It’s that time of year again! Time to categorize my five favourite and least favourite games. Doing a numbered list seemed boring, so this year I came up with random awards for each of my favourite games. Here are my favourites from my past year of gaming.
As with last year, any game I played in 2019 is eligible and will be listed at the bottom of the post. Also, only those games which were played for the first time in 2019 qualify.
So no Monster Hunter: World. Even if I did play it for another three hundred hours.
. . .
The Shinobi Award
I played two fantastic games about a shinobi in 2019. Running around using a combination of stealth and speed to score kills is very much up my alley. Thus it only seemed appropriate that one of said games should walk away with some kind of accolade to sign post the year.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I really liked Sekiro. And you have to understand that is high praise given how annoyingly difficult the game is. Sekiro doesn’t pull any punches. There’s a way you’re intended to play it and until you figure that out the game is quite happy to repeatedly kill you.
So am I just a masochist? Is that why I liked Sekiro so much?
However, the aspect that really grabbed me with Sekiro was the world design. I’m a huge fan of non-linear, interconnected worlds. Being able to choose where I roam and discovering how each of the areas connects is a lot of fun. This sometimes resulted in me stumbling through places I wasn’t prepared for, but that made surviving these situations truly satisfying. Plus if things ever got really bad I always had the option of discovering another path which was just as valid to explore as the one I’d been roaming through. In a lot of ways I liked Sekiro for the same reasons I liked 2017’s Hollow Knight.
Also, shout-out to the runner up Katana ZERO. The game is also fantastic, but for entirely different reasons despite also featuring a shinobi as the main character.
The Sherlock Holmes Award
In 2018 my favourite game was the first detective mystery game I’d played in a long while: Danganronpa. Despite enjoying it so much, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might enjoy detective mysteries. Nope. It wasn’t until I was watching the most recent television adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, that it dawned on me how I really enjoy detective fiction. And as such I ended up seeking out more detective style games to play. The Sherlock Holmes award is to be given to the game with the best riddles, mysteries, and deductions.
Return of the Obra Dinn
My word. I regret not getting to this one sooner.
The only entree on this list which was not released in 2019, Return of the Obra Dinn is quite possibly one of the best detective games I will ever play. Players are given so little information to go off of, but they are surrounded by an abundance of clues. Parsing out what information is and isn’t relevant and then determining how to apply that information is an absolute joy. If you enjoy detective style games then you owe it to yourself to try out Obra Dinn. You won’t regret it.
The Preposterous Puzzle Award
I don’t think a single year goes by where I don’t play a couple indie puzzlers that leave me scratching my head. I really enjoy a good puzzle though I’m not always the best at solving them. In fact, I usually have more fun with puzzle games where I can’t solve everything than the ones where I can. Maybe it comes from working in IT, but I find it a lot more rewarding to think on something for days and solve it compared to immediately deducing an obvious solution. That is the intention of the preposterous puzzle award – to go to a game who’s puzzles left me puzzled but thoroughly engaged.
Baba is You
Baba is You has to be one of the most interesting games I played in 2019. Moving around blocks with nouns and verbs on them to change the rules of the game sounds like such a simple premise, but quickly devolves into some incredibly interesting puzzles.
What I appreciate most about Baba is how it continually introduces new verbs to keep things fresh. Every couple of levels you’ll learn a new keyword. Things start off simple, but each new level forces the player to discover a new interaction with this keyword. It could be using the keyword in a way that runs contrary to what was originally taught, or perhaps by combining the word with another it gains new properties. Baba is as much about discovering mechanics as it is understanding them.
Baba is Good.
The One More Round Award
Let me regale a scenario for you.
You’re tired. You’ve had a long day at work. You know you need some rest, but what kind of day would be complete without a little bit of video game time? So you sit down and pick up that one game. You know the one. That game. No. Not that game. The other one. The one that people won’t judge you for playing.
You tell yourself you’ll play a quick round of it and then be off to bed. Get your fix and then get some rest. The perfect plan.
. . .
Why is it 2AM? What happened? What do you mean I’ve been playing for five hours? Oh God.
This is the award dedicated to that game. The game which you can’t seem to put down because you’re compelled to play more of it.
Slay the Spire
For a game with such a simple premise there is an incredible amount of depth that can keep players coming back for more. Slay the Spire is a deck building game that is so smartly designed it manages to make choosing to not add new cards to your deck as meaningful as adding new ones. Each run through the spire, regardless of the outcome, kept me coming back for more as I was eager to see what new kinds of card combos I would find. With an additional fourth character on the way I’m sure to sink more time into Slay the Spire and highly recommend others check it out.
The Innovative Design Award
I like to think I play a lot of weird games every year. Weird in the sense that they’re trying something new, or iterating on an idea in a slightly different way. As such I wanted to name one game among all of what I played as the most innovative. A game that is so brazen that at first glance you’d question why the developers defied convention. However, after playing the game for several hours you realize that the decisions work quite well and are the result of excellent design considerations.
While almost everything present here could qualify for such an award there is one game that I felt did a better job than the rest.
Do you know how long I have waited for a game like this? Neither do I. Fantasy Strike is a game I never knew I wanted.
Fighting games are something I’ve been interested in for a long time, but I could never get past the execution barrier. What’s worse is this same barrier obfuscates the real core of the genre. It’s not so much about doing crazy combos, but rather about correctly predicting what your opponent is going to do and using the appropriate counter measure. It’s like a bad-ass version of rock, paper, scissors. It’s not always easy to realize that when you’re watching two experts play each other, or even when you’re first starting out with the genre.
That’s where Fantasy Strike comes in. It is a game that retains all the depth of fighting games without the execution barrier. If you saw your opponent do something then you too can easily do it. Because everyone can do everything the focus is put very heavily on your ability to predict your opponent’s actions and to hide your own intentions. The result is an incredibly compelling experience that I have spent too much time on. I said it in my review, and I’ll say it again here: if you have even a passing interest in the fighting game genre you should check out Fantasy Strike.
Discloser: I am currently a Patreon supporter of the development team. Yes. I was that impressed by the game. That should speak volumes.
There you have it. Five of my favourite games of the years each given their own arbitrary award. I believe each is fantastic in their own ways. Going with a game of the year award seemed a bit stale, but for those curious it was a two way tie between Fantasy Strike and Slay the Spire. I don’t normally get two games in year that are so compelling that I think about and play them for several weeks. That alone made 2019 a great year (gaming wise) for me.
And as promised here is a bullet list of all the eligible games (in order of when I finished them) so you can yell at me for not awarding your favourite game something:
- Detective Grimoire
- Flipping Death
- Valkyria Chronicles 4
- Overcooked 2
- Aegis Defenders
- Ravva and the Cyclops Curse
- Slay the Spire
- Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
- Tou Hou Luna Nights
- Baba is You
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- The World Next Door
- Retrun of the Obra Dinn
- Katana ZERO
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- Bomb Chicken
- Tekken 7
- World to the West
- SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Giglamech
- Gato Roboto
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
- Total War: Warhammer 2
- Blossum Tales: The Sleeping King
- Brothers: A Tale of 2 Sons
- What Remains of Edith Finch
- TINY METAL: Full Metal Rumble
- Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut
- A Story About My Uncle
- Knights and Bikes
- Children of Morta
- Fantasy Strike
- Tangle Tower
- Untitled Goose Game
- The Banner Saga 3
- Devil May Cry 5
- Pokemon Sword (& Shield)
- MIGHTY GUNVOLT BURST
- Cadence of Hyrule
WHAT? YOU DIDN’T GIVE *insert game here* THE *insert award here* AWARD AND WENT WITH THOSE? Terrible. 😉
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I was actually surprised in 2018 when no one gave me any flak for not having Mario Odyssey in the top 5. Figured Smash Bros would be another likely contender to draw the ire of others, but we’ll see.
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It seems you have forgotten the *real* game of the year.
SU-SUP-SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 2, babyyyyyyyy!
Looking at your list, it’s a video game who’s who of great games, for the most part, no wonder the winners turned out to be great choices. I’m really happy you convinced me to play Return of the Obra Dinn, even if it didn’t take much to do so 🙂
If I may, I’d like to repay the favour: since you said you liked the combination of stealth and speed, you might want to check out Mark of the Ninja
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SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 2, babbbyyyyy! GAME OF THE YEAR I don’t even know how many times!
Actually laughing out loud at that. XD
Yeah I thought as much when reviewing the list. Maybe I’m a bit too analytical when it comes to my enjoyment of games, but the merits of each of the winners could be used to argue their place as one of the best games of the year in which they released. There’s a number of games I missed this year that I still have to get to in 2019, so who knows what next year’s award’s will look like.
I have pondered playing it. They did revamp it a bit recently in a re-release on steam to coincide with the Switch release. I’ll have to check it out at some point. 🙂
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I also noticed that you turned a little more towards…let’s say, more widely known games. When I first found your blog, you almost exclusively talked about tiny niche-games. Of course, the list is still far from only containing the latest and the biggest, but you’ve definitely not been the only one playing these games.
That begs to ask the question: Why is that so? Do you feel like the quality of releases has improved, stepping away from the same few formulas and actually trying out new stuff? Is it coincidence, and it just so happens that this year you played a few “bigger” games? Do you think you have been influenced by people talking about some of the releases?
Or am I simply wrong and these games are still tiny niche-games, and for some reason, I have heard more about them than I usually did?
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Always out here asking the hard questions.
I’m going to make a few assumptions here in answering your question, so please correct me if I’m wrong with them.
You’re referring to the volume of big budget games on this years list? Like Smash bros, Pokemon, Sekiro, etc?
That’s coincidence. I’ve never not played those games, I just don’t play many. This year happened to have a few more I was interested in than normal.
DMC5 and Sekiro were the 2 that I knew I wanted to play from this year and decided to play entirely to meet my quota of “topical” reviews.
Pokemon was something I got pulled into partly because of nostalgia and partly because of Sobble.
Smash Bros I played a few times at lunch with Mir’s brother and decided to buy. It was fun at first, but that game is so much quantity over quality and I felt really burned on it after the fact. Playing with friends is still a blast, but I always have fun playing games with my friends…that’s not really the game’s doing. This might be part of why I went into Pokemon with tempered expectations. Unlike the rest of the world I haven’t been super impressed with Nintendo’s offerings on the Switch.
Total War is something I’ve had my eye on for a while and Mir bought it as a birthday gift. It was actually one of my honorable (un)mention(ed).
And Hitman is something I was curious about for a long time. Was convinced by Super BunnyHop’s George Weadman to give it a go. With a huge sale price I definitely think it was time and money well spent, but I don’t know if I enjoyed it enough to warrant playing the sequel.
So yeah…just coincidence. You’ll also notice that none of them are traditional open world games either. Those things are the bane of my existence.
If I totally misread the question there please let me know. Wasn’t sure if that was aimed that the AAA games, or the more well known indie games. I suppose I should have asked…
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It was kind of aimed at both, but more towards the more well known Indie games, like Baba is You or Slay the Spire, which were both big hits throughout the community and over the boundaries of just the Indie-gamers. In essence, you’ve answered about 50 % of my question 🙂
But the “bigger” Indie games very well could be a coincidence, too. On the last few lists, I knew next to no games. This time around, I have at least heard of almost all of them. And that’s with me always being a few years behind in game releases (since I only buy at 75 % discount, which doesn’t happen in the first few years). That’s why I’m a bit hesitant to completely disregard it as coincidence from the get-go.
Re-reading my question, I forgot to include the Indie-part in my “Why is that so”-possibilities. So the second part basically is: Do you think Indie games are coming more and more into the spotlight?
I almost feel like since Undertale (at the very latest) there has been an evolution in the scene. As Indie developers gain more experience and budgets, the production value and their exposure increase. Many Indie games no longer seek to explore a few (or even just one) core ideas, no matter the reception, but to be more appealing to the masses. They are a real “alternative” to the “conservative” AAA developers, and they feel pretty comfortable in their role as “opposition”.
(Damn, this sounds like I’m talking about politics O.o)
I suppose this evolution is only natural. It’s like when developers, in general, realised there was money to be had. Indie games have shown that they CAN be successful financially, so naturally, they WANT to do that. And that’s exactly where the problems start. They want to appeal to a broader audience, so some artistic choices have to be sacrificed, ideas have to be cut out to save money and meet deadlines.
In a way, I feel like many Indie devs have essentially become pretty similar to AAA devs, but still vehemently try to distance themselves from that “philosophy”. They try to have the best of both worlds. As a result, they have lost a touch of their “magic”, maybe even some of their credibility.
The spot that formerly was occupied by Indie games now is filled by the niche games (in lack of a better term). It is now them who stay true to their ideas of really testing the possibilities of mechanics, narrative, art or sound design.
To be clear, though: I do not say that Indie games have become bad all of a sudden. Games like Dead Cells or Slay the Spire obviously are great games, otherwise they wouldn’t have been so successful. It’s the same with AAA titles. They are not necessarily “bad”, they just stick to what they know people will buy and mostly don’t take risks.
I realise now that my whole ramble goes completely against my question at the start, and I have basically answered it myself. I just lost control a bit 🙂
Nah, fuck that. I’m not sorry at all!
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Oh boy. Where to start.
So…generally I play things I think I’ll enjoy, but there are a fair few releases I try to hit every year specifically because I think they will be big hits. Dead Cells was one such game in 2018. I figured it’d take off like a bat out of hell after it’s full release, so I had a review ready for day one. Hindsight shows I was correct with that guess. Games like Slay the Spire, Bloodstained, Children of Morta, Indivisible, Disco Elysium, and Planet Zoo were all games I was planning to play this year for the same reason. As you can tell I didn’t get to everything in that list. Regardless of my personal take on any of those games they were all generally well received and having coverage for them on my blog would have led to increased traffic (and having traffic for all of them did actually yield some good traffic).
You’re correct in your assessment of how the scene is evolving. Some developers are starting to have the resources to make more and do more and are seeing a lot of success for that. I don’t necessarily think that things are as myopic as you paint it though. For example: Slay the Spire (by virtue of it’s early access release) was a game that rocked the boat by making a card game a rogue-like. Sure the market for card games already existed and was strong, but MegaCrit changed a substantial part of the contentional formula to create a new and exciting experience.
Still, I can see where you’re coming from because fewer and fewer games seem to be as artistically brazen as what used to hit the scene, but I think that might just be because we’re spoiled by so many games with so many ideas that it’s hard to really find something that is wholly original. If that makes sense.
Anyway, cycling back to your original question regarding the “big” indies: that was planned. Every year I go into the year with a handful of “these are going to be big and you should try to cover them” prediction list. I pick the games off that I think I’ll actually enjoy and cover them. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to planet zoo and disco elysium this year. 😛
And before you ask about this year’s list: I have no idea what will and won’t hit this year. I never have a complete list until the end of the year, but I do have my eyes on a few games. I sure most people could make the same predictions about future hits that I make.
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Like I said, I’m not trying to paint Indie developers as bad guys by any means. But I do have to admit I am always a bit cautious when it comes to them because there is a lot of crap out there 🙂
However, I probably am seeing it all a bit too negative. After all, I have had a ton of fun with a lot of Indie games, both the “bigger” ones and some really hidden ones.
As for your 2019 list: All my questions are now thoroughly answered, thank you 🙂
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No worries. Glad I could provide some insight into…my process? I guess that’s what this was haha.
I love the award categories/titles, it makes this list a lot more fun 😀
I really need to jump on the Return of the Obra Dinn hype train at some point.
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Thank you. I had seen a few other bloggers do it after I decided to do it, so it isn’t a wholly original idea, but I’m glad you enjoyed the presentation. 🙂
Absolutely! It is well worth the 8-12 hours it takes to mozy through. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.