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GOTY 2023: Adam Cook

by on December 30, 2023
 

Never has a list been so hard to write, as my own for GOTY 2023 has been. But in many ways, the games have spoken for themselves this year. For whatever reason, we’ve had a year of gaming the likes we haven’t seen for a long time. To get so many huge new titles in some of the biggest franchises of all time was just incredible to experience. The year started with a bang as well, thanks to Fire Emblem: Engage, which was the first name on my GOTY 2023 list, until it was beaten by the onslaught of goodness that came after it.

In fact, I reckon I could make a top ten, or even twenty honourable mentions without breaking a sweat. We joked a lot this year on the podcast, saying “in any other year”, but it’s all true. I’ve limited myself to five honourable mentions, but “in any other year” they are top five contenders, without a question. Let’s get into it, then.

GOTY 2023 Honourable Mentions

Shadow Gambit the cursed crew

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 should be on my list. It should be on anyone’s list. It retained the brilliance of combat and motion that the previous titles had, and added a new traversal mechanic. It absolutely should be on the list because it’s got a lovely comic-book story, well-designed visuals, audio… but it’s 2023, and somehow it just didn’t quite feel new enough to break into my top ten. Madness.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a beautiful game in many ways. It’s really strange how good it is because it initially feels like a side game, but after playing it, this feels like the way forward for the series, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a game I think would be in my top ten if I had a time machine. It’s a long game, and a sad story when it comes to the developer closing down, but one thing is for sure: MiMiMi has gone out making the pinnace of the isometric stealth genre.

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name isn’t the best Yakuza game, but as a way to whet the whistle for 2024’s Infinite Wealth, boy does it succeed. One of the most moving stories in Kiryu’s tale, I am so glad I found time to get through this one.

Dave the Diver is a ridiculous game. Idea after idea after idea is thrown at you, and every time you think you’ve seen all it has to offer, it breaks you all over again. One of the best games to whittle away time on a portable device, this is a banger of a game.

10. Final Fantasy XVI

 

If not for a story that I found a little hokey, Final Fantasy 16 would be far higher on my list. There are moments, and visual design elements you just won’t see beaten for a long time in this one, and I almost can’t believe it exists. The combat couldn’t be “less Final Fantasy” if it tried, yet somehow it’s engaging over a full 30-plus hours, all the same. Ridiculous visuals and top-tier combat made Final Fantasy 16 one of the best games this year, and shows a bright future for the franchise to continue moving forwards into the modern era.

GOTY 2023: 9. Baldur’s Gate 3

Podcast 529 Baldur's Gate 3, Exoprimal, Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart

I rarely allow a game on my list I haven’t finished, but Baldur’s Gate 3 has something about it that feels special. Characters you want to get to know more because they feel real: that’s a starter. But that wasn’t actually what impressed me so much. It asks a lot of you, perhaps too much, but after a few false starts, I learned to understand it. I’ve not seen a game quite as mechanically malleable as this before, and no matter what you think of, somehow Larian Studios has made it possible within the game. Dialogue has been written and recorded that you (and nobody, possibly) might never hear, yet it’s been done anyway. It’s a phenomenal achievement, and I’m not sure we’ll see anything like this again for some time.

GOTY 2023: 8. Alan Wake 2

Alan Wake 2 Announcement

The game I thought I’d never see was everything I hoped it’d be. Alan Wake 2 is a masterclass in meta storytelling, and a tour-de-force of audio and visual splendour. Despite Alan being only half the game, Saga is a great vehicle for the player who has waited so long to see more of Alan’s story. The two are interlinked through tragedy and circumstance, and while you don’t get the answers you always wanted, just inhabiting the world of Bright Falls is a joy. So much of Alan Wake 2 feels like a thank you to the long-waiting fans, and there are some unforgettable moments that really do remind everyone just how incredible a developer Remedy truly is.

7. Resident Evil 4 Remake

 

Capcom has balls, I’ll say that. There are some games you just don’t touch, and Resident Evil 4 feels like one that you can only end up with negativity from. Widely considered one of the best games of all time, touching it in any way just feels like a stupid risk. Yet somehow, the game is even better than the original. Expanded and built upon in every way to make it modernised and a new instant classic, this is how you do a remake. I mean, even the DLC is superb. What a year.

6. Street Fighter 6

 

Street Fighter 6 was one of those moments for me this year, that I still can’t believe happened. Not only does it feel like a developer and publisher doing right by an audience that had lost a bit of faith and trust in it, but it felt like the kind of madcap game we haven’t seen since Sega was putting out Dreamcast titles like Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi. As if they’ve actually added a huge story mode that’s basically a Yakuza game with Street Fighter mechanics. As if! Then there’s the combat itself, best in class once again. The online works well, and it’s just a wonderful package with very little to complain about full stop.

GOTY 2023: 5. Remnant 2

 

If you’d told me that somehow in 2023 I would have the time to play through a third-person shooter campaign with randomised worlds not twice, but three times, on three different platforms, I’d have laughed you out of the room. Remnant 2 is a special game, though. The discoverability aspect means you are always secret-hunting, and it’s built for co-op in a way that feels so good. More than that though, the shooting feels amazing, the classes are unique and symbiotic with one another, and I just couldn’t stop playing this damn game from the moment we got our hands on it. It’s in game pass at the time of writing, so if you haven’t tried it, there’s no excuse now.

4. Octopath Traveler 2

Octopath Traveler 2 review

How do you top the best combat system ever made in an RPG? You make it even better, that’s how. Make no bones about it: Octopath Traveler II hasĀ the best combat in any RPG ever made. From moment one to the end of the 80-hour experience, you won’t ever tired of the mechanics on offer. Breaking, dominating, and beating an opponent is satisfying from the simplest grunt encounter, to a big boss who you don’t let have a second’s rest. The stories are great too, and some of the characters are best in class. This is a game with an enormous amount of heart and soul, and worth of anyone’s time. Absolutely superb.

3. Super Mario Bros Wonder

 

There is no chance you’ve gotten to the final individual GOTY 2023 list and someone has already said that this game is magic. Also, there’s no chance that someone hasn’t said how the name is so apt. And that’s because it is. This is one of those truly wonderful (see, I can’t even help it) titles that makes you feel good for every second you’re playing it. The smile will be there and you won’t even know it. “Why are you smiling so much” someone random will ask you, and you’ll answer “Because Mario Wonder exists, stranger, that’s why”. It’s that kind of game. Glorious in every way, an audio and visual feast, tight as you get controls: Nintendo at the top of its platform game. Magestic.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

 

When I finished writing my review of Tears of the Kingdom, I was absolutely convinced that it was my GOTY 2023 with a bullet. I remember thinking “this won’t even be close, no other game is going to top this”. I don’t remember how long I had this one before release to play for review, but I know I played 80 hours plus, yet when I realised that, I couldn’t work out how. It’s the most engaging open-world adventure ever made, full of secrets and magic to uncover. It does things with story in The Legend of Zelda we’ve never seen Nintendo do before. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next title we got in the series was completely different, because this feels like a natural conclusion to what Breath of the World started. Worth the wait in every manner imaginable, Tears of the Kingdom is a masterpiece.

1. Sea of Stars

 

Sea of Stars is as though someone reached into my mind and made my perfect game. From art direction to soundtrack, difficulty to narrative, and everything in between, it’s just exactly what I wanted it to be. A game that never wastes a second, yet somehow feels vital with every story beat, Sea of Stars is clearly made as both a labour of love, but by people who love games and, crucially, play games. There are minigames you’d play as a standalone mobile experience, clever combat mechanics, vital party members, and the way it opens up is beyond words incredible. Truth be told, I still can’t get over how cleverly the “true ending” is, and how they managed to read my mind, because every time I started to wain or think “this needs…” the developer would be ahead of me and introduce it.

The Messenger was great too, so it’s no shock Sabotage Studio delivered a good game, but it’s almost inconceivable that in 2023, with everything else happening game-wise, it’d be top of my list. Yet here we are. The second I finished, I started again. The team made my perfect game, and I can’t thank them enough. In a year perforated by personal difficulties, I needed this game, and I’m thankful I got it.