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Best Video Games of 2019 (Halfway Point)

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With E3, gamers across the globe are inundated every year with hundreds of announcements for upcoming video game releases –  and every year it is a Goomba Stomp tradition that we compile a list of the best games of the year so far so we can promote the titles we love one last time before they’re (sometimes) lost in the shuffle.

While you sit back and wait for the games set for release in the second half of the year, we strongly recommend the following titles. Let us know if you think we’ve missed something in the comments below. Enjoy!

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Special Mention: New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe

Nintendo has this weird ability to straddle the old and the new, perhaps unlike any other gaming company in the world. They have spent decades selling us on consoles and games that for better or worse continually push the envelope on what we expect from games and the hardware we play them on, whilst simultaneously reselling and rehashing games that we grew up playing, drumming on those nostalgia buttons to tease that dollar from our pockets. One such set of games that encapsulate all of this is the New Super Mario Bros series.

The NSMB titles are a set of games that hark back to a simpler time when Mario was 2D and all you had to do was bounce, jump and flame throw your way from left to right to the flag at the end. With NSMB and in particular NSMB U Deluxe, Nintendo take this now well-trodden formula and sprinkle a bit of their modern sensibilities, adding updated visuals, coin collecting on each level and a whole host of power-ups, from the Tanuki and Flower suits, to newer additions like Metal Mario and a personal favourite of mine, the Penguin Suit.

There’s nothing new about this game and it being a re-release from the dark WiiU days might mean that many have allowed it to pass over them this year, but if you have even a passing interest in 2D Mario, don’t let this one slip by unplayed

The NSMB games, may on the face of it seem like an old game with a facelift, but the truth is that they are much more than that. They manage to achieve that age-old Nintendo ‘Holy Grail’ and marry the old with the new and this title is no exception. When Super Mario 64 brought Nintendo roaring into the 3D world, it felt fresh, new and exciting (Which it was), but as time goes on, many players to this day will go back to those 2D games and enjoy them all over again.

Perhaps NSMB has never reached the heights of the originals, but there’s no doubt that they are an excellent way to get your fix of 2D Mario, and for once I’m happy to give Nintendo new money for old rope. NSMB U Deluxe is a stellar outing for this series, but also one that was sorely underplayed due to the disastrous disinterest people had in the WiiU. If like most you missed this game the first time around, don’t let it go unplayed a second time. (David Smile)

Best Games of 2019

18. Baba is You

Baba Is You, is a wonderful little puzzle game where the physical rules of the game are the puzzle pieces themselves. In a graphically-simple little world, you push and pull words into phrases, like a miniature programming language, but you’re a weird bunny creature doing the heavy lifting. It’s sort of like The Adventures of Lolo meets Scribblenauts, if you’ll mind the deep-nerd references. The conceit and gameplay are novel, well-executed, and well worth a look for any fan of puzzle games. The mechanic gets a bit less satisfying when the puzzles become more unforgiving about 3/4 into the game, but Baba remains fun and interesting for long enough to be one of the highlights of 2019 thus far. (Marty Allen)

Best Games of 2019

17. Katana Zero

Telling compelling narratives in video games is no easy feat. In Katana ZERO, the player takes on the role of a young assassin for hire. He takes assignments during the day and returns to his rundown apartment building in a less than desirable part of town at night. Though it starts out fairly straightforward, the story takes several surprising turns rather quickly. The writing here is sharp, and the narrative flies from thrilling to comforting to horrifying all in the game’s short five to six-hour runtime.

At its core, though, Katana ZERO is an unrelenting action platformer that isn’t afraid to make players work to reach the next level. The game is split into levels spanning a multitude of locales around its seedy city backdrop. Similarly to Celeste, each level is broken into small segments that, upon death, can be restarted almost instantaneously. This design decision is a smart one seeing as both enemies and the assassin go down in one hit. As a result, every room almost feels like a puzzle that needs to be solved to near-perfection to finish, and they’re designed in such a way that it’s always clear what players need to do to beat them.

Katana ZERO is a concise, mysterious, and strikingly atmospheric game. Its story is well-worth playing through, though whether or not it sticks the landing is up for debate. Similarly, while the art direction and moody 80s synth-pop soundtrack deliver a completely intoxicating experience, the game isn’t much of a looker as far as pixelated games go. Nonetheless, this is a must-play for any fans of the action-platformer genre. There’s a lot of fun to have here and, with the choices you make having a significant impact on how the narrative plays out, there’s a good bit of replayability as well.  (Brent Middleton)

Best Games of 2019

16. Rage 2

The open world first-person shooter niche is largely dominated by the Far Cry series. However, every once in a while a game comes along that attempts to tip the balance. Rage 2, developed in tandem by id Software and Avalanche Studios, is one such game. With a focus on the kind of high octane, madcap combat that made 2016’s Doom such a hilariously violent return to form for the franchise mixed with the emergent anarchic antics that make Avalanche’s Just Cause series such a guilty pleasure, Rage 2 is the most unapologetically fun game released so far this year. The key reason for that is that it’s not ashamed of what it is, and doesn’t try to express anything other than the joy at the core of gaming itself.

Featuring a visual aesthetic so glaring and vibrant it’s like the developers tapped into the essence of rave culture and spraypainted the world with it, the game’s environments never become dull or repetitive. The same can’t be truly said of the activities on offer in those environments, as the world map is festooned with the usual array of enemy outposts and exploration locations that can at times make the entire point of traversing the world between main missions feel like little more than a box-ticking exercise. Fortunately, the quality of the gameplay and the world design means that on the whole you spend less time thinking about what you’re actually doing and more time on how you’re doing it.

No matter how much of an improvement Rage 2 may be over its 2011 predecessor, it does fall down in one major regard. The first game was roundly criticized for its lackluster narrative and eight years on it seems that neither id or Avalanche were able to overcome that issue. The story is serviceable at best, and whilst what little of it there is well-written and constructed there just isn’t enough of it to carry the entire game. This wouldn’t have been such an obvious problem if the side missions had been properly fleshed out, but as they stand they are limited to various bounty hunts and nothing else. All things considered, the lack of story content is Rage 2‘s only really significant flaw. Nevertheless, it is definitely one of the best games released so far this year and is a strong contender for my personal game of the year for 2019. (Christopher Underwood)

Best Games of 2019

15. Wargroove

Wargroove is an epic, beautiful love letter to the lost (but not forgotten) classic strategy series, Advance Wars. Following the same formula of Nintendo’s collaboration with Intelligent Systems, Wargroove tells the story of the trials and tribulations of Princess Marcia as she leads her kingdom in the wake of her father’s assassination. Players will recruit troops, capture towns, fight the undead, and — if you play as well I do — get stuck on the same missions for hours.

Wargroove is not an easy game, and sometimes it’s not even a fair one. Objectives may change in the middle of a battle, making a difficult fight almost impossible — until you replay it, knowing what’s coming, and beat it without a modicum of effort. Some units never seem to be worth their excessive cost, and map design often doesn’t allow for the interesting positioning tactics that the game otherwise tries to encourage. The story — while better than anything put forward by Advance Wars — is nothing to write home about, either.

However, objectives are mixed up at a decent rate between missions, stopping the game from getting too repetitive during overly long, socially-unacceptable binge sessions. New units are introduced at a healthy rate, and the game is absolutely loaded with content. There are three separate single-player modes (including the brilliant “Puzzle Mode,” in which the player has one turn to win a battle from a predefined position), and each requires a significant time investment to complete. On top of that, there is online and local multiplayer for up to 4 players, and it’s possible to craft not only your own maps, but your own entire campaigns.

Above all else, Wargroove is a wonderfully produced game with tense battles, gorgeous sprite work, a generous amount of content, and absolutely tons of heart. It hearkens back to an era when games were simpler, but no less wonderful affairs. It’s an expression of pure joy, and while there will be some debate as to whether it manages to live up to the legacy of its obvious inspiration, Wargroove is a worthy investment for any fan of classic turn-based strategy. (Rowan Ryder)

Best Games of 2019

14. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is a game for squares. It is a game for gamers who appreciate clear visual presentation in favor of aesthetic frills, tone in favor of traditional narrative, and meticulous variation-on-a-theme design over anything in vogue. After all, it is a game about a square (or two squares, or a rectangle) moving from left to right across a monochrome palette. The best news about this fourth entry in the series is that it brings co-op to the table, so multiple squares can complete a campaign full of puzzles specifically designed around two allied players. And somehow the game’s third campaign, where the player controls a rectangle rather than a square, radically alters traversal and puzzle-solving despite merely making the playable character taller. What other game makes such intricate and deep use of its architecture that doubling the size of its protagonist could sensibly justify building a new campaign from scratch?

If you haven’t enjoyed past BOXBOY! games, it’s unlikely you’ll like this one. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is pretty much more of the same, and considering BYE-BYE-BOXBOY!’s insanely diverse power-up-style boxes that are nowhere to be seen here, it can sometimes feel like less of the same. But for those who enjoy slow-paced brain-ticklers and appreciate a simple mechanic being milked until its udder is bone dry, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is an undeniably great value. Though the first half of 2019 has left the Switch with a rather lackluster first-party lineup, this game is a low-cost diamond in the rough. But of course, its primary reason for existing is to rationalize Qbby’s inclusion in Smash’s Fighter’s Pass as the fifth and final new character. Bring the hype!  (Kyle Rentschler)

Best Games of 2019

13. Ape Out

In Ape Out, Gabe Cuzzillo and his small team have crafted something unique that comes highly recommended. This game is equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, exhilarating, and fun. The sum of its parts is a creation that is all-too-rare in games — something fresh and unlike anything else. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it, and unable to put the controller down in order to give each board ‘just one more try.’ To have that gameplay experience put together with so much artistic flair makes for the kind of experience that is worth killing for. Again and again and again.

Ape Out is a rhythmic pulse of thrust-push-kill fun. Ape Out is the kick drum rolling right into to the snare and a crash just as you crush that guard a hair before he pulls the trigger. Ape Out is blood trailing behind you when you can’t take another shot, then crossing through the green door of freedom and into the jungle beyond at the last moment. (Marty Allen)

Best Games of 2019

12. Days Gone

If you’ve played one zombie apocalypse game, you’ve played them all. Right? Wrong. Bend Studio (best known for the Syphon Filter series and Uncharted: Golden Abyss) took a largely played out concept and made it entirely their own in their latest title, Days Gone. Written and directed by John Garvin, the game tells a tale of love, loss, friendship, and hope for redemption. Driven by the heartfelt performance of Sam Witwer as the protagonist, Deacon St. John, the game explores the more human elements of a zombie apocalypse. Although the game has been criticized for it’s supposedly lacking narrative, what makes it stand out from all the other games in this genre is precisely the fact that its story is relatively grounded and simplistic.

Featuring jaw-droppingly evocative landscapes, the game masterfully evokes its rural Oregon setting with relentlessly stylistic aplomb. Whether players are navigating their way through tangled forests carved up by traffic-clogged back roads or scavenging amidst the ruins of a small town overrun by merciless bandits, the environments are always remarkably well crafted and utterly engaging at all times. The sheer level of detail in the game world means that the sense of place is always genuinely palpable to such an extent that at times it’s on par with and often exceeds even Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

Other than Techland’s Dying Light, Days Gone is the only game of its kind that makes its zombies/infected enemies feel genuinely threatening. Whether players encounter them in small, roaming packs or teeming, ravenous hordes they are always cause for concern and are rendered with such precise detail that they’re more a reflection of mankind’s darkest urges than they are brutish monsters. Even when you’re in the middle of nowhere safety is never assured, as at a moment’s notice you can be ambushed by all manner of freakish creatures hellbent on ending your life. Days Gone may not be especially innovative or genre-defining, but it is without a doubt one of the most entertaining and thrilling games released so far this year. It is a more than welcome and deserving addition to the expanding catalogue of excellent PS4 exclusives that continue to make Sony’s latest generation of consoles the best on the market. (Chris Underwood)

Best Games of 2019

11. Apex Legends

Apex Legends is the hero that EA needed, but not the hero they deserved. Released just over two weeks before another EA game, Anthem, Respawn Entertainment’s title received almost no fanfare, no marketing and no hype build-up – especially in comparison to the aforementioned Bioware effort. Anthem was plastered all over online stores and E3 presentations, and ended up being a miserable pile of unfinished, dull, employee-draining gubbins, while Apex Legends quietly went about its business on the way to becoming arguably (and correctly) considered the best game in the battle royale genre.

Combining Titanfall-style movement with Hero Shooter character classes, Apex Legends is an incredibly polished and unique battle royale title. It wasn’t perfect but, astonishingly, the game launched in a very impressive state, especially for a game released, not only in 2019, not only by EA, but for free. It was fast and fluid, it had an interesting array of weapons and character abilities and it just worked. It worked and it was bloody brilliant – a mishmash of genres that culminated in a shooter that was riotous fun without any caveats.

There were things that needed work in the aftermath of the game’s launch, and Respawn has admirably addressed their missteps in acceptable timeframes – both for the end user and for the people making it to avoid killing themselves through exhaustion and stress. Since launch, the game has received its obligatory Battle Pass and Season modes, and both were decidedly lacking in their initial state. As recently as last week, both have been significantly improved for Season 2. Learning curves are wholly understandable when the price of entry is absolutely nothing for the player.

We’ve also seen new characters, challenges, weapons and some, unfortunately, ‘meh’ skins released since launch – but it’s obvious that Respawn is committed to keeping the service alive with improvements and additions. A game as good as Apex deserves to be a mainstay in the genre, and it definitely deserved more attention from its own publisher at launch. Regardless, the cream has risen to the top and Apex is here to stay.  (Alex Aldridge)

Best Games of 2019

10. Life Is Strange 2

When a sequel to the critically acclaimed Life is Strange was announced back in 2016, it was unclear as to where Dontnod Entertainment was going to go for the next chapter of their game. No matter what choice the player opts for at the end of the first game, it is a fitting conclusion to Max and Chloe’s story. Even though fans were hoping for more from the characters in the original, it was announced that the main characters and the story would be new. It was hard to see how players would be able to connect with the game as much as we did with the first installment but Life is Strange 2 has so far managed to be just as compelling as the original.

This time around the focus is on two brothers, Sean and Daniel, as they embark on a road trip whilst on the run after a tragic event triggers Daniel’s strange powers. Whilst Max was able to control the flow of time, Daniel’s powers are more telekinesis based as he is able to move objects with his mind and create powerful energy blasts. This time around we don’t play as the character with supernatural abilities. Instead, we play as Sean, Daniels older brother who must guide and advise him. It’s an interesting take in terms of story as your decisions directly impact Daniel and how he uses his powers. Choices are again crucial within the game as they can change how certain characters (most importantly Daniel) react and behave towards you as well as changing the flow of story events, even if it all ends to the same or a similar conclusion. I found myself trying to be the best guardian and big brother that I could be towards Daniel, opting for the choices that felt the most responsible and wise. In the same way that Dontnod was able to create a compelling relationship that the player rooted for with Max and Chloe in the first game, their depiction of the two brothers is equally convincing despite the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in.

Life is Strange 2 has only released three episodes of five so far and I definitely feel that it is one of the best games of the year despite not even being complete yet. Hopefully, the game will continue as successfully as it has begun when episodes four and five are released on August 22nd and December 3rd for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. (Antonia Haynes)

Best Games of 2019

9. The Walking Dead: The Final Season

After the news came that Telltale Games would be shutting its doors last September, fans were rightly concerned about the fate of The Walking Dead: The Final Season. With the game in the middle of its story, one that wraps up Clementine’s fate (the star of three previous Walking Dead games) things were pretty dire until Skybound Entertainment swooped in to save the day.

And lucky for us all that they did, for The Walking Dead: The Final Season may be Telltale’s finest game. With more advanced gameplay thanks to a new engine, a story with genuine stakes and plenty of twists and turns, and themes that mirror those of the beloved first game without downright aping them, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is a triumph of a game and a story that deserved to be told.

We’ll miss Telltale Games, but this gem is as good a way as any to send them off. (Mike Worby)

Best Games of 2019

8. Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 is the latest (and possibly greatest) installment of the long-running bloody bonanza. With gameplay refinement reaching new heights, eye-popping graphical fidelity, and a roster more balanced than the most talented tightrope walker; NetherRealm Studios smashed it.

Mortal Kombat 11 doubles down on its best in class story mode, delivering an entertaining (albeit cheesy) romp through its eclectic lore. A barrage of single player content incentives play for those aspiring to eat brains as Baraka without the warming comfort of a friend or loved one. Endlessly alone, punching in Fatality button combinations. Sometimes it’s four buttons, sometimes it’s five. The on-screen digital puppet is shredded limb from limb, but you’re the one that’s hurting. She left you and took the kids, and now all that numbs your tortured soul is the flicker of fun attained from uppercutting Kano’s stupid head.

Well, who needs the wife and kids when such a stupendous Krypt exists? Manifesting on Shang Tsung’s island, it’s chock-full of classic eye candy and darker mysteries than Michael Jackson’s sex dungeon (well, almost more). Said Krypt lends itself to a rewarding gameplay loop with the Towers of Time, with staggering quantities of unlockables providing an endless reason to fight, fight, and fight some more.

Mortal Kombat 11 isn’t perfect, and its missteps spoil bits of what’s otherwise a flawless victory. But this aside, it’s 2019’s most kickass fighter thus far, and with the Shang Tsung DLC looming, things will only get gorier in the wild world of Kombat. (Harry Morris)

Best Games of 2019

7. The Division 2

The 1st quarter of the year has become an increasingly contested release window ever since Horizon Zero Dawn proved that the post-holiday season lull didn’t have to be a lull at all. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was one of the biggest titles to come to market early this year, and beyond that, it’s one the best looter-shooters ever made. A bold claim indeed, but one from my perspective is entirely true because it’s not a genre that I’ve ever really got to grips with. The combination of the realistic setting, excellent core mechanics, and an addictive gameplay loop has resulted in a looter-shooter that has a unique appeal. There’s an artful understatement to every element of the game in hands of other developers would have crossed-over into a threadbare territory, but Ubisoft struck the right balance between simple and intricate that just works on every level.

The main campaign missions are classic popcorn political thriller through-and-through, although some critics have complained about the developers not standing behind any particular political message, I’m of the firm belief that they didn’t really need to. Far better to allow players to draw what conclusions they may from the story rather than shoehorn in any prescribed stance on contemporary life. Beyond the endgame content is absolutely as good as it gets for the genre, with loot coming thick and fast to the extent that character progress through gear upgrades is always a possibility so the game never feels stagnant in the way that say Destiny 2 often can. The class and skill system gives players a large range of build options and loadout types so that they’re never forced into using one particular set-up in order to feel useful, which is again quite refreshing for a game in the looter-shoot genre.

The Division 2 may not be as drastic a department from the first game as many might have hoped, but it strikes all the right notes as far as a sequel is concerned. The gameplay and support systems are refined just enough that they do feel improved across the board but aren’t so radically different that they alienate fans of the first game or stand as a barrier to entry for those new the series. With regular additions and updates being made to the game The Division 2 wasn’t just a strong start to the year for Ubisoft but also for fans of the series and the genre alike. It’s a game I will keep going back to throughout the course of 2019, and if you’ve not already played then I urge you to do so. What are you waiting for? Washington D.C isn’t gonna save itself! (Christopher Underwood)

Best Games of 2019

6. Yoshi’s Crafted World

Maybe looks aren’t everything, but a new coat of paint can sure freshen a room up. The Yoshi franchise has been the subject of cute visual experimentation since the coloring-book aesthetic of the SNES’ Yoshi’s Island, but the little dino’s latest adventure for the Nintendo Switch might just be his most eye-pleasing yet. Sure, the platforming might feel a bit more cardboard than in some previous outings, but Yoshi’s Crafted World is nevertheless a joy to play from start to finish, if only to see what homemade delights developer Good-Feel has tucked around the next corner.

The story of missing gemstones serves as classic Nintendo window dressing used to move players along as they perform light platforming and exploration through a variety of fantastic and disparate worlds; once the game begins, the plot thread can quickly be forgotten. But who cares? The real draw of Yoshi’s Crafted World is the levels themselves, which look like they’ve been built in someone’s basement playroom out of household materials like corrugated cardboard, paper plates, tinfoil, bendy straws, toothpicks, and plastic cups. The pure imagination on display in constructing environments ranging from palm-tree jungles to coral-lined sea floors is absolutely grin-inducing, with chugging locomotives and creaky haunted houses all lovingly pieced together with a handmade, toy-like feel that leaves an impression that the stages in this game are not meant to just be played through, but played with.

The egg-throwing gameplay with which one does so is mostly safe and familiar (with a giant Yoshi robot or plane ride thrown in to keep things fresh), but replaying levels in order to collect flowers or red coins is still a blast when it feels like there are layers to each stage that can be pulled back to reveal some previously unseen visual treasure. Gamers have always been drawn to shiny things, and for those who appreciate the whimsical, Yoshi’s Crafted World is one of the most glittering on Nintendo’s console. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Games of 2019

5. Tetris 99

One of the biggest surprises this year was the reveal and launch of Tetris 99, which combines the tried-and-true puzzle gameplay with his own particular blend of mayhem. The game, which is free to download (provided you’re a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber), is perhaps the least expected take on the battle royale genre – but some would argue the best. Developed by Arika, known for Tetris: The Grand Master series, Tetris 99 pits you against 98 other players simultaneously, and the last surviving player wins. It’s ridiculous and mesmerizing — not to mention mind-blowing when you stop and admire how Tetris 99 demonstrates the true adaptability of the original Tetris.

At its core, the game is still the Tetris you remember. It involves tetrominoes, geometric shapes composed of four square blocks each. A random sequence of Tetriminos fall down the playing field and it’s your job to manipulate these Tetriminos, by moving each one sideways and/or rotating by quarter-turns, so that they form a solid horizontal line with no gaps. When such a line is formed, it disappears and any blocks above it fall down to fill the empty space. Anyone who remembers the original Tetris will also notice the blocks are the same colors, and the familiar Tetris theme plays along in the background. The difference, this time around is that your ultimate goal isn’t to get a high score but instead to be the last man standing.

It’s hard to believe that three decades on, Tetris is still a worldwide phenomenon. It’s also hard to believe that Tetris 99 was a joke someone apparently made on Twitter before Akira made it a reality. Even harder to believe, Tetris 99 is a contender for Game of the Year and is able to stand side by side on a stage with behemoths such as Fortniteand APEX Legends. I won’t dare say Tetris 99 is the best battle royale game on the market, but it sure is my favourite. (Ricky D)

Best Games of 2019

4. Kingdom Hearts III 

There are few game franchises with histories as storied, or convoluted, as Kingdom Hearts. At seventeen years old, the series spans across no less than eight games and has appeared on almost as many consoles. The fact that each and every one of those games relates in varying degrees of importance to Sora’s vaunted fight against darkness is equal parts impressive and absurd. The story has been the butt of jokes and internet memes as creative as the story itself is labyrinthine. It’s because it’s been so long that it makes the sheer existence of Kingdom Hearts III feel like a miracle, that we’ve actually made it to the end.

Kingdom Hearts III is the very definition of a beautifully flawed game. On one hand, we have the stupendous combat that feels like a fairy-tale popup book in game format, the stunningly realized Disney worlds (except Frozen’s), and Yoko Shimomura’s spell-binding songs that continue to be simply enrapturing. On the other hand, the story is incredibly lopsided, magic spells break the game in two even on the most difficult setting, and Sora still has all the likeability of a piece of cardboard.

Yet despite those flaws, this spaz of game manages to succeed in becoming the grand culmination to this nearly two-decade-long saga. Plot threads that had been left hanging for years finally had their closure. As characters were reunited and heavy consciouses finally relieved, it felt as much a victory to the player as the characters experiencing them, and that’s something incredibly emotional.

Where this series goes from here is anyone’s guess, as Nomura has repeatedly demonstrated just how zany he’s willing to go with the franchise. Either way, Kingdom Hearts III will be fondly remembered by fans as the title that finally brought this first book to a close.  (Matthew Ponthier)

Best Games of 2019

3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

The good people of From Software are best known for providing deep combat and high difficulty gameplay experiences, and this is not a reputation that Sekiro shirks. On the contrary, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice might be the toughest, most brutal challenge from the creators of Dark Souls yet.

Set in feudal Japan, Sekiro follows Wolf, a shinobi charged with protecting a child whose blood holds the secrets of immortality. When the divine child is taken by force, and Wolf is left for dead, the shinobi wages an all or nothing war against the Ashina samurai clan in hopes of retrieving the child and redeeming himself.

With lightning fast gameplay, all or nothing stakes, and a remix of some of the features that have made past From Software games a success, Sekiro is a gauntlet for the ages, and one of the most rewarding games you’re likely to play all year. (Mike Worby)

Best Games of 2019

2. Devil May Cry V

If you don’t count the spin-off/reboot DMC developed by Ninja Theory, 2019 marks eleven years since we last had a proper entry in the Devil May Cry series. That’s a long time to wait for loyal fans but thankfully Devil May Cry V is a return to form and more importantly, almost everything about those original games has been improved.

Developed in-house at Capcom by a team of series veterans, Devil May Cry Vis sprawling, infectious, inventive, ambitious, and downright thrilling. The momentum never lets up from the second the prologue begins and for roughly 15 hours and exactly 20 missions, Devil May Cry V is electrifying. Director Hideaki Itsuno and his team have delivered quite possibly the goriest, craziest, most eye-blowing (there’s a lot of eyeballs), chunk-spewing, head-exploding installment of the series yet.

Propelled by non-stop, over-the-top action, geysers of blood and fetishistic metamorphoses, DMCV must be played seen to be believed. It’s spectacular, irresistible, unapologetically juvenile and totally fuckin’ insane – a mesmerizing piece of art that experimentally pushes the series to daring new heights. (Ricky D)

Best Games of 2019

1. Resident Evil 2

It’s rare to see a direct sequel live up to or surpass the original, but Hideki Kamiya’s Resident Evil 2 (1998) not only matched the quality of its predecessor but arguably surpassed it to become one of the greatest of its genre. The original RE2 was the perfect sequel — an outstanding science-fiction thriller that put players at the edge of their seats. Scene to scene, encounter to encounter, its tension builds unrelentingly. It isn’t, however, so rare to see a game remastered or remade outshine the original, especially given how far technology has advanced over the years. That’s not to say that all games remade are winners, but there are plenty of reasons why Resident Evil 2 (2019) has gathered high praise. If the original RE2 was a perfect sequel, the new Resident Evil 2 is a prime example of how to remake a classic while staying faithful to the original. Dare I say, it’s a near-perfect remake?

While the word “Remake” doesn’t appear in the title, Resident Evil 2 (2019) is, in fact, a remake of the PS1 original. Capcom built the game from the ground up, changing a few things here and there, and for the most part those changes have improved what was already a great game. Much of the critical acclaim has centered on RE2’s gameplay and thick atmosphere, and much like Resident Evil 7, Capcom has made a game that is visually stunning throughout. Resident Evil 2 has just the right amount of retro appeal, capturing the spirit of the original without being bound by it. Capcom’s new Resident Evil 2 — which was released twenty-one years after the PlayStation original — is everything one can hope from a video game remake.

It preserves enough of the source material to feel like a respectful tribute, yet changes just enough to warrant its existence. This is one of the best horror games ever made — and proof that cannibalizing old material sometimes works fiendishly well. While I have fond memories of the original game, RE2 (2019) is smarter, tighter, and far scarier — start to finish. It’s a masterclass in environmental design, sound design, level design, and atmosphere. All of that and more makes Resident Evil 2 one of the best remakes — er, ‘re-envisionings’ — of a horror classic (game or otherwise). (Ricky D)

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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened. 

Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon. 

The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.) 

There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period. 

Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay. 

The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure. 

Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.

John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.

John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well. 

It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.

More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice. 

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

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Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

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The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

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Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

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Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

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Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple of days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page-turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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