2023 is coming to a close, and the Shacknews Staff has assembled an amazing list of games, people, studios, and other awesome things that shaped the year. Leading up to the Shacknews Game of the Year 2023 announcement on December 31, the staff got together to celebrate some other games worthy of praise for a number of reasons. Each award includes a deliberation video, if you want to get a look at the heated debates and intense staff votes. Games released between January 1, 2023 and November 30, 2023 are eligible for Shacknews Awards 2023 consideration, with December 2023 games eligible for awards in 2024. Please take a look.
Biggest Surprise of 2023 – F-Zero 99
F-Zero had been such a neglected franchise for so long that it almost became a running joke. Every Nintendo Direct would come around, one would hear, “Oh, I bet we’re going to see F-Zero, ha ha ha ha, yeah right!” Then came the September 2023 Nintendo Direct and the publisher shocked fans everywhere by announcing F-Zero 99, the next franchise to get adapted for the “99” battle royale formula.
It wasn’t just that Nintendo reminded fans of what the F-Zero series could still bring to the racing game table, but it was also that Nintendo integrated many of the best elements across the series into F-Zero 99, mixing together the classic Super NES tracks with the multiplayer elements of later titles. It’s an exciting new way to experience racing games and a great introduction to the series for a whole new generation of players.
F-Zero 99 is available on Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
Best Voice Actor of 2023 – Melanie Liburd (Saga Anderson – Alan Wake 2)
While some had a general idea of what to expect from the titular main character of Alan Wake 2, few expected him to have a co-star for this story. More than that, people were pleasantly surprised when Saga Anderson’s story proved to be just as captivating as Alan’s, partly because they were so intertwined and it fed that much more into the mystery.
However, the other key to what made Saga such a memorable main character was the performance of Melanie Liburd. She brought a more grounded approach to the role, one that sharply contrasted with what players experienced with Matthew Porretta’s Alan. Whether her character was facing down cultists, coming to grips with a stunning revelation, or getting contemplative in the Mind Place, Liburd brought Saga to life in ways few other actresses could have. She showed the kind of range that a character like this needed and Alan Wake 2’s story was that much richer for it.
Quietest Lobby of 2023 – Deceive Inc.
Deceive Inc. is quite an amazing game, and the only unfortunate circumstance surrounding it is being a live-service game at a time when live-service games seem to be in turmoil. This game from Sweet Bandits is brings concepts like 007 James Bond and Prop Hunt together in one solid package. As one or a team of specialized spies, you creep through a giant map collecting intel to help you steal a briefcase. You must blend in to creep among the wait staff, security, and scientists that protect the package, and if your cover gets blown, they’ll attack you. The other catch? There are other competing player spies trying to get the same package and escape on their own. That made for an exciting game of hide-and-seek where players would have to be careful as they tried to figure out who was a spy and who wasn’t. Deceive Inc. is oodles of fun when you have folks to play with. Unfortunately, the game has had a hard time finding its footing in a year where the live-service game industry is faltering on a lot of fronts. Even so, we’d be happy to see players discover this game and give it a try. You’d be surprised what kind of fun and shenanigans are in store once you’re out in the field among fellow spies.
Best Video Game Pet of 2023 – Handler’s Dog (Remnant 2)
We’re all animal lovers here at Shacknews. We love snuggling with our furry friends, and that holds true when it comes to video games. If there’s a creature or animal in your game that we can nurture or pet, then we’re petting it. This year, the standout pet was hands-down the Handler’s Dog from Remnant 2.
This good boy isn’t just a check box to pass the “Can You Pet the Dog?” Twitter account check, it’s damn near one of the most powerful assets in the game. This fantastic little helper can boost your team’s damage output, reduce the damage everyone takes, or heal everyone over-time, all while attacking any enemies you sic it onto and taking the aggro while you run away to reload. What’s more, the dog can actually revive you. It goes without saying that this is a game-changer when it comes to surviving regardless of whether you’re alone or in a squad.
While we loved all of the pets in every video game this year, the Handler’s Dog from Remnant 2 is the best. You might even say it was the best boy. Or best girl. We’re not sure. Either way, congratulations to Gunfire Games for giving everyone the best pet of 2023.
Best Nintendo Switch Port of 2023 – Suika Game
Suika Game was a latecomer to this year’s gaming greatness, but boy howdy were we addicted once we saw what it was about. A simple drop puzzle game, Suika game tasks you with assembling increasingly large marbles of fruit by combining two identical smaller fruits together. The more you combine, the larger the resulting fruit becomes, up until you have a big, screen-filling watermelon. Heck, if you can combine two watermelons, they’ll disappear, freeing up space for you, but the challenge is in combining larger and larger fruits without filling up your play space to a line at the top. Go over that line and its game over. We had tons of fun exploring this modest free browser and mobile game turned Nintendo Switch port. What’s more is that developer Aladdin X added even more fun and features to the Switch port, making it all the more addictive. Whether you’re hunting a high score, aiming to be the fastest to assemble a Suika, or simply chilling and having fun, Suika Game is an addictive challenge that we’re happy to see on the Switch this year.
Best PC Port of 2023 – Marvel Snap
Marvel Snap was carefully designed for mobile devices. We loved it so much that it won our Mobile Game of the Year Award in 2022. With that, it’s even more impressive how well the PC port turned out. The widescreen UI is gorgeous and the PC version is undoubtedly the best way to create decks and manage your collection. We love playing Marvel Snap on the go, and now we can spend hours playing from the comfort of our desks.
Best Action-Adventure Game of 2023 – Remnant 2
It was an action packed year, not only when it came to the sheer number of games released, but the quality of high octane action experiences. But when it comes to letting players live the fantasy of non-stop, wall-to-wall action, nothing else compares to the intensity of combat in Remnant 2. Whether you’re playing it alone or with two other friends, every moment in Remnant 2 is a pulse-pounding experience. You’ll spend time crafting your perfect build using some weird weapon that you crafted from the husk of a boss, two of your favorite archetypes, and a myriad of other trinkets and knick-knacks, and then dive into the next challenge and see if you blast it to pieces or vice versa. Then you’ll do it all again in a run that feels fresh thanks to the game’s inherit random nature. Gunfire Games managed to improve upon the first game and squeeze more action into Remnant 2 than we thought possible.
Best Platformer of 2023 – Super Mario Bros. Wonder
While the New Super Mario Bros. series was still Mario at a high level, it left a lot to be desired. More than that, after being around for more than 15 years, the formula started to grow stale. New Super Mario Bros. wasn’t so “New” anymore. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a step forward for the series in many ways, introducing brand new platforming challenges that stay true to the classic Mario formula while also taking it to strange new places.
The Wonder Flower, especially, makes Super Mario Bros. Wonder a different kind of Mario game by adding random effects and presenting players with different challenges for every level. If the constantly-changing scenery isn’t enough, the special world levels offer some of the most brutally challenging Mario stages to date.
There hasn’t been anything in years that has freshened up Mario quite like Super Mario Bros. Wonder and we can only wonder (no pun intended) how Nintendo can possibly follow this up.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is available on Nintendo Switch.
Best Puzzle Game of 2023 – Viewfinder
The best puzzle games are the ones that take a seemingly simple concept and run wild with imagination. Viewfinder, from Sad Owl Studios, takes its name after the classic photography tool in which photographers could get an approximate preview of what a photo would look like before snapping it. In this game, the idea is to take a photo, lay it out in front of the player’s eyes, and then use that photo to create new platforms out of thin air and solve puzzles.
Viewfinder is simple to approach, easy to play, and a marvel in action. The landscapes are appropriately picturesque, the narrative ties everything together, and the actual puzzles are deviously clever without feeling overly difficult. It’s the kind of thing that can be shown to a non-video game player to blow their minds and show them what games are capable of creating. And the game is presented in such a way where friends and family can gather together, appreciate the different art styles, and colloborate on potential solutions.
Viewfinder is a marvelous first effort from Scottish developer Sad Owl Studios and we’re hopeful that they’ll continue to blow our minds in the future.
Best Ongoing Game of 2023 – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
It’s astounding to think about how long Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been around and how much we still play it. It’s simply that good, and it helps that Nintendo took a large part of this year to make it even better with the Booster Course Pass. Through the Booster Course Pass, we got a total of 48 new tracks in the game across 6 releases, which by itself is enough to constitute an entire new game worth of Mario Kart tracks. However, Nintendo sweetened the pot even further by adding new characters. Birdo, Wiggler, Funky Kong, Pauline, and more made it to the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe roster. Simply put, while other live-service games had their ups and downs, Nintendo continued to bring the goods on top of a great thing in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. We’re not sure when a new Mario Kart is coming, but we have plenty to play here, and it feels like its going to continue to be fun for a pretty long time ahead.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe + Booster Course Pass is available on Nintendo Switch.
Best Free-to-Play Game – Counter-Strike 2
While a lot of longtime players had an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude when Valve released Counter-Strike 2 (overwriting CS:GO), it’s hard to argue with the improvements made to one of gaming’s greatest tactical shooters. Not only has the game received a needed visual upgrade, but the Source 2 engine has opened the door for some solid technical advancements. Most notably, the reworked smokes create new strategies for players on both sides of the bomb. Everything that made CS:GO special is still there, and CS2 brings quality-of-life and technical upgrades at just about every corner.
Counter-Strike 2 is available on Steam.
Best Old School Throwback Game of 2023 – F-Zero 99
F-Zero 99 takes its inspiration from the original SNES classic. While this year was full of some amazing retro-inspired game titles, seeing a brand new F-Zero game built on the SNES game’s shoulders is truly an old school throwback miracle to behold. From the menu design featuring artwork from the original game’s instruction manual to the retro soundtrack, F-Zero 99 is an amazing celebration of a classic franchise that has introduced a whole new generation to the race of the century.
F-Zero 99 is available on Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
Game That Should Be On Nintendo Switch 2023 – Pizza Tower
The Nintendo Switch has been home to nearly every Nintendo franchise imaginable. There have been 3D Mario games, 2D Mario games, Paper Mario games, Luigi’s Mansion games, both 3D and 2D Zeldas, some Xenoblades, lots of Kirby games, a pandemic gem in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a new Pikmin, some old school Donkey Kong Country, old school Metroid, and even some more obscure classics like Advance Wars. Heck, there’s even an F-Zero game here. Now imagine that all of that exists, but there’s no sign of a Wario Land title.
Developer Tour De Pizza saw the lack of Wario Land and decided to create its own homage to the series with the lovable and wacky Pizza Tower. There’s just one problem. That’s not on Switch either!
In lieu of an actual Wario Land game, we’re more than happy to take the next best thing. Let’s get Pizza Tower on Nintendo Switch and give this Wario Land-like the home it was always meant to have. If Wario has to be relegated to the microgame factory, let’s at least introduce players to Peppino Spaghetti.
Pizza Tower is available on Steam.
Best Add-On of 2023 – TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge – Dimension Shellshock
How does Dotemu and Tribute Games go about improving on a game like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge? The Arcade Mode and six-player co-op already make it the best kind of game that this type of game can offer. As it turns out, there are lessons to be learned from the roguelite genre and that has rejuvenated Shredder’s Revenge with an entirely new game mode with copious amounts of replay value.
Dimension Shellshock challenges players to gradually build to a climactic finale by jumping across dimensions, taking on remixed boss battles, and even by becoming the bosses themselves. There has always been some level of fantasy among old-school players of becoming the Shredder himself and now it’s possible. Add in new playable fan-favorites like Usagi Yojimbo and Karai and Dimension Shellshock offers enough reason to revisit this modern arcade-style classic.
Best Video Game Music of 2023 – Octopath Traveler 2
When it came to the vote for best music, many of us agreed that Octopath Traveler 2 is something almost entirely out of the ordinary. It’s got impeccable tracks throughout its soundtrack. The world music is the kind of stuff you can throw on in the background and just boost the mood of the room as you do other things. The day/night cycle of the game also adds a delightful twist of track variations in most of the game’s locations that change depending on when you’re exploring them. However, the most standout nature of Octopath 2’s OST is that its music accentuates most of its moments perfectly. Whether joy, sadness, sheer hype, or a bevy of other emotions were the target of any given moment, Octopath Traveler 2’s music accompanied and heightened the events of the game nearly flawlessly. Also, Critical Clash 2 might be the best boss theme most of us have heard in a while.
Best Sound Design of 2023 – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
When it comes to incredible soundscapes, there’s arguably just as much power in the absence of sound as the presence of it, and that’s something that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom captures with incredible proficiency. Tears of the Kingdom is a living world full of noise. Wandering among the fields, you’ll hear wind blowing through the grass, birds chirping, and possibly some Bokoblins making mischief in the distance, all with a gentle sprinkle of piano here and there. In the temples, you’ll be hit with a cornucopia of sounds such as winter storms and tornadoes as you bounce on sky-sailing ships in the Wind temple. In the Depths you’ll be engaged mostly by the echoing darkness as you wander carefully through. In all cases, Tears of the Kingdom uses as much or as little sound as it needs to make the world truly feel like a character in of itself. For such a wonderfully employed soundscape it earned our vote for Best Sound Design of 2023.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available on Nintendo Switch.
Best Water of 2023 – Baldur’s Gate 3
Water and video games is a combination about as old as the hobby itself. Many players used to loathe the inclusion of a water-based level, as it often spelled disaster as you wrestled with menus or subconsciously held your breath as your character swam through a level. But these days, water in video games is something to be celebrated. Out of all the games this year, the best water we encountered is in the critically acclaimed Baldur’s Gate 3.
Not only does the water look gorgeous (just stand on the cliffs on the Risen Road and tell me it doesn’t), it’s an incredibly versatile tool. Baldur’s Gate 3 lets you chunk bottles of the liquid at your foes, drenching them and making them susceptible to lightning and frost attacks. Sorcerers can create volumes of the stuff, wetting entire areas and turning them into slippery, treacherous bottle necks.
Plus, a few members of staff learned new things about its use in the game. Did you know you could use it to clean the blood and viscera off of yourself? I didn’t! Hence why my bloke always looked so grotty in my screenshots.
While there were plenty other games that featured great water this year, none could really come close to matching what Larian Studios did with the good ol’ H2O. Congratulations, Baldur’s Gate 3 for winning the Shacknews award for Best Water in 2023.
Best Gore of 2023 – Mortal Kombat 1
Blood spilling and bones snapping. Blood. Viscera. Crunching of the brittle and the mushing of the soft. What games do gore better than the Mortal Kombat series? In Mortal Kombat 1, the level of gore has been, somehow, upped from previous installations. For the squeamish, each Fatality will be a moment to turn away and shield eyes as muscles tear, bones shatter, and sinew unwinds. It should come as no surprise that Mortal Kombat 1 has gut-punched all the other nominees in this category, ripped out their spines, and stands victorious as having the best gore of 2023.
Best Headshot of 2023 – Resident Evil 4 (2023)
When it comes to popping the melons of monsters, humanoid and otherwise, Resident Evil 4 was always one of the best around, and the 2023 remake of the only worked to make that experience all the more juicy. Our love for headshots in Resident Evil 4 comes out of the fact that it’s a multi-layered experience. If you blow the head off a foe with a shotgun, rifle, or lucky pistol shot, you’ll get an wet pop of viscera, but if that enemy happens to sprout a Las Plagas parasite, your work is not done. It’s from there that you’ll want to unleash even more well-placed shots depending on the type of parasites that come out of your enemies. In most cases, hitting their fleshy points with further rounds of devastating ordinance is the way too go unless you have a Plagas-devastating flash grenade on you. That said, putting the crosshairs of a rifle or the laser pointer of a magnum on an enemy’s dome and letting a rip still remains a Resident Evil classic, and the RE4 remake’s impeccable presentation and graphics make it one of the messiest headshots we’ve seen in gaming yet.
Best Kameo of 2023 – Jean-Claude Van Damme (Mortal Kombat 1)
Gather around, readers, and let me spin a tale. In 1991, programmer Ed Boon and artist John Tobias dreamed of creating a fighting game. Arcade and pinball manufacturer Williams was focused on licensing and gave them a few options. One of those was Jean-Claude Van Damme. The martial artist/actor was on a tear in Hollywood, starring in martial artists flicks such as Bloodsport and Kick Fighter, which so happened to center on one-on-one fighting contests. Van Damme seemed the perfect candidate, but celebrities appearing in video games wasn’t as common as it became later. Van Damme fell through, and Boon and Tobias created Mortal Kombat, a game that became a series that in turn became the world’s best-selling fighting game franchise.Although no one could have known it at the time, Van Damme dropping out was a good thing. If Williams had created a game attached to a license, that game might have been a one-and-done deal: Stars rise and fall, licenses expire, and software attached to them often disappears with them. Boon and Tobias’s fighting game might have vanished without a trace—no sequel, no franchise. In 2023, Mortal Kombat and Van Damme finally came together when NetherRealm announced a Jean-Claude Van Damme skin for Johnny Cage. Pairing that skin with that character was fitting: The original MK’s Cage had paid tribute to Van Damme by wearing his Bloodsport ensemble and performing Van Damme’s famous split-punch into the groin.Signing Van Damme to a Mortal Kombat appearance is one of the coolest full-circle moments in video games, and a nod to history that hasn’t gone unnoticed by MK fans.
Best Online Presentation of 2023 – Starfield Direct
There was a lot of doubt and uncertainty surrounding Starfield coming into 2023. Mainly due to the game’s delay alongside Redfall, the latter of which had a disastrous launch and received negative reviews. The Starfield Direct in June was the perfect antidote, as Bethesda took a full hour to meticulously walk us through all of the game’s core systems and features, painting a clear picture of what our adventure through space would look like. It stirred up a lot of excitement, and introduced us to Bethesda’s resident sandwich hoarder.
Best NPC of 2023 – Uncle Hinti (Thirsty Suitors)
In one of the biggest upsets of the year at the Shacknews Awards 2023, Uncle Hinti from Thirsty Suitors has taken home the win. While there may have been an RPG goth girlfriend that you totally can fix, a cool Star Wars character, a president’s daughter, and a super genius also nominated in this category, Uncle Hinti ended up taking home this win due to magnificent character design. Every aspect of Uncle Hinti nails the concept of the South Asian “Uncle” perfectly, Uncle Hinti’s receding hairline, perpetual five o’clock shadow, and exposed chest hair were just too much for the competition to handle. Congratulations to Outerloop Games for creating a hilarious character and the Shacknews Best NPC of 2023. We can’t wait to hear Uncle Hinti’s investment tips at the next potluck.
Pop! Goes the Culture! Presents Best Adaptation of 2023 – The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The Super Mario Bros. Movies shattered expectations when it took the world by storm in the spring of 2023. While there were certainly some other very worthy nominees in this category, Nintendo’s new effort to adapt the company’s flagship mascot to the big screen was a massive standout. With a massive box office haul of over $1.3 billion and the viral success of Jack Black’s Peaches song, it is safe to say that Nintendo and Illumination Studios hit a grand slam with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Next up for the Big N is an adaptation of The Legend of Zelda franchise done in partnership with Sony Pictures.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is available to stream on Netflix.
We will be announcing more Shacknews Awards over the next few weeks leading up to our Game of the Year 2023 announcement on December 31. This article will be updated each day with the latest winners appearing at the top. Check out our list of The Shacknews Awards 2023 nominees to get caught up.