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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.
Developer: Image & Form International AB Publisher: Thunderful Publishing AB Platform: Nintendo Switch Release Date: April 25, 2019 ESRB: E for Everyone At this point in Image & Form’s rapidly-expanding SteamWorld franchise we’ve had two incredible Metroidvania entries; an epic, space-faring tactical strategy title; and a lesser-known tower defense game for DSiware that started it all. According to studio head Brjann Sigurgeirsson, fans had been clamoring for the Swedish developer to give the RPG genre a go and it seems his team was all too happy to oblige. Thus, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech was born. A departure from the sci-fi setting of previous games in the series, SteamWorld Quest features a storybook tale that unfolds in an era of knights, dragons, and magic, narrated by SteamWorld Heist’s Seabrass in a welcome cameo. The journey begins with two adolescent female steambots named Armilly and Copernica -- a wannabe knight and a novice alchemist, respectively – who find themselves caught up in a plot against a rising evil. Along the way, you’ll pick up a few more party members and discover some unsettling truths about what’s really happening, and maybe even experience a twist or two. Naturally, SteamWorld Quest is a bit heavier on the narrative than previous games due to being an RPG. However, the cast is wisely kept smaller and contained versus large and unwieldy, thus giving each character just enough focus and attention to keep them interesting. The writing is downright hilarious at times too, once again showing that Image & Form really does have one of the best localization teams on the indie side of the industry. And though the plot is a little formulaic (yet entirely self-aware), the writers do subvert a few typical story tropes – the two main leads are both female, for one -- and ultimately, there are fulfilling arcs for each of the characters by the time the credits roll. Unlike many other 2D RPGs where a top-down or isometric view is standard, the out-of-battle sequences in SteamWorld Quest take place in a side-scrolling manner where you’ll mostly move from left to right (and vice versa) and screen to screen, coming across the occasional treasure chest and/or puzzle, a shopkeeper, and scores of enemies. Touch an enemy (they’ll be alerted to your presence if you come too close) and you’ll initiate a battle, which is far and away the best part of this game. In fact, I’ve never played a card-based battle system that I enjoyed more than this one. The mechanics are kept surprisingly simple: at the beginning of each battle, you’re dealt eight “punch cards” randomly from your deck of 24 (which you can customize throughout the game), and you can play up to three cards each turn. Playing base cards (usually lower level attacks that have no number) will help you build up your steam power gauge, in turn allowing you to play even stronger cards that unleash powerful attacks, restore health, or cast buffs that help your team (or debuffs on your enemies). What really propels the gameplay in a big way are the variety of options at your disposal. Sure, you can play your cards as they’re dealt, but you can also strategically choose to pass on some in order to get the right combination to line up special combos that can, at times, save your bacon entirely. The battle system is also amazingly well-balanced. I played on the Normal difficulty, but the challenge remained consistent throughout, picking up toward the end. Image & Form did a great job making boss fights feel alive and engaging thanks to a number of different scenarios you’ll have to play through. For example, one boss poisons your characters every five turns, forcing you to constantly switch between damage control and going on the offense. Other bosses might have lackeys or pawns whose extra attacks and damage can add up over time unless you defeat them. Creative scenarios like this kept me looking forward to each and every battle, which is a rarity for me when it comes to RPGs. If there’s one thing that disappointed me, it’s the lack of activities and interaction with the world outside of battles. There’s little to no interaction with NPCs due to them being sparse, little to no side quests that you can carry out that either reward you with more loot or delves deeper into the game’s lore, no interesting minigames to shake things up, and no engaging puzzles aside from the ‘lite’ ones you come across (find a switch to open a gate, or rotate images a certain way to open a door, etc.). While the battle system is near perfect, the out-of-battle activities and exploration are the biggest aspects Image & Form could and should expand upon should they give the game a sequel (or create other RPGs like it). Still, the game has so much going for it that it’s easy to overlook this aspect this time around. The art, like in other recent SteamWorld games, is fantastic and draws on the strengths of Image & Form’s talented and creative team while the music keeps the story suspenseful and allows for some lighter moments as well. If you’ve played other SteamWorld titles, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that SteamWorld Quest is another great entry. And if you’re hesitant because you’re not sure what to make of the card-based battle system, be assured that this is easily one of the best battle systems I’ve ever played in an RPG; it’s both fun and engaging, as is the deck-building element. While the game still has some room to grow for next time (more out-of-battle activities, for example), SteamWorld Quest is a tremendous first step into the RPG genre for Image & Form’s ambitious franchise and more than lives up to the lofty expectations the studio has set with its prior games. Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great SteamWorld Quest is fun, zany, and boasts what is possibly the best card-based battle system in any game to date. Though not without room to improve, this is yet another genre Image & Form has shown considerable skill and expertise developing in, and I can't wait to see what's next. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher
Jason Clement posted a article in Industry NewsHave you been chomping at the bit for a new SteamWorld game ever since finishing the excellent SteamWorld Heist? The good news is we might be closer than you realized to the announcement of the next game in the series. A LOT closer, in fact. Today Image & Form tweeted the following: "We're bringing SteamWorld Project 2017 to PAX East in March! Which means the reveal is not far off. Can you find the hint(s) in this pic?" You'll notice right away that there is indeed an amiibo of Rusty, the protagonist from SteamWorld Dig -- on the second upper shelf from the left. Whether this was fan-made, a prototype, or an actual amiibo that's in the works, we don't know, but it certainly is an auspicious sign for them to include it. As for SteamWorld Project 2017, the official name was rumored to be SteamWorld Quest when it appeared on a European listing, so unless it was a tentative title or they opted to change it since then, it seems a good bet that the title may stick. Stay tuned for more info on Image and Form's Project 2017 in the coming weeks before PAX East kicks off. Source: Image and Form (via Twitter) What do you think the next SteamWorld game will be about? And do you think the Rusty amiibo is real?
Jason Clement posted a article in Industry NewsIf you enjoyed Swedish developer Image & Form's SteamWorld Dig and last year's SteamWorld Heist, you'll want to keep tabs on their next title, which is reportedly dubbed SteamWorld Quest. This newest title accidentally leaked by way of a European listing that someone had caught wind of, and, unfortunately, it's far from presentable in its current state according to Image & Form's Julius Goldbog, who made the following statement regarding the leak: Look at that! We“ll share more about our next game when the time is right. It“s so deep in its initial stage that there“s no point in talking about it. While no formal announcement has been made just yet, it took Image & Form just under two and a half years to release SteamWorld Heist after SteamWorld Dig made its debut in early August of 2013. Given that Heist released last December, it's understandable that SteamWorld Quest would be extremely early in development and thus they would have nothing meaningful to announce about it so far. Although it could come out earlier, it's safe to say given the timespan between Dig and Heist that you might not see Quest until Q1/Q2 2018 at the very earliest. This means you might get the first rumblings of what the game is sometime next year, though the "Quest" moniker does seem to hint that the title could possibly be an RPG this time around. Source: EACEA (via GoNintendo) What are your thoughts on the name for the next SteamWorld game? Do you think it might be an RPG as well?