GOTY 2019

Honorable mentions include Ape Out, Cadence of Hyrule, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

List items

  • Few games instill a sense of wonder and discovery like Outer Wilds. The contrast of its 22-minute time loop with an emphasis on anthropological epiphanies and quantic revelations creates a dynamic in which players truly feel like explorers in an alien world. The successes, failures, desires, fears, and motivations of an entire ancient race are laid bare for the player, resulting in a beautifully melancholic experience that captures the euphoric excitement of space and how it parallels the struggle to find meaning in an unknowable world. It's beautiful, mysterious, uplifting, thrilling, and one of my absolute favorite games of the decade.

  • It's like the developers of Disco Elysium know I always put points into charisma in RPGs so I can talk my way out of situations. Well now I get to talk my way out of everything! Much of Disco Elysium is contained within a single city block, but its limited environmental scope creates a staggeringly dense RPG experience in which bold ideas take center stage. Dialogue dictates every choice. Skills influence inner monologues. Characters debate over politics and economic philosophy. The protagonist can die from sitting in an uncomfortable chair. It's a series of daring design decisions, propelled by the kind of incredible writing I'd expect to find in a truly great novel more so than a standout video game.

  • I didn't play the original Resident Evil 2 in my younger years (in fact, RE4 was the first series entry I played at launch), but I've become a big fan of the series in recent years and 2019's Resident Evil 2 was a wonderful way to experience a classic. Its over-the-shoulder view results in a far more functional, modern combat experience without losing any of the terrifying horror atmosphere. Oh, and running away from Mr. X goes right at the top of my list for most stressful game experiences of 2019. I'll never forget the sound of those footsteps, thanks Capcom!

  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night feels like a follow-up to 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, 22 years after the release of the PlayStation classic. There's an expansive castle, gated areas, a leveling system, special moves, the list goes on and on. But Bloodstained also takes inspiration from the silliness of SotN, with a stronger emphasis on ridiculously powerful weapons, armor, and skills. There were times when I felt like I was breaking the game, and I mean that in the best possible way. I often prefer a good challenge in video games, but sometimes I like to just let loose and shoot a flurry of daggers at a demon's head without getting touched once.

  • I really enjoyed Sekiro for the first 15 or so hours I played in March, but then I spent a long time away from it and struggled to go back. That lack of motivation made me question my feelings on the game, but after playing more at the end of the year I can safely say I still think Sekiro is great. I do miss the RPG elements from the Souls series and Bloodborne, but I respect From Software's shift to a more offensive, poise-based combat system. The addition of stealth and vertical traversal also adds a lot and makes Sekiro feel like its own distinct experience within From Software's impressive catalog of games.

  • My mind feels like a pretzel after spending any amount of time with Baba Is You, but boy is it a clever game. You literally change the rules of the world to solve puzzles; how cool is that?! It even contains Witness-esque revelations later in the game when you start to truly grasp how deep the mechanical rabbit hole goes. I did get AN ending so I technically beat the game, but there's still so much more for me to discover in Baba Is You. I look forward to pushing around more words and solving more puzzles in 2020 as I try to reach the other endings.

  • *Monster Boy came out in December of last year, but I didn't really play it until 2019 so it earns a spot on this list.

    I didn't grow up with a Genesis so I wasn't familiar with the Wonder Boy series until a few years ago. Monster Boy serves as a spiritual successor to that franchise and feels like the culmination of all its ideas, fully realized. It's got charm, personality, fun monster transformations, and a sprawling world with all kinds of cool secrets and power-ups. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Axiom Verge when we talk about the best Metroidvania games of the past decade.

  • I didn't play Super Mario Maker 2 as much as the first game, but boy did I watch a lot of it in 2019. I started following speedrunner GrandPooBear's streams/videos and I always get a kick out of watching someone completely decimate ridiculous kaizo levels. The Mario Maker community continues to marvel with its fun and inventive levels, despite Nintendo's disappointing support. I will say December's Master Sword update feels like a game changer though; playing as Link is probably the most fun I've had in Super Mario Maker 2, so I'm very excited to see how the community pushes the creation tool limits with this latest update.

  • Here's a game that probably won't appear on a lot of top 10 lists this year, but it should! Elsinore is a Majora's Mask-esque time loop adventure where you play as Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet and make decisions that alter the events of the dramatic classic. There are so many fun permutations and seeing everything from the perspective of Ophelia is a wonderful change of pace. Perhaps the fact that I'm an English major and had to read A LOT of Shakespeare colors my perception of the game a bit, but it's honestly a fun and inventive adventure game that never lets its main time conceit feel tedious or intrusive.

  • Man, I was going back and forth on whether Death Stranding should appear on my top 10 list. I loved the first half of the game; it's the first time "walking simulator" has felt like an appropriate description of a game, with a special emphasis on "simulator." I genuinely enjoyed managing terrain, cargo loads, and the infastructure of the delightfully weird world. And for as much heat as the game gets for being a "strand game," the social/multiplayer elements are genuinely gripping and forward thinking. The second half of the game is bad though, with ridiculous cutscenes, terrible dialogue, and annoying boss fights. I felt like I was being held hostage as I ploughed through the final few chapters on a Saturday night (well, morning I guess) at 2am. I really, really liked that first half though, so I feel like it has to be on this list for that alone.