Mischief Maker’s 2023 Top Ten Games

10. System Shock Remake

Fantastic visual design that recreates the crazy abstract wall textures of the original to create a space station that is at once distinct and creepy. The genre of immersive sims really lost their immersion value when System Shock 2 added RPG jank and Bioshock added a morality tracker linked to certain tools. System Shock Remake has none of that and is the most fun I’ve had since Thief 1, despite beating the original version decades ago.

9. Astrea: Six Sided Oracles

Very pretty and very complex deck-builder that replaces the cards and energy systems with a bag of dice that might have negative effects if the wrong side turns up, and replaces HP with a corruption bar that grants power the closer you get to losing a life. This is NOT for beginners to the genre, it’s more complex than Monster Train, but very rewarding once you figure out the various character’s special abilities. Love the aesthetics, too, prettiest deckbuilder since Roguebook!

8. Turbo Overkill

Doom Eternal Clone that takes advantage of its chunky 90s visuals to create some of the most gigantic and spectacular levels since Jedi Knight. One minute you’re air-dashing over the balconies of the Peach Trees apartment block from Dredd, the next minute you’re piloting a flying car past the sea wall from Blade Runner 2049 and opening fire on a cyborg-infested rave with your car’s miniguns. A+ for presentation, B+ for gameplay.

7. Pizza Tower

A greasy, slippery 2D platformer in the style of Warioland where you control a manic pizza chef as he fights to save his struggling pizzeria by running and smashing his way through a magical tower inhabited by sentient pizza toppings. The Earthworm Jim games wish they had this much personality and comedy in their spritework. And it’s very, very speedrunner friendly.

6. Against the Storm

Ambitious City-builder and roguelite hybrid whose main gimmick is keeping the whole session feeling like the exciting earlygame. With the exception of farmland, resource deposits in this game are finite and the player is constantly under pressure to chop their way deeper into the swiss cheese-shaped wood to uncover new glades with fresh resource deposits for the taking. But the most profitable glades are home to serious dangers from malfunctioning machinery to eldritch altars of fish gods that drive your villagers insane. A constant juggling act that never gets stale.

5. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk

It’s an unofficial Jet Set Radio 3, with the original game’s composer/DJ! Imagine a cel-shaded version of Tony Hawk where you have to do your grinds and manuals while crowds of police snipers and robots are trying to take you down, with electrofunk playing in the background.

4. The Last Spell

A videogame of my daydreams made manifest, it’s the bastard lovechild of Final Fantasy Tactics and They Are Billions. Fence off the precious magical altar, build a village around to supply your heroes, supplement them with traps and turrets, then fight the ensuing zombie onslaught with custom built characters in turn-based grid combat. The end of the world darkwave aesthetics are bloody fantastic. Even the unlock metagame manages to be more engaging than its contemporaries, your teams go from literal half-insane murder hobos dressed in rags to the final greatest heroes of a dying age of magic with sprites that include all their equipped items.

3. Sifu

God Hand was one of the most beloved brawlers of the PS2, but in a world full of Dark Souls clones and the occasional Devil May Cry-alike, to my knowledge developer Sloclap was the only one who attempted to copy the gameplay of God Hand; first with the ambitious but fatally flawed Absolver, and now with the more tightly designed Sifu. It’s a pastiche of Kung Fu movie tropes that’ll see you fighting down the hallway from Old Boy one minute, then recreating the Kill Bill barfight scene the next. With the exception of picking custom attacks, all the important gameplay mechanics of God Hand are replicated in loving detail, especially punishment followups after the enemy whiffs.

2. Everspace 2

Sequel to quite possibly the more beautiful roguelite of all time, Everspace 2 is a Descent-style 6-degrees-of-freedom action RPG that has your emancipated clone pilot from the first game trekking across the galaxy to solve an ancient mystery. It’s a best of all worlds, including handcrafted and randomly generated maps to fight and loot your way through, and even forays onto the surface of planets. But more than Borderlands in space, the looting shooting is occasionally punctuated by some very Zelda-esque puzzles.

1. Spellforce: Conquest of Eo

Strategy games that keep the exciting gameplay of the early game from start to finish seem to be a theme of 2023. This game follows in the footsteps of sorta-RPG sorta-4X games like King’s Bounty, Thea, and especially Sorcerer King, but with gameplay mechanics come straight from Age of Wonders 3. You’re trying to refurbish the demolished wizard’s tower of your late master so you can uncover the secret to ultimate power that he nearly accomplished before being assassinated by the wizard’s circle. The bickering wizard’s circle view you warily, but currently not worth their time, so you must placate your independent wizard antagonists as you quietly amass power until you’re strong enough to turn the tables and take them down. Like Against the Storm, most resources come in finite deposits so you’re constantly pressured to keep moving to greener pastures, but fortunately your tower has the power to fly!

Why aren’t Baldur’s Gate 3 or Cyberpunk Phantom Liberty on this list?

Because I don’t like infinity engine RPGs or any of the Witcher trilogy. I don’t really play games for the story, no matter how many gay hookups amongst my party members they try to entice me with.

Most disappointing game of 2023:

Ghostrunner 2

It starts out super strong with Mirror’s Edge-meets-Hotline Miami cyberninja gameplay on the neon-soaked streets of a vertical dystopia. But for some reason halfway through the game they trade the attractive and easy-to-read colorful visuals for grey-and-brown-o-vision wasteland levels populated by grey-and-brown enemies who are nearly impossible to make out against the background while trying to speed through the levels at a breakneck pace. Two major new gameplay systems were added: a motorbike and a wingsuit. The motorbike is awful while the wingsuit is really fun, so of course the whole second half of the game is about creating fresh excuses to ride your bike around empty wasteland, while the wingsuit is barely used in the final level of the game. And no, you can’t bring the wingsuit with you to early levels on new game+

2023 was a banger year for gamerz! Let’s hope 2024 is even better!