Just as important as recognizing the best games of a year is recognizing the people who made them, because without the vision, blood, sweat, and toil of these creators, the games that we enjoy so much simply wouldn’t exist. Game development is a complicated process, spanning multiple disciplines and requiring massive investments of time and resources, and we enjoyed plenty of delicious fruits of all that labour this year, just as we do every other year. So here, we’ll be listing out the nominees for our best developers category, before picking out a winner from that group.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
Capcom have been on an impressive upward trajectory for a couple years running now, and 2019 was perhaps their most impressive year, with three major releases that stunned the industry with their excellent. Resident Evil 2 was one of the best games in a legendary series, Devil May Cry 5 was a glorious return to form for the beloved action franchise, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne was a massive expansion that was just as good as the base game that preceded it- and all three of these were some of the best games we’ve played all year. If all that doesn’t warrant some praise and recognition, we don’t know what does.
The Coalition overcame a massive obstacle when they proved with Gears of War 4 that they are, in spite of being a brand new studio, capable of making a quintessential Gears experience. But with Gears 5, they faced an even bigger challenge- one that tasked them with taking the series forward in meaningful ways and exciting new directions. But they rose to that challenge admirably, and with Gears 5, struck the perfect balance between making a sequel that delivers more of the same, and a game that expands the horizons of the franchise. For the first time in years, it feels like Gears of War is preparing for some truly exciting times in the years to come, and all the credit for that lies with The Coalition.
After years and years with Konami, Hideo Kojima had to start over with his newly reformed Kojima Productions in 2015, and this year, we finally got to experience Death Stranding, a game he had been teasing and hyping up for three years. Kojima would have deserved a massive amount of praise simply for successfully managing to land on his feet, but he deserves even greater recognition for how weird and bold Death Stranding is. It’s rare to see games be this experimental and unique in the AAA space, where developers and publishers’ goals are primarily driven by a need to yield profits on high development costs, which naturally leads to safer, more conventional experiences. Death Stranding dares to dream, and dream big, and it unflinchingly works to achieve its off-kilter vision in the most admirable way possible.
Remedy Entertainment are one of the few prominent developers in the industry who’re always on the lookout for exciting new ideas, who, rather than wanting to cash in on major properties, are always looking to explore new frontiers. Control is perhaps the boldest, most ambitious new idea they’ve ever had, and the way they have translated that into one of the best games of the year is nothing short of genius. It’s a game that bears all the hallmark qualities you expect from a Remedy title, but also one that is representative of their growth as a developer, in that it not only hones their already impressive skills as storytellers, and as designers of fascinating gameplay mechanics and systems. Many of Remedy’s experiments with Quantum Break were less than successful, and no on would have blamed them if they would have wanted to play it safe after that. But they decided to take a leap once again, and they were rewarded – as were we – with one hell of a game.
It’s never easy for indie studios to make a mark in a market that is so utterly crowded by blockbuster AAA productions, and it’s even harder to do it as convincingly as Asobo Studio did with A Plague Tale: Innocence. They set about to create a game with uncompromising ambitions, which would be able to rival even the most polished mainstream experiences out there, and it’s still hard to believe that they managed to do so even without a AAA-sized team and budget. A Plague Tale: Innocence is brimming with heart and passion, and happily enough, it’s also an all too rare example of a game that actually does justice to that kind of passion.
Nintendo’s got nothing left to prove as a developer of games, but it’s still nice to be reminded every once in a while of the talent the Big N has at its disposal. This year, Nintendo had their fingers in multiple pies, having internally developed Super Mario Maker 2, while also lending support to developers Good Feel, Next Level Games, and Grezzo for Yoshi’s Crafted World, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening respectively (among other). On the basis of both quality and quantity, Nintendo deserves a spot in this category.
2019 was a momentous year for Square Enix, and there’s just one reason for that- Kingdom Hearts 3. As the conclusion to the Dark Seeker Saga, the first full-fledged mainline Kingdom Hearts game in seven years, and the first numbered entry in the series since 2005, Kingdom Hearts 3 was definitely one of their biggest games in years. The fact that they managed to finally get it out of the gate was in and of itself an accomplishment, but what was truly impressive was how good it was. For fans of the series, Kingdom Hearts 3 was an emotional, satisfying payoff after many long years of anticipation, and an occasion such as that is indeed deserving of celebration.
RYU GA GOTOKU STUDIO
2019 was a year of transition for Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, as Yakuza moved past the Dragon of Dojima and prepared to enter a new era, and they chose to use this transitional year to experiment a little bit. The result was Judgment, a spinoff to the Yakuza games, that feel comfortably familiar and excitingly new, all at the same time. Taking an established, beloved franchise and putting a completely new spin on it is not an easy task by any means, but RGG Studio did it effortlessly with Judgment. If nothin else, that gives us great confidence about Yakuza’s future, as it – crazily enough – transitions into a full-blown turn based RPG with Yakuza: Like a Dragon next year.
It’s hard to think of a developer that’s been as consistent over the last ten years as FromSoftware. Every single game this Japanese giant has developed has been a slam dunk, and this year’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was no different. Having put a cap on the Souls series with Dark Souls 3 – at least for the time being – FromSoftware moved to new pastures this year, and in Sekiro, delivered a game unlike anything they have ever made, but one that still shone bright with all the greatest strengths From games usually exhibit. You’d think that the law of averages might eventually catch up with From after the run they’ve been on ever since Demon’s Souls a decade ago, but that didn’t happen with Sekiro, and looking at their output, it’s hard to imagine it’ll happen anytime soon.
As a rule, Ubisoft usually produces at least 2-3 major games every year, and for the past few years, they haven’t really had any missteps. They did have a major one in 2019 with the appalling Ghost Recon Breakpoint, but at the end of the day, the good still outweighs the bad. The likes of Trials Rising, Anno 1800, and Far Cry New Dawn were all solid experiences, while in The Division 2, they delivered one of their best games in recent years. On top of that, they also continued their stellar post-launch support for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. If for nothing else, Ubisoft at the very least deserves top marks for effort.
The first half of this decade saw Capcom at rock bottom, thanks to major disappointing releases and a string of bad decisions, but 2017 saw the beginning of a major resurgence for the legendary publisher. Each year since then has been progressively better for them than the last, with 2019 being one of their very, very best in a long, long time. We’ve already spoken about their golden trinity of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 5, and Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, add when you add to that the likes of Onimusha Remastered, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen on the Switch, Ace Attorney Trilogy, and many, many more, you can’t help but be super-impressed with their activities this year. Long may it continue.