Like Mr. X slamming open a door, excellent games are already out and show no signs of stopping. And it's only April! (Note: This list was originally published on March 18, but has now been updated with four new entries that deserve a place in this list of the best games of 2019.) Still, it's been a packed first quarter for 2019, with great triple-A blockbusters and memorable indie games earning our admiration.
Thus, this list featuring the best games of 2019 is born. Throughout 2019, we'll be updating it accordingly with our favorite games of the year. It might be every month that we update it, or maybe some months will go without an update at all. It all depends on what games have us emblazoning proud four-and-a-half-stars-and-up scores on reviews, or even just the games we played in between reviews that resonated. It's worth noting that while these are our picks for the best games of 2019 (so far), they aren't in any order, so don't assume the first game on the list is our favorite game of 2019.
By the end of 2019, this list may or may not represent what ends up on our final Top 20 Games of 2019. Think of it as a revolving door of the games that stick out to us in the moment to moment of 2019, whether or not it remains at the forefront of our minds by the time December creeps around. So without further ado, click onward in the gallery to find what we deem are the best games of 2019 so far.
Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Bros. has been with us for a very long time, since the first one released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. Super Mario Maker 2 is a part celebration of that long history, and part game design tool. With it, players have a host of Nintendo-crafted levels, learn what makes them tick, and then craft their own levels for others to play. Most use this power to create fiendish death traps for Mario.
Nintendo could've added a few more items to the Course Maker, but instead the company added enough to make a proper sequel. There's a full Story Mode, with Mario and a crew of Toads trying dutifully to make money to rebuild Princess Peach's castle. There's Yamamura's Dojo, where a pigeon gives you the finer points on course design. And in the Course Maker itself, there's the new Super Mario 3D World style, new level themes, night versions of each theme, and a ton of new items, including our best friend, the Angry Sun.
Super Mario Maker 2 is the best kind of game, where not only is there a fantastic experience straight out of the opening menu, but the community ensures there will be great levels to play until the next game. Super Mario Maker was played by many right up until the sequel was released, and some actually are still playing the old Wii U and 3DS versions. Super Mario Maker 2 looks like it'll have the same long tail, with reams of levels to play, rage at, and share on social media. —Mike Williams
Read More: The Story Mode doesn't just give you inspirational game design ideas, but it has a strange anti-union boss yelling at Mario too. Some fans are even deciding to just stick with the original Super Mario Maker on Wii U, after some changes to interactions in Super Mario Maker 2's level builder have made some fan-favorite mechanics for Kaizo levels now impossible.
Get It Here: Amazon
Pinning down what makes Outer Wilds so special is tricky, if only because there's so much potential for spoilers to creep into the discussion. What I will say is that Outer Wilds is a space-faring adventure game, in which you explore a handful of exquisitely designed planets (and a few moons) with the goal of understanding the universe around you.
You climb into a distressingly ramshackle rocket ship, blast off into the stars above, and hope to God that you don't accidentally clip a nearby asteroid or trigger the ejector seat before you reach your destination. It's both terrifying and peaceful, somehow chaotic in one moment and then decidedly methodical and linear in the next. Each of the half dozen or so worlds has its own hook—a central mechanic that makes it tick. If you want to complete Outer Wilds, you'll need to visit all of them, though you should know that almost all of your expeditions will end in a fiery explosion and ultimately in failure.
There's another side to Outer Wilds though, one that would do you a disservice to know about going in, but let's just say that there are restrictions and a certain universe-sized calamity awaiting those who take the plunge. You should come to Outer Wilds for the intriguing planet designs, the awesome soundtrack, and the wonderful world that's realized there. You'll want to stay right up until you learn everything there is to know about its universe, as there is certainly more than meets the eye. —Jake Green
Read More: We wrote about how Outer Wilds captures everything that's beautiful and terrifying about exploring space. Also, in case you didn't know, it's on Xbox Game Pass too!
Get It Here: Amazon
Cadence of Hyrule
I'd call Cadence of Hyrule a happy surprise in the vein of "You got chocolate in my peanut butter," but chocolate and peanut butter is a sane combination. Cadence of Hyrule is—well, not insane, but certainly not something that's easily dreamed up. Who looks at Crypt of the NecroDancer and says, "We need some Zelda up in this roguelike-rhythm dance party?"
However it happened, Nintendo and Brace Yourself Games teamed up for one of the most charming exclusives you'll find on the Switch. Cadence of Hyrule strikes the perfect balance between the Zelda series' monster-slaying and Crypt of the NecroDancer's head-bobbing exploration. The graphics are also a significant step up from vanilla NecroDancer's simple sprites, and they utilize the much-underrated Minish Cap style. Oh, and the thumping remixes of classic Zelda tunes are just sublime, but what did you expect? I just wish it wasn't over so quickly. Consider me a day one adopter for any potential DLC. —Nadia Oxford
Read More: Pre-release, we wrote about all the pleasant nostalgic callbacks we spotted in a demo of Cadence of Hyrule, from Link's Awakening-esque palm trees to its A Link to The Past-y map design.
Get It Here: Amazon
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
FromSoftware returns with a new action game, though this one has much less of a focus on RPG elements than its siblings. Set in a fantastical version of Medieval Japan, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice stars a resurrected samurai with a prosthetic arm. His main power is, you guessed it, the ability to come back to life or "die twice;" though as the old joke goes, you'll be dying a heck of a lot more than just a couple times.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is, as you may have inferred, is extremely hard. Without the ability to summon other players or farm for high-level weapons, Sekiro offers less room for error than previous games in the series. You will have to get extremely good at parrying, not to mention the multitude of other abilities at Wolf's disposal, including a pretty sweet grappling hook.
Still, that shouldn't deter you from at least giving Sekiro a shot. Sekiro is an arrestingly beautiful game, full of wonderful artistic flourishes and nods to Japanese history and mythology. What's more, when you finally succeed and take down a difficult boss, you get a particularly giddy sense of relief that quickly becomes addictive. Per usual, FromSoftware has crafted a masterful action game, and it will no doubt stand among the year's best games when 2019 is finished. —Kat Bailey
Read More: Pre-release, we wrote about the rich architecture of FromSoftware games' worlds, and what our glimpses into Sekiro's say about the real-world era it's inspired by. Sekiro, along with Devil May Cry 5, is another notch in a surprising trend this year: prosthetics as in-game tools. For some players who live with prosthetics, the video game results were actually closer to reality than one might imagine. It's not all positivity though, as Hirun argues that Sekiro's another example of a FromSoftware game with a bleak outlook on happy endings.
MLB The Show 19
With the generation rapidly winding down, the pressure is on sports game developers to make one last really good sim before migrating to new consoles (and maybe lay the groundwork for new technology as well). In that light, MLB The Show 19 stands to be the best baseball sim of the generation; fixing many of the issues that have dogged past games while introducing a number of excellent features. Its feature set includes two excellent single player modes: March to October, which challenges you to win the World Series with the help of algorithmically generated results; and Moments, which captures some of the best moments in baseball history.
All of this is on top of improvements to MLB The Show's presentation and gameplay, as well as updates to older modes like Diamond Dynasty. You can nitpick issues like the inability to play with Dynamic Difficulty in March to October, but otherwise it's hard to find a really glaring weakness in MLB The Show. Even the online play is feeling pretty good these days.
You're unlikely to get a better baseball game than MLB The Show 19 before the generation is up. Next year's version will surely have updates to the gameplay and the like, but nothing as massive as what was introduced this year. This was MLB The Show 19's "statement game," and it will be remembered as the best game in a strong generation of baseball for Sony. —Kat Bailey
Read More: Earlier this year, Kat talked to Sony San Diego designer and community manager Ramone Russell about this year's baseball sim, who got pretty candid about the realities of sports game development.
Baba Is You
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Describing Baba Is You to people is almost impossible. Whenever I start, I hear how silly I sound, and whoever's on the receiving end of the conversation looks at me with similar confusion. Baba Is Apologetic.
You see, Baba Is You is a puzzle game of nouns and verbs. Baba can be win, just as flag can win, or wall can flag. As Baba, a cute little bunny pixel, you move around a small map with specific rules in place that you can tweak in pushing them around. In the beginning, these rules are simple: three cubes spell out Baba Is You, while three more spell out Flag Is Win. The tricky part is figuring out the win-state, which in most cases, is a lot more complicated than just making your way to wherever the flag is (if a flag is involved at all).
The genius of Baba Is You is that there never feels like one true way to make it past a stage. In fact, there are probably a handful of ways to tip things, and when you solve a puzzle, be it through guessing or logical thinking, you always feel like a genius when you come out the other end. Here at USG, Baba Is You has been one of the few games that's been percolating in the background of nearly everyone's game logs; it's fantastic as a bedtime brain exercise or at a party with friends yelling what they think the best course of action is. Baba Is You, above all else, is a game that makes you feel smart, time and time again. And even in puzzle games, that is an astoundingly rare feat. —Caty McCarthy
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
A lot of games attempt surreal narrative. Katana Zero nails it. A lot of games attempt high-stakes action that delivers an immense sense of satisfaction. Katana Zero nails that, too.
Askiisoft's neon-streaked rampage through a dystopian city casts you as The Dragon (if that is your real name), an '80s ronin assassin who's unstuck in time for reasons that become clear—sort of. Nothing comes easy in Katana Zero, and that includes story exposition as well as victory over your foes. Every level requires you to roll, slash, die, and hopefully learn from your mistakes as you turn back time and try again.
Attacking blindly gets you nowhere; triumph sometimes only comes after you've formulated a strategy that includes which angles to attack from, which objects you should seize and throw, and which enemies you should prioritize killing first. Whenever I got frustrated with Katana Zero (which was often), I was carried by the game's wonderful sprite work, thumping soundtrack, and intriguing story. Make sure you play this one, but maybe don't play it in polite company (you are going to swear a lot). —Nadia Oxford
Read More: Mike included Katana Zero, pre-release, in a round-up of his favorite games he played at PAX South.
Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 is the latest sign that Capcom is firmly on the comeback trail. Aided by its excellent graphics, Resident Evil 2 finally finds the appropriate middle ground between the pulpy action and suspenseful horror the series has sought since Resident Evil 4.
In his review, Matt writes, "With Resident Evil 2, Capcom has stitched together a collection of faded memories and stuffed it full with modern game design and technology. Though this remake shares characters, settings, and basic plot beats with 1998's original, that's about the extent to which it resembles the PS1 classic. Nostalgia runs high throughout, but this Resident Evil 2 is a very new creation." Mostly though, fans are just having fun turning Mr. X into a meme. Hey look, it's Mr. X in a thong! Anyway, it's good to have high-quality Resident Evil games back in our lives. —Kat Bailey
Read More: You know what's great about Resident Evil 2? It's short. That's the case Mike makes in arguing for shorter blockbusters. We also met the Resident Evil 2 speedrunner devoted to beating games without getting hit, and talked about why a Resident Evil 3 Remake could be even be even better than Resident Evil 2.
Kingdom Hearts 3
If you haven't been keeping up with Kingdom Hearts over the almost-two decades, you will undoubtedly be lost when picking up the controller for Kingdom Hearts 3. From dozens of original characters with equally spiky hair to visiting Disney worlds that feel more divorced from the main plot than ever before, it might be initially worrisome. And yet, the opposite is true.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is wholesome, in an era where games are more likely to have a mean dad at its core than anyone else. It weaves an intricate story of friendship and what it means to retain your humanity when faced with grief. Its combat, being the first modern generation Kingdom Hearts game, is at its absolute best, trading in hack-and-slash for, well, more hack-and-slash, but at last with actual fun variety. Action-RPGs are rarely as loud and ambitious as Kingdom Hearts; it's confident in every story beat, even if it falters on some spots. When it sticks the landing though, it's hard to carve Sora and his pals out of your mind. By the journey's end, maybe you'll even shed a tear or two. —Caty McCarthy
Read More: We analyzed Kingdom Hearts 3's wild secret ending, and we talked about how its selfie camera encourages Disney tourism. Plus, at this year's Game Developers Conference, we interviewed co-director Tai Yasue for a postmortem on the long in-development JRPG.
When Apex Legends leaked the week before its Beyonce'd release, people were mad. A battle royale game in the Titanfall universe without mechs? Say it ain't so! The result, actually, is quite fun. A mish-mash of hero shooter sensibilities and battle royale-genre survival, Apex Legends has quickly proven itself worthy in the crowded space. It's a great win for Respawn too, which saw a lackluster commercial response to the critically acclaimed Titanfall 2.
A month after release, Apex Legends introduced its first season and a Battle Pass to match. Unfortunately, the goodies it rewards aren't great, even if the new Legend introduced to the fray (Octane, with his bounce pads and super speed) is great fun. Still, even with the missteps, Apex Legends has remained on our steady rotation, and lackluster rewards or not, is still the most polished gameplay wise when compared to its battle royale competitors. Apex Legends proves that even dark horse releases are not to be underestimated. —Caty McCarthy
Read More: Caty has been playing a ton of Apex Legends, so she's provided quite a bit of coverage for USG. For instance, she answered whether Caustic and Mirage are worth unlocking, and she talked about why Apex Legends is here to stay. In the meantime, Kat think it's a lot like battle royale Overwatch, because it kind of is!
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Tetris 99 Guide
Tetris 99 is probably the best battle royale game to date. I'm dead serious. It once again shows the incredible flexibility of Tetris in seamlessly adapting its timeless formula to the 99 versus 1 concept popularized by PUBG. Games move at a ferocious pace as players drop like flies, its familiar beats giving way to a mix that sounds like "Flight of the Bumblebee" on cocaine. The final battle is invariably a white-knuckle affair as you frantically trade blocks with your opponent and pray that you don't misplace a block. Available for free for all Nintendo Switch Online subscribers, Tetris 99 is the killer app the service needs. —Kat Bailey
Read More: Don't believe us when we say that Tetris 99 is the best battle royale? Maybe these insane Tetris 99 highlights will change your mind. Kat also talks about why Tetris 99 is the crucible that will make you a better Tetris player.
Get It Here: Nintendo eShop
The last time I played a horror game as harrowing and absorbing as Devotion was when I played Red Candle Games' previous title, Detention. Instead, it's a careful critique on social and family dynamics. From the moment I powered it on, I was glued to the P.T.-like repetition of exploring the same apartment time and time again; and yet, it's always different.
From furniture rearranged, to lighting and sounds, to disorienting visuals, I never knew what would be around the increasingly familiar corners. I just knew that I'd learn more about what horror befell this once hopeful family. At the moment, Devotion sadly is not on Steam after controversy led to it being pulled mere days after release, but I hope it makes its way back someday, as I'd hate for it to fade to myth-like status. —Caty McCarthy
Read More: Following the controversy of Devotion being pulled from Steam, Caty dove into the historical context behind it, and what she particularly loved about Devotion itself.
Unfortunately, Devotion is not on any digital storefront at this moment, after being removed from Steam just days after release.
Devil May Cry 5
I've never played a Devil May Cry game before 5, and it turns out I didn't have to. The controls are slick, intuitive, and responsive, with combos easy to execute with just a simple flick of the analog stick and press of a button (flick the stick back and press the melee button to chuck an enemy in the air, for example). Devil May Cry 5's three leads—Nero, Dante, and V—all feel thrilling to play as for different reasons.
V has his shadow puppets to do his bidding on the battlefield, Nero bounds and vaults off ledges with his Devil Breaker arm, and Dante splits his demonic motorcycle in two for gouging attacks. Devil May Cry 5 toes the line into weird territory in attempts to be effortlessly cool, but it's still a sleek, stylish action game to play around with. —Hirun Cryer
Read More: It's a great time to be an action game fan, as Devil May Cry 5 is proof that we're in an action game renaissance. Back at GDC 2019, we caught up with director Hideaki Itsuno to learn more about what went into the making of Devil May Cry 5's slick action, and what's maybe next for the team at Capcom. Despite feeling high on the action, Hirun broke down some big problems the game has with its dated view of masculinity.