Edmond Tran’s Favourite Games of 2023

I refuse to write about myself in the third-person any longer. Here are some 2023 games I really liked!
Edmond Tran Best of 2023

Wow, this year was really messed up for video games! Not just because of the nearly 10,000 developer layoffs (though that was a really terrible trend that will undoubtedly have severe ramifications into 2024 and beyond), but also because it was such a strong year for video game releases, and there simply wasn’t enough time to play all the good games I know I would like. When you work at a video game publication, there are just games you have to play, instead of the ones you want to.

From the outset, I feel like my honourable mentions and “intended to play but never got around to it” list might be maybe triple the size of my Top 10 games? Hmm, let’s see!

Honourable Mentions

The first thing that comes to mind for my honourable mentions is all those games on Xbox Game Pass that I’ve got downloaded, and haven’t had the time to play to completion – I’m about halfway through Jeppe Carlson’s Cocoon and loving its brain teasers, I need to find more time to put into The Lamplighters League since I’m a big fan of Harebrained Studios and tactical RPGs, and I really need to find time to keep going with Thirsty Suitors, because I love its whole relationship RPG/skateboarding vibe.

Elsewhere (and speaking of skating) let’s throw Bomb Rush Cyberfunk in there too – it feels like I’ve been waiting so long for a successor to Jet Set Radio but I just haven’t had the time! I’ve also been very charmed with Inkle’s A Highland Song so far, but the work started piling up towards the end of the year. I need to find more time to put in to explore all the nuances in Space Wreck, which feels like a much more manageable “anything goes” RPG, because god knows I haven’t had the time to devote to Baldur’s Gate 3 yet either. Oh, and what’s that Dave the Diver game like?

As for stuff I did play but didn’t quite make my Top 10 list: Let’s start with Venba, whose migrant story resonated in several ways with my own family’s, as well as Mortal Kombat 1, whose multiverse story definitely did not do that – same with Lies of P.

I loved Super Mario Bros Wonder and Jusant, and liked Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, but ended up having to make some hard decisions. Before I kick off my top ten, I also want to give a shoutout to Vactics, Sub Par Pool, Puzzmo, and Marvel Snap for being my daily mobile game mainstays.

I think that’s it, off the top of my head? I could go through a release calendar, but then I’d be here all day, and I need to get outta here soon!

10. Hello Kitty Island Adventure

Hello Kitty Island Adventure Apple Arcade Cooking Recipes Guide
Image: GamesHub via Sunblink

Boy I did NOT expect to have this game take over my life. I generally don’t have many ‘cosy’ games in my life because usually the commitment and min-maxing really kicks my brain into overdrive and makes me overthink and overplay it, and I need to just cut myself off.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure, on the other hand, was the perfect balance of everything – exploration, puzzle solving, gift-giving – with a natural daily soft-gate that stopped me from going too hard. I’ve enjoyed some Sanrio characters in the past, but Island Adventure really made me appreciate them a lot more, and I think that’s due to how charming and well-written this game is. Also wacky! I love these little squishy things now. They’re my friends, and I know exactly what gifts everyone likes.

In talking to the development team behind it, it’s clear that they had a really good time making it too, and that only made me appreciate the game more – and also the subscription service model which allowed it to exist in the way that it does. I genuinely think Apple Arcade has been a game changer! Get out of here, mobile F2P monetisation! Respectful games only!

9. Shadows of Doubt

Image: Cole Powered Games

I’m one of those weirdo immersive sim fans, so when GamesHub contributor Chris Lawn pitched Shadows of Doubt to me as the game that finally pulls off that Warren Spector “one city block” idea, where the environment is small, but the details are miles deep, I was sold.

It’s still in Early Access, and its voxel art style is not my favourite (still very evocative though!), but what the game manages to pull off in terms of procedurally generated narratives and mysteries, paired with a living city where every character plays a role, is just so, so impressive. It’s sometimes very mentally draining to play, but I always find something new to be impressed by every time I hop in.

8. Mars First Logistics

Image: Shape Shop

After I finished The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mars First Logistics launched, and it was the perfect game to continue those motions of using my own ingenuity to solve problems. I’ve loved previous games by Ian MacLarty (Jumpgrid! Dissembler!) but Mars First is on a whole other level.

I love its aesthetics most of all, I think. It echoes the clean lines of French cartoonist Moebius (much like Sable did) in a more minimalist way, but still manages to be just as evocative. Maybe that’s down to the setting and the characteristics I project onto Mars, but it’s pretty meditative at times, especially when you’re just peeling out in the desert.

But of course, there’s the whole construction aspect, too, which has its own excellent LEGO manual vibe. I’m not the most creative engineer, so my constructions are usually pretty slapdash with a focus on practicality over elegance (I’m just trying my best!) but just seeing some of the stuff the playerbase has made tells me that these tools are the shit. This game deserves to blow up when it hits v1.0.

7. The Making of Karateka

Image: Digital Eclipse

I never had a console growing up as a young child, so my introduction to games was through old computers. As a result, the games of Jordan Mechner were some of the games I played the most – Prince of Persia and Karateka.

What Digital Eclipse has done with The Making of Karateka is extraordinary. It’s such an important package – part museum exhibit, part preservation exercise, part documentary, it tells a very compelling story about Mechner’s processes in making the game (undoubtedly enhanced by all the work-in-progress materials Mechner kept) while letting you play prototypes, different versions for different platforms, and new interpretations, too. Everyone should play this! It’s such a great way to learn and appreciate video game history.

The format is exceptional, and I’m now really looking forward to their next entry, which deals with Jeff Minter and Llamasoft – a designer I have far less familiarity with. Will it still be as compelling as Karateka? I hope so!

6. Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

Image: FromSoftware

This is my favourite FromSoftware game, I think! Maybe it’s by virtue of the fact that I’ve never really been a big fantasy guy, or maybe it’s because I just really like chunky mechs. But regardless, the dour vibes in Armored Core 6 are really something. Everything is so grim! I love it!

But also, I just am very into the idea that in Armored Core 6, you really do overcome all the challenges by virtue of your own skills. Unlike Dark Souls, there’s no RPG levelling to help you get overpowered, there aren’t items you can exploit to gain the upper hand. All you have is your piloting ability, and the decisions you made when you went to build your mech. And that just makes every victory so satisfying.

The crunch of metal, the incessant beeping of your warning systems, the overly serious radio chatter, the Cold War-esque alliances and backstabs… it’s such a great vibe. One of those games you really do want to play again and again.

5. Knuckle Sandwich

Image: Andrew Brophy

I backed this one on Kickstarter long before I was aware of Andrew Brophy and his work in the local game development scene (and I hope to never meet him just to keep up that air of mystique) – the vibes were just so strong from the get-go, and I couldn’t believe someone could execute such a strong and cohesive vision so well. Finally being able to play the full thing has not disappointed. The aesthetics are off the charts, mixing great pixel art with some nice surprises, a killer soundtrack (I cannot get enough of the battle themes), and laugh-out-loud writing and character moments.

I love the Super Nintendo casing it’s wrapped in, the reliance on Warioware-esque minigames (and the video game golf-like power meter for the battle system). But most of all, I love how much personality and style is infused into single facet of this game. It’s great! I love it! Best swagger of 2023!

4. Dredge

Image: Black Salt Games

Speaking of vibes, Dredge! I could not put this one down because the moreish pull was so incredibly strong. Dangerous, even! Dredge has the perfect combination of so many little things that keep you pinned to the screen when you definitely know that it’s past your bedtime.

It’s the whole deal with never wanting to be out at night, and pushing yourself to stay out just that little bit longer to catch another fish, or reach that new location. The Resident Evil-like grid inventory that has you obsessing over every square and overthinking every upgrade. The terrifying but tantalising pull of catching a glimpse of something awful on the screen, and not wanting to go any further, but doing so anyway. The eagerness to gain more answers to the obscure mysteries in the game.

How did Black Salt manage to make a game about unspeakable tentacled horrors pulling you into the depths, while also making a video game that pulls you in with its metaphorical tentacles and doesn’t let you escape? It’s genius! It’s superb! Dredge deserves to clean up at the GDC and IGF awards in 2024.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Image: Nintendo

Can I tell you a secret? I have never finished Breath of the Wild. I’ve put about 100 hours into it, but it got to a point where I definitely had my fill. Tears of the Kingdom was different. This game had LAYERS and I didn’t stop until I was a shell of my former self.

There’s the whole player driven exploration and goal setting, of course, which is always one of my favourite things in games. But the whole free-form build-your-own solution thing? And having every puzzle make you feel like a goddamn genius no matter how crude your contraption was? Incredible. Cobbling your own cursed weapons? Amazing. Shooting yourself into the sky? Never gets old. Shitting yourself while exploring the depths? I hate it, but it’s great. Talking to all the characters? They’re so well written, I love them!

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a desert island game. I don’t know how Aonuma and his team will ever meaningfully top this, but I can’t wait to be proven wrong.

2. Alan Wake 2

Image: Remedy Entertainment

I was not expecting Alan Wake 2 to go as hard as it did. As a big Twin Peaks fan, I always knew that I would appreciate its vibe, but the lengths Remedy goes to to add layers upon layers to this narrative that spans decades was bonkers to see unfold. Throughout my entire first playthrough, I was so smitten with what I was seeing on screen at virtually all times – this is not a game that is satisfied with sticking to the AAA blockbuster video game mould, and I applaud it vigorously.

I love it all – the mix of live action and video game, the execution of the mind palace for solving puzzles, the sparse but tense-as-hell gunplay, and of course, its most unhinged and unforgettable decisions like a literal song and dance number, and sitting down and watching a movie for half an hour. Also, all the Finnish people.

But it’s that mould-breaking for such a high-profile blockbuster that makes Alan Wake 2 so impressive to me, and I’m happy that Remedy managed to find partners that let them execute their crazy shit to this degree. Now, when is someone going to give Grasshopper Manufacture a bunch of money?

1. Street Fighter 6

Image: Capcom

According to PlayStation’s end of year wrap, I have played 170 hours of Street Fighter 6 since it came out in June – more than any other game, even Tears of the Kingdom. So, I guess I love this game.

I’ve always been a huge fighting game person, and like many people, my enthusiasm really piqued when Street Fighter made a big comeback with Street Fighter 4. But 5? That one really burned me. It launched barebones, was more complicated than it needed to be, and I fell off it very quickly. Street Fighter 6 fixed everything.

Its new single-player RPG campaign is good, and it’s a great onramp to introduce new folks to the game and its quirks, but I have really been living it up in the online Battle Hub. In most competitive fighting games, grinding the ranked ladder would usually be my primary mode of interacting online, but I always hit a wall at some point. Or, I found someone who was really fun to play against, but because you’re limited to just three matches at most, you never see them again.

The Battle Hub, SF6’s social space, lets you join dozens of other people in a mock arcade, find people who might be close to you in terms of skill level, and fight to your heart’s content. It’s a great, low-stakes way to enjoy the fun of Street Fighter and simply live among its community, which is a great thing (the rewards you get for participating don’t hurt, either). Tekken 8 also appears to be adopting something like this, and I hope it’s as good – but if it doesn’t have smooth jazz as its default background music, it won’t be.

The fighting mechanics are tight and satisfying of course, the ebb and flow of matches is wonderful, and the characters look fantastic and are full of personality – especially the newcomers. Even after moving onto other titles as 2023 rolled on, Street Fighter 6 was the game I always made time to come back to almost every day. In fact, maybe I’ll go play a few matches now. Bye!

Catch up with more of GameHub’s favourite games of 2023, including platform-specific lists and picks from special guests in our Best of 2023 roundup.

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran