Hey has anyone noticed that this was a really good year for video games? Who knew! Here’s my top ten from a wild year, and only half of them are first-party Nintendo titles!
You give me a WarioWare game and I’m going to at LEAST like it. Even with one of the more disappointing entries – like the previous Switch title Get it Together – there’s such a fun mystery of what dumbass thing the game is going to make you do next.
The difference between a good and great WarioWare game lies in whether or not you see yourself playing it beyond that first stretch of discovering all the minigames. Move It not only has a ton of great motion-based minigames, it also has some surprisingly robust multiplayer modes. One of which is basically a Mario Party but with even more random bullshit, which is impressive. There aren’t many Switch titles that are as well suited for making yourself a group of slightly-to-severely inebriated friends laugh and look like jackasses. It’s a game that I can see myself pulling out for random play sessions years from now.
If WarioWare is a barrel of hundreds of microgames, Dave the Diver feels like a handful of…I don’t know, bigger than microgames? I thought I had an analogy I could work with there but it fell apart. Anyway, this “indie” title feels like several disparate games that come together into one surprisingly coherent package. The loop works great – go scuba diving and collect fish, then head to the restaurant at night and serve up some sushi. It gives you that “okay, one more round” feeling that makes for an ideal plane game.
Eventually it does get a little overloaded and overlong. I kind of fell off after it kept adding systems twenty hours in, but the scope and depth of the game is really impressive. Maybe I’ll get back to it at some point in the future, but for now I’m just glad I had it to help me time travel through numerous flights in the back half of the year.
8. Alan Wake II
When I was four or five hours into Alan Wake 2, it was tentatively sitting at my #2 spot on this list. There were several reasons for that – the annoying light mechanic during Alan sections, the story that spirals past the point of coherence, etc., but there’s no denying that Remedy created something special here. Numerous games in the studio’s catalog are referenced or deeply interwoven into the story in a way that feels additive. They’ve always played around with in-game FMV elements, but it’s never felt better or more appropriate here. For all that “We Sing” has been referenced, performed on stage, and praised in the months since release, it’s still impressive to see a moment that’s so, so different than anything seen in a game before.
It’s not a perfect game, and it’s one that dropped several notches for me by the end, but Alan Wake 2 is memorable in ways that the large majority of big budget releases only wish to be.
I think many (including myself) expected MK1 to be more of a hard reboot than it was, but this “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach is hard to be mad at when it’s this good. Mortal Kombat has always been known more for its style, characters, universe, and controversy than its fighting mechanics, but the new Kameo system really helps it appeal to genre fans of various ability levels. I’ve never been some Evo-caliber fighting game fan, but a well-timed juggle into a Kameo attack always makes me feel like I did something right.
Netherrealm also included a great mix of franchise favorites with some of the most gruesome fatalities ever. It’s wild that after this many games and hundreds of fatalities, this series still manages to shock with its disgusting and hilarious animations.
Nostalgia played no role in my enjoyment of this remake. I had played it exactly once, and it was in one sitting during my Guinness World Record setting Mario marathon (back when THEY MEANT SOMETHING dammit). Due to those circumstances, I barely remember anything of the game so I went into the remake with fresh eyes.
Hey, it turns out that Super Mario RPG is great. If more JRPGs were like this, I probably wouldn’t have hated the genre growing up. It barely has any talking, the talking that IS there is charming and funny, and you get to actually do stuff during the turn-based battles. It’s also like 11 hours long. Let’s go back in time and make every JRPG like this.
It kind of surprises me to see a Mario game so “low” on my list, but then again it’s not a mainline entry so I guess it’s not that shocking. But hey…just because it’s not mainline doesn’t mean it’s not great! Wonder has way more charm and infinitely more ideas than any of the “New” 2D entries. It’s overflowing with new enemies, badge abilities, and Wonder Seed ideas, and it somehow even has great online multiplayer. Like most Mario games, it’s a joy to 100%.
I’m still patiently waiting for the next big mainline 3D entry, but this definitely helped me get a Mario platforming fix until then.
I’ve played this game on like 30 platforms. It’s been great every time. Now it’s a lot better. I liked it so much that I dusted off my old review chops to talk about it at length.
Hey why didn’t anyone tell me about this series? It’s been going on since 1997 and this new one is unbelievably good. I went in with zero expectations, just a plan to play 15 or 20 minutes to get the vaguest idea of what it was like. I immediately loved it, then I loved it more when I killed that walking building, then I started a new game plus, and now I just downloaded it on my Steam Deck so I can play it on the go.
If you haven’t played it before and you expect it to be similar to other From games, take that out of your mind and hop in with no preconceived notions. It’s just an incredible action game that makes you feel like the coolest dude in the world.
2. Pikmin 4
Pikmin 1, 2, and 3 are great, but 4 is when I went from “I really like this series” to “holy shit I love this game.” I knew I was gonna play it, I knew I was gonna like it, but I didn’t expect to love it so much that I was thrilled to learn there was wayyy more to do after the credits. Everything just gels in this one, from the Pikmin types to the dog to the environments and treasures. It’s filled to the brim with joy, and it can function as a chill “turn your brain off” session or you can treat yourself to an intense, time-critical Dandori battle. It’s one of my biggest surprises of 2023 and I love seeing how many people are coming to the series for the first time thanks to it.
A predictable #1 but it’s predictable for a reason. This game just raised the bar overall – not just for Zelda games, not just for action/adventure games, but for what a game can do and how it can make me feel. I would have never thought Breath of the Wild could be topped so definitively, but there’s no question about it. It looked at the only game that’s ever topped Link to the Past as my favorite game of all time, and said “okay, now let’s just make all of it better.”
My initial concern was about it using “the same map” as BotW but boy oh boy did I not realize how misplaced that concern was. It not only drastically changes most of the world, it also adds TWO OTHER WHOLE-ASS WORLDS above and below the “old” map. And that’s just the geographic updates. Perhaps more consequential are the updates to the abilities, which make the BotW abilities seem like limited novelties by comparison. Ascend and Ultrahand are obvious standouts, and the Zonai devices add so much to the improvisational nature of the game.
It’s the biggest and best sandbox I’ve ever seen in a game, and the quest itself is so much more fleshed out and satisfying than its predecessor. Games as a whole still haven’t caught up to Breath of the Wild, so I expect Tears of the Kingdom to be the new high bar for the industry for a very long time.