Even the biggest developers have to start somewhere, and in this category, we're going to celebrate those studios that are breaking into the industry for the first time, whatever their shape or size. Here are the best debuts of 2019.
5. Gabe Cuzzillo with Ape Out - With its jazz-infused soundtrack and striking top-down visuals, Ape Out certainly made a big impact on us earlier this year. While technically not Cuzzillo's first game, it's the first one that has released with publisher backing (Devolver Digital) and it's the first one that he's actually charging people for, and that's good enough for a spot on this list. Ape Out is a bruising and violent game, but it has been realised with a clarity of vision that's hard not to be impressed by and it's a great full debut from a developer worth keeping an eye on.
4. MegaCrit with Slay the Spire - The quality of Slay the Spire didn't come as a huge surprise after the game's Early Access development put it on our radar, but the studio still had to deliver on the game's early promise with the full release, and that's exactly what they did. Using feedback from the community to shape and balance their game, the folks at MegaCrit crafted a deep and engaging deck builder with roguelike elements that had a moreish gameplay loop that kept players coming back for more. Lots and lots of more. It might not have been the flashiest game released this year, but it's certainly one of the most addictive.
3. Mobius Digital with Outer Wilds - Another game that we all saw coming from a mile away, Outer Wilds had our attention after the game won the coveted Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design at the 2015 Independent Games Festival Awards. While developer Mobius Digital has released games before, we've decided to include this here because the game's creators, originally working under the name Team Outer Wilds before joining the Mobius family, hadn't put out a game together before, and the quirky time-loop gameplay that characterises this adventure is certainly distinctive. A truly innovative title that deserves recognition.
2. Kojima Productions with Death Stranding - Hideo Kojima's protracted split from Konami was well-documented, as was his return with new studio Kojima Productions. His newly formed team immediately went to work on Death Stranding, a new and distinct adventure game with some serious Hollywood talent involved. Players are tasked with transporting goods around a barren world that's littered with dangerous creatures and oodles of intrigue. Considering both the hype surrounding it given the game's director and the fact that it's the studio's first title, Death Stranding has proved to be a resounding success.
1. ZA/UM with Disco Elysium - The release of ZA/UM's debut title Disco Elysium took the gaming world by storm and our hearts by force, sneaking onto our very sparse list of 10/10 rated games this year. Developed by a studio made up of artists in various fields such as musicians, novelists and illustrators, Disco Elysium was packed with artistic style, from its oil painting-like visuals and phenomenal narrative and dialogue to its exceptionally well-written characters and fantastic soundtrack. Coming out of the left-field, Disco Elysium floored us and since its conclusion, we went back to enjoy the game a second time in order to experience this uniquely disturbing and genuinely mind-blowing tale of a high-ranking dunce officer and his delightful partner.
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