DualShockers’ Favorite Games of 2019 — Chris’ Top 10
This Top 10 list of 2019 games from curmudgeon contributor Chris Compendio is full of oddities, with both indie titles and blockbuster hits.
As 2019 comes to a close, DualShockers and our staff are reflecting on this year’s batch of games and what were their personal highlights within the last year. Unlike the official Game of the Year 2019 awards for DualShockers, there are little-to-no-rules on our individual Top 10 posts. For instance, any game — not just 2019 releases — can be considered.
There is a particular attitude that comes with end-of-the-year discourse. Much like how there is an “Oscar movie,” we have “GOTY games,” triple-A titles so hotly anticipated that many in the gaming community are sure that it will already be their favorite. Look no further than any social media feed, where people are already arguing about what will be Game of the Year 2020. But when I look at my favorite games of 2019, I am surprised by how many of them are sleeper hits, quality titles that snuck up on me.
I still believe that there is value to having group and outlet-wide Game of the Year lists, and it is fascinating to see where everyone ends up. Still, I’d much prefer to sift through personal end-of-the-year lists, as they are a better indicator of the personal gaming journeys that individuals went through during the year. There you’ll find obscure little nuggets, or perhaps contrarian and eye-opening angles to games that you may have missed out on or didn’t give a chance.
With my personal top 10 list for 2019, I find that the uniting factor between most of these games is that they are weird. They are incongruous, non-traditional, unusual, and so on. And most of them are games I hadn’t even heard of a year ago, making the value they provided all the more surprising.
First off, some Honorable Mentions that didn’t quite make the cut, including Untitled Goose Game, Gears 5, Tetris 99, Baba Is You, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, CROSSNIQ+, Pokemon Sword & Pokemon Shield, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Creature in the Well, and Mini Motorways, all of which could have formed their own top 10 list. Then there’s the stuff that I didn’t finish or get to, but will absolutely do so starting in January, including Luigi’s Mansion 3, Kind Words, Arcade Spirits, Knife Sisters, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Outer Wilds, The Walking Dead: The Final Season, Life is Strange 2, Disco Elysium, and Neo Cab.
Man, I wish we had room for more than ten entries.
10. Ring Fit Adventure
I have fond memories of playing Wii Fit back in the day; while it obviously wasn’t a proper substitute for more intense workouts, it was a nice way for Nintendo to encourage health and regular exercise into one’s daily routine. That’s why I was so surprised by how freaking hard Ring Fit Adventure went. For the first time playing an “exergame,” I was left sore and sweaty, so much so that I had to lower the intensity at times.
What Ring Fit Adventure succeeds in doing is actually turning exercise into a video game. It took Nintendo maybe like, over a decade to get there, but it’s great to see nonetheless. All Ring Fit Adventure comes down to is a turn-based RPG where the moves and attacks and defense are achieved through exercise. The Ring-Con is durable and versatile, and as the game encourages, I find myself turning it on by itself and doing some mindless exercise while doing other activities or watching television. It is obviously far from the most impressive video game of the year, but Ring Fit Adventure is the one that I came back to the most often in 2019.
And fun fact: the model in that lifestyle photo that serves as this list’s featured image is my friend from college. You’re damn right that I had to use it for this.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Ring Fit Adventure.
9. Kingdom Hearts III
The Kingdom Hearts series is like a specter that will never stop following me. I don’t even have to go over how much these games mean to me and how wild the pre-release period has been since Kingdom Hearts III was announced what must have been a century ago at this point. And I’m not even going to bother to talk about how stuffed and contrived the lore is—at this point, Kingdom Hearts practically speaks for itself. Even if you aren’t into the franchise, hearing all of the fervor around it should at least give you a feeling of what it’s about.
And once Kingdom Hearts III finally released a lot of people, ranging from newcomers to devoted fans, were quick to scrutinize and tear it apart, and a lot of the criticisms were fairly justified. Perhaps I was in my own world, but none of that stopped me from enjoying the hell out of III. It may have just been the novelty of playing a brand-new, high-definition Kingdom Hearts game, or all of the obvious fan service and emotional scenes of closure, but whatever it was, the feeling of playing Kingdom Hearts III could not be recreated by anything else I played in 2019.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Kingdom Hearts III.
8. What The Golf?
Most of the games on this list were surprises to me, but What The Golf? was a strange game that contained a number of different surprises within it. The facade of this being any sort of ordinary golf video game quickly wears off, as you find yourself hitting more than just golf balls into the hole: maybe it’s a golf club, the golfer themselves, or even another damn hole that you have to get into the hole. And that’s just the beginning—you’ll be going through city streets, parodies of other video games, and space, with some gravity-defying shots.
What The Golf? is an excellent example of how to create comedy that is unique to the medium of video games. It isn’t writing or cutscenes, but rather the actions that the player does themselves that creates hilarity. Each level plays with your expectations in a different way, and there is enough variety to prevent the game from just turning into the same punchline replayed multiple times. Other than that, the game has excellent sound design, and there’s a neat feature that lets you showcase a short, curated level selection to friends. What The Golf? is perfect for short bursts of play, and at some point in the near future, I’ll probably find myself going through each hole yet again.
7. Ape Out
With such a bold art style and a distinct percussion-based soundtrack, Ape Out is impossible to ignore. The core gameplay is quite easy to wrap your head around, but I appreciate all of the strategic considerations that go into playing the game. As a massive ape trying to make your great escape, your main tools are a basic attack and a grab; enemies die easily, but so do you, with only three hits. The decision I always faced was between brute-forcing myself through gunmen or taking a slow and deliberate pace using an enemy as a human shield. Better yet, breeze through the randomly-generated maze and avoid conflict altogether.
The trial-and-error nature of Ape Out might naturally draw comparisons to Hotline Miami or Celeste, and as magnificent as those games are, putting this game only in those terms would do it a disservice. There was something so intriguing about the total lack of context given regarding this ape, but as you continue your rampage and leave a trail of death and destruction behind, aided by some brash and flashy visuals, what has led to these events is irrelevant—the scene and tone and the feelings that they invoke are already enough.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Ape Out.
6. Wilmot’s Warehouse
This is a last-minute entry in my 2019 list, but Wilmot’s Warehouse instantly won me over by getting all of the gears in my head to click into place. It is a game all about organization, but the hook of this game is that players can organize everything in any way they want to. As such, the game essentially becomes a Rorschach test for whoever tries to play it—what does the way you organize your warehouse tell about how you live your life? Perhaps by color, by category, or some other wild methodology of your own invention?
Wilmot’s Warehouse is almost like a single-player Overcooked, but with a lot more versatility and room to work with. It has a charming minimalist art style, with some lovely motivational posters to come with it. It is challenging, less so because of everything the game throws at you and more so because your own methods and styles will begin to crack and fall apart. It also makes you wonder about the infrastructures we have in real-life, and why giant corporations at Amazon can’t seem to come up with proper organizational strategies that don’t exploit and abuse their warehouse workers. I guess it’s just a fantasy at this point!
5. Death Stranding
Honestly, I’m surprised that I bought Death Stranding in the first place. I was anything but a Hideo Kojima stan, and much of the previews and the pre-release discussions over the game were quick to turn me off for a variety of reasons. Once Kojima and company began to actually show gameplay, however, something resonated with me. Yes, you can derogatorily call this game a “walking simulator,” but I am all about games where traversal itself is a puzzle. There’s that whole cliched pitch of “You see that mountain? You can go there!” but what if that phrase was just the premise of an entire video game?
There’s more to it, of course, but the story is absolute crap with a total lack of subtlety, nuance, and sensitivity. Even as I rolled my eyes at pretty much every single cutscene in the game, I spent endless nights on Death Stranding, optimizing the amount of weight I was carrying and carefully planning out routes, not to mention becoming obsessive over building projects. And once the chiral network aspect of the game comes into play, it becomes more of a unique massively-multiplayer co-operative game of sorts, with other players’ buildings and structures coming as assistance in the most harrowing of scenarios. Awful story but addicting gameplay was enough to put Death Stranding smack dab in the middle of my favorite games from 2019.
4. Apex Legends
If we’re going to talk about surprises, then I am required by law to write about Apex Legends, because just the existence of that game alone was a surprise. Announced right before its release, Apex Legends appears to be the end-all-be-all battle royale only by looking at its feature set, but it absolutely earns the title once you pick up the game and play it—I don’t think anyone can possibly deny that games from Respawn Entertainment feel good. It’s fast, responsive, but most importantly, it’s just fun.
I’m not an expert on multiplayer balance, but I’ve personally found every character in Apex Legends to be viable. The game’s design is full of so many smart decisions, from the concept of the Jumpmaster, to how inventory is handled, the diverse hero abilities, the respawning, and especially, especially the Ping system. This game has so many quality-of-life features that I never even knew I needed, and they make any session, whether it’s with a close group of friends or with complete strangers without microphones, feel like a breeze. After playing Apex, why even bother with any other battle royale shooter in 2019?
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Apex Legends.
Man, this game is cool. I can’t think of any other video game in 2019 where I would actually read through all of the pick-ups and collectibles and logs, but Control had me going through every piece of lore the game threw at me like a drug. This game, more than almost any other game, inspired curiosity in me. It is esoteric without being pretentious, it is bizarre without being off-putting, and there is rarely any sort of disconnect between the narrative and the actual gameplay.
It may take a bit of time to get into the combat flow of Control, but the trials and tribulations leading up to that are worth it. Eventually, you’ll have a number of psychic powers and weapon forms to utilize as tools of destruction, and as you get used to the enemies and their behavior, each encounter will feel like a fast-paced game of chess. The latest from Remedy Entertainment was enough evidence that I needed to get into their previous stuff, so I spent some time with Alan Wake and Quantum Break as well. No one quite does such an excellent blend of surrealism, world-building, and combat like that studio.
Check out DualShockers’ review for Control.
2. Katana Zero
I’ve been becoming more and more tolerant of difficult fast-paced trial-and-error games (see: Hotline Miami, Super Meat Boy), but Katana Zero may perhaps be the first one of these games that I barreled through with few breaks in between. The premise of this side-scrolling action game with its drug-induced time-manipulation and the fast and twitchy gameplay demanded my attention and time, and boy did I give this game just that. There were too many deaths to count on the way to the end, but all was worth it.
Katana Zero is infused with a neon art style and rousing electronic music, which further enhanced the compelling gameplay. It all comes down to planning, looking at the scenario at hand and taking into account reaction times and all of the environmental pieces around you to brutally dispatch your enemies while also avoiding their own attacks. And your katana-wielding character is thinking about all of this too, as your failed attempts are actually (at least, the way I interpreted it) the scenarios in his head that just didn’t work out. It is perhaps the smartest game I’ve played in 2019 in merging story and gameplay together, and out of all of the titles on this list, this is the one that I want a narrative sequel to the most.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Katana Zero.
1. Sayonara Wild Hearts
After writing a review of over 1,500 words for Sayonara Wild Hearts, I’m not even sure what else I can say about it. But in the context of my personal life, I should say that it came at exactly the right time. Underneath all of the colors and the fanciful style is a story about overcoming depression and getting outside of your comfort zone to lead a truly happy life. All of the other games on the list I probably could have played at any point in my life and enjoyed it all the same, but Sayonara Wild Hearts feels like the definitive 2019 game for how my year went.
Even months after the game came out, I still came back to Sayonara, one reason being to finally achieve some of those Gold Ranks, but mostly just to try to live the euphoria of the emotional experiences that this game provided me; somehow, the entire “Begin Again” sequence is still enough to get me near tears, producing the same powerful reaction each time ever since I first played a demo of this at PAX East. I still listen to the soundtrack on a regular basis, letting myself get lost in the soundscapes—eventually, I would actually seek out the lyrics to these songs, and I would find the written words to be just as touching.
I was used to my safety and peace
I mistook all this tedium with being at ease
But then you came around, said “it’s time to let go”
And you took me to a place I don’t know
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Sayonara Wild Hearts, from yours truly.
Check out the rest of the DualShockers staff Top 10 lists and our official Game of the Year Awards:
December 23: DualShockers Game of the Year Awards 2019
December 25: Lou Contaldi, Editor-in-Chief // Logan Moore, Managing Editor
December 26: Tomas Franzese, News Editor // Ryan Meitzler, Features Editor
December 27: Mike Long, Community Manager // Scott White, Staff Writer
December 28: Chris Compendio, Contributor // Mario Rivera, Video Manager // Kris Cornelisse, Staff Writer
December 29: Scott Meaney, Community Director // Allisa James, Senior Staff Writer // Ben Bayliss, Senior Staff Writer
December 30: Cameron Hawkins, Staff Writer // David Gill, Senior Staff Writer // Portia Lightfoot, Contributor
December 31: Iyane Agossah, Senior Staff Writer // Michael Ruiz, Senior Staff Writer // Rachael Fiddis, Contributor
January 1: Ricky Frech, Senior Staff Writer // Tanner Pierce, Staff Writer // Laddie Simco, Staff Writer