As 2019 gradually fades into obscurity, it’s time for my yearly tradition of somehow ranking subjective experiences. This year is easier for me, though, as my free time has virtually disappeared (as you can probably tell from my complete lack of writing). As a result, I’m no longer diving deep into complicated experiences until they yield their goods. My metric is simple – is this fun? Does it inspire me? Does it make me feel? And if the answer is no – from a really early point – then it gets pushed aside.
Movies are easier to get through thanks to a much shorter time commitment than a game, so instead, they just get thrown in the outbox. My list of games, though, is more an example of the need for good design throughout – and how a jump in style can put me off forever. So let’s take a look!
Films of 2019
- Lego Movie 2 went bigger but ended up being a convoluted story that wasn’t bad but nowhere near as good as the first (which, to be fair, is a perfect movie).
- Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame were totally fine but kind of confirmed my own personal Marvel apathy.
- Shazam! Was much better, and showed exciting things that could come from a lighter DC universe.
- The Missing Link is lovely, but missing a little of that Kubo magic (Laika is still one of the most exciting studios though).
- I really disliked Godzilla: King of The Monsters as I found it just consisted of uninspired, blurry monster battles and nothing else.
- Crawl was great but ran out of steam at the end.
- Stuber was fine, if instantly forgettable.
- Abominable was the same.
- Terminator: Dark Fate was T2 Redux, and the fight choreography was great, but there is so much potential for new stories within that universe (although it genuinely has the funniest scene of the year).
- Joker’s gritty cinematography and compelling lead performance couldn’t stop it from having a garbage script and story that is about nothing.
- The Addams Family is sweet, but where’s my live-action version so Oscar Isaac can do more than just the voice of Gomez?
- 6 Underground is either a masterwork of pure movement or total garbage (I cannot decide).
- And finally, my review of Frozen 2 was pretty critical (there is no antagonist, and therefore no narrative push), but I didn’t publish it as my kids insist it’s better than the first (they’re wrong).
Notable exceptions I haven’t seen yet
- Hobbs & Shaw
- Jojo Rabbit
- Knives Out
Disappointment of the Year
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a below-average sci-fi movie that does everything it can to reject the ideas that burst out of The Last Jedi. An overstuffed narrative, with criminally underwritten characters and a stupid twist. Star Wars has been the most important set of stories in my life, and they’ve influenced everything I’ve ever created, but TRoS is a Star Wars movie that I have no desire to ever watch again. Because why? An AI was fed Star Wars tropes and made a movie. What could I have possibly missed that I didn’t see the first time? It does nothing. It says nothing. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
My favourite films of the year
- The Kid Who Would Be King is a lovely, rousing tale of British school kids finding the strength in themselves and each other to meet a legacy (it also echoes one of The Last Jedi’s best story moments without someone else dialling it back).
- Happy Death Day 2U is a brilliantly original sequel that side-steps into another genre and somehow makes me fall even harder for Jessica Rothe. (There had damn well better be a third one, Blumhouse).
- Dora and The Lost City of Gold is incredibly charming and by far the best Tomb Raider movie.
- Detective Pikachu has no right to be as great as it is.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home is my favourite live-action Spidey movie ever.
- Alita Battle Angel is a really enjoyable sci-fi adventure with a great performance through layers of CG by Rosa Salazar, but please hurry up and make the next half of the movie.
- Us is a great thriller/horror than makes me even more excited for whatever Jordan Peele makes next (and has such a brilliant final shot).
- John Wick 3 is paper-thin, but holy crap when the paper is this good then it’s such a blast. Gun ballet.
- Aladdin is an interesting one – every rewatch reveals something new, the original additions bits are great, and the two leads are just perfect. Naomi Scott blasting out Speechless is pure spine chills every time.
- Ready Or Not was a blast (and everyone in it got blasted) with a great central performance by Samara Weaving holding it all together with sheer tenacity.
- And Jumanji The Next Level is even better than the first (second?). Also, it’s much more Karen Gillan’s show this time around and I would now watch any action-adventure with her in it.
My Best Film of 2019
One Cut Of The Dead was released in Japan in 2017 and was huge, but it took its time coming west. There were a few select screenings at the end of 2018, but it only got wide release when Shudder (aka the best video streaming service) added it in 2019, so it totally counts as this year. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, as it would be the best film of any year. Don’t let the synopsis fool you – sure, it’s about a group of low-budget filmmakers who try to make a zombie movie when they get attacked by real zombies, but that isn’t even half the story. To say any more would be to spoil one of the sweetest, most uplifting and purely satisfying films I’ve ever seen. I watched it twice in two days and I can’t wait to make it a third.
Games of 2019
- Ace Combat 7 is really compelling (especially in VR), but that mid-game difficulty spike just drains all the fun.
- Dead or Alive 6 is good, but still can’t quite reach the series’ heights.
- I found Devil May Cry 5 too boring to continue with, and far too restrictive in terms of combat options.
- Nintendo’s Labo VR kit is entertaining in the short term, but then you’ve just got cardboard to put away somewhere (see also: all other Labo kits).
- Cuphead forgoes fun for challenges and quite frankly no-one’s got time for that.
- Rage 2 was a fun, mindless blast until it repeatedly locked up my Xbox One, so it got deleted.
- Outer Wilds was a contender for Game of the Year until I realised I didn’t want to try and go through that bit for the tenth time.
- Cadence of Hyrule led me to a wall that I couldn’t get over, and I went back to the more immediate thrills of Crypt of the Necrodancer’s enclosed dungeons.
- My Friend Pedro starts very cool but then has one of the worst mid-game design decisions I’ve ever seen. Platforming? Why? Just, why?
- Tetris Effect made me cry into my VR headset (in a good way), but I never felt compelled to push into the later levels.
- I wanted to love Sayonara Wild Hearts so much, but all I found was a repetitive game with shiny visuals.
- Vampyr’s great design and style got lost in needlessly tricky unavoidable combat.
- My son loves Luigi’s Mansion 3 but I found it boring.
- But there is none more boring than whatever Red Dead Redemption 2 was trying to be.
- And finally, Grindstone’s fantastically visceral puzzling lost me when I had to go back and…grind.
Notable exceptions I haven’t played yet
- Jedi: Fallen Order
Disappointment of the year
Astral Chain’s opening level is one of the best levels of any game ever, but the rest lost me in complicated options and controls that never quite clicked. To go from one to the other was so jarring, especially as Platinum is one of my favourite developers. Come on, just announce a Nier Automata sequel with Yoko Taro.
My favourite games of the year
- Tetris 99 shouldn’t work – Tetris Battle Royale sounds like a desperate Alan Partridge pitch – but somehow does beautifully.
- World War Z melts Left 4 Dead into a crazed battle with floods of zombies and has b-movie charm in spades.
- Super Mario Maker 2 is beyond generous in terms of content. You could play this all year without getting bored. And now it even has Link!
- I’m not hugely far into The Outer Worlds, but I kind of love how individual it all feels. Can’t wait to play through with different characters and moods.
- Likewise, I’m only an hour into Kojima’s latest occasionally interactive sci-fi movie, but the insane scope of ideas in Death Stranding is only matched by the sheer technical beauty of it all.
- What The Golf? is a sparky, funny distraction that seems to have as much fun as you are.
- Remnant – From The Ashes was also in line for Game of 2019, until I hit the same kind of wall that beats me in other Souls-style games. I would love to give it the time it needs (if only I had it).
- Speed Demons is a pure Michael Bay action sequence that gives me a distinct Split/Second buzz.
- Talking about that specific buzz, Wreckfest is the finest racer in years with perfect handling, great AI and an amazing damage model that means every single race is full of drama and hilarity. #3 in my best of year list.
- And finally, Untitled Goose Game was this close to being my game of the year, but it just got pushed to #2. So funny, so great, and a perfect ending. It had to take something very special to beat it.
My Best Game of 2019
A Plague Tale: Innocence is something very special. It’s hard to summarise why this story is so affecting, but I think a large part is the beautifully written dialogue and careful, patient direction that tells you so much more in its restraint than many others do in action. Amicia, the sister who spends the game protecting her brother, is a wonderful character. As she goes from scared, to brave, to desperate, you’re drawn in closer and closer until the epic finale. And interwoven in this story are the rats, a reoccurring wave of eyes and teeth that are genuinely unsettling. First with rocks, then fire, then fumes, your journey into this hell of early 1300s France is touching and epic. A truly unforgettable experience.
A final word about TV
I never used to like watching TV shows, but a combination of Fleabag, Killing Eve and The Terror changed that. I’ve currently just finished The Mandalorian, I’m halfway through Watchmen, and I have Chernobyl ready to go. It would feel weird to not mention these as the quality is so high, and the emotional payoffs are so strong, that I’m starting to wonder how long it will be before TV takes over from films and (especially) games as my go-to choice of entertainment. Being spoilt for choice is no bad thing though! Happy New Year!