The best video games 2023: games you should be playing right now
Feast your eyes on gaming's finest goodies from the past 12 months
After a series of partly pandemic-related delays to games originally scheduled to launch in 2021, this year has been a bumper one for video game releases, with barely time to appreciate one big title before another arrived to demand our attention – and as well as plenty of AAA bangers, we’ve had some superb indies to play through too. So now that the year is almost done, what better time to reflect on the best video games of the year so far?
After all, chances are at least a few of them will have passed you by, and if you’re lucky enough to have an extended Christmas break or even just a couple of days off, it might be the perfect opportunity to catch up on anything you’ve missed.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Midnight Suns isn’t the XCOM-but-make-it-Marvel mashup we thought we wanted – it’s actually better than that. Developer Firaxis might be best known for its relentlessly tense and punishing tactics games, but Midnight Suns is as much about going fishing with Blade as it is large-scale turn-based battles. When you’re not mastering a clever card-based combat system, you’ll be hanging out with Marvel heroes both mainstream and decidedly left of that at a base called the Abbey, and while not everyone will gel with the superhero bantering, it gives the game real personality.
As we write this we’re still making our way through the meaty campaign, still foraging for mushrooms with Tony Stark to cool down after a tough fight, and like the other card-based Marvel game this year, we can see Midnight Suns holding our attention for a long while yet.
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox, PC
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
While we’re still a bit surprised that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle made it past the boardroom, we’re very happy it did, and even happier that the sequel takes everything that was good about the first game and improves upon it. The biggest and best change to the original is free movement during a turn when you’re in combat, which feels so much more intuitive that it has completely ruined every other turn-based strategy game for us, and whether you’re sniping from distance as Luigi or punching Goombas into the air as Rabbid Mario, every character feels completely distinct.
Do some battles go on a bit too long? Yes. Are the Rabbids still far too weird to be endearing? Also definitely yes. But Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a clear labour of love and still the most user-friendly entry into an often intimidating genre. Incredible music, too.
Games like Elden Ring and Immortality are on this list for elevating their respective genres to new heights. Tinykin was about taking us back, specifically to those 90s collectathon platformers that dominated our after-school gaming time. No game this year had us grinning so consistently, as we explored a house populated only by eccentric talking insects, where scaling a cupboard feels like conquering Everest.
Tinykin is a brilliant platformer with ingenious level design, but it also takes the best part of Nintendo’s Pikmin series and has you assembling small armies of loyal creatures called Tinykin to help you on your mission. With no combat whatsoever, your sole focus is on exploration and collecting everything you can see, making for a refreshingly simple throwback of a game that ends at exactly the right time.
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox, Switch
On paper, everything about a free-to-play mobile card battler featuring Marvel characters sounds far too good to not be a shameless cash grab. But as you can tell by its placement in this list, Marvel Snap really is free for as long as you want it to be, and it’s probably the most moreish game we’ve played this year. While veteran deck builders will hit the ground running with Marvel Snap’s various systems, this a game that anyone can play, deep and layered but built on a few very simple rules. And because every match is decided after just six turns, it’s perfect for mobile.
Marvel Snap is a great card game, but if you’re a Marvel fan it’s a lot more than that. More inspired by comics than the MCU, lifelong fans will have as much fun building up their collection with deep cut characters and upgrading cards with snazzy visual effects as they will actually deploying them in-game. One of the biggest surprises of 2022, this is a game we’ll no doubt be playing well into the new year.
Platforms: iOS, Android, Steam
Return to Monkey Island
Our game libraries were sorely lacking in pirate-themed point-and-clicks until Return to Monkey Island arrived back in September. It’s a return to form for the series, which had been dormant for the best part of a decade. We called it ‘a last hurrah for the golden age of pirate adventures’ in our five star review.
The art style might have been given a shake-up, but with series creator Ron Gilbert back in the director’s chair, and Dominic Armato reprising his role as the voice of Guybrush Threepwood (equal parts swashbuckler and smart mouth), fans of the 90s originals will feel right at home.
For everyone else, the sharp-witted dialogue, craftily clever puzzles and engrossing environments make it a must-play.
Platforms: PS5, Xbox, PC, Mac, Switch
Sam Barlow has carved out his own brilliant little niche in gaming, with a series of video-based narrative adventures (Her Story, Telling Lies and now Immortality) that let each player approach them in their own individual way. Through careful viewing of an archive of clips, some kind of objective story can be pieced together, but in essence everyone is going to experience that story in their own different, subjective way.
Immortality, a horror-tinged story about vanished film star Marissa Marcel, contains enough footage for three full-length movies, plus behind-the-scenes footage and promotional content. Spooling through this footage at different speeds and directions, players can click on on-screen objects or people to be whisked to another scene that contains the same object or person. It’s smart, creepy, thematically rich – and Barlow’s best game to date.
Platforms: Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS, Android
In Obsidian Entertainment’s Pentiment you take on the role of late-medieval artist Andreas Maler, a journeyman working at a German monastery and living in the nearby village. When a grisly murder puts a friend in the authorities’ crosshairs, you take it upon yourself to find the true culprit – but with time ticking away and evidence scarce, can you really be sure that the suspect you’re fingering is a killer or just another innocent bystander?
With the whole story told through text and setting-appropriate hand-drawn artwork and the huge cast of characters feeling fleshed-out and real, you’ll find yourself quickly sucked into this murder mystery, which ends up being a brilliant treatise on the whole concept of history itself. Pentiment is a beautifully written and visually remarkable narrative adventure that may never have been made in a pre-Game Pass world.
Platforms: Xbox, PC
One part Professor Layton, two parts video game adaptation of the Alan Titchmarsh book The Gardener’s Almanac, Strange Horticulture is a detective game set largely behind the counter of a twee English plant shop. You play as the owner, who’s simply trying to make a living flogging geraniums in a town that’s been consumed by a dark and dangerous cult. A charming ride, beautifully animated and at times bonkers – the protagonist quite literally loses their mind if they offer a customer the wrong plant too many times, which is a bit of an overreaction – Strange Horticulture is an indie title that became one of the best puzzle games of 2022.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch
Kirby and the Forgotten Land
This platforming adventure is the first fully 3D outing for Nintendo’s preposterously cute pink puffball, and it’s a total smash. As with all Kirby games, the aim here is to suck up enemies and inherit their abilities, but new to Kirby and the Forgotten Land is Mouthful Mode, which allows our happy hero to inhale objects like cars, vending machines and traffic cones and effectively become them. It’s never less than utterly absurd and often hilarious.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is for the most part a very gentle game that’s perfect for younger players who might struggle with some of Mario’s grand adventures, but trust us when we say that in the latter stages the game dials everything up to 11, culminating in a truly bonkers ending that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Skateboarding games have had a resurgence over the last few years, and OlliOlli World is up there with the very best the genre has to offer. Like the first two games in the series, you trick your way through 2D side-scrolling levels using mostly the analogue sticks to perform increasingly complex tricks. But OlliOlli World is more approachable than its predecessors, adopting a new visual style that makes the whole game look like a Saturday morning cartoon, and not punishing you anywhere near as harshly for sloppy skating.
But make no mistake: World is still a very tricky game to master, and if you want to tick off every objective on your quest to become a Skate Wizard (it’s a whole thing) you’ll need to have seriously fast thumbs. The game feels fantastic to play and has that one-more-go factor that often turns what was supposed to be a quick 10-minute blast into a several-hour session. The game came out nearly two months ago and we still can’t get enough of the thing.
Platforms: Xbox, PS5, PS4, Switch PC
If you have even a passing interest in video games then you’ll have found it impossible to miss the Elden Ring conversation. FromSoftware’s open-world masterpiece is without doubt one of the action-RPG genre’s all-time greats – and nothing less than our Stuff Gadget Award-winning game of the year.
Exploring the treacherous but magnificent Lands Between as a Tarnished of your creation is so much fun that it could be tens of hours before you decide you’re ready to progress the story. And while Elden Ring is still an incredibly punishing game, its non-linear structure makes it far easier to get into than the Dark Souls games that paved the way for it. If you can’t beat a boss, head out for another adventure and come back when you’re more powerful. It’s brilliant, and you should play it.
Platforms: Xbox, PS5, PS4, PC
Gran Turismo 7
The Forza Horizon series is the gold standard of modern racing games, but hardcore car nerds will never turn their backs on Gran Turismo, and the seventh entry (the first on PS5) does not let them down.
While this is still a racer geared towards petrolheads who will happily spend hours customising their virtual rides, Gran Turismo 7 is also very approachable to newcomers. A wide range of assist options are designed to keep you on the road and having a good time, while the game very gently introduces new cars and modes, teaching you a thing or two about car culture along the way with an earnest love of the subject that’s hard not to love. As you’d expect, GT7 is also a great advert for the PS5, with some of the best DualSense features we’ve experienced so far.
Platforms: PS5, PS4
Horizon Forbidden West
If Elden Ring is the anti-traditional open-world game, telling you very little about its world and trusting you to discover its secrets for yourself, then Horizon Forbidden West is an open-world game that does everything you’ve come to expect from the genre, multiplied by 100. Endless looting and crafting, a map bulging with icons and markers, and a protagonist who will quite literally tell you what she needs to do to progress pretty much non-stop throughout. And all of this is absolutely fine.
Playing once again as Aloy, now fully aware of why the post-apocalyptic North America she calls home is populated by furious robot dinosaurs and human tribes that won’t stop fighting each other, Forbidden West gives you a truly stunning open-world playground to explore, and while the sci-fi story gets decidedly dafter as you go, the game is so much fun that you really won’t mind. If Elden Ring is too obtuse for your tastes (again, fine) then head to the Forbidden West instead. You won’t regret it.
Platforms: PS5, PS4
Looks can be deceiving. You’d be forgiven for assuming that Tunic, the long-awaited indie release about a cute-looking fox on an adventure, is going to be a cuddly game that holds your hand along the way, but you couldn’t be more wrong. When the titular (and green tunic-wearing) cub wakes up on a beach at the beginning of this 12-hour game you’re told next to nothing about how it got there or what it needs to do next.
Instead, as you make your way through Tunic‘s mysterious fantasy world you’ll collect pages that gradually form the in-game manual. You won’t be guided towards a weapon, key item or an objective, and the game won’t explain its mechanics and systems in a tutorial. Harking back to adventure games of old with more than a nod towards Zelda, you’re all on your own here, and it’s really quite refreshing. Tunic’s combat is surprisingly tough too, but it’s not the game’s biggest strength, and if you just want to explore there’s a no-damage mode, something frankly every game should have. An old-school gem.
Platforms: Xbox, PC
Pokemon Legends Arceus
Very few game series are as happy in their own skin as Pokemon. The formula doesn’t really change, and there’s something quite comforting about that. But if you are looking for a Pokemon that does things a bit differently, Pokemon Legends Arceus is as bold as they come.
Pokemon Legends Arceus isn’t quite an open-world game, but it feels more open than any Pokemon game before it, and because the game is set in the past when little was known about these strange monsters, the emphasis is on discovery rather than battling bigmouth gym leaders. Ultimately you’re still trying to catch ‘em all, but Arceus gives your more ways of doing so, and if you’re a longtime fan of the series, seeing Pokemon roam the vast landscape and knowing your character is the first to encounter them is pretty exciting. This game feels like a blueprint for a different approach to the enduring RPG series, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.
Not a joke. While its popularity has inevitably waned somewhat, this web-based word game was a global sensation at the beginning of the year and its simplicity was incredibly refreshing. On the off chance you’ve been living peacefully under a rock since January, the aim of Wordle is to correctly guess an existing five-letter word in six tries. If you guess a correct letter in the right place the tile will turn green, if the letter is in the word but it’s in the wrong spot it’s yellow, and if the letter doesn’t feature it’ll appear grey. The word is the same for everyone in the world and changes every 24 hours. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
The game itself is great, but it’s Wordle’s superb share feature, which lets you easily share your result that day with friends and on social media (crucially without revealing the correct word itself), and automatic recording of your personal stats, that really made it blow up. New family rivalries were born, and who wouldn’t want to bask in the glory of beating Richard Osman at a puzzle?
Sniper Elite 5
The Sniper Elite series is not particularly interested in reinventing the wheel. From the first installment way back in 2005, right up to to this year’s Sniper Elite 5, this has been a game about shooting Nazis, up close and especially from afar, with your kills confirmed in stomach-churningly graphic fashion.
But while it isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen before, Sniper Elite 5 is the best game in the series to date. As longtime protagonist Karl Fairburne – a man who is almost charmingly devoid of any personality – you’ll explore huge levels set in 1944 France, with the game happily accommodating both sneaky and loud approaches to mission objectives. With so much freedom, the game often reminded us of Metal Gear Solid V, and that’s the kind of company a mid-budget shooter like this one should be very happy to be keeping.
Rebellion has been honing its sniping gameplay for years now, and Sniper Elite 5’s USP is undoubtedly still the gruesome X-ray killcam that kicks when you pull the trigger on a perfectly aimed shot. But we hope the game is also remembered for its superbly designed World War II sandboxes, as you navigate rolling countryside, picturesque coastal villages and enormous chateaus in pursuit of your next target.
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox, PC
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
The most ambitious Lego game ever is also comfortably the best, and there’s no better interactive love letter to perhaps the most iconic film series of them all than this one.
Spanning all nine mainline films, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is absolutely enormous. Between campaign missions you’re free to explore any of the massive open-world planets you’ve unlocked so far, hunting for unlockables and completing side quests for locals. Every mission can also be replayed with hundreds of characters in the saga, which means you’re more than welcome to inflict an overpowered Jar Jar Binks on the peaceful island of Ahch-To.
At times it can feel like there’s actually too much content, but for us the appeal of Lego Star Wars remains seeing some of the famous scenes in movie history being recreated in Lego, making even the series’ famously low moments worth revisiting. Yes, the gameplay is still very simple, but if you love Star Wars you probably won’t care.
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
A beat ‘em up that recalls long summer days in the arcade, but doesn’t steal all of your pocket money, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a brilliant burst of nostalgia and a ridiculous amount of fun – whether you have love for the Turtles or not.
A brawler that can hang with the best of them, combo-ing your way through the fantastic-looking pixel art environments feels great, and while mastery of your moveset will make the game more satisfying, you can get by by merrily mashing buttons on the lower difficulty settings. Shredder’s Revenge is surprisingly playable in single-player with just the one character, but it’s when you get your mates involved (up to six people can join in) that the game really sings. A retro multiplayer treat.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC
A cyberpunk adventure game in which you play as a ginger cat that wears a backpack: you’re already sold, aren’t you? Oh, and there’s a dedicated button for meowing.
Unsurprisingly, Stray became an internet favourite long before the game was released, and luckily it was worth all the attention. Most of the game sees our four-legged feline protagonist exploring a mysterious dystopian city with a robot you befriend along the way. There are puzzles to solve, some very gentle context-sensitive platforming, and even combat of sorts, but Stray will be remembered as the best cat simulator ever, and a game that rewards you for just being a furry nuisance.
It won’t take you long to play through, but the gorgeous visuals, excellent animation and heartwarming bond that develops between animal and robot combine for one of the year’s easiest recommendations.
Platforms: PS5, PS4, PC
Rogue Legacy 2
Building on the (no pun intended) legacy of its influential predecessor, Rogue Legacy 2 is a roguelite that does pretty much everything right. With a vibrant new visual style, it’s like a playable cartoon, albeit one in which the hero dies every few minutes.
Like the original, each run in Rogue Legacy 2 sees you take a randomly-created character through a series of randomly-generated and increasingly hazardous dungeons and fantastical lands, using your specific combat abilities to conquer enemies. Or at least try to.
When you die, you start again, and are succeeded by your child, who is able to spend the cash you accumulated in your previous run to grow stronger and give themselves a better chance of victory. The game is comically difficult, but the persistent upgrades mean you never feel like it’s wasting your time, and the wildly varying classes the game throws up ensures that every run feels different. Just don’t expect to get very far as a pacifist chef.
It’s typical, really. After getting hold of a Steam Deck earlier this year and dreaming of all the AAA RPGs the powerful handheld PC would now let us play on the move, we found ourselves drawn to a game that could very easily run on a computer from 20 years ago. And Vampire Survivors continues to be our most-played Steam Deck game to date.
Vampire Survivors is a timer-based roguelite, where your only objective is to survive a relentless onslaught of monsters for as long as you can. Gameplay-wise, it’s incredibly simple, as the only thing you control is your character’s movement. Everything in your gradually expanding arsenal of weaponry is deployed automatically, which might sound too easy, but when you see how quickly things escalate on screen you’ll be grateful that you only have one thing to think about.
Like the best games in its genre, Vampire Survivors will always have you itching for one more go, while its basic visual style won’t bother you at all when its chaotic brilliance really starts to reveal itself.
Nintendo Switch Sports
Wii Sports was the definitive Wii game and revolutionised gaming at the time. In 2022, Nintendo Switch Sports was never going to have the same impact, but it sure is fun to play tennis in the living room again.
Like in the Wii Original, every sport included in Nintendo Switch Sports is played using motion controls via the Switch’s Joy-Cons, and after such a long break that feels as fresh now as it did in 2006. Classics like tennis and bowling work just as well as they did back then, but it’s the new additions like badminton and combat sport, Chambara, that have hooked us the most.
It’s a bit light on content and we still don’t understand why we have to wait for golf to be added, but if you have willing guests there are still very few party games that come close to Nintendo’s motion-controlled multisport collection.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
In a summer low on AAA game releases, the third entry in Monolith Soft’s epic JRPG series is exactly the kind of time-sink you might be looking for. That is, as long as you really are willing to put in the work. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 tells an ambitious story packed with big ideas and weighty themes, but even after 30 hours you’ll only really have scratched the surface.
Still, with the best combat in the series to date and a gang of young heroes to form attachments to as you navigate the war-ravaged continent of Aionios, this is another Xenoblade game that rewards your persistence, and despite its grand scope, never stops feeling focused. Whether you’re a series veteran or total newcomer, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a must-play for RPG-loving Nintendo gamers.
God of War: Ragnarok
We might have had some cracking releases this year, but there was still a worry that, owing to pandemic-related delays, gamers would be left out in the cold when it came to big blockbusters this holiday season. Praise Odin then for God of War Ragnarok.
Sony Santa Monica’s soft reboot sequel has been highly anticipated, but with little shown in the run up to release fans almost feared it would be fated to match Horizon Forbidden West and slip to the following year. That it hasn’t done so should be a relief, but better yet it’s made it out the gate without compromise on quality or content.
For those already enamoured by the angriest gaming protagonist’s transformation into a dad with a much deeper and conflicted personality, as well as a radical overhaul to the presentation and gameplay, Ragnarok simply iterates on that. It’s more God of War, while also opening up the wider pantheon of Norse mythology and polishing everything it does to the nth degree.