The best games of 2019 (so far)

We can’t wait until the final weeks of December to share our favorite games of the year. Our memories are too weak, our enthusiasm too strong. Rather than try (and probably fail) to recall what we loved about the games from January and February after 10 months of playing hundreds of other games, we feel it’s best to run our games of the year list as an ongoing journal, updated regularly and thoughtfully.

Here’s how it works: We update the list at the end of each month — and occasionally in between, if we’re particularly excited about a new game. In December, we’ll add any games we missed throughout the year, then reorganize the list into Polygon’s annual Top 50 Games of the Year feature. For example, take a gander at 2018’s list.

You may notice the inclusion of games that were either fully released or made available in early access prior to 2019. Because many games change from patch to patch, let alone year to year, we may include previously available games that receive a significant update within the year or become available on a platform that substantially impacts how that game is experienced.

Be sure to check back each month for new recommendations!

—Chris Plante, executive editor

Polygon Essentials is a collection of persistently updated lists of the best of the best games for each platform — from the hardware’s launch to its end of production — as well as the best entertainment across virtually every medium. For folks new to a platform, think of this as a starter kit. For long-term fans, consider it a list of what to play or watch next. We’ll be updating these lists often, with entries listed in reverse chronological order. To see a collection of other titles we recommend that might not have made the Essentials lists, check out Polygon Recommends.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

The latest additions:

Hempuli Oy

Baba Is You

Most puzzle games establish a clear and limited set of rules, then task the player with finding a solution within those constraints. Baba Is You converts the rules into the game itself. On each stage, the rules are written on the screen, each word an individual block. The words and phrases can be rearranged to literally change the rules in the game world.

For example, the rule “Flag Is Win” means I must reach a flag to complete the stage. But if the flag is unreachable, I can change the rule to “Rock Is Win” and simply touch a nearby rock to finish the puzzle.

The game’s minimalist pixelated art style is easy to read, every object and word on a stage serving some purpose, likely waiting to be repurposed for a strange, mind-bending solution. It’s particularly enjoyable on Switch. I can play a couple of puzzles until I become frustrated, take a break until an epiphany strikes, then return with a potential solve. As I wrote in our review, I enjoy Baba Is You just as much when I’m not playing it.

—Chris Plante

Available on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.
Get it here: Steam | | Humble | Nintendo eShop

Read more:

  • Baba Is You review: one of the best puzzle games in years

Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts via Polygon

Apex Legends

Respawn Entertainment has been one of the most promising AAA developers of this generation, producing the innovative multiplayer shooter Titanfall and a surprisingly rich single-player campaign with Titanfall 2. The studio has always had its hardcore fans and critical praise, but Apex Legends is the first project to attract an audience fitting its talent.

Apex Legends is the latest battle royale game, but it plays markedly different than genre titans PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. It’s a first-person shooter with a tactility that calls to mind the early Call of Duty games. Players choose from a group of “Legends,” each of whom has unique abilities, similar to Overwatch. And its world builds upon the established vision and fiction of the Titanfall franchise, lending it a pinch of depth.

Having elevated multiplayer shooters, then FPS campaigns, and now the battle royale genre, Respawn has shown a rare knack for adapting to a fickle industry. Up next for the team: producing a Star Wars game worthy of the original trilogy. If anybody can do it, I suppose it’s this team.

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.
Get it here: PlayStation Store | Xbox Store | Origin

Read more:

  • Apex Legends review: a more welcoming take on battle royale
  • Apex Legends guide: everything you need to know

The Best Games of the Year:

Nintendo EAD/Nintendo

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe

If Super Mario Odyssey is the culmination of 3D Mario games, then the same could be said of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for 2D Mario games. On the surface, its stages look like a collision of Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. But the game does more than parrot its predecessors. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe repurporses the familiar designs of the franchise, then slowly subverts them. Where I expect a shortcut, I get a dead end. A trail of gold coins leads me into a pit. Concrete walls dematerialize, revealing bonus power-ups.

Comparably underappreciated when released on the Wii U, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe gets a second chance at relevance on the Nintendo Switch. The hybrid portable console is a more fitting home for the game, its short levels benefitting from being played on the go or over a lunch break. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe isn’t as flashy as its 3D sibling, but it’s no less full of surprises and charm. They both belong on every Switch, complimenting one another.

—Chris Plante

Available on Nintendo Switch.
Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | Nintendo eShop

Read more:

  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is the first fantastic game of 2019
  • Ranking the core Super Mario games


Resident Evil 2 Remake

Hours into the game, I overhear a hot Resident Evil 2 tip: Disable zombies by shooting them in the kneecaps. I’ve been programmed by decades of zombie media to aim for the head, and the game rewards this with some spectacularly gruesome cranial explosions. But quietly, the game rewards pragmatic decision making over flashy but wasteful action.

I take to kneecapping my enemies, letting them helplessly crawl after me. In the short term, I miss popping zombie skulls like bubble wrap. But in the long term, I’m happy for the ammo, especially when the familiar shambling zombies are no longer my greatest concern.

The strategic gunplay is just one of the many pieces that enliven the remake of Resident Evil 2. The art-museum-turned-police-station benefits from the moody glow of modern video game lighting. Claire, Leon and the full cast look realistic, and their actors deliver emotional and affecting performances — without throwing out the original’s game’s camp entirely. The Resident Evil 2 remake amplifies the best qualities of Resident Evil franchise, maintaining the satisfying exploration-puzzle framework of the game while updating the experience to be fresh and immediate. It takes the expectations and tweaks them just enough to surprise you, like learning the true weakness of a zombie is its knees.

—Jenna Stoeber

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.
Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | PlayStation Store | Xbox Store | Steam

Read more:

  • How Resident Evil 2 fell apart, then became one of Capcom’s biggest hits
  • Resident Evil 2 review: The new world of survival horror
  • Resident Evil 2 board game review: plays well, looks like hell

Mega Crit Games

Slay the Spire

The PC market is filled with run-based roguelite games with familiar progression systems. Or, in layperson speak, it’s filled with games in which you grind through challenging dungeons only to die, losing everything you earn — except a currency or some other reward that makes the next run a little easier. It’s a proven, addictive loop; it’s also a bit overdone. Nonetheless, Slay the Spire stands out in this crowded space.

The twist: It’s a card game. One of three heroes builds a deck and climbs a tower, defeating progressively more difficult enemies as they go along.

Developer Mega Crit’s art is charming and simple, but the complexity of the card interactions is deep and imaginative. It’s one thing to build a deck against a human opponent in something like Magic, but to create something that can be slotted against all the different enemies in Slay the Spire feels different entirely. With 50 hours inside the tower, I’m still discovering new strategies for overcoming its various ghouls.

Slay the Spire is one of the best dungeon crawlers I’ve experienced, and the first card game I’ve truly adored. Don’t let the genre or the screens sway you. While it might look like a niche experience, the game is designed to appeal to everyone.

—Ryan Gilliam

Available on Linux, Mac, and Windows PC.
Get it here: Steam | Humble | Green Man Gaming

Read more:

  • Slay the Spire finally taught me how to build a deck
  • Slay the Spire is the best new CCG on Steam

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

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