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It’s a common belief among many gamers that 2018 was a better year than 2019, but honestly, I don’t buy into it. While there wasn’t one title that was unanimously proclaimed the best game of the year (ala 2018’s God of War), I believe there was a better breadth of quality games in 2019. Nintendo in particular had a pretty strong year, with a crazy release schedule from April to November, and some huge first-party titles in the mix (hello Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokemon Sword/Shield!). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play a bunch of quality games that undoubtedly may have made my list. These include games like Outer Wilds, Knights & Bikes, Cadence of Hyrule, and Dragon Quest Builders 2. Additionally, huge shoutout to Gato Robato, a great little Metroidvania game with a ton of personality, and Automachef, which would have been #11 on this list and deserves major props for its eclectic soundtrack and original puzzle/sim gameplay and premise; if you love simulations and/or games about logistics, give it a go! That said, here are my top 10 games of 2019. 10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 The combat might be a bit repetitive and not as complex as I initially hoped (the original game had more variance with number of moves and specials you could pull off), but I really can’t complain too much after the series’ nearly decade-long absence. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has style and presentation in spades, and it’s great to see most of Marvel’s big heroes altogether on one screen once again. There’s just something so cool about watching your entire team take out a mob of villains/ninjas/what-have-you in the middle of places like Shadowland, Xavier’s mansion, and Avengers Tower. Huge props to Team Ninja for making the boss battles unique and interesting as well; this entry may very well be the best in that regard, specifically. 9. Mechstermination Force This title combines two of my favorite things – Shadow of the Colossus and robots/Kaiju (maybe three things, I guess?). Mechstermination Force takes from the former’s game design and adds to it by putting you in interesting, unique scenarios with each giant robot. Not only do you have to scale and find/destroy each robot mech’s weak points; you also have to adopt to their different fighting stances and forms throughout each level, making for one of the most creative 2D shooters I’ve ever played. 8. Wargroove So… I’ve never played any of the Advance Wars games before. And now I can see what I’ve missed out on for so long because Wargroove plays like Advance Wars mixed with Fire Emblem’s more medieval/fantasy-like setting (but more like the former purely in terms of gameplay). Giving players the option to build and decide what units they want to use while in the midst of a battle really gives you the option to approach most levels a number of different ways, giving the game a much more unique feel than Fire Emblem’s offense-centric approach. The campaign throws a variety of different map scenarios each with their own unique terrain and challenges at you as well, so it never feels like you’re simply replaying the same battle over and over with slightly different units. 7. SteamWorld Quest (check out GP's full review of the game here) Image & Form has made two great Metroidvania titles and one brilliant tactics title in the SteamWorld series so far, so it only makes sense that they would continue to break new ground with a new genre – that being an RPG. Or rather: card-based battling RPG. ...has one of the most memorable, compelling battle systems in an RPG this side of Octopath Traveler. SteamWorld Quest could have been a big miss if Image & Form weren’t careful; thankfully, it has one of the most memorable, compelling battle systems in an RPG this side of Octopath Traveler. Combine that with a great script with both plenty of heart and humor and some great music and visuals, and you’ve got another SteamWorld success. 6. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Despite it being highly anticipated before its release, the first Yooka-Laylee game landed with a bit of a thud. It turns out people weren’t quite as big on 3D collectathons as they initially thought, but Playtonic quickly and correctly shifted course with their next attempt at the series by making the game into a 2D platformer this time around. ...might even rival Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; high praise indeed. And wouldn’t you know it – that old Rare magic began to shine through once again. Fortunately, they didn’t completely give up on the 3D platforming aspect either. Instead, they combined it with the overworld map for a truly unique spin on the game while making the levels in 2D. The resulting interaction between the two play types makes for an experience that might even rival Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; high praise indeed. 5. Kingdom Hearts 3 After so many years of waiting, it’s difficult to believe that Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t 100% the game everyone wanted. Some of this has to do with disappointments on the gameplay side (the Frozen world; nuff said), but a lot of it stems from creator Tetsuya Nomura not paying off certain story arcs and narrative choices that had been previously set up for the finale. Axel/Lea and Kairi get sidelined for most of the game when the ending of DDD had set up that they’d play a more critical role (not to mention missing a huge opportunity to make both or even just Kairi playable at a certain point), and it becomes apparent by the end that Kairi is never truly given any agency in the games and is merely used as a damsel in distress for the sake of the plot. Never has the battle system been bigger, better, bolder, and even flashier, with some of the best and most vibrant visuals of this generation. Yet, despite these disappointments, Kingdom Hearts 3 still sticks the landing for the most part. Never has the battle system been bigger, better, bolder, and even flashier, with some of the best and most vibrant visuals of this generation. Most of the Disney worlds chosen make up the best selection of any of the Kingdom Hearts games, and the graphics have finally caught up to Pixar’s and Disney’s advances in animation, replicating a near-identical look to many of their 3D animated movie counterparts. Also, the game ties up Xehanort’s story arc with an epic finish in the game’s final 4-5 hours, with one of the most impressive final boss fights in the series to date. I only hope that we don’t have to wait another 13 years before the next game arrives. 4. Shovel Knight: King of Cards I loved the original Shovel Knight campaign (now known as “Shovel of Hope”) in 2014, and despite giving Plague Knight’s campaign a try, it never quite caught on with me. Because of this, I also skipped Specter Knight’s campaign two years after that. But something about the fourth campaign being centered on King Knight really made me want to give it a try. ...the best Shovel Knight campaign to date. And I’m glad I did, because you could make a real case for King of Cards being the best Shovel Knight campaign to date. The platforming is top notch, focusing on traversing the terrain with Wario Land-esque shoulder-bashing and a Ducktales-inspired pogo jump to spin off of enemies and objects. But the real star of the game is the brand new card-based minigame, Joustus. It’s smart, addictive, and has enough depth to rival long-established thinking-games like chess. Oh, and the script is hilarious to boot; Yacht Club has never felt more comfortable in their own shoes than they have been when they were writing this game. 3. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening The announcement reveal of the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening at the beginning of 2019 was, in a word, surreal. I never ruled out a remake of the game as something that could happen, but no one could have predicted that it would be remade with so much charm and originality. Yes, I’m someone who thinks the plastic/toy-like look to the visuals makes for an amazing aesthetic. It’s the second-bravest thing Nintendo has done to the Zelda series since they decided on the Ghibli-esque cel-shaded approach to The Wind Waker in 2003. Along with a new arrangement of the classic soundtrack, new life has been given to a classic in what is undoubtedly the definitive version of the game now. ...still holds up and has, in fact, made many aware that it is a better 2D Zelda game than even A Link to the Past. Link’s Awakening’s gameplay still holds up and has, in fact, made many aware that it is a better 2D Zelda game than even A Link to the Past. Yes, I did go there. But seriously, this game is magical. Go play it. 2. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order There are so many ways Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order could have been a disaster. Or merely an extension of the okay-to-decent Star Wars games we’ve been getting for a decade now. But Respawn did it. Holy cow… they did it. They made the first great single-player Star Wars game since… what, The Force Unleashed? Maybe even Knights of the Old Republic 2? To be fair, Fallen Order could be a much tighter experience. It’s janky, likely due to EA launching the game a good half year before it was ready to come out of the oven. But it’s absolutely playable despite the occasional technical hiccup. And really, how impressive is it that the game came out as good as it did despite launching in less-than-ideal circumstances? This is a game that undoubtedly feels like you’re watching a Star Wars movie as you play. In any case, Fallen Order crafts an original tale that ties into the wider Star Wars mythos in a fairly meaningful way. Cal Kestis isn’t initially a great protagonist but the game does a great job making you care about him by gradually diving into his Jedi upbringing in the past. Cinematics are pretty fabulous as well; this is a game that undoubtedly feels like you’re watching a Star Wars movie as you play. Its story would feel right at home alongside other Star Wars side stories such as Solo, Rogue One, and The Mandalorian. But really, all I want to do is gush about how this game gives us the best lightsaber combat of any Star Wars game to date. Two of the lightsaber fights in the game made me feel like I was in a Star Wars movie; a far cry from the wild, aimless lightsaber swinging experienced in the Jedi Knight games from the early aughts. Fallen Order is the complete package: great storytelling, great gameplay, great world, great atmosphere. Where does Respawn go from here? I hope to know sooner versus later. 1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses You know what’s weird? I wasn’t initially super hyped for Three Houses despite the series being one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t know what to make of the inclusion of an academy, the MC being a professor teaching students, and participating in things like tea time with your students. It all sounded like the furthest thing I wanted from my Fire Emblem experience. Little did I know that it would be one of the best and most compelling things they ever did to the franchise. The ability to select what each of your students can learn, right down to stat bonuses, weapon proficiency, and skills is the most control Intelligent Systems has ever given you over your own units. It’s utterly gratifying to see your students progress from inefficient greenhorns to masters of their craft, dominating enemy units in battle. ...one of, if not the deepest Fire Emblem stories to date. The academy itself lends players a unique opportunity to see the larger plot through the eyes of your students in your coversations with them and also develop relationships with them by doing different activities together, making them come alive as characters. And even though the plot is a bit thicker and juicier in the first half of the game, it throws enough twists and surprises into the mix to make this one of, if not the deepest Fire Emblem stories to date. There are a lot of fascinating themes and concepts that are tackled as well, both through support conversations and the main plot. I haven’t even mentioned the actual tactical gameplay, which is as sharp as ever and gave me a real run for my money with many battles (I played on Hard). Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the real deal, and likely the best game in the series. If Intelligent Systems can continue to build on what they created with this game, Fire Emblem’s future is going to be bright indeed.
2019 was a rather strange year in the gaming space. With the inevitable release of new consoles in the near future it also feels like many developers have been hesitant to put their best gaming foot forward as if bracing themselves for the new generation of systems instead. It is also clear that the enthusiasm for the current consoles is finally dying down in regards to big-budget releases in particular. Thankfully, I have odd taste in video games, so I never personally faced a shortage in releases I wanted to play in 2019 and instead combated with the existential dread that comes from not having nearly enough time to play them instead. Either way, while I definitely did not get get anywhere close to playing everything I wanted to for the year (...with some titles still in shrink wrap like AI: The Somnium Files and Persona Q2), I did at least play enough impressive games to find an excuse to awkwardly organize a personal top ten Game of the Year list of 2019. 10) Luigi's Mansion 3 Nintendo's iconic green mascot and I have a checkered history. By that I mean I have always thought Luigi was the Scrappy Doo of the Nintendo world in which I legitimately could not find any nice words to say about most of his video game appearances, let alone his own personalized video game spin-offs. ...it has more than enough attention to detail and clever level design to have me finally accept that not all Luigi games are bad, just most of them. However, that multiple decade resentment finally started to dissipate with the charming title that is Luigi's Mansion 3. While by no means a flawless title, it has more than enough attention to detail and clever level design to have me finally accept that not all Luigi games are bad, just most of them. 9) Judgment Judgment straddles the line between being among the most impressive games that the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio has developed and also one of the most clumsy. One moment I would find myself fighting with some questionable-at-best mandatory mini-games and glacial gameplay pacing, and in the next instance witness a main narrative as well as heartwarming side quest stories that more than rivals the best moments in mainline Yakuza games. So, while I am still conflicted about the title as a whole, there is no doubt in my mind that the high points in Judgment alone make it a worthy addition to my 2019 list. 8 ) Astral Chain Of all the my favorite games of this year, Astral Chain took the longest to finally "click" with me gameplay-wise. I kept trying to approach it like Bayonetta in particular and Astral Chain very much does not want to be played like a traditional character action game. With a heavy emphasis on an action-RPG-like character progression, copious side quests, and, if played well, the level of micromanaging with the player-shackled" legion" that it almost starts to resemble complex fighting game "puppet" characters which helps make Astral Chain one of Platinum's most unique in terms of action gameplay. Astral Chain is a very promising debut that seems absolutely primed for a potentially excellent sequel. And with its successful launch sales (and an obvious campaign cliffhanger ending) a sequel only seems like a matter of time. 7) Resident Evil 2 My appreciation for Resident Evil is remarkably different than that of most people. Despite having played most of the mainline games, prior to even the various remakes, I would still say the strongest affinity I have for the series actually comes from the least scary and most action-y titles in its repertoire such as Resident 4 & 5 (5 being the most outright fun co-op experience I have had in any game). Resident Evil 2 it does a wonderful job or marrying both old and new for a series that thought to have lost its horror game roots... However, with the recent remake of Resident Evil 2 it does a wonderful job or marrying both old and new for a series that thought to have lost its horror game roots, while also, uh, having a gameplay control scheme and camera angles that are intended for humans. And players will more than need that sense of control when dealing with the ingenious implementation of Mr.X that will immediately terrify most upon hearing a familiar set of loud footsteps headed their way. 6) The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III I usually attempt to avoid adding games that I have not beaten to any game of the year list. Buuuut, I want to make an exception purely because the main reason I have not played more of Trails of Cold Steel III, aside from obvious finite time constraints and it being a massive RPG, is so I can have the portable convenience of the recently announced Switch release instead in the very near future. Still, in the time I have played has been delightful in spite of my lizard brain apprehension of playing a Cold Steel game on PS4. With a surprisingly likable new cast of characters, plenty of fascinating world-building, tuned up turn-based combat mechanics, and addictive social elements, Trails of Cold Steel III will almost certainly be my favorite 2019 game... that I will finally finish in 2020 (and desperately hope for its sequel localization afterwards). 5) Fire Emblem: Three Houses It took a really long time but finally, FINALLY someone did it. Somebody that is not Atlus (or Falcom) has at last made a good Persona game! ...Wait. Three Houses is the newest mainline Fire Emblem? Who are you are attempting to trick? You are trying to tell me that a game in which you spend like fifty percent of the time roaming around a school campus, constantly raising one's relationship with various students/teachers and indirectly raising combat prowess through school activities ISN'T a Persona game? Fine, I'll humor you. But in all seriousness, I am pretty easy to please with turn-based tactical-RPGs. Make a good one and it will probably sneak onto a GOTY list of mine. Ironically, I do sort of wish Three Houses had a bigger emphasis on the actual combat portions like most traditional entries, but I would be lying if I did not say the title had an absolute dominate grip on my free time regardless upon release. So much so that I have been actually afraid of doing another playthrough, but... who am I kidding? When the rest of the upcoming DLC finally gets released I plan to graduate from staring into Claude's dreamy eyes into eventually watching Dimitri lose one of his. 4) Sekiro Sekiro is odd in that it has nearly the complete opposite appeal of most of its spiritual predecessors before it. Whereas most Souls games primary strength rely on their robust RPG-like character building options within an intriguing, yet incredibly vague world-building. Sekiro has like, uh, none of that. Sure, the borderline masochistic level of difficulty is there (if not more so), but its main appeal is almost singularly focused on tight gameplay design that seamlessly blends Tenchu-esque stealth assassination elements and also highly offensive close-combat as well. ...I still get giddy thinking about the final boss of Sekiro which is a both figurative, and somewhat literal, culmination of everything the player has learned throughout its very challenging adventure. More important than any of that for me personally, though, is that Sekiro has an extremely satisfying perfect-timed parry mechanic that I loved trying to master throughout the game. So much so that while I could not tell you much about its incredibly forgettable storytelling and characters, I can tell you how I still get giddy thinking about the final boss of Sekiro which is a both figurative, and somewhat literal, culmination of everything the player has learned throughout its very challenging adventure. 3) Devil May Cry 5 Capcom has been absolutely killing it in what seems like most big-budget console games the last couple years (...that are not fighting games). I was pretty sure Platinum Games would more or less be the sole source for my deep character action game fix in a modern context. But, sure enough, after a decade long hiatus, old Dante is back and I would argue this is the best the series has ever been. Devil May Cry 5 is simply a blast to play, be it the incredibly stylish action or highly robust character moveset that has an extremely high skill ceiling when it comes to mastery. But, really, who cares about any of that, because it also blessed us with the most catchy song of 2019 Devil Trigger: "GOTTA LET IT OUT! GOTTA LET IT OUT!" 2) The House in Fata Morgana I honestly still feel guilty that I waited so long to play The House in Fata Morgana. In spite of a strong recommendation I received several years ago, and even going as far as buying a PC copy, I still waited until I re-bought the title on PS4 in 2019 to finally play it and I could not be more than glad that I finally did. This will almost certainly sound like hyperbole, but I will mean every word of it. To be blunt, I think The House in Fata Morgana is the most brilliantly written story I have ever seen in a video game -- and I absolutely do not say that lightly. Whether it be its master-class approach to foreshadowing, or the incredibly tragic yet deeply-human tales the narrative weaves it is in a league of its own for not only visual novels but video game storytelling in general. The House in Fata Morgana is the most brilliantly written story I have ever seen in a video game -- and I absolutely do not say that lightly. Now, I could easily ramble about why the narrative is so powerful, and how it does not shy away from delving into deeply unsettling subject matter to tell it, buuuut it is an easy game to spoil narrative details. So, I will just save everyone time and say if you have any sort of appreciation for visual novels, heck, amazing storytelling in general, then The House in Fata Morgana comes highly recommended and I still am pacing back and forth in my mind on whether or not I should just make it my actual GOTY. 1) Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Over the years, and little by little, Final Fantasy XIV is a game that not only got better over time but also wormed its way into my all-time favorite mainline Final Fantasy titles. As of 2019, however, there is zero doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is easily my favorite mainline title to bear the series namesake. Now, weirdly enough, Shadowbringers does not necessarily have the best intrinsic gameplay I have witnessed in 2019 nor is it even the best story (as stated by the game just before this). But saying that would greatly belittle at how excellent it is at both. As of 2019, however, there is zero doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is easily my favorite mainline title to bear the series namesake. Shadowbringers does a ton to freshen up the already beloved MMO, be it the gripping main campaign that stands far above even most Final Fantasy games to the immensely enjoyable boss fights, dungeons, and exciting new playable classes such as Dancer and Gunbreaker (or might as well be new like Machinist). Shadowbringers is not only my favorite game of 2019 it is also the one I find myself itching the most to go back to at any time. ...That said, I am still bitter about the Astrologian class changes compared to other healers. So maybe I will just put The House in Fata Morgana in this slot until Yoshi P makes me love the class again.
It’s always a pleasure to contribute to Game Podunk’s Game of the Year list and this year is no exception. While my picks may not be as wild as usual, they all have one thing in common: They aren’t Dragon Quest! Sorry, Barrel. With that out of the way I am pleased to introduce the seven games that made the cut. Each one has impressed me in some way, be it their graphics, originality, humor, innovation, or just how plain addictive they are, because in a year like 2019 what I really needed was some good old fashioned fun. I suppose that means I lied back there. They all have another thing in common. They were all a blast! 7. Pokémon Sword and Shield Imagine a world where you can fight weird animals against other weird animals in televised matches for the adoring masses from sold-out arenas. No, this isn’t Michael Vick’s dream come true, it’s a new Pokémon game! If we’re being completely honest I almost didn’t buy this game but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t pleasantly surprised at how it injected new life into the franchise. ...there are few things more fun than a 50-foot cake beating the snot out of a large fiery tapeworm! The “Gym Challenge” is a fun and fresh new take on gyms and Dynamax battles bring an electricity that Z-moves and Mega Evolutions never had. Raids are great too, when they work, and I can see this game having a lot of shelf life because of them. So yeah, the game is not perfect, but I’m glad I caved because there are few things more fun a 50-foot cake beating the snot out of a large fiery tapeworm! 6. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered I feel about Final Fantasy VIII the way most people feel about VII. Not because it was my first Final Fantasy game, not even because of how much I love GFs and junctioning, but because I love how weird it is. Bulbous blue aliens? Check. Humanoid cat people? Check. Hot dog envy? Check. Flinging an actual dog at your enemies? Check. How can you not love this game? Pair that with gorgeously updated character renders and a handful of quality of life improvements, I’m glad that I (and many others) have the ability to once again experience the majesty of this vastly underrated game! Suck it, @Barrel! 5. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sick of Avengers and Spider-Man games. We’ve got, what, like a million of them? Our Marvel and Disney overlords have a knack for cross promotion, so it’s no wonder that the last several Marvel games have focused almost entirely on Marvel’s most lucrative film franchises. But where does that leave fans of the X-Men? Or Blade and Elsa Bloodstone? Or the Fantastic Four? Or the Inhumans (wait, the Inhumans still have fans? Ha, kidding. Mostly.)? Granted, you have to pay a little extra for some of those characters but leave it to an Ultimate Alliance game to finally bring a majority of fan-favorite yet oft-unused characters to the Nintendo Switch. Though the gameplay itself hasn’t changed much, the 10-year gap between games makes it seem like less of an issue, especially when it looks as good as it does. 4. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (check out GP's full review of the game here) Ever wonder what you get when you throw a bunch of steampunk cosplayers into a ren fair? Well I imagine it’d be something like Image & Form’s latest SteamWorld game: SteamWorld Quest. Mixing the hilarity of their world populated by crazy robots with the antiquity of a turn-based RPG, The Hand of Gilgamech does something I never thought could ever be done: make punch cards cool! Yessiree, those shoeboxes full of hole-punched index cards in your great grand-pappy’s attic just became useful again. Well, not really, but in spirit they are. ...way more fun than that time I made my roomba joust my google home mini. Using these randomly dealt punch cards to initiate attacks and other classic RPG actions, all while guiding a bunch of wise cracking robots through an epic quest? Well let’s just say it’s way more fun than that time I made my roomba joust my google home mini. 3. AI: The Somnium Files Remember the Zero Escape guy? The one who discussed the canonical length of Sigma Klim’s package? Well he’s back, with a game about A.I. (Artificial intelligence), ai (love in Japanese), eyes (duh), and idols? Yup, only Kentaro Ukioshi could cram this many double entendres, bad puns, and fairly inappropriate characters into a game with horrific serial murders. This time around though, the puzzle rooms give you a bit of a break as they are slimmed down to focus more on character interactions and investigations instead of obscure puzzle solving and testing the player’s math skills. Thank God too, because I suck at math. 2. Astral Chain Apparently I’m downright stupid for Platinum action games, but don’t let my borderline annoying fandom underscore how great this game is. Astral Chain has all the sexiness of Platinum’s Bayonetta games (seriously, how is every Neuron division police officer stupidly hot?), along with all the action Platinum Games is known for. All of this alone would be worth the price of admission but Astral Chain does something different. Now you get to collect cans, rescue cats, and clean up a bunch of broken red jolly ranchers! Seriously though, the side quests were such a great addition in my opinion since spreading out the highly stylized combat missions with short investigation segments not only gives you a better sense of the overall world, but makes the action bits even more intense. Kinda like orgasm denial! 1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses If you took everything that made the Persona games successful, but found a better balance between daily life and battles, sprinkled in some green hair and highly inappropriate teacher outfits, you’d have Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Not yet sold? Well this game basically takes everything the series has been known for in recent times and dials it up to eleven. You even get to take better control over unit progression. Battles feature diverse elements too, making each battle feel different from the last. But things aren’t all about fighting at Gerreg Mach Monastery. You can also pick one of three houses to represent, fish, cook, participate in dance contests, sing beautiful songs of worship, and murder your friends! What’s not to love?
All that glitters is gold. And after this year, I’ve no choice but to believe that all my gaming wishes come true. No, seriously — I wanted Kirby’s animal friends to come back; they did. I wanted Phantasy Star Online 2 to be localized, and now I owe Barrel a kingdom. STREETS OF RAGE 4 is gonna be a thing next year and Adam Hunter’s finally playable again. I didn’t even know how badly I wanted Sonic Mania or Super Mario Odyssey until the moment I saw them. But nothing will ever hold a candle to how viscerally I reacted during the last few minutes of the February 13th Nintendo Direct this year. Anyone who I consider a friend knows how this Game of the Year list is going to end. But hey, it’s more about the journey than the destination, right? Here are ten-ish... gaming-related things released in North America this year that I enjoyed the most. That sweeping statement ought to cover my bases and let me get away with a technicality or two, huh? 10) Kingdom Hearts III This pick echoes how I feel about Persona 5. So much style, I’m tempted to use the phrase “practically peerless” yet again. It was enjoyable to actually play, barring a few rough edges. The soundtrack is the real mark of mastery. Gosh, though—the writing leaves a lot to be desired. This isn’t your generic, “Lol, the plot of Kingdom Hearts is labyrinthine and hard to understand,” take — I understood everything pretty darn well. It’s just... the script constantly does wrong by the women of the series. The localization changed meaningful dialogue between characters in unsatisfactory ways, too. Nomura and friends scored use of a major IP in Frozen, but Sora, Donald and Goofy absolutely do not belong when they wander around in Arendelle. You get to see the iconic “Let It Go” song being sung by Elsa’s proper voice actress — and the Kingdom Hearts characters are just kind of standing off to the side like, “Oooh, pretty.” I’ve been able to suspend my disbelief with “Square-Enix’s take on Disney worlds” over the years. So much style, I’m tempted to use the phrase “practically peerless” yet again. But III was the first time where the properties used were so big that Nomura probably wasn’t given a whole lot of wiggle room to make his prized original characters feel like they actually belonged in the stories they were pushing forward. Kingdom Hearts III is truly “AAA” in terms of budget and Disney’s involvement... and the writing suffers for it. Everything else, though, is so ridiculously cool and over-the-top that it managed to squeeze onto my list... despite me feeling more bitter than sweet. If I had a list of personal criticisms regarding mechanics in past Kingdom Hearts titles, III addresses every single one of them. It has more than just nostalgia going for it — the team has learned a lot since around 2001 when all this stuff started. I have such a love/hate relationship here. But it still deserves this spot as one of the more memorable parts of my gaming year. 9) Trials of Mana Seiken Densetsu 3 may have come out in 1995, but it didn't make its way to North America until this past summer. What we now know as Trials of Mana isn’t just a stellar SNES title — it’s the Mana series at its finest hour. Final Fantasy Adventure is lovely, and Secret of Mana will always have a nostalgic place in my heart. But I’d pay $40 for Trials of Mana all by itself, much less the full Collection of Mana package. The mechanics that help make Secret of Mana a timeless classic to many have been refined here. Hit detection is much better overall, and you don’t have to level up a character’s magic spell or preferred weapon by using them hundreds of times. Rather than sticking with a small cast like the previous two Mana titles, there are six characters the player can mix and match to form a party of three. The story, final boss, and endings will vary depending upon who leads your crew and who joins them, adding a degree of replay value. ...Trials of Mana isn’t just a stellar SNES title — it’s the Mana series at its finest hour. That said, nothing really holds a candle to Trials of Mana’s character class customization. I’ve genuinely never needed a dedicated healer (as is oft a trope of Japanese action RPGs). My most recent team of Hawkeye, Riesz, and Angela were powerful enough to steamroll entire groups of enemies & bosses while only needing to rely on consumable items to get the job done. Very few action-RPGs of its day can claim to be as balanced as Trials of Mana. It was a blast to play the fan translation on my PC multiple decades back...but it is a privilege to finally be able to pay for it and play it on the big screen. Truly, no entry in the Mana series has matched its overall quality, before or since. 8. Cadence of Hyrule Rogue-likes — the genre that houses some of my favorites like Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon & Azure Dreams — are a guilty pleasure of mine. Crypt of the Necrodancer takes those mechanics and combines them with elements of a rhythm game. Every enemy, piece & part of the environment only moves when you move — but you have to move in sync with the beat of the song playing, or you’re penalized. Cadence of Hyrule is this exact same premise, but with all the trappings of your typical top-down Zelda (spoilers, but you’ll see the best example of that elsewhere on this list). You can play as either Link or Zelda (finally!) & freely explore a randomly generated Hyrule, moving to the beat of the music… ...or not! Holy Toledo, the Fixed-Beat Mode baked into Cadence of Hyrule turned it from something I’d have to regrettably pass on (I am not the biggest fan of rhythm-based mechanics — there are valid reasons I’ll never “git gud” enough to keep up) into one of my favorites this year. Utilizing this mode turns the whole experience into “Zelda Mystery Dungeon” & nothing more... which I am absolutely, positively here for. Brace Yourself Games has shown everyone that these unique indie collaborations should be a new standard for Nintendo. I’m so happy Nintendo essentially licensed out The Legend of Zelda to a small group of talented fans. The custom art feels like a natural evolution of The Minish Cap. From a design standpoint, these folks took weapons & other mechanics from all the great top-down Zeldas and blended them into a short, sweet, infinitely replayable (due to almost every aspect being randomly generated) package. Brace Yourself Games has shown everyone that these unique indie collaborations should be a new standard for Nintendo. I hope it’s the first of many, to be frank. The old dogs at Tokyo EAD could absolutely learn some new tricks by allowing these one-of-a-kind spin-offs to elevate their most popular franchises. 7) Knights & Bikes EarthBound, The Goonies, Moonrise Kingdom — a handful of titles across multiple forms of media come to mind when I think of adventures starring children that genuinely capture the whimsy of being a kid. Knights & Bikes is another example I can happily add to this list, headed up by the Lead Creator of Tearaway, and one of the programmers of titles like LittleBigPlanet and Ratchet & Clank. Two little ladies (Demelza & Nessa) and their pet goose (an endearing fellow named Captain Honkers, the true Best Goose of 2019) explore the coasts of Penfurzy island on their bikes, looking for treasure & adventure. If you’re looking for fun without giant swords and guns, their weapons of choice to take down baddies are things like frisbees, water-balloons, something pretty heavily inspired by the Power Glove for the NES, and a boom-box. Their tale is the kind of coming-of-age story that’s spun literal children’s books. Themes can get fairly glum, and tensions can run fairly high towards the end — but this is truly an experience meant for the whole family. It’s inclusive... genuinely fun to explore, and an absolute visual treat. You can pretty much immediately tell this is from some of the minds who melded Tearaway and other Media Molecule-headed romps. It’s inclusive — to the point where you can pick whether or not Nessa’s a vegetarian & have Demelza alter a story she’s telling to reflect that choice — genuinely fun to explore, and an absolute visual treat. Knights & Bikes is a short, sweet adventure that left me hoping this single Kickstarted game gives way to an entire new transmedia franchise that brings new books, console entrees, and shows alike. 6) The Sega Genesis Mini Y’all, this is the finest “nostalgic tiny console with a compilation of games” ever released. 42 games ported over by M2, the legendary developers behind the SEGA Ages titles, that turn everything they touch into the definitive versions of each game. While the SEGA Mini doesn’t quite elevate examples like Monster World IV or Sonic Spinball into the modern era with exclusive features that’d be present if they were all SEGA Ages titles — they are flawless ports. And the library features stuff you thought you’d never see released digitally again, like Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Dynamite Headdy, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, and a good 10 other truly “deep cuts” from SEGA’s legacy. ...the finest “nostalgic tiny console with a compilation of games” ever released. Rounding out my bottom five game-things of 2019 with something I can only spend a paragraph explaining (without going into each and every title offered, anyway) feels kind of odd. But while my SNES Mini will wind up collecting dust now that Yoshi’s Island is a part of Nintendo Switch Online, I feel like the SEGA Mini will take up one of my HDMI ports for many years to come. 5) Luigi’s Mansion 3 I’ve always been a bigger fan of Mario’s eternal understudy. Luigi is the closest thing you’d find resembling me in the Mushroom Kingdom — he’s a giant dork, way more timid & afraid than heroic, but ultimately motivated to do what’s right by his friends. Luigi’s Mansion 3 releasing on Halloween was poetry. This series is really my only comfort food within the “horror” genre, because it’s more about comic relief & fun than actual jump-scares or grim gore. The first one was a fun, exploratory adventure that was honestly over too soon. The second rectified the former’s length problem, but was hindered by its attempts to break apart exploration into chunks with its “mission”-based structure that constantly sent you back to a sort of hub world just when things were getting interesting. ...it’s got a whimsy that outclasses even Super Mario Odyssey. Exploring each floor of The Last Resort hotel felt more like I was playing a Mario-style take on Disney’s Castle of Illusion than the usual horror-inspired romp. This hotel has... a whole freaking pyramid inside it, a coliseum inspired by the Middle Ages, a dinosaur museum... let’s just say it puts Las Vegas getaways to shame. Every new floor had me wondering what kind of wacky place I’d be thrown into next. You’re not constantly interrupted by “Mission Complete” screens, and gathering up every hidden gem & Boo to be found took me a little over fifteen hours— not less than five, like the first. The things that put Luigi’s Mansion 3 over the top for me personally concern Luigi himself, though. There are so many cute moments—his scaredy-cat nature is purposefully as exaggerated as it can possibly be, the bosses bring out the best parts of his personality... you can even pet the dog! It’s just good, clean fun. The line “it feels like a wholesome Saturday morning cartoon,” is the most overused cliche in the industry, but I’m using it here because it’s got a whimsy that outclasses even Super Mario Odyssey. 4) Gato Roboto First think of Metroid. No, not “Metroid-like” or “Metroidvania” — actual Metroid on the NES. Now, make Samus a tiny cat that’s not capable of much except jumping, climbing, and being really gosh darn cute...until she gets in her giant robot mech. This is the recipe for Gato Roboto, my favorite take on Me(ow)troid since Axiom Verge. While heading through space, a man and his cat end up marooned on an alien planet. Trapped, the man who would otherwise end up the hero of this story has no choice but to send his cat to explore in his stead. The good kitty winds up unfurling a devious plot of world domination at the hands of... a mouse that can talk?? ...my favorite take on Me(ow)troid since Axiom Verge. This is a romp that can be over as quickly as the original Metroid, but it’s also one of my most replayed games this year. Rather than evoke horror or a sense of unease like the series that inspired it, Gato Roboto chooses comedy and cute vibes. Level design has you piloting the mech most of the time, but often leaves kitty to its own devices. The robot armor can take its fair share of hits, but kitty can only be hit once before being kicked back to the last (very generous) checkpoint. There are plenty of ways developer Doinksoft chooses to mix things up mechanically — the robot armor isn’t the only thing the cat ends up piloting, for example. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a few hundred more words to explain why, but gosh this was some of the most fun I’ve had in the genre in years. It’s definitely priced like an NES title should be, too — I genuinely feel you can’t go wrong picking it up, if you’re a fan of the genre. 3) Pokémon Shield Half the reason why Pokémon Shield gripped me so hard was in how it was marketed. See, by the time the previous brand new entries, Sun & Moon, were out... over 80 of their brand new Pokémon were revealed publicly through trailers and other means. We knew what the starters were going to turn into, about most of the new “regional variants” — just a few Ultra Beasts and Mythical Pokémon were kept hidden. By contrast, before November 15th, Sword & Shield had officially revealed only 23. They went through pretty painstaking efforts to share as little information as possible before release. The intent behind the two generations is markedly different — this one wanted to surprise me. And boy howdy, it did. Give or take 70 Pokémon, including Galarian forms and evolutions, were brand new to me & revealed solely during my adventure. I haven’t been this won over by the ole clever marketing machine since I first played Pokémon back when I was single digits in the late 90s. I can genuinely say it may stay “my favorite Pokémon game of the last ten years.” The Wild Area helps the Galar region to feel more “connected” than any region before it. From a spot on Route 5, you can see the city of Hammerlocke—that you’ll arrive in much later on—waaay off in the distance. Early on in my adventure, because it happened to be raining where I was exploring there, I was able to take down a Lv30 Onix with my Drizzile while I was over ten levels lower than it. Max Raid Battles, despite some flawed aspects, are genuinely the most addicting multiplayer feature to hit the series in multiple decades. Both the new Dynamaxing feature & more limited Pokédex should do a lot to refresh competitive play. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, I’ll just say the story does a lot with a little. The Pokémon Company addresses a criticism of Sun & Moon being “too talky” by making characters say less, but hiding bits of character-specific backstory in their League Cards, which players collect as the story develops & can read at their own leisure. It has what amounts to my favorite endgame (the final few hours before the credits, and a bit after) since Black & White’s N sieges the Pokémon League. Overall, I feel more positively towards Pokémon Shield than any previous entry since 2009, when HeartGold pulled my nostalgia strings hard. There are definitely community-related aspects that need to be updated in a patch, but if they keep nurturing the experience rather than abandoning it, I can genuinely say it may stay “my favorite Pokémon game of the last ten years.” 2) Baba Is You Plenty of video games turn “breaking” them into a fun side thing you can do — like old debug mode cheats in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Very few — and only one I can think of in the puzzle genre — make breaking & redefining rules it puts in place the whole point. “You” is the player. And if the “Baba is You” text is on the screen, the player controls Baba. Other rules in place may be “Flag in Win” and “Wall is Stop” — where a wall in front of you would literally stop Baba from reaching the flag. If the word “Wall” can be moved, though, you might be able to push the Wall text down to replace “Baba”, making “Wall is You” and then literally reaching the flag as the wall that was formerly thwarting you in order to win. Here’s a trailer. Here’s an early example. Here’s an absolutely insane trick I pulled whose end result permanently turned a numbered level I cleared on the world map into a key — and into Baba (at which point I could freely move around the entire map, for funsies.) If I were reviewing it, I’d fight pretty hard for a 10/10. It’s quite simply the new paradigm in the puzzle genre. The amount of work it must’ve taken to create an engine that allows players to willingly break levels’ rules wide open, to the point where it has long-term effects on one’s save file, without everything falling apart is just staggering to think about. The brain-power it takes to solve Baba is You’s logic puzzles must pale in comparison to what it took to actually design them. I have no additional gushing regarding narrative, visuals, or the soundtrack, this time. The engine & entirely breakable mechanics truly speak for themselves. Baba is You Is Win — Arvi Teikari’s peers will be trying to emulate its cunning for a very, very long time. If I were reviewing it, I’d fight pretty hard for a 10/10. It’s quite simply the new paradigm in the puzzle genre. You don’t just follow the rules to win — you literally rewrite them. 1) Link’s Awakening I’ve played Link’s Awakening almost once a year, every year since 1993. It remains “the shining example that taught me how freaking amazing this medium could be”, the first one to make me cry, the one I’ve absolutely muscle-memorized. It is, quite simply, my favorite video game of all time. It’s hard to overstate just how badly I’ve wanted this exact thing to dream itself into existence. A Link Between Worlds was a phenomenal modernization of A Link to the Past (don’t tell anyone, but I find the original pretty middling at best) in the form of a sequel. This re-imagining of Koholint from the folks at Grezzo isn’t a sequel. It doesn’t really break any new ground — or change much of anything, from a narrative or level-design perspective. At the end of the day, admittedly, I prefer it this way. It reminds me a lot of how they handled Ocarina of Time 3D & Majora’s Mask 3D many moons ago: the Switch breathed new life into Link’s Awakening’s presentation — formerly stuck on the Game Boy — and allowed some mechanics (like being stuck with just two buttons for weapons) that age poorly about the original to be brought forward. Of course, while “uprezzed ports” could describe the 3D entries, Link’s Awakening on Switch dreams bigger. The whimsical, almost “storybook” art style & lack of a sweeping, orchestral soundtrack are polarizing to a few. But I recognize what both are trying to do, and I absolutely adore them for it. It's an elevated version of my favorite video game ever made. The new models for characters, monsters, and locales are an ideal way to keep the original’s proportions intact, and the new Koholint uses the colors from Link’s Awakening DX faithfully. The arrangements from Ryo Nagamatsu are definitely more subdued compared to A Link Between Worlds’ more “epic” feel — but the way he seamlessly blends the original’s chiptunes into his new takes are wonderful. Angler’s Tunnel was one of the tracks from GB Link’s Awakening that kind of struggled a bit—at the end of the day, it was just a sped up version of the “Cave Theme” from elsewhere in the adventure. Angler’s Tunnel on the Switch kicks off with slow harps at first, bringing in a new melody that feels more “underwater”. A few seconds later, the original GB melody plays in the background on top of it. That stuff right there happens a few times throughout the new old journey. Nagamatsu doesn’t reinvent the original soundtrack — he just does his due diligence to elevate it. That’s what Link’s Awakening is on Nintendo Switch. It’s an elevated version of my favorite video game ever made. Now, I just don’t know what else to wish for. Maybe, just maybe, Camelot will hear my plea.