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The best games of 2023 (so far)

The year is off to a flyer, especially if you’re feeling nostalgic

Hi-Fi Rush

If you play a lot of video games then you’ll need no reminding that the beginning of 2022 was one of the strongest starts to a year we’ve ever seen. A packed calendar of bangers culminated in the release of our (and everyone else’s) eventual game of the year winner, Elden Ring, at the end of February, and our thumbs had never been busier. 

It was always going to be a big ask, then, for 2023 to kick off with the same impact. While we definitely haven’t had another generation-defining masterpiece so far this year, we have had some seriously great games. Several of them are pretty much nailed on to still be highlights come the festive season. 

As we’re exactly a quarter of the way through the year, we thought it would be a good time to celebrate the best games that have been keeping us busy so far. And with a new Star Wars game just around the corner, not to mention the long-awaited sequel to a certain beloved Nintendo Switch game starring a tunic-wearing hero, now would be a good time to get this lot played.

Metroid Prime Remastered

It’s the year 2023, and at the time of writing, the best reviewed game of the year on the leading aggregation site, Metacritic, is a remaster of a 2002 GameCube game that Nintendo has done a remarkable job of ignoring for many years. More than 20 years later, Metroid Prime feels as fresh as ever, and if you own a Switch and have never experienced Samus Aran’s first (and comfortably best) 3D outing, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. 

Metroid Prime has always been a bit of a miracle game. When it was first announced, fans feared that Nintendo and developer Retro Studios would struggle to make a first-person 3D Metroid game without losing what made the 2D titles so good. The exploration, the loneliness, the gradual uncovering of a hostile alien planet – would it all give way to another generic shooter? They were wrong to worry, though.

Prime is every bit the classic Metroid experience, dripping with atmosphere and refusing to hold your hand as you explore Tallon IV from behind the legendary bounty hunter’s visor. The game has never looked as good as it does in this stunning Switch remaster, which also updates the original’s now clunky controls for a modern audience. You’ll get lost, a lot, but never has there been a better game to get lost in. 

Resident Evil 4

Metroid Prime isn’t the only early 2000s GameCube classic making a comeback this year. Unlike Samus, though, Resident Evil 4’s star, Leon Kennedy, has never been short of screen time. Since its debut on Nintendo’s beloved purple console, Resi 4 has been released on near enough every platform you can name, and was even faithfully recreated in virtual reality a few years ago. Unlike the PS1-era Resident Evil games, which can be a tough hang these days, the original Resi 4 still feels great to play today, once you’ve adjusted to the camera. Whether it really needed a remake is up for debate. 

But boy are we glad it happened. Resident Evil 4 doesn’t replace the original game, but rather updates and compliments it. We still have the wonderfully rubbish one-liners, the herb-hunting, the inventory management, the roundhouse kicks, the roaming Merchant and the superb pacing, but now it all looks and feels like a modern game. And you can move while you shoot everything that’s trying to kill you, which is nice. 

Hardcore fans will notice what’s been removed as much as what’s been added, and the jury’s out on whether new features such as a parrying system, stealth takedowns and knife degradation improve the experience, but Resident Evil 4 is a stunning example of how to remake a game. It isn’t the genre-defining revolution that the original was, but it still puts most modern blockbusters to shame. 

Hi-Fi Rush

Everything about Hi-Fi Rush is unusual in the best possible way. When the game was announced during a January Xbox livestream, nobody had heard anything about it ahead of the initial reveal. It was a total surprise to everyone, which is a rare thing in video games these days. Imagine the surprise, then, when we learned that the game was not only finished, but ready to download on Game Pass straight away. And once we’d processed all that, we started to think about how this, a cel-shaded rhythm action game that looked like a playable Saturday morning cartoon, was made by the studio best known for The Evil Within, a decidedly less cheerful survival horror game. 

The biggest surprise of all, though, was that this out-of-nowhere oddball of a game is almost certainly one we’ll still be talking about at the end of the year for all the right reasons. In Hi-Fi Rush you play as a wisecracking wannabe rockstar named Chai, a victim of an experiment gone wrong that leaves him with an iPad-like music player for a heart. Determined to take down the shady corporation responsible, Chai (who is actually pretty excited about his new condition) takes on armies of drones and robots, with all the game’s movement, characters and combat synced to the music, a mix of original material and licensed tunes by the likes of The Prodigy and Nine Inch Nails. It’s a wildly creative thing to behold, and arguably the best looking game of its type ever made. 

Some slightly ropey platforming and dialogue that starts to grate by the end hold Hi-Fi Rush back from truly great status, but the rhythm battles are so much fun that we were grinning pretty much throughout. 

Resident Evil Village VR 

The launch of PSVR 2 has been predictably low key. The high cost of entry and very few exclusives have hurt Sony’s next-gen headset, but that’s not to say there’s nothing worth getting excited about. While the all new Horizon Call of the Mountain might have been the obvious system seller in the launch lineup, it’s actually a VR port of an existing game that is currently the best reason to pick up a PSVR 2. 

As a sort of grab bag of Resident Evil history, Village was already one of our favourite games in the series. In VR, it’s nothing short of incredible, not to mention absolutely terrifying. The whole game is playable in virtual reality, and thanks to the upgraded visuals of the new hardware it looks fantastic. Exploring the halls of Castle Dimetrescu with its very large mutant matriarch potentially waiting for you around every corner is both incredibly immersive and horribly intense, especially with those new haptics in play. Guns feel great and all of your items are stored on your body, so you never have to leave the action. 

The usual motion sickness warnings inevitably apply, but if you have stomach (and the courage) this a must-play for any new PSVR 2 owner.

Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack

We’re cheating a bit here, as this one isn’t a game, rather an increasingly excellent selection of them that make the long-winded Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack (finally) well worth considering. The premium tier of Nintendo’s online service (priced at £34.99 a year) now includes both Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games, on top of the NES, SNES and N64 library that Nintendo has been adding to for several years now. 

The Game Boy is obviously a legendary handheld, but it’s the Game Boy Advance that we’ve been spending the most time with, with that system being home to some of the best games ever made. The library is still fairly small, but already we’ve spent hours revisiting the likes of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, the original WarioWare game and Metroid Fusion, all stone-cold classics that absolutely pop on the Switch OLED in particular, and are much more fun to play through when you can save anywhere and (whisper it) rewind your mistakes.

Is a subscription service as good as having the opportunity to actually buy the games you like, something that is no longer possible digitally now Nintendo has closed down the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles? That’s a debate for a different day, and there’s also a very serious conversation to be had about what game preservation is going to look like 10 years from now. But when you factor in other bonuses like access to all of the new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe tracks as they become available and various other DLC for some of the Switch’s most popular games, the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is a great place to explore Nintendo gaming past and present. 

Pizza Tower

Nintendo hasn’t paid its 2D Wario Land spinoff series much love since the days of the Game Boy, so indie developer Tour de Pizza has given us its own deranged tribute, and it’s really, really good. In Pizza Tower, you play as Peppino Spaghetti (yes really), a rotund Italian chef on a mission to save his restaurant by conquering the titular Pizza Tower. 

To control, Peppino is like a cross between Wario – similarly unhinged and unable to be killed by enemies in-game – and (inexplicably) Sonic the Hedgehog, owing to the ridiculous speed he’s able to build up. Your mission is to get to the end of each level, collecting pizza toppings, uncovering secrets and mastering different power-ups along the way. After knocking down a pillar at the end of a stage you then have to go back the way you came and escape within a time limit. These sections are wonderfully chaotic and are very much the game saying: “I hope you’ve been paying attention.”

We’ve somehow got this far without talking about the ‘90s-inspired hand-drawn art style or the amazing soundtrack, both of which help elevate Pizza Tower to one of our absolute favourite games of 2023 so far. We just hope this bonkers 2D platformer makes its way to other platforms eventually. It certainly deserves a bigger audience.  

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

The Final Fantasy series boasts what is arguably the most iconic collection of soundtracks in video game history, so it’s no great surprise that a rhythm game based on the many themes from more than 35 years’ worth of titles is brilliant. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line builds on its 3DS predecessor by packing in 385 tracks from across the entire Final Fantasy series, with over 100 characters to choose from in your party. 

The game is easy to get the hang of at the easy levels, and mind-meltingly difficult to master at the highest difficulty. As with most rhythm games, you time button presses and various stick gestures with symbols moving across the screen, keeping in time with the beat of whatever song is playing to rack up high scores. While this is happening, your chosen party will battle enemies on screen, with their success depending on your own performance. It’s extremely charming, if a little distracting when you’re trying to concentrate. 

If you’re any kind of Final Fantasy fan this is a must-play, but the music is so good that we’d recommend Theatrhythm Final Bar Line to anyone, and with even more songs from Square Enix’s extensive back catalogue being added all the time as DLC, this one could last you all year. 

Dead Space

It’s the year of the remakes, it would appear, and while Dead Space isn’t as old as Resident Evil 4, it’s another survival horror classic that benefits from a visual overhaul and some mechanical tweaks. The story is faithful to the source material, putting you in the space boots of ship systems engineer Isaac Clarke, who along with his crew is sent to investigate the USG Ishimura, which finds itself in a bit of trouble after an alien virus started turning its inhabitants into terrifying Necromorphs. The Alien-inspired Ishimura was already one of the great settings of 2000s gaming, and it’s bigger and better in the 2023 remake, giving returning fans new rooms to explore. 

As for combat, the iconic Plasma Cutter remains the game’s standout weapon, letting you slice off alien limbs rather than focusing on Resi-style headshots, while unlockable abilities for Isaac’s suit allow you to manipulate the world to your advantage. There’s enough new content to make this feel like a worthy remake, and if you’ve never played Dead Space, what awaits you is a superbly paced and often terrifying sci-fi horror classic that has never looked or played better. 

Like a Dragon: Ishin

The Yakuza series is as intimidating as it is critically acclaimed. As the long-running series has gained popularity in the West, Sega has been steadily re-releasing each title, meaning newcomers have a lot of games to choose from. Even more confusing is that the Yakuza name has now been abandoned in favour of Like a Dragon, which started as a turn-based RPG spinoff of the main series. Still with us?

Prequel Yakuza 0 remains the best way to get into the series, but if you’re a history buff, you should really consider Like a Dragon: Ishin, which swaps the 80s crime capers the series is known for for a late 19th century samurai tale inspired by real people from Japanese history. Essentially a remaster of a spin-off originally released on the PS3 in Japan in 2014, Like a Dragon: Ishin definitely shows its age at times, but broadly it’s the same uniquely Yakuza combination of beat ‘em up combat (now featuring swords), lengthy cutscenes and truly bizarre side quests and minigames, but in a fascinating historical setting. 

Again, if you’re totally new to Yakuza we’d still recommend Yakuza 0 first, but Like a Dragon: Ishin stands on its own as a period piece that loses none of the mainline series’ charm.

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