2023 was the year of the sequel, as gamers got their paws on eagerly awaited new instalments in some of the biggest games series around – including The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, and Assassin’s Creed, amongst several others. How anyone found time to attend to work, life and general wellbeing amidst an onslaught of triple A titles is truly a wonder.
It became clear that major streaming services were really amping up their offering, as Netflix and Prime Gaming onboarded several huge titles. Meanwhile, Google quietly excused itself from the party at the start of the year, when it shuttered Stadia, having spent millions on the cloud gaming service.
Handheld gaming also continued to soar, with Sony taking a nibble out of Nintendo’s lunch by launching its PlayStation Portal device – which quickly sold out, giving immediate PTSD to anyone who spent months trying to get their hands on a PS5 back in 2020.
Design-wise, the last 12 months produced another incredibly diverse set of formats and styles – although, for some reason, fishing seemed to be a particularly hot topic (read on for more on that).
Below we’ve selected ten of our favourite games, which range from epic adventures through to puzzles short enough that you can complete them in a weekend.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom; Developer: Nintendo; Publisher: Nintendo; Platform: Nintendo Switch
It’s hard to imagine a 2023 best of list starting with anything other than Nintendo’s latest Zelda title. The team pulled off an incredible feat with the game, re-using the map from 2017’s Breath of the Wild while creating an entirely new experience that takes players beneath the ground and into the sky.
The game’s novel system of building had pretty much everyone agog, with Forbes summing up the wizardry in a single headline: “No one understands how Nintendo made The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.”
Dave the Diver; Developer: Mintrocket; Publisher: Mintrocket; Platform: MacOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch
Part of the joy of video games is that they let you do things you would never do in the real world – in this instance, deep sea diving, fighting with sharks, and opening a sushi bar. Dave the Diver was widely praised for its mix of play, blending time management with exploration and adventure, and a few mini games thrown in for good measure. It’s all extremely charming, thanks to its zany writing, mad characters, and pixel art graphics.
Chants of Sennaar; Developer: Rundisc; Publisher: Focus Entertainment; Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Windows, Xbox
Translation isn’t an obvious subject for a game, but Chants of Sennaar turns language into a beautiful narrative puzzle. Players explore a mysterious world – with undertones of Moebius’ much-referenced style – conversing with passers-by and trying to work out what they’re saying. This is one of those games that makes you feel both extremely intelligent and extremely stupid all at once, but those dopamine hits when you finally work out what something means are unrivalled.
Super Mario Bros Wonder; Developer: Nintendo; Publisher: Nintendo; Platform: Nintendo Switch
After a good few years of three-dimensional Mario, Nintendo has gone back to its roots with this side-scroller. And it’s got everything the world loved (and hated) about vintage Mario games – death-defying leaps, rage-inducing levels, insistent Koopas, and brainworm soundtracks. To change things up a touch, players can now transform into elephant Mario, ghost Mario, and balloon Mario, with all the associated skills that come with each.
Storyteller; Developer: Daniel Benmergui; Publisher: Annapurna Interactive; Platform: Windows, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Fairytale tropes get twisted in this puzzle game, which challenges players to build narratives to reach the right ending. Designed to look like the frames of a comic book, Storyteller is an incredibly simple concept that requires a surprising amount of thinking – and some truly devious plot twists, particularly in the later episodes. The only complaint is how short the game is, with its 13 chapters feeling woefully stingy once you’ve got into the swing of things.
Dredge; Developer: Black Salt Games; Publisher: Team17; Platform: Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox
It’s fishing, but with a heavy Lovecraftian influence, in this adventure and exploration game. Players must visit areas of disturbed water off the coast of a remote island called, memorably, Greater Marrow, and stock up their boat with fish. It’s a relatively gentle experience that begins to unravel over time, with the pressure on to get back before dark descends and panic hits.
Metroid Prime Remastered; Developer: Retro Studios; Publisher: Nintendo; Platform: Nintendo Switch
In a year of big sequels, an old classic crept back onto the Switch. Originally released on the GameCube in 2002, Metroid Prime is a much-loved puzzler and first-person shooter that puts players in the space boots of Samus Aran: an intergalactic bounty hunter battling alien pirates. It might be over 20 years old, but Metroid Prime has held up remarkably well, with the remake feeling current, enjoyable, and ever so slightly frustrating for not being the Metroid Prime 4 sequel that’s been in the pipeline for six years and counting now.
Terra Nil; Developer: Free Lives; Publisher: Devolver Digital; Platform: Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS, Linux
No list is complete without a simulation game that seems designed to steal hours of your life away. Terra Nil’s storyline of building a thriving ecosystem feels ironic in a time when human civilisation seems so intent on stripping our real-life ecosystem back to the bones. But maybe there’s something therapeutic in the game’s challenge of transforming a desolate wasteland into a haven of renewable power and greenery.
Alan Wake 2; Developer: Remedy Entertainment; Publisher: Epic Games Publishing; Platform: PlayStation, Windows, Xbox
Another blockbuster sequel, Alan Wake 2 continues the story of the cult 2010 horror game – which pitted players against murderous beings called The Taken. Having been trapped in a nightmarish other dimension for 13 years, novelist Alan is attempting to write his way back out, while in the real world the authorities investigate a ritual murder. Players work their way through both stories, holding off The Taken, creating investigative corkboards, and generally enjoying the nightmare.
Viewfinder; Developer: Sad Owl Studios; Publisher: Thunderful Publishing; Platform: PlayStation, Windows
Things are mildly psychedelic in Viewfinder, a 2D and 3D puzzle game that challenges players to take photos, overlay images, and explore angles to progress. It’s another example of the ways the climate crisis is being expressed through gaming, set inside a simulation in a world in which all plants have disappeared. The puzzles are certain to make your brain itch, while creating some deep nostalgia for the simple joys of analogue tech.