Video games come and go over the course of the year and it is so easy to forget about them once the credits roll. There are a ton of games that manage to draw you in and hold your attention over the course of the story, whether it be for an hour or 40. While it takes a lot of work to grab and hold a players attention, there is something even more special when the game manages to stay in your mind well after the ending.
The story might have been something so impactful that it has you rethinking your outlook on life or the soundtrack could have captured your heart in ways you never expected. When this happens, these games get cemented in your memory and are hard to forget about and are usually the ones that you recommend to others without any hesitation. So as we get ready to wrap up 2023, I would love to take this time to share the games that have stuck with me over the course of the year. This list is done in no particular order since I believe these are all games that should be experienced at some point in time.
You Will Die Here Tonight
If there is one thing I am a sucker for, it is games that drip with that nostalgic flavor. Nothing makes me happier than booting up a game that brings up memories from when I first started gaming while still giving me new experiences. Horror games have always held a special place in my heart and I have vivid memories of exploring the spencer estate on my DS back when I was younger. While this wasn’t my first time visiting the mansion, it was the first time I was doing it on my own with out any outside help. That feeling of wandering around trying to uncover the mystery that surrounded me while conserving ammo against the undead drew me into the horror genre and its safe to say that You will die here tonight does a fantastic job of recreating that experience.
I played through this game on the Steam deck so most nights ended with me on the recliner with a cozy blanket, some headphones, and the blinds open so the moonlight could spill into the living room as I was tasked with leading the team through a mansion that felt heavily inspired by Resident Evil. I found myself trying to memorize the layout of the mansion so that my backtracking would be as efficient as possible. This recaptured that nostalgic feeling perfectly while giving me a wonderful new way to interact with the monsters found throughout the castle. Not only did I have to conserve ammo but I also had to actually gauge the distance between the zombie and myself before starting combat. Too close and I would start off with no room for error while starting too far away often caused my accuracy to drop. My heart was pounding with each encounter and was definitely one of the highlights for my year.
Wise cracking and unlikeable protagonists often stick out for me when it comes to story heavy games. They either end up being extremely well written or are very dull and flat with no reason to enjoy their company. There has to be more to the character than a few slick jokes in order for this kind of tactic to work and Robotherapy gives us one of my favorite examples of this character type. We follow along a robot therapist named Smokes who is determined that he is the best therapist there is, even though he only has one client. He is brash and comes across as extremely arrogant and unpleasant to others. He often speaks his mind without realizing it and is quick to turn the situation around in order to stay at the center of the attention. On paper, Smokes is a terrible individual and would not be someone I was interested in but over the short time I spent with him, things began to change.
Smokes is a flawed character and it shows in every aspect of his character. After he runs into another therapist, he reluctantly accepts his help in regards to improving his skills as a therapist but presents it as an opportunity. Just prove how much better he is than others. As we help the clients navigate their lives, we get to see Smokes slowly open up about himself and by the end of the game, we see him utilize the same skills he developed over the course of the story to help overcome some of the things in his past he had trouble dealing with. His character growth was something wonderful to experience but there was one moment in the early moments of the game that really stuck with me.
During one of the therapy sessions, Smokes is helping a robot who wants to be a poet. This robot is struggling with the fact that his poetry might suck and he won’t be any good at it. While Smokes does poke at him for this fear, it is something that a lot of people can relate to. The client eventually comes to terms with the fact hat he doesn’t have to be the best poet in order to be successful but instead just has to enjoy what he does. As a content creator and a journalist, this hit me on a personal level and really helped me change my outlook on life. The deep themes found here along with the witty writing makes this an easy recommendation for those looking for a short story with weight behind it.
Beautiful art and a wonderful soundtrack combined with an engaging story about the real horrors of the world makes Decarnation worth picking up. The story is filled with dread and touches on topics that some might find hard to deal with but it is presented in a way that is done respectfully and not utilized as a mechanic to get a rise out of the player.
Gloria is a performer for a night club and we get to see her posing for a sculpture that will be displayed in the museum. It is a risqué piece and she is excited to see it put up as a piece of art but this all changes when she goes to see it during its debut. When she walks into the room that is home to the sculpture, she sees a man groping along the statue and this starts the downward spiral for our main character. After going home and processing this, we soon see her luered into a park and abducted. This is where the story really begins as we see her find away to escape her captor.
Over the course of the journey, we get to see Gloria come out of her shell as she struggles to find a way out. We see her face demons from her past while dealing with some uncomfortable truths. There are mini games that we take part in that represent simple things such as yoga, putting on pants, or dancing while she is performing as a cabaret dancer. Gloria’s story is one of survival and we see this in every scene.
The thing that stuck out for me was the way the story was told through the art and music here. I was captivated by the grotesque art and often found myself reminded of the early Silent Hill games. The soundtrack was quite possibly the strongest point fo me and I was blown away when I found out that the music composer for Silent Hill, Akira Yamaoka, worked on some of the songs for this game. There are a few lyrical songs sung in French that really stood out to me and made their way into my daily playlists as well. This game was a beautiful representation of video games as art and is definitely worth its place as an example of this.
El Paso Elsewhere
This was the biggest surprise for myself on this list. I had not heard much about this game and had no clue what it was exactly about. After watching the first trailer though, I can safely say that it had my attention. Little did I know that this game was going to do more than just grab my attention but instead become my entire personality for quite some time.
James savage is our main character and we are sent on a downward journey full of monsters and bullets in order to stop Draculae, a vampire who has lived through the ages, from opening a portal and potentially destroying our world. Oh and the best part of it all is she is also his ex. Over the course of the story, we are given the run down of their relationship as well as her reasonings for doing all of this. This was one of the best parts of the game for me because James has such a wonderful voice actor and the delivery for every line had me ready for more. Thankfully his voice actor is also the vocalist on some of the songs found throughout the game so my wish was definitely granted. Along with voicing James as well as performing the vocals, Xalavier Nelson JR. is also the developer for El Paso, Elsewhere and does a wonderful job handling James’s character.
With gameplay reminiscent of Max Payne, I found myself glued to the controller as I ducked and dived around each level in an attempt to reach the end. At first I used the bullet time mechanic to make every fight just seem as cool as possible but eventually found myself relying on it in order to tackle some of the tougher enemies with more accuracy. There are monsters that will teleport around the room and this was the perfect tool for hand along them before they got a chance to let off an attack. With a multitude of guns to pick up along the way, James has a ton of options for dispatching enemies and even more painkillers to help get him through the journey.
I was heavily invested in the story hear and when I found out that all the vocal songs were available on streaming services, I immediately put them on loop and never looked back. While some of the songs are more gruesome, such as Human sundae, there are two that really stood out to me. Stay awake and I want Wealth are performed during key moments in the game and do a wonderful job of portraying Jame’s character. I finished the game a little over two months ago and I still listen to the sound track multiple times throughout the day. With a wonderful soundtrack and settler gameplay, This is one of those titles that I think everyone should experience at some point in time.
When I say this game has had a hold on me since its original announcement, I meant it. As a huge fan of Jet Set Radio and Jet Grind Radio Future, I was over the moon when team reptile announced this game. Everything from the vibrant colors and wonderful scenery to the gameplay filled with all kinds of tricks to pull off and challenges to take on, BombRush Cyberfunk goes down as one of my favorite games of both this year as well as all time.
The story here is amazing but that isn’t what has me in its tight grip. The art direction and gameplay are where this game shines and it does it exceptionally well. The characters are all beautifully done and stand out from one another with their own personal tastes. Since you are able to set each character up with either a trick bike, skateboard, Inline skates, or parkour, there is no downside to playing as different characters. Each character has a multitude of color sets that you can unlock as you explore the city of New Amsterdam along with different color sets for the bikes, boards, and skates. Along with these are songs that can be picked up and played on your phone and new graffiti that can be gained by various challenges and finding secret spots.
The music in BombRush Cyberfunk is the most captivating part of the whole journey for myself. There are so many songs that are filled with all kinds of funk and good vibes that it made it hard to set the game down. I played through the entire game with headphones in just so I could experience the soundtrack in all its glory. With songs by 2mello and JSR composer, Hideki Naganuma, I found myself putting songs on repeat and just blasting through the town while trying to find new secrets to uncover. This game has a soundtrack that I highly recommend putting on and letting play when you are out and about. This was the strongest point of the game and I have continued to listen to every song on repeat ever since it was released. The best way for me to explain this is that this is not an album you just listen to but instead one that you experience.
The gameplay is fast and addicting as you perform all kinds of tricks to help build up a multiplier. You will challenge rival games in turf wars as well as evade the police as you mark up the town and fight to be the number one gang in the city. I would often find myself skipping over the story as I tried to find new ways to maneuver the town while building up my score and maxing out combos. The story was interesting enough to keep things moving but the fluid gameplay and phenominal soundtrack are reasons why you should extend your stay in new Amsterdam.
This was a hard list to come up with but overall, I would definitely say that each and every one of these titles are worth checking out at some point in time. There is so much to enjoy from each and everyone of them and I can almost guarantee that you will have an experience that manages to stick with you well after the credits have rolled.
Xavier grew up playing classics like Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, and Silent Hill, so the indie scene has been full of love letters for him.
A perfect day for him includes hours of grinding out levels and exploring creepy hallways in scary games.