Well, unlike some other media, it would be hard to make a case that 2019 was the year of the decade for video games. With aging hardware and new consoles looming on the horizon, this last year was all about keeping on keeping on. Games as a service continues to be a thing, with the added wrinkle that game subscription services really hit their stride with the massive success of Xbox Game Pass. I guess it sort of became a year about catching up with stuff for best of the decade and wrapping up this console generation. It didn’t help that some of the year’s most exciting titles either disappointed (Anthem) or slipped into 2020 (DOOM Eternal). Oh well, plenty to look forward in the months to come!
Games I Didn’t Play But Might Have Made This List
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I think I might have backed the wrong horse on this one. The auto chess genre exploded last year with Dota Auto Chess mod inspiring Valve, Riot, and Blizzard to put out competitors within only a few months. If you haven’t heard of Dota Underlords or these other games, they are round-based multiplayer titles where you draft armies of heroes who then fight other players’ teams automatically. All you can do is pick which characters to use, what items to equip, and where to place your team on the board. I think the genre is interesting0 because the “auto battle” gimmick forces the player to spend the entire game in menus – meaning that a big part of this particular arms race was seeing who could design the best UI. But yeah, it really seems like Riot’s Teamfight Tactics was the better game to get into. Oh well, we’ll have to see what happens in the next few years to see if this genre has the same staying power as MOBAs and other recent trends. I kind of don’t think it will.
I had to put a mobile game on this list, because I really do spend a lot of my gaming time on my iPhone these days. Lately I’ve gotten really into Golf Blitz, the multiplayer spiritual sequel to Super Stickman Golf. Speaking of golf, another great Apple Arcade title was WHAT THE GOLF?, which was amusing for a while. But I think my favorite mobile game was Grindstone, a puzzle game about making lines of matching colors given a cartoonishly violent aesthetic. You play as a very strong, very cold man who is working his way through hordes of monsters by slicing them to pieces – as many in a row as possible. It’s simple enough that you don’t have to think about it that hard, but rewarding enough to be a great time-waster. Exactly what I want on my phone!
I think Control would be a lot higher on my list if I had gotten to play more of it. At this point, I’m only a few hours in and really loving it. Great games that let you shoot and use powers are not nearly as common as they should be, this is a high I’ve been chasing since at least 2004’s Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. I’ve also really wanted to get into Remedy’s Lynchian storytelling for a long time, but neither Alan Wake nor Quantum Break were able to hook me. Control though, I think it’s the one.
Hell yeah, VR rules. Beat Saber took the world by storm in 2018 but didn’t actually release out of early access until 2019, so I’m counting it for this list. This game is very simple: you hit blocks in time with electronic music using two lightsabers, all the while dodging oncoming obstacles. If a lifetime of loving Star Wars and Rock Band prepared me for anything, it was very specifically this one video game. I just need to get in better shape so I can take on the higher difficulty without being reduced to a sweaty mess. I hate sweating with the headset on!
I had a lot of fun misremembering the name to this game at PAX, I think my favorite wrong title I came up with was “Kalamazoo Heartthrob.” But seriously, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a bold achievement for the art form or whatever. I love when games focus on making the player really feel an experience, and this one does an amazing job making you feel the agonizing process of getting over heartbreak. That it does this while also being the first “pop album video game” is further proof that this is an important game. Also, it’s kind of just Rez. But, you know, with a story I can comprehend. Also, I’m totally OK with there being more games in this tiny genre.
I abandoned Hearthstone in 2019 and found myself longing for a CCG to fill that void. The game that scratched that itch for me was Slay the Spire, which is not a CCG at all, but it still has cards. It’s a roguelike deck-building card game where you pick a character and travel through several levels of a spire, with a boss waiting at the end of each one. You can choose your route through each level (like Star Fox) going through encounters with enemies, merchants, and more along way which provide opportunities to add new cards, upgrade your cards, or add items to your inventory. It’s deeply strategic, but still welcoming to first-timers. I also haven’t beaten it yet. Damn you, spire, I’ll slay you one day!
After decades of waiting, Pokémon finally debuted a mainline entry on a home console (thanks to the technicality that Nintendo’s only system right now is a hybrid home/portable). The results were… good. Yes, there were technical issues, especially with the framerate. Yes, the graphics and animations looks more like upscaled 3DS stuff than Switch originals. Yes, Dexit and other feature removals are disappointing. But, as I look at Temtem in early access, I can’t help but notice how that game lacks the Pokémon charm. Which was something this Switch title was certainly not lacking. For someone like me, who plays through the story and not much more, Pokémon Shield was such a delightfully streamlined, not frustrating experience that I couldn’t help but love it, against my better instincts. Galarian Weezing, you guys!
I love a good spectacle fighter, and Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best. Usually this genre has the problem of eventually getting stale, as you’ll eventually unlock all the weapons and upgrades while simultaneously the story runs out of ways to top itself. That’s not the case here, since Devil May Cry 5 has three playable characters that let you keep mixing up your playstyle. First you get Nero, the punk from Devil May Cry 4 who’s annoyed with being in Dante’s shadow. Then you’re introduced to V, who summons monsters to fight for him while he reads books and hits monsters with his cane. He’s my favorite. Finally, you unlock Dante himself, who is the most complicated to play thanks to his unique ability to switch both weapons and fighting styles – basically keeping him at the same level he was in previous entries in the series. Really cool, goofy fun.
Who knows where the Star Wars franchise will go in the new decade? I sure don’t, but it’s at least reassuring to see how well the galaxy far, far away is doing outside the cinema. The Mandalorian was a surprisingly adorable and entertaining crown jewel in Disney Plus’ debut lineup, and Fallen Order, the first singleplayer Star Wars game in a long time, was shockingly competent. In fact, if the enemy block meter wasn’t so stupid and this game had fast travel, it might have even been my favorite new game of 2019. Instead, I’ll settle for it having my favorite game story, and plenty of amusing slipping and sliding sequences.
Following the release of the Forsaken expansion in the fall of 2018, Destiny 2 went on to have the best year in the history of the series. Last year opened with a bang, as Bungie announced they were going independent and making Destiny 2 free-to-play. They followed that up with three stellar DLC seasons, then capped off the year with another good (but much smaller) expansion in Shadowkeep. Basically, I had the best time yet with my favorite game in 2019. After more than a year of non-stop Destiny fun, I’m enjoying taking some time away right now to finish up the games on this list, but you can be damn sure I’ll be back soon enough.