So, after my massive movie breakdown a few days ago, we finally get to the games. I actually got to sample a larger number of releases this year compared to previous years, though I can't say I've completed a great many of them. Read on to find out my thoughts.
Even though I played a good number of games, let's first discuss some of the notable games I didn't play. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice won a lot of awards recently, but I held off feeling daunted by the extreme difficulty it boasted. Much like Bloodborne and the later entries in the Dark Souls series, I simply don't think I'll have the time or patience to learn and perfect the very specific mechanics like I once could. No doubt it's a good game though. I recently got The Outer Worlds for Christmas, but receiving Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at the same time put that one on the backlog. Days Gone, Borderlands 3, Astral Chain, Untitled Goose Game... these were all games I wanted to play but until someone can figure out how to manipulate time and space, there's simply not enough time (or money) to play everything.
By far, the most entertainment I've had in gaming all year has been the PlayStation VR. I finally stumped up a chunk of my paycheck when a sale triggered the impulsive side of my brain. None of the games I played came out this year so you won't find them on my top 10, but if I were on the ball many could have been in years past. Beat Saber is the perfect VR experience, a rhythm action game that's at once incredibly intuitive and tough to master. VR Worlds was a great showcase for the tech when friends and family braved the passive experience of the shark attack. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood was a light-gun game as immersive as it was spooky. I'd like to see more of its kind on the format. Moss and Astro Bot were a couple of cute platformers that cleverly used VR as part of its mechanics and Star Trek: Bridge Crew may be slow to start off with, but is pure wish fulfilment for nerds and gamers alike - and I'm both!0 By far the most time spent with a screen inches from my eyes was with Pinball FX 2 VR, a series that's already the best there is for digital pinball but the added VR gives you the best way to possibly play them.
Compiling this list has been a lot harder than in previous years. Just like the year in movies, there was no clear standouts but a lot of very good games. Few games I was anticipating had the impact I was hoping. Kingdom Hearts III improved on combat and visual fidelity, but not in its story or presentation. Death Stranding appears to have the opposite problem. The more reviews and gameplay videos I saw, the more I was put off by the whole thing. Constant walking and tripping over miles and miles of rough terrain does not appeal to me, no matter how intriguing the story. As such, I didn't pick the game up.
Anyway, enough talking... on to the list!
For years, Seiken Densetsu 3 could only be played in English via emulation and fan translation. It, and other classic RPGs SquareSoft deemed unfit for western audiences, was one of the biggest benefits of emulation. Finally, after almost a quarter-century, it has been given the new name of Trials of Mana and granted an official release in Collection of Mana. It's also its main selling point before the sub-par 3D update steals its thunder in a couple of months.
Also included in the package is Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu 1) and Secret of Mana (Seken Densetsu 2), some of the best action-RPGs on their relevant systems. Some of the later sequels like Dawn of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 4) and spin-offs such as Legend of Mana are sadly nowhere to be found denying it from truly being a definitive collection. In my eyes, it's a little too expensive for a couple of SNES ROMs and a GameBoy game but they remain excellent experiences no matter how you play them.
The quality of life additions are also admiral, reducing the need for grinding with easy mode if you so choose. You can also rewind a bit saving you even more valuable time if you unexpectedly die. The new translations are good too. I remember being let down when playing Final Fantasy V's official translation when it came to the PS1 after years of only having a fan-made SNES patch to go by. They gave accents to each character which only confused what they were trying to say when all you have is text. Trials of Mana doesn't have any of this, with great care taken to preserve the intent of the original without alienating anyone with cultural differences. I hope to see more of Square's Japanese-only back catalogue finally come over to the west in the future.
Being the most recent acquisition to my games collection, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order quickly sneaked into my top 10. I had very little expectations that EA and their money-grabbing loot boxes could once again make a good game, let alone a great game. Even less so with a franchise as prolific as Star Wars. But Respawn has done it. I feel their previous efforts - Titanfall and the Fortnite wannabe that is Apex Legends - have been hampered by EA's business practices. The fact that this high-quality single-player game sold incredibly well proves you don't need all that crap to make money.
At first, the game reminded me a bit of the two Force Unleashed games. They too were top-tier action adventures which took inspiration from the Uncharted school of game design. The more you play, though, the more you find this is more akin to the likes of Dark Souls. The combat is complex and satisfying but the way the game is structured with generous save and respawn points mean that it's not as brutally difficult as From Software's magnum opus. Thus it's less daunting to get into. Take note EA. More games like this!
Devil May Cry was one of the first games I played on my trusty old PlayStation 2. The rumour on the street was that it was originally conceived to be Resident Evil 4 before becoming so different it needed to be its own franchise. The best part of two decades (!) have passed between then and now and the series hasn't lost its lustre. After Ninja Theory's divisive (and stupidly named) DmC reboot (which I really liked on its own merits by the way), Capcom themselves took the reigns once again to show everyone what the series is capable of.
When you first play the game, Dante, the series iconic protagonist, is threatened to be sidelined by two other characters. Nero and V both bring their own style of attack along with Dante's classic gun-toting acrobatics. Nero makes use of arm attachments to perform some flashy moves of his own, while V doesn't really fight at all. He summons demons to do his dirty work and its a testament to the design team that not only do all three work well mechanically but are also immensely enjoyable to play.
In my very first Top 10 games list for this site back in 2015, Until Dawn took this very spot. Now, in 2019 Supermassive Games' Man of Medan is my number 7 pick. If you've played any consequence-driven adventure like Heavy Rain or Detroit, then you know what the gameplay will be like, but it's everything that surrounds the choices that'll make or break a game like this.
Being the first in an anthology horror series called Dark Pictures, it places five characters on a ghost ship in an effective Lovecraftian tale. The characters aren't quite as developed as the other games I've mentioned but they are all performed very well by professional actors. My soft spot for horror also elevates my opinion of it.
There are some very tense scenes that do not necessarily fall into the supernatural side of horror. The opening act on a fishing boat is particularly gripping. Combine that with some detailed, atmospheric locations and superb graphics (marred slightly by the odd technical glitch) and you have an excellent adventure that's easy to recommend.
For a man who previously confessed his lack of skill in action games, I've sure put a lot of them in my top 10. Control may have competent and complex skirmishes but if you've played it for even a short while you'll know it's so much more than that. You play as Jesse Faden, a character whose backstory appears to be pretty basic at first; she takes on the job as the director of a secretive government agency called the Federal Bureau of Control in order to solve her own personal mysteries. As the game progresses and her abilities increase, her psyche gets increasingly strained as we wonder what is reality and what isn't.
It's not helped by the supernatural subject matter of the Bureau. The game takes place entirely that agency's sprawling office building which morphs and alters as it's taken over by another dimension. Known as the Hiss, the otherworldy affliction takes over the rooms in surprising ways, so don't expect grey, narrow corridors here. Projected on the walls, and our protagonist's mind are some nicely diegetic storytelling techniques told with intelligent, modernist art design.
In many ways, Remedy Entertainment's latest is the culmination of all the developer's previous games. It has the psychedelic action gimmicks of Max Payne, the horror-tinged atmosphere of Alan Wake and the Lynchian storytelling of Quantum Break. If that doesn't excite you, I don't know what would.
Luigi's Mansion 3 has been a long time coming. The first game on the GameCube still holds up as a my-first-survival-horror with great gameplay crammed in its short playtime. Dark Moon, the 3DS-exclusive second game, was a bit of a disappointment, altering the structure of the game to be more of a level-based scramble for a high score.
Luigi's Mansion 3 brings back an overall narrative, boss fights and kid-friendly scares in a big way, yet still has some clearly delineated levels by the way of floors. We're not dealing with a mansion here, folks. We're dealing with a hotel! Nintendo's biggest names visiting these luxurious lodgings on their vacation, only to find the place is run by none other than King Boo. He's imprisoned your friends, sibling and debated lover in a bunch of paintings and you have to puzzle your way around the 15 floors and 2 basement levels to save them.
You're not alone. Polterpup is your undead canine companion while Professor E. Gadd has set up shop in the parking lot. He'll upgrade your Poltergust 5000 vacuum cleaner with a number of new gadgets, the most notable being Gooigi who'll be key to solving a lot of puzzles (and co-op play). Undoubtedly, Luigi's Mansion 3 is one of the best games on the Switch.
You can tell a lot of effort has been put into Trüberbrook. All of the visuals - the sets, items and characters - were hand modelled giving it a very tactile feel. Set in the 1960s Germany, this kickstarted point-and-click adventure displays its Twin Peaks inspiration on its sleeve with a slightly surreal plot that takes some interesting turns.
You are Hans Tannhauser, an American scientist staying in the sleepy town after winning tickets in a competition he never entered. On his first night, he awakens to find a man - or ghost - rifling through his belonging, ultimately stealing his work on quantum physics. Who is he? Why does he need his life's work? Why is there a mental asylum nearby?
The game, while short, packs a lot of intrigue in the 5 hours I took to complete it and Hans makes for good company. At times, the script feels a little mistranslated and the German humour doesn't always carry over, but overall this is a must place for any point-and-click adventure game aficionados.
It's a testament to this update of a classic GameBoy game that I couldn't put it down the moment I started playing. Link's Awakening does little to update the original, with only the fancy new graphics and a create-your-own-dungeon mini-game being of any note. Look closer and there are some perfectly implemented quality-of-life improvements you may have missed unless you directly compared both versions side by side.
The overworld is now a continuously scrolling area instead of static screens giving the towns, beaches and forests a much wider scope and sense of place within Koholint Island. Several oft-used actions are now mapped to its own key which reduces the amount of time spent in the menus managing items. There are also cutscenes, beefing up any emotion to an already melancholy tale.
The best things about Link's Awakening have always been there. The characters, the game design, the dungeons; all are relatively unchanged but are still exceptionally pleasant to experience. It may be an over-priced remake of a GameBoy game, but it's still one of the best games out there. At £50 RRP, it's more than a little pricey. Even at its current reduced price tag of £36 at Amazon is a tough sell considering the price of other recent remakes and what they've accomplished in comparison (see Shadow of the Colossus, Crash Trilogy or Resident Evil 2). Budget-conscious gamers may want to buy the original on the 3DS eShop but if you love anything Zelda (and Nintendo knows no one doesn't), this is a must-have.
The power and consequence of choice is at play in this story-driven RPG from indie developer ZA/UM. The world of Disco Elysium has a beautiful, grimy feel to it thanks to an exceptional art style comprised of rough watercolour paintings.
In the slums of lower-class town in the near future, a man has been murdered; strung up by a tree and left hanging in a nearby park. That's why you're there... you think. Being a hungover detective who's lost his memory after a 3-day bender, you have little knowledge of the past event of your life, including your name. This makes solving the case a little difficult, so thank heavens for Kim Katsuragi, your recently appointed partner.
Every one of your actions hangs on a roll of the dice. Literally. At points, different parts of your brain will speak to you like 24 different angels or devils whispering in your ear. If you choose to follow through with a line of reasoning that involves one of these emotions, you will roll a dice to see if you're successful. Being as naturally unlucky as I am, I failed most of them to begin with but nevertheless, the story must go on.
And the story does in some very surprising ways. I won't go too much into it as it truly is an exceptional experience that I urge anyone to play. So go play it!
I shuffled around the placement for my top 3 several times. All three of them deserve the top spot for different reasons but I ultimately found some inconsequential arbitrary negative points in each of them to finally decide on their rank. Zelda did little to update the already-exceptional game to warrant its price tag. Disco Elysium is a very wordy game that may put off a select few (though you shouldn't be). When it came to Resident Evil 2, however, I found very little to criticise.
Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield's foray into Racoon City was always a memorable one and I was unsure how it would translate using the over-the-shoulder camera style. The viewpoint is mainly associated with the series descent into action fare, but they've commendably kept the spirit of the original here. Set pieces that were a little cheesy on the PS1 are downright terrifying on the PS4. Puzzles and item management are all here and then some, with the added tension of the Tyrant constantly stalking you just to spoil your day.
As frustrating as that can be at times, the looming hulk of a monstrosity did contribute to some of my most memorable gaming moments of the year. A feat considering Resident Evil 2 came out in January. With this in mind, I can't not put in at my top spot as the best game of 2019.
The kickstarted, fanmade sequel to The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour is everything fans of those games could hope for. Cheesy FMV and all. In a way, this style has dated a little with slightly wonky B-movie horror going out of fashion in place of sophisticated big-budget scares (see how Resident Evil 2 has changed). Then again, I love every moment of it. They even found some new ways to invent chess puzzles.
Asterix may not have the worldwide appeal I believe it should have, but he and his group of Gauls have fared pretty darn well in videogames. Even the recent CGI movies are pretty decent. XXL3 continues their streak of solid games, but it plays rather differently to the previous entry more than 13 years ago. Instead of a 3D platformer, The Crystal Menhir is more of a top-down hack n' slash. It nevertheless allows for decent puzzle sections and co-op multiplayer which I highly recommend.
Blacksad is another one of those consequence adventures but this time the target audience is furries. You play as a cat private eye hired by a feline femme fatale to find a missing boxer. With all the trappings of a film noir, it's a pretty good time but those characters will give you nightmares (or wet dreams if you're that way inclined).
A suitably creepy jaunt into the woods as a man suffering from PTSD and his dog search for a missing boy. Along the way, strange events happen as you get closer to the curse of the Blair Witch. This tension-filled walking simulator is much better than the recent attempt to revive the franchise in movie form.
With Konami seemingly on a mission to destroy its entire legacy (see Contra: Rogue Corps and Metal Gear Survive), its been up to other developers to create successors to their greatest franchises in spirit if not in name. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night by the ever-dependable WayForward is essentially the new Castlevania game and unless Konami gets their act together I'm perfectly happy for them to take on that mantle.
I'm not entirely convinced about the rhythm aspect of Cadence of Hyrule. Looking at the design of its dungeons and overworld it's structured similarly to a 2D Zelda. However, every action needs to be made in rhythm to the (glorious) music which makes it a far more stressful experience. At least for me and my musical ineptitude. When everything goes right, though, it is ever so satisfying like no other.
There were a few mid-tier PS3 indie games with an experimental streak that Concrete Genie really reminds me of. Games that use a gimmick in a profound way like Rain, Contrast or The Unfinished Swan. Concrete Genie's gimmick is graffiti. Using a magic paintbrush, you can draw life onto the drab walls of a neglected town bringing it back to life. Not only is it a lot of fun, but like those other games mentioned there's a message tucked away in there that really makes you think.
One of the go-to games I play with my nieces and nephews is Mario Kart 8 on the Switch. It has simple gameplay with enough complexity for everyone to enjoy. So, to add some variety I bought a couple of other well-reviewed kart racing games this year, one of which was Crash Team Racing (more on the other later). While I loved CTR just as much as I did on the original PlayStation, the younger players found it harder to get into, so we went back to Mario Kart.
Gibbous is as much of a throwback point-and-click adventure as you can get. It uses a pleasing cartoon art style that gets a bit janky in places like an early Flash animation. There's some laugh-out-loud comedy in places, yet the rest plummet the depths of groan-worthy puns or fourth-wall breaking cheesiness. The story, based on Lovecraftian mythos, is as complex as it is contrived and the puzzles vary in logic and difficulty. So, as you can expect, it's a must-play for adventure game enthusiasts!
When I first played Kingdom Hearts III, I was sure that this much-anticipated threequel would feature on my top 10. The graphics were stunning, often looking indistinguishable from the feature films they're based on. The action was smooth and had just enough depth and variety to keep it from being boring. Yet, as I continued playing, I found the same issues the series always had creeping up. The stilted direction of some of the cut scenes should've been left in the 6th generation. The attempt to streamline the convoluted story only highlights how under-developed that story actually is. The addition of new worlds from newer properties like Tangled, Frozen and Big Hero 6 didn't conjure up as much excitement when playing them. Given its pedigree, KH3 while not necessarily a bad game, is ultimately a very disappointing one.
A contemplative look on modern-day America from the point of view of two brothers of Mexican descent. Sean and Daniel are on the run, so to speak, on a road trip to their father's hometown south of the border. The people they meet along this journey aren't all they seem to be. Characters that look nice act nefariously. Others that seem seedy or untrustworthy are kind and helpful. All set during a time in American history where racial tension has been intensified from the highest office in the land. A spectacular piece of storytelling in another excellent, consequence driven adventure.
The classic RPG platformer returns with a similar animated art style of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap from 2017 (different name, same series). In many ways, it reminds me of what WayForward did with their Shantae series; construct a large world with RPG and puzzle elements that combined truly test your platforming skills. And The Game Atelier do just as good a job with SEGA's ancient IP. It's a bit more linear and level based than any game in the Shantae series, but there's no doubt Monster Boy sits well alongside it.
A calming, Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon a-like that sees our new builder in Portia do everything for everyone else ('cos they're useless on their own). It's not exactly my kind of game, with much of the playtime reserved for befriending Portians by finding items or crafting stuff for them. If the idea of Animal Crossing with added dungeons interests you, you're sure to like this.
I've not played too much of this yet, but from what little I've played it appears to be a better-than-decent replacement for Fallout while Bethesda continues their quality hiatus.
Pathologic is the greatest game no-one should play. Ever. I was so frustrated by it that I vowed never to pick it up again. That is until the sequel was announced and a lot of deep-dives into the original game filled my YouTube suggestions. So, with that, I gave Pathologic 2 a try.
On the surface, this is a very, very bad game. You travel to a town afflicted by the plague and the goal is to try and save people while uncovering the murder of your father. This is all presented to the player in an obscure, obtuse and very untraditional way. I ended up wandering around town not knowing what to do until my hunger reduced to such a level that I died. The extreme item management and the pin-point specificity in order to even get a semblance of progression brings the whole game down.
However, much like the first game, if you can decipher what the game wants you to do and when there's a deep and rewarding story in there. I still stand by the fact that the first game is better to watch on a YouTube retrospective than it is to actually play and I am looking forward to a time when the sequel gets the same treatment. On its own, it does little more to bring in less masochistic gamers.
These classic games got a re-release on the PC and current-gen consoles last year and I couldn't resist. I've played these three adventure games many times and the charm in the writing, story and design still tickle me. Sadly, there's little here that's been updated. Only the crisper visuals are its only selling point and the lack of a physical release in the west - something the series has been lacking for a while now, at least in the UK - makes it harder to recommend to other collectors or fans of the series.
A well-written storyline doesn't always translate into a satisfying game. Plague Tale: Innocence has one of the best setups I've played - a girl and her little brother escape the Inquisition and the Black Plague through the French countryside. It may look very pretty and you quickly care about the outcome of the characters, but the gameplay is little more than simple block-pushing puzzles and stealth sections through a path so linear it might as well be a corridor. Still, if you can find it for cheap like I did over Black Friday, it's very much worth it.
Frontier Developments did for Zoo Tycoon what Planet Coaster did for Rollercoaster Tycoon - make those waning franchises obsolete. The animal subject matter doesn't quite intrigue me as much as a theme park, but you still get to create a worthy road-side destination on your PC. The micro-management of the animals frustrates me a little as their fussy needs of both them and the guests aren't signposted in the clearest of ways, nor are you given ample room for trial and error before it all gets worse. However, watching them all interact together in the graphically impressive engine is tons of fun.
In a way, Shenmue III suffers from the same issues that Kingdom Hearts III does - it's stuck in the past. Yu Suzuki's kickstarted revival is a little more forgivable in this regard as it never presented itself to be the most modern of gaming experiences and those that funded the project probably didn't want that either. I know I was one of them.
That being said, the final instalment of Ryu's revenge for the death of his father is still something special. It's a game I never thought I'd see, and the awkwardness of the presentation gave me some nostalgic joy for a time when the Dreamcast had the most stunning graphics I'd ever seen. I doubt it'll have much appeal for anyone who didn't play the first two, but I'd still recommend all three in a heartbeat.
The other racing game I bought this year to offer some variety over Mario Kart. Compared to All-Star Racing Transformed, it's a bit of a step back being a simpler Kart racer but it's by no means bad. It has more of a cross-generational appeal when playing with primary schoolers but my nieces and nephews still wanted Mario.
A 2018 game that I only got into this last year. Unlike other belated playthroughs, there were a few console ports that did hit shelves in the past 12 months, so I thought I'd still give Two Point Hospital my recommendation no matter what version you choose to play.
I was completely addicted to the PC original to for a fairly long during the summer. It's essentially the sequel to Theme Hospital that never was in both gameplay and design and that is more than I could ever ask for. It holds up to that lofty premise too! What more of an endorsement do you need?
The first Yooka-Laylee was something of a disappointment, being a 3D platforming collectathon built around that genre's worst trappings. This much-improved sequel shies away from the Banjo-Kazooie influences, instead taking on the Donkey Kong Country style of 2D acrobatics. It does so with style, making it one of the better platformers around. And it's reasonably priced too!
If Yooka-Laylees action-heavy blend of platforming doesn't float your boat, why not add half a dimension in Yoshi's Crafted World? Being 2.5D, the paper-crafted levels allow for a lot of invention and Nintendo sure knows how to give it. You go through each stage both forwards and backwards before going through a third time hunting specific object in the background. This is all for your pursuit of flowers that are your currency to unlock further levels.
Not all of this backtracking is necessary to finish the game with every stage being easily affordable playing each stage just the once. Completionists going for 100% will get the most out of it by attempting the most difficult of challenges, but more inexperienced players are still likely to see the end due to the core game's relative ease. Not the best Nintendo has to offer on the Switch, but still a welcome addition to anyone's collection.
So, that's a rather exhaustive list of what's been distracting me from important things this year. Here's to more of that in the year to come...