This article is available in both written and video format. The video shows the games in action while I read the article as a voiceover, so if you watch the video you don’t need to read the written article that follows since it’s the same ‘script’.
And so, the curtain draws on 2019 and it’s easily been one of the most exhausting years for yer man Scullion, most notably with the completion of my SNES Encyclopedia, which should be out in August 2020.
That’s not to say I haven’t had time to squeeze in my fair share of gaming, though, so here’s my ten favourite games of the past year.
Just a couple of points before we start:
• It’s in alphabetical order, not best-to-worst. I can’t be arsed deciding whether a game was my 6th or 7th favourite of the year. They’re all great: get them all.
• Before you even think about writing a comment saying this, I didn’t “forget” anything. I haven’t played every game released this year, and this is my personal list. So no, I didn’t forget Sekiro, or Death Stranding, or Control. I just haven’t played them yet, and I’m not going to add games I didn’t play in case I end up not liking them.
That said, let’s get cracking!
With the greatest of respect to Avicii, the late electro house DJ, I wasn’t really familiar with the guy’s work when I was asked to review this rhythm action game based on his music.
It’s a testament to the quality of the game, then, that by the time I’d finished playing it I had added his entire discography to my Spotify library.
It plucks some of the best elements from various other rhythm games to make a fantastic Frankenstein’s monster that feels like the result of some sort of unholy orgy between DJ Hero, Frequency, Aaero and Rez.
It’s all supported by some lovely neon environments that give everything a suitably electro mood to suit the music on offer here.
If you’ve got any interest in the rhythm action genre, this is a fantastic effort. It may not bring anything remarkably new to the table, but it does what it does extremely well.
Dr Mario World
Let’s be clear here: the single-player mode in Dr Mario World is a cynical, money-grubbing mobile bastardisation that doesn’t belong near any top ten lists, unless it’s the Top Ten Ways to Disappoint a Loyal Fanbase.
Much like Candy Crush Saga, it starts off simple and cheery enough but eventually starts hitting you with a series of near-impossible stages that need either a lot of luck or power-ups to get past: and, of course, the power-ups can be bought with real cash.
So what’s it doing on this list? Well, because the online multiplayer mode absolutely makes up for it, by doing everything the single-player mode doesn’t.
It doesn’t have any energy meters, which means you can play forever without ever having to stop and cough up cash to continue. It isn’t really pay-to-win, in that skilful players can defeat anyone with the standard doctor they’re given at random when they first start the game.
More importantly, though, the multiplayer mode is just a fantastic competitive puzzle game that requires you to be fast, accurate and intelligent all at once in order to win. I’d be scared to see how many hours I’ve pumped into this.
Konami’s Anniversary Collections
I’m a sucker for a good retro compilation and Konami released three of the pricks this year.
The Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection bundled together seven brilliant Konami arcade shoot ‘em ups (plus the terrible Haunted House, but let’s ignore that).
Then there were Anniversary Collections for Castlevania and Contra, each offering a selection of classic 8-bit and 16-bit games from two of its most iconic series.
Best of all was the digital books that were included in each release, including loads of behind-the-scenes production art and sketches. Genuinely fascinating stuff.
Obviously, nothing will ever make Castlevania II un-shit, but for the most part this is a great trio of retro roundups.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
If you’re going to take a Game Boy game from 26 years ago and plan on remastering it without adding much to the actual story or gameplay, you’d better do a bloody good job with the remaster.
Thankfully, that’s the case with the Switch-ified version of Link’s Awakening, which looks tremendous with its little toy figure versions of Link and co.
It also doesn’t hurt that the original game was a cracker in the first place, and that it didn’t really need too many other improvements to make it feel relevant in the modern era.
It got these improvements regardless, of course, including the ability to assign various items to different buttons, preventing the annoying pause-and-swap gameplay that occasionally plagued the Game Boy original.
If Link’s Awakening passed you by the first time around on Game Boy and Game Boy Color, you’re in for a treat this time.
Resident Evil 2
Link’s Awakening is one way to do a remake, but on the completely opposite end of the spectrum this year was Capcom’s reimagining of Resident Evil 2.
Rather than being just a visual refresh of the previous game, this was a complete reworking, with wildly different story beats and a new over-the-shoulder viewpoint similar to that in games like Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil Revelations.
It’s gorgeous too, which is admittedly a weird thing to say about a game where you face off against rotting zombies and grotesque biological bastards, but hey, what can I say.
Such is its greatness that Capcom already has a similar remake of Resident Evil 3 planned for April 2020. While a 15-month development cycle may seem a tad short, the fact that the Resi 2 remake laid most of the groundwork already means it should hopefully be just as cracking.
River City Girls
I always love me a good beat ‘em up, and River City Girls was easily the best one of 2019.
It’s a spiritual spin-off of the Kunio-kun games developed by Technos over the past few decades, most notably games like River City Ransom on the NES (which was known as Street Gangs here in the UK).
Whereas those games always featured comedy characters with big square heads, though, this is a far more impressive looking game with fantastically detailed sprite work.
Combat is solid, and levelling up lets you eventually unlock a large repertoire of moves that makes you feel like a proper bad-ass.
Combine that with a brilliantly catchy soundtrack and some great voice acting and you’ve got an extremely high quality game.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Speaking of catchy soundtracks, the best one this year by a country mile belongs to Sayonara Wild Hearts, the beautifully minimalist action game from Swedish developer Simogo.
It’s a series of on-rails stages set to a bunch of toe-tappingly excellent pop songs, and is one of the most unique experiences you’ll play on the Switch (or Apple Arcade, if you’d rather).
Each stage is a visual spectacle and has you doing things like riding a motorbike through city streets, galloping through the forest as a deer, flying through the sky as you fight masked gang members and shooting at a massive three-headed wolf.
Why are you doing this? It’s all one big metaphor for a woman suffering from heartbreak and trying to get her life back into order.
Just go with it, enjoy the incredible sights and sounds it throws at you, and by the time you reach the wonderful end credits theme you’ll have a smile on your face and maybe even a wee tear in your eye.
Sega Ages: Out Run / Virtua Racing
Out Run is one of my favourite games of all time, so it’s only natural that a Switch port would be one of my favourite games of the year, especially when it’s handled this well.
Its new widescreen mode and 60fps frame rate make it that rarest of beasts, a retro port that not only perfectly emulates but actually improves on the original in a natural and non-intrusive way.
The Sega Ages series continues to be a glorious celebration of Sega’s past titles, but more importantly it’s a celebration that doesn’t always look at the more obvious games.
The best example of this is its release of Virtua Racing, Sega’s iconic 1992 arcade game. While it had received slightly compromised versions on the Mega Drive, 32X and Saturn, there had never been a truly accurate port of the arcade version before.
Like Out Run, the Switch version of Virtua Racing goes one step beyond a simple port. The game now runs at a pin-sharp 1080p and 60 frames per second and its angular, basic polygonal graphics now give it a really cool stylised look. This is a brilliant HD re-release.
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!
I’ve been a fan of ToeJam & Earl for more than a quarter of a century now, so I was genuinely concerned that this Kickstarted fourth entry in the series wasn’t going to feature any of the original game’s magic.
Turns out I needn’t have bothered: it’s thankfully still a funny game that plays just like I’d expect a modern version of ToeJam & Earl would.
All the previous ingredients are still there: you’re still using elevators to reach new stages in search of the parts of your broken spaceship, and you’re still collecting presents that give you power-ups to help you on your quest.
You’re still trying to avoid a wide variety of Earthlings too, although this time there are some more modern additions like clipboard volunteers, mobile phone users and ToeJam & Earl fanboys (I feel seen, as they say).
It was never going to beat the original: very few games do, in my opinion. But it’s as enjoyable as I expected a modern take on ToeJam & Earl could be, and I’m more than happy with it.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
After the original Yooka-Laylee provided Banjo-Kazooie fans with the spiritual third game they’d been craving for years, developer Playtonic decided to shift its focus to 2D platforming.
The result is a far better game in my opinion, partly because the Donkey Kong Country games the team was responsible for back in the day have aged better than those early 3D N64-era platformers have.
This one does try to mix things up a bit with some puzzle-solving exploration on the overworld screen, making it feel a bit like a mini Zelda at times.
It’s also got the titular Impossible Lair, which lets you take on the ridiculously difficult final stage whenever you like, even if you aren’t yet equipped with all the protection you gain from beating other levels.
Platforming purists may not be too keen on these additions, but the main stages themselves are so fantastically put together that even if you aren’t into the overworld stuff everything else more than makes up for it.
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