Lord, two-thousand eighteen has been a year, folks. Between all the internet discourse, Olympics, and mental gymnastics of world leaders, we’re sure you’re exhausted. No one has the time or energy to spend dozens of hours in large-scale AAA games. So, let’s show off some of the smaller titles you may have missed this year.
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mobile – $14.99
2018 is the year of great Metroidvanias, and Dandara is no exception. In order to traverse the sprawling world and fight oppression, players must flip gravity over and over. I need to take my own advice on this entry: Our Editor-In-Chief, Diego Argüello, loves Dandara. If his glowing recommendation and the game’s own trailer won’t convince you, I don’t know what will.
Yoku’s Island Express
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch – $19.99
Yoku’s Island Express is one of ‘a few’ Metroidvanias on this list. Don’t sigh yet, this one has a twist: it’s also a pinball game. As a mailman dung beetle, you’ll roll around a giant ball as you explore the painted world. The game opens up in a lot of interesting ways, encouraging backtracking while keeping a relaxed atmosphere. Fellow freelancer Jordan Oloman seems to enjoy Yoku’s Island Express, and that should be enough of a reason for you to snag it.
A Way Out
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One – $29.99
Prison breaks are kind of a cliché movie plot point now, but that’s not stopping A Way Out. This two player third-person adventure pays homage to many, many, many such films. While it’s a little cheesy and feels less rewarding on a second play, A Way Out stands out. Most scenes require communication to finish unscathed, leading to some very fun moments. It also helps that online multiplayer can be played using a single copy of the game.
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita – $19.99
Platformers don’t tend to rely too heavily on complex plots, but Iconoclasts breaks that mold. What begins as a bright platformer quickly takes on a dark and mysterious storyline. The young mechanic, Robin, must set off on a dangerous adventure in a world where tinkering and building are outlawed. The quest takes her through sprawling, puzzle-filled, beautifully rendered settings; introduces her to quirky, endearing friends; and pits her against large, deadly foes. Iconoclasts might start small, but it definitely goes to some big places.
PC, Nintendo Switch – $29.99
CommanderVideo is back for “just more Bit.Trip Runner.” Though it’s true Runner 3 doesn’t look like a graphical update compared to the last quirky rhythm runner, it does feel like a mechanical one. Jump cancels, double jumps, hidden side quests, and even running left all help keep the Bit.Trip series fresh. It also helps that the playable cast includes fan favorite franchise stars like Shovel Knight and Charles Martinet, the voice actor behind Mario.
PC – $29.99
At its core, Frostpunk is a city simulator with a twist. Set in a frozen, post-apocalyptic world, you run a steampunk town on the verge of hypothermia. As your citizens venture outward for coal, building resources, and clues to the world’s end, things begin to go awry. What measures will you take to save your people? Frostpunk feels as though has one finger on the scale, constantly tweaking mechanics behind the scenes to make things interesting. If things start to look up, maybe it’s time for a cold front to move in. There are no happy endings, and things never go well. The game is unconcerned with whether you win or lose. Instead, it wants to create the most dire, intense situations possible, simply to see your reaction.
Into the Breach
PC – $14.99
Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game obsessed with information. Every run is unique, and begins with you picking a time traveler and mecha squad. From there, you’ll square off against alien bugs on a grid-based map. Each and every tidbit is revealed to you: where your enemies will strike next, how much damage they’ll do, and even what your potential attack will cause. Into the Breach uses this transparency against you in interesting ways. One mistake will cost you a run, forcing your character to travel to a new timeline where the aliens have yet to claim victory. You’re never fighting against predetermined mechanics or randomization: it’s your own fault for losing, and that’s oh so satisfying.
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (sometime in 2018) – $9.99
While short, Minit takes the cake for game design this year. Thanks to a curse, its duck-billed protagonist dies every 60 seconds. This premise lends itself to some smart puzzle and map design, seeing as you’ll need to go very far in a minute. Of course, items, NPCs, and even other respawn points exist to aid you in your short-lived adventure. Others yet are designed to waste your time in genuinely funny and clever ways. Minit is a minute experience, but the better word is ‘succinct’: it trims the fat most games have, and leaves behind a delicate, entertaining core.
PC, Nintendo Switch – $14.99
Hollow Knight didn’t initially release in 2018, but its new Switch port has so wholly consumed Spine’s staff and friends that I’d be remiss to leave it out. In this tough-as-nails Metroidvania (you’ll understand that pun someday) that takes player to venture into the grim, abandoned kingdom of bugs. Armed with melee attacks, some magic spells, and a way to heal, you’re free to explore the unforgiving world in whichever way costs you the least deaths. Upon respawn, your “magic meter” is split in half, and your money is gone: you must find your corpse to regain what you’ve lost. That should be a familiar formula to many players, but trust me: Hollow Knight is the most unique, enthralling game you’ll play in 2018.
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch – $19.99
There’s a lot to say about Celeste, so I’ve got to hold back. It’s a difficult platformer, taking cues from masocore titles like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. But it does something those games never could: creates a healthy, relaxing environment. Celeste isn’t about dying over and over. It’s about overcoming the obstacles in life at your own pace. With a difficulty that can be customly modified by the player, Celeste is a wholesome, inclusive, self-aware gem.
Honorable Mentions, and Games That Even I Need to Play
The Swords of Ditto
PC, PlayStation 4 – $19.99
Top-down, run-based action-adventure game with a cartoon style
For the King
PC – $19.99
Run-based strategy RPG made of polygonal paper models
Slay the Spire
PC – $15.99
Roguelike card game with distinct mechanics in the so-called deck-bulding subgenre
Deep Rock Galactic
PC, Xbox One – $24.99
Co-op FPS focused on space-mining and monster-killing a la Left 4 Dead
PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch – $14.99
Top-down action-adventure with an 80’s vibe