So the 2019 Game Awards nominees have been revealed and… I mean come on guys.
Look, we all know that all awards ceremonies are, to some extent, just a marketing tool. These games are chosen by committee, with only small regard for their metacritic score, user score, sales, development, and other metrics that you might imagine would add toward considering a game as “best” in its genre for a year. This is why nominees for The Game Awards always tend to feature recent releases more than early year releases and why they almost always feature games that still are in their mass purchasing window, still have DLC coming out, or have an extreme force of personality behind them, with the exception of a few small nods to placate fans and indie developers.
Don’t worry, The Game Awards aren’t alone in this. High profile awards like The Oscars do the same thing. In a sense, all award shows are marketing machines to a certain extent.
But… 10 nods for Death Stranding, a game that has only been out for a few weeks and has been extremely divisive? Look, I enjoyed the game and even I don’t think it deserves that many nominations. Not to mention it scored an 83 on metacritic (even ignoring it’s review bombed 53 user score) which is much lower than other Game Awards nominees, as well as many games that were ignored by The Game Awards all together!
There’s that force of personality I talked about.
I have a million problems with The Game Awards. I have problems with what they consider an RPG. I have problems with the fact that expansions can be nominated for awards or somehow get an already released game re-nominated. I have a major issue that most categories simply nominate the same 3-5 games over and over again without acknowledging great advancements made inside genre development. I am… confused by there being two indie categories, one for indie game of the year, and one for indie game of the year, but nominated by studio, and sponsored by Subway… OK?
But those issues will have to be saved for another time. For now, I just want to mention some games that have been recognized for their greatness by us and other outlets this year that can’t be found as a nominee in any Game Awards categories.
1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
This is by far the one game I least expected to be snubbed by The Game Awards. While it certainly did have stability issues on certain platforms at release, it was also largely considered one of the best Metroidvanias to come out in recent years, made by the person who put the Vania in Metroidvania, Koji Igarashi. It was one of the most successful Kickstarter releases we have ever seen and has seen a ton of post-launch support, which brings players back over and over again even after they beat it.
Yet it didn’t see a single nomination. Why? Was it because it was trapped in that strange area of not quite indie but not quite AAA? Is it because it was a Kickstarter project? Is it because it came out early in the year and newer shinier games are taking its place? Who knows? All we know is that this game was seriously quality while also being extremely culturally relevant as a high profile Kickstarter project headed by a classic game designer who escaped Konami to build the game he wanted, and that’s apparently not enough to get recognized by The Game Awards.
2. Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
Let’s talk about the fighting game category. There are a lot of really great titles here. Mortal Kombat 11, Samurai Showdown, and even Dead or Alive 6 are some pretty great titles. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is obviously a fantastic game, and we are going to avoid the discussion of whether or not it counts as a fighting game which has been going on for what seems like the dawn of time. Then there’s Jump Force.
Look, Jump Force was an unbalanced franchise fighter who mainly existed to show fanservice to the anime community, and that’s fine, but it’s not what I could consider a fighting game of the year nominee.
Meanwhile, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is an amazing 3v3 Marvel vs. Capcom style fighter made by some of the most well-known fighting game pros out there. It’s incredibly solid, very fun, and after a few patches ended up having a great single-player feature set. It’s another game that keeps people coming back to it with both free and paid DLC. It has a deep meta with easy to use characters and controls. Heck, I play it more than I play MK11 these days.
Yet it doesn’t get a nominee, and I’d attribute this to one of two things. First of all, it simply could be too indie to get noticed. Second of all, it seems like Game Awards nominees get chosen based on how they played at release and not how they play right now. Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid was a broken mess at first release, but a few patches and a few months later and it’s one of the best fighting games of the year, easily.
3. AI the Somnium Files
Look, I understand why AI the Somnium Files didn’t make it on the nominees list. It’s weird. It’s Japanese. It’s a strange combination of puzzle solving and visual novel. It’s certainly not the sort of game that gets noticed by a committee.
But the metacritic math doesn’t lie. It’s rated higher than Death Stranding. It’s rated higher than Control. It’s a narrative focused game and it’s rated higher than A Plague Tale. Heck, just about every outlet gave it praise for its narrative, coming straight from the team that brought you other great mind-benders like Zero Escape, yet we can’t give it a nod and instead have to acknowledge Norman Reedus throwing pee grenades at ghosts for the tenth time?
For my money, AI the Somnium Files has a plot that is just as crazy as Death Stranding’s, featuring erased memories, diving into dreams, conspiracies, murder mysteries, and much more. It’s challenging, interesting, innovative, and full of anime BS. You’d mistake it for a Kojima joint if you squinted hard enough, and that sure does seem to be enough to get you on the nominee list.
4. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
Remakes are always strange territory when it comes to awards shows. Do they count at all? Normally I’d say no but The Game Awards are recognizing expansions like Monster Hunter: Iceborne and remakes like Link’s Awakening so I think this re-release of one of the best RPGs on the Xbox 360 should count.
Why? Because this release brought with it content that western audiences have been waiting to play for more than a decade. A DECADE! We never got to see the re-release on PS3 with extra content. This new HD version brought us new characters, new plotlines, and more. It sort of feels like it didn’t get acknowledged simply because it’s a remake. Speaking of…
5. Catherine Full Body
Catherine Full Body is once again a testament to how Atlus does remakes. You know that Persona 5 The Royal will be on the nomination list next year despite being a re-release, so Catherine probably should have been on the list this year.
It added a whole other third of a game with a new characters and new plotlines to follow. Not to mention it added a whole other set of puzzles with new mechanics, which basically doubled the game’s content. Then there were new anime cutscenes, new voice acted in-game cut-scenes, new difficulty levels, new multiplayer options.
It was one of the best remakes of the year, period, and quite frankly there needs to be a space in The Game Awards to acknowledge remakes and rereleases that don’t just give their original game a texture upgrade.
6. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Here’s yet another example of some wonky math. Fell Seal: Arbiters Mark was an amazing strategy game that was an homage to Final Fantasy Tactics. On Metacritic, it’s rated higher than literally every single nominee in the strategy category other than Fire Emblem which, let’s face it, you know is going to win.
Why didn’t it get nominated? Well, it’s a small indie production for one (though that probably should have gotten it spotted as nominee for the indie games category). One of the things The Game Awards is, other than a marketing machine, is a popularity contest. Though Fell Seal was quality, it certainly wouldn’t be winning any popularity contests, and there’s nothing to market it on either. There’s no DLC or expanding content. If you bought it when it released earlier this year, you bought it. End of story.
But… should awards be popularity contests and marketing machines? In my opinion, awards committees have the power to highlight the quality of great projects done by smaller teams. Getting a nomination in a high profile awards show opens up so many doors to you as a developer. If a small game is good enough, then I think there’s much more worth in giving a high rated indie game a nomination than filling in a slot with a game that average a 7, simply because there weren’t many strategy releases to speak of this year.
7. Neo Cab
Let’s talk about narrative. This is another category that rehashes the same old games from the GOTY category with one or two exceptions thrown in to look good. Disco Elysium comes to mind, one of the best indie games of the year easily. However, if indie games are allowed, why haven’t we seen other great indie games with amazing narratives make the list?
Neo Cab is one of those games. This is a game where emotional (literally) storytelling is the game mechanic. You play essentially an Uber driver in the bleak cyberpunk future. You have to balance your desire to make a living and get a five star rating with your desire to do what’s right. It’s incredibly open, full of important choices, and one of the most gripping storytelling experiences this year. More than the rats in A Plague Tale. More than the SCP memes of Control. For my money, more than the jar babies of Death Stranding.
8. The Walking Dead: The Final Season
If games aren’t recognized for their quality, sometimes they are recognized for their cultural impact. For that, I think that ignoring The Walking Dead: The Final Season is a huge mistake. Remember, Telltale’s The Walking Dead put the modern cinematic adventure game on the map. We have been following Clem’s story for the better part of a decade. We grew old with her. We became attached to everything that she is, everyone she cared about, despite the fact that the harsh zombie apocalypse would take them from us without hesitation.
Is The Final Season the pinnacle of storytelling? No. Taken alone, maybe it doesn’t deserve a place on this list. However, taken as a part of a narrative that changed the face of adventure gaming as we know it, I think it at the very least deserves to be a nominee.
9. River City Girls
One of the questions we have to answer whenever awards shows come around is “what makes a good game?” Is it a game that is most enjoyable to play? Is it a game that best exemplifies its ideal construction? Is it a game with waifus?
River City Girls is all three! This latest entry in the Kunio-kun franchise A) brought the franchise back into the public eye B) was super enjoyable to play for multiple run-throughs C) resurrected the beat em’ up for 2019 D) was genuinely hilarious E) had amazing music and F) waifus! It has everything that you’d think would qualify it for a nomination except it’s stuck in between the AAA and indie world and while it was reviewed well it was a part of a niche genre that effectively capped its popularity.
So once again we have to ask, is it the job of the awards committee to echo the voice of the populace and nominate the games that are already popular and sell well, or is it the job of the awards committee to highlight games that may have been fantastic examples of quality even though they fell through the cracks?
And where do waifus come in?
Indivisible has issues. It was released with a lot of bugs and even had a character with an attack that didn’t even work. So why does it deserve to be on the nominees list?
Simple: support. Lab Zero is almost at the top of their game when it comes to post-launch support. Not only do they add new content to their games, but they are not opposed to changing core systems, adding new U.I. elements, and basically overhauling their game in response to fan feedback. In a way, all of Lab Zero’s games grow with the fandom. Heck, fans of Lab Zero’s prior game, Skullgirls might remember conversing with the team directly about gameplay mechanics, DLC characters, and more.
But Indivisible is so much more ambitious. In addition to Lab Zero’s unique way of supporting a game, this game deserves to be recognized for being a fighting game, RPG, and Metroidvania all in one. It’s a bold mashup of genres that was a serious risk for this very small studio. It also has a great story, wonderful art, a strong female protagonist of color, and more.
So I guess I’m more talking about nominating Lab Zero for their commitment to innovation, post-launch support, and interacting with the community, more than I am nominating the game itself. So they deserve to be put under that Subway category I guess. Eat Fresh indeed…
11. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Let’s end on one of the most controversial absences from the Game Awards this year for one of the dumbest reasons. This was a grand return to form for the Star Wars IP in video gaming. It was largely reviewed positively by many outlets, it was one of the most hotly anticipated holiday titles of this year, its actual Star Wars canon (for all the mega fans that care.) But more importantly, it’s symbolic. Star Wars has had a bad run in video games recently. Remember Battlefront 2’s microtransaction fiasco? It’s just refreshing to see a single-player Star Wars game that is simply a solid gameplay experience from start to finish without any gimmicks or any of the other stuff you’d expect EA to shoehorn into otherwise solid releases. It gives us hope for the franchise. Some might say, “A New Hope.”
So why was it not included in the list? I have a theory. It was released on November 15th, the EXACT DEADLINE for being eligible for the Game Awards this year. The game awards nominees were announced four days later. Four days is not enough to truly consider a game’s quality and its greater impact on the gaming world (even though reviewers of the game had been playing for at least a week before its release). In fact, I think the deadline that The Game Awards gave us is probably false. They likely stopped considering games for inclusion well before the 15th.
I mean, they didn’t give a nod to Nintendo’s latest Pokémon release which also came out on the 15th, and that seems pretty out of character for the Game Awards. And yes, I do think that this means that the difference between Death Stranding getting 10 nominees and Fallen Order getting 0 is exactly seven days.
According to Metacritic they have comparable review scores. So it’s not that Death Stranding was necessarily better, and it’s certainly not because it’s more culturally relevant (I mean this is Star Wars we are talking about.) It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
What are some games that you thought got snubbed by the Game Awards? Let us know in the comments.