6 Criminally Overlooked 2023 Games You Need to Play
Diamonds in the rough.
It feels like 2023 has seen a nonstop torrent of fantastic video games with each step of the year bringing massive hits like Resident Evil 4, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Alan Wake 2. Fans of every genre have been inundated with things to play, but with a steady stream of releases, a few things will inevitably fall through the cracks. This year has also provided dozens of smaller titles with unique vibrant styles and unique ideas, from both the indie and AAA sides of the industry. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of six hidden gems from 2023 that you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo
Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is a fourth-wall-breaking horror visual novel from Square Enix and possibly the most criminally overlooked game of the entire year. Set in 1980s Tokyo, Paranormasight follows multiple protagonists through a twisty tale about curses that have infested the city. All of the curses in the game are based on real-life urban legends from Sumida, Tokyo.
The game’s unique approach requires players to bounce between storylines, using details and context clues from one story to piece things together in another. Paranormasight makes fantastic use of its striking art style, which accentuates light and darkness and makes characters pop with exaggerated animations. More than anything, though, it’s the narrative at the heart of the game that makes it special.
Paranormasight is a gripping horror tale that constantly keeps you guessing and isn’t afraid to pull the rug out from under you. It’s an experience that has more than a few tricks up its sleeve to subvert players’ expectations, and it’s a brilliant use of the visual novel genre.
Exoprimal is a refreshing shot in the arm from Capcom and a game that bucks nearly all of the trends that have come to dominate multiplayer titles these days. Its unique take on a team shooter has two teams compete to eliminate hordes of crazed dinosaurs. And while that sounds wild enough on paper, it’s even more absurd in execution.
Exoprimal has a surprisingly detailed story buried underneath its multiplayer madness, one that’s well thought-out and consistently interesting. The way story progression is intrinsically tied to your character and match progression is even more impressive. As you go through various rounds of matchmaking, you’ll piece together the story, eventually leading to massive story raids where two teams combine to take on thousands of dinosaurs and tough bosses.
These raid moments are where Exoprimal shines, and its tightly designed classes and combat make the battles a blast. Capcom had a clear vision, and the game’s willingness to get experimental and try something new is what makes it special.
The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails
Trails can be an intimidating series to get into due to the massive time investment needed to get through all of the interconnected games. The Legend of Nayuta is a remedy to that serving as a colorful and charming action game that bears the Trails name but is entirely separate from the rest of the series. Nayuta isn’t as long or as in-depth as other Trails games, but it still sports a fantastic cast of characters that help push its breezy story along.
Nayuta is an action RPG that focuses on short stages but has an incredibly unique season-changing mechanic that can open up new areas for exploration or hugely alter a stage. Much like Falcom’s Ys series, combat in Nayuta is fast and fluid with boss encounters standing out as the real highlights of the game. Boss battles are dynamic and exciting with each one feeling like a massive moment in the story.
Clocking in at roughly 20 hours, Nayuta isn’t a massive undertaking. And that light runtime works in the game’s favor. It’s the perfect bite-sized RPG that never overstays its welcome.
The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog
The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog feels like an April Fool’s joke because it is. Released on April 1, this free murder mystery game is easy to overlook as nothing more than a gag, but there’s a fascinating experience to play through held up by superb writing. Playing as a new character to the franchise, your role is to keep the Sonic crew happy while they play through a murder mystery game Amy Rose wanted for her birthday. You’ll investigate crime scenes, gather evidence, and talk to a slew of characters from across the series.
Despite the meme-y appearance, the game is anything but. There’s a fun story in The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog that smartly uses so much of the long-running series history and includes gorgeous art and a phenomenal soundtrack to boot. Additionally, the question of whether or not Sonic is alive is a core piece of the story, something the game hangs over players’ heads like a carrot, pushing them to the end. The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog is nothing short of brilliance, even more so for a free game.
El Paso, Elsewhere
El Paso, Elsewhere is a supernatural neo-noir shooter heavily inspired by Max Payne that casts you as pill-addicted vampire hunter James Savage. It’s a game that isn’t afraid to embrace its inspirations but also wisely knows it needs to break off and do its own thing.
At the heart of El Paso, Elsewhere is a gripping story about love, abuse, and most importantly, recovery. The opening hours emulate much of the gruff and grimy Max Payne aesthetic, but the further you get, the more El Paso starts to reveal its uniqueness.
That strong narrative is then bolstered by equally strong gameplay, with punchy shooting that feels fluid and visceral. El Paso takes you through a reality-bending hotel infested with monsters, and each floor functions as a self-contained level. The further you advance, the more the hotel starts to warp, and the monsters you face morph along with it.
El Paso, Elsewhere is truly an example of each part of a game adding up to a larger whole, from the vibrant original rap soundtrack to the complex relationship at the game’s core. It’s truly one of the can’t-miss experiences of the year.
The Making of Karateka
The Making of Karateka is unlike anything gaming has ever seen, part classic game collection and part documentary. More than anything, it’s a vision of how we can preserve the history of video games and teach later generations.
Karateka was a martial arts game, originally released for the Apple II in 1984. The game was a stepping-stone for developer Jordan Mechner, who would go on to make the hugely influential Prince of Persia. For The Making of Karateka, developer Digital Eclipse made a playable documentary, weaving the story of Karateka’s development into a gorgeous remaster.
There’s so much fascinating insight and history packed into the experience at every level, from design documents to interviews to playable prototype versions. The Making of Karateka is an exhaustive love letter to the original and an incredible idea that feels like it could change the very way we think about the history of video games.