2019 was a weird one. It was an off year on the precipice of a new console generation, a year where blockbuster games were few and far between, and a year where my nation decided to give facism another go. It’s been a series of political car crashes, all overshadowing any game releases with a “how the hell we do get excited for anything now” attitude. Britain elected a racist homophobe, but we’ve still got to cover that Nintendo Indie Direct happening the day after. Just as life somehow goes on in this dark dystopia, so to must I assemble a list of my favorite games from 2019.
- Katana Zero
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- Resident Evil 2
- Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
- Sayonara Wild Hearts
- Devil May Cry 5
Katana Zero wasn’t an easy pick for number one. A game that I wasn’t even aware existed until it launched, the 2D side-scrolling samurai dodging bullets and bending time took me by surprise in the best way. Katana Zero makes you learn from your mistakes: every time you eat lead or get your ass whipped with a police baton, you know it’s your fault for not dodging at the exact time or using any of the time shifting powers granted to you. Katana Zero drip feeds its story mindfuckery at a steady pace, and isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall and ask deeper questions of violence. Think Hotline Miami on (even more) drugs.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice kicked my teeth in and I loved it. I still maintain that guiding this game in 10 days were the worst 10 days of my life, but I do remember Sekiro fondly. It’s got the quickest combat FromSoftware’s ever put together, where parrying is more essential than ever before. Sekiro sometimes feels like a rhythm game, where you’re learning the patterns of your opponent and tapping the left bumper to parry in rhythm with them. There’s not nearly as much room for experimentation in Sekiro as with past FromSoft games, but what’s here is a finely tuned combat system with perfect pacing and a straightforward story that gets more complex the closer you read into it.
I was obsessed with Fire Emblem: Three Houses for two months straight. All I saw was anime, and all I thought about was anime. Just in case you don’t know this, anime is extremely my shit—even more so when it’s set in a high fantasy academy with rival factions competing against one another. Then you’ve got the time skip and they all get to murdering each other with screams of terror, but everything before that is lovingly put together with an excellent script to make you come around on even the toughest students around the academy (looking at you, Hubert). Three Houses has brought people together under a banner of incredible characters, inspiring a community of artists and storytellers all around the world.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio puts out great games, this we know. What I wasn’t expecting was a detective spin-off from the main Yakuza games to have some of their best writing and side activities yet, from capturing perverts to hunting serial killers. Rivaling the highs of Yakuza 0’s batshit crazy side stories, Judgment features a great offering of varied detective cases to work on. Not that there’s much detective work being done in chasing down criminals and kicking people’s faces in, but the perfectly wacky combat of Yakuza functions in a much more fluid way in Judgment.
Yes, I can put Monster Hunter World: Iceborne on this list, because it’s an entire game disguised as a DLC pack. After hundreds of hours in the New World, we hunters journey out to the frozen wilds of the Hoarfrost Reach, where hundreds more hours and countless more beasts await. It’s a hell of a feat that Capcom put this out while steadily adding new monsters and loot items to the base game, but in a world where The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine set a high bar for DLC, Iceborne matched that, adding in layers of story content, new biomes, and an entirely new Raid activity with a new RNG loot system.
Grindstone is criminally overlooked in 2019. In the year where Apple Arcade took a fair few people by surprise by offering a substantial gaming catalog at a decent price, Grindstone from Capybara Games was one of the highlights. The simple formula of matching up green, red, blue, or yellow enemies in a row sounds too simple to feel good, but the quick nature of the maps and precarious health of your player character walk an incredibly fine line between making you feel invincible, and being an inch from death.
2019 was a year to look outside of the mainstream. For every Call of Duty or Tom Clancy action fest, there was a game like Judgment, Grindstone, or Katana Zero working wonders in the background. 2019 in general was a real trash fire, but games were there as a consistently great distraction when needed.