Game of the Year

Jurge Cruz’s Favorite Games of 2019

Jurge Cruz-Alvarez is Irrational Passions Senior and Social Media editor. He’s been with the site for like three and a half years. That’s a long time!

2019 IS DEAD IN THE DIRT, BABY!

This was a weird year for me, folks. I spent a good chunk of the 365 days in 2019 thinking A LOT about my life and NOT playing a lot of new video games to completion, apart from what I needed to play for coverage. In between reflecting and playing stuff that came across my desk, I also played a lot of older games! Some very familiar to me, and some great new discoveries.

So excuse me as I buck the “Ten Games from 2019” tradition, and just sincerely reflect on the video games I played in this past year, regardless of when they released.

Top 5 Best Games I Played NOT From 2019:

Honorable Mention

Tales of Vesperia – Definitive Edition: I have only gotten 5 hours into this one, but I really like what I’ve played so far!

5.) Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Developed and Published by Nintendo

2019 was the year I finally purchased a Nintendo Switch! I would describe the experience of owning a Nintendo Switch as “okay.”*

As a proud owner of a Nintendo Wii U since 2013, it’s hard for me not to kind of see the Nintendo Switch as a fancy delicious drink with a lot of Nintendo Wii U backwash in it, but Super Mario Odyssey was the one original game on the platform that seemed exceptional. I love Super Mario 3D World. I never played much of Super Mario 64 as a child, I think I played a bit of it on the launch of the Nintendo DS at friends’ houses. In fact, Super Mario 64 would qualify as an entry on this list of old games as I played the most Super Mario 64 in December of 2019! 

All of this is context for when I say that I think Super Mario Odyssey is ‘great’ but not as good as Super Mario 3D World, and as a fan of the specific things the latter does, I don’t think my expectations with Odyssey were ever going to be met.

It’s bright and charming, but the whole experience feels weightless to me. I can’t even play the game for more than forty-five minutes at a time without becoming somewhat bored by it, which is why only half a year since starting it, I have not finished it. Still, it’s a ‘great’ 3D Mario game, and I look forward to eventually seeing all it has to offer, up to its credits.

*Since writing this I have played Ring Fit Adventure and Luigi’s Mansion 3 and I would now describe the experience of owning a Nintendo Switch as “pretty dang cool.” 

 

4.) Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando (2003)

Developed by Insomniac Games ; Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment 

2003’s Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando is one of my favorite games from childhood. Because of the iterative nature of game franchises, it’s also a game that was made sort of obsolete in terms of design a year later in 2004 with the release of the next game in the series, Up Your Arsenal. Now in 2019, nine whole Ratchet and Clank games later, it might as well be prehistoric. 

Early in December of 2019, the same month I turned twenty-six years old, I decided to pick up my last save I had from the game form one of its re-releases. The experience of picking this game back up on the same month I passed twenty-five years of age caused me to have a mild quarter-life crisis. As I went through the motions of progressing through it as I had done plenty of times from the cold, cockroach inhabiting basement of my childhood, I reflected on the last two and a half decades of my life. 

I remembered how I picked the game up from a Toys R’ Us as a birthday present merely a few days after its release, an absolute anomaly of an event given how poor my family was. Such an anomaly that the following year, luck would not be on my side and my family could not afford to gift me its sequel. I also reflected on how much my life has changed since then. My father, who purchased my copy of the game on for that birthday in 2003, is a person I would see for the last time only three years later…

All of this is to say that, hey, Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando is still alright!

 

3.) Rock Band 4 (2015)

Developed by Harmonix ; Published by Mad Catz and PDP

2019 was the year I remembered I had a full Rock Band 4 band kit and then decided to play it! The previous year this unprecedented event happened was 2017, and guess what? Rock Band 4 owns* 

Rock Band 4 has come a very long way since its original launch in 2015. That game very much felt like a light offering, but the best offering Harmonix could give us with their resources at the time. Months and months of regular updates and a major expansion later, Rock Band 4 feels like the fully fledged sequel to Rock Band 3

One does wonder during these ‘next-gen’ times though, what’s going to happen to Rock Band?

Regardless, I still have my kit, and I look forward to casually playing more Rock Band in 2020.

*Specifically if you have been able to build a moderate library of songs or were able to cash in a bunch of Rock Band Track Pack DLC codes like I have 

 

2.) Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009)

Developed by Climax Studios ; Published by Konami

Source: igdb.com

Check this out. Imagine buying a cool old game, but now imagine actually playing it.

I have an incredible and deep respect for the Silent Hill franchise, despite starting many entries in the series but never finishing one, until Shattered Memories. It was very bizarre playing a Nintendo Wii game in 2019, especially since it was also the first Wii game I’ve ever played to the finish, but Shattered Memories is so fascinating that I felt compelled to see it to the end. 

It’s fascinating as a re-imagining of the original Silent Hill game developed outside of Japan. It’s fascinating as a project creatively led by Her Story and Telling Lies developer, Sam Barlow. It’s especially fascinating as a relic of a time where developers saw so much promise and possibility in the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls. 

There are so many Wii specific quirks and mechanics in Shattered Memories that, as someone who did not own the console in its heyday, it felt like an accelerated course on all things Nintendo Wii. A lot of this experimentation with control has not aged well, but what still stands out is what it does with its branching narrative, and how you can see shades of what Her Story would become within Shattered Memories. 

I’m glad I spent $35 on a used copy of Shattered Memories, and I’m still incredibly impressed with myself that I actually put in the work to play all of it.

 

1.) Timespinner (2018)

Developed by Lunar Ray Games ; Published by Chucklefish

Timespinner was a game I spent a lot of 2018 thinking about in the context of “I should probably get around to playing that,” and in 2019, I finally did! On a PlayStation Vita and PlayStation TV no less!

Back in 2018 and even early into 2019, where the final verdict on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s quality was still up in the air, Timespinner seemed like it was giving me everything I would want from a game that takes inspiration from Symphony of the Night, but it’s absolutely more than just the blueprint it is following.

Gloomy yet fantastical, Timespinner’s sci-fi fantasy world, brought to life in beautifully detailed pixel-art with muted colors, has shades of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. I loved doing the legwork as I explored to learn more about its setting, while I vibed with its low-key soundtrack.

Timespinner is also meaningful to me because I consider it to be the last major game I will play on my Vita, one of my favorite game consoles of all time. As I layed in bed while the credits rolled on Timespinner, I also reflected on all the great times I had with my good ol’ Vita. 

Top 5 Games of 2019:

Honorable Mentions

 

Mutazione

Developer: Die Gute Fabrik ; Publisher: Akupara Games

Like a great novel, this is a game that is comfortable taking its time. Gentle, fun, and warm.

Ring Fit Adventure

Developed by Nintendo EPD ; Published by Nintendo

Ring Fit feels like the perfect marriage of Nintendo’s work with motion controls, fitness, and their Nintendo-ness. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve burned 1,400 calories playing it!

Resident Evil 2

Developed by Capcom R&D Division 1, Published by Capcom

The original Resident Evil 2 is probably the most formative video game of my life. It was the game that came with my first PlayStation, the game that showed me video games could do so much more. It also probably had a hand in my love of horror films. Resident Evil 2 (2019) is impressive. It brings new life to the world of the original 1998 game. It feels like the correct next step they should have taken after Resident Evil 4 in terms of combat. Its modern approach at reimagining the design of the original game for the tastes of 2019 is largely successful, but like a Hollywood remake, to me the experience of playing Resident Evil 2 felt a bit hollow. Big shades of “I’ve been here and done that, but I like how you did it better the first time.” This is all personal taste. They delivered on the promise, but maybe there was never a way they could fully satisfy me. 

5.) Polyroll

Developer: Spicy Gyro Games, Shiny Dolphin Games ; Publisher: HOF Studios

Here at Irrational Passions we sometimes get emails from wonderful PR folks letting us know about cool new games coming out that may have not been on our radar, but sometimes we miss those emails. On the morning of Thanksgiving 2019, before my partner and I headed out to meet with our families, I hungered not only for mashed potatoes, but also to play something new that was both simple and fun. So I decided to dive into my inbox to see if there was such a simply fun game that I may have missed, and there I found Polyroll

Polyroll is a colorful and endearing pixel art 2D Sonic the Hedgehog-like platformer where you play as a rollie pollie with some attitude. Think more along the lines of the Master System/Game Gear Sonic games than the main line Sega Genesis games. This is very much a good thing in my book. It looks cute, controls buttery smooth, and has fun music. It’s a solid video game!

A 2D pixel art mascot platformer may sound like a run-of-the-mill indie game to you, but I ask you to maybe lower your cynicism for a hot second because it’s that same simplicity which made it one of my favorite games of the year. A straightforward game that plays well, has heart, and maybe reminds us a bit of the games we played when we were younger can be remarkable if we give it the chance. We don’t always need to be challenged by new complex systems or rich worlds, sometimes we just need something that feels familiar, that goes down smooth, to have a good time.

 

4.) Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio ; Publisher: SEGA

Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD feels like feasting on an appetizer. Incredibly delicious, but not at all filling. I’ve had many moments of just pure fun with Banana Blitz HD and I hope this is a promising first step with more to come for the series,but I really was hungering for more levels to explore with my monkey friends,” said Jurge Cruz-Alvarez of IrrationalPassions.com. 

Wow. I couldn’t agree more with myself! 

Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is the most enthusiastic 6/10 I’ve ever given a game. That doesn’t mean I was thrilled to give it a middeling score, but that I had an absolute blast with Banana Blitz HD even though I could still see its shortcomings. Next to Polyroll, this is the game I had the most pure fun with in 2019. I loved reuniting with this iconic group of wonderful monkeys. I had an absolute blast getting more and more frustrated with its tough levels only to conquer it and blast off the seat of my couch in celebration. Oh, and that new song they made for it is an absolute banger.

SEGA, I ask you, give us more Monkey Ball. Please.

 

3.) Control

Developed by Remedy Entertainment ; Published by 505 Games

The world created by developer Remedy in Control is one of the best of this generation. The creativity, imagination, and style of it all is overwhelming. By the end there’s enough meat on its bones that you could go in a hundred different directions with the foundation and unanswered questions left, and I love that. The board, the hotline, Ahti the Janitor, just the amount of fascinating things Remedy leaves on the table for you to ponder, and their expert restraint exercised in giving you just enough, is master class. Well, maybe I could have used just a bit more clarification near the end.

 

2.) Sayonara Wild Hearts

Developed by Simogo ; Published by Annapurna Interactive

Sayonara Wild Hearts exudes a vibrant and youthful energy that is deeply palpable from the second you hit start. From its opening moments to its sincerely sweet conclusion, each section of it finds wonderfully inventive ways to surprise and delight. It is drenched in blues, pinks, and purples that serve as a vibrant compliment to its striking art. It’s that beautiful, harmonious marriage of its visual style and a catchy pop soundtrack, clearly taking cues from some of the greats of pop the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper to modern favorites like Charli XCX and CHVCHRES, that delivers an enthralling and tight experience. It’s also a clear tribute to the work of Japanese game developer SEGA with sections reminiscent of Outrun, Panzer Dragoon, and REZ,” said Jurge Cruz-Alvarez of IrrationalPassions.com. 

I once again could not agree more with one Jurge Cruz-Alvarez, this might actually be my favorite graph of text he wrote in the year 2019! 

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a rare concept album and video game hybrid that for multiple brief moments throughout my first playthrough reminded me how great it is to just be alive. One of those pieces of media that you take in and walk away thinking, “It’s crazy the amount of cool stuff people can just make.” At the end of 2019, as I listened to Giant Bomb’s Game of the Year discussions, I learned that maybe not everyone feels as strongly about it as I do. Which is wild to me! That’s fine though because I love it, and will cherish it for years to come. 

I do still wish it was more of a rhythm game.

 

1.) Death Stranding

Developed by Kojima Productions ; Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment

If you read my earlier entry in this list on my thoughts on Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, you would know that 2019 was a year of reflection for me. If you skipped to the bottom of this list to see what my game of the year is, go back up and read my thoughts on Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando within the context of 2019. I’m pretty happy with it!

In 2019 I graduated college, a feat that was never even a possibility in the mind of a younger version of myself that almost failed out of the fourth grade and to this day is terrible at long division because he was obsessed with Kingdom Hearts. In 2019 Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts III, and I couldn’t care less, I’m still terrible at math.

In 2019 my mother started an expensive and frustrating journey to become a citizen of the United States. A process that forced her to reflect on the last two and a half decades of her own life, and forced me to consider how much my mother has gone through. 

In 2019 my family experienced a medical emergency that would have completely rocked our world if it had ended differently. I’m not even sure I would be writing this if the outcome of this event ended in another way. 

Death Stranding was the one game in 2019 that I was able to fully engross myself in, it was the game that kept the bad thoughts away.

A game with so much audacity, so much gumption in its mere existence and design, that I couldn’t think of anything else except its presence. Death Stranding for me was like getting a full swing of an aluminum baseball bat directly to the forehead. In which you can only focus on the pain and the thought of, “Did I really just get swung in the forehead with an aluminum baseball bat?” Then, once it’s all said and done, you get up and whisper, “Thank you.” 

I spent the first twenty hours of Death Stranding absolutely enamored. In that time, as I delivered packages and donated resources to the game’s various highway builders, I finally realized why games like Stardew Valley are loved by millions of people who are not me. That even the most mundane and unexceptional tasks at their face value can still be genuinely fun if designed expertly. Looking back on Death Stranding, I actually wish the game committed harder to its bit of making every delivery laborious and every journey challenging. 

In those first twenty hours I could not stop being fascinated by the reality that Sony Interactive Entertainment really funded this love letter to Journey, Dark Souls, Hideo Kojima’s favorite Criterion Collection films, and Kojima’s sad Spotify playlist. Tim Roger’s of Kotaku said it best in his one hour review of the game, which I have seen at least six times at the time I’m writing this, “In Death Stranding we finally have the opportunity to see what would happen if the narcs upstairs forgot Hideo Kojima’s phone number.” Indeed, in those first twenty hours, I loved the extra-ness of Death Stranding, until I did not. 

Near the closing hours of the game, as it wraps up its primary narrative threads, I was begging for the game to release me. I could not stand how ridiculous and self-satisfying it all was, to the point that I began to forget those first twenty hours. Then, in its final closing act tying up its secondary plot, it hooked me back in. Something about its Hollywood, Avengers Endgame death of Tony Stark-esque finale, made me come around again. In where I rolled my eyes and balked at the death of Iron Man, here at the melodramatic ending of Death Stranding I just shouted, “I love it.” 

Death Stranding is a messy game. It’s surprising, fascinating, upsetting, and overindulgent. It’s my favorite game of 2019. 

Top 5 Songs in Death Stranding: