2019 has been a heck of a year; so many great games came out that it forced me to change the format of this list a bit. First off, there will be a short list of honorable mentions; a list of games I played this year and thoroughly enjoyed but were not in consideration for the top 10 for one reason or another. Then, that will be followed by the nearly list; a 5 games list that were considered for the top 10 list but got cut. These games will be elaborated on, but we’ll keep that to small descriptions because I’d like to think I have a life and shouldn’t spent all day making lists and playing games for those lists! Then, the main event: an alphabetically structured list of 8 games that could have been my number 3 in a ranked list, because all of these games deserve to be treated as such, followed by a ranked top 2 of the year 2019. Obviously, this is my list and my opinions, as well as this list being created from games that I had time to play this year; there are so many more games I would have liked to play like Borderlands 3, Disco Elysium, Resident Evil 2, Children of Morta, and Pathologic 2 just to name a few. Hopefully next year will involve me playing those games and tons more so I can create a list of games that were released this year that I will play next year (yes there were so many!), as well as the games of next year. Without further ado, happy holidays and here’s my list of games that I particurarly enjoyed in 2019.
- A short hike
- Apex Legends
- Baba is you
- Dicey Dungeons
- Golf Peaks
- Heave ho
- Luigi’s Mansion 3
- My friend Petro
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
- Sayonara Wild Hearts
- Tetris 99
- Untitled Goose Game
- Void Bastards
5 “nearly there” list (in no specific order):
- Ape Out:
I’ve played Ape Out for 3 hours in total and never really finished it; that’s not the reason I cut the game from the top 10 list. In fact, some games on that list, I have not finished nor do I think that I have to; a game can give you a worthwhile experience without ever needing to see credits and Ape Out is a prime (pun absolutely intended) example of such a game. It is a visual treat with stunning audio work and a gameplay loop that is as satisfying and entertaining, as it is memorable and fun; a huge standout for me though, has to be the variety the developers managed to include within a very simple premise. You are and will always be an ape breaking out of prison, destroying guards on your way to freedom, but how you get there, what foes you face, and where is always evolving and expanding; from single shot enemies to enemies with shotguns, armor, machine guns, and other gameplay-changing variables; from industrial labs to dark corridors and warehouses with exploding obstacles, Ape Out always has something new and exciting to challenge you with in every new level.
- Picross S3:
If time played was a deciding factor when it comes to my lists, Picross S3 would probably be in the top 2, but it is not. Picross has become one of my yearly addictions and this year’s iteration provided me with more Picross to feed my addiction; from regular Picross to MegaPicross and color Picross, Picross S3 was another great excuse to sink upwards of 50 hours solving every single puzzle without any assistance, and those are 50 hours I absolutely enjoyed. It’s not top 10 and Picross may never be, because even as someone who looks forward to more Picross every year, it is still more Picross and that’s not as exciting as other titles, but it is as necessary and worthwhile as any of them.
- Dandy Dungeon: The Legend of brave Yamada:
Onion games have become one of the most unique studios and Dandy Dungeon is a perfect summary for what makes earns them that reputation. A completely bonkers setting, a deceivingly simple gameplay loop, oozing with charm and character both in audiovisuals and writing; the definitive “2nd grade” game of the year. That’s not a diss by the way; 2nd grade refers to a game that does not require a playthrough strung together within days or weeks, and can be picked up again even after a few months of absence. The story is memorable because of how bonkers and “real” it is, the mechanic is instantly recognizable and with it comes all of the intricacies you’ve learned previously, and even loading up the home screen always gave me a feeling of having a family reunion and hearing my crazy and loud uncle enter the room; you know you’re going to have a type of fun you haven’t had since the last time you saw them and you’re not going to have again, until you meet them once more.
- The Bard’s Tale IV: Director’s Cut:
I’m not a huge retro gamer, so The Bard’s Tale IV was my biggest surprise of the year considering that I never played any of the Bard’s Tale games before and only downloaded it because it became part of the Xbox Game Pass library earlier this year and expected to play it for a couple of hours and never touch it again. Now, nearly 20 hours later it is still in my head as one of the games I want to finish the most; I adored the music (obviously), the sense of humor, the surprising depth of combat, and the visuals (from afar, at least). Out of all these games, this may be the one with the most “caveats”, but even then, what Bard’s Tale IV does, it does with so much style and proficiency, that those “caveats” don’t really matter to me.
- Gears 5:
When I set down my controller after I finished Gears of War 2 back in 2008, I felt like I had enough of this formula for now, so much so that I never played GoW 3 or Judgment. When Gears 4 released, I enjoyed it but never really thought about it ever since, and when the latter levels of that game came around, I felt fatigued like I’ve had enough of these games even though it was my first Gears game since 2008. Despite every flaw Gears 5 has (and there aren’t that many), despite every annoying time it has a great and bold idea that it immediately back peddles, I never got bored or disinterested on the game (whether that was the story, the mechanics, the pacing, the visuals, or the audio), so regardless of anything wrong with it, it is high praise that it made me care about a franchise I was so burned out on and it bums me out that it misses out on the top 10 because I had such a great time with it earlier this year.
My 10 favorite games of the year list:
Remedy is a weird studio: I’ve played every single one of their games, from the first two Max Payne games to Alan Wake and Quantum Break, and they are all fantastic (apart from Quantum Break which is neat). But despite this success, their games always have this X factor that makes them more unique than the sum of their parts; I hold them in high regard, partly due to their prowess as developers and partly because that X factor is just not present in other games. Control is a game centered around that X factor and it is by far my favorite game from Remedy; it is also the one I have the most problems with, but my memory of Control is not centered around some bad boss designs and occasionally clunky controls and sudden spikes of difficulty. Honestly, it’s not centered around the good bits either; I don’t really remember most of the documents I went out of my way to find, the trippy visuals and story, or the satisfying combat. What I will remember the most is that aura of mysticism, goofiness, and weirdness that engrosses every second of this game; it’s this aura that pushed me past the annoyances, that elevated the good parts, and that makes this game the most Remedy-ass game that exists thus far. It is a game built entirely around that X factor and it is a game that puts a name on it and defines what makes Remedy unique and worthy of immense respect; it is a game I enjoyed so much, that it is still installed on my Xbox simply because when the free DLC hits, I’m going to play it and I rarely if ever do that.
Stardew Valley is one of my favorite games of all time, but since its release I haven’t really found anything to scratch that itch; Graveyard Keeper was good but not what I was looking for, My Time at Portia was disappointing (especially with the performance issues on the Switch), and so many others I’ve tried that never reached the required level to engage me. Forager managed to be that game for me this year, by taking elements from different genres and bringing them together in a unique and wonderful package. Just like Stardew, Forager addicted me and consumed my free time for months when it released; it made me lean forward and glue my face, my focus, and consume my entire energy on its world every time I played, but when I finally managed to say “enough for today” (and actually mean it), I got out of my seat reinvigorated and rested. I absolutely love Forager, the story of its development, the game itself and how it proves that the best way to derive inspiration is not to copy, but to iterate and add personal touches, just like Stardew Valley did back in 2015.
- Pokémon Sword and Shield:
As with most people my age, I was really into Pokémon when I was young for the 1st and 2nd generations, before slowly losing my interest; as with most people that own phones, I got back into Pokémon when Pokémon Go launched a while back and never really let my interest fall off again. Long story short, I really wanted to play a mainline, “proper” Pokémon game for a while now and Pokémon Sword delivers on that want. Could it have been better? Sure, what game can’t be improved! Should it have been better? In some cases, yes – there are a few things that are problems other people have solved and Pokémon should have picked up on these solutions and intergrade them in their game as well. But this is the 1st Pokémon game to release on a Nintendo home console, and if it serves as a solid foundation for the team at GameFreak to learn and evolve, then I’m very happy with the end result. Regardless of what comes in the future, the game that we have in our hands now is a wonderful journey filled to the brim with sheer joy, charming character, smart iterations (although somewhat incomplete), the perfect vehicle for me to rediscover the magic and charm of Pokémon all over again, and an effective reminder of the fact that Pokémon games have fantastic soundtracks with Sword’s soundtrack being one of my favorite of the year.
- Slay the Spire:
Slay the Spire has been in early access for quite some time and, alongside Dead Cells, occupied a lot of my time last year and continued to occupy my time this year as well with its full 1.0 release. It is a game that can get just about anybody into deck building games; it is a game that can make most hardcore deck building fans a challenge and another great example of their preferred genre at its height. For my tastes, I just can’t help but admire and respect a game that I looked upon as a “chill” game that I would get into in between other “bigger” games, as a chance to listen to some music and relax a little, only to run out of songs on my playlist and be completely absorbed every time I started a run. This is one of those games that started as a game in-between others and ended up being the others I would need a break from! Even if the sound of rogue-like, procedurally generated games makes you nauseated from the many that have released throughout the years, this is one that is definitely worth your time and investment, because of its impeccable balance and ingenious mix of rogue-likes and deck-building games.
- Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order:
Just like Remedy, Respawn are a studio I have tremendous amount of respect for; originally created from Infinity Ward veterans (fresh out of their Modern Warfare success) they created the Titanfall games and the recently released Apex Legends. I never played the original Titanfall, but Titanfall 2 is one of my favorite games of all time; it not only has the best campaign in a shooter I have ever played, but it also got me engaged in its competitive multiplayer, which never happens with me! Even Apex Legends is a staggering achievement considering how much I used to loathe the Battle Royale genre, but now I have two Battle Royale games mentioned in this article. But, Star Wars is a whole different game, and considering the type of game they wanted to make, a whole different challenge; Jedi Fallen Order is an Action-Adventure game with Souls-like combat, Metroid-vania-like exploration elements, and narrative-focused, set in the Star Wars universe which makes it mandatory for people of all ages to be able to play and be appealing to. This is an extraordinarily difficult challenge from a studio that released two major titles this year (and was primarily known for creating shooters), yet somehow they did it; combat can be as brutal and challenging as you want, but even at the easiest level it still holds a challenge for those not familiar with the Souls-like combat and difficulty, without feeling punishing or unfair; it looks amazing and you can tell people who worked on this game are fans of the Star Wars franchise; the exploration is as satisfying and rewarding as in any other Metroid-vania title; even the bosses manage to ramp up the challenge and demand a test of skill that feels as epic and challenging as the any of the great lightsaber fights in the movies, but with you as the protagonist; the story is truly captivating and introduces some great characters (like the best droid in the universe, BD-1) and some familiar plot points, explored through different perspectives. I was deeply impressed that Respawn made a Souls-like game I could get into, but the fact that they made a Souls-like, Metroid-vania-esque, narrative heavy Star Wars game that most people will be able to get into and enjoy enough to get better and complete the game, is one of the most surprising and worthwhile achievements in the industry this year. Yes, there are some performance issues on the Xbox, some wanky and glitchy sections of platforming, and of course some people will find the game too hard or too easy, but at the end of the day, this to me is a fascinating take on a genre that prides itself on being “ultra-hardcore” and “extremely challenging”, that allows those feelings to still exist without punishing and demoralizing players of different tastes and abilities.
- Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech:
The Image & Form devs are, in my mind, just as unique, worthwhile, and exciting as those I already spoke about from Remedy and Respawn; they create varied, excellent, and delightful games in their Steamworld franchise, ranging from a great tactical, turn-based shooter, to one of the best action-platformers. So, it came as no surprise that their next game was going to be a deck-building game because, why not – they seem to be on a checklist to tackle every single genre with their Steamworld property, and of course deck-building was going to be on that list, and it should be no surprise that I absolutely adored every second I spent with it. The characters and the world are just as fun and charming as in any of their previous games, but the gameplay and genius iterations on genre staples once again steal the show – to a point where I don’t think its necessary to care or like deck-building games in order to enjoy this game. Combat in this game is smart, tactical, and satisfying; you have 3 characters that each can carry 8 cards, and each turn you get to play 3 of those cards with your only restriction being the cogs it takes for each card to be used. Some cards can add cogs (over turns or as a single use), others don’t use cogs at all, there are combinations of cards (either all 3 cards being of the same character, or specific combinations between characters, etc.) that trigger a 4th combo card, and there are dozens upon dozens of builds and mixtures of builds for all those characters. Not to drag on this point for too long, but I spent hours just figuring out different combinations and learning how to use all of them depending on the encounter I would come up against, and it always felt like that was ‘my’ built and ‘my’ success or failure. Exploring is a bit boring, the level design could have been a lot more interesting, and revisiting old levels in order to find hidden chests needlessly requires you to go through the level again, but all of those annoyances are easily overlooked by the charming character of the game alone; it takes something truly special where the only real criticism I have of it, is that the 24 cards it allows me to carry into battle is too short of a number, because there are always more cards and combinations I want to take with me.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Well, this is it: My Nintendo game of the year! Nobody makes a game quite like Nintendo can, and the recent remake of Link’s Awakening is not only another fine example of that fact, but also a reminder for cynical people that business practices and artistic intentions are two very different things; remakes have had a bad rep due to most of them simply being glorified ports of older games, sold at an unreasonable price, yet this year games like Resident Evil 2 and Link’s Awakening are a stark reminder that remakes can be a worthwhile avenue. Link’s Awakening is more than a port; it is the most charming game of 2019, thanks to its toy-like visual style and the character that the original game had, translated in this modern iteration. Beyond that though, it’s just a joyful and satisfying game that, again, reminds people that not all games need to brake new ground or be pioneers in their fields; smart iterations, better implementations, and adding depth and quality in a genre is as important as reinventing it when the time comes. I did not feel particularly challenged by Link’s Awakening nor was I presented with something that would redefine my expectations, but I was constantly smiling and had a persistent feel of joy and child-like wonder as I was playing, and that can be just as hard as any other feeling to achieve while playing a game, and that is why Link’s Awakening is one of my favorite games of 2019.
- The Outer Worlds:
There was a lot of talk about The Outer Worlds prior and after launch, but the most consistent was this: Either it was the luckiest game on earth or the biggest marketing win of the year. After the disastrous launch and continued missteps of Fallout 76, The Outer Worlds launches as a spiritual successor to the much-loved Fallout: New Vegas, and absolutely nails everything it is going after. Visually varied, beautiful, and an homage to the Fallout series, The Outer Worlds is one of the best RPGs of the year and of recent memory; everything from performance and stability (with the exception of one mission-breaking bug) to combat and RPG progression, as well as narrative and decision-making in every department (from combat to narrative and character) and some of the most memorable companions of the year. Honestly, I could just list every feature the game has with high praise before it and that would sum up the game accurately. I spent 40+ hours in ONE playthrough and I’ve started my second one just for fun – that’s how good this game is. But, beyond everything it does superbly, I have to give a huge shoutout to the writing team, because this game will go from laugh-out-loud funny to eye-watering poignant without compromising its world, characters, or identity; its really hard to make me conflict and debate over choices that evolve one side being an inhuman, greedy corporation, while simultaneously (and without breaking my suspension of disbelief) forcing me to stop playing and putting the controller down due to maniacal laughing over a drug-induced dream scene. Hopefully, the capitalistic satire and intriguing worlds of the Halcyon colonies will be revisited in a sequel, but for now this is one of 2019’s best games.
2. The Stillness of the wind:
After deciding to make this list, I wrote every single game I played during this year and started trimming down the list, before debating in my head where each game ranks for me. Before this, I would have never expected The Stillness of the wind to be in my top 10, let alone end up in the top two, but as I remembered more details and all the emotions I felt while playing this game resurfaced and reminded me how much I cared and loved that world and that experience I got early in 2019, I just had to do it. I’m not exaggerating, I haven’t played this game since January 2019, yet I remember all the bits of it, kind of like a cult movie gathers a following long after it releases and people who initially were kind of cold on it, remember it, and are somehow drawn to it again. I don’t disagree with what I wrote earlier this year, but I’ve changed my opinion on how efficient this game is at delivering an experience that is memorable, significant, and desirable. Nana is a character that speaks to me personally, and the game’s messages, aesthetics, and the overall dire state of the world seen from a perspective of hope and an unwillingness to submit one’s identity in the face of rapid modernity and world-ending stakes (intentionally) reminds me of my grandparents; my struggle and persistence to get them to change and see things differently and their refusal to do so. It explores this relation from both sides and allows both viewpoints to be explored and understood; it explores a lifestyle of meeting necessities and finding joy in small things, in a world that stopped doing that and demanded more. Through all that though is an experience that explores death, life, and loneliness in a way that is still one of the smartest and efficient of the year; game mechanics adapted to show and lead the player to enjoy a specific experience, without being preachy or stop being entertaining. As I’ve always said, entertainment should be more than just having fun; it should mean something, have something to say/challenge/explore, and The Stillness of the Wind is pure entertainment.
- A Plague tale: Innocence:
Narrative-driven games have become very popular in the last few years, from indie darlings to major AAA releases and I honestly expected A Plague tale to be another well received, good enough game that would be easily forgotten and quickly overlooked when it came to my list. Beyond the 1348 setting (which is usually not my cup of tea), the game looked like a puzzle-orientated, instant death, stealth game that would intrigue me, but not captivate me. What’s truly surprising is that, although the game is so much more than that, it kind of is exactly that description and the reason why I love it as much as I do; I don’t like such punishing states in stealth games or this type of setting, yet I could not stop playing or thinking about this game. The stealth is really satisfying and smartly designed in a way that success is achievable in one go, but does not feel like a path was laid before you and you just followed it; you feel like a weak rogue, excelling at using brains before brawns. There are actual puzzles that hit that perfect balance between having a puzzle that makes you think, but is not complicated enough to stop you on your tracks. There are genuine horror moments that create that feeling of anxiety, chase sequences that always feel like you were a moment away from death. There are some pretty good action set-pieces and boss battles to give variety, an upgrade path that feels satisfying and useful, a crafting system that allows for the use of cool gadgets and made me get creative in certain situations where some gadgets were not available to me, but others were. However, the two big standouts of the game are the writing and the music; the story itself is not something to write home about, but the characters, the world-building, how they intersect and interact, are some of the best I’ve experienced all year. Amicia and Hugo are excellent protagonists and through their characters and their arcs, the game’s themes and messages are portrayed in a way that allows the player to connect with them and engage with the game’s philosophical pondering on family, innocence and the loss of it, comradery, and love. Hugo, especially, will look at what you do and react to it in a believable way, forcing you to consider what you do with him and when he’s not around, creating this narrative and gameplay bond only available through the medium of games (like in Brothers: A tale of two sons, one of the game’s primary inspirations). Like most excellent, narrative-driven games, the experience that is given is not just through good writing, but through every part of the game; gameplay expands and grows alongside the characters, the world and the story as well. All of these are complemented and enhanced by the game’s audiovisuals; it’s a stunning looking game that, despite its budget price, can rival any AAA game on the market, and with some of the best audio design I’ve heard this year. But, without a doubt, the music IS the best I’ve heard this year; always on point and synchronized with the game’s mood and intentions, Olivier Derivière’s work is haunting, poignant, happy, anxious, and calming on demand. It may not be one of those soundtracks that warrant a purchase on their own, but without this exceptional piece of art, I would not be talking about this game as my favorite game of the year.
There you have it! My favorite games of 2019 list is complete and I’m already looking forward to 2020, where I get to play all the 2019 games I did not have the time to experience, the year where some of the most anticipated games (like Cyberpunk 2077 and Doom Eternal) will finally be released, and the new consoles will launch. As a year in video games, 2019 will not go down as the best year, but it may well go down as the busiest or the year with the most underrated releases, so without a doubt it is a year that further solidified the status of our hobby, and helped it grow; let’s hope 2020 will be even better! Happy holidays everyone and may 2020 be your healthiest, most fulfilling, and happiest year so far.