Dale's Top 41 Gaming Experiences of 2019

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Happy 2020 everyone and thank you for joining me yet again for my yearly exhaustive look back at my ranked experiences of videogames from the prior year! For newer readers, that is where anything gaming related I played, read, watched or interacted with in any other fashion in 2019 (regardless if the game released in 2019 or not) is dissected and broke down in a way unlike your average videogame website top 10 list. Somehow these keep growing in length each year, and if you survived until the end and desire more than take a look at my past top ranked experience lists for these years: 2018 - 2017 - 2016

Just a forewarning this will be a lengthy read so make sure to ‘Control + D’ to bookmark this page or for you mobile readers I would be obliged if you queued it up on a ‘read later’ type app such as Pocket. Click or press here for this year’s recommended background reading music courtesy of the soothing, ambient beats from the OST for NeoCab! Since I do not anticipate anyone reading this in one go, I googled up HTML code for page anchors to make it intuitive to read this in parts for us time conscience folks, so here are some in-page bookmarks…

Part 1 - Rankings 41 through 34

Part 2 - Rankings 33 through 26

Part 3 - Rankings 25 through 20

Part 4 - Rankings 19 through 15

Part 5 - Rankings 14 through 10

Part 6 - Rankings 9 through 5

Part 7 - Rankings 4 through 1

Enough dilly-dallying, let us kickoff the 2019 list with a couple not-so-desirable gaming experiences of the year…

PART 1 - RANKINGS 41 THROUGH 34

41) The Spoiled Fruit that is Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD

I loved the original Super Monkey Ball games on GameCube and Xbox! I missed out on the last original iteration that hit on the Wii launch, Banana Blitz and was ecstatic to hear that Sega was giving it the HD remaster treatment in 2019 on current systems! All I recall from when Banana Blitz originally released was that it forced in a lot of waggle/motion controls for the Wii and that they made the HD release more traditional controller friendly and took out mini-games that were exclusively centered around motion controls so I thought this would be an ideal way to play the game! I could not have been more wrong!

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My favorite memories of the GCN/Xbox versions was getting four people to play the main adventure mode where everyone would take their turn with their own monkey ball and navigate them on progressively tougher stages (think classic Marble Madness). Once a player passes/fails a stage, it would be the next player’s turn and it would serve as a nice preview of the stage ahead and what to glom off of one player’s attempt to strategize for your upcoming turn. With up to four players it was a riot cheering and gasping at successful attempts and ridiculous fails and was always a great time….that is until Sega decided for Banana Blitz HD to make the primary adventure mode only playable for one player!!! I have no idea why they did this and am going to chalk it up to a ridiculous oversight!

At least the party games are still multiplayer and the excellent Pilotwings-homage, ‘Monkey Target’ returns….but with only one map!?!? Add on top of this some unexpected jittery visuals that did not sit well with my friends and I and it lead to me apologizing for busting out this sorry version of Monkey Ball for a multiplayer game night! If you still have your past consoles hooked up I recommend Super Monkey Ball Deluxe for PS2/Xbox instead since it has all the stages and party games from both GCN games, exclusive content, more maps for ‘Monkey Target’ and multiplayer support for the primary adventure mode.

GB's Video Embed is not jiving with me so here is a link - https://youtu.be/7BKhZVZhBXo

The long awaited return of the TFL/DGR/StH Game Show at MGC did not disappoint!

40) Midwest Gaming Class Weather Fail

2018 saw my return to the Milwaukee retro videogame convention, Midwest Gaming Classic, after missing the previous four. I had so much fun reconnecting with everyone and taking in the show at the incredibly spacious Wisconsin Center that I soon enough made reservations to make it down for the 2019 show. With the con transpiring in early April though there is always the chance of a late-season snow storm/blizzard hitting in the Midwest and that is exactly what happened and closed my local highways for nearly two days and I wound up missing out on the show. I did at least get to check out SupertheHardest’s panel where they livestreamed their Jeopardy-style game show that was an absolute joy to follow along with as hosts John and Dave tossed out random games to the contestants and an eager crowd! I do have reservations for MGC later this year in a few months, and I am hoping mother nature does not intervene two years in a row.

39) Metal Gear Solid-Quest Fail

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Regular readers of this list may recall me trying to march through all the core Metal Gear Solid games. 2019 marked an off year in my MGS-quest as I took some time off from that feat. I keep kicking myself too, because I only have MGS5 left, and I got a few hours into it and was already getting a good grasp for it, but got distracted too much by getting wrapped up into Breath of the Wild and made the error of trying to play both of those games simultaneously, but eventually succumbing to the power of the Tri-Force and having Breath of the Wild dominate my game time! I promise to fix that for 2020 and made finishing MGS5 one of my few gaming goals for 2020! If I succeed at that I may attempt to take a stab at Revengeance and the original MSX games too. For what it is worth I did pick up the new Solid Snake amiibo that released in 2019, and the OST vinyl of the PSone original so there was a modicum of Metal Gear fandom I participated in.

38) Konami Making it a Win

Speaking of Konami, yes, you read that title right, I am ever so cautiously marking 2019 the year Konami started to right the ship! For the last few years since they released MGS5, Konami has been lauded by gaming fans and media that it has been the company that has abandoned gaming because of their lucrative gym business on the side and have remained complacent only releasing their annual Pro Evolution Soccer games since. Things quietly started to change in 2017 when Konami surprised us with a new Bomberman game in time for the Switch launch. 2018 saw Konami release a HD update for their Zone of the Enders titles on PS4 along with some exclusive VR content and also port the Switch Bomberman game for Xbox One and PS4. 2018 also saw the release of the polarizing Metal Gear Survive.

2019 saw them up their ante even more with the release of three acclaimed digital anniversary collections for their arcade space shooters, along with ensembles of hit early entries from their Contra and Castlevania brands. To top it off, Konami got on the mini-console bandwagon by announcing the TurboGrafX/PC Engine-mini that will have over 50 games pre-loaded on it! Minus the stinker thatis Contra: Rogue Corps and 2019 wound up an excellent year for Konami and hopefully a taste of what is in store for the years to come!

37) Retro-bit Controllers

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2019 saw me getting several controllers from the third party, Retro-bit. They have been growing in prominence in recent years with their growing supply of updated classic controllers and availability of HDMI cables for classic systems and have been dabbling with re-releasing classic NES games (more on that in a bit). Retro-bit answered my long pleading demands of having an N64 controller in with only dual grips instead of the standard three grips, and giving the button layout a tweak to make it more of a standard six-button layout like on the Genesis and Saturn controllers. I tried it with several games and far preferred it over Nintendo’s default controller. The other Retro-bit N64 controller modeled after the hard-to-find controller from Hori is a bit more of an acquired taste, but I found it to work great with certain titles.

I also found myself going to Retro-bit to acquire a six-button controller for the Genesis-mini console that also came out in 2019. For whatever head-scratching reason, the Genesis-mini only shipped with the original three button controllers and Sega gave Retro-bit the license to make compatible controllers based on Sega’s updated six-button controllers for the Genesis that hit during the fighting game craze. Retro-bit has several other enticing controllers, adaptors and cables on their website, but I am for now biting my tongue and holding off before splurging too much on their retro-gaming goodness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOv-wigNjXA - Playing through all of Sunset Riders half-out-of-it was my favorite moment of Extra Life 2019.

36) Extra Life 2019

After taking my first year off from the 24-hour videogame charity drive, Extra Life, in 2018 in nearly a decade I was stoked to get back into the 24-hour saddle again for 2019. I returned to join my friends Chris and Lyzz for another round of Extra Life. Props to them for being super accommodating to me as always and providing an excellent gaming and streaming setup for the 24 hours! Unfortunately, some last minute emergency issues beyond our control transpired and resulted in a late start, early finish, and a very on-and-off charity drive this year. For added self-imposed injury, I did not time my sleep/nap cycle ideally leading into the stream and quickly lost steam after several hours in and as you can see by the picture here, took what seemed like nearly double the naps than usual. After realizing we were all in pretty rough shape, we put the kibosh to the charity drive after a little over 12 hours invested through…..

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….that does not mean it was all bad however! There was a solid four-to-five hour stretch where I got in a lot of random retro gaming and took requests from family members who donated to play any retro game of their choosing and it was gratifying knowing they got to watch along on the stream as I fulfilled their request! My sister requested the original Super Mario Bros. and my stepdad requested some Tetris and an obscure SNES soccer game I never heard of before. Chris also busted out the PSVR and I finally got a chance to tryout the VR version of Zen Pinball and the fully featured on-rails shooter, Blood & Stone. Probably the highlight of 2019’s Extra Life was finally playing through the arcade classic, Sunset Riders while donning a Sunset Riders shirt to boot in a sleep deprived state! Despite all the hiccups, we managed to make the most of it and got in a fair amount of donations from family and friends for our local children’s hospital!

35) VGmpire’s Last Hurrah!

I have been a fan of videogame soundtracks ever since getting my first one for N64’s 1080 Snowboarding, and for nearly a decade VGmpire has been my go-to podcast celebrating all things about videogame soundtracks. Each episode would have a theme around a specific game franchise or genre and several music selections were carefully curated and inserted throughout each episode between host commentary for the music and game itself. For the last couple years VGmpire has been winding down, sparingly releasing episodes on a part-time basis until a few months ago when the host, Brett Relston stated VGmpire would be taking a permanent sabbatical due to new employment commitments. He did not leave his listeners on a low-note however, and after a few years of only a couple episodes here and there he left with five straight weeks of episodes highlighting the best soundtrack selections spanning nearly the entire Street Fighter universe! Those five episodes were an awesome farewell to his listeners and they covered such a wide-breadth of some of the best jams in fighting game history.

34) Annual Videogame Vinyl Love

Speaking of videogame soundtracks, this ranking indicates how I faired with my videogame vinyl pickups throughout 2019. I added several new additions to my videogame vinyl library, and all have provided excellent background music to my yoga workouts! Standout highlights from this year include the original Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania ReBirth and complete set for Tetris Effect being my favorite pick-ups this year. However, there was one more OST that stood out among all others this year for me and that was for the legendary SNES beat-em-up, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time! I listened to that several times over, before mixing in something else in my rotation. Memories of beating that iconic brawler several times came flooding back as I jammed out to those shell shockin’ tunes! It even has an appreciated bonus track from the TMNT live concert tour smash hit, ‘Pizza Power.’ In case you are blanking on that sick track, I will permanently instill it in your mind with this clip below…

https://youtu.be/JgHnwRUnT_4- If you are a 90s kid then you can instantly relate to this chart-topping hit!

PART 2 - RANKINGS 33 THROUGH 26

33) Now You’re Playing With Podcasting Power

Friends and family knew I use to run a videogame podcast called On Tap for several years from 2006-2013. Since then I have been scratching that podcasting itch by sporadically guest hosting with the sweet baby boys of Your Parents Basement podcast over the years. If you have read past editions of this best of list, you may recall me linking to my guest appearances on there. In 2019 I was on four episodes of the YPB show and touched on some of my all-time favorites and discovered all new gems I never played before that you will read about below. I also got to guest host with longtime friend Glenn on the PSnation Podcast for the first time in several years and had an epic time talking about all kinds of retro and current games along with the latest in TV and film.

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Throughout 2019 I uploaded several episodes from the On Tap archives onto my YouTube channel (you can find them by click or pressing right here). The archives have been offline since several months after the last episode released in late 2013. I tried to make them somewhat relative to current gaming events like re-posting our TurboGrafX retrospective in time for 30th anniversary, and our Mortal Kombat special to coincide with the release of Mortal Kombat 11. It felt good getting some of these favorite episodes back online and inspired me to pick up a long overdue new microphone for future guest hosting spots and possibly a return to regular podcasting. I have been giving a serious think to debuting a weekly/bi-weekly show hopefully later this year with the goal to stay in touch better with friends and peers. Hopefully all will go according to plan, stay tuned!

32) Getting my Morning Caffeine Fix…in 2D Pixel Brawler Form!

I crave my 2D brawlers/beat-em-ups! I will touch on some others later in this list, and I always enjoy revisiting the classics, but I also am elated to see the indie game market pick up the torch with a decent smattering of modern takes on the retro-pixel brawler. There were a couple I recently picked up, and am beating myself up for not making time for the much anticipated follow-up to the NES classic, River City Ransom with the release of River City Girls. A 2D brawler I did make time for with a couple friends though was Coffee Crisis. It is where an alien invasion happens out of nowhere and two seemingly ordinary baristas take the initiative among themselves to fight back! As you can see in the video below, the gameplay looks and feels like a more fleshed out version of the brawling from the classic Simpsons arcade game! The action is appropriately over-the-top, and is jacked up with power-ups that make the characters feel they are going through a caffeine boost of sorts. I busted it out a couple times with friends Derek and Adam, and we progressed several levels through each time before running out of lives.

https://youtu.be/5PyctYij1nw- Coffee Crisis is a solid contemporary take on the classic arcade beat-em-up brawlers!

31) Ride or Die 2019

Here is my annual love for the quality of driving/racing games I played in 2019. I did not put as much time into driving games as I wanted to in 2019, and went through some serious droughts of getting my racing fix. I wanted to start either The Crew 2 and/or Forza Horizon 3 in hopes of having a big open-world racing game to pick away at throughout the year and failed in both endeavors. I did find time to continually pick away progress at the awesome OutRun/Top Gear tribute that is Horizon Chase Turbo however. Another similar take on Hang-On/OutRun I chanced on a random weekly Xbox sale was a motorcycle time-based driving title, Super Night Riders. It captured the spirit of Hang-On to a T with its evolving time of day, catchy tunes and last second emotions of barely hitting the next checkpoint! I wished it had more than just its several included courses though! I kept coming back to these new takes on the retro-time based driving games in short spurts, and were ideal ways to start off lengthier gaming sessions.

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I got a chance to have a few sessions for the first time in a while with SNES-Super Mario Kart inspired Super Indie Kart which is STILL IN EARLY ACCESS after several years. The developer is shooting for a full release in 2020, and compared to what I played a couple years prior, a lot of tracks and characters were added with highlights being both ToeJam and Earl. I experienced many of positive vibes I had from SNES Mario Kart from what I tried out and hope to see it finally emerge out of Steam Early Access this year.

I discovered Grip off Xbox Game Pass, and its initially intimidating spherical driving. Eventually, I was able to adapt and get into and make a fair amount of headway into this combat racer that fans are touting as the spiritual successor to the PSone gem, Rollcage. I had a couple short sessions online in OnRush thanks to it being a PlayStaion Plus game. I dug its take by capturing the magic of crashing rivals in BurnOut and putting a new twist on it and making it a team based points competition instead of a traditional position-based racing game and wished I was able to spend more time with it in 2019. The driving game I put the most time into in 2019 was demolition derby-racer WreckFest. I touched on it on my 2018 recap with it coming out of early access for PC, but 2019 saw the console release and my brother and I had several sessions of online WreckFest on Xbox One. The action got pretty whacked several times and we did not care that we usually finished in the middle of the pack with the fun we had surviving each race and the chaos that comes with demolition derby-based racing games.

30) Family Gaming 2019

I had my dad and brother over at my place for Father’s Day and Christmas this year and of course we wound up playing some old school games. On Father’s Day, similar to last year we powered on the N64 and experienced some of the same classics with my dad we did growing up like New Tetris and Mario Kart 64. My dad was starting to hone in his masterful Tetris skills again by the time we wrapped up, and if we would have done more sessions I am confident he would have been wiping the floor with us! On Christmas I had a fixing for my initial videogame memories with my dad on the Atari 2600 so I booted up Atari Flashbacks on the Xbox One. I remember the astutely titled Bowling being a big hit with the family and sure enough we had several close games. Despite how simple it is on the VCS, it remains one of my favorite videogame renditions of the sport. We then booted up the arcade versions of Centipede and Millipede and Joe wowed me with some impressive progress in those games I had no idea about until he said went through a recent period playing those arcade classics nonstop at a nearby locale.

29) Super the Up-Down

I have fond memories of the 90s nostalgia arcade, Up Down in the Twin Cities that I wrote about here before and 2019 marked my third trek there! My brother and I met up with longtime friends Moe and John from the SupertheHardest podcast and we proceeded to drink and game the night away. Aside from some brief excursions to clash against John in Street Fighter II and teaming up with my brother in Smash TV the main highlight was Moe, Joe and I nearly beating the iconic X-Men arcade game all the way through before running out of quarters in the final Magneto fight. I am starting to get a little concerned though with the upkeep of the machines at Up Down however. Several machines had faulty buttons and/or would not support a second or third player. I did not recall having these issues the last two times I was there, but I imagine it is inevitable with big crowds getting their drinks sloshed all over that those machines would require constant maintenance.

28) You Do Know Jack!!

I have no idea how they do it, but Jellyvision/Jackbox games has been pumping out a nonstop collection of social party games under the Jackbox Party Pack branding and 2019 saw volume six hit current consoles. Even at six entries in I am continually impressed at how smooth most our sessions run using a web browser window on our phones as a controller with little-to-no lag throughout. I have reminisced before in these yearly breakdowns my recurring couch multiplayer sessions with friends Derek, Brooke and Ryan. Variations of Jackbox Party Pack dominated our sessions this year, with the sixth game taking the most time once it released. Trivia Murder Party 2 was the runaway hit game of the collection with its quirky deathmatch take on trivia and the one we came back to the most. Dictionarium would be a runner-up with us competing to see who can be the most creative with new words and definitions.

27) Flying Power Disc!

Long forgotten Neo-Geo game, Windjammers gained notoriety over the last several years from it being regularly featured on Giant Bomb videos and features. I had no idea about it prior either and would be lying if I were to say otherwise. It gained so much newfound fame from GB’s videos that it started gaining traction in the eSports scene, got a remaster on PS4/Xbox One/Switch and recently got an upcoming sequel announced. I briefly tried the PS4 release of WindJammers in 2018 to mark my first hands-on time with it, but 2019 saw me won over by it! I vanquished the computer adversaries with each character to net that trophy and played a fair amount online with my go-to PS4 online adversary, Chris (different Chris from mentioned above)! The PS4 remaster could not handle this combative disc-based version of Pong any better! Highly recommended for quick, local and online multiplayer throwdown sessions!

GiantBomb’s many intense multiplayer sessions of Windjammers turned me (and countless others) on to this Neo-Geo hidden gem.

26) No Rest for the Wicked…

I was a huge fan of the first two Borderlands games, but only played the first couple hours of the Pre-Sequel before deciding to take a break from the series. Derek and I played through the second game and was giving me some friendly nudging to get the much-hyped Borderlands 3 that released a few months ago. I finally picked it up several weeks ago, and we only got a couple sessions and several hours in as of this writing and thus this ranking, but from what we played so far I am started to get sucked back into the fun grind that is Borderlands. The first couple hours took a bit of re-familiarizing with the general gameplay and abilities and how to properly manage inventory and level-up because BL3 is a glut of menus. Combine that with the fact I have fallen out of favor with first person shooters in general for the last few years and I found myself extremely rusty initially.

After a couple hours though I started to get back in the swing of gameplay and get my Borderlands-wheels rolling again. I recalled the BL-wisdom that Derek helped instill in me from our BL2 sessions of ‘Do not dwell on the countless stats on each gun, keep swapping out until you find something that is fun to shoot with!’ I am a fan of the quirky Borderlands lore and outrageous characters and while the jokes are hit and miss, the frantic gameplay and open-world exploring more than makes up for it. I have a newfound appreciation for Bio-fuel! I look forward to getting back into Borderlands 3 as 2020 progresses and hope to report back next year with how we steamrolled through it!

PART 3 - RANKINGS 25 THROUGH 20

25) New Old NES Games and other Limited Run Releases

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I eluded to earlier how Retro-bit started re-releasing older NES games. 2018 saw them release the formerly Japan exclusive, Holy Diver and 2019 saw them re-issue the increasingly rare Metal Storm. I acquired both of these in 2019. I opted for the deluxe edition of Holy Diver that saw it include a ton of extra goodies as seen in the pic below. The Metal Storm re-issue is the Japan version of the game that has narrative cutscenes included and more forgiving difficulty tweaks. I did not get a chance to play either of these yet, but Holy Diver looks to be a tough-as-nails platformer that rewards practice and I look forward to attempting Metal Storm’s consistently rotating platform-based stages. Mr. Jeremy Parish did commendable breakdowns of both games upon their reissues so for those that are interested in adding some new old NES games to their collection click or press here for his Holy Diver review or here for his take on Metal Storm.

Retro-bit partnered with Limited Run to distribute Metal Storm. It would not be a yearly gaming dissection without highlighting some key Limited Run purchases. Limited Run somehow scored a goldmine of a deal by getting the rights from Disney to re-issue physical versions of several classic Star Wars games for the NES, GameBoy, N64 and PS2 remasters on PS4. I wound up getting one of my childhood N64 favorites in Shadows of the Empire and the remaster of the PS2 racing title, Racer Revenge for PS4. I was also thrilled to lock in orders for physical releases for Atari Flashbacks on Vita, acclaimed puzzler Lumines Remastered and much anticipated narrative exploration titles like Wandersong, Alone With You and Tacoma for PS4. Limited Run has been lately releasing more obscure titles that are off my radar the past few months so I will take that as a blessing in disguise on my wallet!

24) ZOMBICIDE OF EPIC PROPORTIONS

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These past few best of gaming installments I tend to breakdown some of my favorite board game moments of the year in an entry. Easily my favorite board game night of 2019 was where my brother and I met up with several other people for a six or seven player session of Zombicide. Imagine a meticulous, detailed board game portrayal of Left 4 Dead and you have Zombicide. I did four player runs of it before knowing that Zombicide usually requires a ton of intricate setup with its many tiles, pieces and tokens so I imagined with nearly eight of us we were in for a long night. Luckily, my buddy Mike hosted the game and has a boatload of experience with Zombicide, and even with his brisk pace of moderating and moving the game along we ended up playing for a solid five-ish hours before we wrapped up. It got to the point where we were playing so late and I knew a few of us were getting fairly tuckered out, but we roughed it out because we were passed that ‘point of no return’ in our quest to escape the board with our party alive!

Regrettably, my brother and I were the only ones whose characters perished, two times over each as Mike gave us replacement characters, but both of us got a little too hasty with our strategies and we paid dearly for it. Regardless, it was an epic board game night I will never forget! Derek and Brooke were playing with us too and both got into the session as much as my brother and I did. They have since told me they have been doing mini-sessions of it and mastering the pacing and setup for the game, so I look forward for more frequent Zombicide sessions in 2020!

23) A Certain Super Power-ed Guide Book

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A couple years back I recounted how Pat Contri’s Ultimate Guide to the NES Library book/tome was bedside reading for me nearly every night. While maintaining a reading schedule of a page or two a night it still took me a year and a half to finish since it reviewed every game that hit the NES in America. Contri soon after got to work on the sequel, Ultimate Guide to the SNES Library and it wound up being one of only three crowd-funded projects I ever contributed to. The book finally finished publishing a few months ago and I got my copy in the mail about a month back. It follows the same format as the last book by reviewing all the American and PAL SNES games, and contains roughly a dozen featured articles and essays to book-end this SNES bible. I immediately looked to see how the SNES games I own measured up, and then continued my same routine as I did with the NES book at reading a page or two of reviews a night before bed. Naturally, I am only a couple dozen pages in and have a long ways to go, but am ecstatic to see a long coming crowd-funded project come to fruition!

22) Top Gaming Videos of 2019'

For whatever reason, gaming videos are perfect background noise for me and resulted in me watching way too many. Like last year, here is my notated favorites that hit in 2019…

The yearly ‘Winter Games’ competition video of the GiantBomb crew featuring random videogame challenges and traditional house party a holding your breath contest ….seriously is always one of my favorite GiantBomb videos of the year. Too bad for their Goldeneye challenge in this video they did not know about the one hit-kills from the ‘License to Kill’ mode or their ‘Slappers-only’ duel would not have lasted forever.

GiantBomb - Dreamcast Anniversary Stream - Jeff Gerstmanns Pro Skater Series - Winter Games 2019 - GB Family Feud - GB Advance - VinnyVania Bloodstained Series - The Final Mario Party - Mass Alex 2 SeriesGet on my Level Series - Resident Evil 4 Playdate Series - Dangerous Driving Quick Look - WWE 2K20 Quick Look - Madden 20 Quick Look (VINNY WINS!!)

MetalJesus - Jaguar Love - PS2LoveReggiePickups - WiiU Love - PAL PS2 Exclusives - PSP Racers

Gaming Historian - Super Mario Land Series - Story of Links Awakening - Story of Super Mario Bros 3

https://youtu.be/deB5opzbjSE - Attending a couple E3s myself as part of the gaming press I can vouch for a lot featured in this splendid breakdown of what E3 is like for the gaming press.

OntheStick/JoeDrilling - ECW Hardcore Revolution - Marvel Superheroes - Resident Evil 2 - Oxenfree

No Clip - Gaming Media at E3 - History of Telltale Games

LGR - Computer Warehouse Exploration - Doom II 25th Anniversary - Ion Fury - Windows 3 Point 1 Love - SimCity 30th Anniversary

CGQ - Genesis in 1990 - Dreamcast Launch - Lets Read EGM issue 36 - Lets Read Nintendo Power issue 2

RetroPals - GameComLove

https://youtu.be/VYpryVA5WQQ - Behold, according to the AVGN, a terrible flagship Zelda game by Nintendo.

My Life in Gaming - History of M2

GameSackShenmue III Review - Worst Sounding Genesis Games - NES Special - Mega SG Review

AVGN/Cinemassacre - Videogame Magazine Special - Pepsi Man - Chex Quest - The Immortal - Majoras Mask - Defending NES OG TMNT - Genesis Mini Review - Nightmare on Elm Street - Barts Nightmare - SNES Campus Challenge - Thunder in Paradise - Combat vs Contri

https://youtu.be/eHEi5OsJKdoJeremy - Parish did comprehensive looks at all American and Japanese Virtual Boy games in 2019, and topped it off with this all-encompassing look on why this Nintendo system came and went in under a year.

Jeremy Parish ‘Works’ - All ofVirtual Boy Works - Links Awakening - Tengen NES Trio - Circle of the Moon - Pilotwings 64 - Turok 2 GBC

Scott the Woz - Mario Kart for SNES - GCN - DS - and Wii - Club Nintendo - WiiWare Chronicles - Call of Duty DS - Bargain Bin Christmas

https://youtu.be/vk1g8ufIO-o - Scott the Woz states his case for Double Dash being the best Mario Kart, clearly he is mistaken and we all know the 64 version reigns supreme.

21) Out-drinking Satan

I was pleasantly surprised to see the anticipated indie game, Afterparty as part of Xbox Game Pass upon its release day. It is from the developers at Night School Studios who brought us Oxenfree, yes that same game which took the #1 honors for my inaugural top gaming experience list from 2016. Needless to say, I was excited to see what Night School Studios had in store for the sequel. Afterparty is a narrative exploration game where two freshly graduated high-schoolers find themselves suddenly very much dead and in a twisted Tim Burton-esque party version of hell and set forth on a quest to out-drink Satan in order to get a second chance in life on Earth.

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The hype going into this kind of rubbed me the wrong way a little bit about its promotion of getting wasted all the time, but it all kind of makes sense in the end with one of the endings available on how that lifestyle may not be all it is initially cracked up to be. I dug the aesthics in Oxenfree, and loved how they brought them over into Afterparty, but with some tweaks to represent a 24/7 party atmosphere in hell. Gamplay is similar to Oxenfree with by picking from a few dialogue choices available and some only available when your character is drunk which warrants multiple playthroughs for this 4-5ish hour game. By the end I liked the universe Night School established and what they were going for by the time I finished it, but I did not love it. Maybe my initial choices lead to a not-so-desirable playthrough as I thought they would. Afterparty has their in-hell version of Twitter with random tweets from background characters going on non-stop and it is more distracting the way it is implemented.

I have been listening to the Afterparty OST while writing parts of this never-ending read, and I have been taking it in more this way than the way it came across more muted during gameplay. Oxenfree I loved so much that I played through it two more times within a few months to see other dialogue options and endings, but with Afterparty the last act felt kind of disjointed with my choices and it wrapped up with no real sense of closure. Again, maybe it was bad luck on my part with the options I picked. This however did not lead me to anxiously jumping right into starting another run, but I wanted to see if the other endings were worth playing for so I went and YouTube’d the other endings right away and yes, I think those would have been better ways to conclude Afterparty for me, but they still lacked the memorable high notes that comprised the final act of Oxenfree. Afterparty is on Game Pass though so that is a nice perk at the moment and so I imagine I will at least start a second playthrough sooner than later to see how the opening parts play out differently by picking polar opposite choices.

I also wanted to mention I played this on an Xbox One S on an external hard drive install and I was stunned to see this is the first game I ran into with particularly noticeable slowdown and performance issues. I had little to no hiccups with other graphically extensive games like Gears 5 and Man of Medan recently so I found the performance hiccups here surprising with the not-so-overwhelming visuals from this 2D game. Lucky for Afterparty, it is a laid back narrative exploration game so it was not that much of an issue to deal with whenever slowdown and framerate stutters happened. Despite these performance and narrative qualms, I do not regret my time with Afterparty and would recommend to at least try it if you have Game Pass and see if it is up your alley.

https://youtu.be/lBP3uyHJ0zU - EPN went above and beyond with their coverage of the Genesis Mini with several videos dedicated solely to the 16-bit ‘Blast Processing’ wonder.

20) Sega Finally Gets a Mini-Genesis Right

After several versions of mini-Genesis ‘Flashback’ consoles of poor-to-mixed quality from the manufacturers, AtGames, Sega took it upon themselves to release and produce their very own Genesis-mini on the 30th anniversary of the North American launch. Sega got it right this time around with superior emulation compared to the efforts from AtGames and a lineup of 42 games mostly from Sega, but with also some notable third party hits too. They also include handy features as seen in Nintendo’s mini-systems like save states and the ability to rewind gameplay which I can attest is a lifesaver for some of these brutally tough games from the 90s. It is worth noting the recent Genesis Classics disc Sega released on current consoles offers up over 50 games, but they are all from Sega’s catalog and have a wide range of quality. The lineup here comparably hits more than misses, and features the expected Sega studs, but welcomed third party additions like Road Rash II, Castlevania: Bloodlines and Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.

Finally got around to modding my Genesis-mini
Finally got around to modding my Genesis-mini

I have only briefly played my own Genesis-mini, and am awaiting the close final tweaks to software that is about to release that will allow users to upload their own personal Genesis games to the mini much like I did for my NES & SNES-minis so I can curate my own ultimate Genesis library. I like the library offered up here, but would be lying if I said I was not bummed that Sega omitted some of its hit sports games that helped defined it during the 16-bit wars. I understand there are those pesky royalty fees to deal with for former players and teams, but a lot of the early 16-bit Sega Sports titles lacked those licenses or only had one player being the cover mascot for the title. EA was also a strong supporter of the Genesis (with sports AND non-sports titles) so it was eye-opening to see only one game from EA’s 16-bit library make the Genesis-mini cut. This is why I am awaiting for that library loading software to get perfected so I can have my own handpicked Genesis line ready to go! I also want to give props to EPNfor their prolific and thorough videosbreaking downthe Genesis-mini at launch and give another shoutout Jeremy Parish’s in-depth review of it too where he goes far more into the weeds on the Genesis-mini than I will on my blurb about it here if you want to know more.

PART 4 - RANKINGS 19 THROUGH 15

19) Punishing Arcade Action Starring Dolph & Hasselhoff Clones

The Punisher is in all likelihood my favorite 90s arcade brawler. Granted, I am biased being an unapologetic fan of the comics and the arcade game makes great use of the license by featuring several of the Punisher’s top villains from that time and having Punisher team up with his on-and-off ally Nick Fury. The Genesis port is noticeably watered down visually in order to run on the system after looking at comparison videos online. When not playing the two side-by-side the differences are negligible to me while playing. It does not have the ability to set max lives in order to breeze through it, but you can set to adjust an option to add a few more which made it plausible to beat on normal difficulty with a non-wreckless strategy of picking your spots and timing attacks instead of rushing into encounters with mindless button mashing. I can vouch for this from experience!

An evil ending to get after plucking away forever on normal difficulty
An evil ending to get after plucking away forever on normal difficulty

The bad thing about beating Genesis Punisher on Normal difficulty is it gives a bullshit ending screen of ‘Now Play like the Punisher in Hard Mode to see the True Ending.’ I mean, it is not like the ending is likely all that it is cracked up to be to motivate me to going through it again on a tougher difficulty….oh wait…guys I looked it up and turns out that ending blows away all other endings from arcade brawlers at the time as you can see by that attached video below. With that in mind, I invited my brother over one day in 2019 and I was determined this was the day we could beat Genesis Punisher in hard mode. We did have some help though from game genie cheats we had loaded up on an SDcard into the Retron5 we used to play it on though. We did not turn on full health or infinite lives because we desperately wanted to say we ‘earned’ that awesome ending, but one of the things hard difficulty mode tweaks is not the challenge of the opponents, but merely the quantity of them. This would not be a deal-breaker since a lot of the common thugs are pushovers, but with this brawler having a timer, it would lead to us losing a couple lives after running out time while taking out the ump-teenth wave of goons sent our way.

Not wanting to burn through more lives on a BS timer system, we disabled the timer on the cheats menu halfway through and we also disabled losing life from executing the leg sweep ‘super’ move. Not that the leg sweep was more powerful as ordinary attacks, but it helped free up some breathing room when the AI cluttered the screen with several enemies. With those two ‘assists’ activated we progressed up to the final stage before we finally ran out of lives in the midst of the ‘ol arcade brawler stereotype, the dreaded boss gauntlet! I am confident if we would have gained a couple lives and disabled the boss timer from the beginning we would have at least got up to the final boss and possibly defeated him!

Earlier in 2019 Arcade 1up released a Capcom Marvel edition cabinet loaded up with the classic arcade versions of Punisher, X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Superheroes. I have no idea why a brawler such as Punisher seemed like a fitting inclusion with the Marvel fighting games when Capcom had several other Marvel vs. fighting games to choose from, but that Arcade 1up release is so far the only reissue of either the Arcade or Genesis Punisher title to this day. The downside is that it will set one back $400!!! As awesome as it would be to have the actual official arcade release at home, I imagine if I would pick that up I would ignore my aforementioned advice and fall victim to maxing out the credits and mindlessly button mashing my way to the end. I think I will prefer sticking with a little bit of strategy in my brawler and one day hope of finishing hard mode, just like the Punisher…..for now.

https://youtu.be/yLdlQMNS9hs - This will be worth the extra hassle of beating in hard difficulty to witness the true ending to The Punisher!

18) Handheld Gaming 2019

I had a pretty solid year for traditional portable gaming (AKA non-phone games!!). With 2019 being the 30th anniversary of the GameBoy in North America, I went to our local retro game shop with the mindset of picking up the only GameBoy variant I did not own, the GameBoy Pocket. I noticed it there on a previous trip going for not that much and when I went to request it the clerk informed me of their modded GameBoy Advances they recently started selling that have new outer shells and a premium backlit screen on par with the latter GBA SPs. That went for three times as much as the Pocket, but after the clerk let me test it out for a few minutes I instantly had a change of heart and forked over the dough for the custom deluxe GBA. I love my backlit GBA SP, but I always preferred the form factor of the original GBA more, and having it with a top class backlit screen convinced me to upgrade. I wound up playing that modded GBA quite a lot in the back half of the year.

No Caption Provided

In the first half of the year though I wrapped up Dragon Quest VIII in January shortly after posting the previous year’s recap, and stuck with it for a few months consulting guides for recommended post-game quests to take a stab at. Loved my many hours with DQVIII, but that was a game I primarily endured throughout 2018. After that lengthy RPG I popped in the optimal palate cleanser, WarioWare Gold on the 3DS. Up until that point, the only WarioWare release I ever played prior was the GameCube version, which I am a fan of but I always heard excellent testimonials about the handheld versions. WWG has over 300 of the bite-sized ‘micro-games,’ most of which are collected from previous entries, but also consist of a fair amount of exclusive original micro-games for the 3DS. The frenetic gameplay kept me bug-eyed throughout, and the slightly lengthier ‘boss battles’ also cracked me up. There are a seeming infinite amount of Nintendo references and small sections of gameplay taken from countless other Nintendo games ranging from common top 8 and 16-bit hits to the obscure with nods to titles like Virtual Boy’s Mario Clash. It all added up as the perfect pick-up-and-play title coming off a mammoth RPG. Do not be like me and neglect this superb handheld version!

Keep chatting with your mentor and he turns on you and he gives you this game over greeting
Keep chatting with your mentor and he turns on you and he gives you this game over greeting

I am a nut for picross games, and the 3DS has a ton of them but 2019 I finally started the My Nintendo exclusive game, Legend of Zelda Picross. Like other Picross games on the 3DS it has an intuitive control scheme and a multi-layered hint system which I took advantage of numerous times to nudge me in the right direction! I downloaded the GameBoy cult hit, Mole Mania off the 3DS eShop and consumed a few hours of that action/puzzler to discuss on a clayyyysic episode of YPB I guest hosted on. I imported a few fan translation GBA and DS games that have been on my want list forever because they never had official American releases, but thankfully the fanbase stepped up and changed that so I was thrilled to finally add Ace Attorney Investigations 2, Retro Game Challenge 2 and Mother 3 to my handheld library. I played through the first case of AAI2 and it brought back memories of why I enjoyed the first one so much and the fresh changes it brought to the Ace Attorney formula. Did not get a chance to play Retro Game Challenge 2 yet, but I did put a lot of time into Mother 3.

Yes, I took this with my cell, I have no idea why it uploaded upside-down
Yes, I took this with my cell, I have no idea why it uploaded upside-down

The fan translation originally released for Mother 3 about a decade or so ago and I started it up on a ROM and got a few hours in, but eventually got sidetracked and regrettably neglected it. Having a physical copy of the game and making 2019 a big year for the Mother/Earthbound franchise for me were the catalysts to have me stick through Lucas’s adventure this time around. Mother 3 has a similar look and feel as Earthbound on SNES, but with an entire new setting and cast of affable characters that similarly immersed me into their unique world all over again. Props to the fan translators who took on that mammoth undertaking with dialogue that does not skip a beat and brings back the vintage lighthearted and crude humor that was a trademark of Earthbound. The battles play out nearly identical too with each character having unique attacks, and retaining Earthbound’s rolling HP meter that allows additional precious seconds to escape death from a gutsy battle. I have been cherishing my dragged out sessions of this gem so I have not finished Mother 3 yet, but according to a guide I am halfway through chapter seven of eight, so almost!

17) Out Contra-ing Contra

I have played a few Contra titles over the years, but usually fall victim to their hard-but-fair difficulty. I am starting to come around and appreciate them a little more recently and kind of like I described with Punisher above, play them a little more smartly and not rush in guns blazing in order to conserve lives and survive those grueling boss fights. I heard of a new Contra-inspired indie game gaining some buzz and launching day and date on Xbox Game Pass called Blazing Chrome. My buddy Adam was swinging over to hang out on the night of its release and I brought up about starting the night off with a quick session of Blazing Chrome expecting it to kick our ass and deplete our lives within ten minutes. We booted it up and……did not put it down until over two hours later!

No Caption Provided

Blazing Chromeplays like Contra III on steroids. The character and background sprites along with all the gunfire and explosions adds some extra ‘oomph’ and a little more dazzling special effects that would not seem possible on the SNES, but easily doable on the Xbox One. The boss battles also capture that ‘larger-than-life’ feeling from the bosses of Contra III. Eventually we fell victim to the fourth stage boss, which was something like going up against a Veloci-raptor that require pinpoint precision in order dodge its flurry of attacks. Thankfully, Blazing Chrome is not as merciless as Contra and allows the ability to restart at the beginning of the latest stage you progressed to after running out of lives.

We must have restarted that dastardly fourth stage damn near ten times and played until our eyes felt like they were on the verge of falling out. Despite Blazing Chrome kicking our asses, like Contra it felt like it was not the game being cheap, but instead our own fault and needing to put forth the practice to learn patterns and master the timing and layouts of levels. It was a blissful moment whenever we got another stage or boss that we were previously hung up on and successfully coordinated our attacks to take down mid-bosses or other pesky foes. Adam and I keep thinking of revisiting Blazing Chrome ever since, but knowing what we are in for this time around we keep telling ourselves we got to be in the right mindset going into this five star indie game of 2019!

16) ”Go X-Men, Stop Magneto….err Apocalypse….no actually Magneto, Really!”

I reached out to the fine folks at YPB Podcast who were looking for a classic X-Men game to cover to coincide with the release of the X-Men: Dark Phoenix film. The SNES title, Mutant Apocalypse has always been on my bucket list to beat. Despite the polarizing nature of the FOX films, I have enjoyed most of them and was anticipating Dark Phoenix and wanted to re-watch the previous film, Apocalypse for a refresher on the plot too. So for about a week I went all-in on X-Men and played through and finished Mutant Apocalypse, with literally mere minutes to spare before I met up with the YPB crew for our arranged recording time.

No Caption Provided

Mutant Apocalypse hit when Capcom was on top of their 16-bit game pumping out nonstop, top tier licensed and original games. MA is not an arcade brawler, but more of a methodical action platformer. I dug how each level focused on one of several different X-Men and how each character had their own specialized attacks I knew so well from the hit 90s cartoon from that era. There are still plenty of cannon fodder for to hack ‘n slash though, but also a fair amount of platforming to navigate through and multi-layered boss fights to survive. I hate to sacrifice my gaming cred, but some of these boss battles I had to resort to the save state and rewind features of the SNES-classic in order to proceed. It was worth it though, and resulted in one of the top X-Men games of that generation, barely nudging out Clone Wars on Genesis for my favorite 16-bit X game.

I jest with the title of this entry because it eludes to Apocalypse being the big bad behind everything, but ultimately it is a red herring and low and behold it is none other Professor X’s good buddy, Magneto behind it all again! We poked fun at that logic while dissecting the game with the YPB boys, and I surprisingly found myself legit into Apocalypse on my re-watch of it. Playing through MA and enjoying Apocalypse more than I expected the second time around had me way more amped up for Dark Phoenix than I had any right to be because it was impossible to avoid the movie and comic press at the time anticipating a box office dud. While Dark Phoenix will not make my top 10 films of 2019 list and had its fair share of holes to dig through, I still had a good time throughout its retelling of the Phoenix saga and it provided a degree of satisfying closure to this four-movie arc of characters.

15) Sports-Ball Gaming 2019

It was a solid year of sports gaming for me in 2019. It did not dominate the year for me, but the chunks I did rock the old sports-ball were immensely gratifying! Picking up from 2018 and into the first couple months of 2019 was finishing off my season of Mutant League Football. I raved about this in last year’s recap about this being a worthy spiritual successor to EA’s Mutant Football League. It captures the over-the-top nature of the Genesis game and mixed in a dose of dialed up NFL Blitz-esque gameplay for what is likely my favorite football game this generation. I won the championship in season mode, and debated starting up the new Dynasty/Franchise multi-season mode that released as DLC towards the end of 2018, but decided to take a break from this whacked out turf frenzy in favor of….

https://youtu.be/EDQfTuQy-sc - I loved Madden’s take on Friday Night Lights, and Madden 19’s second attempt at a story mode ups the stakes for the returning NFL hopefuls as seen in this complete collection of all the cutscenes above.

…a more realistic version of the sport in Madden NFL 19. I am a fan of EA’s take on a story-based single player mode it debuted in Madden NFL 18 with its ‘Longshot’ narrative. Madden 19 brought back Devin Wade and Colt Cruise in their quest for NFL stardom with part two of ‘Longshot.’ I noticed a polarizing reception to this story mode, but I thought it was a much-needed dose of fresh single player gameplay after so much emphasis on Ultimate Team in Madden this past decade. Wade unfortunately is still having trouble remembering plays, and Cruise bounces back and forth trying to ride the limited success from his song ‘Longshot.’ Cruise’s storyline is noticeably more of the focus this year with him making one last effort at making it into the NFL before being introduced to his long lost half-sister who drags him into help coaching the beloved local football team, the Bullfrogs! The narrative and football sequences are better paced out, and most football gameplay involved is never forcing a player to play through complete whole games, but instead a series of drives to accomplish a certain goal. The awesome high school flashback games return, complete with adorable local announcer commentary!

Awesome Steam arcade hoops game, Basketball Classics
Awesome Steam arcade hoops game, Basketball Classics

It was interesting to see which active and retired NFL talent they brought into the story, and eventually ‘Longshot’ circles back to Colt coaching the Bullfrogs from escaping being foreclosed on from a real estate bigshot in a feel-good fundraising finale! Despite how much I was into the narrative, I got swamped with a bunch of menu prompts after finishing ‘Longshot’ pressuring me to check out the microtransaction-heavy Ultimate Team mode afterwards, and the menus throughout the rest of the game modes consistently attempt to poke and prod away to Ultimate Team instead. After doing a couple online games with a friend and failing miserably, I quickly traded in Madden 19. I felt like I sold it short and probably could have still got a solid season worth of games in the Franchise mode, but the big push in marketing and development resources in realistic sports games this past several years going into virtual currency-influenced modes like Ultimate Team rubs me the wrong way and I find myself playing more arcade sports games instead.

Speaking of arcade sports games, an interesting digital game on PS4 I tried out last year is Super Blood Hockey! It looks and plays similarly to the NES classic, Ice Hockey (complete with picking the size of your players), but with a bigger focus on fights and….well, blood. I only played a few games and need to come back to it, because I am awful against the AI, but I definitely am into the vibe it is going for. Another arcade sports game that had an awesome old-school NES vibe, but I was able to get a feel for was Basketball Classics on PC/Steam. It reminds me a lot of what Double Dribble would be like if it were on Intellivision. Gameplay is very simple with only three buttons involved for gameplay, but it also mixes in handy modern play mechanics like a 2K-esque shot meter.

Basketball Classics has the 8-bit hoops charm factor oozing out of it with a catchy theme song, background chiptunes and interactive dunk cinematics that look like they were ripped right out of Double Dribble. I do not want to overlook the righteous story mode which follows a similar style to the NBA Street games by beating teams and recruiting their top player who have similar player portraits to 80s/90s NBA legends like Jordan, Barkley, Magic, Kareem and Bird. I was able to get to the ‘phantom five’ boss team, but despite several attempts failed repeatedly. There is still a lot I want to dive into and I have yet to try like a regular season mode with several dozen classic team rosters available.

PART 5 - RANKINGS 14 THROUGH 10

14) An Offer I Could Not Refuse

In last year’s list even though I did not subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, I gave it a pretty solid ranking due to it being the second coming of the Sega Channel, but now with proper resources and superior accessibility to its userbase. It also helped that Xbox Game Pass offers about triple the games at around 130-150 games a month compared to the 40 Sega Channel offered up at the time. Oh yeah, back in the mid-90s Sega charged about $15 a month, and Microsoft is currently charging $15 a month also for its ‘Ultimate Game Pass’ which combines Game Pass for Xbox One and PC as well as bundling in Xbox Live Gold. Since the last year’s recap Microsoft has went on to make all of its first party games available to Game Pass subscribers on their first day of release, and also went on to presumably offer nice payouts to highly anticipated indie games to become available on Game Pass upon their release date like Outer Worlds, Blair Witch Project, Demon’s Tilt, Afterparty, Blazing Chrome and Outer Wilds.

ClusterTruck off GamePass
ClusterTruck off GamePass

Despite all that temptation, I held off subscribing to it because I already have way too many games in my backlog and do not want to pay a monthly fee on top of it, but then around E3 2019 Microsoft made an offer too good to pass up where for only $1 they would convert the rest of your remaining Xbox Live Gold time to an Ultimate Game Pass membership and then add a bonus month on top of it. My Xbox Live Gold auto-renewed a month prior to that announcement, so it would be foolish to pass up converting my remaining 11 months into Ultimate Game Pass time for only $1. I am glad I did because I wound up trying out a decent amount of games from it. Not a boatload because as you can see from this list I had a lot of other games to play, but the convenience of the service caused me to try a lot more than I thought. There were challenging BMX-based games like Descenders and Lonely Mountains: Downhill, the bonkers semi-platforming game, ClusterTruck, the aforementioned spherical racer, Grip and The Blair Witch Project that I was totally consumed by for the first hour until I got lost in the woods and spent two hours circling around going nowhere before giving up. On top of all that I ended up finishing two games off of Game Pass by the end of the year. One of them was Afterparty that I already gave my rundown of, and another I will touch on shortly. So yeah, even though I may not stick with Game Pass when my $1 membership expires in half a year, it is safe to say I easily got my dollar’s worth out of it and then some!

13) Pinball Madness 2019

My local pinball club I finally got a membership for!
My local pinball club I finally got a membership for!

The weekly match-up scorechasing leaderboards in Pinball FX3 have been a constant for me for a couple years now. Every Saturday morning I have a routine of loading up the four predetermined scorechasing tables of the week and do a couple three minute runs on them each. The developers at Zen have also been capitalizing on acquiring the Williams/Bally license and have around a dozen-ish classic Williams/Bally pins in the Pinball FX3 library now including a couple personal favorites of mine like Medieval Madness, Champion Pub and No Good Gophers. I remain partial to the way the pinball physics handle to those authentic pinball games in Farsight’s take on the tables in Pinball Arcade, but having them available with the rest of the Zen lineup is convenient.

I messed around with a few other pinball titles on Xbox One. Zaccaria Pinball hit Xbox One in 2019, and it is essentially the European version of Pinball Arcade. I toyed with it several times throughout the year and it had a ton of options to tinker around with and I have been meaning to revisit it a little more frequently. Every time I boot up Steam, I continue to do a run of Hyperspace Pinball as I continue to be dazzled by its neon-lightshow aesthetics. Even though Farsight has seemingly abandoned support after losing the rights to the Williams and Bally tables, I still throw in Pinball Arcade sporadically and bust out one of its many tables from its mammoth vault of legendary pins. Finally, in December Demon’s Tilt hit Xbox Game Pass on its first day of release and it became an instant classic. Demon’s Title design is based off the acclaimed Devil’s Crush/Dragon’s Fury pinball games on TG16/Genesis that are themed heavily on three screens of verticality, fills the tables with a potpourri of ghouls to lay waste to and intimidating boss-fight bonus stages. It keeps the TG16-era visuals, but pumps them up with contemporary special effects like Blazing Chrome also did, and throws in a banger of a synth-metal soundtrack to nod along with throughout!

https://youtu.be/dX031NEmLXw - Behold the screen-filling madness of Demon’s Tilt and its jamming synth-metal soundtrack! I dare you not to headbang along with it!

Demon's Tilt is so badass! Super amped up version of Devil's Crush with exhilarating visuals and action!
Demon's Tilt is so badass! Super amped up version of Devil's Crush with exhilarating visuals and action!

In real-world pinball, I finally got around to joining a local pinball club about an hour’s drive away from me. I visited it several times already and am impressed with its lineup of nearly 25 tables available, most of which are from the 90s and up. I spent my first few trips there trying a game or two on each table, and now that I got that out of my system, I think I am going to try going forward just sticking to one or two tables a visit so I can get as much practice and get the most out of each table that way. 2019 wounding up being the biggest year for pinball for me since starting this list and thus its higher-than-usual ranking!

12) Feel the Need…for Jag

I love me some Brutal Sports Football! Right up there with Mutant League!
I love me some Brutal Sports Football! Right up there with Mutant League!

This is admittedly an odd tale of my how I crave my retro games. I already mentioned the Midwest Gaming Classic retro-con I like to attend above. In the first several MGCs I went to, they always had a small part of the floor called ‘JagFest’ where they had several Jaguars hooked up and the entire Jaguar library on hand to play at your own desire. Over my first four or five MGCs I would spend a couple hours there each year trying out a bunch of Jaguar games and would eventually settle on the five or six I preferred and would play those for an hour or two to get my yearly Jaguar fix and avoid having to dish out the money for the games and system. After returning to MGC in 2018 after a few years off I could not locate the JagFest corner and came to learn those folks stopped supporting MGC a year or two prior. All of a sudden I found myself missing out on getting that usual fix for Jaguar gaming so I started to keep my eye out online and finally found one for a fair price a few months ago.

I started eyeballing places for the several games I liked and tracked all but a couple of them down for decent prices over this past year. Adam swung by again recently and we did a Jag-Night and broke out several multiplayer games. We did a few rounds of NBA Jam TE, and minus the awful background music, it is the best looking home console version of Jam TE for what it is worth. It was nice revisiting some classic rosters too like when the Timberwolves rocked Christian Laetner and the Spurs had the lethal combo of David Robinson, Dennis Rodman & Sean Elliot! We then busted out two player Raiden and got up to the third stage after our second attempt with the two credits setting. Brutal Sports Football is an awesome mess of an arcade sports game and I loved decapitating my friend's players instead of scoring goals more. There is so much chaos going on screen I am surprised the Jaguar was able to barely keep up with it all. Finally finished off the Jaguar marathon by score-chasing on Tempest 2000. My meager Tempest skills did not gain me much headway, but Adam fared better and got a few stages in. I never thought I would eventually cave and get this ’64-bit’ oddity, but here I am….and after that session I kind of do not regret it and am legit having fun with the games for it. Who woulda thunk it!?

11) Still in Pursuit of that Elusive Tri-Force

I will one day acquire the Master Cycle Zero!
I will one day acquire the Master Cycle Zero!

I know….I know….I am a terrible person for not beating Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild yet. I still semi-regularly throw in BotW every two to three months and get a memorable session out of it methodically exploring every nook and cranny of the map. I cannot help but activate ‘Hero’s Path’ mode to see where I have traversed across the map so I can explore everywhere out of paranoia of missing out on those oh-so-desirable secrets in unexplored areas. I have a majority of the map explored and am on the precipice of starting the last stretch of the core game that is Hyrule Castle. Of course I still want to unlock that rad Master Cycle Zero, complete the Master Sword DLC trials and pursue so many other secrets I likely missed. Despite not finishing it, I have gotten a lot out of my sessions with BotW this year which is why it still lands in the top half of the rankings. Breath of the Wild is right up there with MGS5 as one of my first games to finally knock out of the backlog and I plan on setting everything else aside in the coming weeks to finally grind out the last dozen or so hours I anticipate I have remaining in BotW.

10) Crafting Them Videogame Anniversary Specials

For those unfamiliar with my past work, I use to be in the gaming press and penned countless reviews and specials from 1999 until around 2012. I took a break from it after suffering a series of setbacks in my pursuit of landing a major gaming press gig and after about stepping away from writing all together for a good year was when I returned at first with my limited series resolutions-themed blog, and then starting up this movie-themed blog in 2014 and have not looked back since. After a couple years I started to get that little inkling of a desire to get back to videogame writing again and aside from a handful of special circumstance reviews from the last few years the only major videogame-themed writing I have done was these gigantic end-of-the-year blowouts to get videogame writing out of my system for another year.

Surrrrge!!
Surrrrge!!

In 2019 however I started jonesin’ to do a little more. With several videogame platforms hitting milestone anniversaries in 2019, I took that opportunity as an outlet to write not a stereotypical historical retrospective, but instead more a journal of my lifelong memories for the console being commemorated. I went with the outline of how I first learned of these platforms, how I first discovered and played them and of course wrapped it up running through my all-time favorite games and moments for said platform.

They were a pleasure to put together, and reflecting back on my early childhood mishaps for the GameBoy brought back memories I have long stashed away. The Genesis special got me nostalgic recounting the summer spent playing the Sega Channel nearly every day. The Dreamcast tribute was an emotional journey to relive the high highs of it being the first system to purchase with my own money and the many late night multiplayer sessions and the low lows of the sudden discontinuation announcement. The TurboGrafX and 32X flashback I felt I had a unique take on because I did not own them until well after their lifecycle. In 2020 there are four more systems celebrating milestone North American launch anniversaries I am shooting to write specials on throughout the year: NES turns 35, PSone and Virtual Boy both hit the quarter century mark and the PS2 will be 20. Keep your peepers peeled for them!

PART 6 - RANKINGS 9 THROUGH 5

9) A Paperboy-rogue-like-lite…

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I am a moron and forgot to include this Xbox One digital-only gem, The VideoKid in my 2018 list where it dominated a lot of my playtime. It is an 80s-nostalgia themed take on Paperboy, but instead of delivering newspapers on a bike, you are delivering videotapes on a skateboard. There are coins and other jewels to collect that carryover from each run that can be used to unlock 80s themed outfits ranging from AH-NULD to Teen Wolf and a few extra skateboarding tricks too. VideoKid is crammed with pop-culture references from that decade, and each run has…um I think this is the right way to phrase it….’procedurally generated 80s references’ to freshen up each run. The developers dig deep with the references and here are a teeny fraction of them off the top of my head in this game: the California Raisins, Care Bears, Smurfs, Night Rider, Transformers, Bill & Ted, TMNT, Nightmare on Elm Street, Masters of the Universe, Terminator, Batman, Ghostbusters and a plethora of others.

It feels slightly more appropriate debuting VideoKid on my 2019 list because even though I played a lot of it in 2018, I never finished a run until 2019. I would always get goosebumps upon realizing I made it to a farther area in the run and I would succumb to my nerves getting the best of me. As you can see by the attached pic of my tweet, all that practice paid off and I finally finished a run after well over triple digit attempts. That was easily one of the single best gaming moments for me in 2019 and why it ranked so high. I would go on to beat it several more times in order to unlock all the outfits and acquire all the achievements. I never would have imagined enjoying this as much as I did upon downloading this $5 game that seemed like a neat little 80s throwback timewaster, but instead I would invest all those attempts in my conquest for ultimate 80s glory. Having Bill & Ted near the end of the run belt out to you in recognition “you rule, Video Dude!” was the icing on this delicious cake!

Knight's Quest is one of the buried treasures of the ID Xbox One games
Knight's Quest is one of the buried treasures of the ID Xbox One games

I had a feeling this game would be up my brother’s alley, and so I used the Xbox One’s ability to gift games and sent a copy his way and urged him to at least give it a shot. Soon enough, he got back to me on how he became addicted to this peculiar title too. He later returned the favor by gifting another low-budget digital-only title to me, Knight Squad. It is a simple 2D overhead visual game where a bunch of knights clutter the screen and players can assign teams or go in free-for-alls with a wealthy amount of options and maps to tinker with. It had easy to pick-up-slaughter gameplay, and I found it to be a fun little mindless deathmatch game I booted up in a few multiplayer sessions with friends. It will definitely remain in my multiplayer throwdown rotation!

8) Hadoken Finish Him 2019

Normally this ranking would highlight my routine online fighting sessions with my longtime fighting game rival, Chris! While we did bust out a few of our usual favorites like versions of Tekken and Street Fighter throughout the year, the bulk of our fighting game time was dominated by Mortal Kombat. With the Mortal Kombat 11 release approaching, we had a few meet ups of its predecessor, Mortal Kombat X as a way of having a last hurrah with it before its sequel dominated our meetups.

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In the midst of those sessions I realized I never got around to playing the much-touted story mode of MKX so I blitzed through that and finished it within a few days of MK11’s release. It was foolish to hold off so long on that story because I loved NeatherRealm’s past fighting game story modes, and MKX had a neat narrative by introducing the four new ‘Kombat Kids’ that are the new generation of fighters from the offspring of the mainstay regular roster members. A lot of the story involves some deep MK lore which I was somehow able to keep up with because I read a few too many MK comics over the years from Malibu and DC than I probably care to admit.

I wasted no time diving into MK11’s story a few days later right at its release date. Other than removing and not even acknowledging two of the four new ‘Kombat Kids’ introduced in MKX, I absolutely ate up the MK11 narrative. The plot manages to achieve the impossible by successfully conveying one of my personal pet peeve storytelling devices, time travel! It then doubles down on that by throwing in an all-powerful-TIME TRAVELLING GOD as the main antagonist that wastes no time messing around with the timeline and mixing in past takes on MK characters from the original 90s trilogy and spewing them out into the current timelines along with their wiser elders a couple decades later. It was a hoot watching modern day Johnny Cage grab 90s potty-mouth Johnny Cage by his ear and give him a lesson on manners. The sexual tension between both retro and contemporary Kano was bizarre to say the least, but well worth watching how their alliance played out. Aside from the time travelling hijinks, there are a lot of serious moments I could not help but get emotionally wrapped up in with my near 30-years history invested into this franchise. Watching Jax initially succumb, and then overcome his PTSD got me good!

https://youtu.be/ezsPJTplu_0 - Here are some of the more lighthearted moments from MK11’s story mode courtesy of young, obnoxious Johnny Cage which were nice moments of levity from the nonstop time travelling war that is the primary arc.

Only praising the story mode would be selling MK11 short, because a lot of the other modes have a ton to offer up too. The multi-layered towers return, and full of all types of consistently rotated gimmicks like past games. I wound up preferring a classic themed tower of several opponents as a perfect way to practice and get use to a new DLC character whenever one dropped. Chris and I would meet up and duke it out online whenever a new character released. Having an older Arnold Schwarzenegger as DLC to coincide with Terminator: Dark Fate has been my favorite DLC character. Having Arnold’s uppercut command be replaced with a crouching shotgun blast is THE BEST-EST! The creation options are a wee overwhelming with oodles of costume and move variants to deck out up to several save slots for each fighter. I stuck to only making a few for some of my go-to characters, and part of me would have preferred having a traditional few costumes to unlock for each character instead.

The tutorials are insanely in-depth and reach new levels of pro-strategies detailed in fighting game tutorials. Seeing the Krypt return is always a delight, and having it be hosted by Shang Tsung who is graphically and aurally portrayed by the man who played him in the first movie, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is the quintessential fan service! Parts of the Krypt though went over my head as NeatherRealm went overboard with several types of currencies involved and hunting down objects to unlock various parts of the Krypt. Props to the developers in the end though for somehow doing the impossible and consistently managing to outdo themselves with each sequel. I plan on keeping MK11 in my online fighting rotation for the foreseeable future.

7) COG Attack

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Having Gears 5 available day one on Xbox Game Pass was an appreciated way of saving $60. I bought into how Gears 4 advanced the narrative with the next-gen of COG a couple decades later and had the original characters serve as more of an elder advisor role. The unique twist at the end of Gears 4 dealing with Kate is a big component of the campaign for the fifth game. I did not anticipate for Coalition Studios to pay off that big cliffhanger by really diving deep into Kate’s past and seeing how the revelations that await her pan out. I imagine most have probably heard how they mixed in a couple mini-open world environments into the story kind of how Uncharted Lost Legacy did a couple years ago. I did not mind it and got into exploring the frozen tundra and desert wastes while the characters filled in the traversal time with dialogue opening up about themselves and poking fun at each other. It helped mixed things up a bit and could not help but get immersed in its (limited) open worlds.

By spacing gunfights out with the open world traversal, I forgot how heated the action can get with Gears 5’s variety of mammoth villains, especially in the final act when shit appropriately ramps up. The final act felt worthy of a big budget blockbuster of larger-than-life set-pieces, action and a heavy duty final choice presented that I had to pause and give a serious think over. I played a ton of multiplayer in the original trilogy, and regret not getting a chance to play the multiplayer for the fourth game, but have already redeemed myself by dabbling with several round of multiplayer in Gears 5. I am godawful, but it the occasional kill I pulled off brought back kind memories of how into the multiplayer I was before. Also having Linda Hamilton and Dave Bautista as unlockable characters for multiplayer are both perfect fits for the franchise! I also need to try out Horde mode and see how far it has evolved since I last played it in the prior games. So much left to do multiplayer-wise that I can see Gears 5 being one of the few online multiplayer games I regularly come back to this console generation.

6) How About a Game of Lucky Hit?

Last year I picked up Sega’s HD remasters of Shenmue I & II on Xbox One in hopes to finish them again for a refresher on its grand narrative before the long anticipated third installment. I finished the first Shenmue off that collection in 2018. I played through the second game over the course of the following summer. Ryo is now pursuing Lan Di in China in two sprawling cities, with a bonus third area in an extended epilogue and all together it is about double the length of Ryo’s first adventure. Even though there are appreciated quality of life improvements compared to the first game as far as save anywhere and quasi-fast travel features implemented I prefer the first game more. Main thing I chalk it up to is in the first game Ryo having more of a sense of familiarity with Dobuita where Ryo knows nearly all the locals, shopkeepers, etc. In the sequel he only gets to become acquainted with several people and all the minor cast and shopkeepers treat him as an unknown and there are only hints of the charming small banter in the sequel to be had that the first game is overflowing with. There are some killer supporting characters Ryo gets to know like Ren, Xiuying and Joy, but the all-encompassing cast Ryo has varying degrees of acquaintance-ship with is what help makes the first game so welcoming and makes me give the first game the nod. Also, the sequel does not have forklift races and replaces it with an awful cargo carrying QTE mini-game where your co-worker screams at you every time a QTE is missed. No thank you!

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A couple things going for Shenmue II is addition of two more YS games: Outrun and Afterburner II (and ability to access the four games from the main menu once they are encountered). Both of the cities are huge with tons of mini-games and side activities to take in with a lot of new ones debuting. Not all of them are winners but there was a ton of diversity between them and at least a few I found myself revisiting frequently. The final several hours of Shenmue II are also truly special and even though it was my second time experiencing this game, it was the perfect way to get me ready for the third game when it hit a couple months later. --spoilers next paragraph--

The romp up the mammoth Yellowhead building complex in the final act of the second city was a twisting, grinding beast to get through, but lived up to the journey to get to the final boss, hot on Lan Di’s tail. The final three-to-four hour epilogue following that is something daringly unique for its time and still holds up. If you were like me and hold in high regard the first Red Dead Redemption's epilogue then you will probably dig Shenmue II's bold epilogue which I did not see anyone attempting in 2001 when it first released. It was special to relive all over again even if there is a total lack of combat. A bulk of the brazen epilogue is a walk and talk where Ryo meets pivotal Shenmue character, Shenhua and the duo mostly converses and gets to know each other on their way to Shenhua’s home which is where the pair discovers a new revelation in their journey that closes setting up Shenmue III. There is a complete lack of combat, and only a handful on QTEs sprinkled in the last few hours. I absolutely loved this gutsy final act, and I understand why it is not for everyone for the crowd that is demanding of more gameplay. ---end of spoilers—

5) Spooky Gaming 2019

I continued my tradition of playing Xbox 360 launch game, Condemned: Criminal Origins on Halloween for the third straight year. I made a couple more chapters of progress in this creepy, first person detective/combat game. I need to stop only playing it on Halloween and finally finish it sooner than later because it manages to pull off a suspenseful and thrilling ride all these years later. I hinted above at my frustrations at Blair Witch Project on Xbox One. I was hooked into its first hour setting up the background of the protagonist lagging behind a search party in the woods and looking for clues they could have missed while catching up to them. Its gloomy woods atmosphere was giving me chills and goosebumps like Condemned was, but then I could not figure out where to go in the woods and circled around and double checked my paths several times for about a solid two hours before giving up. Consulting a guide at that point would not have felt right because I was so immersed in into the world. A few weeks later I read up some other player’s logs on what happened after the fact and it turns out the designers intentionally crafted the game to give that spooky lost in the woods vibe, but I guess it worked a little too well for me. I did a little digging to see what else Blair Witch had in store, and it expectedly involves a lot of supernatural and stealth elements once the legend of the Blair Witch comes into play, so I would like to give it one more shot eventually.

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A game I did not give up on however and saved spooky gaming season for me was Dark Pictures Presents: Man of Medan. I was big time into developer Supermassive Games hit teenage, slasher game Until Dawn a few years back. Their follow up hit last year in Man of Medan is the first installment of their ‘Dark Pictures’ anthology line of spooky/slasher games, complete with a Tales from the Crypt-like host. This installment has a similar style of gameplay where six college-age students in trouble at sea wind up in a cursed ship which leads to all kinds of tomfoolery! Like Until Dawn, gameplay rotates between the six kiddos, and they will be constantly barraged with QTE choices that may decide their life or death fate. New in Man of Medan is the ability to set up local or online co-op play, with the developers insisting on setting an evening aside to beat the game in one night within four to five hours.

That is exactly what I did when I brought the game over to Derek & Brooke’s place and we went through all of Man of Medan in a single sitting. In an unexpected twist, a severe thunderstorm rocked our town that night which provided a supreme ambiance as we played. We assigned two characters to each of us, and we finished with half the cast surviving. I was so entranced by that crazy night thinking of how to do things differently in order to get all the dorm-rats out alive and I plowed through the game a second time within a week and…..finished with only one surviving the slaughter, and it yielded a despondently meek ending that I only was all too deserving of in my failing of QTEs and decision-making efforts. Nevertheless, those two epic playthroughs of Man of Medan, combined with my excursions into Condemned and Blair Witch Project culminate for the highest ranking yet for the yearly spooky gaming entry.

PART 7 - RANKINGS 4 THROUGH 1

4) Dream-tember 20th Anniversary Celebration

Put a ton of time into Demolition Racer when revisiting Dreamcast games for the anniversary
Put a ton of time into Demolition Racer when revisiting Dreamcast games for the anniversary

As I mentioned earlier, the Dreamcast was the first system I bought with my own personal income and the hell of a ride I had with that system in its two and a half year lifespan is why I have extra affection for this console. Penning that huge anniversary special was not enough as I decided for the 20th anniversary I would take my Dreamcast out of the closet for the first time in over a year and regularly throw in a few old favorites a couple times a week for all of September. Some highlights was revisiting a bunch of driving games and doing a few races each in Hydro Thunder, 4 Wheel Thunder, TNN Hardcore Heat and playing several hours worth of my favorite Dreamcast racer, Demolition Racer: No Exit. I would dabble with some of my favorite fighting games on the system for a few rounds of Dead or Alive 2, Capcom vs. SNK and both versions of Marvel vs. Capcom.

I consumed quite a bit of Dreamcast-anniversary videos this year, and this stream from the GiantBomb crew was the cream that rose to the top as one Macho Man would say.

The non-driving/fighting game I played the most that month was a complete run of Typing of the Dead. Yes, I still have my Dreamcast keyboard (and mouse too!), and it was a pleasure putting my home-row skills to good use slaying zombies to gloriously awful voice acting. The typing challenges/mini-games they mixed in on the boss fights tripped me up a bit too and were a hoot to figure out. Aside from playing all those games, I contributed to a crowd-funded indie Dreamcast game, Arcade Racing Legends, that looks promising and should be shipping within a few months. I also dug out my stack of complete run of Official Dreamcast Magazine out of the closet and re-read the first five issues throughout the year. A lot of memories came flooding back from their colorful feature and review spreads. Several YouTube channels I followed did Dreamcast anniversary streams, and I devoured them all!

The guys at YPB Podcast were doing a month long Dreamcast special too focusing on a curated Dreamcast gem each week, and I volunteered to guest host on their episode dedicated to, you guessed it, Shenmue! I barely contained myself as I raved about all my favorite memories for it, and apologized to the hosts for some of my incoherent gushing about the game afterwards. Speaking of the original Shenmue, throughout the year I picked away and eventually finished watching GiantBomb’s endurance run/long play of it which was just as entertaining and riveting as their Metal Gear Solid ones! It all added up for a month where I surprised how far I went out of my way to commemorate the system’s lasting legacy 20 years later.

3) Finally Conquering Diamond Dog

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In late ’97 I played a ton of the cult hit SNES RPG, Earthbound. I was mesmerized by this new twist on the Japanese RPG by taking place in a contemporary setting with young elementary aged children instead of cliché fantasy worlds. Despite putting in a lot of time, I never was able to get past the dual combo boss of Diamond Dog and Carbon Dog before I lost my save data and went decades before coming back to it on the SNES-classic in 2019. I once again have YPB Podcast to thank when they reached out for guest hosting spots and asked for a few suggestions on recommended games to play. I threw out the option of Earthbound so I can finally knock that one off my bucket list, and luckily they obliged me and that was the impetus I needed to work through that game. I only got a third of the way through it by the time we recorded the episode, but I stuck with it afterwards and finally finished it within a few weeks. After doing some research I was surprised to discover where I left off before against the dueling dogs was at roughly the 80% mark through the game. So close!

I had an excellent companion/travel book with me in the form of FanGamer’s Earthbound Handbook which is part strategy/tips, part lore/narrative and entirely exquisite artwork. I read the corresponding chapters of the guide as they marched along with how Earthbound played out to make it the perfect supplementary piece! FanGamer also has a tome all about the localization of Earthbound called Legends of Localization. It was my nightly bedtime reading for a few months as it dove into the weeds on the translation of the original Super Famicom version, and what references were removed and what were added/altered to the American release. Incredibly thorough read that shed a lot of light on the Herculean-effort it took to translate and bring this over state-side!

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, but to make it come full circle as the year of Mother/Earthbound, 2019 was the year I made record progress and nearly finished Mother 3 on GBA! Just to emphasize, I am very much into it like I was with the original and hope to finish it within several weeks and rave all about it on the next recap!

2) To the Sequel

Lots of affable references from the lovable doctors here.
Lots of affable references from the lovable doctors here.

A constant theme throughout this list has been my passion for narrative exploration based games. One of my favorites of the genre is 2011’s To the Moon from Freebird Games. It is about two professional 'memory explorers' Neil and Eva who use a device to traverse through a dying person's lifetime of memories and implant their patient's final wish so they can die thinking they lived their most fulfilled life. It has a 16-bit RPG graphical style and the writing is lighthearted with the two main memory explorers having plenty of cheery banter as I plugged away through the memories. The sequel, Finding Paradise hit six years later in 2017, and I have no idea why I waited two years to start it up.

I was thrilled to command Neil and Eva again as they take on fulfilling a new patient, Colin’s dying last wish. Their new patient is a tricky case who left his dying wish ambiguous, and more-or-less requested our trusty doctors to figure out his dying wish for him. It is the same type of narrative-exploration gameplay with some light puzzle elements, but with a few new wrinkles mixed in due to an early twist, which builds up to an even bigger hook in the final act I did not anticipate and leads to a whole new dynamic of gameplay I could not help but embrace. Kan Gao is the primary creator and designer behind these games and kudos to him once again creating a funny-yet-powerful-and-saddening tale as they dove through Colin’s memories in what felt like a page-turner I could not put down. Luckily, Finding Paradise is only several hours long and I was able to breeze through it within a few days due to the ‘one-more-page’ sensation of the narrative. Combine that exposition with a beautiful 16-bit throwback visuals and another knockout score and it left me depleted and wiping dust from my eyes by the time it was all over.

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In a bizarre, ironic City Slickers-sort of way, I felt like Billy Crystal when catching up with my friend Matt a few days later and telling him about this game and To the Moon. He asked if Freebird plans on releasing it on consoles, and I told him how the first game has been out for nearly a decade and since it is not on systems by now I doubt how either game will ever get a console release. A little later that day I looked up online just to be certain and I completely missed it was announced last September that To the Moon would be getting a Switch release within a few days of this writing on January 16, 2020. If you do not PC game and have a Switch, I highly recommend giving this a shot! You will not regret it!

1) ”Kept You Waiting, Huh?” Yes, Ryo……You Very Much Did Exactly That!

Surprise….or not! Shenmue III was the sequel I waited 18 long years for, and in the week before it released once it seemed like the game was past the point of no last minute cancellations I had this overwhelming sensation that I cannot describe any better than ‘holy crap, this is actually happening!’ I mentioned earlier about writing those anniversary tributes that the only other videogame writing I did was for a handful of special exception reviews. Shenmue III would be one of those special exceptions! I reached out to my friends at PSnation to see if they had anyone slated to review it and if not I would throw my hat in the ring to cover it for them and to my luck the review opportunity was up for up for grabs. I did this for two reasons, one to once again ensure I did not lollygag and take many months with this dense, sandbox game and two, to get everything I need to say about my experience with Shenmue III out of my system.

If you see a building in Shenmue III called 'save shenmue' it contains this beloved shrine of items fans of the series love so much about it!
If you see a building in Shenmue III called 'save shenmue' it contains this beloved shrine of items fans of the series love so much about it!

Not only did I review the game for PSnation, but Glenn invited me onto their podcast to review it on there too.Click or press here to take in my text review of the game, and click or press here to go check out the podcast. For everyone else, please bear with me for some…abbreviated…thoughts on Shenmue III. With a self-imposed review deadline in mind, I put time into Shenmue III nearly every day (minus Thanksgiving) and finished it within 17 days.

Yu Suzuki for all intents and purposes created another Shenmue game, quirks and all. Due to it being on a crowd-funded budget (with later assistance from publisher, Deep Silver) it does not graphically compare with the latest and greatest AAA games, but still looks superior to the old Dreamcast games and offers the same scale of dense sandbox exploring. Some quality-of-life improvements from the 18 years since the last game are appreciated like dual-stick movement and no more quasi-tank controls! The narrative picks up right where Shenmue II leaves off in Shenhua’s village and focuses on two key areas, Shenhua’s rural village and another being a dense urban area. It would not be a Shenmue game without a wealthy range of side activities and mini-games to keep busy and earn money to buy new moves and level up Ryo’s kung-fu. I like the core fighting engine as it is improved and more fleshed out and has a better feel to it than the loose Virtua Fighter-feeling in previous games. Newcomers to the series should probably start with the first two games, or the quirkiness of the intentionally stilted and stoic voice acting and some of the characters will likely throw you for a loop.

https://youtu.be/4e6FmAi_G40 - The fine folks at MinnMax had a fine installment here of their quest to discover the game of the year by giving Shenmue III an honest try…kind of.

As much as I loved this game with it being the clear cut #1 rank, I would be lying if it was in need of a few gameplay tweaks to improve the overall experience with more than the few limited fast travel options available, and better emphasis on leveling up Ryo’s combat skills early on. QTEs could have been implemented better and even on Nnrmal difficulty I found myself missing a fair amount of them, luckily developers YS Net is forgiving with frequent QTE checkpoints, and the fail animations are laugh-inducing. The Shenmue nut in me appreciated the many fan service and narrative callbacks to earlier games (hint: absolutely inquire with the hotel clerk what you can purchase from her). Fans of original games will be bummed like me to discover there are no more classic Sega arcade games to play, but for what it is worth there are other minor Sega easter eggs in the form of posters and other smaller items tucked away in the world. Also, what gives with the lack of soda drinking animation!? I bought a shirt last year that was all about Ryo’s aplomb drinking of soda!

Got to hit those QTEs for these zen-like moments!
Got to hit those QTEs for these zen-like moments!

The last big stretch leading to the final showdown of Shenmue III had a few poignant moments that will stick with me in the grand Shenmue saga, but compared to final stretches of previous games it is the weakest of the three and was over a little too quick when I was gearing up for one last sprawling stronghold to take down. The ending left on a high note of how it concluded and what the future has in store for the brand. Now a couple months after the fact, I am relieved that through hell and high water, Shenmue III found a way to exist and despite some shortcomings it was well worth the 18-year wait. According to the trophies and Playstation Store listing, there appears to be some mini-game and fighting challenge DLCs in the pipeline, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that Shenmue III performed well enough for a fourth entry.

THANK YOU!!!!!

AFTER NEARLY 18,000 WORDS I AM SPENT! If you somehow made it this far please give me a shout out on Twitter @Gruel and I will tweet you a fist bump for indulging me this long! This took me nearly a whole week to write and edit, so thank you once again to making it all the way through or even just jumping around and skimming to what stood out for you. I appreciate it more than you know! I will leave you all with this annual yearly recap book-end tradition. See you all next year!

https://youtu.be/-NkhD3xquMU - Here is the ritual end of my yearly recap video for a much needed breather after sticking with me for all these thousands of words.....Suuuuuuuuper-Slam!!!

Previous Year’s Best of Recaps - 2018 - 2017 - 2016

Shenmue III QTE fails at least have some chuckle-worthy moments like this!
Shenmue III QTE fails at least have some chuckle-worthy moments like this!

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