Top 10 Games of 2019

Here’s my top 10 games that I played in 2019.

10. Shardlight (2016)

A pixelated environment reminiscent of 90s point and clicks. Everything is tinted green. A person stands at the center with a red hood, grey sweater, tattered black pants, and brown boots. To their right is a ladder going into the ground. To their left is a shard of something that seems to be radiating green. To the right of the screen is a sign that says “60” with a red circle around it. The background is filled with old cars, buildings in pieces, dead trees, and factories. The sun is off in the clouds, peeking through.

A game by one of my favorite studios, Wadjet Eye Games, wasn’t a disappointment. It’s set in a strange dystopian world where the world has all but come to an end. Everyone who isn’t part of the Aristocracy is inevitably going to die because they can’t afford life-saving medicine, and the way they keep the proletariats placated is by having a Vaccine Lottery. You play as Amy Wellard who is trying to win this lottery, but ultimately she believes there’s a cure, and she’s going to find it. This is an excellent point and click adventure with multiple endings, an immersive story, and interesting characters.

Eat the rich!

9. Uncharted: Lost Legacy (2017)

Two women stand back to back. The one on the right is Chloe Frazer. She is facing more towards us, aiming a pistol. She has unkempt black hair in a ponytail and a red shirt. The one on the left is Nadine Ross. She is aiming a machine gun towards the sky, cocking it while looking back at us. She has black hair in a ponytail and black shirt with an army vest on top.

Not a game I had ever planned to play, but while I was cat sitting for the first time, I was told to play any and all games I wanted, so I tried a bunch. This was the only one that stuck. I haven’t played any of the Uncharted games (though I do plan to change that now), but I really enjoyed this one regardless. It’s not often I see AAA studios making games headlined by two women of color (though I am upset to find out both are played by white women, even if one is Morrigan from Dragon Age), and I liked their relationship together. The environments were nicely detailed when in Indian cities and really pretty when in the wilderness making me want to explore. While I don’t really know what it is about this game that made it stick with me, it did.

8. Elsinore (2019)

Getting to play a retelling of Hamlet as Ophelia is a lot more fun than I thought when I first read that. I spent countless hours running through time loops and wasn’t ever desperate to reach the end. Finding a new storyline, a new secret, a new ending was exhilarating and surprising. Games like this make me happy crowdfunding exists. You can read my full review here.

7. Night Call (2019)

A black and white scene. A bearded man is standing outside in the rain, leaning against his taxi. Behind him is a building lit up by his taxi’s lights and a police car speeding by. The Eiffel Tower towers over everything.

This murder mystery noir is a unique experience in video game form. You play as a taxi driver in Paris, picking up passengers of your choosing and chatting with them, attempting to figure out who tried to kill you. Your passengers aren’t what you’d always expect (my favorite non-human was a cat) and picking up passengers more than once doesn’t mean the conversation will repeat. The world is brimming with ambience, and when I’d forget about the murder plot it would even become comforting. The most interesting part of the game is getting to progress relationships with the characters, not solving the murders, because this was often difficult to do.

6. A Plague Tale: Innocence (2019)

A young girl and boy’s portraits beside each other. She is older and taller but not by much. Both have dirt on their faces. Around their faces are bare tree branches and a sea of rats.

The moment I began this game also while cat sitting (but this was a game I had gotten), I was stunned by the locations. They are unbelievably gorgeous. The graphics were incredible, especially for someone like me who’s used to playing retro(-looking) games. It was quite cinematic at times when it came to the story, the visuals, and the effects. I don’t recall playing a game and genuinely feeling like I’m in a movie very often.

The story was unique and interesting, while some may think this game is based on history with the bubonic plague, it’s actually taking place in a fantasy world, so it was hard for me to predict what would come next. I also enjoyed the game’s mix of stealth and unique action from the perspective of children who aren’t used to having to get violent. When the protagonist is forced to kill someone for the first time, the game pauses as she is horrified at what she’s done and has a bit of time to mourn her innocence.

It’s a game unlike any I’d played before, and I look forward to whatever the studio makes next.

5. Katana Zero (2019)

Hand-drawn samurai holding his katana jumps down onto other men. The drawing is a high contrast between pinks, oranges, blues, purples, and blacks.

One of the sleekest games I’ve ever played. The gameplay is incredibly fast and fun. The soundtrack is exactly what I need on a late night driving through the rain. The story is compelling, though I do hope we get more of a conclusion than when I finished it. The art is pixelated just how I like it but still somehow so fluid. This is just an amazing game I can’t recommend enough. You can read my full review here.

4. Life is Strange 2 (2018-2019)

A teenage boy walks in front wearing a backpack. A younger, shorter boy walks behind him. They are walking along a road in a dense forest, sun peeking through.

This is a game whose story has left me thinking about it for a long time afterwards. The only game I can remember having this lasting of an effect on me was Emily is Away Too. This story delves into topics of police brutality, racism in the USA against Mexican people, child homelessness, and more. It’s a harrowing experience much of the time, sometimes being too real and sometimes being too relentless with the racism (at least as a Boricua playing the game). The story was much deeper and darker than Life is Strange.

The nature locations were really pretty and almost relaxing. I really loved playing Sean Diaz, more than Max Caulfield (which is surprising given how similar we are). I don’t encounter media often where the protagonists are Latine, and while I still want games where their story doesn’t revolve around their ethnicity, it’s important to have games like this as well.

My only complaint is while I know they wanted to touch on real life issues, it was too much to handle at times (maybe not if you’re white, in which case this is a good eye opener for you). I also wonder since the developers are French how much (if at all) they consulted with US Mexican and Latine people.

3. Kathy Rain (2016)

A pixelated environment reminiscent of 90s point and clicks. An elderly woman and a young woman sit on a couch in a living room. Everything is different shades of brown. There’s a bookcase, family portraits decorate the wall, and a table with a teaset. The young girl has black and red hair, she’s wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and black boots. The elderly woman is in a black and white dress with greying short hair.

Easily my favorite point and click of the year because as strange and creepy as it can be, it was like a comfort blanket for me. I played it and loved the hell out of it, and soon after I watched a let’s play of it because I wanted to be back in its world. The Twin Peaks/X-Files vibes provide warmth. The fact that the story, art, voice acting, etc. are all great, and that the game was made by one person made me appreciate the game even more. If you love adventure games, you can’t miss out on this one. You can read my full review here.

2. Dishonored Series (2012, 2016, 2017)

The three covers from Dishonored, Dishonored 2, and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. The first shows Corvo Attano in his classic skull-like mask, black hooded cloak and pants. His arms are in an X, one gripping a sword, and the other glowing with symbols. The second image shows Corvo with his daughter, Emily. Her face is covered except for her eyes by an elegant handkerchief. She sits on a triangular chair, her left hand glowing blue. Corvo stands to her left wearing an upgraded version of his mask. Both wear blue and black. The third image shows Billie Lurk in the center of her ship. There are dozens of meters behind her. She wears a red jacket, brown pants and gloves, and an eyepatch. The entire image is tinted red.

This is a series so fantastic, it feels wrong choosing only one. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, each has something different and exciting from the others, but each is all set in the same rich world. One that at first glance seems like ours, but upon further inspection is quite different. Surprising to me in a game of this genre, especially in 2012, choices matter. There’s always something going on, a rat plague, infected civilians, and bloodfly infestations, and depending on whether you choose to be violent (high chaos) or a pacifist (low chaos), the story and difficulty of the game change.

1. Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018)

Spider-Man is in an action pose, holding on to his web as he swings. The entire background is red, fading into black at the corners.

This was a game that took me by surprise. When I first heard of it the year prior, I thought nothing of it. Another superhero franchise? Booooring.

I was so happy to be wrong.

This game is unabashedly fun, cheesiness and all. Swinging through the streets of Manhattan is exhilarating, even the music that starts to swell makes you feel heroic. The story is an intricate patchwork of various characters you play as, supervillains you get to fight, and missions you get to go on. If you haven’t played this yet, PLAY IT.

Elsinore

Elsinore
Developer: Golden Glitch Studios
Available on
Steam, itch.io
Price: $19.99

A painting of Ophelia in a purple gown with a purple flower in her tightly coiled, dark hair. She cradles a skull in her hands, looking at it despondently. She’s standing in a graveyard with the castle of Elsinore sitting atop a hill in the distance.

Elsinore is a point and click adventure game unlike any I’ve ever played. It’s difficult to explain, so the best albeit incomplete comparison I can make is that it’s Hamlet meets Russian Doll. You get to play the tragic character that we barely knew in the original play, Ophelia. Where she once was a vague victim, Elsinore’s Ophelia is quick-witted, cunning, and brilliant. She can be some other adjectives depending on how you play her.

We start off in the midst of the play: Hamlet seems to be losing his mind and there are strange forces afoot. Strangest of all, Ophelia’s had a nightmare in which every single person at court dies. Is this a premonition or simply a night terror?

Over the course of four days, the events of the play occur. Hamlet’s seen something that’s driving him mad. Polonius dies. Ophelia is killed. But then the play and the game diverge. Here, a hooded figure tells Ophelia that they don’t want to kill her, but they have to, and they’ll make it seem like she drowned in the pond. She is run through by a blade. But then… she wakes up. Four days earlier. In bed. Hamlet in her room again, mumbling mad ramblings. She exits, and… Polonius is alive? Scolding her again for spending the night with Hamlet.

Elsinore truly is a матрёшка (Russian doll), with layers upon layers of story, character, angst, and intrigue. As you open one doll, five more appear. Every time I thought I had reached the conclusion, something else I didn’t expect happened. The story continues winding its relentless path for us to explore infinitely. You must figure out who’s friend and who’s foe and try to avoid death hundreds of times. The game is based on Shakespeare after all and so tragedy easily befalls the characters. Anyone can die based on something you might not have thought to be so tragic. Details that would be superfluous in a lesser game reveal much beneath the surface.

Timeline of Loop 26, highlighting Thursday at 20:19, “Ophelia presents ‘Hamlet Must Be Disciplined’ to King Claudius.” There are a variety of events displayed on the screen with each character’s portrait on the left.

You’re given a timeline which shows all possible events in this universe, when they’re happening, where, and with whom. When you witness these events, they unravel more of the story’s threads. There is also a journal where Ophelia keeps track of all the threads she’s pulled, so you know what you need to do next and can easily recount what happened previously. While not recommended until you’ve played through several time loops, there is also a reset button, so you can wake up once again and start a new loop.

If you follow any single character around for days, you see they all have their own lives: they speak with different characters, they go to different locations, and participate in different events all on their own. Depending on whom you speak to and what information you share with them, the game responds quickly and has everlasting effects on that time loop. Every time Ophelia wakes up again, she remembers everything that has happened before.

A brief aside on the characters that I must mention, the diversity of them within the game is a delightful surprise. Ophelia and Laertes’s mother is African, so they are now mixed race. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now two women of color. There are LGBT characters. There are even brand new characters added to the story to expand the possibilities of this retelling even further.

Gif that shows [1] Ophelia waking up in her bed, [2] Ophelia running down a hallway, [3] Laertes and Hamlet dueling as Ophelia, Bernardo, Horatio, King Claudius, and Queen Gertrude watch, and [4] a book with images of the characters overlaid, red blood stains cover their eyes one at a time, as Ophelia and Laertes grimace.

Elsinore tells us there is no happy ending. Even when you have hundreds to choose from, there will always be something bittersweet about them: people have died, you’ll never see or speak to your family again, the kingdom will be overtaken by Norwegian powers… There are also two secret endings, one so dark and twisted where Ophelia loses her humanity over time, only seeing people as puppets in a show, happily manipulating time and traveling to different worlds.

In the end, I chose the other secret ending. I sacrificed CHOICE for REVENGE. I burned the Book of Fates. I lived in an endless time loop, centuries gone by only living through four days at a time. No one ever remembers what happens, people die thousands of deaths, lovers forget you ever existed. The wretched villain is the only one aware of what’s happening. They are forced to be Ophelia’s companion and her prisoner. They can never harm anyone again because Ophelia will not let them leave. It’s not a happy ending, but it is a heroic one, and to me, it falls in line with who Ophelia shows herself to be over the course of the game.

Katana Zero

Katana Zero
Developer: Askiisoft
Available on
Steam, GoG, Switch
Price: $14.99

Katana Zero title.

Katana Zero boasts itself as a “stylish neo-noir action-platformer featuring breakneck action and instant-death combat” where you “slash, dash, and manipulate time to unravel your past in a beautifully brutal acrobatic display.” Such words gave me soaring high expectations that it easily exceeded.

You play as a samurai who lives in a dystopian cyberpunk city and drinks tea before falling dead asleep on the couch while watching the news he’s always the headliner for. He has some sort of psychic ability which allows him to plan how he’s going to take everyone out, while listening to a sleek mixtape of synthwave music.

He can slash his katana through people, send bullets flying back at those who are trying to shoot him, bust open through doors instantly killing those standing nearby, throw butcher knives and molotov cocktails that happen to be lying around—all while slowing down time at opportune moments for a limited amount of time. There’s no combos to learn here; the full depth of your abilities are revealed to you as you progress, and then it’s up to you to come up with how you’re getting out of the next fight.

Katana Zero gif showing the samurai’s time slowing ability, he uses it to send bullets flying back at those who shot them and cuts the other into pieces.

The ability to slow down time is limited in reserve, so you can’t rely on it entirely to get you through a level. Instead, you have to use it with tact, and that can be difficult when you have a ton of bullets flying at you, and it’s one shot, one kill. Luckily for the player, each section of a mission is separated, so once you get past it, you move on to the next knowing you won’t have to redo everything.

I don’t usually enjoy platformers or hack ‘n’ slash games, but Katana Zero isn’t your usual fare. These genres of games are usually relentlessly difficult, leaving me more frustrated than satisfied. While the game often required me to redo a level 20 times, I knew it wasn’t unachievable, and I never got impossibly stuck. There’s multiple ways to complete each level (and probably in ways that the developers didn’t intend), giving you sweet, sweet satisfaction once you do.

Once you complete a level, it’s played back to you in real time (you can rewind and fast forward on the fuzzy, black and white VHS it replays, too), which makes it rewarding to see how well you took down 20 guys by yourself with your own unique strategy. The aesthetics of this replay as well as the detailed and tight pixel work throughout the game is lovely to see. Every movement is fluid and fierce, from the slashing to the drinking. It makes the gruesome deaths I deliver look almost pleasant. The text itself even has character in its colors and movement. This whole game is stylish as hell and one of the best I’ve played all year.

Katana Zero gif. The samurai is standing in their rundown apartment as you see rain hit the roof.