“A delayed game is eventually good; a rushed game is bad forever.” – Shigeru Miyamoto
My game of the year: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I didn’t get a chance to game too much during the year due to other commitments, but of the games I was able to play, I can safely say Fire Emblem: Three Houses was the best.
I remember first hearing about this game’s existence all the way back in 2017 in a Fire Emblem-themed Nintendo Direct. I wasn’t too scared that we didn’t have any information other than a vague 2018 release window, but when E3 2018 rolled around and we were finally introduced to Fire Emblem: Three Houses — now delayed into 2019 and with only a surprisingly lacklustre trailer to show for it — I began to worry. It wasn’t just the delay, though: the lack of marketing leading up to its release had me questioning Nintendo’s (and developers Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo’s) confidence in the game; I’m glad the game was able to put those concerns to rest.
Underneath Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ textures and the relatively rare frame-rate drops lies a beautifully complex, yet somehow simple, battle system that sucked me into completing every pathway it has to offer. Funnily enough, as well, it’s the aspect of the game I was most apprehensive about — the Persona-style High School Simulator — that has become one of my favourite parts of it, forcing me to meticulously plan the skills I wanted each of my students (not units, students; I use that term because the game actually makes you care about the characters) to learn. The game surrounds that High School Simulator with solid gameplay mechanics like Combat Arts, Gambits, terrain advantages and permadeath (which can be turned off if you want to).
Fire Emblem: Three Houses deserves to be on the same level as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in terms of reinventing classic Nintendo franchises; Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo should be proud of their effort.
Honourable mention: The Outer Worlds
Developer Obsidian Entertainment wants to distance itself from the trainwreck that is Bethesda right now, but it’s such an antithesis to Fallout 76 that I don’t believe that’ll ever happen: while Fallout 76 is predominantly focused on the online experience, The Outer Worlds has taken inspiration from its Obsidian-developed predecessors with a strong narrative focus; and while Fallout 76 was an incredibly buggy mess at launch, The Outer Worlds had no such issues. I understand that the two games are competing in different markets now, with Fallout 76 positioned as a live service compared to The Outer Worlds’ single-player experience, but Fallout fans who were left disheartened by Bethesda’s latest offering (including its $100-per-year subscription model) can find solace in Obsidian’s vibrant, witty sci-fi RPG.
Honourable mention: Super Mario Maker 2
I had never played the original Super Mario Maker, but I’d heard enough positive thoughts about it to be extremely excited for the sequel on the Switch, and it has more than delivered: what I’ve seen from the community and the level editor itself has been absolutely phenomenal, and Course World has so many creative, ingenious designs already — allowing many to build The Legend of Zelda-esque dungeons — that I can’t wait to jump back in. My only gripe with the game has been how difficult it is to play local multiplayer with friends due to the amount of loading screens and menus you have to navigate for what should be a relatively simple feature.
2019’s biggest hits and misses:
Miss (but not by much!): Pokémon Sword and Shield
I was cautious with my excitement heading into Pokémon Sword and Shield, and my impressions coming out of its campaign are mixed at best. On the one hand, Pokémon’s timeless gameplay loop and battle formula are as good as they’ve ever been, but on the other hand, the graphics and animations look like little more than an upscaled 3DS title. While I do appreciate the gameplay and the reduced barrier to entry when playing online, I’m not too sure it was worth losing the Global Trade Centre, more than 50% of the Pokémon in existence, the Battle Frontier, and… well, good graphics. There’s a good time to be found here for sure, and I’ve got no doubt that I’ll have lots of fun breeding and trying to build the ultimate team, but I can’t help but feel that Game Freak cut a few corners to cope with time constraints.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t like the games at all, but I do wonder what Pokémon Sword and Shield might have looked like if Game Freak had been able to delay it (I know the logistics of merchandise, the trading card game and the TV shows made that difficult) and we got a game with better gameplay, compelling single-player post-game content and presentation that was really worthy of a home console.
Miss: FIFA 20’s Nintendo Switch “legacy edition”
EA’s flagship series has had a rocky relationship with the Switch. FIFA 18 launched on the console without the Journey mode and the Frostbite engine that console and PC players were accustomed to, but players — myself included — forgave that, believing that EA simply couldn’t get the engine running on the less-powerful Switch. FIFA 19 was largely the same game; EA did add the Champions’ League content and house rules that also came to other platforms, but the graphics and textures were the same and, once again, the Journey was missing. I never picked up FIFA 19 on Switch because it wasn’t improved enough for me to justify it, and now I believe that EA is using a lack of sales to justify its lacklustre FIFA ports. The “legacy edition” of FIFA 20 that Switch owners have been, ahem, treated to, only includes a roster update and the same gameplay improvements as FIFA 19. That’s all. No Volta, no dynamic substitutions, no improved Frostbite engine… that’s it.
This might sound like a strange pick, but the sheer ridiculousness of this story is enough to put Just Dance 2020 down in the history books. People of the internet, I present to you the last game that will ever be made for the Nintendo Wii. Ubisoft’s decision makers saw a market for Just Dance on a console that’s more than a decade old, and they were 100% right: Just Dance is selling better on the Wii than it is on the PS4 and the Xbox One. On top of that, Ubisoft has gifted Wii consoles with Just Dance 2020 to hospitals in order to assist with physical therapy. While I do agree with the common sentiment that hospitals should be using current-generation systems if they’re going to use games to improve health, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to highlight where it all began — Just Dance on the Nintendo Wii.
Just Dance 2020 is the last Wii release, and it highlights the glorious impact the Wii and its motion controls had on the industry; while other players are moving onto new technologies, I think we could all use a reminder of where motion controls really began.
What I’m looking forward to in 2020:
Metroid Prime 4 and a potential remastered Metroid Prime Trilogy:
We don’t have too much information about the next instalment in the Metroid Prime series — to the point where we can summarise it in a single sentence: it was announced back in 2017, and Nintendo restarted its development with Retro Studios in 2019 after it wasn’t happy with the previous (and never officially named) developer’s efforts. I don’t know exactly what I want to hear about Metroid Prime 4, but as someone who has yet to experience the series as a whole, I’m hopeful for at least some kind of update. I know that it’s still probably a fair way away from a release date or window, but perhaps the long-rumoured HD remaster of the original trilogy might whet players’ appetites while we wait.
A darker The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel that features more dungeons:
Breath of the Wild revitalised The Legend of Zelda as a series and basically turned my Switch into a $400 Zelda machine for the first few months of 2017, and based on the trailer we saw last year it looks as though the sequel is taking on a darker aesthetic. I don’t want to speculate too much, but I am excited about the possibility of exploring an underground labyrinth with all of the new innovations we saw in Breath of the Wild. The one concern that I hope Nintendo addresses in the sequel is the lack of major dungeons, but since the sequel appears to be building on the existing world I’m sure the company will deliver; even if it doesn’t, though, Breath of the Wild was such a joy to play that I know the sequel will be too.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons:
I understand development delays. In fact, I welcome them if they’re absolutely necessary, and I believe the majority agrees with me (at least, I know my editor-in-chief does!). That being said, I don’t know how much longer I can wait for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I tried to get into the series with New Leaf back in 2012, but found my interest waning pretty quickly; I sincerely hope that this is the game to get me invested in the series, and I can finally see why so many people are excited to be indebted to Tom Nook.
2019 was a year that many of the major developers — particularly Bethesda, Blizzard, EA and Epic Games — would like to forget, marred with controversies surrounding their business practices; greedy monetisation, shady exclusivity deals and corporate greed in the form of rushed releases that simply weren’t up to par. That being said, there was so much more to be excited about: we had Mario Maker 2, a platformer like no other; Fire Emblem gave us classic tactical gameplay; Ben’s Game of the Year, Untitled Goose Game, was a charming puzzle game that excited almost everyone; and those are just the major highlights. I just hope that game developers heed Miyamoto’s advice and realise that sometimes it’s important to delay a game rather than relentlessly pursuing the annual release cycle, because that results in bugs and poor design choices that damage the brands we love so much.