Wowee. 2019’s over. Can you believe it? I can’t.
When I started this year, I was playing games for fun while doing asinine shit like running the Disney Princess YouTube channel. Now, I play games for work while doing asinine shit on Late Lunch, which airs live every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5pm PST on twitch.tv/fanbyte.
I went from being a fan of this industry to being neck deep in it almost overnight. People whose work I’ve read and watched for years went from being people inside of my computer to being my coworkers, colleagues, and friends. The thing that I did in my free time as a hobby became my job.
That last part has been the hardest part about this whole transition. The gulf between playing and thinking about games by myself and doing the same thing for an attentive and critical audience was wider than I anticipated. Hell, even making this list threw me for an emotional loop! But I’m here, I made it to the end of the year, and I’m going to tell you about my favorite 10 video games that I played this year.
10) Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
I went to #MyFirstE3 this year. I played a bunch of games, met a lot of people, and learned a lot about this industry, and my coworkers.
On one of the final days of the show, I headed over to the Nintendo booth with John and merritt so we could get our hands on some tasty, unreleased video games. One of those games was Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. We got a brief from the kind Nintendo rep and were given Joy-Con. We fired up karate. Then merritt killed Amy Rose with a swift kick to the head.
merritt. Killed. Amy. Rose.
where were you when amy rose was kill pic.twitter.com/eI13rLY0hf
— Fanbyte (@FanbyteMedia) July 1, 2019
9) Rocket League
In my little intro I mentioned that one of the hardest parts of becoming part of games media was that the thing I did as a hobby instantly turned into a thing that I had to do for work. I haven’t fully reckoned with my relationship to games as a result of this shift. I took more time away from games in the last 8 months than I did in the same span last year. The pressure to think about everything I was playing in a way that is at least a little critical is something that hasn’t gone away yet.
Well, in most cases, anyway.
I love soccer because it’s simple. You run around for a while, and put a ball into a goal. There are like, 5 rules. Its beauty comes from its simplicity, and the unending variations in style of play that that simplicity enables is what makes it the most popular and accessible sport in the world. Rocket League scratches that same itch for me. For a time, that itch was scratched by playing match after match in Overwatch, but a person can only be killed by Reaper so many times on Gibraltar. Soccer doesn’t get old for me. Rocket League doesn’t either. It was there when I needed to just play a video game. And it’ll continue to be there. I’ll always be grateful for that.
8) Titanfall 2
The release of Apex Legends reminded me about Titanfall 2. I don’t have anything new or groundbreaking to say about this game. It’s the best first person shooter of the decade and it is the only game that’s ever figured out how to have a balanced aimbot in it (the Smart Pistol).
Go play Titanfall 2.
7) Slay the Spire
Commuting is hell. It is hell in most places, but it is a very specific, demented flavor of hell in Los Angeles. A couple of months into my time here, I decided to ditch* my car and utilize the city’s slipshod public transportation system. Utilizing the power of light rail, the bus, and intra-agency transfers, I was able to spend a combined hour and a half every day doing something that wasn’t driving while on my way to work. I was able to read. I could listen to the news. I could go more than 5 minutes without placing a complicated hex on the Mercedes that cut me off on the 405 right before the Wilshire exit. It was wonderful.
The shift to public transit also let me return to the “play video games on the go” bug that I’d picked up while living in San Francisco. After hearing about Slay the Spire on the Giant Bombcast, I picked it up and it quickly became my most played Switch game this year (outside of Pokemon Shield, which is NOT ON THIS LIST). It is a delightful onramp for people new to deckbuilding games, and is paced well enough that I could start and end a run and feel satisfied by the time I got off of the train. Strategizing and planning out combos scratched an itch that’s been nagging at me since I played Yu-Gi-Oh as a kid. Does it specifically target my lizard brain? Yes. Did I care? No, not really!
*I wasn’t able to ditch my car entirely, because this is Los Angeles. I had to drive to and from the train station.
6) NBA 2K20
Gatorade cubes. Virtual Currency. Beats. T-shirt gatling gun. X-Prize. Alexis Morgan. The other person who hosts 2KTV. Gatorade cubes. Before September 6, 2019, none of those words meant anything to me. But today, after spending 70 hours within the bizarre confines of Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K20, they are gospel.
I’ve talked about this game on literally every possible venue for this publication. Fanwidth, Late Lunch, and the hallowed grounds of Fanbyte dot com were all given windows into the purest representation of late-stage capitalism available on Xbox Live. This is a video game that rewards timely button presses with coupons for water bottles that are only redeemable in the real world. It removes the lootbox centric facade that drives other modern video games and institutes straight up casino mechanics. It’s beautiful. It is simultaneously a perfect reflection of the NBA and a funhouse version of it. I would put the entirely nonsensical twists and turns of this year’s edition of MyPlayer up against the best narratives of this year. There’s no reason that this basketball video game should feature Idris Elba (as a basketball coach), LaMorne Morris (as a mystical barber), and Desus and Mero (as Desus and Mero) but it does, and it works.
Also the dribbling feels good.
Y’all heard of this game? It’s a little indie RPG from this dude named Toby Fox, apparently he got his start making romhacks for Earthbound. This game’s got a skeleton in it named “Sans Undertale.” Sometimes the skeleton comes on the wrestling.
I picked up Undertale for the Switch earlier this year and it turns out that everyone was right about it. It features something that has only appeared in a handful of other games before, which is good comedy. The soundtrack slaps. You can pet the dog. If the culture surrounding the game puts you off of it, I implore you to give it a chance anyway. It’s a modern classic.
4) Superhot VR
Getting into the flow of Superhot VR is what I imagine being good at math is like. At some point, the pieces around you – the cameras, the wine bottles, the knives, the guns – all become functions and expressions that you can deploy to solve an intricately designed puzzle. It’s a game that seamlessly takes you from being the dude in this gif:
To being Sherlock in his fucking mind palace:
here it is. the most amazing scene in television history. this was written, filmed, edited and broadcast on actual televison. pic.twitter.com/Jm3wFazZXo
— spacenoid jackson (@headfallsoff) August 8, 2017
To being John Wick:
The thrill of the disembodied voice chanting: “SUPER. HOT.” upon the completion of a level never got old, and the game has become a centerpiece of the “Here’s what VR is right now.” presentation that I give my friends and family.
3) Apex Legends
It isn’t a surprise that ApeLeg is as good as it is. The team over at Respawn was also responsible for Titanfall 2, the best first person shooter of the generation. It is a game that rewards teamwork, positioning, and skill in a way that is friendlier than PUBG and more competent than Fortnite. There’s a gun in the game that is trash on purpose. That’s great.
My first week here, I joined merritt and Verge reporter Bijan Stephen for an episode of “No Gods, No Jumpmasters”. I peaked on that stream, racking up 5 kills, including the game-winner. To this day, I haven’t had a more successful game, or been that good at any video game on a stream. Even if I were to never play Apex Legends again, it will always be one of my favorite games, if only because of this moment:
— Fanbyte (@FanbyteMedia) May 1, 2019
2) Outer Wilds
God, Outer Wilds fucking rules. It should be criminal that I didn’t have to pay money for this game (thanks, Game Pass!), which I genuinely believe is a transcendent experience. The way that this game is crafted – by presenting you with the answers to puzzles that you probably don’t even know exist – results in a string of satisfaction I haven’t ever experienced in a game. Outer Wilds ran me through an emotional gauntlet, with an ending that was like an uppercut to my psychological gut. I think about this game constantly. It’s a marvel of game design and is worth your time and energy.
There’s an (optional) boss in Control that does murder by vomiting clocks.There’s another one that’s an evil reflection of your main character. There’s a puzzle in the Luck and Probability department that rewards a baller golden suit upon completion. Like, 60% of the objects you interact with inside of the Bureau of Control are fucking haunted. I was so engrossed in the world that Remedy crafted that I read, listened to, and watched every single collectible I could find. It is legitimately funny, (mostly) well paced, and is visually striking.
This isn’t to say that the game is perfect – some of the combat is frustrating, with boss fights feeling nigh impossible sometimes. Performance on the bog standard Xbox One left much to be desired. I kept plugging away at it, though, because of how interested I was in the SCP-ass story. The climax of that game – which kicks off in styyyyyyle with the Ashtray Maze sequence – is an emotional and gameplay roller coaster that I didn’t want to get off of.
Control was dynamite.