The Game Awards for 2019 is set to premiere on December 12th. The nominees have been out for awhile, with Death Stranding and Control sweeping many categories. Most, if not all, of the games nominated are more than deserving of their categories. However, it’s hard not to notice a lack of some of the best games of this year being nominated. Space is limited, of course, and one could argue that those excluded just weren’t as good as those nominated. Regardless, it would be a shame if people were left unaware of some of the finest crafted video game experiences released in 2019. That’s what this list is for: to highlight those overlooked by The Game Awards.
Many of the games listed will be indie games. It’s no surprise that when a game gets overlooked by anyone, it’s likely an indie game. They don’t have the promotional power of an AAA studio, nor are they often as flashy and bombastic as AAA games. Nevertheless, some of the best gaming experiences you can have can be found in indie games. As another aside, I’ll note that I have no opinion on the nominees for the eSports categories, as I haven’t watched minute one of any eSports event. However, I think we can all agree that Fred Savage’s character, Corey Woods, from the movie The Wizard, should sweep all those categories. As for content creators – well I have no idea who those people are. Sorry! I will, however, take this moment to nominate the channels WoolieVersus and Girlfriend Reviews. Both put out charming, funny, and engaging content.
Deserving Awards: Action/Adventure Game, Score & Music, Narrative, Game Direction
Indivisible was the first, and currently is the only, game I’ve ever backed. Despite having the pedigree of being made by Lab Zero Games, creators of Skull Girls, the project was close to failing. Years later it released and it’s…pretty good. There’s no doubt that Indivisible is a flawed game. There are mistakes and omissions that feel amateurish. True the studio has only one game under their belt, but it was a game they fine tuned for a long time, so they have experience. Regardless, Indivisible was so immensely charming and beautiful that it rose above faults like a bad map and poorly planned player progression. If all its faults had instead just been, at least, mediocre aspects, Indivisible would have my game of the year.
It tells the story of Ajna, a hotheaded 16 year old on a quest to avenge the death of her father and halt the destruction of the world. Along the way she meets a huge cast of characters, all of which are unique and most of whom are memorable. Although the game tells a typical RPG story, toward the half way point you’ll see just what the game really wants to say. While the combat system is not original, it may as well be, as so few games actually use something like it. The art is amazing and vibrant, with animations that truly bring things to life. The music was composed by Hiroki Kikuta, known for Secret of Mana, helping to give the world a classic RPG feel. Despite its fumbles, Indivisible, like Ajna, redeems itself. It’s honestly a shock The Game Awards didn’t give it at least one nomination.
Deserving Awards: Action/Adventure Game, Art Direction, Audio Design
The Game Kitchen presents the kind of world that would make Pinhead blush. Blasphemous is brutal and dark, yet the inhabitants look almost content with the bloodshed. Everyone is interested in religious penance, often in the most hardcore of fashions. It’s a world inspired by Catholic imagery, though the religion within the game is fictional. Visceral design and character bleeds out between every pixel in the gorgeously crafted scenery. Every crunch, slash, groan, and cry is heard with gut-punching hedonism. No part of the world looks like a place I would want to live in. It’s great! Maybe too metal for The Game Awards?
Blasphemous falls under the metroidvania, or search-action, genre, with exploration and backtracking being main components to progression. Still, the player is given great agency when choosing which horrific homonculus they should slay next. It’s fast without feeling unwieldy, never sacrificing the crunchiness of the sword swings. The lore, story, and motivations are all cloaked in a great deal of secrecy, rarely explaining anything; it instead opts to inform through item descriptions and secrets. If it sounds like another dark and mysterious game you know, I agree, but I promised myself I wouldn’t invoke its name when describing this one.
Deserving Awards: Action Game, Game Direction
Ion Fury is not for everyone. It’s a love letter to a bygone era of PC gaming, and may not appeal to those who can’t appreciate that. It’s crass at its safest and disgusting at its worst. Developed by Voidpoint, LLC, this throwback to ’90s first person shooters uses the actual engine that was used to develop the best Duke Nukem games. In a time when many FPS games are slower, requiring you to find cover to regenerate your health, and tackle the politics of war and taking lives, Ion Fury dares to be different. It’s fast and frantic, rude and raunchy. It’s easy to fall in love with the game, but it’s just as easy to hate it. It all depends on how you perceive it.
Written content aside, Ion Fury is a blast to play. Despite having gotten used to slower FPS games, it never felt difficult for me to control Shelly, the game’s protagonist, as she bowls bombs and blasts bullets. The game was made as a return to the foundations of PC gaming. To show the world what it used to be like, either through remembrance or introduction. Yet it never feels boastful of the past or dismissive of the present. It’s fully aware of the changing landscape and doesn’t try to mark it as a decline. Ion Fury is just pure fun, plain and simple.
Deserving Awards: Fresh Indie Game, Games for Impact
One of the big criticisms for indie games is they are too short for how much they cost. In the case of 198X, which retails for $9.99…well the criticism is probably apt. Only part 1 is available, at the moment, but it’s still only roughly an hour long. Unable to deliver quantity of hours, Hi-Bit Studios aims to deliver quality. It features a story that’s been told before, but it’s never one that should be shelved. It’s about growing up and trying to fit in; then when you can’t, you opt to escape into video games. We’ve all been there.
Though the story may not be new, 198X tries to tell it in a new way. The story is told through various genres of games, all invoking the ’80s. Beat ’em up, shoot ’em up, RPG, etc. It demonstrates this character’s removal from the worries of the daily life, finding solace in games, while also looking for solutions to those worries. It’s hard to recommend spending $10 for an hour of game time, especially considering the game isn’t finished yet. So often people use the 1:1 rule for purchasing games. $1 for every 1 hour of game time. I urge people to drop that ridiculous and flawed rule. Always strive to find quality in your hours, not quantity. 198X might just prove that to you.
Deserving Awards: Game of the Year, Action/Adventure Game, Fresh Indie Game, Independent Game
Now, does a game that looks like Reventure truly deserve to be nominated alongside games like Death Stranding and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the game of the year category? Hell yes. Like I said, quality is king. Reventure is a perfect game. That doesn’t mean it’s the greatest game of all time, though. What I mean by perfect is that it delivers on everything it sets out to do, and more. Yes, having more pixels would make it look better, but it wouldn’t change the experience. There’s a charm to its simplicity. In fact, simplicity is all over the game.
However, that simplicity is deceptive. While Reventure is easy to understand within the first minute, the game keeps delivering more and more depth. The game from Pixelatto is all about finding ways to end your quest early, usually through death. It takes so many video game tropes and tasks you with challenging them. Pick up every item you can find? Go for it, but the weight will break your legs. Swing your sword at the first guard you see? Go to jail and let your descendant take up your quest. It never ceases to surprise and is simply a joy to play. I go into more gushing detail in my Reventure review.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Deserving Awards: Action/Adventure Game, Fresh Indie Game, Game Direction, Independent Game, Score & Music
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night lies somewhere between spiritual successor and a direct sequel. Helmed by the former producer of the Castlevania series, ArtPlay made it abundantly clear that Bloodstained might as well be Castlevania, missing only the Universal monsters. Everything about the game looks, feels, sounds, and acts like games such as Symphony of the Night. Considering Castlevania is currently tucked away in a coffin, offering up only admittedly good animated series and begrudgingly playable 3D action/adventure games, having a spiritual successor this spiritually attached is welcomed.
Where the game falters is in how it does nothing to innovate. Since the Playstation and handheld eras, the metroidvania genre has grown by leaps and bounds, almost always through indie titles. Yet Bloodstained feels like it was released directly after Symphony. For some, this iron grip on the past may be a blessing. The game offers no surprises and delivers on what it promises. It’s a straightforward exploration/action game with a likable protagonist and some of the best systems from some of the best Castlevania titles. So much of the Castlevania lifeblood pumps through Bloodstained that it’s hard to be disappointed by it. While it won’t blow anyone away, it was nonetheless a great time and a well crafted product worthy of recognition.
Deserving Awards: Community Support
No, Dead Cells did not release in 2019. However, neither did Final Fantasy XIV nor Destiny 2, and those were nominated, so all bets are off in this category. In fact, some of the nominees, without naming names, are laughable choices according to their respective communities. All the games nominated are live service games, though none would I say excel at listening to player feedback and addressing them. Transparency is hard to accomplish. There’s no way a studio can lay all their cards out on the table. Making a game can be messy, and the player base may not like how the sausage is made. Yet among its peers, one studio stands above them all: Motion Twin.
If there’s one thing that really stands out to prove that Motion Twin listens to its player base, it’s Dead Cells’s patch notes. In no other game have I seen patch notes that list the changes that are made in a patch, denoting those that are based on community suggestions. It’s a wonderful touch that draws a direct link between what the fans ask for and what the developers deliver on. Despite coming out over a year ago, Dead Cells continues to get new updates and even has some DLC coming in 2020.
Touhou Luna Nights
Deserving Awards: Action/Adventure Game
While many of the entries on this list are indie games, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of most, if not all, of them. However, dollars to donuts most of you won’t recognize the title Touhou Luna Nights. Admittedly, there’s every reason it should have flown under my radar – and it did. Thanks to randomly searching for metroidvania games on Steam, I discovered this hidden gem. Touhou Luna Nights won’t set the world on fire, but it is such a solidly made game with great visuals and music that it deserves some recognition, even if it’s just in this article.
Confession time: I know nothing about the world of Touhou, other than it involves anime girls in frilly dresses. That alone has kept me away from the brand at a more than comfortable distance. Taking a chance on Touhou Luna Nights was, then, taking a big chance. Some gambles pay off, though. Above everything else that the game does well, Touhou Luna Nights introduces a time manipulation mechanic that is simply perfect. Time manipulation is a tough nut to crack, regardless of the genre or medium. When it’s done well, though (and this game does it well), it’s so damn enjoyable. Great pixel art, enjoyable music, smooth gameplay, and anime girls in frilly dresses (if that’s your thing). This game has it all.
Deserving Awards: Multiplayer Game, Ongoing Game
The thing about these entries is some of them, despite deserving to be nominated, don’t necessarily deserve to win. That may sound odd; the idea of boasting about games that I don’t think should even win in their respective categories, in some cases, but it’s the truth. Sometimes, it’s just an honor to be nominated. The awards themselves are meaningless. The publisher gets to slap a sticker on the box or make a tweet about how they won, and enjoy the boost in sales. The Game Awards offer advertisement, but with pageantry. Like E3. Nevertheless, Pagan Online deserves some advertising, if nothing else.
Don’t get the idea that Pagan Online is a bad game. It’s not. It’s really good, but still developing because it does stumble in a lot of areas. The core of the gameplay and the vision of the developers at Mad Head Games is clear and desirable. It’s an online, though single player if you like, isometric action game with RPG elements and loot. Diablo. It’s like Diablo, okay? Jeez. Anyway, the point is that Pagan Online is grindy. There’s no getting away from having your loot based game involve some level of grind, and this one has it. It’s not particularly engaging or in-depth, but it is always growing thanks to the studio always making changes and tweaks.
Deserving Awards: Action Game, Art Direction, Audio Design, Independent Game
Stanley Parable style of writing and humor, a Twelve Monkeys vibe, a striking neon comic book art style, and forgiving roguelite elements. Void Bastards has all that and more and still many people haven’t heard of it. A damn shame. It’s no surprise, then, that it appears nowhere in The Game Awards’ nominations list. Let’s remedy that situation, shall we? Coming from the developers at Blue Manchu, Void Bastards is a first person shooter/looter roguelite with FTL style navigation, comic book aesthetics, and did I mention the Stanley Parable humor? Well it bears repeating because that’s some of the best humor you can have in a game.
Being in the roguelite and roguelike genre can both draw attention to a game as well as keep potential customers at bay. Some are interested to see just how punishing a game can be, often vicariously through their favorite streamer. Others are put off by the idea of playing a game with permadeath, even if upgrades are carried between runs. The two groups often overlap. Yet it feels like Void Bastards just didn’t get the attention it deserved. So here’s my attempt to remedy that. Go play Void Bastards!
And now the ‘wrap it up’ music is starting to play, so…
Are there any other games that released this year that you feel should have been nominated at The Game Awards? Do you have a burning desire to share that opinion with strangers on the Internet? You know I do, so you must too! Unless…you think you’re better than me. Is that it? Huh? HUH?! Ahh, I’m just joshing. But seriously, comment below with your thoughts on what should, or what should not, have been nominated.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the rest of the KeenGamer staff.