Hello! Welcome to the final Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup of 2019!
In this edition, we take a look back at the year’s 50 most notable games!
Just like last year, the games on this list were chosen by an unscientific method factoring in sales, critical acclaim, social media buzz and how interesting and unique they are conceptually, along with some personal bias on my part. Some choices may be surprising, but every game here is one that deserves to be recognised as one of 2019’s standout titles. Unlike last year, however, the list will finish with my definitive top 5 of the year, highlighting the games I enjoyed the most out of what I played. Everything up to that point is in alphabetical order for maximum fairness.
Preamble over, let’s get this party started!
(Night School Studio / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Night School Studio’s last game, Oxenfree, was a mind-bending adventure game with a lot of snappy dialogue and a compelling supernatural plot. Afterparty is them trying their hand at a more comedic game after Oxenfree’s supernatural vibe. Snappy dialogue is the order of the day as you control two young people who are trying to escape hell by having a drinking contest with the devil.
Afterparty is more of the formula that made Oxenfree so compelling, only now with demons and the snappy dialogue given centre stage. But there’s also a heart to it, and while the partying and the drinking is fun, the game doesn’t shy away from what happens when the alcohol fades and the sun rises the next day. It’s a superb game that deserves a lot of attention.
(EA, Respawn / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
While the live service battle royale model of making games is something I’m not a fan of, it’s hard to deny how much of a success Apex Legends was on release this year. EA dropped it suddenly at the start of February with no prior marketing, relying entirely on the goodwill Respawn had built from the Titanfall games.
And it worked! Apex Legends saw a huge influx of players. Streamers were all over it. It looked set to take over Fortnite’s crown. It didn’t, but it could have done if it wanted to. Probably.
But while the player base has dwindled somewhat from the initial frenzy, it’s firmly established itself as part of the live service landscape. And it’s still going strong, with a dedicated fanbase and a healthy frequency of updates. Which is more than can be said of EA’s other live service release in the same month, which has sunk without a trace. You know the one I mean.
ARISE: A SIMPLE STORY
(Techland, Piccolo Studio / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
A late addition to the year, Arise came out only a few weeks ago, but offers the same artful journey as…uh, Journey. Only this time you’re a Viking navigating the afterlife and reliving parts of your life.
At the core of all this is a time manipulation mechanic that allows you to advance or reverse time at will, a feature that sits at the core of every puzzle and platforming section.
But the real appeal is, of course, the beautiful storyline that raises questions about life and death and is very likely to make you cry. Deserves a little more attention that it didn’t get due to its December release.
(Nintendo, Platinum Games / Switch)
Platinum have spent the last decade continually refining and building on a simple formula – fast-paced action games reliant on melee combos against groups of enemies, usually with a ranking system. It’s their one game, but it’s a game they’ve adapted into a range of settings and concepts to the point where no two games feel the same despite them being conceptually identical. Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising and Nier Automata are all superficially the same game but feel very different to one other.
Astral Chain not only sticks to this formula, but it’s the second game they’ve applied this to for Nintendo, after 2013’s The Wonderful 101.
And from all accounts, it’s the greatest Platinum game to date. You play an officer for a futuristic police force, who battle extradimensional beings known as Chimeras. To aid in this task you fight with a chained familiar called Legion, and much of the game follows the Platinum hack-and-slash formula, with different Legions expanding your combat potential. The timing on dodging takes some getting used to but otherwise it’s in the same vein as Platinum’s other titles.
Rave reviews hit the moment this game appeared on the Switch, adding yet another game to Platinum’s excellent repertoire. But praise also went on the story, which was surprisingly human with just a touch of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and on the vast range of customisation the game added. It also added to Nintendo’s excellent streak of releases, but we’ll see more of this as we go on.
BABA IS YOU
(Hempuli Oy / PC, Switch)
Baba is You escaped my attention on its release but became notable as the months went on for its inventive and playful approach to puzzle game design.
Baba is You sees you playing as a small creature called Baba (quite literally, Baba is You), and it can do little else but push blocks around. On the surface it’s the same as Sokoban, the famous puzzle game about pushing boxes around. Underneath that though there’s a sneaky little gimmick where the rules of the world become blocks to push around.
What follows is an endlessly entertaining puzzle game about manipulating the world around you to find solutions. Instead of resigning yourself to being trapped in a room, push the word “Stop” out of the instruction “Wall Is Stop” and suddenly walls can’t stop you. Turn yourself into keys or rocks. Or just straight up turn yourself into the victory flag.
It’s silly, it’s inventive, and deserves to be mentioned among the greats of 2019.
(The Game Kitchen / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
When I first heard about Blasphemous, I was put off. From descriptions it sounded like an edgelord “hardcore” game built by someone who thinks Dark Souls is the be-all and end-all of difficulty in games. And then I saw it in action, and my opinion shifted dramatically. What I saw was certainly gory and moody but was made with meticulous pixel art and showed gameplay not too far removed from some of the best Castlevanias.
Blasphemous has received praise from all corners, from being an excellent Metroidvania to its dark Inquisition-inspired storyline that sees a world plagued by “The Miracle” with only “The Penitent One” seeking to end this curse. But what makes Blasphemous stand out is its art style. Every part of the game is built with painstakingly detailed pixel art that looks grotesquely beautiful.
A stunning achievement of a game, so if you want something dark and gruesome, you’d do well to check this out.
(2K, Gearbox / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia)
Borderlands 3 has had some mixed reactions. It’s one of the collection of 2019 games that’s seen user scores vastly different to those of the critics, but its lack of microtransactions hides an obvious reason for this. And while it could be based around the Epic Store exclusivity, the fact the console versions have suffered the same fate doesn’t make that too plausible either.
That said, Borderlands 3 is certainly one of the most notable games of the year. Not least because Gearbox went all out on marketing to the point where entire presentations at E3 and Gamescom this year seemed to have a trailer for it every 10 minutes.
But it is Borderlands. A game with a devoted fanbase and a bajillion guns, all wrapped up in a package that somehow avoided in-game monetisation. If you’re a Borderlands fan, then you’ll be pleased to know it came back with a bang this year.
CADENCE OF HYRULE
(Nintendo, Brace Yourself / Switch)
A surprise announcement earlier this year, Cadence of Hyrule is an indie game with a Nintendo license. That’s right. Brace Yourself, developers of Crypt of the Necrodancer, somehow managed to get the rights to make a Zelda title, officially licensed and published for the Switch by Nintendo themselves.
For those who are unaware, Crypt of the Necrodancer was a dungeon-crawling rhythm game where you battled monsters and ventured through dungeons, all the while trying to stay on beat with the music for the best damage. Cadence of Hyrule is the same thing, but now it’s set in the world of A Link to the Past.
And it’s quite good. Necrodancer was already an indie darling, due to its unique mechanics and for just being plain fun to play. Slap the Zelda license on that and you’re bringing that into a beloved franchise to make a beautiful marriage of two excellent things. So if you ever played a 2D Zelda and found yourself jamming out to the soundtrack and trying to act in time with it, then Cadence of Hyrule is the game you need.
(Bandai Namco / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
With a lot of discussion about games of the decade floating around more recently, one game that consistently gets brought up as decade-defining is Dark Souls. So it’s fitting that one of the year’s most notable games is a Soulslike, from the same publisher no less, albeit using their own internal studios over any involvement from FromSoft (they were preoccupied with another game on this list).
Code Vein brings something new to the genre, eschewing the moody realism typically associated with it and replacing it with an anime look. Not that the darkness is gone, as the story revolves around vampire powers in a world ravaged by ruin. But the colourful visuals add a new dimension that could be appealing to those who find the Souls series a little too bleak and muted.
It’s not attracted as much attention as the series that inspired it, but it got plenty of critical praise and stands up as an excellent addition to the Soulslike genre.
(SIE, Playopus / PS4)
As the PS5 approaches, Sony’s first-party titles have started showing signs of slowing. This year, they had very few notable releases, but a few did slip through. Concrete Genie is one of their smaller titles this year, but it’s also one of the most interesting.
Sneaking out in the later part of the year, Concrete Genie is about a boy in a drab, oppressive city who creates magical creatures in artwork. The game revolves around an adventure utilising these creatures by drawing all over the walls of the city. It’s an uplifting tale of the power of art and imagination, with vibrant visuals to back it up.
Concrete Genie isn’t one of the best games ever made, and it’s a small unassuming presence in the avalanche of releases from this year. But it is interesting, and for that it’s one of the most notable games of the year.
THE DARK PICTURES: MAN OF MEDAN
(Bandai Namco, Supermassive Games / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Until Dawn was one of the finest horror games of the decade, with its branching narratives and only occasionally wonky facial mo-cap making it one of the most interesting and unique horror experiences. Its success led developers Supermassive to double down on it, and this year they came out with Man of Medan, the first in a series of similar narrative-driven horror titles under the banner of “The Dark Pictures Anthology”.
And it’s another excellent use of the formula. It hits all the same beats – a story derived from a love of somewhat cheesy horror tropes, vaguely familiar character actors from genre hits (this time it’s X-Men b-lister Shawn Ashmore), and a slightly mocking narrator type judging you on your actions between scenes. But despite so much familiar, it also shakes up the proceedings a little with intriguing use of multiplayer.
Online multiplayer allows players to play simultaneous scenes with different characters, with choices affecting the story on both ends, but players not knowing what the other players have seen. There’s also couch co-op which is just a more official way of swapping a controller around a small group, but bless ‘em they tried.
As a result, Man of Medan is one of this year’s best horror experiences and is worth checking out.
(SIE, Bend Studio / PS4)
While not one of the best games of the year, Days Gone is one of the biggest. It was a huge success for Sony on release and is held up by some PS4 players as one of the greats. Not a sentiment everyone agrees with, certainly, but it’s clearly doing something right to gain those fans.
And on the surface it does look impressive. Following the footsteps of other third-person narrative-driven action-adventures from Sony, Days Gone focuses on Deacon St John, a biker caught up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. There are some technically impressive zombie swarms and some interesting mechanics. It’s very much following in the footsteps of The Last of Us, although from reviews you’re better off approaching it in the same way as the last game Bend Studio made in Naughty Dog’s style (Golden Abyss on the Vita). Decent but flawed, while notable enough to warrant a place on this list.
(SIE, Kojima Productions / PS4)
Hideo Kojima is one of few names in gaming that stand out as an auteur. Admittedly, his deification does diminish the work of his staff somewhat, but on the whole, his vision tends to shine through in his work and what he says goes.
However, for most of his career he’s only been known for the Metal Gear franchise, and following his unceremonious departure from Konami, audiences have been wondering what’s next for him. Sony offered him money for a new project, and ever since we’ve been seeing increasingly cryptic trailers for a bizarre project starring Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen called Death Stranding. What is it? Why is there a baby? What’s with those invisible monsters? Is that Guillermo Del Toro?
Death Stranding finally released to slightly confused praise in October, as critics scrambled to still grasp what it was. All of its concepts were still utterly weird, and there’s a bunch of stuff about the veil between life and death, but ultimately it’s an Amazon delivery simulator, as Reedus and the Foetus carry big stacks of boxes around to try and bring America back together again after something tore it apart. His name is Sam Bridges. It’s a metaphor, do you get it?
It’s one of the year’s most unique AAA games, but still meets the high quality standards set by Kojima’s previous work to make it one of the best received as well.
DEVIL MAY CRY 5
(Capcom / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Devil May Cry 5 is the moment where Capcom threw Ninja Theory’s take on the DMC series to the side and steered it back to where it started. Even going as far as calling it DMC5, effectively negating DmC entirely, as this is clearly supposed to be the followup to DMC4 more than any other game.
And it’s become one of the most celebrated and beloved games of the year. Not only is DMC back on track, but it appears to have ramped everything up to its logical extreme. Three characters, all with different move sets, come together to save the world from demons and looking as stylish as possible while doing it. The reviews and fan reception speak for themselves and reveal a game that few people are calling the best game of 2019 but still seems to be many people’s top 5.
(ZA/UM Studio / PC)
As the year went on, it seemed obvious that The Outer Worlds was going to swipe Best RPG from all corners this year. And then Disco Elysium happened and suddenly no one was sure anymore.
Disco Elysium is a game that shouldn’t have succeeded as much as it has. It’s got a weird painted look to it that isn’t immediately visually pleasing. It’s got a skill tree full of social and metaphysical concepts. It’s largely combat-free. The storyline is bizarre. And you can be killed by a ceiling fan in the starting room with a bad roll. And yet, Disco Elysium released late this year and stunned everyone who got their hands on it.
But maybe all those points above are what’s made the game such a success. There’s no game quite like Disco Elysium, and its playfulness within a bunch of complex political and sociological concepts make it stand out from the crowd. You play as a cop so hungover he’s lost all sense of who he is, and you can use this to shape him as you see fit. Want to be the authoritarian bad cop? Go for it. Want to become a raging alcoholic? Absolutely an option. Or would you prefer to become hilariously overconfident at karaoke? I mean, of course, why wouldn’t you?
Disco Elysium is utterly bonkers, but its sheer refusal to stop that is why it’s ended up gaining a ton of attention and becoming one of the year’s best RPGs.
FIRE EMBLEM: THREE HOUSES
(Nintendo, Intelligent Systems / Switch)
Nintendo have had a hell of a year. When not publishing excellent Platinum titles or loaning their IPs to indie devs to make surprise hits, their own studios are knocking it out of the park too. Fire Emblem: Three Houses exploded onto the Switch and cemented itself as the hallmark of Nintendo’s tactical RPG franchise.
Three Houses has everything. Three distinct storylines depending on which of the titular houses you choose (similar to the Hogwarts houses only you’re not chosen by a hat). Split duties between intense tactical battles and relationship management at school which feels like Intelligent Systems took some inspiration from Persona (maybe they took quite a bit away from working on Tokyo Mirage Sessions with Atlus?). Plus all the traditional tactical RPG action the series is famous for.
Three Houses is a huge game, and one that encourages repeat playthroughs. This wasn’t even Nintendo’s biggest release this year but certainly appears to be the most beloved.
(Devolver Digital, doinksoft / PC, Switch)
I’m including this one because of my own personal tastes and not because it made a huge impact. But it should have done, dammit! Do you like Metroid? Do you like cats? Do you want to play Metroid as a cat in a mech suit? Good news! Gato Roboto is here to fill that specific niche!
Gato Roboto isn’t pushing any boundaries, but what it is doing is taking an established formula (a Metroidvania) and getting extra playful with it. At a time when most Metroidvanias are jumping into further darkness or trying to be as brutal as possible, having a game that takes the formula and makes you an adorable kitty controlling a ridiculous mech suit is a breath of fresh air. An underappreciated gem that I feel deserves more attention.
(Xbox Game Studios, The Coalition / PC, Xbox One)
The Gears of War series continues to be a justified success story for Xbox, and the latest title, Gears 5, continues its tradition of big soldiers in big armour killing aliens with big guns. This time around the focus is on Kait from Gears 4, with more deliberate humour, a few levels offering more open exploration and a personal journey.
And it’s still an excellent Gears game for those who are in love with the series. One of Microsoft’s biggest games of the year, and rightly so.
(Focus Home Interactive, Spiders / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
With Anthem collapsing Bioware’s reputation this year (it didn’t make this list, I’m sure you’re surprised to hear), the world is crying out for more Bioware style RPGs where grand-scale adventures collide with small-scale relationship drama.
Cue Spiders, the developers of the ropey Technomancer, who put out GreedFall this year. It features a grand-scale adventure crossed with the ability to romance your team, like all good Bioware titles, and manages to not be terrible like some of their previous efforts.
It’s a colonial setting, only the part of the map marked with “Here Be Dragons” actually does have dragons. Or at least supernatural elements that suggest more is going on with island than just unsuspecting natives being subjugated by white men with guns. Much of the game revolves around investigating the island and uncovering its mysteries, accompanied by a motley crew of settlers.
It’s a low budget effort, as you’d expect from a Focus Home production, and yet manages to put Bioware’s own work to shame. The gameplay and story are solid, so if you need something to ease your disappointment at Bioware’s descent into live service misery, GreedFall needs to be on your radar.
(No More Robots, Tendershoot / PC)
Another one of those under the radar games that could have done with more attention. I count my own coverage in that because I missed this game entirely on release. I heard vague mentions of it but I wasn’t really sure what people were talking about. Now I understand and feel it’s definitely one of the year’s most interesting games.
Hypnospace Outlaw is a weird, twisted version of the internet circa 1998, and in the fiction of the game, it’s what people visit while they’re sleeping. You play as an Enforcer, an Internet-wide moderator of content who has to scour the many sites for rules violations. And when I say sites, I really do mean websites from 1998, at least in style anyway.
Hypnospace Outlaw is a mass of early world wide web nostalgia, with lazy HTML editing, pictures that take ages to load (or will flag up an X at the slightest provocation), and horrendously compressed videos. There are Geocities-style fansites, there are guestbooks to sign next to page counters, and a whole range of virtual pets that parody every craze of the 90s from Pogs to Pokémon to Neopets to that weird Bonzi Buddy gorilla that turned out to be spyware.
At its heart, Hypnospace Outlaw is a simple point and click detective adventure, but its backdrop of a weirder time before social media dominated our web browsing makes it compelling.
(Devolver Digital, Askiisoft / PC, Switch)
It’s going to become clear that Devolver Digital were an unstoppable force this year, as here’s another stylish side scroller from them. Katana Zero is Hotline Miami from a different angle, and you’re a neo-noir samurai with time travel powers. Yes, really.
Katana Zero places you in a pixel cyberpunk world, and you control Subject Zero, a samurai who has control over time. Each level is precognition of an assassination job he intends to go on, and a successful run rewards with security camera footage of the real job (ie. It’s a replay of your success).
And it’s stylish as hell, allowing you to slash your way through hordes of enemies, dodge roll around to escape being shot, and slow time in order to deflect bullets back at your opponents. It’s one of the year’s slickest, coolest games and should definitely be checked out.
KINGDOM HEARTS 3
(Square Enix / PS4, Xbox One)
It seems surreal to be writing this one. Kingdom Hearts 3 was once part of the Half-Life 3 Club, a game so mythical people were starting to suspect it might never happen after all. And yet, January of this year, Kingdom Hearts 3 landed and was real. And if nothing else, it deserves to be considered one of 2019’s most notable games for that achievement alone.
As someone outside of the KH hype, I don’t really get it myself. On the surface it appears to be a playful collaboration between the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy, but then you dig deep and find a huge incomprehensible web of lore about light and darkness, of Heartless and Nobodies, and people getting “norted” whatever that means. To someone like me, KH3 looked a hell of a lot like it’s more of that.
But you know what? It’s meant to be a fan pleaser, not a way to convince new fans. It’s the instalment dedicated fans have been begging and praying for, and it seems to have succeeded. It’s got plenty of rough edges but manages to hold itself together well enough for the devout to cheer.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: LINK’S AWAKENING
(Nintendo / Switch)
It feels a little weird to include this one, as it is essentially a game from 1993 given a fresh coat of paint and released back into the wild. But when that game is a beloved Zelda game, it makes sense. It’s Ryan’s favourite Zelda, for instance, even though he’s very wrong because the best one is Majora’s Mask. But still.
It’s a faithful recreation but with all the appropriate modernisation to improve on the limitations of the Game Boy original. A new cute art style with a collectible figurine ready Link, a glorious HD rendered world and all the quality Zelda action you come to expect from the series. Plus a dungeon creator as a bonus.
Essentially, Nintendo kept killing it this year. And refused to stop. Speaking of which…
LUIGI’S MANSION 3
(Nintendo, Next Level Games / Switch)
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is more of the excellent Luigi’s Mansion formula, but now on the Switch with a whole bunch of new features. And in keeping with every Nintendo game on this list (for there are many), it’s a slice of high-quality fun that you can’t really miss. That’s all I really have to say about it.
MORTAL KOMBAT 11
(Warner Bros, Netherrealm / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
An odd one, this. Reviewed highly on Metacritic while the user score is tanked down in the 30s, Mortal Kombat 11 is a massive discrepancy. A large part of this comes from the launch version of the game, which was grindy and seemed almost designed to push players to the microtransactions. Netherrealm eventually relented and re-balanced the game, but clearly, the damage was already done.
Which is a shame, because from all accounts, Mortal Kombat 11 is an excellent fighting game under the nonsense. There’s a ridiculous time-travelling storyline that tries to bring every game together, and some tweaks and improvements to the fighting system that some critics have turned it into the best game in the series. It sold incredibly well, and is still part of the conversation as the DLC characters start sneaking their way in. So I think it’s managed to enshrine itself in with the most notable games of 2019 with little effort.
MY FRIEND PEDRO
(Devolver Digital, DeadToast / PC, Switch)
Do you like 2D side scrollers but wish they were more like John Woo movies? Good news! My Friend Pedro is here to provide what you need.
My Friend Pedro places you in the shoes of a man who wakes up in a butcher shop. He is then promptly told by a talking banana to kill a bunch of people. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a game that’s troubling itself with deep storytelling. Instead, the objective is to blast your way through a series of levels in the most stylish ways possible.
And boy is it stylish. Bullet time, interactive objects used as improvised weapons, flips, jumps and dodges are all the order of the day. We’re talking flipping frying pan into the air using it to reflect bullets out a window where enemies are waiting for you or kicking an explosive barrel into a crowd before flip-jumping into the room to catch the lone survivor hiding in a corner.
For sheer style alone, My Friend Pedro deserves a mention as one of 2019’s most interesting games. And continues with Devolver Digital’s dominance of this list that still isn’t over yet.
(Devolver Digital, No Code / PC, PS4)
As I was saying, here’s another Devolver Digital game. However, unlike the others which are all about fast-paced action or silliness or both, Observation is a quieter, more atmospheric experience.
A previous Game of the Week, Observation hasn’t caught too much attention this year, but I wanted to give it a proper highlight due to its unique premise. You’re a spaceship AI and something’s gone horribly wrong. With only one surviving crew member left, you must work with her to uncover your missing memories and figure just what the hell went wrong and how it can be fixed.
It’s a sci-fi game grounded somewhat in reality. Think more 2001: A Space Odyssey than Event Horizon, only you’re HAL and actually trying to solve things. Or are you?! It’s a neat little game that deserved more recognition, so here we go.
(Annapurna, Mobius Digital / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
No, not The Outer Worlds, that’s the next one. Yes, it’s confusing. This is the time travel one, not the Fallout spiritual successor.
Outer Wilds snuck its way out in Spring and slowly bled its way into the public consciousness and latched on as one of the greatest games of the year. Universal acclaim from critics has cemented this onto every game of the year list possible. And while I personally haven’t played it, it’s something I’m intrigued by and want to check out.
The idea? You’re on a planet and have 22 minutes before the sun goes supernova. When it does, the 22 minutes reset and you retain all your previous knowledge. Using that knowledge, you delve deeper into the planetary system and solve the mysteries of what’s happening. It’s inventive and challenging, with a universe that shifts around you in the time limit, meaning you can only visit certain places at certain times.
A fascinating experiment of a game that brings to mind Majora’s Mask or last year’s Minit, to make a compelling and unique title that just can’t stop winning people over.
THE OUTER WORLDS
(Private Division, Obsidian / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
No, not Outer Wilds. That’s the previous one. Yes, it’s confusing. This is the Fallout successor, not the time travel one.
In a year where Bethesda continued to trip over their own feet while pursuing an ill-advised, undesired and poorly executed live service Fallout game, the developers of New Vegas decided to show them how to do it properly. The Outer Worlds is Fallout in space, where the bad guys are corporations and the morals are questionable. And it’s one of the finest RPGs of the year.
It’s impossible not to mention The Outer Worlds as one of the year’s most notable games. It was hyped up and had a lot of expectations behind it. It had to surpass Fallout 76 and provide a real counter to it. And even with all that weight of expectation, Obsidian nailed it. Reviews are uniformly positive, players are ecstatic, and the sales certainly seem to be following (although its presence on Game Pass has skewed that a little).
Basically, if you need a Fallout game, a proper one, The Outer Worlds is exactly what you need.
(Finji / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Apple Arcade)
Apple Arcade launched this year with a surprisingly strong lineup of small yet intriguing titles. While there are many to talk about, one standout attraction is Overland, a turn-based survival game.
Overland is a roadtrip across and America ravaged by strange alien beasties that threaten to devour everything. Journeying in your car, you can recruit fellow survivors on your journey while tackling food and fuel supplies where appropriate. You can also recruit dogs, which is a major part of the game’s appeal (but be warned, the dogs can die).
It’s not a huge game, but it doesn’t need to be. And for a launch title for a mobile service, Overland is certainly impressive.
(Devolver Digital, Sectordub / PC, Switch)
A Game of the Week back in January, Pikuniku wasn’t one of the biggest, flashiest or hyped-up game of the year, but it still deserves some recognition.
A 2D platformer where you control a circle with legs and eyes, the game is full of vibrant and hilarious characters in a surprisingly political story that features an evil corporation. Personally, I haven’t played much of this yet (as I stated last week), but what I have played was charming and entertaining. One of the year’s more underrated games, I feel.
A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE
(Focus Home Interactive, Asobo Studio / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
For a game from a budget publisher within minimal promotion, A Plague Tale has done incredibly well for itself, making a ton of Game of the Year lists and landing itself quite a few awards nominations.
And why not? It’s a dark, moody exploration of the plague and political tensions of the Hundred Years’ War, focused entirely on how it affected two innocent siblings. It blends horror and stealth in a manner similar to The Last of Us, only in a setting where the threats were once real. Plus the interactions between the siblings make for a tender emotional story.
All of this combined to make a game that not only gained critical acclaim on release but allowed it stick in people’s minds for the rest of the year.
POKEMON SWORD AND SHIELD
(Nintendo, Game Freak / Switch)
I don’t want to hear your complaints about the National Dex. No, stop it. Immediately.
Pokémon Sword/Shield is flawed. This is undeniable. But it’s also the biggest Switch exclusive of the year (surprising no one) and still a fine Pokémon game despite those flaws. It’s got a huge new Wild Area to run around in, a very British setting, and a long Meowth. I don’t know why you’d need anything else out of a Pokémon game, quite frankly.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 REMAKE
(Capcom / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Of all the games on this list, this one has the highest Metacritic average across all platforms. It is, of course, a remake of 1998’s PS1 classic, Resident Evil 2, but the preview demo I played showed this is not just a prettying up of polygons. This is a full reimagining from the ground up. The setting is the same and the journey follows roughly the same path, but the details are entirely different. And honestly, that’s how a remake should be.
And it’s telling just how good Resident Evil 2 has been by how people are still talking about it, and getting excited for RE3 getting similar treatment, almost 12 months on. RE2 came out in January and is hitting all the Game of the Year lists, despite games from that month usually being forgotten. Not to mention the enduring memes about Mr X and his tiny hat, from DMX edits to replacing him with Thomas the Tank Engine.
And once again, that Metacritic score. That says it all.
RING FIT ADVENTURE
(Nintendo / Switch)
The notion of adding a fitness game to a year-end list would have seemed absurd to me at the start of the year. But here we are. This is Ring Fit Adventure, a game about going on an adventure and getting fit with a ring. It’s a straightforward name.
It’s a somewhat ridiculous concept. Using a special peripheral called the Ring-Con (which is not actually a Lord of the Rings convention), you perform exercises to travel through a vast world and defeat enemies in order to find and defeat a super buff demon. Been attacked by a slime? Better get those squats on!
It’s a game made to appeal to the casual audience who got hooked on Wii Fit, and yet there’s enough of a game here to appeal to the hardcore. It’s a weird hybrid and I can’t not single it out for being so daring and unique.
RIVER CITY GIRLS
(Arc System Works, WayForward / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Sometimes all you need in life is to punch someone while controlling an anime schoolgirl. River City Girls fulfils that need in one of finest retro revivals in a year full of fine retro revivals.
Developed by WayForward, a team who’ve developed a reputation for great 2D sidescrollers through the Shantae series and projects such as DuckTales Remastered, River City Girls brings back the Kunio-kun franchise (which in the West is best known for River City Ransom), this time replacing the series’ typical protagonists with their girlfriends Misato and Kyoko.
What follows is a solid brawler with bold, bright art, a brilliant soundtrack and a tongue in cheek sense of humour. And while not one of the year’s biggest releases, it’s a slice of knockabout fun that stood out and is worth taking a look at.
SAYONARA WILD HEARTS
(Annapurna, Simogo / PC, PS4, Apple Arcade)
I will admit that I don’t understand Sayonara Wild Hearts. It’s a super short game about a girl who does a bunch of crazy actions like fighting punks with a massive sword while standing on a moving motorcycle. It’s a rhythm game, I think, or perhaps a rhythm-focused game like Rez, I’m not sure. Much of the appeal is in its striking visuals and pumping soundtrack, and yet I’m still none the wiser about what’s so great about it.
But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a social media phenomenon. Those visuals and music have gotten their hooks into a dedicated audience that can’t stop talking about how much they’ve fallen in love with Sayonara Wild Hearts. And for an indie title to gain that vocal a following so quickly is something I haven’t seen since Undertale, so for that it deserves to be highlighted as one of the year’s most notable.
SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE
(Activision, FromSoftware / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
The second of only two games this year to cross a Metacritic average of 90, Sekiro is also responsible for reviving the debate about difficulty options in games that raged through April. Sekiro is, of course, the latest game from Dark Souls devs FromSoftware, and as such it has hardcore defenders who say an easy mode would ruin it, and others who say that it would be a great option that would open it up to more players.
But beyond that, Sekiro is a critically acclaimed title that brings the gameplay of Dark Souls and shifts it into a slightly stealthier samurai style. And it’s continued FromSoft’s streak of excellent yet hard-as-nails titles. If you’re already deep in the FromSoft well, this is one of your games of the year.
SLAY THE SPIRE
(Humble Bundle, MegaCrit / PC, PS4, Switch)
Another game that passed me by on release, this game snuck out of Early Access in January and became a slow burn hit with many critics and players. It gained a little more traction as it also gained PS4 and Switch releases as the year went on.
It’s a roguelike crossed with a deck-building card battler. No, wait, come back, this one’s different. Rather than the infinite complexity that comes with something like Hearthstone, where you can build up a huge collection of cards and building a deck from them becomes a nightmare, Slay the Spire keeps it simple. Each run you have a starter deck, and the cards you collect as you progress through the tower are added as you go along.
It’s an incredible game that enhances both roguelikes and card battlers alike. It may not be much to look at, but it’s a game that’s easy to come back to time and again to get a genuinely different experience each time.
STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER
(EA, Respawn / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
After the disaster that was Battlefront 2, no one had high expectations for EA making more Star Wars games. More live service disasters were expected, and the single-player, story-driven experiences expected by Star Wars fans seemed impossible.
Which is why Respawn, currently the only developer EA seem to let make good games anymore, decided to calm those fears by releasing one of the best Star Wars games out there.
Jedi Fallen Order is all about Cal Kestis, one of the Jedi who survived Order 66, in a big action-adventure game that draws some of the best bits from Uncharted, Metroid and Dark Souls into a fun, cinematic game. It’s a natural extension to The Force Unleashed games, as you use your Force powers and lightsaber to carve through Stormtroopers.
Jedi Fallen Order defied expectations to not only be an excellent Star Wars game, but with the mixed reaction to Episode IX, it’s seemingly in competition with The Mandalorian to be the best bit of Star Wars media this year.
SUPER MARIO MAKER 2
(Nintendo / Switch)
Nintendo, stop it.
Yes, we’re still not done with Nintendo, who’ve had an amazing year with the Switch in 2019. Super Mario Maker 2 was their mid-point, bringing back the Wii U level editor package and deciding that yes, it was good, but what if MORE?
Super Mario Maker 2 is a love letter to the Mario franchise that lets your imagination run wild. The tools have been expanded, allowing more options for your levels (including slopes!). An extensive single player mode has been added, and additional challenges and multiplayer are now part of the experience.
Basically, an already excellent product is now even better, and it’s one of the year’s most enjoyable games.
TOM CLANCY’S THE DIVISION 2
(Ubisoft / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Another decent-not-great title for this list, The Division 2 is another edition of Ubisoft’s live service bonanza set in the world crafted by a military thriller author. And it ticks all the boxes for fans of the genre and builds on the good points of its predecessor.
It’s not my bag, but it’s done so well and has had the staying power to still be receiving substantial content updates that it’s hard to ignore it as one of the most notable games of the year.
(Chucklefish / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
To tell the truth, I didn’t like Wargroove. Inconsistent difficulty largely stemming from the AI being handed all the advantages with no real way for to turn the tables spelled constant frustration. For every strategy implemented, it felt like the AI’s response was just “spawn 10 more guys!” and I’d get swamped. I eventually quit the game out of frustration and haven’t looked back since.
And yet, it’s endured with players more patient than I, it seems. I continue to see people singing its praises as one of the best strategic games of the year or celebrating its devotion to bringing back the feel of Advance Wars. People have latched onto the genuinely charming cast of characters and rolled with the wonky difficulty. And I say good for them. I wish I could have joined them.
But it’s this enduring devotion that means I’m willing to reluctantly hand it to Wargroove. It’s clearly done something right in order to trigger this love. I have no real desire to come back to it, but there’s clearly a strong appeal to Wargroove that warrants its inclusion on this list.
(Annapurna, Funomena / PC, PS4)
Wattam almost barely got noticed and will otherwise get missed by year-end awards because it’s out after most of them have rolled by or made their deliberations. Which is a real shame because Wattam is one of the year’s most playful games.
Wattam places you into the green shoes of the mayor, who wears a hat containing a firework bomb called Kaboom, and he’s tasked with bringing people together. These people can include nose, mouth and eye people who can stack on each other to make a face. Or flushing a poop person into a toilet person. Or turning into an apple person by being eaten by a tree.
Wattam is complete nonsense, as expected from the creator of Katamari Damacy, but it’s a kind of nonsense that we all need right now.
WHAT THE GOLF?
(TriBand / PC, Apple Arcade)
Not widely talked about due to being an Epic exclusive on PC, and otherwise part of the Apple Arcade lineup, but What the Golf is a ridiculous game that shows the humour and imagination that’s happening in current gaming spaces.
What the Golf is a golf game for people who don’t like golf. It takes the concept of crazy golf and plays it as crazy as possible. Maybe you’ll be trying to hit your golf ball into a football goal, or the golfer themselves gets flung through the course when you hit the ball. Who knows? You certainly won’t!
What the Golf isn’t the year’s most exciting game, but it’s certainly one of the most ridiculous.
That was 45 of the year’s most notable games, but which games make up the official Geeky Brummie top 5, as chosen by me? That’d be these five!
KNIGHTS & BIKES
(Double Fine, Foam Sword / PC, PS4)
Knights & Bikes was a really lovely little game about childhood and imagination from the guys behind Tearaway. It’s a game that perfectly captures what it’s like to be a child, with fast friendships, simple days and an unflinching sense of adventure that can turn even a local seafront into a sprawling metropolis of wonder.
But all of it sits on top of a feeling that life isn’t all that great for our protagonists. This is 1980s Cornwall, and a sense of poverty and degradation from Thatcherite policies hangs over everything, from Demelza’s dad struggling to pay rent to a sense that the touristy seafront town used to be much busier than it currently is. But it manages to keep these elements as flavour in the background of a child’s adventure, adding depth without taking away from its focus.
Knights & Bikes didn’t do amazingly well, but as one of the year’s sweetest and most imaginative games, it deserves a lot more attention.
(Sega / PS4)
The Yakuza series is always excellent, although we’ve had an avalanche of them the past few years as Yakuza 0’s success has ramped Sega’s localisation team into action to get the game releases aligned between Japan and the West for the first time.
So it’s nice that in amongst that avalanche of games, one of them has been a spin-off. Set in the same world but shifting the protagonist and therefore the game’s motivations has been welcome. Judgment no longer casts you as a man trying to shake off his criminal associations who gets constantly dragged back in, and instead you’re now a private detective trying to solve a case full of twists and turns.
This shift from Serious Crime Drama to Serious Police Procedural should have been a shock to the system, but much of it feels familiar. The city is the same Kamurocho we’ve come to love from the Yakzua series, but now with a noir sheen to it. Gameplay is fundamentally the same, mixing investigation minigames (hidden object games, lockpicking, tailing sections) with the brawling and Japanese life simulator elements the series is known for. And the yakuza are still kicking around, which is unsurprising in a story about solving crimes in an area full of organised crime.
And yet it still feels fresh. New protagonist Takayuki Yagami is a likeable goofball as a contrast to Yakuza’s cartoonishly stoic Kiryu. The ability to move in and out of buildings seamlessly makes the city feel new even if you can find your way to Theater Square without a map at this point. And the story, my god, is exactly the kind of police procedural crack that I will happily get absorbed by.
And the silly elements of the series are still here. When one of Yagami’s side investigations involves a gang of ludicrous perverts, one of whom is a groper called Ass Catchem (no seriously), you know you’re in for a good time.
Judgment is an excellent game that only suffers a little if you’ve been playing a lot of Yakuza and it can feel a bit samey. But if you’re new to the series, it’s a perfect introduction.
UNTITLED GOOSE GAME
(Panic, House House / PC, Switch)
If Sayonara Wild Hearts was a social media phenomenon, Untitled Goose Game is our new emperor. And quite frankly I think the titular goose would be more than happy with that.
Untitled Goose Game is one of the year’s silliest games, and yet the concept is so universal that the entire experience can be summed up with the game’s own tagline. It’s a lovely day in the village and you are a horrible goose. The opinion of geese as irredeemable assholes is so ubiquitous that everyone immediately reads that sentence as simply, let’s ruin everyone’s day. And that is of course the point.
There are a lot of games about being the hero and saving the day. But sometimes you just want a game to mess around in, and the Goose provides. It’s a short game if you’re sticking to the game’s central objectives, but the opportunities for chaos extend beyond that. Have you heard about the guy who stole every item in the game and stashed them in the goose’s home base? That’s what I’m talking about. It’s a game that makes so much fun out of being a pesky trickster that it’s hard not to smile when you chuck someone’s sandwiches in the lake or make an old man fall on his bum.
What Australian developers House House have achieved here is so simple it’s amazing no one did it before. And it all emerged from an internal joke that went too far. Untitled Goose Game is a honking great time, and the ultimate power fantasy for anyone who just wants to marginally slight someone out of annoyance.
BLOODSTAINED: RITUAL OF THE NIGHT
(505 Games, ArtPlay / PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the finest games ever made. It’s a classic that deserves to sit next to fellow 1997 releases such as Final Fantasy VII and Goldeneye. The creator certainly agrees, as he’s tried to make the same game for the best part of the following decade, only to be restricted by Konami this decade.
Fed up, Koji Igarashi left Konami and set up a new company with the intention of continuing the Castlevania series in his style. Problem is, Konami owns the IP, so what do you do? Simple, just make a Castlevania game but with none of the trademarked content.
The result is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, an absolute stunner of a game, and the best Castlevania game that never was. All the elements that make the vampire killing series so great are here – the exploration, the wide array of weapons, the RPG-lite elements, the foreboding castle – but otherwise this is a new premise and a new story. Although Igarashi isn’t above shamelessly adding every Castlevania reference he can get away with. A quest-giver in the village asks you to avenge villagers named Simon, Trevor and Richter. A librarian in a familiar-looking room also happens to be a vampire who shares a voice actor with Alucard in Symphony of the Night. And one secret boss looks VERY familiar indeed. It’s impressive how far they’ve pushed the references without crossing any legal lines, making it very clear what game this is supposed to be.
It’s also an excellent experience. It feels old school but not in a way that feels clunky or dated. Combat is simple yet satisfying. Exploring the castle is rewarding. And the abilities you gradually unlock as the game goes on make the game even more enjoyable to navigate the further you get. Not mention being able to flip the castle on a whim is just plain awesome.
Bloodstained offered some of the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year, and I can only hope that Igarashi carries this spin-off series even further.
GAME OF THE YEAR – CONTROL
(505 Games, Remedy Entertainment / PC, PS4, Xbox One)
My game of the year is Control, and zero thought went into this decision. I just knew it instinctively after playing the game. I already wrote a glowing review for it shortly after its release, and the sentiment of that review has carried through to the end of the year. It’s been four months since release, and I just can’t stop thinking about it.
If you missed it, Control is the latest game from Alan Wake devs Remedy Entertainment. You play as Jesse Faden, a woman who’s been searching for her brother and finds clues that lead her to the mysterious Federal Bureau of Control. The FBC is a shadowy government agency based in an unknowable eldritch location, tasked with securing and containing supernatural weirdness. Jesse becomes the new Director after picking up an item called the Service Weapon and is immediately tasked with clearing the building of the Hiss, a mysterious resonance that’s killed or possessed the vast majority of the Bureau’s staff. The game is all about exploring and uncovering the bureau and its activities, while battling off possessed staff with an array of superpowers you gain from paranormal items. The TV allows you to fly, by the way.
The lore, the atmosphere, the sheer weirdness of it all – it makes for a package that appeals to my specific tastes. Shady government bodies and items of supernatural power that threaten the fabric of reality itself? Sign me right up. Control is the true SCP Foundation game, from the eerie test chambers to the redacted memos whose tone shifts from comedy to horror and back again with a few words. Also helps that it’s a blast to fling furniture around. Plus that music that plays when you finally go through the Ashtray Maze. Oh my god. Not to mention all the bonus post-game content that mostly involves fighting bosses that have emerged from various Altered Items.
Control has burrowed into my brain and won’t leave, like an extradimensional resonance that claims to be a worm through time. It appeals to my specific love of weirdness and mystery, and not even some technical issues can dull the appeal for me. I even bought the season pass for the upcoming DLC expansions and I NEVER DO THAT.
Control is a masterpiece that I’m aware won’t appeal to everyone, but for me, it’s superb. I need more of this in my life.
And that is it! The 50 most notable games from 2019. A range of genres, developers and systems to show the ridiculous variety of games this year. Let us know what you thought of this selection, and which were some of your favourite games this past year – tweet us @GeekyBrummie!
Next week, I’ll be looking forward instead of back, as I bring you 20 games to pay attention to in 2020. I’ll see you then!