John’s Top Ten Games of the Year 2019

2019 was a sneaky good year for games. I personally struggled to make time for a lot of new games, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t even dented my copy of Shenmue III yet. In fact, here are some games that didn’t make my top 10 that might surprise folks. I used Steven’s suggestion of just listing games I played this year, but most of my list are legitimately 2019 games. There are some really great ones! Even some that don’t make my top 10, like Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, or The Outer Worlds.

10. NBA 2K20

Hey. I wanna show you something. I don’t want you to freak out, though. Promise me you won’t freak out? Okay. Here it goes.

I can explain

Okay. Whew. That feels good to get out there.

I’ve run NBA 2K20 for about the same amount of time on my Xbox One, as well. I say “run” very deliberately here. I think NBA 2K20 is a good video game. It’s fun to play. It has terrible microtransactions. Here’s the deal with me. I play sports games for their franchise modes — modes where you take control of one (or more) teams and run the team from the top down. I play a fair amount of this game, but most of the time I simulate it. I set up my team and simulate games. You’ll even catch me watching a game or two, too. Why? I like the idea of having a really cool ant farm full of digital folks working on something. Feels cool to be able to manage it, but mostly set it and forget it. It’s fun to make small changes and see them ripple out into the systems at work.

I’m six seasons into one of my Dallas Mavericks franchises and three into another. I’ll probably run my two 2K20 sims for another few months and then cool on it right before the start of the 2020-2021 NBA season.

9. What the Golf?

One of the no-brainer launch titles for this year’s surprisingly great Apple Arcade service was What the Golf?, a golf game that isn’t really a golf game. But it is. Kinda. I agree with merritt that the game sometimes feels the need to reference other bodies of work when maybe its own thing could’ve developed instead, but this was still one of my favorite games of the year. It opens itself up to be bigger than you thought. Even bigger than that. I didn’t know I needed Donut County, but golf, but that’s more or less the experience I got here. It feels like something I’ll go back to every few years for a fresh playthrough.

8. ESPN NFL 2K5

Fifteen years. It’s been fifteen years since Visual Concepts and 2K dropped ESPN NFL 2K5 on the world at a discounted price (to undercut Madden, you see). Madden 2005 was the best entry in EA Sports’ franchise ever and it still wasn’t as good as 2K5. Every late summer, EA unveils their newest Madden creation, which consists of a roster update, a story mode facelift, and some extremely incremental improvements to the core gameplay experience.

Still, no football game gives me the kinds of thrills 2K’s fifteen-year-old game does. Realistic blocking assignments, establishing clear running lanes, massive gaps between a great player and good player, and snappy passing all define a gameplay engine EA still can’t touch after all these years. As for presentation? 2K5 featured a halftime show with full highlights and analysis and a weekly recap in franchise mode that featured highlights from other games. And does Madden let you play a game against an AI version of Carmen Electra? I didn’t think so.

7. Luigi’s Mansion 3

I never played Luigi’s Mansion or its sequel. I think in the case of the former I was bent out of shape that the Gamecube didn’t launch with a real Mario game. What a child I was. There’s a real craftsmanship to Luigi’s Mansion and doubly so for 2019’s Switch release. Luigi’s Hotel would’ve been a much better title, but I had a great time romping through the themed floors and wrestling with the bad bad ghosts littering the place. Speaking of litter, destroying this hotel is like 20 hours of the best parts of the scene from Ghostbusters where the boys just fucking destroy the ballroom to catch Slimer. It’s cathartic.

Also Gooigi.

6. Control

My current mood is “extremely bummed that my PlayStation 4 is broken because I could be playing my #6 game of the year 2019 Control.” I haven’t beaten Remedy’s newest cryptid fest. Hell, I haven’t even crested the 10 hour mark yet. I played this game a lot pre-release at press events and knew this game would be pretty good, but the total package is sublime. I’ve never been more compelled to collect (and actually read/listen/watch) every morsel of information a game can throw at me. The world building here is astonishing. Qualms with boss fights and platforming sections aside, Control is an excellent action adventure game with style and depth for days.

5. Guildlings

Guildlings, the adventure game/RPG from Asher Vollmer (of Threes! fame) and many other talented devs, is my favorite mobile game of the year. It’s sharply written and abundantly cute. I’m a sucker for “it’s our contemporary experience, but magic!” The stand-in for your mobile device is clever in this intricately-constructed world and never feels obnoxious in its execution.

Sometimes in text-heavy games, I get tappy. I get the gist of what’s said and try to move through it briskly. Sometimes that’s my fault, sometimes the writing isn’t super interesting. In Guildlings, like Control, I took my time reading everything the game threw at me. I fell in love with the characters, too, who have idiosyncrasies I recognized in myself and my friends. As for the game’s non-traditional battle system, I appreciated the elements the game borrows from Undertale, another RPG that doesn’t necessarily want you to kill everything.

4. Apex Legends

It’s not shocking that the Titanfall 2 devs have made an incredible multiplayer game. Most of those devs cut their teeth with Call of Duty, after all. What is shocking is even after the introduction of uber-grindy, low-reward Battle Pass mechanics, I find myself logging in and playing a few matches every week. That’s a testament to how rock solid the feel of Respawn’s shootymans is. If Respawn gets the hang of running a service game (or if EA lets them, which might be the bigger obstacle), Apex Legends could hang around for another few years as the premier competitive shooter in this space. The gunplay and movement are simply leaps and bounds beyond other battle royale contemporaries. I’m getting the itch just writing about it.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Fanbyte’s game of the decade is also my number three game of the year. In my gut, in my soul, it’s my perennial number one, but I have to give it up to two incredible 2019 releases. I’m 335 legitimate hours into this game and into my third full playthrough. Here are some firsts for 2019:

  • I met the Horse God. Yeah. Just hadn’t met the Horse God before. Didn’t know he existed.
  • I actually explored a lot of Hyrule Castle. It’s really cool.
  • I beat all 120 regular shrines.
  • I got extremely good at deflecting Guardian blasts.

Even now, right now, I’m 84 shrines into my newest save file and 100 Korok seeds deep and even though I told myself this would be my 100% playthrough where I actually do the Champion’s Ballad stuff in its entirety, I’m thinking about starting over. Breath of the Wild is a service game that isn’t a service game. I “log in” every few days to do one or two things. Maybe nothing. Maybe just hang new stuff in my house in Hateno on a rainy day.

It’s perfect for me. I’m terrified of the sequel.

2. Disco Elysium

What a fucking game. I’m not even remotely close to finishing ZA/UM’s remarkable roleplaying game, but this game got into my top 10 after my very first conversation with my Ancient Reptilian Brain. Disco Elysium is a shot of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

What puts it at number two is how attached I am to this chain of events. In a game where it seems like there are hundreds if not thousands of ways a scenario could play out, I’m stuck with the idea that this is my alcoholic detective and that’s my put-upon partner Kim. Much like Mass Effect, this first playthrough of Disco Elysium is the canonical one. I haven’t encountered the parts that some have (rightfully) criticized the game for and I may never get to them. So far, all I’ve encountered is a world unlike any other in games and conversations that are worlds unto themselves.

Early in the game I tried to duck my hostel bill and in failing to do so I took a flying leap into a nearby woman while flipping the hostel worker the double bird. I knocked myself unconscious. When I awoke, the woman showed me kindness despite my behavior. I’m still not sure if it’s because she’s just kind or if it’s because I was kind to her moments before. I’ll never know, because this is my world now.

1. Outer Wilds

No other game released this year has weaponized wonder the way Outer Wilds has. Curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge are all that drive the player in this repeating 22-minute diorama at the end of the universe. For fewer cycles than there are episodes of Frasier, I was able to unlock the secrets of this beautiful galaxy find a certain amount of peace in the face of insurmountable doom.

I would write more about my specific experiences, but:

  1. Other folks on this site and others can do it better than I can.
  2. You should play Outer Wilds. Really. It’s the best game of 2019.
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John Warren

I miss Texas sometimes. Wheelchair person. Professional wrestling is humanity's greatest achievement. He/his, y'all.

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