Top 10 Games of 2019

Top 10 games of the year, in no particular order. Doesn't mean best games of the year. Just 10 games that were enjoyable, influential, memorable, or did something to stand out (positively) from my perspective.

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

I'm glad they didn't call this game "Tenchu", but looking back on the games that have come out since then, this is exactly what I would have wanted out of a modern-day Tenchu. Everything you do looks and feels like being a badass ninja. Even if you're running in circles around a boss and attacking whenever they make a mis-step, or even if you're going head-to-head in a contest of swordsmanship, the combat is satisfying and rewarding. Which is the best and worst thing about this game. It is HARD. But it's fair. Yes, you accidentally did that thrust attack and got countered. No, you couldn't evade that grab because you were stunlocked from blocking all those melee hits. The combat is so pure and direct, that yes, you can cheese some of those parries by spamming block because you're imitating insanely fast reflexes. Either way, the sense of accomplishment you get from winning is unparalleled, even among Souls games. I don't think I've ever enjoyed beating a boss more than the Young Owl fight. And the bonus is that you look cool as hell jumping around using ninja tools and constantly clashing swords. But that's why this game is probably my favorite of the year, rather than "the best" of the year. Because I have to factor accessibility into it. I don't know how to say this without bragging, but some people won't ever be able to achieve the joy of winning that Young Owl boss fight, and I don't know what their equally satisfying video game accomplishment for this year would be. Also, like any other Souls game, the camera is occasionally one of your enemies, and that shit is annoying already, 2019.

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Control

This game was so far up my alley, it almost feels biased to put it on a list. It feels like it needs an asterisk or something. This is almost exactly the kind of game I would try to make with a comparable budget and talent. The motif, the atmosphere, the story, the gameplay style. All of it. Guess that makes trying to explain what I like about it somewhat difficult. I enjoyed this game's story more than any other this year. I could be reductionist and say it was just about some red-tinted demons from another dimension trying to invade and wipe out humanity, but there was much more than that. I thought about it now and then even outside of the game. Basing the premise around the SCP Foundation style of horror was a fantastic touch. And incorporating that particular style of horror into the gameplay was expertly done. I've always wanted more of the "unreliable narrator" gameplay mechanics similar to Eternal Darkness, and Control has it in spades. I also thoroughly enjoyed the combat mechanics. They weren't anything special, but it was just so satisfying to be able to manipulate almost anything in the environment. I cannot describe how great it feels to be locked in gun-and-telekenesis combat with a high-level monster, getting hit from the side by some weakass jabroni, and being able to say "Hold on. You know what? Fuck you." before hurling a fire extinguisher at that poor jamoke's head and getting back to the action hearing that satisfying clanking thud sound in the background. But oh my god, there are so many particle effects. I hope you're playing this on a good machine. There's also a gameplay-mastery gatekeeper boss a little earlier than I feel was appropriate, which may stop some people. That aside, I thought Control was one of the most fully-realized games this year, and this is me trying not to say a lot about it.

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

What a pleasant surprise! Songs pop into my head practically whenever I see this title written out, and they're not unwelcome songs, which is what you want out of a rhythm game. But I think finding this type and quality of game on a mobile device platform is what really catapults it to the list.

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Devil May Cry 5

I like all of the Devils May Cry (yes, even that one), and while I knew the length of time without a new entry in the series meant this wasn't going to be more of the same, it was still nice to see what the original studio came up with. I was so sure I wouldn't like playing as V and that he wouldn't be a badass in combat, but all three characters were well developed and fun to play. They each had enough depth where it almost felt like 3 character action games in 1. And they each had enough techniques and mechanics to switch through that this game probably has more options for keeping the combat fresh and stylish than any other in the series (yes, even that one). The moments where you occasionally interact with other players were also a nice touch. Almost as if each character travels along their own strand that occasionally intertwines with another before going its own way. What an innovative and groundbreaking concept! The story usually isn't the best part of a DMC game, but this one put forth fifth a little effort, and it was nice to see it revolve more around Vergil than just Dante. Did you know you could use the letter V as another way to spell the number 5? Whoaaa. Those final two boss fights were some of the best mechanically and thematically orchestrated boss fights in the series. In a world where Devil May Cry was seemingly being pulled in several different directions, the worst thing I can say about this game is that it's a quintessential return to form. Get it? Quintessential? Because of the number fi--

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Astral Chain

Platinum's A-Team will never make a bad game. Ever. So this one sounded a little weird when I started hearing about stuff like "Investigations" instead of "Ultra Mega Air Combo Xtreme Attacks." Those are still in there, too, but count me among the people who were surprised that Platinum tried to add more non-combat elements to one of their games and still made it enjoyable. Like, enjoyable to the point of being okay with speed-running and perfecting both the combat and non-combat parts of a stage to get your S-ranks and bragging rights. But it's still a Platinum Character Action game more than anything else, and it actually felt really good to play one with more forgivable mechanics and grading. Most of the stylish action combat games penalize you for getting damaged during your badass combo frenzy, but Astral Chain takes a step back and looks the other way this time. Fine by me, because this game has a surprising number of layers in the combat mechanics, but none of the layers are especially deep. That means you can absolutely wreck shit five different ways with relative ease, and there are only a few things to pay attention to so you don't get interrupted. But then there are some deep modifications you can make to your character to change the mechanics enough where you steamroll all of your enemies with a good degree of variation in the allowable playstyles. You can absolutely eat shit while making sure your opponent eats more, and as long as you're the last one standing and made them eat enough shit in short enough time, Platinum is satisfied with your performance. Don't get me wrong, you can still totally get your ass kicked, but that kind of all-out frenzied combat was an especially good contrast with DMC5 earlier in the year. I don't remember the story, though. Something about red-tinted demons from another dimension trying to invade and wipe out humanity?

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Katana Zero

They finally made a sequel to Hotline Miami! Huh? What's "Hotline Miami 2"? Is that a thing? Whatever. Pass me some more drugssssss...

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Bloodstained: Cacophony of the Night

"Stand back, fools. I'll show you what a true Metroidvania looks like!" Igarashi cackled as he disappeared into a burst of smoke and screeching bats, never to be heard from again. To this day, some people claim Symphony of the Night never received a real sequel. But those of us cursed by the moon know better than to speak in such blasphemous tones. The symphony was just an ages-long prelude to a crescendo that would shatter the mirror reflecting mankind's most base and ridiculous desires. It wasn't the castle that was inverted... it was our entire concept of kickstarted vanity projects.

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Ape Out

I don't know if this game was meant to be played in a single session, but that's what I did, and I think it probably enhanced the enjoyment exponentially. This game has serious style, down to treating the levels like tracks on an album. If you can beat it in an hour or 90 minutes or so, it's like listening to a jazz soundtrack. But not that commercial jazz stuff (although commercial jazz is fine). This is that old school percussionist drum-beating symbol-clashing starving artist interpretative dance shit. So when you beat the game and the first horns start blaring from the amazing choice of the closing credits song ("You've Got to Have Freedom" by Pharoah Sanders), everything comes together in a climax that celebrates all those bloodstains, fires, and explosions you left behind in captivity. Because you were running around and breaking shit, but you still weren't free. But you're free now, baby.

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Outer Wilds

The best video games are the ones where the developer had a clear and well thought-out idea, they were able to completely realize that idea, and they were able to convey the idea to the player. Outer Wilds does all of these things. It hardly tells the player anything about playing the game, but everyone eventually gets to the same place at the end. I'm sure that's a metaphor or something. But it tells the story through gameplay so well, and it makes adventure and exploration and mystery solving such a pure and integral aspect of the gameplay, that nobody can talk about the game without spoiling anything. Anything you learn about this game is a spoiler. You shouldn't be reading Game of the Year media without expecting spoilers, so I'll just say that Majora's Mask plus Obra Dinn with a splash of Kerbal might create the "best" game of the year. It's so weird and out-there, yet so relatable and accessible that many people with different tastes in games all seem to like this one. And I can see why. It's the "best" video game in the sense of reflecting what the ideal version of a video game can be. It's profound and touching if you've never thought about some of the stuff the game covers, but still touching even if you have. I would say Outer Wilds is this year's only "Best Ever in Its Genre" video game, if I knew what the hell genre that would be.

"Why isn't Such and Such on the list?" Because I didn't play or finish it. "Why not?" I knew it was probably a good game but didn't become something I had to play immediately because:

Disco Elysium
Usually not my type of game, but still has me interested.

Superliminal
Came out late in the year and just haven't gotten to it yet. Great choice on the title.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Basically Fire Emblem + Persona 5

Remnant
Basically Dark Souls + Bloodborne

Indivisible
Basically Valkyrie Profile 2. Or 3?

The Outer Worlds
What Fallout 4 was supposed to be.

Jedi: Fallen Order
I was actually excited about this but heard there were technical flaws worth waiting to be patched out.

Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2stressful4me. But it's also secretly a Metroid game, so I'll play it.

These games all probably did something to stand out, but I would actually need to play them to say what it was. Anything else was just far enough off my radar for one reason or another.

Honorable Mention:

Tetris 99 and Tetris Effect
I'm good at Tetris, but I'm not that good.

What The Golf?
Many games fail miserably at trying to be too funny, but this game succeeds at being just tongue-in-cheek enough to elicit wry smiles, "Ah. Hm. Clever."s, and polite chuckles. That's when I realized: this game is in the "golf clap" tier of humor. It also goes a surprising number of places to the point where people can just ask "What was your favorite video game parody?"

Baba Is You
Blown Is Mind. Honorable Is Mention. Insanely Fucking Challenging Is Game.

Grindstone
Thanks for making a color-matching mobile game that doesn't use impassable difficulty mechanics to encourage microtransaction purcha--OH, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT? /ragequits forever

Cadence of Hyrule
Literally Zelda + NecroDancer. But that's not a bad combination. I'll never complain about new Zelda music, and you really can't go wrong with a good rhythm game as far as I'm concerned. In fact, this is actually my number 10. You didn't even notice that was only nine games up there, did you?

Dishonorable Mention:

Super Mario Maker 2
What did you do to my sweet baby boy? I want to love him, but you've made it so difficult.

Untitled Goose Game
False advertisement.

Kingdom Hearts III
I am so upset I chose to play this game over some of the other stuff that came out this year. But that's how strong the nostalgia pull was. However, this wasn't a game that necessarily took 10 years to make. This was simply a game that took 10 years to release. It doesn't look great, but the worst offense is that it plays like a PS2 era game. Remember zoning from one area to the next? Barren environments containing nothing to interact with? If I'm giving credit to fully realized games, then this has to be the most incomplete thing they decided to flop out onto the market. I'm sure the Final Hearts MegaMix REdux REmembrance v.3.99.XOXO version released five years from now will be a great representation of what this game was supposed to be, though.

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~CORE OF THE EARTH~
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~DEEPEST HELLZONE~
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Death Stranding™
Am I cool for hating this game yet? Just kidding. But I've got enough chores in real life. And I hate social media just like everyone else. Get in line, Kojima. With your false epiphanies and such. If this was meant to be an autobiographical game about needing people, point taken. You need people, too. Because I don't think you could sell this game on anything other than your own notoriety. Hopefully you can use the profits to get a real ass team and make a real ass game next time.

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