Two-thousand-and-twenty-three was a big year, filled with a lot of great art being released. So many games, movies, albums. Below is a list of media that was important to me this year. It might not all be from 2023, but that's when I engaged with it meaningfully.
If you told me this year I would hear music that would absolutely destroy a lot of my pre-established notions of what music can be, I would have probably believed you. But I wouldn't have if you told me that music would come from a launch PlayStation 2 title. Shopping With Palmira Ore knocked me on my ass from the moment the song starts. It's loud, fast, and melodic, but in a unique way that I've never heard before. Kota Hoshino was the in-house musician and sound designer for From Software of Dark Souls fame. He's been with them since the 90's, working on almost all of the Armored Core soundtracks (over 10 games in the series), as well as a few side series like EverGrace and Lost Kingdoms. His work is very evocative and often obtuse. For the EverGrace soundtrack, he was inspired by the human voice, so he used samples of his own and manipulated it to be used all over the game. His Armored Core work is a little more traditional and utilizes electronic aesthetics over human sounds. Armored Core 3's OST is great if you wanna hear some really solid synth music.
Thor is a YouTuber and Musician who released an album this year. I was actually introduced to Kota Hoshino's music through Thor's videos on YouTube, but then I was lucky enough to hear Thor's album which is pretty inspired by Kota's work as well! Thor's album 'Coconuts' from this year was my most listened album on Spotify, with the song 'Dr. Shit' appearing on my Spotify wrapped as most played, yielding this amazing screen grab:
'Desire I want to Turn Into You' is a perfect album. Caroline Polachek's second solo effort feels effortless. Every song plays as long as you want it to, it's bubbly, upbeat, amazing to dance to, with some great features throughout (DIDO!!!!). This album as well as Thor's really got me into Break-beats/House/Drum-n-Bass style music, and inspired me to experiment with those styles in my own music.
Newly released album 'Something To Give Each Other' wasn't really on my radar until my partner played me the first single 'Rush'. 'Rush' is the opening track to the album; it starts out with this deep, almost crowd-like voice chanting "I feel the rush/ Addicted to your touch", while a shuffly house beat sets the tone for the next 32 minutes of 90's house inspired pop. Check out the music videos for some great cinematography and a cool, sexy vibe. This album is super fun, and houses some of my favorite moments from anything I heard this year. Try not to bob your head along... bet you can't!
Another artist I have to thank my partner for showing me, Pasteboard is/was a Japanese Shoegaze Duo with only one album from 2006. 'Glitter' is the template for Shoegaze/dreamy guitar driven pop. Repetitive in the best way, incredible production, and amazingly simple melody lines that'll make you scream at how quickly it lodges itself in your brain.
Moon RPG & It's Music
If you have ever played a video game at all, or been adjacent to a sibling who plays them, it's pretty easy to see just how violent the medium is. Whether it's GTA or Pokemon, some level of combat is expected in the medium. Which is exactly why Moon RPG is so refreshing, and important today. It might be even more important today than it was when it launched in Japan only in 1997.
Moon RPG's full title is 'Moon: Remix RPG Adventure', with the word 'Remix' doing a lot of heavy lifting. What begins as your traditional Dragon Quest style game turns into surreal and thought provoking analysis on the mindless destruction every JRPG ""Hero"", seems to cause in their quest to save the world. Through a neat framing device, the player is sucked into the game system and world of these RPG's and comes to learn that the 'Monsters' are actually docile. In the game world that you've been sucked into, there's a traditional RPG hero going around and killing these monsters. It's your job to help the souls of these defeated monsters move on to the afterlife. It sounds far-out, but everything about the game is so cute, funny, and well realized that I could not put this down until I finished every thing I could in the game. I implore everyone to try this game out, there hasn't been a game like this since. (you could argue the developer's games post Moon (Chulip, Chibi-Robo) are similar, but each has it's own unique design that differentiates it just enough for me (cool games tho!))
When people say that games aren't art, they haven't played this one.
Pikmin 4 is my personal Game Of The Year for 2023. To me, Pikmin has always been there. Never dominating any conversation, not doing anything wrong, but it always felt like a series that wasn't begging to be played for one reason or another.
But what Pikmin does is unlike any other game. It feels like a Zelda style game with combat and exploration, but on a much smaller and faster scale. While a Zelda adventure typically unfolds through cutscenes and dialogue, a lot of the story of Pikmin is told in the world design. Said world design pushes you to keep exploring and finding new places to see, nooks and crannies with treasure, and vistas worth gazing upon, helping the player create their own stories that can only happen in these games.
Seeing intricately designed maps of small spaces in our real world blown up to a huge scale (or shrunk down?) is insanely satisfying. Exploring these worlds as if you were an ant feels so fun, and then Nintendo hits you with mechanics and level design that compliment each other incredibly well.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom
I was apprehensive about Tears of the Kingdom. I had my doubts that Nintendo would be able to deliver on improving what Breath of the Wild had already done. But I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this fucking game. As the AAA publishers begin to push $70 dollar games down our throats to line their pockets even fucking more- Nintendo has taken note, but in their own way. When TOTK's pricing was revealed to be moving up to that $70 price as well, Nintendo were quick to hit us with some cordial Japanese-Business speak saying, "We determine the suggested retail price for any Nintendo product on a case-by-case basis.". So charging that extra tenner for TOTK felt like a warning shot from inside the house.
I have put 100 hours into this game and I have not even reached 30% map completion on the depths. I have not entered Hyrule Castle since the very first mission that required you to. I will be finishing this game up, but let me just enjoy getting lost as all fuck for another 100 hours until I do.
Gran Turismo 4
Racing games are in need of a major overhaul. It's sad that I've clocked more hours in GT4 this year, than I have the new Forza. I love Forza! I like racing cars, especially if they look really pretty, like they do in the new Forza. But something about that game is just sterile. There's no style to anything, it all looks corporate, lifeless, design by focus-group style. And in some cases, I like that idea. It's nice to have a boilerplate game that's just doing everything right like Forza Motorsport 2023.
But then you boot up Gran Turismo 4 from 2004 and you're immediately reminded that racing games can be cool. Crazy Japanese-lounge-jazz blasts on every menu screen, then you go into a race where they have licensed music and fucking Panama by Van Halen cuts above the engine sounds to get you amped. You may be racing a mostly stock 1996 Honda Civic SiR, but goddamn does it feel cool to do so.
Earth Defense Force 2017
EDF is special. I think in terms of bringing people together, there is no substance greater than what Sandlot has made in the Earth Defense Force series.
In this series, that began life as a budget release on the PS2, players are sent to a large open map of a non-descript city where aliens are beginning to invade. But these aren't normal aliens, they are based off bugs! The first enemies you face are towering ants, at least 5 times the player character's size. The game employs a campy 50's monster movie vibe which just makes everything enjoyable.
I got to get the full experience of this game with my sister's boyfriend, Harry, and it was a blast. If you get a chance to play a couch co-op game, you can't go wrong with some EDF.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon
Sega's Yakuza series are the gold standard of what AAA games should be in 2023. Full of good stories, side quests, fun side activities, and intricately detailed recreations of real life cities. A generous amount of content that comes with the game and not supplanted by microtransactions, and DLC bullshit. Sure there is DLC, but the content from the base game is so vast, that you'll be happy without that stuff. It is easy to get lost walking around in first person in these games and just explore every nook and cranny.
Shmups - Raystorm being a fave
2023 was the year I got into Shoot-Em-Ups, or Shmups. Shoot-Em-Ups are a specific genre often defined by vertically or horizontally scrolling games where you pilot a ship and take down aliens or other space craft. Classics of the genre include Gradius, Aleste, Galaga, and many more.
I specifically got into some PS1 era shooters, with RayStorm being a favorite of mine. RayStorm has a unique mechanic where you have a lock-on missile that can target up to 8 (or 16 depending on the ship you choose at the start of the game) enemy ships, then at the press of a button, sends a homing missile to destroy all the locked on ships. Combine this with a standard fire and you have a beautiful dance of moving your ship around the screen to lock on to as many enemies as possible, then unleashing the full wrath of that lock-on ability.
Shoot-Em-Ups are great at getting the player to get into a flow state. With one thumb constantly on the fire button, players can focus more on their position relative to enemies and their projectiles, as opposed to searching and destroying said enemies.
I did already discuss Thor's music, but I did want to bring attention to their YouTube channel as well. Some of the best writing on games I've ever seen. Constantly pushing the YouTube format to it's absolute limits, all while maintaining an incredibly original voice that is always making me rethink things I thought once sacred. Check out their channel if you're looking for good writing on games.
Evan's channel is a newer find for me, but I've already consumed every video he's made. Evan plays games from older consoles, usually underappreciated stuff like licensed Disney Games from the PS1 and PS2 era which might seem odd, but it's clear to see Evan has a fondness for all games, and is able to milk some fun out of just about anything. This comes across clearly from video titles like "Finding Nemo for PS2 is BAD... But it's Fun!"
Through out the vids, Evan usually runs us through the major story beats of whatever game is the focus of the video, while employing over 1,000 meme sounds in unique ways. It sounds silly, but he's re-contextualizing so many ubiquitous sound-bites, and I honestly never tire of it. You can't tell me seeing an NPC get blown out of frame insanely fast while hearing the 'YEET' sound effect isn't good. Good vibes only from Evan Helbling.
Talking about good vibes, let's keep em going with Collector John. I discovered Collector John's channel earlier this year and I fell in love with the laid-back vibes of his game-hunting videos where he films himself on missions around his state to find classic games. John is mainly an original Xbox collector, which is a console I don't have too much personal nostalgia for, but do appreciate. It's nice to see this guy talk passionately about this system I missed, and learn about some games worth checking out.
John also usually plays games in his pick-ups videos, and it's really charming. He usually points his camera at his CRT TV playing whatever games he just picked up. He'll run through a few levels, and give us a quick first impression of the game. It feels really fun and intimate. It reminds me of being in High School and game hunting with my buddies, then going back to our friends basement and immediately plugging it in to try out. Check out Collector John's channel when you're feeling nostalgic for that feeling :)
Thanks for checking out me blog! happy holidaze :)