2019 was yet another amazing year for video games. Between the many AAA sequels and big-budget remakes, unexpected indie gems filled my dwindling free time. This year I played and completed 115 different games and downloadable content packs, so picking my top 10 games of 2019 was an exceptionally tough task. Each console, be it the Xbox, PlayStation 4, Switch, or PC, all had must-play titles of immense quality. Sure, there were a few disappointments in the bunch. That said, most of the anticipated titles of 2019 stuck the landing and turned out great. If you think I missed any exceptionally good games on this list, feel free to comment at the bottom of the article and let me know! These, in my humble opinion, are the top 10 games of 2019.
The Top 10 Games of 2019
10. Luigi’s Mansion 3
The original Luigi’s Mansion holds a lot of nostalgia for me. It was one of the first games I played on Nintendo Gamecube and it sparked my interested in other, more serious horror games. Ever since that fantastic Gamecube adventure, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a new entry in the Luigi’s Mansion franchise. Although the Nintendo 3DS sequel, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, was enough to hold me over, I nearly jumped for joy when Luigi’s Mansion 3 was announced for the Nintendo Switch.
This third spooky adventure takes Luigi and his pals on a luxurious getaway to a relaxing hotel, which quickly turns out to be haunted. After his friends are kidnapped and shoved into paintings (yet again), Luigi must explore creepy halls and rooms of the hotel, advancing up each floor in an effort to reach the top. There’s a ton of variety in each different floor, providing a great mixture of fantasy, sci-fi, and family-friendly suspense. While I don’t consider it better than the first Luigi’s Mansion, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was still fun enough to spark that inner child in me, satisfying both my nostalgia and desires for a modern sequel.
9. Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer
I wasn’t a big fan of the original Crypt of the NecroDancer game. Although I acknowledge its quality, the rhythm-based gameplay was a bit too tough for me to grasp. I had similar issues with the learning curve in Cadence of Hyrule, the crossover title that combines The Legend of Zelda world and characters with the gameplay of NecroDancer. However, the classic Nintendo charm and my love for all things Zelda were enough to see me through the frustration, and I’m very glad that I stuck through it.
There’s a lot about Cadence of Hyrule that I like. The pixelated art style is both refreshing and reminiscent of classic Zelda titles. The combat is wickedly tough, but with enough practice, becomes remarkably satisfying. Since the world is randomly generated (for the most part) each time you embark on a new adventure, the replayability factor is fantastic. But above all else, it’s the music in Cadence of Hyrule that tugs on my heartstrings. While I will admit that the Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a far more welcoming Zelda game from 2019, I found Cadence of Hyrule to be far more memorable and unique.
8. Super Mario Maker 2
As a fan of both classic Mario games and user-created content, Super Mario Maker 2 was a match made in heaven for me. Although I played a bit of the first Super Mario Maker on Wii U, I didn’t really get sucked in until this sequel. The concept is simple; create your own Super Mario Bros level using an intuitive stage-editor, then upload it for the world to play. When you’re not busy creating and playing user creations, you can help Mario rebuild Peach’s castle in a lengthy single-player campaign.
Super Mario Maker 2 did what all great sequels should. It took the original concept and refined it, added new content and modes, and didn’t sit in the original game’s shadow. The well-designed single-player mode offered dozens of Nintendo-crafted levels, each of which showed off just how well the creation tools worked. After finishing the game, I felt inspired enough to create a few levels myself, which is quite rare.
Plus, Super Mario Maker 2 keeps getting better. New updates and patches have added in some really cool features, including Link (from the Zelda franchise, of course) as a playable character. Link’s abilities include shooting arrows, throwing bombs, attacking with his sword, and more. This encouraged players to think of exciting new ways to craft levels, resulting in another burst of imagination. If Super Mario Maker 2 continues to update and innovate, it’ll stay in my normal rotation of games well into 2020.
7. The Outer Worlds
Not to be confused with Outer Wilds, another amazing sci-fi game on this list, The Outer Worlds is an action-RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment. This lengthy adventure is reminiscent of the newer Fallout games (specifically Fallout: New Vegas), giving players a substantial amount of freedom and choice. Playing as a newly awoken space colonist, you’ll explore the planets of the Halcyon system, a collection of worlds populated by both friend, foe, and fearsome fauna.
Although you spend plenty of time shooting ray-guns and upgrading your equipment, a good portion of The Outer Worlds is spent gabbing with quest-givers, citizens of various colonies, and an assortment of other NPCs. In addition to deciding how naughty or nice you’ll behave, you’ll also want to consider just how violent or passive you’ll be. The Outer Worlds has many quests, all of which can be accomplished in several different ways. As long as you’ve invested the correct points in the correct places, you can usually talk your way out of a situation before you have to blast your way out.
Since there’s so much talking and storytelling in The Outer Worlds, it’s a good thing that the writing is absolutely top-notch. Characters are personable and funny, and you’ll likely find yourself gravitating towards a few favorites as you build up your crew. Most quests feel important and worthwhile, regardless of they are a main quest or a simple side-job. More importantly, the branching paths and narrative changes add a dash of replayability to The Outer Worlds, making multiple playthroughs all the more enjoyable.
6. River City Girls
The beat ’em up genre is a nostalgia favorite of mine, and one of the games that helped form that opinion early in my gaming career was River City Ransom on the NES. River City Girls is a modern spin-off of that classic franchise, tasking players with stomping through a slew of bad guys on an adventure of vibrant and nostalgic wonder. Playing either solo or with a friend, you control either Misako or Kyoko, two high-school girls who go searching for their missing boyfriends. Unfortunately, it seems like the entire town is out to get them, as Misako and Kyoko find themselves fist-fighting everyone they see.
River City Girls was an excellent blast to the past and a spin-off that was handled in the right way. Although it has a very different vibe from the other River City games, the combination of beat ’em up and RPG gameplay still remains, as does the beautiful pixel-art and music. Hidden underneath a cutesy, anime-inspired art style is a complex fighting system with tons of unlockable moves, stat-boosting items, and varying combos. Add in some exceptionally cool bosses and a handful of unlockable characters (each with unique play-styles) and you have an irresistibly cool and charming beat ’em up experience.
5. Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat is one of the few fighting game franchises that I’ve excelled at. While I usually get beaten down in titles like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Super Smash Bros Ultimate by my superior peers, few can challenge my skill in Mortal Kombat. This obvious bias always gets me super excited for a new Mortal Kombat game, so I’m glad that Mortal Kombat 11 turned out as good as it did.
Apart from some controversial micro-transactions at launch, Mortal Kombat 11 gave me everything that I could ever want in a fighting game. In addition to one of the best story modes in any fighting game ever (of all time – it’s that good), MK11 was stacked with addictive game modes for both casual and competitive players. The always-awesome Krypt mode got some excellent overhauls, the Towers of Time mode offered an endless stream of challenges, and ranked online season rewards kept me in a competitive mood.
On top of all of that, Mortal Kombat 11 had some stunningly good animations and visuals. The fatalities were as gruesome and gory as ever, but what truly caught my eye was the amount of emotion and attention to detail in the facial animation. The realistic visuals juxtaposed against a time travel-infused crossover story with lots of dark humor was an interesting mix, and one I found infinitely replayable. I still have tons of stuff to unlock in Mortal Kombat 11, and I have every intention to see it all.
4. Outer Wilds
I love space exploration, especially when it’s done right. No Man’s Sky had me intrigued back when it originally released for the PlayStation 4, and while that game is fine in its own right, Outer Wilds actually delivers the experience I was originally looking for. In the game, you play as an alien pilot, living on a small planet in a relatively peaceful solar system. As you zip from planet to planet exploring, you’ll discover lost texts from an ancient alien race, leading you on a cosmic scavenger hunt for more clues. Think of it as a combination of No Man’s Sky, The Witness,and the movie Groundhog’s Day.
What makes Outer Wilds so damn good is the design of each planet, which is completely hand-crafted and unique in theme and gameplay. The game also plays out over a 22-minute timer, giving you a limited time to check out everything and gather information. The passage of time also drastically changes some of the planets, opening up new areas and sealing away old ones. The true magic of Outer Wilds is discovering these changes, and learning how to adapt with each successive 22-minute adventure.
Everything about the design of Outer Wilds encourages players to explore at their own pace and discover things for themselves. It’s an experience that feels very personal, and will likely play out differently for each person who plays it. While I spent time carefully combing my home planet and the nearby moon first, another player might blast off to the furthest or most mysterious looking planet right from the start. Regardless of the path you take, the result is a thought-provoking adventure of exploration and discovery.
3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Dark Souls franchise by FromSoftware. While I certainly appreciate the brutal challenge they bring and impact they’ve had on the action genre, I’ve never felt compelled enough to complete any of them. I enjoyed the quicker pace of Bloodborne‘s combat, but sadly never found the time to slash through to the finish of that PlayStation 4 epic. So when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice promised lightning-fast swordplay, an interesting take on feudal-era Japan, and the classic FromSoftware difficulty, I decided that it was time to finally beat one of these Souls-like titles. I’m very glad that I did.
Now that I’ve been through the wringer and back, I feel like I’ve earned the right to call myself a champion of Sekiro. In fact, any person who takes the time to fight through this masterfully crafted series of samurai showdowns deserves a god damn medal. While it might not be as hard as some of the older Dark Souls games, Sekiro is by far one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. Despite that, few games in 2019 were able to offer the same level of satisfaction and achievement.
There are countless memorable boss fights, an interesting narrative with branching paths, and a rewarding combat system that often feels more like a rhythm game than an action game. I had moments with Sekiro that tested my mettle as a gamer with decades of experience, and a few times I wanted to throw in the towel altogether. Despite the occasional frustration, Sekiro reinforced the idea that perseverance and practice can get anything accomplished, even if it’s trying to kill a super hard monkey boss after the 40th attempt.
Check out my full review of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for more of my opinion on the game.
2. Resident Evil 2
When the original Resident Evil 2 launched in 1998, it wasn’t even on my radar. Although the horror genre is one of my all-time favorites, I didn’t really dabble in it until later in my gaming life. That said, I have a lot of love for the original Resident Evil remake, first released on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002. When Capcom finally announced that they would be releasing a proper remake of Resident Evil 2, I was excited, but probably not as excited as the mega-fans who had been begging for the game for years.
Although I had seen bits and pieces of Resident Evil 2 before playing this remake, I considered it my first real exposure to what the game had to offer. Between the creepy police station and the towering top-hat wearing monster known as Mr. X, I was hooked right from the start. Exploring the various areas of RE2 was a terrifying blast, thanks to intimidating enemies, head-scratching puzzles, and an example map system that rivals the best in gaming.
After blasting through the “Leon A” route, I was more than excited to jump into the second half of the two-character experience, finishing off the game with the “Claire B” route. Just like I have with past Resident Evil games (Resident Evil HD and Resident Evil 5 to be specific), I fully intend to return to Resident Evil 2 and unlock every bit of content there is to see. Whether it’s the combination of grotesque enemies and engaging exploration or simply the fact that the horror genre often lacks the AAA treatment, playing through the Resident Evil 2 remake was easily one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year.
For as rare as good horror games are, it’s even rarer to find a good thriller game. Even rarer yet is a psychological thriller that knows just how to balance exciting and memorable gameplay with an evocative and gripping mystery. Thankfully, the developers at Remedy Entertainment managed to nail that ever-elusive combo with their surprise hit, Control. Equal parts mystery, action, and intrigue, Control provides a remarkably unique tale of conspiracy and supernatural oddity.
Control takes place in the Federal Bureau of Control, a super-shady government facility that’s as classified as they come. After a paranormal incident of the inexplicable variety occurs, it’s up to protagonist Jesse Faden to explore the Bureau building and restore order. This, of course, leads to tons of third-person action, involving some exceptionally awesome powers and abilities.
Like a few other games on this list, it’s hard to talk about what makes Control great without spoiling some of the fun. It’s a game that is about discovery, both in terms of storytelling and gameplay. When I played Control, there was always something new and interesting every couple of minutes, encouraging me to continue. Tight controls and satisfying action are really the icing on the proverbial cake, with the cake itself being Control‘s excellent story and presentation. While it’s not entirely unique in terms of gameplay, Control managed to hit all the right notes with me, edging out a few other amazing games to win top spot as my game of the year.