Game of the Year So Far 2023
Image: Nintendo Life

In case you missed it, we're already in July, and that means it's time to reflect on the first half of the year and talk about the best games of 2023 so far.

Now, dear readers, you might be thinking "but wait, isn't it Zelda?" and to that we say "we're not restricted to just one game". While the latest Legend of Zelda will certainly come up, 2023 has been a banner year for all sorts of titles on the Switch.

Three of our finest editors sat down to shoot the breeze about their personal favourites — both of the Zelda and non-Zelda variety — and while this chat also exposes our backlogs a fair bit, it's given us some very exciting games to look forward to. If we can fit them in during a packed second half of the year, that is...

Tears of the Kingdom
We've heard this one's a good one... — Image: Nintendo Life

Alana Hagues, Deputy Editor: We’re halfway through 2023, and GOTY conversation is already dominating a lot of talk online - the first half of the year has been ridiculously good, after all. So we might as well wade in ourselves. Let's start with the Divine Beast in the room – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. We’ve all played this littlun, right?

Jim Norman, Staff Writer: Ya-ha-ha!

Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer: Oh, you Korok, you… But yes, I think we’ve all dabbled in a bit of TOTK. However… It’s not in the running for GOTY for me, I’m afraid to say.

Jim: Okay, Ollie has clearly been on the Lon Lon Milk… For me, nothing is going to knock this little game from the top spot (sorry, Everybody 1-2-Switch!). I sped through the story mode in the first few weeks and then took a couple of days to get all the emotion out of my system before diving back in for some exploring. I’m over 100 hours at this point and I still only feel like I have done, like, 2% of the whole game

For me, nothing is going to knock this little game from the top spot

Alana: I shouldn’t have been astonished at how much I loved it, but I was. It’s a remarkable sequel. I think its place in history and its impact will be debated for years to come, especially when we’ve all had distance from the game - it certainly improves on almost every aspect of Breath of the Wild. But there’s a relative peace and atmosphere to BOTW that TOTK is missing. It’s a splitting hair situation. Both are incredible games, and it’ll be personal preference whether you prefer one or the other. Right now, TOTK is better, to me, in every way.

Ollie: Nice, I’m so glad you both love it so much! Shall I tell you why I’ve bounced off it? Shall I? Okay, I will… It’s the Fire Temple. That damned Fire Temple. I can’t stand it. It’s not even particularly difficult, but I genuinely think it ranks among the worst Zelda dungeons. It’s horrible. I stopped playing when I reached it a few weeks back and haven’t returned since. I feel bad about that, but there we go.

Jim: Yes! The Fire Temple sure has proved to be a divisive one (I have seen some people say that it’s the best in the game —pfft), but I have to agree with you, Ollie. I didn’t get on with it all that well and ended up cheesing it a little more than I should, but there is still so much to enjoy in the game! Don’t let this little bump put you off it forever, please…

Alana: Life is short and sometimes stuff like that happens! I happen to really like the Fire Temple, but I absolutely understand why people don’t enjoy it. It’s not my favourite, don’t worry. Anyway, I think we’ve sung the praises of TOTK all across the site, so let’s go for something a little different…

Fire Emblem Engage
Gameplay first — Image: Nintendo Life

Jim: Hey, speaking of fire (wow, what a segue), I would like to throw Nintendo’s first release of 2023 into the mix with a little bit of Fire Emblem Engage. This was not the follow-up to Three Houses that I or anyone else was expecting, but by moving away from relationships and going back to some good ol’ combat-first tactics, I honestly think that the Big-N has made a series-best here.

Alana: Wow, that’s a big statement. I haven’t played a Fire Emblem game in years, honestly. What really makes it click for you, Jim?

Jim: Honestly, it’s the action. Story has never been a strong point in the Fire Emblem series — heck, it is really rather shonky in this latest entry too — but I can overlook all of that by just how well this one plays. The battles are intense, the combat system goes back to its roots with the weapon triangle, the character designs and battlefields are gorgeous, and those attack animations get me every time. Sure, there’s no plot, but what can I say? Show me some fancy swords and I’m happy.

Ollie: Weapon triangle… Is that like a musical triangle you whack people with?

Jim: Yes. Yes, it is.

Ollie: I’m sold. Nice work! I should really try the Fire Emblem franchise at some point… I will say, Engage certainly looks nice from a visual perspective, but other than that… *shrugs*

Alana: Maybe one day we’ll get you to play one, Ollie!

I mean, come on, it’s borderline perfection.

Ollie: We’ll see! So my first pick, then, is a bit of a cheat, but oh well. It’s Metroid Prime Remastered. I mean, come on, it’s borderline perfection. Nintendo has taken a game that was already sublime on the GameCube and made it even better. The visuals have been drastically improved, the controls have been modernised, yet everything that made the original so special has been perfectly retained. Just wonderful stuff. I assume you’ve both played it, yes? Say yes.

Alana: Yes I have. This was my first time playing it, and my god you didn’t undersell how good this game was either. Atmosphere, story, controls, visuals – the original looked great, and the Remaster is somehow one of the best-looking games on the Switch now. There’s not a thing I dislike about Metroid Prime Remastered. A phenomenal remaster.

Metroid Prime Remastered
A Prime example. — Image: Nintendo

Jim: … In my defence, this one came out in February after that incredible Direct, so my ensuing weeks were filled with The Minish Cap and replaying the entire Layton series. I absolutely will be playing this one before the year is out, I promise, Ollie.

Ollie: Your sin will be forgiven, then. I guess…

Alana: It’s really been the year of GameCube ports, remasters, and remakes, hasn’t it? We’ve had Metroid Prime, Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2, and Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life... And they’re all really good. Always happy to see the purple block get some love.

Jim: Pikmin 1+2 are definitely in contention for me at the moment. The second game is the fan-favourite and I can completely see why, but the simplicity of the first is unmatched for me. It had been so many years since I had last played it and while it hasn’t had the visual upgrade of Metroid Prime Remastered, it still really holds up. And you can play it on the bus now, so that’s something.

Ollie: That’s definitely something! I think I vaguely remember playing the first Pikmin at some point, but this is a series that’s definitely flown under my radar. I need to play it properly. Geez, this isn’t a good look, is it? I’ve not finished TOTK, I haven’t played Fire Emblem, I’ve not played Pikmin… What a hack.

Pikmin 1
There's more Pikmin to come in 2023. — Image: Nintendo

Alana: It’s almost like you moved house and were living it up in LA for a few days!

Ollie: It’s no excuse! I’ve failed our community! I will go into exile.

Jim: Now hang on a second, I know that you have played some games other than Metroid this year!

Ollie: I have, this is true.

Alana: There are always too many to get through… I want to move away from the first-party titles a moment and shout out some indie games. It’s been a great year for indies so far – Dordogne is beautiful, Cassette Beasts is giving us the Pokémon game we’ve all wanted, The Last Worker feels particularly important today. My favourite so far is a game that was released in January – A Space for the Unbound. This one was on my radar because of its amazing pixel art visuals, and I think it’s one of the best portrayals of depression in a video game I’ve seen. Plus, there are lots of cats (and dogs. But mainly cats).

Jim: This one has been on my eShop wishlist ever since it came out. I remember hearing loads of really positive things about it and you’re right, it’s stunning to look at. The added cats are just a bonus at this point…

The added cats are just a bonus at this point…

Ollie: I’ll definitely pick this one up at some point. Genuinely. It’s on my list; I have a list. And this is on it. But speaking of indies, I need to give a massive shout-out to JoyMasher’s Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider. Holy moly. What a great retro game! It genuinely feels like it was made in the early ‘90s, it feels so incredibly authentic. It’s one of those games that will only take an hour or so to beat, but it’s one I’ve found myself going back to time and time again thanks to the points system and rewarding gameplay. I love it.

Alana: Another stunning-looking game. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of a Mega Drive game. I absolutely want to pick this up at some point.

Jim: I completely agree. I have been keeping an eye on this one since it came out, and I remember you singing its praises right from release, Ollie. Definitely one I want to pick up before the year is out. On the topic of the retro aesthetic and short playtime, were either of you able to pick up Lunark a few months back? It is a cinematic platformer which usually means “bad controls”, to me. But this recently got an update to tighten things up in that department and I had a great (and short) time with it.

Alana: I hate to repeat myself, but one; this game looks really cool (particularly for the aesthetic it’s going for), and two; nope, I haven’t played it, and it’s also on my list!

Ollie: Yeah, I’d like to check this one out at some point, too. I’m not overly fond of the visuals, personally, but it’s definitely giving me heavy Flashback vibes, which is cool.

Jim: “Cool” is a pretty good way to describe the entire game, if I’m honest. Who would have thought that Nintendo dropping a game into which you can easily sink 100+ hours would mean that we have played so little outside of it??

Ollie: Naughty Nintendo! Taking up all of our time; the nerve.

Alana: How dare they. Though I have to blame Square Enix for releasing an 80-hour RPG in the form of Octopath Traveler II back in February (and Theatrhythm too, which I also have about 60 hours in). Octopath Traveler II is also one of the best turn-based RPGs ever, and another sequel that just improves on every single aspect of the first game.

Octopath Traveler II
Have we talked about pixel art enough here? No? — Image: Square Enix

Jim: Gosh, Octopath and Theatrhythm really were this year, huh? That feels like forever ago! Both have cracking demos for anyone that is curious about picking up either title, by the way.

Alana: Demos that carry over progress to the full game, too. I’ve seen so many who bounced off of the first Octopath Traveler absolutely fall head over heels for the sequel, so if you’re worried, give that demo a shot.

Ollie: I hate to sound like a broken record here, but I will definitely give Octopath Traveler II a shot at some point. I really just need to find the time… Whilst we’re on the subject of Square Enix, I’d best mention my third and final pick for GOTY contender. This is definitely cheating, so feel free to veto it, if you wish. It’s the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster collection. I mean, wow! It’s taken up so much of my time since it was released, and I’ve loved every second with it. People can complain about the price if they like, but with games like FFIV and FFVI proving to be amongst the best ever made, it’s more than worth it, in my opinion.

Jim: Buying them individually can be a pricey endeavour, I will admit, but I think it’s fair to say that you are still getting your money’s worth all of these years on. I was never that deep on FF prior to this, but I have loved the chance to really get to grips with the series and pick and choose however I would like. You’re not wrong, Ollie, IV and VI are beauties.

Alana: You know I won’t veto Final Fantasy, particularly when IV (and V) and VI are in the conversation. I haven’t grabbed them all yet simply because I played or replayed most of these fairly recently, but I will. I have lived off of the soundtracks since their PC releases, though. Final Fantasy is having a great year. Makes sense given it’s the 35th anniversary year.

Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster
Image: Square Enix

Ollie: I’ll definitely agree that buying them individually is a bit pricey. I guess once you start to ponder buying one or two, you might as well consider just going for the whole lot. Which I guess is probably Square Enix’s intention.

Jim: You mean to tell me that it’s all a money-making scheme! Surely not!

Ollie: These businesses and their desire to make money, eh..? Absurd.

Jim: I will admit that it has been a cracking year for remakes and remasters on that front, though. It is a late entry, true, but we can’t have this discussion without at least dropping a mention for Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. I have only played the demo of this so far, but I have the full game downloaded and ready to go as soon as I have the time. Kate’s review was absolutely glowing for this one, so it might just be a shoo-in for the GOTY lists when they roll around in December.

It has been a cracking year for remakes and remasters

Alana: Yep, I’m hopping on that one next I think — one for my partner and I to play together. Alright, it sounds like we’re starting to wrap up, so last chance to shout out anything we think might be worthy. I’ll give a little nod to Paranormasight, which snuck up on us out of nowhere in March. I really enjoyed it and II want a series, now.

Ollie: Oh yes, I’ll definitely agree with you on that one. I fear it’ll get a bit lost as we approach the end of the year, but it’s absolutely one to keep in mind.

Jim: It’s a very good shout. I have got all of my personal favourites off my chest, but did anyone play Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe earlier in the year? It’s strange that Nintendo released that one and then wiped everyone’s minds of its existence…

Alana: I didn’t, mostly because Kirby isn’t one of my favourite franchises. Same for Bayonetta Origins, too – two relatively small Nintendo titles that squeezed into the spring months.

Ollie: You won’t catch me playing a Kirby game, I’m afraid. Just not my cup of tea. Anyway, this whole thing will be rendered rather moot when we've spent more time with Everybody 1-2-Switch!, right?

Alana: Exactly. And with that, it’s time to play another round of Hip Bump…

We've no doubt missed out on some games that you found really special in 2023. Do you like some of our picks? Or do you think we've skipped over a gem?

Let us know by voting in our poll below, and chat about your favourite games of 2023 so far in the comments.

What's your Switch Game of the Year of 2023 so far?