By majormitch 0 Comments
Every year, we all gather to make our contractually obligated “Top 10 Games of the Year” lists. Also every year, many of us play well more than 10 video games. So what of the rest of them? The ones that didn’t make the elite 10? They’re games too! Thus, as I’ve done for a number of years now, here’s my way of speaking to those other games, in the form of ranking all the games from 2023 I played during the year. As I was writing this list, two things stood out to me about 2023 in particular. First, I don’t feel like I played any outright bad games from the year. Even the ones at the bottom of this list are pretty much fine, and I have at least some respect for them. They just didn’t appeal to my specific tastes and/or command much of my time over the other games on my plate. It was a competitive year in a lot of ways, and it’s important to remember that rankings such as this are relative.
Second, as I stated in my top 10 list, I did not get to nearly everything I wanted to play from 2023 (yet). I struggled to keep up with games this year more than any other year in a long time, and it shows on a list such as this. Alan Wake II, Octopath Traveler II, Lies of P, Dredge, Final Fantasy XVI, Spider-Man 2, Super Mario RPG, Star Ocean: The Second Story R, and Persona 5 Tactica are among the games I have at least a passing interest in playing, but have not touched as of this writing. I will do my best to plug away at them over the coming months, but depending on how stacked 2024 ends up being, I probably won’t get to all of them. Regardless, you won’t find them here. Anyway, that’s enough preamble: thanks for reading, and on with the list!
1-10: See my GOTY 2023 list.
11: Theatrhythm Final Bar Line. One of the main reasons I do this extended rankings list every year, is to give the “tough cuts” that barely didn’t make my top 10 their due. That’s especially true for competitive years like 2023, where a game I like as much as Theatrhythm Final Bar Line just barely missed out. Because let me be clear: this game is freaking rad. Sure, in many ways it’s not that different from the previous entry, Curtain Call, and I personally think I preferred playing it on the 3DS’ touch screen over a traditional controller (that’s probably the main reason it fell to #11). But the sheer number of amazing songs in this rhythm game is remarkable, and the RPG/quest mechanics continue to be iterated upon. I played Final Bar Line for dozens of hours, and would happily play for dozens more. It’s great.
12: Cobalt Core. I had a solid couple of weeks where I got really into this one. Cobalt Core has some neat ideas, and strikes the kind of balance I appreciate in roguelikes. I like mixing and matching different pilots and ships for every run, which regularly present interesting combinations that keep the game feeling fresh. The runs are the right length, and there are a good selection of difficulty options such that you can tailor it to your liking. But primarily it’s the engaging mechanics that pulled me in, and the fun type of thought process needed to survive a run. I fell off it sooner than I expected, and I do think the game needs a little more depth to last long-term. But I highly enjoyed the time I spent with Cobalt Core.
13: Humanity. This is a really cool puzzle game, and goes more places than I expected it to. Its Lemmings-esque core gameplay is satisfying, and I enjoy the thought process of guiding the endless horde where it needs to go. The visuals are also striking, and the soundtrack is a vibe. Then, as Humanity goes on, it layers in surprising variations to keep you on your toes. Some worked better than others for me, but overall it hits a lot more than it misses. If I have one major complaint, it’s that I regularly saw the solution to a puzzle, but then implementing it could be a pain and easy to fumble in a way that required resetting the entire level; what I wouldn’t give for a simple rewind button. That notable frustration aside, however, Humanity is a sweet puzzle game worth checking out.
14: Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. I’m still in the middle of this one, so it could move up or down once I finish it. So far it contains both some notable highs and lows for me. Once I’m in combat, especially with a boss or other pilots, it’s a thrill. From Software is clearly comfortable making tight, satisfying action games nowadays, and Armored Core VI is at its best when you’re getting down and dirty, boosting around using all sorts of ridiculous weapons in a fight to the death. But when I go back to the menus and spend substantial time comparing minor numerical differences between mech parts? It starts to lose me a little. I also don’t like running into a boss that my build doesn’t have a great answer to, because it leads to the cumbersome process of: backing out of the mission, buying parts, re-assembling a mech, and replaying the entire mission again. The combat itself is good enough that it outweighs those other gripes, and overall I do like Armored Core VI despite said gripes. I’ll mainly have to see how it pans out as I continue to play.
15: Pseudoregalia. What a neat little game. It’s pretty small in scope, and it can sometimes feel a bit janky. But I will absolutely sign up for a short, focused game with some rad new platforming ideas. Pseudoregalia is all about platforming in a 3D space, showcasing some novel traversal abilities, and an interconnected world that’s equally fun to poke around in. I also dig the Nintendo 64-era vibes, in both its look and audio. It’s a good mix of old-school sensibilities with new ideas, and if you like the sound of a short and sweet 3D platformer, Pseudoreglia is very much worth a look.
16: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. I found this to be a generally solid action/adventure game, with both some highs and lows. On the plus side, it controls well, as actions like wall-running, deflecting blaster shots, and force pushing still feel great. It also contains a pretty good ramp of new powers and abilities, looks and sounds excellent, and I still generally like the combat in these games. On the minus side, I didn’t enjoy the story as much as Fallen Order’s, and the expanded scope (and endless collectibles) of Survivor made the game drag on much too long; a few traversal heavy mid-game chapters in particular felt interminable. And of course, it was a technical mess at launch, though I luckily only ran into minor issues there. With better pacing, I could have loved Jedi: Survivor, and even with its issues I still had a perfectly enjoyable time with it.
17: Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp. OK, bear with me here: this is the game that caused me the most inner turmoil in this ranking. On the one hand, I had more fun playing it than just about anything else in 2023 (and played it more than most, too). It turns out Advance Wars is still a blast – there’s not much else quite like it, and its formula is timeless – and being able to play it on a modern device is worth something. Also, its revamped soundtrack is a goddamn delight. On the other hand, I think this is a poor remake. Other than the killer new soundtrack, the rest of the package is at best re-releasing the same 20-year-old games at a premium price, and at worst it’s not even as good as the originals. I do not like the new art style, the online multiplayer is lackluster, and the game is a technical mess; it runs noticeably worse than the GBA originals, and has its share of bugs too. If I judge Re-Boot Camp based on the raw fun I had playing it, it ranks highly simply because Advance Wars is still better than most video games. But if I judge the quality of this particular version of it as a remake? It’s not good. So I suppose it ends up somewhere in the middle for me, personally.
18: Fire Emblem Engage. Man, this game. The story and characters are insufferably dull, and there’s too much of it for how little it has to say. I have never been this disinterested in the narrative aspects of a Fire Emblem game before (and that’s saying something given Fates, you know, exists), which is a pretty damning thing to say about Engage. I also have mixed feelings about the Emblem Rings: for what they offer in occasionally interesting customization options, they’re also so powerful they make a lot of the game feel trivial, even on hard. However, Emblem Rings aside, the core tactical combat in Engage is as good as it's ever been. I especially like the new “break” mechanic, which adds some real meaning to the classic weapon triangle. Oh, and the soundtrack is great, too. Those points save Engage from being a huge disappointment, and instead relegate it to a game I mostly enjoyed in its moment to moment gameplay, despite its notable issues.
19: Jusant. The most recent game I finished as of this writing, I enjoyed Jusant a fair amount. It’s pretty short with not a lot going on in it, but the core climbing mechanics work well. I appreciate its tactile feel, as it successfully gets you to think about how you place your hands through a few different types of environmental situations, which I find satisfying. I like the look and style of the game as well. If only it had a little more meat to it in a meaningful way, Jusant would have resonated with me even more.
20: Tents & Trees. This is a pretty simple puzzle game roughly in the Picross family of puzzle games, and quite a good one. It’s not going to blow anyone away who’s played similar games before, but Tents & Trees puts enough of its own spin on things to be worthwhile, and the puzzles themselves are very good. It also has a clean look, soothing music, lots of puzzles and challenges to complete, and even daily puzzles to keep you coming back if you’ve done everything else. I haven’t exactly played a ton of it myself, but it’s a pleasant experience every time I pick it up.
21: Viewfinder. When you see Viewfinder’s core mechanic for the first time, it feels like wizardry. Being able to place a picture anywhere and step into it is highly novel and impressive, and that idea gets put to pretty good use throughout the course of the game. Eventually though, it did wear a little thin, and some of the later twists on that mechanic became more tedious than clever to me; the story also did not grab me at all. Viewfinder is a game defined almost entirely by its one central mechanic, and the variations they make to it, and it did that just well enough for me to like it.
22: Super Mario Bros. Wonder. I’m in a weird place with Mario these days. I originally thought about skipping this one, as a lot of recent Mario games simply haven’t done it for me like they seem to for other people, especially in the 2D space. But I eventually caved, and I think Mario Wonder is… fine? It’s a polished game with a great look and decent music, and the level design is generally OK (though playing this game also gave me a renewed appreciation for DKC Tropical Freeze, a relatively recent Nintendo 2D platformer with top-notch level design). The titular wonder seeds don’t do much for me, as they are mostly silly gimmicks with no meaningful gameplay implications, and the game as a whole is by far the easiest Mario game I’ve played to date. Mario Wonder is a breezy, inoffensive experience that was pleasant enough to play through (and I did complete the special world), but mainly left me wanting for more interesting platforming challenges.
23: Wargroove 2. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this sequel just hasn’t grabbed me like the first game did. Maybe it’s because Wargroove 2 is very, very similar to its predecessor, and can feel like a bit of a slog as a result. Maybe it’s because in what I’ve played of the campaign so far, there have been precious few missions where I could build units, which is my favorite part of these types of games. Maybe the boring story and annoying writing are bad enough to push me away. Or maybe it’s because I played a lot of Advance Wars earlier in the year, and realized that I prefer it over Wargroove enough that it’s hard to play Wargroove when Advance Wars is right there. Whatever the reason, despite thinking Wargroove 2 is a totally competent game, I simply haven’t gotten that deep into it, and I’m not sure how much more I’ll play.
24: Against the Storm. I jumped on board this end-of-year release largely on the back of strong reviews, and immediately found myself more overwhelmed than I expected. There is a lot going on in a single run of this “roguelike city builder,” to the point where even after a handful of runs I’m still trying to suss out some fairly basic systems. Against the Storm has a lot of moving parts, and its few tutorials couldn’t cover close to all the important stuff; not to mention the UI doesn’t do a great job of organizing the glut of information you need to track during a game. Some of that could be good or bad depending on your perspective, but for me, when I have so many games to play – and especially in a roguelike with a lot of RNG – I’m not sure how much I’m into this level of density. I think Against the Storm does have some genuinely neat ideas, and I have enjoyed poking around in it to a degree. But I don’t think it’s a roguelike for me long–term.
25: Pizza Tower. I’m still in the early stages of this one, and admittedly need to spend more time with it before rendering a meaningful opinion; it could easily move up or down once I play more. What I’ll say right now is that I really dig the style and vibe of Pizza Tower, but have found the controls a bit frustrating, and some of the mechanics a little confusing. What halts my momentum and which enemies are susceptible to which attacks aren’t always clear to me, and these are important considerations as I’m making split-second decisions while dashing through areas, sometimes on a timer. These things could certainly feel better as I play more, but at the moment Pizza Tower hasn’t quite clicked with me in the way I had hoped.
26: Doomblade. This is a very straightforward, and mostly solid Metroidvania that primarily relies on its unique movement mechanic. It plays almost like a twin-stick shooter, where you aim and target enemies or objects to zip right to them and attack. This also doubles as a teleport, and you can imagine how, in Metroidvania fashion, that gets a lot of use (and upgrades) for both traversal and combat purposes. In that way it kind of reminds me of Dandara, another Metroidvania that relies heavily on its unique movement for novelty, though in Doomblade’s case I found everything else to be a little too bland. Its movement alone wasn’t enough to keep me going past a couple hours, and even then it could sometimes feel too frenetic for my tastes. Doomblade lives and dies by its movement, and you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s enough to hold your interest.
27: Dave the Diver. I found 2023’s breakout not-indie hit interesting for a few hours… and only that. Its simple loop – dive into the ocean to catch fish, then play a minigame to serve said fish in the restaurant – was fun for a few hours, but wore thin very quickly for me soon after. I’ve heard that Dave the Diver adds in new mechanics and new types of gameplay as it goes, but in the almost five hours I played before dropping it, I had yet to see any of that. And honestly, if the other activities introduced were as shallow as that core loop, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference anyway; games that try for too many different ideas run a big risk of spreading too thin. I can see the appeal here as a mostly mindless game to chill out with, but for my tastes, I needed more depth in Dave the Diver to remain hooked. Uh, pun(s) not intended.
28: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. This is another game that I think is totally solid, yet did not hold my interest for long. In Wo Long’s case, it was primarily a casualty of the sheer avalanche of games I was more interested in playing this year than anything else. It came out on Game Pass during a brief window where I had a little time to check it out, and it seems like a game I would enjoy just fine with a larger swath of time to devote to it. But in 2023, that time had a lot of competition, and for as solid as Wo Long seems, it also didn’t strike me as special enough to rise above any number of other games. As such, once those other games started releasing, I wasn’t going to actively make more time for this one.
29: F-Zero 99. Credit Nintendo for continuing to offer neat little freebies through their online service, and F-Zero 99 might be my favorite of the bunch so far. It’s still a very slight experience, and as an online-only competitive game, not one I was ever going to spend a lot of time with. But I respect it as a well-made thing, and enjoyed the little time I did spend with it perfectly fine. Having 99 racers on the track at once is also just a goddamn mess in the best way.
30: A Space for the Unbound. I feel a little bad for this one, because I think it’s a totally solid game with a lot of heart. I’ve really fallen off narrative-heavy, gameplay-lite games like this over the years, and it’s a rare amalgamation of factors that lead me to loving one anymore. I still take a chance on them every now and then, as I did here, but it wasn’t meant to be. I was pretty bored after a few hours, and I’m being honest when I say that’s no great fault of A Space for the Unbound, but mostly a result of where my personal tastes lie these days. Yet on a rankings list like this, I also have to be honest about my enjoyment of it, which is less than most games I played from the year.
31: Hi-Fi Rush. I know this seems like a low position for this fan favorite, and I do think Hi-Fi Rush has some positives going for it: I love its style and positive energy, and I can always appreciate a game that looks to incorporate rhythm elements into a more fleshed out genre. My problem with Hi-Fi Rush is quite simply that the basic feel of the combat did not click with me at all. I’m willing to admit that could be a me thing, but the timing felt immediately off, with attacks occurring on a minor delay that was hard to wrap my head around. I tried to adapt for a couple hours, but it never felt satisfying, so I dropped it. I also don’t think the platforming was very strong, and overall I was pretty bummed that Hi-Fi Rush didn’t work for me. It’s the type of game I wish I was a fan of, but the honest assessment is that I bounced off it more quickly than most.
32: Planet of Lana. Despite sitting at the bottom of this list, I don’t think Planet of Lana is a bad game, but it did hold my interest less than anything else I played in 2023. I spent maybe an hour with it, tops, and found myself bored even in that short time. Most of that is likely due to the fact that I’ve played games like this before, and this style has fallen out of favor with me over time. I very quickly realized what this game is, and just as quickly put it down. Still, I hold no ill will towards Planet of Lana, and it seems perfectly well-made for what it is. A nice thing about Game Pass is not only that it’s easy to try out games, but it’s just as easy to move on when they don’t click with you.
Bonus: Some non-2023 games I played and enjoyed in 2023:
Slice & Dice. What a cool game. I only first heard about this one in late 2022, and only got around to playing it at the start of 2023. But if I had played it when it came out in 2021, it would have easily made my top 10 that year. Slice & Dice is a seemingly simple roguelike with interesting dice mechanics, and a great balance that makes every encounter feel dangerous yet winnable; there’s an exciting tension to managing both short and long term risk-reward decisions which lends it a feeling that you’re always just on the edge of defeat. The classes are also distinct with interesting abilities, and unlockable rules sets promote surprising depth and a lot of replayability. Slice & Dice is one of the better roguelikes I’ve played in the past few years. I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Marvel Snap. One of my most played games of 2023, I still continue to play way, way too much Marvel Snap. I finally hit infinite rank for a few seasons over the summer, started paying attention to the meta, and followed balance patches closely as I iterated through many decks over the year. And for the most part, I still enjoy it; it’s still a nice way to waste 10-15 minutes on your phone daily, and the constant updates keep things fresh more than a year later. That said, over the past couple months my interest has waned a bit, which is natural to happen for any long-running game. Will 2024 be the year I drop Marvel Snap? Stay tuned.
GoldenEye 007. When this finally got its long-awaited re-release on modern consoles, I decided to revisit this personal favorite, which I haven’t touched in literal decades. I played through the entirety of the campaign in the Xbox version, and even spent a little extra time unlocking some cheat codes. GoldenEye certainly feels a little clunky by today’s standards, though the new controls and updated visuals mitigate that to a degree. Yet I was also struck by how much fun I still had playing it in 2023. Some of that is certainly nostalgia, but it also has some ideas that remain cool and novel today; the varying objectives across difficulty levels remains a fantastic idea. Anyway, it’s great to see this classic finally playable on modern hardware, and I very much enjoyed my time with it.
Picross 3D: Round 2. I took my 3DS with me during an overseas trip in the summer, and played Picross 3D: Round 2 whenever I had some downtime during my travels. It’s still one of the best puzzle games ever made. That is all.