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Zoey Handley’s Top 10 Picks of 2023

I do play new games sometimes.

Here’s a number for you: this year, I reviewed 69 games for Destructoid. Nice. It wasn’t intentional, but it almost was. I thought I was at 68, so I was trying to figure out how to fit one more in. But it turns out that OpenCritic is missing one, and poorer for it.

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What are we here for? Right. My favorite games this year, in no particular order.

It is always hard for me to put year-end lists together because I can barely remember what I played last month. That’s it. There’s no “but” to that statement. Okay, roll the, uh… article.

24 Killers Dialogue with poop
Screenshot by Destructoid

24 Killers

While the development team only stayed together for three games, and none of them left Japan, Love-de-Lic’s output is legendary. Starting with Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, they crafted a series of genre-defying games that were bizarre and whimsical. They continue to inspire developers to this day, and 24 Killers is one such result.

24 Killers shares a lot in common with Moon: RPG Remix Adventure in terms of puzzle design and focus, but it tells its own story and a different approach to gameplay. Yet, its greatest success is how closely it emulates Love-de-Lic’s style, which doesn’t seem easy to do. It’s pitch-perfect, hitting all the highs and lows of Moon. That also means it’s not for everyone, but I know it’s for some people. For example, it’s a game that is very much for me.

Slayers X Butthole
Screenshot by Destructoid

Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengance of the Slayer

If I had to pick a single game for my Game of the Year, it would be Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengeance of the Slayer. But I’m not going to do that because that’s lame. Still, this was probably my favorite game of 2023.

It’s not even necessarily the game. Slayers X feels like a mod for Duke Nukem 3D from the ‘90s, and it emulates that perfectly, right down to the amateur-ness of the entire production. Sort of like 2015’s The Beginner’s Guide but less depressing. It is framed as having been constructed by cringy teenager from Hypnospace Outlaw, Zane Lofton. Zane is completely fictional, but despite that, the depth of the indirect character exploration in Slayers X, he feels very much real.

It’s brilliant. It’s completely on the mark. It’s astounding. As someone who – if you can believe this – was once a teenager, I connected with this fully.

El Paso, Elsewhere
Screenshot by Destructoid

El Paso, Elsewhere

Speaking of Hypnospace Outlaw, Xalavier Nelson Jr. worked on that game, and now he’s on this list with El Paso, Elsewhere. In fact, El Paso, Elsewhere and Slayers X have a lot in common in the fact that it’s the storytelling and not the game itself the makes it so effective.

On the surface, El Paso, Elsewhere, is a pretty close clone of Max Payne with lots of slow-motion diving and shooting, only it’s in an abstract environment, and you fight monsters. It’s good, it’s not great. Rather, it’s competent, it’s not compelling.

The narrative, on the other hand, is absorbing. A story about a man having to face his abusive ex, who also happens to be the world’s big evil. Much of it is told through monologues by the main character who presents a very accurate and affecting account of being the victim of abuse. Emotional abuse. He stresses that the big evil monster he dated never lifted a hand to him but still made his life a living hell. It’s a difficult subject, and El Paso, Elsewhere approaches it with effortless empathy.

Screenshot by Destructoid

System Shock

2023 was a great year for remakes and remasters. Some were loving renewals of beloved games, old classics, and even some forgotten asides. Of these, I think System Shock was the most fearless. Stuck in development hell for years, it reportedly changed scope many times, but eventually, Nightdive Studios decided to just do what they do best. They created a loving revisit to the classic, warts and all.

The result is something that will probably be quite alienating to anyone expecting something more akin to the series’ spiritual successor, the Bioshock series. Even if people are here to see an early influence on the immersive sim subgenre, they’re going to get more of an old dungeon crawler. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. It has that old-PC game friction that we don’t really get to feel much anymore, while still looking like a new game. It lacks any real artificial gloss and is, as I put it in my review, “the perfect nexus between narrative and design choices.”

Against the Storm Blightrot and Corruption
Screenshot by Destructoid

Against the Storm

Earlier this year, I was convinced to play Against the Storm because of an update to the Early Access build that added tea and fox people. Little did I know this was a trap and it became one of my most played games this year. This month, it finally hit its 1.0 release, and it is everything it promised it would be.

As its foundation, Against the Storm is one of the tightest survival city builders to come about since, maybe, 2014’s Banished. However, rather than just building a single town to perfection, roguelite elements were added, meaning you need to build settlement after settlement, honing your efficiency and reacting to new challenges and problems. Roguelite can be a dirty word, but I have never seen meta-progression implemented in such a meaningful way.

RoboCop: Rogue City movie advice
Screenshot by Destructoid

RoboCop: Rogue City

It must have been disheartening for developer Teyon to see their upcoming game placed below headlines that, at best, read, “looks pretty rough.” But that’s generally how previews saw it. Then the demo dropped, and it got some buzz. Even then, I wasn’t convinced the full version of RoboCop: Rogue City would deliver the same quality throughout, but somehow it did.

The passion behind RoboCop: Rogue City is so palpable I finally got around to watching RoboCop 2. It’s true to the source material without being overly reverent. The tank-like, overpowered gunplay is a blast to start with but layered over top is an adventure that plays out similarly to Deus Ex: Human Revolution with depth and character. RoboCop: Rogue City isn’t just better than expected; it’s one of the best games this year.

Agh! Geez! No!
Screenshot by Destructoid

World of Horror

While it might be a horror game for a specific niche, World of Horror really connected with me. It presents a tasty buffet of simple horror stories based on the work of Junji Ito with smatterings of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s an effective presentation of a world teetering on the brink of complete destruction, focusing on a single town.

The music sets an oppressively nervous tone as you try to beat out random rolls. Yes, almost everything in World of Horror is based on a percentage-based chance, and the core of the game is merely bracing your character to endure as they’re whittled down throughout the course of your playthrough. Will they last long enough to save the world, or will they succumb to madness or injury? That’s what makes World of Horror so tantalizing.

Draft of Darkness Boss Battle
Screenshot by Destructoid

Draft of Darkness

It was the gritty visuals that drew me into Draft of Darkness, but I wound up staying there for much longer than I anticipated. The roguelite deckbuilder foundation, slow progression, and nebulous plot give it a feeling of creeping dread and despair. Creating new strategies and progressing further into the game is extremely rewarding, while the resource management keeps you scouring through its randomly generated environments.

However, this is an instance where the roguelite elements don’t complement the gameplay. I think the plot and gameplay would be better served in a more bespoke game world. However, I can’t deny that, even as it is, it got me hooked, becoming one of my most played games of the year.

Paranormasight Thick of things
Screenshot by Destructoid

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo wasn’t even on my radar until suddenly it was. Despite already being swamped with review deadlines, I managed to fit this one into my schedule. What I found was an unexpectedly well-executed and stylish visual novel. The narrative is set up in a way that is completely driven by character interaction, and the ones that are offered are some of the best this year.

Its use of an ‘80s version of Sumida, Japan, and its tie-ins with Japanese folklore present an engrossing world. Its approach to the visual novel genre feels liberating, even when the story seems to be framed in a statement about player freedom. Paranormasight is just such a humble game that punches far harder than you’d expect.

Agh! It's a clown!
Screenshot by Destructoid

Tyko’s Dying Together

Suburban Basketball was a pretty memorable experience for me this year. Its garish jank-pop aesthetic, bizarre, unfocused plot, and contempt for the player really captured my attention. The walkedoutneiman’s follow-up, Tyko’s Dying Together, is more of that, but with some appreciable added depth.

Tyko’s Dying Together places you, without context, into an absurd world filled with clowns, animals, and trolls. And while its watermarked textures and eye-shattering UI may suggest an abstract attempt at humor, what it really represents is the hell of social media. Literally, you find yourself in an afterlife where you’re told the most rewarding use of eternity is building your online presence and getting lots of likes. With a smile, it tells you that we’re already in Hell. We’ve built it for ourselves. And we have no choice but to participate.

Here’s to another year

I went back and read my end-of-year list from last year, which was a mistake. The choices are similar, but the list was irreverent, self-deprecating, and, if I can judge myself on such things, kind of funny. What’s amusing is that I recall being in a worse place last year than I am right now. Not that I’m great right now, but I guess a year ago, I felt more like I needed to express my situation through my writing, even when it was a list of stuff I enjoyed.

Or maybe it’s because this year, I had to learn how to report on death, layoffs, and billionaires being assholes. Situations where my defensive sense of humor isn’t appropriate. The switch is there now, and maybe I still have to figure out when it gets turned off, and when it’s safe to turn it back on.

Either way, we did it. We made it through another year. So, let’s all take a deep breath, brace ourselves, and step into the next one.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.