Branson Reese is a comedian and cartoonist living in Brooklyn, New York. You can read his comic Swan Boy at http://swanboy.com, and listen to his podcast Rude Tales of Magic at daddysfavoritepodcast.com. He's @bransonreese on Twitter.
I’m not a gamer. Were it up to me I’d have all gamers sent upstate where they can live out the rest of their days in comfort. But it’s not up to me. So here are the 10 best video games I played in 2019.
10. Hero Wars
This shouldn’t even count as a game. It’s basically a virus that I voluntarily keep on my phone. I downloaded it in August when I was scrolling through Instagram and came across one of those ads for a mobile game where they show the person fucking it up over and over to get you to go, “No you fool, this is how you do it!” and download the game. It worked on me. The game boasts that it’s “NOT pay-to-win” which is how you know it’s pay-to-win. You won’t hear talk like that from an honest game like Checkers.
I only really watched my girlfriend play until she’d hit a tense or high-stakes moment, at which point she’d hand me the controls and then I’d inevitably kill a kid by accident. Pretty cool seeing the choice flowchart at the end of each chapter, but I think stories about “are robots with AI perhaps human after all?” are sort of boring, because the answer is always “yes.” Hats off to Terminator 2 for having the stones to say “no, except for one guy.” This game uses a lot of imagery from the civil rights era in a--best case scenario--misguided way. Can I get a little asterisk on this one? Just a little something to be like, “This game is fun, but a robot sings a spiritual at one point and it made me scream at my television.”
Was having a blast playing this until every single city guard just started going apeshit on me for some reason. Unclear what I did to piss them off. I’m the Jean Valjean of this world and there are, like, fifty Javerts. It’s a shame. This seemed fun, but I fucked up so early that it was impossible to go back to a save file where I hadn’t already killed, like, the mayor’s son or some shit. That’s life, I guess.
It’s a slap in the face to include a game released in 1993 on a “best of 2019” list, but when I crashed at my brother’s place in Chicago earlier this year he had downloaded some sort of emulator that had this on it. Doesn’t quite hold up now that my brain’s not in an early stage of development, but it’s still pretty charming.
So then when I got back from Chicago, I downloaded this. It’s an update of the original Toejam & Earl game, which I was simply wild for when I was a kid. Pretty fun! The satirical element is a little first draft, but as far as messages you could do way worse than “every single human being sucks horribly except hula dancers.”
This is sort of a cheat, too. I didn’t play this. I just watched my girlfriend play it. But I warned Abby! I told her, I said, “I really don’t play many video games,” and she said it would be fine. Anyway as far as I can tell this seems like a cool little puzzle of a game where you can travel through time and space to determine that a racist pirate got exploded by a leviathan.
Didn’t play this until 2019, so it counts. Immediately got frustrated with the story mode and found a way to get around it and unlock all the characters. It involves turning the game off and restarting it in a new language. Something interesting I learned doing that is that the Italian version of the game has its own unique theme song lyrics. Is this perhaps an olive branch from Japan to apologize for Luigi?
Meowth is back and he’s got a beard! I think they gave him a beard to make him look like Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, but he ends up looking way more like a guy you went to middle school with who was super into the Deftones and the last time you checked in on him was three years ago and now he lives in Vermont and you can’t tell what he does for money but it seems to involve doing a ton of acid.
2. Plague Inc.
This is another mobile app. It doesn’t require a WiFi connection, so just in terms of hours logged this is actually probably my most played game of the year. You play as an infectious disease and your goal is to wipe out all of humanity before they can develop a cure and eradicate you. It’s surprisingly complicated, and even lets you toggle how often people wash their hands. Great to play on airplanes and subways. Seems like it was probably developed by a British team because there’s a news ticker at the top of the game that’s just non-stop jokes about Brexit. That’s okay. That’s their right.
This came out at least a year ago, right? Maybe two? What are you gonna do? You gonna find me and hurt me? Fuck you. I dare you.
Anyway, I never got very far in this game (too hard) but it’s my number one game of 2019 because it beautifully recreates the look and feel of rubberhose cartoons from the 1930s. I may not care about video games all that much, but I do care deeply about Fleischer Studios. Perhaps you and I aren’t so different after all?