It’s that time once again in which our staff pulls together to come up with a list of our favourite games of the year so far. Obviously, with the hundreds of games already released in 2018 already, nobody at Goomba Stomp has had the time or stamina to play through every single one of them. With that in mind, we hope this list comes in handy. Not only does it reflect the tastes of our writers and what games we’ve enjoyed playing during the first half of 2018, but we hope it will inspire some of our readers to catch up on some of the amazing titles that they might have missed. Here is the list of the best games of 2018 so far.
With a surprisingly deep gameplay gimmick and monochromatically cozy atmosphere, Minit quietly crept up this year as one of the most unique and memorable games I’ve played in a long time.
The premise is simple enough: You’re a tiny man blob thing who just happens to pick up a cursed sword that causes you to die in sixty seconds. Upon death, you return (or rather, respawn) to your starting location, and have to solve puzzles and find shortcuts as you explore the game’s charming world.
And what a world it is, full of kooky characters and creatures, and mysteries abound. Many of which you’ll across on your way to where the sword supposedly came from (i.e. the cursed sword factory). You know, to break the curse or whatever, of course!
With the feel of solving a somewhat complicated Zelda dungeon combined with dialogue and NPC interactions reminiscent of games like Secret of Monkey Island, Earthbound, Undertale and as I mentioned in my full review, even comic books like Goodbye Chunky-rice, it’s not one to be missed.
And it looks good too! Its simple pixel-esque style is really charming, and by the end of your quest, you’ll grow to love this at times pretty and at times worn-down grimy world.
At least two playthroughs are recommended to get a complete gist of the game. “New Game+” serves up a more challenging and intense version of the regular first go, but you don’t have to choose it and can start a regular new game, as well. There’s more than one way to “solve” the game, so you might be curious to play it more than once anyway.
Available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, Minit’s also planned for a Nintendo Switch release at some point hopefully this year. It’s the kind of game that’s going to perfect for the Switch, and you bet I’ll be double-dipping. (Maxwell N.)
14. Warhammer: Vermintide 2
Strange subterranean races of mutants may be the stuff of urban legends and the recurring nightmates of conspiracy theorists the world over, but in the Warhammer world they’re very much a reality. When Games Workshop decided to end the Old World in an effort to revitilize sales of their flagging franchise they might have slightly underestimated attachment to the intellectual property as fans had come to love it. Fortunately, the developers over at Fatshark, either out of passion or contractual obligations, had the wherewithall to give fans exactly what they wanted. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 expands on the 2015 original title in every way. The maps are rich and detailed, fully capturing the cataclysmic grime that makes the Warhammer world so bizarrely charming. The inclusion of subclasses for the four playable characters expands player options in a way that completely eclipses the previous game, and means that players can cater their favorite character to match their preferred playstyle.
Unsurprisingly for a game that revolves entirely around slaughtering legions of skittering monsters and squads of hideously warped soldiers, the mobs are the star of the show. The standard range of Skaven are complimented by a range of special creatures with their own strengths and weakness that force players to react on the fly as they spawn, so that even relatively quiet moments are fraught with tension as you never know when a pack of Stormvermin are going to march around a corner or a slithering Chaos Spawn will come barrelling towards you like its on sabbatical from a Lovecraftian daydream. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 may not be the cleverest or most interesting game to be released in 2018, but its balls-to-the-wall action, attention to detail, and unrelenting pace definitely make it one of the most entertaining games to hit the market thus far. (Christopher Underwood)
13. Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves made waves earlier this year when it released on Xbox One and PC due to the uniqueness of its experience. Gather a crew, board a ship, and set sail across a vast ocean while trying to complete certain quests to increase your relationship with three different factions. Enemy players will also be sailing in the same environment, which can make for some intense ship battles over each crew’s respective loot. The experience certainly has a lot going for it, especially when it comes to the sense of freedom. However, the overall quality of the game will depend on the support it gets in the future.
The base game released with a stark lack of content, which left many players disappointed. Rare has promised free content updates in the future, which could certainly remedy many of the issues of the game. They’ve already added a new giant shark fight to accompany the Kraken battles, so that’s a great sign. There’s so much potential with an open world pirate simulator like this, so it would be a real shame if it never turned into the game it was meant to be. With more quests, enemies, and a revised progression system, Sea of Thieves could become one of the best multiplayer games this year.
That being said, what’s here is still a ton of fun with the right group of friends. Each play session almost feels like a new story being created with your pals, which is something not many other titles have been able to capture. (Zack Rezak)
12. Yakuza 6
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life had the misfortune of coming out at roughly the same time as God of War. There’s 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. The game’s 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 as the combat 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 and not the best place to hop into the franchise from. The game gives you a bit of backstory to catch you up with what has happened in previous games, 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)
11. BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle
I went into BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle with relatively low expectations and came out thoroughly impressed. The characters are so colorful and full of personality that it actually made me want to go back and check out their individual series. The game is dripping with style and charisma, and looks especially great in handheld mode on the Switch. The character design–though based on existing characters–is simply top-notch and beautifully realized. I’m not sure if the original voice actors from all franchises involved are reprising their roles here, but the voice work in the game is also stellar. Despite not being familiar with any of these series, I can tell that the personalities of each of these characters were translated with effort and purpose to their in-game counterparts.
I typically hate playing fighting games online, and yet BBTAG’s online experience was so seamless and reliable that I couldn’t help but come back consistently. Arc obviously learned a ton from their mishaps with all of the Dragon Ball FighterZ betas and implemented that knowledge here. Getting into rooms was fast and seamless, and challenging another player once inside was easy and intuitive.
Arc managed to succeed once again in creating a game both deep and approachable. I found at least five characters that I was able to pick up in the first few hours, but it wasn’t until after 6-8 hours of grinding online that I started to actually get good with them. Plus, the game features absolutely adorable chibi versions of fighters that do things like wave, sit, jump for joy, throw tantrums, and dance. They even do little punching motions while queuing up for a match! What’s there not to love? (Brent Middleton)
10. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Life in medieval Europe was short, pointless, and often very lethal. However, it was also a time of great adventure and has been the backdrop of endless tales of heroism and valor. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the attempt to marry both of these ideas together into a brutal but engaging RPG.
The most immediately engaging part of Kingdom Come is it’s attention to detail, which sets it apart from most other games. Every piece of clothing, armor, and weaponry, never mind the map and the people you interact with, has been painstakingly researched and developed with historians working with the game’s staff. At times it feels like interactive history and were it not for the incredibly mature story and writing you could honestly use this in schools.
The story itself is excellent and sits up there with the likes of The Witcher 3 for how it draws you in. Henry of Skalitz is possibly the most endearing player character of the year and his story is well told and easy to follow. It’s easy to see his growth turning from the orphaned son of a blacksmith to a capable man in his own right and there’s a decent mix of comedy and drama that makes him easy to love.
The game isn’t totally without its flaws, unfortunately. On PC it’s a system hog and on consoles, it’s locked at 30fps forever. It’s AI can be wonky, and there are numerous bugs and glitches all over the place. But it’s also a game with massive potential and it offers an incredibly detailed world to explore and a huge amount of quests to complete and skills to advance in.
Overall Kingdom Come is one of the most interesting games of the year, and it focuses on immersion and historical accuracy goes well with it’s more traditional RPG gameplay. With regular updates from the developers, along with a burgeoning mod community, anyone burnt out on games like Far Cry or Skyrim should certainly give this a look. (Andrew Vandersteen)
9. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
Atlus’ decision to celebrate Shin Megami Tensei’s 25th anniversary with a remake of 2009’s Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey was questionable at best. Not only was Strange Journey already an outlier among the mainline titles, it was also the entry that would benefit the least from an immediate update. Strange Journey Redux, titled Deep Strange Journey in Japan, seemed like a misguided attempt at celebrating the franchise, one that didn’t fully capture the core Shin Megami Tensei experience. Which is why it was so important Atlus choose Strange Journey as their anniversary game. There is no core Shin Megami Tensei experience, and Strange Journey Redux reflects that. It’s a black sheep within the series, but it’s one that still captures the essence of SMT while adding its own unique flavor.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux may be an atypical game to represent the series, but it actually does offer a glimpse at the series as it once was on the Super Famicom. Battles occur in the first person, as does dungeon crawling, and the conflict between Law and Chaos feels more in line with how it was depicted in the first Shin Megami Tensei compared to the rest of the series. Strange Journey Redux isn’t exactly a love letter to SMT, as it does have its fair share of twists on the formula, most notably straying away entirely from Japan as a setting and featuring a main cast composed entirely of adults, but it does feel conceptual and thematically appropriate as a celebration title.
Most importantly, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is just a phenomenal game. As a remake, it improves upon every aspect of the original with new content that genuinely only adds to the experience. As its own game, it’s easily one of the best entries in the series, and one of the best JRPGs this generation, period. It’s a mature, thought-provoking game with the best dungeons the franchise has seen, and a difficulty curve that discourages complacency. Whether you approach it as a fan looking to commemorate 25 years of SMT, or a newcomer just trying to break into the franchise, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux will stick with you for years to come. (Renan Fontes)
8. Batman: The Enemy Within
When evaluating the quality of a game like this it’s worth considering the following: how many Batman stories have been told since the character premiered nearly 80 years ago, how many games Telltale have developed since hitting the big time in 2012, and how many point and click games have joined them in the marketplace due to this success.
With all of that in mind, it’s a tremendous achievement that Telltale’s second season in its Batman arc is able to not just stand out from the pack but also tell one of the best Batman stories in years.
Centered around Bruce Wayne’s attempts to infiltrate a gang of supercriminals, Batman: The Enemy Within wastes no time taking incredibly bold steps in redefining the Batman mythos. Hell, two key characters are offed within the first episode alone. However, it isn’t until you reach the end of this fascinating dissection of the caped crusader that you really see the level of depth that Telltale is putting into this series.
With two dynamically different finales, featuring entirely separate plot lines, Batman: The Enemy Within is the fulfillment of Telltale’s promise to make us feel like our choices really do matter. (Mike Worby)
7. Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology
Normally we don’t allow remasters and ports onto these kinds of lists but with completely redone art assets, newly voiced cutscenes, and an entirely new alternative scenario, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology proves that it is more than just a simple port. Based on the original 2010 DS game, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology follows Stocke as he is faced with the imminent desertification of his world. To prevent this he must utilize a magical tome called the White Chronicle to jump between two different timelines to set history on its proper, razor-thin course that doesn’t end in utter destruction.
As complicated as time travel stories can get, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology manages to keep itself in check and never goes too far off the deep end. That said, it still manages to use its time travel mechanics in interesting ways, especially when it comes to side quests that require figuring out not just “where” to go, but “when” as well.
The battle system is an interesting turn-based style where enemies are on a 3×3 grid while your party members line up opposite. Various attacks can shift the positions of enemies around the grid, allowing for the setup of combos. Shoving one enemy into a tile occupied by another will allow the next party member’s attack to hit both. Some enemies may occupy more than one space and others may be rooted to their own, mixing up each encounter so that they don’t grow stale. Cleverly manipulating all the enemies on the grid to occupy a single space then unleashing holy hellfire on them all at once is a greatly gratifying maneuver.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is sadly going to fly under many people’s’ radars. It’s simple presentation isn’t all too charming and it’s released for a system that is being overshadowed more and more by the Switch each passing day. That’s a shame because this is a quality game that any fan of JRPG’s shouldn’t let pass by. (Matthew Ponthier)
6. 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, ala 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, Curse of the Moon is 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)
5. Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter: World may not be the very best game of the year so far, but it deserves recognition. We’re only half way through the year, yet January seems like a lifetime ago. It was a time where everyone in the world was sinking crazy hours into a JRPG/MMO. A period where we slaved away, grinded and slaughtered majestic creatures for a fancy pair of leggings. Monster Hunter: World didn’t have the best story, and yes it could be a bit of a slog at times, but it’s nailed the premise of games as a service, possibly even better than Destiny has.
It might not be my game of the year, but I’ll never forget the night I spent an hour desperately facing off against a dragon of gargantuan size, dodging tirelessly, whittled down to my last drop of health. Then out of nowhere three other players swooped in and bombarded the dragon with arrows, explosions, and slashes. We fought together, claimed our rewards and then went our separate ways. Despite never seeing them again, we shared that victory. (Chris Bowring)
Celeste elevates video games. This deceptively simple-looking platform game hooks you in with a mixture of tight platforming mechanics and a sharp style, but then leaps further up the mountain of video game history and brings emotional resonance to its narrative in unexpected ways. In itself, Celeste looks and sounds beautiful, and is deeply rewarding to simply play and get good at. Each stage is a carefully designed 16-bit set-piece, and every screen of every level is well-crafted and satisfying to overcome, as much a puzzle as a brutal challenge of dexterity. Celeste relies upon the tightly-implemented mechanic of jumping and air-jumping, but this expands in nuanced ways that feel deeply satisfying to understand and to master. But where Celeste travels further and evolves video games is in its unprecedented fusion of gameplay and storytelling.
The narrative and character arcs of Celeste are woven into every element of its gameplay and progression. The improbable tasks of reflecting upon deep ideas surrounding depression and anxiety are manifested within the gameplay itself (and via a few carefully structured and thoughtful dialogues and moments of glorious calm). It often feels impossible to get through a particular stage, just as it may feel often impossible to get through a particular day, but the solution opens up and feels utterly aligned with the emotional journey of Celeste’s endearing protagonist, Madison.
Tying Madison’s emotional journey to gameplay progression continues to unfold as you climb further up the mountain and learn more about her inner world. Celeste subtly acknowledges that we each climb a mountain in our lives, and with a light touch that feels natural alongside its excellent gameplay and design, Celeste’s unprecedented emotional narrative unfolds as you climb – both light-hearted and heartfelt. It never gets in the way of a fine gameplay experience. Celeste is not only one of the greatest games of the last six months, it is one of the greatest games of the last decade. Climb that mountain. (Marty Allen)
3. A Way Out
A Way Out might be slightly hampered by its relatively run-of-the-mill narrative and a series of gameplay mechanics that, though varied, are wildly hit and miss in terms of quality. But there’s plenty to love about Josef Fares’ (Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) latest offering nevertheless.
Joint protagonists Vincent Moretti and Leo Caruso are both excellent characters whose contrasting personalities complement one another perfectly: the development of their initially tentative alliance into a believable and satisfying friendship, in particular, is one of the brightest aspects of the entire game. While the generous release model, which lets two players share a single copy of the already below-full-price game, the performances of its two lead actors deserve plenty of praise too.
However, the stand out feature of A Way Out is, of course, its unique approach to cooperative play. Only playable with a partner, A Way Out is a game that’s totally reliant on communication – not just to navigate the more complex sections of gameplay, but to properly understand and appreciate events on screen and their importance to the characters as they unfold.
Because of this, it’s also a game that fully immerses the player in its stylized take on 70’s America – far more so that should really be possible for a tale with as many derivative story beats as A Way Out possesses. And, when all these superb features are combined with a gently branching narrative, there’s more than enough on offer to warrant repeat playthroughs.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind cooperative experience that doesn’t devolve into arguments about who gets to play as Meta Knight or Oddjob ahead of your next game night, look no further than A Way Out. (John Websell)
2. Far Cry 5
Far Cry 5 is a game that has encountered controversy ever since the first image was released, largely thanks to Ubisoft’s decision to set the game in Hope County, a fictional region in rural Montana overrun by a doomsday cult called the Project at Eden’s Gate. Although this cult has no coherent doctrine, and its structure doesn’t resemble real-world cults in the slightest, it has nevertheless managed to anger many game critics who for some reason were expecting an entry in the Far Cry series to send a clear political message and perhaps address the polarized nature of current American politics?
But seriously folks, this is the fifth entry in a series that has never taken itself too seriously. It’s a sandbox adventure known for its non-stop action, extreme violence and cruelty – all of which is juxtaposed with over-the-top humor and bombast. The truth is, Far Cry 5 may not be the best game of 2018 but it is the most fun game I’ve played so far this year. It fully embraces what the series does best while Ubisoft has thankfully done away with some of the franchise’s most frustrating aspects.
There are plenty of welcome new additions including the Arcade Mode that includes a powerful map editor, allowing you to create challenges and share them with other players, and an escort system that allows you to hire and fight alongside up to two other characters who you meet in the game, each of whom brings special skills into combat (my personal favorite being a dog named Boomer). Meanwhile, the side missions are a blast to play through; the game looks absolutely gorgeous, and it features one Hell of an ending. There’s really so much to love here that it makes it easy to overlook what the game lacks in story. If you are a fan of the series and haven’t yet had a chance to play Far Cry 5, I highly recommend it. (Ricky D)
1. God of War
Like so many popular video game franchises that have reinvented themselves in recent years, the new God of War offers a twist by shifting its focus to Norse mythology, casting off the iconic Greek gods for that of Asgard. The move northward sees Kratos, for the first time in five years, on a long and trying journey to scatter his late wife’s ashes on the tallest mountain in Norse mythology, while accompanied by his young son Atreus. Kratos doesn’t think his son is ready for the trek, but due to unforeseen circumstances, Kratos can’t wait any longer
There is a long list of reasons as to why many have called God of War a masterpiece. I could praise the stunningly gorgeous world – here is a game in which every frame is heightened by the game’s distinctive color palette, sensual light, and smoky haze. There’s an intimacy and unspoken emotion in God of War that not only can be felt, it seems like you can touch it. God of War is without a doubt one of the best-looking console games ever released, and it’s all framed by one continuous camera shot to boot. I could also praise Bear McCreary’s incredible soundtrack which gravitates toward low orchestral instruments, Icelandic choir, folk percussion, and Nordic stringed instruments to craft a unique theme for each and every character. And then there is the hard-hitting combat that grows more feverish and impressive as you progress, not to mention Kratos’ signature weapon, the Leviathan Axe, which is one of the best weapons in any video game.
Like its predecessors, God of War is indeed a technical and artistic showcase but masterpiece this would not be without its renewed focus on storytelling that sets a new bar for what can be accomplished in the world of AAA games. The previous installments of the God of War series (which debuted in 2005) had little time to explore the emotional landscape of its testosterone-pumped protagonist, but what’s become of the bruting death machine in the latest installment is what leaves the biggest impression. This time around, the furious, bloodthirsty icon has transformed into a sensitive father figure and while part of him retains the old violent tendencies that we remember him for, Kratos, for the most part, holds back his savage ways in order to be a positive role model. As a result, the relationship between father and son is everything.
In short, God of War has some of the best storytelling and best character development in any video game. Take that away and what you are left with is yet another traditional hack-n-slash game, albeit a beautiful one. (Ricky D)
Junked: Coming Back to Life in ‘Detroit: Become Human’
Quantic Dream’s games have always leaned into horror, even if the chief genre might not be. Detroit: Become Human is no exception.
Quantic Dream‘s games have always leaned into horror, even if the chief genre might be something else entirely. Detroit: Become Human is no exception, with much of the game revolving around our android protagonists finding themselves in one horrendous situation after another. The most terrifying of all, though, is Markus’ trip to a junkyard afterlife.
After being shot in the head during an altercation, Markus looks to be dead. Since player characters could indeed die in previous Quantic Dream games, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for him to have been killed off either. What awaits Markus on the other side of consciousness, however, is one of the most horrific struggles for survival ever waged.
As Markus awakens in a junkyard for discarded androids, he finds himself immobilized and terrified. Played by Jesse Williams (the sort of chiseled hollywood hunk that only seems to exist on network TV), Markus’ destroyed facade is all the more horrendous for the juxtaposition to his previous appearance.
As the player embodies Markus, they are thrust into a nightmare realm of discarded android dreams. Like a metallic graveyard, filled with the shambling dead, the junkyard is a place so nightmarish it nearly defies explanation. Add to this the stress of Markus’ shattered form, and you begin to get a knack for just how unsettling this chapter of Detroit: Become Human truly is.
While not everyone is a fan of Quantic Dream’s trademark QTE-filled gameplay, it is used to maximum effect here, as the player is truly transposed into Markus’ desperate situation by the control scheme. You begin by alternating L1 and R1 to slowly drag Markus’ shattered body across the tumultuous landscape. The long presses and holds of each button help to relay the pain and effort of Markus’ struggle for survival.
It only gets more horrific from there, as Markus must tear off body parts from other fallen androids in order to rebuild himself. The legs must come first, as mobility is key in a place like this, but with the added moral complications of the other androids begging you not to harvest them for parts, the struggle takes on a nasty new dimension.
A particularly stirring, and disturbing, moment sees Markus moving between two closely stacked piles of android remains. Like sidling between two close-together buildings, Markus shuffles his way through, sidelong, as dozens of hands reach out for his help, and the cries of the dying paralyze his senses.
As mentioned above, the control scheme really embodies the horror of what you’re being forced to do in order to survive here. Whether tilting the analog stick to pop out an eye or tapping the X button consecutively to wrench a limb free, the act of becoming a self-made Frankenstein’s monster is not a pleasant process to endure.
The rain-drenched landscape and lonely darkness of the junkyard only add to the chilling horror of this world. Science fiction is often at its best when it shows us a pristine utopia, before turning it over to show us the horrific consequences that come as a result. Here Detroit: Become Human soars, showing us a world where machines can save us from destroying our bodies with manual labor and android doctors never make a mistake.
It’s a world where androids do the dirty work of the US military and undertake the home care of the elderly, freeing us from the sights we’d rather not see. The trade-off, though, is grisly, and the discarded robot graveyard is just one of the first inklings of how ugly this future can be when one looks too closely.
The quasi-messianic character of Markus is only one facet of this troubled world, and while some of Detroit: Become Human may lack in subtlety, it manages to create an effective, evocative look at what could be our own future one day. This sequence is just one striking example.
‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us
It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.
It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club have also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!
Shovel Knight: King of Cards
King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.
Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for a built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.
All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.
Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.
It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produce hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.
The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.
It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?
Shovel Knight Showdown
Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.
What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.
Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.
Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.
What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode like I did.
With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.
‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery
For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.
Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.
Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.
The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.
Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.
The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.
As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.
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