This year has probably been my favorite year of living ever! I’ve been in a relationship with one very awesome chick for all of 2019, I started making music for my favorite N64 modders and I even released my own Super Mario 64 mod, Super Event Horizon!
Naturally, seeing all the impressive personalities online make Top 10 lists made me want to do one too. Because of how busy I’ve been with all of these things plus not owning a decent gaming PC until the fall of this year, my list isn’t an incredibly comprehensive one. However I had a ton of fun playing the games I did this year and I’d like to think my limitations only helped me seek out good games I might not have played otherwise!
Many of the things I talk about on this list aren’t games that came out in 2019 — some I just didn’t play ’til this year, others are mods released for older games! Often, I have just as much fun with mods of a game I like than with new releases so of course I’m going to include them on my list.
#10 – Resident Evil 2 Remake
The old resident evil games are something I’ve always appreciated in concept but have had trouble going back to playing. I think Capcom feels the same way considering their Resident Evil 2’s biggest change is just to its control scheme. I’m super glad they started with this installment on their remake since the Raccoon City Precinct has so much mystery to it! I’ve only every wandered through its hallways in a Half-Life 2 mod & again in Roku’s Resident Evil 2 Campaign for Left 4 Dead 2; both amazing recreations with the latter being my favorite of the two! Of course, seeing this version was definitely the prettiest. Models and textures are just gorgeous and the enhanced lighting a long way to heighten the tension.
Talking about the game itself, nothing beats the puzzle solving. Gameplay is like a point-and-click adventure mixed with a tense, flow chart heavy third person shooter. Both combat and resource management tie into the puzzle-vibes and from what I’ve heard, they only get more complex and stress inducing on higher difficulties.
I hope Capcom has plans to remake Resident Evil 4 in this vein. An overhauled art direction would make that game much scarier than the HD editions are now. Hopefully the love shown to these older survival horror titles will give indies more courage to up the scope. Glass Staircase was alright but Alisa by Casper Croes is the retro survival-horror indie that’s got me truly excited!
#9 – Banjo-Kazooie: Worlds Collide
Guys, I don’t know if you’ve realized this but the N64 modding community is insane right now. A budding sector of this community is the Banjo-Kazooie scene and while only a few big hacks have been published, ALL of them are incredibly high quality and accentuate each modders favorite elements of the original title.
A full-sized mod that came out this summer was Banjo-Kazooie: Worlds Collide by the talented artist and designer BynineB! The story goes that bottles dug up a series of underground tunnels that lead to mashup worlds of the first and second Banjo games. Bynine went way out of his way to generate a bunch of a bunch of custom content to flesh out each world and give it its own, original vibe. In fact, everywhere felt so original that I didn’t pick up on the mashup concept until several worlds in! Apparently I missed Bottles saying it in the first minutes of the game… or didn’t get the title of the time. Whoops.
Each world is a little bit smaller than vanilla BK worlds — I’d guess 75% of the size of the original game — so collectable pickups are quick and it’s easy to beat the game in about four hours. I actually really dug this since every level is definitely as polished as a long time BK fan would hope. I even feel like it’s just the right length for someone to route a 100% run that’d take maybe 45-min; aka my personal sweet spot for speedrunning.
Bynine hasn’t officially announced any more romhacks as of now but he does have many indie titles available on his itch.io account and is even helping design some levels in the Jiggies of Time by Kurko Mods!
#8 – Eviternity
Good custom content for Doom 2 isn’t hard to find. The OG Doom community has been making top notch projects for years. There is a bit of a difference between modern maps and more retro style; the latter being more different by environmental story telling than just pure adrenaline. Eviternity’s scope was focused on modern design and the way it pulls this off is so rich that each, hour long map felt as fleshed out as an entire Quake episode. Super diverse, super action adventurous, all to maximize the spirit of rip and tear!
The architecture is where I’d like to start first. Each map has its own setting that revolves around some central, almost hub like locations. Think about how Banjo-Tooie levels create a comfy middle ground then give the player options to explore its core and periphery. Welp, this does that. Too many Doom mods feel like they’re made by grind-core mathematicians who care more about cramming the most vertices on a plane and masochism. Not the case with Eviternity, which has plenty of negative space after clearing out segments of the map. Exploration and secrets are central to the progression of Eviternity which is great because every map looks soooo freaking astounding.
The map pack was made by several mappers in the modern Doom community but there was one designer who contributed the more than the rest and is credited as being the producer. It’s no surprise to me that this designer, Dragonfly, has since been picked up by the Prodeus design team. If you like Doom, check this game out if you haven’t already. It’s a retro FPS that’s using a very dense pixel art-style with an almost Doom 2016 aesthetic. Wishing you guys the best on launch, I’ll be picking the new game up day 1!
#7 – Super Mario 64 Land
Disclaimer: I made some music for this game so obviously I’m being paid $10,000 to write a positive review.
If I were to give an award for the most technically impressive game of 2019, it would be this one right here. I’ve met indie designers that say they’d rather build a whole game from scratch than try to reverse the MIPS assembly code of an old game like SM64. Yet, people like Kaze Emanuar believe this is still worth doing and have proved the value 10 fold by releasing a romhack so polished and loving of the source material that Nintendo needs to hire this man right away instead of sending him copyright strikes.
What Kaze has made this time around is a brand new linear Mario game that feels like a demake of 3D Land and 3D World games. Upwards of 40 new maps to play, plenty of renditions of familiar Nintendo tunes to hear and a handful of brand new mechanics like the Tenooki suit, Cloud Mario and sooo so much more. This is easily a 6-8 hour experience (if you’re good at Mario) and is without a doubt my number one pick for the best SM64 romhack of all time.
Kaze just released a splitscreen mode for SM64 that enables a human-controlled, player two Luigi to play along side Mario in the original Mario 64 campaign. Another hack Kaze has slated for a mid-February release is The Legend of Zelda: The Missing Link, which aims to continue the story of Ocarina of Time and end right before Link’s adventures in Termina with Majora’s Mask.
#6 – Return of the Obra Dinn
Not only did this game come out in 2018 but I never personally handled a controller when playing it. Instead, I sat beside my girlfriend and watcher her play because I am very, very slow at intense puzzle games… plus she’s a genius! Never the less, helping her puzzle solve, come to wild conclusions and sing the tunes heard through out this first person mystery was a wonderful memory that I kind of want to have again soon!
The player takes on the role of an insurance adjuster for the East India Trading Company sent to investigate the many deaths of the cargo ship’s crew. Information is fed to the player in small bits by entering the minds of the recently deceased and spectating a 3D snapshot of their exact moment of death. Puzzles move from ‘Who Shot Ya?’ to, ‘How would you describe this murder?’ to even, ‘How does that thing in the water exist?!’ Without spoiling anything, this game has much more going on in its story than greed and love triangles.
On top of the amazing gameplay, the 1-bit graphical aesthetic (that draws inspiration from old Mac games) is an truly unique stylistic choice. It’s stregnth get drawn out when it inevitably obscures more detail than you’d hope and your imagination is in charge of putting words to a site. Every single song in this game is banger too, especially Soldiers of the Sea
All of easy-to-use organizational options this game boasts held to keep the tedious parts to a minimum. You don’t need a pen and paper to play this since included is a self-inscribing notebook and spreadsheet that will filled out across your journey. There’s also a very clever system to verify your assumptions: guess three deaths correct, including the name of murder victim plus the method they died and who did it, and the game will play a little jingle telling you you did well! Little to say, we might have brute forced a few of em…
One guy made this, Lucas Pope. He had very little marketing for this game too and talking in an interview about how if you make a game that’s never been done before then you don’t have to compete for anyone’s attention. The press naturally loves you and will market your game while you save a fortune & avoid headaches. I think about that summarization a lot…
#5 – Vanilla Minecraft: Java 1.14
Yea — the game isn’t new but by god did I have an incredible time playing it in 2019! I hopped on right when 1.14 dropped which was a big leap in content since I last played on the 2012 Xbox 360 Edition! Thankfully, my girlfriend knows a bunch about this game so she was able to educate me continuously across our journeys… she even brought me a bowl of mushroom soup the very first night!
Her and I never defeated the Ender Dragon and didn’t raid many Nether Fortresses but we did create a bunch of homes, fought off lots of skelebone’s in caves and had just like… the best time ever. Eventually we hopped over to creative mode and I credit that experience for getting me into the 3D modelling that I do now! We made homes, forts, tons of structures and I even spent about 40 hours meticulously modelling the inside of a Kroger grocery store that we both worked at. I got a solid half way through the 1:1 scale model before realizing I had become a corporate juggernaut.
I’m sure this game could easily be peoples number one game for several more years to come. So much of the appeal this game carries is from setting and achieving your own goals. That being said, it’d probably be higher on my list if it had more objective-based content to offer. Of course if I really wanted that, I could play any of the wonderfully polished mods that exist; some are built for single-player adventures, others for mutliplayer MMO style fantasy worlds. There’s even a pretty active CounterStrike-esque scene with a mod that combines precision gun combat with resource management & crafting. Horror mods, racing mods, basically anything you can think of.
If you like sandbox adventures, play survival. If you dig building elaborate structures, play in creative. Of course this game has a high skill ceiling but the learning curve to get into it is probably the lowest of any game ever. There’s a reason so many people play it and if you think it’s just a kids game YOU’RE A FOOL, YOU COWARD!
#4 – Gruntilda’s Mask
Disclosure: I made like 80% of the music for this so of course reading my article is going to afford me to buy 6 yachts and also 4 more yachts.
Right out the gate of publishing my own mod, I started working on the music for this one! There were a lot of Zelda songs to recreate — something like 20 had to be done, not including the ones that were being reused from previous projects. Slowly but surely, I got ’em all done and a few days before launch, Kurko sent me the v1.0 build. I’m sure I was going to enjoy it but like… I was not prepared for how intricate this mod is. Easily the most exciting Banjo-Kazooie mod I’ve ever played and I can defend that!
What I love the most about this is how skillfully it recontextualizes many of the established object/script combo behaviors found in the vanilla game. In other words: it plays on the mechanics you already know but presents them to you in brand new, story-driven ways! Without using much custom code (if any…) outside of what Banjo’s Backpack provides, the game feels unique and manages to stay charming plus creative as the hell! This is definitely an experience both Banjo and Zelda will get a lot out of!
Environments are lovingly hand-detailed. Collectable placement, NPC interactions and unique puzzles for this game were all implemented with such grace. Many shops in Clocktown feature minigames designed to provide fun, imaginative gameplay loops using the basics of Banjo-Kazooie’s moveset. Mumbo has two different huts (and a monopoly on transformation in Clocktown), all of the shops hold secrets, you’ll even have to travel between time periods to solve a few puzzles and advance the game!
To get as far as the final boss, however, the player is going to have to slowly unlock Banjo and Kazooies moves in a manner similar to how Loggo did this in Banjo-Dreamie. Progression is gated by player movement options rather than arbitrary keys or stipulations; an element that shows Kurko’s true mastery what a reshuffle of BK mechanics can offer. Prepare to get creative and motivated if you wish to collect all 20 jiggies!
The next game to be released is the big one… The Jiggies of Time! If you’re reading this and are a fan, just know that we are indeed moving forward with it and from what I’ve seen of an old build I got to play around in… I’m amazed that this project is real, let alone being made by someone who has the patience and understanding to give the people what they want. Cheers, Kurko!
#3 – Dark Souls: Daughters of Ash
I can’t lie, Daughters of Ash is entirely a comfort pick for me. I’ve put about 300hrs. into the first Dark Souls across multiple platforms and versions. I can beat that game in under 6 hours using unorthodox builds and can beat it in under 3hrs if I never diverge from the Wanderer class. So when I found out that there was a mod that introduces new content, new routes and offers an experience built like a hard mode for experienced players… I got antsy.
At first, I noticed the items and enemies had been rearranged. Then I got to the Asylum Demon fight and right after I weakened it to near death, the floor crumbled underneath us and we both fell down into the Stray Demon arena. I thought I was absolutely fucked but then the Stray Demon started fighting the Asylum Demon; killing it while I climbed up the side ladder. The Asylum Demon’s death granted me my key to escape and a new item called the Winged Chaos Mote… is this what it’s going to be like through out the whole campaign?!
Some things in this mod are just straight up new content, others are restored enemies or areas found in the game’s code that were never present in the final game. Everything feels extremely intentional and incredibly satisfying given how much I’ve memorized the base game. It’s tough, exciting and honestly I can’t get enough of it. Reminds me a lot of find a great seed in a randomizer… or maybe a Scholars of the First Sin reshuffle for the remaster.
This isn’t the only new, big content being worked on for the Dark Souls franchise. Level editors has been popping up over the years and there was what’s essentially a small scale mod for DS3 called Bloodsouls. That one adds in all the weapons of Bloodborne (yes, the PS4 exclusive) to the PC version of Dark Souls 3 and additionally includes some custom weapons and armor. Not a lot of mod content has been made for the Souls franchise but as passionate as its fans still are, I’m sure this game will have some overhauled, custom campaigns in the coming years!
#2 – The Outer Worlds
I used think it’s hard for me to get into new games… then I played the Outer Worlds, had an amazing time and I realized something: the stories in most the big budget games I’ve tried to shallow yet way too into themselves! The story in the Outer Worlds is some pretty entry level scifi/political intrigue but it never tries to push philosophy onto the player. If you wanted to play this like a shooter, you can do that. If you want to hear a great story that can shed some 3D light onto the human experience in a corporate, totalitarian sect of the galaxy then you can have that too! I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad the writing was amazing and thankful that plot arcs weren’t as flamboyant as they are in other games that parade ‘adult stories’.
If there’s a word I’d use to describe the design of The Outer Worlds, it’s intentional. Every piece of dialogue feels like it’s delivered with a purpose. Every enemy type should be understood before battle. Every weapon upgrade felt like a micro skill-tree & damn it, every story beat felt so engaging. I missed experiencing well-crafted subtly in an action/adventure game.
Calling this game a Bethesdian play-it-your-way is an inaccurate statement despite that being the wording most friends who pitched this to me used. Sure, you can compare this to Obsidian’s work on Fallout: New Vegas but honestly I got more Deus Ex: Human Revolution vibes than anything. If you didn’t push any stats to the useless level 100 then there’s a good chance you’ll be using EVERY stat in the various skill trees by late game.
The Outer Worlds was the only game this year that I took gratuitous amounts of screenshots of while playing. The use of color is, to quote Gman, “down right artistic” and it makes every planet you visit, enemy you fight and ammo type you fight just incredibly vivid and memorable. There also isn’t an excess of forgettable environments like in many other open-world games which is quite refreshing. Contrary to my previous beliefs, this actually made me want to use fast travel less since I knew any place I found on the map would actually matter.
The day after beating the game on normal mode, I did a Supernova run while I still had the games systems in my head. While this did break immersion and some mechanics like the partner system, there were genuinely a few moments in combat that left me shook and excited. I’ve got to say — getting anxiety while fighting a battle that’s very slanted towards the enemies favor and still managing to come out the victor (without quick saves, mind you) is just an incredible. However, there’s still one game I played this year that offered this feeling in spades…
#1 – Left 4 Dead 2’s Custom Campaigns
Up until Summer 2019, I thought Left 4 Dead was a repetitive game for casuals who wanted an easy-to-learn game to play with friends. Then I started playing through custom campaigns ranging from highly polished to downright broken with my girlfriend and holy moly — something clicked.
The movie motif Valve used with their vanilla levels still resides with the community campaign. The more I think about this, the more I can’t help but think of this as the perfect metaphor for how Left 4 Dead’s campaign should be interpretted. Most are hour and a half long chunks that really should only be play a campaign once. If they suck, you can probably find something to laugh at. If they’re fun then congrats! You probably just had a memorable experience! The very best of these campaigns? They deserved to be watch more than once, played with different friends to see how they react to all the different possibilities just like how it can be showing your favorite movie to different groups of people.
While many custom campaigns are built to be an action packed romp through a secret military compound or a descent through levels that become increasingly more hostile, so take a more artistic approach. Many of my favorite campaigns are little more than a collection of puzzles in an interesting setting. Re-imaginings of familiar settings a are incredible experience as well, even if not everyone playing understands the source material — Roku’s Resident Evil campaigns, the many Silent Hill campaigns and even a few that remodel dungeons from Ocarina of Time come to mind immediately.
Map designers don’t need to focus on scripting keys or extraordinary objects into their campaigns to creatively challenge the player. In fact, many maps just rely on excellent item placement and special infected spawn points then let Valve’s in-game AI director do its thing. Managing how your party reacts to interactions with special infected is a reaction heavy situation where everyone playing will need matchup knowledge similar to that which you’d need in Soulsborne title or even a fighting game. What’s the best way to kite tanks for fast team kills? How can we assassinate witches before they ever stand up? What’s the optimal way of fight your way out of a corner as fast as possible so you need revive the last surviving downed teammate besides yourself? The more you play, the more you pick up on how to efficiently shred through the masses and some of the best maps use Spartan-esque item placement to really put the hurt on your party.
Custom campaigns can be so wildly different when it comes to setting, playstyle and puzzles. The need to be always adapting is real and incredible amounts of communication with teammates of similar skill leve feels just incredible. My girlfriend and I often play in the same room together, using Hamachi to tunnel into each others game. I can’t even count the times we are sweating bullets because of the stupid AI, see a safe room is near and fight our way towards it. When we shut the door and the success music plays, we just turn around in our chairs and stare at each other smiling. Gosh, what a rush!
Whether you play to be technical, make your heart raise, visit new locations or just chill out with friends, Left 4 Dead 2 on PC with custom campaigns is just an incredible time. I was considering doing a mini top 5 campaigns but honestly, playing shitty maps can be just as much fun as incredibly polished ones. If you’re interested, hop on over to gamemaps.com/l4d2/ and start downloading as many maps as you can. Put em on a flash, give em to your buddies and go wild. This game is truly sick.
So there it is! My list of the top 10 gaming experiences I had in 2019. Next comes my list of the Top 10 games that I’ve got to play going into next year. Thanks for reading, hope you found something new on this list!
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