With 2019 coming to a close, and Christmas just around the corner, most game companies have taken the next few weeks off.
“OH MY GOD?! IT’S ALMOST CHRISTMAS!!!! What do I do? My kid/wife/husband/dog wanted some game about…I don’t know, samurai, or ninjas, or dinosaurs, or maybe something that had all three. Do those exist? If they don’t exist what can I get?? HELP ME!”
Okay, okay, stop fretting, I got you covered. I will be giving you a buyer’s guide for each month, with my top picks in BOLD. What were the best games to come out; which ones sucked, and which ones flew under the radar and deserve your attention? Since this guide tends to be on the long side, and in the interest of keeping your attention, I will be splitting this into two parts, January to June and July to December. Get your pencils ready folks, the games are coming and you better take notes.
- Best – Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PC/PS4/PS VR/Xbox One), Kingdom Hearts III (PS4/Xbox One), Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story/Bowser Jr.’s Journey (3DS), New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch), Resident Evil 2 Remake (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (PS4/Switch)
- Avoid – Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal (PC/PS4)
- Hidden Gem – Pikuniku (PC/Switch)
Many film studios have found financial luck by releasing horror films in January, and it looks like Capcom has found it to be a winning month as well. 2017’s Resident Evil 7 came out on January 24th, and they followed this again with the release of Resident Evil 2 Remake on January 11th, 2019. With part 7, Capcom returned the series to its horror roots and really drove home that feeling of isolation and dread in a somewhat familiar place, so with RE2Make they again drew from the well of history by following up a relatively minor affair, about survival against the odds, into a good mix of both isolation terror and white knuckle action. Taking the already familiar story of Resident Evil 2 and tweaking it enough to make it feel fresh was a pretty daunting feat, but they pulled it off gloriously. Watch out for Mr. X, he’s gonna get’cha!
The rest of January was made up of Nintendo exclusives and two long awaited sequels. With the Nintendo 3DS on the outs, we got the first title in the last wave of games made for the system with Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story/Bowser Jr,’s Journey which wouldn’t be the only port of an old title, as the stupidly named New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe also came out for the Switch. Another switch exclusive, Travis Strikes Again, saw the return Grasshopper Manufacturer’s No More Heroes protagonist Travis Touchdown in a new game made up of various platforming levels. A PS4 port released a few months later. Flight sim fans were treated to a new entry in the Ace Combat series when part 7 released on January 18th, featuring VR support, but the most anticipated sequel of the month was the long overdue Kingdom Hearts III. Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s story were finally updated to the delight of the fans (mostly, I think). DLC has recently been announced for the game and should be out in January 2020, making this the perfect time to pick the title up.
January didn’t have very many duds, and while I didn’t love Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, it was still sort of fun to play. This month’s title to avoid is one I didn’t get a chance to play, and I likely never will because of how weird and gross it is. Senran Kagura Burts Re:Newal is another title in the long running Senran Kagura series. Practically embodying the essence of “fan service”, the games feature a cadre of young women in sexually provocative outfits fighting bad guys with their samurai swords. It’s probably not a bad game, and while the objectification of women is not something I want to champion, this game doesn’t come across as skeevy as some of their other titles. These cheesecake games can be fun, but they just aren’t something I’m into, particularly as someone who plays games at home in the living room in front of my family. What you should be playing instead is the adorable Devolver Digital game Pikuniku. This platforming puzzle game stars a lovable little red monster with no arms, just long legs that he or she can use to kick everything from doors to rocks to other characters. Set in a colorful storybook world, you are tasked with helping the citizens rid themselves of an evil corporation that is intent on stealing their natural resources. It’s timely, cute, funny, and charming, you should be playing this.
- Best – Ape Out (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Civilization VI: The Gathering Storm (PC), Crackdown 3 (PC/Xbox One), Etrian Odyssey Nexus (3DS), Far Cry: New Dawn (PC/PS4/Xbox One) God Eater 3 (PC/PS4/Switch), Metro Exodus (PC/PS4/Stadia/Xbox One), Tetris 99 (Switch)
- Avoid – Anthem (PC/PS4/Xbox One)
- Hidden Gem – The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince (PS4/Switch)
Initially I had Ape Out as my hidden gem for the month, but the more I thought about it the more I realized there was nothing else in February that grabbed my attention more than this game. In Ape Out you are the titular ape, being held captive in a laboratory where scientists have been doing…something, to you, maybe? It doesn’t matter, you want out, so using your brute strength you bust out of your cell and make the long journey back to your home. Told over a series of levels that range from an office building to a steamer ship, you move through each stage smashing and throwing your enemies, sometimes blowing them up and sometimes using them as bullet shields, on your quest to escape. While that underlying premise isn’t totally exciting, it’s how the game plays that makes this one of the best of the year. Aside from a strikingly beautiful and minimalist art style, the game is also a love letter to free form Jazz, with the music generating procedurally based on the action on screen. If you take your time and methodically sneak around the stage then the music will be quiet and pensive, but once you start the beat down, well, the beat gets dowwwn, with crashing cymbals and thumping bass drums, giving you a strong sense of euphoria and bliss as you manically tear through enemy after enemy on your way towards the exit.
As far as the rest of February goes, we got several AAA titles, including a rare Xbox One exclusive with Crackdown 3. Seen as a bit of a disappointment due to the lengthy development cycle, the game is still a must have for Xbox One owners just for the simple fact that it is an exclusive. A few Far Cry game was released that continued the story from part 5, the second major expansion for Civilization VI released, bringing natural disasters and global warming to the game, and Bandai Namco put out their answer to Monster Hunter, God Eater 3, which would be a decent game if the levels weren’t so damn short and repetitive. The 3DS got yet another new game with the JRPG series Etrian Odyssey Nexus, and the PC storefront wars began when Epic announced that Metro Exodus would be sold exclusively through their digital store for one year, to the chagrin of Steam loyalists. The game still sold fairly well despite the bad publicity, and it is likely because of this that we saw the trend continue throughout 2019. Finally, Nintendo released one of the best games of the year for free when Tetris 99 debuted on the eShop for all Nintendo Switch Online customers. Taking the battle royale genre and mashing it up with Tetris was a stroke of genius, and likely led to many new subscribers to the relatively new Switch Online platform.
February also had what I think is safe to say was the worst game of 2019; Anthem. The story behind Anthem’s development is fascinating to read, and I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of it yet. While the underlying idea for the game isn’t terrible, as you are basically Iron Man fighting aliens, it’s the execution and lack of support that makes it a tough sell. A confusing launch schedule, a lack of features, a lack of desirable loot, and frankly, a lack of players, made this title an instant dud. Bugs proliferated, load times were abysmal, and with a limit on how much and often you could fly, the game was just not fun to play. There was some real thought and care put into the story and the lore, and there were even some mildly big voice actors involved, but that couldn’t save this dreadful mess of a game. EA and BioWare say they are committed to making Anthem a better game, but there has been little to show for it as of yet. If the bombast of Anthem is too much then I would recommend the lighthearted, but still challenging, The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. Set in a fairy tale world of castles, witches and werewolves, you take on the role of the liar princess; a huge beast that has the power to transform into a human girl. After a fateful night of hunting, a large beast spends the evening singing to the moon, when, on a moonlit stroll, a young prince hears the beast’s melodious tune and comes to see just who has this lovely voice. In a bit of fear and instinct, the beast attacks the prince and leaves him blind. Learning that his parents locked up away in a tower the beast begs a witch to help her save him, so she allows the beast to transform into a princess so she can break the prince out of the tower. Thus begins your quest to restore his eyesight as you alternate between human form and beast form. Using clever puzzle solving and a dual protagonist system, you make your way through several gorgeous levels that get progressively more difficult, to a climatic and heartwarming finale.
- Best – Baba Is You (PC/Switch), Dead or Alive 6 (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Devil May Cry 5 (PC/PS4/Xbox One), The Division 2 (PC/PS4/Stadia/Xbox One), Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PC/PS4/Xbox One), ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Tropico 6 (PC), Yoshi’s Crafted World (Switch)
- Avoid – Left Alive (PC/PS4)
- Hidden Gem – Hypnospace Outlaw (PC)
Masters of masochism From Software put out an absolutely brilliant game this year with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Originally conceived as the next entry in the Tenchu series, the game eventually evolved into a standalone title. Set in a fantastical world of samurai, ghosts, trolls, giant apes, a horrifyingly massive snake, and other beastly denizens, you must make your way through the gauntlet of pain on your quest to save your young master. Played in a typical soulsborne fashion, you collect XP from your fallen enemies and then use those points to increase your stats and skillset. Resting at various checkpoints allows you to refill your health and healing gourds, but it will also cause all slain enemies to reappear, putting in motion a push & pull, press your luck game of high risks and high rewards. While the difficulty of the game means this title isn’t for everyone, from an artistic point of view this is a true classic and one of the best titles to come out this year. It was so good, in fact, that it took home the top prize this year at The Game Awards; not too shabby.
As seems to be the case almost every year, March was pretty stacked. Being last month of the fiscal year, most companies try to make this quarter look as good as they can in order to forecast their success for the upcoming year to their shareholders. Four big, AAA titles came out and each were pretty dang good; Dead or Alive 6 traded sexy for combos, Devil May Cry 5 brought series back to its roots after the fun but flawed DmC, The Division 2 was a sound improvement over the original game despite some questionable politics in its story, and Yoshi’s Crafted World was one of the most joyful games I played in all of 2019. On the mid budget side we got the latest entry in the long running dictator/city building simulator Tropico 6, and Sega Genesis icons ToeJam & Earl were back in the groove of things releasing their first new game in 17 years.
Sometimes the gaming community can put too much stock into Japanese games (at least I know I’m guilty of this). We assume that everything they make is gold and anyone who thinks they aren’t good just “doesn’t get it”. Well I hate to break it to you, but some Japanese games suck. Despite being set in the same universe as the Front Mission games, Left Alive goes out of its way to completely squander this fact, making mech combat practically non-existent and forcing you to focus on stealth and survival. This painfully dull game is also incredibly frustrating and difficult, and not in a “just one more try” way like Sekiro, but in an unfair and broken way that will have you feeling confused and angry. Speaking of confused and angry, say hello to Hypnospace Outlaw! While I don’t particularly enjoy this game, there is just enough good ideas here to make it worth your time. Set in the year 1999, you are an enforcement officer working in the online community of HypnOS; a web program that is accessed while you sleep, allowing customers to create websites and share files through a headset that may or may not be cooking your brain. What starts out as a fairly routine job of cleaning up images that infringe on various copyrights, soon turns into a story of greed, cover ups, and conspiracy. However, in order to get to that you need to read through a ton of garbage that makes the game incredibly tedious. Pick this up cheap and once you get stuck just find a walkthrough and finish the story, it’s worth the hassle.
- Best – Anno 1800 (PC), Days Gone (PS4), Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain (PC/PS4), Katana Zero (PC/Switch), Mortal Kombat 11 (PC/PS4/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One), Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
- Avoid – Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
- Hidden Gem – Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission (PC/Switch)
The big, bad, bloody mess of a fighting game franchise, Mortal Kombat, released its eleventh title back in April to a hyped fan base. However, it wouldn’t be a Mortal Kombat release without some controversy, but instead of people being upset by the level of violence (and man, is it violent) they were upset for three main reasons; voice acting, DLC, and the staple of the modern AAA game, grinding for loot. Like most animated movies in Hollywood, the developers of MK11 thought it would be really awesome to get a famous person to be in their game, so they ditched most, if not all, of the voice cast and replaced them, one in particular being MMA fighter Ronda Rousey. As for the DLC, it’s a bit of a dead horse now, but the game released with day one DLC fighters, prompting armchair game developers to decry that the character should have been in the game “on-disc” instead of being sold (a tired old story). Then of course we’ve got the dreaded loot box system for online play. Yes, it seems that even a fighting game like Mortal Kombat isn’t immune to the gaming industry’s latest predatory practice. Players can spend hours grinding through battle after battle to unlock chests in The Krypt, gaining power-ups, crafting materials, and new costumes for use in the game. It’s not the end of the world, nor does it ruin the game, but it’s still annoying. Set those minor items aside and you have a very solid fighting game with beautiful graphics and well designed controls. I had so much fun playing Mortal Kombat 11 that I felt like a twelve year old again, sitting on my buddy’s bed playing MK2 for SNES on his CRT television.
April and May were fairly slow months this year, with not a whole lot coming out that is worth noting. We got a new entry in the city building Anno series from Ubisoft, and like Metro Exodus, it was an Epic Games Store exclusive (Steam pre-orders were fulfilled, however). Rounding out the other big titles were Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain, a more serious take on the giant bug killing series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy which brought the GameBoy/DS series to modern consoles, and Devolver continued to put out quality work with the tough as nails platformer Katana Zero.
With so few games coming out in April it was hard to find a game to avoid or that flew under the radar, so just bear with me. I’m saying to stay from Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection because it was just, well, not a great collection of games. Haunted Castle is best left in the trash, and and the other SHMUPS are either already available, easily, elsewhere or just kind of mediocre. For $20 bucks this is a paltry offering and almost borderline offensive. If you need to get this pay no more than $5 bucks. If you’re looking for something pretty fun that no one is talking about then go for Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission. Based on the real life collectible card game, SDBH: WM has you taking on the role of a new, nameless, character who lives in a world where Super Dragon Ball Heroes is the number one sporting even on the planet, beloved by millions. Eventually you learn that there is a world that exists where your cards can come to life and battle in real time, which is super cool, obvi. Using common CCG mechanics, mixed with some gimicky touch screen/controller input commands, this light card game is perfect for short bursts of play on the Switch.
- Best – A Plague Tale: Innocence (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Outer Wilds (PC/PS4/Xbox One), Rage 2 (PC/PS4/Stadia/Xbox One), Total War: Three Kingdoms (PC), Trover Saves The Universe (PC/PS4/PSVR/Switch)
- Avoid – Team Sonic Racing (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
- Hidden Gem – Castlevania: Anniversary Collection (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
If you though April was light, holy cow, May was practically a drought. My top pick for this month is the latest entry in Sega’s long running Total War series, a franchise that prides itself on huge battles that take place in real time. While past entries have focused on everything from medieval times to the American Revolution, they hadn’t yet stepped into the world of ancient China. This is likely because Koei Tecmo has had that era on lock down since the mid 80’s with the highly popular Romance of the Three Kingdoms franchise. However, Sega must have figured it was time for Koei Tecmo to get some competition, and boy, did they give them a run for their money. Combining the already stellar combat mechanics from their previous titles and marrying them with ROTTK style intrigue and diplomacy gave us what might be the best Total War game ever made. Sega has continued to support the game with a cavalcade of DLC, making this a game with near endless possibilities.
Aside from Total War, there wasn’t too much to get excited about in May, 2019. Bethesda put out Rage 2, a sequel that I’m not sure many people were asking for, and Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland put out a VR game called Trover Saves The Universe, which is just him doing the voices of Rick and Morty over and over again, but making them say the F-word and not having it bleeped out. A Switch port was released on Nov. 28th, 2019 to the delight of some. The survival game The Outer Wilds was on everyone’s lips, garnering praise for it’s unique gameplay. On the prestige side, A Plague Tale: Innocence was released to high critical praise, featuring the story of two young siblings living in plague ridden England as they try and survive both the scourge of disease and a group of knights who are tasked with killing them. This is one of the games I wish I would have checked out this year but unfortunately it just never worked out.
At this point it’s almost a sad running joke to say that the latest Sonic the Hedgehog game is bad, but man, this game is bad. Featuring uninspired tracks and a roster smaller than its previous title, there isn’t much reason to play this game. When compared to something like Mario Kart 8, for Sega to just shit out this garbage is baffling, I mean, unless you know anything about the way Sega treats its most famous character. Since there isn’t a lot to work with in May I figured I’d highlight the best entry in the Konami Anniversary series, Castlevania: Anniversary Collection. Featuring the most eclectic and inspired lineup of the three released collections, players will be happy to see eight different Castlevania games here, with one of them, Kid Dracula, being previously only available in Japan. Castlevania isn’t some under the radar series, so it’s still a bit weird to call this a hidden gem, but in case you had any doubts about this being a great collection, I can assure you, it rules.
- Best – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Cadence of Hyrule (Switch), Collection of Mana (Switch), Contra: Anniversary Collection (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Judgment (PS4), My Friend Pedro (PC/Switch), Samurai Shodown (PS4/Stadia/Xbox One), Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)
- Avoid – Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry (PC/PS4/Switch)
- Hidden Gem – Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth (3DS)
It’s no secret that the Wii U was a disaster for Nintendo, but it should also be no secret that it has a slew of fantastic titles in its library. Many of these have been ported over, like Hyrule Warriors and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and there have been some that received sequels like Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Continuing the sequel train comes Super Mario Maker 2, which expands upon the Wii U version by offering a single player campaign as well as several new items and level design options. Would-be Miyamoto’s were once again given the chance to show what they were made of by uploading their creations to the Nintendo servers where other players could give them a try. With a robust community of builders and players this game shows no sign of slowing down, and with likely millions of stages available you should never get bored.
Things picked up quite a bit at the end of the second quarter in gaming, with Konami releasing the third title in their Anniversary series with Contra: Anniversay Collection, and Square Enix got in on the anniversary fun when they released Collection of Mana, featuring a long forgotten GameBoy title Final Fantasy Adventure, the SNES masterpiece Secret of Mana, and the previously Japan only Trials of Mana. On the remake side we got the souped up Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, shaming Team Sonic Racing in the process. On the indie side we got yet another brilliant Devolver Digital game, My Friend Pedro, a ballet of bullets and blood that tested your reflexes, then Nintendo did something unexpected and licensed the Zelda franchise out to the makers of Crypt of the Necrodancer to make the similarly themed Cadence of Hyrule. Perhaps the biggest indie of the month came from famed Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi (Iga), when his long awaited Kickstarter game Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night released to just okay reviews. On the AAA side, SNK released the latest Samurai Shodown game, and Sega released the latest game from the makers of Yakuza, called Judgement. This game is essentially a Yakuza game, but with a new protagonist and a strong emphasis on using your detective skills to solve mysteries. As this is Kamurocho, there’s a lot of people who want to beat you up, and fortunately protagonist Takayuki Yagami is not just a lawyer and a detective, he’s also a grade A bad ass who knows how to deliver a beat down.
I couldn’t really find anything I hated this month, but if you’re going to ignore something the it might as well be Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry. Idiotic title aside, the game is a littered with “jokes” about hipsters, millennials, woke culture, homosexuals, and drag queens, making this a title that is likely just best left alone. What you can play instead is the latest entry in the Persona franchise, and one of the very last games ever made for the Nintndo 3DS, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth. The Person Q sub series is kind of an all-stars game, featuring just about every character from Persona 3, 4, and 5. Using the cast of part 5 as the driving force behind the game, you enter a strange world where a super hero that bears a striking resemblance to someone you know is causing a ruckus. As time goes on you eventually get teleported to a strange movie theatre and learn that there are several worlds/dungeons that need your help being cleansed of the evil within them. Now you might be asking why a Persona game is the hidden gem, well a couple reasons. First is that this is a 3DS game, and while that system is wildly popular, it doesn’t really get the same mainstream attention as the big consoles, and second is that this, as I mentioned, pretty much the last game ever released on the system, at least exclusively. If you are a Persona or JRPG fan at all then you owe it to yourself to give this game a try.
All right folks, six months down, another six to go! I’ll see you here tomorrow for part 2 so you can figure out what you’re going to ask Santa for.