Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Jon Schneider Game of the Year awards: 2023


Starting with my favorite video game that I played for the first time this year, and continuing on with the rest of the top 10, these were my personal top games of 2023 (along with the platform(s) on which I played them)!

1. Baldur’s Gate 3 (Windows / Mac)

There are so many facets to this game that, on their own, are exceedingly well done, and joined together, make for an incredible game. The adaptation of D&D 5E combat and mechanics. The overall story. The individual party members, and their stories. The smart way in which the game’s world and characters realistically respond to your actions. It speaks to BG3’s quality that it is the first long-form game in a very long time that I played through from start to finish -- and then immediately made a new character and started a second play-through.

2. Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)

It ALSO speaks to Baldur’s Gate 3's quality that when I played Tears of the Kingdom earlier in 2023, I felt that it was the best game I’d played in several years, and a lock for game of the year! A more-than-worthy sequel to Breath of the Wild (my personal 2017 Game of the Year). Hyrule is once again super fun to explore -- this time with the additions of caves, the sky, the underground, and more things to do. The construction system managed to successfully achieve making me feel like “I’m not just a fantasy warrior, I'm a fantasy warrior engineer!”

3. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)

In my opinion, the best new 2D Super Mario game in 32 years(!!) (Super Mario World, SNES, 1991). The combination of more traditional-style Mario 2D gameplay with the “wonder” sequences in the various levels made for a great combined experience. The pseudo-multiplayer real-time “ghosts” of other players that you can see -- and to a limited extent, interact with, but very importantly, not in any toxic way -- was also a neat (optional) addition which I ended up being quite glad that I had decided to leave enabled.

4. Cobalt Core (Steam Deck / Windows)

This recently-released, spaceship-battle-themed roguelike deckbuilder came out of nowhere for me to claim this high spot on my crowded GOTY list this year. It adds to the traditional Slay-the-Spire-like ability to block incoming damage an ability to move laterally to dodge incoming fire (or to take it on more-armored parts of your ship). Battles are quick and punchy. Even though Cobalt Core is mostly not mechanically similar to FTL, it did give me some of the smartly-designed vibes of that game.

5. Infernax (Steam Deck)

A solid, 8-bit-style platforming action game in the tradition of Castlevania 2 (NES). The tight gameplay and fun progression were enough to keep me engaged straight through from start to credits.

6. Dave the Diver (Steam Deck)

A scuba-speargun-fishing main game mashed together with restaurant management sections, complete with a perfect-beer-pouring minigame? Why does this work so well? Once again, it's because all of the individual pieces are so solid! The charming character design and pixel art certainly don’t hurt, either. The first game in this year’s list that I haven’t actually finished yet: I played mostly in Early Access, decided to set it aside until the full 1.0 release -- and haven’t picked it back up quite yet due to the strength of all of the other new games on offer this year.

7. Octopath Traveler 2 (Switch)

This year’s turn-based JRPG comfort food. An interesting battle system, combined with a story that was decent enough to keep me playing straight through to the end -- albeit for only some of the characters, not all 8. As with the first series entry, my wish would be for better interaction between the 8 protagonist characters.

8. Outer Wilds (Steam Deck)

After having this game on my to-play for a few years, I finally had a good way to play it when I acquired a Steam Deck in the early part of 2023. As I had heard about Outer Wilds prior to playing, this is a game worth playing without being spoiled on what it is all about! I will say to give it a try if a first-person, solo exploration game where you board and fly your own spaceship (while still in the first-person perspective) and explore a small solar system sounds appealing. I did admittedly eventually get stuck on how to progress further (and didn’t want to consult a guide) -- but not until after quite a few hours of really interesting exploration and discovery.

9. Tunic (Steam Deck)

For me, Tunic created a vibe of being a kid back in the pre-Internet days, and having a new Nintendo cartridge to play -- but there's no real in-game help, and the instruction booklet that came with the cartridge (which in Tunic's case is discoverable in pieces within the game itself) is mostly in Japanese (a language I can't read) -- but the booklet's bits of English text, plus illustrations, allow for puzzling out the less obvious parts of game's mechanics and objectives. Add that to some overhead-view Zelda-like combat -- except tricky, with some Souls-like aspects -- and Tunic ends up being pretty cool and unique experience.

10. Alina of the Arena (Mac / Windows)

A last-minute list addition! Another roguelike deckbuilder hybrid -- this time with Into-The-Breach-like tactical positioning, with a solo character you control facing off with one or more enemies on a small hex grid.

Honorable Mentions

A few of the other games I played which were good, but didn’t make this year’s Top 10, in approximate descending order of where they would have appeared on the list, had there been room: Retro Bowl College (iPhone), Diablo 4 (Windows), Pinball FX (Windows), 30XX (Steam Deck), Tinykin (Steam Deck).

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