Some games I played in 2018
Posted at 01:12 on 11th January 2019 - permalink

I didn’t play a very wide variety of games last year: it was a pretty moribund year for big releases; most of my gaming time was dominated by three of the games listed below; and I don’t play a lot of new games per year in any case, not being a journalist, IGF judge, student with endless free time or whatever. But here’s a look back at ten memorable ones.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Nintendo Switch’s killer app is the only Zelda game that I’ve completed. It’s not perfect by any means (it’s padded out with too many copy-pasted battles on the overworld and ‘filler’ shrines, some puzzles are absurdly cryptic, there’s little depth in NPC’s stories and quests, and the difficulty scaling is as broken as Oblivion’s), but it shows up every other open world game for not advancing simulation-based gameplay.

Being able to solve problems by exploiting the physical and material properties of the world hasn’t felt so satisfying since the original Deus Ex. The shrines feel in places like the third Portal game we never saw. I assume we’ll be getting another Zelda before the end of the current hardware generation, which will hopefully address the weaknesses.

Fun fact: my run through the game was drawn out by at least a dozen hours by my not finding how to switch the radar back to detecting shrines. I also never used the lock-on and dodge combat moves.

No Man’s Sky Next

I’ve played No Man’s Sky pretty much continuously since launch, and am in the camp that believes that it was a good game even early on. (It’s very obvious looking back that some key features got delayed thanks to external pressure to crowbar in the original ‘Atlas’ quest line to give the game some semblence of a traditional structure.)

For the first month of NMS Next, I got to relive the aggravating “Playstation for Christmas but no memory card” experience, as I waited patiently for Hello Games to fix a bug which was preventing my ancient and bloated save file from loading. But eventually I was up and running again, and able to deep dive into building giant bases, visiting other players’ games and generally living the Gek life.

It feels like there have been some fairly big changes under the hood in Next, heavily optimising world rendering (at the expense of making it feel a little bit flimsier and glitchier) and making the game more modular so subsystems like base building, space stations, NPC structures, exotic worlds and underwater exploration can be fleshed out with loads of new components and creatures.

For a game that was initially criticised for not offering enough to do, it’s been turned around massively. Even now I more often than not encounter something new every session. (For example I recently discovered that crashed freighter missions have been reworked again, and there are loads and loads of exotic planet types now.)

One legacy feature that seems a bit odd now is that there’s such a clear delineation between player bases and NPC structures. I would hazard a guess that a future update will introduce lots more procedural buildings built with the base building kit.

Fun fact: I take lots of NMS screenshots but people were particularly taken with this one for some reason:

Tetris Effect

Eurogamer’s game of the year and quite right too. I can’t believe that people are grumbling about this game having a £34.99 SRP. You wouldn’t complain about a Napoleonic era chess set being “just chess”. The audiovisual experience wouldn’t work nearly as well built around a game that didn’t require full concentration in the way Tetris does. The ‘rap’ on the soundtrack is still completely ridiculous though.

Fun fact: Tetsuya Mizuguchi once blew up BAFTA’s PA system demoing Child of Eden.

Six Match

Aaron Steed has now made two of my favourite indie games: Red Rogue and this, which I dimly recall having seen (then called ‘Mandy Crush’) in the pub a few years back. It’s one of the most elegant puzzle game designs ever and it baffles me that it seems to have been overlooked while some other (pretty but quite pedestrian) mobile puzzlers have enjoyed flavour of the month status.

Six Match is a match-3 game (or ‘swapper’ as games publisher lingo now has it) where you control a character (not unlike Rogue’s @) who moves around the board by swapping with neighbouring pieces. Aside from coloured gems (well, tablets) there are a selection of other special pieces such as skulls, blocks, diamonds, bubbles, wild cards/pineapple rings and two types of bombs, each with their own rules.

The name refers to the fact that the player has exactly six turns (swaps) to make a new line (at which point the counter is reset) or it’s game over. The game’s genius is that it runs through every one of the 4,096 possible moves each turn and then indicates to the player whether they can successfully make a line. In practice, this means that a game that starts out as a fairly casual test of your attention eventually mutates into a fraught inch-by-inch advance through a string of almost Stephen’s Sausage Roll-difficulty puzzles.

There are three small things wrong with it: there’s a very rare bug where it doesn’t always resolve all the lines you’ve made in one pass; the animation of blocks falling eases in and out which isn’t how gravity works; and it’s life-ruiningly addictive. If you have a smartphone, it’s indispensible.

Fun fact: I am currently ranked #2 in the world on Game Center.

The Return of the Obra Dinn

I played through this in a couple of evenings with my flatmate. It works really well as a co-op game as it lets different people focus on different aspects of the mystery: physically investigating the scenes, unraveling character relationships, keeping tabs on the chronological thread of events, etc.

The 1-bit art is amazing, managing to make even complex scenes with many characters, explosions, rain and boiling seas readable, and never allowing the heavy stylisation to become a hindrance. It feels like a true successor to the Infocom games and early turn-based graphic adventures and treats the player like an adult. I’m not sure if I’d personally call it my game of the year but it’s a worthy choice many have made.

Fun fact: Lucas Pope also made the early-ish iOS game Helsing’s Fire. And something called Papers, Please, dunno about that one.


I was a massive fan of PuppyGames’s Droid Assault way back in 2008, and quite liked Revenge of the Titans. Then they seemed to go quiet for a long time, and it seemed for a while that Basingstoke, their first 3D game, would be trapped in development hell forever. It finally came out last year to resounding indifference from the games media. Which is frustrating, as it’s pretty great.

Basingstoke is a twin stick shooter / adventure / survival roguelike in their signature chunky cartoony style, set in the titular English town after an extra-terrestrial zombie outbreak. With a tip of the hat to Shaun of the Dead it mixes horror with kitchen sink mundanity – as you make your way across town from safehouse to safehouse you’ll scavenge household items and realistic amounts of pocket change, and use an extensive crafting system to make a variety of makeshift weapons like dartguns and flamethrowers.

You can throw sausage rolls as distractions, and even spike them with poison to make zombies vomit. Use fire extinguishers to blind zombies and force them back. You have to constantly worry about being seen and heard, and even the tiddliest enemies can easily swarm and eat you if you let your guard down at the wrong moment.

It’s one of the most stressful games I’ve played for many years – it’s almost too relentless once you’re a few levels in. But if you have decent reflexes and like a challenge it’s worth a punt.

Puyo Puyo Tetris

This game is a few years old but only got a Western release on the Switch relatively recently. For some inexplicable reason the entire story mode is voiced (with the English language actors putting in much more effort than they needed to, really) although annoyingly there’s no Japanese option.

It’s a solid implementation of both Puyo Puyo and Tetris (the latter having rather more responsive controls than Tetris Effect, in fact) but the highlight of the package is the Fusion mode which involves both kinds of playing pieces sharing the same well. This mode is tucked away near the end of the story mode and forces you to throw away your tried and tested strategies.

I have a sinking feeling that it’ll disappear from digital stores once Ubisoft’s distribution rights expire.


I have never played any MOBA, or Hearthstone, or Magic The Gathering, so I don’t really have any frame of reference for whether Artifact is a good version of this kind of thing or not, but I’ve enjoyed the few hours I have spent with it. I’m not sure that I have any compulsion to take it up as a hobby as its designers intend. It’s quick to learn and the production values are impressive.

I expect it’s going to go free-to-play soon and many long thinkpieces will be written about how this is a sign that it’s failing to find an audience, as opposed to being a completely routine and intentional stage in the product lifecycle of every online PC game released this decade.

Black Bird

In 2017 I spent most of the Christmas holidays engrossed in Super Mario Odyssey; this year it was Onion Games’s Black Bird. Black Bird is a wrap-around shooter (think Defender or Fantasy Zone) with a Victorian setting (sepia-toned graphics slathered in Irem-esque grit and grime) in which enemy waves spawn in time to the backing music, which is utterly preposterous and incredibly catchy opera with nonsense lyrics.

As the titular Black Bird, hatched from an egg formed from the body of a dead street urchin and sworn to hawk up firey doom on mankind, the player must lay waste to four distinct stages (a village/castle, a forest, a city and a futuristic factory) and fight four multistage bosses.

Completing the game unlocks ‘True Mode’, a harder remix with more enemies and bonuses and weirdness, where you can supposedly unlock lots of different story cutscenes and endings although I’ve not worked out how this system works yet and GameFAQs is disappointingly short of answers as of this writing.

Black Bird is a perfect example of a game that defines a limited scope and then massively over-delivers in polish, room for experimentation and sheer density of ideas within those constraints. It’s the best game opera since Oikospiel.

Fun fact: look out for a quite interesting old interview with the game’s director in the forthcoming Japansoft book from Bitmap Books.


Right at the end of the year I played Gris (“Greez”), an arty platformer from Spanish microstudio Nomada. Gris has no enemies and a very lightly branching/looping layout. It’s gently interactive, requiring a little bit of platforming competence and rewarding observation. It’s perfectly paced (“huge expanses of just dull running” – John Walker, wrong) and looks and sounds incredible. It reminded me a bit of Gorogoa in its exacting draughtsmanship, and a bit of slightly tacky 1970s European comics in its preoccupation with classical architecture and female statues.

It’s weakness is that it doesn’t have a lot to say or a character to care about, it’s ultimately decorative rather than a fully-rounded experience. It’s still worth playing just to see something so skillfully crafted – in terms of effortless style and cohesiveness it leaves ustwo, Playdead and even the mighty Amanita in the dust. (8/10)

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