Slay the Spire cleverly mixes the roguelite and card game genres, bringing with it a deep and satisfying strategy layer that encourages you to experiment over the course of a multitude of runs to the top of the tower. I can only hope that it continues to see regular updates, because it's already one of my favorite games of 2019.
Sony San Diego overhauls almost every single aspect of MLB The Show with this update, with the outstanding March to October and Moments modes leading the way. At least for right now, it seems destined to go down as the best baseball sim of the generation, and maybe as one of the best sports sims as well.
Wargroove takes a classic formula and repurposes it for a more traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting (with battlepups). With its large number of modes and impressive suite of creation tools, it's almost enough to fill the Advance Wars-sized hole in our heart.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate feels like a mic drop for the series. It packs in almost every conceivable character and stage, plus a sizable single-player mode. Spirits don't quite land, but the battles feel better than ever. It feels like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be a Switch party staple for a long time to come.
Battlefield's traditional strengths remain firmly in place amid DICE's return to World War II: great graphics, audio, and a scope that few other games can equal. But it's a thinner package than usual, and the decision to hold important modes like Firestorm until 2019 feels like a crucial misstep. Battlefield 5 is a good shooter as it is, but we wouldn't blame you if you decided to wait until it's had some time to mature.
Valkyria Chronicles 4's cel-shaded graphics look sharp as ever on the Nintendo Switch, and the tactics provide a sturdy challenge over the course of more than 60 hours of gameplay. Alas, the cast and the story don't quite measure up to the original. If this is indeed a true revival for Valkyria Chronicles, I hope the next entry finds a new and interesting spin on the somewhat tired Second Europan War.
You can debate the merits of some of this version's additions, but the same strong core that has pushed Forza Horizon to the top of the driving sim heap remains firmly in place here. It's an incredibly impressive graphical production that puts even its beautiful predecessor to shame, and it's a true pleasure when out on the road. Forza Horizon 4 is one of a handful of showcase games that truly ought to sell you on an Xbox One X and a 4K TV.
The two sides of NBA 2K are once again on display in this year's version. One side is the immensely polished and ambitious design that has propelled it to the top of the sports sim heap. The other is the tacky, brand-heavy microtransactions that dominate its showcase mode. I think the former outweighs the latter, but it's too bad that microtransactions overshadow what should otherwise be an amazing love letter to the sport of basketball. At least there's always franchise mode.
NHL 19 takes some interesting risks with World of Chel while bringing badly-needed improvements to the gameplay. Its modes are customarily solid, but the faster, tighter action on the ice is what makes it possible to recommend NHL 19 to newcomers and lapsed hockey fans alike.
PES 2019 is a marvelous soccer sim on the field, and remarkably dated off of it. Those willing to forgive its still-awful user interface and simplistic modes may find magic, but its ramshackle presentation doesn't do justice to the hard work put into the gameplay.
The Messenger establishes itself as an excellent tribute to old-school platformers, then proceeds to rapidly up the ante with a series of outstanding gameplay twists. I'm deeply impressed by The Messenger's ambition and polish. It's a must-own for any retro enthusiast.
Madden 19 is a solid, if occasionally ragged, follow-up to last year's big transition to Frostbite. The improvements to the animation and franchise mode stand out, but Longshot: Homecoming feels like a step back from last year's ambitious introduction. The multitude of interesting but mostly subtle updates ultimately make this an entry that is primarily geared toward hardcore fans of the series.
Ni No Kuni 2 is a sweet-tempered and attractive RPG with a strong castle-building mechanic, but it's dragged down by a jarringly ugly overworld, mandatory fetch quests, and a lot of padding. It's a pleasant throwback for fans of the genre, but it ultimately fails to meet the high bar set by other big-budget JRPGs.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is one of the most enjoyable multiplayer games of 2017, especially if you like Star Wars. It's also more flawed than it should be. Battlefront 2 doesn't deserve to be wholly defined by loot boxes, but it's inescapable given the impact they have on some of the core modes. This is why you don't tie gameplay to microtransactions.
The action on the field is a bit more nuanced; the presentation has been spruced up; and there's a new chapter of the Journey to digest. But at its heart, FIFA 18 is much the same as its always been: the sort of fast and frantic soccer game you play on the couch with your friends. And that makes it plenty fun.
There's so much to love about NBA 2K18 on the Switch, but there's no denying that there are some major flaws here, especially in the flagship MyCareer mode. As much as I love NBA 2K's ambition in creating a full portable port, it's tough to wholeheartedly recommend in light of its persistent technical problems and other niggling flaws.
I was delighted by Metroid: Samus Returns. It hits pretty much every note you hope to see in a Metroid game, and MercurySteam's console background is evident in their flair for the dramatic— whether in their introductory cutscenes or their boss battles. Their dramatic reinvention reinvigorates the source material and strengthens the story's bridge to Super Metroid. In short: They nailed it.
Madden 18 shines where it matters most: On the field. The transition to Frostbite is seamless, and the balance of the running, the pass rush, and coverage feels better than ever. By comparison, Longshot is a little rougher, but it's an interesting and ambitious first attempt. Between Longshot, the Frostbite transition, the more balanced gameplay, and MUT Squads, there's a lot to like about Madden 18. In a four year march that has seen steady progress with each iteration, this is the best upgrade yet.
Hey! Pikmin is an interesting reinvention for the series, but it doesn't really go deep enough to be an interesting and rewarding puzzle platformer. It winds up being an adequately executed collect-a-thon—a time-waster that offers a new take on a familiar formula, but fails to take it in any bold new direction.