DualShockers' Favorite Games of 2019 — Michael's Top 10
2019 was filled with a ton of great games. Here are 10 of my favorites, one that I'll continue to play, and one that I'll never play again.
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.
Since I started working for DualShockers in 2017, one of my favorite parts of being part of this staff is deliberating on what my top 10 games of the year are. It’s a moment where I can actually celebrate video games rather than criticize them. 2019 is no different, but I would be lying if I said this was the easiest list I’ve created. In fact, it is the exact opposite.
Curating this list has been a struggle. Not because there was a lack of great games in 2019; there were so many I felt strongly about. The list you see below is my 4th revision, and I think I got it right this time. But before we go over this list, I want to get a couple of things off my chest.
2019 has been such a learning experience for me, both in positive and negative ways. My taste in games has changed dramatically, and I found a video game I truly loathe. Like, if someone mentions its name, I go on a 20-minute rant about why this game is bad. And I will now discuss these two topics with you now.
The Siegeman Cometh
I just want to take a brief moment to talk about Rainbow Six Siege. Initially, I had this game at the number 10 spot, but decided to dedicate a short section of its own. On my top 10 list from 2018, I put Ubisoft’s tactical shooter in that last number 10 spot. Although it came out in 2015, it was a game I started playing that year, and it has since become my personal “video game comfort food.”
Not only is it a brilliant shooter that is mechanically sound, and rather different than the rest of the shooters out there, it really changed the way that I play video games. This might be a whole other topic entirely, but playing the 100+ hour long RPG or whatever genre is just not for me anymore. They aren’t bad games, and there may be some long experiences on my list this year, but I put a lot of value in how I spend my time now. Rainbow Six Siege respects my time with its rewarding gameplay. I can play a match or two and feel satisfied, and then spend the rest of my day with my wife and my dog.
Now that I am actually looking at my list, that is sort of the theme here with my top 10. With a couple of exceptions, all of my favorite games of 2019 can be taken in bite-sized chunks but still be an absolute delight to play. Rainbow Six Siege taught me to respect my time, and the games that will be listed below are indicative of that notion.
YIIK: A Postmodern Piece of Garbage
Speaking of respecting my time, let me tell you about how my 2019 video game experience began. Back in January, I played an indie game called YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. I reviewed this game, which you can check out here. Playing this game was the antithesis of time well spent, as it is probably my least favorite thing I have ever experienced in digital media in my entire life.
Now, you may be staring at your computer monitor or laptop reading this saying, “this man is being hyperbolic to reel us in. It’s a trap!” I assure you, this is no hyperbolic notion. I think I hate this game. There are some good things I can say about it. Its music is pretty great. The gameplay is fine. I can maybe see why someone likes the look of its minimalist art direction. But none of that really saves the atrocity that is YIIK: A Postmodern RPG.
The moment that has stuck with me and made me realize why I cannot stand this game happens a bit later, when you have much of your party with you. You go to a mall, and there is a mysterious van you have to try to access, but you need a key. Alex, the main protagonist, asks if anyone can pick a lock. He doesn’t point to anyone, just asks generally.
Claudio, one of two black characters in your party, randomly says this:
“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I could? Like, out of this ragtag band of misfit friends, the black guy could pick the lock. And don’t pretend you didn’t think it! So, to answer your racist ass question, I cannot pick a lock! Well, at least not a car lock. I went through a Sherlock Holmes phase and learned to pick basic locks.”
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG has moments like this where it’s as if some woke 14-year old teen decided to write about racism for Twitter likes. It doesn’t just stumble on these sensitive topics, which include racism and depression, but falls on its face creating a crater deeper than the largest crater on our moon. It is so terrible to the point when someone mentions this game’s name, even in jest, I go on this rant about how out of touch this game’s message is.
So, why am I even talking about this game? Well, for the same reason I mentioned Rainbow Six Siege. Ubisoft’s shooter taught me to respect my time, and make every session with a game as satisfying as possible. YIIK: A Postmodern RPG taught me that but in a completely different and unexpected way. In a way, it is important to me in its own unique and terrible way.
Okay. Here is the actual Top 10 list now.
10. Slay the Spire
As of this writing, I only started playing this yesterday. Going down the list of games the staff at DualShockers compiled for our Game of the Year deliberations, this one stood out for some reason. Maybe it’s the name, or how positively some of the staff was when talking about it; whatever it was, it convinced me to use my Xbox Game Pass subscription and try out Slay the Spire, and I absolutely love it.
Maybe I’m jumping the gun here by saying this is one of my favorite games of the year. I’ve only probably put an hour in with two runs — I unlocked the three playable characters — but it left me wanting to play much more. Mixing turn-based action with a card game, Slay the Spire is an incredibly satisfying experience, especially if you manage to craft a deck that actually works as intended.
Slay the Spire just has so much variety and possibility. With the three unique characters, the seemingly endless possibilities with building your deck, and constant surprises as you climb to defeat the spire’s main boss, there has yet to be a dull moment. Again, I may be suffering from some recency bias, but Mega Crit Games’ interesting amalgamation of the strategy and card game genres.
9. Death Stranding
Despite my own beliefs, Hideo Kojima actually released Death Stranding in 2019. I swore this thing wouldn’t be out until 2024, but here we are. Kojima’s latest certainly is a divisive game, isn’t it? Understandably so: there are some wild design decisions that, in some cases, works to its benefit. But there are other times you’ll just stare at your TV screen just saying, “why?”
Death Stranding makes a great first impression, as you are introduced to Norman Reedus’ character Sam Porter Bridges, a “porter” (a.k.a. delivery man) who eventually works for his mother’s company, Bridges. Yes, it’s pretty on the nose. From its use of Low Roar’s music to its intriguing story and visuals, it presents itself very well in those beginning hours. And then Chapter 3 begins.
My biggest problem with Death Stranding is pacing. Chapter 3 is such a slog with one of the least interesting narrative threads in the game. Fragile’s tale would have been told more effectively if it did not take up a third of a 45-60 hour game. With its constant backtracking paired with its clunky gameplay, it truly tested my patience.
Now let’s fast forward a bit to Chapter 5, the absolute worst portion of Death Stranding. Testing my mettle once again, the Mama focused chapter has the most laborious backtracking delivery routes within Sam’s adventure. This is where I almost quit. It was just filled with an overwhelming amount of tedium, having to trek up a mountain through 12 inches of snow. Add a terrible stealth section, and you maybe have one of the worst moments in a video game in 2019. But despite that garbage Chapter, I persevered.
With all this negative criticism, how did this game make it on to my top 10 video game list for 2019? Because I stuck around after Chapter 5. After you finish Mama’s arc, Death Stranding gets so much better. The story actually begins to unfold, with much of the quality bits of Kojima’s tale finally emerging. You also get to witness two of the best video game performances of all time. Tommie Earl Jenkins’ Die-Hardman and Mads Mikkelsen’s Cliff Unger put on amazing performances in those last two hours, making every slog through those snowy mountains worth it.
It is such a hard sell to tell someone who might be falling off Death Stranding to keep playing until the end. In fact, I wouldn’t. Please, play the games you want to play and enjoy. But by the end of Death Stranding, you’ll be happy you finished it.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Death Stranding.
8. Void Bastards
This is another game I found while browsing the ever growing list of games available via Xbox Game Pass. Void Bastards by Blue Manchu is a roguelike inspired by the immersive sim genre. It isn’t a full immersive sim, but it scratches that surface. I mean, it makes sense as it was made by former BioShock and System Shock 2 developers, two of the most influential immersive sims of all time.
Is Void Bastards on that same level? Not really. But it’s one of the most fun and goofy video game experiences I’ve had all year. You are legitimately exploring derelict spaceships and fighting weird creatures with a staple gun. Thanks to the randomly generated ship layouts, different client traits, and comic book-inspired graphics, Void Bastards continues to be such a joy.
7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
So, I had quite a lot to say about Activision and Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in my review, and I still stand by those statements. I do think the campaign is lacking. With all the messaging prior to release insinuating it would show the gritty reality of war, I thought maybe this will be something different. It wasn’t. There were some good moments and decent design deviations from prior installments, but it was a fairly standard Call of Duty campaign.
What has reeled me in since that review is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer. I really only play Team Deathmatch and Domination, but I’ve had a blast with its slightly reworked gunplay. I do still have some problems with some of the maps and spawning. Specifically, St. Petrograd, Euphrates Bridge and Ramazza are such a dread to play in. But generally, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer is the best the game has been since Advanced Warfare. Obviously, that is a personal opinion; please leave your “hOw cOUld yoU tHiNk CoD:AW iS gooD, bOotZ oN gRounD FTW!!!! #USUCK” comments below.
6. Astral Chain
To be quite frank, I thought the Nintendo Switch’s slate of games in 2019 was weak, at least in comparison to the last two years. On a personal level, nothing really spoke to me. And the things that did, like Super Mario Maker 2, didn’t leave a lasting impression. Not that games like Luigi’s Mansion 3 or Fire Emblem: Three Houses are bad games; they just aren’t my jam. Despite that, one game that really stood out from the Switch’s exclusive lineup in 2019 is Platinum’s Astral Chain.
In some ways, I can see why someone wouldn’t like Astral Chain. There is definitely some clunkiness to its controls, as you have to simultaneously control the protagonist and a Legion, a living weapon that looks like something out of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Compared to other games by Platinum, like Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, the flow of combat isn’t as fluid.
However, if you can get past that clunkiness, you will find a very rewarding and synergistic combat system that is really a joy to experiment with. Once you’ve unlocked every Legion and weapon, there are so many combinations to choose from depending on what you are up against. You can upgrade your Legions with certain buffs or with its skill tree, which I found actually changed how I played the game. It really is an engaging combat system if you can get past that initial clunky hurdle.
Astral Chain also has a fairly compelling story that, at the very least, will draw you in from beginning to end. It’s not the Switch’s The Last of Us, but it’s a fun ride filled with satisfying, albeit predictable, outcomes. The Howard twins have a pretty wild adventure, and it’s one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Astral Chain.
5. Samurai Shodown
At PAX East 2019 I played Samurai Shodown for the first time, and I instantly saw its draw. It is such an approachable fighter, but has incredible amounts of depth. I feel like this description is apt for a lot of popular fighting games, but I think it is especially appropriate for SNK’s latest. Its slower pace, lack of crazy combos (i.e. Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct), and simple button inputs make Samurai Shodown so easy to pick up. But knowing when to strike, reading your opponent, and timing those super special moves is when things get a bit more advanced.
While my time with Samurai Shodown has dwindled since it launched earlier this year, it is a standout fighting game that is wholly unique. It is truly unlike anything else in the genre, especially in the competitive scene; it brings some variety to the typical lineup we come to expect. Sure, it may not be as hype as Tekken 7, but you better believe your heart will be racing after every round in Samurai Shodown.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Samurai Shodown.
4. NHL 20
Every year, I latch onto one sports game. In recent years, it has been one of the many entries from the MLB The Show and WWE 2K franchises. But since I didn’t get The Show this year, and WWE 2K20 was kind of a disaster, it was NHL 20 that took up much of my gaming time in 2019. I should preface by saying that I played this game when I felt my gaming time was limited. Turns out, I always felt like my gaming time was limited. I’ve played hours of EA’s hockey simulator, and it never felt like wasted time.
NHL 20 doesn’t do anything too out of the ordinary. After all, professional hockey has been and always will be professional hockey. But it was a solid version of that professional hockey experience filled with great features that go slightly beyond the traditional three-period matchup, namely with its additions to its CHEL suite of modes. Yes, I did play the battle royale inspired Ones Eliminator, and a whole lot of it too.
It also just feels like the best iteration in terms of gameplay. It hardly deviates from previous entries, but its moment-to-moment gameplay just feels more fluid, which is all I can really ask for. Also, my dreams can become a reality by bringing my poor Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Finals, because that is certainly not happening this year.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for NHL 20.
3. Devil May Cry 5
I don’t have much to say about Devil May Cry 5, except Dante impersonating Michael Jackson may be the best moment in gaming in 2019…
On a real level, Devil May Cry 5 has such diverse combat between the three playable characters, Nero, V, and Dante. Every character is unique, with their own moveset, movement, and metal jam to kill demons to. Imagine murdering demons while riding a motorcycle to the sweet sounds of deathcore. That is Devil May Cry 5, and it’s awesome.
It is also a testament to the RE Engine. While it was initially created for Resident Evil VII: biohazard, it has been implemented in other Capcom projects, including Devil May Cry 5. It’s a great indicator that this engine can do more than produce beautifully rendered dark and dingy zombie houses, and weird hillbilly freaks. It can handle all the wild combat you expect from an action game with hardly any hitches.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Devil May Cry 5.
Oh, what a brilliant adventure that Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio has created. Every single piece of content in Judgment is why I play video games. There are so few games that really grab my attention the way Takayuki Yagami’s wild ride did. And I mean that generally, not just in 2019. What I’m saying is Judgment is one of the best games of the generation, and everyone should play it.
There is just so much to do in Judgment‘s Kamurocho and every piece of it is worth experiencing. You can go to one part of the map and play Virtua Fighter 5, and then go to another part and stop a group of perverts from ruining someone’s life. It is just varying degrees of ridiculous, with each activity being different from the rest. Yet, it manages to stay true to itself. Everything fits into Judgment‘s wild mold of Kamurocho.
Of course, there is a main story that maintains the goofiness the majority of Judgment upholds, all while telling a genuinely intriguing crime thriller narrative. I was so enthralled with Yagami’s personal story of defeat and his uphill battle to redeem himself to no one but himself. Alongside the whole serial murder plot, and some of the later portions of the story, I was captivated from the very first minute, and could not put the controller down.
To close this off, I want to show you a scene that brings me so much joy. When I am in a bad place, I just watch this scene, and I know everything will be okay. If you know anything of my interests, I think you can guess which scene this is. Yes, it is Yagami kicking ass while pulling off gnarly tricks on a skateboard. He does a kickflip while kicking a dude in the face.
HE DOES A FREAKING KICKFLIP WHILE KICKING A DUDE IN THE FACE!
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Judgment.
1. Mortal Kombat 11
When I initially made this list, I was sure Judgment was going to be my number one. It has everything I want in a video game. A good story, great writing, a private detective kicking a dude in a face while doing a kickflip on a skateboard. But no game has taken over my life like Mortal Kombat 11 did in 2019.
I’ve been a fighting game fan since I played Street Fighter 2 for SNES. But I was never a proficient fighting game player. Sure, I could do some work as Green Lantern in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe or as Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, but I was never actually good. I just kind of pressed buttons and hoped things would work out.
That ended with Killer Instinct for Xbox One, when I actually decided to learn a character (in this case, Thunder) and try to actually play competitively. I wouldn’t say I was amazing, but I could pull off some gross combos if I was able to get that first hit in. Then Tekken 7 released in 2017 (which was also my number one game for that year), cementing the fighting game genre as my official personal favorite. Again, I was better than average with Hwoarang, but I wasn’t great. But that didn’t stop me from learning.
In a way, that beginning step of learning a fighting game’s mechanics and picking a “main” is something I look forward to. You bet when Granblue Fantasy: Versus and Guilty Gear: Strive release next year, I’ll be doing exactly that. Finding a character that perfectly flows with your play style is one of the most satisfying feelings you can ever have while playing a game, and fighting games are filled with those moments. Heck, even challenging yourself and trying to be proficient with a character that doesn’t flow with your playstyle is equally rewarding.
Which brings me to Mortal Kombat 11, a tour de force in the fighting game genre. Like any opinion on the internet, it’s subjective. I could see why someone would think Tekken 7, Street Fighter V, Samurai Shodown, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or any of the numerous fighting games out there is the best. But it is Mortal Kombat 11 that gets that title for me. I absolutely love this game.
It goes back to that idea of finding a character that suits your playstyle. In Mortal Kombat 11, Kabal is that character for me. But unlike Donatello, Thunder, and Green Lantern, the former Black Dragon member’s moveset just instantly clicked with me. Sure, I learned a few combos, but everything about the character just made sense to me. I haven’t felt that sort of connection to a game since the very first Rock Band came out, and I was able to play drums. But that was just because I play drums, so naturally, it was easy to familiarize myself with Rock Band drums.
That isn’t to say I didn’t get wrecked online. I have certainly been destroyed by better people, and I don’t believe I can go to a competition and do well. But this is the first time I thought that I was genuinely good at a fighting game; not just scraping by with a few combos. I actually understand the rules of this game, and I know how to use them to my advantage. It just depends if the other person knows those rules better than I do.
I guess the best way I can wrap this up is with a brief story of when I played a ranked match at DualShockers Managing Editor Logan Moore’s apartment. As usual, I played as Kabal and was fighting against either a Noob Saibot or Liu Kang player. Honestly, I don’t remember. All I remember is the character opposite of me was annoying as hell.
On the third and final match, I tilted a man into losing, and it was one of the greatest gaming moments of my life. Why? 1) I tilted a grown man. 2) I definitely should not have won that match. 3) Logan and I were howling at the TV because the match was so ridiculously close. There was so much excitement, anxiety, and happiness in just that one moment, and I can’t think of any other video game that has provoked such a response from me in 2019.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Mortal Kombat 11.
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