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The best games I played in 2019

December 31, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

I think I played more games that weren’t released in 2019 than those that were, and in this era of early access version being on sale a year or more before their “real” release date, it becomes hard to pin down when a game was actually done/released/whatever. Also, I play primarily on PC, so if things are available elsewhere, I cannot comment as far as performance goes. Things generally run okay on my PC, and I expect them not to 12-18 months from now. With that in mind, here’s a list of the best games I played in 2019.

– Honorable Mentions –

Law of the West (C64): You’re a sheriff in Gold Gulch in the old west. The gameplay, aside from the occasional brief shootout, is focused on dialogue trees driving your encounters with the folks in town. Can you get information on a potential robbery, or arrange a date, or talk a hitman out of gunning you down? It’s primitive by today’s standards, being a 34-year old game, but it introduced dialogue trees to video games, and I’d say that makes it the most important  video game to be set in the old west. At least as far as lasting impact goes. Sorry, Red Dead.

Fist of the North Star: Legends ReVive (mobile): It’s a gacha-style game based on the Hokuto no Ken license, where players construct teams of six character in that universe and play through various types of stages. Some are daily challenges, some are computer-controlled PvP that use your teams, and others go through the story of the series. There doesn’t appear to be the depth of other games in this style, but I like the license enough that this is on the daily playlist.

– Actual List –

10. Baba Is You (PC): a puzzle game that involves manipulating blocks to form sentences which will allow the goal to be reached. For example, “wall is stop” is made of three blocks. Just push the ‘stop’ block out of that sentence, and now you can walk through walls to reach the goal. The solutions quickly become head-scratchers, but are satisfying when you finally land on one.

9. Noita (PC): you’re a witch in a procedurally generated 2D open world, where every pixel is physically simulated. What this means is that if you’re in a wooden area and break a lantern, that wood will burn along with anything that touches it. Oil makes things slippery, water makes things less flammable, and so on. The control took a little getting used to, but it’s fun to avoid enemies until it’s safe to either fight them or cause some kind of environmental havoc with a bomb or pheromones or a flask that freezes things. I feel like this would place higher if I had spent more time with it, but it’s a recent pickup that I’m looking forward to spending more time with in 2020.

8. A Short Hike (PC): You’re a bird on vacation and there is no phone reception, but there’s an important call you’re waiting on. After getting a tip that there may be reception at the peak of the mountain, the quest begins. Think Animal Crossing so far as funny animal people you converse with, but then add an exploration factor that later opens up even more with the ability to fly/glide. An enjoyable and relaxing experience with a cool look.

7. The Walking Dead: The Final Season (PC): Expectations were not high for this one, I will admit; the first season could stand alone as one of the best stories of that generation, but season 2 had some pretty wild logic in spots, while season 3 reduced Clementine to a cameo character and replaced her with a largely unlikable cast that I cared zero percent about. So when this final season was announced, I knew I’d play it to see the story end, if nothing else. Then there was the news of the studio going under about halfway through the project, and it seemed that we’d never see the end of Clementine’s story. But the stars aligned and the season did finish, with everything leading up to the end screen being enjoyable. Earlier seasons were plagued with poor action sequences in spots or learning that a decision was not as minor as it seemed in the moment, and it felt like they solved those problems this time around. Seeing Clementine become the Lee to AJ’s Clementine was a nice way for the story to go. I’d like to see even more, perhaps set a few years on, but with the comic ending and the game canon not existing in the television show’s canon, we just have to accept this ending and go with it. Since I liked how mine played out, this is a good way for it to end.

6. Eastshade (PC): Imagine Oblivion, but there are no enemies and no combat, and instead of trying to save the world, you’re trying to paint landscapes in places that your dead mother told you about. The world is perhaps not as large as some other open world games, but there is plenty to see and a good number of quests to complete for the world’s animal-people inhabitants. You can deliver grape pastries to a bear guy in order to help his bear guy brother play a prank on him, or you can paint a portrait from high up in a hot air balloon in order to help a bird lady’s travel business, just to name a couple. A relaxing experience and also a fairly charming one, this was a great find this year.

5. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PC): Koji Igarashi was known for being involved with some of the most popular Castlevania games. So when he left Konami and people wanted him to make more games like that, a kickstarter was set up and a good while later, this game was released. If you’ve played and enjoyed any 2D Castlevania after Symphony of the Night, you’ll feel right at home here. Many things in this game are direct references to SotN specifically, from room designs to voice actors. You’ve got a giant castle, powers that aid you in exploring, a map with a percentage counter to show where your current progress is, and a good number of powers/weapons/armor/etc. Where this one faltered a little for me was in the crafting and how involved it is; in order to complete 100% of all items, the ton of grinding required can be a fairly tall ask of the player, and at some point I found myself using the grinding time as a way to get through some multi-hour podcasts. But I had to do it, because I needed to know what happened when I fed the old lady all the food she was trying to remember or whatever. Reduce the crafting by about a third (if not more), take out the spiral tower entirely, and make that darn Aegis Plate a little easier to locate so I don’t spend about four laps through the castle before finding it, and this might have topped my list. A very fun game, but that last 10% or so really dragged it down.

4. Tetris 99 (Switch): Tetris is Tetris, we all know and love it, as it should be. Sit down and drop some blocks, make some lines, and watch the little musicians play at the end. But what if it had 99-player PvP online? What if you eliminated other players and got badges that multiplied the amount of trash blocks you dropped on the remaining players? What if you could screenshot it and post it to twitter when you dominate, because showing off the one game you can win online is somehow satisfying? That’s Tetris 99. Depending on the time of day you play, things can be positively savage, which sounds ludicrous to say about Tetris. But it’s true. It’s a great game to play a round or two of, then put down and forget about for the day. Several months in, a DLC came out that added traditional single-player marathon mode, an all-CPU opponents mode for the 99 mode, and Invictus mode, which is only for players who’ve won in the normal online game against other players. Daily missions were also added and this is how tickets are earned, which can be used to unlock skins for the game like Donkey Kong or Zelda. Is it the best Tetris? That honor might go to the Game Boy version still, or possibly The Tetris Effect, but this one is no slouch.

3. The Outer Worlds (PC): Obsidian has been pestered by people for years to make another Fallout. Look at any of their social media posts about anything ever, and there will inevitably be someone ranting about Mr. House or whatever. But they don’t own that IP, so… why not make their own new franchise and make something in the way of a spiritual successor to New Vegas? That description is somewhat reductive, but that’s also the elevator pitch for this game. A longer pitch might be like so: corporations got together and bought up a space colony and sent folks out there via ships with cryogenic sleep chambers. Your ship is thought to be lost, but you are thawed out by a scientist who wishes to thaw out everyone on your ship, bringing the best and sharpest minds to the colony, which itself is on the verge of collapse due to mismanagement and a lack of resources. Will you aid this endeavor or side with the corporations? You’ll meet companions along the way, globe-trot across the colony, and get into plenty of trouble along the way. It’s been a little while since I’ve played through New Vegas and though I think that game is great, this is definitely a better game. Having the Fallout universe as a part of NV made for interesting stories in the vaults and the real-world story of the series’ founders getting a chance to make the game they had planned to make years before, was a cool thing to see. But while similarities in theme can be seen in TOW as far as things like “all the ads have a retro vibe” and “oh, this is their version of VATS,” not being tied to a preexisting canon allowed Obsidian to craft one of their own from the ground up, and it does so without laying all their cards on the table; the explanations of this colony’s history and the hints of things that do not unfold during the events of TOW could lead to DLC or more installments that could take place before, during, or after this game’s story. The companions all have mysterious quest lines to complete, and the amount of banter between any two companions you bring along is far more than I would expect. Also: though everyone is going on about Parvati and how great she is (and she is), the companion I liked most was Vicar Max. Maybe it’s just that dude’s voice, or maybe I can identify with an older guy who doesn’t really understand what his purpose is in the world, but I took him along any time I wasn’t specifically trying to trigger another companion’s quest bits. The only real gripe I have is one that is specific to probably me and no one else: the sealed wall in Cascadia should really be able to be unsealed from the left side of the canyon. I went there from Stellar Bay so I could get something Parvati wanted, only to be denied after probably 90 minutes of fighting my way down there. Or maybe remove the bridge from the map and make it a thing you can extend across the canyon? All told, I played through this twice and got different results in various spots, which made the choices feel more impactful on the experience overall. Planning a third playthrough as an evil character, just to see how differently the story plays out. Give me one of these every five years or so, please.

2. House Flipper (PC): Performing any sort of maintenance or upkeep in real life can be a pain in the neck. But in House Flipper, it’s all super easy and satisfying. Start out with jobs involving trash cleanup and light painting, then move on to installing pools or demolishing walls. Save enough money from the jobs, and you can then fulfill the game’s title and buy homes to flip, doing as much or as little work on them as you like. The visuals don’t push any limits but look nice, and the music is generally soothing and relaxing. It’s easy to sit down, buy a house with the intention of just clearing all the debris before quitting for the day, only to realize six hours have passed and you’re trying to meticulously plot out utensil placement in your kitchen. The house from Home Alone makes an unofficial appearance, as well a haunted house with a coffin in the back yard. Steam says I’ve played this for 128 hours, but with the HGTV-licensed DLC coming sometime soon, I bet that at least doubles. This was the best surprise all year, and kept my brain occupied during some particularly troubling times in the spring. Buy this.

1. Phantasy Star Online: Episode I & II Plus (GameCube, via Dolphin emulator): this definitely did not come out in 2019, but it’s my second favorite game ever, and in a year where I somehow did not play Sid Meier’s Pirates!, this is the best thing I played this year. If this were to release today, perhaps the only thing folks would praise is the soundtrack, which was and is great. The gameplay is simple, the amount of areas isn’t large, the visuals are outclassed even by some mobile games nowadays, and the grind to get to the end is an insanely long one. Even then, you might get to the final boss only to find it impossible to solo based on your current equipment. But I love it. I don’t even play it online, specifically because I find it more enjoyable as a solo experience. I’m not sure if it takes me back to a simpler time or what it is about PSO, but it’s one of the few games that any time is the right time to sit down and play it. Plan out your character’s name so you can get the right section ID color to best benefit the type of character you’re making, then sit down and hit it. Pull up a mag feeding chart so you can make sure you don’t get a mag design that you dislike, and pump that little bastard full of Sol Atomizers or whatever every three minutes. Grind through normal and get to hard, get a Varista so you don’t die repeatedly, and then it’s onward and upward. Do the Hunter’s Guild quests to get Akiko’s Wok and the Soul Eater, help SHINO find Zoke, help Elly meet Calus in the mines, and so on. If there were a deserted island game for me, it’s either this or Pirates! Prior to purchasing The Outer Worlds, I had just started a new file with the intention of taking a character from level 1 to level 200, the cap. The closest I’ve ever made it was level 131 back in 2002, only to lose the character to a weird connection issue that corrupted my save. Level 180 is the halfway point as far as total required experience, and 131 took me well over 100 hours. So who knows how long it will take? But it’s a thing I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m going to do it.

That’s all for 2019. For 2020, there are only three must-buys so far: Animal Crossing, Ooblets, and Puzzle & Dragons Gold. If PSO2 actually makes its 2020 launch date in the West, I’m on board for that as well. I’m sure there will be more things to catch my interest, or things that are dated TBA (there’s a stadium renovator game, a train station renovator, and electrician simulator, etc), but I suppose only time will tell. If you made it all the way to the end, thanks for reading.

Categories: Misc.
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