Mary Kish is the Director of Community Marketing & Production at Twitch and one third of the Fire Escape podcast with Dan Ryckert and Mike Mahardy. You may also remember her as the world's #1 Downwell player during her time at Gamespot.
UGH heads up this game made me cry. I can’t help it, it's about moms. I love my mom. When a game is able to tug at the heartstrings of a mom-kid relationship like Venba does, I’m just no good. Moms are great, they take care of us and tell us it's gonna be ok and hide the stuff that sucks so that we have a childhood with laughter. Venba does an incredible job showing both sides of being a mother. Making good memories with her family and being the glue that holds everyone together. But, also being a person, with their own wants and needs. I freaking loved this game, and I really wanna encourage you to try it so here I go: It's short! You can play this in like a few hours, you got that time. It's about food! I swear it's like watching The Great British Bakeoff you can smell the food and it looks delicious. The puzzles are fun! Learn how to cook kind of and enjoy discovering new cooking methods. The music is good! I called my mom when I was done playing.
You know this game rocks everyone knows it rocks. I made friends and cared for them and then walked into a room with barrels and set off a trap and everyone died. I caught a kid stealing and told him to pursue his dreams and 30 hours later he stole from me. I fell in love with a green lady filled with vengeance and think of her often. This game pulls you through so many emotions and scenarios it seems impossible it exists. Its a marvel its a spectacle its deserving of every award. Good god.
8. Sea of Stars
A love letter to Chrono Trigger, this game had my heart from before I started playing. I’ve been waiting for an experience like this one, where the characters are genuine and I care for each and every one of them. The story is exciting and gripping, getting you into the main plot within a few hours. I found myself dedicated to my rag tag crew and wanting to see how the story ends. Adorably funny and filled with charm, the writing is rich and easily digestible, even for someone like me that prefers not to read too much when gaming. This one broke me, I wanted to read it all.
Sea of Stars is also spectacularly breathtaking. The fast travel actually made is say, ‘Oh My’ out loud. Its not just the art style, but how creative they are when coming up with the world design. The characters, the buildings, the map itself is stunning. I kept finding myself shocked with how much detail they put into this game.
7. Hi-Fi Rush
A total spectacle both visually and audibly, Hi-Fi Rush is the only game this year that got me to dance while playing (well except Just Dance but that’s a gimmie). I usually don’t care for games that make me play to the beat, as a notorious button masher I find games like these too confining. However, the system is designed to encourage but not punish, so if I end up playing it more like DMC it’s no big deal. There was a casual approach to the story too. Sure I gotta stop an evil corporation, who doesn’t?! I hate corporations and have a natural desire to stop them, so I didn’t need to read all that context. Corpo bad, music good, I’m in who do I kill.
This game is all over well made and expertly designed. I always knew where to go because the level design was clear and easy to understand. Fun secrets throughout the environments encouraged me to explore, but again, not punished for just burning through a level. Hi-Fi Rush is all carrot, no stick. It’s nudging me to enjoy the content but never punishing. A slick, fast moving combat system keeps me on my toes, and I just kept finding myself nodding my head to the beats. A worthy contender for GOTY that deserves all the love it gets.
This game is too damn big. Take it down a notch, seriously. I get anxiety from clearing one map let alone 3. The game is massive and it's stupid impressive from a technical perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I definitely did not complete that shrine the way it was intended, but that's the magic of this game. Break it, they want you to.
I heard an anecdote about the development of Zelda TOTK. They needed a way for play testers to get out of the depths easily, and they came up with the system where you could just climb through the ground and pop out the other side. They found it to be fun, and so they added it to the actual game, so anyone could do it. Sure, it added lots of complications and probably broke the game entirely at first, but they focused on the part where it was fun. This mindset when making games is what made Zelda such a breakthrough this year. They threw out a lot of rules, not just Zelda rules, but game design rules. They asked themselves what was fun as a player, and made that their North Star.
Zelda is fun. They focused on encouraging me to solve puzzles and be a Wile E Coyote engineer and beat big bosses and defy gravity. I had a blast with this game and I’m afraid of what they’ll come up with next. They’re just too damn good.
Yes, yes of course I had to do it. Resi after all holds a special place in my heart. This game could be half bad and it would still make my list but that is not the case here! Don't let my shallow integrity stop you from enjoying this tremendous upgrade to one of the most influential games ever made. I loved the first Resi 4 when I played it on Resident Kinevil on GameSpot.com with Mike. We had some of the best memories ever salvaging every precious bullet (or flash bang) for the perfect moment like an elevator ride from hell. These memories are re-lived once again in the new Resident Evil 4 remake, which gave some genuine quality of life updates and fun surprises to those familiar. The village sequence is spectacularly designed and delightfully cruel to players. It was an absolute blast to shoot through that space, die and die some more just like old times.
Entering the castle is like a high school reunion for me. I’m sweaty, hope I will survive, and I know I’ll run into that annoying kid with too many teeth. The upgrades are so clear in this game, but sometimes we just go too far with graphics. Ramon Salazar didn’t need more detail, he was gross enough. Letting me see the stuff in his teeth more clearly was unnecessary, they probably dedicated a whole developer to adding stuff into his mouth. He’s gross, but all the bosses really do an incredible job of making you uncomfortable and squirm in your seat. It's a scary game after all, we’re not here to be happy!
A wild ride every time I play, there’s no luls in this game. Even the shooting range gets my heart rate up. I recommend this game for Resi fans, scary game enthusiasts, and people who like hearing Ashley whine about whatever's bothering her at the given moment. Jeez lady I’m doing my best.
4. Pikmin 4
Can you believe this is my first Pikmin? What a cool game I’m surprised I never tried this series before. But, if you’re gonna start, this is the one to play. What a quality game, they’ve really thought through all the ways to make you enjoy cleaning a space. They could have called this ‘Tidy up your room’, but we all know kids have an aversion to this.
It's me, I’m kids.
I love sending out my little dudes to pick up an apple and a hair pin and mine for gold all at the same time. I had never heard the term Dandori in my life and now I use it in my everyday jargon! Why the other morning I was packing the dishwasher, making breakfast and making a list of Christmas presents to buy. I thought to myself, check out this dandari! Sure that's probably not grammatically correct, but I was multitasking and looking for ways to be more efficient. That's the magic of the game that influences me everywhere I go now. And I love it.
I really enjoyed the different types of pikmin and learning to use them effectively. While it is a big bummer to watch 30 pikmin be eaten, I could easily reverse time, learn that using ice pikmin would freeze the enemy and then we could easily win was a fun exercise. I never felt punished, just pushed to learn in my own time. I’m not sure if my run time is better or way worse than my fellow gamers, I’m not sure I wanna know, it was really good for me. I got every grape, I found every hidden object in the dirt, I got that gold score which is freaking INSANE. Maybe it's because this game is so good, maybe it's because I got the flu and couldn’t leave my bed for 4 days. Who’s to say. But this was my most addictive game of 2023, and I loved every minute.
If I had the chance to make my dream game I think it would contain so many elements from Dave the Diver. Free diving in an open sea filled with fish to collect and sharks to hide from, then turning the fishies into sushi and selling it in my restaurant?! It oozes cozy charm, with delightful animations that just make me smile thinking about them. The character progression was tough but so gratifying . At first I could barely hold my breath but by the end I was having tea parties with sea creatures for hours on end. Finding upgrades on the ocean floor is brilliant, getting that clutch gun or underwater scooter changes up my run completely. It’s wild how terrified I was with sharks compared to becoming a true shark huntress by the end.
The game loop slaps. In the morning, I see it’s tuna fest, so today I will invest in catching tuna. I prepare my set up and catch those massive sea bois until my weight is maxed. In the afternoon, I follow a dolphin to blow up a wall that trapped its mom. I am Dave, free-er of sea mammals. In the evening, I sell those tuna for MAX profit and become a secret capitalist. I’m the greatest sushi restaurateur the world has ever seen and I want my god damn Michelin star. I sleep peacefully, I am creating sustainable yummy food and exploring the depths.
Design perfected, Cocoon is a masterclass in teaching the player all the rules of a world then challenging them to think outside the box. With not a single piece of text outside of the title, this certainly wins the award for the most ‘doey’ of the year, and #2 on my list.
Cocoon has an incredibly unique art style that I like to describe as FutureBug. It feels both mechanical and organic, where winged creatures have metal panels that expand and retract like metal awnings. The style is thoughtful and detailed, but still simple enough to look fantastic regardless of the console. I played on a Switch in one addictive 7 hour playthrough. Each hour advances all the lessons learned in the previous one, keeping the challenge at a perfect level that allows the player to feel smart as hell. The mysterious world never really answered all the questions I had about why I was there and what my purpose was, but right towards the end I still felt satisfied with every minute. It's one of those games you wish you could play for the first time again, to capture that magic one more time.
I should have seen this coming, being a person in love with Wind Waker, Ridiculous Fishing, and casting away in Stardew Valley. I love fishing games! They’re cathartic, the entire concept of tossing some bait into the water and hoping for a big catch really appeals to me. Not just the RNG, but the risk of losing it all if you’re not focused. At the same time, what else do we do when fishing other than drink and slowly doze off? The dichotomy is super appealing: relax dude. Have a drink, cast cast cast, nap or think about stuff. Then bam! Hurry and reel it in! God what is it?! It’s gonna get away! Oh yeah, that's the stuff.
But Dredge does one better than a good fishing game, it also combines horror, mystery, paranormal and a dash of sci-fi, Stephen King would be proud. Warning the player that weird stuff happens at night is such a perfect hook, what the hell is out there?! I yelped at the first monster I saw. I went, ‘ooooh gross’ at my first freaky night fish catch. I was glued to my screen when I tried getting home at night and a ghost ship attacked me. I saved a dog and kept him on my ship the whole game by the way. You can give him to a girl who wants him, but that's my sea dog now. We’re best friends, and we’re here to hunt freaky fish and dodge deep water monsters. It's freaking awesome.