It’s hard to replicate a year like 2018 in video games, but the industry’s most talented voices continue to upend norms in hopes of creating digital treehouses we can find solace (or be scared out of our wits) in. If the likes of anticipated releases like Cyberpunk 2077, The Last Of Us Part II, and that shamelessly adorable Link’s Awakening redux are our future, then these titles are a reminder of the kill streaks, plot twists, and memes that make us whole. In a time where the world isn’t so pretty, they’re here to inspire, comfort, and inform. These are our picks for the best video games of 2019. We'll be updating regularly all year long, so check back frequently.
'Last Week Tonight' Writer Josh Gondelman Takes Shots, Talks About Working For John Oliver
Release 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.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
Release 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.
A Short Hike
Release date: July 30 (PC) A Short Hike is all about the simple pleasures in life. It follows Claire, a bird who is wrapped up in a family camping trip while waiting for an important call. While her quest to find reception screams walking sim, it's an indie adventure that stitches together the best bits of Old Man's Journey, Animal Crossing, and Breath of the Wild. It pushes the right buttons with N64-esque collectathons and doses of wonderful sadness -- it's practically a rock, skip, and a jump away from being a Pixar gem. It's a short trip, but it uses its writing and simplicity to underline the importance of reconnection and the unordinary magic that can be found in mystery.
Baba Is You
Release 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.
Cadence Of Hyrule
Release 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.
Release 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.
Creature In The Well
Release 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.
Devil May Cry 5
Release 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.
The Division 2
Release date: March 15 (PS4, XB1, PC) The Division 2 is the year's best loot shooter. It's a bit of a paradox, considering Ubisoft's flair for turning darker, political narratives into episodes of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, but their take on a post-apocalyptic Washington, DC is a captivating technical achievement that's rewarding from the get-go. It ties refined cover shooter mechanics to a new drop-in matchmaking system and smarter enemy AI that make action sequences more tactical than predictable, and with an endgame that lives by classes, raids, strongholds, and customization, there's a lot of stuff that just needs doing. It piles on to create a gameplay loop that never stops looping -- making it a compelling, thrills and skills RPG that sets the bar for the shared world shooter genre.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Release 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.
Release 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.
Release date: March 12 (PC) Jay Tholen and Mike Lasch's Hypnospace Outlaw is a wonderfully weird simulation of late '90s internet culture that's more addictive than Shark Bites fruit snacks. 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. There's a lot at play as the narrative uses 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, New Age spiritualists, and pre-MySpace creatives. Hypnospace is a memeable head trip about digital villainy and how far we’ve come since the time of Winamp skins and Limp Bizkit covers.
Release 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.
Release 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).
Kingdom Hearts III
Release date: January 25 (PS4, XB1) Forget about the DeviantArt crowd and everything you've read on Tumblr: No one really knows what the hell is going on in Kingdom Hearts III. What we do know is that Tetsuya Nomura and the rest of his team have fulfilled their promise of delivering a monumental conclusion to one of the greatest franchises Square Enix has ever produced. It's charming, wacky, and more rooted in moments of self-reflection in a world of all-things Disney, and every organic emotion it stirs up is backed by carefree combat mechanics and cinematic flourishes that explore the intricacies of Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Big Hero 6, and Winnie The Pooh. It's still very much about Sora's great big adventure with Donald and Goofy, but in true Kingdom Hearts fashion, it pivots to focus on old and new players alike in hopes of providing an escape from the Heartless and Nobodies that haunt our own realities.
The Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Release 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.
Life Is Strange 2
Release 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.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
Release date: September 6 (PS4, XB1) Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is an expansion that takes the Fifth Fleet to a chillier locale, but with World's hunt-and-gather loop being interlaced with new quest ranks, story arcs, gear upgrades, Palico friends, and more than 27 different wyverns and creatures that take some pleasure in kicking your shit in. There's new faces (Banbaro, Nargacuga), new elders (Namielle, Velkhana), and an assortment of remixes (Viper Tobi-Kadachi), and they're all used to craft a mesmerizing and beautifully detailed ecosystem that's full of adrenaline and wonder.
Mortal Kombat 11
Release 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.
Release 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.
Release 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.
Resident Evil 2
Release 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.
River City Girls
Release date: September 5 (PS4, XB1, PC, Switch) River City Girls is wonderfully frenetic, following two charismatic high schoolers who are tasked with breaking faces in order to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends. Elaborating on its Technōs Japan charm with boss battles, Capcom-style assists, manga flashbacks, and an endless supply of synthpop, there's a lot to chew on here. Its anime aesthetic and retrofied pixel art can sometimes suffer from brawler fatigue, but for a modernization of the Kunio-kun series, it provides a million reasons why you should take out everyone in the name of love.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Release 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.
Slay The Spire
Release 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.
Super Mario Maker 2
Release 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.
Release date: February 13 (Switch) It's 2019 and there's a Tetris battle royale game. Not only is Tetris 99 one of the more ingenious ideas of the past half decade, it shows that Nintendo is still driven to introduce us to a Lynchian brand of weird that we never knew we needed in our games. In a nutshell: The free-to-download Switch exclusive sticks the puzzler into 99-player battles that make use of garbage blocks and KO badges, and what follows is a tense, chaotic, and exceedingly addictive timesink. It can be excruciatingly difficult as you’re more apt to get your blocks kicked in by the co-captain of your great aunt's bingo team, but it’s worth it.
Release date: September 20 (Switch, PC) 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.
Release 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.
Yoshi's Crafted World
Release 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.