It’s been a cracking year for gaming, and there were so many titles that really stuck out to us. We’ve narrowed our list down to this small hamper of games that royally blew our minds with their brilliance…
Developed by Paul Helman and Sean Scaplehorn – published by 505 Games
2019 for me has been a relatively dry year for me. There are probably only a handful of games from this year that I actually played again after my review went out. Of those five or six games, Horace was one that I played through four or five times. I’m not much for platformers, but Horace had such an engaging and wonderful story that I just had to play it repeatedly.
In Horace, you play as the titular robot who gives his name to the game, and you watch over him for his entire life. From being built, to being delivered, all the way to when he becomes too old and slow to continue. Over the course of his lifespan, you’re told an amazing tale of all of the fantastic things Horace did, and how he perceives his actions and the actions of others, with some solid platforming and Metroidvania gameplay to throw into the bargain.
I loved almost everything about the game, and I was hard pushed to find any criticisms of it, especially when you consider it was made by two people over the course of seven years. In addition to a fifteen to twenty hour story, there are dozens of mini games to enjoy as well so it’s a game that never gets boring. And the best thing is, even though I played it for over a hundred hours, there were still things I hadn’t found, and references I had missed. Paul and Sean both managed to hide so much detail into every cutscene, every area and background, so that you’ll need extremely sharp eyes to spot everything the first time around.
Anyone that is looking for a story-rich game that harks back to the early 90s in terms of visuals and extremely fun platforming, you need look no further than Horace. It’s simply the best indie game of 2019.
Developed by Kemco – Published by PQube
Out of all the visual novels I’ve tried, few have kept me hooked for well over 50 hours (and still counting!). That all changed when I played Raging Loop. If you love horror, then chances are this one will take you by surprise like a wolf in the dead of night. And that’s no mere campy simile…
As Haruaki Fusaishi, you find yourself trapped in a mountain village detached from society known as Yasumizu. In the evening, the land is surrounded by mist, and one denizen per day ends up murdered by ‘wolves’ in the dead of night. There is no escape until the humans root out the hunters disguising themselves along the townsfolk via the Feast of the Yomi Purge, a gruesome tradition where one person is executed per day.
Fusaishi, however, have a double-edged sword of an ability on his side. When he dies, he can loop back to the moment he entered the outskirts of Yasumizu. You’ll also have access to a flow chart of events for easy navigation, too. If you picked a dodgy decision and led yourself to an early grave, you can go back and try out new paths. However, you’ll need keys to unlock them, of which you’ll acquire as you progress through this shocking tale of murder and deceit. Numerous decisons could tip the Feast in your favour… or result in your gruesome demise.
Thanks to its mood-setting music, brilliant artwork, gripping (and occasionally hilarious) narrative and memorable cast of characters, Raging Loop is, to quote my full review, “a thrilling spookshow that’s bound to keep you on the edge of your seat”. To sweeten the deal, there’s a heap of bonus content to enjoy when the lengthy tale sadly comes to a close. Not only are there five epilogues to watch – from comedic subplots to additional exposition that clear up most of the details – but there’s even a ‘Revelation Mode’, which reveals what characters are thinking during conversations, as well as previously unseen scenes that add even more depth to it all, making it well worth revisiting for a second playthrough.
Raging Loop is a masterclass of a visual novel that chilled me to the core. And, like some sort of twisted individual, I loved near-enough every hour of it.
— Jake ‘The Voice’ Parr
Pokémon Sword & Shield
Developed by Game Freak, Published by Nintendo
Pokémon Sword and Shield represents a bit of a rekindling of a childhood interest in Pokémon for me. Some of my interest in the series had been lost around the time that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon came out partly due to my (and Nintendo’s) waning interest in the 3DS as a console. Enter the newest generation of Pokémon, Sword and Shield, which, with its UK-inspired design and being the first mainline game in a home console, piqued my interest. So in spite of some pre-launch, ahem, criticisms levied by fans about the graphics and animations (which I frankly thought were a bit silly and bizarre, but that’s another story), I decided I’d bite the bullet and resume my tradition, and I do not regret it one bit.
Sword and Shield, as games, aren’t as mindblowing story-wise as, say, Black and White (which I maintain are the games I the series with the absolute best and most inventive stories) – but honestly, it didn’t need to be. Pokémon is a formula that hasn’t been broken since 1996, and as such Game Freak haven’t gone out of their way to fix it. Yet somehow it still endears. Perhaps it’s the fact that, in each game, you’re setting out on a new journey with new Pokémon in a new region and exploring new things, travelling across the land, searching far and wide, (each Pokémon to understand, the power that’s insiiiiide…) and of course, facing the Gyms as you go along to prove your worth as a trainer.
In Sword and Shield, the Gyms really resonated with me. Say what you like, but in all honesty, I think that I think they might well be the series’ best. There’s a multitude of other reasons why I love Sword & Shield, of course, but they’d be better suited to a proper review. Thus, since the Gyms resonated with me so much, I’m focussing on them.
Typically in the Pokémon games the gyms are just some sort of thing you do: you collect the badges one by one, you eventually come to the Elite 4, but there’s no real pomp and circumstance behind it, it’s just a thing that happens. Not so in Sword and Shield. From the beginning of the game, you’re told and reminded that the Gym Challenge (i.e. the trek to beat the Gyms in this game) is something reserved for the strongest, most powerful Trainers there are. Your character needs a letter of recommendation and need to be properly registered and has to wear a football-esque uniform just to take part in every Gym battle. Each gym has its own Challenge, ranging from dodging bottomless pits with a mechanical dowsing rod to herding sheep to an “audition” where you keep getting asked trivia questions mid-battle which can boost your stats if answered correctly.
And then you get into the Gym Battles themselves. This is where the Galarian gyms really, really shine; the atmosphere in these battles is honestly second to no other Pokémon game. You’re not just battling some guy in a fancy concrete building, in-universe these battles are an event. People gather from all over the Region to watch you duke it out with the Gym Leader to a banging, dynamic soundtrack that changes depending on the current battle state and your actions in it. The audience will also join in too with football-esque chants and songs as the battle heats up, all leading up to the climax of the Gym Leader unleashing their Gigantamax Pokémon for an explosive finale.
So far, Sword and Shield are the only Pokémon games where Game Freak have really put some effort into the atmosphere of the most important battles in the game and got it this wonderfully right – and I can only hope that Game Freak uses this as a basis for development in future titles in the series.
— Deuterium the Sentient Mattress
Developed by House House – Published by Panic Inc
Untitled Goose Game has grace, encourages creative thinking, and challenges you with the need to remain stealthy while you annoy the humans by being a huge inconvenience. The game has a lot to offer in a short space-of-time, but there’s plenty of bonus objectives to unlock after you beat the game. While short, it’s a brilliant, surprisingly-stealthy and an utterly-hilarious experience. Fun for all the family! A true work of contemporary video-game-art that makes you grin thoroughly throughout.
Developed by Indefatigable – Published by New Blood Interactive
Imaginative weapons, vibrant colours, satisfying combat, intricately designed levels, an awesome wave mode, and a cheat that lets you emit a mighty burp – AMID EVIL is a fantastic fantasy-themed FPS that pays homage to shooters from the nineties. But the real reason it deserves a mention is because one of the weapons is a staff that FIRES FRICKIN’ PLANETS.
That alone is an award-winning concept.
— Jake ‘The Voice’ Parr