GOTY 2019 (Adjusted)

Same deal as the other "GOTY (Adjusted)" lists, found here (2013), here (2014), here (2015), here (2016), here (2017) and here (2018). The idea is to build GOTY lists that are constantly in flux, ever adapting themselves to a new year's worth of catch-up gaming. Like the Borg, but for video game lists. With enough time I should be able to play through every 2019 game that piqued my interest and construct a list that ideally represents what that year meant to me in terms of games, but that wasn't going to happen on the year in question: too many full-price new releases, too little time.

2019 was the calm before a deeply unpleasant storm, and being squeezed between two very memorable years for gaming ('17-'18) and one of the worst ('20) for reasons that went far beyond just the game industry alone kind of robs 2019 of any identity. It had its highlights, but I suspect this will be a year like 2014 where we'll have to dig into the records to remember what actually came out. I will say one positive in the year's favor: it saw the debuts of a significant amount of new IPs, some from developers famous for other more-established series and others from relative newcomers. Even the sequels on the following list were from franchises long ago lapsed. I was happy to see these risks happen in a year where they could hog more of the spotlight than usual, in lieu of too many big headliners.

Here's the original 2019 GOTY list, for posterity's sake.

(2019 Games Yet to Play: AI: The Somnium Files, Blasphemous, Dragon Quest Builders 2, Jenny LeClue Detectivu, Judgment, Lorelai, My Time at Portia, Outer Wilds, The Surge 2.)

(2019 Games Yet to Buy: Astral Chain, Blacksad: Under the Skin, BoxBoy + BoxGirl, Cadence of Hyrule, Disco Elysium, Life is Strange 2, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Minoria, Oninaki, Picross: Lord of the Nazarick, Picross S3, Remnant: From the Ashes, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Super Mario Maker 2, Trails of Cold Steel III, Yoshi's Crafted World, Zanki Zero: Last Beginning.)

List items

  • 2019 Rank: 1

    2020 Rank: 1

    I loved everything about Control, besides maybe its checkpoints and for how well it ran on a core PS4. The setting had a magnetic quality to it, not only exhibiting some deeply strange and intriguing phenomena that and heavily redacted lore you could read about everywhere you turned but combined it with a retro setting somewhat explained by the story (the Old House cares not for smartphones and the internet, probably because it's old and you know what boomers are like with technology) that felt like a '70s stuck-in-time federal bureau clinically reporting and filing the vast unknowable. The combat was excellent too, eschewing the usual cover shooting mechanics for a mix of gunplay, telekinesis, teleporting, flying around, and setting enemies on fire. Remedy's always tried to find the right balance between an exciting and versatile third-person shooter and delivering genre-fare dripping with personality and FMV indulgences, and Control's their most successful attempt since the first Max Payne.

  • 2019 Rank: 2

    2020 Rank: 2

    Bloodstained is a game I'll forever adore in part because Igarashi was finally able to throw off the Konami fetters and make the deeply exploitable explormer RPG he perhaps always wanted. When a game like Bloodstained has a lot of systems and features in it, the difficulty curve can be compromised by having to cater to both the more involved players exploiting every one of these systems to their min-maximum benefit and those who will spend most of the game ignoring it all. Bloodstained honestly doesn't care if you want to spend the time and energy to turn your Miriam into an invincible demon-stomping goddess, and the game is just as fun with a moderate challenge level as it is as an embarrassing cakewalk because the latter will still require investment of another sort. It took some time to warm up to the graphics, but it's shockingly robust and lengthy for an Indie explormer and one that'll be hard for small developers to beat.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 3

    Though full of jumpscares, there's no surprises in Luigi's Mansion 3. Luigi's Mansion was an imperfect but fully formed game, Dark Moon was a risky switch-up that didn't pan out, and Luigi's Mansion 3 is the culmination of all those lessons learned. Dividing the hotel-like mansion into floors did make it feel a little more compartmentalized, and so I missed the way the original mansion would be interconnected and full of surprises in areas you thought you'd already explored in full, but the sheer variety on display from one floor to the next made up for the shortcomings to that approach. Gooigi is an inspired bit of silliness, and the puzzles and ghost bosses were all fairly excellent.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 4

    One's organizational node regularly gets a workout in our daily lives, whether it's something we need for work or just spending an afternoon alphabetizing a game or record or Blu-Ray collection, but rarely do games acknowledge how much calming Zen-like potential there is in an organizational puzzle game. A simple idea - you get influxes of new stock to sort in your warehouse space, and since you must quickly deliver what your clients ask for it's ideal to ensure that you can quickly recall where everything is by any system (color-coded, theme-coded) that works for you and your brain. It can be challenging to get everything done in the short time you're given, but the game will regularly give you infinitely long breaks once the working day is done to get everything in order. Constant upgrades and new stock varieties keep things fresh throughout.

  • 2019 Rank: 3

    2020 Rank: 5

    I suspected Kingdom Hearts III may slip down this list considerably once I continue to fill the gaps, but that it's still number five on my list after a year (well, two years, I suppose) is commendable given its many glaring faults. Chief of which is the amount it expects its players to invest in the overaching story, stretched to breaking point across the two predecessors and a dozen other side-games, many of which were exclusive to phones and other portable systems. They tried to amend this somewhat with an in-game recap and a few remastered compilations, but it's hard to gauge with the Ventus/Aqua/Terra stuff when none are given any fanfare or introduction, and it frequently serves to derail the game's central core of visiting Disney worlds and reliving those movies (or, in some cases, new stories set after their related movies). However, the actual gameplay part is still decent if a little on the easy side and I even appreciated what they did with the Gummi Ships this time, turning them into something closer to Starfox with its more open areas of interdimensional space to explore (ditto for the Pirates of the Caribbean episode: turning it into a mini Black Flag was inspired).

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 6

    I've greatly enjoyed Obsidian's "reduced fat" homages to the Infinity Engine RPGs they made back when starting out, chiefly Tyranny and the two Pillars of Eternity games, and was curious to see if that streamlining approach worked with this spiritual sequel to their Bethesda-aping Fallout: New Vegas. While Obsidian's worldbuilding and character development is impeccable, as is their ability to create a cast of recruitable partners you'd want to explore the wastelands and/or an alien star system with, there are spots where The Outer Worlds just felt a little too hollow or undernourished. A lack of variety and depth, perhaps, and you feel like you've seen everything there is to see within 10 hours of its 20 hour run-time. It's not something I feel the need to ever replay, but I'd be very interested in trying a sequel provided they address those limitations.

  • 2019 Rank: 4

    2020 Rank: 7

    A frequently inspired puzzle game seemingly inspired by Sokoban and those Zachtronics programming language simulators, the greatest challenge of Baba is You isn't just executing on a multi-step solution without screwing up, nor is it even figuring that solution out at the theoretical phase before you ever put a plan into action. It's knowing what you're capable of in the first place. The world and its rules are far more malleable than they first appear, and a healthy amount of experimentation is required before you can expect to get anywhere. It's like spending an hour playing Super Mario Bros. before realizing there's a jump button, and another hour before you discover you can run: obvious, in hindsight, but those bursts of inspiration that turn the game's design on its head are a regular treat when getting to the bottom of Baba is You.

  • 2019 Rank: 5

    2020 Rank: 8

    Horace is more endearing than it is strictly enjoyable, with its platforming often being on the wrong side of inexact and overly challenging. The narrative it weaves over many years, through apocalypses and many moments of gravity and levity alike, as it follows a small robot boy learning what it means to be human is an unexpected journey of twists and travails and one of the highlights of 2019 was being along for that ride and seeing what would happen next. It has "labor of love" written all over it, from its oblique references to its more fantastical flights of fancy, and I can't help but think we need more deeply personal games like it that don't necessarily have to involve cancer or a traumatic upbringing.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 9

    I've been ruminating on this explormer ever since I finished it, especially in the way it uses time-travel in a very involved, almost Primer-like fashion. You can spend several minutes looking at the multi-branched time tree you've generated since you started your explorations of a planet that's always minutes away from annihilation, getting closer to the source of its delayed destruction while empowering yourself with knowledge; knowledge being the only thing you're allowed to keep when you travel back to the story's origin point. It looks a bit plain and the platforming challenges can be a bit uneven - I appeciate that you have choices like fighting a boss with low maximum health or risk spending a few minutes backtracking to all the health tank upgrades first - but the short-term time rewinding alleviates a great deal of this challenge, provided you don't rely on it too much. I love a smart time-travel game, ultimately, especially when the interface for following your hops and loops is this clear-cut and accessible.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 10

    The first Anodyne used a top-down Zelda-style perspective to weave a dreamlike and abstruse narrative about a young janitor, brushing out the cobwebs in what may have been his own mind. Anodyne 2 strengthens the connection between menial labor and creator deities, tasking a child born of stardust of entering the mindscapes of the afflicted to cure them of their various emotional ailments. These mind journeys look the same as the 16-bit dungeons of the original Anodyne, while the overworld is depicted like a low-rez 3D PS1 open-world game. It's a surreal game worth playing for the journey it takes its oblivious but powerful protagonist on, and the player alike, as they learn the importance of humanity from warped creatures that look anything but human.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 11

    A Groundhog Day narrative attached to the generic premise of the chosen one taking the legendary sword to defeat the demon lord and rescue the princess. The sheer number of directions you can take this simple narrative are as inventive as they are hilarious, and the joy is trying to anticipate the antisocial, silly, or unexpectedly meta ways you can conclude the hero's journey this time around.

  • 2019 Rank: 6

    2020 Rank: 12

    A gorgeous looking platformer that segues into Valkyria Profile-style combo-heavy battles was hotly anticipated for many years after the success of the studio's first game, Skullgirls. The finished product has a few downsides here and there, one being the sheer size of the party and how little it encourages you to experiment with every newcomer, but it largely delivers on a promise that spanned many years and many PAX/E3 appearances.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 13

    Clifftop Games is emerging as a rival to Wadjet's dominance of older style point-and-click adventure games, debuting with the investigative Kathy Rain and progressing to the structurally similar if thematically distinct Whispers of a Machine. Set in the future, where humanity has regressed to a more agrarian society after a SkyNet-style robot apocalypse, it explores our relationship with machines and our need to ever evolve, as well as themes like trauma and regret. Using a combination of abductive reasoning and a player-determinant selection of handy cybernetic powers, the protagonist Vera must solve a series of murders seemingly connected to humanity's recent tragic history.

  • 2019 Rank: 7

    2020 Rank: 14

    In some ways King of Cards delivers the same top-notch retro platformer action as the other (free) Shovel Knight campaigns, and should be lauded for that alone. However, the choice to bolt on an unappealing card game and give it a considerable amount of screentime means it's also the weakest of the three bonus campaigns, with Specter of Torment remaining the strongest. It feels like the humor factor is at least highest here, leaning into how King Knight was always the most pathetic of the Order of No Quarter.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 15

    As the title suggests, this game is brief and mostly involves walking. However, as a good-natured tone piece filled with incidental discoveries and charming NPC dialogue, set on an attractive island that you can eventually glide over gracefully, it might be just the minimal-stress tonic a player could need during a tense year.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 16

    Like A Short Hike or Night in the Woods, Mutazione is all about the slow-living atmosphere and getting to know and understand the people around you, helping them out with meditative gardens that unlock the mystical powers of the island they inhabit. An extremely chill, if somewhat languid, adventure game about nature and community.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 17

    Trine's always had an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" vibe, at least for its first two entries. When the third game went 3D and had to jettison a lot of the more elaborate puzzles and abilities, as well as what felt like half the game's story, to compensate for the expense, Trine 4 was absolutely in the mood to fix what was broke. In this case they rewound back to the second game with only a small handful of improvements and additions, while making the occasional goof about how Trine 3 probably never happened.

  • 2019 Rank: 8

    2020 Rank: 18

    Though I've little truck with masocore platformers in general, the infectious fun of Electronic Super Joy - not to mention its front-and-center thirstiness - made playing this free sequel an easy decision. More than just silly sex noises at checkpoints and hard-hitting party techno, ESJ2 gets imaginative and ambitious with some of its level design, rapidly bouncing between ideas as often as your little guy rapidly bounces between platforms.

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 19

    A standard Indie puzzle-platformer in all aspects but one: a deeply disturbing world of demonic deities where your actions are frequently called into question and the veil between reality and nightmares seems diaphanous at best. Any fans of death metal album covers might find themselves at home here.

  • 2019 Rank: 9

    2020 Rank: 20

    The first Glass Masquerade lent an art deco stained glass sophistication to what were essentially a series of attractive jigsaw puzzles, and while the sequel follows the same suit it feels lesser in part because it sticks to one theme rather than multiple ideas and to one shape instead of several. It's still exquisitely presented and tonally serene, ideal for a puzzle game that relies heavily on a visual element.

  • 2019 Rank: 10

    2020 Rank: 21

  • 2019 Rank: N/A

    2020 Rank: 22

  • 2019 Rank: 11

    2020 Rank: 23

  • 2019 Rank: 12

    2020 Rank: 24

  • 2019 Rank: 13

    2020 Rank: 25