Can you believe it’s 2020 already? As someone rapidly approaching my forties, it’s shocking to consider that we’re now as far away from 1990 as we are from 2050. Let that sink in for a moment.
In any case, 2020 is already well underway. We are rapidly approaching the end of January, and here we are, reflecting on 2019. True, I’m a little late publishing this piece — most gaming publications began handing out their GotY awards in early December, nearly two months ago. Aside from some general tardiness on my part though, there are two good reasons why our last word on 2019 is being published now: first, we really do want to let the entire year elapse before we consider it as a whole. Bear in mind that titles like Mechwarrior 5 and the quirky Wattam (from the creator of Katamari Damacy) were both released in December. Also, the period around Christmas is a time when many folks are able to have a break and spend a bit more time gaming — it’s a good opportunity to pick up and play some of the 2019 games we might have missed (I, for example, really started digging into Metro Exodus and Outer Wilds during the break). This desire to take the time to really digest the content from 2019 as much as possible is the other reason for delayed gratification when it comes to publishing this piece. Although, as I say each year, none of us are in a position to play all the great games released in a single year. No doubt there are a ton of titles that have either flown under our collective radar, or we simply haven’t had the chance to play everything on our wishlists.
In case you’re new to a SUPERJUMP GotY event, let me just outline the way we go about this. First and foremost, we don’t set out to choose a single “Game of the Year” for 2019. Rather than pit games against each other to see who wins overall, each writer selects their three favourite games released in 2019. Why three? Well, we have a lot of love to give — selecting only one game each feels somewhat miserly. At the same time, focusing on three games (rather than, say, a top five or top ten) ensures that we’re really thinking carefully about the experiences we enjoyed most and why we enjoyed them so much.
In order for a game to be considered for this piece, it must have been released in 2019. The only exceptions I’ve allowed for are:
- Games as a service experiences that have seen substantial updates in 2019 (e.g. Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion).
- Games that released in a previous year but saw massive content updates this year that radically changed or improved the experience.
Now that you have a clearer picture of our approach and rationale, we hope you enjoy our 2019 Games of the Year.
Last year I was shocked to include Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in my top three games of 2018. This was partly due to the fact that it’s a fighting game (not a genre I play regularly), and also because I hadn’t really gotten into a Smash game since the original version debuted on Nintendo 64.
Well, here we are again: if, at the beginning of 2019, you’d told me that a battle royale title would appear in my top three games of the year, I’d have wondered if you know anything about me at all. Not only is Apex Legends one of my top three favourites from the last year: it is, without doubt, my personal number one game of 2019. Shock, horror.
It’s not simply that I rarely play battle royale games. It’s that I have never really liked — and never been good at — online player-versus-player shooters. This is despite trying many of them (and sometimes enjoying them for limited periods of time).
Apex Legends is unlike anything I’ve played before. Respawn have achieved something remarkable with this game: they’ve found just the right recipe to create a uniquely compelling, addictive experience. The fundamental mechanics are sublime — the gunplay is flawlessly tight, and character movement is crisp, responsive and dynamic. Every single character in the game possesses their own unique skills and they are all genuinely useful in their own way. Most importantly, I think, is that you can achieve great success in Apex Legendswithout being the world’s best marksman: your ability to master character movement, special skills, and an understanding of the environment are perhaps even more important than raw skill with a gun.
And although some folks want to see a solo mode (which I’m fine with as an option), it’s the squad-based gameplay that really carries Apex Legends into the stratosphere. The game actively incentivises cooperative strategies, and — I’m going to say it — the revolutionary “ping” system really changes everything. It’s so clever, and so well implemented, and so much fun to use, that more and more games are borrowing it for themselves.
Apex Legends is my most-played game of 2019 across all platforms. It’s very likely to be one of my most-played games of 2020, too.
The path of Apex Legends is one that we don’t really ever see in the gaming world. While musicians have been known to drop albums out of nowhere, rarely do we see a company release basically a AAA title with very little fanfare.
Word of Apex Legends didn’t break until just two days before the game actually released, meaning there wasn’t any time to go through the usual video game marketing cycle. Despite this, the game quite literally exploded onto the scene and amassed 50 million players in its first month. How did Respawn manage to do this? By somehow innovating in a genre that had already become stale.
In the face of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Apex Legends walked in with new systems and gameplay mechanics that have quite literally changed the battle royale genre forever. The respawn and ping systems have already been added into Fortnite and will no doubt be a staple moving forward. The class system is something that will likely make its way to new titles in the future as well.
Beyond the actual mechanics and gameplay systems, Apex Legends is just so much damn fun. Having played just about every battle royale game that had been released previously (even the short-lived Radical Heights from Boss Key Games), I was very burnt out and looking for something new. Apex Legends was a breath of fresh air and gave me a new life in the genre.
Outside of the simple fact that it got me to play the game for hours on end, I was actually okay with playing in games with random people. I never liked playing random squads in either Fornite or PUBG but with the ping and respawn system Apex brought to the table, I was totally content with queuing up with randoms and just having a great time.
Respawn’s ability to somehow strike gold in one of the most saturated game genres we’ve seen in quite some time makes me incredibly optimistic about what new things we might see in the coming years.
Before Apex Legends I didn’t really understand the appeal of battle royale. The building mechanics of Fortnite didn’t quite gel with me, and PUBG didn’t feel smooth or responsive compared to more modern shooters. Apex Legends brought Respawn’s signature gameplay formula to the table in a battle royale format.
Within 30 minutes of Respawn dropping the install on the PlayStation store, I was online, running around King’s Canyon alongside 99 other players. The game clicked with me immediately. Respawn directly addressed many of the qualms I had with the battle royale genre. For instance, dying in Apex Legends often didn’t mean sitting out and watching your teammates play for 10 minutes, as Apex’ssignature respawn mechanic provided an avenue to rapidly re-join the fight.
Meanwhile, the games 8 unique character classes each brought something different to the table and afforded players different strategic opportunities. Whether it’s teleporting your team out of a bad sport with one of Wraith’s portals, or setting up a zipline so your team can gain high ground with Pathfinder, the abilities feel impactful and give the game its own unique flavour.
Because of all of this, Apex Legends went from nothing to a game that had over 70 million players within mere months. The game is in a worse position right now thanks to an arguably underwhelming third season, but it’s impossible to deny the impact that Apex Legends had on my 2019. Here’s hoping that Respawn makes the right decisions moving forward so that the game continues to flourish.
I have a super foggy notion of Apex Legends from last year, as I only played it briefly over a single weekend spent in Belfast with my cousins. Yet, the emotion and feeling associated with playing it hasn’t changed.
It was pure, unadulterated fun. I played it on PS4 and the gameplay was responsive, fast-paced and polished. In many ways it completely took over the battle royale genre, even if it was short lived (a bit like the battle royale expeirence itself).
My favourite character to play as was Lifeline, mainly because I like staying back and healing myself, but also providing support to my teammates. Accuracy in shooting games is definitely not my strong suit, so it’s awesome that Apex Legends enables all sorts of play types to contribute effectively. It also helps to separate the experience from other battle royale games like PUBG.
Kings Canyon was also lots of fun, featuring a good mixture of different landscapes. With the majority of the map being a barren canyon, it was great that it also featured jungle areas and a port/docking area along with a dam as well (I think).
The only thing I wish Apex Legends would provide is the ability to play in either solo or duo mode. While it isn’t the worst thing, if you just want to play on your own sometimes it can suck when you’re put with two randoms and they either don’t have mics or just ignore everything you do. The experience is at its — cough — apex when you’re in a squad with friends and can communicate effectively.
Unfortunately I don’t have that much more to say about Apex Legends as I haven’t played it since early last year. It provides a new free-to-play battle royale experience that is more mature than something like Fortnite, but has the same polish in terms of gameplay.
Apex Legends effectively filled a gap for gamers in 2019, and it personally helped bring about some great memories of bonding with my kid cousin in Ireland. Even though I can’t remember that much about playing the game itself, I’ll never forget the surge of adrenaline from a victory at 1am in the morning when everyone else in the house was asleep.
Cadence of Hyrule
Brace Yourself Games
Blending together the rhythm, open-world, action-adventure, and roguelike genres is an incredibly difficult thing to do. If I were a video game publisher and were given such a pitch, I would be suspect of the developer’s ability to pull it off, especially in a full-sized game lasting at least a few hours. What I especially wouldn’t do is give the developers the rights to use my most treasured intellectual property and let them do whatever they like with it. It’s probably a good thing, then, that I am not Nintendo, because Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda is a blast.
I admittedly never found much of an interest in the original Crypt of the Necrodancer. It was worthwhile to see how rhythm game elements could be so seamlessly woven into a procedurally generated dungeon crawler, but I have a personal reluctance to try games with procedurally generated levels. They’re fine; I end up loving some of them. It’s just not my usual favorite flavor. Slapping Zelda stuff on a game, however, is going to make me play that game, and I’m glad I did.
While the moment to moment gameplay is an evolution of Crypt of the Necrodancer and the world is made to be specifically evocative of A Link to the Past, Cadence feels very much like its own beast. Being able to play through the campaign in only a couple hours (or up to around six or seven if you’re being a completionist) invites a healthy dose of replayability. Playing through again and again with different characters and different goals exposes how flexible the game’s procedural generation system is.
It’s a fast-paced game. Because you might not run into certain items on your path through the randomly arranged Hyrule, most pick-ups are made to be optional upgrades rather than required quest items. In this divergence from the classic Zelda games from which Cadence takes its style, Cadence becomes a much more action-based game than a puzzler. Dancing through Hyrule is brisk and exciting, and it doesn’t feel like any game I’ve played before.
The playstyle is great, the progression is great, the general feel is great, but, honestly, this game could have made this list with its soundtrack alone. Danny Baranowsky’s soundtrack is an absolute banger and if there’s any way to end this entry, it’s to urge you to go out and listen to it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
My game of the year lists usually involves games that resonated with me emotionally. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare isn’t one of those.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is my favorite shooter ever, and I’ve got special memories of the hundreds of hours I poured into that game across the last decade. It would be easy to please me with 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfareby simply pushing the nostalgia button — give me a mustache-wielding British SAS captain and a hammy, action-movie plot about evil Russians and I’m pretty much happy.
Modern Warfare did so much more than that, though. There’s a phenomenal new campaign that features great new characters, new settings, and a genuinely engaging campaign that — while still as hammy and stereotypical as ever — offers enough interesting twists and impressive set-pieces to make it my favorite campaign since Infinite Warfare.
Then there’s the multiplayer. I enjoyed Black Ops 4’s multiplayer just fine, but after the first week or two, I was more or less done with it. There was something about the gameplay and progression of Call of Duty 4 that just hasn’t really been replicated since that game’s amazing multiplayer debuted.
Since it’s release I’ve played Modern Warfare’s multiplayer just about every opportunity I’ve gotten. The moment-to-moment shooting is the best it’s ever been. There are new, inventive game modes (if you haven’t tried Gunfight, the new 2-v-2 mode, you should), a great selection of unlockables and cosmetics, and the addition of crossplay means quick and easy matchmaking.
If Call of Duty isn’t your thing then Modern Warfare isn’t going to change that. But if you’ve been waiting for the series to produce another truly excellent entry, then great news: it’s here.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
Crash Team Racing was the game that defined my childhood more than any other. It was a game I played almost daily with a mix of friends, and family. Kids would come over to my house, just to play this game. My mum would practice in secret while my sister and I attended school, just so that she could keep up.
So it’s no surprise that Beenox’s remake had an impact on my gaming experience in 2019. But what makes this title really stand out is that this remake really goes above and beyond what fans expected. This latest version of Crash Team Racing is absolutely stacked with content, including not just the original tracks, but also those from the sequel, Crash Nitro Kart. Not only that, but Beenox introduced a vast number of new characters, a complete kart customisation system, and brings new tracks into the game each week.
Not to mention that the game wonderfully reimagines all of the original tracks with amazing attention to detail. The tracks are vibrant, detailed, and feature a lot more personality than the originals ever did. The remake will please hardcore fans of the original too, as it goes out of its way to not only preserve, but enhance many of the original’s hidden mechanics and features.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled went promising a pleasant trip down memory lane to a game that stands on its own in 2019. With addictive gameplay and an abundance of content, Nitro-Fueled is a game that keeps me coming back just as eagerly as I did to Crash Team Racing when it was released in 1999.
I must admit I was curious, but not really that intrigued by Hideo Kojima’s new creation before its release. After all, I (like pretty much the rest of the world) couldn’t tell what it was all about. Beached whales, babies, a naked Norman Reedus, seriously..? Who would even care, right? Boy, was I wrong…
Death Stranding is an innovation for the entertainment industry. It exceeds the ordinary boundaries of video games by attempting to merge them with the cinematic and social media universes. It is an experiment that, whether it succeeded or not, needed to be made.
After playing for the first few hours, you start to think “I’m a delivery person and that’s all this game is, right?” But it goes so much deeper than that. Whenever I would depart each station to deliver a new package, I would see pieces left behind by other people in order to assist me in my adventure and it instinctively made me want to want to do my part as well: put in a ladder, add a recharge station, leave a bike for someone, anything that could make their life easier. Even leaving as many likes as I could for them was enough.
Then there’s the cinematic aspect. With the presence of professional actors such as Norman Reedus, Lea Seydoux, Lindsay Wagner and, of course, the unbelievable Mads Mikkelsen, it was only natural that we would get this impressive result. But what was unexpected was the unprecedented level of detail that by the end of the game would blur the line between gaming graphics and reality so much, you thought you were simply watching some strange european sci-fi film.
All of this, mixed in with the moments of tranquility during exploration (that were even further enhanced thanks to the music of popular band CHVRCHES) and strange tension provided by the presence of the BTs, are what elevate Death Stranding to a position outside of that of a simple video game.
Hideo Kojima sure does prompt strong reactions. He’s loved, hated…loathed, revered. Whatever your position on the man, there’s no question that he has been one of the most important and notable game directors in the industry’s history. The Metal Gear franchise comfortably sits shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the biggest names in gaming. Even Kojima’s collaboration with Guillermo del Toro on P.T. represents, undoubtedly, one of the most significant recent contributions to the horror genre (not just in games, but arguably across all media).
As I cautiously followed Death Stranding in the years since its reveal, I couldn’t help but feel that no matter what it turned out to be, it could never possibly meet the outrageous expectations many Kojima fans had for it. I almost felt sorry for Kojima Productions, actually: surely anything less than an utterly revolutionary video game would feel like a failure.
As it turns out, Death Stranding did certainly prove to be…controversial. Reviews were divided, and even those who didn’t care for the game still expended great energy trying to explain precisely why. This is, I think, because Death Strandingnot only defies easy description on a conceptual level, but because it actively stimulates parts of your brain (sometimes all at once) that no other game has before. This is an experience that changes radically from moment to moment. You can find yourself swimming in a kind of petty frustration due to some annoyingly trivial obstacle. And then, moments later, you’re in tears — and utterly speechless — thanks to some poignant moment of kindness that overwhelms you at just the right moment.
Let me just leave you with one little story that might explain this (hopefully without spoiling anything).
At a certain point in the game I had to travel to a distant location to find — and retrieve — a person who was all alone in a bunker, and who needed to be reunited with a loved one. I mapped out the journey in advance; it was a long one. The landscape was desolate and eerily quiet. I was moving through an area not connected to the Chiral Network, meaning that I couldn’t see any structures built by other players. I was all alone, except for the BTs (Beached Things, the game’s supernatural — and terrifying — enemies). It was a long, exhausting, lonely trek. Upon reaching my destination, I prepared to escort the lost soul home. I’d connected the area to the Chiral Network, double-checked my load out, and taken a deep breath as I anticipated re-tracing my steps through the silent, unforgiving world.
I emerged from the bunker into the daylight. The world was the same — no less hostile — but now it was filled with dozens upon dozens of player-built signs and facilities. As I began my return journey, I brushed past signs topped with big thumbs-up, chirping a friendly “Keep on keeping on!”. Players had left vehicles in convenient locations so that I could rest my tired feet. They had worked together to build large shelters to keep me safe from passing Timefall storms. And then this music played…just as Kojima knew exactly how I’d be feeling. At that moment, I was playing the game alone in the dark, headphones on, tears streaming down my face.
I can say for certain that as long as I live, and as long as I play video games, I will never forget that moment.
Upon beginning Death Stranding, I had zero expectations; I mean I literally had absolutely no idea what it was about. All I knew was that it starred Norman Reedus as the protagonist and that Hideo Kojima, known for the Metal Gear series, was the creative mind behind it.
It’s hard to summarise Death Stranding in a way that is meaningful for someone reading, without either giving away too much, or failing to capture the essence of what it is. As a gaming experience, it’s truly unique. Expectations and predictions you form during the game are constantly subverted.
Death Stranding also happened to be one of my favourite PlayStation exclusives ever, highlighting the lack of games I’ve played that have been released this year, and the lack of true exclusives I play. Regardless, it isn’t a coincidence that it’s one of my favourites.
Aesthetically beautiful and creatively remarkable, the only way that Death Stranding falls short is that sometimes it tries too hard to provide social commentary. It doesn’t matter if every single moment in a game isn’t crammed with subliminal messages and meanings, but it does matter if every single moment of a game wants you craving more. Occasionally Kojima seems to opt for the former, which can make sections of the game a slog. My best advice to counter this is to make sure you play Death Stranding for at least two hours at a time, otherwise you rob yourself of enjoyment.
Another understated aspect of Death Stranding that aids in its beauty is the soundtrack, a mixture of original tracks and songs that appear to be specifically commissioned by current artists for this project (there’s a song by Bring Me The Horizon for example). The timing with the soundtrack is also awesome, as tracks will start playing as you begin to traverse across huge expanses of land, lending to the embedded loneliness and isolation you feel throughout.
I’ve tried to highlight some of the less obvious parts of Death Stranding that make it special. Its ambition is to be lauded and if its playtime was compressed from around 33 hours (how long I took to beat it) to say 20–25, it would be close to “perfect,” if you believe in such adjectives for games.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Square Enix Business Division 5
When I initially began playing this title back in 2013, it was only due to my love for the franchise. Now, six years later, I can confidently say this is Final Fantasy at its very best.
Shadowbringers is an expansion that takes all those elements that made the previous editions of FFXIV good (or bearable) and blasts them off into the stratosphere. It’s clear that the developers made excellent use of their experiences from interacting with the community for so long, delivering exactly what they wanted: a story centralised on already familiar characters that allows them to expand their scenarios by interacting with each other, a simplified battle system that has more room for action, and a way for even those who aren’t fans of the MMO genre to enjoy it.
I was immediately drawn in by this new world, yet it only gets better and better after every turn, maintaining my interest at the same level. This was mainly due to the antics of the new villain Emet-Selch, an addition to the main cast that made perfect sense in that he harmoniously tied in with the rest of the cast and his presence answered many questions that had been left up in the air since even before the launch of A Realm Reborn.
There were many moments throughout the story of Shadowbringers that left me breathless, just waiting to see what happens next. But none of that can compare with the expansion’s final chapter (which I won’t spoil here), that literally sent shivers down my spine, got me so fired up and made me feel so in-control of my mute character. After all, our experiences these past six years have been shared and it all boiled down to this.
I honestly don’t see how Naoki Yoshida and his team can top this. It was a very clever use of previous content, mixed with a masterful delivery of just the right amount of new stuff. And whether you’re a hardcore MMO player or just a casual that comes back every time a new patch is released, Shadowbringers made you feel like a veteran.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Next Level Games
If you’ve reached this entry in the list, you’ve already read quite a lot. Well done! Also, I feel the need to just pause and acknowledge that even our highly limited window on 2019’s games clearly demonstrates just how spectacular the year was. Don’t let anyone tell you this was a mediocre year for video games.
It was tough to choose a third game to feature on my list. I went back-and-forth between a few options, but ultimately, I kept coming back to Luigi’s Mansion 3.
There are a few clear reasons for that. Let’s start with the fact that this is, without doubt, the very best Luigi’s Mansion game so far. If you’ve played the first two games in the series, you’ll know that’s saying a lot. But I’m entirely confident to make the proclamation. Luigi’s Mansion 3 has all the charm and whimsy of the previous games but it’s underpinned by superior gameplay all-round. The hotel idea is clever; it’s a wonderful locale to explore, and the varying biomes on each floor are all an absolute delight to puzzle through. Speaking of which, the puzzles themselves are absolutely the best the series has seen yet — not just due to the inclusion of Gooigi (and his unique ability to squish through pipes or between bars), but also because there’s so much more you can do thanks to an incredibly robust physics system. You’ll pull furniture apart with your plunger, blow leaves away to uncover secrets, fill and empty water, and even use a chainsaw to hack away at stuff in the environment (this, by the way, is beyondsatisfying — every object is built from smaller discrete components, so breaking things up feels wonderfully tactile).
Best of all though, is the fact that you can play cooperatively. I ended up playing through the game entirely cooperatively with my sister and, in my view, this is the best way to play. The entire game feels like it is built around Luigi and Gooigi working together simultaneously, and it’s incredibly good fun to solve puzzles and fight bosses with a buddy.
I don’t even know where to begin with Outer Wilds. It’s a game that’s impossible to talk about — because the more I tell you about it — the less special your own experience will be. I was concerned that Outer Wilds wouldn’t get the praise it deserves this year, due to the void of marketing and Epic store exclusivity. The fact that it’s won Game of the Year from Polygon, IGN, Giant Bomb, and countless other publications thankfully proved me wrong.
Outer Wilds isn’t just the best video game in 2019, however. I think it’s one of the best video games ever. It’s wholly unique, both in the story it tells and the way it chooses to tell that story. It’s a game that will surprise you, amaze you and frustrate you to no end. More than that though, it’s a game that will enthrall you. It’s a rare game that trusts in the players’ intelligence. There aren’t any tools or abilities to unlock and nothing’s artificially gated. Instead, you are expected to learn how the clockwork system of Outer Wilds functions, and use that knowledge to succeed.
More than anything though, it’s how Outer Wilds sticks it’s landing that really blew me away. There are very few moments in games that truly stay with you. Moments like Andrew Ryan’s ‘a man chooses’ speech or the final moments in Gone Home have stuck with me years after their completion.
Likewise, Outer Wilds’ ending is something that will stay with me for a long, long time. It is fascinating, intelligent, satisfying, and above all absolutely heartbreaking. In the final moments of Outer Wilds, I was both completely devastated and filled with optimism and hope. I can’t listen to the phenomenal soundtrack of Outer Wilds without immediately reliving the wonderful experience and emotions I had with that game.
Outer Wilds isn’t for everyone, but for someone, it will be everything. I hope you play it, and I hope that someone is you.
Five planets, a sun, a few moons and comets, and the remnants of a once-great civilization, hanging as if by string in a celestial mobile, spinning round and round until their inevitable end. Sand flows between the Hourglass Planets. Brittle Hollow is crumbling from the impacts of its volcanic moon’s tantrums. The Interloper, an ice comet, flies past the sun before slingshotting past the furthest planet’s orbit. On Timber Hearth, you ready yourself to set sail into the inky black with only the goal of understanding the cosmic space that surrounds everything you’ve ever known. It’s a special place, and you get to be the last person to see it.
With their first major console release, Mobius Digital has managed to craft the most impressive open-world video game I have ever seen. Every tree, rock, and body of water is placed with precision and spatial purpose rivalling the architecture of Gothic cathedrals. It’s awe-inspiring.
You play as a simple alien from the planet Timber Hearth. It’s time for you to become an astronaut and decipher what happened to the ancient civilization that predated yours, so you start up your scrowdyrow spaceship and blast off. You’ll find clues to the mystery of the universe, visit exotic locals, and test your ability to stay upright in the northlessness of space until the sun explodes. This takes 22 minutes. When you should be dead, however, you wake up again, caught in an infinite Groundhog Day until you discover what’s keeping you there.
It’s become a cliché in games discussion to say that [GAME ABOUT X] makes you feel like [X], but playing Outer Wilds made me feel like a real archeologist. I didn’t feel like I was solving a video game’s puzzle as I put together what was happening to the sun, I felt like I actually found out what was happening to the sun, which is an important distinction. Everything you gain is information. You collect it as you travel from ruins to ruins, cataloging your findings in your ship’s log. With this information, you’ll learn how to deal with your surroundings with more and more ease, discovering secret locations and finding other travellers. Because what you collect from each expedition lives in your head and not in an in-game inventory menu, you don’t just feel like you’re using what you know, you actually are.
Outer Wilds is my favorite game of the year. It actually might be my favorite game of the decade as well. It is the most terrifying, warm, thrilling, thoughtful, cold, carefully planned, liberated experience in gaming I’ve felt in some time and I want the same for you. The flight controls are a bit finicky, though, so 7 out of 10.
Resident Evil 2
Capcom R&D Division 1
I’ve been talking to friends about Capcom these past few weeks and how the studio has found its groove once again. For the majority of this decade, it seemed like Capcom had quietly disappeared from the gaming scene. And then in 2017, Capcom blew everyone away with Resident Evil 7, successfully bringing survival horror back to the AAA market. From there, they seemed to be on a winning streak we haven’t seen from them in a long time.
While I didn’t enjoy Mega Man 11 or Devil May Cry 5 as much as other people, Monster Hunter World was one of the best games I got to play this year, and it would have made the 2018 list if I had played it then.
And that takes us to Resident Evil 2. After the critical — but not overly commercial — success of Resident Evil 7, we were all left wondering what would come next. When it was first announced that RE2 was getting a remake, I, along with other people, groaned like a zombie at the fact that the story wasn’t going to be moving forward anytime soon. Not only that, but I wondered whether or not it would even be a survival horror game after the reception RE7 got.
With RE2, we have one of the best remakes of a game I’ve seen. Frankly, it puts The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening to shame. The entire game was redesigned for modern consoles, along with a huge graphical update thanks to the RE engine.
The reason why it makes my list this year is a simple one — Capcom had once again redefined what a horror game can look like, and that the AAA space can still do horror justice. For the first time in the series, zombies are a credible threat, taking a lot more damage and being able to move around areas. Every enemy type in the game serves a specific purpose and presents a threat to the player.
And of course, there’s Mr. X. What was once a hidden challenge in the original game is now a major threat for players to experience. With the announcement that we’re officially getting a Resident Evil 3 remake next, I can only hope that Nemesis can rise to even greater heights than Mr. X.
In order to understand the significance of this ranking from me, you have to know one thing about me. I absolutely hate horror games of any kind. There is nothing worse in my eyes than the intense feelings of anxiety and dread that are synonymous with this genre. I just hate it. Despite this, I decided it would be a good reason to give Resident Evil 2 a shot and boy am I glad that I did so.
I played through the demo back at E3 2018 when it was announced and was enthralled by it. While it certainly remains a horror title, it didn’t feel as ridiculously intense as I had found other horror games I have played. No doubt this was in large part due to the revamped control scheme and over the shoulder view that gave you a lot more freedom in movement. Leon and Claire actually did what I wanted them to do without a second thought which is a far cry from the way it feels to play the original Resident Evil titles complete with tank controls and all. So yeah, one E3 demo and I was hooked.
Once the game finally released, however, I had gotten bogged down with work and other games, meaning I didn’t actually get around to playing this one until just this past month. PlayStation had a massive holiday sale going on and I figured it was a perfect time to finally dive in.
What followed was one of the best gaming experiences I have had during this console generation. Quite honestly, the only that even comes close is God of War(which coincidentally made my Games of the Year list in 2018). From top to bottom, Resident Evil 2 is not only a masterclass in pacing, storytelling, and gameplay precision, but it’s a blueprint of how to successfully remake an iconic game over 20 years later.
Capcom kept the story intact but added in slightly different story beats and sequences that allowed even the most diehard fan of the original a chance to be surprised. By far the biggest instance of this is our good old friend, Mr. X.
Let me just say that his initial appearance and subsequent lingering presence is easily the most stressful couple of hours I experience in my almost 30 years of playing games. But it was also the most fun and exhilarating. Knowing that I needed to plan ahead and think about my next move added a new level of strategy and depth that kept me wanting more.
Ultimately, Resident Evil 2 was just icing on the cake proclaiming that Capcom is truly back on top of their game. With the remake of Resident Evil 3 coming in just a few months, it definitely feels like a great time to be a Capcom fan.
Slay the Spire
Every year there is always one game that, within minutes of playing it, I knew it was going to be a massive hit. I’ve been playing Slay the Spire on and off since it first came onto early access. The game is a deck-building rogue-like where the cards, and by extension, your strategy, are up to the RNG gods.
Each one of the game’s classes has their own specific cards that can drop that relate to specific builds. The ironclad can get cards that increase his strength, make it easier to block, and has high damage single hits. While the silent can work towards poison, an almost endless supply of shivs, and raising her defence.
A run of the game is very simple, you’re just climbing up a tower and deciding what room you’re going to go into next. However, every choice can mean the difference between life and death. Do you go a harder route to get more cards, but risk dying in the process?
All the strategies in the game are further enhanced by randomly acquired relics that can lead to game-breaking tactics if you get the right cards. The amount of variance that can happen on each run is staggering, with strategies coming together or breaking apart due to events or new cards.
This is also one of the few rogue-likes that was designed around long-term play and challenges. After you beat the game once, you unlock ascension mode, where the game adds new variables and difficulty modifiers to future runs. Beating the game on ascension 20 requires master level play and equal amounts of luck.
But the reason why it’s on my top three this year is that it’s just all around an amazing game and concept from a previously unknown developer. If it wasn’t for Disco Elyisum dropping in 2019, Slay the Spire would have easily earned the best new indie game award.
So much care and attention was given to the design and UI of Slay the Spire. Despite the complexities of the game, it’s easy to grasp what’s going on at any given turn, and the player is never left wondering why something happened.
Already, we are seeing other developers attempt to copy Slay the Spire’s deck building formula, and I’m so happy for that fact. With modding support and new classes coming, I can’t wait to see what’s next for the game and for Mega Crit Games.
I have to say, it feels a bit weird putting this one on my Games of the Year list for 2019 because I’ve been playing Slay the Spire since early 2018 when it was in early access on Steam. But since it technically released in 2019, I’ll let it slide in here.
This game combines two of my favorite things: roguelikes and card games, to make one ridiculously addicting game. While there are plenty of titles that give you the “just one more game” feeling, this one sunk its teeth into me like no other from the moment I picked it up. From trying to learn more about different cards or enemies to trying out the different classes, every run of Slay the Spire gives you something new to experience.
The bite-sized nature of the games also lends well to the longevity of the game. Knowing you don’t have to sink a massive amount of time into a single run makes it easy to pick up just about whenever. During a time when many of the most popular games have sprawling stories, complicated system mechanics or competitive multiplayer modes, Slay the Spire flies in the face of that with a simple concept that still manages to captivate even in its simplicity.
It doesn’t hurt that the game has a developer that is continuing to tweak the game and add content over time, making it a game that I will certainly come back even going into 2020.
I dabble with card games here and there, and yet I’d say they’re on the whole, really not my thing. Yet Slay the Spire is a different story. After just one round I found this deckbuilding dungeon crawler had me hooked.
I’m a big fan of rogue likes, and the manner in which item synergies can create interesting scenarios that are different with each run and that’s precisely what got me with Slay the Spire. The myriad of ways in which cards and relics can interact with your playstyle creates a distinct way to how your deck plays on each run.
At the same time, the huge amount of player choice that Slay the Spire provides gives you just enough control to make you feel as though you are responsible for your successes and failures. The randomise elements are simply attributes that you’re continuously adapting against, providing a different playing field each time you play, but Slay the Spire keeps the player in control. It’s this balance between player choice and randomised elements that had me hooked. After each run I’d be thinking about what cards might help my strategy and how I should adapt my decision making to be more successful on the next run.
The games three distinct characters each have their own sets of cards which helps give the game endless playability, as each of these see the player trying to adapt to completely different playstyles, making different decisions throughout their run.
Thanks to these clever design choices, Slay the Spire’s entered my rogue-lite rotation, alongside Risk of Rain 2 and Enter the Gungeon. I can see myself playing this title for years to come.
Never before have I been so far into a game and felt as if I still have zero grasp on the mechanics and tactics involved. Every time I load up Slay the Spire, I feel a burst of enthusiasm, ready to reach the top of the spire and claim victory. And, inevitably, every single time I load up Slay the Spire, I fail miserably. The pain is always raw, fury etched into my face at my inexcusable mistakes.
Yes, Slay the Spire makes me feel useless as a gamer, and I love it. Its appeal lies in the addictive gameplay and subtle variety present in each individual play-through. As the title suggests, I’m already thirty hours deep into Slay the Spire, and I believe I’ve only won two or three sessions. Yep. You heard correctly. Two or three. Many games have a low threshold for rage-quitting, but for this title the threshold is seemingly infinite. Every time I’m defeated, I simply want to play again.
Genius in its simplicity and refinement, Slay the Spire is pretty basic from the outset. As the adage goes, it’s easy to learn, impossibly hard to master. It’s also perfect for the fact it requires no commitment to long periods of play. I’ll often be playing it on one monitor, half paying attention, while watching Netflix on my other monitor.
Every time I fire up this game, I feel like a complete novice again. So far there’s only three official characters available to play, each with their own unique characteristics, there’s a fourth one in development. Furthermore, the ability to mod means there are a lot of different characters you can download via Steam Workshop if you’re playing on PC. While some of these modded characters aren’t balanced enough to feel authentic, there’s enough that are to extend the enjoyment considerably more.
Of all the games I played that were released in 2019, this is the title that I know I’ll keep playing. Its key value is the replayability. You can not touch it for six months and are able to still jump straight back in feet first.
Slay the Spire is incredible value for money, even if it at first you regret it for all the pain and trauma it brings. Once you break through the initial difficulty though, it is an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
When I was young, I had a cousin who was crazy about the Star Wars Universe. We’re talking buying all the collectibles, watching all the movies on VHS, he was full-on. So while I myself am not so hardcore, I can understand what it’s about.
I realise the significance of this franchise towards its fans. It has almost become like a religion now. So this game could’ve been make or break with them. And as we saw with the Battlefront series, if it breaks, it breaks hard.
Thankfully there were some good signs for this title from early on. Preview videos showed connections to Uncharted and Tomb Raider, some of the most popular action series around. But previews can many times turn out to be false.
Once I got my hands on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I was awestruck by the familiar setting of tie-fighters and star destroyers in the background. But the gameplay seemed quite challenging, even on the easiest level.
But even though I tend to give up if a game frustrates me too much (sorry but I simply do not have the time to spare these days in front of a “game over” screen), something made me keep coming back. To solve its riddles, to beat that boss, to get that little bit better and move on.
I felt as if I myself was progressing alongside main character Cal Kestis from a Padawan fledgeling to a full-on Jedi Master. By the end of the game, I felt I could take on Darth Vader himself (although I was proven wrong).
I specifically remember the game’s two final battles that were so demanding, they would never forgive any errors that I made. I needed to develop my own personal skills and handling of the character to such a level that I would know when my opponent is attacking and what attack they would be using simply by watching their movements. It was like a dance, it’s the only way to describe it. They made a move, then I immediately responded with my own.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order made me feel very powerful, punished my mistakes yet generously rewarded my efforts. It had been a long time since I celebrated a victory against a boss like that!
I love Star Wars. When people ask me if I like any of the movies (including the much-maligned Rise of Skywalker) I always give the same answer: that it would be very difficult to make something in the Star Wars universe that I didn’t enjoy on some level.
But when that first E3 trailer of Fallen Order was shown, I actually thought this might be the first Star Wars game I don’t enjoy. Actually, that’s not true — Force Unleashed II was pretty bad. Still, the movement looked stilted and the combat looked slow and outdated. It looked like a bad game.
The first hour of the game really, really changed my mind. The unique mix of Dark Souls, Uncharted, and The Legend of Zelda (not an original comparison, I know) is melded together in a sleek, cohesive way that works together brilliantly. It’s not the best action game or the best adventure game, but it’s a mix that works perfectly for Star Wars. On top of that, the game introduced some interesting new characters and fun locations that genuinely added to the Star Wars universe that, as established, I love so much.
It might not hold up to other games in its genre, but for me, Fallen Order was a fantastic surprise that captured that best parts of Star Wars and rolled them into a wonderful gameplay package. Thanks to The Mandalorian it’s only the second-best Star Wars story told this year, but it’s still a fun story that delivers some great moments and an end sequence that I won’t soon forget.
Super Mario Maker 2
Four years after the original Super Mario Maker’s launch, the sequel proves to be even greater. With more options for terrain types, enemy species, power-ups, and level themes, Super Mario Maker 2 eclipses its predecessor in terms of variety, but the improvements didn’t stop there. The game also offers a sizable single-player story mode that teaches the player what makes Nintendo’s own Mario levels so special.
While playing through the story mode, each of Nintendo’s most valued level design philosophies are showcased in a brilliant clarity. Whether designed to teach how to use power-ups, when to employ enemies, how to measure your levels’ difficulty, or any other facet of the level building process, perfect examples (and purposefully imperfect examples) are abundant. It could just be that the original game is already four-years-old, but I’ve noticed that the typical quality of Mario Maker 2 community levels is already much higher than the average than those from its predecessor and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were because of how great the story mode is at teaching the basics.
As the year went on, the game has been updated with new building tools, most excitingly: the Master Sword. Allowing Mario to turn into Link, shoot arrows, and toss bombs, this is easily the most complicated single power-up in the game and the degree to which it has affected level creation is already staggering.
Mario levels are deceptively systemic. Everything interacts with everything else, whether it seems like it does or not. Because of how many interactions there are between all objects, additions like the Master Sword that greatly alter the gameplay have extreme ripple effects on how the rest of the level is played. Only days after the power-up was patched in, hundreds of levels specifically designed to use it were published, each with a different spin on how it can be used. Some focused on precision archery while others took advantage of the sword itself for some close-range melee action.
Super Mario Maker 2 may not have as many unique building elements as a more sophisticated game creation tool like Dreams or even earlier 2D level makers like Little Big Planet, but it is so ruthlessly efficient with what it does do that the smallest addition to the works can dramatically change the level publishing meta. The game’s possibility space is so large and of such a high average level of quality that I’m compelled to say that Super Mario Maker 2 is one of the best games of 2019.
Vision Soft Reset
Vision Soft Reset came out way back at the start of the year, and the only way I found out about it was that the developer emailed me with a press key to check it out (I also reviewed the game last year).
From the outside, there’s nothing special about Vision Soft Reset, but having played it, this is easily one of the best metroidvanias released this decade; easily beating Bloodstained in my opinion.
Those are fighting words to some fans, but Vision Soft Reset accomplishes this feat by elevating metroidvania gameplay in several ways. The use of a clever time-manipulation mechanic is central to the gameplay. You have 20 minutes of real-time to solve the mystery of the island and save the world, but you are free to rewind time and create multiple timelines in order to do it.
Upgrades are permanent in the form of both new moves and increases to your resources, but are locked to the specific timeline. Beating the game is about figuring out what’s going on and creating the “perfect run” that hits all the major items.
In terms of movement, this is one of the best 2D games and best examples of creating new options via additional upgrades. Each new piece of movement tech is integrated into the game to give it a different feel to getting around. Just getting the basic mechanics right is a major challenge for any developer, and Vision gets it right from minute one.
The last reason why it makes it on my top three is that this was the firstmetroidvania design from this developer. I spoke to him on a podcast interview at the start of 2019 and I was amazed that this game came as the first title from him. Even though he had to rush the ending, this is a title that more people need to play, and a developer more people need to know. It is a crime that more people didn’t play this game, and I seem to be saying that more and more about my favorite games each year.
Thank you for reading SUPERJUMP’s 2019 Games of the Year special feature. And congratulations to all of the developers who were featured here, especially independent developers like MegaCrit, Mobius Digital, and Mark Radocy, whose games absolutely need to be acknowledged alongside the big-budget heavyweights.
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