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Spoony's Best Games of 2023

As always, keep in mind that I've gone to great lengths to also play every single other game released in 2023 to spare you the trouble of telling me I forgot something.

10. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (Insomniac Games, PlayStation 5)

The sequel to the hit 2018 Spider-Man game (and its followup starring Miles Morales) and it's about what you'd expect - more missions, more powers and gadgets, and the story carries on where the first left off, hitting plenty of emotional beats along the way.  That's not a bad thing by any measuring stick though; I've already asserted that the original Marvel's Spider-Man is the best superhero game ever made, so more of it certainly won't ruin my day.  There seems to be less focus on tedious race/combat challenges this time (thankfully) and you control both Spider-Men throughout the story, switching perspective as the narrative shifts, with Peter Parker having more focus on gadgets and Miles Morales using his invisibility and electricity-channeling powers in creative ways.  As with the original it's also just a joy to experience, with relatively few bugs (though more of them than the PS4 games, somehow), seamless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay and no visible loading even when fast traveling.  An excellent open world experience.

9. System Shock (Nightdive Studios, PC)

A remake of the classic immersive sim FPS from the '90s, it famously had a quite long and troubled history that was fraught with numerous delays, an engine switch and no less than two complete restarts, which brings to mind another infamously drawn-out FPS development cycle.  Thankfully System Shock's long-awaited return fares much better than Duke's, opting to go for a mostly-faithful take on the original with some modernization of its clunkier aspects.  To that end, it features a more streamlined control setup and UI, fewer (but upgradable) weapons and some added features from the second game like having vending machines and upgradable weapons, as well as redone voiceover (with Terri Brosius reprising her role as SHODAN; I'd accept no less).  Being a faithful translation it also retains many of the annoying aspects of the original game - the convoluted levels, spongey enemies (particularly in the final gauntlet) and puzzles that require you to comb basically every inch of every floor and pay meticulous attention to audio logs and subtle clues are all still very much present in this version.

8. Sea of Stars (Sabotage Studio, Playstation 4/Playstation 5/XBox One/XBox Series/PC)

If you know me, you know I'm quite skeptical of "retro style" RPGs, as too often they think that trotting out bog-standard gameplay and dated graphics without having any actual ideas of their own is an automatic road to success.  Never mind that the reason people fondly remember games like Chrono Trigger and the 16-bit Final Fantasies were because they set new trends and broke away away from the clunky, dated design of their predecessors, and didn't just rehash it all again beat for beat.  Sea of Stars thankfully avoids that trap; while it clearly draws inspiration from games like Chrono Trigger, Mario RPG and Wild Arms, it also has enough of its own quirks to stand out.  I particularly like having to break "Locks" to weaken or stop enemy attacks, as well as the game nudging you to use of special attacks and limit breaks when they become available rather than just hoarding them for boss fights.  It's got some great characters, a killer soundtrack (with the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda providing a few tracks) and a lot of quirky creativity reminiscent of its inspirations without feeling overly derivative of any single one, so as far as retro styled RPGs go, this is easily one of the best I've played.

7. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (Capcom, PC/PS4/Switch/XBox One)

A creative puzzle game on the Nintendo DS whose popularity was limited by its poor sales, shutting down a potential franchise.  Still, it had enough of a following to get a remaster in 2023, and I'm glad it did, as now more people are beginning to recognize its brilliance.  Playing as a disembodied spirit, you have the ability to hop to nearby objects and manipulate them to a small degree (turning on lights, unfolding ladders, making objects roll a short distance, and so forth), and also to possess the recently dead and rewind to four minutes before their death to try and save them from their fate.  Using both of these, you gradually uncover a tangled mystery about not just your own demise, but a number of other bizarre events in the city's past.  Creative, funny and a surprisingly fresh concept.

6. Super Mario RPG (ArtePiazza, Switch)

A dream people have been screaming about for almost thirty years finally became a reality when Nintendo announced the Mario RPG remake.  Developed by ArtePiazza (who also worked on several of the Dragon Quest remakes), the game is gorgeously animated, has some amazing updated music and a few new mechanics added; successfully timing attacks and blocks builds up a Chain that steadily grants bonuses to your party, and Triple Attacks - something similar to a limit break which slowly charges as you fight your way through battles.  And of course, there's no shortage of postgame content for gamers seeking a new challenge after clearing the main game, some of which really puts your skills to the test.  A faithful yet surprisingly fresh remake of a classic.

5. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo, Switch)

Super Mario Bros. is of course a franchise which needs no introduction, and its latest entry proves that the series is far from running out of steam despite being nearly forty years old at this point.  So, what sets this one apart, other than the bizarre elephant powerup and the large cast of playable characters?, The sheer creativity on display; just about every level here shows off some new and creative mechanic.  From hippos that wedge themselves into pits to be used as bouncy platforms to piranha plants suddenly breaking out into a song number to pipes that slither like caterpillars, the game is a chaotic, bizarre experience from start to finish.  It actually reminds me a lot of the old Donkey Kong Country games, setting up a solid foundation and then constantly playing with your expectations every chance they get to hide secrets from you.  Any game that isn't afraid to go so outlandish and still retains its franchise's legendary polish and fun is an instant hit with me.

4. Hi-Fi Rush (Tango Gameworks, XBox Series/PC)

Hi-Fi Rush is a clever idea that's well-implemented, taking the stylish action of Devil May Cry, the color-popping cel-shaded visuals of Jet Set Radio, combining it with a killer rock soundtrack and having all the action sync up to the beat of it to boot.  Basically, stage obstacles and enemy patterns all time themselves to it, and you can rack up a high score by doing the same - timing your button presses to the beat earns more points and deals more damage.  It has a pretty amazing sense of humor too, with some downright hilarious dialog and cutscenes throughout, making it a must-play if you're a gamer of the Microsoft persuasion.

3. Final Fantasy XVI (Square Enix, Playstation 5)

The latest entry in the long-running Final Fantasy franchise is once again a divisive one (say what?!), this time for shedding most of its RPG trappings in favor of a straight-up stylish action title reminiscent of Devil May Cry; which is no coincidence as its combat designer also worked on games like Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter and Dragon's Dogma.  There's still a few of those usual RPG trappings, mind - you upgrade your swords and accessories, earn experience points and AP from battles and gradually unlock new skills with the latter, but it's not a game you can simply power through by grinding for a while.  Levels and equipment only give you a small edge; you'll still need to master attacking, parrying, dodging and smart use of your powers and items to make your way through the game.  It's also the first M-rated game in the series, which makes it quite a bit darker in tone and content than the series norm, but its strongly written cast and story make it a worthy journey to undertake.  This was the game that finally sold me on getting a Playstation 5.

2. Baldur's Gate III (Larian Studios, Playstation 5/XBox Series/PC)

As someone who was a big fan of the classic Baldur's Gate games as well as Divinity: Original Sin II, this was a natural choice to pick up.  Sure enough, it didn't disappoint on either front.  With Larian's brilliant engine that makes for some amazing dungeons, creative puzzles and extremely challenging battles, with enough wiggle room for plenty of player creativity and improvisation, I can easily say this is the best D&D experience I've ever had on that front.  But then you top it with some amazingly written characters (any of whom you can take control of yourself or create your own) and a captivating story where your choices actually make a big difference on the outcome, and it's easily among the best on that front too.  Put simply, one of the finest RPGs I've ever had the pleasure of playing, and one I can't recommend enough.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo/Monolith Soft, Switch)

Breath of the Wild was definitely a new turn for Nintendo and the Zelda franchise, taking the basnic Zelda format and putting it into a vast open world. I enjoyed the game in many respects, but I didn't love it; the lack of tangible reward for most quests, lackluster dungeons and overall drab overworld were very prominent shortcomings in a genre that's already had several major, highly polished hits in it.  Nintendo was clearly taking notes from the game's critics, though, as Tears of the Kingdom improves upon its predecessor in virtually every way.  The world, despite being based on the same overworld map, is now remixed and vastly expanded with caves, wells and miniature dungeons to uncover, as well as two entirely new worlds to explore in the underworld and the floating islands in the sky.  Are there still breakable weapons?  Sure, but now you can cobble any two of them together (or stick nearly any item on the end of an arrow) to build a huge number of hybrids, many of which are actually quite useful and deadly.  You also get new powers like the Ultrahand, which lets you move around nearly any object in the game world and attach it to others, Rewind allows you to roll back time for almost anything affected by physics, and Ascend, which lets you leap upward through any solid object and even through vast stretches of earth to get back to the surface.  But the greatest thing of all is the creative element it brings - you can collect and store a vast array of objects, stick them together with your Ultrahand, and craft all manner of usable vehicles, traps, cages and weapons to use however you wish.  This adds a tremendous layer of depth to the game and has resulted in countless jaw-dropping player creations that can lay waste to hordes of enemies in moments or completely bypass obstacles in clever ways; seriously, look up some of these on social media if you haven't and you'll be blown away.  It all culminates in an immersive-sim-like experience that I didn't even think would be possible on any console, let alone a portable system that was nearly six years old at the time it launched, and the sheer amount of added features and content it has makes Breath of the Wild look like an early beta in comparison.  I hadn't been this thoroughly engrossed by a game in years, and even now, months after completing it, I still want to go back and experience it all again.  What a phenomenal landmark title for gaming as a whole, let alone in 2023.