2019: Ranking the Rest

The top 10 list is a fun tradition, but I always wonder, what about the rest? Most of us play more than 10 games a year, so what happened to the others? For the past few years I’ve taken to ranking the rest of the games I played in a given year, and use that as a chance to (very) briefly speak to them. It gives a more holistic picture of my gaming year, and I have fun doing it too. That’s exactly what this blog is: my ranking of every 2019 game I played that didn’t make my top 10 list for the year. Obviously I can’t play everything, and my gaming time this year was down from previous years. That manifested in me bouncing off more games than normal; a good chunk of games on this list I only played for 5 hours or less. Still, I touched most of the games I wanted to, with the only notable omission being Disco Elysium. That’s the first game I plan to play in 2020. For now, these are the games I got to. I tried to order them as honestly as I could, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in the exact order. They’re all in the ballpark of where they belong. And with that, thanks for reading!

1-10. See my GOTY 2019 list.

Perhaps 2019's most surprising mashup, and also one of its coolest.
Perhaps 2019's most surprising mashup, and also one of its coolest.

11. Cadence of Hyrule. What an awesome and unlikely thing. Nintendo, of all companies, let a small indie team have a go at their most hallowed franchise. It's a cool mashup of Crypt of the NecroDancer and Zelda that really works, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. Especially the incredible soundtrack, which I'd put among my all time favorites. These killer remixes were the perfect accompaniment to this killer rhythm game. Cadence of Hyrule was this year's difficult cut from my top 10.

12. Slay the Spire. I wrote on my top 10 list about Dicey Dungeons that I’m traditionally not a fan of either rogue-likes or deck-builders, so color me surprised when 2019 produced two games that combined elements from both genres into something I liked. Of the two, Slay the Spire finishes second due to more random elements making each run feel a little more out of my hands than I’d like, mainly in the way that a single bad hand can ruin you against the toughest bosses. But I still had fun with this one, and am more than happy to have surprises like this from genres I normally don’t like.

13. Magic: The Gathering Arena. MTG Arena is easily my favorite digital interface yet for the only CCG I've ever gotten into. I used to play the physical version heavily, but fell off for multiple reasons over the years. Arena is not only a faithful and competent digital recreation, but it also offers a host of modes and events that make it easy to pick up and play any number of fun formats at any time. I've gotten a lot of cards, and a lot of play, for relatively low cost (by CCG standards at least), which has sparked a mild renewed interest for me in MTG. That's something I didn't think would ever happen again. Thanks, MTG Arena.

Void Bastards has some cool ideas.
Void Bastards has some cool ideas.

14. Void Bastards. This is one of those “gamey” games with a simple loop that’s just fun to go through. It’s not all that deep, and it kind of loses steam the longer it goes. But it’s something simple and fun to veg to for a while. I think it has some neat ideas too in the way you navigate the ships you choose to board and the risks and rewards involved. If it hadn’t lost so much steam near the end in its repetitiveness, it could have possibly made my top 10.

15. Untitled Goose Game. The internet’s favorite 2019 child didn't grab me as much as it seemingly did most, but it's still a good game. I see it as a "lite" version of the recent Hitman games, both simpler and less interesting to veterans of Agent 47's mayhem. But it does have its charm, and a goose is the perfect avatar for causing mayhem.

16. Baba is You. This is a super clever puzzle game that is probably just too smart for me. I really like its ideas from a game design perspective, on how it invites you to break its own rules, yet the type of thinking it demands is very different from how my brain works. That means making progress is a slow, painful affair for me, and led to me not getting all that far before stopping. Baba is You a game I respect more than I enjoy playing as a result, and that's OK.

17. Ape Out. This has so much style, both in its visuals and its music -- I think its procedural generated jazz score is legit rad -- that I can’t help but like Ape Out. The game itself is fun in its rambunctious simplicity, though I did tire of it before I finished it, and it’s a short game no less. That makes me probably appreciate its artistic ambitions more than I like playing the actual game, but it’s a cool thing nonetheless.

I mostly felt like Control was a standard third-person shooter.
I mostly felt like Control was a standard third-person shooter.

18. Control. This might be the best game Remedy has made from a game feel standpoint, and you do get some cool powers that are fun to use in combat. Yet I still came away from it feeling like it was a pretty standard third-person shooter, one that on a mechanical level didn’t do much interesting for me. That’s normal for me with Remedy games, which usually rely more on style and story than their combat anyway, but even that was a mixed bag. I think some parts of Control’s lore are really interesting, but the actual happenings of the story just did not grab me, and the pace of it also felt off. I came away from it not caring much about the characters or what happened to them, and ended up rushing through the endgame just to be able to move on from it.

19. Remnant: From the Ashes. Another mostly standard third-person shooter, but one that gains something from both co-op and some pretty decent ideas and boss encounters. Mostly the former, as it’s less rote when playing with a friend. On the flipside I could do without the terrible writing/acting/story, the bland world design, and the repetitive encounters. I haven’t finished this one yet (primarily due to time restraints), but I would still like to sometime.

20. Katana Zero. I had a very love/hate relationship with this one during my time with it. I nearly stopped playing it multiple times, and it’s not even a long game. One minute I’d be soaking in the thick atmosphere (driven primarily by the cool soundtrack), and puzzling through a room of enemies laid out in an interesting way. Then the next I’d be groaning at the corny dialogue that think it’s more clever than it is, and takes up at least as much time as the killing does. I also got more tired of the standard combat as it went, as the game doesn’t evolve much during its run-time. Even after finishing it, I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it.

21. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t think Ritual of the Night is all that great; I didn’t even finish it out of boredom. Maybe I’ve just played too many Castlevania games of this style, but I think Ritual of the Night is, at absolute best, on par with the more mediocre ones. Everyone remembers Symphony of the Night, but seem to forget that half a dozen similar Castlevania games came out on handhelds over the following decade. Point being, there were a lot of these games already, and Ritual of the Night as a deliberate throwback feels dated and unnecessary. Especially given that so many other recent indie games have carried the torch in that space, and have shown so many other more interesting ideas. Then on top of that, last year’s excellent Curse of the Moon not only emulated Castlevania III, but modernized it and arguably bettered in it smart ways. Ritual of the Night has no such ambitions, and while it is a perfectly OK “one of those,” I’m not sure that plays in 2019 for me anymore. I think we can do better.

Pokemon has so much potential, and they're never going to do anything with it, are they?
Pokemon has so much potential, and they're never going to do anything with it, are they?

22. Pokemon Sword/Shield. I don’t give a shit about “dexit”; I think there are too many Pokemon at this point, and expecting all of them to be compatible with every game is a pipe dream that lasted way longer than I ever expected. I also don't give a shit about poor textures or animations or whatever else the internet is mad about. What I do give a shit about, is that Pokemon is one of the few Nintendo franchises that refuses to evolve over time. Sword and Shield are still following the same basic formula that the originals pioneered 20 years ago, and it has lost all novelty as a result. Forget diminishing returns; I've personally reached the point of no returns with this franchise, and have no interest in touching Pokemon again until it can prove it has any amount of creative spark left. That makes me sad to say, but here we are. Its minor quality of life improvements are the only things preventing it from falling further down this list.

23. Valfaris. I also have kind of a love/hate relationship with this one, albeit for slightly different reasons. One the one hand, I enjoy it’s retro style side-scrolling shooter challenge, and it nails what it’s going for pretty well; the visuals and music in particular are metal in the best way. On the other hand, it’s pretty one-note, and got old a little faster than I had hoped. I’m still somewhere in the middle, and not sure if I’ll finish it or not.

24. They Are Billions. Probably my biggest disappointment of the year. It had such a promising early access period with great reception, but I held off until I could play the campaign. Yet it turns out that the campaign in the final product is a horrible, horrible mess. Like, seriously, this campaign is bad. Too long, too repetitive, too punitive, and too bare bones to be interesting (I played three missions and quit). The saving grace of They are Billions is that the survival mode is still alright. I feel like I kind of "solved" it after a few games, but it saved the product from being a complete wash.

25. Apex Legends. I'm just not a battle royale person? But this seems like it's as good as any of them, and I enjoyed the handful of games of it I played just fine.

I bet there's a good story here, but I'm not sure I'll see it.
I bet there's a good story here, but I'm not sure I'll see it.

26. Life is Strange 2. I really liked the first season of Life is Strange, but two episodes in season two has yet to grab me. Maybe I’m just over this style of game, maybe I haven’t latched onto the characters in the same way, or maybe its themes don’t resonate with me as personally. My best guess is that this time around you’re not playing as the character with the powers, and that’s not as interesting to me. Part of the appeal of the first season was the ability to rewind time and experiment with your choices. Season two feels like a more straightforward story so far, and I’m not sure I’ll finish it as a result.

27. Tetris 99. Tetris battle royale is simultaneously a weird and effective idea. I'm not sure I'm into either Tetris or battle royale enough to get into this, but I have to admit they pulled it off way better than I think any of us could have expected. For "free" no less.

28. The Outer Worlds. This is the runner up for my biggest disappointment of the year. I’ve liked this style of RPG a lot in the past, and I like Obsidian as a studio. But I think The Outer Worlds is a subpar “one of those.” The loot is boring. The combat is boring. The character abilities and perks are boring. Even the story and dialogue, from what I’ve played, is boring. It all feels extremely rote and perfunctory, as if I was just going through the motions. Worst of all is that it occasionally showed bits of smart, aware writing, and if the entire game had writing at that level, it would have been much better. Instead I had to trudge through too much generic/bad satire about “evil corporations” to get a small nugget of interesting commentary. I didn’t continue past the Edgewater resolution as a result.

29. Gears 5. This is "more Gears," and that's fine. I just think I might be winding down on "more Gears." I'm not all that far into it, and may or may not finish it, but so far it's done very little for me.

I think DMC has always just been a bit too much style over substance for me?
I think DMC has always just been a bit too much style over substance for me?

30. Devil May Cry 5. I haven't bounced off a game this hard in a long, long time. DMC has never really clicked with me, so maybe I was setting myself up for disappointment by giving this latest iteration a shot. But less than an hour in I was already tired of the sluggish combat, the adolescent tone, and the rote game design. I didn't play much more before calling it quits, and think my DMC days are now truly done. Which is fine; nobody needs to like every franchise, and this is one that's clearly not for me.

31. Sunless Skies. I may have bounced off this one even faster than DMC5 if it wasn't such an odd thing. I kept going a little longer because I wanted to understand it more, but the tedium quickly overwhelmed me anyway. You have to be really, really into reading quirky lore that revels in its own quirkiness, which I was not able to do without at least some interesting gameplay systems to back it up. But the bulk of my time was spent trekking across large, empty expanses, while occasionally engaging in dull, rote combat. I don't know that I’d say Sunless Skies is a bad game, but more than any other game I played in 2019, it did not grab me in the slightest.

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