Unlike last year, I've actually played enough games in 2019 that I can actually put together a full list of ten games for a end-of-year best-of list! Though I still don't play anywhere near as many new games as I used to, there were still enough great games that I come away fairly happy with how 2019 turned out in terms of games, and that's without playing a few of the more notable releases. As always, in no particular order, here is the Top 10 Absolutely Completely Fine Games of 2019:

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

Presented without context.

A large portion of the middle of 2019 was spent in my bed, with my Switch playing all three Ace Attorney games. I have a spotty history with these games: I own the first two on DS, as well as the first trilogy release on 3DS, but I never further than the first game. I always petered out somewhere during the (very good, but very long relative to the others) bonus fifth case. This year, with the trilogy getting released on Nintendo's latest, I committed myself to finishing not just that first game, but the two sequels as well. I imported a physical copy from Japan because I'm a crazy person, and proceeded to spend a few weeks, playing a hour or so before going to sleep.

I did get through all three games, and I'm glad I finally did. I've always been a fan of Ace Attorney's goofy humour, even in my brief jaunt with the games in the past, but seeing it through three full games, it remains consistent throughout. Characters are fun and charming, the mysteries are enjoyable, and the series has some genuinely fantastic writing, culminating in a story-line that is amazingly well tied-together at the end of the absolutely brilliant third game, Trials and Tribulations. Some of the individual case stories are naturally much better than others, but none in my opinion are outright bad, not even the infamous Turnabout Big Top. I sincerely hopes Capcom plans on putting out a release of the second trilogy of games on the Switch because, even if the reception to those games weren't as strong, I'd love to spend some more time in this series.

On a slightly related note, I watched the Japanese live-action film adaption of the first game and it isn't actually that bad???

Apex Legends

Be jealous, Wraith players.

I don't really give a shit about battle royale shooters. I don't care about Fortnite, and I never bought into PUBG when that was the hottest thing around. So it says a lot about how well crafted an experience Apex Legends is that is managed to suck me in for a good few months after it's surprise release earlier this year. A lot of that is down to just how damn good it feels to play, which is to be expected from the folks what made Titanfall. Apex doesn't have quite the same level of crazy mobility as those games, but it still feels real slick and smooth: crouching into a slide after sprinting, which increases momentum when going down a slope just feels great. The gunplay feels just as good as in Titanfall, but the greatly increased time-to-kill means you have to rely more on being able to control the recoil of your guns. The suite of playable characters is also fun, with set of abilities that serve to give each of them their own niches and playstyles, but not being so wholly defining like say, an Overwatch character - if you can shoot real good, you'll do well regardless of which character you play. Me, I mostly played Wraith, because I got her incredibly rare "heirloom" set from a lootbox, which gives her a cool knife that she's always flipping about in first-person view.

I haven't kept up to much with their post-launch support, however. I started to fall off the game not long after the release of the season 1 battle-pass, partly because the rewards were kinda shite, partly because I'd mostly had my fill of the game at that point. Far from the heady days of Modern Warfare 2, I just don't really care to stick with shooters for a long time these days. By all accounts, Apex's post-launch stuff could probably use work. I remember reading about numerous controversies regarding pricing and availability of limited items and whathaveyou. Regardless, the core experience is fantastic - so much is that Fornite just straight-up stole a bunch of ideas that Apex brought to the table - that you'd be remiss not to give it a go should you have even a passing interest in multiplayer shooters.

Tetris 99

Original Game Boy theme is best, don't @ me

Moving on from one high-profile battle royale game to another. "Tetris battle royale" has been a meme since, well, pretty much since battle royale games have been in vogue, but those mad lads at Nintendo actually went ahead and made just that in earnest. And it's really damn good!

I mean, I say that knowing full well how hard it is to fuck up Tetris (not looking at you, Ubisoft), but the battle royale format of Tetris 99 just works so well. It's fairly standard competitive Tetris at it's core - clear lines to send junk lines to your opponent - but the intensity is ratcheted up a few notches when it's ninety-eight opponents rather than just one. There's also a criminally under-explained badge system, wherein you gain badges for knocking out other players, which in turn acts as a multiplier for the junk you send people's way, which becomes essential once there's a smaller number of players remaining.

Tetris 99 takes the near perfect core that is Tetris, and turns it in a nail-biting multiplayer experience unlike anything else I played this year. Unfortunately, I will likely never bask in the glory of winning, because I'm not great at Tetris, and the people playing Tetris 99 are savage.

Hypnospace Outlaw

Remember when the Internet looked like this?

As someone who likes adventure games, and is old enough to have nostalgia for late-90s/early-00s shitty, GeoCities-ass Internet, I feel like this game was practically made for me. Set in an alternate history where a company called Micomsoft have developed the Hyponospace Headband, a thing you wear while asleep so that you can browse the Hyponospace, a closed-wall Internet very reminiscent of the type of pages found on the aforementioned webhost from the 90s. You are initially in the role of an enforcer, tasked with clamping down infractions such as copyright infringement, harassment, and the like, before things, naturally, start taking a turn. It starts out very simple and directed - report X examples of copyright violation, for example - but eventually your objectives will become much more vague, the solutions not immediately obvious. At one point you will need to seek out files hidden in unlisted directories, the game's puzzle solutions looking like something resembling actual Internet detective work.

The real draw though is the vast amount of fake Internet created for the game's Hypnospace though. You can tell the it was created by someone with a genuine reverence for the Internet of the time the game is pastiching. Plenty of "under construction" GIFs, badly-utilised, pre-made homepage templates, lots of very bad (but great) autoplaying music, a plethora of cringy user homepages penned by characters in their teens. It all comes together to create a very believable, if not completely accurate tech-wise, but very enjoyable fake Internet that both parodies and celebrates a particular era of the World Wide Web. Almost certainly my favourite experience of the year, if you're the right age, with the right interests, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Pokémon Sword

I'm a big fan of the league card creator.

I almost feel bad putting this on this list. I've you've paid any attention, you're probably well aware of the myriad of controversies surrounding these latest entries in Game Freak's cockfighting simulator. Aside from the fact more than half of the total amount of pokémon have been unceremoniously excised, there are so many examples of baffling decisions and lack of polish in this game. I feel bad for liking it.

And yet, I do. I'm not even sure why. I've spent over sixty hours playing Pokémon Sword, which is the most amount of time I've put into a Pokémon game in a long, long time. I'm not sure what it is. The new monster designs are fine. The new characters designs are cute. The world design is as painfully linear as it's ever been, and story is, as usual, mostly devoid of any challenge. Maybe it's because this game is on a system that outputs to a TV? It was very easy for me to just grab a controller and kick back in my chair, rather than have to be hunched over looking at a small portable screen with most of the previous games. Who knows? All I know is, this isn't quite the unmitigated train-wreck the Internet would've had you believe it is.

Baba is You

It can get quite complex.

This is the game on this list that I have spent the least amount of time playing. That's through no fault of the game, however - I'm just a dumbass.

Baba is You is legit one of the coolest puzzle games I've ever seen. It's also not one that's easily and succinctly described in words, but makes total sense after watching maybe five seconds of it. Basically, it's a 2D, grid-based game, where you control a cute little bunny thing, the titular Baba. Around each stage there will be short phrases that govern the rules of the stage: Baba is You (the player controls Baba), Wall is Stop (walls block your movement), Flag is Win (touch the flag to complete the stage), etc. The twist is that the words that make up these rules are also physical objects in the game world, which you can move to break rules, and create new ones. For example, remove one of the words in "Wall is Stop" and now you can freely move through walls.

It is an incredibly ingenious and simple concept, that very quickly and exponentially balloons in complexity once more words and verbs are introduced. There are so many stages that I couldn't even fathom what I had to do, let alone figure out how to do it. Particularly devious are alternative versions of stages, where a very simple change to the layout now means that the solutions you thought you were so clever for figuring out is now useless.

I am terrible at puzzle games, and always have been, but the core concept of Baba is You is so fantastic, that I'm content with the fact that I will never come close to ever finishing it.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

This monkey got what was coming to him. Trust me.

FromSoftware's latest is a departure in many ways from their previous titles in the awkwardly fan-titled Soulsborne series. Structurally, and in many ways mechanically, it is still very much in that wheelhouse. There is still a bonfire equivalent, checkpoints that respawn all the enemies in the area should you choose to use it. There is an estus flask equivalent, an upgradable, limited use healing item, which is replenished upon resting at the aforementioned checkpoints. The world still has a lot of that "fight through a long area to eventually open a shortcut that loops back to the checkpoint" level-design. There's a lot here that's familiar if you've played a Souls game or Bloodborne.

The difference comes in terms of character upgrades - you can't mess around with skill points, you merely have health and damage upgrades, which are dolled out steadily over the course of the game, and only one main weapon. The combat is much more aggressive than any of the other games -  rather than deplete enemies' health bars, you overwhelm their posture by attacking them while they're blocking and, crucially, parry their attacks, which opens them up for a deathblow attack.

This style of combat means that you are forced to press the attack: letting off will allow the enemy's posture to recover, actively punishing more passive playstyles. You cannot slowly but safely chip away at a foe in this game and as such, this entry is the most divisive among players thus far. Personally, it's my favourite combat in the series thus far. Parrying a flurry of attacks is exhilarating. Unfortunately, I never finished the game - Sekiro loves its multi-phase boss fights, and the second phase of the final fight broke me.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

uhhhhhhhh

Before getting a Switch, I had only ever had Nintendo handhelds growing up, not their home consoles. Therefore, before Breath of the Wild, the original Game Boy version of Link's Awakening was the only Zelda game I'd ever really played. But I played it a lot. It's probably one of my favourite games of all time. So an announcement of a remake for the Switch made me ecstatic.

And... yeah. That's about all there is to say, really. It's a very faithful remake of a twenty-five year-old game. Aside from the shiny new tilt-shift-style graphics and a few minor quality-of-life changes, it's the same game. And that's fine. It had been a long time since I'd played the original, so it was a pleasure to revisit one of my favourite games of my childhood with a more modern coat of paint.

Cytus α

The art is real pretty.

Thought I'll never be super hardcore, I am a fan of rhythm games. Large portions of my youth were spent playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band, both with friends and solo. Outside of the plastic-instrument side of the genre, I've not played to much. I loved the Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games on the 3DS, and had a lot of fun with Taiko no Tatsujin on the Vita (and will probably eventually pick up the Switch game).

Cytus was originally an iOS game, and this version packages all of the added content into one nice package, which is a lot. There is a staggering amount of songs to play in this game, that I haven't even seen all of them yet. It is a very fun game to play though. You can play it with a controller, but similar to how it was presumably played on a phone, the best experience is to lay your Switch down on a flat surface like a desk, and play using the touchscreen, using your fingers almost (but obviously not quite) like playing a piano. Getting through a difficult track is an immensely gratifying feeling, and there's a lot of good music in here, though a lot of it is, for lack of a better word... weeby.

As a fairly avid consumer of Giant Bomb's content, a lot of the staff spent a lot of time a year or two ago talking positively about playing Cytus II on their phones. I hope a similar complete release of that game also finds its way onto Nintendo's handheld, because I don't own a tablet and hate playing games on a comparatively tiny phone screen.

Disco Elysium

This was the exchange that convinced me this game is great.

Disco Elysium is a CRPG, often compared to beloved games such as Balder's Gate and Planescape: Torment. I've never played any of those games, but I'm not sure how apt the comparison really is. The RPG aspect is there for sure, you level up and gain skill-points which you invest in a wide swath of different traits. The game is also constantly doing skill-checks in dialogue, both explicitly and quietly in the background. But there's no combat at all in this "CRPG", so the result to me ends up feeling more like an isometric point-and-click adventure game, with a healthy dosing of RPG elements.

Genre-semantics aside, this game is fantastic. You wake up as a 40-something detective, suffering from amnesia as a result of a spectacular drinking bender you embarked on before the start of the game, and you are tasked with solving the mystery of a man that has been hanged from a tree in the yard outside the hostel you are staying at (and have trashed during the aforementioned bender).

The RPG elements come in effect based on how you use your skill points, which you invest in various physical and mental traits of your character. Invest in "Drama" and you'll be more adept at lying to people... and detecting lies from others. You have more physical skills like Endurance, as well as more personality-driven ones like Empathy and Volition. Maybe invest in Electrochemistry if you want to take a lot of drugs. Each of these skills also manifest as voices in your head, which you have full-on conversations with. There is so much dialogue in this game, and most all of it is fantastic and also very responsive to how you decide to play your character, making me excited to try another play-through once I'm done with my current.

Bonus Not Released in 2019 Entry: Granblue Fantasy

Nothing quite like lucksacking two limited characters on a free draw.

Often in my end-of-year list I usually include a game that was very explicitly not released that year, often because I spent a lot of time playing it that year, often to pad out the list due to not playing as many new releases as I have in years prior. This year, I managed to get 10 bona-fide 2019 releases (though, granted, Ace Attorney is maybe stretching that a bit), but I still wanted to include Granblue Fantasy because of the former of those two reasons: I have spent somewhere in the region of four to five hundred hours playing it in the back half of this year.

Granblue Fantasy is a mobile game. In fact no, it's a browser game. It was clearly originally designed for phones due to the aspect ratio, but you can just load it on a browser on a PC if you wish (which I do). I've dabbled with GBF in the past: I was drawn by the gorgeous artwork and the Final Fantasy pedigree of some of the folk who worked on it. I started playing it a few years ago, but fell off fairly quickly, for whatever reason. But then, this past June, the game had a collaboration event with, of all things, Code Geass, an anime I hadn't even seen yet (though granted, I owned and was interested in). At this point, GBF sunk its hooks in me, which are still firmly planted.

For whatever reason, a grindy game will occasionally grab me and take a long while to ever let go. A game that I can mostly mindlessly play while listing to music or a podcast. Diablo III got hundreds of hours out of me, and I talked last year about getting balls deep into Warframe. Granblue Fantasy's grind is like if you took Warframe's and multiplied it by like, a factor of 10. It's also a pretty complicated game, again making me draw somewhat superficial comparison to Warframe. It's also remarkably free-to-play friendly, for a Japanese gacha game. Sure, you could pay the equivalent of roughly £25 to pull a 10-draw from the gacha and likely get nothing but trash, but the fact your power in this game comes from a grid of weapons you put together, which (outside of super-high-level stuff which I'm nowhere near close to) are farmable and not even possible to pay for, it never feels like you have to pay money. Shiny, cute new characters are nice, yes, but not strictly required to progress. Plus, the developer, Cygames, has a reputation for being very generous to its players in the gacha space that you can still get a lot out of it without ever paying a dime.

But it's the presentation aspects that have me. Despite the very obvious limitations of being constructed to play in a browser window, the stellar presentation shines through. The art, as mentioned, is fantastic. The music is incredible, some of my favourite tracks from a video game ever, with legendary FF composer Nobuo Uematsu working on a lot of the earlier tracks. The voice acting for the massive amount of very well-designed characters is stellar all round. The stories it tells, both in its main quest as well as side stories and events range from incredibly fun and hilarious to profoundly emotional and impactful. And this is only what I've experienced from playing this game for six months or so, the game is entering into its sixth year in 2020, which no plans to slow down anytime soon. Granblue Fantasy has me so invested in its world and characters that I'm waiting with bated breath for Relink, the big console RPG very of the game in development, as well as the fighting game by Arc System Works, the Guilty Gear folk. Even the anime, which by itself is nothing to write home about was great because of seeing these characters I love animated along with music I already adored.

If you told me even at the beginning of the year that a mobile game that runs in a Chrome tab would become one of my favourite games ever, I'd have called you mad.

Welp, it finally happened. I've been half-joking for a few years at the end of these posts that next year's list might not be ten games, and here we are. I couldn't make a list of ten games simply because I have not played ten games that released in 2018 for long enough to feel comfortable placing them on an end-of-year best-of list.

As per usual, no hard requirements other than a 2018 release date is needed for a game to appear here, and this list is in no particular order.

Pokémon Let's Go Eevee

I caught a shiny Koffing. He's adorable.

(And Let's Go Pikachu as well, I guess, but that's not the one I played.)

I guess this is now the second full-on remake of the original first generation Game Boy games. Aside from a few key differences, it's those games again. You know the drill. The story isn't quite the same, and your player character isn't Red or Green this time around (and your rival isn't Buttface Blue), but if you're otherwise familiar with the gen 1 games, you know what to expect here. The big change is how the game handles its wild critters.

There are no more random encounters. Instead, you see 3D models of pokémon populating the area you are in, and you simply walk up to them (or they'll walk up to you) to initiate a "battle" with them. This actually goes a really long way to making the various locales of Kanto feel a lot more active and "alive", if you'll permit me the silly buzz word. At the same time however, I feel it removes a lot of the surprise from the game. One of my favourite things about playing the Pokémon games of yore was entering a new area, triggering a random encounter, and having no idea what weird inhumane abomination/cute cuddly animal was going to appear on my screen. Some of that is still there, especially when you see something like a massive Onyx spawn in front of you, but it's not quite the same. On the whole, it's probably a positive change though, almost solely for making the overworld feel much less static than it was in previous games.

There are no more wild pokémon battles. Instead, you get a catching mechanic taken straight out of Pokémon Go, that mobile game you might have heard of, including everything right down to throwing berries to make pokémon easier to catch. It certainly tends to streamline the whole catching of pokémon thing, but I'm glad it seems to have been confirmed that it won't be in the mainline, new generation game coming next year. It's well-suited to the more, side-game type affair that Let's Go is.

If you're a Pokémon fan, or have any sort of reverence for those original Game Boy games, you should probably give this game a bash. The updated visuals for the various sights of Kanto, and the revised versions of those classic tunes do a fantastic job of tugging on those nostalgia strings.

Return of the Obra Dinn

The game certainly has a look to it.

So, this is the obligatory "game I haven't spent as much time playing as the rest" entry. Partly because some stuff came up that took my attention away not long after buying it, and partly because this game makes me feel like a total dunce. A game almost always preempted by "the new game by that bloke what did Papers Please", Obra Dinn is a detective/puzzle game like nothing else out there.

The setup is thus: It's 1807. The Obra Dinn, a ship belonging to the Honourable East India Company has returned to port after having gone missing, and all of her sixty crew and passengers have expired. Your job, as an insurance adjuster, is to work out the fates of everyone aboard: you must place names to faces and what (and who, if applicable) killed them. To help you with this, you have a list of the crew's names, rank and nationalities, a couple of photographs, a map of the ship, and a magic pocket-watch that lets you see a frozen-in-time vignette of a person's last moments. 

It's a simple enough task: who are these people, and how did they die? The game gives you all the information you will need to deduce these facts, but the game won't hold your hand in any way: it's all on you, the player. You will have to rely on your own investigative skills and deductive reasoning to figure it all out. For example, the first body I was able to correctly identify quickly due to picking up on his Scottish accent (something that wouldn't have been as easy to say, an American player) and that his uniform suggested a high rank. But there are a handful of other ways to arrive at the same conclusion. You have to follow trails through multiple vignettes just to identify one person. You make to make use of clues such as what they're wearing, how they talk, how they refer to other people, and plenty of other subtle cues. It's one of those games that makes you feel incredibly smart when you have that eureka moment and figure out the identity of that one guy you couldn't place, and equally as fucking stupid when you struggle to do the same for plenty of the others.

Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night / Persona 5: Dancing Star Night

You came to the wrong neighbourhood.

Remember a couple of years back, they did a rhythm game spin-off/sequel to Persona 4? Well, they're at it again, only this time with the characters and tunes from Persona 3 and last year's 5. I'm putting these games as a single entity on this list because honestly, that's how they should be consumed, IMO. Each game, individually, just isn't quite worth the full £40 asking price, in my opinion. These games got an English release late this year, but I played them in Japanese, because Amazon Japan was at one point selling the limited edition that came with both games and the soundtrack for, after shipping and import costs... about £40. Which is the right price, I feel. I feel a little guilty placing a game(s) on this list that I'm now going to be fairly critical about, but I did get enough time and enjoyment out of them to warrant their inclusion here, I think. I just have some misgivings about the Persona rhythm games on a more mechanical level.

Remember how, in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, there was an entire story mode, with unique characters, plot and a decent length? Remember how, in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, despite it being an obvious cash-in, there's was a lot of obvious love put into it, lots of neat references and stuff around the periphery of the rhythm gaming? Yeah, there's not a lot of that in 3 and 5. There are no story modes. There are cutscenes: there is a premise, some sort of justification as to why SEES and whatever-you-named-your-squad-in-Persona-5 are dancing, but, based on my very limited grasp of the Japanese language, it's pretty flimsy. The Persona 3 gang are dancing because... they were all summoned by Elizabeth into the Velvet Room in a dream, so they can just let loose and dance? I think? I know enough Japanese to say confidently that the word "dream" definitely appeared numerous times during that opening cutscene, but not much else. There are also a bunch of Social Link/Confidant scenes you unlock after hitting certain requirements where you just hang out with the various characters for a bit (and eventually, can enter and look around their bedrooms). It seems like some nice, fanservicey stuff, but nothing that offers anything of real substance. 

The games just feel a bit soulless compared to 4's dancing counterpart. A lot of the nice charm and fanservice around the edges of that game are missing from these two. The song offerings are fine. 3's is clearly the stronger lineup here. The best songs in 5, in my opinion (both to listen to and to play) are the ones that are just lifted wholesale from the original RPG. The fancy Japanese LE I bought also came with a download code to play a HD PS4 version of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, and the differences are clear. Aside from a few graphics looking a little pixely (it was originally a Vita game, after all), it's obvious how much more care went into that game. There's a sense of style and cohesion to every aspect of Dancing All Night, right down to the menus, that's just missing from these new offerings. 

I've also some issues with the rhythm gameplay that pertains to all three games, but I've already harped too much on a game(s) that's supposedly one of my best of this year. I will say this however: it is possible to clear (as in, make it all the way to the end of) a song, only for the game to give you a failing grade. That is, and will always be, fucking stupid. This is in addition to the game having a (barely relevant if you're halfway competent) mechanic that fails you if you miss too many notes. There are fundamental issues with the game design that I feel that the games are only held up by their connection to Persona, and the charm that that imbues. If you're a big Persona fan (as I am) and a casual rhythm game fan, you can do a lot worse than these games. But otherwise, maybe wait for a (hefty) price drop.

Red Dead Redemption II

My Arthur is a very dapper man.

It seems that Rockstar's latest offering is this year's example of a game that was released to almost overwhelming universal acclaim, only for a few weeks to pass and for people to double-back and go "Wait a minute! This game isn't any good at all!". Well, lemme tell you what, feller. This game is good. It's very good. The part where you, well, play it though, is perhaps the least good part of it.

Though I never finished it, I was a fan of Red Dead Redemption The First. Free from the shackles of Grand Theft Auto's exhaustive satire, attempts at social commentary and just overall silliness, Red Dead was free to tell a much more serious and mature story, and that aspect is something that Rockstar have absolutely doubled down on for this new one. It does that thing that prequels like to do where, by nature of it being a prequel and the story being mostly a foregone conclusion, puts most of its focus onto its characters, and RDR2 does this so spectacularly well. We know, by virtue of RDR1 existing, that Dutch's gang doesn't make into the second decade of the 1900s. But we don't know the details of why that is, who the major members of that gang were (besides those will a role in the first game) or what happened to them. 

And it is through this storytelling that Rockstar have created in Arthur Morgan, not only their greatest protagonist, but perhaps one of the best protagonists in gaming as a whole. Arthur's characterisation, his entire arc, beginning from little more than an unquestioningly loyal thug/Dutch's hand, to, well, certainly not that, is perhaps one of the most compelling performances I've witnessed in a game. Rarely have I cared so much about a character, been so utterly enthralled by them, and been left thinking about them so long after their story had concluded than I did Mr. Morgan. His journey, his Redemption, if you will, is something to be experienced.

Almost every other aspect of RDR2's presentation is top-notch. The other characters aren't quite as compelling as our leading man, but a few certainly come close. The performance of Dutch in particular is a highlight, oozing a charisma and a caring, father-like demeanour that from the very outset has you understand why so many people follow him without question. The acting all round is top tier. The soundtrack is also sublime, with some incredibly affecting vocal performances playing at key moments in the story. And of course, special mention going to the open-world itself, quite possibly one of the most realistically gorgeous worlds ever made for a video game.

It's a shame then, that all of these outstanding aspects of RDR2's presentation are marred somewhat by the part where it's a video game that you play. If you're familiar with Rockstar's previous open-world games, you'll have come to expect their brand of sluggish movement controls and dodgy shooting, and they certainly seem to have focused on that aspect, but not with the aim of making it snappier. Controlling Arthur feels like you're controlling an actual person, for better or worse. He has weight, he can't turn on a dime. Which is fine, for a nice atmospheric stroll down the street to the saloon, but considerably less fine if you're wanting to do anything with any sense of speed or accuracy. The amount of realistic, but lengthy animations from doing almost literally anything from crafting a meal at camp to picking up your hat all adds up quickly. The controls in general are also far from great, and while I've not had as much of an issue with this as others have, I absolutely have accidentally shot somebody that I didn't mean to because I hit a button expecting it to do something else.

Red Dead Redemption II is absolutely something to be experienced. But your tolerance for muddy controls will definitely affect said experience. If you couldn't jive with Geralt's movement in The Witcher 3 before they patched in better movement controls, well, you might not be in for a fun time. Fantastic, exciting, emotional and moving, but perhaps not fun.

Tetris Effect

This is some very pretty Tetris.

Y'all like that Tetris? Of course you do. Tetris is damn near close to as perfect a video game as there will ever be.

A Tetris game being one of the best games of the year is a shock though because, as good as Tetris is, it's very much a known quantity. A Tetris game being good isn't particularly surprising or even particularly noteworthy because, well, it's Tetris. Of course it's good.

So I think that speaks volumes about just how fucking good Tetris Effect is.

Tetris Effect is brought to us primarily by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, that guy what's known for making real trippy games with an emphasis on interactive music. You know, stuff like Lumines and Rez. And that style works so well when it's built around the core that is Tetris that it's a wonder that we've never really seen any attempt at it before. Something about the eclectic soundtrack reacting to you rotating and placing tetrominoes, coupled with the visuals is just... cool.

I'm not going to harp on too much about it. I didn't have some profound emotional reaction to Tetris Effect. I didn't ascend to a higher plane of existence. It's just a really, really good Tetris game, and sometimes, that's all you really need.

God of War

Menus for days.

I have never been a God of War fan. I didn't dislike the series, I just felt little towards it other than apathy. "Kratos is an angry Greek man who kills everyone and everything because he is angry" was about the summation of the games' story in my head. So that this latest entry not only offers a pretty great story experience, but also turns Kratos into something resembling a character with depth and nuance is astounding. 

The shift in gameplay design is interesting as well, from the zoomed-out, button mashy combat of the previous games, to the more close-up, grounded combat of this game. It fits well with the very grounded (in comparison) story that they're telling. Kratos's wife has passed, so him and his son, Atreus, must journey to the top of a mountain to spread her ashes. It's a very simple and intimate story that would seem completely out of place in the earlier games.

The setting is also different. Kratos has seemingly travelled north, away from Greece, to a realm inhabited by the pantheon of Norse deities. This idea is perhaps my favourite part of this game: the idea that different religious pantheons and their gods all exist in the same world, and can be travelled to from one another. In this game, Kratos interacts with the likes of Jörmungandr and Baldr, but the idea that, some future God of War game could be set elsewhere is cool as hell. Kratos in Egypt, with Amun and Osiris making appearances, or in Japan with Amaterasu and Izanagi showing up? That would be incredible.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best screen in the game.

I'll be honest: I've never been a huge Smash fan. As someone who's fairly heavily into competitive Street Fighter and other traditional fighting games, I've never really taken the competitive Smash scene seriously. I mean, it's hard to, where you have to turn off a bunch of shit like items and only use certain stages to make it "competitive". 

I do, however, think that Smash as it is originally envisioned by it's creators, as a fun party game to mess around with your mates with, is very good. It's a very good game that nobody should be taking seriously. Throw in a bunch of Nintendo characters and a bunch of weird items and just let loose, as God intended.

Smash Ultimate is kind of overwhelming. There's like, 70-something playable characters, ranging from Nintendo mainstays to weirder third-party folk like Solid Snake and Simon Belmont. There's a seemingly limitless supply of other characters in the form of "spirits", that you unlock and then equip to provide bonuses and effects when playing in different modes. The ways in which the game creates allusions to a bunch of characters that aren't in the game is great. For example, if you go through Ryu's classic mode (an arcade mode equivalent), one of the fights is against a green Diddy Kong, on a jungle stage, while Blanka's Theme plays in the background. The amount of cool little details in this game is amazing.

I will never (and don't care to) git gud at Smash Bros. I don't need to. I already have plenty of other fighters to scratch that itch, and Falcon Punching the shit out of Mario is fun enough as is.

Warframe

Mesa is my favourite warframe. Hit 4, everything dies.

So, Warframe isn't really a 2018 game. It's not really an any year game, since it's still technically in open beta. It was first playable in 2013, but I don't think anyone was putting that version of Warframe on their 2013 GOTY lists. So, the best time to put Warframe on one of those lists would be in the year where you were first truly sucked in by it, which for me, was this year.

I played Warframe back in 2013. I even have a nice little Closed Beta badge on my in-game profile. But I didn't play very much of it. I messed around with it here and there, spent maybe a week or so doing co-op missions with a friend, then fell off. There wasn't a whole lot there. "I'll check back sometime in the future and see what's up", I thought.

Fast-forward five years, and Noclip's two-part documentary covering the history of both Warframe and its developer, Digital Extremes, released earlier this year. That was the point where I went "huh, maybe I should see what's up with Warframe these days". And, almost 400 hours of playtime later, here we are. There's a whole lot there now.

Warframe is a weird game. It's one of the best free-to-play games I've seen, on account of the fact that: nothing gameplay relevant except inventory slots require real money to acquire, all of the best stuff worth acquiring with real money is just cosmetics, and the fact that the real-money currency is trade-able, creating a fairly large and robust player-run economy. It's weird: The game will prompt you spend the real world currency on many different screens: to buy weapons when viewing your collection of them in the arsenal, to pay to rush the construction of blueprints you've constructed, to buy almost anything in the in-game market, and it's almost never worth it. Acquiring new weapons, warframes, etc for free, with the exception of a handful of very grindy examples, isn't actually that difficult. Paying to skip in a game where grinding is the core doesn't make much sense.

And for a game about grinding, the stellar gameplay makes it so that grind almost never becomes boring. The incredibly fast and fluid movement makes it feel great to zip through entire levels, and feels like no other game out there. The very large variety of weapons and warframes with unique effects and abilities makes it very simple to switch it up if you feel things starting to get stale from using the same loadout for too long. There are a lot of things to do in Warframe. Some of it better and more fleshed out than others, but the sheer variety is staggering, and often overwhelming to new players. But if you get over the initial learning curve, Warframe will keep its hooks in you for a long time to come.

 

And so, that's it once again for another year. Will 2019 be the year where I do some writing that doesn't involve my favourite things of that year? Probably not. I didn't do a top anime of 2018 list this year because I literally only watched three episodes of a single 2018 show. I would however, maybe like to do a post in the new year talking about some of the non-2018 stuff I watched, but don't hold your breath for that. I am nothing if not incredibly lazy and unmotivated when it comes to this blog. 

I think that 2017 is going to be one of those years that will be remembered for just having a plethora of fantastic game releases for a long time to come. Spoken in the same conversations as years like 1998 and 2007. The early part of this year in particular was just chock-a-block full of really great games. I don't play quite as much games as I used to, and have in the past struggled to even come up with 10 games to put on these lists, but this year I managed it with games to spare! There were so many great games I didn't play because I was too busy playing other, also great games! So, here is the Top 10 2017 Games That Were Definitely Pretty Decent.

Tekken 7

AKUMA IS IN IT

I have a long, but sporadic history with Tekken. Back when I was but a wee sprog, Tekken 2 was one of the games I played a lot of during the PS1 era. I have fond memories of Tekken 3 releasing, and my dad spending days phoning up the local video-rental shop to see if their one copy of it was available to borrow. Eventually, it was, and it was great. Of course, I wasn't particularly good at them, nor really understood any fighting game fundamentals (and wouldn't until a few years ago when I started getting really into Street Fighter IV), but mashing my way to victory against easy-level CPU was a good, fun way to spend many hours of my pre-teen years. I also spent a lot of time doing the same with the PS2 and PSP versions of Tekken 5. Fast-forward to this year, and Tekken 7 is finally here. It's... a little sparse in the single-player content. I can't play Tekken as well as I can SF, so I actually found myself a little wanting for solo stuff. There is a fancy single-player story which is... very silly, but still pretty fun. Simply put though, it's still Tekken. It looks and plays like Tekken, which is all you can really ask for.

Also, Akuma is in it.

Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy

This is what PS1 games looked like, right?

Crash Bandicoot 3 is one of my favourite video games of all time. This game could've been a remake of just that, and it still would've made this list. The fact the first two games are also in here is just icing on the cake. The remade visuals are pretty much perfect, invoking that "this looks exactly how I remember it as a kid!" feeling.

The only real knock I can give it is that the platforming physics for all three games are based on the third. This generally isn't a huge problem, but, for the first game in particular, which demanded a lot more precise platforming challenges from its players, makes it a little bit of a tougher game than the PS1 originals. A lot of fun hours packed in this package, and it launched at sub-£30! Best Value™!

NieR:Automata

This game gets me.

As always, I never rank these end-of-year lists that I write. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't have some semblance of an order in my head. So, let it be said that Nier: Automata is not only my game of the year, but my game of the generation thus far. Sure, the game isn't perfect. The game's combat definitely has a lot of depth available to it, if the player wants it, but the game never really invites the player to delve deeper, especially on the normal difficulty. The game's world, while, in my opinion, is pretty great, could definitely do with some fleshing out and polishing (there are a few invisible walls strewn about in places you'd think there shouldn't be). The game's plot, while enjoyable and certainly goes some places, isn't totally outstanding. The side-quests, some of which have some truly incredible writing and worldbuilding, are usually little more than fetch-quests. The pacing of the second "playthrough" could've done with some work to trim it back a bit. The game absolutely has faults. But then you have Ending E. Quite simply, the most profoundly emotional sequence I have ever experienced in my over two decades of playing video games. It's such an amazing, incredible thing, which I absolutely won't spoil, that, above all else, works because it is a video game. Transplanting that moment into any other medium (including simply watching a let's play) without losing any of its impact, is impossible. And that should be celebrated. Nier: Automata takes such advantage of it's existence as a video game for storytelling purposes, that I can only hope that other developers take inspiration from it to create truly unique story experiences that are unique because they are video games. Nier is filled with so much heart that, for all of it's faults, I can't help but utterly adore it. This game is so, so much more than the sum of its parts.

Also, the soundtrack is fucking sublime. One of the few I've felt compelled to physically buy a copy of. Keiichi Okabe is one of the best composers currently in video games.

Persona 5

Look at this dope-ass battle menu!

Persona 5 might be the most stylish video game I've ever played. The fact people were going completely fucking apeshit over footage of menus during early trailers should say it all. This game looks and moves like no other, especially among games in its genre. Turn-based combat is almost always a slow and deliberate affair, but Persona 5 makes it fast and punchy, not just through the unparalleled UI design, but also seemingly obvious decisions like mapping all the top-level battle options (attack, magic, items, party, etc) to a single-button press. While the overall visual aesthetic of P5 feels like an evolution of the previous couple of games, it's such a massive improvement that it's almost as if they skipped a game or two in that progression. It's incredible. Shoji Meguro's always impeccable soundtrack (this time focusing on jazz, compared to P3 and 4's hip-hop and J-Pop, respectively) slots in perfectly, with a whole host of superb standout tracks. The story while, maybe not ending in a way I was particularly liked, was still overall great, with a framing device that I personally thought was amazingly cool. I spent damn near one hundred hours playing Persona 5 to completion, and I had to try real hard to not immediately becoming totally invested in a new game plus playthrough. It is a damn good game, one of the masters of its genre. I can't wait to have my mind completely blown by what Persona 6 might end up looking like.

Also Haru is best girl, for those of you wondering.

Hollow Knight

original content pls dont steal

The debut game from Team Cherry, a new Australian developer who have made pretty much the best metroidvania game in recent memory. A really nice, hand-drawn art-style, set in a deep, dank, dark underground fallen civilisation populated by bugs, both humanoid and less so. From a storytelling and lore perspective, Hollow Knight takes a lot of cues from Dark Souls: hard exposition is scarce; a good deal of the storytelling is done through environment; friendly NPCs are sparse, and they mostly talk in riddles. The whole game is dripping in atmosphere. The gameplay itself is also great. A combat system that, while fairly simple, is tough but not punishingly so, and new movement abilities are decently paced so that, by the time you're nearing the end of the game, you rarely feel like you're not in complete control of your character. The world map is huge, though I will admit, making your way through it can be tedious at times (since backtracking is a staple of this genre). There are also a couple of issues I have with the mapping system, but these are two niggles in what is otherwise, a very exceptionally well made and enjoyable game.

Also, the devs are supporting it greatly, with (so far) two decently-sized content expansions released for the game.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

BotW has some real pretty vistas.

So, this will be the part where I say for the first time on this blog that I bought a Nintendo Switch. For all intents and purposes, it is my first Nintendo home console. Of course, I own a SNES, an N64 and a Gamecube, but those I all acquired during a retro collecting phase; I never had them when they were the current hotness. Nintendo handhelds, however, I've grown up with all the way since the original Game Boy, so naturally I'd eventually end up with a Switch, Nintendo's latest handheld/home console hybrid. I have been mostly using it as a console however, hooked up to my TV.

I bought it for this game.

Breath of the Wild is a triumph. It is the greatest open-world game ever made, and I sincerely believe that. Previous entries in the Zelda franchise (namely, the very first game and Ocarina of Time) pretty much created their respective genres. BotW however, looks to an already well-established one, and polishes it to near-perfection. This game is a true open-world experience. You are only given one concrete goal: Defeat Ganon, something which the game leaves completely up to you in how you approach. The entire world itself is expertly crafted in such a way, that, no matter what where you look you will see something interesting to do or a cool place to go. There is always some reward for anything you do, even if that reward is simply a breathtaking view after climbing to the top of a mountain. As someone who loves exploring for the sake of exploring in games, BotW feels like it was made for me. There are climbable towers: however, upon scaling them the game doesn't just jizz a bunch of waypoint icons onto your map like every other open-world game with towers: it simply fills out the topography of the local area. You then have to use your newly-acquired vantage point to visually check out interesting waypoints yourself. Such a novel concept!

I honestly could speak a lot more about BotW: the game's writing is full of charm and a really goofy sense of humour; the combat is fun and challenging, with an unbelievable amount of options at your disposal; the way the game utilises its amazingly understated soundtrack is nothing short of masterful. However, I've already waffled on for much longer than I usually do about a game in these end-of lists. All I will say is that Breath of the Wild was easily worth the £300+ I had to pay in order to play it.

Destiny 2

Have you played Destiny? 2 will feel pretty familiar.

Honestly, there's been so much negative press and drama surrounding microtransations and base-content eventually getting locked behind DLC and shaders being consumable and other such silliness (not that any of those complaints aren't valid, because they are) that, to a lot of people, Destiny 2 being on a top 10 list is quite possibly sacrilege. But as somebody who, on-and-off, put a whole lot of hours into the original Destiny and mostly enjoyed it, and who also played solo and never even did a raid, the sequel is a much better game from that perspective. When you stop caring about the end-game and maxing out your light level and efficiently farming with all three of your characters (and again, caring about that is absolutely fine), Destiny 2 is a very, very enjoyable game that you play for 10-50 hours and then... just put down. Like most any other game. In a time where a lot of "games as services" are vying for your gaming attention all the time, Destiny is, in my opinion, ideally a game you play for a relatively short amount of time, and then maybe come back to later, if the new content intrigues you. As a fairly casual Destiny player, having a story campaign that... well, exists, as well as being more generous with legendary and exotic loot (because again, I'm not the hardcore player who's going to grind to collect all of it) is a marked improvement over the first game. Destiny 2 is an enjoyable shooter and for me, someone who as the years go by is becoming generally less interested in shooters, is all it needed to be.

Doki Doki Literature Club

DDLC is... well, it's a visual novel. I don't want to say anything else about it because, if you aren't aware of what DDLC is, I'd absolutely hate to ruin that for anybody. I'm not even going to attach a screenshot to this entry.

All else I will say is that it absolutely is one of the most memorable and affecting experiences I've had this year.

It's only a few hours long. It's also free. Heed the warnings the game throws at you, but otherwise go in blind.

Just Monika.

Undertale

Biting social commentary.

Usually, there's always at least one game on my list that is technically cheating, due to being a re-release of a previously released game. This year it's Undertale. I never got to talk about it in 2015's list because I hadn't played it back then. It released on PS4 this year though, which means I can talk about it!

Undertale is another game that is best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. It takes your expectations from playing an Earthbound-looking JRPG and subverts them in lots of really interesting, funny and surprising ways. It's one of the most consistently funny and charming games I've ever played, while also not holding back on some emotional punches. The gameplay is a neat mix of JRPG combat and bullet-hell games. The soundtrack is also god-tier, with Toby Fox putting on an absolute masterclass on how to use leitmotifs.

The fanbase is, to put it generously, a little over-bearing. But things that gain such fervent fans usually do so for a reason, and Undertale absolutely earned it.

Super Mario Odyssey

These guys kinda suck tho

With the Nintendo Switch being my first real Nintendo home-console, it would stand to reason that would mean Super Mario Odyssey is the first 3D Mario game I've ever really played. And you'd be right (I've played 2D ones, don't worry). And boy, what an impression to make. I initially was a little weary of the amount of acceleration Mario has on his movement speed, but eventually became comfortable with it: the controls are on-point. I have little prior experience to base this on, but this is probably the best Mario has ever felt to control, a character who I'm lead to believe has usually controlled very well. Visually, the game is a marvel both technically and stylistically. The large amount of different worlds, all with very different looks come together into a veritable smorgasbord of great art-design. The music is fucking dope. Everything about Odyssey is just an absolute joy to behold and feels like the embodiment of Nintendo's philosophy: that games should be fun and enjoyable for everyone.

As far as honourable mentions go: Horizon: Zero Dawn is a pretty good open-world game that made the mistake of releasing at the same time as Zelda. I'm super interested in seeing where the story goes, and the world Guerilla have built is really intriguing, but I hadn't played enough to feel comfortable including it on this list. Chaos;Child is the latest visual novel from the folks that what did Steins;Gate, but being a long, solely story-focused VN, the fact I haven't finished it means it wasn't going to be on this list. SteamWorld Dig 2 is a really good game in the "do a thing to collect resources then sell those resources to buy upgrades that let you do the thing better" genre. I look forward to finishing it. Golf Story is a really silly, fun 2D golf/RPG-hybrid thing. It's mostly story-based with a bunch of quests and stuff, and you can tee up wherever the hell you like, it's great. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the third big Switch game I bought this year is... well, it's Mario Kart, it's great! But the single-player offerings are pretty sparse (and, outside of the 200cc mode, almost completely devoid of any challenge) and while online-multiplayer is fine, it's not going to hold my interest for long periods of time. Quake Champions seems like a pretty good Quake game, but I'm capital-G Garbage at arena shooters, and it still had some (mostly netcode related) issues when I last played. There's probably other games I'm forgetting, so that'll be your lot.

And that's it for 2017! Pretty fantastic year for games, as I said at the top, lets see what next year brings!