Best of 2019: Top 4 Game Consoles

Yeah that’s right, I can’t keep up this PS Vita charade anymore – We’re doing just four this year. That extra listed item will be added onto a list near the end of this whole shebang.

Shades of 2012 flickered throughout this past year in console gaming. As the calm before the inevitable year-long media storm awaiting us with the upcoming next-gen console battle, solid exclusives were still around but the burden of true momentum fell to consoles outside of the typical main two. While in 2012 those alternative consoles were the Vita and the, uh, Wii U, 2019 had an alternative that was more than capable of picking up the slack. And yes, I know that this year was also a fascinating year for PC gaming, but this list has always been console-focused. Sorry.

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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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4. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

It’s a bit weird – The 3DS well and truly stomped the PS Vita throughout its life, enjoying many more years of strong sales. But the PS Vita took years to properly die, kept on life support by a huge discrepancy in market interest between Japan and the west. Meanwhile here we are, a mere six months after the 3DS’ last major release, and the Nintendo handheld feels so definitively finished that the mere sight of one may give Tetsuya Nomura cold sweats. Nintendo has given their classic line that they will continue to support the 3DS, and sure, there are still firmware patches coming out. But the game front has been dead-silent since June.

So this appraisal is pretty much about 2019’s first half, when the Switch Lite was little more than an ill-defined rumour circulating the internet. Since we got Yokai Watch 3 at the end of last year in Australia, that means just four big games – two remakes and two new ones heavy on referential content. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story got a full remake with extra content and that game remains an absolute gem, so if you didn’t play it initially you were in for a treat. Likewise for the surprising appearance of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Etrian Odyssey Nexus kept the flag flying for a franchise that has arguably had its golden age on the 3DS, then Atlus did that thing they love to do and released a game on a portable at the last possible moment. The date: June 4th. The game: Persona Q2, an adorable series crossover event with striking art and rewarding dungeon-crawl gameplay. And thusly did the 3DS say goodbye.


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3. Playstation 4

(LAST YEAR: 1st)

The PS4 had a bit of a strange 2019. As far as features and services it was even more static than last year, content to enjoy the built-up goodwill from half a decade of mostly happy customers and quietly slip into second place on the all-time list of best-selling consoles. It is now behind only it’s own flesh and blood, the Playstation 2. Sony skipped E3 entirely this year, choosing instead to load up on bullet points for next year’s inevitable PS5 media blowout. And yet it also officially announced the PS5 in one of the least exciting ways possible, a Wired interview with lead technician Mark Cerny.

This left the PS4 and its Pro cousin with only two major 2019 exclusives to paint a compelling picture for new customers. Neither of them exactly enjoyed universal acclaim, as the solid-but-derivative Days Gone sat alone in April, damned with faint praise, while Death Stranding took a different tactic in November – so weird that it divided critics/audiences right down the middle. The usual squad of de facto Japanese third-party exclusives either didn’t show up or decided to release on the Switch as well (I suppose Trails of Cold Steel 3 is the only technical exception for now), leaving the reasonably straightforward remake of PS1 classic MediEvil in a lonely support role. The PS4 has never really needed exclusives to sell, and next year looks like an amazing swan song for the absolute juggernaut. But 2019 wasn’t a year for the highlight reel.
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2. Xbox One

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

Some of you reading will probably feel this is a bit of a reach, because Microsoft didn’t exactly throw a world-beating exclusive into the 2019 market either. But it did go toe-to-toe with Sony’s triple-A output, presenting a similarly staggered double-header with Crackdown 3 and Gears 5. While the former didn’t set exactly the world on fire, I had a whole lot of fun with it in cross-platform co-op, and the latter holds the highest metacritic score of any 2019 exclusive from either of the big two console behemoths. By all accounts the new Gears is a surprisingly strong, refreshing entry in a stagnating series, packed with content and absolutely stunning to look at. Throw in meaningful new content for Cuphead and Sea of Thieves, the long-awaited release of the Halo Reach remaster, definitively superior visuals on most big releases thanks to the X, then add a truly stellar update to the greatest controller ever made in the Elite Series 2. Now you have a console family that, in the 2019 vacuum, is at least neck-and-neck with its main competitor.

But if you ask me 2019 for the Xbox One is really summed up by that E3 show, when Microsoft announced more substantial development studio purchases and unveiled Game Pass Ultimate. This represented the long-awaited single-sub dream, unifying Windows 10, Xbox One, Microsoft Rewards and the vaunted Gold service in a way many hoped for but few believed would happen. While the Game Pass approach still has its fair share of natural limitations – I’ve definitely felt the sting of seeing games I’ve started playing leave the library with little warning – this combined service kept me coming back throughout 2019’s second half just to get those sweet reward points for playing indies and first party tentpoles. That meant I sampled more games overall, which is always a big plus for me. So MS takes the 2019 win over Sony in my eyes.
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1. Nintendo Switch

(LAST YEAR: 2nd)

Maybe the easiest list topper I’ve seen in these past seven years. 2017 may have been its blockbuster launch party, but 2019 was well and truly the year of the Nintendo Switch. As I said in my latest multi-thousand-word post on the thing, it isn’t unlike a Nintendo console to fire on all cylinders two years in, but this case is still remarkable because of the sheer, never-ending, anxiety-inducing torrent of game releases that took place on the Switch this year. Sure, the first six months were light on first-party hits (only the best LABO kit yet, the best Yoshi game since the first one, and no less than two Mario platformers) but look underneath and you’ll find a season of quality Mario Tennis Aces content, that massive Starlink upgrade, the return of Travis Touchdown, the triumphant Switch debut of Phoenix Wright, a cavalcade of premium indies from Slay the Spire to Cadence of Hyrule to Wargroove, and the surprise launch of the Tetris 99 phenomenon. Then July happened.

Suddenly, we had Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 into Fire Emblem: Three Houses into Astral Chain into Daemon X Machina into Zelda: Link’s Awakening into Dragon Quest XI S into Ring Fit Adventure into Luigi’s Mansion 3 into Mario & Sonic at the Tokyo Olympics into Pokemon Sword & Shield. Darting in amongst the exclusives we had constant updates to Super Smash Bros Ultimate alongside mega-profile third party ports like The Witcher 3, Crash Team Racing, Overwatch, Mortal Kombat 11 and three full Assassin’s Creed games. Too many quality indie games to count put the Switch at the top of their marketing budgets, with the likes of Katana ZERO, Steamworld Quest, Baba is You and The Touryst winning critical acclaim as either timed or full Switch exclusives. SNES games finally got added to the Nintendo Switch Online service, and of course, portable gaming fans were blessed with the wonderful Switch Lite. But I already wrote far too much about that thing.

So yeah, 2019 goes to the Switch I reckon.

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