GUCK share their favourite games of 2023

Here's Melbourne studio GUCK, which is working on Australia's first-ever Indigenous-led mobile game, on its favourite games of 2023.
Guck Future Folklore

As part of GamesHub’s Best of 2023 celebrations, we asked a number of developers and friends of the site to share some thoughts about the games that defined their year, impressed them the most, or were simply the ones they spent the most time with.

GUCK is a Melbourne-based studio developing a farming management game with a futuristic fantasy setting inspired by the Australian bush. It’s described as “Australia’s first-ever Aboriginal-led mobile game,” and the studio is striving to set an example for the rest of the industry, by making sure Indigenous developers hold key positions in every facet of the company. The studio was also one of the recipients of Screen Australia’s First Nations Games Studio Fund.

The games that have occupied the GUCK team this year have proven to be incredibly varied, literally spanning decades. Let’s take a look:

Phoebe Watson, Lead Game Designer

2023 came flying inm and I found myself revisiting toys and DVDs of my childhood. After the latest revival of the Bratz Dolls I was reminded of the hours I used to spend on my PlayStation 2, trying on different outfits and changing my hair and makeup to suit the outfit. 

Bratz: Rock Angelz (2005)

This will forever be one of my favourite games. I have been obsessed with Bratz since their popularity first rose in the early 2000s, and after a short break of renouncing anything girly and becoming an angsty emo teen, I have returned as a Bratz-obsessed adult.  Let’s not talk about the latest Bratz: Flaunt your Fashion game, it does not even nearly compare. If you love dress-up games and/or the Bratz dolls, you will thoroughly enjoy this game, as well as its counterpart, Bratz: Forever Diamondz.

Packed with more clothing and accessory options than you could possibly wear throughout the entirety of the game, you truly get to express your passion for fashion. I’m talking earrings, necklaces, bracelets, hairstyles, clothes AND makeup; mixing and matching items from the actual doll lines. The main storyline of the game follows the core four Bratz dolls Chloe, Yasmin, Sasha and Jade as they create their Bratz fashion magazine. All four girls can be played, dressed up and switched out whenever you like!

The core gameplay consists of completing quests to complete pages of the magazine. There are also extra side quests players can engage with, such as chasing up borrowed items from different characters, posing challenges, rollerblading courses and more! To finish an issue of the magazine you have to complete a fashion show. Players will dress up each of the core four Bratz girls and walk them down the runway, hitting quick-time events to pose for the camera. 

I spent countless hours as a young girl going to different clothing shops, buying all of the clothes and accessories and dressing each of the girls up in their own cool style. I have completed this game a multitude of times over the years, still hanging onto my trusty old PS2 Slim, and I will still pick up and play this game to this day.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure (2023)

When I saw the trailer for Hello Kitty Island Adventure, I was immediately captured. It looked like it was packed with content, but I then thought about the many mobile games that have misled me with the promises of content and freedom only to lock me into hour-long wait times before I can even progress the story.

When it was released in July for Apple Arcade, I was quick to start playing. Hello Kitty Island Adventure is the best mobile game I have played in a long time!

hello kitty island adventure gameplay
Image: Sunblink

I was hooked on this game for months!  If you love the Sanrio characters and franchises, this is definitely a game for you. There is so much happening to keep you busy with things to do, with content and progression not slowing down ever! One issue I have with a lot of mobile games is that they limit how long you can play for a day with wait times, or you run out of daily activities within an hour. This is not the case for Hello Kitty Island Adventure. Collecting clothes, finding and crafting items of furniture to decorate cabins in the hopes of luring in a new character to the island, fun locations, seasonal events and (spoiler alert) MERMAID TAILS! You heard me, you can unlock a mermaid tail and explore the underwater world. It really never gets old.

You also have the option to play solo or with friends! I recommend playing on an iPad if you have the choice – although I’m sure it translates just as well onto a phone screen, it definitely deserves the larger screen size.

Apex Legends (2019)

When Covid first hit us and our restrictions were the tightest, I got sucked into Apex Legends. Never really enjoying the Call of Duty franchise or the FPS genre (except for playing Modern Warfare 3 on the Wii – yeah i know, not a popular console choice for the genre), I finally gave into giving Apex Legends a go.

After a few game sessions I was hooked, and it became the go-to game for all of my friends to play together online. Even when we had more than 3 people in our party chat, we worked out a system where whoever got the least amount of damage points would have to swap out and let the other person play.

apex legends ea microsoft activision blizzard russia
Image: Respawn Entertainment

This is still our go-to game to play online together. Probably because I find it impossible to introduce my games to new friends, but also because Apex doesn’t get old. If you really enjoy the movement, guns and abilities, you’ll be continually entertained with new maps, weapons and characters. There are also new time-limited game modes, as well as seasonal events. Our favourite is the train capture event that comes around every Christmas time.

To this day I am continually impressed by the developer’s ability to add in new characters and weapons, all completely balanced and feeling relatively equal. Each season when a new gun or weapon is introduced, you can sometimes notice the differences after rebalancing, but it has never deterred me completely. I’ll find a new weapon I love and it ends up encouraging me to try out different ones.

Romy Fox, Operations Officer 

Baldur’s Gate 3 (2023)

Like the unsealing of Pandora’s Box, upon booting up the game a great plague was cast upon the Earth. Despite your best efforts to be productive, all time just vanished at your fingertips. Just one more round, just one more chest, just one more try at an elusive natural 20.

Vampire Survivors (2021)

My girlhood dream came true, now I am the bullet hell. Like sneaking in your own flask of liquor to a gig – cheap, cheeky and a refined sense of spatial awareness. 

Image: Poncle

Elijah McDonald, Junior Game Designer and Associate Gamerunner

Cities: Skylines (2015)

This year I returned to Cities: Skylines where I finally got to building the best city I could. These kinds of management games have always appealed to me since I started playing RTS games on my dad’s computer when I was 6 or 7.

But when it comes to Cities: Skylines skylines, I feel like it’s one of the most fun and interesting challenges of strategic management sim games. Some things I’ve really had fun diving into was trying to build a city that had as few traffic issues as possible, as well as trying to move towards having as little pollution as possible towards the end game.

Elija McDonald and Phoebe Watson. Image Supplied.

Baldurs Gate 3 (2023)

Like everyone else, I bought Baldurs Gate 3 immediately upon its release. This was a game I’d been looking forward to for a while, as I’d often play Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 and had wanted Baldur’s Gate 2 growing up.

Once I started, I was not disappointed. I instantly got hooked on it and was playing it for hours both with my friends, as well as having my own campaign as well. It was instantly one of, if not my number one, game of this year.

Starsector (2013-Present)

Starsector was a fun little game I stumbled across that’s been in development since 2010. A while back I played a game called Endless Sky, which was fun, but was just lacking in something for me. When I started playing Starsector however, I found it was exactly what I was looking for in an open-world sandbox space game. It has a number of different competing factions, as well as an in-universe market that changes as you play, letting you explore the galaxy and join factions, wage war or even become a pirate. 

Starsector. Image: Fractal Softworks

Kati Elizabeth, General Manager

Look, I don’t think my answers will be very unique, as I am sure people are probably saying the same stuff. So here’s my list of game I played and/or thought about:

Knuckle Sandwich (2023)

Even though it just came out, I probably thought about this game at least twice a week in 2023. The art! The music! The mini-games! The jokes! The references! The epic lore about it taking 10 years to make! The weird fanboy lurkers who are angry online about how long it took to make! Look, the minute I saw the mattress on the floor… I knew I needed to play this game!

Image: Andy Brophy

Also, everyone should play this game so that you can casually name-drop it at indie events and look down upon the non-Knuckles Sandwich-playing peasants 🙂

Gubbins (2023)

I applied for early access for this game when the devs posted on Twitter looking for playtesters. I love puzzle games and became totally obsessed. I think I sent about 400 messages of unique feedback the first night I got access!

I love to play Gubbins before bed – it’s such a perfect mobile game. Now it is officially released – and I haven’t checked, but I assume it’s become wildly successful!

Spice World (1998) and Bishi Bashi Special (1998)

Spice World. Image: SCE Studios Soho

We have a cool set up of various consoles at the GUCK office, and recently I have been trying to get all the people in their 20s to play some stuff from my childhood. These two are iconic for me. Spice Girls game has the coolest main menu UI, and is a Bratz doll aesthetic pre-cursor!

Sim Ant (1991)

I have been thinking alot of about Sim Ant this year and talking to people about my memories of it… because I always died in it. Want to replay. 

Image: Maxis

Wood & Weather (2050)

We played the demo of this at GUCK during our weekly gamer club this year, and it was so fun. This might be one of the best games that deals with the mechanics of climate change in a non-scoldly way. 

Dadish (2020)

Me and my friend Olivia Haines accidentally stumbled across a random fan-made lore video about a mobile game from 2020 called Dadish – basically a Radish who is also a Dad ends up being left by his “selfish wife who wants to focus on her high-flying executive graphic design career”. She leaves him with his hundreds of kids and the rest is history. I am not gonna play Dadish, but I have made a lot of jokes about his wife this year.

Dadish’s wife. Image: Thomas K Young

Catch up on the rest of GamesHub’s Best of 2023 coverage, including more guests posts and our Top 10 games of the year.