It is safe to say that I’ve had enormous difficulty narrowing down my games to a Top 10. Every game on this Honorable Mentions list today was in the Top 10 at some point, with several on the list for months before my final tally. I guess we can call this the Top 15? But I’m going to be awkward.
We’re approaching the end of the year, and I know what my plans will be. It will involve a lot of sleep, food and gaming for sure. I’m so glad I caught the typo. Sleep, not sheep. Sheep at Christmas time, or any time, would be weird.
Rambling aside, it is time for my Honorable Mentions article! I’ve got five fantastic games to talk about today. These just missed the cut, and the margins are razor-sharp. It was difficult enough last year, but this year? Damn. It took me some time to decide on how many games to feature in this category. I originally had nine games just on the shortlist, so a two-parter like my Early Access series was something I considered. However, this series has always been a massive undertaking for me, especially this year given my health issues. I decided to narrow it down to five. Regardless, this will be a long read. So get cosy, grab some snacks, and listen to my rambles.
Pokemon. The largest, most dominant game franchise out there, these little critters have taken over the world. It is amazing how well their merchandise sells year after year, and their video games continue to break selling records. Scarlet and Violet were controversial releases for their horrendous performance issues on the Nintendo Switch and some strange design choices, but they still managed to sell enormous amounts. As much as the crappy visuals and poor performance annoyed me, I could not help but enjoy my time in Scarlet. Yes, I am part of the problem! I’m an addict.
Such is the success of the Pokemon critter collector that many developers have tried to emulate them. There are some pretty nice versions out there — the Siralim series, Monster Sanctuary, Adore, Temtem, Ooblets, and Coromon are all solid variants of the Pokemon design and good games in their own right. Cassette Beasts is the latest to take on the equivalent of a group of alcoholic toddlers taking on Thanos. It veers off the beaten path more than some of its competitors, and the result is a fantastic game. The only reason it failed to make my Top 10 this year is simple. I have just not got around to playing enough of it.
It is a shame because I have greatly enjoyed what I have played of Cassette Beasts so far. Instead of catching critters like Pokemon, characters instead take upon the forms of the happy animals roaming this tearaway island, using powerful cassettes to use their essence in battle. It makes for an excellent experience, with a diverse pool of creatures to capture and battle, beautiful pixel art graphics, and a large open world to explore. The retro cassette tapes are like receiving a hug from nostalgia. Who remembers them? There are hundreds of creatures to find on the vast island, and with the combination mechanic, you can turn them into unique fusions for even more variety.
It does take a while to click, which might be why I haven’t played more of it than I would have liked. This year has been so big for games that I’ve just struggled to juggle the time for everything, but it has left a lasting impression on me. The music in Cassette Beasts is divine and the story is surprisingly captivating so far. I wish I had more time this year to play. I’ll make Cassette Beasts a priority during the Christmas holidays, I think.
I’m sensing a theme here. Most of the games in today’s article are arty games, and Tchia is no exception. Launching earlier this year, this game probably fell under the radar for many, probably due to its Epic exclusivity at first. While that is a bit unfortunate, I am happy I picked it up. Tchia is a gorgeous action-adventure game with a unique setting and was one of my most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year. Honestly, I’m sadder for this than any other game in my Honorable Mentions list that it didn’t quite crack my Top 10.
Playing Tchia for the first time, I was dragged into the developer’s passion and vision. Tchia derives heavily from New Caledonia culture, and every inch of the game world breathes that. They wanted to bring their native world into a video game, and Tchia does a splendid job of that. Everything from the songs, and the culture, to the food and the locations, is like receiving a comforting hug from New Caledonia. Eating from the many food stands restores stamina.
The open world is large and diverse, with a gorgeous mix of movement mechanics and a strange power to inhabit objects — living or inanimate — for further exploration. The archipelago of Tchia is a delight to experience, travelling on foot or by raft. Playing as the small girl Tchia, the world feels larger. It’s not the most expansive world I’ve seen, but it is still beautiful and relaxing.
The same goes for gameplay. Most of the little quests are collectables: excuses to explore the gorgeous setting, but the narrative took me by surprise. This beautiful archipelago hides some pretty dark stuff in it! Early on, the MC’s father gets kidnapped by the Big Bad Ruler with his strange cloth minions, and the world shows off the crueller parts of this culture in spades. Hell, kids get eaten in this game! I was not prepared for that.
While Tchia is not the most exciting game I’ve played this year, it might hold the most heart. With its gorgeous, expansive world to explore, the rich culture of New Caledonia, and its surprisingly deep and dark story, this game keeps on giving.
I may as well start all these with ‘I’m amazed this did not make my Top 10 list’ but here we are. I am astonished Dredge failed to crack my Top 10! Given how much I’ve enjoyed it, it was a big surprise. Dredge launched earlier this year to some impressive critical acclaim, and the developers keep adding content and improvements to this horror fishing simulator over time. The Pale Reach DLC is already available. While I received a review code already for the expansion (thanks to the lovely devs and PressEngine for the opportunity!) I could not play it in time to feature it in my Christmas summary. I’ll save that for the New Year
I reviewed Dredge months ago, and you can check out the full review of that by clicking on the link down below:
I already went into depth in the article above, so I won’t repeat myself here. Dredge is a wonderful experience by Black Salt Games. It might not be the most exciting game in the world, but that is fine by me. I’ve grown into my gaming preferences in the last few years, to the point that I’m willing to give any genre a go at least once. Except MMOs and Sports games. Fuck those with a spear.
This is a fishing simulator with some downright disturbing elements. Weird fish emerging from the murky seas, trying to survive the depths while avoiding the true monsters of the deep, and dealing with some very suspect characters, Dredge combines the unsettling atmosphere with exploration that is oddly calming. While the fishing minigames are easy enough, there are plenty of accessibility options to adjust things in the game to your liking. It has the right mix of gameplay and story to keep me engaged, and it runs fantastic even on modest hardware.
With the expansions down the road as well as things like the new photo editor, Dredge was one of my most pleasant surprises of the year.
Final Profit: A Shop RPG
Take a game from the 8-bit era, shovel in all sorts of cool mechanics, terrifying demon horses, and some hilarious dialogue — and you get Final Profit! While this looks like a simple shop management game, that would be insulting. Final Profit is a deep, incredibly captivating RPG with some of the most hilarious characters I have played this year. Just like Cassette Beasts, I unfortunately was unable to play as much Final Profit as I wanted to. It oozes charm through every detail, and I’m excited to play it more when my schedule eases. The work of a solo developer has continued to add more features and patch bugs to the game since its launch in March. Do not sleep on this game.
There is no combat in Final Profit, instead relying on exploration and the joys of capitalism. I won’t spoil anything about the story, so if this sounds vague, my apologies. It needs to be experienced yourself. Once the queen of a mighty realm, you are thrown aside by the big, evil corporations who take over the kingdom. On the brink of collapse, you settle in a little nearby village and start with a little shop. From there, it is the long way back to the top! The amount of content in Final Profit beggars belief, and the large world introduces new mechanics gradually as you play. It’s never overwhelming — introduce the basics first, and add more as you evolve — which is great. Many management sims throw so many things at players at the start, and that can get out of hand. Final Profit does not. I also love how the magic mechanics work. You start with a small amount of health and magical power — yes, this still exists despite having no combat. Instead of killing things, you must use your pools of energy to gather items and sell them for enormous profit. This will continuously snowball the more you play, and while the exploration options, in the beginning, are limited, things open up. The result is a fascinating RPG with some great narrative. The dialogue and little lore pieces brimming in the open world are also a delight.
It also played pretty nicely on the Steam Deck, although there were moments where I ran into some performance issues. Jumping down the horse pit into the Satanic realm that seems to be teeming with demon horses brought some horrific frame drops, both on PC and the Deck. I think some of these issues got patched, so I will see how the more intensive areas hold up during my ‘Christmas break’. The mouse and keyboard controls play better for me than with a controller, but besides these two little quirks, Final Profit is an excellent example of what one talented developer can achieve. Buy this when you can.
No, not the ancient ones from yore — the remake! The final game in this year’s Honorable Mentions list surprised me. The System Shock remake was in development for donkey’s years — to the point that I worried that it might never make it. In this industry, everything that can go wrong may do so. To my relief and surprise, System Shock officially launched earlier this year, and even better — it exceeded my expectations. I’m also amazed it did not make any of The Game Awards categories. That is a shame.
The original System Shock games were fantastic back in the day, and I think we are all waiting for that remake of the sequel. However, System Shock 2023 is a solid revision of the original title. 1994’s release has been revamped from the ground up. Updated visuals, quality-of-life features, overhauled controls — this has it all. It changes up quite a bit from the 1994 variant, so the diehard purists might not enjoy that. I don’t mind the changes. As much as I liked the first System Shock, playing it today is rather obtuse. Even if some things are changed around a bit for accessibility, the remake is a stronger game as a result.
The lack of handholding is still there, and going into System Shock with no fucking idea what I was doing was an experience! I love how the developers were able to keep the overall feel of the game right while keeping it to modern standards. It’s a breathtaking, refreshing coat of paint on one of the coolest games from the 1990’s. Despite all the improvements to the base experience, I’m proud that they kept the SHODAN station of doom largely intact. Navigating these space tunnels is still dangerous, forcing me to use my brain and the environment to locate what is needed to advance.
I need to return to System Shock soon. In the meantime, it is a fantastic recreation, and after the troubled development cycle, the developers have knocked it out of the park. Bravo.
That is it for today’s episode! I was originally planning on a Hidden Gems article next, but I’ve decided to leave them for my summary intermission. With my attention pulled by so many different projects this year, I had to make the correct decision to avoid burnout. I will be featuring some of my favourite underlooked games in the Intermission article, but I will only be covering a couple.
In the next article of this year’s GOTY Event, I shall kick off the Top 10 properly.