It’s the end of 2023, which means another year of games is over. This year has been an especially notable year, with great games of all shapes and sizes. So many, in fact, that it may be difficult to narrow down exactly which games are most worth your time. Which is where I come in.
Every year, I gather data from a combination of Metacritic, Google Trends and as many end-of-year “best of” lists I can find, and combine all those numbers into a spreadsheet, which then spits out a list of 50 games that have received critical acclaim, are widely talked about and were looked on fondly at the end of the year.
There are some caveats to this system, of course. Here are some rules that this list follows:
- Every game here must have been received its first full release in the UK during 2023. No remasters and no ports, basically.
- Remakes are considered if they offer a substantially different experience to the original game, however. There is no hard and fast rule here, it’s decided on a case-by-case basis.
- No Early Access titles, although titles that left Early Access this year are eligible (one particularly notable game that fits this criteria kind of has to be included, after all)
- Only games with a combined Metacritic score (critics and users) above 70 are considered eligible for this list. Sorry, Diablo 4 and Jedi Survivor, but the users were not happy.
So with that, here are the most notable games of 2023!
50. Terra Nil
Devolver Digital, Free Lives | PC, Switch, Mobile | March (PC, mobile), December (NS)
Terra Nil is a game about environmentalism. It’s a game that forces its players to think about the importance of our natural world and, more importantly, how we can save it without adding more junk to the pile.
This is a city builder with a twist. You are not building a city, but an ecosystem. You place your terraforming machines into a barren wasteland and let them regrow vegetation and bring back animal life. And at the end of it all, you have to pack up your machines and act like you were never there, allowing nature to continue flourishing.
It’s a superb take on the genre, and one that asks a lot of questions about how we need to care for our world on a wider level.
49. Slay the Princess
Black Tabby Games | PC | October
Slay the Princess is a visual novel that, on first glance, might not look like much. However, its premise is one that inspires intrigue immediately. You have to go to a cabin in the woods, where a princess is chained up, and your job is to kill her. However, the princess will try everything to convince you not to go through with your mission, all while demonstrating subtle hints that maybe your mission is correct in the first place.
Immediately garnering breathless praise from everyone who played it, Slay the Princess is a tense morality tale about who you can trust. A supremely inventive narrative adventure that goes down some unexpected rabbit holes.
48. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Mimimi Games | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | August
Mimimi Games have built a career out of deep real-time tactics games, usually in some kind of historical setting. They’ve already covered samurai and cowboys, so now the logical step is to make a game about pirates. in Shadow Gambit, you play as a cursed pirate crew, seeking out magical artifacts to battle the Inquisition.
And from all accounts, it’s a superb piece of work, where ghostly pirates sneak around their enemies in small playgrounds filled with ways to distract, obfuscate and take down the enemies in your way. It also plays its own premise for laughs wherever possible, designed to give you a rollicking swashbuckling adventure.
Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending, as developer Mimimi Games were forced to shut up shop shortly after the release of the game. While heaped in praise, the game sold below expectations, and coupled with poor sales of previous titles, the studio simply couldn’t afford to keep the lights on. Which is a real shame.
47. Cassette Beasts
Raw Fury, Bytten Studio | PC, Switch, Xbox | April (PC), May (NS, XB)
Pokémon has been having a bit of a tough time lately. The avalanche of releases has led to a string of buggy, unpolished main games which have damaged the reputation of Game Freak quite considerably. It was only a matter of time before an enterprising indie team came along and provided an alternative.
Cassette Beasts is what happens when Pokémon falls into a vat of lo-fi beats to chill/study to and emerges in a world full of angels that you explore in a Zelda fashion. That’s a very specific description, I’m aware, but it is accurate.
The result is a quirky little game full of charm, great music and a unique take on one of the most popular RPG formats out there. Now if only The Pokémon Company could get back to doing the same.
46. Master Detective Archives: Rain Code
Spike Chunsoft, Too Kyo Games | Switch | June
Danganronpa is a series with a dedicated fanbase, one that adores its cast of quirky characters all murdering each other in a dangerous game, even with all that murder. Rain Code perhaps might not inspire the same level of devotion, but this latest murder mystery adventure game from many of the same creators is still a bloody good time. You know, because of all the blood.
You play as a detective in the World Detective Order, who have infiltrated the mysterious city of Kanai Ward to uncover a dark secret that it hides at its heart. Along the way, you solve a series of murders that occur in this persistently rainy place, all with the help of a cheeky ghost named Shinigami and the Mystery Labyrinth that she can warp the player to.
Rain Code is a brilliant gem for any fans of the mystery genre, and a personal favourite of mine too.
45. Age of Wonders 4
Paradox Interactive, Triumph Studios | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | May
The Age of Wonders franchise takes the concept of Civilization and reimagines the concept. Instead of the history of humanity, what if the game was actually about a grand fantasy world full of elves and magic?
The fourth main game in the series continues this theme, and from many of the reviews, it’s possibly the greatest strategy game of the year. It combines 4X gameplay with a ton of RPG customisation to make for a unique experience.
44. Sonic Superstars
Sega, Sonic Team, Arzest | PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | October
The endless ups and downs of the Sonic franchise are numerous, and I don’t just mean in how hilly the levels are. Which is perhaps why it was sensible for Sega to go back to basics this year with Superstars, a game that harks back to the 2D heyday on the Mega Drive.
Sonic Superstars is a superb 2D Sonic game. It feels as snappy and exhilarating as the classics, with some obvious lessons learned from the success of Sonic Mania. However, unlike Sonic Mania, this isn’t simply a nostalgic trip through levels of the past, it’s a brand new game built on the successes of the past.
It’s also got the joyful 4-player co-op aspect that adds a new dimension. Each of the four player characters has their own unique quirks, with Tails, Knuckles and Amy offering their own forms of traversal that makes each level worth exploring with everyone.
Sonic Superstars unfortunately went up against his old rival, Mario, this year, and that may have hurt the game’s sales. But this is a game that builds on what made the franchise so beloved in the first place, and is a must play for any fan of the blue blur.
43. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Koei Tecmo, Team Ninja | PC, PlayStation, Xbox | March
One of the few success stories in the attempts to copy the successful Fromsoft Soulslike formula is Nioh. This was Team Ninja’s attempt that proved so successful it not only got a sequel, but now the team have attempted a slightly different take on the formula.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is set during the fall of the Han Dynasty, as your unnamed protagonist takes on figures from history alongside mythological beings from history. It also adds some extra twists to this style of action RPG with the use of a moral system that allows players to assess combat difficulty before entering an encounter, and receive assistance from Divine Beasts.
In a genre that’s seen many attempts at challenging FromSoftware’s crown, Team Ninja remain the most likely competitor.
42. Forza Motorsport
Xbox Game Studios, Turn 10 Studios | PC, Xbox X/S | October
It’s the fairly obligatory racing game addition, with the latest edition of Microsoft’s more “serious” Forza series. Boasting more than 500 vehicles at launch, a number that’s only set to increase as the lack of a numbered title indicates Microsoft’s desire to keep the game going as an active service game.
It is, of course, as technically brilliant as always, but it’s the accessibility options that have caught the attention of the wider industry this year. These are so expansive and all-encompassing that even blind players are able to jump in and win races. Which is impressive in execution and commendable as the industry makes greater strides to bring more players into the fold.
41. Blasphemous 2
Team17, The Game Kitchen | PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | August
Blasphemous was already a beloved game on its release in 2019, one that took the vibes of Castlevania and Dark Souls and blended them with a meticulous pixel art that was as gorgeous as it was brutal and horrific.
Blasphemous 2 is mostly just more of the same, building on its predecessor with new weapons and abilities. It also expands this bleak, pseudo-religious hellscape into an even greater world with its expansive story. While maybe not the most innovative game on the list, it’s still a standout Metroidvania that’s worth your time.
40. Robocop: Rogue City
Nacon, Teyon | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | November
While 2023 has been a brilliant year for games, it’s also been a year for notably awful licensed games filling up storefronts across the industry. Skull Island: Rise of Kong, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum and The Walking Dead: Destinies were all stellar examples of what happens when you toss out a pile of dog excrement with a popular IP attached to it and call it a video game.
Robocop: Rogue City had every opportunity to join this…uh…illustrious club. However, it defied the odds and became one of the year’s biggest surprise success stories. Made on a shoestring budget by a small team, this first-person shooter managed to be a janky yet compelling work that managed to do the franchise justice.
Part of the game’s success comes from the team understanding that Robocop is satire and leaning into that at every turn. It’s a goofy, violent and exciting romp made with love for the franchise. And, sigh, yes, I guess I’d buy that for a dollar.
39. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Sega, Ryu ga Gotoku Studio | PC, PlayStation, Xbox | November
And so the Yakuza series continues to roll on, although now Sega have made the decision to localise it under a direct translation of its original Japanese name, Ryu ga Gotoku, aka Like a Dragon.
Gaiden is a shorter entry in the series, building up a side story for Kazuma Kiryu that shows what he’s been up to while new protagonist Ichiban Kusaga took the reins in the last main game. It’s also an emotionally affecting journey, adding a huge amount of weight to Kiryu’s story and setting up his role in next year’s Infinite Wealth.
It’s still got all the usual side content you’d expect from these games, including classic Sega arcade games, the cabaret club and karaoke, but in a smaller, lighter package. Yakuza, or Like a Dragon now, remains a brilliant series.
Also, special shout out to the other Like a Dragon game released this year, Like a Dragon: Ishin, which is a remake of a Japan-only PS3 title that placed the series in feudal Japan, right around the time the Westerners started arriving. It’s an interesting take on the formula, giving Kiryu, aka Ryoma, a sword and a revolver and then turning him into a cowboy samurai. And yes, somehow there is still karaoke.
38. Party Animals
Source Technology, Recreate Games | PC, Xbox | September
Gang Beasts was already a fun time, as floppy jelly people stumbled around, occasionally throwing punches at each other. Winning felt like luck, but as far as games with friends go, it was up there with some of the best. Party Animals is mostly just a clone of that, which on the surface may appear to be little more than a lazy knockoff. However, Party Animals has one thing that Gang Beasts did not – cute animals.
It’s not just adorably floppy cats and crocodiles making this stand out from its obvious inspiration, however, as the range of ways players can take each other out has increased too. Stages are full of hazards, many of which are just plain silly, while weapons persistently drop into the stage. It has the energy of a Smash Bros match with the physics of Gang Beasts, all designed to test your friendships.
37. Wild Hearts
EA Originals, Omega Force | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | February
Wild Hearts is a game that makes no sense on paper. The developers of the Dynasty Warriors franchise have made a Monster Hunter with Fortnite mechanics and EA are the publishers. Each part of that sentence raises further questions, and yet, the game exists and is also pretty excellent.
If you’re wondering how this all works, imagine Monster Hunter but as well as big swords and ancient Japanese aesthetics, your character is also an inventor. You are able to craft items to aid yourself in battle, whether it’s crates to gain height or vast machines of death that increase your damage as you hunt monsters.
Wild Hearts is certainly one of the stranger concepts of any game this year, but it’s also been praised for how well those mechanics come together to make something truly special.
36. The Talos Principle II
Devolver Digital, Croteam | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | November
The Talos Principle was an odd game when it released. Think of the test chamber environments of Portal, but you strip all the comedy out and replace it all with philosophy. The Talos Principle II promises to build on that foundation in significant ways.
The Talos Principle II is a puzzle game where you use lasers to activate switches and open pathways. Fairly standard stuff, but the ideas present here get trickier as you progress, all while presented a deep narrative about what it means to be human.
The Talos Principle II was a late-year addition to the list that almost missed out on inclusion on best games lists, but it managed to garner just enough love and attention to sneak its way into the most notable games right at the end.
35. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk
Team Reptile | PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | August (PC, NS), September (PS, XB)
It’s always a fun time when indie developers get tired of waiting for a beloved franchise to receive a new entry and simply make their own. However, it’s hard to think of a game that’s nailed everything that made its inspiration so good as well as Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. If Sega were willing, you could slap the name Jet Set Radio 3 on this and no one would question it.
If you’ve played Jet Set Radio, you know what to expect here. Lots of cool characters, plenty of grinding around a cartoon city and a funky soundtrack where Hideki Naganuma will rock your face off. Yes, they even managed to rope the original composer into this. However, it builds on the obvious inspiration in many ways, with a deeply refined combo system and a surprisingly interesting storyline, even if it’s a little silly.
I loved Jet Set Radio for so many reasons, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s unashamed cribbing of everything that made it great made it an easy personal favourite. And clearly many others agreed.
Kepler Interactive, Awaceb | PC, PlayStation | March
Tchia is an open world game inspired by New Caledonia, where two of its small team spent their childhoods. You play as a young girl who is seeking to rescue her father from a mysterious kidnapper, utilising her ability to “soul jump” allowing her to inhabit the bodies of any living thing in the vicinity. This allows you to explore the islands around her home in a number of interesting ways, whether you’re soaring through the air as a bird or hopping around as an insect.
It’s a quirky little game that shined a light on a culture rarely seen in video games, while proving that smaller teams can create great worlds to explore just as well as the big companies.
33. System Shock Remake
Prime Matter, Nightdive Studios | PC | May
System Shock is one of those games which weren’t massive sales successes but whose impact on game development is undeniably huge. The entire immersive sim genre can trace its lineage to this game about a hacker taking on an evil AI on a space station full of aggressive cyborgs.
Of course, trying to play System Shock today is quite difficult. Its complex systems were perhaps too much for the tech of the time, leaving it to feel a little clunky and dated by today’s standards. So how better to honour the game as it approaches its 30th anniversary with a full remake that updates those systems and makes it shine?
It’s also a homecoming moment for Nightdive, a studio whose entire existence is built on its founder finding it difficult to buy System Shock 2. And now they’ve taken its predecessor and enhanced it for a modern audience without losing anything of what made the developers of Deus Ex, Thief and the entire Arkane catalogue so enamoured back in 1994. It’s phenomenal work.
32. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line
Square Enix, indieszero | PS4, Switch | February
If there’s one composer that’s consistently held up as one of gaming’s greats, it’s Nobuo Uematsu. It’s because of his work that the Final Fantasy series is held up as one of gaming’s most consistently amazing scores. Even after his departure from the series after Final Fantasy X, the composers who’ve followed have built on his legacy, maintaining that quality.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is the ultimate celebration of the franchise’s music. While it’s not the first game in the rhythm action series, it is arguably the biggest collection of Square Enix’s finest OSTs. And I do mean Square Enix, as the developers weren’t content with sticking exclusively to Final Fantasy with DLCs covering the likes of Nier, Mana and Octopath Traveler too.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a superb little rhythm game that any fan of the Final Fantasy soundtracks needs to play.
31. Amnesia: The Bunker
Frictional Games | PC, PS4, Xbox | June
The Amnesia series continues to scare the living daylights out of everyone, relentlessly releasing new games that put a twist on The Dark Descent’s blend of high tension and horrific abominations. The setting is World War I, so for this entry in the series, the real monster may be man. And also the actual monster that’s out to kill you.
You play as a French soldier trapped underground in the trenches due to heavy gunfire and a missing platoon. But also you’re not alone, as a light-fearing beast is stalking around, and you are its intended lunch.
Unlike past Amnesia games, The Bunker gives players more options to defend themselves against the monster. You get a gun, for a start, although ammo is fairly sparse. Plus with the monster being so afraid of light, it’s possible to hold it back with light from the generators and a handheld, wind-up flashlight. However, these options add the stress of resource management, and the noise of the flashlight can attract the monster to your position if you’re trying to be quiet.
Amnesia: The Bunker feels like the natural progression of the series, a game that’s still deeply wedded to a deadly supernatural force stalking you around, but expanding the franchise to more than just hiding and praying.
30. Assassin’s Creed Mirage
Ubisoft, Ubisoft Bordeaux | PC, PlayStation, Xbox | October
Assassin’s Creed is a series that rolls on relentlessly, and has ballooned to such an enormous size and moving so far away from the original game that it may as well be a separate franchise at this point. Seemingly realising this, the latest game in the series has stripped the game back to basics, getting it back in touch with its roots.
For a start, the setting is once again in the Middle East, taking place in and around Baghdad. You play as a pure assassin similar to Altair, not as a pirate, viking or similar doing the whole assassination business as a side gig. The game can be finished in a sensible 20 hours instead of the bloated 100+ that Valhalla clocked in at. In essence, it’s the game meant for everyone tired of how much work the series has demanded of them in recent years.
Mirage is not quite the massive return to form that fans of the series might be wanting. It’s still suffering some Ubisoft bloat in places, and a simple return to form has brought with it design decisions that were already kind of dated in the original games. However, it is good to see that Ubisoft are willing to not simply just increase the size of the world forever and are willing to at least experiment with more classic ideas again.
Enhance, tha | PC, PlayStation | May
It’s been a pretty good year for weirdo puzzle games, and I mean that in the best possible way, especially as Humanity is a personal favourite too.
Humanity sounds like a fever dream. You’re a shiba inu made of light tasked by the gods to do queue management which eventually turns into a war of cosmic proportions. It’s an utterly strange idea that also makes perfect sense to be coming from the developers who brought us Rez and Tetris Effect.
Set in a series of block worlds floating in a void, you are a little dog who must bark commands at an endless line of humans that flows out of a door like water. You can order humanity to turn, jump, float and pick up a weapon of some description, and all these tasks will be required to clear the range of puzzles ahead of you.
What’s the purpose of all this? Who knows? The game is intentionally vague, allowing you to place whatever meaning you choose on it. But at the end of the day, it’s exactly the kind of quirky, original thinking that more games should be pursuing.
28. Chants of Sennaar
Focus Entertainment, Rundisc | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One | September
They say one of the best ways to learn a language is through immersion. Simply engaging with a language in real time, figuring it out as you go, and learning by association, and you’ll end up with a better understanding than someone using textbooks. Chants of Sennaar is a game about learning multiple languages in this way, and using it to unite a series of disparate people living in a big tower.
In Chants of Sennaar you meet with multiple groups of people, all of whom speak in their own glyph-based language. It is your job to figure out what they’re all saying, using context clues and a notebook to remind yourself of certain terms. A label next to a lever clues you into the glyphs for “open”, “close” and “door”, directional signs provide the glyphs for location types such as “garden” and occasional translation notes between the tower’s languages give you a kickstart on a new set of glyphs.
Chants of Sennaar is an excellent idea for a puzzle game, where deduction, investigation and trial-and-error sees you picking up on different syntax, grammar and cultural norms across the different languages.
Thunderful Publishing, Sad Owl Studios | PC, PS5 | July
Photography is experiencing a renaissance in games. Photo Modes are high fashion right now, with many games boasting the ability to pose its characters and highlight its world. It’s a flex designed to allow big budget companies to show off the work that went into their graphically beautiful games.
However, rarely do any of these games use photography as a game mechanic. Sure, there’s New Pokémon Snap, which saw Nintendo’s Pikachu shooting simulator brought onto the Switch, but there’s precious little else. Until now, as Viewfinder not only builds it gameplay around photography, it gets incredibly clever with it too.
The premise here is that every photo you take within the game can then be superimposed somewhere else to change the landscape. Take a picture of some stairs in one part of the map, then place the photo next to a high ledge and now you have a route up to it. The photos create a range of mind-bending MC Escher puzzle challenges that are so impressive, it makes you wonder how they pulled this off.
26. Mortal Kombat 1
Warner Bros, NetherRealm Studios | PC, PS5, Switch, Xbox X/S | September
It’s a good time for fighting games. Pretty much every big name is back on the scene. Of course, this includes Mortal Kombat, the goriest of all fighting games.
Mortal Kombat 1 is a big reboot of the franchise, attempting to untangle the series lore while refining the mechanics that have made the series what it is today. It’s been a mixed bag, especially for the much-maligned Switch port, but for fans of the series, it’s been another blast of fighting game goodness with all the spine ripping you’ve come to expect.
Oh, and Jean Claude van Damme is in it as Johnny Cage. History comes full circle.
Don’t Nod | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | October
A lot of AAA games love tacking on a climbing section here and there. You know the bits, the ones where characters magnetically snap on suspiciously visible rocks as you hold a direction to make them climb in that direction. Jusant takes the concept and asks, what if there was more to it?
Jusant is a game all about climbing, and on the surface, it can look a lot like any other game featuring climbing. However, it’s much more involved, especially as this is the central mechanic of the game. You play as a boy climbing a tower with a lil friend in his backpack, and while your mission is unclear at first, it soon becomes clear that the lil friend will be important.
What this means is a lot of climbing, which consists of controlling both of the boy’s hands independently. This means you’ll be alternating your grip on the triggers and will need to hold on or else you go tumbling. Climbing also requires rope management, as there’s a limit on how far you can go, and proper placement of anchors can help with swinging or save you from a botched leap.
Jusant takes one of the most rudimentary mechanics in modern games and turns into a legitimately tense and tactile control scheme that could be an excellent template for future climbing in games.
24. Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo
Square Enix, Xeen | PC, Switch | March
Paranormasight is a visual novel about curses. Seven of them, in fact, all of them mysterious. So that’s the title figured out then, but what’s the game’s premise? There are multiple main characters in Tokyo, and all of them have been affected by a series of supernatural urban legends in the area. Your job is to figure out the mysteries and lift the curses.
Paranormasight got a ton of praise from critics this year. A stylish narrative adventure full of a mixture of comedy and horror, with a cast of interesting characters. It’s also been praised for its improvements to the visual novel genre, which is often seen as a restrictive genre. A surprise hit, especially coming from Square Enix.
23. Fire Emblem Engage
Nintendo, Intelligent Systems | Switch | January
Fire Emblem remains one of Nintendo’s less obvious success stories. The series has been a huge success, partly driven in the West by the persistent presence of its cast in Super Smash Bros, but it’s also just an excellent tactical RPG series.
Fire Emblem Engage has admittedly had a mixed reception. Part of this is due to how beloved Three Houses was back in 2019. After that game’s dense narrative of factions pulling apart and the complexities of war where you may end up fighting old friends, Engage went to a more straightforward good vs evil narrative that didn’t quite measure up.
That said, Fire Emblem Engage is still as solid as ever, now acknowledging its own history in a major way using the Emblem Ring system that summons characters from across history to aid in battle.
22. Honkai: Star Rail
HoYoVerse, MiHoYo | PC, PS5, Mobile | April (PC, mobile), October (PS)
Genshin Impact has been a phenomenal success for Chinese developer MiHoYo, racking up billions in dollars as its blend of gacha elements and surprisingly good gameplay has dominated the world in the last three years. How can you possibly top that success? You simply do it again.
Honkai: Star Rail is the sci-fi turn-based RPG counterpart to Genshin. Less Breath of the Wild and more Persona on a space train, it’s nevertheless managed to replicate Genshin’s success, including managing to attract this very writer’s attention. Yes, they got me, and I’m not even mad about it.
There is a lot to criticise about the gacha genre, and yet little of that really applies to Honkai: Star Rail. What this game offers is a solid RPG experience first, then a slot machine for anime girls second. Placing the player in the shoes of the Trailblazer, a mysterious protagonist who wakes up on a space station in crisis and ends up on the crew of a magical space train populated by other characters with mysterious pasts. Together they travel from world to world, tackling the various cosmic problems they happen to be facing.
What makes Honkai: Star Rail so magical is two things. One, the battle system is genuinely fun, with a turn-based “exploit the weaknesses” system that forces you to think about the strengths and weaknesses of your collected characters to reach the best outcome. Two, the writing is extremely good, with a protagonist who avoids most genre tropes by simply being a chaos goblin with poor social skills and an obsession with trash cans.
Honkai: Star Rail may not initially appear to be one of the best RPG experiences of the year, but I assure you that it absolutely is.
21. Pizza Tower
Tour de Pizza | PC | January
Pizza Tower is fascinating. Emerging from seemingly nowhere in early January, the game quickly got a ton of word-of-mouth praise that led to the game being mentioned frequently in the same breath as the big hitters of the year. Pretty impressive for a game born out of a comic artist just trying stuff out in Game Maker.
Pizza Tower’s success could possibly be attributed to the fact it’s the closest thing we’ve gotten to a Wario Land game in years. Except instead of a bad Mario, you play as a pizzeria owner named Peppino Spaghetti, who is being threatened by a sentient pizza named Pizzaface. Peppino now ventures into the eponymous Pizza Tower to take Pizzaface down.
If this premise sounds absurd, it’s because it is. The other big influence here is 90s cartoons. Courage the Cowardly Dog is an influence cited by the developer, but it’s not hard to see the likes of Rocko’s Modern Life or Ren and Stimpy in this art style too.
I think that’s what made it so endearing to people. It’s a fast-paced Wario Land clone that evokes a sense of 90s nostalgia through its bold, brash art style. It’s got personality and charm in spades, and that helped it cut through to a wider audience.
20. Remnant 2
Gearbox Publishing, Gunfire Games | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | July
Remnant 2 is a game that feels like it’s cramming way too much into one place. It’s a third-person looter shooter that’s also a roguelike but also Dark Souls and you can play it co-op too. That’s a lot of stuff and yet, based on what those who’ve played it have said, it all works brilliantly well.
However, it’s also one of those games where its appeal is perhaps best spotted by playing it, with the feel of the game being the key thing. So as someone who personally hasn’t played it, writing about it is tough. It’s the kind of game that seemingly takes a bunch of ideas other people have attempted, but the key difference is that it nails all of them. At least, that’s what the reviews all seem to state.
Essentially, Remnant 2 is a great game if you need a challenging game to jump into with a friend. And if you like looter shooters that aren’t just trying to be Borderlands.
19. Octopath Traveler II
Square Enix, Acquire | PC, PlayStation, Switch | February
Octopath Traveler II is an interesting game to talk about, largely because it’s the most beloved RPG of the year that rarely ever shows up on end of year lists. I’ve lost track of how many writers I’ve seen sing the praises of it, only for the outlet they work for to simply forget it exists at the end of the year. It’s very odd. Then again, it has been a stacked year for RPGs and some have been more at the forefront of wider discussion than others.
However, the original Octopath Traveler was widely praised, despite some of its bigger flaws. Eight stories all intertwined on a single adventure seemed like a good idea, but often lacked cohesion between these stories. Octopath Traveler II seems determined to fix some of this, addressing the problems of the original while maintaining everything it did right.
It’s not exactly new, but it is a massive improvement over its predecessor that manages to be a great JRPG in its own right.
18. Dave the Diver
Nexon, Mintrocket | PC, Switch | June (PC), October (NS)
Dave the Diver is a small, unassuming game that managed to capture the attention of many players this year for a variety of reasons. It’s a simple premise – you are Dave, a man managing a seafood restaurant. Half your time is spent diving for fish and other sea life, while the rest of it involves keeping your restaurant open.
Either one of these concepts would make for a fun game in its own right, but where Dave the Diver thrives is in bringing these two ideas together. It’s a sea exploration game plus a management game, and it manages to get both sides right and bring them together as a cohesive whole. It’s also got a fun sense of humour, providing a cast of colourful characters who elevate the work even higher.
Dave the Diver is one of those games that may not look like much on the surface but based on how much it’s entered the conversation this year, it’s one that goes deeper than you think.
17. Pikmin 4
Nintendo | Switch | July
Pikmin 4 is further proof that the Switch generation has seen Nintendo bring back practically every franchise they’ve ever touched. Pikmin 3 was a whole ten years ago, and despite Shigeru Miyamoto’s insistence that the fourth game was done shortly after, it’s taken until now for it to materialise. And once again, it shows that Nintendo can even make strategy games, even if they are still uniquely Nintendo.
In Pikmin 4, Olimar has gotten lost on PNF-404 and sent an SOS call, so it’s time for the Rescue Corps to go get him back. Oh, except the Rescue Corps have gotten lost now, so it’s up to you to get them back (and also Olimar while you’re at it, thanks). What follows is an effort to collect ship parts, fuel and Rescue Corps members with the help of the enigmatic Pikmin and a dog-like creature named Oatchi.
It is, essentially, more of what you’d expect from a Pikmin game, where you manage your squad of tiny carrot people and utilise their unique abilities to progress. The biggest new additions are Ice Pikmin, who can freeze bodies to water to allow other Pikmin to cross, and Oatchi, who can be used for a range of things such as attacking enemies, bashing walls and sniffing out objectives.
It’s also as great as you’d expect the series to be, with its quirky premise hiding a surprisingly deep strategy game about managing your resources effectively, ie. not accidentally drowning them all in a lake.
Xbox Game Studios, Bethesda | PC, Xbox X/S | September
Starfield is a controversial game, and one that was impossible to predict in terms of its placing on this list. Despite being one of the most hyped games of the year, there was even a chance it may have missed the list entirely. However, it did make it on, but it’s a complex one to talk about.
Starfield was highly anticipated, coming hot on the heels of the beloved Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. It was Bethesda taking their particular brand of RPG into space, in a world where humanity has colonised the stars.
However, Starfield managed to attract some mixed reactions. Reviews were all over the place, with some outlets giving it breathless full scores while others were more hesitant in their praise. The reason was simple – Bethesda have been making very similar games for a couple of decades now, and the cracks have maybe started to show. That’s not to say Starfield is bad. If it was, it wouldn’t be here. But it’s clear that it’s not the revolution some people were expecting it to be.
That said, if Bethesda’s RPG design is your jam, and you’re simply looking for a Skyrim in space, you’re likely to have a good time. It features a range of space settlements, including a cyberpunk planet and a cowboy world, and this is likely more than enough to excite players. Plus that ship builder is far too versatile and can result in some bizarre creations.
Team17, Black Salt Games | PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | March
Normally when fishing shows up in games, it shows up as niche games from the 2000s that required special controllers, a side game in a cosy life sim or an inexplicable awful side story in a 3D Sonic game. It doesn’t tend to be a major fixture in games that make this list. Until now.
Dredge is a fishing game, and before you run off screaming, allow me to point out that’s a Lovecraftian fishing game. That’s right, you’re off to be a fisherman in Innsmouth and you’re going to like it.
Okay, it’s not literally Innsmouth, but it is a sea town plagued by horrors. Horrors that you spend most of the game dragging up from the depths as you go about your day. So what you get is a relaxing fishing game that makes sure you’re constantly on edge, as the lurking horrors threaten your sanity.
It’s a deeply unique premise for a game and one that has left a dark impression on those who’ve played it.
14. Sea of Stars
Sabotage Studio | PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | August
Sea of Stars is one of those surprise indie games that seemingly came out of nowhere. It’s a love letter to the Square RPGs of the SNES, with Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG being obvious influences. It also managed to muscle its way into wider gaming conversations despite releasing between the big hitters of Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield, despite having a fraction of the marketing budget and featuring even less of the spectacle.
Which shows you how great a game it is. This is a Canadian-made JRPG that drags its 16-bit influences kicking and screaming into the modern era. It makes a ton of concessions to smoother design conventions, such as a lack of random battles and auto-saves. It also features some superb movement mechanics, no doubt inspired by the team’s previous game, The Messenger (which is set in the same universe).
Battles are also fun, built around timed hits and a system of breaking enemy weaknesses to prevent them from unleashing more powerful moves. Plus characters can be swapped in and out on the fly, and a series of combo moves allows them to work as a collective in ways that help build this group as a genuine team.
Combine all this with some charming character writing and gorgeous pixel art, and you have a small game that defied the odds and became one of the year’s best RPGs in a year full of competition.
13. Lies of P
Neowiz Games, Round8 Studio | PC, PlayStation, Xbox | September
The people have been screaming for a Bloodborne sequel for years, and while it looks unlikely one will appear any time soon, what we do have is the Korean equivalent – Pinocchio Bloodborne starring bargain bin Timothee Chalamet.
Lies of P sees you playing as Pinocchio on the search for a missing Geppetto, in a world full of aggressive steampunk puppets. The game is exactly what you’d expect from a Soulslike – brutal fights, specific checkpointing, XP gained through fighting enemies and can be lost when you get killed, etc. But it’s Bloodborne that’s the most obvious inspiration here, with the pseudo-Victorian setting and the speedier combat, and that’s why people have been going nuts for it.
It’s also been considered the best Soulslike that’s not made by FromSoftware, which is both high praise but also hardly a high bar to clear. That said, “buy this if you want Bloodborne 2” is reason enough to get excited if you’re a fan of the genre.
Oh, and you upgrade Pinocchio with a device called the P-Organ, which has entertained everyone’s inner 12-year-old. So that’s notable too.
12. Dead Space Remake
EA, Motive Studios | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | January
The Dead Space remake feels like an apology. After landing massive success with the first two Dead Space games, EA decided to fall into corporate short-sightedness with its microtransaction-laden third game. This led to the CEO declaring the premature death of single player focused games, before shuffling its developers Visceral Games onto Battlefield before closing them forever. And now, after legal troubles over Star Wars Battlefront and a realisation that people actually do like single player games when they’re good, EA have seemingly been on an apology tour, with Dead Space’s revival being a big part of that.
On first glance, not much has changed between the 2008 original and this new version. Clearly it’s just the original game with prettier polygons? No, it is not, as the game has been rebuilt from the ground up, designed to address technical limitations faced by the original and enhancing the experience further.
Dead Space was already a masterpiece, and now here it is in 2023 with more open level design, more gruesome monsters and a sense that maybe this time EA have figured out they don’t need to turn every game into a co-op shooter full of crafting mechanics. Or at least, that’s what we can hope anyway.
Annapurna Interactive, Geometric Interactive | PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | September
It’s hard to sum up the concept of Cocoon. It’s a puzzle game where you play as…well, that’s not really explained. And your objective is…well that’s not clear either. Your puzzle pieces are also the world, or rather worlds, that you inhabit. You see, one of the things you quickly learn about the world is you start in is that you can leave it, then turn around and pick it up. You can then carry it around to solve puzzles with.
Cocoon becomes a game all about stacking worlds inside other worlds, warping in and out of realities to make open new paths and unlock abilities. It’s a game that’s hard to truly understand until you’re playing it.
But it’s also a game that manages to keep the player engaged with its bizarre concepts to such a perfect degree that you’ll feel incredibly smart for figuring it all out. It subtly guides its player through every challenge, constantly using subtle environmental cues and pathways to push you towards a solution without ever stating anything outright.
It does this so well that as it layers more surreal elements on top of one another, it leads to moments of absolute genius. You will gasp in awe at what Cocoon manages to do with its core concepts, and it all builds to a series of satisfying moments that would make absolutely no sense without the journey that led you there.
Cocoon is one of the most unexpected indie darlings to emerge this year. Anyone who likes puzzles or incomprehensible narratives needs to play this.
10. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
Bandai Namco, FromSoftware | PC, PlayStation, Xbox | August
FromSoftware dominated gaming discussion last year, with Elden Ring picking up accolades left, right and centre. But they clearly weren’t ready to be done with that, as this year they released yet another beloved game, albeit one a little different to the formula they’ve made themselves famous for over the last decade.
However, it’s nothing entirely new for FromSoftware, as the 6 in the game’s title should probably indicate. Armored Core was a huge mech series during the PS2 era, and this year saw its triumphant return. Of course, it led to a bit of confusion as people expecting Elden Ring with giant robots were disappointed that this game isn’t it (nor was it ever claiming to be). But for people who wanted big, exciting mech games, it was exactly what they were looking for.
This is a game full of exhilarating mech battles, all defined by an array of complex builds and customisation that changes how you play from round to round. It’s a game that puts you in charge of a powerful, heavy yet agile beast of a machine and you decide how that machine will best suit your mission.
Armored Core VI may not be the Elden Ring DLC people have been waiting for, but it does show that FromSoftware are far from a one trick pony. Now they just need to really throw everyone off and revive The Adventures of Cookie & Cream.
9. Hi-Fi Rush
Xbox Game Studios, Bethesda, Tango Gameworks | PC, Xbox | January
Sure, Starfield was the big heavily marketed Xbox game this year, but the real star of their first party slate this year was a game they casually shadow dropped in a January showcase. Hi-Fi Rush is a bold, brash game that demands your attention and follows through on every wild idea it comes up with.
Alright, I might be a little biased as Hi-Fi Rush feels like a game built specifically to please me. It stars a doofus of a protagonist accompanied by a robot cat who fights against The Man using the power of rock. It’s got a loud cel-shaded visual style and the gameplay is what happens when someone decides they like Devil May Cry but wish they could vibe to the music more often. It’s also got a goofy sense of humour that gives the game a fun Saturday morning cartoon vibe.
It’s also the home of two of my standout moments from games this year. The first is a silly scene involving a bunch of doors, and the second is a lengthy cafeteria fight soundtracked to “Invaders Must Die” by The Prodigy. In a year where so many of my favourite gaming moments involved music, it’s not surprising that the game with musical mechanics had several of these moments.
Hi-Fi Rush is also just a blast to play. The fact you have to fight on the beat is a masterstroke in bringing the whole experience together. Visuals, music and gameplay all blend together to pull you into a satisfying combat loop, one that gets enhanced the further you get into the game and unlock new abilities and allies.
Hi-Fi Rush is exactly what Microsoft should be using Game Pass for – fun, bold ideas that sit outside the usual trends, passion projects that focus on a cool idea and run with it, funded by Microsoft’s impossibly huge dragon hoard.
8. Final Fantasy XVI
Square Enix | PS5 | June
Final Fantasy continues to be a fascinating series. Each numbered entry does whatever the hell it feels like and the series has jumped genres, combat styles and art direction constantly. Apparently off the back of the phenomenal ongoing success of MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix handed the reins over to its producer, Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida, for the latest numbered entry.
The result is an epic tale of one man in a world of building-flattening summons and a perpetual conflict between nations. It’s a game that takes more inspiration from Devil May Cry for its combat over the ATB system of past games in the series. And its cast is one of the most aggressively British I’ve ever heard in a game that wasn’t actively made in Europe – its cast includes veterans of The Office and Alan Partridge, of all things.
It’s been divisive, sure, but what Final Fantasy game isn’t? The most I’ve personally played was the demo, but what I played was excellent and I do intend to get round to the full game eventually. The story is a dense character piece full of well-rounded characters, the gameplay is fast-paced and exciting and it also just looks great. Plus any game that has kaiju-style fights between summons is a win in my book. The Phoenix vs Ifrit fight in the demo was an astounding spectacle, for instance.
Plus this game has made its lead actor, Ben Starr, into a genuine celebrity. He’s embraced his leading man position and turned his social media into a font of memes and Final Fantasy VIII love, and I’m here for it. Lord knows I can’t see Starfield written down without reading it in his voice, and he wasn’t even in it, so well done there, I guess.
7. Street Fighter 6
Capcom | PC, PlayStation, Xbox X/S | June
Street Fighter 5 saw Capcom make a lot of mistakes and damage the reputation of the franchise for a few years. Limited content and a buggy launch contributed to a feeling that Capcom had lost their way.
Street Fighter 6 had a lot to live up to, but because Capcom since Resident Evil 7 has been a confident bastion of quality games again, it’s not much of a surprise to learn that it put the defining fighting game franchise back on top.
Street Fighter 6 leaned into the “street” part of its title, with an urban aesthetic and a story mode focused on building up a custom character through, well, street fights. This mode in particular has attracted praise for how it introduces the game’s mechanics and characters, while allowing players to create the most ridiculous martial artists they can imagine.
At its core though, it’s just a great fighting game. It’s the franchise that’s been at the forefront of the genre since its inception, and continues to show how good it is with this latest entry.
6. Super Mario Bros Wonder
Nintendo | Switch | October
The Mario series is a staple of the gaming landscape. We’ve all played it, we’ve all enjoyed it and we all will continue to enjoy it, especially when Nintendo put out games as solid as this one. Super Mario Bros Wonder is one of the most joyous experiences of the year, and it’s unsurprising that it’s won the hearts of critics and players alike.
Super Mario Bros Wonder is what happens when Nintendo just leans into the school of thought that goes, wow, this game sure was made on drugs. Every level features a new gimmick activated with a reality warping flower, and the ideas it presents are absurdly inventive. Some levels shift to a Zelda-style top down view, where Mario has to navigate a hazard filled environment. Others transform Mario into enemies like Goombas. Then there are the musical levels that cause the scenery to dance and sway in time with the music. You never really know what to expect, and that’s the joy of Super Mario Bros Wonder.
Of course, outside of that we still have a solid 2D Mario platformer. The physics are as tight and responsive as ever, maintaining the franchise’s reputation for fun gameplay. And now, we have a bunch of extra powerups, including old staples such as the drill and the Fire Flower, but now there’s an elephant Mario that can throw water around and bash through walls and a bubble powerup that can create temporary platforms.
All these new additions, plus the ability to play as a wide range of Mario characters gives Super Mario Bros Wonder a joyous party vibe that makes it essential for anyone with a Switch.
In addition, another Mario project released just one month later, and I wasn’t sure whether or not to include it on the list. The Super Mario RPG remake brought a classic SNES game into the modern era, maintaining all its charm and bringing a cute chibi art style along with it.
5. Resident Evil 4 Remake
Capcom | PC, PlayStation, Xbox X/S | March
There are debates about how eligible Resident Evil 4 should be for end of year awards, but it passes the test for being a reworking of the game that came before that changes and amends enough of the experience to count as an entirely new experience.
But at the end of the day, this is Resident Evil 4. It’s a game that is considered by many to be the greatest game of 2005. It took the camp elements of Resident Evil and dialled them up to 11, complete with a fresh new action focus. It was so beloved that every vaguely horror shaped game that released in the intervening years has used its over-the-shoulder camera angle as its basis. Even the remakes of its predecessors took elements directly from it, turning the clunky fixed camera shuffling of the original PS1 games and turning them into tense, claustrophobic experiences.
After the success of those remakes, it was perhaps inevitable that RE4 would follow. Realising that they couldn’t simply give it the overhaul that 2 and 3 received, Capcom’s changes here are more subtle. The game adds more grimy horror elements brought in by RE7 and Village, while retaining the vibe of the original game as best as it can. The result was a resounding success. Perhaps we could finally get the more required Code Veronica remake next?
4. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
PlayStation Studios, Insomniac Games | PS5 | October
Spider-Man 2 is not exactly a game that’s pushing the medium forward. It’s a Marvel property for a start, at a time when superhero fatigue has been causing a persistent string of box office flops. Also, by most accounts, Spider-Man 2 is more of what you’d expect from the 2018 Insomniac Spider-Man game.
However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as Spider-Man, and its shorter companion, Miles Morales, were both extremely well received games. This is a game that takes everything good from those games and smooshes them together, adds in some new powers to differentiate the two Spider-Mans and improves on areas that needed improvement.
The result is a pretty solid game that lets you be Spider-Man, and also another Spider-Man. It’s the kind of game that fans of the character will revel in, and good for them.
3. Alan Wake 2
Epic Games, Remedy Entertainment | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | October
As I’ve stated in the intro, this list is compiled using data from Metacritic, Google Trends and a collected scorecard of every Best Games of the Year list I can get my hands on. It is not my personal preferences, because if it was, this game would be at the top. Alan Wake 2 is my personal Game of the Year for 2023, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who had to put up with me raving about Control being the same for 2019.
Alan Wake 2 is something special. It took a game from 13 years ago that had an interesting story let down by stodgy and repetitive gameplay, and turned into this. It swiped gameplay elements from the Resident Evil remakes, added a second protagonist and then threw the collected knowledge and worldbuilding of Remedy’s entire existence into this package. A package that not only acts as a sequel to Alan Wake and inevitably drags in Control as expected, but it still manages to reference both Max Payne and Quantum Break in every way they can legally get away with too.
It also elevates video game storytelling to levels previously unseen. This is True Detective and Twin Peaks: The Return battling for supremacy while poetry, experimental Finnish filmmaking and a god damn rock opera musical sequence all muscle in to reshape Alan’s story in unexpected ways. Live action sequences blend with gameplay seamlessly while characters constantly find new ways to surprise you. This is not a normal story, and revels in its own postmodern madness so gleefully that it’s impossible not to get dragged along for the ride.
Alan Wake 2 is a masterpiece and Remedy have proven to be masters of their craft. Sam Lake is a mad genius and the games industry is lucky to have him. But it’s also a testament to his convince a team of talented people to join him on his flights of fancy so consistently that this is where we end up.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Nintendo | Switch | May
At the start of this year, I was convinced that this game would easily take the top spot. After all, in 2017, Breath of the Wild dominated Game of the Year lists and even topped most Game of the Decade lists. If I’d been making these lists at the time, it would have almost certainly sailed to the top. So logically, Breath of the Wild’s direct sequel was going to do the same. But it’s 2023 and there is a sea of brilliant games demanding your attention, so this sure bet fell down a couple of spots.
Of course, it’s not like it’s soared down the list and ended up in the sub-40s. No, it’s still here, sitting pretty in the top ten, where you’d expect. Because regardless of what the number one game did for general gaming discourse, fanart and my hard drive this year, this is still the supremely beloved sequel to 2017’s biggest game. Of course it’s still here.
On first glance, Tears of the Kingdom is just more Breath of the Wild. However, while the original map is back and much of the basic gameplay is reiterated, there are also not one, but two, entirely new maps to explore both above and below the original. The game also tosses in a crafting mechanic so open and creativity-fuelling, that other developers took one look at it and questioned how the hell Nintendo did it. Especially on the Switch, a system that was built out of aging hardware even when it released six years ago.
When Tears of the Kingdom released, social media was awash with videos and pictures of players throwing together the most bonkers creations using this system. Complex Rube Goldberg contraptions that boggled the mind sat next to the most creative implementations of the mandatory dick jokes. Tears of the Kingdom gave players an absurd level of freedom and somehow managed to not collapse in on itself from the physics engine giving up and going home.
Tears of the Kingdom is how you build on a game that many already consider to be the greatest game ever made. Just do more of it, but let people dick around even more. A brilliant achievement that was only possible because of Nintendo’s decades of nurturing talent.
1. Baldur’s Gate 3
Larian Studios | PC, PS5, Xbox X/S | August (PC), September (PS), December (XB)
If you’d said to me that 2023’s single most defining game would be a dense CRPG based on a Dungeons and Dragons license that got dragged out of a somewhat muted Early Access period, I would have laughed in your face. And yet, here we are, at the end of 2023, and it seems impossible to claim otherwise. The greatest game of 2023 by every metric is Baldur’s Gate 3.
Of course, as someone who has played it, I can vouch for its greatness. Baldur’s Gate 3 is an astounding labour of love that seemingly emerged out of nowhere, although we all know it was the product of three years of Early Access feedback and trusting in a team to do what they know best. I know I keep labouring this point with all these games but in a year full of layoffs, think about what that means.
Anyway, yes, Baldur’s Gate 3 is brilliant. It’s a game that revels in letting players explore, experiment and roleplay in an astounding number of ways. It took the DnD experience and made something as close to a virtual version of it as possible. It even, somehow, manages to make two entirely separate campaigns for different custom player characters.
Baldur’s Gate 3 also features some brilliant character writing in every facet of its execution. The party members are so good that the internet has been flooded with memes and obsessive social media posts, and the voice actors have become minor celebrities. But even the NPCs are infused with so much life and character in a way that other RPGs could only dream of. You actually care about this world and its inhabitants in a way that I don’t think I’ve really experienced before.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has captured the gaming audience so completely this year that it’s unsurprising it hit the top spot on this list. It may even go on to be considered one of the greatest games ever made. Congratulations, Larian, you made the most notable game of 2023.