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Most Underappreciated Games Of 2019

Here's the problem with the games industry at the moment: there are too many games. It's a fantastic problem to have, but the unfortunate fact is that some games eclipse others. The latest triple-A release will outshine a little gem crafted by a 20-employee indie studio. Not everyone can have a multimillion-dollar marketing budget, after all.

Here's the cool thing about the games industry: you don't need a multimillion-dollar budget in order to publish games. It's easier than ever for devs — amateur and expert alike — to put their work out there for gamers to enjoy. Now more than ever we can enjoy a wide diversity of games, because although there are some long-anticipated titles with massive budgets being released this year, there are also a ton of games that have undeservedly gone unnoticed. These are more than diamonds in the rough — they're shining, well-reviewed, critically-acclaimed gems that have somehow stayed under the radar. They're too cool for the mainstream. These good games have gone underappreciated, but we're here to give them their well-deserved fifteen minutes of fame.

Slay the Spire is an addicting, original twist on several genres

Maybe deckbuilding games aren't your thing, but Slay the Spire seems to have something for everyone. After all, it's a deckbuilding roguelike dungeon crawler. Yes, you read that correctly. It's evidently a potent combination too, because developer Mega Crit Games has a hit on its hands. Slay the Spire boasts an 89 on Metacritic, with glowing reviews all over the internet. Players are big fans of the witty writing and the addictive gameplay. Once you start collecting cards, working your way up the titular, ever-changing spire, it's hard to stop.

The game doesn't get boring either, even once players have already slain the eldritch horrors lurking in the dark a couple times, thanks to a randomness that inspires constant vigilance and encourages experimentation. In short, there is no one way of playing. Players can choose from different characters — the warrior, the rogue, and the magical robot thing — and find what works best for them. Even once you've found your affinity, you have to be a strategist of sorts to navigate the spire, adapting your attacks to the cards and relics you collect in order to conquer enemies. This amalgam of genres has amassed a loyal fanbase that's deeply into the strategic aspect of this brilliantly original game. It's easy to get lost in the spire. There's a good reason why JackSepticEye called Slay the Spire "horribly addicting."

Downwell is well done

We've fallen, fast and hard, for Downwell. It's a simple and intensely sweet game with a uniquely vertical perspective. The well down which the young protagonist ventures is narrow, deep, and monochromatic. A game so new is able to make us nostalgic because of the old 8-bit arcade aesthetic that works so, well... well in Downwell. The minimalist look isn't the only simple part of the game, either. As you fall, you can shoot enemies with your specially-fit gunboots (do they come in a size nine?) and slow your ever-quickening descent into the unknown. That's all there is to it. You're only mashing a single button throughout your gameplay to shoot and jump your way from platform to platform.

Downwell proves that sometimes it's better for games not to try to do it all. Keeping it simple has allowed for creator Ojiro "Moppin" Fumoto to make a quick but memorable experience. Instead of being distracted by the next big mission or area, players can focus on perfecting their fall with style. Combos and quick reflexes are rewarded with gems that can be exchanged for goods in precariously placed shops. Seriously, though, how'd they get down there?

We also appreciate the opportunity to flip our Switches vertically in order to get the full experience of falling, falling, falling for this indie hit with seamless controls and fun functions. Still, the game is just as great on mobile, Steam, and Playstation 4.

Steins;Gate Elite is the ideal amalgam of anime and game

Steins;Gate is such a must-watch, fan-favorite anime that many people have forgotten that the series got its start as a visual novel. The game (and by extension the anime) goes from hilarious to disturbing as the ragtag members of the Future Gadget Lab reckon with the consequences of time travel. It turns out that altering the past has some deadly serious implications for the future. Who knew?

2019 saw the release of Steins;Gate Elite, which is honestly the definitive — dare we stay, elite — way to experience the original game. The first game was released in 2009, and has some aspects that date it. The art style, for instance, isn't for everyone. Thus, the anime that followed the game a year later was largely preferred over the original visual novel. Elite is the ideal amalgam of the full Steins;Gate experience: fans "play the anime," as the trailer assures. The new game takes clips and screencaps straight from the beloved TV show, allowing players to participate in the tough decisions and dialogue options made as protagonist Okabe tries (and fails... a lot) to save his friends. One of the best narratives about time travel and gashapon machines has been made more accessible than ever on Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

Sunless Skies is a blindingly good narrative experience

Sunless Skies had us smitten at the words "Gothic horror RPG." But what does that actually mean? A poetically well-written steampunk paradise with a chance to explore both the stars and the wide-reaching implications of imperialism, apparently. Sunless Skies, the followup to Failbetter Games' award-winning Sunless Sea, is well worth a good soak in the immersive atmosphere. Far from a first-person experience of space exploration, the game manages to capture players with words and a tiny ship scuttling around the abyss of space. Somehow seamlessly combining shoot 'em up gameplay with expertly-written roleplay text inspired by classic literature, Sunless Skies artfully introduces another adventure in the Fallen London universe.

The player builds their character, complete with mysterious backstory, and inherits the helm of the Orphean train — which is really more of a rocket than a train — and its crew. Then gamers pick their poison: is your goal fame? Fortune? The ultimate truth? It's totally up to you, because no matter your priorities, the writing is superb, smashing, and distinctly British, with hand-drawn steampunk art to match. Sunless Skies flew under the radar, but is an adventure into the ethical questions of colonialism well worth a ponder. How can we resist the call to "SAIL THE STARS, BETRAY YOUR QUEEN, MURDER A SUN," as the official site says?

Assault Android Cactus+ is an adorably intense twin stick shooter

Ready to take on 100,000 homicidal robots on a freighter adrift in space? No? Don't worry — Junior Constable Cactus does this kind of thing all the time, apparently. She and her equally strangely-named friends are up to the challenge in this fast-paced, high octane, highly cute twin stick shooter. Newly available on the Nintendo Switch, Assault Android Cactus+ features more content than previous incarnations and a formula that works well in handheld mode: shoot everything that moves.

With bullet hell bosses and waves of angry androids, the gameplay is a mess of lasers and projectiles, just the way we like it. Each stage is brief, and the field of play changes beneath the player's feet, forcing them to think quick and act even quicker. Different modes outside of the main story (like boss rush and daily drive) keep things interesting, but the main levels are patently replayable, encouraging gamers to try beating their own high scores over and over again. 

The three-man, Brisbane-based team of Witch Beam developed the game with lighthearted dialogue straight from a 4Kids TV anime dub. Make no mistake, however — Assault Android Cactus+ gets hand-sweaty intense. Those bosses are no joke, which makes beating them all the more satisfying. That's the word we'd use for this game: satisfying. Watching your score tick up, up, up to the beat of a sci-fi-themed techno banger is a highly satisfying experience indeed.

Baba Is You is smart and sweet (but not grammatically correct)

Quick existential question: is you Baba? Or is Baba you? In the case of the super cute new game Baba Is You, the order matters and the grammar notably doesn't. This puzzle game allows for you (Baba) to make and bend and break the rules. The rules, in this case, are written out on the pages, literally. The object of the game is to pilot a squiggly little rabbit(?) around the screen and rewrite the simplistic sentences that determine how the world functions. For example, pushing the word "float" into the space where "defeat" occupies the phrase "water is defeat" will allow the player to float over the water, rather than it defeating them.

The wiggly little pixels on the small 2D environments are frankly adorable. Baba Is You is the definition of simple but sweet. The unique (and winning!) result of the Nordic Game Jam of 2017 in Copenhagen, developer Arvi Teikari decided to develop the concept into a full-fledged game of rule manipulation. The game has since gathered praise as both being a fun mental exercise and a highly entertaining logic game with the perfect amount of indie flair. Note that we said Baba Is You is simple but sweet: the game can't really be called short, with over 200 puzzles to train your brain with on either PC or the Nintendo Switch.

God's Trigger is as brutal and bloodsoaked as a good B-movie

God's Trigger is just as edgy as it sounds, and we promise that it's a good thing it is. The over-the-top violence and "violently fast" gameplay make for relentlessly fun combat. Are you a fan of bursting into rooms and taking down every enemy in sight, Hotline Miami-style? Then you'll get along just fine in the apocalyptic setting of this top-down shoot-em-up. Even amid the chaos, there is a plot straight out of a cheesy direct-to-TV drama. Demon Judy and angel Harry must team up to save the world from the Four Horsemen. And they're going to do it in the bloodiest way possible.

While the concept might not be the most original, God's Trigger gets serious points for the creative utilization of both demonic and angelic powers, the combination of which proves the game's worth as a co-op. Single-player doesn't leave out any of the blood, gore, and fun times that you signed up for, however. Praised for its brutality, reviewers and players alike are loving the way you can paint the town red in God's Trigger.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 builds upon its super successful predecessor

Having trouble deciding between playing an RPG or a building game? Dragon Quest Builders 2 has the very best of both worlds packed into one, dynamic game that will grab ahold of you and never let go. A seamless mix of the two genres, the sequel has quickly outdone the original by improving upon anything that wasn't quite up to snuff for the most detail-oriented of players. Fans of the original Dragon Quest series will be treated to a trip down memory lane as they discover familiar faces, and new players will find that they can do just about anything their heart desires, whether that's farming, fighting, or exploring the vast, open world in this JRPG/sandbox mashup. 

Newly added multiplayer makes building towns, farms, and fighting bosses a little less lonely, too. But hey, the NPCs are so charming and abundant that players might feel like they've been making new friends all along. Although the game is aimed at a younger audience, anyone can find Dragon Quest Builders 2 to be an enthralling, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda is as good as its title is long

What's this? A fan-made game actually approved by Nintendo? Miracles really do happen, and Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda sure is miraculous. The whole of the gameplay feels like a funky, fun music video. Brace Yourself Games has created an experience in which you have to fight to some choice beats in order to save the Kingdom of Hyrule. Link and even Zelda are along for the ride as the player takes down enemies in tune with remixes of the most nostalgic Nintendo tunes. 

The rhythmic action adventure game has a 16-bit look that will make the most ardent of SNES fans swoon. Bashing monsters to the beat proves to be utterly addicting, and the randomly generated overworld and procedurally generated dungeons keeps things fresh so that players will never tire of their life-or-death dancing. So much more than a Zelda-themed reskinning of Crypt of the NecroDancer, Brace Yourself Games handles everyone's favorite mute hero and his princess with the utmost care. We'll venture to call Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda a love letter — no, a love song — that any Nintendo fan can appreciate.

Astral Chain is arrestingly action-packed

The year is 2078. Beset by alien creatures from the astral plane, the last of humanity turns to Neuron, an elite task force of police officers who can wield shape-shifting robot partners/weapons. Boiling it down to its basics, PlatinumGames' Astral Chain is a story of robot police vs aliens, and we love it. This novel concept pays off, treating players to intensely fun fights and quirky missions when they're not busy saving the world. 

Astral Chain is reminiscent of a good anime: it has action, laughs, twists, and some of the coolest, most ridiculous weapons around. The player wields a Legion at the end of their titular astral chain, which can be used to defeat the monsters menacing humanity. Different Legions support different playstyles, meaning that combat never gets stale. Astral Chain is short but super sweet, with a lean 20-hour campaign filled with flair worthy of a Devil May Cry game. The characters are cyberpunk supermodels, and the story has a whole lot of heart, aspects that work in tandem with the ever-evolving combat system. Sales for this Switch exclusive title alone show that Astral Chain is a phenomenal action game worth a playthrough or two.

Disco Elysium has a cool name, cool concept, and cool gameplay

Everything about Disco Elysium is strange, bizarre, and really, really, really weird. All this oddity lends to its unique brand of charm as you investigate a murder in the most unorthodox of ways. The game is a detective noir story at its core, asking the player, "What kind of cop are you?" There's no real straightforward answer to that, because this beautiful oil painting of a game allows you to choose: are you think kind who telepathically communes with the dead? The kind that has two-sided conversations with the mirror? Like we said, this game is trippy, but that is Disco Elysium's strength.

The dialogue has a poetic, manic depth that absolutely enthralls. The world also has that kind of depth, open for you to explore and come to realize you have no idea where or when this takes place — again, in a good way. Detecting your way through this world requires skills, and not the usual ones you would find in an RPG. There's no combat, just cognition. Skills are made up of various parts of our drunken, amnesiac protagonist's brain, so it's up to you how he goes about solving the vexing mystery at the center of Disco Elysium.

Asgard's Wrath is an ambitious, beautiful VR tale

Fans of all things Norse mythology will love Asgard's Wrath. The much-celebrated God of War reboot is nothing in comparison to this mythological deep dive into all things Asgardian. In this gorgeous, well-rendered VR game, players who don their Oculus headset will be immersed in a gorgeous world, a proper RPG ready to be explored. As the new god of animals, players get to know Aesir like Loki on a whole new level. 

Asgard's Wrath is no short-lived adventure, but instead a sprawling title that feels AAA, dare we say. UploadVR is calling it "VR's Best And Most Ambitious Game Yet," celebrating the intricate story and interesting puzzles. The worlds are beautiful and full of secrets waiting to be found, keeping players occupied for dozens of hours. Good old-fashioned melee combat feels like an action movie, making the most out of motion controls. All that said, Asgard's Wrath's crown jewel is clearly the ability to high-five NPCs, just one of many charming and enchanting additions to this incredible VR game.

Sayonara Wild Hearts will keep you on your toes

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a gorgeous music video, but it's also a game that tells a compelling story about getting over heartbreak. Basically, the title does it all while possessing one of the best soundtracks of 2019. Marketed as a "pop album video game," players enter a neon world of enemy gangs like the Dancing Devils, the Howling Moons, the Stereo Lovers, the Hermit 64, and Little Death. You even get to experience an epic transformation sequence reminiscent of Sailor Moon. 

That's cool, you say, but what about the gameplay? Sayonara Wild Hearts has a little bit of everything. If we had to give it a single genre, it would be rhythm-action, but that doesn't encapsulate the many mini-games. Sometimes you're on a high speed motorcycle in a side scrolling adventure, other times you dance battle the aforementioned biker gangs. Though Sayonara Wild Hearts received The Game Awards nominations for Best Mobile Game, Best Score and Music, and Best Art Direction, it was beat out by more high profile franchises, making it one of the most underappreciated gems of the year.