteriously enigmatic Journey, and could perhaps be considered a somewhat more distant cousin of Inside. That’s not to suggest for even a moment that Gris is somehow riding on the coattails of those high-achievers; rather, I’d say it shares some underlying principles with both of them. To be absurdly reductive for just a moment, Gris is — at least mechanically — a platformer. That is to say, you control an unnamed — and meticulously animated — woman, who runs, slides, swims, flies, and crashes through a 2D environment that is both linear (in the sense that it is carefully curated) and full of wondrous possibilities (in the sense that your interactions with a large proportion of it are delightfully surprising and emotive).

As you move through the world, you’ll unlock new abilities that enable you to — blah blah blah, who cares? It honestly feels pointless to discuss those aspects of the experience. Yeah, you run and jump, and yeah, you can change form to navigate through previously-inaccessible areas. It all feels great thanks to controls that are tighter than a wetsuit.

Simply executing the basic mechanics of a good platformer isn’t what’s so marvellous about Gris. It’s the masterful fusion of, great platforming mechanics dovetail, surgically-precise level structures that satisfyingly fold in on themselves, the tragically beautiful artwork of Conrad Roset, and the hauntingly unforgettable score of Berlinist.

Although it only takes about 3 or 4 hours to complete Gris, I consumed it like a fine dessert, sampling every delicate mouthful, pausing to contemplate that each remarkable part actually does coalesce into something even greater when combined. Nomada Studio’s very first game might also be the most recent one I’ve played, but it has earned its place among my top plays of 2018.

Hollow Knight (Nintendo Switch)

Team Cherry

Mitchell Wolfe

Hollow Knight is not strictly a 2018 game. It first came out on PC in the summer of 2017. It is a testament to the power of the Switch to revitalize games that Hollow Knight still feels like a 2018 release.

I’m in the same boat as many Hollow Knight players, who first picked up the game following its surprise shadow drop during Nintendo’s E3 presentation. I had heard of the game before and I knew a lot of folks that enjoyed it, but that’s true of a lot of games and I just don’t have all the time in the world. I was, however, interested in it enough to be swayed by Nintendo’s presentation to download it so I could have something to do during a long plane trip I was to take later that summer. When the time came, I sat in my seat and took out my Switch. I had never felt as stupid as when I looked out the window and saw that the flight from California to New York had taken about five minutes. I had been sleeping on one of the greatest games of this console generation for a whole year.

Game design is an artform, so claims of a “perfect game” need to be taken with mountains of salt, but Hollow Knight comes as close as could be reasonably expected. I’ve not seen a game with such outstanding, hand-drawn art, attention to detail in the world it creates, careful consideration of difficulty and a player’s likely trajectory through the game, a chilling soundtrack, charming characters to meet, and incredibly satisfying gamefeel, much less all of those things at the same time. The game’s narrative is fantastically written, but it doesn’t let its gameplay get bogged down by plot. The art style looks inexpensive compared to other contemporary games, but it at no point looks like its development lacked effort or love. It’s meant to be a hard game, but it’s also relatively forgiving and I’ve never found it to be unfair (before attempting the DLC). It is difficult to think of an area in which Hollow Knight underperforms; it’s that good.

Hollow Knight is a game built for just about anyone dressed up as a game for a niche audience. According to developers Team Cherry, the game has certainly sold well enough, but I still worry that potential players might be apprehensive that they are not familiar enough with Metroidvania-style games to fully appreciate Hollow Knight for what it is. I must stress that this is certainly not the case. In addition to being one of the absolute finest games in its genre, it’s also one of the best jumping-on points. Hollow Knight is great for beginners to the Metroidvania genre, it’s great for veteran players looking for new challenges and new worlds to explore, and, no matter what year it actually came out, it is one of the best games of 2018.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege

Ubisoft Montreal

Daniel Ware

2018 marked the third year anniversary for Rainbow Six Siege, no mean feat when taking into account the current environment for AAA titles, especially for a game that stakes its claim on being a multiplayer online tactical FPS. The reason Siege is one of my three favourite games for 2018 is due to the way it has gone from strength to strength in the eSports sphere, carving out a bigger slice of pie to further compete with the perennial CS: GO, DOTA 2 and League of Legends.

Year 3 of Siege has seen four new seasonal updates, accompanied by 8 new operators, all of which have significantly changed the meta of Pro League play in different ways. One particular operator, Lion, had such a stark impact on gameplay that he’s now been banned from all Pro League matches until he can be properly balanced as an attacker.

Also released in 2018 was the unexpected and confusing Outbreak event, a series of more story based missions full of zombies, tactical play and fresh content. While it was definitely nice to see Ubisoft steering off the linear path of success, it was also hard to figure out exactly where Outbreak sat with Siege. This confusion was only buoyed by the temporary nature of the event. Unfortunately I found that it didn’t quite hit the mark, but it was a promising step in the right direction nevertheless.

While it may be strange to have a three year old game as one of my top titles of 2018, it is certainly a testament to Siege’s staying power. One can look at how the intense the rise of PUBG from 2017 to 2018 followed by a sharp rise in negative feedback and significant drop in player count as an example of how volatile the gaming industry currently is. Coupled with the presence of other strong shooter franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield, it’s clear that Siege is here to stay.

The developer’s commitment to create new content every season can only be matched by Epic Games and Fortnite. Siege has every opportunity to become a mainstay alongside CS: GO in the tactical shooter genre. Its Six Invitational 2018 prize pool was $500,000 USD and had hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch during its running. Something like that doesn’t happen when you release a half-baked game and leave it to rot.

I can’t speak to what Siege was like back in 2015, but I can speak about what it’s like today. Dynamic, thrilling and infuriating, Siege has the indelible ability to bring people together and make you hate your teammates simultaneously. Even if I still suck at it, Rainbow Six Siege is one of my favourite games of 2018.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar San Diego

Jared Johnson

I once read a review of Christopher Nolan’s 2014 movie Interstellar, where the critic spent an entire paragraph questioning the plausibility of a frozen cloud. This was in reference to a moment in the movie that lasted a total of three seconds, and otherwise had no bearing on the situation the characters were in, or ultimately the rest of the movie. The review found little to complain about with regards to the film’s artistic merits, but nonetheless felt compelled to voice their concerns over whether or not the small detail they witnessed in the movie was accurate. You would never see this paragraph in the review of a Marvel movie, or even in a Spielberg film, but you’re bound to find a few peppered throughout Nolan’s filmography. It’s not that these are more common in his films, but because his reputation as a detail-oriented filmmaker draws this elevated level of scrutiny. In other words, he’s held to a higher standard.

Rockstar is similarly held to a higher standard in the gaming industry, to such a point that their talents are oftentimes even taken for granted. With so many YouTube videos cutting together all the quirky bugs experienced in the game, or reviews complaining that one too many missions conclude in a shootout, it can be easy to forget that Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most exceptionally well-made games ever created. Its world is meticulously crafted to look and feel alive, with environments spanning from snow-capped mountains, to expansive deserts, to boggy wetlands and more, seamlessly interwoven in a map that feels like a genuinely real location. Its characters live and breathe with their own personalities and values, and participate in a story of onset obsolescence that executes alongside the greats within its shared genre. Its mechanics are an uncompromising and elaborate network of features that offer an unprecedented degree of interactivity within the world set before the player. Most games would be satisfied with a fraction of the ambition on display in Red Dead Redemption 2, but Rockstar took aim at a thousand different targets and didn’t miss a single shot.

Not every piece is perfect, or sits well with everyone, but that’s okay. The game’s multitude of moving parts has resulted in some pretty silly glitches, and many have begrudged the pace the game opts to allow players to loot cabinets and corpses. But when you take the flaws against the product as a whole, the criticism falls short. We’ve taken Rockstar’s gestalt of a game for granted, and if we’re focused on the brush strokes, we’re not looking at the bigger picture. And this picture is sure as hell one to look at.

Spider-Man

Insomniac Games

Jared Johnson

If I had to reduce Insomniac’s Spider-Man for PS4 down to one cliche, it would have to be, “more than the sum of its parts.” This is a game where many of its various pieces lacked the refinement to be truly exceptional, and other parts downright drove me mad. But I kept coming back, kept plugging away, and could not stop thinking about it. Where Insomniac stumbled with a few of its mechanics and some questionable design decisions, it more than made up for it with that secret sauce that makes the game something special.

We’ve all heard a million times over that this game really makes you “feel” like Spider-Man, and while we can mock that statement until the sun burns out, it’s about as accurate as I can describe the web slinging the team has managed to engineer. You can tell that this was incredibly important to Insomniac, and they really nailed it. It’s only when you slow down that the game begins to trip up. Its combat is generally less successful, relying heavily on dodges and cheap shots. This is compounded by missions that play off of the shortcomings of these mechanics, and can make for some frustrating moments from beginning to end. Looking at the bulk of the gameplay, it feels like the good first outing for what will lead to an exceptional sequel.

That is, until you account for the story. Had we not just been spoiled with the masterful Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I would confidently call Insomniac’s Spider-Man the best Spider-Man movie ever made. At the very least, it’s the best Parker story we’ve seen in film or game. I mean no disrespect to Tom Holland or any others to have worn the suit when I say that Insomniac’s Peter Parker is the definitive version of this character. He’s a bit older than we usually see him, and a bit more confident, but still nerdy in his street clothes and cocky in his spandex. When he struggles to balance his social obligations with his crime fighting, we buy it. When his good intentions cause even more harm, we empathize.

Insomniac could have gotten away with giving its villains wafer-thin motivations (and in some cases, they have) and players would have been on-board. Instead, they tell one of the best villain origin stories in the genre, and they nail every moment of it. This is supported by a cast of well-developed characters and a world that evolves over the course of the game to add gravity to the narrative consequences throughout. It’s these elements that make up that secret sauce that keeps this game with you hours, days, and weeks after you’ve put it down. It’s truly more than the sum of its parts.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Bandai Namco Studios, Sora

James Burns

As these words tumble from my head to this page, I remain genuinely shocked that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate occupies a place within my top three games of 2018. It won’t surprise me at all to see this epic collaboration between Bandai Namco, Sora, and Nintendo on most Game of the Year lists for 2018. My own pearl-clutching reaction is simply due to the fact that I haven’t really played a Smash Bros. game since the Nintendo 64 original — at least, not for more than a cursory few minutes. Bafflingly, I don’t really know why. Somewhere along the line, Smash fatigue or boredom must have crept in. Perhaps I was seeing so much coverage of the “professional” side of the franchise that it started to turn me off, if only in a vague subliminal way. When Ultimate was revealed, I yawned. Even the E3 excitement around it didn’t really do much for me. Oh, Ridley is in this one? Whatever. Next.

I’ve just gone through that extensive throat-clearing because it’s important to point out that I’m coming to Ultimate from a very different perspective than many fans; I wasn’t a hyper-fan who drooled over every eagerly-anticipated character reveal. With that said, I was acutely aware of how important Ultimate is in terms of the overall franchise — its size and ambition alone were obvious for all to see in the lead up to launch.

When I first jumped into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate I suddenly realised I’d completely forgotten how to play a Smash game. It felt so unintuitive at first that I began to wonder if this was the reason I’d dropped out of the ring years ago. But I persevered and — thanks to the game’s numerous and pretty exceptional tutorials and guides — I began to find my feet. And then something in my brain clicked just like a lightswitch. I went from a firm “Meh” to “OMFGWHEREHAVEYOUBEENALLMYLIFE”. I’ve been playing regularly since launch, and thoroughly enjoying every moment with this remarkable creation; Mr. Sakurai and the entire development team have achieved something rather monumental here. And, better still, I think they’ve masterfully straddled the porous border that awkwardly divides “casual” players like myself and the true Smash enthusiasts.

It’s difficult to know where to begin, because I can feel my brain preparing for a 10,000 word review. I guess I’ll just start by saying that there are many games with a ton of stuff to do — that itself isn’t so special. What’s incredible here, though, is that Super Smash. Bros Ultimate treats everything it touches with a stratospheric level of respect. Yeah, there are a bazillion stages, but every single one of them is crafted with an impressive level of care and attention to detail. This is even more true for the game’s 74 fighters — every character is meticulously designed, apparently without even the slightest detail absent from Mr. Sakurai’s critical eye. I must admit, when I first saw Sonic the Hedgehog in the game (both the character and related stage), I felt slightly embarrassed for Sega; I remember thinking “Wow, this game treats Sonic better than any game made by Sega in a long time.” I know it’s a somewhat unfair observation, but still, that was my immediate impression.

I am running out of space here despite there being so many more thoughts in my head around this game. So, let me just say, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has emphatically brought me back into the Smash fold. It’s an exceptional game, and I feel lightheaded when I begin to think about the herculean effort that must have gone into it.

Wyatt Donigan

Where do I even start with Smash Ultimate? 2018 has been a bit of a rough year for me in many aspects, but fighting games have quickly become my solace to clear my head of anything that might be happening in life. It started with Dragon Ball FighterZ earlier this year and it feels like everything has now truly come full circle with the release of Smash Ultimate.

When this game was first announced in March, I knew immediately that I was going to be putting a ton of time into it. I had only dabbled in Smash titles previously, but it felt like this was the perfect time given that everyone would be starting on a somewhat level playing field in the new game. Even then, though, I had no idea truly how great this game would actually be. I didn’t discover that until I picked up the game on launch day and begun my Smash Ultimate journey.

This game is perhaps one of the most cohesive products that I have ever seen, which is saying a lot considering the vast number of amazing titles I’ve played in my lifetime. While many games have multiple game modes that are held together by thin string in an effort to disguise disjointedness, Smash Ultimate is reinforced with thick steel beams that hold everything in place perfectly.

There are four main game modes in Smash Ultimate: Smash Mode, Classic Mode, World of Light, and Online. Each mode (save for Online which I’ll touch on in a bit) is connected by the presence of Spirits, which are images that represent different characters throughout all the many franchises that are featured in the game. You can unlock various Spirits, of which there are over 1200, in Classic Mode and in World of Light. They can then be placed into slots on the characters you fight with to gain certain boosts depending on the attributes of each Spirit. Not only is this a key component of defeating the many bosses in the World of Light adventure mode, but Spirits can also be used in the normal Smash Mode if you want to add a bit of spice to your matches with friends. The fact that Spirits are present in all of these modes really ties things together nicely and gives you the sense that Sakurai and his team put a ton of work into making this the best product possible.

Now, back to the Online mode. While Spirits aren’t in this particular one due to it creating an unbalanced playing field, that’s just fine since you’ll be heading online to do your serious fighting anyways. While not perfect, the online mode does exactly what it intends to: give players a chance to play others online. The netcode could surely be touched up a bit, but on the whole, things are just fine for being less than two weeks out from release. Nintendo has already made some changes to the algorithms and will no doubt continue to do so in the coming days and weeks.

More than any of that, however, Smash Ultimate has truly wrapped together the entire year for me. It basically started with my discovering a pretty deep love for fighting games and now it’s ending by allowing me to experience the best fighting game I’ve ever played. Having already put in almost 100 hours since release, it’s been pretty much all I’ve done since it came out. Being able to dig into all the frame data and such with my best friends has been incredible and I can’t wait to see where this game goes in the future.

Mitchell Wolfe

This game is obviously good. Saying Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is good is like saying that driving a Prius is good for the environment. Everyone already knows it is and it’s unlikely that anyone is going to change their minds on how they already feel about it, but if you’re currently playing Smash (or if you’re currently driving a Prius), it’s pretty much the only thing you can talk about.

Mr. Sakurai and his development team at Bandai Namco have truly outdone themselves with this installment. The focus of previous games in the series has bounced between being a serious, legitimate competitive game and being a wacky, off-the-wall party game. Ultimate seems to be the first time that a Smash game was developed with both tournament players and casual audiences in mind, and it is certainly the first in over a decade to really nail it. With over 70 playable characters and many tens of hours of single-player content, casual fans will have an amazing time working through all that this game has to offer. Meanwhile, competitive fans have been very pleased to see several dramatic improvements in the gameplay. All characters are a bit faster than they were in the last game and all recovery has been slightly nerfed. These two changes alone make the game much more exciting to play and to watch as they speed up the rate at which players are losing lives.

Every single character that has ever appeared in the Smash Bros. franchise appears in Ultimate, even one-offs like Pichu and Solid Snake. These returning veterans, and the addition of popular newcomers like Ridley and Simon Belmont, come together to form the greatest roster of playable characters of all time. Even outside of fighting games, there isn’t anything that comes remotely close.

You’ve already heard about how fun the gameplay is and how cool all the characters are, though. One great thing about the game that isn’t talked about as much is the introduction of Spirits. Spirits are images of characters from all type of video games that can be collected. They manifest themselves in Spirit Battles, themed matches where a Spirit (i.e. a Goomba) inhabits the closest possible playable character (i.e. a shrunken Donkey Kong). There are a staggering 1299 Spirits in the game and almost all of them have their own corresponding Spirit Battles. In addition to being fun for their own sake, they also form the meat of World of Light, Ultimate’s Adventure Mode, and the reward system for the rest of the game. Almost anything you do results in the collection of a new Spirit. In this way, the game feels much more unified than past entries and the way in which it is unified is such a great way to represent and celebrate wealth of characters from many, many great games.

There were some games this year that felt larger in scope than Ultimate, but few of them have the lasting power I expect Smash to demonstrate for years to come in both the living room and in the tournament scene.

Yakuza 0 (PC)

Sega CS1

Daniel Ware

One of my favourite titles of 2018 technically wasn’t originally released in 2018. Yakuza 0 was released in Japan back in 2015 on PS3 and PS4. 2018, however, saw Sega’s highly-beloved Yakuza series ported to PC for the very first time.

A criticism often-levelled at certain games is that they’re as wide as an ocean but deep as a puddle. Yakuza 0 is anything but, providing an experience the depth and width of an ocean. The second most recent release in Sega’s series, Yakuza 0 serves as a prequel, offering the perfect starting point for newbies to jump into the franchise.

Buoyed by its ultra affordable price-point at only $19.99 USD on Steam, Yakuza 0 takes you into the underworld through the eyes of Kiryu and Majima, two up-and-coming yakuza in starkly different situations who are brought together by dark secrets and conspiracies. While Yakuza 0’s biggest strength doesn’t lie in its story, the narrative it presents is still compelling and engaging, and will keep you interested for the duration of the experience.

You become fully immersed in the bright and loud Kamurocho in Tokyo and the glitzy but seedy Sotenbori in Osaka, wonderfully constructed cities full of mini-games, side quests and other points of interest. Even though it isn’t a true open-world experience, you never get bored running through the streets, beating up other wannabe yakuza and avoiding conflict with Mr Shakedown.

Outside the main story missions — which on their own provide enough content of value — Yakuza 0 has 100 side missions, 60 of which can be found as Kiryu in Kamurocho, with the other 40 in Sotenbori with Majima. These are not found easily in the way that many games often allow; you must explore every patch of pavement and dirt in order to find each side mission. I loved this lack of hand-holding and wish it was present more in games.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Yakuza 0 is its world of stark contrasts. At times the game plays like a nuanced, sophisticated drama, other times it comes across as a quirky and bizarre arcade experience. Indeed, Yakuza 0 masters the intersection of the weird and whacky, and the dark and gritty. The strong performance on PC also lended a hand to the understated beauty of Yakuza 0.

While its performance on a new platform was strong, Yakuza 0 is still best played with an Xbox One or PS4 controller. Using both keyboard and mouse and trying a controller, I found a large difference in my experience. It wasn’t horrible using my keyboard and mouse, but the movement sensitivity felt lackluster too often and the camera was painful to control occasionally, especially when in the narrow streets of Japan.

With its enjoyable narrative, deep but straightforward fighting mechanics and world stuffed full of content, Sega couldn’t have made a stronger entry to its new platform for Yakuza. It’s accessible, affordable and unforgettable — exactly what I needed in 2018.

Thank you for reading Super Jump Magazine’s Top Games of 2018. We hope you had as much fun reading this as we had writing it.

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