With the decade drawing to a close and the next console generation rearing its head, it was no surprise that 2019 was an absolutely stellar year for games. Independent developers and major studios alike endeavoured to bring us some of the best experiences to date, providing some of the finest Swan (or Geese) songs we’ve seen at the end of a generation.
Much like everyone else does throughout December, I’m going to list my favourite games of the year! Buckle up.
5. Legend of Zelda:Link’s Awakening
Look, I know it’s a remake of a game which released over twenty years ago, but it’s SO good. Every metre of Koholint Island has been lovingly and painstakingly recreated, shining a light on what is one of the most unusual Zelda games – apart from Majora’s Mask of course.
Waking up from a shipwreck, Link finds himself on an island overlooked by a giant egg. In typical Zelda fashion, Link must travel the island in search of new weapons and upgrades in order to wake the sleeping Wind Fish who can send him back to hyrule. Featuring some stellar dungeon design and a number of memorable bosses, Link’s Awakening is not one to be missed, and is another feather in Nintendo’s cap.
4. Kind Words
Kind Words is not your typical gaming experience. It’s not only one of the most interesting concepts this generation, but I think it is one of the most culturally important. You spend your time in Kind Words sending, and more importantly replying to, messages. Everything is strictly confidential and the identities of the people posting are kept anonymous, but it’s your task to send positive and uplifting messages of support.
In a year of vitriol and hate in the online space, Kind Words is an enigma. There is no negativity here, only strangers providing support to one another anonymously. There are a number of ingame collectibles, including new music and cute little stamps which provide more of a ‘game’ feeling by encouraging engagement with the game’s systems.
Kind Words is currently only available on Steam, but I think an Android and iOS release would be welcomed, especially in the elderly community where loneliness is so prevalent.
3. Trover Saves the Universe
Created by one-half of the Rick and Morty writing team, Trover Saves the Universe is by far one of the most enjoyable VR experiences this year. Blending the likes of platforming, puzzle solving and action, Trover Saves the Universe is an absolute blast which never overstays its welcome.
Playing as a ‘Chairorpian’ (a race of people who literally sit in chairs, heh) you must traverse alien worlds in order to save your dogs from being used to destroy all known universes. The irreverent humour of Justin Roiland is prevalent throughout and the VR tech is used in some pretty clever and ingenious ways.
What makes Trover Saves the Universe so special is that it was built from the ground up for VR. Rather than forcing awkward VR segments into the game, every element of the gameplay, narrative and gags are all built around VR..
More VR experiences like this please next generation.
It’s no secret that I love the Yakuza series. I’ve reviewed multiple games, created numerous articles and will generally talk anyone’s ear off about the series if I can. Even with this in mind, I was initially sceptical about Judgement. I wondered how well Kamurocho would translate when you’re on the other side of the law and I couldn’t help but wonder how well the studio would adapt to telling such a different story.
Fortunately, that scepticism was unneeded because Judgement is a remarkable title and the perfect venture away from the far more established Yakuza series.
You play as Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced lawyer turned private detective who quickly becomes embroiled in a homicide case. What begins as a simple case soon escalates as Yagami finds himself further enveloped in a government-level conspiracy with lots of twists and turns. The story can be a little difficult to follow at times, but the writing is fantastically dramatic from start to finish.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is also still incredibly Yakuza. One moment you may be fighting thugs in the local fast food restaurant and the next you are playing a VR game in which you have to beat up a lion. It’s all very silly, but it never detracts from the more serious narrative beats, something that Sega have mastered with the Yakuza series.
I don’t think Judgement is for everyone, and I don’t think it would do a great job of selling what makes Yakuza so special, but I had a lot of fun during my time with Yagami and his detective agency.
1. Outer Wilds
Plonked in a solar system that goes supernova every 22 minutes, Outer Wilds boasts one of the most unique premises this year. You must use your time wisely to solve the mystery of an unknown alien race and stop the endless loop you find yourself stuck in.
Most games set in space use a large scale approach, focusing on the infinite scale of the known universe. Outer Wilds is much more contained, setting the player free in a small solar system filled with several. Planets. Flip the classic idiom ‘a mile wide, but an inch thick’ and you’ll get an idea of Outer Wilds structure.
What makes this game so special though is its 22 minute cycle. Think Majora’s Mask’s three-day loop, but smaller. Each planet has a unique life cycle, many of which interact with one another in peculiar and groundbreaking (quite literally) ways. The way in which Outer Wilds weaves this together with some very credible astrophysic theories is what makes it so stellar.
The Soundtrack by Andrew Prahlow also gets a special mention. Each song is bursting with character, and for good reason as the soundtrack forms a vital part of the game’s narrative. If you haven’t played Outer Wilds yet, please do. It’s one of the most original premises we’ve seen this generation and it is an utter delight to experience.
If you would like to read more, you can check out my review of Outer Wilds over on The Sixth Axis.
A few honourable mentions
Kingdom Hearts 3
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Destiny Year 2