2019 was something of a watershed year for my own gaming life. Not just because of the incredibly wide quality of titles released during the year, but also because I finally acted on something I’d been working towards for years. That was led by the realisation and putting into action of the fact that I can’t play everything.
I’m in the fortunate position (or perhaps I’m just old) in that buying games as and when they’re released is something I could do at will, wheareas in my younger years that was a much trickier prospect. There was a time when I did just that, buying up all sorts of heavily-hyped new releases, some of which were genuinely excellent games in their own right that still sit on my pile of shame.
Now, that’s not some stunning new realisation that only I’ve had, but putting into action in a year where we’ve seen loads of really great and intriguing games and so very many sales, subscription services and other ways to engage in countless titles emerge isn’t an easy matter.
As such, there’s a lot of big-name games I simply haven’t even touched this year. Take Death Stranding, for example. I know folks have waited a long time for Death Stranding, but I’ll be waiting even longer.
Not that I totally ignored Hideo Kojima’s output. I mean, I finally got around to finishing Metal Gear Solid back in February. So just a few of his games to get through before I start Death Stranding, then.
Still, while I was time poor and selective, getting it down to a top 10 list wasn’t an easy task. Here we go…
It’s not quite Advance Wars, to be sure.
Advance Wars doesn’t have Dog-based missions, for a start.
But Chucklefish’s legally-distinct-not-quite-Advance-Wars game has been a constant joy ever since I loaded it onto my Switch. It’s a good indicator of how time-poor I’ve been that I haven’t actually finished it yet.
9: Roombo First Blood
Strategy/Stealth games aren’t entirely my bag, but the core premise of Roombo: First Blood – an Australian-produced game in which you play as a homicidal robot vacuum cleaner defending your home against burglars – appealed to me conceptually.
Also, if I’m honest, because it’s never not viscerally fun to watch to watch a cartoon fan blade slice into a burglar.
Why yes, I probably do need help.
8: Trials Rising
I’m sure that this will be a controversial pick, but hey, it’s my list of favourites, and I do have a soft spot for Trials games. But I should explain why it makes the cut specifically.
Once upon a time, any Trials game would have been a day one purchase for me, no doubt. Again, it’s not a series that I’m brilliant at, but one that I could easily get value from even at full retail price.
Then came Trials Of The Blood Dragon, and well… do I really need to explain what a bad idea it was for me to buy that on day one, or indeed on any day ever?
Trials Rising has some issues, including its levelling system, and the fact that I’m playing the Switch version with cut-down visuals and no analogue triggers.
However, the saving grace here is that I waited, and waited and waited… and picked it up really cheap. Cheap is always nice, and in this case it makes it much easier to overlook the stuff that doesn’t quite work in Trials Rising and just concentrate on getting my horse-headed biker over the next jump.
I’d be much less forgiving if I’d paid full price, mind you, but it’s a great example of how a lot of the time, it’s worth waiting on games to drop in price to maximise the value you can get from them.
7. Tetris 99
I’ll be honest here and say that the whole Battle Royale craze is one that I rather easily let slide past me. Fine if it’s your thing, and I totally get the appeal and have nothing but praise for those highly-skilled players who can consistently score themselves chicken dinners.
Tetris 99 took me by surprise, partly because I’m a bit of Tetris classicist, and most recent Tetris games let you do things like spin finished pieces that I abhor. Tying Tetris 99 into the battle royale idea however was a stroke of addictive genius. I’m not terribly good at Tetris 99 – I’ve only got a handful of top 10 places to my name – but it’s such an easy go-to game for a couple of minutes of line-matching insanity.
6: Mario Maker 2
One of the games that really made intelligent use of the Wii U’s gamepad finally came to the Switch, and in doing so ensured that we’ll never see a “full” 2D Mario game again.
The tradeoff is that the community creations are great, and I can get enjoyment just watching my son endlessly iterate on his own levels, working out fiendish new ways to use switches, chain chomps, moving platforms and more. I suspect I can live without an official 2D Mario game.
At least for a while.
There’s more to Super Mario Maker 2 than just making Mario. It’s got a story mode, for instance, plus online and local multiplayer for groups of four. But the level editor is still the star of the show. Making one’s own Mario levels remains a joy, and Mario Maker 2 is designed to bring out that joy as much as possible.
5: Apple Arcade
What do you do if you’re a time-poor gamer who spends his entire life (or sometimes it just feels like that) reviewing smartphones? You play a lot of mobile games, that’s what.
Apple Arcade earns an entry here not for any one specific game, but for a whole swathe of them, and especially so because they’re also titles that have spread across the gaming habits of my entire family.
We’ll happily gather as a family in front of the TV to play a few rounds of novel-mixing game Dear Reader, for example. Why yes, my family is quite geeky, and we’re proud of that, dammit!
I’ve put plenty of time into titles such as Pinball Wizard, What The Golf, Shantae and the Seven Sirens and Shinsekai: Into The Depths, but that pales next to the amount of time my wife’s put into the plethora of puzzle games on Apple Arcade. From a sheer value for money perspective, she’s more than justified our subscription and then some.
4: Trogdor: The Board Game
You know that thing where you back a Kickstarter that seemed like a good idea at the time and then forget completely about it?
That’s Trogdor, a game I backed mostly out of my love for all things Strong Bad, which essentially turned up one day after I’d somewhat forgotten it was coming. It’s a neat co-operative boardgame with a strong focus on BURNINATION, as any Trogdor board game should be, and one that I can easily explain to new players thanks to the singing YouTube tutorials.
No, really, that’s a thing they did.
Also, yes, this is a board game. The sign at the door just said “favourite games”, and I don’t discriminate. Neither should you.
3: Untitled Goose Game
Yeah, of course the waterfowl from down under had to make an appearance. House House doesn’t need my plaudits, of course, and this was a rare example of me buying into the hype from the trailer alone this year. It was a gamble that paid off multiple times.
Sure, Goose Game isn’t that long in and of itself, but it’s so well crafted that it’s enjoyable to watch others take on its puzzles. This took on an extra dimension for me when one of my family members finished Goose Game while building an entire narrative around the Goose’s obsession with the concrete duck.
They decided the duck had to travel with them everywhere, and narrated the entire experience while I watched on. It’s a wonderful memory of a fantastic game, and that’s what’s so great about Untitled Goose Game. The puzzles aren’t that obtuse, but the way you handle the Goose totally is, and that makes watching others play just as much fun as playing it yourself. Also, of course, letting your inner jerk goose out is highly therapeutic.
2: Decap Attack Starring Chuck D Head
I know what you’re thinking. Well, I suspect I know what you’re thinking. You’re either thinking Decapa-what, because you’ve never heard of it, or you’re going to berate me for including a game that actually came out in 1991, based on the Japanese game Magical Hat no Buttobi Tābo! Daibōken.
Well, you’d be right that I’m including a game with 28 years on the clock in my list of my favourite games of 2019. Before you send for the men with the nice van and the rubber jackets for me to wear, hear me out. This does relate to gaming products released in 2019.
I’ve had a copy of Decap Attack for some years now. I picked it up quite cheap simply because I liked the name, but I never really played it that much, because I got a cheap US copy, and the faffing about with Megadrive import adaptors and dodgy colours over composite connections was all a bit much.
In 2019, however, I purchased one of Analogue’s excellent Mega SG consoles. For those not in the know, it’s an FPGA-based Megadrive (sigh, or if you must, Genesis) and Master System console that supports 1080p output, works multi-region and even slots in neatly with my Mega CD. It’s also frighteningly expensive to ship to Australia, but it’s so very well worth it, as is the Super NT that Analogue released in 2018.
It’s given my Megadrive library a genuinely new lease on life, and none moreso than Decap Attack. It’s a charming, sometime gruesome platformer with a serious difficulty curve and a sense of humour.
The Mega SG makes just about everything Megadrive or Master System related shine – OK, maybe some of those games featuring my near-namesake haven’t stood up well over time – and it’s a bit of a must buy if you like retro gaming in general, and especially if you’ve got a stack of underplayed Megadrive carts in need of a little love.
1: Bubble Bobble
Anyone who expected Bubble Bobble not to be in my number 1 position for the year simply doesn’t know me all that well.
It’s my all-time favourite game bar none, and any year where it’s not the best game released that year ... simply isn’t a year at all. The science checks out, you can trust me on this.
Also, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends came out in November, so it totally qualifies anyway. So there.
Alex Kidman is a freelance tech writer, former editor of Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, Finder, PC Mag and quite a few others over the years. You can hear him every week on Vertical Hold, watch his intermittent retro gaming videos on YouTube or follow him on Twitter.