Looking back at 2019, it was no doubt a great year but also one that makes me realize just how spoiled we were with “Breath of the Wild” in 2017 and “God of War” in 2018. Most of the competition to those games in their respective years was just as fierce and probably would have won number one for me had they come out this year like “Spider-Man” or “Red Dead Redemption 2.” 2019 was still very strong and saw a lot of really good and interesting things happen in games. None of them were masterpieces, but they were ones that I still fell in love with to end the decade. Due to my limited playtime there are some notable absences like “Death Stranding,” “Control” and “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” from this list, though all three are games I fully intend to dive into early next year.
“Halo: Reach” - “Halo: Reach” has only been out for a couple of weeks at the time of writing this and already it has pulled me back in. It is the complete package, but playing the multiplayer with friends that I did back in 2011 as well as new ones has been a wonderful experience. It is a solid intro for the “Master Chief Collection” on PC and I can’t wait for the rest of the series’ entries to follow suit.
“Days Gone” - There is a noticeable lack of Sony presence in my article this year, and the one that I did actually get to play was “Days Gone.” I won’t deny that Sam Witwer playing the lead was the biggest selling point of the game for me, but the game is solid despite me having not finished it yet. It doesn’t introduce anything particularly groundbreaking outside maybe the bike mechanic, but it is an open-world I am eager to get back to (and I quite enjoy Witwer’s hatred-filled rants as Deacon when taking out enemy biker gangs).
“The Walking Dead: The Final Season” - Around September of last year it was uncertain whether we would ever get the conclusion to Clementine’s story. Thankfully we did, and the final episode released this year was a solid send-off. It pushed some of the logic in how walker bites work in the universe, but it was satisfying as someone who has been a follower of the series and was eager to see how Clem’s story would wrap up.
“Dreams” - Since its early access doesn’t technically make it released this year, I had to give Media Molecule’s unique game a shoutout. Seemingly, a holdover from Sony’s weirder and more experimental side in the PS3 days, “Dreams” is basically a creation tool for people to make games, animations, music and other types of art. You have to put in the work for it to be good so there aren’t any “must-haves” on the game right now, but what’s there is a great display for what the community can do and the potential the game has.
“Untitled Goose Game” - What should be the GOTY for UNC Charlotte, “Untitled Goose Game” puts players in control of a Goose causing mischief. It is a neat sandbox puzzle game disguised as a game that puts you in control of arguably the villain. What puts it over the top though is its music and atmosphere, which sells the premise and comedy of the game.
“Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy” - I’ve never really tried the visual novel genre before, but if there was ever a perfect introduction to it I’m glad it was “Phoenix Wright.” As the name states, you get the first three games in the series, playing as a defense attorney in a Japanese developer’s exaggerated portrayal of the American judicial system. It has humor, great characters, pretty art, condensed stories within a larger narrative and most of all, excellent music. I’ve only played the first game thus far, but merely because I don’t want it to end so soon.
10. “Pokémon Sword”
My time with “Pokémon” since “Black & White” has been an on-and-off relationship, with the last one I played being “Pokémon Alpha Sapphire.” The new Dynamax feature was a bit disappointing compared to Mega Evolutions, though I do like that it allows all Pokémon to get involved. The new region is great and the narrative is surprisingly solid, though the fresh creature designs and music stole the show. My favorite part is the new raid mechanic and doing a raid to catch a special Pokémon with friends locally was really neat. While it wasn’t the big leap in new features and visuals that I wanted it to be on its Switch debut, I did, however, find it to be a solid jumping-in point back into the series.
9. “Shovel Knight: King of Cards”
I’ve stated this before, but since buying “Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove,” it has been the gift that keeps on giving. The game is a great love-letter to retro platformers, with influences visible all throughout from a variety of games in the era. This new and final campaign for the title is an excellent finale for it. Playing as the pompous King Knight and much like the prior campaigns for Shovel Knight, Plague Knight and Specter Knight, the movement system for his royalty is entirely unique. What I really love though is the new map format; breaking up the main levels into their own smaller yet more intimate ones, allowing for one mechanic to make each one unique and fun to master. The 8-bit sprite work is once again gorgeous, as is Jake Kaufman’s wonderful score alongside them. With “Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove” finally complete, I can’t wait to see what Yacht Club Games does next with their gaming icon.
8. “Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda”
A game that came completely out of the left-field in its reveal, this indie game offers a glance at one of the rare times Nintendo has allowed an outside developer to work on one of its most prized properties and the magic that can come from that. Part of “Zelda” is its iconic music and “Cadence of Hyrule” uses that to full effect by taking their rhythm-based gameplay from “Crypt of the NecroDancer” and mixing it with various “Zelda” tropes. One of the cooler parts of the game is that it allows you to not just play as Link per-usual, but also Princess Zelda, Cadence (main character of “Crypt of NecroDancer”) and a few other surprises, all with their own abilities that make them each worth playing. Its focus on rhythm makes it one of the more distinctive games that I have played this year. If you are a “Zelda” fan in any way, definitely give this one a buy.
7. “Mario Maker 2”
Playing “Mario Maker 2” was a constant reminder to just how good the staple 2D-platforming gameplay is from all of “Mario.” Playing countless user-created levels also made me appreciate the actual level design from real “Mario” games, but also made the gems of the user ones stand out that much more. Seeing what the community has come up with was part of the fun, with my favorite level being one where a Koopa Troopa walks along with you on a journey, only to sacrifice itself at the end for you to carry on. The ability to post comments at points in a level can get a bit annoying (can be turned off thankfully) but for levels like that where all of them are mourning the loss of the beloved Koopa Troopa, it is a wonderful sense of community. While I hope for an actual ability to make your own worlds to put levels within like an actual game, the updates we have gotten have been great. The main example of this being the new Master Sword item which turns you into Link with some of his iconic gear, allowing for entirely new levels to be made up. If it’s only more surprises like that in the future, I can’t wait for what comes next.
6. “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening”
Usually, I don’t allow remakes to make it on this list every year, but “Link’s Awakening” is one of two released this year that absolutely brings new light to an old game while still maintaining the feel of what made the original so great. “Link’s Awakening” is pretty much the same in terms of layout and story as the GameBoy original, but the minor tweaks to movement, inventory management and the more obvious update to the visuals and music make it one to remember. Link’s adventure on Koholint island is a bizarre but magical one that stands among the best of the series for its narrative alone. This is a perfect example of how remakes should be done. Also, it has the best credits sequence out of any game ever made.
5. “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order”
As a “Star Wars” fan, it is no surprise that “Jedi: Fallen Order” was going to be one of my most anticipated titles of the year. The game is solid across all fronts, but what stands out the most is its story following Cal Kestis and his journey as a Jedi who no longer has an Order to be a part of. There is a great balance of new stuff to fan-service, of which I was shocked at just how much there was for fans of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels.” The gameplay, through a mix of parrying with a saber and using Force powers, emulates the sense of being a Jedi to a satisfying degree when mastered. It also accomplished things like introducing me to another layer of certain part of “Revenge of the Sith,” wherein a flashback Cal is walking to a test for his Jedi training. Along the way, a clone trooper stops him and gives him a high five while telling him, “You’ve got this kid!” with the player pretty much aware of what is about to go down. It’s moments like these that only enhance the entire saga for me, where another example being Respawn making me sympathetic for the Nightsisters and what happens to their clan in “The Clone Wars.” What gets in the way of “Fallen Order” is the at times clunky controls and glitches that take you out of it a bit. It feels like with just a little more time this game would have easily been number one on my list. However, I can’t wait for its likely sequel from Respawn and how they can improve it further with the first under their belt.
4. “Luigi’s Mansion 3”
“Luigi’s Mansion 3” is Nintendo at its best and how gameplay and atmosphere is king to them. It is by far one of the prettiest games they have ever done, and it plays like one of Pixar’s animated films. Luigi himself is a delight in how his face and posture react to scares around the hotel. With the Poltergust vacuum pack, each level of the hotel is a uniquely themed puzzle sandbox (in some cases like the Egyptian floor quite literally). The combination of slapstick comedy with the ghosts and the surprises in store for each floor just never fails to bring a smile to your face. It is the sequel I have been waiting for since the original on the GameCube, while still making itself feel like its own separate game. I could gush about this game forever, but just know I highly recommend it for any Switch owner.
3. “Tetris 99”
It wouldn’t be one of my top ten games of the year articles without a “Tetris” entry. Once again, Nintendo did the unexpected in releasing their take on the battle royale genre that nobody knew they wanted but always needed. Announced and released in the same Direct back in February, “Tetris 99” absorbed much of my time for the rest of the year. It gave me a chance to show off my “Tetris” skills against others and simultaneously make me realize just how trash at it I really am. The various events and updates throughout the year kept me coming back for what new themes and modes they dropped. The best part is that it is free for those subscribed to Nintendo’s online service, which for the price of $20 a year, this game to me is worth that alone. “Tetris” hasn’t changed much at all because its gameplay is pretty much perfect, which is why it is so fun to play over and over. When I finally came out on top and won my single Tetris Maxiumus this year, it was easily one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in a game. The speed at which blocks fall in the final ten is insane, and when you’re fully absorbed in it is an experience to play at that pace. I look forward to continuing playing “Tetris 99” for the coming year.
2. “Fire Emblem: Three Houses”
The “Fire Emblem” series is one of the few Nintendo properties I had failed to ever try out until “Three Houses,” with pretty much all of my knowledge about it coming from “Smash.” I now realize what all the hype is all about, as this fun strategy game hides an even stronger story. What puts this game so high on my list is its characters. In “Three Houses,” you are a new professor assigned to teaching and developing bonds with a class of young soldiers and leaders split among the three nations of Fodlan. All of the characters are fully voiced and have their own personalities that make them distinct from one another. The fact that if one of them falls in battle they are out for good, only makes you more attached to them. The story is intriguing and offers multiple playthroughs based on the house you choose and other factors. If the “anime” style throws you off, I can say as someone who never really touched that side of games that I adored it. By the end, I was fully invested in each of the students in my class. If you’re a Switch owner looking for something to really sink some time into, I can’t recommend this enough.
1. “Resident Evil 2”
From the outside looking in, for whatever reason I always viewed the “Resident Evil” series as plain stupid (which is stupid in of itself as someone who never thought to try it). When I finally tried the remake of the original my freshman year of college, I was hooked. My roommate watched along with me as I played through the game in the dark, with him looking up guides for whenever we got stumped at one of its more obtuse puzzles. Done with that, I picked up “Resident Evil 7” the following summer on PSVR, which is pretty self-explanatory in how that experience was. In love with both, I waited patiently for this remake of “Resident Evil 2” to continue on the story. Finally, it arrived this year and it was everything I hoped.
I can’t speak to how it compares to the original as I never played it, but “Resident Evil 2” is an excellent survival horror game. The spooks are smartly placed and never feel overwhelming, but what makes “RE” so great and the same here is that sense of progression in facing and conquering your fears. By the end of my second-run campaign with Claire, I was loading into the final boss with a minigun and it just felt like a classic moment out of a classic ‘80s action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. The music makes moments like these perfect, as does the sound design help in building the atmosphere. My first encounter with Mr. X was one of the most intense I’ve ever had in the game, and avoiding the unkillable machine while figuring out the next puzzle was a task unto itself. The game’s pacing is perfect, just always throwing a curveball right whenever you’re feeling comfortable. Also, Claire and Leon are just the best duo to play as in both of their respective campaigns. My one knock on the game is I wish Capcom would bring back the creepy voice reading out the title of the game on the menu.
Once a hater, now “Resident Evil” is one of my favorite video game series ever. The mix of action, horror and cheesy one-liners from the heroes is an unbeatable mix. Since playing “RE 2” earlier this year, I began my playthrough of the entirety of the series, now close to wrapping it up with “RE 6.” All of them are so different and it has been a trip to see how the series has evolved. What’s even better is we’re getting a surprisingly-soon remake of “Resident Evil 3” this April. “Resident Evil 2” is my game of the year, as it blends a myriad of gameplay elements with a good story and characters I love to root for.