Jump Dash Roll's Pick of 2018
The end of the year brings with it indulgence, excess, and promises that are likely to be broken a week later. But it’s also a time for reflection, and to mark the end of Jump Dash Roll’s first year we asked our writers to tell us which games made the biggest impression on them in 2018. Out of the thousands of games that hit digital and physical shelves, we wanted to know which single title they considered to be their absolute favourite. A tough ask, given how much top-drawer entertainment was served up across all formats this year, but here are the final verdicts.
Rob Kershaw - God of War
My goodness, there were some amazing games released this year. From Life Is Strange 2 to Spider-Man through to smaller hits like Gorogoa and Into the Breach, we weren’t short of quality titles. For me, the toss-up for my favourite game was between two different yet equally brutal journeys: Red Dead Redemption 2and God of War. It was a tough choice; I spent far, far longer with RDR 2 mainly due to its sheer size, but ultimately I had the most unadulterated, gosh-darned fun with Kratos and his boy.
Almost every aspect of God of War is a delight to play. The open world is spectacular without being overwhelming, the combat is simply sublime, and the variety of puzzles, shrines and challenges is both thoughtful and ingenious. If there’s a combat mechanic as cool to use as Kratos’ axe in any current game, I’m yet to see it. It seamlessly blends ranged and melee attacks in a way that no other action adventure has managed, making each thunderous blow a visceral delight. It transforms combat from merely fighting off repetitive waves of bad guys — a trap which so many games in this genre fall into — into an experience you cannot wait to leap back into immediately.
While I will acknowledge the story in God of War doesn’t quite have the emotional impact or investment for the player that Rockstar’s epic managed, it’s nevertheless a thrilling ride which serves up stupendous set pieces and epic encounters. Better still, it sets the groundwork for a sequel on its own terms, after completely revolutionising the series. This Kratos is a much more interesting character to play, and better still, a far more enjoyable one.
Luciano Howard - Dark Souls Remastered
I just can’t get away from Miyazaki’s masterpiece. The world building with its entrances, exits and loop-arounds; the wonderful designs and the varied landscapes. The boss fights and the asynchronous co-op. Everything about Dark Souls Remasteredis just brilliant, in 2011 and now just as much. The game lasts and each time I venture into Lordran on my quest to link the flame (or otherwise depending on what you know) I can’t help but get completely enveloped in it.
Every play session must result in progress — a new bonfire, or a successful boss fight. These days versus the original playthrough this is much more easily achievable as you do learn with Dark Souls and you do get better, beating the seemingly impossible tasks more easily each time through. Except for that bastard Silver Knight Archer. And perhaps Ornstein and Smough.
If I could only take one machine, one power source, one display and one game to a desert island upon which I’d be stranded for evermore, it would be Dark Souls. It makes me feel calm; it absorbs me and it does all this seven years after the first time I experienced the same. To provide that same feeling after so many playthroughs and so many years? Alongside technical upgrades which put right the wrongs of the original (Blighttown is not such a blight anymore), well, it can only mean Dark Souls Remastered is the greatest game of 2018.
Elizabeth Lovatt - Celeste
Celeste is, without doubt, my game of the year. It came out way back in January 2018 (can anyone even remember that far back?) and it was the first game I played on my shiny new Switch. But that’s not the reason it’s my GOTY. I love playing Celeste because it has an assist mode. It’s the reason I bought Celeste in the first place, because, and I’ll let you into a secret here... I’m not good at platformers. They are too hard and I don’t possess the patience to overcome them and their endless fiddly jumps. But going in I knew there was an assist mode and that although it wasn’t how the developers intended for the game to be played, it was there for people like me who were intrigued by Celeste’s visuals and story but maybe not its mechanics. The assist mode gives you various options to slow down the speed of jumps, give you an extra jump or even make you invincible to environmental damage. I went in thinking I’ll try it without first and see how I go.
And reader, I did not need it. I did not use it once.
I finished the game with a respectable 89 collectable strawberries and even some secret B-side levels. I went back for more. I’m incredibly proud that I completed Celeste, but the game makes it easy. Not through lack of challenge (my sweaty palms can attest to that) but because it’s so darn encouraging. The quick death and restart mean you only ever need to beat one screen at a time (except in some of the longer chase sequences) so it’s easy to put down and come back to. Celeste lets you figure it out by yourself and little by little you do get better at the game until you’re flying up the mountainside. All this wrapped up with outstanding pixel visuals, soundtrack and story. The gameplay and narrative perfectly intertwine, following Madeline as she overcomes her lack of confidence and belief that she’s not good enough (sound familiar?) to make it to the summit. I would encourage you all to join me at the top, however you get there. The view is simply wonderful.
Shaun McHugh - Dead Cells
My favourite title this year was Dead Cells. A gloriously vibrant and blood-spattered hack-n-slash roguelike, which balances never-boring replayability with buttery smooth movement and combat. You play an undying blob of cells that take over a corpse, trying to escape a twisted dungeon filled with dangerous traps and a menagerie of foul monsters.
The game was a bit of a gamble for the devs Motion Twin, who had previously only made mobile and browser-based games. You can tell this was the game they’d always wanted to make, as there is a lavish attention to detail in every aspect of the project. The game has been a massive and well deserved success.
I’ve played the game for about thirty hours so far, and I’ve still not unlocked everything, or even beaten the game yet. However, with a multitude of weapons and perks every run is different from the last, and it’s similar to Binding of Isaac where you have to adapt your strategies depending on what you find in the dungeon.
Motion Twin continues to support the game, and there are beta and alpha versions which are constantly being tweaked with new content, updates, and balances. There’s a very active community, and I can’t wait to see how the game will grow and develop over time.
If you’re a fan of hard-as-nails, but super rewarding, roguelikes: grab your sword, jump in, and git gud.
Pete Taylor - Red Dead Redemption 2
It’s been a pretty solid year for gaming with some top quality titles hitting the shelves. To pick just one title is a tough ask and no matter which one I choose there’s a handful of others that I could put in the spot if I wanted to. However, like Highlander, there can be only one and for me I can’t look past Red Dead Redemption II. I’m probably not alone in this opinion but no matter how many ways I dissected 2018’s gaming calendar it was always the same conclusion.
It’s not a perfect game by any stretch. The combat is a touch clunky, movement feels about as delicate as an elephant walking on eggshells and I could do without the online nonsense. Though the positives far outweigh the negatives. The blank slate that is Arthur Morgan allowed me to be whatever outlaw I wanted to be in an environment which never ceased to take my breath away. Rob nailed it in his review (see link above) when he wrote about the “pitch perfect” voice acting, it sucks you in to Rockstar’s richly built world and never lets go. Combining this with its beautiful and stunning scenery and a myriad of side attractions it’s a world you can get completely lost in.
I never completed the first Red Dead Redemption, mostly because I spent my days gambling at the poker table and collecting wanted contracts if I ran out of money. The same thing is happening again, only this time it’s in a world so well constructed and beautiful that I forget any worries that I may have and that’s when it hits you: true escapism. This, for me, is what gaming is all about.
Daniel Garrod - Ashen
Maybe it’s a feeling exclusive to those who clutch their Xboxes with fervour — but 2018 has felt oddly like it was in a holding pattern.
That is not to say there hasn’t been a glut of amazing games (there are plenty of high scores in the Jump Dash Roll archives which would testify to the quality released this year), but there has been an overarching sense that Microsoft has spent the year building foundations for something bigger. There just feels like an odd sort of tension which is hard to place. So, for me, gaming-wise it’s been an ‘OK’ year - all the fun seemed to be on the horizon.
And then Ashen came along in very early December.
It’s not perfect (review incoming!), but it's without a shadow of a doubt my game of the year. There is something about its tranquility in the face of its brutal Dark Souls-esque combat that gripped me in a way that no other game has done this year. It’s incredibly stylish, suitably taxing, and with a beautiful Shakespearean weight to the lore and voice acting it just feels so damn good.
I know that so many will ponder why this beats Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War to the post when both are incredible, high calibre, games — but Ashen achieves what so, so many games fail to — it captures your imagination and sits cozily over your shoulders like a warm familiar blanket. Its confidence resides in its world, not in its technical achievements and that’s a level of storytelling that, I believe, has been sorely missing in modern gaming of late.
And it's that storytelling that makes me excited for 2019.
Matt Jordan - Shadow of the Colossus
For me, in a year that has pushed out a good number of engaging AAA and indie titles alike, I’m a bit surprised to realise that my favourite release of 2018 is actually a remake of an older title — Shadow of the Colossus. Bluepoint Games took the 2005 classic and recreated it from scratch, and the results are phenomenal.
Being a remake, Shadow of the Colossus obviously hasn’t broken any new ground, but instead is a deserved celebration of a unique, beautiful game. The themes of nature, tradition, and humanity’s destructive nature are as timeless as the overgrown shrines you encounter in-game: thirteen years has not dulled any part of my experience of Shadow of the Colossus.
It plays and feels exactly the same as the original, but each asset is fully realised in glorious current-gen graphics — and with draw distances that increased my sense of wonder and dread when galloping across the Forbidden Land. The musical score is still haunting and powerful, the colossi are still breathtaking to encounter, and the lonely companionship of Wander and his horse, Agro, is still one of my favourite understated character pairings in gaming.
Throw in unlockable concept art and new items which actually add to the game experience instead of distracting from it, and I’m pleased to say that 2018 produced the unthinkable — a remake which turned out to be a ‘must play’, instead of a ‘nice to have’.
Kate Fanthorpe - Shape of the World
Out of all the games I played this year, only one truly took me by surprise. Shape of the World, a procedurally generated walking simulator cast in psychedelic colours, is the work of VFX artist Stu Maxwell. The short game that released in June this year is Maxwell’s passion project, quite a contrast from the AAA shooters he worked on as lead VFX artist at The Coalition.
In this walking simulator the presence of the player is what populates the world; with each step, mountains unfold, trees spring up and small life forms suddenly scuttle past. Collecting seeds scattered at random is the only clear game mechanic, otherwise it’s up to you to progress through each environment as fast or as slowly as you wish.
To move between environments players must make their way to neon triangles at far off points on the map. Once near the portals, the player is propelled through them, into a world with slightly altered rules and an entirely different colour palate.
While not all reviewers were struck by the experience, by the end of the three-hour runtime I felt myself growing unexpectedly emotional. Floating high above a world I had made but still had little control over, as large whale-like creatures sailed past me, I really felt the weightlessness of being in that strange sky. I may not have ever really understood what I was meant to be doing, but the experience of just being there has been playing on my mind ever since.
Steve McCullough - Two Point Hospital
Successful sequels are rare beasts indeed; it’s such a tricky act to bottle the magic that made the first iteration so great and reproduce it on cue. It’s been over two decades since oddball hospital management sim Theme Hospital was released, but it has remained a fan favourite all this time. Led by original devs Mark Webley and Gary Carr, the new team at Two Point Games have brought their quirky, amusing game bang up-to-date with a stack of improvements and no drawbacks. All new crazy illnesses, a host of hospitals with different objectives and stereotypically awful hospital radio DJs are but a handful of new additions.
It’s a welcome return of the kind of quintessentially British gaming humour that used to be a cornerstone of the industry and has been missing from the usual run of po-faced gritty triple-A releases. This year there have probably been games I have been more invested in, or sunk more time into, but no game made me laugh this year more than Two Point Hospital. We can only hope that inevitable future remasters live up to this standard.
Mobile Game of the Year: Florence
It’s short and sorely lacking in what any purist would label ‘real gameplay’, but at the same time it stands out and makes us consider the possibilities of the medium. A tale of one girl’s brief but intense relationship released on Valentine’s Day, every single action taken unavoidably ties your heartstrings to the unfolding events. Florence Yeoh faces trials both life-changing and mundane as she finds her way through young adulthood, centering around her chance encounter in the street with cellist Krish.
The necessary participation you have in these events through a series of linked puzzles and mini-games means you are unavoidably right there with her. Paired with a beautiful yet playful piano and cello led soundtrack by Kevin Penkin, Florence is a wonderful, wordless story that you can’t help but emotionally engage with.
2018 offered up a mix of indie gems and full-on AAA classics. But do you agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments what your favourite game of the year was!