Warning! My comments about some of the games I loved this year may include references to violence, self-harm, cancer and surgeries. I have included some brief videos of these games and some of them might include violent content!
No big spoilers for the games, though!
2019 was the year I went back to studying literature. Literature and videogames are both my greatest passions, art forms I want to dedicate my life to. Evidently, going back to school (particularly, to get a master’s degree) has impacted how much time I have to play videogames, but I couldn’t be more satisfied with how I’m improving my own narrative skills. I see this as an opportunity to make both my literature and our videogames better.
Reading literary theory and new kinds of literature from the United States has positively affected how I read and play. Hopefully, we’ll be able to implement many of the aspects about telling a story these games have taught me in our own projects!
The same as last year, I’ll begin with honorable mentions: games that I thought are worth playing!
Skullgirls by Lab Zero Games (originally, Reverge Labs)
The game Pamela keeps kicking my ass in. I saw my friends play this years ago, but I finally managed to get a copy and, holy shit is this good!
Diatris by Rob van Saaze
If you scroll a bit down, you’ll see Tetris. If you know me, you shouldn’t be all surprised. But Diatris is a bit more than just a Tetris-like. I found such playfulness implemented in this game. I liked it a lot!
Tetris 99 by Arika
Well, YEAH!?? This is my first time playing any kind of competitive Tetris and I loved every second of it. This game had me hooked for a while.
Pokémon Sword by Game Freak
Playing this with Pamela has been a blast. It’s the first time since Black and White 2 I truly found a Pokémon engaging and fun!
The Glass Staircase by Puppet Combo
While I was playing this game, I was thinking it would make it to my actual list. However, I had some problems with the save system (which was fixed later!) and the controllers. This game, though, deserves a lot of attention as a worthy exploration of the style and overall presentation of classic horror games.
And with that, here are my favorite games I played in 2019!
Control by Remedy Games
The last game I played last year. In 2019 I also got to finally finish Alan Wake and even if both games are mechanically different, the writing and the style are both superb and engaging. Control’s dialogue is a bit more polished, and the characters are far more diverse. Even if I agree with the multiple comparisons other critics have made with SCP, I still think Remedy Games succeeded in developing something that takes the best aspects of lore-centric writing and incorporating those to a cohesive narrative that kept me hooked all the game through.
The loop of shooting and throwing objects to enemies was never tiring, I can really appreciate the effort to create such a loop to keep combat interesting, along with the new skills I obsessed over to acquire and improve.
Ultimately, I loved Control because it related to my interest in creating believable and creative worlds through both writing a script for an ongoing narrative and the multiple texts that add to the story and the lore. Not to mention I love, love the futility of applying bureaucracy and organization to chaotic and paranormal matters. Control is a treat to play and decipher.
Desert Child by Oscar Brittain
I was surprised by how this short game packed such a lengthy amount of gameplay and even lore. I consider this game an example of how to build a narrative from various, scattered pieces of its world. Even if getting currency in the game seemed to be the main objective, I found fun in poking between the stores and seeing so many different persons walking around. There were moments I saw myself living in this (awful) world and, even through the hardships, I thought it would at least be interesting to live in such a sincere world.
The gameplay is fast paced and fragmented, the kind you can freely leave and pick again, but I just couldn’t resist to keep playing it! During my short playthrough, I glimpsed an intricate system to improve the racing segments and I’m looking forward to getting back to it and get good at it.
I think Desert Child was appealing to me because of its sincere, humble approach to a racing game with a plot full of references to current affairs, while also keeping it cheery and fun.
11:45 A Vivid Life by Deconstructeam
Deconstructeam strikes again! I found this game deeply disturbing. I have a deep fear of cutting and dissecting, but the narrative had me hooked and made me endure, along with the character, the depiction of self-harm. The use of absence in how this game creates its story is fascinating: both what happens in the game and what is not told at all are key to understanding what is really taking place in this plot.
Choosing the different paths, guessing and even deciding for a narrative that made sense to the player was ingenious. Every option and path were secretive, with disturbing ramifications. I was blown away by the possibility of building a story from memories I was building in the moment.
I have personally had issues with both my body and mind seeming either someone else’s or just not mine at all. Finding a videogame that explores this idea was moving.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening by Grezzo (original by Nintendo)
I played the original Link’s Awakening years ago and I remember being enthralled by the plot and how the characters all seemed so diverse for an original Game Boy game. However, the constant reminders of how I was not able to lift something with the correct tools, or how fastidious and inconsistent certain mechanics were, prevented me from fully enjoying the story of this game. The new version not only introduced a polished presentation, it improved upon the portability and pick-up-and-play nature of the game to create a better, more consistent experience. I do not wish to spoil this game to anyone, as old as it is: it’s a special, unique Zelda experience that goes beyond what the Zelda series is about.
Link’s Awakening’s characters are hilarious, but the context of their lifestyle and the slowing realization of what is actually going on is what makes this game so special to me. I can easily recommend playing this version and enjoying one of the most unique experiences in this franchise.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice by FromSoftware
Man is this game hard. Miyasaki’s interest in relating the difficulty of the game with the plot is evident here, even after Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I find it inspiring his team keeps finding ideas to find this association. Sekiro’s difficulty comes from the futility of the cycle of dying and resuscitation. When I first heard dying wouldn’t mean an actual game over, I was instantly interested in seeing how FromSoftware would handle this mechanic in its plot. As superficial as it is, Sekiro still manages to make use of themes to tell its simplest, but still effective story.
At first, I had my doubts with the amount of mechanics the game throws at you so early on, but I quickly realized Sekiro is about overcoming challenge through the knowledge and effective use of the skills you can acquire in the game. Being resourceful is heavily appreciated and the way the gameplay implements this is inspiring.
I have talked about how difficulty is relative, and it doesn’t hinder or improve a game by itself. FromSoft’s expertise in relating difficulty to mechanics and story is admirable. However, the aspect I personally related to in this game the most was the use of perseverance as a theme that influenced every part of this game.
Heaven Will Be Mine by Pillow Fight Games
I have always loved the underlying themes and social and psychological implications of the mecha genre. I have watched and played anime and games respectively that question the elements from which mecha is built, but I had never played something like Heaven Will Be Mine: it goes beyond its genre.
At their core, these stories are always about the people piloting the robots, but Heaven takes both the superficial plot elements of the mecha genre and its inherent, mind-bending themes newer stories have as a well-structured, but ultimately backdrop to the relationships between the pilots. I was amazed at how they made it work so well. The writing is excellent and reminded me of how I look for myself and my interests in everything I read.
Life Is Strange 2 by Dontnod Entertainment
I was not ready for what Dontnod prepared for this season of Life Is Strange. Every episode had me both amazed and frustrated at how their writing improved from the first season, and how inconsistent the flow of the narrative was at the beginning. But looking back at the whole of it, I can now fully appreciate what a cheater this game’s plot really is. The characters and the scenarios each episode introduced all came together to build something unique and heartbreaking. I have expressed my concerns about episodic narratives before, but this game contradicted everything I thought I knew about the media.
I’m a Mexican studying their master’s degree in the United States. Recently, things are unstable, both in the country and in my social circles. The characters in this game were important to me, like friends enduring many of the hardships I have faced. It was a good trip, Dontnod: thank you.
Silent Hill 3 by Team Silent
I like horror???? A lot, I love it. Silent Hill 2 was my 2nd favorite game I played in 2018. Now that I have played 3, I can’t help but to wander what was it like to develop these games. 3’s start is slow, and I was struggling to see any of the characterization that made me love 2, but once I got to the half of the game, I was blown away by Heather’s character. Heather, in my opinion, is narratively defined by her circumstances and the thematic achievement is to have her find her own path, beyond what the other characters and even her story wanted her to do and become.
Essentially, 3 is more polished than 2, doing away with difficult searching sections to favor a more combat-orientated style. Even then, 3 managed to be more melancholic than scary, and that’s where its mechanics shine: by rendering the player defenseless against the horrible forces Heather needs to face, Heather’s movement and overall gameplay becomes orientated to her achieving victory through horror and sadness.
A Short Hike by AdamGryu
This game was a surprise, a pleasant gift after 2 years of fighting cancer and helping my mom go through the first of two operations needed for her to ease the pain in her legs. This game is a sigh of relief and sheer joy and amusement. Through simplicity, it manages to create a humble, but powerful experience. In a way, it reminded me of Whitman’s verses: “All truths wait in all things”. This game understands that beauty is everywhere, and it is something we all share in different ways. It’s been a while since I felt such playfulness and childlike joy from playing a game, only to end with must be one of the best endings I have ever experienced in a videogame ever.
This game is special. I deeply love this game, and I’m thankful I got to play it.
I have my list for the games I want to play these coming weeks, starting 2020. I’m looking forward to discovering new experiences!