Best of 2019: Five Special Awards

Back for a second round, this list of micro-lists is my chance to live a little and give a few shout-outs that I just can’t fit into other end-of-year posts. There are once again five categories, because that’s nice and neat. Two categories are new to 2019, two return from last year, and one is a modified version of a previous category. Time to clean up some loose ends.

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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Best Third-Party Game Publisher

Capcom

I started this category off last year as just “Best Game Publisher”, but the power of console-owning first party publishers means there’s a lot of overlap with my ever-dwindling console list (which goes live in a few days). So let’s give a spotlight to the publishing companies who don’t have the added motivation of trying to sell a videogame console, shall we?

Despite losing their partnership with Bungie, the Activision half of Activision-Blizzard actually had one of their better years in 2019. They relied a lot on nostalgia, but Crash Team Racing Racing: Nitro Fuelled and especially Call of Duty Modern Warfare went over refreshingly well with fans. Let’s also not forget that they published the GOTY winner at the Game Awards, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. EA had their share of standard EA drama, but because they own Respawn Entertainment, they got to publish the excellent Apex Legends and Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, so they have to be in the conversation. Somehow. Square Enix had a quiet release year by their standards but still finally put out Kingdom Hearts III, and they absolutely killed it at E3. Let’s not talk about Ubisoft and 2K.

For me it comes down to two contenders this year. Focus Home Interactive roared out of nowhere – sorry, France – to release three of the year’s biggest word-of-mouth gaming successes: Co-op zombie shooter World War Z, plot-driven stealth game A Plague Tale: Innocence, and pirate RPG Greedfall. They also managed to get last year’s Vampyr onto the Switch, and successfully sequelised The Surge. The Europeans deserve a whole bunch of credit for their efforts. But they just lose out to a resurgent Capcom if you ask me, because the former Japanese giant cannot seem to put a foot wrong right now. Not only is their Smash Bros-esque mobile card game Teppen better than it has any right to be, their Monster-hunting expansion Iceborne went some way towards bridging the gap between new and old fans of the series. Also, they might just have the best engine in gaming at this current moment. Devil May Cry V and Resident Evil 2 both manage to look absolutely incredible and run ridiculously smoothly. Both games also absolutely cleaned up with critics and fanbases alike, which is so rare in this day and age. You don’t have to tell Capcom that, though. They have a long memory.
Runner-Up Focus Home Interactive

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Best Downloadable Content Pack

Starlink: Crimson Moon

2019 brought some quality DLC to existing videogames, but as I sat down to write this list I was horrified to confirm that I hadn’t played most of the high-profile packs. I mean, I have no current reasons to play Civilisation VI or Final Fantasy XIV, which each received substantial additional content, I’ve been out of Destiny 2 for a long while, and I bounced off Monster Hunter World rather quickly when enough of my old-school MH friends walked away, so Iceborne was also out of my reach. The real crime is that I somehow didn’t make it back to Forza Horizon 4 long enough to shell out for its apparently ludicrous LEGO-themed expansion, which would have been good fun. But I did play some good DLC in 2019 regardless. In my E3 post this year I yelled about how much of a welcome surprise Borderlands 2‘s free expansion was, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with friends exploring the mechanical and personnel changes alike in Blazblue Cross Tag Battle‘s confident self-sequelising “2.0” update. Then, of course, there was the year-long festival of fresh modes, features, stages and characters in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, which have been well-documented and then some.

But for the absolute shame that it was largely ignored, I just have to shout out the generous, polished and genre-bending downloadable content bestowed upon Starlink: Battle For Atlas earlier this year. Only the Switch version of the base game seems to have sold anything near what Ubisoft wanted, so only the additional Star Fox pilots and their associated story missions are paid content. The massive update to the game’s mechanics, new main story content, and the addition of an entirely new explorable planet that hosts a fully-featured F-Zero-esque racing arena with multiple tracks and rewards? That’s all free for all owners of the game on any platform. I said it last year and I’ll say it again: If you enjoy space combat games, Starlink is a highly underrated gem that’s now more value for your time than ever before. Actually I think it’s on sale on the Switch eShop right now…
Runner-Up Borderlands 2: Commander Lilith & the Fight For Sanctuary
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Best Videogame User Interface

Oninaki

This was not a year for simple, clean videogame UIs. Kingdom Hearts 3 is a colourful mess. Fire Emblem Three Houses has awful font that’s hard on the eyes in portable mode. Borderlands 3 lags all over the place. Control never gives you enough information, and Death Stranding just has too much going on. At least the new Pokemon games seem to care about the player’s time, subdividing the player’s bag in the smartest way yet, introducing a handful of new button shortcuts that link previously separate menus and cutting the clutter by at least half on any given screen. But like, have you seen Oninaki? I have, which is why I included this award. The menus and in-game icons are just complex enough without overwhelming you or letting your eyes wander too far, and above all they are absolutely beyond stunning to look at. Someone at Tokyo RPG Factory needs a raise.
Runner-Up Pokemon Sword / Shield
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Least Bad Disney Remake

Aladdin

I saw three of the four Disney live-action remakes that came out in 2019 (Mary Poppins Returns and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil don’t count – They’re sequels). That’s right, four. We’ve had one a year for the last five years. This year we got four. But as redundant and occasionally fun-sapping as The Lion King was, as solidly unremarkable as Lady and the Tramp turned out, I actually quite like the new Aladdin. Sure, it loses some of the magic the original had, and tries to fit the animated story a bit too closely in places where some more adventurous deviation would have helped. But unlike some of the other films in its increasingly populous category, Guy Ritchie’s 2019 Aladdin gives back in an attempt to make up for what it loses. Will Smith is no Robin Williams, but where he is allowed to do his Will Smith thing, he’s actually rather entertaining. It sucks that this Jafar isn’t great at being maniacal, but he gets a cool down-to-earth extra scene with Aladdin. Some songs fail to reach the supernatural heights the ’90s animation managed, but the new song is a showstopper. If you have to pick one 2019 Disney remake to watch, for whatever reason, I say make it this one.
Runner-Up Lady and the Tramp
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Best K-Pop Rookie

Dongkiz

There were two frontrunners in this category for me this year. The first is 3YE, a K-Pop girl group showing some remarkable restraint in the fact that they have three members. Yes, only three members. In the whole group, not the sub-unit. Three. They released a pair of bangers – DMT and OOMM – that took the “girl crush” concept to new places, and they’re worth looking into. But in the rarefied, self-serious air of 2019, the closest thing to a joke group since Crayon Pop made their official debut, and they hit the ground running. The no-doubt-deliberately-named Dongkiz followed their “pre-debut” late 2018 release Nom with one of the best concepts in recent memory, which I’ll talk more about tomorrow. Then they followed that up with Fever, a short-and-sweet funk jam with an irreverent video and a funky zipper hook on the chorus. I’ll be following their career with great interest.
Runner-Up 3YE

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