Video Game Awards 2019: Best Indie Game

Remember like a decade ago, when it seemed like indie games weren’t indie games unless they were self-indulgent tripe “unique experiences” that employed shallow “minimalistic” gameplay and shoehorned pretentious cliches into their freshmen-level storylines “expressed the artistic visions of their auteur creators in their groundbreaking narratives?”

Thank merciful heavens those days are (mostly) behind us. It seems as of the last couple of years, indie games have realized the novel concept that video games should have some sense of fun about them. Lo and behold, indie games have been all the better for it. Shocker, I know.

Yes, it seems like once indie games removed that giant stick out of their collective ass and stopped looking down their nose at other games, they actually started to deserve the praise that was thrown their way. The pompous self-insistence of the likes of Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish are now but a bad memory. Long live the Shovel Knights of the world.

In short, indie games are pretty great these days. 2018 was no exception, and saw some excellent indie titles. Which one was best?

 

Winner: Celeste

I struggled between choosing Celeste or Deltarune: Chapter 1 as my best indie game of 2018. Deltarune is certainly shaping up to be a great follow-up to Undertale, but seeing as what we have of the game so far is just the first part of a game that may or may not be finished in the next few years, I decided to go with Celeste.

Celeste is a truly clever puzzle-platoformer that makes use of a few simple key mechanics: jump, dash, wall jump. It sounds simple, but like the best platformers, Celeste has so many creative ideas up its sleeve that these simplistic elements end up being the only tools it needs to build a great game.

Much like a certain plumber’s classic adventures, Celeste features some remarkably clever level design, with new ideas, twists and gimmicks added into the mix at every turn, which showcases the true depth of its seemingly simple design.

True, the storyline – though emotional – does feel a little disconnected from the game itself, both Celeste’s gameplay and narrative halves prove memorable. And the things this game has to say (mainly focused on anxiety disorders) are certainly more meaningful than the forced commentaries of the indie scene of yesteryear.

In a time when indie gaming has produced some all-time greats, Celeste proves to be one of the best of the lot.

 

Runner-up: Deltarune: Chapter 1

 

Past Winners

2014: Shovel Knight

2015: Undertale

2016: Stardew Valley

2017: Cuphead

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Video Game Awards 2019: Best Content

To say that video games try to give you some extra bang for your buck these days is an understatement. Games now go out of their way to make sure players will spend countless hours with them. While this can sometimes be to the detriment of a game (tedious padding, pointless extra modes, and worst of all, post-release content that should have been there from the start), it has also given a number of modern titles an unparalleled longevity.

2018 had plenty of big games, but only one could take the cake.

 

Winner: Red Dead Redemption 2

 

What else was it going to be? There is literally something to do in every nook and cranny of Red Dead Redemption 2’s meticulous world. Want to do the main story? Go straight to it! Want to take a break from said story and do side quests? Be my guest! Want to rob a train? Take your time to plan the heist and hop to it! Want to play poker with some random socialites? You are more than welcome to do so! Want to track down rare beasts to hunt for a new pelt? You do you, my friend!

Okay, you get the idea.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is simply a game that doesn’t let up when it comes to things to do. It’s take on the Wild West presents one of the most immersive and interactive game worlds to date. No matter where you go in Red Dead Redemption 2, there is always something that can be done, whether it’s a necessary mechanic or not. Red Dead Redemption 2 may have its technical issues, but they are all too easy to ignore when you remember this is a game that presents a deep narrative about loyalty and betrayal, but can turn into one giant fishing simulator if you so desire.

Now if only Rockstar could add all these features to the online mode…

 

Runner-up: Marvel’s Spider-Man

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

2015: Super Mario Maker

2016: Overwatch

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Multiplayer

Alright, so my Best Multiplayer award has seen two different iterations over the last couple of years. Some years, it’s separated into two different categories, differentiated by ‘local’ and ‘online’ multiplayer. Other years, when I don’t think I played a game that best showcases those individual categories, I just lump them together as an overall “Best Multiplayer.” 2018 falls into the latter category.

That’s not to say that 2018 was lacking in quality multiplayer experiences or anything, just that I don’t think it was a year that justified both the local and online multiplayer categories.

So what was the best multiplayer game of 2018? Well, it’s not really too hard to figure out.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

An obvious selection, yes. But obvious with reason. Few series have provided such great multiplayer experiences so consistently as Super Smash Bros. And Ultimate is the best entry yet.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty title by refining the gameplay of the series, bringing back every past playable character, and introducing some new mechanics and fighters as well (which can be a little bit of a mixed bag. For every K. Rool there is an Incineroar). It may not reinvent the franchise, but Ultimate – true to its name – is Super Smash Bros. done better than ever.

Whether you’re sitting next to some friends, brawling each other in some local competition, or taking your skills online to face players from around the world, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate provides endless multiplayer fun (yes, there are still lag issues on occasion, but not nearly to the extent of the past few entries. And now players can make their own lobbies! Progress!).

While Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s single player campaign may be a hot mess, it’s bottomless bag of multiplayer features are a true work of art.

Can we get Geno now?

 

Runner-up: Super Mario Party

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8 (Online), Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Local)

2015: Splatoon

2016: Overwatch

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

 

*Retroactively awarded after further consideration.

Video Game Awards 2019: Biggest Surprise

Sometimes, we more or less know what to expect from video games. Sure, you never know for sure until you play them. But usually, if there’s a game you’re going to play, you’ll know it when you see it. Whether its long-standing murmurs leading into a not-so-surprise announcement, or a game that simply looks to be ticking all your boxes, it’s usually no secret which games speak to us.

Sometimes, however, video games can take us by surprise. Whether it’s a genuinely surprising announcement that comes out of seemingly nowhere, or a game that proves its experience to be far more memorable than its initial appearance, sometimes games can surprise us in the best ways.

 

Winner: Deltarune: Chapter 1

Hey, look at that! Undertale got a kind of/sort of sequel!

Okay, so calling Deltarune a sequel to Undertale (even a “kind of/sort of” one) is a little misleading. But Toby Fox’s sophomoric effort does feel like a rightful follow-up to his stunning debut game.

After teasing something big on Twitter in late October 2018, Toby Fox released Deltarune: Chapter 1 the very next day! And for free! Suffice to say, it was quite the surprise.

It’s true that Deltarune isn’t a finished game (that “Chapter 1” in the title isn’t just for show). And unfortunately, it sounds like the full game won’t be finished for quite some time, with Toby Fox suggesting he’ll need to get a team of people together in order to finish it in anything resembling a reasonable development schedule (as opposed to Undertale, which Mr. Fox created almost entirely). So who knows when, or if, we’ll see Deltarune in its entirety.

For now though, let’s just enjoy that Undertale has any kind of follow-up at all.

 

Past winner

2017: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Remake/Re-release

The internet likes to bemoan video game remakes, but like many things the internet does, that’s stupid.

For all the complaints gamers have that publishers are “forcing them to play the same games again” (because I guess the publishers are holding them under duress), video games are in a position where they kind of need remakes and re-releases. Video games advance so quickly that many people miss out on certain games. It’s not like movies, which see releases on every new home video platform. Games are at a bigger risk of falling under the radar. Remakes/re-releases not only give video games the opportunity to  find new audiences, but they also help preserve video games as an art form.

In short, video game remakes/re-releases are great. And 2018 had some notable ones.

 

Winner: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch)

I flip-flopped between Dark Souls Remastered and the Switch version of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as to what should claim this award. As much as I love Dark Souls, I feel like its achievements are already widely recognized, so its Remastered version was more of a means to play it on modern consoles. Tropical Freeze, on the other hand, was a game that fell under the radar in its time, so its Switch release felt more like a second chance to find a proper audience. And seeing as the Switch version outsold the Wii U original in a few short months, I’d say this was a case of a game benefitting from a second chance.

Being a Wii U title, Tropical Freeze was going to have an uphill battle to climb right out the gate, but it also didn’t help that our “good friend” the internet lambasted the game’s existence as soon as it was announced simply because it wasn’t Metroid. Tropical Freeze received quiet acclaim upon its original release, but the stigma of “not Metroid” still restrained some enthusiasm. Though its sales couldn’t match New Super Mario Bros. U, and Rayman Legends initially received more praise, in the years since it seems Tropical Freeze has slowly been recognized for the brilliance and depth of its design, and has become the more fondly remembered modern 2D platformer than its contemporaries in retrospect.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was my personal Game of the Year for 2014, and although it still has something of a cult status, its release on Nintendo Switch has seen it garner more attention and acclaim. It’s now rightfully regarded as a modern Nintendo classic.

Dark Souls Remastered was a terrific re-release, but everyone knew that already. The Switch’s re-release of DKC: Tropical Freeze, however, has made more and more people realize what a lucky few of us have known since 2014: Tropical Freeze is awesome!

 

Runner-up: Dark Souls Remastered

 

Past Winner

2017: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Music

Though I’ve stated in the past that – for the most part – gaming is better now than it’s ever been, that doesn’t ring true for all of its elements. Video game music has notably lost much of its magic over the past several years. While video game scores have not-so-secretly been outdoing movie scores for the past few decades, modern gaming has seen the medium try harder and harder to replicate film scores, leading video game music to lose much of its identity and becoming more and more interchangeable.

That’s in the general sense, of course. Exceptionalist that I am, there are always going to be standouts that break this trend, and remind us all why video game music can provide melodies like no other (just as there have been exceptional movie scores over the past few decades that stand above the aforementioned ‘vanilla’ sounds of many of their contemporaries).

While 2018 may not have been the banner year for video game music that 2017 was, it still provided its share of great soundtracks, with one in particular reminding me how great video game music can be.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

I admit, I feel like I’m kind of cheating with this one. Not so much because Super Smash Bros. features remixes of countless video game tunes of yesteryear, but because Ultimate probably features less original remixes than the past few entries. But I do feel that Ultimate has enough original takes on classic themes to justify this selection.

Yes, the majority of Ultimate’s soundtrack was carried over from Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS. But it has enough newness to it to make it stand on its own. Plus, with the soundtrack of Smash 4 intact, Ultimate pretty much boasts the biggest collection of classic video game melodies compiled into a single game.

Between the sweet Castlevania remixes, and the DK soundtracks finally getting some additional attention from the series (though some extra DKC2 and Tropical Freeze tracks are always welcome), and everything from Mario to Mega Man to Metal Gear included, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate delivers the classic video game music that we could sorely use more of these days.

 

Runner-up: Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

 

Past winners

2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2015: Undertale

2016: Dark Souls 3

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Visuals

Oh wow, look at that graphic!

Visuals have been a focal point in gaming for decades. While that has sometimes been for the worse – with games being judged unfairly for less powerful graphics and unique art directions – there’s no denying the importance that visuals have to gaming. They’re as vital here as they are to animated films.

Though there were a few strong contenders in 2018, only one of them could boast the best visuals of the lot.

 

Winner: God of War

 

It seems I usually go for unique art directions when awarding Best Visuals any given year. But every so often, I go with the more ‘realistic’ looking games. Although Red Dead Redemption 2 put up some stiff competition in the realism department, I think the fact that God of War’s landscapes and human characters look just as realistic as Red Dead 2 while also including some memorable monster designs and otherworldly elements gives it a bit of an edge.

The journey of Kratos and Artreus is a visually captivating one, with beautiful locations at every turn, complimented by human characters whose likeness to reality is rivaled solely by Uncharted 4 and (once again) Red Dead Redemption 2 as far as gaming is concerned. Add in the Norse mythology aspect, and God of War is one of Playstation 4’s most consistently stunning games.

Runner-up: Red Dead Redemption 2

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8*

2015: Yoshi’s Woolly World

2016: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017: Cuphead

 

*Retroactively awarded after further consideration