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Bruno Dias' Top 10 Games of 2019

December 26, 2019 5 min read

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Bruno Dias is a writer and game developer. His writing has appeared in games like Where the Water Tastes Like Wine and Neo Cab, and he did localization work on Pathologic 2. His game, Voyageur, came out on PCs in 2018.

VOLITION: This is a terrible idea.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: This is an *awesome* idea. It’s *disco.* We’re doing it *superstar experimental games journalist*-style this year.

INTERFACING: Can we just type out the top 10 list and email it to Alex already? I wanna hit “send.”

Sunless Skies

INLAND EMPIRE: A sense of intense longing. Just full-body sadness for a place that never was.

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RHETORIC: I liked talking to all the people in this game. Getting to know them. Getting to not really know them, because they hide themselves behind language and masks.

VOLITION: Should probably mention that we know folks that worked on this. Like, as an official full disclosure thing.

EMPATHY: And we think they are lovely people.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: All my aesthetic judgments are totally objective, and this game is objectively gorgeous and brilliant.

Cadence of Hyrule - Crypt of the Necrodancer featuring The Legend of Zelda

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INTERFACING: This one makes the fingers happy.

ELECTROCHEMISTRY: Just fire this sucker up and let the serotonin start pumping away, baby.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: Listen, it’s so much more than that. It’s such a masterful remixing of Zelda aesthetics, not just the music but the visuals, too.

LOGIC: It’s more than the sum of its parts. We wouldn’t have played nearly as much of this if it was a straight up Link to the Past-alike or purely a sequel to Crypt of the Necrodancer.

Super Mario Maker 2

SUGGESTION: It’s a *video game* but it also allows me to *get other people to pay attention to me.* What more could I possibly want.

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RHETORIC: Making Mario Maker levels is like tweeting, except tweets are universally bad and Mario Maker levels are universally good.

INTERFACING: Classic Mario platforming is just so robust. You can fire up any level and it’s a delight to run and jump and just move in that world.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: Plus sometimes you run into something totally high-concept. Nintendo opened up the gates and all the grubby barbarian children got in. It’s beautiful.

INLAND EMPIRE: The limited palette of sprites and imagery means that you have to read between the lines to see what’s really going on with a level.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: It’s a very *bricolage* aesthetic.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

EMPATHY: I love all my precious broken children. I would take a bullet for Bernadetta.

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LOGIC: I don’t know, the actual tactics game isn’t that profound.

ELECTROCHEMISTRY: I enjoyed making the traumatized anime child soldiers kiss.

LOGIC: It didn’t have the bounciness of Mario + Rabbids. Or the rigor of XCOM

ENCYCLOPEDIA: We didn’t finish Mario + Rabbids, and XCOM puts us on tilt these days.

ELECTROCHEMISTRY: Listen. Listen. It’s not about the fighting. It’s not about the tactics! The tactics are just the spine rippling under the skin of this beast. It’s about the succulent flesh of conflict, drama, and most of all: *Romance.*

RHETORIC: Can you phrase it in a way that’s not relentlessly sexual.



CONCEPTUALIZATION: It’s like seeing a brutalist building from the point of view of an ant caught in the concrete mixer.

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ENCYCLOPEDIA: I loved collecting all the story threads. I loved the *lore.*

HALF-LIGHT: Such exquisite horror. Such perfect dread.

INTERFACING: I wasn’t that fond of the shooting.

RHETORIC: Shush. There’s this specific line in Control where we’re told that a spooky magical item must be watched at all times, or else it will “deviate.” Such a good choice of words.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: Not explode, or kill, or go out of control. “Deviate.” Like a misaimed shot or a wayward child…

ENCYCLOPEDIA: Lots of the ideas in this are things we’ve seen before.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: But here they’re wrapped in such exquisite *skin.*

Pokémon Sword

ENCYCLOPEDIA: Did you know there is a substantial part of our brain dedicated to nothing but identifying and recalling facts about Pokémon?

LOGIC: Isn’t this game basically just structurally identical to… every other Pokémon game?

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NOSTALGIA: Sometimes you just want to sink into the comfort of childhood.

EMPATHY: I love all my precious abominations.

INLAND EMPIRE: Each and every one is one of God’s mistakes that we have adopted, and forced to fight for the entertainment of the masses. Pokémon is at once pregnant with meaning and totally surface-level, and that’s beautiful.

HORROR WRITER GANGLIA: You tear open the foil lid on the plastic cup. The Snom inside gives you a nonplussed look. The plastic spoon finds no resistance from his inert, aspic-like flesh…

EMPATHY: Please stop.

HORROR WRITER GANGLIA: Also I liked the messed-up, science-gone-too-far, David-Cronenberg’s-The-Fly-ass fossil pokémon we got this generation.

ENCYCLOPEDIA: They’re a reference to the actual historical practice of assembling fossil skeletons wrong back in the Victorian era. You know, because this is Pokémon England.

RHETORIC: Throughout the campaign I named all my pokémon after Shakespeare characters. I swept most of the endgame with Banquo, a Gengar who knows Nasty Plot.

EMPATHY: I would take a bullet for Banquo.

Heaven's Vault

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RHETORIC: A linguistic puzzle for serious linguistics-heads.

LOGIC: A mystery! A historical-archaeological mystery!

INLAND EMPIRE: A historical-archaeological-*metaphysical* mystery.

EMPATHY: It was more than just a puzzlebox, though. We got to inhabit that world, meet its people. Feel for them.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: It’s aesthetically high-concept but with a fundamental humanity. Hard to pull off.

The Outer Worlds

NOSTALGIA: I am glad this exists. Fallout: New Vegas is a classic.

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RHETORIC: Stop, stop, we’ll go to discourse jail if people think we just like this game because we liked F:NV.

EMPATHY: Listen, the major characters here are such well-rounded people. I would take a bullet for Parvati.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: I always love stories about humane characters in an absurd milieu. It’s very Brechtian.

VOLITION: Shh, that’s another game. One we can’t put on the list because we worked on it.

RHETORIC: Outer Worlds does have a sharp satirical edge that Fallout never really grasped at in the Bethesda era. It’s a dystopia as stupid, gaudy, and violent as the one we actually live in!

Slay the Spire

LOGIC: You got roguelike chocolate on my CCG peanut butter!

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PERCEPTION (TASTE): We don’t actually like peanut butter.

RHETORIC: It’s a metaphor. A metaphor for a really, really clever game-mechanical hook.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: It’s got cool aesthetics, too! No bog-standard dragons and orcs here. It’s such a wonderfully off-kilter fantasy world.

LOGIC: At its core it’s a game about assembling a cool machine out of bits and pieces you pick up along the way, and seeing how far it takes you.

Disco Elysium

RHETORIC: Is this GOTY 2019?

LOGIC: It is, but also, doesn’t it defeat the purpose of this whole joke if people who haven’t played Disco Elysium aren’t going to get it?

SUGGESTION: Think of it as incentivizing them to actually play the game.

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VOLITION: We should probably talk about the actual game.

EMPATHY: Bear with me here, but I think Disco Elysium is the most *relatable* game of 2019.

LOGIC: I don’t see what’s relatable about a game where you play an amnesiac police detective.

EMPATHY: That’s a surface-level trapping. At its core, this is a game about playing a broken man just trying to get through the day in a broken, dying world.

RHETORIC: A world where the vile forces of neoliberalism have a death grip on society.

INLAND EMPIRE: A world that has spun out of control such as to produce a constant sense of jamais vu, an estrangement from quotidian reality. Mmm.

LOGIC: Sure, okay. Anyway the narrative design in this game is exceptional. It’s so simple, yet so perfectly elegant. I could play a dozen detective games with those mechanics.

EMPATHY: Also, I would take a bullet for Ltn. Kitsuragi.