During my junior year, I took a course called Applied Ludology which required a semester-long research project into an aspect of game design that I wanted to dive deep into. What I ended up looking into over the course of four months was how unique movement options and a focus on traversal fit extremely well into the Metroidvania formula. I’m planning on eventually transcribing my three presentations to this blog in some form down the line, but I bring it up because there was a single game that was the perfect example that I’d always tie back to. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my top Metroidvania games because its movement is satisfying and engaging in every moment of playing. The game isn’t just a showcase of animation, composing, and art direction; it gets to the core of Metroidvania design. With Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it’s clear that Moon Studios understood what made the original so enticing and capitalized upon it to yet again keep the entire Metroidvania experience cohesive.
We’re back once again at the end of the year, and what a strange year it’s been for gaming. As a designer, I finally got the chance to put my skills on display with my production courses where I designed and programmed a VR yoyo combat adventure and a fighting game where the goal is to die instead of kill the enemy. However, that’s just a shameless plug because I’m proud of what I’ve made and what I’ve learned. In terms of the general gaming industry, though, the heavy hitters of the generation were all pushed back to the first half of 2020 and the next console generation is coming soon after. This left us with a year of great games, but no game that stood out as the clear Game of the Year like with God of War or Breath of the Wild.
While I personally didn’t play as many games as last year that blew me out of the water, I found this year to be extremely refreshing because of the innovative and risky ideas that developers presented to us. Last year, instead of just talking about my favorite games, I discussed my favorite design ideas behind them. This year, I’m continuing that trend to look deeper into why a game hit me so hard. These aren’t always going to be the most innovative or creative ideas, but they’re the aspects of each game that brought the entire experience together for me.
Like millions of other kids, I grew up with an obsession for Pokemon. It’s the largest media franchise out there, and it’s impossible to avoid on the playground, whether it’s a friend telling you about the anime or two kids showing of their holographics from the card game. My introduction was with a copy of Pokemon Gold that had a dead save battery, which meant I played up until the first gym of that game many times before my parents bought me Pokemon Silver. Besides generation 3, my entire life can be tracked by my interest in each generational entry in the franchise.
However, the tedium of Pokemon Sun and Moon in 2016 burned me and kept my interest in the newest entries, Pokemon Sword and Shield, fairly low. I used to scour the internet for every bit of information about the games, from the gym types to the differences between the games, but this time I largely ignored the buildup. I even told myself I was going to wait a few months to play the games. However, I purchased Pokemon Shield on a whim the night of release after my friends had said they were getting together to play it. What I was shocked to find, amidst the sea of online hate for the game’s cut roster and graphics, was a game that really hooked me from the get-go.
Throughout its history, Pokemon has really been about mastery. The games had players set lofty aspirations, asking them to catch every Pokemon in the region and become the champion. For all of its missteps (and there are many) the most interesting force behind Sword and Shield is its interest in shifting away from mastery into more of a focus on experimentation and player stories. Previous games in the series had players’ minds on the destination, but removing major frustrations through small quality of life improvements, the Wild Area, and Max Raids put the journey itself on full display.
The year of 2018 felt strange for me as a gamer and a designer. This year was undeniably great in terms of the games that came out, but I for some reason felt like I was not as wowed by the games I anticipated as I thought I would be. However, when writing this list, I found that this year gave me tons to pick apart design-wise, as well as many games that gave experiences unlike anything I’d had before. I was blown away while playing some, actually thinking to myself about how much I loved the design.
Last year, I made two separate posts about my favorite aspects of design of that year, followed by my actual favorite games of the year. However, this year I wanted to unify things and dig deep into why I chose to put these games on my list. I’m definitely going to be overlooking some amazing ideas, but I feel like this list encompasses a lot about what I loved about 2018, so I’m sticking to it. I hope you give these games a try, and I hope you were able to appreciate the games you played this year as much as I did.