2023: A look back

2024-01-02 by George P


Restricting your game to one genre seems to be increasingly falling out of fashion. This year, many indie titles aimed to break away from traditional restrictions and innovate by combining elements from different genres together. For me, the most memorable case of such a fusion project was Brok the InvestiGator, the world’s first “Punch and Click”. Brok the InvestiGator features the traditional point-and-click gameplay of collecting items, talking to characters, solving puzzles, etc. but with a punchy twist. The game includes well-crafted fighting beat-em-up sections that aim to spice up the gameplay loop and introduce an action- packed dimension. Through its interesting setting and smart world-building, the game manages to weave both its P&C and action fighting elements together to create a coherent experience.

Another highlight in terms of “hybrid-mania” was GROSS. A game with a not-so- appealing title but with highly appealing gameplay. Created by a sole developer, GROSS aimed to unite the FPS and Tower Defense genres. A tricky endeavor. However, through a clear design vision, excellent attention to detail, careful balancing and a focus on variety, the game manages to create a very engaging experience. Creating a successful hybrid project is a challenging quest. It is highly difficult for a combination of genres to become a harmonious experience rather than an incoherent amalgamation. Brok the InvestiGator and Gross are two examples that prove that with the right amount of effort, talent, and consideration, traditional genre restrictions can be broken. Hybrid projects have a lot to offer and are an absolute delight for players such as myself who enjoy unique concepts and experimental experiences.

One Retro Wave, Many Forms

The wave of retro-inspired games could be more properly described as a tsunami as an unprecedented surge in old-school style titles has defined the indie landscape in recent years. And 2023 was certainly no different. At Same Old Gaming, we had the chance to cover some of the year’s top retro picks as well as a few hidden gems that flew under the radar. What will never cease to surprise me is the sheer number of forms that retro-inspired projects can assume. Let’s look at some examples. First of all, the timeless 90s-style FPS games, nowadays commonly known as “boomer shooters” are back with a vengeance. This is a sub- genre that has really taken off in the last few years and provides a continuous stream of experiences that aim to stay true to their roots while modernizing some of their more outdated features. There are numerous major characteristics that define this style of shooter. Excellent level design. Tight gunplay and fast pacing. Polished movement. Explorable environments and secret areas. Hideous enemy design. And of course, the iconic low-res pixel artstyle that easily catches one’s attention. Dread Templar as well as are both two great examples of 2023 that embody most of the definitive traits of this timeless sub-genre. But not all retro-inspired games “look” retro.

There are projects that aim to evoke a sense of old-school nostalgia without necessarily assuming the form of their predecessors (either visually or mechanically). One such case is Boti Byteland. A colorful, adorable, and stylized 3D collectathon platformer about a tiny robot saving its Cyberspace home from a deadly infection. While Boti Byteland is both visually and mechanically modernized compared to its predecessors, it still manages to embody a “retro spirit”. Those who played 3D collectathons during their golden era in the late 90s and early 2000s will absolutely be able to appreciate the game’s old-school inspiration. Then, there are projects such as Quantum Recharged. A relatively obscure 80s arcade machine Atari game remastered for the 21st century. Through modernized visuals, a greater level of polish, better controls, and clever additions, Quantum Recharged provides an addicting gameplay loop to both veterans and a new generation of players.

The Storyteller’s Craft

I believe that the act of telling stories through video games is an incredibly fascinating topic. Compared to other mediums such as literature, film, music, comics, etc. video game storytelling has one fundamental ingredient that sets it apart. Interactivity. Indie games especially are famous for their ability to tell unique and impactful stories through different types of interactive methods. For example, this year’s The Pale Beyond cleverly combines its peculiar story with resource management style gameplay to create a highly engaging experience. An excellent game set in a gloomy and yet serenely beautiful frozen landscape. The Pale Beyond presents a tale defined by desperation and mystery. Most importantly, through its interactive features, the game makes the player feel like a living character within the story. Shards of God is another brilliant example that tells a unique tale and features high- quality world-building that encourages you to think even after the experience is over. The game’s storytelling is characterized by enigma, exploration, subtle humor, and interesting themes. Shards of God uses more traditional point-and-click staples for its interactive dimension but nonetheless manages to be highly captivating.

Probably the exact opposite of traditional storytelling is something like this year’s BABBDI. A game that places you in the middle of an oppressive concrete landscape haunted by a constant feeling of melancholia, liminality, and suffocation. It only tells you one thing: GET OUT!. A truly weird and abstract but also intriguing experience that does not give away its secrets easily. More recently we covered In His Time. Another story-focused game that I really enjoyed in 2023. This is an experience that instead of depending on a singular gameplay system it uses an almost endless stream of interactive mechanics. All are different from each other and each one is designed to tell a specific part of the story. A simple, cozy, and yet impactful tale with a hopeful message.

These are only a few of the many treasures that the indie game scene had to offer us in 2023. With no end in sight for ideas, passion, talent, and creativity, 2024 is a promising year with many highly anticipated titles already putting up their store pages.