EGM’s Best of 2019: Best of the Rest
From today through the start of the new year, we’ll be posting our picks for the best games of 2019. Unlike in previous years, we’ve opted not to go for one big, ranked countdown. The truth is, there are so many incredible games nowadays that no one person could be expected to play and weigh in on all of them. To reflect this shift, we’ve narrowed our sitewide list down to a top five, which we’ll be revealing alongside personal top five lists from EGM staff (and one ghost of GOTY past).
But we also didn’t want a shorter countdown to mean we skipped over smaller games deserving of attention, so we reached out to some of the contributors who’ve helped make the new EGM such a success for their help compiling a list of noteworthy games that didn’t make any of our top fives.
Here, in alphabetical order, are those picks: 2019’s Best of the Rest.
|10 Beautiful Postcards
Publisher: thecatamites ▪︎ Developer: thecatamites ▪︎ Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
When you’re traveling, all the good cities have similar playbooks. Visit this book store, those five cool bars. Eat this fantastic sandwich. Most importantly, keep your eyes peeled for all unlisted curios. My first Berlin trip, I followed lights down an alleyway to discover a hidden taco truck. It was closing for the day but that detour led me into one of those clubs with one of those sliding-peephole metal doors. Video games emulate a permanent vacation, washing away domestic ennui with new environments. 10 Beautiful Postcards, thecatamites’ latest, is the Hotel Chelsea to your digital vacation. A maze as much as an advent calendar, you explore the seemingly endless universe of rooms, museums, surprises, installations, bird rides and accommodations. Taking nothing but screenshots. Leaving nothing but Yelp reviews. I enjoyed it so much I’m willing to overlook its passive aggressive attitude towards pinball. –Zack Kotzer
Publisher: Devolver Digital ▪︎ Developer: Gabe Cuzzillo ▪︎ Platforms: Switch, PC
What happens when a captive ape decides to break free of his bonds, while taking out as many of his tormentors as he can in the process? From its two-button gameplay formula—punch and grab, respectively—to its frenetic jazz soundtrack, Ape Out is a finely tuned exercise in action game minimalism. As you blaze a path of destruction through the stark corridors of its Saul Bass–inspired mazes, streaking the walls with the colorful guts of your gun-toting opponents, if you don’t have a smile on your face, maybe it turns out that you don’t like video games after all. This is arthouse arcade at its most inventive, and one of the most striking games of the year. –Steven T. Wright
|Arise: A Simple Story
Publisher: Techland ▪︎ Developer: Piccolo Studio ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Arise is an earnest story of one man’s journey through his lifelong memories, tracing the emotional highs and lows of love, a community displaced through nature’s whims, the tragedy of the later years and their inevitable toll. Profound life moments become the thematic backdrop for each area: The courting of love becomes a particularly lovely platforming dance through spiritual winds and whimsical flowers, and pain and darkness are manifested thrillingly in a sea of shadow creatures. The familiar gameplay parts can be a bit inelegant and require a love for old-school climbing, swinging and jumping to fully appreciate, but it’s the imagination within the simple time-manipulation mechanic that stands out. Arise is a simple, gentle experience that felt alive in its nuances. I can’t call this one of the most accomplished games of the year, but it was one of my favorites. –Brady Fiechter
Publisher: Nintendo ▪︎ Developer: PlatinumGames ▪︎ Platforms: Switch
Astral Chain was overlooked by quite a few people, but in my personal opinion, it ranks among the best games of 2019. I’ll give you a couple of good reasons for this. Because the combat involves controlling two separate characters, the first reason would have to be mechanical innovation. While it isn’t totally unexplored territory, Astral Chain is probably the only game to pull off this mechanic with such success. You basically fight with a combination of melee and ranged attacks while performing tactical maneuvers using a creature to which you’re tethered. The second reason definitely has to do with the setting. You could make the case that it falls on the wrong side of these debates, but Astral Chain is one of the few games that actually confronts questions like the role of surveillance in society or the militarization of the police. There’s something to be said for this. –Justin Reeve
Publisher: The Arcade Crew ▪︎ Developer: JoyMasher ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Indie game developers have long had a love affair with trying to make new games that seem old. The problem is, far too often, their projects may look 8- and 16-bit, but not actually feel like something we’d have gotten in that era. Blazing Chrome, however, is different. JoyMasher’s release not only wants to come across as something you’d have played on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo, but also hops onto the “Contra clone” bandwagon as well—and pulls off both beautifully. Blazing Chrome‘s sprite work, stage design, and difficulty level come together wonderfully for anyone looking to step back into a world of run ‘n gun shooters that we see far too rarely anymore. In a year where Konami’s official franchise offering was an utter disappointment, Blazing Chrome is everything you could want from a new Contra game—just under a different name. –Mollie L Patterson
|Creature in the Well
Publisher: Flight School Studio ▪︎ Developer: Flight School Studio ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox One, Switch, PC
Pinball is repetitive, and I’ve rarely been a fan. I’m not interested in repeating the same action in order to grab the highest score. For me, Flight School’s Creature in the Well, a self-described “pinball brawler,” doesn’t rely heavily on the pinball gameplay that makes it unique. It compliments it with intuitive and traditional game design. The fusion of pinball, Breakout, and hack-and-slash gameplay with traditional weapon progression comes together to form an ever-changing pinball machine filled with the twists and turns of a dungeon crawler. I could stand at this machine for dozens of games.
Each room in Creature in the Well‘s dungeon is like its own level of pinball, except you’re not guarding a static point. You move with the level, and later levels try to kill you. It’s tight, arcadey, grim, and exciting all at the same time. It’s game design innovation at its finest. –Aron Garst
Publisher: Flarb LLC ▪︎ Developer: Wiznwar, Flarb LLC ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox One, PC
While those of us who owned a TurboGrafx-16 back in the day were admittedly part of a (sadly) small group, one of the things the system had over its other 16-bit competitors was—as strange as this may sound—pinball. Japanese developer Compile blessed the platform with Alien Crush and Devil’s Crush, two fantastic virtual pinball games themed around terrifying space monstrosities and dark demonic beings respectively. It’s that second title that helped inspire Adam Ferrando to create Demon’s Tilt, a new project that bathes in the blood of its forefather before cranking up the silver ball worshipping to 11. Everything about Devil’s Tilt feels lovingly created, from the gorgeous 2D visuals, to the playfield design, to the changing game mechanics, to the metal-meets-Mega-Drive soundtrack. And, if you’re curious but not yet sure about committing to the Dark Lords or the Lanes, Demon’s Tilt is currently one of the offerings on Xbox Game Pass. –Mollie L Patterson
Publisher: Red Candle Games ▪︎ Developer: Red Candle Games ▪︎ Platforms: PC
With its cascading guitars, pounding rhythms and sorrowful lyrics, the crushingly mournful song played in the epilogue of Taiwanese first-person horror game Devotion marks the finale as a powerfully tragic memory of a broken home.
Yet it all begins with you, as the family patriarch Du Fengyu, wandering the labyrinthine corridors of your apartment while a creeping sense of dread threaten to taint the surroundings. The horror stems from not just this foreboding environment, but also the potent mix of fear and reverence that the Taiwanese—and many Chinese diaspora like myself—hold for the divine. When religious paraphernalia, such as dimly lit altars with their small offerings of incense, portraits of deities and divinity, and trails of paper talismans eventually overwhelm his home, these once-familiar objects become unbearably suffocating and macabre. It forces us to reckon with the face of religious fanaticism, and why it repels—and resonates—at the same time. –Khee Hoon Chan
Publisher: ZA/UM ▪︎ Developer: ZA/UM ▪︎ Platforms: PC
Disco Elysium begins as a deceptively straightforward murder mystery. It doesn’t take long for its true nature as a sprawling (and frequently hilarious) story of political collapse and individual desperation to take it down stranger and more compelling roads. Despite how alien the outward trappings of Elysium’s setting—a dilapidated district in the fictional city of Revachol—may be, the hopes and dreams, frustrations and melancholies of its characters are more than a little reminiscent of our own. By elevating the choice systems of so many other role-playing games into an examination of its protagonist’s fractured mind—and, in the process, testing the player’s own preconceived beliefs and sense of morality—Elysium delights in wading through the darkest, most uncomfortable corners of human psychology and political theory in order to force its audience to reflect on how to best live through a difficult, terrifying era in human history. –Reid McCarter
|Eternal Castle: Remastered
Publisher: Playsaurus ▪︎ Developer: Leonard Menchiari, Daniel Vicinanzo, Giulio Perrone ▪︎ Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
The quality of The Eternal Castle: Remastered was likely buried at launch beneath its fascinating development tale. Purportedly a remake of a long lost game, it is an ode to cinematic platformers like Another World or Prince of Persia.
Where the game excels is through its incredible action set pieces and its refreshingly loose attitude towards genre. One minute you’re leading a charge with an army of soldiers across a dystopian battlefield; the next, you’re exploring the innards of a creepy mansion or fighting your way through a crowded dance floor like the star of some Korean revenge thriller. This is all rendered in a beautiful neo-retro aesthetic, that somehow manages to tie all these disparate parts together in one stunning adventure. –Jack Yarwood
Publisher: Capybara Games ▪︎ Developer: Capybara Games ▪︎ Platforms: iOS
Throughout GrindStone‘s decade-long development process, Capybara Games did everything they could to make the puzzler’s piece-clearing mechanic satisfying. They wanted it to flow. The unique mechanic of having a player character move around the board is implemented with precision. Enemy attack patterns, combo extending gems, unique weapons and abilities, and level design compliment it wonderfully. They all contribute to seamless action that rolls with each tap of the touchscreen. Creating combos dozens of piecing long feels earned and effortless at the same time.
It’s a welcome slice of innovation that embodies what pick-up-and-play puzzlers should feel like. It only helps that it’s Cartoon Network–like art style, lo-fi beat–filled soundtrack, and wonderfully crafted presentation help round it out into a package that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. –Aron Garst
Publisher: Devolver Digital ▪︎ Developer: Le Cartel Studio ▪︎ Platforms: Switch, PC, Mac
In an era of live service, microtransactions, and constant patches, it’s refreshing when a multiplayer game goes back to the basics with a refined touch. Heave Ho is 2019’s unsung love letter to the simple, belly-laughing fun to be had with couch co-op. A physics-based platformer might not sound all that exciting on paper, but Heave Ho eschews the jump button for something that’s even more interactive and intuitive: swinging and grabbing. It’s a very Rocket League approach in its immediate readability; similarly, the longer you play, the more confidently you can take risks to conquer the game’s inventive levels. Best of all, you can earn all the character skins without paying an extra dime. –Michael Goroff
Publisher: Inkle ▪︎ Developer: Inkle ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, PC
Inkle’s long-awaited follow-up to the 2014 interactive fiction game 80 Days, Heaven’s Vault tasks players with solving puzzles by deciphering a long lost language. This linguistic theming, however, acts as a clever disguise to mask what can more commonly be described as a detective story.
Playing as the archaeologist Aliya Elasra, you’re given the task of tracking down a missing roboticist with the help of your robot companion named Six. You’ll sail along cosmic rivers, locate lost moons, and follow leads to uncover information about the events surrounding their disappearance. It all makes for an incredibly engaging experience, with subsequent playthroughs providing entirely new clues to reinforce your deductions. –Jack Yarwood
|The Legend of Bum-bo
Publisher: Edmund McMillen ▪︎ Developer: Edmund McMillen, James Interactive, Ridiculon ▪︎ Platforms: PC
The Legend of Bum-bo didn’t need to be anything more than a Binding of Isaac spin-off. It didn’t need to put a spin on Edmund McMillen’s 2D art style, applying a cardboard papercraft aesthetic to its characters and environments. It didn’t need to blend together the puzzle, card collecting and turn-based RPG genres into an unexpectedly perfect union of gameplay styles, and it didn’t need to tie the game into the series proper with one, masterfully handled revelation.
The Legend of Bum-bo didn’t need to do any of these things, but it did, and the game is so much better for it. It’s the epitome of why mixing things up can be good for an established property, and it’s what many can rightly point to as an example of why more properties should embrace something new whenever they’re given the chance. –Keenan McCall
Publisher: William Chyr ▪︎ Developer: William Chyr ▪︎ Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS
Game developers have been modeling physics for decades. The majority of their work has been aimed at recreating the world as we know it, though. William Chyr, on the other hand, took things to a whole new dimension. I mean this quite literally. The game world in Manifold Garden is a bit like a sheet of paper which has been folded an infinite number of times and then struck with a hole punch. I wish that I had a better way of describing it, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the place. The experience of playing Manifold Garden is like being inside a house of mirrors where you can walk through the glass. I can’t think of many game developers that have gone this far beyond the familiar laws of physics. In my personal opinion, this fact alone puts Manifold Garden among the best games of 2019. –Justin Reeve
Publisher: Fellow Traveller ▪︎ Developer: Chance Agency ▪︎ Platforms: Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Neo Cab is a cyberpunk visual novel set under the long shadow cast by Capra—an amalgamation of Uber, Google, and Facebook. You start the game as a rideshare driver moving to a new city, but you quickly find yourself without a stable roof overhead.
Each night you pick up a few fares with the option to push yourself just a little bit harder at the end of a night before crashing. At first, you have enough money to charge your electric car and stay wherever you want without stretching yourself thin. Eventually funds become tighter. You aren’t necessarily required to pick up extra fares, but you are economically coerced into it, and also into finding the cheapest places to stay.
Neo Cab made me live paycheck-to-paycheck and stripped away my sense of safety and security while saddling me with the myriad indignities of service work. It is honest, raw, and powerful. –David O’Keefe
Publisher: Devolver Digital ▪︎ Developer: No Code ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, PC
Observation casts its player in the role of a space station’s AI system: the HAL to a crew of hapless Davids whose survival depends on order being restored to their damaged craft. By the time it’s come to an end, any sense of meaningful distinction between player and AI has been artfully blurred into something else entirely. Observation makes the goals of its human player and those of its AI system one and the same, cleverly depicting our everyday role as software and hardware users as something that’s putting person and machine consciousness into inexorable, evolutionary lockstep. The game, both explicitly and thematically, sees our relationship with technology not as the kind that exists between creator and creation, but as a symbiotic blending of consciousnesses. This sounds futuristic, sure, but hardly more than it would have even a few decades (or smartphone iterations) earlier. –Reid McCarter
Publisher: Square Enix ▪︎ Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Switch, PC
Few games can haunt a player the way Oninaki does.
Set in a world where reincarnation is proven real, the game delves into the dark reality of what the discovery would entail for the people living in said world. Some see life as inconsequential, diving into conflicts and killing friend and foe alike without remorse. Others treat life’s hardships as a bad hand, ending their life on a whim in the hopes of getting a “fresh start.”
All the while, it forces players to put themselves in the characters’ shoes. One wonders whether they’d respect their own life in such a world, or if they’d fall into the same patterns as the characters they interact with and, in many cases, send onto their next lives.
It’s dark, it’s challenging, and it makes Oninaki a title that won’t be forgotten by anyone willing to play it. –Keenan McCall
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive ▪︎ Developer: Mobius Digital ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
My first action in Outer Wilds was to roast a marshmallow over a crackling campfire underneath the stars. I would soon fly closer to those stars and explore the planets within, ostensibly die on my brief journey, and return to the fire. The 22-minute time loop that underscores Outer Wilds starts to gradually take on a beautiful rhythm, a feeling as much as a mechanic, and the alien race that left its mysterious fingerprints across the solar system becomes more of a singular presence, haunting and wondrous.
Exploration and discovery are at the center of my favorite games, but oftentimes sacrifices are made when the journey requires aggression and stockpiling. Outer Wilds is mysterious and quiet and filled with a sense of wonder even in its darkest, most dangerous corners. I’ve never experienced outer-space science fiction quite like Outer Wilds. –Brady Fiechter
Publisher: tinyBuild ▪︎ Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox One, PC
An otherworldly town in the grip of a deadly plague, and you in the middle of it. Pathologic 2 revolves around blood and infection, and the infected and carved-up bodies of animals and humans, of communities and the architecture they inhabit. It’s not a “fun” game, but it is intriguing like few others, and its nightmarish mood has a habit of staying with you like the clinging smell of a plague-infused miasma. It’s uncompromising in ways that are often grueling, but this is a game that asks us to challenge our understanding of why we play games; struggling and failing is an entirely valid outcome of our doomed efforts, one that can be strangely rewarding in its own grim way. Pathologic 2 is an underappreciated masterpiece and will still be talked about by its admirers when most of this year’s more popular and successful games will be long forgotten. –Andreas Inderwildi
|Remnant: From the Ashes
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment ▪︎ Developer: Gunfire Games ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Given the deluge of games that crash onto Steam on a daily basis, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising developer decided to strap an assault rifle onto the vanquished knights of Dark Souls and call them their own. Truth be told, this Soulslike shooter borrows liberally from its forebears, so much so that it comes off more like the center of a tangled Venn diagram labelled “Popular Game Mechanics of the 2010’s” than an original franchise with new ideas to share. That said, the moment-to-moment gameplay is so enticing that you’ll shunt these complaints out of your mind as quickly as they appear. If your buddies don’t mind dodge-rolling past droves of repetitive enemies, this is perhaps the best pure co-op shooter experience since the days of Left 4 Dead, so plug into Discord and get it going. –Steven T. Wright
|A Short Hike
Publisher: adamgyru ▪︎ Developer: adamgyru ▪︎ Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
If the idea of a game that brings together some of the most wonderful aspects of Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing sounds appealing, A Short Hike might scratch a hard-to-reach itch. It’s a game about traversing steep terrain, the pleasure of movement, the rush of finally standing on top of the world and then gliding down unimpeded. It’s also a game about simply relaxing in a peaceful world and befriending a charming cast of helpless anthropomorphic characters. There’s a main goal and side activities, but the true draw here is simply being in and moving through this surprisingly expansive island world. There are few games, this year or any other, that can match its simple joy of unravelling small secrets and getting to know the lay of this dreamy land. –Andreas Inderwildi
Publisher: Failbetter Games ▪︎ Developer: Failbetter Games ▪︎ Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Verbosity may rarely be appreciated in fiction writing, but the words in the gothic horror game, Sunless Skies, paint such lush, vivid images of its stratospheric world that it handily puts more graphically intensive titles to shame. As the captain of a steam-powered vessel, you’ll chug across an endless expanse of the solar system; it’s a grisly universe where the unnatural whirring of its mechanical, zombie sun and a litany of incomprehensible eldritch horrors can drive its denizens insane. But even though death and nightmare lurk at every corner of the map, the otherworldly happenings and the promise of more bountiful rewards only fuel the unquenchable thirst for exploration. Sunless Skies is home to a truly perilous galaxy, but it’s a journey I’ll be willing to die for. –Khee Hoon Chan
|Super Mario Maker 2
Publisher: Nintendo ▪︎ Developer: Nintendo EPD ▪︎ Platforms: Switch
It didn’t take long for Super Mario Maker 2 to become a great game. When I first reviewed it, I found it to be a fun expansion of the first game, with added goodies like new level themes, new music, and 100 professionally made stages from Nintendo’s top designers. But the special sauce was missing. Fast-forward six months and we have a game that will forever sustain itself with mind-bogglingly creative, hilarious, and devious levels, courtesy of its fanbase. It’s still a shame that the online components are locked behind a Switch Online paywall, because being able to share with and experience levels created by geniuses from all around the world… well, bringing people together is the kind of thing more video games should strive to do. –Michael Goroff
Publisher: Nintendo ▪︎ Developer: Arika ▪︎ Platforms: Switch
Tetris makes the brain feel good. Last year Lumines and Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi released Tetris Effect. It focused on the meditative, zen-like qualities of Tetris, suggesting there was something spiritually unifying about the famous falling block game. That, despite all of our differences, we all love Tetris and that brings the troubled world a little closer together. Alas, tools do not have political alliances, only their users. Tetrominos included. This year Nintendo released Tetris 99, a 99-player deathmatch Tetris that exclusively pits people around the globe against each other. It encourages ill will and dirty tactics, targeting weak and struggling players with the flick of a joystick. With all the sparks zipping across the screen it resembles the ‘91 night bombing of Baghdad. No offense to Mizuguchi, world peace, et al., but this game rules. –Zack Kotzer