The 30 Best Video Games of 2019
2019 was a pretty odd year for video games. It was a defining showcase of the industry's most talented voices and how they upend norms to create digital treehouses we can find solace in, and how it can deliver on eccentricities no one saw coming. Banjo-Kazooie and Terry Bogard found their way into Smash; Uncle Phil showed off the new Xbox at The Game Awards; CD Projekt Red put Johnny freakin’ Mnemonic in Cyberpunk 2077. There were plenty of games, from Death Stranding to Link’s Awakening to indie bloomers like Kind Words and Disco Elysium, and each one of them were there to inspire, comfort, and inform. We're still waiting for Tom Nook and his Animal Crossing spinoff of Fyre Festival, but here are 30 titles from 2019 that will hit you with a brilliant sense of escapism.
30. Yoshi's Crafted WorldRelease date: March 29 (Switch)
Yoshi's Crafted World is a feel-good follow up to 2015's Wooly World as it slingshots the lovable numbskull into a 2.5D cardboard cutout-style adventure. There's egg throwing, Smiley Flowers, and a subplot that involves Kamek and Baby Bowser's quest to become BFFs, but it super-glues your heart to the wall by being an adept Mario platformer that looks like a photorealistic shoebox diorama. Every level is constructed to be explored from multiple angles (literally and figuratively) and it ups the fuzzies with adorable multiplayer tactics (i.e. piggyback rides!) and a collection of unlockable costumes that range from Bullet Bills to literal trash bins. Yoshi's Crafted World is a Saturday morning collectathon that's perfect for kids and adults, and it uses a remarkable dose of color and imagination to show that Yoshi wasn't explicitly designed to be kicked off a cliff.
29. Gato RobotoRelease date: May 30 (Switch, PC)
Doinksoft's bite-sized Metroidvania with cats is what happens when you take an inherently cute NES-era concept and introduce it to Devolver and their wildest Mobile Suit Gundam fantasies. It is deliberately old school and fundamentally sound when it comes to platforming and exploration, but most of its charm stems from its narrative of a cat using a powered up mech suit to traverse the depths of an alien underworld. It's a little on the short side -- it's only three hours long -- but with bass-heavy tunes and an aesthetic that bleeds Downwell and It! The Terror From Beyond Space, Gato Roboto is one of the most irresistible 2D side-scrollers of the year.
28. Creature In The WellRelease date: September 6 (XB1, PC, Switch)
Flight School's Creature In The Well is the right kind of weird. It's a top-down, hack and slasher in which you play as a BOT-C, a robotic engineer tasked with maintaining a weather contraption that's used to protect a town from its ongoing sandstorm problem. The twist here is the massive creature that lives in the town well has broken it and the only feasible solution is to pinball your way up through a mountain and a series of thematic dungeons. The concept has all the charm and artiness of Dead Cells and Hollow Knight combined, and it flips the loop of dungeon crawlers on its head to create a puzzler that tests your intellect and appetite for experimentation. It's out there, even for an indie, but it's a pure hit of arcade bliss.
27. Hypnospace OutlawRelease date: March 12 (PC)
Jay Tholen and Mike Lasch's Hypnospace Outlaw is a wonderfully weird and addictive simulation of late '90s internet culture. In it, players are tasked with moderating an online hub called Hypnospace in hopes of using investigative tactics to take out hackers, scam artists, copyright infringers, and corrupt GeoCities trolls. The narrative utilizes a point-and-click puzzler to skewer politics, corruption, and social structures, and it's all encased in a customizable desktop and an online fallout of teen spaces, punk bands, virtual pets, and New Age spiritualists. It’s out there, but Hypnospace is a memeable head trip about digital villainy and how far we've come since Winamp skins and Limp Bizkit covers.
26. Void BastardsRelease date: May 29 (XB1, PC)
Blue Manchu's Void Bastards is a first-person roguelike in which you inhabit minor criminals who have been dehydrated into space Lunchables in order to explore procedurally generated shuttle wrecks and carry out seemingly impossible tasks, like building a new PC for the HR department. It's delightfully BioShock as it was devised by former BioShock creators, but it's in a loop of its own as its fondness for variables and environmental randomness is warped through staple guns, cow zappers, Kittybots, trench coat horrors, and a tone that's more It's Always Sunny than Elder Scrolls. The campaign's only 12 to 15 hours long, but with Ryan Roth's score, it's an exceedingly chill dip into cel-shaded action that will keep you on your toes.
25. Call of Duty: Modern WarfareRelease date: October 25 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Post-Ghosts and Infinite Warfare, Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare is a heart-stopping slug of immersive first-person shooter action. The reimagining of the 2007 mainstay features traditional multiplayer, hardened Spec Ops modes, and 2v2 and 32v32 blitzes. Then there's the campaign -- a grisly, intense six-hour rip that throws the CIA and British SAS forces into a Zero Dark Thirty-type arc. Modern Warfare is a technical achievement for the Call of Duty franchise that sets a new benchmark for what's next.
24. NHL 20Release date: September 13 (PS4, XB1)
NHL 20 is the best hockey game of this console generation. It's a bit of a knuckle puck because of how much its Real Player Motion tech can be improved with a new console in just 14 months, but the evolution of its presentation, signature shots, and new goaltender A.I. cycles around one of the series' biggest accomplishments to date: pacing. Every line change and momentum shift flows authentically -- separating the McDavids from the Goldbergs in a way that hasn't been prominent since NHL 06 -- and it's all gift-wrapped in HUT Squad Battles, alumni heroes, and a World Of CHEL that puts customization (and dabbing) first. The Franchise and Be A Pro modes are still in need of a complete overhaul, but when it comes to merging sim with arcade, NHL 20 is a significant move forward that rips it to a top-shelf game.
23. The Legend Of Zelda: Link's AwakeningRelease date: September 20 (Switch)
1993's Link's Awakening is a timeless fragment of Nintendo's history. Whereas Cadence of Hyrule is a testament to the lovable charms of the greater kingdom, the modernized Game Boy remake is a love letter to the series as a whole and its affinity for capturing your heart with music, style, and playability. It's almost too adorable -- in a Fisher-Price meets Rankin/Bass kind of way -- but it works as the diorama visuals add another layer of quirkiness to Koholint Island and the Tarins, Mask-Mimics, and Grim Creepers that define it. The eight main dungeons are sentimental SNES in all the right instances -- underlining why the Switch could use a few more 2-D classics that remind us of yesteryear.
Untitled Goose Game is a villain's tale about a goose who is a total asshole to the residents of an English-inspired village. It's a slapstick-stealth-sandbox misadventure that's as internet as Kermit sipping tea and it succeeds because of its patent absurdity and House House's approach to delightful minimalism. There's not a lot to it as you honk, waddle, flap around, steal items, and annoy the living hell out of every human being in sight, but its offbeat stealthing and harmless chaos is what makes it one of the most captivating recent titles in the Switch's library.
21. Katana ZERORelease date: April 18 (PC, Switch)
Much like Dead Cells and The Messenger, Katana ZERO pulls apart the typical concept for a 2D action platformer by being a rare outlier that flirts with art and action. It's a pixelated mashup of 47 Ronin and Timecop -- cuffing a time-bending samurai quest to chic katana duels, instant deaths, interconnected rooms, and a darker '80s neon aesthetic accentuated by one of the year's best original soundtracks. Its lush combat sequences and VHS fall into themes of trauma and life and death are here for Saturday mornings, but Askiisoft's execution is what makes ZERO a timeless paragon in its genre (and on the Switch).
20. A Plague Tale: InnocenceRelease date: May 14 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Asobo Studio's A Plague Tale: Innocence tells the story of two orphans, Amicia and Hugo, who are on the run from the Inquisition and the Black Death terrorizing 14th century France. It's a grim narrative that's full of ominous sequences and gnarled out rat infestations that swarm around as a main puzzle mechanic, and it uses the emotional pull of every environment and set piece to trace the ups and downs of a teenager who is left to care for her 5-year-old brother. Its linearity makes it more of a stealth affair than an action-adventure soap opera, but by choice. Every maze, backdrop, companion, and smattering of alchemy is used to let the world unfold around you -- analyzing the links between innocence and resilience, and how hope will find a way to blossom in the horrors of tragedy. It's a feat that is held back by predictability, but it's one that will forever earmark A Plague Tale as a gorgeous rarity in emotive storytelling.
19. JudgmentRelease date: June 25 (PS4)
Judgment is the greatest narrative drama you've never heard of. In a decade full of story-driven triumphs, SEGA's Ryu ga Gotoku Studio has made the world of Kamurocho even more niche as their post-Yakuza spinoff traces a fallen attorney-turned-private investigator who gets caught up in his attachment to the truth. The entire thing reels on like a Phoenix Wright-meets-Law & Order soap opera that's co-directed by Antoine Fuqua and Steven Seagal, and then there's the mixed bag of EX moves, chase sequences, drone relays, selfie missions, and a two-player port of the AM2's Fighting Vipers. Judgment is intricate, gripping, full of heart, and it's an S-tier series starter that redefines the crime-solving genre.
18. Mortal Kombat 11Release date: April 23 (PS4, XB1, PC, Switch)
Mortal Kombat 11 is in a league of its own because the decades-spanning team at NetherRealm is absolutely nuts. Their fixation with design and performance remains, but MK11 is more of a nostalgia-inducing romp than a modern classic. Story mode is an earth-shattering John Woo soap opera; the fatalities are absurd and eye poppingly gorgeous; and its lessons on attacks, cancels, frame data, zoning, and character movesets help to create one of the best fighting game tutorial that gaming has ever seen. It's attached to the loot grind, but with old faces (Liu Kang, Kitana), cult favorites (Frost, Noob Saibot), and customization that digs into modular loadouts and 30 different pairs of specs for Johnny Cage, boredom in MK11 isn't an option. It sets the bar for fighters and sequels with a budget, and it's a stunning thesis on how a studio can bring together tweens, veteran gamers, and SonicFoxes to shadow kick you in the neck.
17. Pokémon Sword & ShieldRelease date: November 15 (Switch)
Despite its similarities to Let’s Go Eevee! and Pikachu!, Pokémon Sword & Shield are a generational reset that expertly balances the joys of combat and collecting. They take place in the Galar region -- a nod to British culture that has its own idyllic countrysides and pixelated renditions of Coronation Street -- with local fare (because yes, you can cook in this game), new gym leaders, and 81 new Pokémon, including Nickit, Yamper, Wooloo, Gossifleur, and whatever Indeedee are supposed to be. It’s a complete oddity next to the seven other generations of Pokémon, but Sword and Shield are modern interpretations of the old-school Red and Blue that will easily take over your life.
16. Fire Emblem: Three HousesRelease date: July 26 (Switch)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be a breezy 40-hour game about saving your medieval magic homeland Fódlan, or it can be a 160-plus hour timesuck where you uncover every tiny secret about the machinations of this bizarre layered world. It's an example of the Fire Emblem franchise reaching its final form with lovable characters who you can invite to tea, storylines that change drastically based on your in-game choices, and a surprisingly deep grid combat system which, unlike its past counterparts, you can choose to play on a mode that doesn't kill off a teammate for good should they fall in battle. Three Houses is basically a strategic relationship sim anchored in turn-based war scenarios and chilling with your friends that fans of the Persona and Final Fantasy series will find a lot to love.
15. ObservationRelease date: May 21 (PS4, PC)
No Code's Observation is a Kubrickian science fiction thriller that augments the innovative leaps of Stories Untold and Alien: Isolation to whisper sweet nothings to your psyche. In it, you play through the lens of an artificial intelligence system, known as S.A.M, that is tasked to aid a medical officer who must repair an isolated space station to locate survivors and coordinate a rescue mission. It's a point-and-click narrative that uses drone navigation and puzzle mechanics to keep your attention until a mystery practically crawls out of your ear, but the way No Code uses every retro scan line and hyper intricate exhibit of space architecture to emulate a TED Talk on machine intelligence and self awareness is what makes it an anomaly.
14. Luigi's Mansion 3Release date: October 31 (Switch)
Luigi's Mansion 3 is a direct sequel to 2013's Dark Moon that zeroes in on what Luigi does best, which is being Luigi. The lovable knucklehead is tasked with saving Mario and Princess Peach as their mid-pizza makeout sessions in a posh hotel is interrupted by King Boo who turns them into one of those N64-type paintings. It's an unpretentious narrative that sticks by its own memes and innuendos (thanks Gooigi), but it's paired with Next Level Games' love for imaginative puzzles, illustrative environments, and classic film themes that make ghost hunting and ectoplasm battles an absolute treat.
13. Slay The SpireRelease date: May 21 (PS4, Switch)
Slay The Spire is wholesomely addictive. The remarkably deep deck-builder from MegaCrit is bound to trigger Hearthstone partisans and anyone who has fallen victim to a quick pull of Exodia The Forbidden One, but it's a turn-based roguelite that suspends thematic builds for long-term designs that thrive on creativity and spontaneity. Every single run demands an appreciation for experimentation, and just when you think you've figured everything out, it rewrites itself just to make you squirm. It's daunting, but on mechanics alone, Spire is one of the year's most captivating timesinks.
12. Life Is Strange 2Release date: January 24 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Life Is Strange 2 starts off on a ordinary afternoon, with two adolescent brothers who attempt to keep up with the minutiae of everyday life in Seattle, until a quick search for party supplies triggers a devastating series of events. That split second transition throws the brothers into a totally unexpected direction and the different "Roads" and "Rules" that follow show that Dontnod are committed to using human behavior and American politics to emphasize themes that flicker beyond Arcadia Bay. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, the first two (and a half) episodes stand by their strengths -- stitching a beautiful narrative to your heart in hopes of hitting you where it hurts the most -- and with an updated engine and a flawless indie soundtrack that pulls from the likes of Whitney, First Aid Kit, and Sufjan Stevens, it's clear that there's no point in turning back.
11. Devil May Cry 5Release date: March 8 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Hideaki Itsuno's Devil May Cry 5 is ridiculously cool, stylish, sexy, and full-on cheesy, and as much as its narrative is about Nero's path to becoming more than just dead weight, it's a sequel that ties some loose ends together by being the action romp it deserves. One second, you'll find yourself lost in a plot that is equal parts Hot Topic, Fury Road, and Showdown in Little Tokyo, and by the next, you'll be headbanging the night away as you hack and slash enemies with motorcycle swords. Dante is still Dante and the demons are still demons (for the most part), but DMC5 slays at upending the traditional norms and stigmas of today by making a badass arcade gem feel like a theatrical masterpiece.
10. Super Mario Maker 2Release date: June 28 (Switch)
If the original Super Mario Maker was a brilliant sandbox for creative souls, then Mario Maker 2 is a mesmerizing love letter to the voices, friendships, and communities its built. It's the only 2D Mario platformer you'll ever need (sorry All-Stars), taking the Wii U's lifeblood of "build it, break it, share it" but with a story mode and 100+ original courses that will give your thumbs a workout. There's new styles (3D World), new themes (Desert, Snow), and a dizzying kartload of newer parts that include slopes, seesaws, parachutes, on/off switches, and the Angry Sun, and it's all there to let your pipe dreams run wild. Chompette or not, Mario Maker 2 is an unrivaled masterpiece embracing Nintendo's weirder chapters to see what you can do with a blank canvas and an everlasting bucket of wide-eyed imagination.
9. Baba Is YouRelease date: March 13 (PC, Switch)
Arvi "Hempuli" Teikari's new 2D puzzler follows four simple rules: Baba Is You, Flag Is Win, Wall Is Stop, and Rock Is Push. As the baba -- an adorable bunny-like creature -- the objective is to push aside rocks and touch the flag to complete a level. That is, until you realize every word on the screen is a movable tile and you can modify each of the cardinal rules to complete a puzzle in an entirely different way. It's a mechanic that can become brutally difficult, but the ability to modify and remix larger X and Y statements is what makes Baba Is You an addictive timesink. It's a puzzle game within a puzzle game and one that will gut-check your preconceptions about the genre.
8. The Outer WorldsRelease date: October 25 (PS4, XB1, PC)
The genius of The Outer Worlds is that it's a whimsical space saga that doesn't trip over its newly acquired pair of Moon Boots. It's an Obsidian marvel stacked with character stats, perks, companions, speech checks, and a totally viable VATS-adjacent targeting system, and then there’s the Forbidden Planet side of it all -- from shrink rays to giant space gorillas to mercenary ships called The Unreliable. Its depth is measured and a little more focused on intergalactic capitalism and factions and choices that will question your own politics, but it’s a blast of sci-fi turbulence that uses A+ writing and humor to shatter your expectations.
7. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen OrderRelease date: November 15 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Jedi: Fallen Order is really damn good at the whole Star Wars thing. Following Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan), a padawan-turned-fugitive who is tasked with reassembling the Jedi Order and his own fractured past following the execution of Order 66, it's a post-Sith, pre-Rogue One narrative that echoes the original trilogy through addictive combat. Every subtle detail in the art -- from BD-1's charm to the swells of Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab's score to the way Stormtroopers react to the lightsaber chaos around them -- interweaves into commanding environmental design. With one hell of a final act, Jedi: Fallen Order is a triumph and one of the greatest Star Wars gaming adventures in over a decade.
6. Cadence Of HyruleRelease date: June 13 (Switch)
Cadence Of Hyrule is ridiculously good. Mentioning it in the same breath as A Link To The Past and Breath Of The Wild might be premature, but it succeeds by being a pixel-perfect remix of two distant worlds. It's a Zelda scroller with an undying love to feel every synth, and it all adds up to a classic action RPG and a map full of super-cute Bokoblins, Wolfos, Lynels, and Gibdos. Every sprite, puzzle, slap of the bass, and adorbs nod to Crypt of the Necrodancer reinforces the lovable charms of Hyrule and the fact that this 2D spinoff is a win for video games.
5. Apex LegendsRelease date: February 4 (PS4, XB1, PC)
The balls-to-the-wall gunplay in Apex Legends is second to none. It's an argument that could be diffused with a round of Overwatch, but Respawn's elevated approach to the battle royale takes the best of Titanfall, CS:GO, PUBG, and Rainbow Six Siege, and fastballs those mechanics into a John Wick-style video game. Skirmishes can erupt into non-stop bullet storms, and its use of 3v3s, ping systems, character powers, verticality, and top-shelf weapon design amplify it to new heights. It's a rock-em, sock-em shooter, and while it's still finding its legs, Apex isn't wasting any time in becoming a contender for top battle royale game on the market. And loot boxes be damned -- it's free to play.
4. Death StrandingRelease date: November 8 (PS4)
Death Stranding is a game about connections. It's part art project that shouldn't work as it takes the frameworks of Metal Gear Solid IV and V and crams them into Hideo Kojima-sized colloquies about parenthood, isolation, and the pending extinction of humanity. It's heavy stuff for being essentially a walking sim, but when the social system clicks, it's transcendent, driven by great acting. Norman Reedus as mail man Sam is tired of people's shit; Tommie Earl Jenkins is a hero; Léa Seydoux and Margaret Qualley are delightfully strange; and Mads Mikkelsen is… well, unapologetically Mads. Even for a head trip, the surrealness can be a bit of an overkill, but Death Stranding's ability to augment the simple joy of exploration puts it in a league of its own. It's high art with pizza delivery missions, and it's worth obsessing over.
3. Resident Evil 2Release date: January 25 (PS4, XB1, PC)
1998's Resident Evil 2 was a cultural phenomenon; 2019's Resident Evil 2 is Capcom's attempt at hitting everyone with a noise complaint for yelling about some trenchcoat-wearing bogeyman who views race walking as an American pastime. The remake is still centered around Raccoon City and why it's pretty much Portland but for zombies, but it ditches tank controls for an over-the-shoulder perspective that would make any RE fan’s head pop. Claire is still a leather-clad badass; Leon still looks like he belongs on the cover of Bop Magazine; and in between all the awkward flirting and cheesy one-liners is a renewed passion for collectibles, sound design, and survival horror that uses perfectly detailed environments to scare you senseless. It’s a candid love letter to Shinji Mikami and the Resident Evil series as a whole, and it’s one that will push you to invest in no health and no item box runs just to see if you can make it out alive.
2. ControlRelease date: August 27 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Control is the new weird. It's a third-person shooter in a world painted in shades of Kubrick, Lynch, and Nolan that digs into the story of a female lead who is searching for answers after being tapped as the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control and disarming a supernatural threat in The Oldest House -- a "shifting place" in New York that's lined with Elle Decor ideas and alternate dimensions. What follows can only be described as a beautiful mindfuck. Remedy's intricate smear of sci-fi and mystery is rendered through breathtaking Twin Peaks-esque set pieces and cerebral approaches to lighting and sound design. Then there's the telekinetic powers, mold people, cursed mirrors, possessed flamingos, and Hideo Kojima doing ASMR about potato chips and the impoliteness of voyeurism. It's a thread that keeps unraveling as time goes on, but the way it's all seamlessly intertwined is what makes Control a stimulating crash into the paranormal. It's a euphoric exploration of top-tier world building, interconnected storytelling, and a crash landing into genre-breaking territory.
1. Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceRelease date: March 22 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Sekiro isn't for the faint of heart. In its 30-plus hours, you'll take on the role of a loyal shinobi who is left for dead in the late 1500s Sengoku-era of Japan. What follows is a lonesome revenge tale in a visually breathtaking world that invites curiosity, exploration, and lore-mongering. But being a FromSoftware game, it severs itself from the "Soulsborne" genre to subject you to a different kind of heartless that emphasizes patience and precision. That invitation is what makes Shadows Die Twice one of the most compelling video games of this past decade. Its white-knuckled combat forgoes stat builds and arms you with a single katana, a grappling hook, and a modular prosthetic arm, forcing you to study the ins and outs of parrying and how all three tools correlate with timing, spacing, and movement. When that finally clicks, Sekiro wastes no time in rewarding you with some dope anime-esque ninja shit. It's a weird, unforgiving, and downright harrowing game, but it's an example of how a director and a studio can challenge their own values and principles to compose a complete work of art.