The top contenders on Nintendo platforms in 2019!
#5: Super Mega Baseball 2
Listen, it's great that MLB The Show is apparently coming to Switch in a few years, but this system already has the greatest baseball game ever made courtesy of Super Mega Baseball 2. This is the ultimate utility player of a sports game. First off, the art and animation provides ample personality to the players and teams, emboldened by names like Hammer Longballo and Dick Burger. Underneath that goofy veneer is gameplay and controls that are easy to grasp but dripping with nuance.
You can toss a friend a controller and dive right in; basic hitting and pitching is all simple. If you want something deeper, you can drown yourself in the particulars of a more simulation-like baseball experience where you bait hitters into swinging outside or take a few pitches to try to amp up the opponent's pitch count. Truth be told, the only thing it lacks is the MLB license, but it's perfect for those who like simulation or arcade games but maybe aren't as into the MLB.
~ Neal Ronaghan
#4: Sayonara Wild Hearts
When Sayonara Wild Hearts was first revealed over a year ago, I wasn't totally sure what to make of it. The visuals were dazzling, but would this game that aspired to be a pop album deliver? The answer was "yes, it will deliver in spades."
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a brilliant visual pop album of a rhythm game that is an excellent, mesmerizing ride. Front-to-back, the game is about an hour long, but with varied visuals and beats, there is nary a dull moment. While everything comes from the typical school of rhythm game button-pushing-to-the-beat gameplay, moments that call to mind shoot-'em-ups or Elite Beat Agents keep everything engaging and fun. The replayability is found in showcasing it to friends or just re-experiencing it for yourself like you'd do if you got really into an album and listened to it on repeat.
~ Neal Ronaghan
#3: Cadence of Hyrule - Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring the Legend of Zelda
Months later, it's still crazy that Nintendo teamed up with an indie developer to make Cadence of Hyrule. Even more crazy is the fact that Cadence of Hyrule is one of the best games of 2019. This sprite-based adventure mixes the rhythmic roguelike design of Brace Yourself Games' Crypt of the NecroDancer with the classic stylings of 2D Zelda to make a beautiful game that leverages Zelda's classic soundtrack in an excellent way.
At the forefront are the spectacular remixes from Danny Baranowsky as players have to go to the beat of each song along a grid that loosely resembles the Hyrule from A Link to the Past. Every beat represents a movement and action and while playing as Link, Zelda, or NecroDancer heroine Cadence, you have to make use of their varied abilities to get past a slew of tough battles and puzzles. Four dungeons await your rhythmic adventuring and thankfully you can attack them all in a different ways.
A fixed beat mode makes the rhythm elements tamer for those not as musically inclined while harder permadeath randomized runs up the ante considerably. Throw in a daily run and Cadence has quite a bit of replay value. At the very least, we have a bunch of dope Zelda remixes in the world.
~ Neal Ronaghan
#2: Astral Chain
Nintendo and Platinum have proven to be a wonderful partnership. From Nintendo offering to publish a sequel to Bayonetta to Platinum getting the opportunity to work on Nintendo's own IP, the fruits of these labors have finally arrived, and I could not imagine a more perfect game to come from this team-up than Astral Chain. Astral Chain is an instant classic in action games, evolving the formula to new heights with two player-controlled characters at once, each with their own playstyles that compliment each other. The different Legions you collect through the game bring their own flavor with unique movesets from each other, and it all combines down into the most fun character action game I've ever played.
Adding to the excellent combat are cute, entertaining side missions where you act as a service to your community (playing into the game's police officer setup), helping citizens with their problems and trying to make the city a better place. The silly, inconsequential tasks you complete for people outside of the main combat sections help to flesh out the world a little and give some relaxing contrast to the high-octane action that the average fight will give you. And of course, if they're not your thing you can also just skip them and keep the action coming. Add all this up into one of the most bonkers anime-esque plots I've seen this side of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and you've got the most exciting game I played all year.
~ Matt Zawodniak
#1: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
After being saved by its handheld entries, the Fire Emblem series finally made its return to the home console realm in 2019 and supplied perhaps too much Fire Emblem. The
three four paths through the main story put even Fates to shame, though blessedly they don't require additional purchases to experience if you choose. Three Houses focuses on a smaller, more developed cast who you can legitimately have arguments over who the best husbando is. (It's Dedue. If you disagree, meet me in the training grounds.) The combat system is classic Fire Emblem, with refined versions of the modern conveniences like the ability to turn back the clock in battle. And it's the fact that Fire Emblem as a strategy game is so strong, it more than holds up a structure that we voted as one of the biggest disappointments of the year. I've played Three Houses for over 80 hours, and my roommate has put in five times that.
After being almost entirely nonexistent on the Wii U, RPGs have almost become the Switch's primary genre. Both console and computer RPGs are flooding to a Nintendo system, and if you told me that even three years ago when Skyrim got announced I would have howled laughing. Fire Emblem is one of the strongest playing RPGs on a system that has had Divinity Original Sin II, The Witcher 3, Dragon Quest III, and Final Fantasy VII come to it in the last year. And given the propensity for Fire Emblem to overload with DLC, a $25 pass is positively restrained, but even the free updates have added significant story content and quality of life updates. If you enjoy torture, they even added a Maddening difficulty.
Fire Emblem's decade started with being one bomb from death and ends as a Game of the Year and multi-million seller. And it definitely deserves it.
~ Donald Theriault