Here’s a fun piece of trivia for you: I played 99 different video games throughout 2019. If you averaged it out, that would mean I spent 3.69 days playing each one. That’s obviously inaccurate and meaningless, but it was a way to introduce the real topic: The Top 10 Video Games of 2019.
Like last year, I’m using more traditional criteria again: for a game to be given nominee status, I have to have beaten it, and it must have been released in the calendar year 2019. The fact that I have to have beaten a game to count it is harsher than most critics, but really, if I couldn’t be bothered to finish a game, would I have counted it anyway?
After whittling down the list of 99, I came out with a rather surprising 26 nominees. That’s actually a lot more than I expected. Mostly because I felt like I left a lot of big 2019 games unfinished. That said, TOP TEN, GO!
~ Honorable Mention ~
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
Here’s the thing: as much as I enjoyed Iceborne, I don’t think it qualifies. It’s a 2019 release, and I beat it, but… it’s just a DLC expansion. I know that I make the rules, but I don’t know if I can allow this. I can certainly allow it an honorable mention, though!
All that aside, I think that Iceborne is really great. It adds a ton of value to Monster Hunter World, though it also has a price tag to match. There’s a whole new campaign, with tons of new monsters, and just as many new features. I already wrote a whole article about this one, so you can go and check it out. Iceborne is a little more difficult than I would like in my old age (it is called Master Rank, after all), but it was a lot of fun to dive back into MHW for a while.
~ 10 ~
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
You know it’s a weird year when a Zelda game shows up on the bottom of my top ten list. There’s a reason for that, though. This Link’s Awakening is more or less a carbon copy of the Game Boy original. Yes, it looks and sounds different, but it’s almost exactly the same otherwise. And that’s fine, because the original is my personal favourite Zelda of all time, but I still would have liked to see a little more new/changed content.
Let’s put that behind us and talk about why I like this game. Link’s Awakening is my favourite Zelda for a reason: It’s got one of my favourite worlds ever. For my money, Koholint has more personality per square inch than any other Zelda. No part of the island seems sparse or boring, everything has a place and a purpose. The dungeons are probably my favourite set in the series as well; they’re all complex but very rarely tedious. Plus, it’s just completely weird, and I love that. Oh, and I guess the remade graphics and music are pretty astounding, too.
~ 9 ~
True story: Pokémon Shield was under contention to get on this list for a long time. It was actually going to be number ten, and might have been ousted by Iceborne if I hadn’t relegated that to an honorable mention. But then I remembered that Max Raid Battles exist and suddenly it became a lot easier to place those last few titles.
Pokémon Shield (and Sword) are… They’re very standard Pokémon games. While they’re the first HD games in the series, they still feel a lot like handheld games. There’s the Wild Area, which is completely open and cool (and super laggy when you’re online), but the rest of the game is very constrained and limited. However, the new Pokémon introduced for generation VIII are generally really great, and the previously mentioned Max Raid Battles are super fun. Pokémon’s campaigns are usually very easy, and I’m not hardcore enough to stand a chance in mulitplayer battles, but Max Raid Battles split the difference by letting you and three other trainers (CPU or human) fight it out against a single super-powered Pokémon. It’s literally the only time in any Pokémon game that I go into a battle not knowing whether I will win or lose and I am so thankful for that. Sadly, I’m sure it’s a one-time feature and will go away next generation, so I’m going to really enjoy it while I can!
~ 8 ~
Yoshi’s Crafted World
There has been some contention online regarding where Yoshi’s Crafted World places in the ranks of Yoshi games. Lots of people seem to think it’s better than Yoshi’s Woolly World. I think those people are absolutely nuts because everything about Woolly World is excellent. But Crafted World is still a very good Yoshi adventure.
In a very general sense, Yoshi’s Crafted World is exactly what you’d expect from Yoshi: walk around, eat up enemies, chuck eggs at things, and find secrets. Only this game has a really creative and well-executed theme of being made entirely of crafts. Everything looks like it was assembled out of household objects and stationery. Not only is the aesthetic unique and enjoyable, but it also allowed for the designers to come up with all sorts of fun new stage gimmicks. Even the boss battles are all designed around what kind of material each boss is made out of. There are a few things that hold this game back from excellence (bad soundtrack, tedious collectibles), but I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent with it.
~ 7 ~
Dragon Quest Builders 2
When I played the first Dragon Quest Builders, I didn’t really feel it right away, and let it sit for like two years before picking it up again and beating it. When I played Dragon Quest Builders 2, I basically did nothing else with my free time between the start and end of it.
DQB2 is an incredible game. If you need a quick primer, it’s a Dragon Quest game that plays sort of like Minecraft instead of your typical JRPG. The first game is great as well, but DQB2 improves on it in basically every way and stands as a shining beacon of pure delight. What I really appreciated about it is that it does something that few games do: it makes NPCs feel important. For one, DQB2 gives you an AI partner who will help you collect materials and slay monsters. More importantly, building up the towns on the game’s islands will increase their populations. The people who move in will then have needs and wants of their own, but many of them will also contribute to the town by cooking, crafting, or fighting off invading monsters. Each town also has a major construction project central to the plot, and ultimately all the townspeople will rally together to help build it under your guidance. It’s really satisfying and provides a unique sense of community that you don’t typically get from single-player games. Oh and also it’s just really fun to be able to explore a Dragon Quest world in a more adventurey style. More, please.
~ 6 ~
Luigi’s Mansion 3
At their core, the Luigi’s Mansion games are very simple. Go here, suck up ghosts, go to next place, suck up ghosts, repeat until win. But what really makes them shine are all the little details in between those basic steps. And Luigi’s Mansion 3 absolutley nails those moments.
The first thing you’ll see when booting up Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a surprisingly long cutscene of Lugi, Polterpup, and all the rest going to a grand fancy hotel. Please note that the visuals are incredible; it is significantly better looking than any video game in the Mario franchise has a right to be. It’s also important to note that the characters are absolutely bursting with personality, everyone has these fun little character quirks and they’re all so entertainingly cartoony. There is a constant stream of gags that are consistently funny. All of these things persist for the duration of the game, and make it probably the single most charming video game I’ve played all year. That’s not to discount the gameplay by any means. While the ghost-to-ghost suck-’em-up business is repetitive and does get a little tiresome after a while, the boss ghosts were refreshingly unique, and I was constantly engaged by all the little environmental puzzles scattered throughout. Spoiler: the real reward for finding all the collectibles is the sense of satisfaction you get for figuring out how to collect them all.
~ 5 ~
Blaster Master Zero 2
Blaster Master Zero was one of my favourite early Switch games, a classic 80’s title that was thoroughly refined to make it more dynamic and playable. So when I heard that IntiCreates was making a sequel, I almost literally jumped out of my chair in joy.
You have to wonder, what could they do to make Blaster Master Zero better? Well, this sequel is really more of an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” kind of thing. The game is generally the same as before: a side-scrolling exploration platformer with top-down shooter levels mixed in for flavour. The one major refinement is the world map: now you don’t have to truck through every single area when you need to backtrack; you just choose a planet from a menu and you’re off! And that’s the other thing that really stood out to me: around each world are tiny little plantetoids that each host their own challenge stage. They’re all quite short, but tend to be tougher than anything on the main path, and it’s a lot of fun to figure out and conquer them all. Otherwise, BMZ2 is basically more of the same, and in that case, that’s a very good thing. Except for the waifu robot and plant woman with literal giant melons. Could’ve done without those.
~ 4 ~
Everything on the list up until this point has been pretty well on-brand for me. They’ve literally all been sequels (and a remake) in long-running franchises that I’ve been crazy about forever. So here’s something a little different. A little.
Sure, you could call Tetris 99 a sequel. But that’s not the point. The point is that someone (Nintendo) finally made a Tetris game that has truly made me excited about Tetris. And how did they do it? By turning it into a battle royale game, where 99 players square off to see who will be the last one standing. It’s unexpectedly brilliant, and while I don’t put aside nearly enough time for it, I always have an absolute blast when I do sit down with it for a while. It’s got that insidious “just one more round” thing going on, where I always want to play another match because maybe this will be the time where I finally win. Did I mention it’s free to play? Sure, you can pay some money for a couple extra modes, but all the important content is free (though you do need a Switch Online subscription), so there’s really no reason not to play. All that is to say, while Tetris 99 is the game I’ve spent the least time with on this list, it’s made an absolutely huge impression on me and I’ll definitely keep going back to it until the servers die.
~ 3 ~
If Tetris 99 is the game I spent the least time with, maybe I ought to talk a little about the game I spent the most time with in 2019. Well… is it really even a game? Certainly it has some game-like elements, but really it’s more of an exercise app. And yet here is, at Number 3.
There’s no doubt that this is the real wildcard entry on this list. It is in fact an exercise program of sorts, and more often than not I dreaded having to boot it up. But hear me out, there’s one thing about it that really makes it stand out from the rest: it worked for me. Fitness Boxing has been out for over a year now, and I am still using it regularly. Less now than I did through most of 2019 because reasons, but it still gets loaded up once or twice a week. Maybe it has more to do with my mindset for exercise being better than ever before, but I’m giving the software at least partial credit here. I still hate exercising, but I’ve found that (shadow)boxing is really my thing. It’s the exercise I hate least, and I find it engaging enough to keep me coming back consistently. I may not always be having fun while using the software, but Fitness Boxing has definitely helped me become happier on the whole by playing a huge role in improving my physical fitness level. Though it could really use a DLC pack to help freshen it up a bit.
~ 2 ~
Shovel Knight: King of Cards
Looking back, I am completely puzzled by the fact that I didn’t include Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment on my Top 7 list for 2017. It is, to this day, my favourite chapter in the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove. Perhaps I should have made that a Top 8 list?
So that was a weird tangent. I’m talking about the Shovel Knight campaign that came out in 2019, here. King of Cards! It’s really good! In fact, it’s excellent! While it doesn’t quite satisfy the same way that Specter of Torment did, it’s definitely my second-favourite, which I suppose makes it perfect to be slotted in at spot #2 on this list. To justify this placement: let’s talk gameplay. King of Cards is a 2D platformer like all the other Shovel Knights, but he’s got a unique tackle-and-bounce move that makes it feel appreciably different. It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around a first, but once you get going, it’s makes for silky-smooth gameplay that I’m sure would be an amazing speedrun to watch (spoiler: it is). Couple that with dozens of micro-stages, each with their own gimmick to test King Knight’s abilities, and you’ve got an absolute master class in game design. To top it all off, this is by a wide margin the most entertaining story in the Shovel Knight oeuvre. It’s legitimately funny, and I couldn’t help being totally charmed by King Knight, despite the fact that he is an insufferable dick.
~ 1 ~
Resident Evil 2 (2019)
And so, on this list that is almost entirely made up of sequels and remakes… Of course we have a remake of a sequel at the tip-top.
I know that you’re not going to believe it, but the honest truth is that I just don’t get especially excited about very many video game releases any more. But RE2 Remake was an exception. A huge exception. I was so very eager to get my hands on this game, and I was so very relieved when it turned out to be pretty much all I could have wanted. This is more a re-imagining than a straight-up remake, changing a few story beats here and there, messing with the locations of items and the way you progress. The gameplay also changed dramatically, going from static camera angles to the over-the-shoulder view that RE4 pioneered. Despite that, it doesn’t feel like it’s morphed into an action game, as the zombies are still generally slow and most players are going to find that ammo isn’t quite plentiful enough. I like just about every change made to this game, which is an amazing feat since the original RE2 is my sentimental favourite in the series. Capcom did a fantastic job reconstructing a classic video game, and I really hope that the magic works just as well when the RE3 remake releases this spring.