I never feel too comfortable or interested in doing any kinds of ranked “Game of the Year” lists, for a number of reasons, not least that I typically don’t feel like I play enough games to really be able to do a meaningful ranking. However, between streaming projects and picking up a lot of random old Japanese games on a somewhat regular basis, I still end up experiencing a lot of games for the first time over the course of a year. So without caring so much about when a game came out (which I typically don’t, anyway), I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the non-2019 games that made the biggest impact on me in 2019.
So let’s get to it – Ten old games I really enjoyed playing for the first time in 2019:
THE PROTECTOR (MSX)
Early in the year I did a series of Theme Streams featuring Jackie Chan games. You might be surprised at how many of them there are, and I was personally surprised at how many of them were actually quite decent! I had a blast getting more familar with FISTS OF FIRE, and I was quite shocked at how well STUNTMASTER held up, but the game that ended up sticking with me the most was the 1985 MSX computer adaptation of THE PROTECTOR.
The third game by venerable MSX Jackie Chan game developer Tatsuji Otsuka, PROTECTOR is a simple but surprisingly engaging single-screen action platformer. Despite the MSX’s limited capabilites when it comes to action, the game is more responsive and satisfying to play than you’d think, with some pretty tricky platforming and combat challenges! It’s a simple but fun little game, the concept works really well and it’s easy to picture a remake or sequel building on it with new level layouts and enemy combinations.
LAST ALERT (PC Engine CD)
LAST ALERT (originally RED ALERT) is a somewhat infamous game, probably best known for its over the top anime cinematics – complete with goofy English voice acting – but LAST ALERT’s meme potential (Guy Kazama!) betrays the fact that it’s actually a very competent SENJOU NO OKAMI-style top-down run & gun shooter. It controls well, stages are varied and plentiful, and it’s got a whole bunch of cool boss fights! The aforementioned English voice overs have definitely given this game as a whole a “so bad it’s good” reputation, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just legitimately awesome. Sure, the English voices are kind of taking the piss, but that doesn’t change that the art and overall presentation are great, and experiencing this in 1989 must’ve been mindblowing. Thankfully, it’s still pretty great in 2019!
VIOLENT STORM (Arcade)
Man, VIOLENT STORM. This game is not new to me per se, I’ve known about it for a long time, watched speedruns, enjoyed the fucking incredible music, etc – but for one reason or another I never really took the time to actually play it. This changed on my birthday, when I did a special Theme Stream focused on beat ’em up games. VIOLENT STORM was requested, and although I knew it was a kind cool game, not being the biggest fan of Konami beat ’em ups I really didn’t expect much of it. Boy was I wrong! VIOLENT STORM is uniquely action-packed and fast paced, but more importantly it feels really, really good, which is the exact opposite of most of Konami’s efforts in the genre. This game became an instant classic to me, and a game I will greatly enjoy revisiting regularly in the future.
ZERO DIVIDE 2: THE SECRET WISH (PS1)
2019 was a year of many firsts and discoveries for me, one of which turned out be “I guess I kind of love the ZERO DIVIDE series”. I’d played the original ZD back in the mid-90’s, but not thought much of it. Watching fantasic_planet stream random PS1 fighting games some time ago, I was surprised to learn that only does ZERO DIVIDE 2 exist, it actually looks pretty sweet! It’s got a cool aesthetic, some bangin’ tunes, and runs at a silky smooth 60 fps. Fast forward to mid-2019 and I picked up my own copy of the game – getting my hands on it I was delighted yet again to learn that it’s a pretty unabashed VIRTUA FIGHTER clone!
As a huge VF fan, it’s always a treat to play other fighting games borrowing its foundations, and there’s an extra novelty to doing so on a non-SEGA console. Although ZERO DIVIDE 2 is definitely more impressive than its predecessor (which I picked up as well, right around the end of the year), both games are quite cool, and offer a unique flavour of VS fighting on the PS1, both aesthetically and mechanically.
CHAMPION WRESTLER: JIKKYOU LIVE (PS1)
As a fan of professional wrestling and old video games, pro wrestling games is one of those genres of games where I’m happy to pick up just about anything sight unseen. Most wrestling video games are not very good, but I still get enjoyment out of filling out the collection, and with some luck, get to experience something that’s pretty neat, or at least different from the terrible Acclaim WWF games I played as a kid. CHAMPION WRESTLER is one of those rare instances where an old wrestling game is not only “pretty neat” but flat out great!
This game checks a lot of boxes for me; gameplay-wise it is pretty much a FIRE PRO WRESTLING clone, it features a sizeable roster of unlicensed lookalikes, all gorgeously presented with beautifully animated 2D characters in a 3D arena. Basically, it’s a better looking FIRE PRO, making up for its lack of wrestler editor with awesome animation and other bells and whistles. I was especially impressed by the amount and quality of unique animations for reversals and move transitions – even 20+ years later you rarely see it done this well! CHAMPION WRESTLER: JIKKYOU LIVE came pretty much out of nowhere for me, but shot straight into my shortlist of favourite wrestling games.
SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA: KOKURYUUOU NO DENSETSU (PC Engine)
Buichi Terasawa’s classic sci-fi manga Space Adventure COBRA is one of my all-time favourites – the art is great, of course, but what I really love about it is the pulpy tone and boundless imagination on display in everything from character designs, technology, environments, and just bonkers shit that happens during Cobra’s titular Space Adventures. Considering the enduring popularity of COBRA it’s almost surprising there aren’t more than a handful games out there based on it, but it’s hard to be too upset when some of them are this sweet.
KOKURYUUOU NO DENSETSU is the first of two COBRA adventure games on the PC Engine (the second, DENSETSU NO OTOKO even got an English release on the SEGA Mega CD as THE SPACE ADVENTURE), and the format works really well for conveying the tone and atmosphere of the comic. I’d actually played the sequel in the past, but getting to experience a brand new interactive COBRA adventure in 2019 was a real treat! Obviously this game is pretty difficult to recommend to anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese, but to anyone curious I would highly recommend THE SPACE ADVENTURE, which focuses on one of the most famous COBRA stories and has a few more fancy features like voice acting.
LOGIC PUZZLE RAINBOW TOWN (Saturn)
This one’s a bit of a sleeper. LOGIC PUZZLE RAINBOW TOWN was one of many random games I picked up in the past year not really knowing anything about it. I decided to pick it up based mainly on two criteria: It’s published by HUMAN Entertainment (whose games are almost always good and/or interesting), and it’s a Picross clone (and those kind of can’t be bad, right?). Turns out my hunch was good – the game is rather unassuming, but fun!
There’s not a ton to say about the game; it’s a Picross clone with a couple of hundred puzzles in different genres (animals, food, sports, HUMAN games, etc), it starts off easy but gets increasingly complicated, you know the drill. But for one reason or another I found myself coming back to the game a number of times, and all in all spent probably a couple of dozen hours with it. If you’re into Picross clones, this one’s not half bad!
SLAM DRAGON (PS1)
OK, we’re not gonna waste any time pretending SLAM DRAGON is, um, very good. One might in fact argue that it is Quite Bad. It does have its appeal though, with its strange KILLER INSTINCT-esque CG sprites (which all seem to suffer from severe JPG compression for some reason?) and some fairly charming character designs. Special shoutouts to female pro-wrestler Riona Ichinose who not only has like 8 sick command grabs, she also has a super that links them all together in an extremely satisfying 40% damage combo. You gotta love it.
HARD LUCK: RETURN OF THE HEROES (PS2)
HARD LUCK: RETURN OF THE HEROES is a game that piqued my interest for a few reasons. It’s the rare breed of action game that isn’t built around violent conflict, but rather about rescuing people from a burning building – but it’s not purely a fire fighter sim, either. It’s more like an interactive action movie that’s half fire rescue, and half crime mystery; an intriguing premise on its own, but add the fact that the game features three playable characters with their own storylines and a ton of alternate endings, and you’ve got something real interesting! Because it’s such a rare thing, I always cherish action games that aren’t focused on violence, but it was really the structure and branching story paths that ended up really hooking me.
DEAD RISING is one of my all-time favourite games – not really for anything to do with zombies, but for how engaging the time mechanics and resource management is. HARD LUCK is no DEAD RISING, but it shares a lot of similar ideas; it takes place in a small environment that you get to know during the course of the game, the main objective is to rescue survivors while uncovering a conspiracy, and your performance as well as choices you make end up affecting who lives and who dies, where the story goes and how the game ends. HARD LUCK is a little bit of a mess to play, but the structure and storytelling was still so damn cool and well executed – and unusual, even today – that it really stuck with me. I definitely want to revisit this game to see more of what it has to offer, but the biggest takeaway was honestly that this kind of setup has a ton of untapped potential, and I’d love to see more action games try to do something similar.
LEGO BATMAN 2: DC SUPER HEROES (Steam)
A late entry to the list, I played LEGO BATMAN 2 in December as part of The Caped Crusade, my quest to explore the history of Batman video games. I’d found the first LEGO BATMAN quite repetitive and what charm it had wore off long before the game ended – and with the promise (threat?) of an “open world” aspect added in the sequel I was really quite dreading it. I was however thrilled to be proven wrong, as LEGO BATMAN 2 vastly improves on just about all aspects of its predecessor. The samey, repetitive missions were replaced by 15 aesthetically and mechanically unique levels, all strung together with a really fun (and funny!) narrative.
The game does make clever use of the LEGO conceit but even beyond that, it’s just a really enjoyable superhero story with a charming and lighthearted tone (something woefully absent in most comic book games). A month ago I would never have expected to say this, but now I’m actually really excited about the prospect of playing more LEGO games.
Okay, so I of course managed to play a couple of actual new games too. They’re ineligible for the list proper, but I wanted to give them some form of shoutout, so real quick:
- MORTAL KOMBAT 11
- SLAY THE SPIRE
- XENO CRISIS
- BLAZING CHROME
- SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE
- RESIDENT EVIL 2