2023 has been a terribly great year for games.
I don’t know what I expected out of 2023 for gaming, but it has certainly been a year of peaks and valleys. There have been so many fantastic and interesting games to play this year that I’ve had a hard time keeping up with most of these games. I’ll mention more games that almost made this list below, but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that 2023 has been a year where the perils of capitalism have taken its toll on developers and publishers throughout this year. So many people have been laid off for simply doing their best to make the games they wanted to make while their CEOs and leadership teams get to keep making obscene amounts of money in spite of their terrible decisions that lead to those layoffs. I hope we see more unionization in 2024 so that developers can have more say on the conditions in which they make these games we hope to enjoy and have less reasons to torture themselves so that execs and shareholders can reap most of the benefits.
I got that rant out of the way, so let’s get back to giving shout outs to many of the cool games I played this year that unforunately didn’t make the Top 10 below with links to the stream archives when I tried to show them off. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line was probably the best rhythm game of the year and it was a great bit of nostalgia. What the Bat? was the most fun of the PSVR2 games I’ve played this year with lots of silly fun VR bits. Venba was another one of those great cultural games about immigrants and their history and culture being told through cooking. The Making of Karateka was the coolest retro release of the year as an interactive documentary about indie game development of the mid-80s from one of the most influential games you may not have heard about. Paleo Pines was probably my favorite chill game of the year as a life sim about farming and helping out new friends with your dino pals.
Here are my Top 10 games of 2023:
10. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor had a rough launch with its bugs and performance issues that affected every version, but it was hard for any of that to keep me from enjoying the sublime evolution of the platforming Soulslike that made the first game such a fun experience that was remarkable for what you expected out of a Star Wars game. Survivor gives you a much bigger space to explore and almost feels like more of a 3D platformer at times. The cherry on top is the wacky customization unlocks that you get throughout the worlds so your Cal can be a clean-shaven corporate Jedi or a space cowboy with a handlebar mustache and mullet that has a heart of gold.
9. Tchia (PlayStation, PC)
Tchia was one of the most remarkable indies of the year being set in its version of New Caledonia with a bit of a take on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild formula that mostly kept combat out of it. Instead, you get to control a girl that can shapeshift into any creature or object around her to make for some fun and wild ways to travel around the islands and deal with the few enemies you’ll see around. It has a lot of heart and love for the people and culture it features that very few games manage to accomplish.
8. Cocoon (Multiplatform)
The pedigree of Cocoon‘s developer being the puzzle designer at Playdead on Limbo and Inside is all over this game as it is similarly light on storytelling as you’re just moving from puzzle to puzzle while the mechanics evolve over time. It’s a masterful puzzle game that features the inventive mechanic of moving into and out of orbs that contain entire worlds and how you get those orbs around to solve more puzzles with lots of layers to them. I know it’s hard to really explain it in a few sentences here, but if you’re a puzzle freak like me, this is a great handful of hours to be engrossed in along this journey where I’m sure some storytelling happens that I’m ignoring for the next endorphin rush.
7. Goodbye Volcano High (PlayStation, PC)
While it wasn’t an easy road for Goodbye Volcano High to get to release, what we got is a delightful narrative adventure game of high school dino teens dealing with the potential reality of the world-destroying asteroid hitting as they’re finishing up their senior years. The main group of Fang, her friends, and her brother are dealing with trying to keep their potential extinction out of their minds so they can try to win a battle of the bands competition, play some D&D, and preserve some semblance of normal life for whatever time they have left. The quality writing helps make the texts and memes a fun part of the experience that doesn’t ruin the drama as these characters deal with the morbid aspect of their lives.
6. Baldur’s Gate 3 – (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC)
This year has been unkind to my ability to get as far in Baldur’s Gate 3 as I’d like, but it’s also the sort of game that rewards my deliberate, slow playstyle where I look in every corner so that I amass a ton of loot and find lots of cool side areas that most people could miss that adds to my personal story of my party’s adventures. Baldur’s Gate 3 is definitely not the sort of game I’d normally play, but the great writing, varied mix of potential party members to recruit, and fun combat with a decent amount of improvisation makes it a more rewarding experience than Larian’s previous great works have been for me. I will get back to Baldur’s Gate 3, but I’ve been content with what I’ve played so far that I’m not ashamed of my neglect of this gem, like many other games of 2023.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)
They finally got a sequel to Breath of the Wild out and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is definitely not what I was expecting it to be from the initial teaser. While Breath of the Wild was the Zelda/Just Cause crossover that I loved so much, Tears of the Kingdom adds a lot more to the mechanics and world that mostly works for me, but some of it just didn’t gel with my typical playstyle to keep me going for much more than the 57 hours of playtime I got out of it in the first month or two while not being anywhere close to beating that game. The best part of Tears of the Kingdom are the three separate maps of the sky islands, Hyrule, and the dark depths below where all of the messed up stuff happens that I loved to explore with the many light mushrooms that I collected in caves. It’s a great game that has a bit too much going on for me, but I’ll get back to it at some point to beat it like every other game I enjoyed this year.
4. Chants of Sennaar (Multiplatform)
While Cocoon is a great pure puzzle game of mind-bending mechanics, Chants of Sennaar is an amazing puzzle game about deciphering languages that you do not understand at first glance. You have to use the context of the signs and the way people are talking to you to try to figure out what these glyphs mean, though it has a great annotation system to write down what you think it means to help you figure out their meanings later on. It’s such an engrossing game to figure out how the similar design of certain glyphs means that they’re related words or concepts to give you appreciation for how these languages teach you about the people that use them.
3. Pikmin 4 (Switch)
You’ve probably scrolled down here in complete disgust with how Pikmin 4 is higher on this list than the other big Nintendo release of 2023 in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Part of that reason is that Pikmin 4 is the ultimate realization of what I liked so much about the original game, but it doesn’t have such a focus on efficiency where I didn’t get to the end and get a big Game Over for failing to get all of the ship pieces. Instead, Pikmin 4 controls much better than previous games with a lock-on that mostly works and a handful of charming levels full of surprises that kept me playing all the way through the game and it’s second half until I had every item recovered and every challenge beaten. It was 61 hours well spent to see yet another adventure where Olimar crashes an expensive ship to strand himself on a strange planet.
2. Dredge (Multiplatform)
Dredge was easily the best indie game of the year and it’s such a weird game that is outside of my typical wheelhouse. It’s a fishing game where you have crashed your fishing boat amongst these mysterious islands and are given a new boat to work off a debt, but then you realize that weird Cthulhu-esque horrors are going on all around you that are hard to ignore as you meet strange new people and get even stranger requests. Time moves as you fish, salvage, or just sail the seas, which creates a great loop where you try to get some quick fishing during daylight hours, a few materials to upgrade your ship, or explore to see what weird stuff you can find all around these islands. Dredge is the sort of game that I don’t want to end, but the ride has just been so much fun that I need to see it through to the end anyway.
1. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (PlayStation 5)
This year’s list is full of big, interesting open worlds and Spider-Man 2 is the best of them all. I didn’t think a game would ever exist that topped Just Cause 2 and 3‘s range of fun and fast ways to explore their worlds and Insomniac has managed to do that with the power of the SSD. Playing the original Spider-Man Remastered made it clear how much faster and how varied the methods of exploring New York City are here with upgrades to make it so fast to get around with your classic webs, wings, wind tunnels, slingshots, and more that keep me from wanting to fast travel like I’d do in most other games. Beyond that, Insomniac has crafted an amazing story weaving between Peter and Miles lives as they fall apart trying to keep NYC from succumbing to the various bad guys that returned or arrived that has this team at the top of their game. The combat has also been fleshed out even more to keeps things fresh with more moves on top of what you’ve seen from the previous games and new ways of taking down enemies in stealth or action modes. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for Insomniac Games to create this huge world that solves pretty much every issue I had with the previous games’ design to make for the most fun open world to explore with many tools as your disposal for how you do most of what it has to offer.
Thanks to everybody that made it this far in this article, so feel free to let me know that you actually read this for a guaranteed kudos. I hope 2024 will be a bit more of a sane year in all areas. It’s not like we get much of a breather here for the first couple of months with that ridiculous onslaught of games from the middle of January into March.