My Year in Gaming: 2019 Edition

This year was insanely busy for me. At the start of 2019, I was promoted into a new role at work that demanded a lot of my time. Combined with a busy personal life, I didn’t have much space left for hobbies. But I knew I needed to make time for gaming, because it’s my time to de-stress.

This year, I kept track of all the games I beat or sunk a significant amount of time into. I thought it would be a fun list to look back on, so that’s exactly what I’m doing here, chronicling my 2019 year in gaming!

A Special Shout-out to Dungeons and Dragons

Before diving into video games, I want to give a shout-out to D&D and tabletop RPGs in general. About halfway through the year, the Dungeon Master running our D&D 5e campaign decided to step down, because he wanted to be a player for a change. For a while, no one knew who would replace him as DM, but I decided to volunteer.

We had been playing this campaign for over a year and a half, so we felt comfortable in our character roles and had become close friends in real life. This inspired me to create a home brew campaign focused on developing the character stories of our group. It was a bit intimidating at first, because I hadn’t been a DM in a few years, but I quickly got into the swing of things, and it turned into an amazing creative outlet.

Wyrm's Rock in Baldur's Gate
Here’s a map I built using assets on Roll20 for our home brew D&D campaign. This represents Wyrm’s Rock in Baldur’s Gate.

Because of the limitations on my time early in the year, I wasn’t able to write for Couch Bandits as much as I did in 2018, and that left me creatively unsatisfied, something I didn’t even realize until I began DMing. When I started to plot out the character journeys and develop NPCs and locations, I really felt the creative juices flowing, and it motivated me to dig deep and make the most out of our campaign. Half a year later, that campaign is still going strong, and I am psyched to continue it in 2020.

Aside from D&D, my high school group of friends occasionally gets together to play Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I’m surprised this game doesn’t get more attention—it is an absolute blast. The different alien races and roles distinguish the game from other RPGs, and the leveling system is fascinating. We also love to mess around with the force points, which creates some engaging character moments.

I would be remiss to not mention Game-A-Thon, as well. Last month, we held the first part of our 2019 Game-A-Thon. It was a night of board games and pizza, and we played for a solid six hour stretch. This month, we’ll be hosting part two right before Christmas, so make sure to check it out! We’ll be raising money for charities during that stream.

Game-A-Thon is another example of board games revitalizing my spirit. But without further ado, let’s dive into my year of video gaming.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Isabelle in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Yes, I’m an Isabelle main.

First up is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For the past few years, Super Smash Bros. Wii U dominated my life. When they announced Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch, I was overjoyed. I immediately dove in and started playing on release, and I didn’t stop for about a month and a half.

It took me a solid 40 hours to clear the World of Light. I loved all the references sprinkled throughout the single player mode, and it allowed me to sharpen my skills with Isabelle outside of the online and multiplayer ring. That’s right, you’re looking at an Isabelle main—former Villager main. First, you feared the bowling ball, and now, you fear the fishing pole!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The logo for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an older game, but my girlfriend and I decided to check it out in early 2019. We liked playing through Gone Home together and were searching for something similar. This wasn’t quite the same, but it was close enough in terms of style and structure.

Unfortunately, my girlfriend didn’t find it quite as compelling as I did. After about 30 minutes in, she passed out on the couch next to me. In her defense, it was pretty late at night when we started, and by the time I finished, it was around 3am. But I couldn’t put the controller down! The storytelling kept me attentive the entire time as I slowly unraveled the mystery of the town.

It was an eerie adventure, with stunning graphics and visuals. Even though it was a short experience, it was one I’ll remember!

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe screengrab

I won’t spend too much time on New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, because I’ve already sung it’s praises here! I consider this game an underappreciated gem, and I loved having the game on Switch. It brought me nothing but smiles…aside from some of those near impossible levels.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2 main menu

Toward the end of 2018, I became obsessed with the idea of playing (or replaying, in many cases) all the Mario games. The release of the NES library on the Nintendo Switch Online service inspired this obsession.

First, I revisited the original Super Mario Bros., which was a fantastic trip down Nostalgia Lane. Second, I revisited Super Mario Bros. 3, which was a similarly fun time. It wasn’t until a few months later that I got the chance to check out Super Mario Bros. 2—a game I had never played before.

Super Mario Bros. 2 was wild. While the other Mario games are creative, they’re nothing compared to the zaniness of Super Mario Bros. 2. The enemies, the landscapes, and even the game mechanics were weird in a good way. It took me a bit to get used to the slippery controls, but once I did, it was smooth sailing.

It was funny to see how much the game introduced into the Mario series, even though it was a less popular entry in the series.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man looking over the city
Just a normal man in his undies looking out over New York City.

I never intended on playing Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PS4. While I like superheroes and comic books, I don’t typically go out of my way to enjoy that type of media nowadays. Games like Batman: Arkham Knight interest me but don’t really grab my attention the same as other games, and I felt this indifference toward Marvel’s Spider-Man.

But then, the game was gifted to me, so I couldn’t leave it unplayed. As soon as I dove in, I could not stop playing. The city was so much fun to explore, especially with the satisfying web-slinging powers of Spider-Man. The story was compelling, with excellent voice acting, and the characters made me laugh when I least expected it. The game also looks amazing, pushing the PS4 to its limits. Even the combat system was good, with enough combos and power-ups to keep things interesting, challenging, and fun.

I ended up completing this game, which surprised me, considering my initial aloofness toward the game. But I really loved collecting all the secrets. This was easily one of my favorite games I played in 2019.

Kid Icarus

Kid Icarus screenshot

Heading back to the NES library, I spent a few hours cracking away at Kid Icarus. As a kid, I was never able to get very far in this game. But as an adult, with the power of save states in my hands, I was able to easily conquer this game. Yes, I know it’s not the most legitimate way of beating the game, but I just wanted to experience what the game had to offer.

Overall, I think the game aged incredibly well for an NES game, and I enjoyed my carefree playthrough. But even with save states, I wasn’t able to get the best ending…

Firewatch

Firewatch screenshot

Firewatch was another game my girlfriend and I played through together. If you can’t tell, we like to go on narrative-driven journeys, and this game was fascinating.

I loved the exploring aspect of this game. Trying to make your way through the woods with only a map and compass in your arsenal was thrilling. I won’t spoil what happens in the story, but I will say the game kept us guessing from start to finish, and the payoff was an interesting twist—but not in the way you would expect. I admire the developers for taking a risk with the story; not everyone will enjoy it, but it got me thinking.

I’m looking forward to their next title, In the Valley of the Gods!

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice screenshot

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is my pick for game of the year, hands down. My friend Ben Gogel eloquently captured what makes the game so special here.

For me, my first exposure to From Software was Bloodborne, which is one of my favorite games of all time. Then, Dark Souls 3 mesmerized me, and I felt so much hype leading up to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I love the atmosphere of Bloodborne, and the same goes for Dark Souls 3, but Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes things to the next level. I’ve always loved the Japanese culture, so I knew I would love this game purely from a setting perspective.

Beyond that, the game knocked everything else out of the park, too. The mobility provided by Sekiro’s prosthetic limb, combined with the fast-paced combat, created a gaming experience unlike anything I’ve played before.

Typically, From Software games turn off a lot of gamers due to the difficulty, but there’s something amazing about that moment where everything just clicks. The transition from Bloodborne to Dark Souls 3 wasn’t that dramatic, but from there to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it was almost like playing a new game entirely thanks to the combat system. It took me a while to learn (and relearn, in some cases) what worked and didn’t work, but once it clicked, everything just flowed.

I am a bit disappointed they haven’t announced any DLC yet, because I would revisit Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in a heartbeat!

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley Christmas celebration

After the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I needed to take a break. I shifted gears to Stardew Valley, the complete opposite end of the gaming spectrum.

This is one of my favorite games of all time, and I love revisiting it. This time, I booted up my last save file, in which I mostly focused on farming and mining. Now, I focused on getting to know all the townsfolk and completing everything I didn’t get around to the first time around. I maxed out the hearts on all villagers (yes, I dated everyone who was single, including men and women…), completed the community center, got almost all the achievements, and just really had a blast with the game.

I will eventually revisit on a rainy day, because Stardew Valley has a special place in my heart.

Cadence of Hyrule

Cadence of Hyrule screenshot

Cadence of Hyrule was such a fantastic surprise. I remember watching the reveal trailer, and my jaw just dropped. I must have watched it 50 times before the game came out. And it did not disappoint!

While a short game, there is a ton of replayability, since the game is randomly generated. The soundtrack, as expected, is amazing; they did a brilliant job remaking classic Zelda tunes in the Crypt of the NecroDancer style. And the art is beautiful. It’s nice to see a small developer take such loving care of a Nintendo franchise (my personal favorite game series, too!). I hope this is something that will happen more in the future.

Also worth noting, this game took a bit for it to click with me. I had never played Crypt of the NecroDancer before, so I was unfamiliar with the rhythm combat. But once it clicked, I loved it. And it was good training for Crypt of the NecroDancer, which is significantly more difficult.

Super Mario Maker 2

Super Mario Maker 2 Castle Completed

Super Mario Maker 2 was another amazing surprise in 2019. I loved the original Super Mario Maker, and the Nintendo Switch is perfect for this game. They added so much unique content: new styles, new items, new enemies, new backgrounds, and even new music! I spent a ton of time building courses and playing course after course.

Nick Snow and I streamed Super Mario Maker 2 in the summer, and it was a blast. Connor Strader also wrote a great review for the game here. We loved creating impossible courses and challenging each other to beat them. But I wasn’t always sadistic with my course design. I put a lot of effort into my courses, trying my hardest to make them fun but challenging.

If you want to check them out, here is my Maker ID: JQT-0V6-DXF.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem: Three Houses screenshot

Fire Emblem: Three Houses was my second favorite game of 2019. I haven’t been deeply obsessed with a Fire Emblem game since Fire Emblem: Awakening on 3DS, and I’m so glad Fire Emblem: Three Houses captured my attention just as much, if not more. The game is essentially anime Harry Potter, which is the ultimate combo for someone who loves both, like me!

From the get go, I was absorbed in the story and immediately cared for the characters. When I picked my class, I knew there was no going back; I was in too deep already. I did pretty much everything I could in that game. I got to know each person in my house, trained them to their top class level, and returned every last lost item.

One day, I want to go back and play the other houses. I chose Dimitri’s house the first time around, and I think I would go with Claude on the second playthrough. His storyline seems the most unique, but I have no regrets picking Dimitri. It was so epic to see the story unfold the way it did.

Dragon Quest Builders 2

Dragon Quest Builders 2 screenshot

Dragon Quest Builders 2 did not get the attention it deserved from me, and I intend on revisiting it. I only played about 15 hours, enough to complete my first village, but I know that is only scratching the surface of what this game has to offer.

I love the Dragon Quest series in general, and I loved the first Dragon Quest Builders, so I definitely want to sink more hours into this game. The timing was just awkward: It released around the same time as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and I couldn’t tear my attention away from that game.

Link’s Awakening

Link's Awakening screenshot

This year was truly a year of surprises! Link’s Awakening was one of my favorites growing up, so when they announced the remake, I was floored. And it looked so cute! I know some don’t like the art style, similar to the reaction to Windwaker when it released, but I love it.

This is another short game, and a very faithful remake, but I enjoyed every second. The game drips that Zelda charm…just without Zelda. I liked the addition of the dungeon maker, even if it’s not super complex. One day, I would like to see that developed into a full-fledged game, similar to Super Mario Maker. But while we wait, I’m more than happy to play as Link in the latest Super Mario Maker 2 update!

Super Mario World

Star Road Super Mario World

I started out the year playing a few classics on the NES library, and I didn’t know at the time that I would end the year playing some classics on the SNES library! Nintendo fans have long awaited these SNES games, and it is a welcome addition to the Nintendo Switch Online catalog.

In my quest to replay all the Mario games, I was amped to play Super Mario World. This game is a contender for my favorite in the series. There is just something so lovable about the art style, and the gameplay is so polished. I had a great time replaying the game and made sure to beat every level.

Super Mario Bros.: Lost Levels

Super Mario Bros.: Lost Levels screenshot

Next up on my Mario journey was the infamous Super Mario Bros.: Lost Levels. Similar to Kid Icarus, this game is known for being near impossible in its difficulties. But save states have completely changed the game. Leaning on that crutch, I played through every level of the game, and I had a fun time!

It’s like the original Super Mario Bros. but on steroids. And they ramped up the challenge a bit too much…Save states gave me the ability to experience this title without ripping out my hair.

Astral Chain

Astral Chain Axe Legion

Platinum Games has done some amazing work, and I was instantly drawn to Astral Chain. I have found describing this game to other people difficult…You’re essentially a cop with a gun/baton, and you can control a puppet from another dimension.

I have to say this game offers a very unique gaming experience. I’ve never played anything quite like it, and I enjoyed it a lot. The story was fun, and the dimensional travel created for some epic moments. And that final boss battle was incredible. I also really loved the setting and atmosphere—it reminded me a bit of Psycho-Pass.

Luigi’s Mansion 3

Luigi's Mansion 3 screenshot

Luigi’s Mansion 3 was my third favorite game of 2019. I have enjoyed each game in the series, but this game is easily the best of the three. The combat is satisfying, the themed floors are clever, and the boss battles were challenging and unique.

This game felt like the equivalent of Super Mario Odyssey, but all for Luigi—and he deserves that treatment! What I loved about Super Mario Odyssey (and most games, if you can’t tell) is that sense of exploration and discovery. If you thought there might be something hidden somewhere, chances are, there’s something there! And this is true in Luigi’s Mansion 3, as well.

There were so many secrets to uncover. I loved sucking up everything in sight and exploring every floor in detail. The game oozes personality, and I’m so glad Luigi got the limelight for a change.

RollerCoaster Tycoon and Stronghold

Rollercoaster Tycoon screenshot

Two other games worth mentioning are two classics I love to revisit: RollerCoaster Tycoon and Stronghold. I have always loved these real-time sim management games, and both of these games bring back happy memories for me.

I played a good amount of both in between some of the newer releases in 2019, and I hope to write dedicated posts about each one day!

Stronghold screenshot

What I’m Playing Now

Right now, I’m still making my way through Pokemon Shield. It’s been a blast so far. Initially, I was worried about the quality of the game due to the massive wave of online backlash, but I’m happy to say I’ve enjoyed the ride so far.

It’s great to play a main series Pokemon game on the big screen—and the small! The wild areas have particularly drawn my attention. I love exploring and running into random Pokemon trudging around in the wild. And there’s nothing more hilarious to me than the Pokemon that see you and then sprint headfirst at you. That’s the type of resolve I like to see in my potential Pokemon.

There are a few games I’m hoping to get around to in December, too. For one, I haven’t touched Death Stranding since it came out, but I am so curious to experience that game. It seemed very divisive up to release, and I’ve seen similarly divisive reviews after release, so I have no idea what to expect. Whatever the case, I am fully on board to experience the craziness of Hideo Kojima, good or bad.

Another 2019 title I want to play is Man of Medan. The first game in The Dark Pictures Anthology series looks amazing. I played the demo at PAX East 2019, and loved it. My girlfriend and I have played Until Dawn around four or five times now, so I’m sure we will really enjoy Man of Medan. I just need to block off time one night to play straight through it.

Pokemon Shield starter pokemon

What I’m Looking Forward to the Most in 2020

In 2020, I’m most excited to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I have loved the Animal Crossing games since the first on Gamecube, and I’ve been patiently awaiting a new release. It looks amazing, and I’ll likely sink hundreds of hours into that game in 2020.

That concludes my year in gaming. I hope you enjoyed coming along for the journey as I revisited the year. If you made it this far, I salute you!

For 2020, I’m setting a personal goal to write at least one Couch Bandits post a month. That way, I won’t have to dump a year of thoughts into one post! But this has been fun, and I might do a similar post next year if people like this one. All in all, I’m curious what gaming adventures await me in the new year!

What did your year in gaming look like? What games did you play the most in 2019? I’d love to hear!

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