Simon’s Favourite Games of 2023

You will never guess.

I enjoy returning to the writing side of Awesome Friday around this time every year to talk about my favorite games from the last twelve months as it provides a fascinating insight into how much my gaming habits are continuing to completely transform over the years. Long gone are the days of endlessly chipping away at something like Metal Gear Revengeance on Hard, gradually learning the intricacies of its fighting design in order to eventually tame it. I just don’t have it in me to do that any more.

I won’t even pretend this is disconnected from age and children, and how both are ceaselessly exhausting in their insistence on moving forward at speed. My only gaming consideration now is fun; can I get in, have a quick smash and save my progress within scattered ten-minute sessions? If the answer is no – which, let’s face it, it invariably is these days – then the game is done and I move on. Time has become too valuable, and thrills must be cheap.

(Also, the thrills I used to get from games now come from films, but that’s a whole different conversation.)

So, with that context in mind, please enjoy my top five games of 2023 (in reverse order, for extra drama):

#5 – Street Fighter 6 (played on PS5)

The monetisation is awful and the story mode kind of drags through grindy fights I don’t really want to be a part of, but the straight arcade mode is some of the best fighting ever. It can’t quite touch Third Strike (what can?) but it leaves all recent 3D fighters face-down in the dirt.

#4 – Chants Of Sennaar (PC)

One of my favourite setups in gaming is “explore this old civilisation and uncover its secrets”, and it just so happens that the secrets here are a set of languages which can only be deciphered through careful analysis in context. It’s not often I get to do my real-life job in games, but this one hit all the right notes, and it looks gorgeous too.

#3 – The Legend Of Zelda – Tears Of The Kingdom (Switch)

Well it was a hot month then I bounced onto something else when I hit a wall, but it was like Nintendo addressed every gripe I had about Breath Of The Wild then added a physics construction kit that is wildly ahead of any other game. Maybe too distracting in the end – I’ll always prefer the more linear adventures – but what a ride.

#2 – Jusant (Xbox Series X)

Don’t Nod don’t miss (revisiting their classic cyberpunk debut Remember Me this year was also a treat), and Jusant is proof that they are the closest thing we have to Team Ico now. And there is much DNA of that team’s games here, from the wind and isolation of Ico to the scale and white-knuckled grasping of Shadow Of The Colossus, with even a dash of I Must Protect This Huge Animal At All Costs straight from The Last Guardian. But even with these reference points, it finds its own voice through a mix of art, scale and silence. A truly expectional journey that will ring like a bell at the back of your head for a long time.

#1 – Wanted: Dead (PS5)

Look. Yes. I know. The problems with this game are not hard to find. The story is utterly nonsensical. The voice acting is easily the worst I’ve ever heard (both in writing and performance). The checkpointing system disappears just as the game decides to throw everything at you, repeatedly. It’s a mess of ideas and mechanics. At one point, the main character has a cutscene where she swaps her sword for…an identical sword. By many objective metrics, this is a bad game.

And yet. And yet.

Do you like action games? Like, all of them? So, how about the swordplay of Ninja Gaiden, and the gunplay of Strangehold, and the sliding chaos of Vanquish, then add in the finishers of John Wick? Oh, you play as a female Swiss war criminal in ripped jeans. And she has a robot arm, but it just works like a regular arm. You lead a team comprised of a ladies man, a deaf explosives expert, a health dude called “Doc”, and a weapons designer who loves cats.

There’s a ramen-eating minigame.

None of this matters. Or, it totally matters. Because it’s the charm of this game that has totally won me over, and not just the devs’ fuck-it-we’re-too-far-in-now-to-quit design jankiness. It’s the gameplay. As I screamed through levels, slicing and shooting and unlocking wider parry windows and slo-mo spin shots and finishers that have you flipping enemies aginst walls before shooting up into their helmets, I had the biggest smile on my face. It’s just so much fun. And, as you remember, that’s the key element now – strap me in, give me personality, and let me loose. Linear levels, skill trees, and not a damn online element to be found anywhere.

Bliss. This is my forever game. I might even get good enough to finish it at some point.

So, I accept this choice is unlikely to be reflected in many other lists, but go on. Give it a go. You might find that smile also appear on your face.

And yes, I did play (to varying degrees): Baldur’s Gate 3, Resident Evil 4 Remake, Super Mario Wonder, Pikmin 4, Starfield (lol), Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, Hogwarts Legacy, Armored Core 6, Cocoon, Hi-Fi Rush, Humanity.

What I actually played in 2023

This year I mainly played on my Switch Lite, the perfect tool for instant play-anywhere sessions, and the games I revisted completely opened up: Factorio, Sifu, Hades, Subnautica and No Man’s Sky all took on a brand new lease of life on my tiny little perfect machine. Then new (to me) games like FC24 (it’s good!), Pillars Of Eternity, Suika and Divinity: Original Sin II filled the rest of my Lite time.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed a third playthrough of the peerless Titanfall 2 on my Steam Deck, and flailed like a crazy person in Swarm on Meta Quest 2. Humanity on PC filled the Kurushi Final niche very nicely, and Shapez (also PC) was a nice slimmed-down factory builder. I discovered that Medal Of Honor: Airborne did a better version of CoD MW3’s open-combat way back in 2007 (and it plays beautifully on Xbox Series X). While you’re there, head to Game Pass to grab Clone Drone In The Danger Zone and ask yourself why this brilliant, surprising and genuinely funny game is so slept on.

This was also the year I finally understood all the NEOGEO fuss when I bought a Mini (International Version). I’m starting to wonder if King of Fighters 2002 might actually be up there with Street Fighters Third Strike and Alpha 3 as my favourite beat ’em ups, and this newfound KoF obsession led me to the rather wonderful KoF XV on PC. But when it came to bespoke nostalgia hardware, my absolute favourite thing was finally playing The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Nintendo’s gorgeous Game & Watch reissue.

So a nice varied year, even if many new games left me feeling cold. But what I really need in 2024 is a proper Rez sequel. Come on, Enhance. Have a chat with Mizuguchi-san. Make it happen.