Tempopo developers Witch Beam share their Best Games of 2023

Sanatana Mishra, Tim Dawson, Nicole Stark, and Mei-Li C. of Witch Beam share the games that made 2023 a highlight.
Witch Beam Tempopo Best of 2023

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.

Witch Beam, the Australian studio responsible for games like Assault Android Cactus, Unpacking, and the upcoming Tempopo join us for this edition, with team members picking their absolute favourite games of the year, the ones that got them through thick and thin.

Sanatana Mishra – You Will Die Here Tonight

I’ve been keeping an eye on You Will Die Here Tonight for a few years, and after playing the full release I was thrilled to find such a thoroughly refreshing homage to classic Resident Evil that’s elevated by some unexpected design decisions.

The setup is about what you’d expect. A group of police officers raid a creepy mansion, only to find themselves trapped in a labyrinth of locked doors and aggressive zombies, but it’s not long before your character dies and the game’s true nature is revealed, a sort of Rogue Legacy meets Groundhog Day scenario in which you awaken inside the mansion as another member of the group, ready to continue your journey towards the truth behind what’s going on.

I absolutely adored the presentation choices in You Will Die Here Tonight, methodically exploring via the isometric view and peeking through keyholes before unlocking a door kept me feeling sufficiently on edge between zombie encounters, and the switch to fuzzy Sega Saturn style first-person combat that’s basically a 360-degree lightgun game was such a delightful surprise.

Despite all of its innovations and creative departures, I think the love the creators had for that Resident Evil 1 era is what truly resonates throughout the experience. Admittedly, that can sometimes be to its detriment, when they’ve gone too far towards classic designs and abstract puzzles, but for every misstep there’s a triumph like a character written so perfectly on the nose that I can’t help but read their lines in that 1990s game voice style while enjoying a sensible chuckle.

An often incredible, sometimes infuriating, ever-surprising, highlight of 2023.

Tim Dawson – Street Fighter 6

When I was a kid, I really wished Street Fighter 2 would do a JRPG where I could roam around the world of Ryu and Ken, upgrade my stats and learn the backstories of different characters and explore the locations depicted in all the stage backgrounds.

As I got a little older, I realised I was an idiot for wanting that. Deep into Street Fighter 3, I now understand the depth I desired was right in front of me, in the movesets, the yomi, the meta. Against a well-matched opponent, there was no need for an overworld or NPC conversations. I could do as Ryu suggested, and talk with fists.

Image: Capcom

That sentiment carried through into Street Fighter 4’s surprising revival of the franchise – I was a game developer working at Sega Studios Australia at the time, and spent many evenings after work playing rounds with like-minded coworkers, including my future studio co-founder, Sanatana Mishra. I had never been more convinced that this was the heart of Street Fighter – dynamic conversations that relied on mechanics, reflexes, strategies and adaptation. I learned Nick’s Gouken, Joe’s Juri and Lachlan’s Ryu, to a point where matches felt like performances. The character roster were less characters and more vehicles for expression, tools to explore a play space.

And then in 2023, the child me got what he wanted – Street Fighter 6 World Tour mode where Ryu tells you about the time Chun Li took him shopping, and Cammy recruits you to send you on a covert mission to photograph cats. It’s pretty good.

The first time I used spinning bird kick to cross a gap, I was charmed. The way the game can turn any environment into a convincing parallax Street Fighter stage is a technical marvel, and the way people on the street will agree to fight you with a quick arm cross then squaring off is the deranged world building I never knew I wanted.

Image: GamesHub via Capcom

And yet all this sits on top of, or perhaps bolted to the side of, one of the strongest entries in the series – Street Fighter 6 is a tightly focused game that unifies mechanics into the Drive Gauge and has a confident aesthetic that easily overshadows Street Fighter 5.

Me from 30 years ago would have been thrilled. Me from 20 years ago would have felt betrayed, but I think the me from right now is just impressed they pulled it off.

Mei-Li C. – Pikmin 4

One of my favourite genres is “Just a little creature,” and Pikmin 4 delivers. As Witch Beam’s Producer, the serendipity of “a game where you coordinate little individuals to do work” being my game of the year is not lost on me.

I love the art style, and seeing the Pikmin doing things everywhere you look is unbelievably cute (I think about their little quirks all the time). If you’re not familiar with the series, you’ll soon have to detach yourself, as you’ll be throwing scores of them straight into the hungry mouths of monsters. Thanks to the new edition of Space Dogs though, you’ll have an additional companion that can’t be killed so easily. Despite the great injustice of not being able to pet Oatchi, they make up for it with the cutest idle interactions between him and your Pikmin (I have taken 222 screenshots so far).

Pikmin 3 Deluxe had established an incredible co-op experience for the series. Unfortunately, Pikmin 4 let me down in this regard. This edition of the series only provides a “younger sibling” mode, where a second player is given a cursor that can throw rocks at enemies and drop down some useful items. I did enjoy the single-player experience, and I felt like I got to know each map in its entirety by playing alone. I highly recommend Pikmin 3 for any co-op gamers who haven’t played it though.

Returning in Pikmin 4 is one of my least favourite enemies, the Arachnorb. Surprisingly though this became one of my favourite moments of the game. They have completely re-worked the mechanics, phases, and most of all, added some INCREDIBLE music! I never thought I’d like to battle this creature but they figured it out (find it in a Cave in Area 3). 

Pikmin 4 shaves off some of the sharp edges from the formula and pleasantly expands the series with some wonderful new characters and a peek at the world of Pikmin at night! I have been eager to hang out with these silly little guys again, so Pikmin 4 was the highlight of my gaming year, even among the many incredible releases of 2023.

Nicole Stark – Gubbins

I’ve known since March what my Game of the Year would be. The silly little word game, Gubbins, crept into my heart in a way that defies competition. Jess Shipard’s charming but slightly deranged art is instantly appealing. But the thing that makes Gubbins special is the opportunity to express yourself in a unique way, and the sheer cathartic mischief of it all. 

gubbins word game australian games
Image: Studio Folly

I really needed catharsis this year. 

I had a lot of plans for 2023, and to be fair, I held on to most of them, but only because I had a LOT of help. I’m a 3D artist in the indie game space, and this year I got to work on both Tempopo and Go-Go Town, both great games made by really good people. I mean, I got to make a unicorn tricycle, and a giant flying platypus! If that isn’t professionally fulfilling I don’t know what would be. I got to attend Bitsummit and travel Japan with the wonderful Witch Beam crew, AND bring along my hubby and two youngest daughters, who’ve never been outside of the country. 

I expected to be doing good things in 2023. I didn’t expect the cells in my right breast to mutate and get all homicidal. There was such a large gap between my expectations for the year and the reality. I fell right into it. Luckily, two things pulled me out, and strangely, those two things are now linked.

A couple of days before my murder boob was forcibly yeeted into the great unknown, Hank Green, professional science communicator, shared on his socials that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And he kept sharing. He practically live-tweeted the whole survivable cancer experience. He perfectly expressed the paradox of being a really lucky unlucky person. So I didn’t have to make sense of any of it myself.  I just had to re-tweet Hank. I’ve historically been more of a John Green fan (Turtles all the Way Down is one of my favourite books) but now I’m 100 percent team Hank. Sorry John, life is just unfair like that.

The other thing that helped me enormously was Gubbins

Let me take you back to PAX Aus 2022. Me and my sneaky murder boob (I had cancer then but was blissfully ignorant) were down in Melbourne to help show Tempopo in the Aus Indie Showcase. Tempopo was right next to Studio Folly, which had a cute little kitchen setup, including an entire freaking refrigerator. I’ve shown games all around the world, going back to E3 of 2003, but I have never seen anyone rock up to a convention with a whole entire refrigerator. It’s rockstar behaviour. Or at least, what passes for it amongst indie game developers. We’re a quiet bunch, mostly. Anyway, apparently they got the fridge there only to discover its door wasn’t magnetic and the Gubbins-themed magnets they planned on sticking to it wouldn’t stick?! Madness. 

But this is just the start of the general derangement that is Gubbins. A lot of wonderful words have been written about the game and its developers, the lovely and talented Darcy Smith and Jess Shipard. They themselves describe Gubbins as a friendly puzzle game where you place tiles to construct words, with the help and hindrance from weird little pals called Gubbins.

I’m here to tell you that Gubbins is life. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but as I understand it, life is victory against the forces of chaos and entropy. While our cells divide as they should, we live and thrive. When chaos enters the chat, things mutate and we find ourselves in a toxic relationship with our own body parts. Gubbins perfectly encapsulates the struggle to express yourself, to achieve some sort of coherence and permanence while battling agents of chaos. You take the letters you are given, you make a plan, everything is wiped out, nothing makes sense, but you battle on. At the end of the day, if you can speak your truth and be heard, you have won.

There is some sort of clever scoring system in Gubbins if that’s your thing, but I’ve never paid any attention to it because making adorable sweary postcards is so damn rewarding.

People expect cancer patients to be brave warriors, forever “on a journey” but never tired or cranky (have they not been on a long haul flight?)  I was the recipient of so much kindness this year, and I’m so grateful. But Gubbins gave me something else, a place where I could fight chaos and win, and a place to put all the swear words that welled up inside me. 

I like to think that Hank Green felt somewhat the same, because he fell in love with Gubbins too, and helped get it to the finish line

Most people won’t have to deal with cancer this year. But I reckon almost everyone is dealing with something large and hard to control that makes them feel sweary. Gubbins postcards are the perfect place to put those swears. Trust me.

********************Fuck cancer********************

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