Another year, another game of the year list, this has been one of the best years for new releases since 2017, and for once I actually picked up quite a few new releases and played games the year they came out (I know, shocker). As always, this is a list of my top 10 games I played this year, not necessarily what was released during 2023, enjoy!
At the start of the year we knew very little about what the story of Tears of the Kingdom would entail but one thing we did know was that it involved floating islands. So to prepare for the eventuality of a connection to the title that kickstarted the timeline I decided it was finally time to give Skyward Sword another chance, but this time with reasonable controls.
I’m no stranger to Zelda, I have played the vast majority of titles and I find that each entry has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Skyward Sword is no different, it has a great selection of dungeons, characters, and items but is let down by its long drawn-out sections, repetition (revisiting the same locales up to three times) and the combat lacking variety beyond “swipe in a direction”. What this makes for is a mixed bag of great dungeon design let down by subpar mechanics but, to me at least, a middling Zelda game is still an above-average and enjoyable experience. I am unlikely to return to this entry in a hurry but I do not regret my time in Skyloft.
As someone who was introduced to the Shin Megami Tensei series through the Persona series and has yet to really sink my teeth into the main series titles (‘*spits* Filthy casual’ — Dave the Editor), I took Soul Hackers to be a middle point between the series’ mechanics. I did find, however, that this was more akin to Persona in the context that you fight through a few set areas, recruiting demons through a negotiation system and building up your party members’ friendship levels to make your way through a larger optional dungeon to get to the true ending of the game, very familiar right?
Familiarity was not a bad thing, I quickly adjusted from what I knew and had a good time, even if the second playthrough I was forced through to get the Platinum trophy started dragging its feet towards the end. I found the characters to be likeable and fun to hang out with, especially Saizo, and went out of my way to squeeze any optional dialogue out of them that I could. The combat was pretty broken, since every time you hit an enemy with a super effective move it added a counter that then blasted all opponents with a tonne of damage at the end of the turn. Depending on how high the counter was you could quickly exploit weaknesses and take out challenging foes effortlessly which did take the wind out of my sails at times.
I went into Forspoken with the lowest of expectations, after all the online discourse and Luminous Games being shut down by Square Enix, I anticipated that I would have a shallow experience bloated by meandering tasks but I was extremely surprised. I did find the first few hours of the game to be quite repetitive, but once you start to learn the different spell sets, and try to complete the challenge applied to each spell to improve it, the depth within the game’s combat system is blown right open.
I found myself naturally completing the tasks set out in front of me, the story was interesting, and I ended up having a really fun and fulfilling time with the quick spell-changing systems and unique support spells. My only gripes are that enemy variety was lacking and that you unlock the spell sets very slowly, so if they refined these elements a sequel could’ve been excellent, but alas. My only major gripe with the story is that Frey never went back for Homer, why?! I wanted them to be reunited so badly and have Homer be involved with the other cats in her room in Cipal!
It Takes Two is a rather unique gem to the modern gaming climate, a 3D platformer that is entirely two-player couch co-op is something completely alien to most games released in this era. But what may seem like an archaic relic of the past is an engaging story of a couple trying to see past their differences to work together and get out of an imagination-driven exaggeration of their home dreamt up by their daughter who is caught in the midst of a divorce.
Gameplay is driven by working together and collaborating to get past puzzles, and even features mini-games you can compete in to add extra flavour to the journey with your gaming companion. The environments brimming with detail and character and there are lots of unique combat encounters and puzzles to go with the abilities you obtain from each area. Each level feels like a completely new game by constantly mixing mechanics and motifs to keep both players engaged and pushing them along the narrative. If you have a friend or partner you owe yourself to give this a try, it’s an incredible experience and a great way to help build your bond through collaboration and friendly competition.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sucker for all things 3D platforming and collectathon themed. Due in part to this I have been keeping a close eye on the development of Clive ‘n’ Wrench for a few years and it lived up to everything I hoped it would be. It is an absolute love letter to early 3D mascot platformers, taking cues from just about every platformer of the peak of the genre, from Spyro, Banjo, and even Toy Story 2 in parts.
Dinosaur Byte‘s lovingly crafted project impressed me a lot, especially when you consider it to be an almost completely solo project on the part of lead developer Rob Wass. And while yes, it is a little clunky and buggy in areas it is filled to the brim with love and care from someone who very clearly adores the genre and I wholeheartedly recommend this one to anyone who wants a fix of nostalgia to a simpler time in gaming history.
I’ve only very recently gotten back into the Star Wars franchise after years of mostly ignoring it due to the subpar sequel movies. However, Fallen Order was a competently told story with engaging characters and a robust combat system that rewarded experimentation and took what could have been a sluggish crawl through Stormtroopers and made it fun to parry and counter tough enemies and then slash and engage in skillful counters.
What raised this game above others for me though was the Zelda-like dungeons you were pushed through, solving puzzles with wind like something out of Wind Waker and clearing rooms of enemies to progress. It elevated this experience to something special, more than just an engaging story with fun combat it was an overall excellent package that both surprised and kept me wanting more. I cannot wait to play the sequel.
I have struggled with finding the appeal of the Tales of series in my attempts to play the older titles but I gave Tales of Arise a solid chance when it came highly recommended by a close friend and honestly, I do not regret that decision. With a narrative that has so many twists, turns, and escalations, it always keeps you pushing forward, onward and upwards, and just when you think you have it figured out it completely subverts your expectations.
The characters are endearing, played well, and all of their interactions feel authentic and heartfelt. It’s a very human experience that tackles harder topics like slavery and trauma in a way that doesn’t feel pandering or unnatural. The combat is deepened by the abilities powering up the more you use them, leading to experimentation with techniques that you maybe wouldn’t have tried to power them up and find a preferred combination. The visuals are stunning, the world is believable and the villains are interesting and genuinely threatening, it’s a complete package of all the great elements of a JRPG.
Probably the most controversial take I will have regarding the games released this year is that I found Tears of the Kingdom to be an inferior experience in comparison to Breath of the Wild. Now before you get your pitchforks out and burn me for my clearly incorrect opinion, allow me to explain my stance on this. Tears of the Kingdom very much relies on the ultra hand mechanic for the bulk of its puzzle solving, so if you need to get somewhere or over something you can create a transport method that will get you there with relative ease. Compare this to Breath of the Wild where, while yes very situational, gave you a set of tools to try and find your own way to solve a puzzle.
I found myself, time after time, just simply building a bridge of trees and skipping puzzles, and while, yes, I may have ruined this for myself by not following the game’s intended design philosophy the fact that I can solve these puzzles so easily by using the same method is something that maybe should have been considered in development. The world also felt a lot more baron, most areas were littered with chunks of the sky and most new puzzles revolved around these encampments set up around them. Outside of a few gripes I had, I did have a wonderful time in Hyrule, the solid gameplay from Breath of the Wild is retained here and improved in a lot of areas and the story was one of the best we’ve had, but again, the fact you can complete the memories out of order can completely spoil potential twists as you can see the results of memories you’ve yet to encounter and any sort of mystery is completely dissolved.
While far from perfect, Tears of the Kingdom is still a wonderfully imaginative and gripping experience and a fantastic conclusion to this era of Zelda games, but I’m not sure if I will ever complete it to 100% like I did with Breath of the Wild.
I was Sonic Frontiers‘ biggest sceptic when the gameplay was revealed to us in 2022, it looked boring, empty and another attempt to cash in on Breath of the Wild’s chokehold on the industry past 2017 but I tried to be optimistic and went in with an open mind and absolutely fell in love with it. The worlds are filled to the brim with collectibles and speed and combat challenges to keep you busy and pushing forward. The stages are like the best parts of Sonic Forces and Generations gimmicky challenge stages but they take the gimmicks a step further and make them exercises in precision and performance to really push you to get S Ranks. And that’s not even going into the boss fights and excellent soundtrack, I reflect on Frontiers as a gold standard of modern Sonic and a template to take the series forward, but if you’d like to hear more about how much I love this title then feel free to read my article on it here.
It’s hard to really quantify why Spider-Man 2 just works for me in every way, even with it’s glaring flaws. The action set pieces are flawlessly shot, the camera angles, the music and the choreography of each scene is masterfully set which gives a truly cinematic experience that sits atop the throne of what gaming can be. Insomniac Games always seem to deliver on superb experiences regardless of the genre they work with, from their humble beginnings with Disruptor and Spyro, to their exceptional Spider-Man and Ratchet and Clank series, each time you pick up a game from this studio you can expect something special.
The first Spider-Man was revolutionary and truly put into perspective what an open world super hero game could be whilst playing on the strengths of Spidey’s arsenal and capitalising on his more stealth based elements that seldomn exist in the sequel. The sequel lacks a larger variety of gadgets too, which was one of my favourite elements of the first game, and goes for a safer more streamlined experience to keep the action and momentum constantly flowing. Even the MJ sections aren’t too much of a pace breaker this time and it’s 30 hour length swings by rather quickly due to the great pace of story and side content which keeps the player constantly engaged. I do wish that Venom had been more fleshed out, Peter had more time in the black suit and there were more side quests to do, as well as gadgets, stealth elements and extra tasks to do (such as bases and crimes) but what we have is a cohesive package that tells a great narrative and keeps the player in control of their methods of plowing through goons and monsters which was always the core strength of the original entry.
And that’s it for my top 10 games I played in 2023! I try not to be too genre biased when I write these lists as to not dominate it with the genres I happen to enjoy the most and give more variety to my opinions and allow myself to enjoy different experiences, but what did you think? What were some of your favourite gaming experiences this year? Let me know!
Video game completionist and 3D platformer connoisseur, Riley is a fan of the whimsical frenzy of bright and colourful characters to bless us in the late 90's. Their favourite game's are Spyro, Persona 5 and Super Mario Sunshine.