25. Tetris 99
One of the biggest surprises of 2019 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 it’s 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.
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 able to stand side by side on a stage with behemoths such as Fortnite and APEX Legends. I won’t dare say Tetris 99 is the best battle royale game on the market, but it sure is a fan favourite. (Ricky D)
24. Sonic Mania
The existence of Sonic Mania can be referred to as nothing short of a miracle, but the use of the word ‘miracle’ would be doing a disservice to the fans/developers who made it happen. Sonic Mania comes from the dedication of old-school underground Sonic fangame-creating and ROM-hacking fanbases, almost teeming with the ether of communities like Sonic Retro, that have been pining for a true sequel to Sonic & Knuckles since its release in 1994.
In fact, Mania is a result of the hard work put in by long-time classic Sonic fan/game dev, Christian Whitehead (a.k.a Taxman), whose work on ports of classic 2D Sonic games to mobile devices and modern gaming consoles, made in conjunction with Headcannon, served as the pitch for the entire project. While today the Sonic series is mostly known for its laughably bad modern 3D titles, with the pinnacle being 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Mania broke that (fungicidal) mold by bringing the Blue Blur back to exactly where he left off 24 years ago.
Mania’s gameplay is painstakingly put-together to be as true to the classics as possible, while introducing new gameplay elements, making it closer to an official sequel than any other Sonic game since the mid-90s, especially over something like, say, Sonic 4. The beautiful — and immediately nostalgic — soundtrack and visual designs add to this package as well. Above all, Sonic Mania is a unique success story, a triumphant moment that we don’t get to see often in an increasingly calculated world of big-name gaming. (Maxwell N)
23. Golf Story
All throughout the Switch’s banner first year on the market, there was one genre that felt severely underrepresented: Role-Playing Games. For a long time, it seemed like RPG fans on Switch would only have I Am Setsuna at launch to sink their teeth into until Xenoblade Chronicles 2 hit in December. Enter Golf Story, an indie release from the relatively mysterious two-man team, Sidebar Games. Billed as a spiritual successor to the stellar Camelot Mario Golf titles, Golf Story surprised many with its charm, wit, and inventive game design.
From its opening scenes, two things are obvious: Golf Story is all about the characters, and it never takes itself too seriously. Sharp writing with Australian sensibilities abound (“Sucked in!”) and keep players grinning throughout the classic underdog story. Golf Story leans into the typical sports narrative tropes to create a truly lovable cast of characters, as well as some of the most hilarious moments in a game I’ve seen in a long time. The mark of any great RPG is its storytelling, and Golf Story uses a combination of unique set pieces and creative dialogue box animation to drive its ridiculous story arcs home.
Though certainly not the focus, the actual golf gameplay is also quite satisfying during both side quests and full-scale matches. Though the elevation of the ground is a bit difficult to determine due to the 16-bit style, the game does an otherwise great job of providing a solid golf experience, with a full range of clubs, courses, hazards, and gimmicks. Optional side quests will test the mettle of the best players, while the main story does a good enough job of steadily introducing new strategies and concepts. If you’re in the mood for a silly adventure that might just trump the Mario Golf classics of old, you owe it to yourself to play Golf Story. (Brent Middleton)
What makes Inside a technical masterpiece — and one of the most polished video games ever made — is how it manages to do so much with so little. It’s simply amazing how much mileage Playdead gets out of a two-hour game with no real script, no dialogue, no boss fights, no real cinematic cutscenes, and no central hook. Inside is a masterclass in minimalism and restraint, and a prime example of how sometimes less is more.
It’s also a game that masterfully finds a double meaning in its metaphor, thanks to a secret ending that sees the boy unplugging the power to the facility. After doing so, he collapses into the same position as the zombified citizens under the government’s control. Here, Inside is perhaps breaking the fourth wall by implying that this ending is unplugging us, the players, from the game. When you turn off the switch, you are effectively relinquishing control of the boy, therefore ending the journey — perhaps underlining our own unhealthy obsession with video games and technology in general? Whatever the intent, be it a simple meta-commentary or something more, Inside left me with a lot to think about — something very few games do (Ricky D)
21. Super Meat Boy
For the unfamiliar, Super Meat Boy is a 2D sidescrolling platformer, and the objective of the game is to transport the protagonist, Meat Boy himself, to Bandage Girl, his beloved damsel in distress, who is usually located on the other side of the level. Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, here’s the catch. Super Meat Boy is as far from simple as anything could possibly be. The game is extremely fast-paced and incredibly unforgiving. The controls are smooth and responsive, but the overwhelming difficulty of the game manages to water down the beautifully executed mechanics. As you progress through the levels, you’re faced with wave after wave of various obstacles that will stop at nothing in their quest to stop you in your tracks. And in most cases, they succeed.
This is where the heart of Super Meat Boys success comes into play – Super Meat Boy is executed in such a manner that makes you want to keep on playing without it getting tiresome. No matter how many times you turn into a goopy pool of meat on the ground, you will be tempted to try again. It’s hard to determine which aspect of the game is causing this – it could be the speedy, smooth controls that allow the player to make use of a wide range of acrobatics. It could also be the lively retro-styled graphics that urges the player into returning to the game just one more time and/or the innovative level design, that is flawlessly executed without it ever becoming too repetitive for one’s taste.
No matter what it is, Super Meat Boy is indeed infused with a formula that makes it appealing to everyone from the most casual of gamers, to those who are always up for a challenge. One could say that the game is the personification of frustration, coated with an appealing layer of sheer fun that attracts all sorts of gamers. (Johnny Pederson)
20. Steamworld Dig 2
This sequel takes everything that was refreshing about the first tunnel-digging adventure and offers improvements at nearly every turn. In a sea of twisting Metroidvanias, the self-made labyrinths of Steamworld Dig 2 stand a pickaxe above the rest. It’s a fantastic example that there are still new places to go underground, and inventive gameplay that can take players there. Set some time after a simple robot 49er named Rusty uncovered some bad stuff happening below the surface of his ore-filled claim, this latest entry follows that rickety droid’s niece, a spry piece of machinery named Dorothy who goes in search of her now-missing kin. Armed with her similarly pointy tool (and eventually a few new ones), Dorothy uncovers even more sinister deeds simmering below — just like the first game, however, it’s up to her to carve out a path to get there.
Steamworld Dig 2 gives players more freedom than almost any other Metroidvania in how they choose to explore the world. With almost every surface able to be ground up into bits, chopping away makes tunnels that lead to precious ore scattered about, which in turn can be sold in town for supplies and enhancements that make mining easier, more efficient. This game is all about the pleasant rhythm of digging to get rich, but thanks to razor-sharp controls, awesome new abilities that allow for more creative traversal of the ever-growing mazes, and a more-focused map that relies more on carefully-crafted obstacles than the previous entry, the whole experience feels more polished. Cap that with great mining/robot humor and a hilariously cynical sidekick, and Steamworld Dig 2 is akin to striking the Metroidvania mother lode. (Patrick Murphy)
19. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
The popularity of grandiose role-playing games is prevalent among gamers, hence the hype surrounding Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the latest installment in the long-running Xeno series. There are faults to be found in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but far more noticeable are its instances of success.
A combat system that builds upon the mechanics of its predecessors means that crafting a cacophony of combos (complete with cinematic camera coolness) in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a walk in the park for Rex and his pals. Refinements to many aspects of its design — from the user interface to the management of side quests — assist in bolstering overall quality. The sheer variety of expansive environments throughout its colossal open world, a story that grabs one’s attention despite its inherent silliness, and a big ol’ bundle of secrets to unearth all result in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 being a splendid iteration of both its genre and series.
The cherry on top is the effortlessness in which it absorbs players, inviting them to sink countless hours into its ocean of eclectic activities with the utmost of ease. (Harry Morris)
18. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
The Nintendo Switch has seen some pretty great platformers within the past two years. Just to name a few, Switch owners have had the great pleasure of playing games like Super Mario Odyssey, Celeste, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, and Kirby Star Allies. Most recently, the Switch got an excellent port of one of the Wii U’s greatest offerings in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.
One of the biggest standouts on Nintendo’s successful hybrid device, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe tends not offer much new in terms of core gameplay compared to its last-generation counterpart, but that is by no means a bad thing. However, in the game’s port to Switch it does add a familiar character with Toadette, who can turn into Peachette (who looks identical to Princess Peach) via a power-up. Moreover, to make the Switch package come of even better value, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe comes packed with New Super Luigi U, which was a fantastic add-on for its day (during the Year of Luigi), and remains so today.
The fifth game in the New Super Mario Bros. series, Deluxe now stands as the pinnacle of the series. Simply put, it has refined the classic formula to a tee with its release on Switch.
Above all, much like the rest of Nintendo’s first-party library, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a highly polished product. New content may not be at the top of its list of priorities, but it more than makes up for it with solid gameplay mechanics. Nintendo knows its way around a good platformer at this point, and they are especially familiar with those of the side-scrolling sub-genre, as demonstrated by New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Switch owners would be remiss to not add this game to their Switch library. It strongly — and intelligently — adheres to the classic Nintendo game concept: feel-good, pure entertainment. (Brandon McIntyre)
17. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Those feeling a bit lost at sea upon finally fully exploring the massive world that Breath of the Wild immersed them in need have no fear; thanks to Bethesda and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you don’t have to go back to the real world quite yet. With its massive play space, stunningly beautiful visuals, and absurdly abundant list of quests, side quests, and side quests to the side quests, players won’t need much convincing to stay in this province of Tamriel for a spell. Whether you’re up for some dungeon looting, sword-and-sorcery combat, or for some reason really like crafting stuff, there’s something for everyone here. Join guilds, go on adventures, read lots of fake books, slay dragons, and eavesdrop on the staggering amount of conversations taking place in a world that almost seems to be a living, breathing thing — if enemies would quit getting stuck in doors, or you couldn’t fall through the ground.
Already played Skyrim? Play it again as a cat monster guy! Or maybe try your hand at being a vampire this time! The Switch version comes with all the previously released DLC, making an enormous game even more overwhelming. And now, thanks to the portability of the Switch, the Dragonborn can infiltrate all parts of your life — not just the couch-sitting ones. These many years later, Skyrim still impresses. Though it may feel like a slight step backwards to not be able to climb every visible surface like a nimble elf man, the inability to clear small fences shouldn’t dissuade anyone looking for an epic journey to pick up a sword here — either once again, or for the very first time. (Patrick Murphy)
16. Dead Cells
Dead Cells doesn’t necessarily evolve the rogue-like genre, but what it does expertly refines it. Sporting buttery-smooth gameplay with an addictive and rewarding one-more-run structure, Dead Cells is as exhilarating as it is brutally difficult. Each run through its procedurally generated levels is filled to the brim with pixel-perfect combat, relentless enemies, loot and upgrades aplenty, and — most importantly — a substantial level of variety that helps make each run feel distinct. This is very much a good thing — a mandatory thing, even — because repeating levels is what you’ll be doing as you die again and again, all in the name of mostly minuscule progress. Whenever you do get through a run and finally beat a boss or unlock some incredibly badass weapon for a future attempt, the satisfaction is all the sweeter for it.
Rogue-likes have nailed formulas like this in the past, and standing out in an arguably oversaturated genre is tough these days. Dead Cells couldn’t make a splash as just a hard game, and so its visuals are even more of a significant USP, seeming to be the pioneer for pushing indie developers’ updated nostalgia graphics from 8-bit to 16-bit. The game has that familiar Symphony of the Night look to it, and this focus not only comes off great, but also helps the game run beautifully. Put simply, the intuitive combat that Dead Cells hangs its hat on just wouldn’t feel the same in another visual style, and the combination of the two is so good that the game rightly sits right at the top of its genre. (Alex Aldridge)
Undertale is an independent RPG created by Toby Fox that relies on some traditional RPG tropes, and then marvelously subverts them. It tells an endearing story of a child who has fallen into a land of monsters, where the child must choose to either fight or spare their potential foes. The resulting battle-system is intriguing and rewarding, and ties smartly into the story itself. Often breaking down the fourth wall between game and gamer, Undertale plays with convention and manages to wrap together fun and intriguing gameplay as well as a compelling story. (Marty Allen)
14. Hollow Knight
Blasphemy be damned; Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania easily on par with — and possibly surpassing — the two hallowed titles the genre is named after. Hauntingly atmospheric, impeccably polished, and packed with an absurd amount of content that rarely feels less than organic, this indie gem has brought magic back to traditional platforming-based exploration that had been missing in so many of its kin.
Doling out its story through breadcrumbs of lore, Hollow Knight follows an empty wanderer as he descends into a mysterious bug kingdom whose protected stasis is being threatened by the creeping infection of an outside force. Making his way through the vast, decaying underground lands leads to the discovery of new allies, enemies, and powers, all of which contribute to a rich story, as well as help guide this warrior on his way toward discovering and fulfilling his ultimate destiny. Players who embark on this difficult journey will be rewarded with wonderfully lush environments, satisfyingly empowering upgrades, and a captivating vibe that manages to be both playful and ominous at the same time.
These elements alone are crafted to standards that would make some AAA developers jealous, but what makes Hollow Knight excel above its peers is superbly responsive gameplay merged with meticulous level design. Combat is composed of simple actions, but enemy patterns vary widely, leading to numerous viable strategies — especially when approaching any one of the game’s many brutal bosses. These massive encounters are memorable highlights, increasingly tough tests that require patience and mastery of the game’s various systems, including an array of charms that provide various buffs and additional skills. The game’s maps also exploit the deep system for movement, subtly pushing inexperienced players in one direction, while still providing a surprising degree of openness for the more adventurous to carve out their own unique paths via shortcuts and movement exploits.
The wealth of options and attention to detail in Hollow Knight is simply staggering when compared to others in the genre. Thanks to precision controls and endless secrets to discover, there is no doubt that players will continue returning to Hallownest again and again. Team Cherry has created a stirring world of myth and monsters that rivals the best Metroidvanias of all time. (Patrick Murphy)
13. Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley overall is an incredible game on PC, but being released on the Switch allowed the indie darling to create even more new experiences for players. In Stardew Valley, your character quits their day job to go take care of their grandfather’s farm, which he gifted to them when he passed away. Your days are mainly filled with farming, petting your animals, and getting to know the town and all of the neighbor’s quirks. It is the perfect game to relax with, as no task is too daunting, and it’s just so damn cute.
In the original PC release, Stardew had a more limiting and rigid structure, where you as the player can be tied to your PC for the day cycle — which in real lifetime is about fifteen minutes per in-game day. With the Switch, you’re now allowed to pick up and play the game in smaller increments as you see fit. Also being on the Switch allows Stardew the capacity to be more mobile, so you can take it with you wherever you need to go, even if that’s moving from your couch to your bed. Stardew is about filling your days with whatever pleases you, and in a way, that’s what the Switch as a system is about too. The two combined has a way of creating happiness, whether you’re watering your crops while on your lunch break, or fishing for that rare fish while curled up on the couch. (Katrina Lind)
12. Splatoon 2
Creating a sequel to a beloved shooter is difficult. If the game is too similar to the original, new players will compare it to any number of the typical annual shooting entries. On the other hand, existing fans of the series need to be catered to with familiar mechanics and game design decisions. Splatoon 2 manages to tread this line incredibly well and ends up feeling like a new game while retaining the tight, addictive Splatoon gameplay that made the original one of the best games of the surprisingly strong Wii U library.
It’s clear that the dev team listened to fan feedback from the first game, and made tons of small quality of life tweaks. There is now a difference between team ranks and single-player ranks. Players can finally change their loadouts between matches without leaving the lobby. The addition of pants and hair options allows for more character customization than ever in a game that’s very much about style.
At the same time, Splatoon 2 also succeeds with its major additions, like an inventive new story mode, a completely new horde mode that works online as well as locally, and the new ranked mode, Clam Blitz. These all offer incredibly fun and inventive takes on the shooting genre as a whole.
Coupled with noticeable visual upgrades and continued support promised for at least 2 years after launch, Splatoon 2 is an undeniable must-own for anyone with a Switch. (Brent Middleton)
11. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Mario has been relying on his feet for decades, and the precision gameplay behind the high-jumping, goomba-stomping action rarely disappoints. However, for the Switch Ubisoft had a different idea (so different that it was initially met with a chorus of internet boos), and instead decided to give Mario’s dogs a rest while putting the power in his hands — and players’ minds. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle might go against the grain a bit for those who never imagined concocting a strategy for anything outside of tricky platforming, or that their favorite former plumber would wield a firearm, but somehow it came together and worked beautifully. The X-COM gameplay translates amazingly well to the Mushroom Kingdom’s core characters, where Mario, Luigi, Peach must team with Rabbid lookalikes and a talking Roomba named Beep-O in order to stop a maniac bunny that can’t control his VR goggles. Or something. Like with the best Mario games, plot doesn’t matter that much; gameplay is where it counts, and Mario + Rabbids does not disappoint.
Once the oddity of not directly controlling Mario wears off, players are treated to a surprisingly deep and engaging level of turn-based strategy, as well as a variety of maps and enemies that constantly challenge one to rethink tactics from battle to battle. Those new to the genre might feel a bit intimidated at first, but like a typical Nintendo game, the difficulty is paced to perfection, never suffering from intense rises or falls, all the way through to the end. In fact, Ubisoft has done an incredible impersonation of Mario’s makers, nailing the colorful look and feel of the franchise so well that those unaware of the game’s actual developers could easily be fooled. A lot of love was put into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and the results amount to one of the best “Nintendo” games not made by Nintendo — ever. (Patrick Murphy)
10. Rocket League
What is there left to say about Rocket League? Nearly three years after its initial release, the game landed on the Nintendo Switch with additional updates, features, and new platforms (including the newly Nintendo-themed cars), that make this unorthodox sports game a must have on Nintendo’s hybrid system. Psyonix’s insane formula of rocket-powered cars playing soccer has only gotten better with age, and the added bonus of playing it on the go via local split-screen only adds to the game’s appeal.
Whether it’s online casual or ranked matches, friendly exhibitions, local co-op, or a challenging season mode, Rocket League never gets old. Switch players can even engage in cross-network play with Rocket League’s Xbox One and PC community, and to our surprise, this system works without a hitch. As someone who spent well over 200 hours with Rocket League on PS4, I see myself putting in way more hours on the Switch. Much like Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, or even Super Mario Odyssey, Rocket League is well worth your money if you consider how much time you’ll spend playing the game. A must-have for any Switch owner. (Ricky D)
9. Octopath Traveler
What sort of group dynamic drama happens when you posse up a grizzled warrior, a pure-as-snow cleric, a feisty merchant, an idealistic apothecary, a vengeful dancer, a pompous academic, a wise huntress, and a dumbass thief? You’ll have to play a different game to find out, as Octopath Traveler has no interest in telling that sort of macro story, instead keeping its focus on the eight individuals that populate its fantasy world. This approach may irk fans of intricate JRPG plotting, but creates an opportunity for role-players to take on more of a part than just mere button pushing, allowing them to fill in the relationship blanks by using an ancient weapon once known as ‘imagination.’
It’s a bold move, but Octopath helps jumpstart that inner creativity with lush visuals inspired by the 16-bit era, a hybrid mix of pixel art and polygons that results in gorgeous pop-up book quality. From shimmering desert sands to soft ripples of idyllic ponds, the many landscapes are stunning, themselves almost incentive enough to continue the eight quests. Luckily, Octopath‘s turn-based gameplay is just as engaging, mixing Boosts and Breaks with a variety of attacks and defenses to provide an accessible level of depth and complexity that should encourage players to try out new characters and strategies. It’s a throwback that captures the feeling of older JRPGs while simultaneously feeling fresh and exciting, making for one of the best games on the Switch. (Patrick Murphy)
8. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Sometimes an axe is too heavy or a sword is out of reach, and so you’re left to fight like a peasant with a shovel. Occasionally, the ridiculous can be an utter genius, and Shovel Knight blurs the boundaries of ingenuity. Shovel Knight is equally humble in its celebration of retro gaming, as well as innovative in its fresh approach to game design. Your shovel is a versatile piece of equipment that isn’t just used to defeat foes; much like in real life, its capability to dig provides opportunities to find treasure which upgrades your equipment. This furthers your valiant mission to defeat the Enchantress and save the Order of No Quarter from themselves. An Indie game published by Yacht Club Games, it began as a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign and has since created a legacy of its own. (James Baker)
At first glance, Celeste may seem like a typical 16-bit adventure, but as the game progresses it quickly becomes clear that Matt Thorson and his small team of collaborators have created something truly special. For a game originally created as a prototype in four days during a game jam (and later expanded into a full release), Celeste looks great and features one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent memory (courtesy of composer Lena Raine). It’s also blessed with tight controls, intricately designed levels, and loads of secrets to discover — and despite its difficulty, Celeste has received nothing but high praise from critics since its release. In fact, what makes Celeste stand above its peers is how it indistinguishably ties its difficulty to its message. In the end, the mountain at the center of the game isn’t just an obvious metaphor for Madeline’s struggles, but for our own. Each time you die can no doubt be frustrating, but the game encourages the player to never give up. Not once does it mock you, and instead, it places you back to where you died, allowing you to try again, hoping this time you will succeed.
Celeste is without a doubt the best indie game available on the Switch, both an excellent platformer and an engaging meditation on the perils and methods of tackling depression and anxiety. It is not pretty, but it is sometimes very beautiful. (Ricky D)
6. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
This one was just too damn good to leave in exile on the Wii U. While the attach rate on that console was staggeringly high, there were still plenty of fans who never got to experience one of the slickest, deepest, most gorgeous games in the genre. Nintendo clearly needed to fill a spot in their launch window with a big franchise, and few franchises are bigger than Mario Kart; in the end, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was a no-brainer. For those who didn’t get to experience it the first time, this latest entry boasts all the same great tracks (a mix of new and remastered favorites) and all the same great characters, including the amazing DLC cups, only everything is available right off the bat — no need to unlock.
As an extra treat, Nintendo also made several improvements, including a revamped battle mode, which is now actually worth playing. This time around they include arenas specifically designed for chasing your friends like a maniac globophobe, eradicating the world of enemy balloons. There are also additional modes that see karts attacking each other with piranha plants, or playing capture the flag with a Shine Sprite. In other words, there’s loads of stuff to do in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe besides the incredibly entertaining racing. With the ability to take the shell-throwing, banana peel-dropping, mushroom-boosting action anywhere, this really is the best version of the best game in the franchise. (Patrick Murphy)
5. Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze
Good things do come in big packages. The trick for any game developer is to find the small game within the big one, which is exactly what Retro Studios did with Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. Tropical Freeze is the fifth Donkey Kong Country sidescroller, the second made by Nintendo’s Austin, Texas-based studio, and some would argue the best of the bunch. The game doesn’t deviate much from the established formula, but Retro Studios has done more with this latest DKC than a simple change of scenery. The most striking improvement is that Donkey Kong is in HD for the very first time, and he looks great. But don’t be fooled by its beauty; Tropical Freeze is a tough platformer, seemingly designed to frustrate even the most gifted gamers. Here is a game made with wit and excitement, boasting plenty of moments of visionary beauty, but also a game that will drive you mad. I lost count keeping track of the number of times I died while playing, but it was all worth it.
Tropical Freeze‘s six islands contain some tense challenges, as well as lots of unique level ideas. Each level delivers a sense of scale that feels bigger than most two-dimensional games, and the constant switches and level variety keep it fresh and interesting throughout. Tropical Freeze is full of astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills, and ills. The lengthy boss fights and the multitude of well-placed secrets and collectibles stand out as some of the best parts of the game, and like many Wii U titles, Freeze also features a couch multiplayer mode where a second player can choose between Diddy, Dixie Kong, and Cranky Kong. Meanwhile, original series composer David Wise returned to create one of the best video game soundtracks of this generation. Brawling, magnificent, heroic: that’s Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. (Ricky D)
4. Bayonetta 2
Had Bayonetta’s second adventure been as watered down as many expected it to be due to Nintendo’s family-friendly stance, it wouldn’t have been a true sequel. Luckily, not only did Nintendo allow Platinum Games to make Bayonetta 2 the way they wanted to, but they actively encouraged them to go wild. As a result, Bayonetta returns as her crude, violent, highly sexual self, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bayonetta 2 takes everything the original set up and improves it greatly. Comboing split-second dodges and consecutive attacks feels even more satisfying than in the original, and the Switch allows the visuals to shine, making the original look inferior in comparison. Nintendo-based costumes also add an extra visual flare, allowing you to pummel demons with Bowser’s limbs, or slice angels with the Master Sword.
But above all, the greatest part of Bayonetta 2 is its protagonist. Bayonetta is honestly one of my favourite characters of all time. Her unrestrained enjoyment of battle definitely rubs off on the player, encouraging you to utterly destroy and humiliate your opponents. The story itself isn’t breaking any new ground, but Bayonetta’s lovable personality and interactions with other characters never stops being entertaining, and only enhances your enjoyment of the game. We can all thank Nintendo for providing not only the creative freedom but the funding necessary to bring us this absolute gift of a game. (Ade Adeoye)
3. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
There are very few game franchises where every release is a major cultural event for the medium. Leading with the tagline “Everyone is here,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is absolutely jam-packed with more characters, stages, music, and game modes than ever before. The sheer value it offers is ridiculous (especially when compared to other major fighting games).
The truth, however, is that this latest iteration has delivered far more than just a massive volume of content. Ultimate is a fast-paced, addictive romp of a fighting game so well-balanced that nearly any of the 70+ fighters are viable given enough practice. Impressively, it also lends itself well to being a perfect pick-up-and-play game that gamers of all skill levels can jump into and enjoy. This perfect balance of depth and accessibility has almost always been the hallmark of the series, and it’s back in full effect here.
There really is something for everyone in Ultimate. The new smattering of multiplayer modes (the fan-favorite Smashdown is especially fun) and specially customized Classic Mode battles offer significantly new ways to play for series veterans. Meanwhile, the new single-player mode — called World of Light — is a fresh way for newcomers to gradually become acquainted with different characters and matchups. And the rock-solid core fighting mechanics? They tie everything together. The result is a must-own Switch title right up there with Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. (Brent Middleton)
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is arguably the most important Super Mario game since Super Mario 64 launched on the N64. I personally may not like it more than the incredible 3D World released on the Wii U, but Odyssey reinvents the series for a whole new generation.
What makes Odyssey special is that it isn’t so much a sandbox game as it is a toy box game. Instead of making a vast open world, the creators decided to make the levels in Odyssey smaller, but packed them with as many characters, puzzles, hidden secrets, call-backs, and various obstacles as could possibly fit. The whole game is basically structured like a giant playground, and the more time you spend messing around, the more likely you’ll be rewarded for it. Not since Super Mario 64 has a Mario platformer placed such a heavy emphasis on exploration, and boy is it ever fun running around these breathtakingly gorgeous, intricately designed levels that are oozing with style. Odyssey encourages players to explore every nook and cranny, and it helps that Mario now has Cappy to use as a standard throw attack. That possession power, embodied by Mario’s new sidekick, is what makes Odyssey stand out from every other entry in the series. It’s a brilliant idea that allows for dozens of additional playable characters, all with different powers, abilities, and ways of getting around. Professionally, Mario has always worn many hats, but in this game, he’s anything and everything he wants to be.
For every new idea Odyssey throws at you, this is also a game filled with nostalgia, and it’s worth noting just how many amazing references there are — both big and small — to the series’ past. You’ll encounter familiar characters, challenges, music cues, and more from past games, and there are even moments when Mario even transforms back into his 8-bit self! These 2D segments where Mario enters a warp pipe and is transported to a world that precisely recreates the 8-bit Super Mario Bros‘ mechanics and visual style may be the game’s biggest surprise, and sometimes it offers the hardest challenges. And for those of you who have finished the game, I’m sure you’ll agree that the New Donk City music festival, which recreates the stages from the original Donkey Kong, might be the biggest gaming highlight of the year.
The finale is a brilliantly executed sequence as well, letting Mario hop inside Bowser’s mind and body to rampage through a dying moon. That particular turn of events feels poetic and is an ingenious way to celebrate one of the longest running franchises in gaming. It’s also a testament to the sheer creativity underlying Odyssey that even after watching the credits roll, there’s so much left to discover. They say it’s all about the journey and not about the ending, but with Odyssey, the journey continues on. (Ricky D)
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterclass in open-world design, a true watershed moment in gaming history. The result is nothing less than magical. It artfully blends the best bits of the franchise’s thirty-plus year history and produces a sandbox so full of mystery and so full of adventure that it could take you well over 200 hours to uncover most of its secrets. What we have here is the most ambitious title in the history of the franchise, an epic journey that quivers with anticipation, wonder, surprise, and excitement. It never gets old. It never gets tiring. There’s not a minute that goes by in which you’ll want to put down the controller, because Breath of the Wild keeps players constantly curious and fascinated by the world around them. There’s truly something unusually haunting and engrossing about the game, and whatever your opinion on the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the greatest games ever made.
Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced, and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, and simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brings a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s a landmark in video games such that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. In the end, however, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)
PAX South Hands On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
An In-Depth Analysis of FIFA’s Career Mode
It’s a well-known fact that career mode on FIFA has been a long-neglected element of the best selling sports games series of all time. But for soccer fans who want to pretend to be a football manager, but also want to personally play the game, FIFA is currently the main option.
The problem is: for a 60 dollar game, almost nothing about FIFA career mode works properly.
Two of the most game-breaking bugs in FIFA career mode are so bad that it fundamentally makes the game unplayable for those who want to feel any sort of immersion.
The first is a bug that makes it so that top teams will sign many more players for a position than they could possibly need.
For example, Bayern might end up signing 6 or 7 great center backs, and then only play three or four of them, while what they really need to sign might be a winger or a fullback.
This leads into the second huge issue: even when a team like Bayern HAS 6 or 7 great center-backs, they will STILL often choose to start second or third-string center backs! This often leads to top teams languishing at 12th or 13th in the tables by the end of the season, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Everything about this image is wrong. Everything. The top three teams in this table shouldn’t finish higher than 7th more than once every ten seasons between them, and teams that should finish first and second aren’t even in the top eight. 64 points near the end of the season for first place is also a very low number.
There’s been plenty of other issues as well. Even on the highest difficulties, AI on both defense and ESPECIALLY offense ranges from poor to horrible, with the AI on offense rarely actually running at the defense (making defending boring and unrewarding), leaving players like Messi or Hazard to not even try to use their incredible dribbling ability and speed and instead pass away the ball as soon as they get it.
Instead, the most common way the AI scores are by performing a janky, unrealistic and clearly scripted pinball, with impossibly precise passes between 4 or 5 players before the ball ends up in the back of the net.
Another major problem with the game (though some might call it simply a feature in presenting a more arcade-like, less realistic take on soccer) is your ability (if you’re a big club) to buy multiple huge players and bring them to your club easily in your first season, making the game an absolute cakewalk.
After years of incompetence and the ignoring of career mode’s many issues, however, EA finally faced serious backlash with the release of FIFA 20–the most broken iteration in the series yet.
For a while, #fixcareermode was trending on twitter, and reviews blasted FIFA for its litany of issues, like players going on precipitous declines in stats right when they reach the age of 30.
Yet these bugs were treated by some in the media as a first time thing, issues that had only appeared in the latest iteration. They weren’t.
As one Reddit user noted to Eurogamer: “In the last few years, every FIFA game released has had bugs that ruin the immersion. Teams not starting their strongest lineups and unrealistic tables have been an issue not just for FIFA 20 but earlier editions. Our cries for patches and change have fallen on deaf ears. The community has been grossly neglected.”
The linked article by the Independent above wasn’t accurate in other ways, either. It claims that only simulated matches suffered from the bug of teams not playing their best players, and other articles have claimed that this bug only occurs when a big team plays against a small team.
But neither of these claims is accurate.
You could play against a top team like Barcelona, and you could also be a top team like Real Madrid, and Barcelona would still consistently field third or fourth-string players over the likes of Messi against your team.
This wasn’t an occasional thing, either. At least three or four top players were benched for players 20 or more points below them every game. Every. Single. Game.
I haven’t even mentioned the commentary in FIFA, which is so buggy and so immersion-breaking in its disconnection from reality that it’s more immersive to just turn it off entirely.
What is so infuriating is that that many of the bugs seem like fairly minor fixes (commentary issues aside), something that seems like it would take no more than a few hours of rooting around in the code to figure out whatever misplaced number value was causing the issue.
The fact that these major issues have existed for at least no less than SIX years (FIFA 14 was the first game I played) indicates definitively how little EA cares about its products, and how little the designers care about actual football or delivering an enjoyable experience out of Ultimate Team.
Of course, Ultimate Team alone in 2017 accounted for almost a third of all of EA’s revenue from sports titles, so it’s somewhat understandable why Ea focuses most of its attention on that element of FIFA.
But with the amount of effort put into the new “futsal” mode in FIFA 2020, or the three campaign-like “Journey” modes from FIFA 17 to FIFA 19, one wonders why the developers couldn’t have spent just a little more effort to fix a mode that was in many ways fundamentally broken.
FIFA have made certain changes to career mode over this period, so it’s not like they’ve ignored it entirely. But the changes made to career mode in the six years I’ve played it have all either made the game much worse, slightly worse or had no great effect.
The major changes over this period have included:
A slightly updated youth system, which has suffered from its own serious bugs over the years, such as youth prospects never gaining stats in sprint speed or acceleration so that you end up getting stuck with players with 50 to 70 speed for eternity; a widely disliked training system for players that is utterly broken and unfair, allowing you to train players to abilities well beyond what is even vaguely realistic within a matter of a year or two; a new display screen for your team; the removal of form; the slight modification of morale; adding the ability to talk with your players; and, last but not least, transfer cut scenes which are the most incredibly pointless wastes of time in any sports game, both for the player and for the developers–at least they’re skippable. There is the ability to customize your manager–perhaps the most positive change made in this six-year period. But that’s still stunningly sad given that you will very rarely actually see your manager at all.
None of these modifications, you may have noticed, go any way towards fixing the fundamental issues with the game, issues which have been pointed out to EA year after year.
It’s fair to say that one of the main reasons that FIFA got away with what it did for so long was not thanks to the players, but the media.
Year after year, reviews for FIFA received solid scores (hovering around the low to mid 80’s), whereas user reviews were usually much lower. It was only this year that media reviews seriously pointed out issues with the career mode.
The fact that FIFA received so much better reviews from reviewers as compared to players is easily explained away by the fact that the former usually play the game for comparatively shorter times, and therefore tends to miss a lot of the details.
In response to the recent outrage which had finally reached a degree of publicity that EA could no longer ignore, EA finally patched some of FIFA’s issues, like the problem of teams not fielding their strongest lineups at least semi-frequently. This was a huge step towards making career mode not fundamentally broken, but whether or not the other most glaring issue of teams like Juventus signing 9 80+rated strikers (yes, that happened in my game once) has been solved remains to be seen. Given that I mostly gave up on the series after FIFA19 continued the same problems of its predecessors, I don’t think it’ll be me that finds out.
- Evan Lindeman
‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season
Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.
The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.
Like a Warm Blanket
Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.
The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.
The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.
An Intimate Take on Storytelling
Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.
It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.
Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.
The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.
Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.
Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.
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