Normally I do long and drawn-out best lists but considering we’re at the end of the decade (by the way, welcome to the 2020’s!), and considering there’s a Worst and Best of the Decade in the pipeline, I thought this time around I would keep things as mercifully brief as possible.
That being said; 2019 was one of those quirky years. Perhaps it’s that the really bad stuff was so obvious, so clearly signposted, but it was easy for many of us to simply avoid buying half of these dud video games – and avoid buying we most certainly did, providing us with the scintillating possibility that the coming next-generation console cycle is going to have to try far harder than ever before to convince the game-buying public that it will be worth the investment. Which is a net positive, I’m sure.
But for all that being said, I did of course play some right duffers this year. The rules for Best and Worst are simple; they had to be released between January 1st and December 31st of 2019, they can’t be a remaster or re-release (remakes need to be complete overhauls and different games) and I had to love – or hate – the games in question. Which means I need to have PLAYED the game.
With that done, let’s begin with…
MY WORST GAME OF THE YEAR.
As I said before, the great news for most of us this year was that the really terrible video games were very clearly signposted – Anthem was obviously going to fall on its face, we all sort of knew that. Contra: Rogue Corps – which I actually did buy – was so clearly terrible from the very first gameplay footage that… that… actually why the hell did I buy this utter pile of garbage? I know Konami just doesn’t give a rats backside anymore, but in a genre that is ten-a-penny these days that anyone can still get this wrong makes my head hurt.
In the controversial stuff I had considered, we have Death Stranding and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but truth be told, I don’t hate either game. I just think both were terribly misjudged and not quite as amazing as everyone has proclaimed them to be. And as I’ve said on this blog – there’s no room for indifference in my annual worst choices.
Then there was Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield; not so much disappointingly terrible, more terribly disappointing. For the first major console release of a Pokémon mainline title, and set in a UK-themed landscape (a region that love sending itself up at the best of times), this was terribly safe and rather dull all told. I can see people liking it, but this isn’t GameFreak’s best work by a long shot and I’m still struggling to work out how GameFreak, who lavished love onto Sun and Moon, seemed to come off so completely indifferent to Sword and Shield.
No, every so often there comes a game which irritates me to the point I don’t finish it. Coming from someone who has played and finished terrible games like Martian Gothic: Unification, it’s rare that I genuinely just give up on a game. It doesn’t happen often.
But this year… there was one… and so, my Worst Game of the Year is…
The sad thing is – Dark Devotion should be the exact sort of game I love. It’s a moody, gothic action-platformer with Dark Souls-style elements and I still sit around screaming the praises of Salt & Sanctuary every goddamned chance I get. Your regular reminder that Salt & Sanctuary is awesome and you should totally play it.
Seriously though, Dark Devotion is bad by virtue of a catalogue of small, little errors of judgement that compound on top of each other and emphasise how completely and thoroughly misjudged it is. The game doesn’t have much of a “tutorial” to explain many of the mechanics, leaving you to fumble around trying to work things out. The controls are the patting-your-head-and-rubbing-your-belly breed of confusing and counter-intuitive. The combat is unforgiving in the absolutely worst kind of way, being somewhat simple and yet at the same time so utterly arcane.
And look, I like dark games. I love when darkness and lighting is put to good use – but in a 2D Action-Adventure, darkness of this kind just doesn’t work. Dark Devotion likes to have that leap-of-faith kind of attitude, encouraging you to plunge into the unknown, but from very early on there are instant-death spikes and you realise oh, right, they thought this was “fun”. To just have you constantly unsure of where to go to, forcing you to make rolling leaps only to go Ha Ha, You Dead.
But the thing that ultimately put me off was the checkpointing system; look, I get what it was trying to do and that’s fun and all, but if you’re going to rob the player of all their accumulated “stuff” after each death, you need a checkpointing system that understands that for boss encounters this… isn’t the right way. And yet, bizarrely, that’s exactly what Dark Devotion does. After a couple of bosses and hours and hours of just feeling the joy in my soul eeking away, I turned off Dark Devotion and… I never put it back on. It just wasn’t fun. I wasn’t feeling it at all.
For me, in a genre I love and on the Switch which I also love, this is an unforgivable sin and I just have no other recourse than to name Dark Devotion my Worst Game of 2019.
Sorry to its developers, better luck next time.
MY BEST GAME OF 2019.
This is often the hardest one; the worst was clear for me, there aren’t many cases where I stop playing a game because I’m not having any fun.
But 2019 had a LOT of really amazing video games.
Astral Chain is Platinum* at its most ambitious, it’s most creative and its most liberated to date. People call it a Sci-Fi Action Adventure, but it defies even that logic – it’s more closely related to Beyond Good & Evil that it defies simple genre classification, as it hops around as and when the story and plot demands it to. It looks great, it was great fun to play and yes, it’s Anime as all hell – but Anime was a thing this year.
As Code: Vein proved; a good Souls-style game doesn’t need to be dark and brooding and gritty. You can have all of the taste of a Souls-alike with gigantic anime breasts, vivid and vibrant colours and comically oversized weapons. The level design is twisty and complex, the skills system eventually opens up to encourage you to build your own unique way to play and the character creator is above and beyond for this genre – one of the finest, most brilliant and outstanding examples of a character creator in a long time. Particularly if, like my friend Val, your ideal game is making your own waifu.
Super Mario Maker 2 again proved Nintendo is firing on all cylinders these days; no, I’m not a very good level designer for Mario games, but that it’s so easy and so fun to put something together is fantastic and Nintendo is still adding to it, which boggles the mind somewhat.
Finally, it was amazing to not only see Crash Team Racing make a comeback, but be every bit as wonderful and brilliant and fun and joyous as I remembered it being back on the PlayStation. So now the Switch has TWO of the best Karting games of all time. Damn Nintendo. Ease up, this isn’t even a fair fight anymore.
But… oh come on now, we all know what the winner is this year.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 REMAKE.
I have given Capcom an inordinate amount of stick over the years and you know what, I will even today still stand right behind everything I said about Resident Evil 7 – it wasn’t that good. Not sorry in the slightest. Capcom has had a rough decade with Resident Evil, and it’s shown as they just didn’t know where to go or what to do anymore.
So when I say Resident Evil 2 Remake is amazing, you’ll take a moment with me to appreciate just what a profoundly massive step forward this has been for Capcom and Resident Evil as a whole.
For a start – I never… loved Resident Evil 2. It was always a bit too… safe, a bit too obvious, but Resident Evil 2 Remake – despite being a remake – finds ways to surprise you, challenge you, and even SCARE you. I can’t tell you how long it has been since a Resident Evil game truly gave me goosebumps of terror – actually I can, it was Resident Evil Zero back on the GameCube – but there were times in RE2Make that I was genuinely scared, and it was A-MA-ZING! Wow, it’s so good for Resident Evil to come back to real, suspenseful horror.
More than that – there are many things in the game which work which the game has no right in hell to be good at doing. A stealth segment. With Sherry Birkin. In a brand new area of the game, the Orphanage. It’s tense, it’s exciting, it’s a real break from the games pacing but it works. Oh lord, does it work. And what a villain Chief Irons now makes. That was something truly, deliciously evil.
With a bunch of Free DLC (which worked in some ways and didn’t in others – but it was free), and Resident Evil 3 Remake coming in April, Capcom seems to have finally embraced the horror roots of Resident Evil again and the results are spectacular. The T-00/Mr. X is great, the mutations of William Birkin are top-notch and the characters and voice acting are so good, so very, very good it’s not even funny. And I mean that in the ideal way that they’re convincing enough to not be a gateway to further jokes.
I FREAKIN’ LOVE RESIDENT EVIL 2 REMAKE. There, I said it. That this was made in the RE Engine now proves that for all RE7’s mistakes, this was without question the single greatest investment Capcom has ever made. It is outstanding, and has throughout the year had me constantly going back for one more round. Which is always the hallmark of a truly top-drawer game. Always make me want more of you.
Welcome back into my heart, Capcom. Don’t hurt me again.