I say this all the time, but it is impossible for any publication, no matter how big or small, to publish a definitive list of the best games released in a year. With so many games released per week, there simply isn’t enough time for anyone to play through them all.
That said, our list represents our entire staff and what our staff has enjoyed playing the most over the past 365 days. Anyone who has followed our website in 2018 would have surely seen us write at least one article about each and every game making an appearance down below.
As with any list, our list is far from perfect. There is one obvious oversight (Return of the Obra Dinn) and since none of us play VR, you won’t see Astro Bot Rescue Mission make an appearance. Nevertheless, 2018 was a great year for gaming. Our staff nominated a total of 80 games and after an hour spent calculating the votes, we’ve dwindled it down to 30. We’re confident that regardless of what genre or style of games you prefer, you will almost certainly find a lot to love here, just as we did.
Special Mention – Fortnite
Fortnite has become such a pervasive and all-encompassing phenomenon over the last year or so that it’s hard to think of anything unique to say about it. This game has penetrated the public consciousness in a way that is almost hitherto unseen before. Famous sports stars are copying the emotes in their celebrations, and even famous soccer player Mesut Ozil (yes, he looked like a cod before he discovered Fortnite) has had his recent run of poor form blamed on his obsession with this behemoth. It seems nobody can escape weekly updates, with stories of Fortnite running from Ellen to national newspapers, all the way down to us lowly games press. It seems that no corner of the world is safe from Fortnite.
Probably the most fascinating thing about Epic Games’ cash cow is that it has sprouted from the most unlikely of places. Starting out life as a ‘Game Jam’ and announced during the 2011 Spike TV Awards, Fortnite was to be the next title from Cliff Blezinski’s development team, and would be a third person, wave-based survival game. It next went almost completely radio-silent until it appeared in July 2017 as a paid early access game, but it wouldn’t be until September of the same year that we would first see the free-to-play Battle Royal version that most people recognize today.
As we look back on 2018, we can see little signs of the Fortnite train slowing down , and if anything, it seems to be going from strength to strength. Just this month, Epic have completed the long-awaited step of releasing their own storefront on PC, and are in the process of trying to encourage some of their 200 million-strong player base into considering this as a viable alternative to the more established players in the field. Will be the ultimate legacy of Fortnite (as dare I say it out loud) be as the biggest game of all time? It may well be a 2017 game, but there’s no question that Fortnite has made a massive impact on the gaming landscape in 2018. Who knows what we will be saying about it this time next year. (David Smillie)
34 – NBA 2K19
By now, you’d figure that there wouldn’t be much to add to the conversation when reviewing the latest entry in the NBA 2K franchise. Not only is it one of the most critically acclaimed video game series of all time (not to mention a series that has had a strong hold on the video game basketball market for nearly two decades), but little has changed with the brand from one installment to the next. Year-in and year-out, the 2K games have almost always delivered a level of quality that no other sports series has come close to matching, and in this critic’s opinion, the NBA 2K series is the only viable option for fans seeking out a game that is well worth your hard-earned money (sorry NBA Live).
2K19 features its strongest MyCareer mode yet with the aptly titled, “The Way Back,” a fascinating look at the culture behind college basketball recruiting. Written by Adam Hoelzel and directed by Christian Papierniak, “The Way Back” is a well-scripted, finely acted coming-of-age tale about a young man who starts out as a self-centered, incredibly selfish brat and over time must overcome his biggest obstacle: his overall attitude to both the game he loves and the game of life. “The Way Back” also doubles as a heady dose of the American dream and the American nightmare combined, as it unfolds like a true-to-life investigation of how one turnover, one bad pass, or one missed basket can make all the difference in a player’s fortunes.
There’s so much to write about when reviewing NBA 2K19 — from the Blacktop mode (that includes half court street basketball) to the updated roster, to the classic NBA teams, the colorful commentary (welcome Bill Simmons), to the incredible soundtrack, and even MyLeague, which allows you to build upon an NBA franchise with a dazzling amount of customization — but of all the improvements and changes this time around, it is the new gameplay additions and tweaks that are by far its most impressive component. (Ricky D)
33 – Yakuza 6
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life had the misfortune of coming out at roughly the same time as God of War. There was no question which of these games was going to sell better come mid-April, but don’t count the Dragon of Dojima out. The conclusion to Kazuma Kiryu’s decade-and-a-half-long saga brings a lot of new things to the table, while also refining a lot of the aspects that made previous games so charming. This street brawling beat ‘em up has been simplified down from the previous game, but comes with a variety of ways to toy with the environment. You can slam bikes, traffic cones, and couches down on top of people to finish them off, but there are also plenty of comedic and inventive ways to make use of the environment around you.
Equally as entertaining is the variety of side-quests you can undertake, which range from simple missions about stopping street hustlers to helping a young couple that swapped bodies when they fell down a flight of stairs. All the while, Yakuza 6’s main plot brings the franchises main story to a finite conclusion, one filled with the same action and drama that’s kept the franchise enjoyable and interesting since its debut on the PlayStation 2. The biggest weakness of Yakuza 6 is that it’s a sequel — not the best place to hop into the franchise. The game gives you a bit of backstory to catch you up with what has happened in previous entries, but you really don’t get the full emotional ride if you haven’t experienced it firsthand. Thankfully, Yakuza and Yakuza 2 have been given a makeover for the PlayStation 4, and 3, 4, and 5 were recently announced to be getting modern console upgrades as well. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a great story-driven brawler, and is easily one of the better niche titles that have been released this year. (Taylor Smith)
32 – Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
As far as Kickstarter stretch goals go, this is a Cristiano Ronaldo bicycle kick. Koji Igarashi and Inti Creates promised an 8-bit spin-off from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and drive a stake through my heart if they didn’t deliver. Curse of the Moon looks, sounds, and feels just like the 8-bit Castlevania titles on NES. Players can swap between four different characters (a la Castlevania 3) on the fly as they progress through a handful of beautifully crafted levels — each of which culminates with a challenging boss fight.
It strikes a real chord for the talent Igarashi possesses when it comes to effortlessly craft titles within the genre he helped to define. What could be dismissed as a throwaway, token effort to appease the backers of the main event ends up as a very sufficient starter to the main course. It’s got everything a game of this type should have: the moody castles, the pulsating chiptune soundtrack, restrictive jumping, whips, candles to be destroyed; it’s all here, and it functions on a much higher level than a simple box-ticking exercise. Thanks to the decades of experience gained in the aftermath of the titles it apes, Curse of the Moon feels respectful and refined in equal measure.
The game might not necessarily be very long, but levels have multiple routes, and there are three difficulty levels, which is more than enough for the incredibly meager asking price. What’s more, this is the exact type of game speed-runners love, and I’m sure it’ll appear to be destroyed at a GDQ in no time. Until then, we mere mortals can enjoy one of the more satisfying retro throwbacks of the year. (Alex Aldridge)
31 – Ni no Kuni II
You don’t always get to choose your friends. Sometimes your best friend is the first kid to say “hi” in kindergarten, sometimes your best friend is the time-traveling President of the United States blasted
into your dimension by a nuclear terrorist attack. But that’s fine, because you’re a cat-human prince and you and your sky pirate friends and wisdom-dispensing starfish need his help to build a new nation out of nothing. All of this before an ancient evil being destroys your world and turns everyone against you.
Ni No Kuni 2 is a bit of a weird game.
Hiding below this insane exterior is one of the best RPGs of the year, one that constantly keeps things fresh with a great variety of gameplay along with a consistently interesting story. It’s a mix of action-RPG combat, simplified city management, and even some real-time strategy battles, all of which blend together and into each other perfectly. While it may at times lack the emotional weight and artistic flair of its predecessor, anyone looking for a deep and engaging — if not downright silly — RPG should certainly pick up Ni No Kuni 2 as soon as possible. (Andrew Vandersteen)
30 – Yoku’s Island Express
Yoku’s Island Express is a tiny, bite-sized game of incredibly good original content. Originally released for the Nintendo Switch in late May of 2018, this adorable game is a total mash between a Metroidvania and pinball. Upon hearing that, it doesn’t sound like it would work as a concept, especially because the game is utterly cute, but it absolutely does, like mixing together something salty with something sweet. You play as Yoku, a dung beetle who washes up on a small island and is immediately put in charge of the local postal service. The laid-back lifestyle Yoku was hoping for is quickly diminished as the “God Eater” begins killing the island deities. Yoku must find the leaders of three religious factions and bring them together for a ceremony of healing.
The mechanics operate like an open-world exploration mixed with pinball, then mixed with platforming. I personally binged this game in one day after I picked up; it was nothing less than addicting, and as soon as I put my Switch down to take a break, I’d be reaching for it minutes later and play for another handful of hours. This quick indie game is a must-have for any switch library, and can even help brighten your life in a tiny way. (Katrina Lind)
29 – Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
How would you rebuild one of the oldest — and in certain circles — most revered of genres? How do you take established conventions and modernize them, make the old new and the out-dated fun again? And how do you do this all without compromising the integrity of your game to still deliver one of the best CRPG experiences in the history of the genre?
Easy. Just call in Obsidian.
2015’s Pillars of Eternity was a breath of fresh air for the stagnant genre, bringing in new ideas while doing away with the constraints of old tabletop rule-sets that older games held as sacred for misguided fear of offending players. 2018’s Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a hurricane of fresh air, washing away much of the grime left behind in the genre. It’s a swashbuckling, god-chasing good time that maintains everything we love about Obsidian games while moving the genre forward in such great strides as to make anything left behind feel difficult to play as a result.
Pillars 2 no longer feels like a ‘best of’ RPG like the last game, or other contemporaries do. Obsidian were already renowned for their RPG experiences, but with Pillars 2 it feels almost like a victory lap, showing off while showing a new way forward. (Andrew Vandersteen)
28 – The Banner Saga 3
The Banner Saga 3 is less a sequel and more the third act of a cohesive whole, one that can’t truly be appreciated without having experienced the first two chapters. As a finale, it makes for the perfect bookend to the series, delivering more of what fans wanted and expected, while also throwing a few curveballs into the mix. This trilogy of light-tactical role-playing games has always excelled in terms of writing and world-building, and it’s never been afraid to unceremoniously bump off a character or five without warning in true Game of Thrones style, but The Banner Saga 3 ups the ante.
Perhaps the best new feature in the game relates to how your choices throughout the trilogy are translated into a gameplay mechanic that can reward or punish in equal measure. All your decisions are weighed up, and depending on how many followers you have, how many people are loyal to you, as well as other criteria, your heroes are given a time limit for how long they can survive an unrelenting enemy assault. While this clock ticks down before your eyes, a small band of party members must race against time to save the day. Not knowing if you’re going to have enough sand in the hourglass to complete your mission makes for a startling — and bleak — conclusion to a wonderful story. (John Cal McCormick)
27 – Dandara
For as many twists and turns as they take, the stale caverns of the Metroidvania genre rarely alter course from formula, the tried-and-true gameplay rarely strays from the established path, so when something like Dandara comes along, its minor deviations can feel like a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual running and gunning, the titular protagonist here must plot her course through the various rooms by employing a multi-directional dash that allows her to reach to certain areas on the floor, ceiling, and walls to which she can stick (think Spider-Man crossed with Nightcrawler). This unique method of movement makes every room and battle almost its own puzzle, adding a layer of strategy even to traversal, and ensures that players pay close attention to their surroundings — which is perfect for finding secrets.
Add to that a curious visual design that is at the same time incongruous yet clear in its visions, and there’s a funky vibe going on here. One minute Dandara is fighting giant bugs in a pixelated pine tree forest, and the next she’s shooting cat soldiers amidst rundown urban streets, all while a cosmic backdrop frames the action. Yet, it all makes sense, and Dandara conveys its story with focused melancholy and a tinge of hope. The action can get clunky during the few bullet hell sections, but mastering the movement leads to the thrilling satisfaction of ricocheting through the world at ease — and points the genre toward the discovery of new ways to explore. (Patrick Murphy)
26 – Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
When Black Ops 4 was first announced back in March of this year, it seemed like it was poised for failure. Not only were Treyarch and Activision completely removing the single-player campaign, which had been a series staple, but they were chasing trends by adding a new battle royale mode. This sent an unclear message to fans for what this exactly means for the series, and concern soon followed suit. The moment the game launched, however, those worries were put to rest.
It’s clear that Treyarch didn’t just remove single-player to cut corners on development, but rather to divert those resources into crafting the tightest multiplayer experience the series has ever seen. Specialists lend a light team-shooter element that gives players interesting and diverse new toys to play with, while never detracting from the importance of raw shooting abilities.
Diverging from the “spawn and die” franticness of regular multiplayer, the new battle royale mode, “Blackout,” has even been able to claw out a place for itself in the rapidly expanding phenomenon. Merging the palpable tension of battle royale with the fluidity of movement and tight shooting of Call of Duty turned out to be a harmonious marriage. Additionally, the inclusion of zombie nests creates nice little flashpoints of contention that add further stakes, while not overwhelming players who don’t want to engage in them.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is definitely one of the surprise success stories of the year, and that bodes well for a series that has been accused of becoming stagnant and stale with many of its recent entries. (Matthew Ponthier)
25 – A Way Out
Five years ago, Lebanese film director Josef Fares emerged into the spotlight of the gaming industry with his breakout indie hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Venturing into game development for the first time, he described the title as more of a “storybook experience,” with themes of brotherhood and bravery inspired by Astrid Lindgren’s novel The Brother’s Lionheart. His next project of course became A Way Out, a two-player cooperative action-adventure designed with local multiplayer at the forefront. You play as either Leo or Vincent, two convicted prisoners who must work together to escape a maximum-security prison before hunting down the man who framed them and put them behind bars. Unlike Brothers, A Way Out is exclusively cooperative, meaning you either have to play the game with a friend locally or with someone over the internet. In other words, going solo just isn’t an option, and in order to accomplish this daunting task, Hazelight Studios turned to one of the oldest techniques used by film editors and VFX artists alike. Of course, I’m referring to the split screen.
In the world of gaming, Josef Jares could have easily made A Way Out a simple, two-player experience, no different than most games played online in which players connect with each other via the internet. But Fares didn’t do that. Instead, the majority of the game sees you and your partner sharing one screen. Some times you’ll get an evenly split-screen sequence, and at others, one of the two characters will take up more real-estate, depending on the situation unfolding. The dynamic shifting of the split screen based on how the story unravels is indeed a novel experience, and more importantly, a creative storytelling tool. Both players will need to cooperate to succeed, relying on what they see on their half of the frame, whether it be finding specific items, solving random puzzles, or saving each other from ongoing threats. Everything — and I do mean everything — is designed with two players in mind. And while there is always a common objective that both players are working toward, the characters are also free to individually explore and interact with the world in between each major story beat.
A Way Out is obviously far from the first video game to use split-screen, but through its narrativ,e the developers were able to make it feel fresh and exciting from start to finish. You’d be hard-pressed to find another couch co-op game released this year that is as ambitious as this. (Ricky D)
24 – Forza Horizon 4
The Forza Horizon series is now firmly established as the most accessible “serious” racer. You can play the game pretty much any way you want; whether you’re a car-nerd who’s going to tune your vehicle to within an inch of its warranty, or just want to get a Ferrari and put anime waifu decals all over it, the game is totally catered for anyone who wants to make a big shiny thing with wheels go fast and get muddy.
Forza Horizon 4 hasn’t reinvented the wheel (ugh) established in its three predecessors — the racing line is still there if you want it, the rewind function remains, and it’s still a smorgasbord of myriad race-types — but it has made the most significant addition of the series to date: the seasons. Methods of creating a ‘live services’ approach aren’t new to Forza, but the seasons feel substantial enough to mean that checking in for seasonal events feels consistently worthwhile. I’m one of those nerds that likes to make sure I’m driving a season-suitable ride as well — Jeeps in the winter, convertible Caddy in the summer, ‘natch.
It’s probably quite hard to describe to any of my cousins out there from across the pond (so abundant is the number of games set in your homeland), but from a selfish standpoint, having the game set in the UK is glorious. The cottages, the hills, the rain, the road signs — bloody hell, mate, it’s awesome. The recreation of Edinburgh, in particular, is affa braw, da ken? There are few gaming experiences more relaxing for me than taking my 1988 Countach for a springtime spin while listening to a podcast and drinking a cuppa.
Forza Horizon 4, then. Graphically astounding, endlessly playable, totally accessible, geographically comforting — the perfect racer for when the mood takes you, no matter what type of mood that is. (Alex Aldridge)
23 – The Walking Dead The Final Season
2018 turned out to be a tragic year for Telltale Games, with the out-of-the-blue announcement that the studio would not only be closing but also that all of their games would be canceled. The most unfortunate victim of this news was the stellar The Walking Dead: The Final Season. Having finally revamped and re-tooled their engine, Telltale gave it a dry run with the end of Clementine’s story, only for it to be cut off in the middle.
Fortunately, Skybound Entertainment has stepped in to save this series from the out-stretched hands of the newly dead. If you haven’t given this one a spin yet — and especially if you’re tired of the old Telltale formula — I would really encourage you to at least watch a video of the new engine in action, as it’s really something.
For a studio like Telltale to slip away just as they may be on the edge of another real masterpiece is a real bummer, but nothing says we’d like to see some more like supporting what may be the best-designed game from the studio yet. (Mike Worby)
22 – Guacamelee! 2
The original Guacamelee is a game with a celebrated reputation as one of the best Metroidvanias in the history of the genre, so fans could be forgiven for expecting a lot from the long-awaited sequel. Luckily, Guacamelee 2 fires on all cylinders, delivering a worthy successor to its forebear. Nixing much of the bothersome side quests that dragged things out the first game, as well as adding in a string of new moves and upgrades, Guacamelee 2 doesn’t just match the quality of the original — it improves on it in nearly every conceivable way.
Fans of the more silly aspects of the original will be pleased to find that Guacamelee 2 is just as bananas, as you’d expect, but the real surprise comes with the amount of depth and heart that Guacamelee 2 packs, especially in its ending. Even as there are more and more indie gems to pick from these days, Guacamelee 2 is still well worth your time. It stands apart from the pack as not just one of the year’s best indies, but truly one of the best games of the year. (Mike Worby)
21 – Donut County
Donut County is the kind of game all “casual” games aspire to be, in one way or another. While its aesthetic does more than just please (it actually shines), and its lampooning of “normie” millennial humor is well-thought out and executed in a charming fashion, it’s the gameplay at the center of it all that glues things together into a meaningful experience. Mind you, it’s rather passive gameplay that does not require the dexterity or puzzle-solving mindset required from games like Katamari Damacy — from which it takes a lot of inspiration — but it’s engaging input that helps you feel part of its world, nonetheless.
The story of a selfish jerk of a raccoon dooming an entire SoCal-inspired town into oblivion via an invasion of moving holes controlled with an app, Donut County embraces its silly premise and is able to make you care about the world through its offbeat but heartfelt narrative, all the while exploring the primitive human desire to throw things down a bunch of holes.
The term “casual” in gaming is often tied to negative connotations, but this genre, fraught with walking simulators and artsy experimentation, can occasionally yield some of the more interesting results within that field, as the idea of what is and isn’t a game is tested, challenged, and stretched out in a push-and-pull way. Donut County comes out of this space, but focuses more on the pseudo-tactile nature of what makes committing to actions in video games rewarding in the same way a fidget cube is rewarding to, well, fidget with.
Plus, Donut County accomplishes all of this with an awesome soundtrack to back it all up, which draws its vibe from the laid-back Californian atmosphere of the game, but combines with a descent into (as I said in my full review) “glitched-out breakbeat absurdities”. (Maxwell N)
‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…
I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.
Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.
Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.
The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.
Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.
The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child
Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.
The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.
The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.
Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.
Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.
When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
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