2023 has been hailed as one of the best years for game releases by a lot of people at this point. Of course, even in the busiest year, some of us still found the time to make a decent dent in our backlogs, exiting with new favourites of previous years. Without further ado, here are some of the Checkpoint Gaming team’s favourite games that weren’t released in the calendar year of 2023.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (released 2019)
Ever since falling in love with Bloodborne a couple of years ago, I’ve certainly become more of a From Software and Soulslike convert. However, since then, what I’ve always told myself is that I am far from one to be good at or engage with games that heavily require parries. That is until I finally checked out Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and fell in love.
Though Bloodborne remains a personal favourite, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice may be the best game that the studio has ever done. Featuring a samurai story told in an ever-changing world, exploration is unmatched here, as a heavy feature is a grappling hook to reach interesting peaks and valleys, curious ledges and dangerous caves.
Turns out parrying isn’t so bad and is very possible for the patient. Before long, it felt like I was engaging in Souls combat with a rhythm game or DDR spin, tackling some of the coolest boss designs the genre has seen yet. I know stating how much Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice rules isn’t exactly a hot take, but damn it if it isn’t a bloody special title from 2019.
Fear & Hunger (released 2018)
Fear and Hunger follows one of four potential protagonists and they (for one reason or another) find themselves delving ever deeper into the titular dungeons of Fear and Hunger. It’s a cruel place down there, and much of the buzz around the game this year originates from how cleverly the game’s developer Miro Haverinen makes this cruelty apparent through game mechanics.
Combat takes place in what seems to be a standard turn-based RPG fashion, but most enemies have multiple limbs that can be focused and removed in order to weaken them, often opening an opportunity for a killing blow. Unfortunately for you, the player character can also (and often will!) lose limbs in a battle, making the rest of your run nearly impossible if you manage to lose too many. The part often cited as the most unfair element in Fear and Hunger is the coin flip mechanic where many actions in the game come down to a 50/50 chance. Yes, it is brutal, but Fear and Hunger has much more going for it than that.
The dungeons in the game are visceral both visually and audibly, it has a very distinctive art style and every screen oozes with wet and disgusting charm. The music is also utterly haunting and very well written, it captures the world so effortlessly and can be incredibly unsettling to listen to in some parts. The characters only make the atmosphere stronger, which makes it even worse when you have to make the difficult decision to saw one of their legs off.
Before giving Fear and Hunger my tacit recommendation, I highly advise looking for a content warning list online before deciding if you want to engage with it or try out one of the plethora of video essays available online. If you are comfortable and safe doing so, please give this extremely interesting game the attention it deserves!
Hitman Assassination Trilogy (released 2021)
I’ve always loved stealth actions games, but for whatever reason the newest incarnations of the Hitman series never really clicked with me – until this year. I bought Hitman 3 and the DLC that lets you play all the levels from Hitman 1 and 2 as well, and oh boy, it clicked. I had been playing them wrong – I was going in expecting a Splinter Cell game, but the Assassination Trilogy is a wholly unique experience. Each mission is a puzzle box, with carefully crafted solutions for you to find – or, if you’d rather, you can yeet soda cans into people’s faces and knock them out.
The levels for this trilogy are truly outstanding. It’s inspired, crammed full of detail, and the mission design takes you through so many different experiences that I couldn’t believe they fit into the same game. In one mission you’re solving a Knives Out-style murder mystery, in the next you’re sneaking through a nightclub, in the next you’re posing as a real estate agent and tricking people into entering trap-laden rooms that will be their demise. It filled me with a sense of childish wonder as I looked for the next fun thing, and few games are able to capture that feeling like Hitman does.
Entering a level is like being dropped into a prop comedy sandbox – the game is constantly handing you things and saying “go on, doesn’t that look fun?”. It’s ridiculous, joyous, and surprisingly cohesive. The obviously violent content is treated with a kind of flippancy that doesn’t make it feel particularly serious. Add to that the fantastic voice performances, slick design, and modes that IO Interactive has added since launch (including this year’s Freelancer mode), and you get the icing on the cake of a truly fantastic game. I’ll leave you to prepare, 47.
Coffee Talk (released 2020)
I got the amazing chance to review Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, however, I never played Coffee Talk 1 before. So what a perfect opportunity to play the visual novel, and boy I’m so glad I did because this game is wonderful. You play as a barista of a late-night coffee shop in a world where fantasy creatures exist. You make beverages for customers as well as listen to all their problems. It’s one part visual novel and one part puzzle. Each character you meet gives you a few keywords for what kind of drink they want. A lot of the time this will be trial and error, but eventually, you get the jist of it.
The thing that really makes Coffee Talk one of my favourites after playing this year is just the characters themselves. There’s a wide variety of personalities, from a brooding vampire to a naïve alien. Each character has their own arc that you can help through your choices. And while it’s set in a fantasy world, ultimately, the issues each character has are relatable one way or another. I believe that is what can turn a good game into a great one.
The game’s music also slaps. Sometimes I’ll listen to the OST on YouTube while I write just because of how good it is. Not only that, but the sound design of the game is brilliant. It makes you feel like you’re actually in a coffee shop late at night, working on a manuscript. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of Mohammad Fahmi, the creator of Coffee Talk. This game is special, and has left such an impact on myself and many others. Coffee Talk is so heartwarming, so cosy. If you’re a fan of the book Legends & Lattes, Coffee Talk will be your next obsession.
Timespinner (released 2018)
Sometimes you just want a fun little indie Metroidvania platformer to while away the hours. With the announcement of an in-development sequel earlier this year, I felt compelled to return to the original Timespinner on the Switch, and it really still holds up exceptionally. The surprisingly complex plot and setting drew me in, as did the time travel mechanics which see you jump between different eras completing quests, and utilising time manipulation powers to free enemies in place and solve puzzles.
The retro-style pixel art is fluid, highly-detailed and colourful, with environments that are a joy to explore and backtrack through. While it isn’t as long as some other similar games, even if you go out of your way to unlock all the endings, it’s still a joy of a time while it lasts. Mixing and matching combat orb powers and equipment sets gave the combat a great deal of flexibility, which made adapting to new enemy types a fun experience. Revisiting Timespinner has definitely made me more excited for Lunar Ray Games’ upcoming sequel. Fans of games like the recently released Blasphemous 2 who are looking for something that plays similarly but is lighter on the gore and nightmarish Catholic imagery, you will have as good a time with Timespinner as I did.
DreamWeb (released 1994)
A point-and-click cyberpunk top-down adventure game featuring mature themes and a dark plot… what more could you want? From the moment the game booted up, the brooding soundtrack kicked in, the credits pulsing like it was the intro to a movie and setting the scene. I was sold.
We play a character named Ryan. He has a dream where he is asked by the master monk of the ‘Keepers’ (of the Dreamweb) to be the deliverer and kill the Seven Evils (targets to be taken out Hitman-style) who are working together to break the Dreamweb and send humanity into chaos. The puzzles are logical, but you will need a walkthrough for your first play. Otherwise, all the stuff that came in the box in 1994 (including ‘Diary of a (mad) Man’) to help you along would now need to be found online.
For me, this is up there with some of the best-written and executed games I have ever played in the genre and one that I come back to now and again. It’s only a few hours long if you know what you are doing, plus it’s free these days!
Marvel’s Midnight Suns (released 2022)
Okay, I get it, this isn’t exactly a deep cut considering it only came out in December of 2022. Hell, it’s practically a 2023 release at that point. But, despite it coming in hot around the Holiday period and therefore being ineligible for the Award season, Marvel’s Midnight Suns bloody well slaps, and deserves far more recognition than it received. Because of its late release (and a strangely busy start to the gaming year), I didn’t get around to knocking it off my list until around April this year, but I’m so glad I did.
Created by masters of turn-based tactics, Firaxis Games of XCOM fame, this superhero tactics relationship-building mashup showed a different side to the Marvel universe, featuring a variety of loved superheroes taking on all sorts of iconic baddies in super-intense battles that remain fast-paced and fun throughout the whole adventure. And what do they do when they aren’t fighting evil? Well, giving each other gifts and having deep conversations, of course.
What makes Marvel’s Midnight Suns so campy and addictive is not just the delicious combat, but the way you interact with characters back at your home base, getting to know them and forming friendships. It’s not quite romance (so no, you’re not going to be banging Captain America anytime soon), but making besties with loved Marvel superstars from history like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Blade, Captain Marvel and more, joining book clubs, repairing cars and even having a cheeky speedo-covered dip in a hot spring makes sure that the game is not simply tactical. It’s personal.
So there you have it, a list of some of our favourite games of not this year. What would you add to the list?!