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2023 Game of the Year

2023 was an all timer for games, no question about it, and I know what you’ve all been thinking.  Where is Brian Edwards’ hotly anticipated Top 10 Games of 2023 list?  Well, dear friends, wait no longer.  It is here.  And it is a banger.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

Before I get into the main event, lets shout out a couple games real quick.  These are games that, for one reason or another, didn’t make my personal top 10 but still deserve recognition. 

 

Suika Game

 

This fruit combination puzzler has not left the home screen of my Switch since its western release for good reason.  Just a remarkably addicting puzzle game that is so easy to pick up and understand.  The initial release did not have English language support and it didn’t matter at all.  Once the game starts and you start dropping fruit into the lane, you get it.  The satisfying pop of two oranges combining into an apple, the way the fruit reacts to each new combination, the agony of having two melons sooooooo close to each other but still not touching, etc.  This game has given myself and my wife several memorable moments and if a certain cybernetic robot policeman hadn’t entered my life around Christmas, this would be the number 10 game. 

 

Super Mario RPG Remake

This was my favorite game released this year.  However, it’s maybe my favorite game of all time and this remake was such a faithful remake that took so few liberties with the original that it almost feels unfair to include in my list.  What I will say is that this remake will now be my preferred way to experience Super Mario RPG moving forward, which is maybe the most glowing praise that I can give it.  For someone like myself who holds the original game in such high esteem, this remake had the almost impossible task of pleasing me by not changing too much of the thing that I love.  It did exactly that and I am forever grateful.

 

10.  Robocop: Rogue City

When I got Robocop: Rogue City for Christmas I was pumped.  I had heard fun and goofy things about this game and was excited to just poke at it a bit and see what it had to offer.  From the first moment of controlling the titular supercop, I was hooked.  This game does what all superhero games aim to do.  It made me feel powerful.  Scanning for enemies and using my Robocop gun (official term) to shoot bad guys felt incredible, just a comically overpowered ultra-violent fantasy that had me laughing out loud from the outset.    The story is bonkers, the dialogue and voice acting is bad, the bad guys are so overwritten and ridiculous….just like the original movie.  What I first viewed as a goofy, throw away game suddenly turned into a game that I sunk almost 20 hours into in just a few days, getting every achievement available.  If you have any love for cheesy action movies in general, or love for the elusive “B-game” of yesteryear, I can’t recommend this enough.  It isn’t number 10 ironically.  I genuinely love this game. 

 

9. Venba

Much like Robocop: Rogue City, Venba……

 

Just kidding.  You’d honestly struggle to find two games less similar than Robocop and Venba.  Venba is best experienced knowing as little about it as possible, so I won’t spoil much.  What I will say is that Venba manages to convey a culturally impactful story through the world’s most understandable language, food.  Venba made me tear up, made me smile (like when I saw the UB sweater), and made me think about how physically close I am to centers of other cultures without truly understanding them.  More than anything, though, it made me think of the importance of family and the expectations we place on those closest to us.  Venba is special and can be played through in an evening.  I recommend that you do. 

 

8. Super Mario Wonder

 

Super Mario Wonder is a 2D Mario game made by Nintendo.  That sentence alone is normally enough to justify millions of copies sold and enough to sate the hunger fueled by the success of the recent movie.  Nintendo, as usual, does not just rest on their past accomplishments but they aim to elevate and enhance the medium through innovation.  Super Mario Wonder almost does that.  It is an incredible game that certainly deserves this spot on the list.  I loved every minute of this experience, but it leaves me to wonder (HAH!) what is next for the mustachioed plumber.  This game straddles the fence, not quite as hard as the hardcore would like it, but also not so easy that anyone can play it to completion.  It is a game that tries to be for everyone, which means that it almost isn’t for anyone.  It sounds like I am criticizing it heavily, but it’s the second best 2D Mario game after Super Mario World, which is no small feat. 

 

7.  Like a Dragon: Ishin!

So this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but the love affair with all things Yakuza continued this year with a couple of great titles.  Like a Dragon: Ishin, the feudal Japanese reimagining of the Yakuza series, hit all the right notes for me.  It had some really hilarious melodrama (so many shirtless fights on rooftops).  The combat styles were fun and creative, allowing the repetition of street battles to never get too old or tired.  Giving not-Kiryu his own plot of land to farm and recipes to cook was a highlight for me, allowing me to feed all of my darker instincts at once.  The story, by the end, made little sense but that is not the reason you are there.  You are there for the journey.  You are there for the clash of swords and the splash of names in a familiar font appearing on screen.  You are there for not-Kiryu and not-Majima kicking all sorts of ass and unraveling all sorts of mysteries.  These 40 hours melted away and I think of this game often.  This will not be the last mention of Like a Dragon on this list. 

 

6.  Spiderman 2

Seeing this game on a top 10 list is probably not surprising to most but I didn’t expect this game to be this high.  I liked the first one fine but I ended up liking Miles Morales a lot more due to its reduced scope and its narrowed focus.  I was worried that making the game bigger would not end up in it being better.  I was mostly wrong.  The side activities are way more optional and way less restrictive.  The rewards for completing them are tangible and make you want to engage with them.  I thought the story was excellent.  The addition of Venom and the symbiote storyline was additive in every way and it added depth to each character in their own way.  However, it was the small moments that won me over. 


5. Like a Dragon: The Man Who Erased His Name

It’s official.  I am a mark, I have been swindled, I am under the spell of RGG studio.  But, in my defense, this entry in to LaD franchise does all the things that this franchise does well and dials them all up to 11.  Joryu basically has James Bond gadget powers that you use to make combat even more ridiculous.  The story is a really nice companion to the story told in Yakuza: LaD and fills in gaps of things that you were told about, but never saw in that game.  It also somehow manages to be the most emotionally resonant Yakuza game, which is no small feat.  Especially when introducing a new protagonist.  You see, it’s not Kiryu.  It’s Joryu.  They are two completely different people. 

 

4. Hi-Fi Rush

I haven’t really gotten along with Tango Gameworks games in the past.  Wasn’t a fan of either Evil Within games and Ghostwire:Tokyo had some really neat ideas that weren’t fully realized.  So when I heard that they shadow dropped a rythym action game onto GamePass, I was more than a little skeptical.  Turns out my reservations were unfounded.  Hi-Fi rush is an absolute banger.  Bright, neon color splashed worlds filled with robots to rythmically disassemble while listening to an eclectic mix of original and licensed tracks.  The story, as well as its protagonist, are so hopeful and cheery in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression that it was impossible for me to play this game without a smile on my face.  This game has a way of seeping into your pores and making you feel optimistic.  It’s a game about oppression and overthrowing authority but it always feels like a party.  Also, it is the rare game where boss fights actually enhance the experience.  I’m replaying this game right now just because it’s so damn fun to play.  I hope this game inspires not just a sequel, but a host of other studios trying to capture this game’s magic. 

 

3. Final Fantasy 16

I am genuinely surprised that Final Fantasy 16 is not being widely talked about as one of the best games of the year.  I don’t expect anyone to share my opinion, but I think that Final Fantasy 16 is one of the best Final Fantasy games ever made.  I can certainly understand how it may have rubbed some people the wrong way, especially long time fans of the series.  It is very linear, it doesn’t allow for customization in the way a lot of previous entries in the series have, it is much more action focused, etc.  However, as far as Final Fantasy stories go, I struggle to think of a better one.  I mean, maybe FF6, but that is some rareified air we are talking about.  The story of Clive, Jill, and Joshua is one that I won’t soon forget thanks to the concentrated focus of the writing combined with excellent voice acting.  Final Fantasy 16 also does something that a lot of other games in the franchise were incapable of doing.  It commits to a vision and it sticks the landing.  No small feat when we are talking about JRPGs.  Also, there’s the Torgal effect, which cannot be understated.  He is a very good boy. 

 

2.  The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Surprising absolutely no one, the direct sequel to one of my favorite games of all time made my top 10.  Tears of the Kingdom is wonderful in almost every way and I cherished the 100 hours I spent with it.  I wish I was playing it now, as I’m writing this.  The addition of the sky islands is what was marketed but I found the addition of the depths to be much more intriguing.  New powers like ascend and ultra-hand build on systems that are already incredible.  It is an achievement.

 

However….

 

I still prefer Breath of the Wild.  I don’t know what it is, but Tears of the Kingdom is arguably a better game that just doesn’t hold the same level of magic and mystery for me as the first one.  Therefore, it is merely the second best game of the year.  I mean, honestly, it’s an incredible thing that I love and will revisit, but it didn’t have the ‘oomph’ of it’s predecessor for me.  Which is why the game of the year belongs to the Herald of Darkness.

 

1 .  Alan Wake 2

I unapologetically love the first Alan Wake game, warts and all.  I have delighted in watching Remedy grow as a studio over the last decade and was a huge fan of Control when that came out a few years ago.  From announcement to release, Alan Wake 2 is a game that I have kept a close eye on.  All of the preview coverage led me to believe that this was a game I would enjoy.  I was wrong.  After playing it, it feels like a game that was designed specifically with me in mind.  The tone, the atmosphere, the music, the ability to wildly swing from silly to self serious, all of it.  Combine all of this with visuals that are mind blowing, a story that gripped me from start to finish, gameplay that is so much fun to engage with, and a dreamy sense of mystery and you have a game that I will obsess over.  I love Saga Anderson and can’t wait to see what her relationship is with Wallin Door.  I love Alan Wake and his terrible writing.  I loved seeing Ahti, discovering documents from the FBC, and realizing that these worlds overlap.  It left me wanting more.  What more can you (I) ask for?

 

Wow.  We did it.  Congratulations and thanks to everyone who read this far.  Listen to Cane and Rinse and the Character Issues Podcast.  We love recording them.  Hope you love listening to them.  Let’s have a killer 2024.

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