2019 was the year of RPGs, some absurd great soundtracks and maddening concepts.
2019 was better than it had any right to be. At the beginning of last year, I had hopes and dreams, but I really didn't think that it would turn out to be so fun. Every month had enjoyable games that showcased what different developers could bring to Nintendo Switch. Whereas 2017 was positioned to be a very strong opening year, 2019 showed the most promise in its variety of software. Believe me, there were many games I wanted to include beyond my top 30, but I can't realistically write about 50-60 games here. According to my ratings, this has been the second highest year in the 15 years I've been writing about games. 2020, you will have a hard time coming even close to topping this.
Before we dive into the actual list, here are some games that didn't make the cut, but are still well worth your time: Pokémon Sword and Shield, Luigi's Mansion 3, Away: Journey to the Unexpected, Untitled Goose Game, WarGroove, Vectronom, Vortex Attack EX, Assault Android Cactus+, FutureGrind, Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX, Gato Roboto, Dandy Dungeon, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, Slay the Spire, Blasphemous, Jamestown+, Tangle Tower, Plunge, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, Chime Sharp, The Stretchers, Cadence of Hyrule, BQM - BlockQuest Maker, Double Cross, and Dragon Quest Builders 2. You should also play Ori and the Blind Forest, Cuphead, and The Witcher 3 if you haven't already. All right, with those out of the picture, let's really sink our teeth in.
30. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble
Advance Wars-like games are hard to get right. Where the original Tiny Metal tried to make things friendlier, Full Metal Rumble goes way more into the deep-end. As a result, the game offers 39 campaign maps that really force you to look over everything twice. There are more units to play with, each commander has their own skills, and each scenario offers more checks and balances. In addition, the story is a lot nicer in general and offers an English voice cast that was noticeably lacking from the original. Together with sizeable Skirmish and Multiplayer modes, Fully Metal Rumble offers the perfect balance of strategy and intrigue.
29. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
While I do feel that the story can be disjointed, there is still plenty to like about 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The strategy gameplay is more palpable, with high stakes in every scenario. On the higher difficulties, having a sharp eye is key, but never did I feel that progression became too unfair to handle. Once you get in the groove, it isn't hard to see the hours just fly by. What helps Three Houses the most is its characters. When you keep the Support conversations in mind, these are some of the most well-presented party members in the series' history. Not everyone gets equal footing, but I do think that their motivations are explained quite well. And hey, exploring the monastery quickly becomes second nature!
28. Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04 - VR Kit
The VR Kit managed to do something that the previous Nintendo Labo offerings could only dream of: it constantly made me excited. Nintendo's craft projects have always been fun, but they were seriously lacking when it came to the actual game portion. The VR Kit, in that sense, is a very different beast. It was absolutely fantastic to shoot aliens with the Blaster, fly between a flock of birds, or take photos underwater. From simple ideas in the VR Plaza to painting with an elephant, it mostly made me smile in a big way. While the VR offerings in other games came and went, the pure fun of mixing physical actions in the real world with the game world is why the fourth Toy-Con pack will remain in the back of my mind.
27. Hexagroove: Tactical DJ
The concept of Hexagroove seems simple from a distance: you manage a circle with various loops within it. Each loop represents an instrument and needs to be changed at specific points throughout your session. Where it gets fun is that along the way, players will be introduced to new instruments and get thrown off by sudden changes. On top of that, the public wants to see constant shifts in the song and will get unhappy when you don't play along. This will see you playing a couple of minigames that will elevate the loops, as you attempt to reach the most optimal position. By staying on top and earning that admiration, you will find yourself in different clubs all over the world. Hexagroove is a quirky blend of music and strategy games, and I'm oddly on board with that.
26. Baba Is You
Baba Is You is one of the most entertaining puzzlers I've ever played. The solutions of the puzzles come down to multiple words found in the level. For example, the words refer to an object (Wall), the verb ''is'' and then the action (Move). By using the words in this example, I can move around the walls at the same time as Baba. This would allow me to reach the end flag and win. There is always a fantastic or over the top method for solving each puzzle. That is the strength of Baba's journey. The solution to a problem may not be apparent at first, but by using the tools provided, you will reach the end state required. The bliss of experimenting and eventually seeing that light bulb popping in your head... well, there is indeed something magical about that process.
25. GRID Autosport
Until this year, I had never played GRID Autosport, which is mostly down to its original release timing. That is a shame, because this is one of the finest racing games on the Switch today. What makes GRID Autosport such a beast is the sheer amount of racing disciplines players can choose from. Better yet, you can pick whatever you like and ignore the stuff you don't want to deal with. For example, want to participate on the street courses solely? No problem. Do you want to speed around more traditional racing circuits? Have at it. Furthermore, the Nintendo Switch includes a very novel control option, where you use the right stick to accelerate. Now, it’s hard to go back to other racing sims.
24. Cat Quest II
Cat Quest II is like Cat Quest, but way better. Okay, okay. Let me slow down just a teensy bit here. In this action-RPG, you do simple attacks and take on quests of various sizes. Everyone can understand the game and have a solid time. The new game adds various weapon types, a playable dog character and a map that is double the size of the original. As you explore this big world, you will come across dungeons and bosses to improve your skill set. The various characters are quite adorable. with fun flavor text and hilarious animal-based puns. Hours will melt away as go into towns and gather loot for the next section of the journey. Cat Quest II is nicely paced, allowing you to understand what makes it special in the blink of an eye.
23. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
Over the last number of years, I found myself slowly getting into the ''Tales of'' games. While I caught up on plenty of entries, Tales of Vesperia is one that alluded me for some time now. Vesperia is a fantastic journey from beginning to end, with likeable characters, an entertaining battle system, and graphics that hold up quite well. The story is spread across three acts and is allowed to build up over the many hours of the game. The waves of serious and comedic are what kept me hooked until the very end and helped me to not lose focus. As you continue on your quest, Tales of Vesperia gives you a lot to manage in the Linear Motion Battles, but this is something that any RPG player can overcome.
22. Monkey Barrels
Dual-stick shooters are one of my jams, and Monkey Barrels is one that fits the mold very nicely. In the game, you control a monkey that cleans up a machine-ridden environments. This isn't simple in the slightest as these enemies will put their focus on you once you come into the picture. Across the 22 stages available, it is important that you collect all the junk you see and find the hidden blueprint. These pieces of paper will make new weapons available, of which there are 98 different ones in total. Most of the weapons are great to use, and give you different strategies to use when entering levels. I had a blast trying out every single one, and teaming up a mate to take down the over-the-top bosses.
21. Star Wars Pinball
Pinball is a great pastime, and Zen Studios are masters when it comes to managing the ebb and flow of a table. Star Wars Pinball is the best one they have ever produced, with 18 Star Wars-themed offerings that are out of this world. Each of these tables comes with unique missions, moving attributes, and even special minigames to boot. The newly-added Career Mode sees you performing specific tasks on the tables, making this perfect for handheld play. Like usual, you can also shoot for highscores and learn about the tables as you play. The journey goes past the movies and gave me many warm feelings while playing. For a lazy few hours, Star Wars Pinball feels like a perfect companion.
20. Wilmot's Warehouse
In Wilmot's Warehouse, you are tasked with sorting various items and giving them a place in the facility. After the initial arrival period ends, you will end up grabbing items as the orders start to come in. By performing both tasks efficiently, you will earn stars that give you access to new abilities, like holding more boxes or a dash move. There is something incredibly relaxing about Wilmot's Warehouse. Even though the selection of items grows after every shift, it is all about you taking control. You need to learn the warehouse that you're building up yourself, alone or with a buddy. Either way, I can't believe how many hours I played this on the Nintendo Switch Lite. Way too many, but I’m not complaining.
19. The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince
One of the most charming stories that I got to experience in 2019 was The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. The storybook style immediately stands out and hooks you in. The game, a narrative-driven platformer, sees you taking control of a wolf. This wolf blinds a young prince, who is following a beautiful singing voice. She feels responsible for how everything went down, so she makes a deal with a witch, allowing her to transform into a princess. You have to constantly switch between the wolf and princess to solve environmental puzzles and come closer to the solution you are looking for. The mechanics and intrigue grow over time, making for one really complete experience.
18. Katana Zero
A flashy, side-scrolling action title that really made me think was Katana Zero. In the opening moments, the combat really took me for a ride with snappy slice and dice moves. You had to zoom through the environment, immediately attack after making contact, and throw the baddies into complete disarray. That is only half of the story, however. During the story portions, you need to help the main character find inner peace and make some rough life choices. The scenarios can play out in a bunch of different ways, depending on how you approach your surroundings. The assassination missions, combined with the meds you swallow, might not go as smooth as you might expect, but expect heart-racing adventures throughout.
17. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!
With over 270 puzzles to complete, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! offers up the most complete package in the series yet. While I thought that the complete story was told in the last Nintendo 3DS game, they managed to take it in a completely different direction. Quby and his friends live a life with adorable children until disaster strikes, and now the action puzzle master is back. Every world feels different and employs unique mechanics and fun ways to use them. In addition to playing solo, you can also opt to play it with a pal. Each character will have their box limits, role in the puzzle, and ways to overcome the terrain. All this and more made BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! feel like it thinks more outside the box. Pun totally intended.
16. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
The original Link's Awakening is one of the first Zelda games that I completely finished from beginning to end. While I did need help from others, I was immediately charmed by the world and its story. Now, many years on, my nostalgia glasses can be turned off, as many changes have been implemented to make Link's Awakening a better game. Item management is simply a joy, and some items are now equipped by default. It makes for a brisk adventure where the time just flies by. I couldn't help but play the game two times in a row, and I'm now seriously considering a third run. The newly-added charm to the characters allows the world of Koholint Island really pop. Truly an experience that belongs on Nintendo Switch.
15. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
Combining RPG mechanics and card-based gameplay has been a consistent trend across 2019, but SteamWorld Quest brings it together in a rather interesting fashion. Quest focuses on the universe of SteamWorld and throws it for a curve. You play as a bunch of wannabe heroes that want to stop the evil Void army from taking over. To do so, you will travel across 2D landscapes and participate in card-based battles. If you manage to combine the cards and have the right amount of resources, you can pull off some incredible combos that leave you (and your opponents) stunned. I was mostly impressed by the deep strategy and wondrous characters that make this ride one to remember. The 19 chapters flew by before I knew it!
PikuNiku is wonderfully strange, and the game doesn't do anything to hide that fact. The journey opens with eccentric Mr. Sunshine, who wants to give you free money in exchange for collecting all the junk. That junk, however, is all the resources the inhabitants need to enjoy their lives. As Piku, you must travel through a variety of environments and use a simple move set to save the world. I mostly found that you will be going from simple task to simple task, but that is the beauty of it, too. There is almost no downtime during the adventure, and events almost immediately follow one another. Now yes, some of the situations won't make a lick of sense, but the consistency matters more, I reckon. The presentation, however, is what makes me instantly love whatever PikuNiku stands for.
13. Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker 2 is one of those games that I will never stop playing across the Nintendo Switch's life. Every single day I start up the game and see whatever trends pop up on Course World that day. The ideas that the active creator base comes up with are amazing, and they keep improving on their skills on a weekly basis. Most of the ideas introduced at launch still find fun uses that weren't considered before. Even now with two updates under its belt, the game keeps impressing me, now with a strong influx of Link-based levels. They are a lot more puzzle based and open the door for even more diverse level types. It helps that you can finally play with your friends online, which is honestly some of the most fun I've had all year. Now, where is my 100 Mario Challenge or new game styles, Nintendo?
12. Tetris 99
Tetris is my favorite puzzle game of all time. I'm the foolish person who purchased multiple copies of Puyo Puyo Tetris, simply because I'm that desperate. Luckily, Tetris 99 happens to be a game that is free for Nintendo Switch Online members. Now, sure, I did purchase all the additional content and took on the grind to net all the unlockable themes. That being said, however, I mostly keep playing the basic Battle Royale mode. The novelty of fighting against others around the world, and getting the highest end result possible is what keeps me trying. There is a constant rush of finding a strategy, sending garbage to the right people, and pushing yourself that much more to the top. Tetris 99 has easily become my daily driver, and nothing seems to make that feeling go away.
11. VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
The world is controlled by the corporations, and all life has been taken hold of by nanomachines. Enter VA-11 Hall-A, a bar where nothing seems the way it looks. While not a sizable location, it attracts interesting folk that will open up depending on the drinks you serve. The most important thing is to learn the clients, talk to them, and see where the intriguing story leads you. VA-11 Hall-A's journey offers up plenty of branching paths, with outcomes that really kept me glued to the screen. Who knows? Maybe that one drink can change a patron’s life for good, and keep you second guessing as to their true intentions.
Listen up. You surely have played many Picross titles before this, but the problem is that they aren’t as good as PictoQuest. This wonderfully crafted game involves taking on a world map filled with puzzles that you need to complete. What makes PictoQuest different from the games before it are the stakes. If you make a mistake or wait too long, a monster will attack and dish out some massive damage. These stakes create urgency in the proceedings, which is a rather unique step to take for a puzzler. Luckily, less skilled players will have access to a variety of helpful tools, which ensures that most players will reach the end. PictoQuest is an incredibly charming experience that you really shouldn’t miss out on.
9. Ring Fit Adventure
Ring Fit Adventure is the most entertaining fitness game I've played in years. While I spent a reasonable amount of time with the Wii Fit games, this is the first time that I could do most of what the game offered. The pure flexibility of the game allows any skill level to come in, and have a good time with what this fitness RPG offers. Every day, I went through the worlds, battled against enemies, explored a bunch of different environments, and felt extremely satisfied, not to mention exhausted. In addition, Quick Play offers even more things for you to do, making the package extremely wide in scope. All this said, Ring Fit Adventure never loses sight of its intentions and leaves no player behind to fight all by themselves. Lovely stuff!
8. River City Girls
WayForward are the kings and queens of reviving the feel of old games. The River City Ransom series, known as Kunio-kun in Japan, are some of the finest beat 'em up adventures around. The famed developer created a twist on the formula, and gave two female leads the starring role. These wondrous ladies are tasked with saving their guys, but have a lot of fun while doing so. The results aren't just new opponents to face, but also tons of flashy new moves to go along with them. As you play, you're constantly expanding your arsenal and exploring the town area for additional activities. Pair that together with one outstanding synth-pop soundtrack, and you got one game that is absolutely the talk of River City.
7. Sayonara Wild Hearts
A pop album come to life. This is how Sayonara Wild Hearts is being billed, and that is 100% accurate in my humble opinion. The latest title from famed mobile developer Simogo feels like a musical journey flashing on your television screen. You will play through increasingly harder arcade-style stages, and see yourself reacting to what is happening. From riding magical deer to escaping a video game, Sayonara Wild Hearts keeps growing its ambitions. The excellent graphics, gameplay twists, and overall feel are absolutely spellbinding. Very skilled players may find themselves done a little quickly, only to dive deep and try to net every gold rank. For some reason, however, I kept starting over and immediately experiencing a new journey of love.
6. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
Who thought that a Yooka-Laylee 2D adventure would be my favorite platformer of 2019? Well, the Impossible Lair manages to capture the feeling of a Donkey Kong Country game but gives the experience its own twists and turns. It instantly gave a huge grin as I went from rolling to sliding, followed by performing a big jump over a gap. The momentum-based gameplay just feels absolutely fantastic. The alternative levels, which you unlock by meeting specific requirements, add fun flavors to the mixture. In one level, you are now being chased by enemies unlike during the first go around; another level is completely covered in ice during your second trip their. Every level introduces obstacles that will make you a better player and reinforces the efforts made by the developer.
5. Astral Chain
The opening hour of Astral Chain throws a lot at you. From gameplay systems to world building, there is a lot to take in. If you allow yourself to get indulged and explore the wonders of the Ark, Astral Chain is sure to become one of the most genius games this year for you. The five different Legions, together with your skill moves, make for an incredible display of power and possibilities. In addition to action set pieces and stopping Chimera threats, there is just so much spectacle and wonder as you clear smaller tasks and find a fair share of collectibles. Every chapter in the game offers a lot to sink your teeth into, slowing building to one of the best finales this year. It goes full on anime, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
4. Blaster Master Zero 2
In Blaster Master Zero 2, it is your task to save Eve from the mutant cells corrupting her body. The brand new game directly follows up on the original, with the same great side-scrolling and top-down action. An instant change compared to the original are the many planets that you will visit. There are smaller environments that are densely packed, and ensure that you don't get lost. Blaster Master Zero 2 also offers plenty of gameplay innovations, which made me instantly fall in love. The new Gaia system gives you energy by falling from heights, allowing you to make usage of GAIA-SOPHIA's sub-weapon functions. Another great inclusion is Jason's ability to counterattack, making for some cracking boss fight moments!
3. Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Never in a million years would I ever have expected to put an Atelier game on my top games list. Atelier Ryza starts with a fresh pair of eyes, and does so for the better. The character of Ryza is a lot more adventurous, someone who wants to explore the world and is up for a little bit of danger. The unique perspective and the characters being more than just blank slates makes the whole flow rather different. Many of the systems, that have stayed the same forever, are now changed in favor of allowing new players to come in. Battles are no longer turn-based affairs, but very Active Time Battle-esque instead. The alchemy systems are a lot friendlier, and ensure that newcomers have no problem keeping up. Overall though, what works the most about Atelier Ryza is how easy-going and fun the whole journey is.
2. AI: The Somnium Files
Kotaro Uchikoshi is an absolute madman, and he fully embraces this side of himself with AI: The Somnium Files. The game sits in a unique position where only this game exists and nothing else. It is part research, puzzle solving and visual novel, and somehow it all gels together extremely well. You play as Date, a member of a special Japanese police force, and you hop into people's dreams like nobody's business. These dreams offer up their own branching paths, impacting the story that lies beyond that point. Initially, it is not wrong to assume it will be a cut and dry murder mystery, but believe me when I say that it will go off the rails quicker than you might think. And honestly, when that happens, AI: The Somnium Files really starts to show its wonderful abstract colors.
1. Dragon Quest XI S
Dragon Quest XI S is, simply put, one of the finest RPGs ever put on Nintendo Switch. The game offers a battle system that is refined and inviting, while still feeling nostalgic at the same time. What made the game work for me is the sheer amount of content, and the quality of said content. The characters are well defined, most quests are entertaining, and every road leads to something new and exciting. The world of Dragon Quest XI S may not be open, but you quickly forget all about that once you start going deep into the story. The Nintendo Switch is the ultimate way to play, thanks to added stories and additional tweaks to the controls. The presentation is much improved as well, making this Dragon Quest entry the best one for newcomers and veterans alike.