The year 2019 has been great for games, indie and AAA alike. It’s usually pretty hard to pick, but I’ve gone ahead and narrowed it down to a list of five. And no, Sekiro‘s not on here because it’s going to be on everybody’s list and who wants to read that over and over again?
I love it when games try and do something different. It’s one thing to give players a comfortable, super familiar experience, but something unique is truly special. Eastshade is that kind of game. While most open-world RPGs fill the areas with combat, this one didn’t think that was important. Instead of hitting stuff and collecting loot, you just walk the land and paint.
It’s a really beautiful, passionate game about the main character just going around and painting important landmarks for their mother. The world isn’t in danger. Nobody’s lives are on the line. You’re just a painter. You make canvases, paint on them, and explore the world at your own leisure. And it’s just lovely. It really goes to show what great world design and atmosphere can do and it’s certainly one of the most memorable games I was fortunate enough to play this year.
This one caused a bit of a blowup earlier this year. And then that blowup caused a separate blowup. And there’s really no reason to go any deeper into that here because, on its own merits, Ion Fury is a very impressive achievement, aside. There are a lot of retro shooters, but this one really takes the cake. It’s completely built on the same tech that powered classics like Duke Nukem 3D and Blood, which goes a long way toward making it feel grounded in that era.
But every aspect of it is so tight, so well-designed, that it’s hard not to admire what was achieved. The sprite work is all excellent, the level design is some of the finest there is, and the combat is fast, violent, and nuanced in a way that few games can muster. While it’s absolutely fair to assume a game that’s this much of an intentional retro throwback would be stale or feel half-baked, Ion Fury dispels that notion with prejudice, creating an outstanding experience for action junkies and people who love exploration alike.
There was a fair amount of Metroid-likes released this year, as there are always are. And it’s usually pretty difficult for me to get excited by them, as they’re mostly just based around the same handful of ideas that keep getting rehashed year over year. But Blasphemous is different. Not only does it feature some of the most gorgeous artwork in the genre, it really makes you think. Now, the combat is very good, as is the platforming and general game flow. But what really sets the game apart is its secrets.
A very large amount of Blasphemous‘ content is totally optional. You can get to the end of the game without much issue just by chugging along. But you won’t take the world in that way. The world has a deeply lived-in feel to it, and trying to crack its secrets on my own was one of the highlights of this year for me. Even if I’m still kind of peeved that I wasn’t able to figure out how to get the true ending on my own. But, hey, I did find almost everything else. And sharing ideas with and helping people on the game’s official Discord really made me feel like I was part of the community for a bit.
Ah, the indie that came out of nowhere. Pretty much made by a single person, Applewood blew me away. Chances are, very few people have even heard of this one, which is a shame. We just happened to get an email from the developer prior to release, and I figured I’d give it a shot. And, boy, am I glad I did. Sure, it’s a fairly simple game where you platform and solve puzzles with blocks, but it’s so much more.
Not only is the roughly six-hour experience very entertaining, but it’s got an excellent story. It seriously has some of the best writing you’ll see in the medium – not even kidding. The controls are just excellent as well. Applewood deserves to have an Undertale-like following, but it just wasn’t lucky enough to go viral. It’s a shame, because it definitely deserved more attention than it got. I just hope that the developer behind it keeps making games, as they’re very talented. I do hope one of his games is able to go viral in the future, as I feel like a lot of people would really connect with his stuff.
The biggest-budget game on this list. I wasn’t expecting to like this one so much, truth be told. My experience with the series is limited, and I got rather bored with the game I did play. But, man, did it turn out to be one of the best crafting games I’ve ever experienced. Atelier Ryza is a summertime adventure where you explore and collect ingredients at your own pace. The story is good, if not stellar, but it’s just so much fun for the entirety of its duration.
Naturally, the crafting is the star of the show. It’s such a blast to try and figure out how to build your way up to newer, better items. I always relished finding that one item I was missing so I could run back to my atelier and whip it up. Then there’s the time spent trying to make the best item I could. Crafting games can be a lot of fun, but this one really goes above and beyond to make for a very engaging experience. Plus, they got rid of the potboiler turn-based combat, which I greatly appreciated.
Well, it’s been a really interesting year, but those are my favorites. And Sekiro was good too, I guess. I hope 2020 will have another great set of indies and that I’ll be pulled into some more impressive, surprise adventures as it moves along. Have a happy New Year, whoever you are, and thanks for reading.