2019 was a busy year for me. Within this year, I have moved to a new home with my significant other, been both working and studying, tried to be somewhat social, keeping moderately up with plenty of new titles, and of course, writing for this site. It has been, impressively, smooth sailing for the most part, but this has also made me need some games to just wind down with. Surely, sometimes they definitely deserve their own review and some I even wrote one for right away, but going for new titles and enjoying my time, has been severely important this year. Oddly enough, bigger titles I have been more disappointed with, and only a handful of triple-A have been my cup of tea. So I wanted to share with you 12 of my favorite games from last year.
However, before I get on with the list, I just want a quick glance over some rules for this top 12, as I do every year:
- This is only MY PERSONAL top 12 games of 2019. I am really interested in hearing what other gems I might have missed out on this year, so think of this list as more of a conversation-starter than anything else.
- While some remakes are impressive, unless they have something that makes the game totally different in general, it won’t be on this list.
- If I have not fully invested my time in a game, despite how much I enjoyed it, I don’t feel compelled to put it on the list or even really talk about it.
Also just to get it out of the way, I have not yet gotten to every title this year, such as Luigi’s Mansion 3, Control, Disco Elysium or Indivisible so if you don’t see a game on this list, I might have simply not been able to play it yet. We good? If you read on, I suppose we are.
#12 Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
As a huge fan of Nioh, I was quite surprised that From Software would step away from the western setting and take inspiration from the land of the rising sun. However, while Sekiro and Nioh share similar geographical setting, their style and even gameplay are far different. Sekiro takes on a realistic setting in a land caught in a conflict where mythical beasts and powers are actually a thing of mystery, wonder, and a rare sight. It makes for a unique setting that is easy to get sucked into, and I love how diverse the worlds can be, with a plot that is captivating and pays homage to old tales of samurais or movies, such as Yojimbo. The same goes for the gameplay, as it takes inspiration from and pays tribute to Tenchu.
Stealth is heavily rewarded and, with your helpful grappling hook, planning your steps is always important. Though combat will be a major part of the game, and since you don’t have different equipment for weapons or even a stamina-bar, the combat is fast, fierce and focused. The only tools you have are your unlockable skills and upgradable prototype arm, as Sekiro focuses on you utilizing items, tools, and abilities, while reading the opponent’s every move. Planning and quick thinking are important, and while you can be revived once after every safe-point, Sekiro is far from an easy one. It is a focused title that knows how to exceed and make you become a skilled warrior through your input. Which is more than what I can say for the disappointment that was Devil May Cry 5, and the atrocious Kingdom Hearts 3, where button mashing will get you far.
#11 Death Stranding
Out of all the titles with polar-opposite receptions, such as Astral Chain, Pokémon Sword and Shield, and Yoshi’s Crafted World, Death Stranding was the title I enjoyed. It screams “Kojima project” from the get-go, with plenty of political and symbolic messages it wishes to share, with some humor added in. It is surreal, strange, emotional, and everything you remember from his Metal Gear Solid titles and more. Playing as a postman set in an apocalyptic world by Kojima, there are long stretches of lands to traverse through, fiends that you must take into consideration, and even think if you can breathe in order to survive.
It can sound like a walking simulator, but it leans more on exploration, as you must find the best way to traverse, utilize the correct items, and even take physics in consideration, such as walking down a slope with heavy cargo on your back. Even better, is how attached to other players you can become, by leaving out ladders for each other to give a boost, furthering the games theme of building bridges and connections. If you were not a fan, I can completely understand why, as it is not for everyone and has some glaring issues, but despite that, it is a project I adore for its experience alone. Even if what you are doing the most is either walking through an atmospheric land and creating pathways or watching cutscenes.
#10 Katana Zero
This side-scrolling hack & slash shares many similarities with Super Hot of all things, as it is all about timing, accuracy, and planning every attack. In contrast to the FPS, however, you can only slow downtime for short bursts, and must be quick with every slice, deflect bullets, throw items, utilize stealth, and make sure to expect everything. It is an amazing rush of adrenaline thanks to fantastic enemy-placement, great level-design, smart use of dodging-mechanics, and platforming that is diverse and engaging.
It really is a punishing title, that always makes you plan every step, and you have to be sure you can execute every move or at worst: improvise within a tenth of a second. Because of this, every stage becomes basically its own puzzle, testing your ability to think and act, making it one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. This is also combined with a wonderful setting in a neon-apocalyptic world, with a lovely dark style and intriguing storytelling, that will make you question what is really going. Now, HOW DO I OPEN THE BLOODY DOOR AFTER THE END?
#9 River City Girls
From the amazing intro alone, River City Girls shows just how badass this game is going to be. Being a clear tribute to the River City Ransom-series, as well as the 90s where Spice Girls, Jill Valentine from Resident Evil, and Buffy, were fantastic showcases for girls being badasses. Tons of funny dialogues, fantastic artwork, cool pop music; this is one colorful and stylish beat ‘em up game. Similarly, by being a beat ‘em up, River City Girls also shows how a forgotten era can still burn strong.
You will be able to level up your fighter with new movesets from trainers and become stronger with purchases of food and accessories. This is of course done by taking the fiends’ pocket-money, and while the increased amount of moves and stats are great, the varied amount of enemies and tons of them to fight, really makes the combat even more exhilarating. Even its dodge and block-moves are important, that is how tactical this beat ‘em up is. Combine this with the quality of Wayforward studio, Co-op, fantastic boss fights, and new game+, and you will have a fantastic retro-trip stronger and more amazing than a Dragon Punch from Axel.
#8 Ape Out
Devolver Digital has published so many bizarre and great indie-titles. Even this year with Heave Ho, Pikuniku, My Friend Pedro, and the previously mentioned Katana Zero. However, their most in your face title and my favorite from this studio in 2019, was Ape Out. It is a rampageous marvel that is filled with style and substance. You are simply an ape who wishes to taste sweet freedom and no-one is going to stop you. The abilities you have are limited to running, sneaking, attack, grab items or enemies and throw, which is wonderful as you have to utilize everything in order to get out unharmed. These men are perhaps easy to kill, but they have weapons and armor to take you out, so you have to plan and act in seconds.
It is an adrenaline-rush in every sense of the word. Utilizing color-painting and filters for bizarre and uncomfortable artstyle and by making the color-coding dictate functionality or events, makes this experience even tenser and relatable. The carnage is insane and brutal, with the art being complemented with drums and cymbals for sound-effects such as attacks and heartbeats. If you have ever read the Iliad, it is kinda similar to this: an artistic take on rage, with Ape Out being so in video-game format. A primal part of ourselves, that is made because of other humans chains. We simply need to break free, otherwise: go bananas.
While it is hard to not deny Tiny metal: Full Metal Rumble’s glory and just how far we have come with Advance Wars-inspired titles, Wargroove is just as important a title and more my cup of tea aesthetically. Taking inspiration from the cult-classic series, Wargroove lets you control an army, take over settlements to gather more resources for purchasing different units, and of course: battle it out against the opponents. All army-groups are well balanced with the only difference being the ruler’s special attack. It is all great with units having positives and negatives, making it balanced for how you want to take on a fight against the NPC or another player.
Actually, this is what makes Wargroove excel as a turn-based strategy-title: how much it sets out to be a game first and foremost. You have so many options for how to play: arcade version, puzzle-stages, a full campaign with an entertaining story, and of course multiplayer with tons of customization, and even stage-creation being added in for good measure. Combine this with stellar presentation and every included quality Chucklefish is known for, it is really one of the best strategy games of this century. With games like this, we might not need a modding-community. It is that massive in options and tactics. If you fancy their take on it, consider their other project: Pathway, which is their interesting take on X-com strategy as well.
#6 Yooka-Laylee and The Impossible Lair
After the disappointment of the original Yooka-Laylee, Playtonic went the opposite way by making the sequel, a 2D side-scroller in the vein of their earlier masterpiece: Donkey Kong Country. This was a Godsend, as understanding that bigger doesn’t mean better, Playtonic made one of the best platformers in a while. Fantastic attention to detail and making our hero as acrobatic as possible by even adding the roll-jump as a significant part of the game, it made for an intense platformer with plenty of moves to take into consideration when traversing. This is helped by level designs that are varied with a fantastic mix for speedrunners and exploring for secrets to uncover fun tidbits, like filters, alterations to gameplay, or for progression through the world.
In fact, the entire overworld where the portals to the levels are scattered through is engaging with overhead puzzles and tinkering with the area to reveal pathways, secrets, or even change stages completely, such as freezing a water-stage. In many ways, this is the true Rare Revival as it captures all the best parts of Rare’s colorful universe. Think of it like this: despite that, you can tackle The Impossible Lair (the last level) from the start, you might not rightfully attempt it until you unlocked everything. Not because of how hard it is (although it lives up to its name), but simply because of how fun everything is to do and unlock. With every step, Yooka-Laylee put a smile on my face, even with its dumb Bee-puns. It is simply a BEEautiful game.
#5 The Outer Worlds
Despite that I am a huge fan of the Fallout-series, I have a troubled relationship with Bethesda in general. From fantastic titles, like Fallout 3, Doom 2016 and Dishonored, to mediocre titles like Fallout 4, Dishonored 2 and The Elder Scrolls series, I never know what to expect. Luckily, Obsidian gathered a team of Fallout vets and made something I could not put down. The Outer World mixes the best of Fallout, Mass Effect and even a dash of Borderlands 3 to create one of the best roleplaying games set in a 3D environment. Similar to titles like Divine Divinity 1 and 2, or Pillars of Eternity, The Outer World focuses mainly on you making the character of your choosing and playing that role.
This goes beyond combat, as you can choose to focus entirely on charisma, being sneaky, utilize intelligence and logic to progress, or be a jack of all trades. This just shows how many playstyles there are here, making it honor the best of pen and paper RPGs. The world is no slacker either. Imagine if Firefly was made into an independent RPG with an enormous budget and made by Obsidian. You are basically a space cowboy in a colorful apocalyptic world that is unlike any other I have seen, making the experience personal. Every storyline, character, and event is relatable and engaging. Whether you are making a crewmember ready for a date, achieving enlightenment, or saving a colony, all are highly entertaining quests. It is truly made by vets of the genre.
#4 Gato Roboto
I always love me some good Metroid-titles and I am a cat-person. Surely this is enough for me to put Gato Roboto in my spotlight, and the unique artstyle and chiptune, made it a psychedelic retro-trip that I have never experienced before. Not to mention, its bizarre humor and cat-like behavior is adorable. However, I was not imagining how fantastic it truly was! In Gato Roboto, you play as a cat who can take on different mech suits and has to get of this strange planet he and his owner have landed on. The game is structured similarly to Metroid Fusion, where you have a couple of big sections to explore within, each being its own interesting take on the game’s mechanics.
While our cat-person will mainly use his cybersuit to venture through, there are so many diverse ways to travel which each area takes advantage of, making the adventure quite varied. One will have a submarine to traverse with, another will take advantage of our cat being outside of its mech-suit, and another tests your acrobatic skills to its limits. Speaking of, both your combat and platforming-skills are tested equally, with moves being used for both aspects, such as dodging for avoiding enemy-projectiles or gaining better grounds. This is helped by diverse enemies and obstacles to overcome, that all test your abilities fantastically. This makes Gato Roboto an exhilarating title from beginning to end, and with how short the game is, it is easy to replay this game for both exploration or speedrunning. It is the purrfect Metroidvania.
#3 BABA is YOU
One of the strangest puzzle-games I have ever witnessed. In BABA IS YOU, you have to shuffle around words to represent what is what. For example, you can make ROCK IS YOU, where you control the rock, or WALL IS WIN, to make walls be the winning goal post. The concept is easy, but this is a brainteaser and will make you scratch your head until you have nothing to scratch anymore. Remove or add adjectives, take on seemingly impossible setups, figure out what you can make what. With the amount of freedom in each stage, yet the limitations of words at your disposal, you have your work cut out for you.
Each run is incredibly short, but demands creative thinking and you have to think outside of the normal grid-puzzle game. Despite its challenge going beyond Scribblenauts and similar great word-puzzle titles, there are some helpful elements to not make the game too annoying, such as rewinding moves, and controls being simple with only four directions. BABA IS YOU is small, challenging, and engaging, where creative thinking will be tested and questioned until YOU IS WIN.
After the great ending to an era with Yakuza 6, I was surprised, but excited to hear of the announcement of Judgment, which is a side-game for the series. Playing as an ex-attorney and private detective, Takayuki Yagami, Judgment can be best described as Yakuza mixed with Ace Attorney or L.A Noire. Everything I love about Yakuza is still present. The flowing combat with plenty of moves, the huge town of Kamurocho to explore, the hilarious dialogues, and the bizarre yet relatable sidequests, mixed in is a story that is filled with twists, turns, and characters that are interesting and intriguing. It really has everything Yakuza is known for, but enough spice to make it different from the main series.
Besides the new Sega-games to play with, there are new additions in the form of detective-tools to partake in. As Yagami, you will have to sneak and stalk people for information, spy with droids, explore for clues, or find out which questions to ask for gaining important information. It adds subtle tweaks to the familiar Yakuza mechanics, in a title that could easily stand on its own. In fact, I hope similarly to the other side-projects like Mario and Luigi-series, or Megaman X, this will spawn its own line of series alongside Yakuza. Justice shall be served to this promising start.
This is a game about exploring its island and taking in the scenery. Venture through a vast forest, find interesting trinkets, interact with the townspeople for some everyday chat, help a farmer figure out what happened to his garden, or simply have a tea-party. I loved every second when I played this game. Eastshade can be described as an adventure game, with everyday aspects being integrated in the most clever ways, such as finding a good sweater for visiting the high up mountains, making a strong cup of tea to stay up later, or use your painting-skills to capture important moments. It has clever upgrades in this way where you must use tools for practical use in order to explore further, making every step feel rewarding.
This is not a world filled with evil or weaponry. This is a comfortable and magical world with people and creatures living their everyday lives, where you have a brush and canvas instead of sword and shield. You are an artist simply rediscovering important areas and being more than just a walking simulator or an adventure game. Eastshade did probably the most important thing that none of the previous titles could: make me forget the world around me. This was a lovely vacation, transporting me away to a world I got lost in, and I simply did not want to leave. I even made a review of it for my sister’s birthday, as this game meant a lot to both of us as we played it together whenever we could. And that is why it is my favorite game of the year.
While these are the games I loved the most this year, there have been plentiful titles I simply enjoyed my time with. So I want to give some newcomers an honorable mention, with them being OUTBUDDIES, Druidstone, Creature In The Well, Pikuniku, Roof Rage, Steamworld Quest, Telling Lies, Gabbuchi, BoxBoy + BoxGirl, Pathway, Ghost Giant, Heave Ho, and Hypnospace Outlaw. Please let me know of some of your favorite titles for this year, and hope the new year will bring even more creative titles to partake in.