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Spoony's Best Games of 2018

As ever, I've gone to the trouble of playing every single game released across all formats to spare you the trouble of telling me I've missed one.  All while balancing a full-time job, no less.  Please, hold your applause.

14. Capcom Beat-em-up Bundle (Capcom, PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch)

Beat-em-ups have had a resurgence in recent years with the advent of indie games and various arcade compilations, so Capcom dug deep into their archives and released a few of their own into the wild once more.  Seven games in all make up this collection, with a few that are relatively well-known (Final Fight, Knights of the Round, King of Dragons) and others that aren't so well-known (Captain Commando, Warriors of Fate).  It's also the first time two of these games - namely Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit - have gotten any kind of home port, and the latter is well worth a look just for how outlandish and crazy it is.  Sadly, high licensing costs prevented them from including fan favorites like Alien VS Predator and the Punisher, but nevertheless, $20 gets you a lot of classic arcade enemy-bashing action.

13. Sonic Mania Plus (Pagoda West Games/HeadCannon, PC/PS4/XBone/Switch)

Admittedly, I didn't bother with the original release of Sonic Mania because it just looked like yet another thoughtless rehash of "Classic" Sonic elements with 2-3 new levels tacked on as token new content.  Upon playing this version... well, I haven't been completely distanced from that perception, but it certainly proved to be a pleasant surprise.  There are still quite a lot of recycled graphical elements and even almost entire stages are copy-pasted, but the new stuff they added is sublime.  Colorful, beautifully animated, fast-paced levels with great puzzle elements and well-devised gimmicks that feel right at home in Sonic without feeling like cheap pandering.  Basically, if there was a Sonic 4 back in the 90s, the new levels and stage elements would be right at home in it.  What Sonic Mania Plus provides is a solid 60% of a fantastic new Sonic game after a two-decade lull, and clearly proves that the people at HeadCannon and Pagoda West have far more passion for this franchise than anyone currently working at Sega; I just wish they went all-in and made it 100% instead of recycling so much.

12. Fighting EX Layer (Arika, Playstation 4)

Arika returns to the realm of fighting games with Fighting EX Layer, reuniting all of their contributions to Street Fighter EX in a title that goes back to basics in a lot of ways.  It actually plays much like a 1990s fighting game with relatively little in the way of flashy animations or mechanics; however, it does have a unique change-up in "Gougi Decks" - a set of abilities the player unlocks by meeting certain conditions.  Hitting these milestones gives your character various buffers for the rest of the match, such as a slight damage boost, added throw range, momentary invisibility or super armor.  FEXL is on the expensive side for a download-only title ($40 for a "lite" version or $60 for the full version with an extra character and several exclusive Gougi decks), but I still had a ton of fun dusting off Skullomania and Shadowgeist for the first time in almost twenty years.

11. Mega Man 11 (Capcom, PS4/PC/Switch/XBone)

Mega Man 11 is over a year late at capitalizing on the void left by the huge flop that was Mighty #9, but you won't hear me complain about getting more of one of my favorite long-neglected franchises.  Especially when it's a good Mega Man game - challenging but not overbearing, with some clever boss battles and themed trap-laden stages to go with them.  While 11 continues to follow a very similar format to most games in the series, they did change things up a little with the Gear system.  Basically, Mega Man can now slow time for a few seconds to react with extreme precision, power up his arm cannon to fire double shots or stronger special weapons for a brief period, or, in particularly desperate moments, do both.  However, overusing these powers will cause them to become unavailable for a lengthy period of time, so figuring out when and where to use them is a key element of the overall strategy.  Plus, you just have to admire a game that prominently features plenty of screen-filling explosions in the trailer as a subtle jab toward the pretender's infamously terrible ones.

10. 428: Shibuya Scramble (Spike Chunsoft/Abstraction Games, PS4/PC)

A visual novel that inspired the likes of the Zero Escape trilogy and was, in fact, written by Chunsoft's president, which piqued my interest as a fan of their games.  Thankfully, I wasn't let down by what I found.  428 Shibuya Scramble tells the tale of five different characters and their journeys over a ten-hour period, each having little to no knowledge of the others' actions but nevertheless impacting the outcomes of one another's stories in surprising and often bizarre ways.  The presentation of the game is a relatively unique one - featuring live actors in stills and the occasional short video - and the narrative somehow gets both more ridiculous and captivating as it goes on, with even the numerous bad endings contributing a lot to the mood (or just some occasional comic relief).  While 428 is slightly on the pricey side at $50*, it's nevertheless a captivating experience that I enjoyed every minute of.

*PS4 owners can at least get the game on a disc, though, so grab that one if possible!

9. Yakuza 6/Yakuza Kiwami 2 (Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Playstation 4)

Sega has really been on a roll with the Yakuza franchise lately - we got two last year and two more this year, as well as a spinoff game tie-in to one of my favorite anime franchise (see a bit later on this list).  It isn't hard to see why, though, as the games remain consistently fun, captivating and high-quality experiences from both a gameplay and storytelling perspective.  The main storyline is gripping and surprisingly tense when it needs to be, but the real draw is the side content - from singing karaoke to playing classic arcade games to playing Shogi and Mahjong to running a hostess club, there is simply a ton to do in these games.  But of course, the action is great too, providing just the right blend of brutality and humor.  Great series, and I definitely look forward to more of it in the future!

8. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Playstation 4)

A Fist of the North Star game by the developers of Yakuza (a franchise known for its over-the-top action and brutality) and it got officially localized and even dubbed?  It was almost too good to be true, especially if you've played the mediocre-to-awful offerings the FoTNS franchise has brought to our shores in the past.  But it's here, and it delivers exactly what it promises - crazy action, gory finishing moves, a ridiculous and self-aware sense of humor and a pretty good adaptation of the series' plot that works itself around a newly-added city wherein many of Yakuza's particular minigames and side-quests can be found.  The combat is a bit clumsy in some respects, the difficulty is fairly uneven and there's an awful lot of item-farming and grinding within, but at least you're never wanting for things to do.  And hey, we finally got a localized FoTNS game that doesn't suck unholy amounts of ass.

7. Shadow of the Colossus (SCE Japan Studio/Team Ico, Playstation 4)

Shadow of the Colossus was a classic on the Playstation 2, but it's a bit hard to revisit today.  Thankfully the PS4 port finally presents the  adventure as it was meant to be played - without being hampered by limited hardware.  That means there are no lengthy load times, chunky framerates or any of that infernal motion blurring; just a gorgeous HD world to explore as you get swept up in the atmosphere and take on numerous giant boss monsters that are equal parts awesome cinematic and puzzle-solving experiences.  The PS4 may be frequently derided as "the platform of HD ports", but when they're this well-made, I'm certainly not going to complain.

6. Earth Defense Force 5 (Sandlot, Playstation 4/PC)

Any time I begin to feel that modern gaming is just a quagmire of pretty graphics pasted on top of hacky gameplay barely more advanced than an Atari game and drawn out to inanity in the name of pointless "achievements", I play an Earth Defense Force game and remember that some people still get what video gaming is all about - entertainment.  The premise remains the same as ever - a cheesy B-movie plot about aliens invading, complete with bad dialog and hammy voiceover - but the gameplay is just pure fun, giving you four classes to play as (each with distinct mechanics), a huge slew of weapons to play with, and setting you against the horde.  It won't win any big prestigious gaming awards since Sandlot doesn't have the budget to buy votes from overpaid industry lobbyists and Youtube influencers, but I don't care - EDF is still one of the best games of every year it's released in.

5. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (Level-5, Playstation 4/PC)

The original Ni no Kuni, while an enjoyable title that presented the story tropes, fun characters and gorgeous animation of a good Studio Ghibli title in the world of gaming, was hampered by rather generic design and some lackluster party AI.  Ni no Kuni II, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction - while the characters and story are overall rather stock, the gameplay is much more polished, bringing back Level-5's usual item crafting mechanics and semi-randomized dungeons to add longevity.  It actually feels a bit like a Suikoden game in some respects too, as a large part of the experience is spent building one's kingdom and finding new recruits for their army, as well as taking place in large-scale skirmishes across the landscape.  Basically, Revenant Kingdom is a blend of Ghibli, Suikoden and Dark Cloud, and while it's not amazing at being any of those things, it proved to be so fun and addictive that I didn't mind in the slightest.  Level-5 is once again playing to their strengths, and that's a good thing no matter how you cut it.

4. Kenshi (Lo-Fi Games, PC)

An independent game in development for over twelve years, released on Steam Early Access in 2013 and finally given a proper Version 1.0 release at the tail end of 2018.  So for all that effort, it had to be good, right?  Well, yes.  In fact, Kenshi actually feels like a fully-realized version of Fallouts 4 and 76 in some respects, providing a game that feels like a well-constructed and cohesive whole instead of a mishmash of half-baked ideas in an engine that wasn't really built for them.  Basically an open world sandbox RPG with a real time strategy bent set in an expansive environment that combines low fantasy and post-apocalyptic science fiction, Kenshi is an oddity in that the player isn't a "chosen one" or anything of the sort; in fact, there isn't really even an overarching storyline.  Just a complex backdrop and several walks of life for you to start in (from being a lowly adventurer to a holy knight to an escaped slave to an exile from a strange insect-like race) and once you start, you're just left to your own devices.  As you play more and more you'll slowly build up your stats and resources, recruit allies, construct bases and steadily make your way to becoming a substantial presence in  the world from basically nothing, and that's always fun.  The strangeness of the setting and the complex, yet intuitive gameplay lend it a lot of charm, and of course, player modding only lets you tweak the experience to your exact tastes.  The kind of engrossing, endlessly deep experience only the PC platform can provide, and Kenshi does it exceptionally well.

3. Dragonball FighterZ (Arc System Works, Playstation 4/Xbox One/PC/Switch)

I wasn't expecting this many fighting games (as in, more than one) to make it onto my list either, but what can I say: 2018 was a year with a lot of good ones, even to a more casual fan like myself.  But by far my favorite is Dragonball FighterZ.  Retaining the trademarks of an Arc fighter - easy to pick up and play, yet deceptively tough to master - Fighterz also wins huge merits based on the strength of its presentation.  With its colorful and masterfully cel-shaded models (not sprites!) fluid animations and a level of flash and flair that match that of the show to a T (including blasting your opponent through mountains, buildings and planets, or just swallowing them up in a huge energy blast if you land a devastating finisher on them), the game is just as fun to watch as it is to play.  It also helps that it masterfully emphasizes fast-paced action, causing one's energy meter to replenish as they dash in, land combos and take damage, keeping the projectile attacks and super moves flying and the battles on-point at all times.  A title to not only rival other giants of the format like Marvel VS Capcom, but easily the best, most enjoyable fighting game I've played in years.

2. The World Ends With You: Final Remix (Jupiter/Square Enix/h.a.n.d., Switch)

A stellar DS cult classic that was reworked for iOS, then later ported to the Switch.  But despite some changes in the gameplay (primarily to accommodate the single-screen setup) and the soundtrack being shuffled and remixed, it remains a highly compelling experience.  The stylish presentation of the game, as well as its innovative touch-screen (or motion control pointer) based combat with mechanics that defy conventions at every turn, make it a fun and addictive experience.  Adding even more fun to this version is the fact that it now supports two-player co-op, letting a friend get in on the action, and even has an exclusive extra chapter to expand on its storyline.  A game well worth a look for any serious fan of RPGs, even those who have mastered the original DS release.

1. Marvel's Spider-Man (Insomniac Games, Playstation 4)

It's pretty clear what this one is right out of the gate - Spider-man in a game built on the Arkham series model - but that's certainly no bad thing by me.  Of course, you're allowed to take advantage of Spidey's powers to do all sorts of things Batman couldn't; uppercutting people into the air for juggles, incapacitating people with webs, suit powers and gadgets, rapidly zipping between opponents with web lines, or just grabbing objects in the environment and whipping them into people for hefty damage.  Movement and combat in the game is amazingly fun and only gets more so as you unlock new abilities, and a plethora of captivating side missions complement the main story surprisingly well, making this a highly entertaining open world action game.  Then you add an excellent story on top that pulls no punches with its emotional scenes and tragic moments, and you get a title that beats Arkham at its own game.  Now if only we could get a good Superman title in this style and finally break that curse.