Geoff Girardin

Games of the Year: 2023

2023 was, all around, a complicated year for video games. A near-constant barrage of lay-off news ran up to and through the holidays. Workers across the industry successfully voted to unionize in ways we haven’t seen before. We saw the release of some of the most critically lauded titles in years.

I’ve forgotten more than I’ve learned about all of this stuff.

But in the process, I got a Steam Deck and played some incredible games. Without throwing numbers into the mix, here are the titles that I enjoyed the most this year; these are the titles that I will think of fondly when I think of 2023.

Geoff Girardin The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom | Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Should this come as a surprise? The sequel to one of gaming’s greatest masterpieces, returning to a familiar setting, building upon mechanics, and carving out its own space in history. I came into Tears of the Kingdom with middling expectations, simply satisfied with more fun in an established world.

Instead, we got two reinventions of the Hyrule we fell in love with, held together with some of the best mechanics we’ve ever seen in a video game. This isn’t hyperbole, the creativity offered by Fusing, Ascending, Recalling, and…. Ultrahanding… provided meme fodder and YouTube compilation gold. It’s impossible to guess where the series will go from here, but that was what we said after Breath of the Wild, so we can honestly see anything.

Geoff Girardin
Starfield | Bethesda


I didn’t want to play Starfield. It’s not that I disliked it, but there was so much communal anticipation that I couldn’t bring myself to care about this new Bethesda title. Then, it arrived on Game Pass, and I played it for 162 hours.

It isn’t, perhaps, that Starfield is a great game. At launch, plenty of absent quality-of-life features were missing. These are things that have been present in previous Bethesda games for years. As such, one would expect these to be the baseline the developers build off of. This would be a stance to take if one was lacking a sense of fun. Gallivanting across the galaxy just felt good. Jumping up a mountain to be greeted with only a stunning view of the horizon was worth the effort it took to get there.

Geoff Girardin Phantasy Star Online: Episode I & II | Sonic Team

Phantasy Star Online: Episode I & II

The versatility of a Steam Deck is entirely unrelated to my revisit of Sega’s superb RPG. I’ve adored this title since I was a kid (the GameCube being significant to me), and honestly, it still slaps. It’s still a blast to play single-player! The challenge is worth the effort! The Mag system is still fun initially, but ultimately, it’s not something I used!

Given the successful rebrand of Phantasy Star Online 2 with New Genesis, it’s important to note that its predecessor hasn’t gotten old and crusty over the years. I’m still desperate for that keyboard controller, though.

Geoff Girardin Marvel’s Midnight Suns | Firaxis Games

Marvel’s Midnight Suns

Nothing about this game told me what I was going to experience. There weren’t very good descriptions of the combat, and most people I spoke to insisted it got better over time. Plus, I kept getting Firaxis Games and Paradox Interactive confused in my head, so I had no idea what to expect.

What I got was a deep love for characters like Nico Minoru and Blade, wanting only for them to believe in themselves and embrace their love of books. I embraced the EMO KIDS, helped Robbie Reyes process his complicated disappointment in Johnny Blaze, and so thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game that the DLC will likely make my list for next year.

Geoff Girardin Vampire Survivors | Luca Galante

Vampire Survivors

As idle games take up more of my time, the quasi-idle time spent with Vampire Survivors is something I don’t regret (although I don’t want to look up how many hours I’ve played). The only thing that matters is that I can start a run and, seemingly minutes later, be facing the Grim Reaper, the enemy that attacks after 30 minutes have passed.

The fact that I’ve had run times vary between a few moments to 90+ minutes casts such a deceiving light on the game, allowing me to think, “I’ll just pop on for a quick run.” when I end up chasing a ridiculous secret achievement to obtain a playable worm or something. The seemingly endless clones suddenly appearing across different marketplaces further cement that Vampire Survivors brings something to the table that resonates with many players: passive excitement.

Geoff Girardin Sleeping Dogs | Square Enix

Sleeping Dogs

The first game that I installed on my Steam Deck was Sleeping Dogs. It seemed like a title with a reasonable set of system requirements to test out on my new toy and something I felt I missed out on during its heyday.

And what a title it was. In every sense, it’s an adult version of LEGO City Undercover, a title that I’ve praised in the past. The tension Wei Shen experiences as an undercover cop embedding himself into a triad is immediately undercut by the familial pressures he must navigate and overcome throughout the game. It’s almost a disservice to describe this as an undercover cop story. What pushed it over the edge was the performances of the ensemble cast. It’s a tragedy that this title never had a future.

RIP Jackie. You deserved better.

Geoff Girardin Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection | Capcom

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection

I love the idea of Mega Man. I’m a sucker for the aesthetics and the distant memories of Mega Man 64, and it all sounds great. And two minutes into any of the games, I have to bail out - it just doesn’t click. That feeling has a massive asterisk: Battle Network.

Growing up, I spent just as much time in Lan’s bedroom as I did my own, jacked into my own version of a Navi. Looking back, I remember each Battle Network title melting into one mass of pixels, Netbattlers, and chips. Legacy Collection let me revisit the titles that helped shape my affection for card-based strategy games, allowing a gaming mechanic to envelope my thoughts for a time. The simple accessibility options granted in the new release helped coax the nostalgia into a place that fits with two decades of gaming innovation. It was a return to form, a return to childhood, and a wonderful thing to revisit.

Geoff Girardin Super Mario RPG | Nintendo

Super Mario RPG

There hasn’t been a moment in my lifetime when Mario wasn’t doing side stories. Karting, golf, tennis, parties, the man does it all. So it wasn’t too weird for me to play Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. It’s the precursor to the masterful Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series, and I’ve always wanted to share it with my kids.

Enter Super Mario RPG, which I finished in around 20 hours, thanks to combat adjustments that made grinding nearly unnecessary and the cutest little graphics in the world. The return to silent protagonist Mario after The Super Mario Bros Movie felt like coming home, and in a year full of nostalgia, RPG was like being wrapped in a warm blanket.

Geoff Girardin Butterfly Soup | Brianna Lei

Brianna Lei

As it does every year, Butterfly Soup closes out my Game of the Year list. The incredible visual novel about four gay teens that helped me realize my own surprising place on the Kinsey scale profoundly impacted me, and I will continue to include it each year. I have yet to play the sequel, partially due to my deep reverence for the first title. I’m not sure what else Diya, Min-Seo, Akarsha, and Noelle have to teach me, but this year is the year I will find out.

Butterfly Soup is important, and everyone should play it.