Best of 2019

Twenty Nineteen certainly wasn't a bad year for games, but for the majority of the year, I felt like I was just going through the motions with many of the games I was playing. Nothing really stood out until the very end, and I was debating whether I would submit an unordered list for the first time. But, I managed to do it anyway. So, let's get to it.

[Obligatory Spoiler Warning]

Mentions

Hitomi is still #1.
Hitomi is still #1.
  • Anthem - Oofa doofa. I enjoyed Anthem for what it was. But, what it was certainly wasn't what we expected.
  • Dead or Alive 6 - I like DOA a lot, but there were so many weird and/or bad design decision in DOA6 to get close to cracking my top ten. Still platinum'd it though...
  • Everybody's Golf VR - Hey, it works...sort of. Those caddy scenes sure are strange though.
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order - Had some fun playing this with my nephews, but it didn't stick with me like the first two did.
  • Borderlands 3 - The epitome of just going through the motions. I finished it, but can't say I had a great time.
  • Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns - I wish it was an entirely new game, but I appreciate being able to whittle away at it on the go once again.
  • MediEvil - It's astounding that this got made, but I'm grateful that they did it.

10. Super Mario Maker 2

I didn't actually play Super Mario Maker 2 all that much. Sure, I had a good time playing through the campaign and some endless mode, but I was never going to be into making levels myself. The reason it broke into the top ten here is because of the countless hours of entertainment I got from watching the likes of GrandPOObear, Barb, thedragonfeeney, CarlSagan42, and others show off their ridiculous skills in both creating and playing levels. Their Twitch streams kinda became my default background noise this year. And, thanks to Poo I not only learned how to do shell jumps, but also double shell jumps!

9. Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled

Tie goes to the bandicoot. Them's the rules.
Tie goes to the bandicoot. Them's the rules.

The original CTR was one of the best games on the PlayStation and the best kart racing game of the era. Don't @ me. So, I was pretty excited when they announced this remake after they already nailed the Crash Trilogy remake. Luckily, they nailed this one too. And much like the platformers, this game can get difficult if you're going for 100%. I was able to platinum Crash 3 a couple years ago. Unfortunately, I didn't have it in me to platinum this, but I still enjoyed my time with it.

8. What the Golf?

This end-of-level pop-up message had me laughing for several minutes.
This end-of-level pop-up message had me laughing for several minutes.

If you know anything about me or have seen any of my other GOTY lists, you know I love golf games. This ain't a golf game. But, it was the star of Apple Arcade's launch for me. It was constantly subverting my expectations and it's hilarious. I laughed more in thirty minutes of What the Golf than I did in thirty hours of Borderlands 3.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Many Zelda games start with Link waking up. This one is the opposite.
Many Zelda games start with Link waking up. This one is the opposite.

I played Link's Awakening back in the day, but just the one time. For whatever reason, it was never on the level of Link to the Past for me, which I've gone back to countless times. So, when I jumped into the remake, there was so much I didn't remember. I don't think I appreciated how overtly sad the whole thing is in my younger years, so that was surprising. Some of the game is quite obtuse for what we've become accustomed to these days, but it's still an enjoyable adventure. I'm sure they had to make a slew of difficult decisions in terms of what to change to make things "better" and what to leave the same to preserve the original design. Those last couple dungeons can go fuck themselves though.

6. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

This is Final Fantasy.
This is Final Fantasy.

Eight is my favorite. I understand why most people don't like it, but many of those reasons are why I love it. Squall isn't your typical hero. The junction system is super weird. Having to draw magic from enemies doesn't feel like a Final Fantasy game. All of these things are true and I love all of it. I will sit there and a siphon everything this T-Rexaur has got until all three of my characters can't hold anymore spells, then I will junction the dumbest possible combinations to utterly break your game. FF8 not only allows you to do this, it basically encourages you to do it (Degenerator says hello).

I had a great time revisiting all the twists and turns of the exceptionally convoluted story (TIME COMPRESSION!) this year for the first time in nearly twenty years. Remembering how revolutionary some of those cutscenes were and how they seamlessly blend into gameplay was a real trip. Sure, I did use the 3X speed and full limit break cheats to speed up the process, but I still wallowed around in that unnamed world long enough to get the platinum trophy. FF8 will never get a remake like 7. It'll never have the nostalgic love of 9. But, that's okay. To me, it's still the best looking guy here.

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5. The Outer Worlds

The sliding door reveal of the neon city section of Groundbreaker is one of the top moments of the year.
The sliding door reveal of the neon city section of Groundbreaker is one of the top moments of the year.

Let me preface this by saying I never played New Vegas. Despite S-Ranking Fallout 3, I didn't enjoy it all that much. And I didn't like Fallout 4 at all. With that said, I had a great time with The Outer Worlds for the most part. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But, the writing is excellent, and they do a great job of making all of the major decisions in the game cloudy shades of gray rather than just have the "good" and "evil" choice. Much like virtually anyone who played this game, I love Parvati. But, "Vicar Max" might be one of my favorite names for a character ever.

I think my major complaint about the game is the pacing. The first half or so feels great, but once I got to Monarch, everything just ground to a crawl. I felt like I was there forever. Sure, you might argue I should've just done the main quest and left. Yeah, I could've done that. But, I can't do that. I must do everything presented to me! And, while finally making it to Byzantium was cool, the city was loaded with quests that felt meaningless. The back half knocked The Outer Worlds down a few spots on my list, but I'm definitely looking forward to what Obsidian does next now that they have Microsoft backing them.

4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Thank you, Respawn, for giving us pink light sabers.
Thank you, Respawn, for giving us pink light sabers.

I'm not a huge fan of Star Wars. It just wasn't a thing in my friend group growing up. My only real affinity for the franchise came from Knights of the Old Republic. Unfortunately, it took sixteen years for another Star Wars game to resonate. The story isn't the most ambitious thing ever seen, but all of the main characters in the story are well defined with their own traits and flaws, which successfully made me care about them despite all of them being brand new to this decades old franchise.

I struggled with the combat in the beginning, but slowly but surely, as I unlocked more skills, I got the hang of it to the point where Cal felt truly powerful. Luckily, I found that double saber upgrade on Bogano rather early. I saw some streamers very late in the game still using the single. After finishing the game myself, watching other players experience some of the stellar moments in Fallen Order solidified it as one of my top games of the year. The Vader moment isn't exactly new, but I still didn't see it coming and they nailed the sense of dread and helplessness. I can't wait to see what Respawn does with the series next. My only request? More Merrin, please. Thanks.

3. Mortal Kombat 11

Cassie knows the quickest way to your heart.
Cassie knows the quickest way to your heart.

I have always loved Mortal Kombat. For my late friend Christopher and I, it was an obsession from day one. We used to scour mid-90s internet for rumors, tear out magazine pages, and even create index card cheat sheets to take to the arcade. I just wish he was here to see how far it's come since those dark times in the PS2 era because this new trilogy has been amazing for a multitude of reasons.

Mortal Kombat 11 specifically is the culmination of a full decade of Netherrealm proving that a story mode in fighting games can not only be more than an afterthought; the story mode can be amazing. Much like MK9 and MKX, I had a dumb grin on my face for the whole ride. Not everything was perfect of course. Like most people, I think they went a few steps too far with some of the design decisions involving the krypt and the towers. The unnecessary complexity led to me using the auto-battle feature way more than I would've liked, but I still stuck through it 'til I got that platinum.

Lastly, I just want to point out that MK11 has the best tutorial ever created for a fighting game and it didn't get the credit it deserves. This tutorial not only taught players the basics and advanced techniques, but it explained them all the way through with encyclopedic definitions of jargon that would've otherwise gone over most players' heads.

2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Red & Black 4 Life.
Red & Black 4 Life.

I was late to the party when it comes to Fire Emblem. I missed the boat with Awakening, then went hard on Fates while no one else I knew seemed to care much. Luckily, this time a bunch of people were onboard. The discussions between friends about how our version of the game went filled much of the Summer. One thing was constant though. Everyone was certain they'd picked the "right" house, which is a good sign for how great this game is. Me? I'm ride or die with Edelgard and the Black Eagles. Fuck the church!

Aside from the zeitgeist, the real power of Three Houses lies in its characters. No matter which house you choose, you're surely going to find some favorites that leave a lasting mark on your memory. This is also partly due to the new, Persona-esque day-to-day features. For me, the MVP was positively Bernadetta. I thoroughly enjoyed the mechanics of being the teacher and deciding how each individual character evolved. While there were certainly characters I didn't like, all of them were interesting in their own way. They've all seen some shit in their young lives, and when that time skip happens, some hellish shit hits the fan. There's no truly happy ending here. Characters you loved are going to die, often by your own hand.

And if you didn't make sure Bernie and Raph ended up together in the end, what the fuck is wrong with you?
And if you didn't make sure Bernie and Raph ended up together in the end, what the fuck is wrong with you?

1. Control

There is a lot of unsettling imagery in Control. High on the list is this office covered in post-it notes.
There is a lot of unsettling imagery in Control. High on the list is this office covered in post-it notes.

2019's hottest Game of the Year has everything; upside-down pyramids, FMV projectors, creepy janitors, hallucination pods, pneumatic tubes, vindictive rubber ducks, attention-seeking refrigerators, rigged roulette wheels, and ten minutes of blood-pumping prog rock.

I came to Control late in the year. I've never been into Remedy's games, so another one just didn't seem like it'd be my jam. But, I'm an idiot. Just about every single moment, every single department, down to every single redacted memo was 100% my jam. From the word go, I was invested in figuring out what the hell was going on in the Oldest House. Many times I found myself needing to stop playing, but just telling myself, "Hey, let's just get to one more control point first."

Sure, there are technical issues and there are difficulty spikes. But, none of that deterred me from pressing onward. On top of the stellar writing and stylish visuals, the mixture traversal and combat felt great (especially after unlocking the majority of the skills). Even with the difficulty spikes, I never felt like any particular boss battle was impossible or that I needed to come back later. Every time, I just needed to rethink my strategy to better fit the scenario.

Control hits hard at every turn and keeps hitting all the way to the end. And the Ashtray Maze is by far the coolest fucking moment in games this year. All of this and more easily makes Control my Game of the Year.

Strap on your Walkman headphones and forget about all the real world shit going on in 2019. Just for a little while.
Strap on your Walkman headphones and forget about all the real world shit going on in 2019. Just for a little while.

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