Video games aren’t necessarily pushing boundaries yet in 2018, but the sheer variety of games that have already debuted this year is plenty impressive. From God of War to Minit, the assortment of excellent games released in 2018 spans every genre, offering unique delights for all sorts of different tastes. Here are the standouts of the year so far.
A Way Out
Easily the coolest video game experience so far this year, A Way Out has you and another player — either right next to you or connected via the internet — assume the roles of Vincent and Leo, two men doing hard time; and team up to make a daring escape. Unfolding entirely in split-screen, A Way Out consistently tosses you interesting ways to collaborate with your partner. In one scene, the game will have one of you be on the lookout for guards while the other chisels away at an air vent. In another, you’ll have to coordinate handoffs to swipe and hide contraband, and get it back to your cell. It’s all tremendously fun stuff made even more fun by the goofy writing and hammy performances that name-check every major crime thriller you can might think of. Play it through with a good friend. You haven’t tried anything quite like this.
Over the last ten or so years, there have been a lot of games like Celeste — games that take inspiration from the Nintendo days of yore, when most of your time was spent playing as a tiny character who ran and jumped their way through challenging levels full of platforms, monsters, and other assorted obstacles. Celeste holds its own with the best of these: It’s a throwback that’s every bit as difficult and rewarding and magnetic as the best of its peers. Crucially, Celeste also gives a damn: about its characters, about you, about making sure your time spent with it feels meaningful and worthwhile. You play as a girl named Madeline on a journey to climb the titular mountain; she meets an assortment of strange and quirky characters on the way, while haunted by her own self-doubt. It’s tough but uncommonly generous, you can adjust every aspect of the game’s difficulty to suit your style, failing has no consequences, and most of its hardest challenges are completely optional. Taken in conjunction with its story, Celeste is more than a game about overcoming challenges. It’s a game about why we take them on in the first place.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Seen from afar, Dragon Ball FighterZ has no business being as good as it is. It’s the latest in a long series of fighting games that have effectively operated off the same source material for more than a decade, mostly catering to a niche of die-hard franchise fans. But FighterZ somehow reignites the spark. A three-on-three fighting game in the style of classic Marvel vs. Capcom games (wherein two opponents pick teams of three characters each to fight each other) FighterZ leverages crisp, dramatic animation and extremely easy-to-learn controls to make a fighting game with an appeal that’s obvious the moment you pick it up. Unlike more traditional fighting games like Street Fighter, it’s easy to pull off the coolest, most impressive moves in FighterZ. This levels the playing field remarkably, making the gap between a newbie’s button-mashing and skilled player’s fight calculus considerably smaller. FighterZ also comes with a completely bonkers story bolstered by the fact that there is, for the first time in decades, new Dragon Ball material via the recently concluded Dragon Ball Super series. FighterZ makes a bunch of old things feel new, and that’s hard to do in video games.
God of War
The first thing you’ll notice about God of War is its casual display of technical perfection. Spend many hours with it, and you’ll still marvel over how beautiful it is: Its mountains are majestic, its snow is unreal, and its sense of scale and scope and grandeur deliver on all the promises of big-budget action games — even if the narrative doesn’t quite live up to the dizzying heights the act of playing it can bring you to. A story about a father and son on a journey to scatter the ashes of their deceased wife and mother, God of War is a soft reboot that leans heavily on franchise history, explicitly trying to make amends for its past delight in extreme violence and misogyny. It’s not as successful at this as it is at being a good action game, but it’s fascinating to watch a blockbuster attempt to reckon with its own problematic history. Like most things or people trying to articulate their beliefs, what it says is interesting, but what it doesn’t is more telling.
Minit is ingenius. A lo-fi black-and-white game inspired by The Legend of Zelda, Minit takes a familiar, much-imitated game format — exploring a world, talking to characters, gaining items that give you access to other areas you can explore and fight monsters in — and adds one small clever twist: You only play one minute at a time. After 60 seconds, your character, like a mayfly, just drops dead, and you start again, hopefully having made meaningful progress with your last life. With this one twist, Minit builds a new framework of meaning, forcing you to come up with a clear, articulated goal for every 60-second life, constructing a feedback loop that compels you to keep playing, the way much larger games do; but in a compressed form that respects your time. Play Minit. After all, it won’t take much of your time. Until it does.
Monster Hunter: World
We’re in the middle of a fun stretch where long-running cult classic series are finally breaking into the mainstream. Last year, it was Yakuza. This year, it’s Monster Hunter. For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter: World is not that much different from the others in the series — just much, much prettier. These are games that are exactly what they say on the tin: You’re hunting monsters. That’s more or less it. There’s a story, but it’s pretty much just there to get you acclimated to the whole process of monster hunting. (And “monsters” in this game are pretty much just big ol’ dinosaurs.) Monster Hunter feels most like a sport; one you learn, practice, and master; adopting whatever style suits your temperament, acquiring the necessary weapons and gear to prep you for the most challenging hunts, and repeating until you’re satisfied. This single-mindedness is a strength: The game is wildly complex and deep, and also extremely social. (Playing with others isn’t necessary, but strongly encouraged.) It also makes it easy to dip in and out of, which makes for an unobtrusive game that doesn’t intrude on your busy life until you’re good and ready for it.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Like most Hollywood blockbusters, big-budget video games tend to favor disaster and dire stakes. In this context, Ni no Kuni II feels like a salve. It’s a fairy tale about a boy-king who is usurped by a faction within his realm, and in response, decides to build a new kingdom of his own — one that he hopes will unite the world, if only he can get all its opposing kingdoms to help each other. It’s naive in its childlike simplicity, but that’s the appeal of its fairy-tale story: would that it were so simple. Lots of games ask you to save the world, but few ask you to try and make it get along, and in doing so, it takes on an air of melancholy because the world is not this way, and we all know it. But it’s nice to lose a few hours and imagine; to play an action role-playing game where evil monsters fall by your sword and your visions of altruism and generosity grow into a kingdom you actively build. A beautifully animated storybook, Ni no Kuni II is one of the most refreshing games you can play this spring.