The 15 Best Games You Probably Missed in 2019

The 15 Best Games You Probably Missed in 2019

From flight sim to train sim, these are the best games that probably slipped past your radar this year.

2019 was a strange 12 months for video games. The past few years have been littered with huge, critically beloved games of all shades, while 2019 was far more scattered. You can ask a dozen people what their favorite game of the year was, and they'll all undoubtedly give you a different answer, which I think is a good thing. While triple-A games still dominated the conversation, many still had major caveats. Jedi: Fallen Order had its technical frustrations; the action in Control was tolerable at best, Death Stranding is its own polarizing thing.

That means there was a lot of room for smaller games to shine. Just look at last night's The Game Awards. Disco Elysium, a niche CRPG from a small studio of Estonian developers, won four major awards. That sort of thing is great to see. Outer Wilds, likewise, has been another critical darling this year from the indie scene. That's not even mentioning Grindstone, Katana Zero, Untitled Goose Game, and a host of other buzzy releases from 2019.

For this list, I'd like to turn my focus not just to indie games of the year that were underrated, but other games that slipped through the cracks too. From the double-A studios to the lone developers, here are 15 games we loved from 2019 that you probably missed.

You can race to the finish, or take your time in A Short Hike. | Adam Robinson-Yu

A Short Hike

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Get it Here: itch.io

It's been a great year for hiking in games. Death Stranding. A Short Hike. ...Well, maybe that's it.

A Short Hike, which began as a Humble Original earlier this year, released sneakily onto other storefronts this past summer, It quickly captured the hearts of players everywhere. Its Animal Crossing-like tone, mish-mashed with a chill vibe and lo-fi aesthetics made A Short Hike a trail many didn't want to end. It's an adorable short game that can be done in under an hour, or you can loiter about, talking to the fellow hikers you see on the trail, hunting collectables, and taking your time to admire the beautiful scenery. It's a delightful little game.

Recommended If You Like: Animal Crossing, nature

Ace Combat 7 released early in the year, and still has loud contingent of fans. | Bandai Namco Studios

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Get it Here: Amazon

If you want this year to feel extra long, just think back on one of the hottest memes of early 2019: the dog in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. Do you remember that pup? It was very obviously just a picture of a dog, standing completely in still in a cutscene. It turned out, there was a sad story behind the dog: it's a memorial for a developer's own dog that died. So there the canine is, immortalized in Ace Combat 7.

Ace Combat 7, itself, is a stellar flight-action game (according to people with much more refined taste than me). It's an arcade-leaning flight game, but its air-combat is second to almost none. It was a hit among Ace Combat fans this year, our own Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey included. It's also perhaps the most stunning game of the year, when you're talking about capital-G Graphics. Aside from the solemn dog photo, of course.

Recommended If You Like: The X-Wing series (R.I.P.), sad stories about loving your dog so much that you put them in a game

Age of Wonders: Planetfall blends two genres together to great effect. | Triumph Studios/Paradox Interactive

Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Get it Here: Amazon

Age of Wonders has always been a strange beast amidst the 4X strategy genre. On top of the colony management that you'd expect of a 4X game, it also offers up turn-based ground combat, a la XCOM. It's basically Civilization meets XCOM, or so writes Reviews Editor Mike Williams in his review. "Planetfall's unique mix of colony expansion and tactics combat allows for it to stand out in the crowd, on top of some fairly compelling writing in its campaign," he writes about the strange mash-up. While Planetfall ditches the usual fantasy trappings of the series, the newfound sci-fi stylings of the 4X game work out quite nicely.

Recommended If You Like: Both XCOM and Civilization, anything with Paradox's name attached to it

Alt-Frequencies

Platforms: PC, iOS, Android
Get it Here: Steam

Alt-Frequencies is something of a radio mystery drama-I guess for the modern generation, like a crime podcast-only it's made interactive. Previously, the developers behind it were known for the much buzzed about A Normal Lost Phone. Alt-Frequencies takes the intimate mystery-hunting to new heights-you're uncovering a giant government conspiracy this time, not some person's life.

In his review, Guides Editor Jake Green draws sharp comparisons between the value of truth today, when compared to something far more toxic. "Alt-Frequencies holds a mirror up to the state of the Information Age in 2019," he writes. "Facts are becoming drastically less useful in the fight against fascism, and having an expert on your failing radio show is likely to draw in fewer listeners than a deluded sensationalist. It's these parallels between the story of Alt-Frequencies, and the very real issues facing us today that make it so easy to recommend."

Recommended If You Like: Listening to audiobooks, text adventures

Anodyne 2: Return to Dust

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Get it Here: Steam

I love PlayStation 1 aesthetics. You know what I mean: The jagged low-poly models, the often-stunning background art. The system houses many games with iconic soundtracks, too. Anodyne 2 is a game made with the PS1 firmly in mind, and still manages to bring back the 2D Zelda-like perspective of the first game too. It even has a strange rhythm game sandwiched in.

Admittedly, I never finished Anodyne 2, but it's still a game that months later, I regret not playing more of. Usually when life gets in the way of finishing a game, I blame it on fate; maybe I really didn't need to spend more time with that game. But here at the end of 2019, Anodyne 2 stands as the exception. I wish I played more of it, because what I did explore of its strange, unique world didn't just tickle my nostalgia, it made me want to see what was next.

Recommended If You Like: Listening to audiobooks, text adventures

Devotion will forever be known for its controversy, but the game itself should be seen as a horror cult classic. | Red Candle Games

Devotion

Platforms: PC

Red Candle Games' previous game, Detention, was one of my favorite games of 2017-arguably the most "competitive" year of gaming this generation when you take into account the amount of potential classics that released. The studio's follow-up, Devotion, seemed poised to repeat what made Detention such a potent horror-adventure game. Where Detention twisted the machinations of a point-and-click adventure with its real-world significant tale about Martial Law in Taiwan, Devotion took a step into first-person 3D exploration, borrowing a page from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro's P.T.

P.T.'s influence is undeniable in Devotion, but as the developers did with Detention, it takes its influences further. In it, you explore the same apartment space over and over again, only in Devotion, every time you enter it, it's a new year. The apartment's design itself changes. Furniture is in a different place than you remember, or maybe the atmosphere is palpably different. It's all showcasing the mysterious downfall of the family that lived inside it. It's a game that explores how far one can be willing to go to save family, and how dangerous blind faith can truly be.

Its puzzles are smart and macabre, and more than any other horror game this year, Devotion's stayed with me. Sadly, its legacy has been shrouded in controversy, as earlier this year, it was taken off digital storefronts after receiving backlash for a placeholder image of a meme that mocked the president of China. It hasn't popped back up on Steam since. Much like P.T., it seems to be gone forever. What a shame.

Recommended If You Like: P.T., Taiwanese horror

Eliza

Platforms: Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Get it Here: Steam

I was talking with a friend about Eliza, who said something to the effect that it might be the only game "written by an adult." It's a sentiment I can definitely see; where so many indie games nowadays embrace a very online style of writing, Eliza instead tackles the issue of tech worker burnout with no hints of sarcasm or goofiness. That high bar of writing, coupled with impeccable voice acting and a collar-tugging prescient narrative about "What if Amazon's Alexa was used for therapy too?", and Eliza quickly rocketed into my personal favorite games of the year list.

Unlike Zachtronics' other games that largely lie in the puzzle genre, Eliza is a visual novel. Mechanically, it's very straight forward. As a proxy for the Alexa-like program Eliza, main character Evelyn speaks with regular people about their lives, feeding them lines that Eliza feeds her and nothing more. It's Evelyn herself, and her character arc, that really stayed with me. In my review I questioned, "Is Eliza actually helping people, or is it only empowering a massive tech conglomerate its dominance over our everyday lives?" By the end, perhaps even at the beginning, the answer is obvious.

Recommended If You Like: Feeling bad about being a workaholic, great writing in games

Faith: Chapter 2 has some extremely tense moments. | Airdorf

Faith: Chapter 2

Platforms: PC
Get it Here: itch.io

In Faith: Chapter 2, you play as a priest in the midst of a town rattled by Satanic Panic. Customary of the era, it's a town that's actually filled with demons and possessions. If you die, a garbled voice cries out MORTIS. It may be a 1-bit sort of horror, but it uses its minimalism to great effect in ways that chill you to the bone. I included it in a list of must-play horror games of 2019, and that honor extends here now too. So hurry out, and be patient: Also don't get too frustrated by that one nun boss fight.

Recommended If You Like: MS-DOS games, lo-fi horror

I love to use the fart button in Heave Ho to propel my teammates off of the goal, just to make them angry. | Le Cartel Studio/Devolver Digital

Heave Ho

Platforms: Switch, PC, Mac
Get it Here: Steam

There isn't a game this year that provided more laughs than Heave Ho. Heave Ho is a four-player co-op game where as blobs with two arms, you must work together to reach a goal at the opposite end of the screen. Getting there is harder than it looks with things getting in your way, your comrades getting in your way, and the teamwork necessary to make it to the other side. Or you can play as a lone wolf, and figure out your own method without helping the people on the couch next to you. I won't judge, but your friends will.

Recommended If You Like: Having fun, screwing over your pals

Indivisible's animation looks great, as expected from Lab Zero. | Lab Zero Games/505 Games

Indivisible

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Get it Here: Amazon

There was a lot of hype going into Indivisible, so much so that I'm surprised it didn't end up making a bigger splash. The long-awaited follow up to Skullgirls from Lab Zero Games, Indivisible found not just inspiration from fighting games, but the likes of cult classic RPG Valkyrie Profile too. The result was an RPG that Staff Writer Nadia Oxford called, "a journey worthy of your undivided attention."

Part of what makes Indivisible stand out among other RPGs of the year is its distinct Southeast Asian influence, a culture hardly seen within games, period. Also maybe to be expected from the developers of one of the most well-animated fighting games ever, Indivisible is always a delight to look at, whether it's the background art or how the characters bob when in battle. Indivisible may have seemingly come and gone, but it's among our favorite RPGs of the year.

Recommended If You Like: Skullgirls, Valkyrie Profile

Kids

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Get it Here: itch.io

Kids, from Playables, is the hardest game to search for. Aside from that, it's an endearing interactive animation where you play as dozens of snotty kids as they walk, fall down a hole, and even swim. It feels like the sort of game you might see at a hip and cool art exhibit-only here it's accessible just on your phone (or whatever other platform you prefer). I was a big fan of Playables' Plug and Play, and Kids is a natural extension of the ideas in that.

On my phone, it's also impressive how steady it holds up performance-wise. Often, there is so much movement going on, that one might think it would hitch up frame rate wise on a smaller device. With Kids though, it was smooth and steady, and it left me feeling warm and fuzzy to boot.

Recommended If You Like: Going to museums, neat 2D animation

With Mini Motorways, we can all be master highway planners. | Dinosaur Polo Club

Mini Motorways

Platforms: Mac, iOS
Get it Here: Apple Arcade

If you're like me, you played a stupid amount of Mini Metro in 2015 and 2016. Mini Motorways is the next strategy game from those same developers, only instead of mapping transit maps, now you're sculpting whole highways for a city that's growing by the day. Like Mini Metro before it, its design is pleasantly minimalistic.

Recommended If You Like: Mini Metro, city planning

Oh no! | Sectordub/Devolver Digital

Pikuniku

Platforms: Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Get it Here: Steam

What do you get when you mix a boppin' Calum Bowen (of bo en fame) soundtrack and a very Keita Takahashi-reminscietn general tone? Pikuniku, apparently. The puzzle-adventure has you controlling a leggy orb named Piku, who at the start of the game, people are very afraid of. It's basically David Lynch's The Elephant Man, but way cuter. Eventually, Piku goes on a grand, short and sweet adventure. For me, it was a great plane game on Switch.

Recommended If You Like: Calum Bowen's exuberant soundtracks, Keita Takahashi games

Every so often, Sokpop expands one of its micro games. Soko Loco Deluxe is the latest to get such treatment. | Sokpop Collective

Soko Loco Deluxe

Platforms: PC, Mac
Get it Here: Steam

Maybe it's overkill including Soko Loco Deluxe because of already having Mini Motorways on this list, but I don't care. Soko Loco Deluxe, the latest "upgraded" game from Sokpop Collective, is a delightful train managing sim. Think Rollercoaster Tycoon, but for trains.

Sokpop is a video game developer collective known for making a lot of games. Every two weeks, the team releases a game, swapping between members for releases. They recently hit the milestone of 50 released games through its Patreon, which they also sell individually through itch.io. Every so often, they might buckle down to make one of its micro games a lot more robust, as was the case with Simmiland and Brume. Soko Loco Deluxe is only the latest to get that sort of treatment, and it's all the better for it. It even has a speedrun clock in the new release-what's not to love?

Recommended If You Like: Any of Sokpop's micro indies, Tycoon games

A nice assortment of things. | Hollow Ponds/Finji

Wilmot's Warehouse

Platforms: Switch, PC, Mac
Get it Here: Steam

There is no game this year that's more relaxing than Wilmot's Warehouse. In addition, there's no game this year that's more stressful than Wilmot's Warehouse. How you see it depends on how you feel about cleaning and organizing. For me, I find it to be a relaxing activity.

In Wilmot's Warehouse, you control a cube whose job it is to organize a warehouse of boxes of items. The items have a symbol on them and a color of sorts, and how you organize it all is according to your personal preference. You can sort the musical instruments together, or organize by purely by color. It doesn't matter-it's all up to you. After each short round of putting newly delivered items away, your job is to deliver specific items to people standing at the front of the warehouse. You only have about a minute to do so, so remembering where you organized everything is essential. On Switch is where I've most enjoyed playing Wilmot's Warehouse; it's a great "I'm at the laundromat" type game. Or even a great commuting game. It's just a great game, period.

Recommended If You Like: Cleaning your room, browsing The Home Edit's Instagram


What great games do you think were underappreciated this year? Let us know in the comments!

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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