As we enter the home stretch of 2023, we thought now would be a good time to reflect on the very best games we’ve played so far. And with the likes of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Alan Wake 2 and Super Mario Wonder still to come, now would be the ideal time to catch up on anything you’ve missed whether that’s on console, gaming laptop or mobile.
Here are the best games of 2023 so far.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
We expect a lot from Link. It always falls to the heroic Hylian to save the world from impending doom, but not without dangling all manner of distractions before him, and in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, stopping Ganondorf is simply not the most appealing pastime. Not now Link can fuse mushrooms to his swords, build jet planes, and skydive from the islands in the sky right down to the pitch black chasms beneath the earth. It’s very hard for the poor guy to focus on the task at hand.
Tears of the Kingdom takes everything we loved about Breath of the Wild and just piles even more fun on top of it. Sure, Hyrule itself hasn’t changed all that much, but exploring the sky islands and the Depths has sucked away tens of hours of our time, while the fantastic Ultrahand ability affords you an astonishing amount of freedom in how to tackle puzzles and deal with combat scenarios. Tears of the Kingdom isn’t quite as elegant as its predecessor, and inevitably some of the wonder is lost, but we’d really struggle to give up the new toys this remarkable sequel has given us to play with.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Respawn knows how to make a sequel, so we had very high hopes for the follow-up to the admirably ambitious but ultimately mixed bag of a game that was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. That optimism was mostly rewarded, as Survivor is a much improved game. Set a few years after the events of the first game, we once again play as Cal Kestis, but this time he starts his adventure as a badass Jedi, able to to wield not only a standard lightsaber but also double-sided and dual saber variants in the opening hours. A bit later, a blaster joins your arsenal.
Like Fallen Order, Jedi: Survivor is a bit of a grab bag of influences, from Uncharted-like platforming sequences to Souls-inspired combat and Metroidvania elements. Pulling it all together is a really enjoyable story and a cast of characters that could easily hang on the big screen. We thought it felt a little bit bloated at times, and the performance issues on both PC and console that were present at launch are still there several months on (although EA is rolling out patches pretty regularly), but in its best moments Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a Star Wars fan’s dream, and easily one of the best games of the year.
Street Fighter 6
People who love fighting games often really love fighting games, and that’s usually because those people grew up playing them for so many hours that they become an extension of their personalities. For everyone else, though, there isn’t a more impenetrable genre. Street Fighter 6 does more to combat this than any fighting game before it, thanks to its new World Tour single-player mode, in which you create a fighter and explore a Yakuza-like open environment, fighting anyone you like as the game gradually teaches you how to play. Add to this a new modern control scheme that greatly simplifies inputs and you have one of the most accessible fighting games ever.
That’s not to say the hardcore fans have been overlooked. Quite the opposite in fact. Street Fighter 6 is the ultimate package regardless of skill level, rammed with a diverse roster of fighters and modes both on and offline, plus a social space in the Battle Hub, where you can chat to other players, challenge them to fights, or simply admire their fashion choices. The king of fighting games has its crown back (for now at least).
Final Fantasy XVI
Every Final Fantasy game is a standalone experience, so you could say that they all reinvent the series in a sense. But Final Fantasy XVI is the boldest departure for a long time, entirely abandoning not only the series’ turn-based combat roots but even a lot of its RPG heritage. This is an action game through and through, sharing as much DNA with Devil May Cry as it does its namesake. And it’s fair to say Square Enix has been paying a lot of attention to Game of Thrones, too.
Luckily, we reckon the gamble has paid off and then some. The combat system is both accessible and deep enough to compel seasoned action game players, and while not everyone will enjoy the shift to a grittier, more adult tone (expect swearing, and lots of it), the voice cast is superb and the story is told through engaging (if overly long) cutscenes. We wish the game wasn’t so bloated with tedious fetch quests, but the epic screen-filling Eikon battles are so good that it’s worth putting up with them. Whether this is the future of Final Fantasy as a series remains to be seen, but XVI certainly makes a convincing case for it.
The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog
We did not expect to be writing this at the beginning of the year, but a murder mystery visual novel with the death of one Sonic the Hedgehog (yes that one) at its core is one of the best games of 2023. Even more surprising is that the game was presented as what appeared to be an April Fools joke and is totally free to download.
But The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog is 100% real and genuinely brilliant. You play as an employee on a train designed for special events who quickly becomes a detective when the famous Blue Blur appears to have been murdered. To get the bottom of the case you’ll have to interrogate a cast of familiar characters and piece together evidence gathered along the way. To say much more would risk spoiling the brief experience, but it’s very funny, clearly made by people who love Sonic, and if you’re also one of those people you owe it to yourself to seek this one out.
Planet of Lana
What if Inside and Limbo were a bit more colourful? Well, you get Planet of Lana, a cinematic side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that takes more than a leaf out of the Playdead playbook, but here we get to explore a lush planet that wouldn’t look at all out of place in a Studio Ghibli film. You play as a teenage girl called Lana, whose homeworld is suddenly invaded by some extremely unfriendly alien machines, and sets off to rescue her abducted sister, aided by a cat-like creature she meets along the way.
If you’ve played either of the games mentioned at the top you’ll know what to expect here. Platforming sections are interspersed with environmental puzzles and often incredibly tense stealth scenarios, with Lana killed in a single hit by one of the aliens hunting her. Planet of Lana is brief and never quite reaches the heights of an Inside, but it’s absolutely stunning to behold and is a great way to spend a few hours, especially while the game is still on Game Pass.
If you’re afraid of the sea, you might want to give Dredge a miss. You’d be missing out on one of the year’s indie hits of course, but a few hours in these virtual waters makes the Jaws shark look like a mere nuisance. Dredge is a fishing adventure game in which you captain a little trawler and sail between a number of remote islands to assist the locals and earn money to upgrade your equipment and catch bigger, more valuable fish.
But that’s only half of what the game has to offer. When night falls, it soon becomes clear that something is not quite right, and the pleasant fishing sim suddenly becomes a survival horror game. One minute you’re stocking up on carp, the next you’re chucking mutant shellfish overboard or trying to escape a hideous sea monster stalking you through the fog. Dredge is a simple game mechanically and its core loop is quite repetitive, but the Lovecraftian mystery at its heart had us gripped from the off.
No-one does a dungeon-crawling loot-fest quite like Diablo. The long-running ARPG series has been overhauled for its fourth entry, with MMO-like elements and an open world to explore with other adventurers, but the addictive gameplay formula remains unsullied. New and returning character classes, a revamped skill system and enough legendary gear to take on an entire demonic invasion mean you could easily spend hundreds of hours taking it all in.
Developer Blizzard has fully embraced gothic horror this time around, with an oppressively grim story and locations to match. You’ll be wading through dank sewers, trudging across barren deserts and literally walking through the gates of hell before the credits roll – and once they do there’s heaps more end-game content to keep you coming back. All those monster-infested dungeons aren’t going to clear themselves, you know…
Metroid Prime Remastered
It’s the year 2023, and at the time of writing, the best reviewed game of the year on the leading aggregation site, Metacritic, is a remaster of a 2002 GameCube game that Nintendo has done a remarkable job of ignoring for many years. More than 20 years later, Metroid Prime feels as fresh as ever, and if you own a Switch and have never experienced Samus Aran’s first (and comfortably best) 3D outing, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.
Metroid Prime has always been a bit of a miracle game. When it was first announced, fans feared that Nintendo and developer Retro Studios would struggle to make a first-person 3D Metroid game without losing what made the 2D titles so good. The exploration, the loneliness, the gradual uncovering of a hostile alien planet – would it all give way to another generic shooter? They were wrong to worry, though.
Prime is every bit the classic Metroid experience, dripping with atmosphere and refusing to hold your hand as you explore Tallon IV from behind the legendary bounty hunter’s visor. The game has never looked as good as it does in this stunning Switch remaster, which also updates the original’s now clunky controls for a modern audience. You’ll get lost, a lot, but never has there been a better game to get lost in.
Resident Evil 4
Metroid Prime isn’t the only early 2000s GameCube classic making a comeback this year. Unlike Samus, though, Resident Evil 4’s star, Leon Kennedy, has never been short of screen time. Since its debut on Nintendo’s beloved purple console, Resi 4 has been released on near enough every platform you can name, and was even faithfully recreated in virtual reality a few years ago. Unlike the PS1-era Resident Evil games, which can be a tough hang these days, the original Resi 4 still feels great to play today, once you’ve adjusted to the camera. Whether it really needed a remake is up for debate.
But boy are we glad it happened. Resident Evil 4 doesn’t replace the original game, but rather updates and compliments it. We still have the wonderfully rubbish one-liners, the herb-hunting, the inventory management, the roundhouse kicks, the roaming Merchant and the superb pacing, but now it all looks and feels like a modern game. And you can move while you shoot everything that’s trying to kill you, which is nice.
Hardcore fans will notice what’s been removed as much as what’s been added, and the jury’s out on whether new features such as a parrying system, stealth takedowns and knife degradation improve the experience, but Resident Evil 4 is a stunning example of how to remake a game. It isn’t the genre-defining revolution that the original was, but it still puts most modern blockbusters to shame.
Everything about Hi-Fi Rush is unusual in the best possible way. When the game was announced during a January Xbox livestream, nobody had heard anything about it ahead of the initial reveal. It was a total surprise to everyone, which is a rare thing in video games these days. Imagine the surprise, then, when we learned that the game was not only finished, but ready to download on Game Pass straight away. And once we’d processed all that, we started to think about how this, a cel-shaded rhythm action game that looked like a playable Saturday morning cartoon, was made by the studio best known for The Evil Within, a decidedly less cheerful survival horror game.
The biggest surprise of all, though, was that this out-of-nowhere oddball of a game is almost certainly one we’ll still be talking about at the end of the year for all the right reasons. In Hi-Fi Rush you play as a wisecracking wannabe rockstar named Chai, a victim of an experiment gone wrong that leaves him with an iPad-like music player for a heart. Determined to take down the shady corporation responsible, Chai (who is actually pretty excited about his new condition) takes on armies of drones and robots, with all the game’s movement, characters and combat synced to the music, a mix of original material and licensed tunes by the likes of The Prodigy and Nine Inch Nails. It’s a wildly creative thing to behold, and arguably the best looking game of its type ever made.
Some slightly ropey platforming and dialogue that starts to grate by the end hold Hi-Fi Rush back from truly great status, but the rhythm battles are so much fun that we were grinning pretty much throughout.
Resident Evil Village VR
The launch of PSVR 2 has been predictably low key. The high cost of entry and very few exclusives have hurt Sony’s next-gen headset, but that’s not to say there’s nothing worth getting excited about. While the all new Horizon Call of the Mountain might have been the obvious system seller in the launch lineup, it’s actually a VR port of an existing game that is currently the best reason to pick up a PSVR 2.
As a sort of grab bag of Resident Evil history, Village was already one of our favourite games in the series. In VR, it’s nothing short of incredible, not to mention absolutely terrifying. The whole game is playable in virtual reality, and thanks to the upgraded visuals of the new hardware it looks fantastic. Exploring the halls of Castle Dimetrescu with its very large mutant matriarch potentially waiting for you around every corner is both incredibly immersive and horribly intense, especially with those new haptics in play. Guns feel great and all of your items are stored on your body, so you never have to leave the action.
The usual motion sickness warnings inevitably apply, but if you have stomach (and the courage) this a must-play for any new PSVR 2 owner.
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack
We’re cheating a bit here, as this one isn’t a game, rather an increasingly excellent selection of them that make the long-winded Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack (finally) well worth considering. The premium tier of Nintendo’s online service (priced at £34.99 a year) now includes both Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games, on top of the NES, SNES and N64 library that Nintendo has been adding to for several years now.
The Game Boy is obviously a legendary handheld, but it’s the Game Boy Advance that we’ve been spending the most time with, with that system being home to some of the best games ever made. The library is still fairly small, but already we’ve spent hours revisiting the likes of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, the original WarioWare game and Metroid Fusion, all stone-cold classics that absolutely pop on the Switch OLED in particular, and are much more fun to play through when you can save anywhere and (whisper it) rewind your mistakes.
Is a subscription service as good as having the opportunity to actually buy the games you like, something that is no longer possible digitally now Nintendo has closed down the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles? That’s a debate for a different day, and there’s also a very serious conversation to be had about what game preservation is going to look like 10 years from now. But when you factor in other bonuses like access to all of the new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe tracks as they become available and various other DLC for some of the Switch’s most popular games, the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is a great place to explore Nintendo gaming past and present.
Nintendo hasn’t paid its 2D Wario Land spinoff series much love since the days of the Game Boy, so indie developer Tour de Pizza has given us its own deranged tribute, and it’s really, really good. In Pizza Tower, you play as Peppino Spaghetti (yes really), a rotund Italian chef on a mission to save his restaurant by conquering the titular Pizza Tower.
To control, Peppino is like a cross between Wario – similarly unhinged and unable to be killed by enemies in-game – and (inexplicably) Sonic the Hedgehog, owing to the ridiculous speed he’s able to build up. Your mission is to get to the end of each level, collecting pizza toppings, uncovering secrets and mastering different power-ups along the way. After knocking down a pillar at the end of a stage you then have to go back the way you came and escape within a time limit. These sections are wonderfully chaotic and are very much the game saying: “I hope you’ve been paying attention.”
We’ve somehow got this far without talking about the ‘90s-inspired hand-drawn art style or the amazing soundtrack, both of which help elevate Pizza Tower to one of our absolute favourite games of 2023 so far. We just hope this bonkers 2D platformer makes its way to other platforms eventually. It certainly deserves a bigger audience.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line
The Final Fantasy series boasts what is arguably the most iconic collection of soundtracks in video game history, so it’s no great surprise that a rhythm game based on the many themes from more than 35 years’ worth of titles is brilliant. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line builds on its 3DS predecessor by packing in 385 tracks from across the entire Final Fantasy series, with over 100 characters to choose from in your party.
The game is easy to get the hang of at the easy levels, and mind-meltingly difficult to master at the highest difficulty. As with most rhythm games, you time button presses and various stick gestures with symbols moving across the screen, keeping in time with the beat of whatever song is playing to rack up high scores. While this is happening, your chosen party will battle enemies on screen, with their success depending on your own performance. It’s extremely charming, if a little distracting when you’re trying to concentrate.
If you’re any kind of Final Fantasy fan this is a must-play, but the music is so good that we’d recommend Theatrhythm Final Bar Line to anyone, and with even more songs from Square Enix’s extensive back catalogue being added all the time as DLC, this one could last you all year.
It’s the year of the remakes, it would appear, and while Dead Space isn’t as old as Resident Evil 4, it’s another survival horror classic that benefits from a visual overhaul and some mechanical tweaks. The story is faithful to the source material, putting you in the space boots of ship systems engineer Isaac Clarke, who along with his crew is sent to investigate the USG Ishimura, which finds itself in a bit of trouble after an alien virus started turning its inhabitants into terrifying Necromorphs. The Alien-inspired Ishimura was already one of the great settings of 2000s gaming, and it’s bigger and better in the 2023 remake, giving returning fans new rooms to explore.
As for combat, the iconic Plasma Cutter remains the game’s standout weapon, letting you slice off alien limbs rather than focusing on Resi-style headshots, while unlockable abilities for Isaac’s suit allow you to manipulate the world to your advantage. There’s enough new content to make this feel like a worthy remake, and if you’ve never played Dead Space, what awaits you is a superbly paced and often terrifying sci-fi horror classic that has never looked or played better.
Like a Dragon: Ishin
The Yakuza series is as intimidating as it is critically acclaimed. As the long-running series has gained popularity in the West, Sega has been steadily re-releasing each title, meaning newcomers have a lot of games to choose from. Even more confusing is that the Yakuza name has now been abandoned in favour of Like a Dragon, which started as a turn-based RPG spinoff of the main series. Still with us?
Prequel Yakuza 0 remains the best way to get into the series, but if you’re a history buff, you should really consider Like a Dragon: Ishin, which swaps the 80s crime capers the series is known for for a late 19th century samurai tale inspired by real people from Japanese history. Essentially a remaster of a spin-off originally released on the PS3 in Japan in 2014, Like a Dragon: Ishin definitely shows its age at times, but broadly it’s the same uniquely Yakuza combination of beat ‘em up combat (now featuring swords), lengthy cutscenes and truly bizarre side quests and minigames, but in a fascinating historical setting.
Again, if you’re totally new to Yakuza we’d still recommend Yakuza 0 first, but Like a Dragon: Ishin stands on its own as a period piece that loses none of the mainline series’ charm.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Have you ever played D&D? Baldur’s Gate 3 is about as good as a video game recreation of it is probably ever going to get, and if you’ve never had a group of people to sit around a table and play pretend with, this game does a lot of the work for you, with the game’s talkative narrator filling in for the all-important dungeon master. Larian’s astonishingly inventive RPG bases itself on the pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons’ fifth edition rules, and being somewhat familiar definitely makes the early hours easier to get your head around. But you won’t need to have picked up a dice or previous games in the Baldur’s Gate 3 series to have silly amounts of fun here.
The game takes you on an open-ended and almost overwhelmingly interactive adventure through the Forgotten Realms, where you’re free to try just about anything, even if it won’t hesitate in punishing you for it. Much like the aforementioned Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3 is about rewarding your imagination with gameplay moments that feel unique to you, and while the tough turn-based combat can be a pain later on, you’re never more than a few minutes from something brilliant happening. Just a masterpiece.
Thought you had no interest in strategy games? We defy anyone to spend a few hours in the company of the Pikmin and not have their minds changed. One of Nintendo’s more niche series’, Pikmin has never troubled the likes of Zelda and Mario, possibly because it’s quite hard to pin down what it is. An RTS puzzle game that makes you think about resource management and forces you to watch adorable little creatures die en masse doesn’t sound as fun on paper as sword-fighting in Hyrule, but Pikmin 4 is the most approachable entry yet, introducing a space dog companion called Oatchi to proceedings and making it easier than ever to keep track of your army of tiny helpers.
The main campaign does away with the stress-inducing countdown from previous games in the series, meaning you’re not under as much pressure to tick off objectives on each day, but you won’t realise until after the credits have rolled that it was just teaching you the rules before really letting rip. Nintendo has given us a Pikmin game for both series newcomers and hardcore fans alike, and it deserves a big audience.
Sea of Stars
2023 has been a year of ambitious RPGs (some more successful than others), but Sea of Stars is less interested with revolution than it is putting you in a time machine and sending you back to what many would argue is the genre’s golden era. Heavily inspired by SNES classics like Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG, Sea of Stars is a retro RPG that shows you why those games are so beloved.
The story, which concerns two not very charismatic Solstice Warriors and their quest to save the world from evil alchemist known as The Fleshmancer, is probably the least interesting part of the game (though their cook friend, Garl, is a great hang), but everything else is brilliant, from the slick turn-based combat and excellent dungeon design, to the wonderful music and stunning pixel art. There are no irritating random encounters and no level grinding here. This is a classic RPG with modern player-friendly tweaks and very little fat on the bone, and it’s all the better for it. A proper throwback treat.
What if Mary Poppins had a gun? That’s (sort of) the pitch for Gunbrella, a noir-punk side-scrolling indie from Devolver Digital-owned Doinksoft that surely features the best weapon of any game released this year. You play a man seeking revenge in a moody metropolis, armed only with the titular Gunbrella, a gun that also doubles as an umbrella. Great, isn’t it?
The Gunbrella is more than a pun, its dual functionality responsible for the game excelling at both action and platforming. There is simply no better feeling than dashing into a mobster with your umbrella unfolded, shooting them in the face, and then gliding away like the aforementioned nanny of legend. Movement and gunplay are so well done that we can forgive the game for its slight runtime, forgettable story and sometimes tedious backtracking. With a central mechanic as satisfying as this, we hope we get a sequel.
Dave the Diver
Perhaps Steam’s breakout success story of the year, Dave the Diver soared to the top of the most-played charts in the summer and will only get a bigger audience when the Switch port arrives later in October. Dave, as the title gives away, is a diver, but also a part-time waiter, an archaeologist, action hero and so much more, as you’ll gradually discover in this delightful 2D adventure RPG.
The game is mainly split into two parts: during the day you dive into the part-randomly-generated Blue Hole to catch fish, which you bring back to the sushi restaurant that employs you as a server in the evening. That central loop is compelling enough on its own, with both diving and the manic sushi shifts being perfectly designed, but each day Dave will be assigned increasingly absurd missions that weave various different genres into the game, and pretty quickly our portly protagonist has much bigger fish to fry than, well, fish. To say much more would risk spoiling the experience, but rest assured that this is one of the most generous and imaginative games you can play this year. Good old Dave.
What if Lemmings was reimagined as a game where a dog is responsible for the lives of endless waves of mindless humans? That game would be Enhance’s typically trippy Humanity, an ingenious puzzle game that, like the best of them, is easy to pick up but capable of completely melting your brain by the end. As we alluded to, you play a dog, specifically a Shiba Inu, and it’s your job to guide crowds of people around 3D levels by dropping directional commands for them to follow, with success depending on you successfully leading them to a goal.
It starts simple, but pretty quickly you’re going to need to get creative if you want to end the level as a good god…sorry, dog. Should you manage to conquer the game’s 90 main campaign levels, there are countless user-generated efforts to attempt, which range from the easy peasy to the truly evil. Humanity is every bit as clever as the game that clearly inspired it, but we don’t remember Lemmings ever looking or sounding this good.