Best Game of 2023 (That I Played): The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released in 2017, it was heralded as one of the greatest Zelda games of all time, if not one of the greatest GOATs, period. Knowing everyone was eagerly awaiting word of the next entry in the series, Nintendo made an unusual (for them) choice: to capitalize on the success of BotW by developing a direct sequel, Tears of the Kingdom. And in doing so, they not only delivered a fantastic sequel, but somehow managed to outdo their previous GOTY contender!
Though TotK shares a map with BotW, it dramatically expands the explorable area by introducing dozens of sky islands and a “dark world” underground equal in size to the overworld. Nintendo also threw out Link’s well-loved Sheikah abilities for four new Zonai abilities that, for lack of a better description, utterly break the game. You can now fuse together any two objects you find in the world, rewind time, and even ascend through solid objects. But rather than make the game too easy, these abilities create gameplay possibilities that gamers have still only begun exploring. Add to that a much-improved story, stunning musical score, and a renewed focus on puzzle-solving dungeons, and you have a game that will be played and loved for years to come. It’s a remarkable achievement for Nintendo, and would be a perfect swansong for their first-party titles on the Switch. I cannot wait to see what they can do with more powerful hardware on their next platform (whatever they end up naming it, my hope is for Super Switch)!
Best 2022 Game That I Just Got Around to Playing: Chained Echoes
Between Sea of Stars and Octopath Traveler II, fans of retro-style JRPGs had no shortage of exceptional titles to feed their nostalgia in 2023. But if they are still hungry, they only need to look back one month in 2022 to find a game equal to both: Chained Echoes.
Released in December 2022, Chained Echoes was a labor of love from a solo developer, Matthias Linda. It’s almost impossible to describe the level of his singular achievement; you just need to play it. By pulling inspiration from Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, Final Fantasy VI, and many other classics over a seven-year development cycle, Matthias created a retro JRPG that honors what came before while not feeling dated in the slightest. It has memorable characters, amazingly detailed pixel art, and a stunning soundtrack that evokes a past era many RPG fans love. If you are one of them and missed Chained Echoes in 2022, I cannot recommend it enough.
Best DLC: The Case of the Golden Idol
Another late 2022 game that many missed, The Case of the Golden Idol is easily one of the best mystery games ever released. Spanning the 18th century, you’re tasked with solving a series of murders by discovering clues hidden in mostly static tableaus of crime scenes. Featuring an art style that some would call “striking” and others would call “pixel vomit,” I worry that many may have passed on it simply because of its unique graphical style. That would be a mistake. My partner and I absolutely devoured the game together playing on our couch, and desperately wanted more after the game’s final case. Well, in 2023, we got our wish! Color Gray Games released two DLC case packs: The Spider of Lanka and The Lemurian Vampire, each featuring three brand-new crimes to solve!
If I had played it in 2022, The Case of the Golden Idol would have been one of my games of the year. Thankfully, the 2023 release of the DLC allows me to put a well-deserved spotlight on this exceptional experience. If you love mystery games like Return of the Obra Dinn, you owe it to yourself to play Golden Idol. And if you need another reason to pick it, they recently announced a sequel, The Rise of the Golden Idol, at the 2023 Game Awards! So don’t miss out; it’s time to solve some historical crimes!