2019 Ranked

Thanks to Apple Arcade and more leisure time in my schedule than most recent years, I was able to play a heck of a lot of different games this year, even if only for a brief moment. And yet, somehow, I still feel like I missed so many major releases. I'll never be able to experience everything I want to. That's the tragedy of life, I guess. Scarcity.

What I did play, though, was really fantastic. The year started off a bit slow for me, but it caught fire through September and October. At one point, there were so many big games that I had to make a conscious choice to put off playing Death Stranding. I couldn't find a way to fit it into my schedule. Such overcrowding makes me nervous for next year. March of 2020 looks to be the month to end all months. At least I'll have the rest of the year to make up for lost time.

The following are the games I played in 2019, ranked in the order in which I loved them most.

List items

  • Control is my perfect power fantasy. Not since 2016's DOOM have I had this much, smiled this much, through every second of a game. It's as if it were designed from top to bottom to satisfy my desires. The aesthetic of this empty office building, the telekinetic combat, the world-building uncovered through documents and videos, the PROG METAL MONTAGE that takes place in the final act of the game. Everything, every single component of this game, injects dopamine into my bloodstream. Jesse Faden is a badass woman who is absolutely one of the greatest characters from this year. Her journey is engaging and surprising. Even with all the slowdowns in performance, even with some of the difficulty in maneuvering through the overworld, I never minded. I played this game in a frenzy, earning all trophies and completing all side-content. I read essays about the world on display. I fell in love with the Oldest House and Control this year. Though other games may be technically better performing or deliver more unique experiences, Control will be the one game, the one experience, that I remember more fondly than any other.

  • Yeah, yeah, everyone's been talking about how great Outer Wilds is. Well you know what? They're absolutely correct. A staggering construction, a scale model of space travel that truly inspired me to look up into the stars and night and consider my physical place in the universe, Outer Wilds rules. The feeling of exploration is a one-of-a-kind experience. Slowly unlocking the secrets of this doomed cosmos was rewarding in a way that games rarely are. I think it's closest parallel to me was The Witness, another quiet game that through its ingenious design demands respect. I couldn't stop thinking about Outer Wilds in the times I wasn't playing it, reviewing essential information and planning out the next planet I was going to explore. Although the movement can be tricky to nail down at first, the highs this game provided are too numerous to count. What a surprise from this year.

  • I missed the PUBG phase out of circumstance. I didn't have the PC or the Xbox to play it. I missed the Fortnite fad out of choice. As a naturally contrarian person, I just didn't want to get swept up in what all the kids were doing. So, Apex was my first official battle royale experience. It took me probably ten hours of playing before I understood the dance happening here. I think it took Respawn most of the year to figure out who its characters were. But by the end of the year, I think Apex is the most exciting multiplayer shooter option next to Overwatch, and as an Overwatch fan, it's those similar elements between those games that keep me playing. Knowing that I can choose to act as a healer or a scout for my team is supremely satisfying, and it makes the teamwork tolerable. The other essential component here is the smart ping. A perfect system that every game should strive to adapt in some form going forward. I love the way the game has evolved over the course of the year. Seeing the short films to announce the new seasons has been genuinely exciting. The second map is a ton of fun. I hope that ApeLegs continues to build on its identity next year. It's FREE!

  • How have I gotten to 2019 and have never played a Resident Evil game? Not even 4! I messed around with a demo for Revelations back in the day, but that's it. I have no affinity for these characters or this universe. Imagine my regret on missing out after picking up this inspired remake of 2. RE 2 is similar to Luigi's Mansion in that you're exploring a space and slowly acquiring the means to progress into different areas. All of the time spent in the Raccoon City Police Department is perfect. I love the keys and the doors and the back entrances and the constant plodding of Mr. X. The back half of the game is not fun, particularly some brutal boss fights that seem to require a much more agile character than the one this game has designed. The game looks outstanding, and I'm glad to see the engine being used in DMC and the upcoming RE3 remake. Total surprise, and I loved it. Absolutely will be picking up 3 when it drops next year.

  • As a kid, I had a wild week where I played through Luigi's Mansion with a friend. I loved exploring the massive house, sucking up ghosts and finding secret cash stashes. Dark Moon was a massive letdown for me. The episodic nature of the game took away the fun of exploration. Thankfully, Luigi's Mansion 3 proves that this franchise has plenty of fresh ideas left in the tank. I can't believe how good this game looks. The Nintendo polish is there. I love the amount of personality that's been injected into Luigi. I even love Gooigi (Guigi?). It's an addictingly fun couch co-op experience, and a return to form for a series that doesn't get enough love.

  • I think I hate Sekiro. Or at least, I hated myself while I was playing it because I was so bad at it. This game made me hate me. And it made me hate that monkey. And those other two monkeys. And that last boss. Look, I'm no sucker for difficulty. I've beaten Bloodborne and the first Dark Souls. I have it in me to face staggeringly tough challenges. This game was so hard. Unlike in the other Souls games where you can grind out some levels in order to grow stronger, Sekiro requires you to master its combat system in order to succeed. And every boss you encounter is increasingly better than you. I nearly gave up. I nearly set down the game and walked away. But I had to conquer that final boss. And after three days of smashing my katana into his face while simultaneously smashing my face through my controller, I finally won. I then immediately uninstalled the game. Even though I hate Sekiro, I think I kind of love it. No game has ever been more disinterested in my feelings. No game has ever made me leap, physically leap into the air, from the joy of finally overcoming that tricky boss encounter. More than many of the games on this list, Sekiro made me feel. But please tell me that Elden Ring will be easier.

  • The first Fire Emblem game I've played through since the excellent Awakening a few years back. The tactics here are as good as ever. I don't always love everything they've dumped into this game, because holy cow did they dump everything into this game. But I do love acting as a professor and personally teaching my ragtag bunch of buddies how to do war good. I loved the characters of my house by the end.

  • That darn goose game sure did come out of nowhere this year and completely take over everyone else's attention for about a month. I love the score and the flexibility that the gameplay provides. Being a jerk goose is supremely satisfying. The goose animates so well, it's amazing. My wife and I had a terrific weekend playing through this together. She's not much for games, so any time she sits down to experience something like this is memorable to me. Love that honkin' goose.

  • Tetris 99 was the little game that could for me this year. What started out as a completely free little thank you gift for subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online turned into one of my most played Switch games. The grind to win this became all-consuming through the summer months. As of this moment, I've logged 8 Tetris Maximus wins and the triumph from that feeling never feels any less meaningful than it did the first time. I love that they've continued to update this little gem of a game. It's not the transcendent experience that Tetris Effect was last year, but it's pure multiplayer mindset means that I'm always in the mood to hit some lines.

  • I'm still only about ten hours into The Outer Worlds because the opening to this game is completely difficult and ridiculous if you choose to play on Hard mode. But the writing here is just so good that I keep bashing my head against enemy encounters to try and proceed further into the game. I love the explanation as to why the character creator exists, and the interaction between NPCs is always a delight. I look forward to the dialogue options as much as I do the combat. Well, as of right now, more than the combat. The game does feel a bit like it could have come out last generation, but what's here is charming and enjoyable.

  • Cadence of Hyrule is exactly what Nintendo needs to keep doing in order to succeed in the coming decades. Start leasing out your intellectual property to passionate developers with a great idea to share. It took me several hours to figure out the gameplay loop here - I had to start the game over because I thought I missed something in the tutorial. Turns out I didn't. The rhythm loop is satisfying, and the score to the game is reverent in the best way. A great pick-up-and-play on Switch.

  • The crowning achievement of Apple Arcade - It's a sports game! It's the new Wario Ware! It's a tribute to all of your other favorite games! What the Golf? is the game from this year that I most wanted to share with other people. It's immediately accessible and funny as hell. It's also long as hell. Way longer than I was expecting for a game with this level of seriousness. In fact, I still don't think I've played through all the holes, let alone the pars and challenges that each hole also has. It's an absolute must for anyone who hasn't used up their free trial of Apple Arcade yet. If this was a stand-alone game, I'd buy it immediately.

  • Devil May Cry also looks great. And it's story makes a bit more sense too! I loved the way that the different characters felt to play. I loved the insanity of it all. It never quite reached Bayonetta 2 levels for me, but I enjoyed my time with these characters. I keep meaning to go back and grind some trophies and high scores, but I haven't touched it since I beat it. Maybe that's a bad sign? I don't know. What I do know is that people were way too mean to V. He sucks super hard, and I love him for it. If Capcom was to publish a book of his bad poetry, I would buy it immediately.

  • The only moment more surprising than listening to a brand new TOOL album in 2019 was finally being able to play through Kingdom Hearts III. I was in middle school when my teenage heart fell in love with these characters and this franchise. A whole lot changes in thirteen years. Somewhat relatedly, I think thirteen is somehow a fitting number of years to wait for this game to arrive. Like, if we're destined to be waiting an interminably long time, we may as well wait for thirteen years, right? Visually, Kingdom Hearts III, to me, is stunning. It all looks so simple and clean. The Disney worlds are all wonderfully realized. The combat is, mostly, as simple as ever. Narratively, the game almost completely fails my expectations. What I was expecting to be the final chapter, the true conclusion to the storylines of countless characters, instead ends up stuffing a meaningless resolution into the final three hours of the game and providing a heart-breaking setup for yet another installment. I can't do it anymore, man. I can't keep waiting for these games to live up to what my adolescent mind was hoping for. I had a great time playing through the game, but the months that followed allowed me to see just how many frustrations I had with the execution here. Of course, then I saw a trailer for Re:Mind and said, "Yeah, maybe I'll buy that," so I'm a sucker or an addict or whatever. That one part when that one Keyblade lady beat up that other Keyblade dude? That was pretty cool.

  • After months of fans crying out in protest, the next installment in the mega-franchise turns out to be, more or less, another 3DS game. It's natural to be disappointed that the first big console outing for a game series that millions of kids grew up with didn't live up to expectations, but it never could. The game that fans want was simply not coherent with the vision that Game Freak has had since the early days. It's why they were so reticent to put a mainline game on a console. They don't care about big and impressive. Pokemon is comfort food. And while playing this game, I sure was comforted. The good? Sword and Shield provide maybe the best collection of new monsters since Generation Five. Aside from the freakishly human-looking starters, the new mons are a creative delight. The Wild Area is poorly realized, but it does represent a massive multiplayer world where the Pokemon do actually appear to exist in the world. It's always going to be baby steps with this franchise. It's a weak Switch game, and probably my least favorite game in this franchise in, well, maybe ever. But Sword and Shield don't care about your feelings. You already bought it.

  • I only spent a free weekend with Mortal Kombat 11. Had I more time, I see this title climbing spots on this list with ease. It's a clean, polished, fun fighting game. Even as someone who has no affinity for these characters or plots, I found the opening chapters of the story mode to be entertaining.

  • A few years ago, A Link Between Worlds proved that 2D Zelda games could still be revelations. Old formulas were improved upon and imaginative methods for navigating the overworld were realized. Link's Awakening comes to town with the cutest damn aesthetic you've ever seen and asks you to allow the soft, Playmobil dioramas to distract from the mind-numbingly uninteresting dungeons. Particularly in the second-half, this game shows its age. A technical marvel nearly thirty (!!!) years ago feels less cohesive than ever now.

  • I'm in love with the concept of Baba is You, but the game eventually grew too challenging for me. I still haven't beaten it, mostly because I refuse to look up any solutions for its puzzles because whats the point of looking up solutions to a puzzle game. But those early levels where you string together an idea or a solution that eventually pays off? Sublime. I love the idea of Baba is You. I didn't love the execution as much as I wanted to.

  • Art design here is absolutely on point. It's essentially CandyCrush, but there are additional elements of collecting items and power-ups. Maybe more so than any other game out of Apple Arcade, Grindstone feels like the kind of game that would have blown up if it came out on the App Store ten years ago.

  • A mobile game that had such an interesting concept that gets blown away by its tireless grind. It's a Pokemon game where you capture trainers instead of Pokemon. I love it. Never had I considered the massive impact that these humans have had on my life after playing through every main series Pokemon title. Seeing someone like Flannery or Brawly show up was always a treat. The combat is also pretty entertaining. After clearing the main story, the leveling becomes an impossible grind. I lost interest almost overnight. I'd love to see another attempt at a game like this that doesn't rely on microtransactions to function.

  • Assemble with Care has a pretty uninteresting narrative. The saccharine sweetness it uses to talk about relationships and people was eye-roll-inducing to me. Couldn't stand any of the story. That being said, taking objects apart and putting them back together again was really interesting. Some puzzles were obviously more engaging than others, but I was surprised at how I could eventually work a solution out. As someone who doesn't consider themselves very handy, this game inspired me to consider looking up a few YouTube videos on disassembling common household items.

  • Sayonara Wild Hearts was too much for me. Too much sound, too much visual energy. I couldn't process the storyline, and I never felt compelled to go back and try to earn more points. This was another one that didn't work for me when using touch controls. Should have tried it out on the console.

  • Reminds me of some of the cool perspective-shifting games like Antichamber. The touch controls on iPad I found to be absolutely impossible to use without frustration. Would like to play this with a controller instead.

  • Feels like a classic iPhone game. Swish through the colors and light up the flower bud. My mom would probably love this game and play it for a hundred hours and get gold stars on every level.

  • I can remember enjoying plenty of older iPhone and iPad games that played with perspective. Spek feels like a classic one of those. Enjoyable for a few levels, and a sharp, clean aesthetic, but I also grew tired of it relatively quickly.

  • I only played Overland for like two levels. I should have played more. I like a good tactics game, and I also love a good animal companion. It seems neat? I can't say anything more about it.

  • I wish I had played more Pilgrims too. Love that art style, but I just didn't get anywhere in the narrative.

  • Kirby is adorable and timeless, but I haven't felt compelled to play a Kirby game in probably a decade. This free-to-start game did nothing to reinvigorate my love. Clunky fighting, annoying time mechanics, and a leveling system only designed to urge impatient kids to shell out some cash left a real bad taste in my mouth.

  • Art design is childish and cute, but I couldn't stay with this for more than a few levels.

  • The actual pinball-ing on display here is awkward and unfun. I didn't play Yoku's Island Express last year. Is this game like that? I don't think I would have liked that game if it is.

  • I downloaded Dear Reader because the interface looked neat and because I thought the concept of solving puzzles crafted from works of literature seemed novel. It ends up being a goofy fill-in-the-blank exercise that somehow felt sort of like homework?

  • You draw some lines to spell some words? My dad would probably love this game and play it for a hundred hours and get gold stars on every level.