Top 5 Video Games of 2019 (Game of the Year)

And now, here we are, the big one. Game of the Year!

2019 was a pretty strong year for video games. Not quite as strong as 2018 or 2017, admittedly, but it had its share of highlights.

Let’s skip the fanfare and get right to the meat of things. These are my top 5 video games of 2019!

 


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Video Game Awards 2020: Best Platform

Now’s the time when we take a break from awarding the games themselves, and instead award the platforms we play them on. Or at least, award one of them as the most consistent of the year.

Part of me doesn’t want to do this, as I don’t want to feel I’m fanning the flames of any console wars, which are dumb and in actuality non-existent (fanboys just like to pretend it’s a thing). But at the same time, I’d feel bad about not acknowledging the merits of a console in a given year. So here we are.

 

Winner: Nintendo Switch

I admit 2019 wasn’t the Switch’s best overall year, but with the likes of Luigi’s Mansion 3, Yoshi’s Crafted World, and even *begrudging groan* Pokemon Sword and Shield, it was definitely the place to go for exclusives. Couple that with the seemingly endless barrage of indie titles and classics that are always making their way on the platform, and the Switch’s continued strong third-party support, and the Nintendo Switch had another strong year, even if it didn’t have a Mario Odyssey or Smash Ultimate equivalent.

Playstation 4 also had another strong year, but I think, if I had to pick, 2019 leaned a little more in the Switch’s favor.

 

Runner-up: Playstation 4

 

Past Winners

2014: Wii U*

2015: Playstation 4*

2016: Playstation 4

2017: Nintendo Switch

2018: Playstation 4

 

*Retroactively awarded.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Handheld Game

Handheld gaming has come a long way. Once a simple means to get a quick fix of gaming on the go, that convenience came at the expense of quality. But over the years, as gaming evolved, so to did handheld gaming, with the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS notably taking it to new heights and success.

Now, handheld games are largely indistinguishable from console and PC titles (aside from graphics). And most notably, the Nintendo Switch has completely bridged the gap between home console and handheld. By merging the two concepts together, Nintendo has created a hybrid console that stands as one of the best of all time.

Because handheld gaming has changed so drastically in recent years, I’d like to once again stress that, as long as traditional handheld platforms are still (somewhat) prominent, I am only including games released on said traditional handhelds and Switch exclusives. If a game is released on Switch, but also available on other, non-handheld hybrid consoles, it seems a bit unfair to refer to them as “handheld games.” So even though the Switch is a home console, its duel status as a handheld makes its exclusive titles eligible for this award. Ya dig?

 

Winner: Luigi’s Mansion 3

Yeah, I know Pokemon Sword and Shield was Nintendo’s big seller and most anticipated Switch title of 2019. But I don’t know, am I the only one who found them to be way too padded out? And to be honest, Pokemon – ironically enough – is the Nintendo series that seems to refuse to evolve.

That wasn’t the case with Luigi’s Mansion 3, however. Taking the atmosphere of the GameCube original and combining it with the more level-based structure of the 3DS sequel, Luigi’s Mansion 3 surpassed both of its predecessors with a game that’s consistently fun and inventive.

The Ghostbusters-inspired action of the series has never been so deep as it is here, and with the game absolutely exploding with personality, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is one of the unsung heroes of the Nintendo Switch.

 

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

2015: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

2016: Kirby Planet Robobot

2017: Super Mario Odyssey*

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

*Retroactively awarded after deciding Switch exclusives should qualify for this award.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Multiplayer

Multiplayer has never been more important nor prominent in video games than it is today. With the internet connecting players from around the world, more and more developers are putting an emphasis on multiplayer.

Sometimes, we wish to play video games to take us on epic adventures, but other times, we only want to connect with friends (or random strangers) and have some fun.

2019 may not have been the strongest year for multiplayer titles, but it still provided some good ones. Strangely, my favorite of the lot wasn’t originally from 2019 at all…

 

Winner: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Back in its day, Crash Team Racing was – along with Diddy Kong Racing – hailed as one of the only Mario Kart clones to actually be as good as Mario Kart (considering the most recent Mario Kart at the time was Mario Kart 64, there’s an argument to be made that, in that era, CTR was actually the better racer). Though Mario has since unquestionably wrested that crown – due in no small part to the exceptional Mario Kart 8 – the remake of Crash Team Racing still proves to be one of the best mascot racers not called Mario.

Though its single player modes can leave a lot to be desired (there is seriously no reason for the time trials in a game like this to be that precise!),  Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is all too easy to get sucked into when it comes to its multiplayer. With great track designs, a constantly expanding roster of characters, character skins, and karts, and a bevy of different modes of play, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is like a gift that keeps on giving.

Not bad for a remake of a game from the PS1 era.

 

Runner-up: Luigi’s Mansion 3

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8 (Online) and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (local)

2015: Splatoon

2016: Overwatch

2017: For Honor* (Online) and ARMS (Local)

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

*Retroactively awarded

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Indie Game

Now more than ever, Indie games are as vital to the gaming world as any other release. No longer relegated to being the pretentious, artsy corner of the gaming landscape, Indie titles now showcase all the variety and fun that their bigger budget counterparts do. Gaming is all the better for it.

Admittedly, 2019 wasn’t the best year for Indie games, and notable fell short of the string of strong years that predated it. Still, the little guys still managed to put up a good fight, and provided what I guess can best be described as my most “unique” selection for Best Indie Game of the year so far…

 

Winner: Untitled Goose Game

While Untitled Goose Game may lack the depth of some of my previous winners in this category, it makes up for it with its undeniable charm and sense of humor.

This breezy, wonderfully casual experience sees players take on the role of the Goose, who is out to have a productive day and completing his daily checklist of chores. Because he’s a goose, that means these chores are comprised of different ways to be a jerk to unsuspecting people.

Taking inspiration from Super Mario 64, Untitled Goose Game has the player tackling miniature areas (the game’s levels) and completing that area’s tasks as they see fit. Only instead of collecting stars like good ol’ Mario, the Goose’s only goal is to mess with the humans around them. Whether it’s moving a chair just as an old man is about to sit down, scaring a kid to lock himself in a phone booth, or stealing some dude’s flip-flops, the Goose’s tasks are always fun and funny.

It may not be the next Shovel Knight or Undertale, but not every Indie game has to be a classic like those games to be enjoyed. Sometimes, the good, simple fun of video games is all you need. And if Untitled Goose Game doesn’t put a smile on your face, you must have a heart of stone.

 

Runner-up: Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove

 

Past Winners

2014: Shovel Knight*

2015: Undertale

2016: Stardew Valley

2017: Hollow Knight**

2018: Celeste

 

*This particular award wasn’t given for 2014, but upon  reflection, Shovel Knight was the clear winner that year.

**I originally awarded Cuphead with the honor, but upon further consideration, Hollow Knight is probably the more deserving of the two.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Gameplay

Gameplay is the lifeblood of video games. I mean, just think about what video games would be like without gameplay. They’d be really awkward movies, I guess.

Even if all else fails in a game, it’s the gameplay that can ultimately save it. Gameplay is the connection between developer and player that separates the medium from all others. It is of the utmost importance to game design.

Winner: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Okay, so Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t going to get any awards for originality in gameplay, as it is virtually a spiritual recreation of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with a little Aria of Sorrow thrown in for good measure. To Bloodstained’s benefit, however, Symphony of the Night remains one of the best games ever made, and Aria of Sorrow comes a bit closer to SotN’s quality than many admit.

Basically, we have a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Though many other Kickstarter-funded spiritual sequels came and went, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was the one that went all out and recreated the intricate gameplay and sharp level design of the game that inspired it.

Yeah, it might be “more” of the SotN-style Castlevania gameplay, but in a gaming landscape that’s grossly starved of such gaming greatness, Bloodstained is something of a godsend.

 

Runner-up: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

 

Past Winners

2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2015: Bloodborne*

2016: Dark Souls 3*

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

2018: Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

 

*Retroactively awarded after further consideration.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Content

It seems like every game today wants to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the player. Games have become so big, that they seem hellbent on adding as much content as possible as if daring themselves to see how big they can get.

This has had a notable negative effect, admittedly, with some games feeling more bloated than they should (do I need to bring up the Guarma section of Red Dead Redemption 2 again? It’s because of that chapter alone I scored the game an 8 instead of a 9). But the quest for content has also done good as well, particularly when it comes to titles with player interaction with one another. Which brings me to this year’s winner…

 

Winner: Super Mario Maker 2

Go ahead and call this cheating, but are you really going to argue with a game that provides infinite Mario levels?

No, not every one is going to make a great Mario level, and there are far too many undesirables out there making flat-out trolling stages. But there’s still so much good to be had, and so many players rethinking how Mario levels are played, that Super Mario Maker 2 truly is an endless toy box of fun. There are already more Mario levels than you could ever play in the game, and the number just keeps going up every day.

Mario gameplay is simply at the peak of gaming, so while other game-creation games may be more fun to build than to play, the fact that Super Mario Maker 2 has the timeless gameplay of classics to fall back on means it’s just as much fun to play stages as it is to build them. And the addition of Super Mario 3D World elements is icing on the cake.

Of course not every player-created level will be a winner, but that’s a small price to pay for infinite Mario levels.

 

Runner-up: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Feuled

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

2015: Super Mario Maker

2016: Overwatch

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

2018: Red Dead Redemption 2

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Visuals

“Wow, nice graphic! I’d like to get my hands on that game!”

– The original US Legend of Zelda commercial

 

As a visual medium, video games have always had a focus on their visuals. While this has lead to some problems (remember when people used to deride a console for not having as good of graphics as another? *shudders*), graphics and art play a vital role in video games.

Following in the tradition of animation, video games use visuals to convey their vision. Whether it’s capturing a look of realism or displaying a striking art design, visuals – though not necessary for a game to be good – are vital to the video game medium itself.

Similarly, when it comes to naming what I think deserved Best Visuals of any given year, I go for either a title of striking technical realism (a la Uncharted 4) or wondrously imaginative art direction (like Cuphead). As far as 2019 goes, the winner for Best Visuals falls into the latter category, and is probably a bit obvious…

 

Winner: Yoshi’s Crafted World

Much like FromSoftware seemingly has a monopoly on excellence in video game sound work, developer Good-Feel has a similar dominance in visuals.

Starting with the hand-drawn, anime artwork of Wario Land: Shake It!, Good-Feel then elevated video game visuals with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, whose fabric-inspired graphics were carried over to Yoshi’s Woolly World. And now, Good-Feel has created a follow-up to Woolly World that changes things from yarn and wool to crafting materials like cardboard and plastic.

Yoshi’s Crafted World, in true Good-Feel fashion, is bursting with visual creativity. This was Good-Feel’s first time revisiting a Nintendo property they had already worked on, but that didn’t slow down Good-Feel’s imagination. The fact that they’ve managed to re-imagine Yoshi’s universe twice with different makeshift motifs is a testament to the studio’s unparalleled knack for visual invention.

Who know where Good-Feel will go next? One thing’s for sure, it’s bound to look astounding.

 

Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8*

2015: Yoshi’s Woolly World

2016: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017: Cuphead

2018: God of War (PS4)

 

*Retroactively awarded

Nintendo Switch Turns 3!

It’s somewhat hard to believe, but as of today, March 3rd 2020, it has officially been three years since the Nintendo Switch’s release!

That’s right, three years ago today, the Nintendo Switch was launched, and with it, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the best game on the…

*Super Mario Odyssey exists*

…the second best game on the…

*remembers Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was ported to the Switch*

…the third best game on…

*looks at Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe staring at me on my shelf*

…. a really damn good game!

Seriously, the Switch has been a killer console. Its status as a hybrid between a home console and handheld not only makes it the most innovative console wince the Wii (oh Wii, I love you), but that seemingly simple factoid makes a world of difference. You now have home console sized/quality games on the go. It’s amazing when one thinks about it.

“My SNES and Switch. Side by side. As they should be.”

And the games! Oh, the games! Again, we had Breath of the Wild – possibly (probably?) the best 3D Zelda title – right out the gate. Not only has Nintendo kept up a (pretty) steady pace of stellar releases since then, they’ve also either ported most of the Wii U’s best games to the system, or have upgraded sequels to them available on Switch. And unlike pretty much every Nintendo console since the N64, the Switch actually has strong third-party support.

There’s just so many games! Both new and old games keep getting released on Switch, giving it a most impressive library (if only it could get its downloadable classics right. Just adopt the Wii’s Virtual Console library).

Yeah yeah, the Switch still has its share of problems, mainly relating to online features (why oh why do we need an app for voice chat?! That’s so convoluted!), but in terms of the library of games and its other features, I honestly think it’s my favorite Nintendo console since the Super NES (I still love you, Wii).

The Switch may have a bit of an uphill battle ahead, what with Sony and Microsoft preparing their next consoles this year. But I think it’s safe to say that the Nintendo Switch has already left an indelible mark on video game history.

 

Happy birthday, Switch!

Katamari Damacy Reroll Review

*Review based on Katamari Damacy Reroll’s release on Nintendo Switch*

Coming out of the 1990s, which perfected gaming up to that point and then revolutionized it with the third-dimension, the 2000s had a lot to follow-up on. While some games from the early years of the 2000s did prove influential – such as Halo or Grand Theft Auto 3 – it didn’t take long for the decade to become complacent with where they were at. Games were determined to be “edgy” and “gritty” in the wake of GTA’s influence and the FPS boom of the time. Gaming seemed determined to rid itself of its so-called “kiddie” past by embracing violence, sex and adult themes (though in execution, gaming was arguably more juvenile at this point than ever). Color and creativity had no place in gaming anymore, all that mattered was being “cool” and “mature.”

Then along came Katamari Damacy.

Originally released in 2004 on the Playstation 2, Katamari Damacy injected some much-needed personality and humor – not to mention gameplay innovation – back into the medium.

The brainchild of Keita Takahashi, Katamari Damacy is delightfully silly. A bizarre, god-like entity called The King of All Cosmos has gone on a drunken stupor, and carelessly crashed into every star in the sky, destroying them. The King of All Cosmos then commands his son the Prince to replace the stars by creating “Katamaris.”

What are Katamaris? To put it simply, they’re sticky clumps that are made bigger with… stuff. The player, as the Prince, must roll a Katamari along the ground, collecting more and more stuff to make the Katamari bigger. The bigger the Katamari gets, the bigger the objects that can be attached to it.

The goal of each main level in the story is to make the Katamari a certain size by the time the timer runs out, while side levels (which see the Prince recreate the constellations) will have more specific goals, like collecting a certain amount of a particular object.

Earlier stages will have the Prince collecting office supplies and other such trinkets, while the later levels naturally keep upping the ante, with no person, thing or even place being safe from being clumped into the Katamari. It all culminates in a beautifully absurd finale which – in regards to bringing together every element a game has introduced up to that point in a fitting crescendo – should stand as one of the best final levels in video game history.

Katamari Damacy is as fun as it is nonsensical, with the game taunting players with any and every object around them. Players will likely try to discover their own paths through a stage, following a path of objects that gradually get bigger until they can best their high scores.

The graphics are nothing to write home about. Even with its HD gloss in its 2018 “Reroll” release, Katamari Damacy was clearly made with a budget. Thankfully, the humorous nature of the game gives it an art style that plays into its visual limitations, with the human characters looking like blocky Playmobil figures.

The music, however, is phenomenal. While there may have been some cut corners in terms of visuals, Namco (now Bandai Namco) clearly spared no expense when it came to the soundtrack. Almost every track in the game has  Japanese vocals, and while I may not be able to understand what they’re saying, each tune creates a distinct personality for each stage. Some of the songs are riotously funny, while others are cute and soothing. Aside from Katamari’s own sequels, you won’t find many other game soundtracks like it. It’s wonderful to listen to.

Not every element of Katamari Damacy has aged well, unfortunately. This is a PS2 game at heart, and boy does it play like one. You use both control sticks on your controller to push the Katamari, while only moving the left stick moves Prince around said Katamari, and turning the right stick on its own moves the camera (even if you do get the hang of it, the camera isn’t too reliable, as fitting into a crowded space or taking a rough bump can send the camera careening out of whack). You can also supposedly dash by moving both joysticks up and down opposite of each other, but as you can imagine given the primary control of the game, the dash only seems to work some of the time.

The awkward controls and clunky camera may be products of their time, and if memory serves correctly, I’m tempted to say that its immediately successor, We Love Katamari (the only other entry directed by Takahashi) was an improvement. But in terms of personality, humor and innovation, Katamari Damacy played a role in elevating gaming out of a creative dark age, and reminded us all that, deep down, games should be fun.

 

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