Things are about to get very interesting.
The video game industry never stays still for very long but even by its own standards, 2019 was one to remember. This year produced so many unexpected and unlikely changes to the business that it was hard to keep track of it all.
Off the top of my head, 2019 was the year that delivered: a Microsoft announcement that they would publish games on the Nintendo Switch (Ori and the Blind Forest, Cuphead and more expected to come soon). Sony also announced that they would develop and publish games on the Nintendo Switch (MLB: The Show initially). Valve revealed that a new Half-Life game was on the horizon – a production that could potentially breathe new life into big budget VR games development. Cross-platform online gaming becoming a reality on consoles this year (e.g Xbox players vs Nintendo players on Fortnite). Apple launched a mobile phone gaming service that 100% excludes micro-transactions and offers a hundred games for $7 a month. Google launched a hardware-agnostic games platform that runs exclusively via streaming video. Oh and Microsoft’s ‘Netflix-of-gaming’ service Game Pass has become such a compelling proposition that it seems certain to completely up-end how we buy video games in the next few years.
There’s never been a better time to play video games. There are games that cater to all sorts of tastes and its never been cheaper to gain access to vast libraries of hundreds of titles (seriously, try Game Pass and you’ll never look back). And if 2019 felt like a big deal, 2020 looks absolutely bonkers with Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us II, Final Fantasy VII: Remake, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Half Life: Alyx and Halo: Infinite on the cards. Oh, and Playstation 5 and Next Xbox too.
With that said, here were my ten favourite games of 2019.
Resident Evil 2
GAME OF THE YEAR
Capcom, Playstation 4
One of the best things about this current generation of consoles has been the stunning return to form of the games developer Capcom.
Resident Evil 2 is a remake of the hugely popular Playstation One title which expanded upon the original game by including two playable characters – Clair Redfield and Leon Kennedy – as they fight for survival in a police station overrun by the Umbrella Corporation’s zombies.
This new iteration of RE2 retains the basic premise of the game, the two playable leads and the same distinctive setting, and then modernizes it for a 2019 audience. Capcom manages to thread the needle and successfully make a game that should delight fans of the original game and also introduce a whole new generation of fans to one of the best titles in its back catalogue.
Not only is it successful, it absolutely blows any and all expectations out of the water. We can give the game some time and perspective to decide where it ranks in the pantheon of Resident Evil titles but I genuinely think this game should also be in the conversation for being one of the best remakes of any video game. It’s that good.
Beyond the jaw-dropping new graphics, Capcom have also done an outstanding job reinventing Resident Evil by making an absolute ton of quality of life improvements whilst still keeping the overall feel of a classic survival horror game. The notorious ‘typewritter/ink ribbon’ save system has been streamlined. Both Claire and Leon have a much greater number of items that they can carry. Any items stored in storage containers can be accessed via other storage containers in the police station. The ‘tank controls’ of the original game have made way for more conventional 3D movement. There’s variable difficulty levels to suit all playing styles. There’s a much more rewarding experience for playing the story a second time with the other character. Honestly, I could go on and on. This game is clearly a labour of love and the amount of work that has gone into improving so many little details has paid off handsomely. The end result is a game that is not only hugely scary and exhilarating to play, it always feels extremely satisfying.
I played a ton of games, big and small, in 2019 and nothing topped Resident Evil 2.
Slay the Spire
MegaCrit, Nintendo Switch
Deck building games became a popular genre in 2019 and the cream of the crop is MegaCrit’s insanely addictive rogue-like dungeon crawler Slay the Spire.
The gameplay loop works something like this. The player begins with a handful of cards, a health meter that carries over from battle to battle, some gold coins and a randomly assigned relic that offers a unique ability. As the player battles and defeats creatures using their cards, they need to manage their deck by acquiring powerful new cards, shedding less useful old ones, investing money in upgrades and making sure they stay healthy. As each creature is defeated, the player ascends the spires and once they die, it’s right back to the bottom to start all over again. There aren’t any experience points and no cards or items carry over. You learn lessons from how best to manage your hand and start again.
It’s a simple game but the quick and efficient learning curve and the compelling “just one more go” gameplay really got its hooks into millions of players. No manner of describing the mechanics of the game can do it justice. MegaCrit’s developers clearly have a knack for understanding how to design a deck-building game with late stage cards and relics that make the player feel powerful, but never invulnerable.
At $30 bucks, its one of the best value games of 2019. I expect most players will end up pouring countless hours into Slay the Spire. It is concentrated video gaming crack.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Next Level Games, Nintendo Switch
Luigi’s Mansion 3 might well be the most gorgeous looking game on the Nintendo Switch. With butter smooth animation and beautifully crafted character models that look like they could be straight out of a big budget animated film, Next Level Games’ all-ages adventure title was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Abandoning the more open ended structure of its predecessors, Luigi’s Mansion 3 has the player tackle a haunted hotel floor by floor, using Luigi’s trusty flashlight, his Poltergust and his trusty new gimmick – the delightfully named “Gooigi” – to take down spooky ghosts and ghouls and recover the buttons on the elevator to get to the next level.
Next Level keeps the player on their toes by wildly mixing up the challenges from floor to floor and their investment in creativity pays off handsomely. This is one of the most crowd-pleasing games of the year with lots of surprises and gimmicks to keep you hooked for all seventeen floors.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is likely the best Nintendo published game of 2019.
Remedy Entertainment, Playstation 4
After a couple of misfires in recent years, its great to see Remedy Entertainment return to form with the wonderfully atmospheric sci-fi action game Control.
Players take on the role of protagonist Jesse who arrives at the Federal Beaureau of Control only to find it is almost entirely abandoned. A mysterious janitor points her towards to the office of the Director who has apparently committed suicide. When Jesse picks up the Director’s supernaturally powerful sidearm, she finds herself assuming the role of new FBC Director and is transported to the Astral Plane to battle the paranormal Hiss.
Remedy games in the past have often felt like a compromise – they’ve either had great gameplay or great writing but they’ve struggled to bring the two together. Control has some terrific writing that is evocative of the weirdest and most memorable episodes of The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. This is supported by enthralling combat sequences as Jesse uses an arsenal of gravity bending, physics defying weaponry to battle the Hiss. It’s the studios best work and one of the best games of the year.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Nintendo EAD, Nintendo Switch
It’s a funny thing, two years after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which famously upended the traditional Zelda template – doing away with traditional dungeons and rigid linearity – here we are getting excited about The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a remake of a video game from 1993, that squarely takes us back to the format that Nintendo fans had been playing for three decades.
But for the most part, it’s a welcome return. Unless you had been going out of your way to revisit the Zelda back catalogue, the last time anyone had an opportunity to play a traditional top down Zelda game in this style was 2013’s excellent A Link Between Worlds. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and six years is an eternity in video games. And for all the good that Breath of the Wild did, I think in retrospect, everyone can agree the absence of traditional dungeons is a knock against the game. In Link’s Awakening, you get eight glorious dungeons waiting for you to jump in and explore.
The original Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy was actually a rather quirky, oddball iteration of Zelda. Firstly, there’s no Princess Zelda. Secondly, the game is littered with cameos from other titles including some fairly straightforward ones (Bob-ombs and Princess Peach from Mario) and some downright obscure ones (Will Wright’s likeness from the Super Nintendo version of Sim City). But it suits the tone that the game is going for and I’m glad Nintendo kept these cameos when modernizing the game for the Switch.
Link’s Awakening is a fun remake and an excellent way to revisit an early gem from Nintendo’s catalogue of Zelda titles.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Playstation 4
After delivering eight rounds of bone crunching beat em up action with the cult favourite Yakuza series, developers Ryu Ga Gotoku branched out in a new direction with Judgement.
Players take on the role of Takayuki Yagami, a lawyer turned detective who is investigating a series of gruesome murders by a serial killer who gouges out the eyes of his victims. Yagami himself is struggling to recover his social standing as he helped a man accused of murder get acquitted, only for the man to seemingly kill again as soon as he was freed from prison.
Judgement certainly has the hallmarks of a Ryu Ga Gotoku developed game. It is set in the same fictional city of Kamurocho as the Yakuza games and the player is spoiled with a variety of side missions, mini games (pinball, Mahjong, darts, karaoke) and retro Sega arcade games (Space Harrier, Puyo Puyo, Virtua Fighter 5) to keep them busy.
But the main attraction with Judgement is the fantastic crime caper at the heart of the narrative. Full of memorable characters, great plot twists and compelling melodrama, Judgement is one of the best narrative driven games I played this year.
Crash Team Racing
Beenox, Playstation 4
This might be blasphemous but after pouring hours and hours of time into Beenox’s excellent Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, I think it might be the better kart racer than Mario Kart 8. Sure it doesn’t have a patch on the cast of characters on offer in Nintendo’s legendary racer, but the level design and the finesse required to master its triple-boost drifting mechanic makes it a more enjoyable experience for me.
Nitro Fueled has also been absurdly generous with the amount of content on offer, with not just an initial massive selection of karts and tracks but new monthly content that could be unlocked post-launch, by playing the daily/weekly/monthly challenges.
After nearly a decade in the wilderness, its great to see how Crash Bandicoot has bounced back. Surely a brand new game must be on the cards soon, Activision?
Kojima Productions, Playstation 4
The video game equivalent of giving David Lynch a blank cheque and full creative freedom, Death Stranding is developer Hideo Kojima’s first game from his freshly minted personal development studio after nearly three decades at Konami making Metal Gear games.
Death Stranding proved to be a critically divisive game when it released a few weeks ago. Kojima appears to have been given free rein to indulge in all his eccentricities and the end result is a beautiful looking game that is also mind-bogglingly weird and at times downright baffling. It is also one of the most star studded games ever made with a cast boasting Mads Mikkelsen, Guillermo Del Toro, Norman Reedus and Conan O’Brian (!).
I can’t say I liked everything about Death Stranding. Being reductive, its a 50 hour long hiking simulator sandwiched between a bunch of cut scenes that are hard to understand. But I like that a project so personal and so wilfully peculiar exists on this scale and with this budget. And if I’m honest, I like most of Kojima’s weirdness. Most.
Dragon Quest XI S
Square Enix, Nintendo Switch
I love JRPGs. Well, I say I do, but if I’m honest, I mostly love Super Nintendo era JRPGs. Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana. The classics. There was something about the later Final Fantasy games that lost a lot of the charm and mystique of those titles. As it turns out, I was simply playing the wrong games. Despite being a three decade old series that is revered in Japan, it somehow took me until 2019 to play my first Dragon Quest game.
Dragon Quest XI is very obviously a game that traces its lineage back to the NES/SNES era of JRPGs. The game has a bright, vividly-realised open world but it paints its heroes, villains and creatures in the same broad brushstrokes that stir the imagination the way Earthbound or Breath of Fire does.
The game is an almost perfect distillation of what made those old games so great and is also sprinkled with modern quality of life improvements (skill trees, fast travel, checkpoints) that make it hugely enjoyable to play. It’s one of those titles where everything just clicks. The cast is awesome, the storyline is engrossing and the presentation (particularly on the Switch version with the orchestral score) is outstanding.
A modern day JRPG classic.
Chance Agency, Nintendo Switch
Futuristic, sci-fi noir tale Neo Cab is one of my favourite narrative games of 2019. Set in the city of Los Ojos, players take on the role of one of the last remaining human cab drivers Lina who is also on the lookout for her missing best friend. The city is ruled by mega-corporation Capra who has almost succeeded in entirely automating transportation and controlling the roads with self-driving vehicles. The majority of the game is experienced through Lina’s night job as an app-based taxi driver, picking up strangers in the city and taking them to their destination. Some of the passengers are amused at the novelty of a human driver and others are appalled and ask for an AI-driven alternative.
Neo Cab has a fantastic and timely central premise and its cautionary tale about a near-future society shackled by automation is richly and vividly brought to life by the game’s eccentric cast of passengers. Chance Agency have skilfully weaved together a tale that explores futurism, corporate malfeasance and tech horror. Honestly, the ideas explored in Neo Cab feel shockingly contemporary and this sort of storytelling is usually the domain reserved for independent cinema.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses [Nintendo Switch] – the latest iteration of Intelligent System’s turn based strategy game is the biggest and boldest yet in this story of three kingdoms going to war. The game is stacked full of content (you can play all three houses and experience the story from each of their perspectives) and Fire Emblem has never looked better than on the Switch.
Void Bastards [Xbox One] – when a ship in space with a million prisoners breaks down, they are sent out one by one to scavenge for parts to restore the hyper-drive. Blue Manchu’s sci-fi rogue-like first person shooter is evocative of Bioshock and Judge Dredd and is one of the most enjoyable shooters of the year. Better still, it was one of the many video game gems that could be enjoyed on Microsoft’s Game Pass service.
Tetris 99 [Nintendo Switch] – The popularity of Tetris endures with this unexpected and highly entertaining multiplayer iteration on the Nintendo Switch. Tetris 99 is exactly what it sounds like – you play the classic Alexey Pajitnov puzzle game against 99 others online simultaneously and its last man standing rules. I never won a single game of Tetris 99 (I’ve finished in the top ten a handful of times) but I enjoyed trying.
Grindstone [Apple Arcade] – Capybara’s Grindstone was hands down my favourite game of the launch titles on the Apple Arcade service. Playing very much to their roots, this colour and beautifully animated puzzle game draws its lineage from Capy’s back catalogue and is a worthy successor to the likes of Critter Crunch and Clash of Heroes.
Steam World Quest: Hand of Gilgamech [Nintendo Switch] – a narrative driven deck building game, Steam World Quest isn’t quite as good as Slay the Spire but it is not without its charms.
The Fall of Bioware
A generation ago, Bioware gave us the incredible Mass Effect trilogy and the excellent Dragon Age series. Their catalogue of games includes legendary titles like Baldur’s Gate I & II and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. But this generation has not been kind to Bioware and after the hugely disappointing Mass Effect Andromeda, they served up the critically and commercially disasterous Anthem in 2019.
Not only is the game a total bust, its a failure on a scale that threatens the very existence of the studio. It’s a sad state of affairs considering the studio’s incredible legacy.
Slow Starting Games On Game Pass
Microsoft’s Game Pass is a wonderful service. You pay $12 a month to gain access to a huge library of excellent games – both old and new, both big budget and indie. But having access to so many good games at once can spoil a player and I found myself becoming increasingly impatient with games that didn’t immediately get their hooks into me. So apologies to Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, Devil May Cry 5 and Creature from the Well, all of which I played for under an hour before I lost interest and jumped on the next game in my queue. The worst was Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a fantasy RPG that opens with a fetch quest where you’re asked to gather not one but four items kicking around a village. I uninstalled that thing so fast my Xbox was spinning.
Not Enough Time To Play Video Games
I played a lot of amazing games in 2019 but I also missed out on a ton more. When you have a full time job and a family, there’s never enough hours in the day. Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds, Gears of War 5, Pathologic 2, Disco Elysium, Telling Lies, Untitled Goose Game and Man of Medan are all games I hoped to play but never found the time for. I’d like to think I’ll play them in 2020 but when I see whats coming out on the horizon, I’m not holding my breath.
Best Platform of the Year
The Nintendo Switch is the best selling console of 2019 and its also my favourite of all the current devices.
The Switch had fantastic games straight out of the gate but its really hit its stride in 2019 with a seemingly never ending cycle of great new games, welcome re-releases of beloved classics and an astonishingly regular output of great indy games. In the past I had been critical of Switch Tax – games on the Switch that sold for a premium – but this year there has also been some excellent deep discount sales that have made the software library a little more accessible.
For anyone who’s a parent, the pick up and play nature of the Switch makes it the best games device on the market. If you want me to be more specific about what was great on the Switch in 2019, I spent tons of time on Slay the Spire, Super Nintendo – Switch Online, Fire Emblem Three Kingdoms, Neo Cab, Link’s Awakening…the list goes on and on.
What’s exciting to think is that in 2020, there’s a new Playstation and Xbox on the market and this should force Nintendo’s hand to work even harder to release more great games in the next twelve months. Could we see Breath of the Wild 2 in 2020? Nintendo 64 and Gamecube Games on the Nintendo Online service? A new Mario game?
Top Ten Video Games of 2018
Game of the Year – Astro Bot: Rescue Mission (Playstation VR)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 4
Top Ten Video Games of 2017
Game of the Year – Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)
Platform of the Year – Nintendo Switch
Top Ten Video Games of 2016
Game of the Year – Stardew Valley (Playstation 4)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 4
Top Ten Video Games of 2015
Game of the Year – The Witcher 3 (Playstation 4)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 4
Top Ten Video Games of 2014
Game of the Year – Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Platform of the Year – Wii U
Top Ten Video Games of 2013
Game of the Year – The Last Of Us (Playstation 3)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 3
Top Ten Video Games of 2012
Game of the Year – The Walking Dead (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2011
Game of the Year – Clash of Heroes: Might and Magic (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2010
Game of the Year – Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2009
Game of the Year – Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves (Playstation 3)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 3