WHAT A YEAR for gaming. The hits (across all genres) just kept coming and coming. Gamers were spoiled this year, and I’m not sure I’ve ever 100% completed this many games in such a short time. I ended up being in for a surprise when I found it difficult to choose the 10 best games of 2023! Now that my classes are done, I gave it some thought and wanted to share what most resonated with me.
As always with these things, these are simply my opinions and in no way definitive. And before going into my top 10, a quick note on a few titles I haven’t played. Final Fantasy XVI is next on my list now that I’ve finished Spider-Man 2. I’m waiting for that sweet collector’s edition of Blasphemous 2 since the original is one my all time favorites. Somehow I haven’t found the time for Metroid Prime: Remastered (a crime, I know-I love Metroid so much). And I’ll save the Resident Evil 4 Remake for next October, when I play through spooky games. But I’m very happy with what I did play! So let’s jump into my top 10 best games of 2023.
Honorable mention: Sonic Superstars (Switch)
I don’t see this game getting much love and wanted to give it a quick shout out. While not reaching the heights of Sonic Mania or the original Genesis trilogy, there’s a lot to like here! The “2.5D” art style works to magical effect, and level design is generally tight and enjoyable. Most importantly, the physics when you control the characters feel like the Genesis games. I really enjoyed the diversity of zones, and felt this take on special stages was creative too. The new chaos emerald “powers” are fun (if a bit superfluous) and can lead to neat experimentation!
You’ve probably heard the common complaints, and they’re valid. The soundtrack is a bit uneven (everything from Tee Lopes is glorious though). Co-op is a mess. The difficult spikes in the final zones, and the last few boss fights drag on too long. But I feel the entire experience is still worth a play for Sonic fans!
10. Fire Emblem: Engage (Switch)
I’ll start by saying I’m just a casual Fire Emblem fan. My gateway to the series was actually 2018’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and I’ve only played a few other titles since. So I was excited for this game, which was touted to be a celebration of FE history, to learn more! While the final product ended up falling short of the heights of Three Houses (Golden Deer for life!) it was a fun amalgamation of characters and locales from older games that made me want to go back and play other releases I missed (which I did for the original 2003 GBA title after).
The real star of the show, as per tradition in Fire Emblem games, is the tactical battle system, which returns better than ever in all its glory. The weapon triangle is back, and the ability to stagger an enemy and deprive them of a turn if you attack with the right weapon adds a huge layer of strategy. Battles are masterfully orchestrated (especially the challenges for each legacy character), ludicrously fun, and always rewarding to conquer. Despite the story never really gripping me (and the characters, both in their design and personality, being a bit over-the-top and cheesy) the spectacular combat system kept me “engaged” (you’re welcome) for close to 50 hours.
9. Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly (Switch)
The original Coffee Talk is one of my favorite indie games and easily made my list for best games of 2020. I completely missed the sequel releasing (partially due to my obsession with Tears of the Kingdom-more on that in a bit). But I found and played through this as a great palate cleanser after so many hours with that game. And I loved it! Most all the characters from the first game return, along with a few new ones, and I similarly adored them all. Their arcs have surprising depth for such as short experience!
Like its predecessor, it’s a simple but extraordinarily cozy game that also makes you think and reflect on relationships, styles of communication, and in this game in particular, the role of social media in our lives. There’s nothing mind-blowing here, but it’s a contemplative yet joyful title that you should take a few hours out of your schedule to play this winter.
8. Vampire Survivors (Switch)
One of my best friends strongly recommended this gem to me over Thanksgiving break (thanks, Kamal!) and I downloaded it immediately given his glowing review and its alluring price tag. I wasn’t disappointed! This indie tasks you with powering up to survive for 30 minutes against massive hordes of (shamelessly ripped off) Castlevania-style enemies. Beautiful (and entertaining, and hilarious) in its simplicity, the only control you have over your character is movement. Weapons work automatically and get stronger as you gain levels. Collecting rewards along the way (and even more if you live) to unlock various perks and permanent upgrades, there is a very addictive gameplay loop.
Once I cleared all the maps and unlocked a majority of the content, I was ready to move on (when you find a build of weapons that works for you the challenge is lessened substantially), but for $5, you’ll get far more than your money’s worth here!
7. Super Mario RPG (Switch)
A remake of a perennial “top 10 game of all time” for me, I tore through Super Mario RPG in less than a week. And I had a smile on my face the entire time! The original game already holds up masterfully so I knew I was going to enjoy it coming in. But the quality of life improvements surprised me! I appreciated an autosave, a much-expanded inventory system, a fun bestiary with witty commentary, and new beautiful “triple move” attacks. The ability to switch between the original OST and newly orchestrated tuns was a fun perk too. Also, the game is gorgeous!
If I’m being honest, I did find myself missing some of the charm of the original. It’s probably the nostalgia talking, but I still prefer the old font, character designs, and victory poses. I also tried the new “boss rematches” after the main story but found them more tedious than fun. Regardless, this remake was a blast to play, and I’m so happy that younger generations get to experience this gem in a new way!
6. Star Wars: Jedi Survivor (PS5)
The characters of this series (that began with Jedi: Fallen Order) are easily some of my favorite in the Star Wars universe. Cal, BD-1, Merrin, Cere, and Greez are intriguing, charming, complex, and memorable. And the setting being several years after Revenge of the Sith gives it the space to honor the prequel mythology but connect to the original films characterizations in a pleasing way. So I was very much looking forward to this sequel!
And it didn’t disappoint. First, there are an absurd amount of improvements to gameplay across the board. It was very obvious that Respawn listened to fan feedback and tweaked quite a few things. Fast travel and shortcuts are 1,000 times better. The map system is so much more useful and functional. Combat is even more fluid and fun with additional lightsaber stances, and side quests are much diverse and worthwhile (not that I have anything against poncho collecting!).
The narrative, which connects in a cool way to the new “High Republic” era, has deep themes (especially about the consequences of obsessive focus on a single goal), great character arcs for the main cast, and sets up a satisfying future third installment. To be sure, the pacing wasn’t *quite* as tight as the first game, and I was a bit underwhelmed by the villian(s). Part of that is unclear motivation that is never quite explained, and part is that Trilla from Fallen Order is one of my all-time favorite antagonists. But this is still a fantastic and compelling addition to the Star Wars universe; one of the best in recent years!
5. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)
Now things really get difficult in trying to rank the best games of 2023. So Super Mario Wonder is weird. And I mean that as a huge compliment! After several entries in the New Super Mario Bros. series that became progressively more “vanilla”, Mario Wonder came out of nowhere with fresh, innovative, whimsical ideas for 2D Mario that embody what I love most about Nintendo. The design of each level has more creativity than some entire games do! You never know what’s going to happen in each area when you grab the “Wonder Flower”, and I was, truly, never disappointed.
I also really appreciated the accessibility options for players of all skill levels. I played the entire game with my older daughter, and she used Yoshi (light blue-it always had to be light blue) because they can’t take damage. Closing the gap in our skill levels let us have a great time from start to finish, and I ended up 100% completing the game! (though the Invisibility Badge section of the Final-Final Badge Marathon will haunt my dreams for months to come).
As always, I have a few nitpicks. Boss fights until the final fight are a bit underwhelming. Levels are sometimes a bit too short (they’re so fun that I wanted more!) and I would have appreciated more actual levels as opposed to the high volume of badge challenges and “break” levels. But this game is a delight, and without question the best 2D Mario since Super Mario World.
4. Pikmin 4 (Switch)
I can’t believe we actually got Pikmin 4 this year. I’ve been singing the praises of this unique real-time strategy series since Pikmin 3 on the Wii U got me hooked. Pikmin 4 now gets my vote for best Pikmin game (and one of the best Nintendo games) ever. This is another Nintendo game I 100% completed this year! Why? Because every second of it is just SO FUN. Everything that made the previous Pikmin games enjoyable (including the caves from Pikmin 2!) is back but polished to a sheen, plus we have the addition of your pup Oatchi (the best boy), an addictive upgrade-based gameplay loop, Dandori battles, numerous in-game encyclopedias, and new Pikmin types in additional to every original type. Plus, the graphics are unreasonably gorgeous and the new environments are meticulously crafted. You’ll want to explore every inch of each map with your little army of Pikmin!
Is it perfect? Not quite. The auto-lock system can be annoying at times. I missed the epic boss fights at the end of each area from Pikmin 3. And it’s a bit on the easy side. But those are minor gripes for one of the best games of 2023. PLAY PIKMIN 4 NOW.
3. Sea of Stars (Switch)
I have been closely watching the development of this game ever since I backed it on Kickstarter in the spring of 2020! I knew it was going to be something special based on what the devs showed off then, and past Zach wasn’t wrong in his appraisal. This is a truly special RPG that honors the best and greatest from the 90s JRPGs while simultaneously carving its own path. The combat system is a masterful combination of the non-random battles, double/triple tech and streamlined choices from Chrono Trigger, timed hits from Super Mario RPG, and elemental “break” system from Octopath Traveler. It is a serious DELIGHT to fight every battle-this may be my personal favorite combat system of all time! The characters charm across the board, too. You’ve probably heard that Garl is a fan favorite and you have absolutely heard right because GARL IS THE BEST. I really enjoyed the narrative that was both well told and featured numerous meaningful sidequests in the vein of Chrono Trigger and Mass Effect 2.
Did I also mention that the graphics are utterly breathtaking from start to finish? How beautiful the animated cutscenes we got as a stretch goal turned out? That the soundtrack is a whimsical delight and has several tracks from legendary Yasunori Mitsuda? I 100% completed everything in the game (save for one achievement that requires New Game+, but I’m coming back for that on a second playthrough!). If you have even a fleeting interest in RPGs, you need to play this. And here is the boss battle music to get you more hyped if you’re not convinced:
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (PS5)
Though I’m not a huge comic book guy, I’ve always loved Spider-Man. I’ve felt the most connected with him as a character since we have similarities! And I adored the first Spider-Man game back in 2018. So I was VERY excited for this release…and couldn’t stop playing until I 100%ed it! So much of what made the first title spectacular still works here, but it’s all kicked up to S tier now. Controls are so fluid and responsive (with masterful use of the DualSense triggers) that you feel like Spider-Man. Graphics are a sight to behold. The soundtrack ROCKS (just hearing the title screen theme gives me chills). Traversal via webslinging is insanely fun (I never used fast travel!), and now there are even MORE movement options to enjoy. Then there’s the plot.
It’s like Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 done right…
Spider-Man 2 starts with a bang and never lets up. The dual stories that switch between Peter Parker and Miles Morales are masterfully woven, and each has a satisfying character arc with some nuanced themes (one of my favorite of which is how you can’t do literally everything, and trying to is disastrous). I really appreciated the focus on former villains now trying to do good, and how much support from others means to us. I also loved completing the even-more-excellent side quests in the game. Both to get more lore and insight (especially for side characters and villains!), and because they’re just a blast to play. And then there’s Venom, finally done right, in every way. I won’t spoil any more! Overall, Spider-Man 2 doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre, but does everything to such a high degree of quality and joy that it doesn’t matter (a sentiment I also have for the game listed below). You’ll find very little “filler” here, and I really appreciate that in an open-world game. An AMAZING (pun fully intended) and nimble sequel that easily stands among the best games of 2023.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)
Oh man how do I start talking about Tears of the Kingdom in a concise way? I already wrote on entire post on how Tears of the Kingdom is a masterpiece and now my favorite game of all time! I was initially nervous for the release after such a long development cycle, and given that Breath of the Wild was my previously all time #1 game. But that was misplaced. EVERYTHING about Tears of the Kingdom is spectacular, surpassing its groundbreaking predecessor.
I’m a bit biased since Zelda has long been my favorite series. But this is a title I would recommend to anyone who breathes air and doesn’t hate fun. The sheer freedom to play the game how you want is revelatory! The new abilities (especially Ultrahand and Ascend) give you such customization options no matter what you’re doing (and there is ALWAYS something meaningful to do close by in this game). There were countless times where I had no idea if was solving shrines or dungeon puzzles “correctly” but I quickly realized there WAS no “correct” way at all.
Then there’s the new sky islands, aerial traversal, and skydiving. And the horrifying but endlessly intriguing dark depths. Plus 152 shrines that give you such leeway to solve how you want them! And an intriguing story with great characters and companions that you genuinely care about. Plus one of the best final battles in the series!
I could go on…
But most powerful (for me) was revisiting a previously broken world after many years and seeing how much had changed. Tears is about moving forward in every possible way, and I was so charmed and inspired seeing the inhabitants of this Hyrule come together to rebuild, reconnect, and fight for a better future. Oh, and let’s not forget that the main theme is an absolute BANGER and we need the live Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses to return immediately:
I spent 150+ hours playing this masterpiece and loved every second. Tears of the Kingdom is not only one of the best games of 2023, but one of the best games of all time. It carries my highest recommendation!
What are your top 10 best games of 2023? (or at least a few favorites) And what did I miss? There’s so much excellence to catch up on. Let me know in the comments below!