WellPlayed’s Surprise Hits of 2019

WellPlayed’s Surprise Hits of 2019

Like unexpectedly receiving a signed picture of Steven Seagal crouching in attack position by mail, life can be full of surprises. Gaming of course is no different, and whether it’s a game where you went in with low expectations that blew you away, or a sleeper hit that blindsided you like a Steven Seagal high kick, it’s always a good feeling. We did the rounds at WellPlayed to see what pleasantly surprised our writers this year.

Surprise of the Year: A Plague Tale: Innocence

Everyone knows that AA games – especially those with a historical focus – are my bread and butter, and every year there are a handful of titles that I am always pinning my hopes and dreams on. Sometimes you get it wrong (Homefront: The Revolution), whereas other times you nail it and your friends don’t know whether to applaud you begrudgingly or simply chalk it up to luck.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is easily one of 2019’s best narratives (it received a nomination for Best Narrative at the 2019 Game Awards), even if the game’s premise is rather grim. Deep down I always had a feeling it was going to be good, but I never expected just how good it would be – I mean it could have easily have been my GOTY for 2019, and it some ways it is thanks to its emotive and compelling story and setting, which drew high praise from critics and players. A Plague Tale: Innocence is a testament to the power of storytelling, and is further proof that single-player games are far from dead.

Surprise of the Year: Gears 5

Now I’ll be the first to admit, I was expecting Gears 5 to be pretty average. I enjoyed Gears of War 4 as a game, but it was average. The writing was bland, the multiplayer was okay, the only thing I really enjoyed was Horde Mode but I was very willing to admit that it wasn’t that great. Gears 5 is a game that had no right to be as good as it was. There were some great gameplay and balance changes made and the story is just phenomenal. Yes, I know the multiplayer it kind of dead but I don’t care about multiplayer. I’m very interested to see what The Coalition does with the next mainline Gears game.

Surprise of the Year: Tetris 99

In a gaming landscape dominated by the battle toyale juggernauts Apex Legends and Fortnite, I find it rather funny to say to people that the battle royale game I’ve played the most is Tetris 99. It’s fair to say this game was the biggest surprise of the year, as I never envisioned that a game of this ilk feature as much throughout my year as it did. It’s a great multiplayer experience, and despite the fact that I view it as a relaxation game, my heartbeat often races when it gets down to the last few combatants. I expect Tetris 99 to remain in my games rotation for years to come. 

Surprise of the Year: Darksiders Genesis

I am always excited for a new Darksiders title, but Genesis worried me. Darksiders III only just dropped in 2018, and though I enjoyed it – I was well aware that it was a rocky return for the series. So seeing that the fourth Darksiders title was going to be a shuffle in formula, a prequel AND the debut of the last horseman, I was worried that it was going to be a rough one. Would it even FEEL like a Darksiders game? Would they change too much, leaving it feeling unfamiliar and strange? Thankfully those radical dudes at Airship Syndicate managed to spin the Darksiders series off into something exceptionally slick and fun.

Surprise of the Year: Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission

If you’ve paid attention this year, you would have realised that I’m the one who is most likely to post any news relating to Dragon Ball games. So when Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission was announced, you could say that Bandai Namco had my attention in trying to bring a Japanese exclusive arcade to the West. I was interested but a little apprehensive to jump in as I had never gotten into competitive card games before. But as the title of this article probably suggests, I was pleasantly surprised with just how much fun I had with this game. Playing through the story, missions and grinding for cards on my lunch breaks at work, I’ve put in well over twenty hours into this game. SDBH:WM is definitely not for everyone but oh boy was it for me.  

Surprise of the Year: A Plague Tale: Innocence

Rats! How does a game chock-full of the festy, disease-ridden bastards wind up being so…beautiful? Asobo Studio has proven that you can have champagne ambitions on a beer budget – just pour the beer with love (you’re welcome, Zach). I honestly had zero expectation for this game and was completely surprised with how much it captured my attention from the opening moments and held it until the credits rolled. A Plague Tale: Innocence is a masterclass in keeping things simple and working within your wheelhouse, while bringing a story to life with genuine care. If this game doesn’t spark the start of a bright future of more games from Asobo then I will unleash a plague of rats into this world so great that even Fat Cat – Australia’s greatest and most feared of all felines – could not stop them.

Surprise of the Year: The Bradwell Conspiracy 

I had heard about The Bradwell Conspiracy and I had seen the trailers, but nothing truly grabbed me about it – that was until I played it. The gameplay is reminiscent of many other puzzlers in the genre and it didn’t do a huge amount to innovate, but I found myself invested because it had something important – character. The setting is believable with a hint of sci-fi fantasy, the characters are relatable yet dramatic and the voice cast brings them to life spectacularly. I bonded with one character in particular and as the game drew to a close I was sad knowing that our adventure together was over, showing me that Bradwell had that little special something. I wasn’t ready to love The Bradwell Conspiracy, but I did all the same. Play it if you haven’t.

Surprise of the Year: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

I was a huge fan of Fire Emblem Awakening but the games that followed didn’t seem to grab my attention as much. In effect, it reduced my anticipation levels for the latest entry in the franchise on the Nintendo Switch. What I found was an immersive and emotional ride with memorable characters, really tough choices, satisfying combat and social elements that reminded me of the popular Persona series. Three Houses truly takes the formula to the next level in unexpected ways with its focus on lecture classes and guiding your students through their studies, offering dozens of hours of gameplay with surprising twists and heartbreaking moments. The game is basically Fire Emblem mixed with Persona and Harry Potter – a weird and wonderful mix that just works.

Surprise of the Year: Untitled Goose Game

I remember being baffled and then awed when I first heard of this game. It’s hard to make something truly unique these days and Untitled Goose Game was well out of the left field. This game was a joy in its premise, game play, physics and music and had me cackling evilly or laughing with joy throughout. I really hope we hear from the naughty goose again some day.

Surprise of the Year: Tetris 99

I’m not mad at the battle royale genre, I’m just disappointed. But I can’t be mad at Tetris. Who could be mad, or even dislike, the second-greatest export of the Soviet Union (Those Red Army Choir boys are simply marvelous)? Fortnite? More like Borednite, this is where the real daddies get their battle royale fix. Action-packed, yet oddly therapeutic. I was always up for another round, and not many multiplayer games are so generous with their fun. Wish I’d gotten that Pokemon skin though.

Surprise of the Year: Gears 5

As one of Microsoft’s flagship franchises, the Gears of War series has a lot of pressure resting on its chiselled, chunky shoulders. Although technically competent, Gears of War 4 didn’t manage to reignite my passion for the series, and it seemed like the once mighty franchise was running out of steam. Enter Gears 5, which gives its core characters more depth in an interesting narrative with an electric pace. It was always going to be a good third-person shooter with solid mechanics and beautiful graphics (and Gears 5 was nothing short of a technical marvel), but it managed to pull those elements together and wrap it in a story seasoned with interesting characters that gave me a reason to care, which I wasn’t expecting.