Shovel Knight Showdown takes the popular indie platformer series and turns it into a four-player arena battler, with great results. With a large amount of unlockable content, in-game challenges, and solo modes, it's a deceptively robust package that has the potential to be a long-term party staple. Shovel Knight Showdown is great even if you've never played the original games.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards revisits the formula one last time with new maps and bosses, as well as a brand new card game. It's ambitious, but it's also the least essential of the major Shovel Knight episodes. If you own Treasure Trove, play Shovel of Hope and Specter of Torment first, then circle back to King of Cards if you still want more.
Life Is Strange 2 has a better core relationship at the heart of its game, but it fails them with the episodic adventure's at times boring, formulaic episode structure; something its predecessor did not suffer from. Some of the story beats are preachy and unearned. Where Life Is Strange 2 hits its stride is more a technical feat: in how its core relationship between brothers Sean and Daniel becomes a game mechanic in itself, and how all the choices you make shape Daniel as he grows up.
Phoenix Point fits firmly on the foundation of modern XCOM, but rethinks combat with an action point system and the ability to free aim. While the latter seems like a gimmick, it's actually a wonderful tactical option that pushes the strategy forward. It's a shame then that a reliance on procedural generation leads to a lack of variety, weapon balance isn't great, and the technical execution is rough. Phoenix Point is a great starting point for something amazing, but it's not quite there yet.
Shenmue 3 suffers from hamfisted exposition, tedious repetition, monotonous grinding, and a heap of other fundamental flaws that are inexcusable in 2019. However, its environments are so confident in their sense of place that exploration is a capable redeemer, and the game is at times, on that ground alone, worth playing.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order comes painfully close to being the best action game of the year, but it ultimately falls short due to pacing problems and a host of technical issues. Still, this is the first step into a larger world for a franchise that has persistently struggled since its acquisition by EA.
Need for Speed Heat is a conglomeration Need for Speeds past. A little Payback, a little Rivals, a little Hot Pursuit, a little Underground. The result is a good foundation to build upon, but weird AI issues, a lack of variety in events, and some poor tuning in cop chases mean it's not great. Maybe next gen will see Ghost Games bringing a little more real heat.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 offers a glimpse of what the series could be if it fully committed to a story mode or really invested in becoming a sportier companion to Mario Party. Most of the minigames are fairly strong and the whole package is dripping with polish. As far as minigame collections go, this one can carry the torch just fine—but maybe it's not the one you pick to light the fire at game night.
Death Stranding might be Kojima's boldest game to date. It may also be his most tedious. Either way, its originality outweighs its sometimes exhausting structure and poor pacing... but only just. Maybe not a game I would recommend to everyone, but certainly one of the most interesting games of 2019.