2019 In Review: Games

I had promised myself I was going to restore my habit of doing end-of-year media lists for 2019. This is one of what was supposed to be four posts in the series but became only two: movies, music, television, and games. Spoilers ahead.

Look, there are plenty of good-game-writing-folks out there doing the good-game-writing thing with thoughtful year-end lists. If you want to understand why you should play the many great games released this year – Control, Disco Elysium, The Outer Wilds, take your pick – go read those.

You know I’m only going to recommend some off-the-wall nonsense.

BEST DRUMS: I want the action-generated jazz drumming of Ape Out to follow me everywhere in life.

BEST CATCHPHRASE: Poor Lindsay. The quest giver from Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night clearly has some issues. Yes, her village has been ravaged by unholy creatures of the night. But if I’m executing your revenge scheme, the least you could do is avoid shouting the same instruction to me every time I pick up a new bounty from you…

BEST KNOCK-OFF: Don’t get me wrong: Slay the Spire laid a lot of crucial groundwork for a whole new genre of rogue-like deck-building card games. But I had way more fun with Pirates Outlaws, perhaps because it was mobile first.

BEST NOSTALGIA: It is rare to find a game targeted directly at a key part of your teenage years. My hat is off to everyone behind Hypnospace Outlaw, because wrapping myself in such a perfect recreation of the mid-to-late-90’s internet felt like coming home.

BEST REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TO APPLE ARCADE: Card of Darkness, Mini Motorways, and Dear Reader.

BEST ROYALE: I finally found a battle royale game I loved; it just felt a little odd that it was a 2D cartoon-y fire fight involving animals. Super Animal Royale technically entered early access in late 2018, but it was a mainstay for me throughout the year. Charming, quick to pick up, and strong with “I can’t believe I survived this” moments.

BEST STRAND GAME: If Hideo Kojima defined “strand game” as games about the connections between us, then Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) is the best released this year. (Sorry, BB.) The idea of sending anonymous words across the internet to console and help your fellow humans is, well, terrifying. Yet Kind Words is well moderated and genuinely kind. We could all use to spend time in it.

BEST SWERVE: Who would’ve expected Zachtronics to drop one of the best narrative games of the year in Eliza? I still need to finish it, but from the opening “gig”, it was clear this was going to stand out.

BEST UNNECESSARY MOVIE ADAPTATION: I’m not sure anyone needed a multiplayer version of The Cube. But Half Dead 2 dropping you and some strangers into a maze full of death traps with only shoes to help you avoid death. It’s harder to find a game these days, but it provided some ridiculously fun multiplayer sessions for under $5.

BEST VIBE: There’s something uniquely wonderful about wizzing down a path in Descenders, a (forgive me for leveraging the given pun) rogue-bike. The sense of speed, the sounds of your wheels whizzing just under the liquid drum & bass soundtrack, and the balance of freedom and fear of face-planting into a tree…it’s a wonderfully balanced experience, and one I keep coming back to.

BEST WORK-AS-PLAY: Wilmot’s Warehouse drives you to build order out of chaos as you try to sort an ever-growing warehouse of stuff. That’s right: sorting a warehouse is now an enjoyable gaming experience.