Nintendo games often don't get the attention they deserve when it comes to Game of the Year awards, and that's usually because they are so different from games released on other consoles. I figured that the best way to celebrate 2019's most amazing Nintendo games was to compare them against each other. It turns out that choosing the Nintendo "game of the year" was a lot harder than I expected it would be. There were so many awesome releases in 2019 that have become some of the best Nintendo Switch games of all time, that it was tough to narrow down the best one among them. Plus, the top contenders were all on my list for different reasons. In some ways, it was like comparing the proverbial apples to oranges.
Best Nintendo games of 2019
After some serious introspection and days of debating, I finally decided that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my pick for Nintendo Game of the Year. I'll tell you how I came to this decision, who the runner up is, and I'll also talk about some of the other amazing Nintendo games that released this year. Without further ado, here's why Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my pick for Nintendo Game of the Year.
Game of the Year: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Of all of the single-player Nintendo games that released this year, none of them offer as much replay value as Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Every playthrough of this game is unique due to the three house options, the permadeath system, and the player's ability to make story-altering decisions. Most everyone I've talked to has said they've spent roughly 80 hours on their first playthrough of the game. After that, you can go back and try another route, which gives you an estimated 240 hours of gameplay if you want to play them all. The amount of time you can put into this game definitely makes the price worth it.
Additionally, depending on your choices, you'll interact with a completely different bunch of students and get embroiled in different political views. Plus, the characters themselves have complex backstories addressing things like abuse, racism, sexism, religious zealotry, and plain old prejudice. There's also phenomenal voice acting the whole way through the game, which is rare for Switch games. What's more, the characters each have their own strengths and weaknesses on the battlefield, making for unique gameplay depending on who you play with.
The strategic combat and complex training options make for a challenging RPG (especially if you're playing the game in Normal mode rather than Casual mode). If you really want to keep everyone alive, you'll have to carefully think through your strategy, train everyone appropriately, use people where they're best suited, and take advantage of each map's unique layout. If you get all of this down, this game makes you feel like a master strategist and offers a super rewarding experience.
Game of the Year
Challenging combat and plenty of replay value
Your decisions affect which characters join your side and the way the story unfolds. There's plenty of replay value as you get to choose your house, choose your allies, and eventually choose your romantic interest.
Runner-up: Luigi's Mansion 3
Luigi's Mansion 3 built off of the foundation created by the original title and adds new combat mechanics to revitalize and evolve the franchise. It was a very welcome entry after the fun-but-limiting 3DS sequel. There are a lot of interesting puzzles that are fun to figure out. You'll have to use Luigi in creative ways to beat every challenge. Since the plumber's gooey doppelganger, Gooigi, can be controlled by another player, you can play on your own or pass a controller to a buddy and play together. If that wasn't enough, this game is downright hilarious and can be enjoyed by players of all ages, making it the perfect family game.
Instead of focusing on jump scares, this lighthearted game surprises you with humor. You might think you know what's going to happen next, but then the game subverts your expectations and makes you chuckle to yourself. If you need to take a break from the main storyline, three additional party games can host up to eight players each. This is absolutely the funniest Nintendo game of the year and offered the most diverse playing options. The replay value on this game isn't as good as some others because it's got a linear storyline, but it's still a fun game to replay. Heck, talking about it has made me want to replay it right now.
True to the original game while building upon it.
You take on 17 floors of spooks within a haunted hotel. This game is filled with hilarious moments, fun gameplay, and challenging puzzles.
Notable and impactful Nintendo games of 2019
In addition to the best Nintendo Game of the Year, I wanted to highlight some of the most interesting and innovative Switch games that released in the last 12 months. Whether they were game-changers or simply caught the attention of the gaming world, here are the most notable and impactful Nintendo games of 2019.
Most controversial: Pokémon Sword and Shield
No Nintendo game had as much influence or presence on social media in 2019 as Pokémon Sword and Shield. It started pretty early on since people were excited for a core Pokémon game to come to a console. Then things exploded with "Dexit," where Game Freak announced they were limiting the number of Pokémon in the Galar region Pokédex to 400. Things continued to build as the Japanese gaming company revealed new gaming elements, Pokémon, and mechanics. Whether or not Gen 8 turned out the way you wanted it to, Sword and Shield are still fun games.
The core essence of what makes the Pokémon games successful (traveling around a region, beating gyms, catching Pokémon, and becoming the ultimate trainer) hasn't changed much over the years, but what did change are the elements that got padded around the main story. Sword and Shield allow you to encounter high-level Pokémon in the overworld right from the start and provides new Max Raid Battles, which allows for more interaction with fellow players online or with your local friends. Being able to contact your buddies when you've spotted a rare Gigantamax raid in the Wild Area and then allowing them to battle it with you is an enjoyable addition.
There are several new secrets to discover throughout the game, including new types of shinies and trying to figure out how to evolve certain Pokémon. And, whether you liked it or not, only having 400 Pokémon makes completing the Pokédex and acquiring the Shiny Charm much more doable. It makes it easier to go shiny hunting once you've beaten the main story. For more competitive players, the new Mints and Pokémon Academy make it really easy to get a Pokémon with amazing IVs. You can spend hours after completing the game, trying to breed or train the perfect Pokémon with the best stats.
The standard Pokémon formula with new peripherals
Gen 8 didn't do much in way of innovating the series, but the standard Pokémon formula still works. The added elements of spotting Pokémon in the Wild Area and being able to join Max Raid Battles with friends really make Sword and Shield a fun set of games.
Best sandbox game: Super Mario Maker 2
The original Super Mario Maker was one of the rare gems released on the Wii U. Considering that it was one of the worst-selling Nintendo consoles in history, it's not too surprising that Nintendo opted to create a Switch sequel with new and improved elements. Super Mario Maker 2 inspires creativity and lets you create just about any Mario level you can think of. Hundreds of new building elements and items that hadn't been in the original made it into the second game providing new and exciting ways to play.
Since online players are constantly creating new content, anyone with a Nintendo Switch Online membership can find new levels to play every time they boot up the game. The sequel has made it so you can sort everyone's creations by a variety of categories, including difficulty. You can easily find the perfect level for your mood, whether it be the self-completing levels that are oh-so-satisfying to watch or the insanely tricky challenges that only a small percentage of people can beat.
If you aren't feeling the creative itch, you can always play through the Story Mode, which offers over 100 unique levels for you to complete. These range from super easy to incredibly challenging (though you won't find anything as sadistic as what other players come up with), so you can find the levels you want to play. It's a super fun game that provides hours of entertainment.
Best sandbox game
Build levels or enjoy others' creations
With hundreds of building elements and items, players can create the Mario level of their dreams. Or you can play the story mode or go online to play pre-made content.
Best Remake: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
With the Switch version of Link's Awakening, this game has now been officially remade three times, but none have been quite as fun as the most recent one. The gorgeous, retro-modern art style maintains the tilt-shift visuals of the original but within a 3D space. This pays homage to the original Game Boy game but also allows it to evolve into a modern gaming experience. One of the things I love most is that you aren't limited to two buttons like you were with the Game Boy. You can assign more items from your inventory, so you don't always have to pop into the menu during a dungeon or boss battle.
Link's Awakening is unlike any other Zelda game Nintendo has ever made. It's incredibly quirky and lighthearted, but also challenging. If you get a moment, you should look into the history behind how the original title came to be. Whether you've played the previous versions or are experiencing this strange Zelda title for the first time, it's a fantastic game.
The remake of my dreams
Link awakens after being shipwrecked on a mysterious island. This game nods to the original release, adds some much-needed updates, and offers plenty of fun dungeons for you to explore.
Best Indie game: Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game quickly became an internet favorite as the goose popped up in memes just about everywhere. And really, what's not to like? You get to play out the best pranks on a small, unsuspecting village of people while controlling a goose. This game really plays around with dramatic irony since you get to see how the villagers respond to your devious tricks, usually while you're hidden out of view. It's sure to make you chuckle. Unlike other games where you go around committing crimes, you really can't feel morally opposed to a frustrating goose.
It's a relatively short game, but due to the hilarious nature of it, you'll likely want to replay it several times. Thank you, House House, for creating such a silly game that's oh so simple and yet genius in concept.
Best Indie game
Lets you be a hilarious jerk
You get to run around messing with people as an annoying goose. Whether you're stealing someone's glasses or dropping their slippers into a fountain, your tasks are all devious and hilarious.
Most interactive: Ring Fit Adventure
I'll admit I was super skeptical about Ring Fit Adventure when it was first announced. But seriously, you can hardly blame me considering how ridiculous, and mildly inappropriate the initial teaser video looked (especially since we weren't shown the screen when people were using the new Ring-Con accessory). I've since played Ring Fit Adventure for several hours, and I can say that it's an addictive exercising game that really makes you sweat. And while it's marketed towards adults, just about anyone can enjoy it. In fact, whenever my 5-year-old nephew comes over, instead of asking to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or any of my other kid-friendly games, he wants to play "the wheel game" and "go really fast."
To move forward, you need to jog in real life with one of the Joy-Cons strapped to your leg. Thankfully, your mind gets distracted because there are things to do and items to collect on your path. The game also helps break up the running sections by having you fight enemies by completing stretches and poses. You can even make it, so the game takes your pulse after you've completed a level. It's a great way to get into exercise without requiring you to pay a monthly membership or go out into the cold. It's sure to be a big hit this holiday season.
The spiritual successor to Wii Fit
Explore a fantasy RPG land, gain experience points, and battle enemies while exercising. You'll get so drawn into the game that you'll want to keep sweating.
What do you think?
These are my picks for game of the year and the best games of 2019. Do you agree? Disagree? Are there any we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Rebecca Spear is the dedicated gaming editor for iMore who loves playing games on Switch and iOS. She is a Zelda nut through and through and can also talk for hours about her favorite Pokémon games. She’s written hundreds of guides and reviews over the last six years to the point that if you get stuck in a game somewhere, she can help you out. On any given day, you’ll find her following the latest tech, digitally drawing with her iPad Air and Apple Pencil, reading a good book, or - you guessed it - playing video games. Follow her on Twitter @rrspear (opens in new tab) to see her post about her corgi, foster kitties, art, and favorite video game characters.
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