BDM’s Game of the Year 2019

From battling dragons and hi-octane first-person shooters to retro classics reborn and naughty geese, 2019 has been a fantastic year for gamers. Here we will be looking at the very best games we have had the pleasure to play on mobile and desktop devices in 2019.

Do you agree with our top games, is there one or two you think we have missed? Or send us your top tens and we could put together a reader’s game of the year too. Let us know by emailing us at iosmag@bdmpublications.com, on Twittter @BDMpubs or on Facebook.

Highly Recommended

Next Up Hero

Is this the game that brings Gauntlet-style, co-operative  dungeon crawling into the 21st Century? We sharpen our swords and get our spell books ready!

A 2D twin-stick dungeon crawler, the game fuses Gauntlet’s attitude with Smash TV’s control system. One stick is used to move, the other, to aim. You choose from nine characters with a wild range of weird weaponry; as well as the usual swords and axes, you can fight with laser turrets, bongo drums, player-detonated mines and more, you can even steal monsters’ attacks and make them your own. It’s clearly a lighthearted affair, not the dark and dangerous fiend-factory flavour favoured by many other dungeon delvers.

Something else the game doesn’t take too seriously is its RPG elements, sure, you can beef up your characters by collecting gold and tokens, but it’s not cursed with an over-complicated power-up system that does little other than make the game look deeper than it actually is. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent opportunities for advancement; beefing up your heroes is great fun and if you can unlock the most powerful version of your character, you might be invited to join the Champions Trials.

Overall, it’s the deaths that are really innovative. When you bite the dust, you leave behind an ‘echo’, or ghost, so another player – any other player – can pick up this echo and use it as an AI assistant and because it’s all online, when they die, you can do the same. The game’s brutally hard on your own, there aren’t even any health potions to collect, so by gathering the echoes of fallen heroes, you can build your warrior into a force to be reckoned with, especially if you combine them to form ‘Ancients’, mega-tough allies who can get you out of a sticky situation. Of course, this means you have to be online when you play, so you can see where other gamers have fallen and they can see your own deceased echoes too. This is a disadvantage, of course, but we’re all online most of the time anyway these days.

Next Up Hero is a little too repetitive to be an all-time classic, but it’s definitely fun to play. Overall, we think it’s good value for money, especially if you catch it on one of its regular Steam sales.


Highly Recommended

Mario Kart Tour

The legendary kart-racing franchise pulls on to the iOS starting grid.

Let’s start with the positives, of which there are many. This game really does feel like Mario Kart. The touchscreen controls are initially a little awkward, but with some practice become instinctive and responsive. Much like Mario Run, the concept for the game is the ability to play one handed, hence the seemingly ill-fitting portrait viewpoint. Again, like the controls, within a few plays this vertical camera view becomes less and less obtrusive, even feeling familiar and ultimately fresh.

Mario Kart Tour follows the traditions of the core game well. The comic style power-up-based racing instantly catches your attention and locks on. Amiably backing up the core play style is a solid mix of drivers, karts, and tracks, with an online multiplayer mode still to come. Essentially this is Mario Kart, and early thoughts are that it’s great. The gameplay, visuals, sound, and design are instantly familiar to fans, and form the basis of a potentially excellent mobile interpretation of Nintendo’s console classic.

The tour element of the title is an interesting inclusion, as the racer has 14 days on each location to claim victory, beat the challenges and unlock as many rewards as possible before moving on to a new location and new tracks. Working your way through the tours, cups, climbing the CC speed ranks, upgrading your driver and kart while honing your skills offers everything fans expect. Much like a red shell up the exhaust pipe, the game draws to a halt when the stark reality that very little of the above actually matters as much as it did in the older entries to the series. Track knowledge, karting skills, and all the factors that used to relate to success have been usurped
in favour of in-app purchases and loot boxes.

Winning is equally based on bank balance and not how well you play the game. Yet, the pressure on the credit card doesn’t stop there. You can also purchase a subscription to a monthly Gold Pass, which unlocks the 200cc mode, some new characters, power ups, and some bonus Rubies to purchase more of those loot crates. For those willing to try, you can grind up your coin totals and skill ratings, but without the benefits of the higher-grade characters and karts. Complete victory is achievable if you’re willing to put in the time and hope luck plays a part. These factors alone make grinding a real grind.

For those not willing to splash the cash, the correct choice of driver, kart and glider actually adds an additional level of strategy to the game. Making the right choice, combining the benefits of each element can massively improve your lap times and scores. Albeit you may have to save up those free coins for a very long time before you can make the required purchase. It may be a very long route in comparison to the instant unlock an in-app purchase can bring, but at least there’s a free diversion for racers to take.

As a huge fan of the franchise, Mario Kart Tour is a hard game not to really enjoy; it’s Mario Kart! Equally, it’s a very difficult game to fully embrace, unless you are willing to pay. By the time you reach the finish line, the overwhelming feeling isn’t one of total disappointment thanks to the classic gameplay and the regular free updates and content. Yet, it’s hard to shake the feelings of what might have been, as this is really good but not as fantastic as expectations would have you believe.


Highly Recommended

Cuphead

A fast-paced action platformer, in the vein of Mega Man, but with 1930 cartoon visuals!

At first glance, it would be easy to lump Cuphead in with every other run-and-gun/boss-rush platformer, but spend just a few minutes with the titular Cuphead and his buddy, Mugman and you soon see this is anything but.

That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t deliver on the boss-heavy action a platform game of this type should offer, because it really does. What lifts the game above that, for us anyway, is the wonderful use of 1930s cartoon-style art and an original jazz soundtrack. Of course, if you dislike jazz and 1930s cartoons, then these features aren’t going to be the selling point that they were for us.

However, even if you aren’t here for the trumpets and the cartoon eyes on stalks, there’s much to love about this game. The story revolves around Cuphead and Mugman ignoring good advice (or bad advice, depending on your point of view) and visiting the devil’s casino. After losing a bet with the devil himself, our two heroes make a deal to collect Soul Contracts to stop Old Nick taking theirs, so, with the help of a potion that lets them fire blasts of energy from their fingers, Cuphead and Mugman are off to battle various minions, bad guys and bosses all across the Inkwell Isles.

Spread across numerous levels, all lovingly designed to look like an old cartoon, the gameplay is heavily focused on huge boss fights. Nevertheless, each level feels like a challenge and an adventure to get there. On its release in 2018, Cuphead was praised for its unique art style and challenging difficulty level, as well as for the original soundtrack and nothing has been changed for the macOS release that we played. The action is fast and frantic and you really need to hone your reflexes if you are going to get through each level to the tricky end-boss.

This isn’t the cheapest game, but there’s no doubt you can really see what your money is going to support. From the hand-drawn art, to the upbeat jazz music, everything screams quality and it really isn’t something you can blast through in an hour; you really get some challenge for your cash!


Highly Recommended

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition

Join Lara in the final part of her rebooted Tomb Raider origins trilogy.

Unlike many of its peers it sits alongside in the gaming hall of fame, Tomb Raider has not only managed to evolve and improve over its many sequels and incarnations, but it’s done so while retaining the gameplay and visual charm that initially drew us to Lara Croft’s adventures.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the final installment in Square Enix’s origins trilogy. So, those familiar with the previous games will need little motivation to jump right back into the series with glee. For those not familiar, this release will see you a little lost in the narrative; you’d be best advised to start this adventure at the beginning, not the finale.

That’s not to say this title can’t be enjoyed in a stand-alone manner, as there are many, many treasures to find within. At its core, the gameplay is a mixture of Sony’s Uncharted Series and the original Tomb Raider series. We’ll skip over the irony of the inspiration the developers have taken from Uncharted, which openly wears its Lara influences. The blend of exploration, puzzle solving, combat and stealth concoct an inescapable mix that delights from start to finish. Lara is once again a joy to play, a strong and well written character that holds the
plot together excellently.

Miss Croft has never been so well drawn as she is in the series. The surrounding characters are, alas, a little less well established, with the lead villain lacking that ‘blood lust’ a great baddie inspires. Also a little disappointing are the intriguing, but ultimately underdeveloped, RPG and crafting elements. The hunting, gathering and crafting style, to create upgrades to weaponry, helps with progression, but is too limited in scope to draw the player back in after the first few levels are achieved.

In terms of the adventure itself, the story mode, with its host of secrets to discover, holds a decent lifespan and challenge. It’s perfectly complimented by the fantastic level design and stunning visuals; wandering the locations is a pleasure in itself. As great as the story mode is, the inclusion of the Challenge Tombs DLC in this collector’s edition provides the majority of your tomb-raiding. These mini adventures are fantastic, providing a well-balanced burst of the key franchise highlights that will keep you coming back.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an excellent conclusion to the rebooted franchise, and one that leaves you hoping for more.


Highly Recommended

Phantasy Star Classics

The classic retro RPG series makes a long overdue return to the spotlight.

Phantasy Star Classics is SEGA’s latest low-cost revisit of its own back catalogue. It’s a compilation of three classic Mega Drive/Genesis titles: Phantasy Star II (1989), Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1990) and the series’ finale, Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1993). Unfortunately, the original Phantasy Star from 1987 isn’t included. Perhaps this is because it appeared on the Master System and not the Mega Drive/Genesis, but it’s a pity we don’t have the entire series here.

What we do have, though, is value for money. You can download and play this game on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch for free and you can remove the in-game ads for a small fee. Considering the cost of the cartridges back in the day, this is a very good deal indeed. The games’ porting to iOS has gone well. There are three graphics settings available: Classic, which gives the same visuals as the original titles, Smooth, which offers a more modern finish with less visible pixels and Scan, with artificial scan lines added for a real watching-on-a-CRT-telly look.

Both the iPad and the iPhone releases offer touchscreen controls.They’re straightforward enough, being a direct clone of the 16-bit console’s three-button joypad. They work best on the iPhone; on the iPad, they tend to get in the way of the gameplay, especially when there’s text to read. Thankfully, you can customise the layout and, more importantly, change the buttons’ opacity, making them easier to see through. Best of all, alternatively, you can use an iOS-compatible joypad and play the games the way they were intended to be played.

A useful addition for the iOS compilation is a 15-second rewind button that lets you wind back to a point before you did something wrong. Better than having to reload a game save. Talking of which, you can save at any point, with your saves being stored on Game Centre. This is useful, as you can play at home on your iPad with a joypad and then continue on your iPhone while on the bus.

What about the games? They’re terrific. Highly influential in their day, these old-school RPGs have definitely stood the test of time. With captivating plots, interesting cut scenes and impressive character development, these titles will keep you coming back for more, and more, and more.


Highly Recommended

Golden Treasure: The Great Green

The sun is your father. The Earth is your mother. The sky is the limit.

Have you ever killed a dragon? Have you donned your shining armour and hunted down your fire-breathing foe before hauling off his treasure horde? Fans of adventure games have probably done so a dozen times; killing the dragon has been an RPG trope since 1982’s The Hobbit, but Golden Treasure: The Great Green turns it on its head. Here, you have to be the dragon.

Starting as a young hatchling, you must hunt prey, fight other dragons, gather treasure, and learn about the land of the Great Green as you grow to adulthood. Watch out for the ‘no-tails’, or humans, as they encroach onto dragon territory and hunt your kith and kin. We told you the trope is turned on its head.

It’s a beautiful game; eschewing the usual pixels and polygons approach, Golden Treasure uses over a hundred, hand-painted scenes. As you progress through the game’s four chapters and learn more and more about the world, you’re really drawn into life as a dragon. Our only significant complaint is the lack of in-game save points, which means you have to start a chapter again if you lose all of your three lives.


Highly Recommended

Call of Duty Mobile

Mobile games don’t always live up to their expectations. This one does!

The Call of Duty franchise has made somewhere in the region of $15 billion. $15 BILLION! That’s simply an unbelievable amount, and it’s testament to just how popular, whether you like it or not, the games have been for the PC and consoles. Now, though, we’re playing it on the mobile platform.

Let’s get the inevitable comparison with PUBG Mobile out of the way first. Call of Duty: Mobile is better. Much better. It ‘feels’ better, despite it being, more or less, a similar experience. The elements that combine to make it better are many. Better realism, more game modes, fluid combat experience, better graphics, and far better gameplay. PUBG Mobile fans won’t be pleased with those assessments, but there you go. Call of Duty: Mobile is the better game.

On a platform where first-person shooters are generally dire, Activision and Tencent have done a magnificent job of bringing the PC and console version to life on the smaller screens. Choose between Battle Royale, Free for all, Frontline, Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint and Domination, and you’re in for a spectacular treat. The terrain is realistic, the damage is well balanced, and even the controls work well.

Speaking of controls, Call of Duty: Mobile offers two types, depending on the experience level of the gamer. The simple control option allows your left thumb to control movement, while the right aims. There’s no fire button, as soon as the crosshairs target an enemy, the gun fires. Advanced adds a button that lets you look down your sights for more precise hits and control.

However, Call of Duty: Mobile is a team effort, with no single-player option available. The maps are throwbacks to CoD favourites, and there’s more on the horizon. You can customise your player to the nth degree; and yes, there are micro-transactions, but it doesn’t feel pay-to-win. All in all, it’s the best PC/console to mobile game we’ve ever played.


Highly Recommended

Untitled Goose Game

Unleash your inner goose and get ready for some honking good mischief.

Here’s something very pleasant in the way Untitled Goose Game starts. There’s a gentle piano tune playing in the background, and the graphical menus are large and well presented, it’s all very quaint. However, there’s nothing nice about the character you play: a particularly mean and vindictive goose.

Untitled Goose Game, developed by House House and published by Panic Inc., lets you control a goose, loose on a rampage of mischief and terror. You’re tasked with a To Do list of objectives, based on your current location.
You begin by inflicting all manner of trouble on a poor gardener. Move his rake into the village pond, steal his lunch, prize pumpkins and carrots, and lure him into a position where you can turn on the garden sprinkler and soak the poor chap. Moving on, and your vindictiveness grows. You’re able to frighten a child into a telephone box and then untie his shoelaces, so he falls over when you creep up behind him and hit the Honk key. Whatever the task at hand, you can be sure it’s pretty despicable – but also immense fun.

There’s something unnervingly enjoyable about playing the villain, be that a goose, goat or toddler (a reference there to Jack the Nipper). But Untitled Goose Game isn’t just about causing havoc. It’s the way in which you interact with your environment and act out these scenes of unpleasantness that’s so gratifyingly wholesome. Graphically, Untitled Goose Game is great. Big, bold graphics: simple but effective. The musical score is perfectly attuned to your antics and there’s always something going on to bring a smile to your face.

With plenty of laughs, and opportunities for evil grins and hand rubbing, Untitled Goose Game is one of the most enjoyable titles we’ve played for a long time.


Game of the Year 2019

STAY: Are you there?

An incredibly intense real-time adventure that has you glued to your iOS device. No, really it will!

One massive, pet peeve of ours is how few mobile games genuinely take advantage of both the hardware and the user interface touchscreen, technology can offer. For every Limbo and Monument Valley, there’s an endless list of virtual joypad (two words that make our collective buttocks clench!) rubbish to slur any goodwill the former and their like have generated. And the along comes Plug In Digital’s absolutely fantastic STAY: Are you there?, which not only does it make perfect use of the iOS UI but intriguingly, the parallels with touchscreen/mobile devices use goes far deeper than the control method and finds its way into the narrative itself.

The plot finds you randomly contacted by the game’s lead, Quinn, who finds himself locked in a room with only a computer and an instant messenger app, through this app and eventually a smartphone, you must solve the riddle of his enforced containment. To add a further layer of intensity to the proceedings, the game takes place in real time. If you stray too far from the game, Quinn may perish, or face something far worse! Quinn is akin to a Tamagotchi, albeit one that doesn’t poo everywhere when left on his own.

He feels surprisingly real, trapped in his terrible situation with only you to help and as his only contact to the outside world. Say the wrong thing, or stray away from STAY for too long and he grows bitter. Although counterproductive to his plight, his reactions are very human and ultimately affect the outcome of the game itself. It’s this interaction and the eventual building of a very real bond between the player and the lead that delivers the most commendable aspect of the entire game.

This reviewer at least felt genuinely connected with Quinn, cutting disconnects with the game to a minimum until it was completed and his fate resolved. This means the, seemingly endless, list of hazards and deaths, that punctuate the gameplay, carry a greater punch than in most games. The engrossing narrative, combines perfectly with the fantastic pixel art-style visuals and the low-key use of sound, to help build atmosphere.

The game offers a 24-chapter narrative, which is largely based on one-to-one interaction and basic point-and-click-inspired exploration, punctuated with some very challenging puzzles to solve. These puzzles are one of the few low points in this game. Not only are they at times, beyond logical and deeply frustrating, they also break up the narrative far too often.

From start to finish there’s five to six hours of gameplay, but the initial conclusion is far from the end of the game. There are seven endings to unlock and, trust me, you will want to unlock them all.

STAY: Are you there? feels like the perfect mobile game. The plot, the character interaction and the control method, all bring a level of innovation that feels inspired by the hardware that plays host to it. It’s a game that places an emotional connection at its heart and one that should be embraced by all gamers, not just those seeking a new digital addiction.

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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