Traditionally, my Giant Bomb lists are a great place to go for mobile game recommendations, as I was an EP in the genre for many years and played a dozen new, usually free-to-play games each week for research. I sifted through a lot and diligently remembered the good stuff to share with all of you. Well that gravy train of gaming advice has come to a halt, as I’m happily back in the land of PC and console development, where you still have to pay money up front to play most titles. That’s not a complaint, just a disclaimer that the games described below are pulled from a smaller sample pool than years previous.
While you’re here, since there’s a ton of crossover between Giant Bomb readers and the League of Heels fanbase, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your vocal support during my historic run through the 2019 PAX Rumble. I rewatched the stream lately and it means a lot to have my skills at improving a show’s efficiency recognized by the audience, since it went completely unnoticed by the commentators. On to the games!
The Only Video Game Your Family Needs - Burnout Paradise
This was going to be it, the year where I finally dove deep into video games with my boys, who are currently 6 and 4. Maybe we’d get a Switch, or finally open those NES and SNES Classics that we have lying around. I got us started by grabbing Burnout Paradise for the PS4… and it turned out to be all we needed. The three of us play together in a fun, stress-free way, just taking turns driving around. My time with the controller is usually limited to one Road Rage event before they insist I hand it over. My youngest likes to call out “yellow fences” to knock down, while my oldest asks for directions to the highway and is content to drive around I-88 in a near-endless loop like he’s training for Desert Bus. We even started a Pandora channel based on the game’s theme song and now our real life drives feature a rotation of Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, AC/DC, and their absolute favorite, Joan Jett. Sorry Caspar Babypants, you had a good run. Speaking of good runs, playing so much Burnout has me pining for the return of DJ Atomika, that guy used to be everywhere.
Game That I Played Had Open The Most - Pokémon Go
It’s true, as mentioned above I have turned into the daddest of mobile customers. I’m still rocking an iPhone 6S, and my reluctance to push newer OSes onto its wheezing frame has prevented me from playing any of the great looking games on Apple Arcade. And while Brawl Stars kept me going for the beginning of 2019, and the New York Times Crosswords app gets some attention almost daily, it was an evening in late March that turned my phone into an exclusive Pokémon catcher and hatcher.
That night, after dinner, my 6-year-old told me that the other kids wouldn’t play with him at recess. Immediately I saw red. Nobody does that to my son! But this wasn’t a malicious act, they were simply playing Pokémon and he didn’t know anything about it. And neither did I! I’d never played a Pokémon game, but boy was I ready to learn in the name of family bonding. I downloaded Pokémon Go, and together we outfitted a character and caught our first Charmander. It was at that point when my 6-year-old, perhaps reading my bubbling enthusiasm, turned to me and said, “Daddy, this isn’t what they play.” Stopping to think about it, of course kindergartners don’t get to run around with cell phones during recess, they’re basically playing tag while shouting “I’m Pikachu!” But it was already too late. I was falling all the way into the world of Pokémon, aided by my co-worker Sam’s expertise and advice. The kindergartners, in their wisdom, switched to playing soccer.
In the last 8+ months I’ve hit level 35 and caught almost 7,000 pokémon, racking up 493 entries for my Pokédex. Getting there has been more work than I should admit. I made a spreadsheet tracking my favorites and what I hadn’t caught yet. I often leave the app running on my desk in case something spawns nearby, as nothing ever shows up at my house. For a brief period I started running on our dusty old elliptical machine, outwardly saying it was to help me stay in shape when really it was an excuse to hatch more eggs. I ventured out of my hotel at Gamescom to track down European-exclusive critters. I convinced my amazing wife to do the same on a new account when a work trip took her to Asia. I joined my first Discord community and raided with friendly strangers. I even gave up whatever shred of privacy I had from Niantic and turned on Adventure Sync (though I tried balancing it out by deleting my Facebook account). It’s been a lot, and I should probably stop playing now as I’m feeling a bit fatigued and I have definitely learned enough to keep my sons in the know should the need arise. Like how Zigzagoon is obviously the best Pokémon, and that Alolan Raichu is cool because pancakes. Or maybe I’ll stop when I hit 500 Pokédex entries. That seems doable.
Best Mobile Game That I Didn’t Play on Mobile - What the Golf?
So while I didn’t play much in terms of new games on my phone this year, there are plenty of great developers porting their games across the mobile/console/PC divide. And while this award would likely go to Sayonara Wild Hearts if I owned a Switch (Simogo is great, play Device 6 if you haven’t), I’m still Switchless. So the best mobile game that I didn’t play on mobile goes to What the Golf? I love minigolf, just ask Alex, who attended my bachelor weekend. We took a 36-hour road trip across four New England states playing as much minigolf as possible. I carry with me a card good for one free game at Twinkle Town, my hometown’s course that I moved away from in 2002. I’m prepping my audition tape for season 2 of Holey Moley. So yeah, if a doofy minigolf game comes along, I’m going to play it. And What the Golf? is some quirky, charming and fun small golf.
Best Web Ring - Hypnospace Outlaw
I made a lot of personal web pages from 1994 to 2002, and when I played Hypnospace Outlaw a flood of memories came with it. If you pine for the days of animated gifs, blasting midi tunes, and getting petty about somebody online through the power of HTML, this is the game for you. The story and mechanics do a good job of keeping you engaged, though I will admit I grew a little tired of clicking down through various rabbit holes to find the content I was tasked with moderating. I often turned to the modern internet for walkthroughs, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my time reminiscing about Geocities directory structures and padding tables until everything looked just right.
The Ben Coello “You Should Give It Another Shot, Rich” Award - Outer Wilds
2019’s game of the year awards will feature many people whose opinion I trust celebrating Outer Wilds. When it launched I saw a similar flood of glowing tweets from all corners, promising a distinct, transformative experience, one that everybody should play ASAP with as little foreknowledge as possible. Completely sold, I jumped in. Being a bit of a lore hound, for my first play session I spent around 45 minutes talking to every single NPC I could see. I had to stop playing and was confused by the lack of a save feature. Assuming there was some sort of silent autosave system, I quit. The next day I returned to the game and was disheartened to see my progress hadn’t been saved and I would need to start the game over from the beginning. On top of that, this time I only had 20-30 minutes free, I barely got anywhere. You can probably see where this is going. It wasn’t until my third play session that I finally flew into space, where after a couple of minutes of fumbling with the controls I crashed and died when attempting to land on a planet. By this point my frustration was high and the only reason I kept returning to the game was the continuous flood of praise for the game on Twitter. After my 4th or 5th session, I remained frustrated and walked away. I know Outer Wilds is a special game, too many insightful people are telling me it is for it not to be, I just haven’t seen it yet. I’ll give it another shot. Eventually. Probably.
Easiest Game to Fall Back On - Borderlands 3
Outer Wilds wasn’t the only highly praised game I bounced off of this year. My time in mobile games, with their hyper-optimized new player experiences, has reduced my patience for games I don’t immediately enjoy to almost nothing. And this year, whenever I dismissed your average Cal Lightsaber, I found myself returning to Borderlands 3. It’s a well polished, familiar formula. Shoot the yelling people, watch the numbers pop, get loot, repeat. I’m also starting to find modern military shooters unappealing for a number of reasons. If you like Borderlands, you will like Borderlands 3, and that’s not a bad way to spend your time. The game gets bonus points for letting me play as a character that sounds like a cross between Danny O’Dwyer and Joseph Gilgun in Preacher, and for having a giant, rolling traction city that I got to break.
Best Game That You Guys Told Me to Play - Disco Elysium
On the Friday before my deadline for this article, I asked for recommendations to consider and you guys came through. Based on your suggestions I had cram sessions with a bunch of games including Baba Is You, Mosaic, Vane, Superliminal, Eastshade, Demon’s Tilt, and the game that’s been sitting at the top of my queue for awhile, Disco Elysium.
I find myself really digging this one. I’ve only played a couple of hours but the options to shape and perform as the main character are far out, as are the variety of dialogue choices--yet it all fits together so well. I rolled my own stats and went higher on psyche and intellect and lower on physique as I knew there would be a lot of talking and it drives me crazy when dialogue options are locked. Similarly, I specialized in Encyclopedia so I could consume as much lore as possible. My character definitely feels more Jeffrey Lebowski than Joe Hallenbeck, and is a curious guy who is happy to admit his flaws, like forgetting everything about his current case, or where his badge is, or what his name is. Of course, leaving my physical stats low resulted in half of my health disappearing when I turned on the lights while hungover, which seemed about right.
So far it feels like an RPG where I get to worry more about interactions than combat, which could be a lot of fun, and the art and story are captivating to boot. The game is giving me possible Game of the Year vibes, but I’m getting to it too late so for now it will have to settle for jumping to the front of my “now playing” list. Thanks to everybody for the nudge to finally give it a shot, as well as all of the other recommendations. I’m always open for more!
Game That Will Probably Be My Game of the Year Once I Get Over Myself - Control
Control’s world, kind of like Disco Elysium’s, is a distinct flavor of weird with a depth that shows some really sharp people put a lot of thought into it. I want to read every written word in Control’s office building, bury me in redacted memos regarding staged polar bear attacks and workplace safety notices about eating mold. I even came around on the somewhat immersion-breaking live action cutscenes. The visual effects are best in class. And most importantly, Control is a blast to play. I especially love telekinetically ripping up the environment. The only thing keeping me from naming Control as my game of the year is I didn’t play enough of it. As I mentioned earlier, I have developed this habit of dropping games cold if I find them frustrating, and I hit an early wall with Control due to its difficulty. Shortly after I unlocked my telekinesis ability I hit a boss fight where TK was ineffective. I was stubborn, surely the designers wouldn’t give me an ability and then soon thereafter discourage me from using it! But that appeared to be the case. So I died in this boss fight, a half-dozen times or so. At some point I decided enough was enough, time to go to the Options menu and turn the difficulty down to Story mode. But there was no difficulty selector. And that was enough for me to bounce off and try something else. So it’s probably my game of the year? But it wouldn’t be right to call it that until I play it more.
So instead let’s go with….
Game of the Year - Ape Out
Earlier this year, I was talking to a game artist about Saul Bass, and how he and his wife Elaine consistently developed iconic, cool visuals for dozens of movie posters and intro credits in the 1950s and '60s. You see, part of a producer’s job is proving to various development specialists that you know just enough about their discipline where they can trust you, and I was trying to flex some of my dusty old film degree knowledge for some art cred. As I’m halfway through my description, the artist cut in with, “Oh, you mean like Ape Out?” There was a whole game out there that felt like you were playing a Saul and Elaine Bass movie intro and I was oblivious! So much for my art cred.
But Ape Out, this game is straight jazz. You’re a gorilla on the run, plowing through glass walls, ripping open metal doors, and smashing anybody who tries to stop you. It is a bit cartoonishly violent and bloody, which may not be for everybody. But as the gorilla you feel strong, fast, and nearly unstoppable. The abstract graphics and accompanying text are stylish and Bassian (that’s a term now), made of big colorful chunks that are purposefully light on detail, unlike anything I’ve seen in a video game. And yet, the number one reason to play Ape Out is the music system. Playing Ape Out feels like there’s a jazz trio sitting behind you, perfectly improvising as they match your actions to music at a high, nonstop tempo. If you’d like to know more, this article by Khee Hoon Chan does a great job of describing the audio. It gets my heart racing to the extent that I need to take breaks between levels. It’s tense, it’s cool, it’s 15 bucks. Play this game!
Thanks for reading everybody, see you around!