I’ve always been a good closer. I hate conflict but if it arises I like to deal with it swiftly and professionally, then move on. I tell you this because, well, this year it’s starting that’s been the hard part. I don’t know how to open this article really, because in some respects talking about my favourite ten games of the year feels glib given all the trauma surrounding how I feel about the state of the world. But then, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps we need escapism more than ever: a chance to turn it all off and feel good about something, or even just feel distracted from things. I can’t even watch the news these days, but I sure did play 40+ hours of Death Stranding.
Last year I said I overthink things, and I also said I was going to come away from social media more – that’s something I’ve personally achieved quite late in the year. I found that, honestly, being “online” made me feel sad too often. Whether it’s the Twitter point scoring or just the way society is heading, I found myself checking back into the pub more often with my family and friends. Yes, actually socialising, and that’s something I aim to continue in 2020. I want to speak to people in real life where I can see that things aren’t always black or white – shades of grey are, arguably, what makes us all so wonderfully different. I won’t lie, it’s been a tough year professionally, but here’s to another year of fighting the good fight – thanks to all of you who choose to fight it with me. Anyway, let’s talk some fucking games, folks.
Apex Legends: How the hell did they keep this a secret? A phenomenal shooter from the people best at making them, only outside my list because I just didn’t find the time to play more of it.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night: This game is insane. Routinely baffling with its nonsense, but responsive and fun in a way I wasn’t expecting. If it had health bars for bosses instead of requiring you to get an item that revealed them I’d probably have completed it. Likewise, if the Switch port didn’t launch broken I’d have probably gone back and played through that one, instead. And I definitely didn’t just recently buy the Switch version and restart it. Definitely not. Nope.
Void Bastards: Incredible art, fantastic sound design, and a core gameplay loop that begs you to keep replaying it over and over. Enormously fun, but I didn’t feel the difficulty quite scaled correctly, otherwise I’d maybe be talking about this further into my list.
What the Golf?!: Nobody is talking about this game and it sucks to know that. One of the few games in 2019 that actually made me laugh out loud. Full of character and charm, but not on a console so perhaps that’s why it wasn’t talked about more? It’s continually inventive and despite seeming like a “small mobile game” at first, you quickly realise this is tens of hours long with enough ideas to fill three games. PLAY THIS GAME.
Luigi’s Mansion 3: If not for the repetitive nature of some Luigi’s Mansion 3’s elements, and some awkward controls, and actually, if not for Nintendo having just a barnstorming year, I’ve have this game higher. Perhaps my legit number 11 if we did top 11s.
10. Devil May Cry 5
As someone who has banged the drum for Ninja Theory’s DmC: Devil May Cry for many years, I was skeptical at how Capcom was seemingly brushing that game under the mat and going back to the more “original” style of the series. But perhaps I had forgotten why I fell in love with the series in the first place. Devil May Cry 5 is riotous, ridiculous, and just a fucking good time. The RE engine makes the game since and that frame rate was like a hot knife through butter. Bringing back Dante how the team did was incredible, and Jesus wept, the motorbike weapon. I’d still take a DmC2, for sure, but holy shit did Capcom ever re-stamp their authority on the series with this one.
9. Astral Chain
Platinum Games are a very good developer. I say this because I’ve often criticised the fawning adoration for them, as though as a studio it can do no wrong. Coming out of nowhere when we were all expecting Bayonetta 3, Astral Chain has inventive combat and runs really well. I was concerned about how it’d look in motion because of the lower powered console its on, but it seems of all devs, PG have a handle on Nintendo’s console. An incredible opening sets the scene, and despite a slight overuse of one area, it’s constantly surprising and giving you new toys to play with. God I hope we get a sequel.
If you’ve listened to the GOTY podcast you know how complicated my feelings on this game are. I genuinely think Kojima needed someone to tell him no, because the story of the game is pants and it doesn’t explain itself properly at all. Then again, towards the end it does nothing but explain itself, so perhaps some of the details are lost in the constant monologuing as it draws to a close. It sounds like I hate it, I know, but when the game allows you to exist in its world, it’s majestic. The quiet isolation of the rolling hills. The timefall rain breaking the silence, only for you to make it through the rain to see the sun shine again. The music is inspired, even though the dialogue isn’t. I wonder if in 2020, when writing my top ten that year, I’ll still ever fully understand how I feel about this game.
That RE engine again, folks. The early portions of this game are some of the best survival horror you’ll ever play. In fact, the closing sections are great, too, because they feel like proper Resident Evil again. My only main issue with this game is how the campaigns are handled, and Mr X/Tyrant. The overuse of the behemoth killing machine ended up being less tense, more annoying. You know how to dodge him, he’s not an issue, and there are rooms he just can’t go in, which broke the fiction of the world for me. But the darkness, the gun-feel, that police station. Resi 3 remake has a lot to do in order to approach Resi 2 remake, but I’m absolutely here for it.
A combat system that is intuitive but also impossible to explain? Check. Gorgeous hand-drawn art that you never tire of looking at? Absolutely check. Amazing writing that is funny, giving life to every character that inhabits the world? Oh lord, yes! Indivisible is a game I played a prototype of nearly five years ago, and even then I knew it had something. But to see it released, fully fleshed out with a brilliant story? Oh it’s fantastic. What an adventure Ajna goes on. I adore Razmi, as does anyone who plays the game. It’s just a fantastic title that I really can’t find too much fault with.
There’s too much repetition in Three Houses and the relationship stuff is a step back, borderline bad. There. That’s it. That’s all the bad I can say about Fire Emblem’s 2019 release. A wonderful campaign with incredible combat (play on harder than you usually would if you’re a veteran of the series) that you could probably play all year, hitting up all the campaigns and never tire of. It may not look amazing, but the fact every single line is voiced is quite remarkable. I don’t know where the series will go next, but Three Houses feels like they threw the kitchen sink at it. Brilliant.
Thank you, Adam Carroll. If it wasn’t for his persistence, I’d have maybe missed this game entirely. A beautifully written adventure about the love that exists between family members with a tremendous soundtrack and, honestly, stealth mechanics that actually work in the game they’re designed for. I don’t really like stealth that much, but it just works in A Plague Tale: Innocence. It does go a little bit bonkers towards the end, but the mechanics evolve as you play and I never tired of exploring and adventuring. Just a wonderful game that deserves infinitely more love than it got. Play this game.
3. Gears 5
I had my doubts hearing that there would be side-quests and open-world elements in Gears 5, but The Coalition smashed my expectations out of the park. Thrashing through the campaign in a mere few days, I adored every second of it. But more than that, Gears 5 is a visual and audio tour-de-force. The game is so, so bassy, but the visuals are some of the best I’ve ever seen anyway, on any console or PC. But it’s also one of the most accessible games I’ve ever played. Difficulty, gameplay options: you can play anything just how you want it to regardless of skill level. Don’t fancy a shotgun fight against someone who plays 8 hours a day? Play co-op, horde, or escape. Or hey, just play against bots. Gears 5 doesn’t get much credit because it’s “more Gears” and, maybe, because it’s on Xbox. But Gears 5 is exceptional and as a long time fan, I feel as though The Coalition haven’t just stamped their take on it, they’ve made the game theirs now.
They did it. They finally actually did it. After the brilliance of Alan Wake and the, well, not so brilliant Quantum Break, Remedy’s Control delivered on a decade or more of promise and they made their best game. Glorious action mixed with a story that I wanted to know more of. The traditional Easter eggs up the wazoo made it all the more endearing. But the oldest house is the star of the show. Despite numerous technical issues even on Xbox One X, I wanted to keep playing. A broken map almost felt intentional as I learned the layout of the building that itself was ever-shifting. Control is incredible, and the DLC next year is high on my most wanted list. I loved Control and almost didn’t want it to end, and it’s the game I most wanted to return to and mop up the side stuff. If we could invent a time-pausing machine, that’d be great, thanks.
I know that it’s strange I’m giving my top game of the year to a title I scored lower than my number three slot, but sometimes your heart just has to be heard. I’ve played more hours of Super Mario Maker 2 than any other game this year and, even when I thought I was slowing down, Nintendo put out the Link update to change the entire game, making it fresh again.
Super Mario Maker 2 was a difficult proposition, really. The touch-screen nature of the Wii U made that original game make so much sense, but Switch owners don’t really own a Stylus, so Nintendo had to change the creating method. If I’m honest, the creation is my lesser played part of the game, but the endless challenge means I can just pick up every night and play new levels. New Super Mario World levels, Mario Bros. and, yes, even New Super Mario Bros. levels. My youngest son and I made levels for one another throughout the year, he would come to me for approval of his creations, challenging me further each time: he became an evil genius at making these levels, and I couldn’t be prouder.
It didn’t rip up the rule book, but even now I can’t stop playing Super Mario Maker 2. It’s just lovely, and in a year that’s made me feel like shit more often than not, it’s the warm blanket I needed to cosy up with at the end of a hard day. I mentioned the escapism afforded to games, but Super Mario Maker 2 doesn’t ask anything of me. It gives me controls I understand an mechanics I know and love, and it doesn’t require hours every time I play it. I needed SMM2 this year, and I’ll probably need it in 2020, too.