The Games of 2022 were so mediocre that I found it necessary to write about two older games I played that year so I could fill out the post. One might point out that I didn’t play many new games in 2022 but I would respond simply that very few appealed to me. Just recently, I finally got to the one other game I mentioned from that post that I didn’t play: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. It was good! Great pixel art, an excellent soundtrack from Tee Lopes who also composed the amazing Sonic Mania soundtrack. It also really captured the feel of the golden age of brawlers while including some thoughtful innovations. It was probably the best overall game I played that saw release in 2022 which was still a very disappointing year overall. I could also mention Sonic Frontiers which released in 2022 but I didn’t play until last year. The linked review discusses the game at length and in short, it was far from what it could have been.
2023 however was something else entirely and is comparable to 2017 in terms of the quality and even quantity of releases. I can say this despite not having played a number of critically acclaimed releases including Baldur’s Gate 3 which seemed to be the general favourite overall — even the Game Awards got it right! The below games are all ones released in 2023 which I played then or shortly before publishing this post this month. As 2023 was also a big year for remakes and remasters, I have separated these from the genuinely new releases.
The New Releases
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
This was undoubtedly my most anticipated game of 2023 especially as I was hoping it would see release in 2022. I have considered whether or not to write a review after finishing the game but then my review of Breath of the Wild was inadequate with hindsight as I have replayed it multiple times since reviewing it and really understated how much I loved that game.
Tears of the Kingdom is not what I wanted or even what I expected but I can already say it is even better. The more cynical critics have criticised it for its similarities with the previous game and more absurdly described it as an “expansion pack”. In reality, it is far more robust with content than even the best expansion packs released during the golden years of PC gaming. Thought it certainly uses the same overworld as Breath of the Wild, there are quite a number of changes and very few areas look exactly the same. The title is actually a play on words as this kingdom has three tiers which add extensive areas to explore above and below the main overworld. The mechanics have also seen an overhaul but still feel familiar. Most impressive of all is the extensive building mechanics which are worked into the game which allow for a lot more experimentation and new discoveries are still being made.
The critics are only right in the sense that this is as far as what Breath of the Wild introduced can go and Nintendo will have to take some time in thinking what they can do next. I expect they will look at remaking another one of the games in the short term but for now, I’m happy to keep going back to Tears of the Kingdom as I have plenty more to do.
Amazing as it may seem, this is still not my favourite overall of 2023.
I reviewed this recently and it can be read here. I haven’t change my opinion. It is still a good game but I rank it a firm fourth in quality as it already is in chronology. My review goes into plenty of detail why while still considering plenty of praiseworthy aspects of its design.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
It would normally have been exciting to learn a new 2D Super Mario Bros. game was being released but the general mediocrity of the New Super Mario Bros. series (which began in 2006 on the Nintendo DS), has done little to cultivate my enthusiasm for new entries. Probably the worst thing about Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the decision to use the same font as this series in the logo. At the very least, it is a departure from these games but it is so much more than this.
Wonder is a genuinely inventive take on the series that does a great job of balancing the new and familiar. The most notable aspect are the ‘Wonder Flowers’ found in most levels which switch up the gameplay in a wide variety of ways. Whether seeing Mario transform into an object or creature and have to continue to traverse the level or having the level completely change perspective. Even outside of this new feature, there is a lot of variety across a huge number of levels and very few play exactly the same. The overworld has also been opened up and is a bit more similar to the one in Super Mario 3D World.
As of writing, I haven’t yet seen all the game has to offer but I will agree with with other critics that it can be favourably compared with Super Mario World which is about the highest praise I can give.
This one was a big surprise as puzzle games that grab my attention are few and far between. It technically dates back a few years but I am here referring back to the 2023 Switch release. The basic goal of the game is to combine different fruits together which transform into larger fruits and ultimately create a watermelon. Not strictly speaking how growing fruit works but the concept is fun and deceptively simple. It was also very cheap which made it an easy buy. It doesn’t surpass it but it is the most fun I’ve had with a puzzle game since Bejewelled 3.
Jagged Alliance 3
My lengthy review can be read here so this will be brief. In short, this is absolutely my Game of the Year. It seems to have done modestly well with sales but has largely flown under the radar in the mainstream press. It did at least get a positive critical reception and the developers have been hard at work adding new features and content. I can not recommend this game enough.
The Remakes and Remasters
This year saw a large number of remakes and remasters which I have mentioned previously really need to be clearly distinguished. I define a remake as building a previously released game on a completely new engine with new assets, mechanics and not necessarily keeping exactly to the original. A remaster is simply porting the same game and upscaling or upgrading assets and perhaps adding quality of life features. These definitions perhaps inelegantly explain the differences but one title below still somewhat blurs these definitions.
Metroid Prime: Remastered
Long rumoured for re-release along with its two sequels, this one finally saw release in early 2023 and as of writing, there is still no mention of whether or not the sequels will see similar treatment. This one helpfully includes ‘remaster’ in the title and it is indeed the same game I played twenty years ago only it looks much better and has a number of gameplay tweaks. I say it looks better because it definitely does but it is now impossible for modern eyes to appreciate just how amazing this game looked when it first released in 2002. This remaster shows that while no longer jaw dropping, it is still a visually pleasing game.
As for the gameplay, I definitely didn’t enjoy playing through this again as much as my first few trips all those years ago. In this respect, it is certainly dated and if the long-awaited Metroid Prime 4 adheres too closely to the original design, I don’t know if I’ll be as excited to play it as I was when I first heard about it. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it but I was quickly reminded of the more annoying design decisions including the constantly respawning enemies and the late-game fetch quest.
Super Mario RPG
A surprise announcement that I don’t recall ever being rumoured or the subject of leaks. This game more than any other of these titles, shows the limits of direct remakes. There are some changes but this is essentially the same game with what is certainly a very pretty visual upgrade along with a number of subtle changes and a few new features.
It is a testament to its quality that it can be sold as a new game over twenty years later but it has not aged perfectly. I think there could have been more changes made such as with the platforming sections which don’t work well at all with the game’s perspective. This is commonly called an ‘isometric perspective’ but it is more accurately called parallel projection. I don’t claim to understand the difference well but I aim for accuracy. In any case, it could have used some more quality of life changes and even added a bit more as though I played the original game, I didn’t immediately notice many changes outside the new visuals.
Some of the side activities and puzzles are confusing or overly cryptic but in general, the game is quite easy by standards of the day. It was worth playing but then so is the original. The best thing about this is it makes it more widely available. As someone who never played the original’s post-game content, it was mostly a familiar re-tread. If, you’re curious enough, I recommend it.
Resident Evil 4 (2023)
This is one of those games that I couldn’t imagine remaking. As with Metroid Prime above, it is hard to state just how amazing Resident Evil 4 looked when I first saw it in action in 2005. At the time, gameplay footage and images tended to be low quality (by necessity), so it wasn’t until seeing the game for myself that I could truly appreciate how far it pushed the GameCube hardware.
Not only did it look great, it played great as well and I have replayed this game very close to ten times though I don’t have an exact count. The last time I played it was in the last few years using the brilliant Resident Evil 4 HD Project mod which updates all the game’s textures using the original sources. This was largely a one-man project and considering how low-effort the official re-releases were, it deserves proper recognition. I absolutely recommend this is as the best way to play the game today — even over this remake.
My main scepticism with remaking Resident Evil 4 was that even the GameCube release doesn’t seem anywhere near as dated as the earlier PlayStation games do. I know plenty of people love the original games but I could never stand the tank controls or ugly blocky visuals and Resident Evil 4 was where I began playing the series and I’ve played and enjoyed most subsequent entries. I enjoyed the GameCube remake of the first and loved the more recent remakes of the two sequels but I’m not interested in any of the original games as they are and would have preferred they next remade Code Veronica.
That out of the way, this was a surprisingly good remake overall. A lot of the game is very familiar and many areas play out similarly but there are new features and some areas are expanded significantly. The game’s opening best demonstrates this as the first shack you enter in the original is a more substantial dwelling here. Some notable areas have been completely removed but I do like how they expanded others such as the lake in the village area which now has a lot more to explore. They elected to keep the notoriously difficult areas such as the Water Room in the Castle and the Regenerator Lab on the Island and even made them more challenging.
The game’s story is largely the same but there are some departures and much of the dialogue has changed. It has little of the tongue-in-cheek humour of the original which I’m not sure was intentional but all the characters are still recognisable. I like Ashley’s redesign in particular but I was disappointed they completely changed the look of some of the original enemies.
The developers took the opportunity to expand on a lot of the original’s side content and the medallion hunt from the first now appears multiple times as well as other little side quests given by the merchant. The shooting gallery as well gets a significant expansion. There are unsurprisingly crafting mechanics now included though you could say this has been part of the series for a while.
The music was main area where it falls particularly short of the original. It was not the kind of music you listen to for pleasure but it was certainly unique and memorable and the soundtrack is significantly more muted in the remake and I can’t understand why.
It also cheekily omitted the extra Ada campaign and later released it as paid DLC which shows how much the industry has changed since the original released in 2005 when there was no such thing.
I should mention is I played this on PlayStation 4 which is probably the worst way to play it as the hardware frequently struggles but none of my criticisms are related to this and I am much more patient with framerate drops than the average PC gamer is.
I do recommend this to both people who enjoyed the more recent entries and those who loved the original. I still consider the original the better game but I think this was still a worthy take on it.
One Special Mention
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
In a post a few months ago I shared my annoyance at what I still think were poorly chosen choices for Best Strategy/Sim Game for the Game Awards. One of these games was Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew which I later learned was the last game developed by Mimimi Games as they had decided to close after the game’s release. This makes the snub at the Game Awards even worse.
I remembered I did have a game by them which was released free at GOG.com and decided to give it a go. The pure real-time tactical games such as that found in the Commandos series have never really appealed to me but I loved this game. You control four unique characters (and also a racoon) in Feudal Japan. I assume this was after European arrival as firearms are in wide use. There are a series of unique missions and most have multiple ways to approach them. It was both engrossing and fun and I purchased the stand-alone expansion after finishing the original and loved that as well.
I will definitely be checking out Shadow Gambit at some stage after playing through this.