2023 was a rough year for a lot of people. But even a shitty year like this one can offer up tiny moments of happiness or wonderful trinkets that we can all enjoy for a bit before we go back to doomscrolling on whatever social media service we’re using as the best Twitter replacement.
So as we have done before, let’s highlight some of the best video game-related surprises in 2023. The stuff that makes you smile or laugh, which we all need more than ever in this hellish place we call reality. Here’s our list of cool new games, awesome moments, funny video game mash-ups, and badass trailers.
We kicked off 2023 with the colorful rhythm-action game, Hi-Fi Rush from Tango Gameworks and Bethesda. This came out of nowhere, dropping in January on Game Pass to rave reviews from critics. It’s not the kind of game we’d expect from Tango Gameworks, a studio that mostly puts out creepy, spooky games like Evil Within, but that just made the surprise all the better.
Hi-Fi Rush felt fresh and new when it launched thanks to it dropping without a hint of the typical 12-month marketing campaign and bevy of teaser trailers so many other games dole out today.
But it wasn’t just Hi-Fi Rush that came out of nowhere with a surprise release. We also got a remastered Metroid Prime, meaty God of War DLC, and new Final Fantasy XVI content all out of the blue this year.
Metroid Prime Remastered dropping the same day it was officially revealed (February 8) basically destroyed Nintendo fans for the rest of the day as they counted down the hours until work ended and they could go home and finally play this long-awaited port.
It was also wild to see God Of War: Ragnarok announce new DLC just a few days before it officially dropped via Game Awards trailer. Even wilder was the fact that the DLC ended up being massive, really good, and was free. Seriously, Sony, you could have sold that thing. Regardless, surprises like this are fun because we get to skip the lengthy marketing cycles and jump right into the part we care about: the game.
Alan Wake 2 is a very good game. Probably one of the best to come out of 2023, which is saying something considering all the other amazing games we got this year. So the best part of Alan Wake 2 isn’t just great, it’s on a whole different level compared to most stuff that happened in the last 12 months. And picking the best part is easy: the trippy musical level featuring live-action segments and intense combat.
I vividly remember playing the “Herald of Darkness” musical sequence while my wife watched. At one point she asked, “What’s happening?” I didn’t have an answer and just replied: “No idea, but I love it so much.” And I do. I’m so happy that others fell in love with this musical moment and even more happy that it ended up at The Game Awards, providing one of the few good reasons to watch this year’s terrible show.
You can watch the whole thing on YouTube now via an official upload from Alan Wake 2 developer Remedy, and it’s awesome. But if you get a chance to play Alan Wake 2, do it. Experience this moment in-game in a dark room with headphones on and enjoy one of the coolest moments in any video in 2023.
There’s not much to say here, as we only have a tiny teaser to go on, but even that has me excited. I can take or leave Marvel games. Sometimes they are fun, like Midnight Suns, and other times they are slogs, like The Avengers game.
But Arkane—the studio behind Dishonored, Deathloop, and Prey—making a Blade game set in Paris is a damn near perfect pitch and I’m hyped to see more. It’s also interesting that this will be a third-person adventure, a departure from Arkane’s first-person past. What will that mean? I don’t know, but I’m ready to find out.
I know some people out there are likely tired of Jack Black’s hit song “Peaches” from the massively successful Super Mario Bros Movie. I get it. But I’m not tired of the jaunty little ditty—no, it makes me smile every time I hear it.
Perhaps I just love Jack Black too much, but this short song is easily the best thing to come out of an otherwise bland animated film. Seeing Jack Black dressed up as fancy Bowser in the music video is excellent and also might awaken some things in some folks…hmmm. I also need to shout out his recent remix and extended version, which is also good, too.
Black recently said he was surprised that the song even made it into the film, and I agree. I’d never expect Nintendo to be cool enough to let something like this exist, but they surprised me and the world with “Peaches.” Now I dread the sequel song that will be forced on us and won’t be nearly as good. That’s future Zack’s problem. For now, I’m going to jam out to “Peaches” one more time in 2023.
12 years after the first Grand Theft Auto V trailer was released and a decade after that game launched with massive sales, we finally got our first official look at the next entry in Rockstar’s long-running franchise. Sure, it won’t be out until 2025, and the trailer is pretty dang short and doesn’t reveal much about what the upcoming sequel will be about, but none of that matters—it’s vibey
Instead, it’s just nice after all this time to at last have a name, a date, and some screenshots to look at while we wait. The last few years saw a cottage industry appear on YouTube of people sharing fake leaks, false rumors, and other lies. Now, all that’s over and we move into the next phase of GTA hype: More waiting.
I don’t expect developers to update old games to fix ancient bugs. They don’t have the time, resources, or even sometimes access to go back and patch up older titles. I get it. But when it does happen, it’s a welcome surprise.
For example, in 2023 we saw this happen a few times. Mojang went and fixed a decade-old typo in Minecraft. A similar situation happened with World of Warcraft Classic. Blizzard finally, after 15 years, updated a typo that caused one of the game’s weapons to be more powerful than intended.
But my favorite example of this sort of thing happened in November when Valve patched out a bug that had caused an animation to break for over a decade in Half-Life. This came after a massive update to Valve’s iconic shooter brought it to Steam Deck and added in cut content while tweaking some other parts. Once that big Half-Life 25th anniversary update landed, people—myself included—were disappointed that this well-known animation bug was still in the game’s Blast Pit level. A few days later, perhaps seeing all the comments about the still-borked moment, Valve fixed it. Thanks!
Every year people buy video game consoles at stores like Walmart and Target. That’s not really news. What is news and endlessly funny to me is that in 2023 someone bought a brand new, still-sealed Wii U from a retail store. It’s true!
I like to think some random store employee found the Wii U boxed up in some backroom, brought it out, and placed it on a shelf. And when someone walked in and spotted it they probably did a double take and promptly bought Nintendo’s not-so-successful home console. It’s nice to know that an abandoned (probably lonely) Wii U finally has a home in 2023.
The video game industry’s union push isn’t dead yet. In fact, it seems to be growing. Slowly but surely, more shops across more studios and publishers are organizing for better working conditions. CD Projekt Red and Avalanche Studios both formed unions in Poland and Sweden respectively. Part-time Starfield testers were let into the ZeniMax union at Microsoft. Indie studio Tender Claws was the first group to actually successfully negotiate its first contract, a binding document that codifies things like pay, benefits, and career advancement. And a group of roughly 200 marketing staff, community managers, localizers, and testers at Sega of America formed the industry’s first cross-disciplinary union.
Every labor movement comes with setbacks. Unionized testers at contracting agency Keywords Studios were laid off after BioWare dropped their contract. They recently picketed at the Dragon Age and Mass Effect studio for their old positions back, accusing Keywords of union-busting. And Sega workers filed an unfair labor charge against the Sonic and Persona publisher for threatening to offshore 100 of their jobs over unionizing.
But the silver lining to Microsoft’s now-completed acquisition of Activision Blizzard is that employees there will all have a much easier time unionizing due to the tech giant’s labor neutrality agreement. Whether that means the Call of Duty publisher’s existing QA union at Raven Software will finally get the contract they’ve been negotiating for over a year remains to be seen. – Ethan Gach, senior reporter
Sometimes I just need a silly video and a good laugh. And this year one YouTube account provided me with that consistently: Eli_handle_b.wav. Yes, not the most catchy name out there, but what this user is producing is some of the funniest and best video game mash-ups I’ve ever seen.
I was going to link to a recent one, but right before I started writing up this post Eli_handle went and uploaded another mash-up that combines Dr. Evil and Fallout 4. It’s wonderful.
What I love about these videos is not only how technically flawless they are, but how the creator understands how to make something funny using moments from both the games and live-action material. A great example can be found in that Dr. Evil video when the villain introduces Random Task—a knockoff of Bond’s Oddjob—and it’s revealed to be Preston Garvey aka that NPC that is constantly giving your randomly generated quests. Perfect. No notes. Keep up the good work Eli_handle_b.wav.
You’d expect a new Bethesda game would be the biggest RPG of the year, but nope. Instead, it was Baldur’s Gate 3, which officially launched earlier this year to rave reviews. We’ve written a lot about the game already on the site and you should check out those posts, too.
What I wanted to talk about here is how incredible it was to see a turn-based, PC-focused, Dungeons & Dragons game developed by an independent studio and released via early access explode like the latest Call of Duty or GTA.
Everyone I knew was playing it. Everyone online was sharing screenshots. Everyone was talking about all the people they were digitally fucking in the game.
It was wild to watch and a reminder successful games don’t always need flashy years-long marketing campaigns featuring big stars and Super Bowl ads. Instead, sometimes, you can just make a really good game that people want and you’ll sell millions of copies. And maybe end up inspiring a lot of erotic fan fiction.
Any big 2023 video game surprises we missed? What unexpected developments got you all excited this year?
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