These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Earlier this year, Alex came to the podcast with glowing praise for tiny smartphone game Part Time UFO. I’d been trying to find enjoyable mobile games to dig into, and when he mentioned that the game was developed by HAL Egg, the mobile division of HAL Laboratory and the minds behind Kirby, Earthbound, and Smash Bros., I was itching to play. In the game you command a cute, little UFO with an extendable claw, taking on a number of gigs to pick up and place objects in specific locations – what Western audiences would call a crane game or claw machine and Eastern audiences would call a UFO catcher.

Even on first blush, I could tell that this was a well-crafted package: the pixel art was adorable, the music was catchy, and the controls felt solid. There’s a virtual analog stick to direct the UFO and a virtual button to operate the claw. There’s also an option to use a one-finger control scheme that, while intriguing, works better as an accessibility option than a convenient way to play. But the first few levels were fun, so I kept playing, not knowing what I would find.

What starts out as a simple physics-based puzzle game unfurls into a series of precarious challenges, thoughtful puzzles, demanding time limits, and more. I was immediately sucked in by the optional objectives for each level, like making sure boxes were placed right side up and stacking other objects in the correct order. Each level has three of these extra achievements, and they typically include a time limit. By completing these goals, you earn extra money which helps you unlock unique outfits for your UFO. These outfits don’t just add a cosmetic flair, most also bring strategic benefits: faster movement, stronger claw control, and other smaller tweaks that can make the difference between succeeding and failing at your current objective.

Part Time UFO brings all of HAL Labs’ charm into a tight mobile game that branches out into challenges that will keep a player engaged all the way through to the last gig.