My 2023 in Video Games

My 2023 In Games

I truly wonder how 2023 will be remembered in gaming

This post is going up a little earlier than I anticipated so screenshots (which I do myself) will be missing until I wrap up my vacation in the United States.

Looking at my catalog, I matched 2022 with 24 games (that I remembered to log!). It was the year I got my first VR Headsets, became a HOTAS nerd, oh, and I got married too!

I wonder if 2023 will be the Tale of Two Cities in that it was both the best and worst of times for gaming (games great, industry atrocious). I genuinely hope the industry stabilizes and we don’t see this kind of year again any time soon.

10. Star Wars Galaxies (PC, 2003)

Best HOTAS Experience of the Year, Most Star Warsy

I was disappointed by Star Wars Jedi: Survivor this year and felt it was time to go back to (arguably) the game that influenced me the most: Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) via emulated private servers. I specifically wanted to play the Jump to Lightspeed space expansion and fulfill a 10+ year goal of playing with a joystick. This lead to a two month bender where I ended up getting not only a HOTAS, but also rudder pedals, and even a discounted Quest Pro to play like a cockpit sim. It was outstanding and well worth the money I invested. SWG will always hold a dear place in my heart and frankly, I enjoyed this experience over Star Wars Squadrons

9. Dead Space (Playstation 5, 2023)

Best Horror Game, Most Gooey

Now It’s Awkward’s 9th game of 2022 was taken by Callisto Protocol, and while I think I enjoyed the Dead Space (DS) refurbish more, 2023’s lineup means they share the same honors one year apart. This remake at first felt like “let’s put Dead Space in the Dead Space 2 engine” because of how smooth the movement and shooting felt compared to DS1. A few hours in the remake started to shine as it was way more than a (very nice) coat of paint. The shooting is better since it’s more akin to Dead Space 2 and the fact that the game forces you to rotate weapons to due ammo scarcity meant I experimented way more than I wanted. That experimentation, though, lead me to finding really good synergies between weapons that I am sure the devs intended for players to discover. The Ishimura as one giant environment with no loading screens was a great change but I do wish they didn’t add random enemies while exploring. I enjoyed backtracking in the original knowing it was 100% safe!

Going in with the knowledge of what Isaac’s about to go through (both in the remake and it’s sequels) the whole experience was melancholy in a very good way. The story is appropriately revised; characters are sparingly added, traits revised, plot beats updated to reference the sequels. It’s all really elegant and well executed. While not on the scale of Final Fantasy VII: Remake, I feel DS is a fantastic game that outshines the original.

8. Lies of P (Xbox Series X, 2023)

Best non-FromSoftware Soulslike, Most Creative Adaptation

If you told me that Lies of P (LoP) was a reimagining of Pinocchio, I’d have shrugged and moved on. Thankfully, I was told it’s like Bloodborne but with Pinocchio – curiosity piqued! I appreciate a lot of what LoP set out to do both in terms of gameplay and story. LoP has a similar Gothic aesthetic with gameplay mechanics that are reminiscent of Bloodborne but in some cases refined and expanded upon. The game’s parry system has a lot depth encouraging you to make perfectly timed parries but there are also character upgrades that reduce the penalty for missing the mark (and making perfect parries better). You can forgo those upgrades entirely and instead add new ways to approach beating enemies (like exploiting their elemental weakness). It feels complete and well thought out.

Storywise LoP is similar to FromSoftware games: background information in item descriptions and cryptic one-liners from the characters you meet. That said, the game still manages to spin a compelling narrative that, while seemingly predictable, does offer a creative twist on the Pinocchio story. There’s also an intriguing tease at the end that makes me look forward to any potential sequels.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo Switch, 2023)

Best Game of 2023, Most Creatively Forgiving

I personally think Tears of the Kingdom (TotK) is the best video game of 2023. That said, it’s not my game of 2023. I generally don’t like open world games – I get lost in the “do what you want” sandbox gameplay of your Skyrims type RPGs.

Controls in ToTK are still clunky (I had to remap my controls so Jump and Run made sense to me), the sequel’s new Master Hand mechanic creates a near limitless amount of ways one can solve the puzzles. This overwhelms me so I appreciated that most solutions to the shrine puzzles were easy to “solve” but also allowing for multiple solutions.

To be honest, I played ToTK mostly to be part of The Zeitgeist; I followed the critical paths and only engaged in a few side quests along the way. It wasn’t until the story went “off book” (to borrow a chess term) that I suddenly cared a great deal more about the game. Unfortunately, it took about 50 hours for me to get to that point. I am just not that creative when it comes to gaming. I like linearity and relatively straightforward exploration. ToTK is an inspired sequel that improved on nearly every complaint I had. It’s not just that ToTK is one of the best sequels of all time, I genuinely think it’s one of the best games of all time. I just don’t feel compelled to play it anymore than I have.

6. Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak (Nintendo Switch, 2022)

Best Game Loop, Most Fun with a Group

I thought I liked Monster Hunter Now when it came out this year but I quickly got frustrated with the free-to-play trappings that come with Niantic games. Thankfully I didn’t touch the expansion Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak (SB) when it came out in June of last year which meant I could get my Monster Hunter fix without the limitations baked into Monster Hunter Now.

It turns out, 95% of my October was dedicated to SB. The NPC companions that they (re)introduced to the series made it much more solo friendly than before and new monsters added to the game were absurdly challenging the best way possible. And of course, the gear loop continues to be one of the best in the industry. If you enjoyed its mobile counterpart and own a Switch, just get Rise. You’ll have a way better time!

5. Super Mario RPG (Nintendo Switch, 2023)

Best Remake, Most Nostalgic

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was my very first video game I “owned” (whatever that means when you’re six). It holds a very special place in my heart and when Nintendo announced the remake, Super Mario RPG (SMRPG), it was probably the first time in a decade I felt “hyped.” It’s a wonderful delight that harkens back to a simple time when RPGs were short, Squaresoft and Nintendo were buddies, and the idea of fighting alongside Boswer seemed truly insane. Now that I am in my thirties, SMRPG is a treat. It’s length is “just right”, there is enough depth to build your characters without having to worry about “messing them up,” and the new gameplay balances add enough variation for someone familiar with the old game to enjoy.

I adore this game and I am so happy it was made. Never again will I be a victim to Boshi’s awful racing minigame!

4. Pikmin 4 (Nintendo Switch, 2023)

Best Pikmin Game, Most Satisfying to 100%

Pikmin 4 is the best Pikmin game, hands down. Pikmin 4 addressed all my complaints about previous games in the series and finally gave me something I’ve wanted since Pikmin 2. The tower defense mode with Glow Pikmin gets really challenging later in the game making me engage with a lot of tactics I never really considered. The game’s emphasis on multi-tasking can easily be ignored; upgrades to your companion alleviate a lot of the early game speed bumps that let stay single minded. It’s a genuine blast. Smash that Throw button!

3. Cities Skylines and Cities Skylines 2 (PC; 2015, 2023)

Best Way to Lose a Whole Day, Most Educational

I should legally be banned from playing games like Cities Skylines (CS) and its sequel. The game’s feedback loop is so fast that you can tell yourself “I’ll just spend 15 minutes building out a highway intersection and then go to bed” but it quickly turns into a four hour traffic optimization puzzle. I enjoy making the most self-sufficient, dense, Factorio-like city which makes full use of public transportation. Its sequel drastically improves the tools used to create roads but it currently suffers from a lot of bugs due to its rushed release. That didn’t stop me from putting over 100 hours into both games in 2023.

On top of that, I’ve learned way more about civic engineering in 2023 than I ever did in school. I never heard of the phrase “road hierarchy” until I started trying to fix traffic problems and now I constantly think about them when I am outside!

2. Vampire Survivors (Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox Series; 2022)

Best Multiplayer, Most Vampires

I honestly did not expect much from Vampire Survivors (VS) in 2023 but the Nintendo Switch release this year resulted in me putting in over 60 hours. I finally played with the DLCs (“more of the same” but man was it great!) and dabbled in the multiplayer. It was magnificent. The game continues to be a barrage against my senses in the best way possible and the dynamic of playing with other people actually adds a lot more than I expected. Some of my favorite moments in gaming this year was playing VS with a friend who knows nothing about the game and I got to see them discover weapon evolutions for the first time. Best of all, its simple gameplay makes it extremely accessible.

I successfully unlocked everything in the Switch version of the game (even the elusive adventure mode!) and can’t see myself ignoring VS in 2024.

1. Resident Evil 4 (Playstation 5, PC; 2023)

Most Sweaty, Game of the Year

RE4R is my game of the year simply because it felt the most rewarding to play. Shortly after beating the Resident Evil 4 remake (RE4R) on the PS5, I purchased it again on Steam. I wanted to unlock everything but wanted to practice the harder difficulties on PC which (thanks to mods) let me be a little more flexible in learning the routes/techniques needed to progress. I am pretty sure I beat this game seven times to get all the unlocks and with the new VR mode added there’s probably going to be an eighth.

It is a slick improvement over the original with new depth in gameplay, removal of (unnecessary) quicktime events and refined improvements in the games plot and cinematics which make it more cohesive and fit well into the existing “remake timeline” Capcom is cooking. One of my favorite gaming memories of 2023 will be all the effort I put into getting an S+ on professional difficulty. It was just as tense as it was exhilarating to pull off the achievement. That alone is arguably why I am so adamant that it’s my (and Now It’s Awkward’s coveted) Game of the Year.