The 20 Best Games You Probably Missed in 2018

Spotlighting the unsung heroes of the year, from a parenting sim to card adventure games, and beyond.

Deep breath now: the year is almost over. 2019 is just a few weeks away; 2018 is already popping up in our collective rear view mirror. The end is really here, at last.

You'll find our site's Top 20 next week, and our personal lists will follow the week after while we're all away for the holidays. Still, there are many games that slip through the cracks; the games that don't necessarily get all the praise and admiration that they deserve. That's why, as we did last year, we've put together another list of excellent underrated games you should make time to check out, should they capture your interest. From throwback shooters to a game about cleaning houses, these are the best games you probably missed in 2018.

Cultist Simulator

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Get It Here: Steam

2018, in general, was a year of a lot of "this is a great addition to this genre." So little was it, "I've never played anything like this before." Luckily, Cultist Simulator was one of the latter. It's an adventure game at its core, but looking at it you wouldn't believe it is. You see, it's also a card game, but you're dealing in choices and narrative directions. Your goal in Cultist Simulator is to rise your way up in a cult—cultivating it, essentially. It's twisty, turny, and best of all, poses more challenges than you might anticipate. You think about your moves logically, as you would with a card game. Cultist Simulator is absolutely essential playing if you like card games or adventure games, or better yet, both!

Recommended If You Like: Card games, documentaries about cults

Dandara

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
Get It Here: Steam

In Dandara, you never run. It's a metroidvania where you jump to your heart's content. You leap off walls, ceilings, floors; it's how you get around. In Dandara, you play as the titular heroine fighting back against the evildoers of her world. It's a timely-feeling sort of game too, given the big theme of it being fighting back against oppression. After all in 2018, there's no better way to spend your time than battling the establishment.

Recommended If You Like: Metroidvanias with a twist, fighting back against The Man

Desert Child

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Get It Here: Steam

I don't think there's a game this year that's cooler than Desert Child. Desert Child literally oozes coolness, from its environment design to the fact that you can go vinyl shopping for whatever other lo-fi hip-hop you'd want to have playing as you walk around Mars. It's a future-set game, only it has a lot more in common with the likes of Cowboy Bebop than Star Trek. (Which makes sense, given a recent trailer was an homage to the Cowboy Bebop opening.) In Desert Child, you navigate life as a motorbike racer: you fix up your bike, you save up money for parts to gear up your bike and for food. You navigate seedy operations from people far richer than you, or sometimes you just deliver pizzas. Oh yeah, and you race and shoot your way across landscapes to the tune of some killer music.

Recommended If You Like: Side-scrolling shooters, Cowboy Bebop

Dusk

Platforms: PC
Get It Here: Steam

Dusk has been in Steam Early Access for a hot minute, but this year it finally emerged to 1.0. Dusk is probably best described as if Quake and Doom and every other shooter from the 90s had a baby, and that baby was born with a shotgun in their hand. It's a first-person shooter in the same low-poly style, but that doesn't hold it back from feverish greatness. The pace is fast, the challenge is prominent, the modes beyond its campaign are present. Dusk has everything you could ask for, making for a victorious release far away from its early days in Early Access. P.S. At E3, it was confirmed to be coming to Nintendo Switch too.

Recommended If You Like: Shooters from the 1990s, good shotguns

Exapunks

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Get It Here: Steam

Zachtronics games definitely have a barrier to entry, but boy, if they aren't damn-well designed puzzle games. Exapunks, the follow-up to last year's excellent Opus Magnum, outfits you as a retired hacker who has to take up their old cape for essential medicine—medicine that will hault you from turning into a computer, basically. You learn your hacking skills through reading zines—yes, zines—and then you take that knowledge to write viruses to enact the perfect virtual heists. Oh yeah, and it has multiplayer too, where you write programs and run it to try and take out your opponent. Never has a game captured the nitty-gritty of hacking since Blendo Games' Quadrilateral Cowboy. That should serve as recommendation enough.

Recommended If You Like: Hacking, Zachtronics games

Far: Lone Sails

Platforms: PC, Mac
Get It Here: Steam

You would think, judging from the name, that post-apocalyptic worlds are lonely. So often though, they are not, but Far: Lone Sails remedies that. In Far: Lone Sails it's just you, your clunky landship that you continuously upgrade, and a lot of desolate landscapes. You learn more about the world the more you travel, and it's a slow but steady crawl to the end. Sometimes you must pause to overcome obstacles, but mostly, you're always on the move. It's a meditative sort of experience.

Recommended If You Like: Chill games, zombie-less post-apocalypses

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

Platforms: PlayStation 4
Get It Here: Amazon

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise was one of those games that was doubtful to release beyond Japan. Localization was zeroed in on the successful Yakuza series, but its brethren from the same developers seemed too niche for western audience. Against the odds though, Sega went for it: and Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise released this fall. Mechanically, it plays and feels very similar to Yakuza, only it's a lot bloodier, and it captures the zaniness of the manga and anime series it's based on. Oh yeah, and contrary to the Yakuza series, it's fully dubbed too, making everyone in the subs versus dubs debate happy for once.

Recommended If You Like: Yakuza games, buff dudes fighting

Forgotton Anne

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Get It Here: Amazon

Forgotton Anne has the art of a Studio Ghibli movie, and well, the heart of one too. In Forgotton Anne, you control Anne the Enforcer. Anne is one of the only humans in a land where inanimate objects come to life. The objects, forgotten back in the real world, are basically given a new lease on life. Forgotton Anne is a choice-driven adventure game, with the usual morality binaries, as well as more dramatic choices that you're employed to make throughout. With excellent storytelling, voice acting, and an adventure that will grip you through to the end (and even tug on your heartstrings a little), Forgotton Anne is a game that shouldn't fall victim to the same fate as its inanimate things.

Recommended If You Like: 2D animation, adventure games

The Gardens Between

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Get It Here: Amazon

The Gardens Between seemed like one of those blink and you'll miss it games. After some early hype surrounding its trailers and GIFs, it quietly released back in September. It's a far more clever game than it seemed it would be, bending its time traveling mechanic to solve puzzles in ways beyond just going forwards and backwards in time. It's a pleasantly short little adventure too, painting the story of two neighborhood friends, and the rift that's building between them. The art style may be a little twee, but even if that's not your jam, the puzzles of The Gardens Between are nice enough to spend an afternoon with.

Recommended If You Like: Clever puzzle games, pastel color palettes

House Flipper

Platforms: PC, Mac
Get It Here: Steam

House Flipper has the vibe of a horror game. In it, your only goal is to clean up derelict houses, and then flip them for hot cash. It's HGTV's Flip or Flop, only you're the hosts. Also, the houses are horrifying. Some look like squatters have been living there for years. Others are falling apart, from torn wallpaper to lots of leaks. Others have the aftermath of a college party written all over it. But with simple tools, you slowly but surely scrub it clean. It's a great game to play while listening to podcasts, as you enter into a zen-state and ensure a house is spotless before you start remodeling and redecorating it. House Flipper may not look like much, but it is sure to make a home restorer of you yet.

Recommended If You Like: Cleaning, listening to podcasts while playing games

La-Mulana 2

Platforms: PC, Mac
Get It Here: Steam

13 years after the original release of La-Mulana, the cult action-adventure game finally got its sequel from the original developer, Takumi Naramura. The game stars the previous one's daughter, and you explore not just the ruins of La-Mulana, but of new environment Eg-Lana. Contrary to most action-centric metroidvania platformers, La-Mulana 2 has a heavy puzzle element in solving its many riddles. For those that love a brutal and thought-provoking challenge, look no further than La-Mulana 2. Plus, it's coming to Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One in spring 2019 too.

Recommended If You Like: The first La-Mulana, solving mysteries

Lucah: Born of a Dream

Platforms: PC, Mac
Get It Here: Steam

Lucah: Born of a Dream is an action-RPG with one of the most memorable art styles of the year. It looks like something a young kid in grade school might dream of; etches and scratches that build into something chaotic and only slightly discernible. That's Lucah in a nutshell, and it matches its dark world and intense combat. The latter is where the action-RPG side really comes in: you can customize Virtues which net you different abilities, as well as different attack styles, Familiars for elemental magic, and more. At first glance, Lucah may not look like it'd offer deep combat, but against the odds, it does wholeheartedly.

Recommended If You Like: Unique action, relatively short RPGs

MapleStory 2

Platforms: PC
Get It Here: Steam

There was a time where it seemed like MapleStory 2 would never release in the States. And yet, three years after its debut in Korea, the free-to-play MMORPG made its way west. It's a lovely thing too, because MapleStory 2 is cute, overwhelmingly customizable, and best of all, a fun world to spend time in. The community is massive too, and even though it came here late with nothing more than a whisper in the wider game community, it's persisted just fine.

Recommended If You Like: Chill build-'em-ups, the first MapleStory from the early 2000s

Marble It Up

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
Get It Here: Steam

Maybe you remember the Marble Blast series from its days on early 2000s PCs, or maybe you remember it from when Marble Blast Gold hit Xbox Live Arcade many years later. Regardless, the marble rolling series became something of a cult hit. Marble It Up is something of a spiritual successor to those games, with even a key creator of them serving as executive producer. Marble It Up brings marble-based gameplay back to the current generation, and the 40 maps you roll, bounce, and boost across are a sight to behold. Marble It Up is one of those sorts of games that you don't know you want until you have it.

Recommended If You Like: The Marble Blast series, Super Monkey Ball

The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Get It Here: Steam

The Missing is the most morbid platformer I've seen in recent memory. It's a game that has no death state, but when you bump into things that usually you'd take damage from in another game, you instead here lose a part of your body. To solve traversal puzzles, you find yourself purposefully injuring and mutilating yourself, such as to tear off an arm to throw up and knock down a box, to progress. The story itself is harrowing too, as you're on a quest to find your presumed girlfriend who has gone missing.

Recommended If You Like: Platformers with a twist, meaningful stories

Nintendo Labo

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Get It Here: Amazon (Variety Kit), Best Buy (Vehicle Kit)

Okay, so everyone's probably heard of Nintendo Labo, unlike most of this list. And yet, it kind of just disappeared this year. It released, sold moderately, and vanished before releasing another expansion pack earlier in autumn. That's not to say Nintendo Labo isn't worth picking up though. Sure, it will clutter your living room with cardboard, but the creations you build are really fun to construct—especially if you have kids. The latest pack, the Toy-Con Vehicle Kit, is the best of the bunch. It basically gives players what The Crew 2 also did: a lot of vehicles to drive around in. The minigames in the pack aren't bad either. I'm curious to see if in 2019 Nintendo continues to support Nintendo Labo, but in the meantime, it's a neat experiment that I hope to see more of.

Recommended If You Like: Arts and crafts, playing games with kids

One Hour One Life

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Get It Here: One Hour One Life site

In One Hour One Life, from developer Jason Rohrer, every minute is a year gone by, with one hour's time to live total. The older you get, the more self-sufficient you are. But also, the more selfless you should probably become, to help ensure others' success. That's the key conceit of One Hour One Life: it's multiplayer. As a baby, you can barely do more than crawl and can't even type into the in-game chat (because what baby can type?). Maybe an adult—as in, another player—sees your hopelessness though and starts to take care of you. And that's where the beauty of One Hour One Life comes in: where it's part civilization builder, part parenting sim, and a hundred percent about mutual love and community building. And every week, Rohrer adds something new to the mix. We don't get multiplayer games like this often.

Recommended If You Like: Parenting, multiplayer games about communities

Save Me Mr. Tako

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
Get It Here: Steam

Save Me Mr. Tako is an adorable platformer that's an homage to Game Boy games. In it, you play as Mr. Tako, an octopus who believes in pacifism contrary to the humans and octopi in the world. With Kirby-like powers and spittable ink, Mr. Tako embarks on a quest to save and unite the world. He's a noble little guy, and while there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about Save Me Mr. Tako, it's really just an earnest little platformer taking retro inspiration from a handheld that so often doesn't get its due in modern games. That alone makes it worth the adventure.

Recommended If You Like: Game Boys, Kirby games

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Get It Here: Steam

CD Projekt Red's newest game really snuck up on us, didn't it? It snuck up on the world so much that its once GOG-exclusiveness was quietly cast away weeks after its release. Thronebreaker is a standalone Gwent-driven RPG, and was once set to be coupled in with Gwent as its campaign for its big standalone release. About a month prior to Gwent: The Witcher Card Game's exit from perpetual beta though, CD Projekt Red revealed that Thronebreaker had gotten much bigger, much more ambitious, and thus, deserved its own paid release. Even if "card-based RPG" sends a shiver up your spine, don't let that deter you: Thronebreaker takes the Gwent mechanic, and molds it to fit the RPG framework. Through Gwent, you solve puzzles, you battle monsters, you outwit enemies. Thronebreaker's Gwent-infused combat never gets old.

Recommended If You Like: The Witcher (duh!), digital card games

Two Point Hospital

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Get It Here: Steam

Two Point Hospital is one of those sorts of games that's huge if you know which corners of the internet and the world to look. A spiritual successor to the late 1990s game Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital has you taking control of a hospital. There's a catch though: this isn't a normal hospital, and everyone gets struck with silly illnesses. And it's up to you to help care for them, be it for having an "Emperor Complex" (walking around naked) or having literal lightheadedness (a lightbulb for a head). Two Point Hospital is the best sort of simulation game because it never takes itself too seriously.

Recommended If You Like: Silly games, Theme Hospital

Of course, there's no doubt that we still missed some notable games that were devoid of any sort of online chatter or hype this year. Let us know in the comments what your favorites of the year were that didn't get as much attention as they deserved!

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