The most underrated games of 2019
We're just a day away from a whole new year — no, a whole new decade! We've discussed the best games of the year: action games, strategy games, fighting games, and indie games. We've even taken a glimpse back at the decade in gaming. There are so many great games, though, that along the way, some really good titles get overlooked and are lost in the shuffle.
Games like Shakedown Hawaii and American Fugitive brought in-your-face, retro-styled GTA action. Ubermosh Omega wrapped up a dope arcade hack-and-slash series that gained a cult underground following. And Blasphemous was one of the better Metroidvania adventures of the year, even if a lot of folks didn't realize it. But there were more games — possibly more than we could condense into a list, realistically — that either went ignored or didn't get a fair shake.
Here are 10— actually, you know what? Here are 12 of 2019's most underrated and overlooked games.
Metro Exodus is one of the most elegant first-person shooters to come along in some time, and it's easily one of the best in the genre this year. The game takes place over the course of one year, and in that year you'll see various locations and seasons, as well as go through day-and-night cycles and diverse weather conditions. This creates a world that feels real and lived in, and it's a dystopia that's almost cinematic in its design.
The game mixes linear areas with more open-ended locations to further add to the variety. On top of that, the shooting mechanics are top-notch. Metro Exodus is proof that there is absolutely room for story-driven FPS games, and that the genre isn't just multiplayer fare, naysayers be damned.
The beefy campaign of Metro Exodus will run you between 15 and 20 hours. As such, the ever-changing landscape and evolving storyline help make sure that there's never a dull moment and that you're always invested. Shooters aren't exactly known for having especially lengthy campaigns, but here you'll find that almost every minute of the ride is truly worthwhile thanks to the game's characters and lore, as well as its fantastic gunplay.
Controversy surrounding the Epic Games Store may have caused a rift between fans of this already-underrated franchise. In addition, single player shooters are kind of a hard sell in 2019. Even then, the game has managed to sell and review well. That said, it almost feels like it was quickly forgotten about and tucked away. Given its attention to detail and superb gameplay, Metro Exodus should be right up there with the best of the best AAA titles of the year.
The world of Dark Devotion is hopeless. It's dark and brooding. It's blighted by monstrous creatures and a lack of faith. Decaying as it may be, that world is a wonder to be a part of. The entirety of the game takes place in a massive temple filled with dozens upon dozens of rooms, each with their own nightmarish deathtraps, enemies, and monsters. Combat is methodical and, like the Soulsborne games, requires that you pay attention to enemy tells and strike at just the right moment.
Dark Devotion borrows from the Souls series with regard to its storytelling, too. Though the tale itself is different, the way the game feeds you bits of lore — through handwritten notes, pieces of parchment paper, and letters — is very reminiscent of From Software's iconic series. It works within the realm of Dark Devotion, as the game's darker themes and ominous setting lend themselves quite well to a more ambiguous approach to narrative.
As great as the combat and minor plot discoveries may be, the temple itself almost steals the show. Bloody traps, treacherous pitfalls, and festering enemies are everywhere, and it's up to you to traverse the darkest depths of the temple to reach the game's bosses, which are massive, hulking, demonic creatures.
There are multiple paths, secrets, and unlockable (though rare) fast travel point, making the temple incredibly rewarding to explore. When you die, you return to the hub world. You don't lost all your progress, but you will drop everything you were carrying. This encourages you to use your items and weapons during runs through the temple. If you're clutching on to those four healing potions in the hopes of taking them to a late game boss, there's no guarantee you'll make it past an upcoming beast, or even a cleverly placed spike trap, so use your spoils!
If you shrugged off Dark Devotion as just another Souls-like, you should correct that mistake and play the game posthaste. Its high level of polish, satisfying melee combat, minimilast story, and, above all else, its incredible world all combine to create one of the best 2D action-adventure games of 2019.
I loved 2011's Rage and consider it to be one of the most under-appreciated games of that year. Though the game's pseudo open world was lacking in detail and things to do, the shooting was excellent, the visuals were superb, and a character was voiced by John Goodman! Rage 2 also received a bit of a mixed reaction when it launched earlier in 2019. And while it was definitely warranted for the most part, it almost seemed like people's disinterest was largely influenced by the original's lackluster reception.
Rage 2 has way more side missions, and its open world is filled with little secrets to discover and outposts with fun objectives. Sure, hunting down loot chests gets a little old after doing it, like, 100 times, but there's plenty more to see and do than just seek out collectibles.
The game's upgrade system is a high point, allowing players to customize their character and turn him or her into a force to be reckoned with. And like the original, Rage 2 features remarkable shooting gameplay.
Visually, the game is louder and bolder than its predecessor. The skies are splashed with pinks and oranges. Canyons aren't just browns and grays and instead featured lush foliage and brightly colored architecture. Also, there are colorful mohawks everywhere, which, okay, are a bit too much. As a matter of fact, a lot of the game's characters are a bit too much, to the point where it feels like Rage 2 is overcompensating.
As much of mixed bag as Rage 2 can be at times, it's still a really enjoyable shooter. From the moment the reveal trailer was shown, it felt like Rage 2 had a lot to prove. When the game launched, it fell a little short, but it was still an overall solid FPS with some awesome action and nonstop thrills.
Blazing Chrome is what happens when you mix Contra 3, Metal Slug, Battletoads and Gunstar Heroes. Like its iconic inspirations, this pixelated arcade shoot 'em up is a wild ride from start to finish, and it's best when played with another person. Even if you play it alone, though, you're bound to have a great time.
The game keeps things simple enough to make it inviting, but there's a surprising amount of depth in its gameplay. There's a nice variety of weapons that you can switch between on the fly. Each level includes multiple encounters against mid-level bosses and big baddies. Action is split up between 2D and Mode 7-like “3D” sections. You can even hop into a mech from time to time. There's a lot to do in Blazing Chrome, and the game is just constantly throwing fun surprises at you.
With games now featuring more in-depth systems and complex gameplay mechanics, it's easy to see how a shmup inspired by the 16-bit era may be overlooked. But to ignore Blazing Chrome, which is an absolute gem of a game and one of the better shoot 'em ups of the year, would be damn near criminal.
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is very much a niche game. As such, it's no surprise that not everyone played it. Still, as niche as it may be, it was still successfully funded on Kickstarter thanks to the series' group of loyal fans.
Like the original ToeJam & Earl on Sega Genesis, Back in the Groove is one of those sit-back-and-relax games that still offers a formidable challenge. You collect presents and explore levels, collecting ship pieces to put your spacecraft back together and get home. You never know what's in the gift boxes you collect — unless you pay a fee, which you won't always have the money for — but you'll need to use them as they contain power-ups, weapons, buffs, and de-buffs. The game's random nature is part of the fun... and the frustration.
The game is the very definition of quirky, featuring an absurd story and weird characters that look like they belong in a 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon. The bright backgrounds pop as you control the friendly alien protagonists in a world filled with hostile, slack-jawed enemies. Meanwhile a trippy, cartoon-y hip-hop theme plays on during all the madness.
If you're looking for high-speed action, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove may not be the game for you. Instead, it features much slower-paced item-based roguelike gameplay with light RPG mechanics. Throughout all of 2019 we got a lot of games that could be described as “chill.” ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, with its slow character animations and relaxed (thought still challenging) gameplay is certainly one of those chill games. It's a solid return of a classic series. Here's hoping we haven't seen the last of the titular duo.
Hell Is Other Demons
Games are becoming deeper, more engaging experiences. That's not going to change, and we should be glad to see genres evolving and blending with other styles of games. That said, there's something to be said about a game that can stick to the basics and provide pure fun with a punishing twist. Hell Is Other Demons is a (mostly) single screen bullet hell shoot 'em up that trades in depth and revolutionary mechanics for simplicity and well-designed challenge.
Each level puts you up against hordes of enemies with unique attacks. Part of the fun is in learning how enemies behave, how they move around the screen, and how they react to your attacks. There are unlockable weapons for you to discover along the way, big boss battles, and branching paths. As previously mentioned, the stages are mostly single screen, with only a bit of vertical scrolling. This creates a compact and claustrophobic environment that constantly backs you into a wall and forces you to fight your way through the challenge.
The lo-fi graphics of Hell Is Other Demons help to create a surreal, otherworldly atmosphere that truly feels like a pixelated version of hell. Not to mention you're taking on some really nasty monsters.
If Heroland is being overlooked, it's possibly due to its release later in the calendar year. The game launched just a few weeks ago, right around the time game of the year awards were being presented, so it's no surprise the game launched with little hype. It's a shame, too, because Heroland is one of the funniest games of the year.
Gameplay-wise, Heroland features a semi-auto-battle system that you don't control entirely but rather influence. You talk to your party members and help set up their next move, but a lot of the time, you'll be focusing on one party member exclusively, leaving the rest to their own devices. This makes for a mildly chaotic and random battle system that works well at keeping the tension high.
It's the story of Heroland that really shines, though. The game's silly cast of characters are all great, and it's hilarious watching them become frenemies and making outlandish comments toward one another. The game is very chatty, with lengthy dialogue bubbles that go on for a while, but the writing is so sharp that the game takes on a very clear identity and is an absolute blast to play through.
Some folks have been mislabeling Eagle Island as a procedurally generated Metroidvania, which is putting a lot of people off from playing it. “The whole point of a Metroidvania is memorizing its large, organic map! That's impossible to do in a procedurally generated game!” Well, newsflash: Eagle Island is not a Metroidvania. It does draw inspiration from the genre, especially in its overworld, which has locked doors that require abilities you obtain later in the game, but this overworld is static and not procedurally generated. The dungeons are randomized, however, though they don't lock doors based on special abilities.
So if the whole Metroidvania thing is what's keeping you from playing Eagle Island, you really shouldn't let it dissuade you as the game is more of a 2D action-platformer with randomization in its stages. Also, you could totally select a seed that creates a permanent map if you'd rather a set, predetermined world.
Whether or not you select that seed, though, you'll be treated to a fun little game with loads of fun abilities and power-ups. The game's many environments are full of personality, and using your owl companion's special abilities to defeat enemies and move around the map is really cool.
There are two ways to play Katana Zero. You can approach it as a pure action game and slice and dice your way through its legions of thugs and bosses. Or you can take in all the story bits, enjoy the character dialogue... and then slice and dice your way through the game's legions of thugs and bosses.
There have been a lot of badass, stylish indie action games this year. Ape Out and My Friend Pedro instantly come to mind, but you shouldn't overlook Katana Zero, either. The game looks like your straight-up action experience, and it most certainly can be played like that if you have no interest in the story. That said, learning bits of the main character's back story, interacting with NPCs, and even speaking with your therapist all make for compelling narrative beats.
When I started playing Katana Zero, I was tempted to hurry through the dialogue bits. The game allows you to canonically interrupt any character that's speaking and essentially shut them up to further the story faster. Rather than do that, though, I played around with the different dialogue options and helped shape the game world. It created a blend of story and action that's usually reserved for AAA games with bigger budgets. No, there aren't any big, explosive cut-scenes in Katana Zero, but there's plenty of meaningful storytelling and character development.
The world of Katana Zero is shrouded in mystery and will suck you in. Usually, this type of game is set in an ancient setting or fantasy world. Katana Zero instead opts for a bleak neo-noir land filled with high-rise skyscrapers, nightclubs, neon lights, and mob bosses. The juxtaposition between the themes works incredibly well to create a wholly unique setting-and-tone combination.
If you've been preoccupied playing games like God's Trigger (an underrated gem in its own right), Ronin, and Hotline Miami, don't hesitate to pick up Katana Zero. It's right in line with those games, but it provides its own spin on the fast-paced action format to make it a must-play title.
Baba Is You
Baba Is You was one of the most interesting games of 2019. It got a decent amount of attention from outlets when it launched in March, and then it sort of just faded away. It then got some mentions once again during game of the year talks recently. It's kind of surprising more folks weren't buzzing about the game more consistently, though, because what Baba Is You offers players is a vastly unique and intriguing concept.
To refer to Baba Is You as a simple block-pushing puzzler would be a largely rudimentary description of the game. Yes, there's plenty of that in the game, but those block-pushing mechanics are built around engaging game-reprogramming tools. By moving around the word blocks and combining them with other word blocks or removing them from the equation entirely, you essentially change the rules of a stage. Altering, removing, and creating different in-game behaviors lets you navigate the levels in different ways to reach the goal.
Baba Is You is a perfect blend of challenging and thought-provoking gameplay. The game will both make you want to crack your head against a wall and light a proverbial bulb above your head. Sometimes you'll need to step away from the game for a couple hours to get some clarity before you return to it to solve that fiendish puzzle that was giving you a hard time. There may even be instances where you'll ask a buddy or two for help, and before you know, solving a single puzzle will be a three-person job.
There's a lot to love about Baba Is You. It has a great look. The puzzles are fun yet dastardly. It's fun alone or with friends. And it really provides a different kind of puzzle game experience, the likes of which we've never seen before. It's also a really chill game, despite its difficulty level. Baba Is You is a little weird, but it's also super ambitious, and it's a memorable game that'll leave you feeling accomplished and baffled, all at the same time.
Children of Morta
Children of Morta is a roguelike, Diablo-inspired RPG set in a neat, colorful, pixelated world. The game's hack-and-slash gameplay never gets too deep, and its procedurally generated design yields varied results, but the game is entertaining nonetheless.
What really sets Children of Morta apart is its protagonist family. Each member you play as has specific abilities, which means you can approach the dungeons differently depending on the characters. You can also bring a buddy along for the ride in two-player co-op, which is a great way to play and really drives home the whole family dynamic.
Speaking of which, the story surrounding the family makes for some of the most interesting moments in the game. Between dungeons, you'll go back home and see characters interact with each other and deal with family issues. This creates a story that's at times even more engrossing than the action bits.
The combination of hack-and-slash combat, exploration of beautiful lands, and story development make Children of Morta a complete package. That package is about to be even more jam-packed as plans were announced for free DLC including a new game+ mode, new character, an endless mode, and more items and difficulty settings. On top of that, a paid expansion will add a new chapter to the game, enticing fans to revisit Children of Morta well into 2020.
Streets of Rogue
Controlled chaos is the name of the game in Streets of Rogue. The game takes a great deal of inspiration from the old school top-down GTA games, but it mixes in a huge roster of diverse characters including hackers, gunners, a freakin' gorilla, and so on. Each character has strengths and weaknesses that are utilized in their own unique objectives. Playing the same stage as two different characters thus means two different experiences. You may go in guns blazing, you might use stealth to sneak to the end, or you might even mess with the environment by poisoning the air.
There's a wealth of game options in Streets of Rogue. Many are unlocked through play, but there are a lot of custom options available right from the start. You can increase the rate at which hostile characters populate the game world. You can fill a map with zombies. You can even make things ultra tough on yourself by having the world rain down explosives.
The absurd nature of Streets of Rogue is absolutely charming, but that absurdity is blended wonderfully with fun combat, hacking mechanics, weapons, and power-ups. If you're looking for a fun, highly customizable playground of death and cannibalism, Streets of Rogue has you covered.
Did we miss any of your favorite unsung heroes of 2019? What are your favorite underrated or overlooked games of the year? Let us know in the comments!