If you’re a 40K fan or just looking for a combat-heavy RPG outside of the normal fantasy fare, Rogue Trader will make a welcome addition to your library. It dives deeper into the setting and lore than any other video game to date, showing that it’s clearly a game by fans, for fans. Owlcat gave us multiple Pathfinder RPGs - hopefully, we’ll see more adventures in the Koronus Expanse in the future as well.
And yet, as you struggle through the game's often abstruse systems, there is something rewarding in it all. More clarity both over where to go next and what the game itself is built upon would be welcome, but what is here is worthwhile and, for those with a greater tolerance for getting lost over and over or finding the right way and being unable to progress because the search has tired you out to much, A Highland Song holds some promise. After everything, the view is just about worth the climb.
All in all, Steamworld Build is a great addition to the series, providing a unique but refined take on the city builder genre. Anyone looking for a more complicated, hardcore experience might find it a touch underwhelming, at least until the game really starts to find its feet. Even so, its forgiving nature and slow but consistent feed of gameplay mechanics make it especially appealing to more casual players or folks new to the genre.
Even if it were left as it is, Bluey: The Videogame is a step above every other game built with children playing their very first video game that I’ve played with my son to date. The Peppa Pig games are great, the Paw Patrol ones are okay, but much like when you compare the shows, what Bluey has to offer on the video game front is comfortably superior. The show is for adults and kids alike, but the short runtime and minor bugs mean the game is far more catered to the little ones - but as one of the best of its kind, it’s pretty wackadoo.
Fashion Dreamer was never going to be a Game of the Year candidate, however it did have the tools to be a favourite game for many. On a purely technical level it runs smoothly (as smoothly as games ever do on Switch), but with its aimless story, lack of depth, oddly colourless world, and misguided focus on influencer culture means it finds itself as one of 2023's worst dressed instead.
Persona 5 Tactica is undone by the fact it's unsure if it's putting the Persona twist on the tactical grid game, or using Persona characters to introduce newcomers to the genre. Maps and missions are repetitive, the more interesting elements that each Persona brings are sanded off, and there's an overreliance on basic gun and melee attacks that don't suit the Phantom Thieves at all. But when it clicks, there is an unmistakable charm about the Phantom Thieves themselves, and drawn-out though they may be, the epic scale of the bosses is a good shake-up for the genre. It's not the perfect goodbye of Strikers, but it is a sign that the sun should set on the Phantom Thieves in peace.
KarmaZoo’s creativity and ingenuity make it incredibly appealing, especially when layered with its humorous character and charm. However, whether you can stick it out for the long haul to enjoy the game at its fullest is another matter entirely. There is plenty to love and I’d recommend it for any social night, but I don’t think we would ever stick with it long enough to unlock even half the avatars.
WarioWare: Move It! is a complicated game to talk about, because at its heart the whole thing is so deceptively simple. You follow simple instructions presented on screen to stay alive and complete bizarre tasks, all of which are framed by adorable characters and fun stories which aren’t important, but remain stylish and lovable enough to ensure this cute package feels complete, despite its short campaign length and a reliance on local multiplayer to draw the most fun out of it. Nintendo has repeatedly said this is a full successor to Smooth Moves on the Wii, and I’d be lying if it doesn’t capture the same joy that comes from waggling WiiMotes around in my living room as a kid.
Without spoiling things, Star Ocean eventually devolves into schlocky cliché territory, but by that point, you’re firmly on board, ticket purchased and ready to see its journey through to the end. Star Ocean: The Second Story got the remake treatment for a reason - it’s a classic of the genre with compelling characters, wonderful storytelling, and oodles of satisfying mechanics. R goes to great lengths to streamline the Star Ocean experience and make it more beautiful (the new arranged soundtrack is glorious), and while it might have sustained a bit of the difficulty that made the original a triumph to overcome, it still squarely sticks the landing.
This is a competent survival game, adding nothing to a formula long since perfected by games like Subnautica, games that it falls far short of. It relies on the pull of Tolkien to keep players pushing through, otherwise it would be all too easy to give up on your mission and do something else, anything but mining. There are moments of magic, like when your team of dwarves begin to sing, deep harmonies echoing off the cavernous walls. But these moments are too few and far between, and the lore can only take you so far. As a space to hang out with fantasy-minded friends, Return to Moria is a nice jaunt. I just wish there was something more to do than swing this damn pickaxe at another damn wall.
Even if Rogue City had started to rust a little towards the end of its lengthy campaign, its surprisingly in-depth shooting and roleplaying mechanics, love of the source material, and keen understanding of what makes RoboCop so great in the first place has made it one of the biggest surprises of 2023 for me. In a year full of absolute bangers, make sure you spend some time in Detroit.
Despite its uninteresting story and occasional jankiness, Ghostrunner 2 still manages to be a great successor by understanding why the first game was such a success, sharpening nearly every mechanic, and building upon them with the addition of the bike and wingsuit. It might not be the most innovative sequel in the world, but considering how great the original Ghostrunner already was, that’s no bad thing.
The endgame hides a few new stages and some cool minigames, but you are more or less dropped onto the map and asked to scour the place for everything you missed. I’m excited about playing with friends and family to snoop out the remaining paths that alluded me, and it feels like a game of this ilk would really come alive as four friends are causing maximum chaos together. Alone, its whimsical spark is sadly only surface level, fading away much as the petals on a Wonder Flower wilt under Bowser’s influence. The magic is there, and very tangible in all the right places, Nintendo just needs to take a look at the foundations and reinvent them alongside this luscious new aesthetic. Do so, and we’d have a masterpiece.
I have a love/hate relationship with Endless Dungeon. When it’s good, it feels excellent. The early-game progression is incredibly satisfying, filling out quest logs and completing pages of upgrades is rewarding, and it looks and sounds sublime. On the other hand, the lengthy runs take a toll, and once you get into the late game, the rate of progression doesn’t cut it anymore. Suddenly, the time invested doesn’t match up with the strength of the upgrades you can acquire, and the game feels very much like a Sisyphean task as originally intended, a punishment.
Spider-Man 2 feels like it’s right in the centre of Sony’s blockbuster sequel design philosophy. Where Horizon Forbidden West did the same thing but bigger, The Last of Us Part 2 elevated itself technologically, narratively, and most importantly, ambitiously. Spider-Man 2 falls between these approaches - it has some of Horizon’s safety, but with a slice of the elevation The Last of Us brought. Spider-Man 2 is the future of polished, competent, elevated sequels, and brings with it so many technical flourishes and a perfect execution of the formula that it stands in a class of its own. Like Miles’ own motto, Spider-Man 2 can be itself, and be greater.
Sonic Superstars isn’t holding back the series after the positive reception to Frontiers. It’s more than enough to keep it trucking along. Sega is sensible to be cautious about shedding too much of Sonic’s retro identity, but it needs to realise that none of us have hung around this long for Knuckles’ terrible recovery speed, or the strange instances where a single hit reduces our ring count to zero. Sonic Superstars brings us so agonisingly close to the definitive 2D Sonic game, but for now, it’s a good foundation to build on.
Overall, despite its shortcomings with performance and AI pathing, Total War: Pharaoh has been one of the most enjoyable Total War games I’ve played for quite some time. Its refined focus on a smaller period of history has allowed for experimentation elsewhere, with dynamic weather and terrain, resource generation on the campaign map, and a wave-based invasion system with the Sea Peoples that constantly keeps you guessing. I hope that some of these mechanics can be taken and expanded on for future, main series releases for Total War.