Of 2023: The Platform Report (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Steam)
It turns out that spending the retrospective year-end season by traveling around absurdly congested foreign countries is a really good way to make none of it feel like it matters. Even back in the Fall I was wondering what I’d have to say about my year in gaming before our trip around South Korea and Japan completely obliterated my memory. But I’m glad I stuck with it and started this post because that very act has helped rekindle my memories of 2023 and get me back in that year-end recap spirit.
It’s funny, I keep lists of what I’ve played and listened to each year but I never look back on these things and go “ah yes, now I see it… [Insert Revelation Here]”. Maybe the only thing I can say after all these years is that even I can’t predict what I’ll enjoy, or be turned off by, or re-discover and get back into. I live life how I listen to music, by hitting Play All: Random and letting happenstance bring new things to my attention or unexpectedly reignite an old passion.
Maybe that is my revelation because looking back at 2023 I can only say that it was another year of meandering through games from modern consoles, to PC, to retro emulation stuff. Let’s take a look at the many featured categories:
• The Nintendo Stuff •
Once again I spent hardly any time on the Switch in 2023 and only really played two games (Animal Crossing turned up because Katy was briefly playing as my character). I initially went into Tears of the Kingdom with high hopes of appeasing my sense of discovery and exploration but after almost 50 hours I resigned because it was boring, slow, and uninteresting.
Thankfully those unexpected Tears were blasted off of my face late in the year by the vibrant and imaginative explosion of creativity that was Super Mario Bros. Wonder. First and foremost, I was elated to see that I could play 99.9% of a Mario game without having to see or hear Mario. He’s basically Mickey Mouse, more of an icon than an interesting character, and similarly devoid of personality to me nowadays. It was great to hop between my main man Luigi and the starring lady duo of Daisy and Peach any time I wanted to.
Although it was well-worn territory on the gameplay side, I can’t think of many games that have ever offered this much surprise and variety from level to level. It’s also been ages since a game had me grinning, laughing, and wide-eyed as the Wonder Flowers take effect and the action explodes into some comical mishap in an instant. All that creativity and variety comes with a cost though and I was finished with things in about 20 hours over one long holiday weekend. It’s not a bad thing but being the one-and-done player that I am, it wound up feeling a little bittersweet to pop the cart out of the Switch so quickly.
• The PlayStation Stuff •
Can I just say how much I love seeing Four Kings Casino and Slots as the first slide in my big year-end PlayStation roundup? The quaint social casino game has been a New Year’s tradition for Katy and I since 2015 and it is delightfully antithetical to all of Sony’s expensive, exclusive, “AAA” Mega Blockbusters that they hoped would headline my roundup.
While I skipped most every major Sony release in 2023, they did win me over early in the year thanks to a deal on PlayStation Plus Extra which I took advantage of to play about 25 different games in their catalog. Most of those I only spent a piddling few hours with, coming away unimpressed and bored, but I did have a great time with DOOM (2016), Demon’s Souls Remake, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Dead Cells, and Tchia. Of special note are Earth Defense Force: World Brothers and Saints Row that I had a lot of fun playing side by side with Katy.
But the big winner on PlayStation for me was Returnal! I’m tragically late to the game but I had a fantastic and satisfyingly daunting time with it, enamored by its mysterious setting and engaged by the roguelike gameplay — something I haven’t really enjoyed in a very long time. I’d spent almost 75 hours with it by February, got 100% Platinum, and even picked up a physical copy as some limp gesture against the digital-only future we’re all being swallowed up by. This has also worked in my favor as I didn’t renew any level of PlayStation Plus at the end of 2023 making Returnal one of the few games on PlayStation 5 I can come back to at any time.
• The Xbox Stuff •
I barely spent any time with the other Xbox titles that turned up in their annual recap and Starfield is the only one that I was engaged by at all. That said at close to 200 hours in, I can only give it up to the most low-level, baked-into-the-bones Bethesda magic that kept me going. The game is as lifeless as the vacuum of space that you somehow spend very little time in, but I’m still a sucker for their brand of environmental design, item hoarding, and just plain ol’ exploring unseen planet after planet.
The big revelation about the story initially surprised me but quickly deflated, doubly so for the conceit behind New Game+. No spoilers here, let’s just say that in the end it soured the 150 hours before it and left me wishing I’d just put the game down after I saw the credits. As another frail gesture against our subscription conscription I moved from the Game Pass version and bought Starfield outright as I wasn’t looking to keep paying monthly in order to plod my way through it.
And unrelated to the game itself, Starfield is what also pushed me to finally upgrade my PC’s main drive. I missed the bullet point that said an SSD was required hardware and, boy, was it ever. The game was an unplayable nightmare on a platter drive, with dialog and canned animations taking literal minutes to catch up with the action, but it ran like a dream on my potato PC after I made the changeover.
• The Steam Stuff •
Despite the upgrade to my PC and its continued ability to run modern games, I still barely spent any time actually playing anything on it. My obsession with Satisfactory continued into early 2023 for probably another 60 hours but even by February I had cooled on it and moved onto other things. I didn’t come back to Steam until much later in the year when we picked up Earth Defense Force 5 on sale to start a playthrough with some new friends. I also fired up Banished for like, two days? It’s a small install and remains fun to watch from God’s isometric perspective as Colonial era outcasts struggle to survive harsh winters and famine.