Return of the Obra Dinn
In like, fifteen years, we’re going to look back on Obra Dinn as the origin point for a new genre, one that sees dozens of games released in it every year. Or at least, I hope we will because I don’t know if I’ll still be playing video games by then if we don’t.
Obra Dinn is pretty much incomparable, in that there is literally nothing else like it out there right now. I don’t think it has the most exciting themes in the world, but the story it tells and the mechanics it uses to tell that story are so absolutely incredible that every few minutes of play I wondered what kind of magic Lucas Pope used to make it work.
In Return of the Obra Dinn you play as an insurance adjuster in the 1800s (thrilling, I know) and you are effectively asked to solve 60 murder mysteries with only the ability to view the last second of the victim’s life. Every death diorama you explore is seeded with clues for the next couple dozen you’ll encounter, and you won’t realize it until hours after seeing them that they were clues at all. It’s brilliant, and miraculously, never feels calculated or artificial. Even more incredibly, not one diorama contradicts the others, a feat that must have taken months, if not years of testing and editing.
I would play a million more games just like Return of the Obra Dinn right now, and, despite how hard it must have been to craft this clockwork masterpiece of a video game, I really hope someone tries to make another.
Matt Makes Games
Celeste is the best 2D platformer in years, which I only mention off the bat because I’m about to go on for 184 words without ever touching on how perfectly it nails every new mechanic and level it introduces.
Instead, the reason Celeste belongs in the much-vaunted Game Of The Year Conversation is because it’s the first game I’ve played in a very long time to actually put its incredible mechanics together with a meaningful theme in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or forced.
Celeste is a game about coping with depression and anxiety, something that I can relate to, and I imagine that most of the people who picked it up could relate to too. But it’s also a game about embracing the things you hate yourself for, and learning to accept and love yourself. It’s also a game about jumping into the arms of all those things you hate about yourself and leaping into the unknown with them in the most literal sense.
Celeste is probably going to draw a lot of comparisons to Braid down the line, which makes sense, because it’s a 2D platformer that weaves themes and mechanics into something greater than either part. The difference is that Celeste is about a thousand better at both halves of that equation, and the result is a near-perfect game.
Into the Breach
Into the Breach is the pure, uncut cocaine of video games. It is nothing but mechanics, layered over more mechanics, all mixed together into some bizarre web of complicated decisions and robot punches that is about as addictive as cocaine, so same difference I guess.
There is nothing more video games than taking two hours to decide on a single turn of play, especially when that single turn involves a giant robot punching a giant beetle into a patch of land that’s about to collapse and drop it into the centre of the earth. There is also nothing more video games than planning four turns ahead only to realize you missed one small detail and restarting your entire run because the very shame of losing one building would be too much to bear.
ITB is perfect, in that it achieves everything it sets out to accomplish, and I can’t imagine a single human being that wouldn’t be completely engrossed by it. It hands you everything you need to understand it before pounding you into the ground just lightly enough to encourage you to get back up and try again.
ITB is just video games, distilled into their purest form.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
I had never played a Yakuza before 6, and I am now all-in on this franchise. Kazuma Kiryu may be video games’ greatest protagonist. He’s Philip-Marlowe-meets-Adam-West-Batman, a dashing, hardboiled mystery man who is followed by trouble everywhere he goes, but also by sheer, unending madness, and remains absolutely straight-faced through it all.
Do you want to shake your PS4 controller to appease a crying baby? You want to chase a Roomba around the streets of a fictionalized Tokyo precinct? Are you interested in drop-kicking some dudes while dressed in a mascot costume? Do you want to slowly unravel a mystery that will change the face of Japan’s criminal families? We got all that and more.
Yakuza is a game about raising a baby, at least partially. But it’s also a game about defining what family means to Kiryu, and what it means to the characters who either stand beside and against him. It’s about duty and honor, and smacking mooks over the head with traffic cones.
It’s basically perfect.
Fighting Games in 2018
A fighting game is a conversation you have with your opponent. Each game is a language you share with your opponent, and you test each other on fluency, reading comprehension and conversational skill at lightning speed, and 2018 gave us plenty of fascinating new languages to interact with people in.
I fell off of Dragon Ball FighterZ pretty quickly (which for me with a fighting game means I only spent four or five months playing it religiously), but it is absolutely unparalleled when it comes to visuals and spectator appeal. The meta was rough for a little while, dominated by one-touch-kill combos and the same four characters in every single tournament’s Top 8, but no fighting game in the world can match the appeal of watching Yamcha beat the crap out of Cell. This is the game that brought more new blood into fighting games than anything since Street Fighter IV, and it deserves commendation for at least that.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute mess of content, with more stuff in it than any game I can think of aside from its decade-older brother Super Smash Bros. Brawl. But it blows that entry out of the water when it comes to fighting game mechanics. SSBU’s deep roster feels well balanced, with not one boring character in the bunch, combos feel fantastic, and serve as the dessert at the end of a truly rewarding neutral game. It’s not Melee, sure, but it’s something a little less challenging to play so that us less technically-skilled Smashers can have something to enjoy too.
Also Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st] is the best fighting game since Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.