What I Have Been Playing This Year
I’ve been sick this week, and while I’m getting better I’m not quite fully recovered yet so this will be shorter than it otherwise probably would be. This year, I bought as many games as ever, but did I play them? No, I often didn’t. I’ve spent far too much time this year just watching Youtube and such and not playing anything.
And when I do play games, it’s mostly the same things. For example, my most played game this year is, surprise surprise, Super Mario Maker 2. According to my Switch I’ve played something closing in on 300 hours of that game this year. That number may be a bit high but it should be close. Second place on my list, for playtime, according to the ‘what did you play this year?’ pages that Sony, MS, Nintendo, and Steam put up, is Diablo IV. It says that I played 200 hours of that game on Xbox, which definitely seems too high; I know I’ve left my Xbox on more than a few times while actually watching Youtube, that’s going to add to the time. However, I certainly did play a lot of Diablo IV. I wrote that two-part review for a reason, I finished the game and kept playing it some after that.
After those two, though, there’s a big dropoff from second to third; my next couple of most played games are in in 50-something-hour range, namely F-Zero 99 for Switch next and then Dead or Alive 6 for Xbox. The first of those games I love, the second … not so much, I just play it sometimes anyway.
The other games that would be in this category if they were on those listing sites are Nintendo 3DS games — I played many hours of 3DS puzzle games. Specifically, digital ones. Most nights I play a few minutes of 3DS puzzle games before bed. I’ve finished a lot of the 3DS Picross games now, I only have a few left. Other digital 3DS puzzle games I played a lot of include Wordherd, Block-a-Pix Color, Link-a-Pix Color, Sudoku Party, and 505 Tangram for DSiWare on 3DS. I’ve also played a bit of Angry Birds Trilogy on 3DS cart. I’ve finished all the puzzles in Link-A-Pix Color and Wordherd, and am close to finishing Block-a-Pix Color. I’ve come to love puzzle games in a way that I didn’t when I was younger, and the 3DS is the best portable format ever for them thanks to the stylus. It’ll be pretty sad once I run out… the 3DS is still amazing and has yet again been one of my most-used devices this year.
What PS4 games did I play this year? Well, my Sony year in reviewsite said that I played 12 hours total of PS4 games this year, so the answer is unsurprising, not many. The most played of the bunch is the Star Ocean: 2nd Story Remaster.
As for retro games, I haven’t been playing them as much as I should, but the one system that I have been returning to is one that’s on a lot of people my age or older’s thoughts these days, the NES. I’ve returned to it after many years of mostly ignoring the system for probably the same reasons as others. I mean, even though I didn’t own a NES as a kid, I played it a lot, it basically was console gaming in my childhood. How well does it hold up? I know that there are some things about the NES that I don’t like very much, most notably overly inscrutably confusing and “just wander around and figure it out” game design. However, there are also a lot of games that are still good. I turn my NES on and play something or other on it on a regular basis. I got a Famicom Disk System for my NES last year and a while ago finally got an accessory to allow for expansion audio to work without needing the internal mod, so I try out FDS games sometimes as well. All I don’t have is a way to play Famicom 3D System games, I’ll probably need to give up on the dream of an adapter to make those glasses work on a regular NES, since to use them on a NES you would need to make a homebrew cable that connects to certain pins on the bottom port, and just buy a Famicom at some point. Oh well.
With that said, here are my top lists for the year.
The Best New 2023 Releases
1. F-Zero 99 (Switch)
2. Akka Arrh (played on XSX)
3. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)
4. Diablo IV (played on XSX)
5. Caverns of Mars Recharged (played on XSX)
My Favorite Older Games that I First Played in 2023
This won’t be the interesting list that it often has been in the past; while I bought a lot of retro games this year, again, I never actually got around to trying most of them. So… uh, I guess this handful of 3DS eshop games will have to do, and maybe a couple of other games.
505 Tangram (DSiWare)
Art Style: DIGIDRIVE (DSiWare)
Gotta Protectors (3D eshop)
Mighty Flip Champs! and Mighty Milky Way (DSiWare)
Bookworm (Nintendo DS version)
The Best Remasters of the Year
There were some fantastic remasters this year. These are the best among them.
- Metroid Prime Remastered (Nintendo Switch)
- Towers II: Enhanced Stargazer Edition (Atari Jaguar remaster of an Atari Jaguar game)
- Star Ocean: The Second Story R (played on PS4)
- Quake II [Remastered] (played on XSX)
Overall Game of the Year
1. Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo Switch) – For me, is this the unsurprising pick of the century? Perhaps. But I really do deeply, deeply love this game, it’s the most perfect game concept ever. The execution needs work, and I hope it gets that work in a third Mario Maker release someday. Even as it is, though, with its issues and its declining userbase, SMM2 is incredible. I’m still loving this game as much as ever, and continue making levels for it. I made a new stage this month that is probably one of my better ones.
[It is not new, but perhaps here I should mention that I finished Super Mario Bros. for the NES on real hardware for the first time this year. I’d beaten the easier GBC version back in ’00, but the NES version had always eluded me because of how hard getting through world 8 is. Well, decided that I can do it, and put in the effort. Eventually I won and it feels very good. The game is certainly one of the best ever.]
2. F-Zero 99 (Nintendo Switch) – The surprise of the year by far, Nintendo’s shocking announcement and immediate release of this new, SNES-style online-only F-Zero game was some of the best news I’ve had from gaming in a long time! I really, really love the classic F-Zero games — the first two are nearly perfect 10/10 classics in my book, and are both among the best racing games ever. Due to its online nature requring a large player base to be at its most fun, which you can never count on, I don’t think that this game quite matches either of the originals in overall greatness. Even so, F-Zero 99 is a truly exceptional game. It’s easily my favorite new release of 2023! I’m amazed and thrilled that this game was released.
3. Akka Arrh (played on Xbox Series X) – Legendary developer Jeff Minter’s latest release is this game. This is a title that’s a modern re-imagining of a cancelled Atari game from the early ’80s. Or rather, this is a game loosely based on that title, but if you look at the original prototype and this game you’ll see how different the two are. The core concept of both is that you are defending a turret from enemies attacking you from all around, and that, like in Tempest, each stage has a new shape. Also, in both games if certain enemies get past your defenses they attack the tower from below, and you have to zoom in and fight them off there. However, Minter’s take changes the fairly simple ‘shoot the zone to kill the baddies’ gameplay of the original for something much more like the brilliant ’00s arcade-style game Every Extend. Somewhat like in that game, you shoot bombs that create spreading explosions within the zone you shot at. Each enemy destroyed by a bomb creates its own chain explosion, and your chain bonus counter resets if you shoot another bomb. You also have bullets, with limited ammo that replenishes with enemy kills, and bullets don’t reset your chain.
Because of instant-death enemies that rapidly zoom at you and everything going on on screen with the numerous game mechanics Akka Arrh is probably one of Minter’s harder games and the skill ceiling is high, but it’s a brilliant concept done well. Expect to be very frustrated but also addicted. I find that I often find it hard to tell when I’m about to die and when I can take a hit, but otherwise I absolutely love this game! Akka Arrh has beautiful classic arcade-inspired visuals, that classic Jeff Minter flare, compelling gameplay, and great design. Nobody does classic arcade gameplay plus synthesesia better than Jeff Minter. Perhaps this is unsurprising considering that he’s been a game developer since about 1980, working in the same genre the whole time, but it’s true. Akka Arrh is incredible, play it immediately if you haven’t.
4. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo Switch) – I wrote a review of this game last month as well, so I don’t think I need to repeat myself. Mario Wonder’s a mostly easy but otherwise great game that any Mario fan should consider a must-play.
5. Diablo IV (played on Xbox Series X) – When I think of my XSX, which by the way I got via mail order on its day of release since I was so fortunate as to get a preorder in from Microsoft.com that one day that they were available, I think of a system with a fantastic controller and amazing graphical capabilities, but few games that really compel me to play them in the way that Nintendo games do. The Switch is junior-grade compared to the Series in controller build quality and graphics, but in gameplay Nintendo, for me, are the unquesitoned masters of console game design. With that said, though, Diablo IV is a fantastic game. I didn’t play it that maybe as much as 200 hour playtime I mentioned earlier for no reason, I played it because of how good this game is. Diablo IV has some major issues with its story, its overlong boss fights, and some of the seasonal content, and more. The core gameplay is fantastic, though. The controls, action, skill systems, and more are compelling and very well designed.
6. Nintendo 3DS puzzle games, and, since I finished it and really liked the concept, perhaps Link-A-Pix Color in particular. There is a game on 3DS with the same concept as this title, but without capacative touch it’d surely be much worse…
Honorable Mention: This year’s outstanding remasters of Metroid Prime and Star Ocean: The Second Story are absolutely top-tier. Metroid Prime is one of the best games ever made and this remake is extremely impressive.