Keep your expectations in check for Welcome to ParadiZe, and there’s some fun to be had here. It’s marred with some technical issues and the odd bug but ultimately, exploring its world with your pet zombies in tow is, against the odds, entertaining enough to keep us playing — especially if you’ve got a co-op buddy along for the ride.
It’s true there’s not much to Minami Lane, but this is a fine example of wholesome gaming: simple, engaging and wonderfully relaxing. The fact it’s been made by such a small team makes it all the better. Don’t come here expecting an in-depth city building experience, but if a few hours of cosiness appeals, we’re pretty sure you’ll have a fine old time.
If you fondly remember Mario vs Donkey Kong from its Game Boy Advance iteration, we’ve no doubt you’ll get a kick out of seeing it with a gorgeous, fresh coat of paint. You still will if you’re a newcomer: it’s a treat for the eyes, but it’s also a fun little puzzle game to pick up for 10, 20 minutes at a time. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but those mini Marios are sure to put a smile on your face for a little while.
No two games of Balatro are ever the same, which is only one of the reasons why we love this poker roguelike so much. Sure, it’s annoying if your run doesn’t get off the ground — it’s easy to fail early on if you can’t get your hands on a good Joker. But when you’re in the swing of things, scoring tens of thousands with just one hand, you’ll feel like the most powerful card baron there ever was. Simple and devious, Balatro is, quite frankly, brilliant — and I’m going to be playing this for months to come.
Those niggles aside though, we can’t deny that Islands of Insight is one of the best puzzle games we’ve ever played. The sheer amount of puzzles on offer here is incredible, without ever being overwhelming. There’s a solid sense of progression, with goals to work towards – but you’re also free to explore however you wish, tackling the puzzles that interest you and, for the most part, ignoring the ones you don’t enjoy as much. It’s already great but with a few updates over time, Islands of Insight could really be something special.
CLeM isn’t a very long game: you’ll finish it in around three hours, much less if you know what you’re doing with all the puzzles. Short but sinisterly sweet, then, it’s just the right length to fit in a good amount of puzzles without overstaying its welcome. If you’re a fan of Mango Protocol’s other games – or indeed anything with a slightly dark undertone – you’ll love this.
Our only real reservation about Boxes: Lost Fragments is how close it is to The Room. But should we really chastise it for taking heavy inspiration from a classic puzzle game? Whatever the answer, we can’t deny that this is a beautiful, clever puzzle game that’s provided us with a few hours of engaging gameplay. The puzzles here are excellent, and it’s a visual treat.
If you enjoy seeking and finding, you’ll get a big kick out of playing Hidden Through Time 2: Myths and Magic. With more than 30 beautifully designed environments, there’s plenty to keep you searching – and when you’ve had enough, you can try your hand at making your own levels. Sure, it’s not going to be for everyone, but if hunting out objects is your jam, there are several hours of fun to be had here.
Short but entertaining, there’s a lot to like with The Cub. Its post-apocalyptic world is fascinating, and getting to collect numerous artefacts gives good reason to poke around off the beaten path when you’re given the opportunity. The platforming here is fun and varied, mixing up fast-paced running-and-jumping with more measured stealth sections. Sure, there’s the odd frustration – but that comes with the territory of 2D platforming. This is a fun way to spend a few hours – particularly if you enjoyed the atmosphere of Golf Club Nostalgia.
A marked improvement over the already-beloved House Flipper, House Flipper 2 allows you to get more immersed in the relaxing thrill of house renovations than ever before. Some quality of life changes take previous frustrations away, streamlining processes and allowing players to focus on what’s important. That, coupled with a face lift that makes House Flipper 2 look absolutely gorgeous, makes this a must-play for any sim fan. If only cleaning and renovating my real-life house was so enjoyable.
Whether you’re having a gathering with your friends over the holidays or arranging an online games night, make sure Make Way is top of your playlist. This wonderful little game turns a very simple idea into a moreish, devilish and absolutely riotous multiplayer experience that will keep you coming back for more. It’s just a shame that not everything is unlocked at the outset so we can go full-on carnage right away – but we can’t have everything.
It’s simple: if you enjoyed Dredge, you’ll enjoy The Pale Reach. While this DLC doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it offers a solid reason to return to one of this year’s best indie games. It’s a fairly small expansion, but for a budget price you’re getting new mysteries to unravel, new fish to catch and a new area to explore – what more could you want?
The farming/life sim space is bursting, and with many games offering a similar premise it’s hard for anything to truly stand out. Indeed, on paper Coral Island sounds very much like any other. But in practice, it’s one of the most satisfying games in the space and one I know I’ll be going back to for months to come. It looks fantastic, it offers a robust mission system coupled with endless player freedom and has some genuinely unique ideas to boot. What more could you want?
If your child is a Bluey fan, they are going to absolutely adore Bluey: The Videogame – it’s as simple as that. An art style that matches the cartoon and the use of original voice actors make this an authentic experience, with simple and well-considered gameplay that’s enjoyable for players of any age. Yes, this is an experience aimed at the youngest players – but even as adults, we’ve had some fun with this. It’s a game you’re going to be more than happy to play with your kids, let’s put it that way.
Cute, joyous and packing in an important message to boot, I adore Loddlenaut. This is the epitome of relaxing, stress-free gaming, with the only thing you need to worry about being keeping your oxygen topped up. Cleaning up the oceans is fulfilling in a way that few video games are – and getting to interact with the adorable loddles is simply a bonus you’re going to want to keep coming back for.
Taking six to eight hours to complete, I’ve blasted through American Arcadia in just two sittings, being utterly gripped the whole time. The side-scrolling platforming and first-person puzzle gameplay blend together seamlessly, with the story here being king. Despite a few small presentation issues that need ironing out, the gameplay here is flawless – and jumping from Angela’s first-person viewpoint to being in control of a side-scrolling Trevor via her computer monitor is nothing short of genius. If you enjoy adventure and puzzles, and like the sound of a story that’s reminiscent of The Truman Show, this is a game not to be missed.
If you enjoy the likes of Stardew Valley, you’ll get a kick out of Spirittea. There’s serious joy to be found in seeing your bathhouse improve over time, but that’s only part of the fun to be found here. Simply existing in Spirittea’s unique little world is wonderful, making friends with its colourful residents – and enjoying a spot of karaoke. It’s a unique take on the genre, for sure, and if you’re not too spooked out by spirits, Spirittea is absolutely worth soaking up.
There isn’t anything else quite like Super Crazy Rhythm Castle. Unique and innovative, this zany adventure through music and puzzling is undoubtedly one of the best co-op games in 2023. Sure, you can play it by yourself, but you’re going to have more fun when you’re battling it out with friends. Do yourself a favour and make sure this is on your playlist when you have friends over this holiday season: you absolutely will not regret it.
Creating outfits is hugely entertaining. If you’re the type of person who spends far too long in a game’s character creator screen, you’re going to have a whale of a time piecing together outfits in Fashion Dreamer, making everyone look their absolute best. But that’s about all there is to do here. Sure, showing off your own designs in your showroom can be entertaining, especially if you’re playing online. But a serious lack of substance and any semblance of challenge really lets the experience down. Playing dress-up is a fun and relaxing way to pass the time, but if you’re expecting anything more, you’re going to be disappointed.
A short but focused and utterly compelling experience, This Bed We Made is a mystery that we simply couldn’t pull ourselves away from. As wrong as it feels to be in Sophie’s shoes, snooping into things that didn’t concern us, it didn’t take long for us to be utterly engrossed in the mystery that unfolds. This is a detective game done right, with engaging puzzles and the perfect balance of player autonomy and guidance when you need it. The team at Lowbirth Games has revealed itself to be an incredibly talented bunch of people, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.