Best of 2019
Here’s my highly personal round-up of the year. I didn’t get around to playing anywhere near as many games as I would’ve like (sorry, Untitled Goose Game, maybe 2020…) but, from what I did, these are my own individual highlights, arranged in the following categories:
- Best game reviewed
- Best surprise
- Best demo
- Best other reviewer
- Best tweeting dev
- Best streamer
- Best game (Mac)
- Best game 2019
- Most anticipated game of 2020
Best game that I actually managed to review in 2019
Beginning in April, I wrote full reviews of 12 Nintendo Switch games this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority. However, some stood out head-and-shoulders about the rest:
Celeste is one of the highest regarded indie games on the Switch, and for good reason: a thought-provoking storyline, tight platforming action, and a very well-designed overall package. It can be incredibly frustrating at times, but the difficulty level is perfectly pitched to ensure you’ll progress just before you give up. In fact, that’s sort of the underlying message: Celeste blends its story and its gameplay into a single, unforgettable experience.
With honourable mentions to:
- Baba Is You — a unique puzzler which reinvents its own challenges time and time again. If there’s any game from 2019 I’ll still be playing at the end of next year, without having finished, it’ll be this one.
- Golf Story — should a golf game combined with an RPG work? Well, it does. The golfing action is about as perfect as it can be, without being over complicated, and the elements of humour in the game are — for the most part — well pitched.
Some games are hyped, others appear seemingly out of nowhere. As I tend to play indie games, they typically fall into the latter category, but the entries in this category had the best hype/reward ratio.
Thirty years ago, Tetris helped launch the Game Boy and introduced portable, ‘casual’ gaming to tens of millions of people around the world. Only a company like Nintendo could repeat that trick, this time for its established hybrid platform, in a new-yet-familiar package. This was one of the events of the Switch year, and although it might seem like a no-brainer in hindsight, I’m pretty sure nobody saw this one coming. A massively multiplayer version reinvented the classic and proved, once more, that Nintendo knows fun better than any of its competitors.
- Gato Roboto — a charming retro take on the metroidvania genre. From the 2-color graphics to the adorable animation, cleverly-crafted map, and increasingly challenging boss fights, Gato Roboto invoked strong feelings of Gameboy-era platformers, with enough polish to be relevant in today’s gaming world.
- Star Wars Pinball — I’ve still only really played 3 tables in this collection of 19, not because the others aren’t any good (I wouldn’t know!), but because those 3 are so much fun.
Best demo or free game
There’s so much content in the demo of this breakout-like that I feel a bit guilty for not having bought the full thing! Maybe that’s the idea — maybe that’s how all demos should be, but maybe that’s also what puts some publishers off putting out demos in the first place. Anyway, take advantage: download for free and enjoy hours of free arcard action!
- Garden Story — a short demo of this gorgeous RPG due to release in 2020
- Reap — although it was first released in 2015, I only discovered this short survival game in 2019. Inventive mechanics and a challenging task result in hours of gameplay — for whatever price you want.
Best other reviewer
Indie Gamer Chick
Outside of developers and publishers, I can’t think of anyone doing quite as much for Indie gaming in 2019 as ‘the chick’. Cathy Vice reviews, promotes, constantly tweets, and inspires others to do the same. Her reviews are a winning combination of experienced insight and profanity.
- Mid-Life Gamer Geek — A highly prolific reviewer with a winningly positive twitter feed
Best tweeting dev
On the evidence of her Twitter feed, Loren is one of the most interesting and prolific developers around. Weird organic patterns, cga-style colours, broken mathematical experiments, and the occasional caterpillar. Loren’s feed is educational, inspirational, and never boring.
- SnoutUp — in case the name wasn’t a giveaway, this dev from Lithuania creates games about pigs. Lots of games. About pigs. If you want insights about indie game development across the board, this is a great place to start.
- Rezoner — the creator of SpriteStack, a voxel editor which was probably the indie app event of 2019.
With an enviable bulge, and an obsession for Super Mario Maker, Slade puts on an entertaining show most weekdays. There’s not much more to say — he’s a very nice guy who engages with his audience as all good streamers do.
- Xephros — a Hollow Knight speedrunner who is very, very good at the game
- Limmy — I knew ‘Limmy’ as a comedian before discovering his stream this year; he has the driest sense of humour out of any streamer you’ll find!
Best game (Mac)
Although the Switch is by far my primary gaming platform, I do also play games on the Mac from time-to-time. It's not known as a strong gaming platform, but most of the standout indie games, and many higher profile ones, are available. I’ve got a shamefully high-quality backlog of Steam games to deal with at some point, but for now, I only really got round to playing one new game on Mac this year …
Not without its issues, Fez is still an inventive, addictive, hugely fun piece of work. Hits the sweet-spot of platformer, puzzler, and exploration. It’s also possibly the best example of pixelart in a popular game.
Best game 2019
Many of the games I played this year were released pre-2019 — after all, the best games tend to have a shelf-life longer than a single year, anyway. But I also managed to get my hands on a small number of new games in 2019, and these were the very best.
Super Mario Maker 2
This was probably my most anticipated game of 2019 — heck, one of my most anticipated games of all time. For those of us who ‘missed out’ (chose to miss out?) on the Wii U, the biggest regret was probably not being able to play Super Mario Maker. Well, now I can regret nothing.
Super Mario Maker 2, in case you’re unaware, is 5 mario styles in one, from the much-loved NES original all the way through to the less-adored, but visually and mechanically evolved, New Super Mario style.
It’s 100 Nintendo-created levels, just about as good as in any other Mario platformer outside of Super Mario World. It’s a near-unlimited supply of levels created by fans around the world — and some of these fans are devs known for other games including Celeste, and Slime-san. And it’s whatever levels you choose to create, limited only by your imagination and the palette of classic mario elements available, from bullet bills to on/off switches and, finally, the much requested sloping ground.
During the New Super Mario Bros. era, it might have felt like the series was slowly coming to an end, somewhat tired and repetitive after decades of unsurpassed success. SMM2 totally revitalises things and is, surely, the ultimate Mario experience, probably the high-point of the most significant video game in history.
Both these games have already been mentioned, so it should be no surprise to see them here — simply, in my opinion, the best Indie, and the second most playable game released this year.
Most anticipated game of 2020
Hollow Knight is an epic game, set in a huge world, with enough variety of challenges to last many, many hours. Silksong will put us at the control of a new protagonist but, from early viewings, the gameplay looks as familiar and fantastic as ever. When this hits, I might as well write off the next few months.
- Breath of the Wild 2 — although the original will be at least 3 years old by the time this sequel hits (hopefully next year!), it’s still the best game released on the Switch, by far. Second time round, it’s unlikely to have quite the same impact, but there are still millions of us waiting to spend another 100+ hours in the land of Hyrule.
- Ministry of Broadcast — a somewhat obscure title, this one, I’m looking forward to it mainly because every time I see its developers tweeting about it (which was something that happened a lot in 2019), I just cannot wait to play it.
If anyone has made it this far, well done, and thank you. I wish you all the best for a happy, game-filled new year!