An interesting year for games.
We’ve had it good for the past few years when it comes to video games. 2017 boasted games such as Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, while 2018 followed that up with their own impressive library; God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate were some of the standout hits, and each received many awards from many different outlets. So, how does 2019 compare when stacked up against the two years preceding it?
Rather than being defined by a few select games, 2019 was defined by variety. Unlike the past few years, there’s no obvious frontrunners a’la God of War or Breath of the Wild that a majority can look at and say “that’s the one.” Instead, we got a lot of games that all fit into some pretty specific niches. That said, I had the opportunity to play several games this year, and ranked 10 of them as my top games of the year. These are games that spoke to me, whether it was through their clever gameplay, memorable writing, or innovation, and they reminded me of why I love video games every time I played them.
10. Death Stranding – PS4
Set across a post-apocalyptic America, Death Stranding tasks you with rebuilding a fractured nation from the ground up. Coming together and forming connections is at the heart of Death Stranding’s gameplay, emphasized by the online open-world you share with other players. Whether its clearing terrorist camps, building roads, or placing down some helpful structures such as ladders or Timefall shelters, most everything you do is sure to help out someone else. This odd, artsy game gave me a sense of community among complete strangers, one so strong that I still find myself jumping in periodically to build, deliver, and do whatever I can to make the game more enjoyable for other players.
9. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – Xbox One, PS4, PC
If the conclusion to the Skywalker saga and the launch of The Mandalorian weren’t enough to satisfy your Star Wars appetite, Jedi: Fallen Order just might be the dish you’re looking for. Adding yet another impressive entry to their resume, Respawn Entertainment delivers a game that isn’t only a great game, but also a great Star Wars game. Jedi: Fallen Order builds off of a universe we’re familiar with without the need to dip into nostalgia too much. Boasting an original story, exploration that feels akin to the Metroid Prime series, and dynamic combat that feels exhilarating and rewarding once you’ve mastered it, Jedi: Fallen Order is a great excuse to jump back into that far, far, away galaxy we all know and love.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Switch
This remake might not bring too much new to the table, but that’s okay. If nothing else, the updated version of Link’s Awakening is a testament to how well this weird little Game Boy game has aged. Its dungeon and level design feel as tight as ever and look amazing with a fresh coat of paint. The charming 3D art style draws a comparison to the classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials a lot of us grew up watching, and it makes the game a delight to look at the whole way through. Throw in a few quality-of-life improvements, and a world that feels unique when compared to the rest of the Zelda franchise, and Link’s Awakening cements itself as a must-play for anyone with a Nintendo Switch.
7. Astral Chain – Switch
PlatinumGames is known for a variety of fast-paced, off-the-wall action games such as Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising, and Vanquish. These games encourage you to not take your foot off the pedal, to keep flooring it the whole way through as you wreak havoc on your foes. Astral Chain continues this trend, and ups the ante by adding a new layer to its combat: controllable companions. Effectively, you’re going to be controlling two characters at any given time in this game. It’s a little hard to get used to at first, but it feels damn good when you finally get it down. In between all of the frantic action and gargantuan boss battles are a variety of side-quests, some of which venture into some pretty wacky territory, and often provide a sense of levity from some of the more serious moments of the main story.
6. Super Mario Maker 2 – Switch
The way things are going, I think it will be a while before we see a fresh take on a 2D Mario game. With all of the tools that Super Mario Maker 2 has, however, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Whether you’re building a masterpiece, speedrunning Kaizo levels, or enjoying some co-op with some friends, Super Mario Maker 2 has near limitless options to ensure you’ll never have to look too far for something new to play, no matter what your preference.
5. Control – Xbox One, PS4, PC
Control’s title, for as simple as it is, might be the most descriptive title on this list, because this is a game about taking control. As our protagonist Jesse takes control of the Bureau, you’ll take control of her powers and weapons, and it will fall on you to decide how to best utilize them. Control has some of the most exhilarating combat that can be found in a third-person action games. Using your powers to catch oncoming missiles then hurling them back at the one who fired them never gets old, and the over-the-shoulder shooting feels tight enough to go toe-to-toe with some of the most commended third-person shooters on the market. Control doesn’t just put you in control, but it forces you to take control in its gameplay. It’s a power-trip, but it wants you to earn it, and it feels damn good when you do.
4. Katana ZERO – Switch, PC
Repetition is a concept that permeates throughout Katana Zero. Its Hotline Miami inspired gameplay will challenge you, and more often than not, you will die. Fortunately, thanks to an infinite amount of lives and the ability to slow time and deflect bullets, the game encourages you to get right back up every time you fall. Each level feels like a puzzle where you’re challenged to mix and match the gameplay mechanics to see how quickly you can complete them. The satisfaction that comes with figuring out a solution that works feels second to none, as you’re rewarded with a replay of your successful run that plays out like a beautifully choreographed display of violence. Complemented by some beautiful pixel art, smooth animation, a thrilling narrative, and an infectious soundtrack, Katana Zero comes together to deliver a premium experience for a low price, and with free DLC on the way, I can’t wait to see how this game evolves going forward.
3. Resident Evil 2 – Xbox One, PS4, PC
I’ve never been too high on horror games, but Resident Evil 2’s specific brand of horror might have turned me into a fan of the genre. The horror of Resident Evil 2 doesn’t over rely on jump scares. Instead, it opts to let its atmosphere do most of the talking. Its eerily lit environments, grotesquely designed enemies, and purposefully restrictive gameplay ensure that you’ll feel underprepared and not in control for nearly every situation in the game, and honestly, I can’t think of anything more I’d want more in my ideal horror game.
2. The Outer Worlds – Xbox One, PS4, PC
I went into The Outer Worlds trying to be as good of a person as I could. In other decision-based games, that’s not really all that hard of a goal. In The Outer Worlds, however, the line between what is a good or bad choice is blurred constantly, resulting in every situation being a moral conundrum. Sometimes I felt great about my choices, sometimes I didn’t feel so strongly, and sometimes I felt good at first only to feel awful later when I discovered the underlying implications of my choice. The Outer Worlds is a role playing game in the truest sense; you’re not just choosing how you want to play, but why you play. With a blank slate of a player character, you’re invited to project your own feelings and motivations onto them, and when you consider just how many ways there are to play here, The Outer Worlds is sure to give each player a unique experience that feels true to them.
1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Switch
If you throw Fire Emblem and Persona into a bowl, mix it up, and add a layer of Harry Potter on top, you have Fire Emblem: Three Houses. What stands out to me the most about this game isn’t the excellent combat system, the solid writing, or even how deep several of these characters are, it’s how all of these aspects interact with each other. Developing my bonds with these characters yielded some excellent character moments, but also encouraged me to play more tactically. This made every victory taste much sweeter, but also made for some devastating moments when my allies fell in battle. On my first playthrough, I chose the quirky Golden Deer house led by the underdog, Claude. When I decided to start my second playthrough, I couldn’t help but pick the Golden Deer house again, simply because the characters and experiences from my first playthrough made me feel like I belonged there, which is a true testament to this game’s ability to make you feel something genuine through its gameplay. It’s crazy to think about how much Fire Emblem’s popularity in the west has grown since Marth and Roy were introduced in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and if Nintendo keeps putting out games like this, then I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this franchise.
From walking simulators to tactical RPGs, 2019 may not have had one game to satisfy the masses, but the vast variety of games released this year ensured that there was always a little something for everyone in the gaming community, no matter their schtick. When asking people what their favorite game from this year is, it’s honestly refreshing not to hear a lot of consistency in their answers. The fact that compelling cases could be made for several games to be game of the year in 2019 means that this year was most certainly a great year for video games, just in a different way than the past few, and I think that’s what I really appreciate about this year in gaming.