2023 was such a fantastic year for games. And for once that was spread across AAA mainstream blockbusters, breakthrough indie hits, and obscure treats. All the other sites have taken care of chronicling the first two categories, which means it’s our job to celebrate the buried treasure. Ooh, that’d be a good name for a website, etc.
Another stand-out feature of 2023 is that a lot of the games that in previous years would have been stuck on sites like this, have been embraced by the wider gaming press. Which is a delight. So I’ve ended up reviewing things like Lil Gator Game and Dave The Diver on Kotaku, rather than here. Sucks for my clout, but so much better for the games. We’ve also seen amazing projects like Venba, Dredge and Chants of Sennaar get broad, mainstream attention.
2023 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for Buried Treasure’s prolificacy, and I can only thank everyone who supports the site even more sincerely. I’ve been a jobbing freelancer once again, and as such it makes every day a waterslide of sheer panic. However, we’ve still managed to highlight some properly stunning games, and it’s a pleasure to highlight a selection of them here.
As ever, I feel awful about leaving out games, and – well – I’ve just picked my personal favourites. The thing about only having one kid is I get to pick favourites elsewhere. Right, shut up me, let’s get on with it. All game names link to their original review, which in turn will link to all the places to buy them.
As Azrael, the bird-angel, it’s your job to descend into hell and kill Satan. Coincidentally, the same is true in this game. It’s a top-down, bullet hell action game, with a smattering of Metroid-like elements, and it’s gory as – well – as hell. And despite all that, this isn’t a procedurally generated game, meaning there’s value in returning to old areas with new abilities.
This is the work of three students, and it’s splendid. It’s also free! I read that they’re working on a new game, but are still students, so naturally taking their time. Seriously, if an indie publisher doesn’t snap these three up before they graduate, I’ll be bemused.
I spent so long playing Lumencraft. I remember putting off writing about it so I could just keep playing it. Then I wrote about it, and haven’t played it since. Which sucks. It’s a pretty unavoidable side-effect of this job, I guess, because I really need to be playing something else, in order to have something else to write about next. But just remembering this amazing stripped-down real-time strategy game exists has me hankering to return.
It’s a game about drilling, and then base-building, in order to hold off the hordes of enemies, and it simplifies the process down to such a clicky loop that it’s accessible to anyone. The game is still receiving updates almost a year after release, with new features, modes, and very welcome bug fixes, so hooray. No excuse not to fire this up again.
I’m so partial to something that’s the shape of a game genre, but really exists just to tell me a great, interactive story. That is the case for Melon Journey, a completely bonkers little tale about investigating a conspiracy behind the production of melon juice.
It’s JRPG-shaped, but there’s no combat, and few puzzles. It’s all about the conversations, and they’re wonderful. Witty, silly, and cute, it’s an adorable time, packed with peculiar cults, evil mayors, and all the melon-based mysterious goingson you could hope for.
A combination of utterly brilliant puzzle design, and some stunning pixel art, makes Stuffo The Puzzle Bot one of the best puzzle games of 2023. It’s about rearranging the moveable blocks in a level to create paths that let you reach the exit, but with tons of brilliant ideas getting added every level.
This is by Antti Tiihonen, who was one of the creators of the wonderful The Legend Of Grimrock, if you want to get an idea of the puzzling chops behind this. And it’s now out on Android! Woo!
I don’t know why you’d need to know more about action roguelite Voidigo than that the starting weapon is called the Begunner. But if for some reason you want more, well, read the original review, but also know that it’s a enormously varied proc-gen action game with multiple layers, incredible animation, and an ingenious approach to boss fights where they’re fought at your leisure, even in chunks, throughout a larger level.
It’s just bewildering that this wasn’t picked up by the gaming press, not least because it’s secured an Overwhelmingly Positive status on Steam, from over 2,500 reviews. Yet its Metacritic sits on just two reviews, ever, both 9s, and one of them was me.
Another contender for 2023’s best puzzle game, Trans Neuronica takes the Flow Free model of line-drawing puzzles, and evolves them into something completely new. Here, rather than filling a grid and moving on, successfully aligning nodes opens up the size of a level, with new nodes to connect, but also the need to rearrange previous ones without shrinking the level again.
Oh, you try to describe tacticle visual puzzle games in coherent words while your sinuses are on fire from a cold that’s now entering its third week while your son’s home from school having kept you up all night with his cough. GO ON. Anyway, buy and play this, because it’s brill.
We’re in a banner era for boomer shooters, and one of my favourites last year was Super Buff HD. Partly because it delivers all the speed and antics of the genre with aplomb, and partly because it’s deranged.
It looks as ridiculous as it plays, frenetic action combined with absolute weirdness, in a game where gibs are replaced by drifting words. And you can jump onto enemies and then ride around on them like unsteering skateboards. It’s fabulously strange, but crucially, an incredibly solid shooter beneath all the crazy.
I have a special imaginary pedastal on which I keep the very best puzzle games. Atop that display is Tametsi, a game I replay at least three times a year, and it’s of course joined by Hexcells. Given that the original Polimines was a nice, but too easy, logic puzzle game, I really wasn’t expecting to be adding Polimines 2 to the revered shelving. But damn, it’s up there. This follow-up from Molter is leagues beyond its humble origins.
The complexity of the puzzles among the 60 here is astonishing, demanding that my brain think in entirely new directions. For the latter half of the game, I’m not ashamed to admit I spent time seeking nudges from the lovely Discord community, the final 10 puzzles probably taking longer than the first 50 put together.
There is top-level brilliance going on in these puzzles, the first game now feeling like a tutorial for its masterful sequel, and I highly recommend picking up both together for the full experience.