Best games of 2019!

March 7, 2020

That’s a wrap on 2019, the year where I bare­ly played Steam games in favor of itch, the year that Switch eShop dis­counts start­ed get­ting amaz­ing, and also a year where I grad­u­at­ed and moved away from my stu­dent house. Oh, and I also made a bunch of small­er games, while wrap­ping up Fake Illu­sions. Whew!

Here are some games I liked. Like last year, I just played these games this year, since I don’t real­ly care about their orig­i­nal release date. The order of games is also pret­ty much “in the order I can think of them”, so take it with a grain of salt. Maybe two.

Here goes!

Sayonara Wild Hearts

This game released on the same day as Unti­tled Goose Game on the Switch, and as such I was sent into doubt about which game to play first. Unti­tled Goose Game won that day, but this game kept lin­ger­ing in the back of my mind. I beat the entire­ty of the game in one day (which is prob­a­bly the best way to beat this game), and the music and graph­ics real­ly evoked an emo­tion of flow in me that’s nor­mal­ly only reserved for rhythm games like Rhythm Par­adise. Get­ting gold medals in the game is kind of awk­ward (because of how the scor­ing sys­tem was designed) but was ulti­mate­ly very reward­ing. The Zodi­ac Rid­dles cre­ate a very inter­est­ing reward sys­tem, and it fur­ther under­lines the mys­tery beneath the game.

Gris

It’s art­sy, won­der­ful, and also very metaphor­i­cal. It does every­thing it needs to do quite well, and some of the puz­zles are actu­al­ly pret­ty inter­est­ing. This is one of those rare games where explo­ration in itself is just incred­i­bly reward­ing on its own, you always want to see the next sur­prise the game will throw at you, and usu­al­ly the game does that very ele­gant­ly.

Pokemon Sword

I did not expect a Poke­mon game to cap­ti­vate me as much as this lat­est entry in the series, but it has clicked with me immense­ly well. The sto­ry is dull, but this entry final­ly makes the com­pet­i­tive aspect of Poke­mon acces­si­ble enough for me to care about, after a decade (since my first Poke­mon game was Dia­mond) of UX Design “Two steps for­wards and one step back”. The con­nec­tive motif of the Poke­mon series is at its strongest ever, now that all mul­ti­play­er func­tion­al­i­ty is now avail­able both local­ly and online, and play­ers can coop­er­ate in Raid bat­tles.

Baba is You

I guess I got kind of burned out on puz­zle games, but Baba is You real­ly invig­o­rat­ed that love by mak­ing the game as much about pro­gram­ming as shov­ing blocks around. Although many of the games on this list so far have a sense of mys­tery sur­round­ing them, but Baba is You does a real­ly good job at cre­at­ing that mys­tery on a sys­tem-scale lev­el, where the rules of the game itself are mys­te­ri­ous yet brim­ming with poten­tial. It does get com­plex real­ly quick­ly and lev­els can be real­ly hit-or-miss, but the game remains acces­si­ble enough for me.

Dicey Dungeons

Anoth­er game with very inter­est­ing sys­tem design is Dicey Dun­geons, a game that I would­n’t have expect­ed from the Super Hexa­gon & VVVVVV design­er as lead. Nor­mal­ly, I don’t have the patience for rogue­likes, but this game has the won­der­ful­ly exe­cut­ed Episodes sys­tem that make each run dif­fer­ent enough for me to care. It is a very refresh­ing take on luck and manip­u­lat­ing luck, filled with all kinds of sil­ly things with­in.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

If an Ys sto­ry starts on a boat, you already know it’s going to be the butt of a joke. It’s been a while since I played an Ys game, but I got around to pick­ing up the lat­est entry. I skipped a bunch of games in the series, so I’m not sure at which point the nar­ra­tive in these games became basi­cal­ly the same as in the Trails series (a more sto­ry-focused series of games by the same devel­op­er), but it works rather well, and for the sto­ry it did­n’t mat­ter that I missed the last cou­ple of games. Basi­cal­ly the action is still real­ly nice, and the sto­ry is just a real­ly nice bonus for the pack­age. It drags on a bit, but most of the real­ly annoy­ing stuff is option­al.

Catrap

Also known as Pit­man, this is a real­ly clever and ele­gant puz­zle game, made even more impres­sive that it was a super ear­ly Game Boy release sup­port­ing an undo func­tion­al­i­ty and lev­el edi­tor. Some of the 100 puz­zle rooms are kin­da redun­dant, but across the board the puz­zle qual­i­ty is actu­al­ly pret­ty impres­sive. I read about this in the Game Boy Works book and was intrigued enough to pick it up for €3 on the 3DS eShop, and was pleas­ant­ly suprised.

Katamari Damacy REROLL

I had missed out on this cult clas­sic before because it nev­er made its way to Nin­ten­do plat­forms, but I’m hap­py to have expe­ri­enced it. It’s sil­ly, charm­ing, and all with a very morale under­neath: Earth has too much stuff. My house­mates did com­pain that the game was too noisy, which is also a good way to describe this game as a pos­i­tive thing.

Super Mario Maker 2

I’ve made over 60 cours­es, start­ing by doing the 4‑step lev­el design that orig­i­nat­ed in the 3D Land and World games, and made a whole range of lev­els, from puz­zles to auto­scrollers and beanstalks to under­grounds. My favorite is a series of ten lev­els where you need to gath­er 999 coins with­in 60 min­utes, which were both a blast to design and to play. Online can be a bit of a mixed bag some­times, but just mak­ing lev­els already puts me in a state of flow that lit­tle games achieve for me nowa­days.

WILL: A Wonderful World

The most thinky nar­ra­tive game I’ve seen so far. The basic premise of the game is that you receive mul­ti­ple let­ters from humans, and then you change the out­come of the sce­nario described in those let­ters by mov­ing pieces up and down or between let­ters. This results in a lot of metagame as well, as only cer­tain out­comes will unlock new let­ters. It can get pret­ty con­fus­ing and frus­trat­ing some­times, but there’s noth­ing in there that can’t be solved by brute force.

Heaven’s Vault

A game about inter­pret­ing an old lan­guage, and all the sto­ry that sur­rounds it. I think this is the clos­est a game has come to por­tray­ing arche­ol­o­gy… sor­ta accu­rate­ly. It’s not exact­ly an Indi­ana Jones-style set­ting, but it feels much more relaxed and mys­te­ri­ous as you’re inside it, and all the things that can be missed while mul­ti­task­ing your actions. I don’t think it’s pos­si­ble to play this game per­fect­ly, which real­ly sets the tone and game feel. I still think about the unan­swered ques­tions from the plot some­times.

That’s it!

I end­ed up fin­ish­ing this list a few months into 2020, so these are all the games that sticked with me. Thanks you for read­ing, and I am sure there will be many more games in 2020 to enjoy.


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