Okay, this one will end up being a whole lot longer than the rest, because it’s more of our annual-ish year-in-review article mixed with the looking back series we did leading up to this. Of course, because we kind of screwed up some basic math, it’s showing up in 2020 instead of 2019, but only by a couple of days. I mean, at this point, we’re all still writing the wrong year in any date 80% of the time, so I’m going to just say that this is 80% on time.
It was been… a year, that’s for certain. We’ve gotten a bit political, even more snarky than usual, and tried to branch out in the stuff that we covered. At the same time, we had actually LEGO reviews multiple times, and we saw the end of the Skywalker saga – maybe by the time this goes up maybe we will have gotten all of the ranting out of our systems for that particular film. (Side note: we haven’t)
Gaming was looking pretty shaky when 2019 started out… it opened up with the simmering dumpster fire that is Anthem. I don’t even think you can call it a full fire, since EA seems to have forgotten it existed at all. Bethesda released Rage 2, which brought the most deceptive trailer for a video game this side of Dead Island – it was a dull and tedious game that was forgotten within a week of coming out. Far Cry New Dawn was basically Far Cry 5 but a bit more phoned in, and some studios that were among those I loved, Blizzard and Bethesda, were terrible to the point of me (Nick) stopping any support for their titles.
On the hardware front, we got Google delivering the “yeah, this will be discontinued in a couple of years” Stadia, a product for basically nobody. Sony and Microsoft both announced their next generation consoles, and continued to frustrate by saying they’ll be coming out around the same time: Holiday 2020. Details are somewhat sparse, but we know that the PS5 will be backwards compatible for the PS4, and the Xbox will be backwards compatible for all Xbox titles and support Xbox One peripherals.
If I had to pin any particular product or service that really came into its own in 2019, it would be the Game Subscription services. I’ve been a long-time skeptic of such services, and a bunch of them are still pretty terrible, but Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass is simply an incredible value, and Apple Arcade gives you a ton of value in the mobile gaming space. Sony and Nintendo are playing catch-up on this front, and it remains to be seen if either will take the steps to actually compete on this front.
Ace’s Pick: Not so much a game, but a gaming service is what gets my pick:
Do you know how refreshing it is to play a mobile game without suffering through interstitial ads, or being shown a “limited-time deal”, or to feel like you have to pay to play competitively? SO refreshing. Apple Arcade offers quality games and takes out every toxic element that made mobile gaming a trial of wills. Mobile gaming is fun again. And the fact that a family subscription to Apple Arcade is a measly $4.99 a month or $49.99 for a year makes it absolutely worthwhile. Google immediately responded with a knee-jerk reaction with their own arcade style subscription package, but all it was was a selection of games that were readily available in the Google Play store and didn’t follow the same “no microtransactions or advertisement” guidelines that Apple Arcade games follow.
Eric’s Pick: In the same vein as Ace, I want to first shoutout Microsoft bringing Game Pass to PC. Being able to experience games like The Outer Worlds or Gears 5 on launch day for $5 a month…well, there’s nothing quite like it. I’ve played some standout hits via XGP on PC, and I can’t wait to see what other games Microsoft brings out in the next year. If this is the route that gaming is going, I’m all for it, so long as we can keep actually buying the games to keep them if we want to stop subscribing.
Anyway, on to the actual games!
Considering how keyed-in we are to games on the site, I played a surprisingly small amount of 2019 games. Death Stranding had a really solid base game and concept, but the story got in the way. The Outer Worlds reminded me for the fourth time that I just really do not like Bethesda-style games. Super Mario Maker 2 is a fantastic game that falls apart online.
But aside from those three, that was really it. I’m still, to my chagrin, playing Overwatch. I played through MGSV again and realized how much I love it. I’ve been playing through a bunch of old classics ported to the Switch, and I got really into Minecraft again.
Yet one game that actually came out this year stands supreme, and if you’ve been keeping up with my rankings throughout these “Best of” posts, then it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise:
The sixth entry in From Software’s crushing games catalog, Sekiro actually managed to change things up quite a lot. For one, no custimzation, which streamlines the game considerably. Now you’re fighting enemies exactly how the developer intended. You can no longer cheese a boss with specific exploits – you gotta get up there and kick their ass proper. Combat is completely different, no longer about managing a stamina bar that runs out, but instead a posture meter that builds up. Blocking enemy attacks with perfect timing is the only way you’re going to get through this game. I can say without hesitation that it has the best combat in any game ever.
After Dark Souls III, which was a bit of a mess, I’m glad From Software took some time off to rethink and refine their systems, and the game has done absolutely smashingly in sales, especially for this kind of niche game. However, I noted 2019’s all-inclusive game climate when I talked about Celeste for the 2018 post, so I should bring it up.
A big debate that came up with the release of Sekiro was an “easy mode”. Although a laughable idea at first, considering these games are kinda known for their toughness, in retrospect it’s not a bad idea. If the goal is to have as many people playing the game as possible, and having a good time doing it, then accessibility is a major consideration. But…at the same time, From Software’s games are very specific about how they’re supposed to be approached. Success through immense opposition – which I talked about in my 2011 article. And without the dozens of weapon options of Bloodborne and the Souls games, Sekiro, in a way of thinking, is more accessible than ever. I recommend checking out this Game Maker’s Toolkit episode if you want to hear more about this debate.
Nick’s Pick: Okay, wow, this is going to be a tough year for game. There were a ton of games that consumed a ton of my time. There was the first good Star Wars game in more than a decade with JEDI: Fallen Order. I mean, I should pick it in this spot just because EA made a game that wasn’t terrible and laden with microtransactions. After more than a decade of telling us that single player games were dead and don’t sell, they released a press release about how it was the best selling digital release they’d ever had. I look forward to them telling us in their earnings report early next year that it was below expectations after saying it was great up until that point.
Past that, we got a new mainline Pokemon game, Sword and Shield, which should have been awful, but somehow, inexplicably, was actually pretty great. I’ve been working on the review on and off since it came out, but would need to stop playing it in order to do that. Speaking of the Switch, we also got Link’s Awakening, which very likely might be the most beautiful game that has landed on the Switch, stylistic through-and-through, and just a joy to play.
I was seriously considering going with Untitled Goose Game here, to be honest… because it was equal parts fun indie game and cultural phenomenon, and that asshole goose was just so much fun to play. It’s a game that is pure guilty pleasure, and scratches an itch that games like Donut County and Grand Theft Auto have in the past, but did it with style.
In the end, though, I’m going to give it to a game that’s the best Fallout game made in ages, maybe ever… only it’s not a Fallout game, and the studio that made it is better than Bethesda has ever been (I pitch this book a lot, but read Jason Schreier’s Blood, Sweat, and Pixels and you’ll see just how terrible Bethesda was to Obsidian in the development of Fallout: New Vegas). The Outer Worlds, quite simply, was a revelation, a game that was lovingly crafted and designed, was fun to play, and legitimately made me laugh more times than I can count.
That it was also a blistering indictment of late-stage capitalism, something that is pretty on-brand for me at this point, just made it even better.
Ace’s Pick: There were two movies that came out this year that I’ve been DYING to see: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Parasite. Unfortunately, due to time and kids and probably a various other reasons, I never made it to the theater. One of those would probably be filling up this spot right here, and it probably would have been Parasite. But if I’m being honest and pick a movie I actually saw, well here it is:
Alita: Battle Angel was an adaptation of the Japanese manga Battle Angel Alita. The movie rights were purchased by James Cameron years ago, he just needed a director to helm the project. Robert Rodriguez answered the call and in the end, we got a nice treatment that did justice to the anime adaptation of the manga. While I disagree with the decision to Disney-fy her eyes, I got used to it and decided it seemed appropriate given the setting of the film. The action sequences were exciting to watch and the underlying story and character development made the film a little more than just a CGI-laden popcorn flick. I was a huge fan of the anime and was a bit worried that a live-action adaptation would go the same route as Ghost In The Shell did, but Robert Rodriguez did an excellent job and did not disappoint.
Eric’s Pick: Honestly…I don’t have a favorite movie of the year. I thought Endgame was fine, and wrapped up the main story well. I still haven’t seen Rise of Skywalker. And without Moviepass, my theater viewing have gone down the toilet. Being home for Christmas, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of these big hits. I watched Parasite because Ace was talking about it, and it was great. JoJo Rabbit is another worthy film of the Taika Waititi name. Uncut Gems was…intense. But other than that, honestly, that’s all I’ve seen this year. I yield the rest of my time to Nick.
Nick’s Pick: 2019 was kind of a down year on movies for me. I didn’t hate Rise of Skywalker as much as Ace did, but I didn’t really like it either. When it was over, I was mostly of the mindset of “well, that was a thing.” We got the event that was Avengers: Endgame, and I honestly still don’t know how I feel about that movie or where I rank it. It was a stunning thing to behold, but it had a ton of plot issues… it just sort of falls apart when you think about it. There were plenty that I enjoyed, like Spider-Man Far From Home, John Wick 3, Hobbs & Show, Rocketman, but none of them are in that stunning realm that some of my other picks where.
There is one movie that did stand out for me, and if you’ve been following my work here when I talk about my favorite characters in comics, it shouldn’t be a surprise… Captain Marvel.
I’m not even going to call this the best MCU movie, but it was a great take on the character that did what it set out to do extremely well. It wasn’t made for me, and that’s awesome – I love seeing things targeted at other groups… it’s far more interesting than just watching the same stories over and over. Just getting this movie was great, and the thing that really got me excited after it was done is the promise of where it could go next.
Ace’s Pick: Going over the list of 2019, I think I might have bought just a handful of sets. I have just a few of those built and ready for review, but given my lack of enthusiasm for the hobby these days, it’s hard to motivate myself to get around to finishing them. So it should come as no surprise that this is my pick:
Free, low effort acquisition, and awesome. That’s pretty all it took for PS4 Spider-Man minifig to get top spot for 2019. The game this figure is from came really close to being my top pick for last year. Never did I think that we’d get a minifig of that version of Spidey but here he is in all his glory.
Eric’s Pick: I went for my annual Lego Store visit in around June of this year, and they had this set out on display, and I knew it was a hit.
75810 The Upside Down is just such a weird set, and that’s why I love it. Honestly, I would have never expected Lego to make a Stranger Things set, but here we are. And, best yet, it’s based on Season 1! Bravo for taking a chance on your adult fans, Lego.
Nick’s Pick: I actually wrote a few different reviews this year, and got a few LEGO sets… though only one of them, 10266 Apollo 11 Lunar Lander, wasn’t given to my daughter as soon as the review was done.
I wrote most of my thoughts on the set the review for the set, and I still have it up and displayed on our fireplace mantle. It’s a brilliant set that was a joy to build, and captured something so singular and special that it will be on display for a long, long time.