Game of the Year

HippoChippies’ Game of the Year 2019

And now it’s time for the preamble.

I haven’t gone back to read any of the old GOTY posts, but I’m sure they all start with something similar: 2019 was a long year. Between life and school and whatever else, I will not remember 2019 with much fondness. I managed to write the least amount on this site that I’d ever written, leading to a deserved plummet in visitors. It was a rough one!

But 2019 is gone, and uh, something something hindsight 2020. It’s time to course correct. On the positive side, school’s pretty much dunzo for me, so there’s a lot of stress off my back and more free time on the keyboard. I started my first major foray into writing horror fiction, and have lots of plans for that going forward into this year. And, like, there’s a bunch of cool video games coming this year to be excited about! New consoles! Potentially a sequel to the best video game ever made! Stuff is happening! Which is why stuff is going to be happening to HippoChippies as well.

First off, Games of the Month is coming back. Once I feel that I’m comfortable in having scoped out every sweet game that came out the month prior, expect an in-depth look at my favorite handful of stuff that popped up over the last thirty-ish days. This has always been one of my favorite features on the site, and having it fall by the wayside for the last couple of years has felt capital B Bad. Also, expect at minimum one post every two weeks, starting with this post. 2020 is the year of maintaining consistency and less about slipping into laissez-faire bummer mode for weeks on end. Also also, if you weren’t aware, I run another site called indiegamecurator.com. Expect a major update to that site in the upcoming weeks once the schedule of the rest of this nonsense has been sorted.

But you’re not here to care about that. You want to know what the best games of last year were, right? Thanks for reading the above if you did, and if you didn’t, just know that if you’re interested in finding cool new games this website will be a better place to hear about them going forward. I’ve always cared about video games and the people who make them, and this decade is the one where I do right by that passion. Stay tuned! Enjoy reading about these musty old 2019 games now.

 

Honorable Mentions:


Luigi’s Mansion 3

A tour-de-force by Next Level Games, you’re a lost cause if this doesn’t make you very excited for what they work on next. By effortlessly tossing “genius puzzle design” into the Luigi’s Mansion formula along with Nintendo’s signature polish, this is the game Luigi’s Mansion was always just shy of being. I’m also on the fence on whether this should have replaced Sekiro as #10.


Trials Rising

Though the world map is an absolute disaster and the challenge design is several steps back from Trials Fusion, I still loved almost all 60 hours I dropped into this game. Trials is one of the most interesting 2D platformer series going, and this one was no exception. Just, like, fix the world map, it’s unusable.


What the Golf?

Imagine WarioWare, but on your phone, but also not that pirated copy of WarioWare Twisted you’re running through the GBA emulator. What the Golf? is about everything in the world, and occasionally there’s golf involved. I can’t picture anyone not enjoying it.


Old School RuneScape

For roughly 20 years, RuneScape has remained both a terrible, grindy timesink and also one of my favorite video games to ever exist. They keep updating it with neat little things and are somehow still finding quality of life improvements to implement that should have been made during the Bush administration. I still play it a lot. I’m awful.


The List!

 

 

10. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro making it on this list is something I’ve gone back and forth on for a year. On one hand, its the most consistently disappointing and frustrating video game I played in 2019. I didn’t finish it, and I don’t have any plans to. On the other hand… God, nobody makes a game like From Software.

A more freeform game than From’s ever done before, Sekiro strips away the chains and lets you sprint, wall climb, wall jump, and otherwise ninja your way around in ways that make this feel like the most distinctive Fromsoft game even if it isn’t close to their best. My love/hate relationship with this game stems from just what kind of quality the rest of their games meet, and how this game fails to be exactly what I’ve bought into their series for in the past. This does explain why some people who have never enjoyed a Souls game before are calling this From’s best work, but I’m someone who thinks From games getting sequentially harder over the last decade is only to their detriment. The difficulty isn’t the only issue here, locations become repetitive and many end up being smaller than you expect. The bosses suffer from a complaint I disagree with about Dark Souls 2 but is more on display than ever here, in that, ‘its just a bunch of swordfights.’ But it’s still… pretty Soulsy! I still loved exploring the areas even though there was less to see than ever. I loved the individual combat encounters with non-boss enemies, so much so that I think it may be the most exciting combat system From has ever produced. It’s a good game! But I don’t love Fromsoft because they make good games, I love them because they make masterpieces. And, in my opinion, this is far from being one.

I could go on about why seeing these talented people steer away from making games I love bums me out, but I am glad they were able to stretch their wings and give something outside of their proven formula a shot. I just hope Elden Ring isn’t built with the wrong lessons in mind.


9. Apex Legends

I haven’t considered played Apex Legends in six months, and it still brings back memories good enough to be one of my favorites of last year. That’s how good Apex Legends is.

Though I do miss the realism and sim-ish nature that comes with quietly skulking around looking for dudes and vehicle patrols, Apex Legend is its own delightful beast. The battle royale craze of the last couple of years has had a near 100% hit-rate with me, with one big exception of Fortnite. I just can’t get used to building stuff while being shot at!! But, like PUBG and Call of Duty’s Blackout, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.

Apex Legends does right by the genre by introducing a mandatory squad system with excellent communication options. Being able to hold a button to bring up a massive list of options to non-verbally communicate with random teammates is a blessing, even though sometimes I would prefer to be able to queue into a solo match. The map is one of the best in the genre, and the mixing of hero shooter and battle royale makes each team combination play differently. Respawn continues to be one of the most consistently talented devs in the business. I did fall off the Apex train before the first season pass even came out, so as for the staying power of non-Fortnite games in this genre I can’t say for sure. But if you’re up for having an extremely solid multiplayer month with friends, you could do much, much worse.


8. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Coming up with a pseudo-sequel to one of the most beloved video games of all time seems like a fool’s errand. And for the miniature fiasco that the Switch version of Bloodstained is, it seems like it nearly was. As for the other versions of the game, though? Uh, wow, they actually nailed it. If you’ve played a modern 2D Castlevania, you know almost exactly what you’re in for here. You explore a giant castle getting new abilities, maybe turn the building upside down once or twice, and smoke some vampires. And that’s about all anybody asked for. Where Bloodstained steps up a bit is in the many ancillary systems it manages to deftly balance. There’s an NPC who gives you loot from seeking out certain monsters who also drop lots of loot when killed, which then can be used in the multifaceted crafting system to make and upgrade your dozens of special powers and recipes you discover by uncovering more of the castle. Kill monsters, find loot, make new recipes, experiment with spells and weapons, take on side quests to craft specific items to get more loot, repeat. I know, I know, everybody is pretty sick of crafting systems, but trust me when I say this one’s pretty good(!), if you even have a tolerance for the handful of goods ones left.

Long story short- it’s a good-ass sequel to Symphony of the Night that brings everything you wanted back from that game, down to the tiny details of your friends being like, “hey, did you know if you sit in this specific chair with this specific familiar equipped… a special cutscene happens!” and it’s awesome every time. Symphony of the Night rules, Bloodstained rules, and there’s a new Hollow Knight game coming this year. Metroidvanias are doing A-OK.


7. Shovel Knight: King of Cards

In what was otherwise an oddly weak year in 2D platforming, Yacht Club Games closed down the decade with a veritable banger. As of a month ago, the original Shovel Knight game is done. After nearly a decade of cramming as much platforming goodness they could into what is essentially now five games, Yacht Club are done with the obligations of their 2013 Kickstarter, leaving us with the best deal in platforming history. Shovel Knight, its three expansions, and its multiplayer game are all in one package. But about that fourth and final single player experience; was it worth the wait?

King of Cards is a display of a near-decade of working on one game and understanding what makes it tick, inside and out. Not only is Shovel Knight: King of Cards the best Shovel Knight game to date, it’s one of the best and most interesting entries to the genre in a while. As I worked my through King of Cards’ campaign, I found myself getting genuinely frustrated that a team so talented can make something this good so frequently, and other studios struggle to put even one of these with any kind of regularity. A new and better world map is here, along with shorter levels spicing up play quicker and more often. There’s an abundance of the series’ signature special items which can change anything from how you attack, how you jump, and more, with each and every one of these utilities given an entire stage of its own to cleverly experiment with.

On top of how good the platforming is, there’s an entire Final Fantasy style optional card game! And it’s great! If you ever had any fun with Triple Triad or Tetra Master, boy has the next great one come along. I spent my first couple of matches put off by how little strategy there seemed to be, and yikes I’ll admit to being wrong on that one. I went from skipping the card game entirely for the first handful of hours to doing nothing but playing every match I could find, scoping out the best cards in the shop and from opponents, and then looking up a physical version to print out online. It’s like, really good.

Now that the original Shovel Knight saga has ended, I couldn’t be more pumped to see what that team comes up with next. With recent news of the team hiring some 3D developers, is the long teased Shovel Knight 64 finally going to be more than a punchline? Here’s hoping!


6. Pokemon Shield

Pokemon Sword and Shield are my favorite main series Pokemon games ever made. They’re no Pokemon Snap, but, come on now, who of us is?

Reigniting a love for Pokemon I’ve had inside me since 1998, playing through Shield has felt like the biggest breath of life this series has gotten. I read a Tweet (that I can’t find now) that said something to the effect of “Pokemon Sword and Shield made me feel like a kid in the 90s getting my Charmander for the first time,” and I held that Tweet in high suspicion until I actually had my hands on the game. It really does bring back that kind of wonder. I really enjoyed my time with X and Y, but that was mostly for the novelty of being my first Pokemon game with a really good online system that lent itself well to playing with friends. Shield, to me, made Pokemon feel like you imagine it should feel for the first time. The wide open plains to ride your bike through, the huge stadiums of cheering onlookers, and the wide cast of monsters and people you meet over your dozens and dozens of hours to spend adventuring. And with the recent announcement of the expansions coming for Sword and Shield, it’s easy to say that if you’ve ever been curious about hopping into these games, this is the best time and place to do so.


5. Outer Wilds

I still haven’t made the time to finish Outer Wilds, and I hear that if I had this may have been bumped a little higher on the list. As it stands, Outer Wilds goes all in on something I value so, so much in video games: exploration. I love exploring a cool new area and figuring out what makes it unique. That’s a huge reason why I love Dark Souls and Breath of the Wild. You never know what you’re going to see next, and then after that you’ll probably uncover something equally as cool.

Outer Wilds presents you with an entire Solar System made up of a handful of planets and sets you free. What you see is all on you. There’s not a map pointing you to your next objective, it’s just a wide open world that’s willing to give back as much as you’ll put in. If you’re looking for a lighter adventure, maybe you’ll fly across the tornado planet and get a vague understanding of how the physics of this world behave. You’ll probably end up hanging out with a friend on the moon, and then you’ll fly directly into the sun on accident. Then you’ll probably do that last part a couple dozen more times.

If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll see what really makes Outer Wilds shine. You’ll discover the secrets of a long lost(?) people. You’ll not only stare in awe at the Twins, two planets who trade their surface material in a visually incredible way, you’ll figure out just exactly why that’s happening and what it means.

If you’re just looking for adventure, there wasn’t a better place to find it in 2019 than in Outer Wilds.


4. Super Mario Maker 2

Mario is my favorite video game series. Anything that lets me run and jump with the little guy is gonna be my jam, that’s just how things are. But letting me figure out where and how he jumps? Turns out that’s still cool, too!

I felt like an honest-to-god game designer playing Super Mario Maker 2, and you know what? I guess I kinda was one! Having all of the tools in front of me to make a new entry in my favorite series felt like opening a present every time I loaded this thing up. Yes, I had an excellent time playing user-created levels, even moreso than with the last game, but the creation tools on display here are the best in the business. Puzzling out how to make an exciting escape room or simply stringing together a nightmare challenge of platforming was some of the most fun I had with any game all year long. Where the first Super Mario Maker was a game that I spent more hours watching than I did playing, taking matters into my own hands for the sequel was absolutely the right way to go. Even the completely busted multiplayer was better than 90% of other games I played this year, just because of how stupid and novel it is to compete through Mario levels with strangers. The greatest comedy of 2019? Watching four strangers screw each other over to reach the finish line first. The garbage these people will pull to bounce you to your death or throw you off a cliff into the abyss just as you’re landing for victory? Hilarious. Also there’s a huge single player mode with like a hundred levels and they’re all super good. Man, Mario just rules, you guys.


3. Supraland

Where did this thing come from?? I was never aware of the cancelled Kickstarter campaign from the beginning of 2018. Halfway through 2019 I was bored and scrolling through Steam250.com (a super useful resource!) looking for well-reviewed releases of the year and stumbled across it. If you check out that first Kickstarter page, you’ll see a, well, lofty description: “Supraland is a First-Person Metroidvania game. It is sort of like a mix between Super Mario, Portal, Metroid and Zelda.” Sounds like a bunch of garbage, huh? Well, in literally any other case you’d be right.

Supraland feels like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Somehow, some way, it all blends together into a huge delightful mess. You’ll run around a world collecting coins to spend on upgrades which help you solve new puzzles in more inventive ways. It’s a great 3D platformer with a tons of secrets and doodads to collect. It’s a great puzzle game with solutions that seem require as much outside the box thinking as I’ve seen in any game. The biggest flaw is that the combat is kind of weak, and even it gets a chance to shine during the LIGHT SPOILER: surprise tower defense segment!

Like I said, Supraland doesn’t seem like it should work and it’s hard to categorize because of that. There are ways to sequence break in this game that I’ve never seen before, and it remains as fun regardless of how quickly you catch on how to slip through the cracks… and even when you feel like you’ve broken well past anything the developer could have imagined… you’ll stumble across a winking nod of a treasure chest at the end of the path. If you’ve ever enjoyed a first-person puzzle/exploration/platformy-thing, Supraland has earned its place among the best of the best.


2. New Super Lucky’s Tale

In a whole bunch of ways, New Super Lucky’s Tale feels like a spiritual successor to my favorite game in my favorite genre, Super Mario 3D World. That game is a masterwork of variety in stages and stage-design, and New Super Lucky’s Tale feels like its right on that game’s heels. All I knew about the Lucky games prior was that Playful released Lucky’s Tale in 2016 to middling reviews, and that was the last I had paid any attention. Flash to late-2019 when I had just rediscovered my love non-Mario 3D platforming in Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time, and I was pretty stoked to give this new Lucky thing a try. Once I popped that Lucky’s Tale cartridge in though? I’ve been ruined and haven’t been able to go back to either.

Like Hollow Knight and Symphony of the Night are the genre standards for metroidvanias, New Super Lucky’s Tale should sit among Super Mario Galaxy 2 for judging 3D platformers. Each world has a hub to explore, and from there you’ll enter a series of levels that might be 2D, might be 3D, might be about solving a chess puzzle, might be a boss rush… they can be a lot of things! I plowed through this game and reached 100% over the course of about 3 days, and not for a second was I waiting for the cool part to happen; the whole thing is the cool part. The only other platforming series that’s been able to do that is Mario itself. That’s good company.


1. Control

Control is a game that began to turn 2019 around for me. After existing in essentially a fugue-state of half-paying attention to any current release, I decided to see what Remedy’s new thing was all about. I had seen a handful of seconds of the initial trailer, and forgot the game existed until the day it came out. Then I popped that bad boy into my PS4 and wowey zowie what a thing. The game opens with a black screen, and you hear protagonist, Jesse Faden, say, “This is gonna be weirder than usual.” Then all kinds of shit pops off. Going into this about as blind as I’ve ever been going into a video game led to a very interesting next hour. The first document I came across had some heavy SCP Foundation vibes, and I thought, “Surely if there was a huge budget SCP-inspired game I would have known about it, right?” And I was super duper wrong. Turns out… Control is a huge weird fiction adventure through an X-Files, SCP, Magnus Archives-ish story! Dreams do come true!

Sure, the combat scenarios aren’t why you’re here, though some of them can be surprisingly thrilling in spite of themselves. The boss fights are generally awful, and the way the marketing has thrown around the word “Metroidvania” you’d think its a sequel to Symphony of the Night. What you’re here for is to read page after page of the most well-crafted fiction 2019 had to offer, and meet one of my favorite casts of characters in any medium. The nights I stayed up looking up fan theories rival the time I spent obsessed with uncovering every mystery UnderTale had hidden below the surface. The acting on display is phenomenal and raises the bar for storytelling in games. The biggest knock against Control is that it probably would have worked equally as well as a tv mini-series, but after that Quantum Break show Remedy has made it pretty clear that games are where their talents lie. I’ve been a fan of weird fiction since I discovered it was a thing that existed. Got some weird alien monstrosities? Oh I’m already there. You make it about a bunch of office weirdos categorizing and understanding said monstrosities? Hoo boy.

Control is a game about bureaucracy invading the world of the paranormal, and I love it so, so much. For a year that was so jam-packed with niche-releases without a crowd-pleaser like Breath of the Wild, The Witcher, or The Last of Us, Control meant the most to me. Now bring on those two expansions so it can continue to be my favorite game of 2020, too.

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