My 2017 was defined by Breath of the Wild; 2018 was consumed by Horizon Zero Dawn.
For 2019, I consciously decided to not dedicate myself to any one engrossing title, opting instead to play many smaller games. My Switch stats suggest I accomplished that mission, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
This is also the year I became a digital nomad, forsaking a permanent residence in favor of traveling the country and world. This lifestyle has had multiple consequences for my gaming habits. Most of my possessions are now in storage, including my Sony PlayStation 4. (It's hard to play the PS4 on a plane, and as I move from Airbnb to Airbnb, not every accommodation is guaranteed to have a television.) This means unplayed PS4 games from last year such as Life Is Strange 2, Spider-Man, and Shadow of the Colossus will remain unplayed. But now that I'm exclusively a Switch gamer, other unplayed games, such as Thimbleweed Park, Broken Age, and The Flame in the Flood, may finally see some action in 2020.
Now that I'm not paying Boston's exorbitant rent rates, I'm also less inclined to budget my gaming purchases, resulting in more entries in the "purchased but unplayed" category; despite eagerly digging out the backlog, I am adding to it faster than ever. Of the 12 games that were on last year's "Bought but haven't played" list, only four made it onto this year's list: Owlboy, Undertale, Firewatch, and The Messenger. The other eight games are not listed here, in favor of listing only new titles.
The other change this year: I uploaded only 14 videos to my YouTube channel. Almost all of my gaming this year was for myself, not my audience. It wasn't great for my traffic, but it made it easier and more fun to pick up and play.
In this annual blog post, I'll list all the games I bought or played in 2019, in roughly chronological order. Since last year, I renamed a category — "Not to be finished, but still occasionally played" is now "Evergreen" (hat tip to my co-worker Bethany); and I added a new category: "Abandoned". (For games that I haven't bought or played but want to, check out my Trello board.)
- Firewatch (Switch)
- Firewatch is one of my favorite games of 2016, when it was released on PS4. I purchased it again on Switch in late 2018, and when I found myself in Boulder, Colorado — where the game opens — motivated me to replay it.
- Tacoma (PS4)
- I was a fan of Gone Home, having produced a Let's Play of it in January 2016 shortly after its PS4 release. I was eager to play Fullbright's spiritual successor, Tacoma, but its console release was originally limited to the Xbox One; I overlooked its eventual PS4 release by a year. I was glad to finally get my hands on it, as the story of a space crew struggling to survive a disaster was interesting, as was the ability to rewind their holograms and watch them from different perspectives, putting together the pieces of what really happened. But it was ultimately a narrative with very little gameplay that made me glad for its short play time.
- Minit (Switch)
- Minit, a 2D adventure game like the original Link's Awakening, has the main character dying every minute. Progress carries over between lives, and various safe houses ensure you don't always start back at the beginning. Some of the puzzles were really obscure, especially given the black-and-white graphics that concealed some details. But I regret looking up solutions for the puzzles that completely blocked me, as Minit is an extremely short game — only 90 minutes.
- Blaster Master Zero (Switch)
- I loved Blaster Master on the NES, but I never played the Genesis sequel (Blaster Master 2) and didn't fall in love with the Wii game (Blaster Master Overdrive). Blaster Master Zero, though, is a remake of the original, which got me more excited than a new game — especially since I never did finish it on the NES! The remake is easier, with better controls, an automap, and more story to guide players to the end. This game made my 2018 list in the "unfinished" category; I'm pleased to have moved it to "finished", having continued playing it to get the good ending. Though just a week later, Blaster Master Zero 2 was released at PAX East!
- A Night in the Woods (Switch)
- A Night in the Woods is the other game I marked as "unfinished" in 2018. I finished it in 2019, though somewhat begrudgingly. It wasn't until the last chapter that the story finally hooked me, though it went off the rails shortly thereafter, losing me again. I'm disappointed as much in the game as in myself, as clearly plenty of other people enjoyed this title.
- Undertale (Switch)
- Once again, I'm in the minority of not liking this game. I bought the Fangamer physical edition of this retro RPG, confident that I'd love it based on my nostalgia for Earthbound. But I found the writing sophomoric and the battle system tedious. I stuck with it, but it never got better — made the more frustrating by discovering my attempt at a pacifist run was doomed from the start.
- Owlboy (Switch)
- Having listened to its soundtrack for years, I finally played Owlboy. It was less Metroidvania and more linear than I expected, though, and the story left some major gaps to be filled. But it was still fun!
- Dead Cells (Switch)
- A co-worker repeatedly recommended Dead Cells, so I borrowed it from the library one weekend. For being a roguelike, I didn't die nearly as often as I expected; in fact, I finished the game on my sixth try. I enjoyed the fast pace and the variety of weapons and accessories.
- Ori and the Blind Forest (Switch)
- This game earned rave reviews when it was originally released as an Xbox One exclusive, but I never paid them much attention, since I don't have an Xbox One. I was shocked when Microsoft released this game for the Switch, and I was even more surprised when I discovered it was a Metroidvania. My last two attempts to find games in that genre were disappointing, so I immediately snapped this one up. It absolutely fit the bill, with a beautiful story, soundtrack, and art. Some punishing areas could've been frustrating except for the ability to create save points anywhere, which was a welcome feature. Alas, I had to play the entire game docked, which I think deprived me of fully appreciating its majesty.
- Deadlight (Xbox 360)
- This Limbo-like game intrigued me ever since its 2012 release for Xbox 360. I bought it in December 2013 but didn't finish the first chapter. I got back into it this summer and finished a few chapters, but still didn't finish it. Now that my Xbox 360 is in storage, I may never. ?
- Castlevania Collection (Switch)
- I've already recorded Let's Plays for Castlevania III & IV, and the Game Boy titles don't interest me — but Castlevania Bloodlines does. I bought the original cartridge well after Sega had retired the Genesis, so I never got far into it. Now on the Switch, I'm pretty far along, which is satisfying given how quickly the difficulty level ramps up.
- Baba Is You (Switch)
- I bought this Switch puzzler while on a road trip this summer. I like the retro graphics and the meta-gameplay that has you redefining the win conditions on a per-level basis. But, much like Lolo on the NES, sometimes I hit a room that just completely stumps me, blocking all progress.
- Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch)
- Based on multiple recommendations, I'd already committed to buying this game before hearing it compared to Rez. Oh, no — I'm one of the few people who didn't like Rez, giving it only a 5.6 upon its original release in 2002. Sure enough, Sayonara Wild Hearts has failed to hook me, though playing it in handheld mode may be depriving me of its soundtrack. I'll try again when I have the opportunity to dock.
- Tetris 99
- Tetris has been timeless since the day it released with the Game Boy. Tetris 99 was initially free, and its one online competitive mode was enough to eat up an entire weekend. I've since bought the DLC that includes offline multiplayer and single-player modes, making it the ultimate Tetris package.
- Chime Sharp
- I fell in love with the original Chime on Xbox 360; the same goes for Chime Sharp on Mac, whose Kickstarter I backed and whose developer I interviewed. I hoped for a Switch edition, but when it was finally released, I found the controls less elegant than a trackpad and keyboard. I still occasionally boot it up, but something was lost in the translation.
- Crypt of the Necrodancer
- I didn't like Crypt of the Necrodancer on Mac. I didn't like the Cadence of Hyrule edition. But when the Switch version of the original went on sale for $4, I thought it was worth another shot. Surprisingly, this time I liked it! I can't seem to progress past level 3, but I had a lot of fun getting there, and the co-op mode made for a fun family hour on Thanksgiving.
- I'd only ever played this once on its original platform, the Ouya. But when a relative asked me if we could it at Thanksgiving, I quickly downloaded it so we could. We had fun playing it in two-player mode, and I was pleasantly surprised when I got home to find it had a one-player mode as well. I'd like to get more people in on this!
- Moonlighter (Switch)
- I loved Dragon Warrior IV on the NES — especially the chapter where you play a merchant trying to build up his shop. I thought Moonlighter would be like that, but whereas the dungeon exploration part of the loop is fun, the shop simulation is just tedious. I could never figure out the right prices to sell merchandise at, and I wasn't incentivized to solve that equation.
- Mega Man 11 (Switch)
- I defeated Dr. Wily in Mega Man 1–6, back when they were new. Since then, my favorite parts of the Mega Man games have been defeating the Master Robots. Once I get to Dr. Wily's castle, the game just stops being fun for me. That's what happened with Mega Man 11. But it was still fun to play on a road trip, and since I'd borrowed the cart from the library, I still got the best parts of the game for free.
- GNOG (iOS)
- I bought this puzzle box-type game as research for the Polygamer podcast. But I don't enjoy mobile gaming on screens smaller than my Switch, and I recently sold my iPad mini, leaving me unlikely to revisit this game on my iPhone 8.
- Super Kirby Clash (Switch)
- Some friends and I tried this free online game, but its monotonous loop doesn't invite much skill or creativity. We'd rather play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
- Resident Evil 2 (PS4)
- I played the original Resident Evil trilogy on PS1 back when I was in college. I borrowed the RE2 remake from the library long enough to publish a few Let's Play videos — but once the game's due date arrived and my PS4 went into storage, it became unlikely I'd ever see Claire's mission through to completion.
- The Messenger (Switch)
- I thought this game would be a Metroidvania. Instead, the first half is a linear, Ninja Gaiden-type game, which I really enjoyed. Then, halfway through, it switches genres to be a Metroidvania… but the story and gameplay botch this transition so badly that I abandoned it.
- Untitled Goose Game (Switch)
- I love the concept, the art, and the memes. But the actual stealth gameplay struck me as tedious.
Bought but haven't played yet (14)
- Celeste (Switch)
- Based on the reviews, I bought the Limited Run of this game. I hear it's a challenging platformer with a meaningful story — one that really resonated with a friend of mine who recently became a dad.
- Her Story (Mac)
- With the sequel Telling Lies now out, I figured I should circle back to the original FMV game. The problem is my only iOS device now is an iPhone, which would be suboptimal for this game. I instead bought the Steam version, but I see my computer as more of a work tool than an entertainment device; I rarely think to play games on it.
- Another World (Switch)
- Another Limited Run game. Even though Another World is a short game (as I discovered when I played the Super NES version upon its 1991 release), I was too tickled by the idea of owning an Apple II game on a Switch cart.
- Hollow Knight (Switch)
- Another game I picked up based on the reviews, this time as a physical cart from Fangamer.
- Dragon's Lair Trilogy (Switch)
- The arcade editions invented quick-time events (QTEs), which I generally consider myself good at, yet I've never beaten any of these games. I confess I don't remember ordering this Limited Run game, but it's mine now.
- Jackbox Party Pack 3 (Switch)
- I bought this party game, forgetting that I don't get invited to parties.
- Mario + Rabbids DLC (Switch)
- I really enjoyed the base game!
- Iconoclasts (Switch)
- I was looking for a Metroidvania, and Iconoclasts came recommended.
- Gris (Switch)
- One of Zoë Quinn's favorite Switch games, along with Celeste and Hollow Knight.
- Batman Telltale (Switch)
- I recorded a Let's Play of Chapter 1 three years ago. The full game was on sale, so I figured I'd see how it ended.
- Tick Tock (Switch)
- A two-player asymmetrical cooperative puzzle game! My friend Jamie and I hope to tackle this from afar.
- Children of Morta (Switch)
- I backed the Kickstarter five years ago and finally got my Switch key this month.
- Killer Queen Black (Switch)
- My rare encounters with the coin-op version of this team-based competitive game left me intrigued, so I bought Switch carts for me and two friends to play online.
- Fast RMX (Switch)
- I've wanted this spiritual successor to F-Zero for years. This past week, I bought a bigger SD card, received eShop gift cards for Christmas, and caught Fast RMX on sale (30% off), so it's finally mine!
That's 38 games that I either bought or played in 2019. Of those, 26 were purchased this year for a total expense of $400.13, or an average of $15.38 per game… and I didn't even play more than half of them!
I appreciate this post's annual opportunity to remember that gaming is fun, affordable, and social. What games will you remember 2019 by?