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A console goes through growing pains when it launches. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both debuted in November 2013. For the longest time, their biggest hits were remasterings of the prior generation’s best games, developed for the PS4 and the PS3, or for the Xbox One and the XBox 360. It felt as if they were holding themselves back from their true potential.
Yes, we’ve had PS4 exclusives and Xbox One exclusives since then, but 2018 will be remembered as the year that the PS4 and the Xbox One truly came into their own—when we experienced games that were really next-level, completely removed from the prior generation. We all remember that unreal Spider-Man trailer at E3 2017; many speculated that the footage was somehow doctored or enhanced. When we finally got to play the game, it lived up to its promise. There’s a similar story for Red Dead Redemption 2, which exceeded the hype around it.
And as for Nintendo? They’re doing just fine. The Switch has already established itself as one of the most successful consoles in gaming history. Forget third-party support; players buy Nintendo systems to play Nintendo games. And with the recent release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo has created a sprawling game that will keep their fans entertained for years.
Enough with the talk, though; let’s pick up the sticks: Here are the 10 best video games of 2019.
10. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Release Date: September 14 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Lara Croft has been through it all. She has dual-pistoled Bengal tigers, wrestled with grizzlies in the Siberian wilderness, and solved more puzzles than your grandma and her Tuesday night bingo team. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a magnetic leap forward from the 2013 reboot that started it all (again), but it’s a lot more than the First Blood sequel it’s marketed to be.
Its story intertwines the Mayan apocalypse with the fact that Lara is prone to making the wrong decision 99% of the time, and it’s an arc that’s layered with breathtaking views, impeccable sound design, and a whole lot of tombing that makes the Uncharted series look like an adult version of Go, Diego, Go! Every single action sequence is orchestrated to give you butterflies or an incomparable sense of anxiety, and the creative team’s ability to crank the immersion to 11 is what makes Shadow a riveting single-player experience.
9. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Release Date: December 7 (Switch)
Compared to other Nintendo mainstays, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is where things get weird. There are 70+ fighters, 100+ stages, and more than 800 tracks of licensed music for those who love jamming out to Galaga medleys with their pants off, and it’s the only place in which you can use Isabelle from Animal Crossing to beat the crap out of Jigglypuff and Solid Snake.
Its affinity for pitting Persona 5 against everyone in the Mario universe justifies it as a Switch staple, but it is also one of the greatest multiplayer experiences you can have.
8. Super Mario Party
Release date: October 5 (Switch)
Super Mario Party is a Toad-approved, return to form with 20 playable characters (including Pom Pom) and 80 brand new mini-games involving tricycle races, group selfies, Chain Chomp rodeos, and playing a friendly match of badminton in hell. It ditches Mario Party 9 and 10’s UberPool mechanic in favor of smaller boards, new character dice blocks, and non-traditional modes that openly flirt with Joy-Con implementations.
There’s Partner Party for Team Battle fans; River Survival for those that gotta tube; Sound Stage for Guitar Hero outcasts; and a new online Mariothon for when you’re in the mood to take L’s from eight-year-olds in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Birdo and Mouser didn’t make the character cut, but our fingers are crossed for Bowsette.
7. Dead Cells
Release Date: August 7 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)
Dead Cells is an overstimulated fever dream, sure, but Motion Twin’s debut hits every checkmark that’s attached to rogue-lites and Metroidvanias. It’s an action platformer that keeps you grounded and invested — throwing you head-first into a 2D pixelated nod to Dark Souls that replaces “serenity now” with “kill, die, learn, repeat.”
Its difficulty is right up there with the likes of Spelunky and Hollow Knight, but it balances those hair-pulling, pixel-perfect deaths with a ridiculously awesome upgrade system that makes “loop” feel like a dirty word. It’s an Early Access game done right and one that gives every run a genuine purpose.
Release date: February 14 (iOS, Android)
Mountains’ Florence is a twee look at love and heartbreak, and how both can permanently change a person for the better. It follows Florence Yeoh, a 20-something who puts her everyday routine on pause when she falls for a bearded cellist named Krish.
Florence’s story, told through a beautiful interactive puzzler, is wordless, swipe-friendly, and full of minigames that recall the golden days of WarioWare, but the way in which it unfolds and uses its aesthetic to carve relatable moments into your heart is second to none. Interactive art really can sweep you off your feet.
5. Monster Hunter: World
Release date: January 26 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
If you’ve been itching to invest all of your foreseeable free time into an expansive sandbox world, consider Monster Hunter: World! Easily the most accessible game in the Monster Hunter franchise, this one still doesn’t quite hold your hand as it runs you through its basic machinations, like how to track down monsters or properly upgrade your weapons, but it offers enough direction to send off even the newest players on a big dino-monster slaying adventure. Figuring out your combat style and quest strategy (sometimes with friends!) is just part of the fun.
4. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Release Date: September 7 (PS4)
Insomniac Games’ new bundle of joy is the greatest Spider-Man game that has ever existed. It’s a bold claim — considering Maximum Carnage and all — but much like 2014’s Sunset Overdrive, it webs up a transformative level of detail and attitude to show that big, expensive games don’t need to take themselves too seriously when there’s an absurd amount of fun to be had.
Spider-Man is a collectathon hidden inside of a modern beat-’em-up that’s overrun with bad guys, and while it’s not exactly torn from the pages of Dan Slott or Nick Spencer, it builds on its own character designs to get you where it hurts. In Insomniac’s world, Mary Jane is Nancy Drew; J. Jonah Jameson is Alex Jones in the flesh; and their interpretation of New York City is a heart-stopping digital playground you’ll want to swing through for days on end.
3. God of War
Release Date: April 20 (PS4)
God of War is pinned somewhere between a hyper-realistic Norse mythology simulator and a satisfying 30-hour beat-’em-up that turns an axe into freaking Mjolnir (y’know, Thor’s hammer?). Its storytelling, action sequences, art direction, and highly detailed approach to world-building draws up one of the greatest anti-hero stories ever told and delivers a sense of scale and scope that would throw George Miller into a tizzy.
One minute, you’re fully into a Man Of Steel-esque fight scene with a stranger and the next, you’re taking on a Valkyrie with your adoptive son. Its level of immersion detracts from God of War’s minor flaws and even goes on to question why some developers refuse to reinvent their intellectual properties. We may never see a Mass Effect FPS that looks like Cyberpunk 2077 or a Dead Space reboot that scares like P.T., but we are totally here for Cory Barlog and his team if they ever decide to do Wonder Woman justice.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
Release date: October 26 (PS4, Xbox One)
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a dissertation on art direction. It’s the vast cowboy simulator it set out to be, turning hunting, fishing, and good ol’ fashioned robbing into their own fully-realized systems, and it does so against a beautifully-rendered backdrop of the American West.
It harkens back to RDR1 with legendary animals, rare weapons, and a never ending crossfire of challenges and collectibles without feeling excessive or intrusive. If you’re not spending hours upon hours trying to craft a Crocodile Dundee-inspired Gambler’s Hat that you can show off at the poker tables, then you’re more than likely falling for the role-playing aspect of living as an outlaw who enjoys bar fights and chugging beers under the stars.
Red Dead Redemption 2 could have been middling Wild West fodder that leans on its inventive NPC design and approach to realism, but it uses those intricacies to accentuate its end-times story. As much as its arcs are about Arthur Morgan and his struggles with loyalty and his own ideals, they’re also about Dutch and the Van der Linde gang and the threads that keep them together.
It fills in the greatest story Rockstar Games has ever written — partially due to its gift for being a slow burn that can unload shotgun shells into your heart in a matter of seconds — and like the Tombstones and Hell Or High Waters before it, it dissects human emotions in an effort to take you places. It’s not perfect by any means, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is a next-gen game that actually feels like a next-gen game, and with the team at hand, it’s one that revolts against open-world norms and artistic constraints to set the bar for years to come.
Release date: January 25 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)
Not many masocore platformers are designed so that your seemingly endless string of deaths serves as a tie-in for a larger metaphor about overcoming depression and anxiety, but Celeste manages to do it artfully. Playing as Madeline, determined to summit the mountain Celeste, your pixelated character dashes, wall jumps, and climbs through the levels of the pseudo-haunted pastel 2D world, fighting the physical embodiment of her self-doubt, on her difficult, introspective journey to self-actualization.
There are hidden rooms to find and strawberries, crystal hearts, and mixtapes to collect, but none of those things really matter in the end: Celeste is about celebrating screen-sized accomplishments and wearing your death count as a badge of learned honor. Throw in the year’s best musical score by Lena Raine and you have a pixel art classic that’s here to make the video game world a better place.