By Joe Delaney
The most interesting thing about this year in gaming is how there doesn’t seem to be a consensus Game of the Year like there has been in previous years. 2019 didn’t have a Breath of the Wild or a God of War. And despite there not really being a standout champion, 2019 has ended up being a pretty solid year for video games overall. Even the games that didn’t make my top ten were still really good.
My honorable mentions this year go to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Yoshi’s Crafted World, and Pokemon Sword and Shield (yeah I liked it, I know I wasn’t supposed to, I’m a bad boy). I also didn’t include the Link’s Awakening remake because despite some quality of life improvements and an adorable visual overhaul, it’s still mostly the same game as the 1993 original (I bring this up now because of a remake that I did include in my top ten, but more on that later).
Some notable games that I didn’t play include Super Mario Maker 2, because I am way too lazy to make my own levels or search for good ones; The Outer Worlds, because open world, Bethesda-style RPG’s are just not my thing; and of course Death Stranding, which I am so happy that so many people love, but I don’t have to play it to know that I would absolutely hate it.
10. Tetris 99
The best battle royale game of 2019. I usually don’t play online multiplayer games for two reasons: 1.) I’m not very good at them. And 2.) I don’t need to know what my mom does in her spare time.
But Tetris 99 had me desperately hooked. Not only do I not have to hear my opponents’ voices as I play, but because I’ve played Tetris for over 20 years, this is one multiplayer game that I’m actually pretty decent at. In the dozens of hours I’ve played it, I still haven’t come in first place yet, with 5th being my best ranking so far. Maybe I’ll never reach that top spot, but my addiction to Tetris 99 isn’t gonna let me stop any time soon.
Speaking of genres I don’t usually like, here’s a third-person shooter that I enjoyed! But calling Control just another shooter would be selling it short. In any given firefight, you could just shoot your enemies to death. You know, if you’re boring.
If you’re NOT boring, however, you’ll find yourself, shooting one guy until you brainwash him to fight by your side, and then use your psychic powers to throw an incoming missile back at the guy who shot it, and then levitate around the room to take out the remaining bad guys from afar. It’s enough to make you never wanna play another cover-based shooter with regenerative health again.
8. Cadence of Hyrule
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a game that I never got around to playing, mostly because a rougelike/rhythm game/dungeon crawler hybrid sounded like exactly the kind of game I would be terrible at. But when I found out they were making a spin-off based on my favorite series, I thought “maybe I won’t suck as bad at this one.”
And I was right! I still sucked at it, but the fact that I know Zelda music so well really helped me out. Hearing remixed versions of these iconic songs while stabbing moblins to the beat was some of the most fun a Zelda lover can have. And hey, if you’re too white to play the game normally, you can play it on easy mode, where you can ignore the beat and just hop around killing things with total disregard for any sense of rhythm or timing.
7. Luigi's Mansion 3
I enjoyed Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for what it was, but it was nowhere near as memorable as its predecessor. The original Luigi’s Mansion struck that perfect balance between silly and spooky, featuring some genuinely creepy moments, like a boss fight against the vengeful spirit of a dead baby.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 comes much closer to matching this tone than Dark Moon did, and the result is a much better game. At first I was skeptical of the hotel setting, but it didn’t take long to win me over. Each floor is filled with creativity, atmosphere, and secrets, and I had just as much fun discovering them as I’d had exploring Luigi’s original mansion almost 20 years ago.
6. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Okay, let’s not give EA too much credit yet. They made one good game after years of trying their best to rip off players with micro transactions. And just because Fallen Order doesn’t have those now, I could see EA adding an option to let you buy new lightsaber colors in a few months. Get a red lightsaber for only $4.99!
This is the only game on this list I didn’t actually buy. I rented it from Redbox right before they discontinued offering games, because I was not about to pay full price for an EA game. But credit where credit is due, I highly enjoyed my time with Fallen Order. EA allowed Respawn to make an actual video game, a game I liked so much, I’m considering actually buying it. After all, if it doesn’t sell well enough, EA will have an excuse to never make another game like it again.
5. Shovel Knight: King of Cards
I don’t know how Yacht Club stays in business. While so many other game studios are always trying to find new ways to nickel and dime their customers, I feel like we’re the ones nickel and diming Yacht Club Games. This is the third expansion for Shovel Knight that the developer as released for FREE.
And this isn’t some half-assed DLC pack with some new costumes or some shit; this is a whole new campaign, with a new character, with an entirely new moveset, and it includes a really fun new card game as a bonus. Yacht Club, seriously, I would’ve paid for this. Let me give you money, because you deserve all the money.
4. Devil May Cry 5
Devil May Cry 5 is like a PS2 game. I mean that in the best possible way. So much of the bullshit that modern games have (endless walk-and-talk sections that last forever, pointless filler side quests, zip lining) is nowhere to be found in DMC5. Instead, you have a game that is just one fun-as-hell action set piece after another, each one more ridiculous than the last.
As soon as I beat this game on Devil Hunter (normal) mode, I started it again immediately on Son of Sparda (hard) mode. And right when I beat that, you know I didn’t waste a second before starting (and failing at) Dante Must Die mode. Just like classic PS2 DMC games (specifically 1 and 3), it encourages you to play over and over again to get just a little better, to be more creative in your combos, to get those SSS ranks. And it never gets repetitive playing it over and over again, because DMC5 does something that is unfortunately considered old-fashioned these days: it focuses on being fun more than anything else.
3. Resident Evil 2
Capcom was, hands down, the best studio of 2019. Devil May Cry 5 brought a dormant franchise back to life, and just a few months prior, they made what might be the best remake in video game history with their reimagining of Resident Evil 2. What makes this retelling of the 1998 classic work so well is that it they kept what was already great, like the atmosphere and exploration, while bringing the gameplay into the 21st century.
Just like DMC5, RE2 is a game meant to be played multiple times, allowing you to improve a little more each time you play. Your first run as Leon will be full of uncertainty and dread, but then when you play again as Claire, you’ll find yourself a much more confident zombie slayer. Though even on my fifth play through, I still screamed like a little kid every time I heard those heavy footsteps of the Tyrant, knowing that Mr. X was gon’ give it to me if I didn’t run.
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Unlike the last two games on this list, here’s a game that I’ve only had the privilege to play through once. That’s obviously not because I didn’t love Three Houses, far from it. I just don’t know if I can relive the emotional turmoil and stress that this game puts you through again.
What made this such a draining experience is that, like all Fire Emblem games, Three Houses has permadeath for your party members, and it also happens to have some of the best written and most likeable characters of any game in years. Like most who played it, I joined the Black Eagles, and fell in love with almost all the kids in my house, from the flirty Dorothea to the sinister Hubert. But my absolute favorite was Edelgard, who was both my waifu and the character that Dany from Game of Thrones should have been.
I spent just as much time hanging out with these characters, drinking tea and exchanging gifts, as I did fighting by their side on the battlefield, and it was in the final battle of the game that I lost two of my favorite characters, plus Caspar. It was a failure that stuck with me long after the credits rolled. And to think that there are two other houses still waiting for me to play through, still waiting to break my heart all over again.
1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I thought that I had the FromSoft formula all figured out. I’d played all the Souls games and Bloodborne, so I knew what to expect. It would have precise and challenging combat, memorable boss fights, and a story I would have to watch lore videos on YouTube to understand. There was no way this game could surprise me. If I could beat the Orphan of Kos and the Nameless King, there was no way I couldn’t handle Sekiro. Right?
Sekiro made me learn how to git gud all over again. If there was one thing I was never good at in Dark Souls, it was parrying (dodge rolling for life). So when I discovered that dodging in Sekiro was fucking worthless, and I had to learn how to parry, I won’t lie, I almost gave up. I almost turned it off and went back to play Bloodborne for the 23rd time to get back in my comfort zone. But just as Sekiro himself didn’t give up after getting his arm sliced off, I persisted despite my disadvantage. And I’m so glad I did, because otherwise I would’ve missed out on the best game of 2019.
The moment that Sekiro’s combat starts to make sense to you is a revelation. The gameplay seems slow and unresponsive at first, but once it all clicks, you realize the swordplay is possibly the best in any game ever made. Building up your enemy’s posture meter with a series of perfectly timed parries and hits is so much more satisfying that just rolling to avoid an attack, and then stabbing them in the butt over and over again.
What really surprised me about Sekiro though was its story. The plots of Dark Souls and Bloodborne are really intricate and interesting, but they’re mostly backstory, the most compelling parts having taken place before the events of the games. But Sekiro has a story to tell NOW, starring a hero with an actual personality facing down villains with understandable motives. I beat the game four different times not just for bragging rights, but also because I was invested in the story, and I wanted to know every possible outcome.
Just like with all of From’s games, the conversation around Sekiro tends to focus on its difficulty, and whether or not it should have an easy mode. This might be a hot take, but honestly, I wouldn’t mind if there was an easy mode. I want as many people to experience this game as possible, and if an easy mode helps with that, I see that as a win for everyone.