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Game Developer's 2023 Wrap-Up: Danielle Riendeau's favorite games of the year

From Dredge to Jusant to Cocoon, these are the games that provided a bright spark in a tough year.

Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

December 25, 2023

5 Min Read
Fisherman character in town
Via Black Salt Games

It’s become a running joke in the last few years for me: when once, whittling down my top ten list was a truly difficult exercise, now I scramble to play enough games each year to fill out a top five list, and sometimes the timing gets dicey even for that. For most of this year, I was in the position of working on more (small, mind you) games of my own than I had played new releases in the year (that ratio was sitting at around 3:1 until October)

But some of that is for a wonderful reason: working here at Game Developer means I have a near-constant trickle of inspiration at my finger tips: interviews with devs, deep dives on how folks made various aspects of their games, and featured blogs on every imaginable aspect of the craft keep me racing back to my little trello board of game jam-level projects and the one larger project I’m a part of. My instinct to make (at least little slices of) damn near anything is intoxicating

That inspiration kept me going in what no one could deny was a fantastic year for games—and a brutally challenging one for the people who make them.

So, my hat is off to every creative human being who works in this industry (or alongside it in some capacity), pushing the boundaries of the medium, exploring interesting themes, or simply making experiences that make me feel something. Everything on this list succeeds in one or more of these categories, and gave me that spark (or twenty!) of inspiration that I appreciate from the bottom of my heart.


Dark night scene with fisherman character

To use an extremely jock term, Dredge is an all around MVP for me this year. It has a super tight core gameplay loop (involving fishing, some fun inventory management, upgrades, and exploration) with spooky, salty horror elements and wonderful world design. This was simply the game I most wanted to be around in 2023, and the fact that it was the debut game from a small, brand new team (Black Salt Games) gave me a healthy dose of something 2023 was far too lean on: hope.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Muddle bud plant and dark background

I was harder on Tears of The Kingdom than a lot of folks in my general vicinity: I found its dungeon designs bland and even painful, and the story a step back from Breath of the Wild’s more understated approach—but I still think the game is a triumph. Outside of those boring dungeons, the quest design is varied and delightful, often highlighting the mind-boggling physics (it can’t be overstated how much fun it is to construct weird things and experiment with them in this game). The world design and mechanical feel of traversing the land of Hyrule (and the clouds, and the muddle bud-strewn underground) are astounding. 

Super Mario Wonder

Toadette riding Yoshi in a tropical level

Super Mario Wonder is bursting at the seams with fun, ridiculous, glittering ideas. It has fantastic level design and power-up design, and features one of the best use-cases of an elephant character in a video game since Donkey Kong Country 3. Most of all, though, my partner and I were cackling almost every minute of playing it together, so the game brought a dose of simple, goofy joy during a very challenging year.


Character ponders bright cave painting

I watched a non-gaming (but avid climbing) friend of mine get to grips with Jusant after playing it this year, and loved how beautifully it’s simple-but-intuitive mechanics translated. Jusant is a short jaunt, yes, but it is gorgeous and beautifully put together, with stakes that feel appropriately dramatic without overly punishing daring swoop or iffy holds by the player.


Character holding bright orb in alien landscape

I wrote a bit about Cocoon in our staff list as well, where I noted that I simply love a good puzzle game that makes me feel smart. Cocoon is so polished and beautifully designed (and I love its funky, abstract and immediately readable environment and character art), but it also sent sparks aplenty to the budding puzzle design center of my brain. Cocoon is the stuff of design daydreams for me, thinking up cool concepts and solutions and possible ways I could take baby steps in its team’s direction, towards something beautiful and confounding in the best way.

About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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