It’s that time of year again where I rank the best games I played from best to least-best, I talk a bit about them, and you read my rankings and my thoughts and then complain because that KFC dating game isn’t on the list. Somehow I managed to avoid playing any truly awful games that came out this year, so there won’t be a worst games list this year. Let’s focus on the positives instead! I guess.
10. Dr. Mario World
Yes, I know. It’s one of those mobile games. Dr. Mario World, for better or for worse, surprised me with how fun it is to play. The mechanics are simplified compared to other Dr. Mario games, as you only need three-in-a-row to pop a virus instead of four, but it works to the game’s advantage. The single-player puzzles are varied and, for the most part, have the right amount of challenge. There’s a surprisingly large number of mechanics to learn if you want to be able to get three stars in the levels easily. The multiplayer mode is fast-paced and frantic, a cool change of pace every now and then. While I unconditionally hate in-app purchases, I found that you don’t really need to spend any money on them to fully enjoy the game, unless you don’t want to stop playing after losing a level five times, which can be annoying.
9. Trials Rising
Trials Rising is a return to form for the series after Trials Fusion disappointed. The game didn’t get the best reception from series fans at launch, mostly because the campaign’s progression was too slow, but I honestly thought the campaign’s pace was totally fine. Perhaps that’s because I care more about the medium and hard difficulty tracks than the extreme ones, though. The campaign’s levels, set in various locations around the world, are by far the most varied in the series, and pretty much all of them are fun to play. The tutorials also do a good job of introducing some of the more advanced mechanics, several of which I hadn’t known about previously. There are two currencies in the game, one of which can only be obtained in limited quantities unless you buy more with real money, which is especially annoying as some of the bikes can only be purchased with this currency.
8. Xenon Racer
Don’t worry, this is the last racing game on the list.
Xenon Racer is a futuristic racing game where you race futuristic cars around not-really-futuristic tracks. It’s heavily influenced by Ridge Racer in terms of both its aesthetics and handling model, which is much of why I really like this game, as Ridge Racer is one of my favorite racing game series for those reasons.
One major gripe I have with the game is that while the handling model is great once you get used to it, it’s heavily dependent on the car you choose. At least half of the cars are completely undriveable — they have way too much understeer — unless you unlock better handling parts for them. At one point in the campaign, I had to take the really roundabout route of doing extra campaign missions to unlock parts for my current car, so I could get a fast enough time on a time trial event to unlock a new car that was added as post-launch content, so I could use it for the next campaign series, as the only car for that series I had unlocked was uncontrollable. I have to imagine that’s part of why the game got mediocre reviews at launch. The price is also a bit steep for the amount of content in the game, but I got it on sale.
7. Hypnospace Outlaw
Hypnospace Outlaw is a perfect time capsule of what the internet was like in the late 90’s, when memes were just dancing babies, and when Geocities was the cool kid on the block. I didn’t really know anything about how the gameplay would work before starting the game, but it’s a surprisingly well-thought-out point-and-click adventure game. You’re a moderator of Hypnospace, which is basically Geocities, but it requires a headset which allows people to browse it in their sleep. You’re assigned cases where you have to find and remove reported instances of bad stuff. Most of the challenge is finding the web pages where the bad stuff is located, requiring you to browse through many of the sites on Hypnospace, all of which are amazing. It’s fun to just browse through all of the sites, not even caring about the current case to solve.
Fun Fact: Hypnospace Outlaw was made with Construct 2, the same program I used to make Taco Tom 2. It was funny seeing that one of the screensavers was just Construct 2’s default water effect applied to the screen.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
I wasn’t sure how much I would like this game, given that I had never liked a Zelda game enough to beat it before, but I really enjoyed Link’s Awakening. The graphics are super charming, and the world is fun to explore. I really liked how you gained abilities over time which allowed you to access more and more of the world. The main dungeons were all unique and fun to complete as well. I blasted through most of the game the weekend it came out.
I felt that many of the hints the game gave were a bit too vague, or absent entirely. Perhaps this is due to the game being a remake of a game from the early 90’s, where things were kept a bit more secretive in general so you’d be more likely to buy a strategy guide. There were a couple times during my playthrough where I had to look up what to do next. One example that comes to mind was when I needed to learn a song on the ocarina to be able to open the seventh dungeon, but I hadn’t even gotten the ocarina yet because I thought that the Dream Shrine couldn’t be beaten until after the main game was completed, because I was an idiot and didn’t remember that you can dash and jump to get past gaps five blocks wide, so I didn’t even know that the game had an ocarina, and the phone guy’s hints weren’t telling me to go to the dream shrine, so I didn’t know I had to go there.
The item selection system, while apparently improved from the original game, can still be cumbersome at times. Jumping is essential enough that it probably should have been given its own button instead of being an item. There’s also not much replay value after you beat the game and collect everything you missed. The custom dungeon creator is fun for a bit, but it gets repetitive quickly.
Some people said that the $60 asking price was too much, but I felt that there was enough content to justify the price. I hadn’t played the original Link’s Awakening before though, so everything was new to me.
5. A Short Hike
This is another game where I didn’t fully know what to expect going into it, but I ended up enjoying it so much that I 100% completed it in one sitting. A Short Hike is a platformer/adventure game where you play as Claire, a bird who has gone to the park to camp for the summer, and wants to take a short hike up to the peak of a mountain. The movement is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a game, up there with games like Super Mario Odyssey. It’s super solid and fun to play, especially once you get most of the golden feathers, which increase your stamina. Jumping up in the sky a dozen times and then diving down to fly around the island super fast is always satisfying. You can spend tons of time exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the island, discovering coins and secrets along the way. The various characters are all charming and fun to talk to, and the game’s low-pixel visuals really work to its advantage. I don’t replay games after beating them very often, but I definitely see myself playing this one again in the future.
4. Dicey Dungeons
I enjoyed Dicey Dungeons far more than I expected to. Perhaps that’s because it’s not quite what I thought it was going to be: based on what I had heard about it, I was expecting the game to be one long adventure where you accumulated hundreds of cards to build a perfect deck, but it’s actually a rogue-lite where each game lasts about 30 minutes (or less if you lose early on), and you’ll rarely end up with more than a dozen or so cards to choose from. The various characters’ mechanics are varied enough to create vastly different playing experiences, and all of them are fun in their own way. Figuring out the best strategy based on what cards and dice you have, your current health, and the enemy you’re fighting against is super fun and the exact right amount of challenge. I also really like how the different episodes change how the game is played, as it makes each game you play feel unique.
Fun Fact: I know one of the people who programmed Dicey Dungeons. I was paid $10,000 by them to include the game on my list this year.
That’s a joke. It was actually $50,000.
3. The Jackbox Party Pack 6
There’s never been a better time to play a Jackbox game thanks to Discord Go Live. Instead of dealing with Twitch’s 10 second delay, having to use Mixer, or — god forbid — have actual humans in the same room as you to play with, streaming on Discord allows you to play with your friends with no stream delay and voice chat without any additional configuration.
All of the games this year are fantastic, with the possible exception of Role Models. Trivia Murder Party 2, while fundamentally the same game as the first, is far more polished and fun to play. Dictionarium is hilarious, as is Joke Boat, especially with its nonsensical catchphrases. Push the Button is perhaps the most unique game in a Party Pack yet, and also one of the best, requiring players to figure out who among their friends are secretly aliens through their answers to various questions being slightly off, as they’re given slightly different questions to answer. There’s no straight drawing game in this year’s Party Pack, but drawing elements are integrated in three of the games, so I didn’t feel like there was a lack of drawing.
2. Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker 2 is a great game, but I still love complaining about it. Much of the charm that made the first game one of my favorite games of all time is gone in the sequel. The amiibo costumes were removed, as well as the 100 Mario Challenge mode, which, along with Road Rage in Burnout 3, is one of my all-time favorite modes in a video game. The endless mode introduced in this game is no substitute for the satisfaction of completing a set of levels, especially on Expert or Super Expert, and unlocking a new amiibo costume. Endless mode also encourages a more conservative approach to playing the levels, where you have to take fewer risks as you have fewer lives, which is less fun in my opinion. The new single-player mode, while much better than the afterthought that was the 10 Mario Challenge in SMM1, has very little replay value. The new multiplayer modes would be fantastic if it wasn’t for the netcode probably being the single worst netcode I’ve ever experienced in a video game.
That being said, the fundamental gameplay of SMM2 is as solid as ever. The controls are the same as in SMM1, which is great, and the addition of new themes, slopes(!), and other objects are very welcome. The new Super Mario 3D World theme has some nice features, but SMM2 wouldn’t have been any worse without it. The level design tools are as good as they could be given the Switch’s limitations. I found using a capacitive stylus on the touchscreen was the easiest way to make levels. I should know, after all — I was at one point the 69th best level creator of the week.
1. Tetris 99
Nintendo’s February 2019 Direct was a pretty good one. Link’s Awakening and Super Mario Maker 2, two of my top ten games of the year (which you probably know by now), were both announced in this Direct.
Nintendo also casually released during this Direct, without any prior announcement, the best Tetris game ever made.
Tetris might seem like a weird choice of game to turn into a battle royale, but multiplayer Tetris has already been around for some time, with Tetris Friends (RIP) supporting six-player matches. Tetris 99 takes this same general formula and just adds 93 extra players. It’s fast-paced, frantic fun, especially if you’re good enough to win a match every now and then. The various themes and new modes added post-launch are welcome additions as well. I’ve always preferred playing Tetris against other people versus playing it by myself, so I enjoyed Tetris 99 far more than Tetris Effect from last year. While Tetris Effect explored the power of Tetris as an art form, Tetris 99 shows just how fun Tetris can be as a video game.
Most Innovative Gameplay: Baba Is You
I really enjoyed playing Baba Is You until I realized that it’s fundamentally a Sokoban game, and that I don’t like Sokoban games.
Best Short Game: stikir
stikir is a game about the developer’s process of making the game. I beat it in under 30 minutes, but the visuals and dialogue left a lasting impression, especially as a game developer myself.
Coolest Style: Crossniq+
This game absolutely nails the Y2K aesthetic found in many video games of the time, in terms of both the visuals and the audio.
Most Similar to Burnout 3: Dangerous Driving
Dangerous Driving is a game made by the developers of Burnout 3 with the intention of being as similar to Burnout 3 as possible. They definitely succeeded.
Best Re-release: Halo: Reach
I hadn’t played a Halo game online in close to a decade before Reach was released on PC, and after playing a bunch of multiplayer matches, I was reminded of two things:
- Halo is a really good game.
- I am really bad at Halo.
If it was eligible for a ranking, it would probably be #5 on this year’s list.
Best 2018 Game I Didn’t Play Until 2019: Sonic Robo Blast 2 Kart
This fangame has no right to be nearly as good as it is. It’s genuinely one of the best kart racers I’ve ever played. It would probably slot in at #4 on last year’s list.
Most Disappointing: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
Super Mario Maker lets you press ZL to spin jump.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe does not let you press ZL to spin jump.
Worst Game of 2019: Mario Kart Tour
I played the beta of Mario Kart Tour and the controls were terrible. The controls are somehow just as bad, if not worse, in the final version. Even if it didn’t have tons of in-app purchases, it’s simply not a fun game to play.
Overall, 2019 was an okay year for games. No game this year stood out as being spectacular to me, even more so than last year. If Tetris 99 was on last year’s list, it would probably be #3. The real winners this year in my opinion aren’t the games themselves, but rather the tools that allow us to play and experience them in new ways.
As I alluded to while talking about this year’s Jackbox game, Discord Go Live has fundamentally changed how I stream, watch, and play games with my friends online for the better. Streaming on Discord is as easy as clicking a few buttons, making it easy to casually stream games, programs, or whatever’s on your computer screen for your friends to watch, and to voice chat with them at the same time. Watching my friends’ streams on Discord has become a part of my everyday life. Discord streaming has only been available for a few months now, but I already can’t imagine a time when it didn’t exist. It’s by far my favorite new technology of the year.
Steam’s Remote Play Together feature also deserves a mention. Remote Play Together effectively adds online multiplayer to thousands of games that previously only had local multiplayer (like the game I made last year, Taco Tom 2). How well it works depends heavily on the quality of the internet connections of the players and especially the host, but it works very well with a good connection. Developers may no longer need to build or maintain online servers for their games in the future thanks to this feature, especially for smaller indie titles.
I’m hugely excited to see how these technologies improve, and how they, along with other upcoming technologies, change how we create, play, and experience video games in the future.