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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.
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?