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3/01/2019

Spoony's Best Games of 2019

2019 was a damn fine year for games, and here are my favorites of the bunch.  And as ever, do keep in mind that I've played every single game released across all formats this year to spare you, my humble readers, the trouble of telling me I've missed some.  Please hold your applause.

15. Ion Fury (Voidpoint, PC/Linux/Switch/PS4/XBone)

The prequel to the 2016 flop "Bombshell", but thankfully it succeeds in every way its predecessor failed, bringing back the Build Engine with all the panache and clever design that made games like Duke Nukem and Blood great in the first place.  Fast-paced action in surprisingly realistic environments (well, as much as a twenty-four year old engine can muster, at least) with a huge number of interactive objects, secrets to find, clever enemy designs, tons of references to old 3D Realms games and a cool wisecracking protagonist, as well as some new features for the engine like climbable ladders and alt-fire for almost every weapon.  It may not be the modern era's prettiest shooter, but I was having too much fun with it to care.  Ion Fury is the long-lost cousin of all the classic '90s shooters.

14. Garbagefield Saves Christmas (Zero X. Diamond, Sega Master System)

A game I knew of since its inception as I personally know its developer, but I'm always awed at just how much effort he put into a fan game.  It spent more than a year in the works being written, coded in an adventure game engine and then run through a converter for the Sega Master System, then retooled to work around that system's small video memory limitations and just the general crappiness of the compiler program.  The end result is a silly memefest, but one with a lot of replayability thanks to its numerous endings, over 300 pieces of artwork to experience and a sharp sense of humor throughout.  Check it out if you haven't, because it's 100% free and good for plenty of laughs, especially if you're a fan of Joel from Vinesauce.

13. AI Dungeon 2 (Nick Walton, 2019)


A simple but brilliant idea that could only be realized in the age of artificial intelligence (and pointing it at a website that centers on user-submitted choose-your-own-adventure stories), AI Dungeon starts with a simple prompt, then takes whatever text you put in and writes a story around it.  And does a surprisingly good job at that; though the adventure almost never goes where you would expect (I once picked a zombie apocalypse prompt and didn't manage to encounter a single zombie), it's always strangely enthralling to see where it'll end up.  Being an ever-evolving piece of tech, it does require a "subscription fee" of sorts (by backing on Patreon), but it's well worth the price in my book, because it finds new ways to surprise me every time I start up a thread.

12. River City Girls (WayForward/Arc System Works, PC/PS4/XBone/Switch)

River City comes back again, this time having the girlfriends of the two protagonists (Kyoko and Misako, previously seen in Kunio Tachi no Banka) battle their way across the city to rescue them.  The game is quintessential RCR at its best - buying upgrades, completing side-missions, pummeling bosses and leveling up to unlock new special moves.  This, plus some hilarious dialog and the overall off-beat tone, make it a consistently fun experience.  There have been a lot of missteps with Technos properties in recent years, but River City Girls is definitely not one of them.  Worth a play for fans of the old beat-em-ups, especially if you can get a friend to play it with you.

11. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (Playtonic Games, PC/PS4/XBone/Switch)

I didn't play the original Yooka-Laylee, but I was quickly drawn into this one.  The game works elements of classic Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi's Island and Rayman together to create some lengthy and fun stages with a lot of secrets to find.  It's also built on a pretty creative gimmick - namely, that by clearing levels you're building up a reserve of extra hit points to take on the titular Impossible Lair, a long and treacherous maze of deathtraps that you can attempt at any time from the main map screen.  Effectively, it lets skilled players aim straight for the end and try to finish the game as quickly as possible, or less-experienced gamers complete the various extra levels and collect powerups to power up so they can take a crack at it on their own terms.  Either way you approach it, though, it's just a well-made and fun platformer with a lot of charm.

10. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Remake) (Nintendo/Grezzo, Switch)

Link's Awakening holds a lot of good memories for me - it was the first Zelda game I ever owned, I played it too many times to count, and I still have that same copy I purchased so many years ago today.  So naturally, when a remake was announced, I was a bit skeptical.  Thankfully, they did a lot to maintain the charm of the original game while moving it into the era of HD, thumbsticks and 12-button controllers.  The overall layout of the game and many elements of its quirky, surreal design (including most of the silly animations) remain present, but the controls are updated (letting you keep the sword and shield equipped at all times in addition to two weapons) and a lot more is added for those who have already completed the game numerous times - the requisite Hero Mode (no heart drops and double damage), reworked versions of the existing minigames and a cool new one where you get to build your own custom dungeons out of rooms from existing ones you've cleared, earning rewards as you go.  The original will always hold a special place to me, but this remake certainly does it justice.

9. ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove! (Humanature Studios, PS4/PC/XBone/Switch)

ToeJam and Earl was a cult classic on the Genesis, and though it had a couple of sequels, neither achieved the same level of success either critically or in terms of sales, leading to the franchise going dormant for a long time.  Back in the Groove, however, effectively melds elements of all of the previous games together into one solid experience; though drawing primarily from the roguelike feel of the original game, some elements of 2 (search radar, minigames) and even 3 (six playable characters with three more unlockable) show up as well.  That, plus co-op play both local and online, make this arguably the best game yet in the series.

8. Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix, PS4/XBone)


Many fans were quick to decry Kingdom Hearts III as a disappointing end to the series' long-running story arc.  I honestly couldn't tell you why, though, as I pretty much got exactly what I expected from it - another romp through a silly storyline on the backdrop of numerous Disney-themed worlds, with plenty of similarly-inspired characters, dungeons, spells, minigames and abilities to complement it.  And with it comes easily some of the wildest action the series has ever seen, with Sora now effortlessly able to run up walls, leap acres at a time, transform any weapon he has into a ridiculous instrument of massive firepower and - most silly of all - build up a meter with combos to unleash barrages of flashy special attacks or summon amusement park rides (from pirate ships to roller coasters to a laser-equipped bumper car) to devastate enemies by the truckload.  In short, glorious, over-the-top cheese that its fans take seriously even as the game itself doesn't.  Yes, fifteen years of expectation buildup ensured that it couldn't possibly please everybody, but I for one enjoyed what I got.

7. Yu-Gi-Oh!: Legacy of the Duelist Link Evolution (Other Ocean Interactive, Switch)

It's been a long while since I was into Yu-Gi-Oh, but this game brought me back to it in style.  Not only is it a monstrous game with over 9000 different cards to mess around with, but it's a look at the entire history of the franchise, letting you recreate basically every important duel from all of the different series, either using a relatively faithful deck (with some updates to be a bit more viable) or just using your own.  You can even flip things backwards and use the opponents' decks instead, which I certainly got a kick out of (most of the time, anyways).  I was also a bit surprised to see how much the rules had changed in my long absence and was eager to try out some of the new mechanics like Synchro Summons and Link Monsters, which add a whole new layer of strategy.  Basically, if you're a fan of the series, this one pretty much gives you everything you could want.

6. The Outer Worlds (Obsidian Entertainment, PC/PS4/XBone)

Obsidian bounces back into the limelight with a creative tale set in a space age run by megacorporations.  However, they also bring back the twisted humor and showy neon-decorated comic book Atomic Age feel of classic Fallout and Bioshock, and the result is a game brimming with both charm and atmosphere.  The game features some surprisingly good improvements on the 3D Fallout formula too, letting the player use "time dilation" to slow down actions and target enemies more effectively in combat, a much more intuitive UI for tweaking and repairing weapons and armor, and a condensed but efficient set of skills and perks.  And of course, the sense of freedom and choice is strong throughout, with frequently unclear moral boundaries and even earning "flaws" if you get beaten up too much by certain foes or repeatedly fail at certain tasks (but which grant benefits in themselves, making it worth doing at times).  It's not quite as open and free-roaming as you'd expect a space game to be, but it's nevertheless a great RPG that captures everything great about Obsidian and the tremendous talent they have on staff.

5. Resident Evil 2 (Capcom, PC/PS4/XBone)

Resident Evil 2 is regarded as one of the best games in the series (if not #1) by long-time fans, so Capcom definitely had their work cut out for them trying to remake it and have it live up to the original's legacy.  I am glad to say, though, that they did an excellent job.  Retaining the same engine as 7, 2's remake puts things back in a third person perspective but retains a lot of the hallmarks that made 7 work so well - an overall slower pace, tougher enemies, a constant sense of claustrophobia and dread as you're constantly stalked by deadly enemies in a dark, cramped police station, and some truly disturbing scenes of madness and mayhem.  That, plus an incredible presentation, make this one of the most effective horror experiences I've ever seen in the world of gaming.  And of course, as per series standards, there is plenty of replay value too, with higher ranks unlocking new goodies and alternate game modes.  Resident Evil is back in style after a long time in the gutter.

4. Devil May Cry V (Capcom, PS4/XBone/PC)


It's been over a decade since Devil May Cry 4, and in that time we've had DmC, two Bayonetta games, and a slew of other action titles that have managed to blend flair and depth in expert fashion, so returning to the classic character action franchise was a tall order indeed.  Thankfully, Capcom was up to the task, giving us three playable characters (Dante, Nero and a new character called "V" who fights with summoned creatures), a crazy storyline, tons of hidden secrets and extra challenges, and, of course, action that's as intense and challenging as it is rewarding to master.  Trish and Lady unfortunately aren't playable this time around, but even with that, you shouldn't be wanting for too much more with all DMC5 has to offer.

3. Indivisible (Lab Zero Games, PC/PS4/XBone)

Announced and crowdfunded in 2015, Lab Zero's pet project finally made its debut in 2019 after a handful of technical issues, delays and setbacks, and the result is a blast to play.  Basically, what you get is a game that melds fast-paced platforming with Metroidvania elements, beautiful hand-animated characters, a fantastic soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta, a gorgeous southeast Asia inspired game world and a combat system inspired by (but much superior to) Valkyrie Profile.  I was also just impressed with how seamless the game is - you swap between gameplay styles with no distinguishable breaks, zapping back and forth between the inner realm and the minimap requires no loading, and both the combat and the action remain consistently fast-paced, making it a game you can easily get swept up in for hours.  But unlike most modern games, it also clearly knows when to stop - the game is a relatively reasonable length for titles of this type (roughly 30 hours), and the 20-plus playable characters, each with their own unique movesets and abilities, with more coming in future patches, ensures that it's a game rife with tactical variety and replay value.  Indivisible may not be the best of its kind at any one thing, but it's a masterful blend of a lot of polished elements into one smooth experience, and that makes it a blast to get swept up in.

2. Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo, Switch)


As those who know me know, I wasn't really taken with the first Mario Maker; it felt very limited in many respects and lacked a lot of elements of the games it was purportedly allowing you to build, the lack of quality control on random level assignments was frustrating,
and the fact that Nintendo seemingly was just using it as a cheap excuse to wage war on ROM hackers and modders just left a sour taste in my mouth overall.  Thankfully, Super Mario Maker 2 addresses many of these faults, with many more features (working in Mario 3D World and even Super Mario Land elements), and having a single player campaign with well-designed example stages, a difficulty select for its endless mode and a tutorial full of pointers built in has seemed to significantly cut down on unplayable crap levels.  And with all that nailed down, it's classic Mario action in an engine that lets your imagination truly run wild - a ton of fun, and what the first game should have been.

1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Artplay, PS4/XBone/PC/Switch)


Three years after Mighty No. 9 ruined Kickstarter for everybody and almost a full year after a buggy demo was released, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night finally made its debut.  Thankfully, they did very much learn from the mistakes of their predecessors and (with some help from WayForward) delivered a polished, entertaining and aesthetically-impressive indie Castlevania title.  And it really does capture the feel of its parent exquisitely well, even retaining finer elements like jump-cancelling, many very similar enemies and obstacles and the intricate equipment customization and souls shards system of games like Aria of Sorrow.  But it also does enough to keep itself distinct, with some creative level designs, gameplay elements and a very in-depth crafting system that, properly used, lets you get a leg-up throughout the game and customize your character to a T.  I did still hit a few instances of lag and slowdown and the odd visual glitch here and there, but all things considered, this is a fine return to form for a classic franchise and format after Enric Alvarez coated it in feces and threw it into our faces.