Five fantastic titles that just fell short of ultimate greatness in 2019.
#10: Mario Kart Tour
Within days of its September launch, Mario Kart Tour quickly became one of the strongest mobile games that Nintendo has ever made (next to Fire Emblem Heroes) while also breathing a new life into elements of Mario Kart that have been soundly ignored for the past decade. Tour brings in single-player content in an engrossing way with rotating two-week tours of new cups and challenges as well as a gacha system that is overall fair enough to not get bogged down by the overall terrible nature of gacha design.
While the actual cost of the in-game gem currency is repugnant, the $5/month Gold Pass in conjunction with the basic rewards given by playing the game give you enough of an influx of materials to regularly freshen up your pool of racers, karts, and gliders. In a way marginally better than how recent Mario Kart games have handled it, racers and kart parts are more than interchangeable pieces, as they all have their own distinctive characteristics and bonuses. They also can dazzingly stupid, as recently shown by such winning heroes as "Waluigi with British cab driver attire," "Santa Mario who still have his dark eyebrows oh god oh god why," and "Reindeer Yoshi." The small flourishes are delightful.
The controls are all one-handed and might have aspects of being an acquired taste, but for a mobile game, there is enough flexibility and customization into how you play that it all works well. The strongest recommendation to be given for Mario Kart Tour is that it has a number of elements that would no doubt strengthen the eventual Mario Kart 9 on Switch or a future console. The scores acquired by performing tricks and using items effectively work in tandem with the rotating weekly challenges to give a constant drive that is more than just "win the race." But more than anything, as one of the few people who was disappointed in some aspects of Mario Kart 8, this game makes me hopeful that Mario Kart can be great for solo players again.
~ Neal Ronaghan
#9: Baba Is You
Baba Is You is a mindbending puzzle game that wrinkled my brain in more ways than basically any other game I have ever played has. It focuses on sentence structure in logic, in a similar way as Tomorrow Corporation's Human Resource Machine. However, Baba's implementation is far more approachable even if it can still be baffling. The whole experience, which just keeps going and going, is endlessly inventive and smart. I might have spent 45 minutes hanging out with friends trying to solve a puzzle that seems simple at face value, but I've never felt more accomplished when I finally cracked the code.
~ Neal Ronaghan
#8: Luigi's Mansion 3
I’m still kind of surprised Luigi’s Mansion 3 exists in the first place, but God bless Next Level Games and Nintendo for keeping this ghost-busting series going. This threequel, which finds our titular hero bravely exploring the many floors of the swanky new Last Resort hotel, is undeniably one of the best games on the Switch, much less of the year. This is essentially Dark Moon’s gameplay without that game’s exhausting mission structure. Instead, Luigi traverses the hotel vertically, defeating bosses to acquire stolen elevator buttons.
Luigi's standard Poltergust techniques all carry over and are joined by an explosive jump and the ability to pull objects with plungers. While ghost-catching remains central to the experience, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is as much, if not more, of an exploration and puzzle-solving treat. The amount of detail and care taken in crafting every single room and hallway is stunning. Gooigi, who you may remember from the 3DS remake of Luigi’s Mansion, is featured heavily here. His (its?) presence allows the addition of couch co-op, and several puzzles–and boss fights—depend on using both characters to succeed. Solo adventurers can rest easy knowing that Luigi and his moist companion can be controlled together, and while some of the dual efforts are awkward, they’re never difficult, even during relatively fast-moving boss battles.
The real star here, though, is the animation and characterization. Luigi achieves new levels of cowardly charm, and his reactions to ghosts and hazards never ceases to delight. I will never stop chuckling at Luigi’s reticent tip-toing down haunted hallways, his voice quivering as he calls to his missing brother. The normal enemy ghosts, which have all been pulled from Dark Moon with some minor design changes—also feature more nuanced portrayals. It’s the boss ghosts, however, that steal the show. Supremely creative and full of personality, I was often more interested in just watching them than fighting them. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a wonderful game that every Switch owner should cherish.
I was worried I wasn't going to like Luigi's Mansion 3, and I am delighted by just how much I enjoyed it. The world of the Mario Bros. cast gets so much expression delivered through stunning visuals in the form of animation and art style. Floor after floor, I found myself searching every item, anxiously looking for what treats could be discovered. The addition of Gooigi is a rare showcase of how co-op benefits a single player game, and doesn't detract from it in the slightest. You can play through and explore on your own, or take a buddy with you and laugh your way through the wild ride up the hotel, all the way to King Boo's Boogaloo. Luigi's Mansion 3 invites a return to a unique and creative gameplay loop that had me enraptured from check-in, and frankly, I'm not sure I will ever check out.
~ Zachary Miller, Xander Morningstar
#7: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition
The Witcher 3 is one of the most ambitious open world RPGs of the generation. The fact that the Switch is able to turn in a full featured and complete port of this incredible game is nothing short of astounding. It is for this reason that despite its age, originally releasing in 2015, we felt the Switch verison of Witcher 3 deserved a spot on this list.
On a system that is widely known for its "impossible ports" Witcher 3 stands as the most impressive and most successful of them all. The combination of deep lore brought about through the works of Andrzej Sapkowski and an expansive world full of richly detailed side quests, Make Witcher 3 the kind of game that's perfect to curl up with in portable mode. Whether you're coming from the other games in the series, the original books, the Netflix series, or this is your entry point, Witcher 3 draws the player in and refuses to let go. Much like Breath of the Wild, a game that surely took inspiration from Witcher 3, this is a game you can play forever.
~ John Rairdin
#6: Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition
Dragon Quest XI S is an incredible traditional JRPG experience that illustrates how primarily adhering to expectations can produce something magical. Being able to play the entire main story in either 3D or 2D graphics means you are essentially getting two games in one, given how different the presentation and feeling of each style is. Combine this with solid turn-based combat, a well-written story, interesting characters, and upwards of 60 hours of gameplay, and you have the crafting recipe for a familiar but excellent game.
It's no secret that the Dragon Quest games have always been a slave to tradition, but there is a sense of comfort in the naming conventions, sound effects, and overall design that continues to leave a lasting impression. As arguably the best overall entry and certainly the most accessible, Dragon Quest XI S was well worth the wait for Switch owners and absolutely worthy of the title "Definitive Edition"
~ Jordan Rudek