Wednesday, January 03, 2024

My favorite games of 2023

A lot of blockbuster games released in 2023. None of them made it onto my list of favorite games of the year. (Shocking multitudes, I'm sure.)

I don't say this to suggest those AAA titles are beneath me or anything of the sort, of course. On the contrary. For various reasons, I either didn't play any of those games or I played them and they just didn't gel with me like they did so many others.

Which games did gel with me last year? The handful of indie or otherwise small releases you'll read about starting now.

Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society (PC, PS4/5, Switch, Vita)

I adored this game's predecessor, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, despite its dark-as-tar story. Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society is a lot lighter in that area, though no less enthralling overall. Labyrinth of Galleria doesn't do as much to alter or update its forebearer's wall-breaking, pit-jumping, dungeon-crawling gameplay, which is sure to disappoint some, but it still offers enough unexpected twists and turns to make it well worth playing by series veterans and noobs alike. Bonus (or word of warning, depending on how you look at such things): Labyrinth of Galleria is a long game. To see its true and final ending, you'll likely need to devote well over 100 hours to it. You can experience a ton of what the game offers and see its initial credit roll after 40 to 60 hours, though, if that sounds more manageable.

Metro Quester (PC, PS4/5, Switch, Xbox One/S/X)

Don't judge this retro-inspired dungeon-crawler by its "unlicensed NES game" title or similarly cheap-looking cover art. If you tend to enjoy hack-and-slashers like Wizardry or Etrian Odyssey, you'll dig Metro Quester (or just Quester, if you play it on PC), too. Which isn't to suggest Metro Quester is some kind of ripoff of those classics. It's viewed from a top-down perspective, for starters, plus there's a survival element to Metro Quester that not only helps differentiate it from the competition but also adds intrigue and tension. Metro Quester's story is minimal, but can still manage to surprise and impress if you pay attention to the occasional bits of text that pop up along the way. The battles here are the real selling point, though, thanks to their flexibility and exhilarating, whiz-bang snappiness.

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo (Mobile, PC, Switch)

I've enjoyed a lot of adventure games (or visual novels, VNs, if that's the verbiage you prefer) in my time, but the ones I've enjoyed the most have featured spooky or scary elements. Raging Loop and Gnosia are two examples from previous years, and now Paranormasight can be added to the pile. At its heart, Paranormasight is a murder mystery. There's more to it than that, though, as you might imagine -- with supernatural urban legends and curses both playing important roles in the proceedings. Another interesting quirk to Paranormasight is that you'll occasionally replay portions of a character's story, which helps the experience feel less boringly straightforward than the bulk of its genremates.

Suika Game (Switch)

Does the world really need another match-things-that-drop-from-the-top-of-the-screen puzzle game? Suika Game provides a firmly affirmative answer to that question. The rules of Suika Game are so uncomplicated that you could play it in any language and not feel lost. The gist: get two fruits of the same type (cherries, strawberries, oranges, and more) to touch and they'll become a bigger one -- up until you reach the big kahuna, the watermelon. (Fun fact: suika is Japanese for watermelon.) Rinse and repeat until your accumulated pile of fruit hits the top of the screen. It sounds simple and even a little stupid, but it's also intoxicatingly addictive.

World of Horror (PC, PS4/5, Switch)

I never knew how much I needed a Junji Ito-inspired horror roguelike RPG VN until I started through World of Horror in early December. World of Horror is both not at all what I expected and far beyond what I expected of it. In doing so, it bizarrely and even bravely defies categorization. Hell, I'd go so far as to say it deserves a genre of its own, should any future games dare to follow in its footsteps. At any rate, if you've ever dreamed of playing a game that makes you feel like you're living -- and attempting to survive -- in a post-apocalyptic Japanese city right out of one of Ito's macabre manga, here's your chance.

What were your favorite games of 2023? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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