AJ’s Picks: The 12 Best Games of 2019

Happy 2020! It's a new year once again (and a new decade as well), and that means it's time for another round-up of the best games from the previous 12 months. 2019 was another amazing 365 days of great games to play. So many great games, in fact, that narrowing down my choices to merely a select 12 proved particularly difficult this time around. In the end though, I was able to get it done, and now feel sufficiently confident in my selections. I hope you will too. So without further ado, I humbly present, my picks for the 12 best games of 2019.

12 Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order

According to members of the game's developer, Respawn Entertainment, the design and gameplay inspiration for Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order came largely from three main sources - - Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. With such legendary titles serving as the game's template, it's little wonder why Fallen Order turned out so well. Not only is it unquestionably the best Star Wars game in years, it is even arguably one of the best Star Wars games ever made (and there have been quite a few of them over the years). While I may not have chosen it as the best game of the year, it was certainly among the most important, and for that reason (among others), I felt it was more than deserving of a spot on my list.

11 Katana Zero

2019 saw the appearance of a number of surprisingly good indie titles, Katana Zero being one of the finest. This Devolver-published side-scrolling modern samurai action-platformer certainly has a lot to offer. It's fun, humorous, dark, violent, and stylish, and features a pretty decent story and a thumping-good quality soundtrack to boot. It's also easily digestible, which is appreciated if you like to play games in short bursts. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself playing it for longer than you intended.

10 Metro: Exodus

The most recent entry in the popular multimedia Metro series, Metro: Exodus picks up the story following the events of the excellent 2013 game, Metro: Last Light. As the first new installment of this console generation, the game both looks and plays pretty fantastically. It takes you to interesting new places, offers up, bigger, more varied environments, and includes new features as well, along with the same satisfying action and unsettling horrors of the previous Metro titles. In other words, Metro: Exodus is everything a sequel should be, and a very worthy addition to this increasingly popular franchise.

09 The Outer Worlds

Along with a few other titles on this list, Obsidian's The Outer Worlds just so happens to be one of the games I highlighted in my E3 Roundup, last year. In that roundup I mentioned how I was particularly intrigued by the game because of the fact that it appeared to be a spiritual successor to the acclaimed developer's outstanding 2010 Bethesda-commissioned release, Fallout: New Vegas, only this time set in space. I'm happy to report that that is pretty much exactly what you get with The Outer Worlds, and that's exactly what makes it one of the best gaming experiences of the year.

If you ever played Fallout: New Vegas (or any recent Fallout game, really), you will feel right at home with the weapons, abilities, items, and gameplay options on offer here. At the same time, the combination of a completely new, more outlandish setting and the subtle twists to the Fallout formula really do keep the game fresh. Obsidian should be congratulated for the success of this fantastic new "original" franchise. I look forward to exploring even more of these bizarre new worlds in the future.

08 Judgment

Best PlayStation 4 Exclusive

Judgment (aka Yakuza 7: Somehow Not Yakuza) is an action-adventure game set in the same Japanese city as the Yakuza games, borrows the same game game engine from Yakuza, and features the same type of fighting, fetch quests, and diversions the Yakuza series is famous for. The only real differences between this game and Yakuza (aside from the title) are that this game features a new non-Yakuza cast of characters (except some of them are though) and has a partial focus on detective work. So it's Yakuza, but ever so slightly different. Fortunately, the Yakuza series is great and, for the most part, only seems to get better with every release. And Judgment is no exception. For those that enjoyed the series already, this is just more to love; and for anyone who might have felt it was starting to get a little stale, Judgment offers enough novelty to make the familiar feel fresh again.

07 Luigi's Mansion 3

Like the Outer Worlds, Luigi's Mansion 3 was another highlight from last year's E3 show. The third installment to the 18 year old series, LM3 features more great ghost-sucking action, better graphics, a new location, and the ability to have a second person join in local co-op via Luigi's goopy but lovable in-game partner, Gooigi. The game is quintessential Nintendo fare - - it looks good, it plays well, it's loads of fun, and it's perfect for the whole family to enjoy, especially around a certain candy-centric holiday. Speaking of which, I have to say it was a pretty nice treat for Nintendo to release it exactly on the 31st of October.

06 Gears 5

Gears 5 is the requisite Xbox game on this list. As a matter of fact, it was one of only two major console exclusives to come out all year. And the fact that it also came to PC means that it wasn't even a platform exclusive. Fortunately though, it was, and is, a very good game. Better, in fact, than the slightly underwhelming last (and current series developer, The Coalition's first) installment.

The Coalition took the opportunity with Gears 5 to make several notable changes and enhancements to the familiar Gears formula, even more so than they did the last go round - - from everything to the visuals, cues, and modes of play, to controls, gameplay features, and even the story focus. While not all of these changes were necessarily needed or welcome (Why would they mess with the damage indicator and chainsaw controls without at least providing the option to switch them back to normal?!), on the whole they did add more to the experience than they took away. Making Gears 5, not only one of the freshest, most unique Gears games yet, but also one of the best.

05 Wargroove

You have to give indie developer Chucklefish credit. Not only did they make the perfect homage to two Nintendo classics, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, but they managed to do it in one stroke, with one single game. The game. The best strategy title of the year. As the Tyrell corporation from Blade Runner might have said, Wargroove is more Fire Emblem than Fire Emblem.

Now, Advance Wars is one thing. After all, Nintendo hasn't even touched that series in years. Perhaps it was cannibalizing Fire Emblem sales? Or maybe they just hate money. Who knows? But Fire Emblem was and is still a major release pillar for the big N. In fact, by offering more features, modes and some stylish Advance Wars-infused gameplay, Wargroove even managed to outclass Nintendo's latest installment, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which was released the very same year (and several months afterwards, too). To reference another movie classic, "there can be only one". And Wargroove is most definitely the one.

04 Million Arthur: Arcana Blood

Best PC Exclusive

I try to include at least one fighting game on my list every year, both because they're fairly common and because they're usually pretty good. Last year, there were two and they were so good that they took both of my top spots. I may not consider this year's fighting game pick to be the best game of the year, but it was pretty darn close.

Million Arthur: Arcana Blood is an incredible-looking Square Enix-produced, 2D arcade fighter from Japan (where else?). The original characters it features are all unique, varied, and interesting enough to get you hooked by themselves, but MAAB ups the ante by also including two fantastic guest characters in the form of Iori Yagami, from the King of Fighters series and a character named Riesz, from Square Enix's own very long-awaited JRPG export, Trials of Mana. Their inclusion is appreciated and helps to make an already superb fighting game that much more of a blast to play.

03 Cadence of Hyrule

Best Switch Exclusive

Looking back at the games released in 2019, one can't help but notice that Nintendo actually had a pretty sizable number of great releases. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I just couldn't put them on this list - - Fire Emblem, which I already addressed above, and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening owing to the fact that it was a remake. Luckily though, Link's Awakening wasn't the only Zelda game Nintendo put out in 2019.

​Cadence of Hyrule is a Zelda game like no other. Not only because it's one of the only Zelda games not to include the name "Zelda" right in the title, but also because it's the very first rhythm game in the franchise. Cadence of Hyrule takes the unique gameplay stylings of the otherwise okay indie title, Crypt of the NecroDancer, and mashes it up with the wonderful world of Zelda (or, perhaps I should say Hyrule). The result is a chocolate/peanut butter-caliber combination that somehow elevates both series to something that is nothing short of pure unadulterated gaming perfection. It's beautiful, it sounds amazing, and it's an absolute joy to play. If you own a Switch, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

02 Team Sonic Racing

Just like with the fighting games, I also try to include at least one racing title on every year, for the very same reasons. This year was pretty much a no-brainer as far as that genre went. Team Sonic Racing took the checkered flag without any real dispute. It was simply more fun, more accessible, and more varied than any other racer out there, and it served up plenty of proof that Sonic Racing is, indeed, the king of kart games once again. It's honestly a good thing Nintendo didn't try to slap together another half-hearted Mario Kart entry to foist on gamers this year because Team Sonic Racing would have put it to absolute shame. Anyone who may be surprised by that statement clearly hasn't been paying close enough attention to either series.

01 Devil May Cry 5

Best Multi-Platform Game, Game of the Year

With the possible exception of Devil May Cry 2, Capcom's smash hit demon-slashing action series (along, more recently, with Bayonetta) has long been the standard that action games should aspire to be like. Their patented mix of sword and gunplay combo gameplay inspired fans the world over to familiarize themselves with series protagonists Dante and Nero, as well as their over-the-top hijinks. That's part of the reason why Capcom's decision to reboot the series after the fantastic 4th installment (and under a different developer, no less) was so questionable and controversial. Thankfully, this plan apparently proved unsuccessful, as evidenced by their incredibly wise decision to resume the series proper with Devil May Cry 5.

Not only is Devil May Cry 5 one of the best entries in the series, it's also among the greatest action games ever made. It just gives you more - - more visual splendor, more top-of-the-line action, more characters to play as (including the newly introduced, V), and more ways to play. If I had to sum Devil May Cry 5 up with one word, that word would be "incomparable". That's why I'm declaring it the best game of 2019.

I hope you have enjoyed perusing my personal best of 2019 list. While I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with my picks, I at least hope you give some of them a second look. As always, feel free to share your own picks in the comments below. And look for my best games of the decade article, which will be coming soon.

[Images: SEGA, Respawn Entertainment, Devolver, 4A Games, Obsidian, Nintendo, The Coaltion, Chucklefish, Square Enix, Capcom]

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