Invalid characterset or character set not supported Games I Played This Year That Kicked Ass: 2023 List

Games I Played This Year That Kicked Ass: 2023 List
December 30, 2023


I've decided to start doing something different with my GIPTYTKA topics: introducing a “best in show” award (yeah, as if this is a dog show for video games) and an “epic” award that's not exactly a “second place,” but highlights a game that I found great that should still receive attention. Going back over the previous years' topics, here's what I've selected:

BIS 2022: Bayonetta 2
Epic 2022: Rise of the Third Power
BIS 2021: Mad Father Remake
Epic 2021: Wild Arms 3
BIS 2020: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Epic 2020: Ara Fell
BIS 2019: Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn
Epic 2019: Phantasy Star IV

This year's Epic and Best in Show will be presented after the list.

The Jury's Out

There are some games that could've found themselves in this blog post officially, but I haven't played enough of them to determine that they solidly “kick ass.” These entries would be:

Elements: Soul of Fire (PC) – A retro-style RPG with a hell of a lot of chatter (in both a good and bad way) and a basic combat system. There's also an alpha build for a sequel that I was able to secure, but I have my doubts regarding whether or not that one will see the light of day.

Adventurer Manager (PC) – A game that tries to make itself seem like a party management sim, but is really just a plain RPG. I feel like it would be more sim-like if you didn't control the party directly and instead built a party to embark on missions while giving them proper training and structure needed to succeed. Whatever, at least it seems like it'll be decent. Maybe.

Final Fantasy VI (old version; PC) – Some call this the worst version of FFVI, but I have yet to see why. Granted, the visual “facelift” it got was unnecessary, but there are few aspects here that scream “awful.”


Once again, I don't care if the images are all different sizes. Deal with it.

1000 Heads Among the Trees (PC)

A first-person horror adventure set in Peruvian town where you play a curious college student researching local ghost stories. Most of the campaign consists of snapping photos of supernatural phenomenon and asking locals about them. However, you slowly become embroiled with the darker forces at work. It's a hell of a first-person horror that starts off looking and feeling kind of cheap, but it ends up being a great, surreal trip by its conclusion.

The Beginner's Guide (PC)

A first-person mockumentary in which developer Davey Wreden (of The Stanley Parable fame) shows the brilliance of his friend, an enigmatic game designer named Coda. This one's not as enjoyable as Stanley, but it's definitely a worthwhile trip. It's a nice palate cleanser to play between lengthy RPGs, frustrating platformers, and tons of scares.


A bizarre meta-game in which you attempt to launch a title that doesn't want to be played. This one follows a similar thread to games like Pony Island or SIMULACRA, in which you assume the role of a player trying to start a cursed video game. It comes with numerous puzzles you figure out by experimenting with various parts of the main menu and settings section, and only a handful of scenes with traditional gameplay (in a first-person perspective). Its ending really sucker punches you, too...

Christmas Massacre (PlayStation 5)

The kind of game that would've been banned decades ago. You play a Santa Claus-obsessed psychopath and go on a murder spree similar to the film “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” It's not a super complex game by any means, but its stages offer a some tricky problem solving that make its slicing and dicing feel a little less thoughtless.

Chrono Trigger (PC via Steam Deck)

Do I need to go into detail about my favorite game of all time? Okay, so this one didn't get a five-star rating like the SNES version, mostly thanks to its occasional crashes. However, it's still a fantastic port, especially after Square Enix listened to consumer complaints and actually did something about it. It's no longer the crude, buggy ported-from-mobile offering we got when it initially launched on Steam.

Creatures of the Deep (Android)

You'll rarely see me put a phone game on these lists, and a fishing game, to boot. This one is engaging and addictive enough to find its way onto the here, owning to its “collectathon” elements and its dialed-back IAPs. You don't feel like you're paying to win most of the time because you can easily earn everything you need without dropping a buck, yet the game still features IAPs in case you want to speed things up a bit. Even then, it's not one of those titles that features a boatload of different options for buying tokens, like one that costs $100.

Doom II (Switch)

I've always loved Doom II, and playing it again on Switch reminded me precisely why it's an all-time classic. It may not be as complex as modern shooters, but its simplicity lends itself to a more frenetic experience where you're not worried about precision aiming and more focused on fighting and surviving, all while also exploring.

The Evil Within (PlayStation 4)

It took me a while to warm up on this spiritual successor to Resident Evil. More than anything, this game reminded me that I was on cruise control when it comes to horror games because I've gotten used to simplicity and never having to worry about a rapidly diminishing inventory. However, Evil really tests your abilities to conserve and survive, and its brain-shattering difficulty rating is exhilarating. Plus, it has one of the best final boss encounters I've ever played, which puts spectacle just inches ahead of challenge, thereby capping off the experience with an unforgettable finale.

Fatum Betula (Switch)

If you had told me years ago that I would include at least two walking simulators on my year-end review topic, I would laugh at you. However, this genre has really stepped up its game after developers realized a bunch of stylized walking and talking isn't going to cut it. This one sees you attempting to vitalize a sacred tree using various liquids, each of which results in an ending that has permanent effects on the world around you. It communicates the point that your actions don't occur in a vacuum, and actually have consequences that may affect other people, sometimes for the worse, whether you want them to or not.

Final Fantasy Legend III (Game Boy)

I first played this game back when I was a teenager, begging my brother to loan me money so I could purchase it from a pawn shop. I never regretted it, then or now. While a lot of SaGa fans consider this one a low point in the series, I like the fact that it's not as demanding as its brethren. It gives you all the benefits of changing your party to different types of beings while committing to its franchise's penchant for weirdness, all without instituting hair-brained concepts like weapon repairs that cost more than simply buying a new weapon of the same type.

Future Unfolding (PC via Steam Deck)

There's art in this one. It doesn't tell you how to play it and you just have to figure it out. Slowly, you being to realize what its objective entails and what you must do. And for a good while, it's a thrilling and beautiful ride. While it remains mostly that, it does grow a tad wearisome after you've completed numerous levels. By the end, you can't help but think the campaign should have been over a long time ago... Still, it's a good indie title and one that anyone interested in artsy adventures should check out.

Grim Dawn (PC)

Titan Quest done better, albeit with a boring story. I enjoyed the campaign itself and the game's deep character building, as well as the miles upon miles of real estate upon which to explore and fight. What's even better is that you get a wide array of builds to choose, and even the most basic ones are fun to pull together. Hell, I made a big, dumb bash-bash-bash kind of guy, and even in that realm there's plenty of options available.

Hylics (PC via Steam Deck)

Hands down the weirdest RPG I've ever played, and allegedly one that inspired Undertale. This one features a lot of surreal content that deconstructs the turn-based RPG genre while remaining true to its core concepts. In short, it's just a good RPG made up to look like a bad RPG disguised as a fever dream.

I live under your house. (PC)

Narrative-focused horror is nothing new, but there aren't many that play from the perspective of a man-eating horror who becomes infatuated with his next meal. This one reverses the roles, putting you in control of the creature while you look out for humans who could thwart your attempts to court the beauty who built a house over your burrow. Also, the tagline came down to what you see in the review and “The age-old tale of boy eats girl.” I figured that sounded a tad on the pornographic side, so I stuck with “Live, Laugh, Lovecraft.”

Idle Apocalypse (Android)

I'm not the biggest fan of mobile or idle games, but Grumpy Rhino has made some fantastic titles that revolve around taking over or destroying the world. This one sees you crafting a villain compound, where you amass resources in an effort to begin an apocalypse. It's a nice little distraction, which is pretty much all I ask for in my freemium junk.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES via Switch)

A replay of one of my favorite games of my teenage years. The ages haven't been entirely kind to it, but it still holds up at least decently well. My main complaint is that some of its bosses are on the cheap side, which only makes you think of how well-built modern Zelda boss encounters play out...

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (Game Boy Color via Switch)

I've played the original Game Boy version of this title a million times. Since the DX edition is available on Switch and I'm on a Zelda kick, I figured it was time to hop into this version. And my, what a lovely game this manages to be after all this time! Despite being technologically (and in some ways mechanically) steps behind its predecessor, it somehow managed to age better. Granted, it's not as grand as today's installments, but it's nonetheless an adventurous treat.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 via Switch)

Yet another Zelda replay, but I'm taking this one slowly. Even today, I'm impressed how well this series made the jump to 3D, because I feared this game would blow hard. Sure, combat feels a bit janky by today's standards, but it's a nearly timeless classic regardless.

LiEat (PC)

Is there RPG in my visual novel or is there visual novel in my RPG? Regardless, the blend is superb, providing a story-based “trilogy” of roleplayers with light horror elements and some imaginative turns and twists, including the notion that dragons are humanoid creatures birthed from eggs that seem to randomly appear for certain people, and that each dragon devours something different. In this game's case, our lady Efina eats lies, which makes her useful in private investigations.

Lily's Well (PC via Steam Deck)

Stylized like an old computer game, this is yet another (freeware) title that takes an apparently cute concept and shows you its nasty underbelly. You play a girl named Lily, who hears a voice coming from the a well outside her bedroom. Though her papa instructed her never to leave the house, Lily feels she must aid who or what is trapped at the bottom. The game sees you collecting different types of strands to craft a makeshift rope in the hopes that you can make it safely to the bottom. There's a lot of trial and error, with “error” spelling bloodcurdling death scenes for the youngster, from breaking her neck on the well's base to being sucked of all her blood and bodily juices by a predatory plant.

MagiCat (Switch)

Yet another Mario-inspired indie platformer with loads of tough segments and lots of content. It's almost overwhelming, in fact. I mean, yeah, most situations involve platforming skill and problem solving, but holy crap, there are so many levels with so many tough and nearly frustrating sections that it's enough to drive you somewhat mad. Still, its challenge and problem solving-based content prove a worthwhile distraction for platformer fans.

Match Collector (Android)

A match-3 game without any IAPs and a balanced difficulty rating that doesn't often put you in positions where you would feel like you need to buy your wins. It's zen-like, the way a match-3 title ought to be. Sure, it's got a lot of easily skipped ads and no way to pay for a “remove ads” function, but at least it doesn't thrust you into levels where you can't win unless you pay for shit tons of extra moves and special tools. Oh, and it's funny at times, with its “host” frequently making goofy and sometimes witty comments on levels and the new pieces you unlock periodically.

Mega Man X (SNES)

It was nice revisiting this gem, where action and platforming come together harmoniously with a soundtrack that absolutely slaps. It doesn't stray from its series' standard of offering eight selectable levels and new weapons used to topple certain bosses more easily, but still provides a fresher take on that formula than the franchise had seen before. Plus, shifting from [attribute][man] robot themes to [attribute][life form] added an extra layer of depth to each foe. Let's face it: Launch Man and Storm Man wouldn't be nearly as cool as Launch Octopus and Storm Eagle. Kinda makes you wonder what they would've done with Top Man and Hard Man in this case? Top Caterpillar? Hard Snake? Wait, scratch that last one...

Mega Man X2 (SNES)

The first game walked so X2 could run. It's bolder, more varied, tougher, more action-packed, and probably the best Mega Man game ever created.

Mega Man X4 (PlayStation)

Everything I said before remains here, albeit with crisper visuals and levels that are broken down in less aggravating ways. I feel like this one isn't as difficult as the previous entries, but somehow that's relief because sometimes you need a break from getting your ass kicked in 2D.

Metro 2033 Redux (PC)

I dragged my feet on playing this one for some reason. Finally getting the Redux edition, I decided it was time to check out what I had been missing all these years. And oh my! This one balances scares with action nicely, but also never puts you in a position where you feel safe. The entire odyssey exists to make you tense, and it never lets up.

Neverending Nightmares (PC via Steam Deck)

A hand-drawn nightmare that consists of equal measures of visceral and cerebral scares. It explores the mind in ways other horror games wish they had, showing us that games can tell stories, scare your pants off, and still be enjoyable to play.

Paratopic (PC)

If ever WTF were turned into a horror game... This one throws you into a bunch of intertwining short stories in a world that feels like a hallucination, where apparently no one is allowed to view VHS tapes, and they're trafficked like drugs. Also, one character is an assassin? Another is a photographer who happens to bump into a weird monster that leaves her impaled on a metal spike? What is happening? I don't know, and I love it!

Pyre (PC via Steam Deck)

There are some questions about high-fantasy worlds we never asked. It's always about politics and history and townships and sometimes food, but no one is ever like, “This kingdom also played a magical ball game in a prison realm, where its players could earn freedom if they won.” Here, you assemble a ragtag group of felons in the hopes of granting them all freedom and sending them back to the empire that forsook them, all so they can eventually band together and overthrow the crooked government. How come Air Bud never went all Final Fantasy VI like this? Missed opportunity...

The Quarry (PC)

I'm not usually into interactive movies, but I am into anything horror. It's no surprise that an interactive horror movie would be right up my alley. However, this one does away with the masked killers and instead opts for a storyline revolving around lycanthropy and late-teenage relations. My only complaint comes from its “you're stuck with your choices” system, which screws you over if you make a mistake. You basically have to play the entire campaign over again if you slip and pick the option you never intended.

Shining Force (Genesis)

I spent decades playing this turn-based strategy game off and on, and only now have I finished it. It took me nearly thirty years to get my shit together enough, but at least now the deed is done, and I feel so much better having that weight off my chest.

Shining in the Darkness (Genesis)

Man, what have I been missing? I didn't get a Genesis as a kid until it was about defunct, so I didn't have the chance to play some of its best RPGs until adulthood. This one is a first-person dungeon explorer similar to games like Swords and Serpents, but much better. It's a bit cartoony, and yet somewhat dark at the same time. It's also a challenging title that rewards exploration and perseverance, hampered only by the usual grind that came with its contemporaries.

Songbringer (PC via Steam Deck)

Indie, procedurally generated Zelda, though not quite as enjoyable. That's part of the “Zelda Curse:” you're always going to be compared to Nintendo's franchise, and most of the time it's not going to be favorable. Unless you're Alundra, of course. Anyway, this one's pixel art is a bit wonky, but it's space travel theme is a welcome change of pace. Its mechanics and action are quite well done, though, and its dungeons are engaging. Also, I kind of like semi-sarcastic tone. It's like the game knows what it is and doesn't go out of its way to be greater than its inspiration.

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Game Boy via Switch)

I remember turning twelve and getting a Game Boy and this game for my birthday. I still find it a thrilling title, although its limitations are more apparent now. All the same, I like the fact that this one is a bite-sized Mario game rather than a fully loaded platformer, allowing its more experienced players to blast through it in an afternoon to sate a quick Nintendo platformer fix.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (Switch)

Consumer of Time. Eater of Weekends. Devourer of Post-Work Relaxation Sessions. One of the best JRPGs to come out in a long time, and one that recaptures the magic of its older siblings while oozing modern sensibilities. I would say that I'm going to jump into 2 and 3 straight away, but I feel like I've gotta pound through X next. We'll see if I get motivated enough to hook my Wii U back up...


The Epic Award this year goes to The Evil Within, a game that makes you think you're constantly doomed to failure because it only gives you just enough ammo to succeed, forcing you to make the most of the least you receive.

Best in Show goes to Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, perhaps one of the best modern JRPGs I've played in recent years.

That's all I got. Go home, now.

Most recent blog posts from Joseph Shaffer...


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