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GOTY 2023

Honorable mentions include Cocoon, Humanity, Season: A Letter to the Future, and Void Stranger.

List items

  • Breath of the Wild was a revelatory experience, and somehow Nintendo followed it up with a game that's just as bold and inventive with even higher highs than its predecessor. Tears of the Kingdom's new powers completely change the fundamental player interactions between this game and BotW. Ultrahand allows for so much creativity in building and Ascend puts wild dev tools in the hands of players. And though Tears of the Kingdom's Hyrule is familiar, there's a certain magic to revisiting an old location to see how its environments and communities have changed over time. I can't imagine how Nintendo follows up this one, but I said the same thing about BotW and we see how that turned out!

  • I love Divinity: Original Sin 1 and 2, so I was already on board for Larian's next project before it was even announced as Baldur's Gate 3. The developer has taken its CRPG pedigree to a new level though - BG3's narrative craft and roleplaying mechanics are best in class and shine consistently. Though the main plot doesn't dazzle in its originality, the depth of its characterization, sidequests, and small moments coalesce into an incredible storytelling accomplishment. Meanwhile, the many permutations in its story and moment-to-moment interactions based on class, race, and other factors feels like the closest thing yet to play a tabletop RPG in video game form. I also have to give Baldur's Gate 3 credit for having the most impressive co-op mode I've ever encountered - my wife and I played through the whole game together and got into all kinds of out-of-the-box hi-jinks and combat scenarios because it truly promotes player freedom, even in multiplayer.

  • Homebody is a wonderful survival horror time loop game that features clever puzzles, a gripping story that addresses themes around mental health, and plenty of evocative and disturbing imagery with just a hint of Signalis-esque experimentation in its visual style. Its protagonist, Emily, resonated with me on a personal level. She navigates social anxiety in a very relatable way, and it's not often that I see myself in a video game character. I did not expect Game Grumps to follow up Dream Daddy with this, but I'm glad they did.

  • It's very rare that I put a game on my GOTY list in which I haven't spent considerable time with it or finished it. Lies of P has to be an exception though. I'm only about 7 hours in at this point, but I've loved every moment so far. There are a lot of Souls imitators out there, but nearly all of the ones I've tried lack the, dare I say, SOUL, of FromSoftware's iconic action-RPGs. Lies of P feels like one of those From Software experiences. Though linear, the world design satisfies with it shortcut-heavy levels. The combat is fast and fluid, with its own weapon mechanics in the form of swapping and combining parts. The boss fights are challenging and varied without feeling overbearing in their difficulty. And it absolutely nails its Bloodborne-esque atmosphere. Lies of P also carves out its own identity with the Pinnochio source material and twisted puppet designs. Is it a little silly? Sure, but this game in which Timothy Chalamet plays the titular P has far more substance than I expected.

  • Jusant moved me in its beauty and tone. It's a serene rock-climbing game with jaw-dropping vistas and a standout art style that understands the importance of both fidelity and style and how the two can work together. There's no dialogue or interactions with NPCs - just you and the rocks. Players learn about the apocalyptic world and its former inhabitants through journal entries, but those largely fell flat for me. I simply enjoyed being present in the world, piecing together its history through environmental design while I attached ropes and put one foot (and hand) in front of the other. The climbing mechanics also stand out as one of Jusant's biggest strengths. It feels tactile, feedback-driven, and meaningfully mirrors the rock-climbing experience while maintaining the calming, stress-free tone that developer Don't Nod aimed for.

  • The first Blasphemous made a strong first impression with its violently-detailed pixel graphics inspired by Spanish culture and religion. Unfortunately the act of playing the game and exploring its world didn't quite hook me - it felt like it existed in this strange limbo between Metroidvania design and more of a Souls-esque 2D action experience. Blasphemous 2 leans more in the direction of the former, and it truly shines in that format. Part of its brilliance is the way in which the three main weapons serve as both the main tools for combat and traversal options that allow you to return to previously inaccessible areas. It's a really smart way to synthesize the two key forms of interaction thematically.

  • If I had to give an award for best style, it would easily go to Hi-Fi Rush. Its character and identity is so singular and confident, from the incredible cel-shaded art style to the goofy but lovable characters. It also swings for the fences in its attempt to match the action and environments to a rhythmic beat that never lets up. Add in a killer soundtrack with occasional licensed tracks from artists like Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy, and you have a game that fully succeeds in its weird, wacky vision. To think this came from the team behind The Evil Within and Ghostwire Tokyo...

  • While playing Chants of Sennaar I thought to myself, "there should be more games about language." It's such a novel and fascinating conceit, and it lends itself very well to a puzzle game in which you decode various languages as you ascend a Babel-esque tower. Chants has received comparisons to Return of the Obra Dinn, and it certainly follows the deduction-heavy formula. But there's something distinct about learning fictional languages and the way the rules and patterns change from one culture to the next. It's not realistic, but Chants of Sennaar isn't aiming for realism. It's aiming for smart puzzle design with a unique language-based premise, and in that sense, it absolutely succeeds.

  • I became a Pikmin convert with the re-release of Pikmin 3 on the Nintendo Switch. That's a really good game, but Pikmin 4 is so much better on just about every level. It is Nintendo magic distilled into a brilliantly designed 20-30 hour campaign with plenty of content and secrets to discover. I hit the "first" set of credits (yes, there's even more after that) with 100% completion and had a smile on my face the whole time. The three biggest additions - your trusty pup companion Oatchi, the more robust upgrade system, and night missions - don't reinvent the wheel, but Pikmin 4 makes up for a lack of originality with consistency. Oh, and a note from my wife: "bring back Bingo Battle from Pikmin 3 Deluxe for the multiplayer."

  • 2D Mario has been stuck in a rut for a while now. For as incredible as Super Mario Odyssey was, it didn't erase the stale taste of the New Super Mario Bros. series. So I approached Super Mario Bros. Wonder with a bit of trepidation. Luckily it's a great game that brings to mind memories of bigger successes within the franchise. The Wonder powers and level variety promote Nintendo's "everything but the kitchen sink" design philosophy that I loved so much in Super Mario Galaxy 2. There are a ton of ideas and none of them linger for too long. On the flip side, maybe some of them don't stick around long enough. In addition, the badge system feels like a missed opportunity. Those two complaints bring the experience down a bit for me, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder is still one of the best games of 2023.