Soapbox: These Games Brought Me the Most Joy in 2023 1
Image: Push Square

When the time comes each year to start thinking about our Game of the Year coverage, I always struggle to narrow down my favourites to just a top five. There are so many titles that deserve recognition. Especially in a year like 2023, which has been bursting with top games from the very start, I find it really tough to highlight what I'd consider to be the best of the bunch. The truth is that the games I've spent the most time with, or even had the most fun with, are not always the same as the ones I think are the top-drawer offerings of a given year.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about a handful of games I played in 2023 that brought me the most joy. At the end of the day, this is an entertainment medium, and games are, generally, intended to be fun experiences. I put a lot of value in titles that put a smile on my face, whether through delightful presentation, intriguing story, clever design, or just the act of playing them. It's why, sometimes, I'll boot up some favourites that simply make me feel good — Tetris Effect, Sonic Mania, and Slay the Spire, for example. Likely joining those ranks in future, the below games are the ones that really put me in a good mood throughout 2023.

Soapbox: These Games Brought Me the Most Joy in 2023 2

Frog Detective: The Entire Mystery

The Frog Detective trilogy is a series of very short adventure games with minimal gameplay, but going through all of them over a weekend, I don't think a single moment went by that I wasn't absolutely delighted. Each game is only an hour or two long, telling a series of very silly mysteries starring the second best detective and a treasure trove of his animal friends. Between the low-poly art style, the bonkers scenarios, and the genuinely funny dialogue, I'm hard pressed to think of anything that brought me so much joy so consistently this year. The Entire Mystery is a rare comedy game that actually lands, and I can see myself returning to it when in need of chill vibes and a good laugh.

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PowerWash Simulator

I remember playing this for a while, putting it down, then picking it back up again when some DLC was announced. Once I did start playing again, I couldn't stop. There are plenty of op-eds out there about the cathartic, soothing gameplay of PowerWash Simulator, and it's true for me too. It's unbelievably satisfying to cut through each filth-coated level and reveal the gleaming beauty beneath. I blitzed through the main campaign (which is surprisingly long) night after night, listening to podcasts as I went, and I loved every second. I bought the SpongeBob DLC and did the same thing. I'll definitely be cleaning up the free Santa's Workshop map, too. I can't resist. That delicious "ding" sound when something's fully clean is too good.

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Puzzle Bobble 2X / Bust-a-Move 2 Arcade Edition & Puzzle Bobble 3 / Bust-a-Move 3 S-Tribute

The title's a bit of a mouthful, I grant you, but Bust-a-Move is a nostalgic favourite for me. Growing up, we had Bust-a-Move 2 Arcade Edition, and it ended up being easily one of the most-played PS1 games in our family. This retro collection brings the two games together, alongside their Japanese variants, and it's bubble-bursting bliss. It's one of those perfect games for when you're unsure what to play, or just need something to do for 20 minutes. Much like Tetris Effect or Lumines Remastered, this is something timeless to keep installed for when I'm in the mood.

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Rogue Legacy 2

I was over the moon when Cellar Door Games first announced Rogue Legacy 2, the sequel to a roguelite action game I was obsessed with on PS Vita. When it finally came to PlayStation earlier this year, I had spent several years patiently absorbing the game's universal acclaim, and was more than ready to finally get involved. I was just happy to finally be playing it, and as expected, it's a truly fantastic sequel. Had it not arrived in the middle of an absolutely ridiculous torrent of brilliant games, I'd have played it a lot more than I did back in June. It's something I definitely want to return to in quieter periods, because it really does bring me joy — even with all those untimely deaths.

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Tren might be the most jolly game released all year. Made in Dreams, this is a full game in its own right, and it's packed with personality, warmth, and charm. It's all so genuine, too — you can feel it as you play. From a wide view, this is a whimsical action puzzle game about wooden toy trains, but Tren is about more than that when you zoom in. While there's certainly joy in how the game feels to play, I still think about all the details in each level's set dressing — tiny scenes of people being people, nostalgic memorabilia stacked high, and lots of great Easter eggs to track down. This is all amplified even more in the hub area — a dusty attic that's home to even more delightful paraphernalia. If you play this — and I really do urge you to do so — take advantage of the Explore option on each level, and use the photo mode to really get a good look around. Flipping the train about and getting gold medals is great fun, but there's a whole other level of glee to be found in all the game's corners. It's a teensy bit of magic.

Do you have some games you played this year that just made you feel happy, or that you played to relax? Settle in and spread some cheer in the comments section below.