This was quite a year for gaming. In addition to a swath of excellent 2019 releases, I received my Switch at the tail end of 2018 which opened my world up to new games and new gaming possibilities. I think I played nearly twice as many games as I did last year as a result. It was a lot of fun, and I had a harder time narrowing my tops of 2019 to a list of only 10. Here are my top 10 games released in 2019, with honourable mentions:
Outer Wilds: when I was a kid I loved a game called Cosmic Osmo and the Worlds Beyond the Mackeral. It was unlike anything else I had played at the time and I think the strength of its appeal was a mix between a fantastical world and a deep sense of exploration and discovery. I’ve spent my whole life chasing the feeling that I had when first playing Cosmic Osmo. I’ve seen more than one critic and commentor say that Outer Wilds reminds them of Myst. I think that is accurate in many ways. For me, however, Outer Wilds feels like another Cyan game, namely Cosmic Osmo. For the first time in three decades I feel like a game has recaptured the magic that I found in Cosmic Osmo. Outer Wilds is all about exploring a mysterious and wonderful world in anyway I see fit. It’s melancholic yet joyous and mysterious while illuminating.
Sayonara Wild Hearts: this game is pure ecstatic joy, a game that is distilled affect that hits you in every part of your being. Along with Outer Wilds, Sayonara Wild Heart is the game that hit me right in the feels. I devoured the game in one sitting and then played it all over again. Just as Outer Wilds made me feel like a kid discovering Cosmic Osmo, Sayonara Wild Hearts brought me right back to the first time I put a quarter into S.T.U.N. Runner. Sayonara Wild Hearts captures the exhilaration and combines it with a phenomenal pop soundtrack and a simple yet heartfelt story.
Knights and Bikes: when I backed Knights and Bikes I did so based on the fact that the devs came from studios MediaMolecule and Insomniac, two companies that have made some of my absolute favourite games. So I expected a decent game. What I got when it was released this year was a poignant story wrapped in stunning hand drawn artwork with a banging soundtrack and very enjoyable co-op gameplay. Ness and Demelza are instantly lovable and it feels bittersweet leaving them behind on the island of Penfurzy when the game ends.
A Short Hike: I had the chance to play this at TCAF this year and to meet the dev. I was hooked after only a few minutes of gameplay. I love the serene relaxing setting of the game, the laidback nature of its quests and story and it’s wonderful low poly aesthetic. A Short Hike captures the essence of slowing down and taking in your surroundings. My partner and I also love going camping and hiking so I appreciate how effectively a Short Hike captures and distils the experience of losing yourself on a good hike.
Card of Darkness: Zach Gage and Pendleton Ward collaborated on a game. Hook me up to the IV cause I need to mainline this shit. Seriously though Card of Darkness is as fun and quirky as Adventure Time and plays exactly like a smartly designed Zach Games game should play. I hit a lot of walls while played but never felt deterred. I was sad that the game came to an end because I could play this game forever.
Untitled Goose Game: there is no finer pleasure in life than watching a goose torment the little kid in this game except, of course, unless you are the goose tormenting the kid. Untitled Goose Game is mischief raised to an art form. Fun on your own and fun in groups. A masterpiece.
Super Mario Maker 2: the first Mario Maker is one of the absolute best games of this decade and the sequel is even better. It’s astounding that Nintendo was able to make a game design engine so simple that even I can make fully functioning SMW levels. And bonus points for all the exceptional Grouvee member made levels that I had the fortune and pleasure to play this year.
Ape Out: when the credits rolled I was transfixed. What had I just played? A perfect marriage of musical timing and gameplay like nothing I’ve experienced before. All in a minimalistic styling that is aesthetically triumphant. Absolutely brilliant.
Heave Ho: this is a surprise late addition, and is my new favourite co-op game. I laughed so hard while playing this that I was in stitches, and so was my partner. It’s absolutely silly fun but also enjoyably challenging. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys couch co-op and needs a good laugh.
Gato Roboto: you are a cat in a mechanical suit with an arm canon. What more do you need for a game of the year? Oh yeah, there’s a doggo friend. Enough said. Okay, one more thing. Gato Roboto most closely resembles Return of Samus for GameBoy, a game that is one of my absolute favourite Metroid games to date. Gato Roboto pays homage to the monochrome aesthetic of Return to Samus and even captures the screen transitions that mimic the limited space the GameBoy could present the player. It’s a perfect homage in cute little kitty form.
Pikuniku: honestly you could swap Gato Robot out and Pikuniku in on my top ten above. Pikuniku is silly, strange, wacky and sweet. It’s a unique weird little adventure that everyone should play.
Katana Zero: the rewind mechanic turns quick action into a puzzle involving planning and precision. It also leads to some very satisfying room runs. The cliché story drags it down a bit but the soundtrack is one of the best this year.
Grindstone: like Card if Darkness, Grindstone is an enjoyable dungeon crawling puzzle game. 100 levels in is the sweet spot for this game. Unfortunately it continues on for another 50 levels without enough variation to keep it interesting. However it’s still overall enjoyable enough to warrant an honourable mention.
Pilgrims: a game with the usual whimsy if an Amanita game, complete with beautiful illustrations. It lacks a bit of the challenge of other Amanita games, however.
Killer Queen Black: a lot of fun with a large group of people. I have to stress that point. If you have eight friends to play with this is a killer game. If you don’t you’re stuck with bots or online players and neither are very much fun to play with.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan: a few years ago we played Until Dawn for Extra Life and had a blast. This year we played Supermassive’s newest game. It lacks a bit of the polish of Until Dawn but we still had a blast killing off…I mean saving the main characters.
Bleak Sword: this is a compelling game that plays like an 8-bit Dark Souls. Even more impressive is that it is a mobile game. The one knock I have against Bleak Sword is more a knock against the platform, because touch controls just aren’t responsive enough to do his game justice. Thankfully you can play using a controller paired with your iPhone/iPad.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fuelled: it’s not Mario Kart but CTR still has a lot of tricks up it’s sleeve and is great fun in a group for some old fashioned split-screen racing.
Creature in the Well: this game is beautiful aesthetically and combines hack-n-slash with pinball mechanics for some very enjoyable gameplay. What knocks it down to honourable mentions is the extreme difficulty spike at the end. It jumps from complex yet difficult to completely random. You’ll need more luck than skill to finish the game and that does the 99% of the game leading up to that point a disservice.
Jotun: exceptional hand drawn art and a fantastical tale woven with the threads of Norse Mythology. Combat takes some getting used to but once it clicks the game is quite enjoyable.
Anthem: yes it’s here. It’s an hour able mention. Despite everything that went wrong I loved me the movement and combat in this game. It stripped all the narrative out of typical BioWare games (unfortunately) but delivered on some stellar gameplay mechanics. It’s a shame there was no real end game to speak of. Here’s hoping that version 2.0 will fix all of the launch version’s problems.
Now for the best games I played in 2019, released in any year (except 2019, as with last year I will leave out games last year to avoid crossover with my previous list). As with my top 10 games released in 2019, I played quite a number of games so it was tough narrowing it down to a small selection.
Games released prior to and played in 2019 (in no particular order):
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: I nearly bounced of this game early on. I liked Kassandra quite a bit but the game felt far to big to ever complete. I took a break and returned to it in brief stints throughout the year. I started to ignore the procedurally generated side quests and focused on the main story. Eventually I was hooked, maybe more than with any previous AC. The Fate of Atlantis DLC solidifies Odysee as my favourite in the series, reliving more Isu content than I could have previously imagined. By the end of the game Kassandra is an imortal Demi-god and the game does an amazing job making you feel as powerful as that sounds. Rather than leaving me exhausted by the end Odyssey is also the first AC game I immediately wanted to replay.
Hollow Knight: ahh, what a game. Whenever I think about it I hear Christopher Larkin’s haunting soundtrack play in my mind and I scan over the many forlorn and melancholic spaces of the game. Hollow Knight May very well be the best action platformer / Metroidvania ever made and it certainly deserves the title. It’s no suprise that the sequel Silksong is the game launch I am most excited for. I lost myself in this game and I would lose myself again and again. If only I could do something to help Myla during one of those runs.
Celeste: this is the game that prompted me to buy a d-pad for my Switch. Thank god I do because there are some passages that are nearly impossible with the Switch’s analogue stick. That’s not a critique of the game just an observation that Celeste requires some intense precision platforming. It’s a game that offers an intense challenge while respecting the player and their time. It also has a storyline that resonated with me deeply adding additional layers to the already enjoyable platforming. The first Matt Thorson game I ever played was the PICO version of Celeste so I was quite excited for this significant reimagining of Celeste. I was not disappointed.
Cuphead: it’s hard, it looks amazing and is probably the game that my partner and I have collectively played the most. The challenge is an absolute thrill and the art work is an attempt to recapture the early days of Fleischer and Disney animation (albeit minus the more problematic elements of that era, for good and ill).
Horizon Chase Turbo: I received this free from PS+ and thought nothing of it when I first downloaded it to my PS4. Little did I know I’d love it so much I’d buy a copy for my Switch. Horizon Chase Turbo captures everything great about old arcade racers like Outrun and TopGear, right down to the music. It updates the gameplay but maintains a gorgeous low poly aesthetic that works impeccably well. It’s just so much fun to play and is something that’s easy to pick up an play in short or long stints.
Chocobo Mystery Dungeon: Everybody: Chocobos are the cutest. Okay, maybe Moogles are the cutest. It doesn’t matter, this game has both, and the best part is that the cute little Chocobos get to pay Final Fantasy dress up. What is future than a White Mage Chocobo? Nothing, that’s what. Chocobo Mystery Dungeon is also surprisingly challenging and not for those who hate a grind. But if you like cute Chocobos wearing cute costumes in an old school RPG grind, this game is for you!
Tacoma: I don’t know if Fullbright topped Gone Home, but they certainly tried and it shows. The investigation mechanics in Tacoma are unique while also evoking games like Return to Zork and Myst. I thoroughly enjoyed parsing through different conversation records and assembling the pieces to Tacoma’s puzzle. A nice addition once you complete the game is the commentary mode with information from the devs. The behind the scenes peak through their interviews and conversation was illuminating and enjoyable. I look forward to whatever they do next.
The Gardens Between: this seems to be a year during which I played a few games with rewind or similar time mechanics. The Gardens Between employs this not for action but to explore a symbolic representation of the relationship of two exceptionally close friends. The Gardens Between tugs at your heartstrings while you navigate intricate puzzles requiring you to manipulate time and space.
Crypt of the Necrodancer: I typically suck at rhythm games, but Crypt of the Necrodancer is too good to give up on. I’ve had this for Vita for some time, and the Chipzel remix of the soundtrack actually made my top five albums on Spotify in 2018. So with the launch of Cadence of Hyrule I thought it time to give this one a serious try. Boy did I love it and I can’t wait to get my hands on Cadence of Hyrule.
Minit: like Outer Wilds Minit gives you a set amount of time (a minute rather than twenty-two of them) to solve a complex puzzle that pays homage to games like Link’s Awakening. It’s a clever game that requires you to complete tasks within a minute and to slowly build a path to the end, minute by minute. Just as Gato Roboto references GameBoy Metroid, Minit does a great job paying homage to GameBoy era Zelda, which is most welcome.
Ori and the Blind Forest: a beautiful game with a simple but effective story, stunning visuals and enjoyable exploration. The Somewhat ill fitting escape gauntlets unfortunately detract from what is otherwise a near perfect game. I do look forward to the sequel.
Floor Kids: a breakdance battle game from Kid Koala, Floor Kids is a fantastic party game to play with friends with fun mechanics and great music from Kid Koala. I also suck at this game so everyone takes pleasure in being able to beat me at a co-op game
Steven Universe: Save the Light: a perfect follow up to the original Attack the Light for mobile. It’s an imperfect game but still a lot of fun to play, especially for Steven Universe fans.
Haunt the House: Terrortown: this game would not have even been on my radar if not for Grouvee member @8bithero. So thank you for this game, it was ghastly fun. The mechanics are simple but scaring people never grows old and the game aesthetic is adorable. Highly recommended for anyone looking for soooky games to play next Halloween.
Neverending Nightmares: designed by Matt Gilgenbach who drew from his personal experiences with OCD and depression, Neverending Nightmares is a frieghtening exploration of ones’ deepest fear all through the lease of an Edward Gory inspired aesthetic. I won’t lie, this game stressed me out more than a few times which I think was its intention. It’s not something I would say is fun to play, but is definitely worthwhile.
GENDERWRECKED: a fascinating exploration of gender expression and identification through and almost zine-like approach to storytelling and aesthetic. Highly recommended to anyone who has ever thought about gender constructs and expression/presentation.
Dead Cells: aesthetically gorgeous, with exceptional combat. My only reservation about Dead Cells is that it tends to sag a bit in the middle before a sudden difficult spike that reinvigorates the game making it fun to play again for a brief moment before returning to the same sag and endless tedium. It’s a game with ideas that are grander than the execution, but still ultimately worth playing.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy: you’ve probably heard this a lot, that Lost Legacy is the best Uncharted. It’s probably because it’s short and sweet and has some phenomenal voice acting by Claudia Black and Laura Bailey. Their chemistry is compelling. They sell you on their characters effectively and set a tone that carries the whole narrative. While I do like Nathan and Sully, Chloe and Nadine give them a run for best game duo. The length of the game is also a plus because it never overstays its welcome, which is true of some of the other instalments (I’m looking at you, Drake’s Fortune).
Butterfly Soup: another great game that explores gender expression and sexuality. Butterfly Soup is a bit rough around the edges but is earnest and heartfelt, doing a stellar job exploring ideas and identities often forgot about in mainstream gaming.
Pan-Pan: short and insanely adorable while sometimes maddeningly obtuse, Pan-Pan might not be for everyone but is something I thoroughly enjoyed. I wish the game was a bit longer but I appreciate it is from a very small dev. I like SPELKRAFT’s work so far and want to check out their follow up Run Gun Sports.
Steamworld Dig 2: a thoroughly enjoyable followup to SteamWorld Dig. Although I enjoyed the original a bit more this is a great sequel with great platforming gameplay.
And my ten favorite games I played this year that came out earlier:
Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Made my inner child very happy.
One of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played.
Metroid Prime (via Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii)
New controls helped me conquer old demons.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth
Wonderful send-off for the 3DS.
Beautiful iteration of my favorite Mizuguchi game.
Ristar (via Sega Genesis Classics on Switch)
My new favorite non-Sonic Genesis platformer.
Shenmue I & II HD
With mods on PC, a wonderful way to revisit these classics before the third game released.
Spyro the Dragon (via Reignited Trilogy on Switch)
I personally feel that this game deserves to stand alongside Super Mario 64 as a pioneer of 3D platforming. Impressed me back then and still does today.
Once I got past the controls I saw what made this game resonate with so many people.
What Remains of Edith Finch
A varied and beautifully told story.
Your writeups are thorough and a delight to read. Thanks for all your contributions to the site and community in 2019!
Any list that shouts out Sayonara Wild Hearts is a good list in my book. I thought I knew what to expect by halfway through the game, yet it kept throwing twists to the gameplay and surprising me in ways I never expected. And the ending came out of nowhere for me and genuinely moved me emotionally. What a game. All while being in a format that seems genuinely new format and style for game (truly a pop album video game)!
Disco Elysium: The best game of the 21st century so far and the second best game of all time after Deus Ex. Amazing character development, dialogue, worldbuilding, story, music, et cetera. Every future RPG will be held to the standard set by Disco Elysium - and come up short. It looks beautiful too. And the way it completely subverts your expectations in a good way… wow. I’ve written over 400 reviews here (401 to be exact!) and i haven’t been able to find the words for this game.
The Outer Worlds: Really good RPG soured by some terrible gameplay elements. When you think about it Obsidian is pretty bad at designing gameplay. Full review.
Borderlands 3: I quite liked this but only got about halfway through, in part because it takes several minutes to boot for some reason. Solid continuation of BL2, though not quite as fresh. Also i wish they would make their games less linear, especially the start. Just the fact that you have to listen to half an hour of dialogue early on makes me not want to try a new character. Plus you can’t even skip the fucking intro movie? Wtf?
Apex Legends: I find Battle Royale really boring. It doesn’t help that you can be resurrected in this game so you have to sit around waiting for your team to do that in order not to screw them over.
I’ve played 119 games in 2019. The ones i enjoyed the most that weren’t released that year:
Age of Wonders III: Probably my favourite “one more turn” 4X right now. Had to uninstall it to keep myself from playing it. Great turn-based combat a la XCOM combined with HOMM-style city-development and tons of variety offered by different classes, units, spells, alignments and the like. The AOW always feels so underrated.
Hitman 2: I’m at 220 hours in and still want to do a bunch of things. This was #3 on my list of “games of the decade”, it’s just so much fun to mess with the AI and find out all the little secrets on the maps.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided i got this for about €3 (iirc) and it’s one of my all-time favourite games. Explore nice big maps and mess with people. Love it.
Fallout 4: I think FO4 got an undeserved bad reputation. It’s no FNV and it certainly has its problems, but it’s so much fun. Building up settlements really makes it feel like you’re actually changing things for the better. There’s a ton of nice quests and neat details like skeletons posed in certain ways. The mods are absolutely mindblowing too, like Sim Settlements which lets the AI build anything from merely an interior of a house to an entire city. I’m definitely going to try the Horizon survival-based TC too.
Bloons TD 6: Great Tower Defense game that i’ve already spent way too much time on. It’s such a vast improvement over BTD5 it’s hard to believe its the same series. The crazy powerful Tier 5 towers are delightful.
I think MD is the best Deus Ex game by a fair margin. Prague is just much more interesting than… erm… Montreal? LA? looks it up Oh yeah, Detroit. Generally there was more of everything - space to explore, augments, secrets, bugs. I played through it several times and kept finding new things. The verticality of the ARC HQ was also refreshing. And despite crashing half a dozen times the prison DLC in DXMD was great.
So yeah, i thought MD was an improvement. See also my top 10 of the 10s here:
I agree that it is a better designed game, especially given the ill fitting boss fights in Human Revolution, but it felt like MD somewhat nullified the impact of the first game, gave us a fairly milquetoast allegory for racism and the civil rights movement via the plight of the augs, and left the game on a so-so cliffhanger. I just felt that while the game play was fun, they could have invested more conviction in their storytelling.
Oh, i didn’t care much for the story in either HR or MD. I don’t even remember Darrow’s motivation. The whole robosegregation thing was a stupid idea, though the implementation was surprisingly effective. The cops harrassing you for taking the wrong train car, people constantly insulting you, the dystopian atmosphere - that all actually worked.
No way I can do a top 10 for the decade but for 2019? Here we go, in no particular order:
Devil May Cry 5 - I haven’t really taken the time to beat a DMC game save for DMC2 which came out during a bad time of my life, actual quality be damned. Fired up DMC5 expecting to just play for a few levels then put it down. Somehow, I beat the whole thing in a weekend and finished with a smile on my face. Now I want to go back and try to actually beat the other games… eventually.
Untitled Goose Game - One of the hooks for the GTA series for me is just creating mayhem from nothing. This game does that so well but throws in the fact that you’re a goose and makes things believably absurd in the process. Way too charming of a game and one I can gladly play over and over again.
Sayonara Wild Hearts - I was itching to play this one on my home theater setup and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. It was the first game I played on the Apple Arcade service and made me a believer thanks to the art style and oh so memorable music. I loved this so much that I bought it again on Switch and replayed it there to completion. A true gem of a title.
Cricket Through the Ages - If Sayonara Wild Hearts made me believe in Apple Arcade, this game made me keep Apple Arcade. The premise is dumb, the mechanics are random, and it becomes hard to do justice explaining what’s going on. However, hand someone a controller and they’ll instantly get hooked to the mayhem of floppy people throwing things badly at one another or trying to duel with random objects.
Super Mario Maker 2 - I liked the first game for the Wii U but I felt this was a big improvement in every way. The story mode was silly but produced some great levels and I absolutely adore the constant flow of content the players bring every day, especially with the new Zelda stuff in there. A great go to if I need something quick to play.
A Plague Tale: Innocence: I love a good story and this one hit hard with the sibling relationship, even if it did get a bit corny near the end. The stealth was excellent and every situation with the guards and rats was tense. I don’t think this got lots of attention when it first released but it certainly deserves a look from those more familiar with triple A studios just so they can see that the little guys can put up experiences that are sometimes better with a smaller budget.
Mortal Kombat 11: I love fighting games and I will admit that I have a soft spot for this series since I previously worked QA at Midway during the PS2 era. This one felt like Tekken 7 to me in that the mechanics were fluid but accessible enough to get anyone even with a mild interest in the genre willing to pick up a controller for at least a few rounds, getting decent at the game in the process. Another title that I initially picked up for PC but needed it on the Switch for fights on the go.
Tetris 99 - Battle Royale and Puzzle. Those are two genres that normally don’t go together but this title proved that you can do the mix and do it so well that you’ll always come back to it no matter what. Next to Tetris Effect, this is my preferred way to paly the game even if I’ve only ever won a match once… on my cousin’s Switch instead of on my own
What the Golf? - Yes, another silly game that plays so well. I actually like golf games but seeing a title like this play around drastically with golf mechanics and placing them in ridiculous situations makes me appreciate what they’ve done to keep things fresh. Well worth checking out.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 - Charming. That’s probably the best way to describe this RPG/Minecraft mashup. It is a very long journey to the end and despite not being a big Minecraft fan, I got hooked into the building aspect of things, especially once you start building the essentials like bathrooms. A surprise of a title I need to eventually finish.
There’s a few bonus games from me here like Cat Quest II, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Ape Out but I can’t speak about them at length since I never finished them. Nevertheless, highly recommended stuff from me.