One year ago, while writing this post, I thought I had perhaps hit my limit for games played in a year at a mind-boggling 71 (well up from the previous year’s 36). Somehow, in the grand lead-up to fatherhood, I managed to surpass 80 games/collections this year between a combination of further exploring the many wonderful ports constantly coming to the Switch and checking out most of the latest AAA titles (sorry, Sekiro, I’ll get you next year). Overall, it was another solid year for games even if it didn’t feature as many all-timers as the previous two years that this current golden age of gaming had produced. For me, it will always be a year defined by the games that took the biggest, riskiest swings making the most profound impacts. While figuring out my top 3 titles may have been among the easiest decisions I’ve had to make on this blog in years due to the few titles that truly distinguished themselves, narrowing down the top 10 proved to be one of the hardest thanks to an abundance of strong if not transcendent releases.
Games Released Prior to This Year
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS4)
Yet another failure of my gaming life up to this point was rectified in 2019. After 20 or so years of not playing this signature game of the 32-bit era, I finally got around to not only beating it, but uncovering ever single square of this masterfully designed map. The role this game has played in inspiring countless others since is fully evident, but, even after all this time, it still feels like it’s pulling off this impeccable game design better than most of its spiritual successors are today. Playing as Dracula’s son, Alucard, features tons of fun shape-shifting and sword swinging mechanics, while the gorgeous and insanely detailed boss sprites motivated me to uncover every secret.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch)
This thirst quencher from the creative team behind the new Bloodstained series and the original Castlevanias is absolutely stellar 8-bit Belmont-family-demon-killing-esque action. The difficulty and character variety were spot on for an adventure that transported me back to the days of Castlevania III. It definitely got me intrigued for their Symphony of the Night-esque big release of 2019 – Ritual of the Night, but I’m waiting for all the bugginess that plagued it’s launch to be fully gone before investing in it.
Super Metroid (SNES Classic)
One of the most perfect and influential games of all-time was just as engrossing on my 10th or so playthrough 25 years after my first. The sprawling world you uncover as the most badass bounty hunter, Samus, remains a wonder to behold thanks to a wide range of power-ups that set a standard that has yet to be surpassed and remarkable minimalistic storytelling that creates a world full of mysteries waiting for you to unfold. Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to pour one out for my dearly departed best buddy, Baby Metroid. He died doing what he loved, sucking on brains.
Dark Souls Remastered (Switch)
Despite being 8 years old, Dark Souls‘ gameplay does not show its age at all. I simply couldn’t get enough of the uber-challenging boss battles and finally discovering how so many games have been influenced by this masterpiece in the ensuing years. 55 or so hours later upon finally beating it, I immediately jumped into a new game plus for more thrills and to see how much my skills had grown from their lowly, scared beginnings. Now that I’ve earned my gaming badge by surviving this punishing gauntlet, I can’t wait to try my luck at the other From Studios offerings.
Speaking of From Studios, I once again tried and failed to take on the Lovecraftian world of Bloodbourne this year. Even though I appreciated the increased fluidity of combat in this game, I still found myself Souls-ed out, having just spent over a month having my ass repeatedly handed to me. Fear not, though, for I will be back to try Bloodbourne again in 2020 with a fresh perspective and far more willingness to endure the thousand or so deaths ahead of me. I even just purchased Sekiro on sale, so it should be quite the self-induced brutal year for me.
After years of admiring this game from afar, I was overjoyed to finally see it arrive on a system I own. The old-timey animations and cruelly punishing test of reflexes stand-up there with anything I’ve played before, but I do wish that there was a little more depth to it all than the mainly bullet hell version of combat it employs. Still, much like with Dark Souls, I will hold my head up slightly higher from now on knowing I conquered this colorful wily beast.
One of my Top 10 games of 2018 also played a prominent roll in my gaming this year. Following the release of a new chapter of the story as part of free DLC, I decided to replay the entire game in preparation and found myself even more absorbed than ever in one of the most difficult yet welcoming platformers around. Eventually after testing my reflexes for over 20 hours by earning every special Heart and completing each B-side, the new DLC proved too much for even me, and I had to set it down for a while. Hopefully, one day I’ll find my way back to it to experience the full ending to this saga of overcoming anxiety and self-doubt, but I’ve got a feeling I’ll at least end up replaying the main campaign regularly.
Arcade Archives: Track & Field (Switch)
A few months back, I found myself reminiscing about the one game my sister was always better than me at – Track & Field for NES. Her button mashing speed was like nothing I had seen before, and she was just as likely to set a new world record in an event as I was to crash into a hurdle. While this is a port of the arcade version and lacks some of the events of the NES one (I’m looking at you skeet shooting), it was still a worthy trip down memory lane that I had a blast with for several, sister-free nights.
Picross S2 (Switch)
For several weeks, this glorious crossword-sudoku hybrid served as my go to getting ready for bed activity. Exercising my brain muscles to figure out each puzzle and receive my pixel art reward was perfect for lulling me to just the right amount of sleepy in a way few games can do. Now, it’s just time to finally pull the trigger on buying S3 and getting this melatonin replacement back on the road.
At just $5, how was I supposed to resist a trip back in time to one of the original first person shooters out there. Twenty-five years later, the game holds up shockingly well thanks to an emphasis on speedy combat and short levels that still feel fresh along with some quality jump scares.
Crypt of the Necrodancer (Switch)
After utterly loving this year’s Zelda themed follow-up Cadence of Hyrule (more on that much later), I decided to check out the original. The much lower-fi humble beginning was far heavier on the rogue-like qualities than its successor, but perhaps even more addictive as a result. Combine the fun with also an order of magnitude higher difficulty and the result was plenty of challenging but thrilling hours of entertainment. I can’t wait to see what Brace Yourself Games comes up with next.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered (Switch)
I remember enjoying this game when it first came out back in 2009 but not having enough time to really get into it thanks to being in grad school and having a fun case of depression to battle with. With its remaster release, I decided to give it another shot and was quite taken by being able to revisit that wonderful Ghostbusters world including all the previously unrealized problematic Peter Venkman inappropriateness, EPA bad guys, and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man boss battles my nostalgic heart could handle. Despite having an amusing new Ghostbusters story, the gameplay remains very much feeling like a PS3 game and did eventually lose my interest for other, newer shinier games, but I’m glad I went back in if just for a few hours.
Bury Me, My Love (Switch)
Sometimes I don’t know why I subject myself to such things. This immigrant’s story told through text messages is hands down the most depressing and touching thing I’ve played this year. For the entirety of the two hour phone adventure, I was utterly enthralled, sweating away the seconds before I would hear back from my wife fleeing Syria to see if my advice had doomed her or led her to salvation. Unfortunately, I received one of the sadder endings and didn’t have the courage to try again for better results. This very cheap game ($5) is definitely deserving of a playthrough as it’s just as timely as ever.
A Case of Distrust (Switch)
This narrative-noir tale featured a compelling mystery, a great cat friend, and a fun opening course for a year filled with playing visual novels that required finely tuned detective skills. It’s short and sweet and worth a look for the momentary diversion it provides.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (Switch)
Perhaps my best on sale purchase of the year, I have absolutely loved the 30 or so hours I’ve spent playing through the first 2 games and 9 trials of the Ace Attorney Trilogy once I got past the weird differences between this world’s justice system and our own (think more guilty until proven innocent). The remaster does a great job of hiding the game’s age, and the characters and music keep the energy high. I’ll never get tired of yelling “Objection!”, but I am starting to wonder why the true killers always give surprise testimony the final day of the trial that inevitably gets them caught. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, though, since it makes my job a hell of a lot easier.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Steam)
The last of my detective/trial games was also by far the weirdest and bloodiest. Unlike the leisurely affair that was solving crimes in Phoenix Wright, Danganronpa‘s action is far more scary and stressful as you’re part of a group of students trapped at a world renowned school where the only way out is to kill a fellow student and get away with the crime turning these prodigies into survivalists and revealing the worst of human nature. The gameplay mechanics are also the most complex of any of these previous detective games as finding and pointing out fallacies at trials is a far more interactive experience. I can’t wait to dive into the sequels and see where this weird ride goes, but part of me keeps holding off in the hopes that they’ll find their way to the Switch soon.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
While I haven’t kept up with Smash too much aside from checking out the new characters that drop every now and then, I did actually take part in a little Smash tournament as part of a charity streaming thing earlier this year. After cruising to victory in my first match, I was well on my way to a second W and a trip to the semi-finals, when my opponent lucked upon an extra life power-up that completely swung the match. It was ridiculous and infuriating and everything that makes the craziness of Smash so great.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)
I should just prepare to copy and paste this blurb each year for this round-up because it seems like it will remain on this list in perpetuity or at least until I’m no longer playing on the Nintendo Switch. Whenever there’s a large group around or even an old friend, there’s no better way to spend a few hours than trying to tear apart your interpersonal relationships by blasting each other with shells at the least opportune times possible.
Final Fantasy VI (SNES Classic)
This JRPG classic was released before I firmly got into the genre and established my love for the Final Fantasy series, so, much like A Link to the Past last year, the SNES Classic provided me with an opportunity to finally sink my teeth into this 16-bit adventure. Given its age, I was surprised at just how much the game had going on. I was expecting a far more traditional old-school JRPG, but instead found a game that took huge, mostly successful swings by seemingly giving each of the many characters their very own fighting mechanics. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced in a game from that era or even today really. Hopefully, I’ll find the time in the future to see this adventure through if it ever makes its way to the Switch.
Final Fantasy IX (Switch)
The ninth entry in the long-standing JRPG series is the game that got away from me during my FF loving hay-day. Over the 9 hours or so that I spent with the game, I thoroughly enjoyed the swashbuckling, princess kidnapping story, but in the end thought the game felt too entrapped in the PS-one era it came from, which only made me wish I was playing my favorite entry in the series, Final Fantasy VII, instead. Maybe one day I’ll revisit it, but not before I’m done replaying the previous two titles that preceded it first.
Final Fantasy VII (Switch)
As much as I enjoyed my excursions into the world of some new to me Final Fantasy games, nothing quite felt as good as deep diving back into the adventures of Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, and the horribly racially inappropriate Barret in childhood me’s hands down favorite entry. I purchased the game on sale several months ago and was anxiously awaiting the birth of my daughter to restart work on this 50+ hour adventure that I have joyfully beaten twice before in my life. Having that comfort of something I know so well and love so much is a great way to wind down after a busy day with the baby, and I look forward to taking this all the way to its Knights of the Round glory.
Final Fantasy X (PS4)
In an effort to find inspiration for building my next video game, I decided to spend some time in the weird and wonderful Blitzball aqua sphere. Mercifully, I had a save file still around that allowed me to jump right to Blitzball mode without having to play through hours of story and that horrible laugh, and I found the turn-based take on sports to still be incredibly enjoyable and deep. I never did get around to making a prototype inspired by Tidus’s favorite sport, but it was still a blast to revisit.
Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)
After ignoring the series for years, my first foray into Yakuza was not what I expected, but I’m extremely glad that its month as a free game for Playstation Plus members grabbed my attention and brought me into this wonderful, soap opera-y, beat-em-up world of the Dragon of Dojima. This remake of the original Yakuza felt like exactly the right size to get lost in without having to dedicate an absurd amount of time to. Whether I was fighting my way through hordes of Japan’s worst gangsters with whatever breakable items were nearby or I was singing karaoke or melting away my stress at the batting cages, there was so much to explore and love in this rich tapestry of a game. Now, I just need to catch up with the other 6 entries…
The Last of Us Remastered (PS4)
With a sequel fast approaching in 2020, it was time to revisit my favorite game of all-time and be fully punched in the gut by it yet again. The story of Ellie and Joel growing into a family while traveling across a zombie-ravaged country tugs at my heart strings every time and felt even more emotionally resonant with my own daughter on the way while playing it. On my third time through, I still caught myself in awe of just how beautiful and heart wrenching the journey remains. Part of me can’t wait for the sequel, and part of me wishes the story had ended where it did because I don’t want Ellie to have to suffer any more.
Night Trap (Switch)
My evening with one of the most notorious games of all-time turned out to be far more surprisingly fun than I could have imagined. The sheer campiness of this full-motion video adventure keeps things hilarious throughout and made me want to see it all (which fortunately only takes about 90 minutes). This is a perfect game for a night of fun and drinks with friends or just blowing off some steam on your own. Our time together may be over, but we’ll always have the unmistakably 80’s Night Trap theme song.
Hob: The Definitive Edition (Switch)
Yet another entry in my favorite category – games I played on vacation, Hob seemed charming enough with its intriguing giant robotic arm gameplay, but it didn’t grab my attention as much as the next title on the list did and lost the battle for my vacation filled playtime.
If nothing else, I really just want to give Owlboy a hug. The poor, bullied, silent hero always keeps trying to do his best and gets constantly shit on for it. Watching the growth of Owlboy throughout his adventure was an absolute treat, and the assorted flying abilities helped take the Metroidvania genre to literally new levels. It’s definitely worth checking out this consistently amazing indie the next time there’s a sale.
The Messenger (Switch)
Here is a perfect example of a game that I slept on for far too long. Yet another beneficiary of a Switch sale, The Messenger started off as a fun but unremarkable adventure reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden during the opening hours. When the central time-shifting mechanic kicks in, however, the game hit entirely new levels of awesome. This incredible 8-bit/16-bit transitioning adventure also features excellent boss battles, clever writing, and a neat upgrade system that make me wish I had checked it out sooner. Fortunately, I still have the free beach DLC to dive into.
Divinity Original Sin II (PS4)
Not falling immediately in love with this game truly pained me. Ever since it came out on PC over 2 years ago, I longed for a time that my non-gaming PC self could enjoy what I had heard was one of the greatest RPGs of all-time that helped reinvent the genre. Unfortunately, the game did not translate well to a controller, and the gameplay clearly suffered without a mouse and keyboard. I definitely saw the magic the game contained, but experiencing it sub-optimally just didn’t seem right, so I moved on after about 4 hours or so.
This Playstation Plus free game delivered an amusing evening of diversions in its well designed assassination sandbox. There almost seemed like too much to do and too many ways to complete your assassination objectives, and in the end, I decided to spend my gaming time elsewhere. Having been impressed with what I did see, I will probably be convinced to jump into this world again whenever the next entry in the series releases.
Infinite Adventures (PS4)
One of my co-workers who previously worked for Riot Games on League of Legends built this incredibly fun and sprawling dungeon-crawler. Over the course of the lengthy MLK Jr. weekend, I found myself compelled to finish the 20-hour adventure in its entirety. The game features plenty of beloved JRPG archetypes and customization allowing you to build whatever fun squad your heart desires and made exploring each ensuing level of the dungeon even more rewarding than the last. Special bonus points for featuring a bounty hunter who looks like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite.
Reigns: Kings & Queens (Switch)
Since I never got to experience the crazy world of swiping left and right to determine my future mates via dating apps, I suppose I’ll have to settle for this hilarious swiping kingdom ruling sim instead. For about a week, I found myself staying up late swiping furiously in an attempt to have this monarch’s reign go slightly better than the last and was constantly amused by the many, many downfalls I experienced.
Sega Genesis Mini
I won’t highlight all the retro games I played on yet another mini-console I couldn’t help but purchases, but I will point out a few of my favorites. Traveling back in time to experience the hyper 90’s feeling Earthworm Jim and Comix Zone were among the more nostalgia-filled blasts I had, while the Sonic games remained fast and exhilarating. The real standout for me, though, was the side-scrolling beat-em-up Streets of Rage 2 that may have played a little slower than similar modern titles but felt decidedly retro in the best way. In non-game features, I will say the weird cancel noise the system lets out is extremely grating, but I’m guessing was something I blocked from my childhood memory.
The most derided of all the mini-consoles was a tough sell thanks to some questionable game selections that I only picked up when it reached a whopping 60% off. Having the ability to play Metal Gear Solid and Syphon Filter again are probably the only things that will bring me back at some point as many of the other top titles like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII are readily available to play on other, more convenient consoles. In fact, the entire package is so woefully constructed that, in order to play it, I had to steal an adapter from the far superior SNES Classic. Still, I won’t let this underwhelming collection disturb my love for the simpler, polygonal times of those original Playstation days.
Several times throughout the course of the year, I got to experience the world of virtual reality gaming that has been promised to me since the early 90’s and be thoroughly whelmed. While Beat Saber is a riot to both play and watch and Moss featured a cool mousey world, I never felt the desire to play for more than 10 or so minutes at a time, and I definitely did not feel like all the effort that goes into setting it up. For the foreseeable future, it appears that I will just have to settle for standard reality.
Pokemon Go (iOS)
For one glorious vacation weekend in the Windy City, I played this and the similar new Harry Potter mobile game with my wife as we walked the city streets. I was surprised to find that of the two games, I was far more drawn to the much older and more familiar Pokemon Go, but, as it had in the past, my interest waned immensely once vacation was over and there was more to do and far better games to be played on consoles.
Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker (Switch)
I haven’t been this invested in Mario’s minuscule companion since envying his quick digging skills back in Super Mario Bros. 2. Nintendo has really learned how to make wonderfully offbeat games highlighting the strengths of their secondary characters, and this puzzler was absolutely magnificently executed. Challenges never got stale, and the game always seemed to find new ways to delight me until the very end.
Tetris Effect (PS4)
Has a game ever had such soothing music and stunning visual explosions that it made you feel like you were high despite being totally sober? Tetris Effect managed to provide an almost out-of-body like experience with its masterfully synched orchestra that continued to show the mainstay of puzzle gaming for the last 3 decades still has a lot left in its tank.
The Witcher 3 (PS4)
After an aborted attempt at fully immersing myself in the world of witchers, demons, and magics, this was the year I finally got sucked into the 2015 game that has inspired pretty much every open world game that has followed it. It definitely was somewhat jarring experiencing this highly regarded masterpiece with 4 years worth of games that have copied and perfected upon its formula under my belt, but the story and wicked side quests made for a fully engaging 35 or so hours as Geralt and Ciri. Also, I don’t care what anyone else says, Yennefer forever.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PS4)
The reboot of the Tomb Raider series and Lara Croft had, up until this point, been one of the major highlights of the trend toward gritty reboots. The original game in the trilogy and its follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, managed to turn Lara into one of the more compelling video game protagonists out there and successfully liberated her from the lusty super polygonal eye candy of her origins with engrossing tales and adventuring gameplay that managed to leave the Uncharted series in its dust. However, the crew could not bring the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion as Shadow managed to get a little too dark and pulled a John McClane, turning a relatable and vulnerable hero into an almost unrecognizable Terminator by the end. By no means was this a bad game, but I just wanted it to be so much more given what the previous 2 entries had promised.
Game Dev Story (Switch)
Watching the rise and fall and rise again of Pwned and Operated studios in this very old yet still very addictive port was one of the more wholesome and engaging gaming journeys I had this year. I simply couldn’t get enough of finding new, funny puns to make about games while striving to be loyal to my employees and craft the game of the year. Maybe at some point I’ll go back and play it for the highest score possible, but I loved my 12 or so hours with my team of devs and our classics like The Hexer and Final Funtasy.
Overcooked 2 (Switch)
While this game has mostly laid dormant on my Switch for the two years I have had it, I actually did get to revel in the kitchen based insanity of it for one brief hour as part of a charity streaming thing at work. About 7 hours into our streaming adventure, I was plenty tired which only made for the culinary hijinks to be even more blissfully crazy.
This throwback to N64 era 3D platforming definitely hit all the right notes in the first two levels I played, but I discovered that maybe my platforming tastes have changed a little bit since I was a kid. Really, all this game left me wanting to do was jump back into the far superior Super Mario Odyssey or find a way to play Banjo Kazooie.
Super Mario Party (Switch)
Once again, this mini-game filled extravaganza allowed for some quality gaming bonding between my wife and I. While we were headed off to a vacation, we had a blast passing time on the plane with my Switch in the rarely utilized kickstand mode. Even if I always go months between playing rounds of this, it’s one game that won’t get deleted off my Switch to make space.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES Online)
The gold standard by which all 2D Marios are measured, Super Mario Bros. 3 remained an absolute delight on what must’ve been my one hundredth or so playthrough. I was so taken by the game and the best collection of power-ups in any Mario adventure, that I found myself meticulously playing through each level and refusing to pass anything up with a warp flute. It still gives me a certain amount of wide-eyed joy every time I enter the Giant surroundings of World 4, and I don’t imagine that will ever go away as long as the Mario Bros. occupy a large place in my heart.
Super Mario World (SNES Online)
For the longest time, I thought this was my favorite 2D Mario game, but as the years have passed, I’ve learned that things don’t get much better than the brilliance of Mario 3. Super Mario World still feels incredibly fun, and I will likely play and beat it many more times, but not even the introduction of Yoshi can make up for the gap between the cape and the Tanooki suit.
Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
I was incredibly excited to have a bunch of new to me Mario levels at my disposal and was particularly excited that they were of the 2D variety, but for the most part, this Wii U port felt like a massive letdown. It was more of a paint by the numbers Mario experience than something wholly unique worthy of the plumber’s legacy. That is, until I moved on to New Super Luigi U where the faster paced and more frantic levels highlighted by the exaggerated physics given to the gaming world’s best younger brother finally boosted this set into something worth playing.
Games From This Year
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (Switch)
Not a whole lot has changed about this series in the 10 years since the release of the previous title aside from the crazy increase in the mega-worldwide popularity of all things Marvel. Fortunately, the tried and true formula remains incredibly breezy and fun to blast through by yourself or with friends and is buoyed by some fantastic new heroes to choose from including Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and, my personal favorite, Ms. Marvel. It’s all the cartoony super hero escapism you could hope for in a pleasant and fairly quick romp.
The Legend of Zelda Link’s Awakening (Switch)
Even though I lacked the seemingly pre-requisite nostalgia for this game since I did not play the original during my childhood, I still found myself thoroughly charmed by Link’s gorgeous, almost claymation-esque adventure. The game was a nice throwback to the classic Zelda feel after the more open world-ness of Breath of the Wild and was so extremely welcoming that it should definitely be one of any parent’s first stops in introducing their kids to video games.
The Outer Worlds (PS4)
I saw this game described somewhere as RPG comfort food, and I couldn’t agree more. From the makers of the original Fallout titles, this game feels very familiar as it essentially takes Fallout to space with all that nice wit and humor that has been missing from the recent Bethesda take on the series. While this familiarity feels all warm and fuzzy, it also leads to a game that very much plays like a product of a bygone era as I could easily imagine this exact game releasing 5 years ago. Despite the flaws and lack of anything world-shakingly new, it’s still a joy to play, and I catch myself mindlessly completing quests for hours on end even if I don’t have a single care about what any of the choices I’m making mean.
Ring Fit Adventure (Switch)
I have high hopes that Ring Fit Adventure will be the key to me attempting to stay in some sort of shape other than “round” while taking care of a newborn, but so far the results are uncertain. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the few times I’ve taken Nintendo’s latest weird controller based game for a 30 minute jaunt, and I have found the workouts to be pretty solid. Now, I just need to get the consistency going to make this worth the purchase and so I can see even more of the super weird RPG adventure.
The Stillness of the Wind (Switch)
My love of Stardew Valley has caused me to check out two other quirky farming games with mixed results. While the story found in The Stillness of the Wind hits just the right melancholy notes for me, I found the actual farming too slow and lacking to hold my attention and keep me going past a few hours.
The other farming sim I found myself playing (and appreciating quite a bit) was this one that plays far more like an homage to Stardew Valley without all the personal interactions I loved so much. This game is definitely great for mindlessly passing several hours and has a solid list of goals to build towards, but, in the end, the lack of story depth made me just wish I was back in Pelican Town with all my Stardew friends.
Creature in the Well (Switch)
On paper, Creature in the Well seems like exactly the kind of game I’d be super into, combining pinball with dungeon crawling and offering to fill the Yoku’s Island Express sized hole in my heart for this year. The execution, however, seemed just ever so slightly off, and I couldn’t really get into it after an hour or so of trying.
Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid (Switch)
Listen, we’ve all made terrible purchases during massive sales. While I can take some solace in the fact that my misguided attempt at triggering nostalgia for my childhood heroes came at 50% off, the nonsensical story and poorly executed fighting made me wish I had kept the past in the past and that $12 in my wallet.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch)
During the gaming doldrums of early January, I found myself, for some reason, playing through the entirety of this thoroughly mediocre game that seems stuck in the 2000’s when the original was released. Only two levels actually stood out, one featuring a cool serial killer storyline (pictured above) and another featuring Tron-like racing, while everything else became far too repetitive and tiring to be worth the time.
Initially, I found myself quite taken by this strategy game featuring some of the most adorable attack animations around. As the game progressed, however, the battles started to emphasize defense and retreating far more than I would have liked, and I eventually lost the drive to continue what had been a rewarding adventure up to that point. Somewhere between the defensive-minded strategy of this game and the offense-heavy world of Fire Emblem probably exists the perfect strategy game.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (iOS)
Since I will never ever stifle any attempt by my wife to get even the slightest bit into video games, I happily suggested we download this game to go along with her foray back into Pokemon Go. The game solid if not spectacular to play for the 3 days or so we were in a big city surrounded by things to do, but I quickly lost interest once I returned to the slightly more sparsely populated wizarding world of Charleston. At least I’ll always have saving Wrigley Field from a rogue bludger.
MLB the Show 19 (PS4)
After several years away from the virtual diamond, I once again took up one of my favorite past times – turning my 5’4″ athletically challenged self into a hall-of-famer. The journey from the minors to World Series champion was as fun as ever, and this iteration just might have been the most dominant of my myriad flame-throwing pitchers. Hopefully, I’ll be back to transfer my character over to the 2020 version of the game and finally achieve my long held dream of seeing my create-a-player’s career all the way through to retirement.
Apex Legends (PS4)
Several months removed from my 2018 Fortnite fixation, I decided I should check out one of the newest and most exciting entrants in the now crowded battle royale genre. The emphasis on teamplay, excellent communication pinging system, and character specific special abilities were a welcome change from my solo-loving ways of the past, but the map didn’t feel as fun as Fortnite‘s. And I never found myself truly itching to play.
Baba is You (Switch)
While it may not have earned its way onto my best of the year list, this puzzler was perhaps the most creative game I came across. The beautiful blend of programming, cute lo-fi graphics, and ingenious puzzles seems to always have a delightful surprise when you least expect it. After 10 or so hours and 50 or so puzzles, things still felt incredibly fresh, but I was ready to move on to some more action-heavy fare.
I found myself both quite impressed and slightly underwhelmed by the content of Apple Arcade’s release. There were plenty of fun diversions to be had like the absolutely batty British humor of Cricket Through the Ages or the slapsticky absurdity of What the Golf, but the sole highlight for me was Sayonara Wild Hearts, one of the most stunning looking and sounding games I’ve played in a long time. I could hardly believe that a game like that just came as part of the low $5/month subscription fee. In fact, I loved it so much that I ended up buying it on my Switch once I decided not to re-up Apple Arcade after my free trial month. This service definitely seems like a great buy for more casual gamers or anyone looking to have a massive library to keep kids busy with, but I’ve never been a huge mobile gamer, and, for the most part, these titles felt far too much like mobile games.
Super Bash Bros (Mac)
Aside from playing seemingly every game on the planet, I also made my own as a gift for my nephew’s 6th birthday. Over the course of 2 months I painstakingly (read: drank lots of beer and had a ball) built my own platforming adventure using Unity. Over the course of six levels, a variety of power-ups and mechanics were introduced including super speed, growing bigger, reversing gravity, traveling through portals, and, of course, gliding using a baby’s diaper. It was by far the most fun I’ve had wearing my dev hat in a long time, and I hope it’s not the last entry in Pwned and Operated Studio’s ever growing catalog of games.
Yoshi’s Crafted World (Switch)
Here we have yet another example of Nintendo building a super enchanting game around one of their periphery characters. The hand crafted felt-aesthetic is enough to make you want to play the entire thing, but the fun and welcoming platforming keeps things light and makes for a wonderful escape. Sure, it would have been nice to feature a bit more of a challenge, but sometimes it’s best to sit back and enjoy a beautiful ride.
Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (Switch)
This year I found myself suddenly into deck building games. Having been previously charmed by Steamworld Dig 2, this seemed like a golden opportunity to check out a card based RPG in a world I was already familiar with. The resulting card combat system was extremely well crafted and featured some beautiful chaining mechanics that made plotting my every turn all the more rewarding. Plus, it introduced me to the joys of building up poison in enemies, which would come in quite handy for the next card game entry.
Slay the Spire (Switch)
Whereas Steamworld was far more story based, Slay the Spire takes a roguelike approach to deck building RPGs. The result was even more highly addictive as you could easily continually spend “just one more hour” hoping to land some good cards and relics to take on the increasingly difficult bosses as you climbed the floors. The roguelike elements work out extremely well as no two runs are even close to alike especially if you tend to favor heading toward the “?” spaces as much as I did. Additionally, the three unique heroes each provide their own enchanting playstyle to add even more variety. Personally, I found myself drawn to “The Silent” a purveyor of poisonous attacks, who I have managed to achieve victory with twice while still awaiting a winning hand with the others.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch)
My love of Luigi is well documented, and I was absolutely thrilled to have a chance to spend an entire game in my virtual counterpart’s extremely frightened shoes. The game features some of the most clever level design I’ve seen in a while, straying greatly from the go to level types found in other Nintendo fare that managed to make me eager to check out the theme of the next floor before putting the game down. Aside from stellar puzzles and ghost busting action, the true highlight is the constantly overestimated and scared Luigi. Each pitiful squeak or cry of “MaMaMaMaMariooo?” is a joy to watch and makes it all the more entertaining when the sometimes afterthought manages to save his far more heralded brother.
Katana Zero (Switch)
This twitchy, time bending ultra violent affair almost ended up in my did not finish pile, but thanks to a save destroying bug and finally embracing the way the game was meant to be played instead of brute forcing everything, I discovered an intricately designed triumph of an indie game that builds off the wonderful stealth action of 2012’s Mark of the Ninja for a truly unique experience.
Gato Roboto (Switch)
I was immediately sold on this game once I heard its brilliant premise. It’s essentially Super Metroid where the suit is being controlled by one extraordinarily lucky cat. The gameplay manages to harken to the Metroid glory days while also building something fresh with the many feline-centric segments resulting in a truly engaging 4 hour or so.
Untitled Goose Game (Switch)
No game served its premise better than Untitled Goose Game. Instead of just cashing in on the meme-worthiness of it all, the team at House House crafted the greatest asshole goose simulator imaginable. Wreaking low stakes havoc in this quaint British village was a highlight of my gaming year, and I hope I haven’t seen the last of this mischievous goose.
Devil May Cry 5 (PS4)
A lot has indeed changed among Dante’s world since my last go around in it back in PS2’s Devil May Cry 2. Despite some incredibly complicated and messy lore, I found myself instantly drawn to the bonkers story and the unique playstyles of each of the game’s protagonists. Just when I thought I had settled on my favorite character, the game would find a way to change my mind by introducing an entirely new off-the-wall brawler or combat style. I mean where else can you rip a motorcycle in half to crush demons with and then ride around on it to stomp them back to Hell?
Shovel Knight: King of Cards (Switch)
The final free expansion of the Mega-Man inspired indie, Shovel Knight, dropping this December was perhaps the best Christmas present I could have gotten (aside from you know the whole new kid thing). The delusions of grandeur and humor are as sharp as ever in Yacht Club Games’s latest. While the platforming in this game feels extremely balletic, it doesn’t quite hold the precision of the previous entries. Fortunately, though, the addition of a very deep and fun card game, Joustus, more than makes up for any minor platforming shortcomings and could have earned a spot in the honorable mentions all by itself.
My Top 10
10 a) Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch/Apple Arcade)
Each year, I find a way to cheat on this list usually by including a game that came out the year before for PC only. This year, however, I’ve decided to have a tie in 10th place since I just couldn’t choose between either of these two amazing games.
In the first 10 spot, we have Sayonara Wild Hearts, a game so good that I purchased it on Switch after having beaten it for free on Apple Arcade. The beautiful artwork, soundtrack full of bangers, rare and compelling LGBTQ+ story, and slew of challenges made this infinite runner/rhythm game hybrid by far my most replayed game of the year. Almost every level from skateboarding to drifting to being in a VR headset blazes a new trail in what a rhythm game can be and demands to be replayed until the elusive gold rank can be achieved. Remember, wild hearts never die!
10 b) Astral Chain (Switch)
Perhaps the most engrossing combat of the year belonged to this futuristic stylish cop action game. There’s plenty of that standard Bayonetta feel to love, but the game really shines once you unlock all the Legions (think cool beasts tethered to the titular astral chain) and seamlessly shift between them for combat and exploring purposes. Hell you can even pet the dog one! That combined with a room full of cats to feed would have been enough to earn it a spot on my Top 10 list, but the stunning world, unmatched feeling of scale for boss battles, and some fun detective work mixing things up didn’t hurt either. Even long after I had rolled credits and had far more games to play, I still found myself endlessly tackling all the exquisite postgame challenges.
9) Tetris 99 (Switch)
In the shocker of all shockers, the game that cost me the most sleep and raised my heart rate to its highest levels was a Tetris title! The puzzle game’s take on the battle royale genre was executed nearly flawlessly resulting in a masterpiece where each pressure packed tetromino flip manages to present more thrilling and chaotic finishes than anything Fortnite or Apex Legends has shown me. With 4 wins and over 900 K.O.’s under my belt, I’ve never felt more like a Tetris Master in my life, and while my time with the game has mostly dissipated in the 9 months since it’s release, I will still find myself caught in its grasp on occasion thanks to frequent weekend events yielding fun themes.
8) Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PS4)
At long last we received the single player Star Wars game that has long been promised. By masterfully weaving together all the disparate influences of Uncharted, Dark Souls, and Metroid Prime, Respawn created one thoroughly rewarding journey for all aspiring Jedi Knights that adds an exciting new chapter to the already deep Star Wars lore. For about 20 hours, you’re provided with endless Star Wars wish fulfillment from driving an AT-AT to mastering every style of lightsaber and even encountering some familiar faces that left me quite hungry to see just what the team at Respawn can accomplish in the inevitable sequel.
7) Resident Evil 2 (PS4)
The original 1998 Resident Evil 2 remains one of my favorite games to this day, and this action-packed and fright-filled remake did it a tremendous amount of justice. Once again, I was all in on helping both Claire and Leon make it through the zombie infested Raccoon City, so much so that I even turned off all the lights and wore headphones so the imposing Mr. X and the sound of the impending doom brought by each thundering footstep could properly scare the living shit out of me. Aside from being a magnificent update of a 21 year old game, it also reinvigorated my desire for more Resident Evil action that I’m hoping future remakes and some ports will help with soon.
6) Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)
For one brief month, I ate, slept, and breathed Mario Maker 2 along with several equally invested coworkers and friends. Every free moment (and quite a few busy ones) was consumed with thoughts of building my next masterpiece of a level. There were fun speedruns and devilishly difficult troll levels, but no single level encapsulated my time with Mario Maker 2 more than my semi-internet famous and Kotaku shouted-out 4th of July Level – Yoshi’s Hot Wiggler Eating Contest. After having spent 2 months building my own platforming game (see Super Bash Bros above), it was an absolute joy to have such a comprehensive suite of tools at my disposal cutting down my level creation time to mere hours without hindering my creativity. All good things must come to an end, though, and I eventually did move on once I felt I had built all the levels my heart had desired. With a plethora of new tools recently released, I would love to jump bag in and explore even more, but for now I’ll just have to settle for looking back fondly on that one month of plumber filled madness.
5) Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer Featuring the Legend of Zelda (Switch)
Perhaps the most surprising, original, and wordy-titled game to make the list, Cadence of Hyrule had me smiling throughout with its clever combination of the world of Zelda with an extremely tight rhythm game. The overall aesthetic is very reminiscent of A Link to the Past, establishing the perfect familiar backdrop for this breakthrough indie. Each character provides unique gameplay that had me rapidly beat the main game twice in a row (and soon to be a third with the recently released playable boss Octavo expansion) while happily bouncing to the beat and hoping to one day achieve a no-death playthrough.
4) Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
For 70 or so hours, I got lost in the world of Fire Emblem more than I did any other game this year. The world and the emphasis on building relationships is the true highlight surrounding an otherwise standard strategy game. Thanks to endless hours exploring the monastery, teaching, and interacting with my students who felt more like my children, I became incredibly invested in not only saving the world, but making sure all my characters thrived, and I was rewarded with an emotionally resonant finale recapping both our many triumphs and revealing everyone’s futures as the credits rolled.
3) Control (PS4)
I feel like a case could be made for any of these final three titles being the GOTY, as they all reached incredible heights that most of the rest of the year seemed to be lacking. The creepy, telekinetic powered world of Control was the first game this year that made me say “Holy Shit!” as it presented me with never before seen physics and super hero-like powers that made for some of the most enjoyable combat and, oddly enough, movement in a game. Even without the exemplary battles, the atmosphere of Control would be enough to leave an impression as everything from the fonts to letters about paranormal experiences and drunken videos from the disillusioned head of research draw you in to a world that feels both supernatural and lived in.
2) Death Stranding (PS4)
It’s no secret that I bought this game only to see how batshit crazy Hideo Kojima’s latest highly anticipated opus was, and it paid off in that respect in spades. But, shockingly I found myself falling completely in love with everything about this game. The characters and the post apocalyptic world they were trying to rebuild were truly one of a kind. Even in the quiet moments (and there are plenty of those), I found myself full engrossed in my simple yet elegant task of transporting supplies from one outpost to another. Amidst the world’s lonely exterior, however, the true beauty shines through as the social aspects of collaborating with other players to build paths and structures to help others on their journeys are perhaps the game’s greatest strength (well aside from the killer performance of Mads Mikkelson). Never before have I had to soothe a baby in the midst of a final boss battle, but I’m glad this game made me do that and so many other crazy things I’ll always cherish.
1) Outer Wilds (PS4)
When I look back on the modestly priced indie that found its way to being my game of the year, I think about the haunting score that is imprinted in my brain. I think about the endless times I didn’t make it through to the end of a time loop because I died doing something stupid exploring space. I think about all the conversations I had with my friend Trey who was playing the game at the same time as me. Mostly though, I think about the unique journey I crafted for myself that I can call my very own. Unraveling the mysteries of this universe that was going supernova every 22 minutes while wrapping my head around some new rules of quantum mechanics was far and away the apex of my gaming year and one of the most remarkable and game changing experiences I’ve had in longer than I can recall. In a year with lots of good but not outstanding games, this one manages to stand out as an all-timer. For one last time, I wish I could roast a marshmallow with my fellow Outer Wilds Venturers and ponder back on the year that was.