Please note that this is not a Top 10 Best Video Games of 2019 list. Rather, this is a list of the best video games I played in 2019, as in it doesn’t have to have been released in 2019 to make it, only that I had to have finished (a majority of) it in 2019.
As noted last year, this list may not consist of things most general gamers have gotten their hands on at one point. I abspolutely adore Nintendo titles, so chances are good that titles within their library make this list, but otherwise, I like the indie scene. Those ten-dollar games on Steam that look kind of neat but feel aren’t worth your time? Those are my bread and butter. Some of the benefit of making these lists and including a lot of indie titles on it is the possibility that some new faces will see it, read my words of praise, and try it for themselves. Who knows? Something on this list might be your next favorite game.
Looking back on the year, I’ve played a decent amount of games, but not nearly the amount I previously expected all things considered. Adding to my growing list of reviews for KeenGamer is a given, however games for personal pleasure seem to have gone down this year. I hope to change that this year, as video games have remained a blissful pastime whenever I’m in the mood for them. Whether I stick to that will be up to fate. For now, let’s start the list.
The more I think back to this game, the more I think I overrated it just a tad. That isn’t to say the game isn’t fiun or memorable, just that when compared to much bigger alternatives, it becomes somewhat shallow. Nevertheless, my praise for it was not fabricated.
For how limited its features are (it’s essentially a wave defense game), there is an admirable attempt at fleshing out the characteristics of its setting. The central character, Akane, is given a proper backstory (if one chooses to go through the tutorial), the gameplay evolves as the waves crash by, and it adheres to an all-or-nothing scenario that assists the atmosphere. Inclined to her fate, Akane is prepared to die in her last stand against her grimy foes. I thought that was neat.
Wave defenses are generally only replayable if the gameplay features are adequate. Thankfully, Akane has a fast-paced and fluid control style that helps its case. Combat through sword, gun, and secret techniques, one never feels at the whim of the opponents unless they fault their own skills. Through repeated efforts, more unlockables and challenges emerge, re-energizing the violent juices that coursed within me playing this until I tired out about ten hours in. My fondness for the game has waned since, but I still appreciate this as a top-quality wave defense that I may eventually come back to.
Some complain that this game feels too short. I complain that this game never appeared before me until early last year.
Indeed, Xeodrifter is short, lacks an impactful finish, and doesn’t do too much within its mechanics. What it does do is playfully highlight the metroidvania genre and instills everything that makes those games great. An intriguing sci-fi-esque setting, isolating and encouraging of trial-and-error-based exploration; clever hiding places that store character power-ups, special abilities that make said exploration all the more enticing. Even the pixel design, which is far more minimalistic than detailed, had me won over.
A thought I’ve had somewhat often is whether the expectation for indie developers compared to AAA developers impacts my overall enjoyment of a product. For example, the last I played Metroid: Zero Mission, I found it mostly average and regurgitated, and Nintendo probably could’ve made it more than what it was (the last bit with the Space Pirate base was cool). With Xeodrifter, which had far fewer resources and budgetary benefits to work with, I ended up liking a lot more, even if it didn’t have that Authentic Professional Design™. Whether that’s fair or not is something I haven’t come to terms yet, but for the time being, Xeodrifter is a really fun game that will ease those waiting for the next Metroid game.
8. Bubbles the Cat
My feelings for this game are somewhat similar to Akane, especially considering the gameplay extent of this title is pressing a single button. Like the much-aligned Flappy Bird, Bubbles the Cat is a runner-type game where you have Bubbles jump over obstacles, collect fish-y snacks, and get to the end of each stage, growing in difficulty with each new area.
Despite whatever impression that may give off, what separates Bubbles from others of its type is the extent to which they complicate the game. Within stages, one can collect power-ups that make things a little more complex to navigate, requiring precise timing and trial-and-error. Each stage rewards the player with a star based on reaching the end, completing it in a certain amount of time, and collecting all the fish snacks. These stars can be collected to unlock different customizable gear for Bubbles and extra-spicy secret levels that challenge the player even further. Sounds to me like something to strive for.
Kudos to the developers, too: some of these stages are insanely challenging… to 100%. If one simply goes through each stage unconcerned for the completionist route, it’s not super difficulty. With so much to unlock and the extra-level content in waiting, it’s hard not to feel motivated to scurry into the developers’ bait. Most of all, despite the one-button mechanics, it’s a ton of fun. Despite how little the narrative plays into it, sometimes it’s good just to have a cat as the protagonist.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Oh, my god! It’s a Zelda! Quick, everyone! Grab your 8/10’s and above and start hurling them at full speed! Our gracious saviors at Nintendo have provided us another feast of sweet Zelda magic, oh, joyous days of sublime merriment…
Sometimes it feels like that.
Link’s Awakening is a charming game that I would readily recommend, especially for those who enjoy the characteristics and stylings of a general Zelda title. That said, this is as basic and straightforward of a Zelda game as I’ve ever played, and after 26 years of being alive, I’m not sure that’s enough to satiate my standards. Just because it has a distinct design and a somewhat weird overarching narrative doesn’t mean it isn’t 90% a Zelda game through and through.
Now that my one nagging negative criticism is out of the way, I enjoyed my experience with this quite a bit. I had never played the original title this game was based on, so it was interesting to explore a part of Zelda‘s history on a modern platform. My favorite parts were the aforementioned weird narrative bits and the silly side quests one can partake in; only a shame how limited those are in the grand scheme. Boss battles were laughably easy, but it made up for it with intuitive dungeon designs that were only occasionally annoying. Dungeon-creating is a neat, if not inconsequential new thing that could’ve been better implemented. For the Zelda lover in all of us, but not quite the same quality as other mainline games.
This was a slow-burning fuse. Initially grating and obtrusive, I figured I would be giving it a very low score for its shoddy design. Further I traveled into the game, slowly becoming more adjusted to the controls, rules, and nature of the game until it became second nature. Airy hisses, gentle hums, traumatic roars; the sights and sounds of Outbuddies became more exciting than distressing, eventually allowing for the joyous qualities of Metroidvanias to resonate within me.
This is by no measure a perfect game. Some of the controls are stiff and the visual aesthetics for certain aspects (enemies, player character, warning labels) are pretty amateurish. One glance will immediately notify it of its indie status, and some of the more complex mechanics (such as using telekinesis to move giant blocks) could be mapped or tweaked better. For all that it wishes to do, it may have tried to be a bit too ambitious. It is for that very same reason that I cannot help but feel indebted to it.
Indie games are cool on their own—what makes them cooler is when they try to innovate and pour their souls into it. Outbuddies took six years to develop, and the results are a truly impressive work of art. Difficult, anxiety-ridden battles are only a fragment of the fun to be had here, when not trying to find every little gadget that will help along the way. Unlike the brightened hues of pink present in Xeodrifter, Outbuddies sticks to quiet gloominess of darkness, hampering the constant state of loneliness throughout. While not totally beautiful, it’s an essence best described through glittery detail.
5. River City Girls
All that pretty shit I was saying just up above? Fuck that. Now we’re getting an attitude.
While I am quite fond of beat-’em-up games, my experience with the genre is rather limited. I recall as a child playing a lot of the TMNT beat-’em-up game at my closest Chuck E. Cheese playplace. Otherwise… a little Golden Axe, a little more Viewtiful Joe. Not too much. River City Girls was announced by WayForward Summer of last year, and being fond of the Shantae series, my interested skyrocketed. I managed to snag a review key for the game (I got a review key from WayForward… an honor) and was transported back to those days of TMNT at Chuck E. Cheese, minus the turtles.
While some faults persist, this game soars through its use of a strong basic combat system combined with WayForward’s signature self-aware writing. Beautifully pixelized, dozens of RPG elements that add to the fun of the game (you can dab as an attack), and a(n almost) fulfilling storyline ensures that one will be coming back to this every once in a while. With voice acting, extra detail, and hours of entertainment, this feels like the complete package for a beat-’em-up title. If not for Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, this would be the best game WayForward had ever produced.
4. Pokémon Platinum
As discussed last year once again, I have technically played this game before, however the purpose of replaying it, aside from wanting to, was to affirm how much I enjoy it. So, after many years away, I decided to play Pokémon Platinum once again. Ta da! I ended up liking it quite a bit.
Most won’t understand why that’s ironic, so let me shed some light on some juicy info. For a long while, I considered the fourth generation of Pokémon to be my least favorite. The pokédex has a large quantity of random evolutions of previously established pokémon, the overall movement speed of battle and HMs were very slow (in Diamond & Pearl), and I found the story very uninteresting. While I liked it at the time, it was Pokémon and I was a dumb teenager. I would’ve liked anything that stuck to the formula. In going back to this, I wanted to ensure that it truly was the worst of the worst… only to prove myself wrong.
I gave Pokémon Ruby a 7.5; would Emerald get a higher score? Hard to say—are they that much different? (Just checked: I should probably play Emerald to be sure.) I played Platinum over the alternatives because I distinctly recall how slow they are, saving me from long grinding sessions. The story is a tad more involved, as well, and I recall the Distortion World being a lot of fun (it’s still neat). I confirmed with myself that the fourth generation is not just good, but better than the third in my opinion (probably). Difficulty is about on par with how I like the games to be, the selection of pokémon are really good (minus flying types), characters aren’t dialogue sponges, and the pace is nice and quick. I had a good time with it.
However, a small confession: Playing all of these Pokémon games from the past decade, I’ve realized that it’s hard to say each are better or worse than one another, as all of them are about 60-70% the same. Much like Zelda games continuing to abide by a pretty established formula, Pokémon does similarly. It’s only tried to be more inquisitive during the fifth generation when the story became more “deep,” or the seventh generation when gym leaders were eradicated (and onward with the insane amount of hand-holding). So suffice it to say that, as a fan of OG Pokémon, I will probably like most of them to a high degree.
Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah! A game I originally wanted to review for KeenGamer, I decided to pick it up on a whim when it was made available for the Nintendo Switch. What followed was an adventure I grew fond of quite quickly, even if the gameplay elements felt somewhat empty.
What lasted after all was said and done was the story, which is so jam-packed with political innuendos and charming character development that I was sucked into every cutscene that came along. As happy as the design may seem, this is a pretty dramatic story of regret, revenge, and fascism the likes rarely developed in the video game medium. Amazing how well a game improves when you actually care about its characters.
Its failure lies in its collect-a-thon nature, allowing the player to collect goodies in hidden places to use on little power-up trinkets that, frankly, aren’t worth the hassle. Essentially exploring for exploring’s sake, the world becomes more empty when the player realizes that there’s no beneficial motivation behind doing so. A lot of knick-knacks as a reward for spending an hour in one area trying to figure out what to do? Not great.
Other positives include the wonderful pixel design, which is both expressive and delicious, and the boss battles, which use the game’s core mechanics in interesting ways. I adore the boss battles present in this game and the ways they frustrated me to no end. I rarely died along my trek, but a few of these buggers were tricky. It’s only a portion of what’s an altogether wonderful game that is only stricken by a lack of interesting mechanics and motivations. Easily recommendable and a passion project worth checking out.
2. Luigi’s Mansion 3
In my KeenGamer review for this game, I called it Luigi’s own Super Mario Odyssey. While not quite on the same level as the game being compared to, it’s the best Luigi has ever been as the star of his own game, seeing as Luigi’s Mansion 3 is really, really good and an easy choice for the franchise’s best.
Detail is the primary component to the game’s success, something that seemed to be missing from previous iterations (Disclaimer: I have never played Dark Moon). Luigi’s mannerisms and vocal performance, the expressiveness of the animated cutscenes, the variety of areas to traverse, and the trinkets to collect. There’s so much content packed into every single floor (and there are plenty of them) that will keep one entertained and riled for hours. Prior to E3 2019, I cared very little for the Luigi’s Mansion franchise. After the end of 2019, I would gladly hype the ever-living fuck out of a possible Luigi’s Mansion 4.
And I actually like Luigi now! Nintendo fans everywhere have always pointed to the fact that Luigi has an established personality while Mario is just a blank hero archetype, making him a less interesting character. I agreed in theory, though never in practice. Mario was always more expressive and free-flowing, exuberant in his desire for good. Luigi was just “the scaredy-cat.” Luigi’s Mansion 3 managed to capture him in a more respectable light that made me appreciate that personality quirk all the more. Whether or not that should have some profound impact on the game is for you to decide. For me, it helps an already great game become more impactful.
1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I mean, when you invest close to 300 hours of your Summer to a single video game, that’s gonna be kind of difficult to top.
This is one massive game for sixty dollars. So much content, so many different ways to play, so many characters to interact with and form bonds with. This is almost like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in terms of bang-for-your-buck ratio. I adore this game to my very soul, despite some nagging issues with the story and a few of the dialogue choices incorporated. Gameplay-wise, it’s a strategist’s dream, albeit with some heavy lenience and accessibility (Maddening Mode is provided for your hardcore tastes). All the addictive fun Fire Emblem is known for with an extra wallop of spiritedness from the characters.
Do not take my word for it, the memes will do it for you. This game will alter your life for the better, and create an innocence within you that only aligns itself with the valuable teachings of your precious professor. Wait, wha—
If there is any adoration for strategy within you, get this game. If there is any desire for lovely character depth and interaction, get this game. Want a great game, period? Get this damn game!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.