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Ryan’s Top 10 Games of 2019

It’s Christmas!!! And it’s also the end of the year, so I’m going to talk about my top ten, and why they are my top ten. A lot of lists will just give a blurb or so, and that’s not really my style, but I will try to keep it a little more concise. So, without further ado, let’s go in descending order starting with some honorable mentions before I get to the actual list

Honorable Mentions

7. The Touryst

6. Gears 5

5. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

4. Sayonara Wild Hearts

3. Crackdown 3

2. No Man’s Sky (Updated with VR August 14th 2019)

1. Red Dead Online (Updated with Frontier Purists, September 10th 2019)

Top 10 Games Of 2019

10. Satisfactory

9. Ape Out

8. Cadence Of Hyrule

7. Dangerous Driving

6. Resident Evil 2 REmake (2019)

5. Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night

4. The Outer Worlds

3. Control

2. The Division 2

1. ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove

The cutoff for my games of the year is my anniversary, December 17th, Once that day hits. I’m on vacation till next year. So when I think back on the full game releases of the year, I will consider everything up till the last couple weeks of the year really. 

2019 was a pretty abysmal year in the grand scope of Years of Gaming. It has a relatively low output, with a few great and solid standouts throughout the year, but nothing like the heavy hitters of 2018, 2017, 2016 or 2015. This year felt like everyone is hard at work on bigger and better things, and we are just going to have to wait a while, in the meantime we’ll get some sporadic hits. This year feels a lot like 2014… A LOT.

I’m going to talk about my top ten, and why they are my top ten. A lot of lists will just give a blurb or so, and that’s not really my style, but I will try to keep it a little more concise. So, without further ado, let’s go in descending order starting with number 10.

10. Satisfactory

Satisfactory is one of those games that caught me by surprise. Not because of what it was, but because I did not think I would be so wound up in it. Staying up till 5am multiple nights in the first week of playing it. 

A game about building conveyor belts and optimizing your lines so that you can get more and more stuff to ship off world to your corporation seems like a very boring premise for a video game. But something about it really did grab me. I spent so much time just thinking about the best possible route. Where I can fit a new line in, or how long will a power station run a coal mining machine for before I have to go refill it. 

It’s still in early access and I dumped 30+ hours into it in a single week. At this point, I got most of what I’ll probably get out of it for a while, so I will return to it once it gets a 1.0 release, which might be years from now. But for what Satisfactory is right now, it’s an incredibly relaxing game that you can lose so many hours without realizing it. It’s a podcast game where there is no real story (at this point) and is something of a zen like experience.

09. Ape Out

 I normally hate monkeys and apes. This is nothing new if you know me in the slightest. A game all about monkeys brought back memories of games like Ape Escape and Super Monkey Ball… and thinking back on them, those games are great, they just feature an animal that I absolutely loathe. So, once Ape Out came out on Xbox’s Game Pass service, I downloaded it on my PC and loaded it up one night. The stylized paper graphics, and the thumbing and mostly jazzy drum beat soundtrack entranced me. It made me forget everything else and entrapped me in it’s over the top view of a Gorilla who needs to escape a building of scientific experiments. 

The gameplay might be extremely simple. Move and punch, but there is a whole “Just one more run” feeling to trying the game over and over and make a successful run. I’m usually not into Run based games, where you are supposed to die over and over again, and only through sheer trial and error that you reach the goal. Starting over possibly hundreds of times never seems like a fun time to me. But It’s really not that bad, and when it’s done right, just like Hotline Miami, or Super Meat Boy, the game can be super fun. I really think the soundtrack made the game so much more of an enjoyable cohesive experience. Give it a try if you have Game Pass, it’s absolutely worth the nearly two hours it takes to complete.

08. The Legend Of Zelda: Cadence of Hyrule

This game kinda came out of nowhere. I remember when Crypt of the Necrodancer came out back in 2014, and I thought it was a decent little rhythm game, but sadly I just never got into it. Since I can’t even provide myself a bucket, so I can carry a beat, keeping rhythm has never been something I have ever been good at. I really wish I was, because I do love rhythm games like PaRappa, or Rock Band or the Rhythm Heaven games. 

So the Necrodancer team was able to apply their unique formula to the Zelda series, and it works incredibly well. Being able to just move in single movements and only on the beat is a very unique type of movement style all the while combat is tied to it exclusively as well is just so different and fun. The music is such a big part of the Zelda series, and I can’t think of any better mashup of styles. Everything about this game just fits so well and almost feels like the type of game from an alternate dimension where the Zelda series IS actually a rhythm game. The shopkeeper is also just amazing and really makes you want to just stay in the store just to hear the incredible mixes of the classic tunes remixed with tuned vocals. 

07. Dangerous Driving

When ex-Criterion developers announced they were forming a new studio, and they started making smaller tech-demo games to familiarize themselves with new engines, they said the end goal was to create a new Burnout. Those first few attempts; Dangerous Golf, & Danger Zone 1 & 2… were not great. You could see glimpses of greatness in them, but they never lived up to the hype or promise of what a new modern day next gen Burnout game could be.

A few years later, Three Fields Entertainment released Dangerous Driving and delivered on that promise. They still are an indie developer and don’t have the deep pockets that EA provided, so things like open worlds or licensed music was not on the table… but there are interesting workarounds in place. Having Spotify integrated and synced to your account allows you to just pull from your endless supply of playlists. Which is what I would have done anyways after the handful of normally awful modern punk-pop and rap that infest all licensed soundtracks nowadays. 

Having a near identical feeling, and recreating those menus and sound effects of the best Burnout games, brought back heavy feelings of nostalgia. The game was released around Easter and I spent hours and hours getting gold in everything, but ran into game breaking bugs near the end of the game. After my game save was deleted after a huge update and even talking with a couple of the developers over emails. It wasn’t able to be recovered. I didn’t really pick up the game after that, but it still ranks high as the game has only gotten better with things like Online racing and just being a new Burnout game, not in name only. 

06. Resident Evil 2 (Remake)

Even back in the beginning of the year, we knew it was abnormally slow, that is why I picked up the remake of Resident Evil 2 to begin with. I really don’t like Survival Horror games at all, and the Resident Evil games scared the crap out of me when I was younger. Heck, I even bought the first game and just gave it to my best friend after playing it the first time, I just never liked Zombies.

One of the biggest reasons why I hate the Resident Evil games is because of the atrocious tank controls and the pre rendered backgrounds and static camera angles. “If they only controlled better” I thought to myself. And after Capcom remaking the first game what seemed like 5 times over every couple years, they finally remade 2 with modern controls and in a fully 3D environment. 

Going through this game was tense and I couldn’t play it at night still, but I did get through it and really enjoyed what was there. Mr. X caught me by surprise and having him chase me throughout the game reminded me of Nemesis in 3. This remake is a “From  the ground up”, basically saying it isn’t just a coat of nice new paint, it was fully remade from scratch with an existing story and characters only. It is a defining showcase of how to remake a game from scratch and do it right. It’s now the Gold Standard of how remakes should be done and I’m happy to give money to a game that does it right after doing it so wrong for so long. 

05. Bloodstained

 After the years of promise from the creator of modern Castlevania, the kickstarted game finally released after delay after delay. With even some of those delays due to backlash from the graphics. After overhauling the graphics and hearing so many people talk about Bloodstained, I went on an adventure of going through all the Castlevania games for the first time. Once I got to Bloodstained I knew what I was in for and ready. 

I originally scoffed at the idea of a Castlevania game without Dracula. “What’s the point?” But I was having so much fun with all the crazy weapons and items to pick up, equip and craft that I started actually listening to the dialog, and while it is a bit corny and cheesy in certain aspects, I enjoyed if for what it was. Creating a whole mythos and world without any existing lore seems daunting. But it does work. 

Bloodstained is really a homage to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in nearly everyway. The Crystal Shards really being the only big difference. Allowing so many different special powers, the game almost breaks and becomes something of a super hero game if you take the time to delve deep into its crafting component. Bloodstained offers something familiar while also being something new at the same time.

04. The Outer Worlds

Take Fallout, and put it in space and sprinkle in some Mass Effect vibes, and you have The Outer Worlds. Not to be confused with the game that came out a couple months earlier, Outer Wilds. The Outer Worlds see you as an unthawed from hypersleep custom created character. Instead of one gigantic open world, each area you are able to explore is sectioned off. You are able to jump in your spaceship and fly to several other planets with companions you pick up along the way. Ranging from the quirky and awkward mechanic to the battle hardened mercenary with a heart of gold. 

It’s all pretty well worn territory, and the story itself isn’t anything new, but it takes everything that made the Fallout games great and puts it in a smaller confined space. Instead of a gigantic 100+ hour game you get something more along the lines of 30-40ish hours. Near the end of the year makes it much easier to get through. 

I really enjoyed my time with The Outer Worlds, playing it with Elizabeth was a blast as she made the decision for the dialog choices, and she usually picked something different than I would have. It made for a really interesting playthrough that made our character, Captain Dilbert Hawthorne, our own. He was firm, and asked some of the tough questions. Not always giving the response you would think. 

The Outer Worlds is gorgeous, the planets all feel different and the characters you meet are usually pretty interesting. Having a slow motion free aim system instead of VATS made for combat to become more free form and also more chaotic. I’ll admit, I never ever liked VATS and usually just used slow motion chems in Fallout anyways, so it’s nothing really new to me. 

03. Control

Ever since their first game “Max Payne” back in 2001, I’ve always been a fan of Remedy Entertainment. They have made exactly the type of game that I enjoy. The third person shooter, with an emphasis on really fun gunplay mechanics. The first time I did a leap in the air and slowed down time in Max Payne, I fell in love with the company and from then on I always got their products. Alan Wake was even in a genre that I hated, as it seemed more in line with a survival horror genre more than a shooter, but I stuck with them anyways, and it turned out to be an incredible game, and one I look back on fondly.

After their next game Quantum Break came out, I started to feel like maybe Remedy lost their edge. QB was such a disappointment, where the large majority of the game’s run time was full on FMV TV episodes crammed into the game, right when it was getting interesting. The combat was fine and the special powers were pretty fun, but the game just did not have enough of that, and killed the momentum fairly regularly with puzzle solving and platforming segments.

Control is the culmination of learning what went wrong with Quantum Break and what went right and filtering out all the bad, and doubling down on the good. It’s an incredible “Haunted House” style of game, you are locked into a single location and forced to deal with what is happening around you. The Oldest House, the building with the Federal Bureau of Control, lives and breathes. It changes it architecture at a moments notice. As Jesse Fadey, you are looking for your brother that the Feds took. As you enter the building, everyone is missing and the only person you come to find is the director who has just killed himself. You pickup the handgun he shot himself with and as the gun which also has a mind of it’s own, it chooses you to be the new head director. 

You slowly uncover the reason why things are happening to the building and have to cleanse it of evil. It’s a solid premise that immediately gets going without much in the way of story. You uncover things as you go, there is no twenty minutes of dialogue and cutscenes, but you are also not thrust into the game at the outset. It’s a nice balance that has a good ramp up in both story and gameplay. 

There is great character control and even though you are given a gun, shooting is not the main way to deal with enemies. The powers that you gain are so much fun to play around with. Being able to just pick up any object or even parts of wall or floor are just amazingly fun. Being able to toss brick after brick at a group of opponents is fantastic, and what’s even better is watching them fly and ragdoll around. 

Even the concepts in the game hold up well months after playing. In a mix of fiction that can best be described as Steven King meets Twilight Zone, you get “Objects of Power” that can be ordinary items, like a stapler or refridgerator and they are imbued with other worldly power. They can levitate, push out energy or even consume you whole. They need to be cleansed which usually results in a boss fight. 

Even with boss fights, the game never was really hard. I died a total of 3 times and 2 of those times were due to falling off the level at the end of the game. I died one other time on the final boss. It just didn’t seem that difficult to me. But I still had a blast. It’s an extremely good looking game and I am excited for the DLC as well.

02. The Division 2

I played through both Division titles this year, and it was only because I got the first game for free through a Humble Bundle giveaway. I fell in love with it without ever playing with another person. Even though it was meant as a multiplayer loot shooter, I didn’t have anyone else around and just played it like a single player game. I loved it so much that I immediately bought the second game and devoured it through the early part of the year. Putting in over 30 hours in the PC version before hopping over to the xbox version to play with my friend Geoff. 

The Division takes place in the US where a strange virus called the Dollar Flu that infects and kills people is transmitted through the exchange of currency. So most in New York die around Black Friday. The Division 2 picks up the next Summer in Washington DC where the virus has spread and rioters have formed gangs that have taken over the capital. You (and your teammates) are tasked with taking the capitol back and reforming America. It’s a solid premise but that’s really the worst thing about the game. The story and characters are so inconsequential and forgettable I couldn’t tell you one single persons name. You also play a mute who has zero charisma and makes no sense as to why anyone cares about you. You just stand there like a dufus anytime someone is talking to you very seriously and all you can do is stare at them with your dumb mask and glasses and hat on. It’s ridiculous, and not in a good way.

Besides that minor issue, the gameplay is extremely well done, the controls are tight and are a big improvement over the first games. The loot that you get is also so much better and the modifications can be crafted once and used on everything, unlike the first where you’d get to use it on one gun and that was it. It’s all the small improvements over the first that really set this game apart from the first. Same with the setting.

Making the game take place in Washington D.C. in the Summer gives off a much better and greener vibe than the cold dark snowy New York setting from the first. It allows the game to feel much more interesting and beautiful. The amount of detail in the game was breathtaking and adding a photo mode to the game made me stop hundreds of times and take photos of basically every interesting place. I made a mini scrapbook tour of my time in DC for my character and it was really fun, especially since I very rarely mess around with photo modes in games.

The level design is just phenomenal, where the main story missions take place in huge landmark tourist spots, like the Lincoln Memorial, The Smithsonian and other great museums and places. It’s well thought out and planned, making every encounter a memory. Ubisoft really goes out of their way and shows why their art teams are some of the best in the world. Each area is painstakingly crafted and every corner is filled to the brim with unique clutter and objects. 

I remember one place in particular that stands out, a hideout that was covered in broken shards of mirrors, making the game shine and reflect everything. With the addition of lighting effects, there were mannequins placed throughout and dead bodies of civilians and police littering the floor. It was just creepy enough to make me sit on the edge of my seat, without being a wuss and want to stop playing. And that’s what’s great about The Division 2, it has so many different and memorable areas. 

Playing through the game alone wasn’t a big deal for me, and I probably prefer it that way. I had a blast playing the few hours with Geoff on Xbox, and I know that if I had a group of one or two more buddies, it would have been even better, but I really did enjoy my time leisurely strolling through DC’s decaying streets, overrun buildings and quarantined areas on my own. Really taking the time to appreciate the world that Ubisoft built. 

The Division 2 is definitely a high water mark this year for me, when it comes to big massive AAA games. Nothing even comes close.

  1. ToeJam and Earl: Back In The Groove

Where to start with this one. I have a big fondness for ToeJam and Earl, and even though I didn’t beat the first game until last year, it fascinated me back in the early 90’s, and it would always be one of the games I would try out when testing Genesis emulators. It was one of the best Co-Op games of that system, and the insanely catchy music made me even run to Gamestop to purchase the 3rd game on Xbox on launch day. The series holds a special place in my heart.

So several years ago when the Kickstarter was announced for a new game in the franchise, I was optimistic. As the years went on, and a few screenshots came out and it started getting shown at gaming conventions, the reaction to it wasn’t very positive. I started having doubts about how good it was actually going to be. Then there was a release date, set in 2017 and that came and went and nothing was said, then it got pushed back again and again and again. I started losing hope quickly. Then they released it in early February of  2019 and I knew I had to check it out.

What we get is a throwback in every sense of the word. This IS ToeJam and Earl… specifically the first game, with some mechanics taken from the second game. You have the iconic isometric top down view. ToeJam and Earl and Latisha have LaMonte’s spaceship crash on “earth” and they have to find ship pieces to put it back together and get home.

The level design is exactly like how it is in the first game. You start off on an island with water surrounding you and you jump in the elevator to head to level 1. Infact is’t so the same, that you can use a powerup to find the hidden spot to get to the Hot Tub level just like in the original game. As you traverse the levels you are having to avoid humans, like the evil dentist, boogeyman, children, shoppers, Ice Cream trucks, lawnmowers, devils, and tons of others while hunting down your ship pieces.  

It’s almost too much like the first game maybe for its own good. They take the shaking mechanic from the second game which allows you to find money hidden throughout the levels, which you can buy special items from the Wise Man, dressed as a Carrot. You can sneak up on a Jetpacking Santa who will drop presents when you scare him. And the presents are your main way of dealing with all the obstacles in the game. Some can be good some can be bad. You can either take a gamble and use an unknown present and see what happens, or you can use your money to have the Wise Man tell you what a present is. You can pick up a certain amount, but as you level up with XP gained throughout the game, you’ll be able to carry more, have a speed increase better knowledge… or a few other things. It makes for each and every run of the game something different.

Oh yeah, this is a run based game, which means you are meant to go through it over and over again. I normally hate these types of games, but the cool laid back nature of the game really does make it something of a more relaxing fun experience than something like Binding of Issac which is just supposed to be brutally hard. The levels are all procedurally generated, which means it takes pre-fabricated parts and makes up new levels each and every time you play, so no playthrough is the exact same. And when you complete the game the first time you unlock a new game plus or hard mode that also adds modifiers on top of the game. Things like turning off the lights, so the level is in relative darkness and the real only way is to get a present that lights up, like a torch. 

There is a main component to this game as well that I didn’t dive in too deeply, which is the multiplayer portion, the entire game can be played single or multiplayer. With drop in drop out co-op, you can choose between a good bit of characters who all have different strengths and weaknesses that make you have to work together. That drop in drop out co-op also works online as well. So after I finished the game a few times, and unlocked some new characters and Hats (which provide more modifiers for your character or game) I opened up my game to allow people to connect to me. I had someone connect one time and we played through the game together. We worked to give each other presents and have a great time without ever speaking to one another. The game just is innovative enough so you can both understand what to do without ever actually conversing. 

ToeJam and Earl is exactly the type of brought back to life Kickstarter that should be recognized. It’s new and exciting while still keeping to the roots of the series. This game course corrects the mistakes that made the third game such a disappointment. Gone are the bleeped out swearing, the “too cool for school” Yo’ MTV Raps that your parents think rap is, and gone are the weird gospel singers. A sequel that takes this into a 3D dimension would also be welcome, but I don’t know if we’ll ever get another one. Everything about this game was a blast and I played it far longer than I ever expected. I thought I’d finish a run and maybe play another run until I died and never pick it up again, but it was a game I kept coming back to for months just to get another run or two in and see the quality of life updates. It was my “chill” game of the year, and also the game that put the biggest smile on my face. It’s a game I have no qualms with, nothing that stands out as a red flag or a primary issue. It’s a tad safe, that didn’t take as many risks or new things that I wish it did, but in the end, it’s the best version of ToeJam and Earl, and if that’s the worst I can say about it… well it really is the best game of 2019 in my eyes.