What a year it’s been for video game releases. TechRadar Gaming's Game of the Year List offers a small example of some of the near-perfect video games that have emerged this year, such as Baldur’s Gate 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Alan Wake 2. At any other time, just one of these titles would have elevated the whole year, let alone the sheer scale of exceptional titles we’ve seen in 2023.
There’s an issue at hand here though; the year’s incredible bevy of bounteous video games has overshadowed other sensational titles that, for one reason or another, have slipped between the cracks. Whether this is because of their status as indie games and passion projects, or simply having the misfortune to release around the same time as one of the year’s behemoths, they’ve slipped by unnoticed. We want to take a moment to spotlight some of the games you might not have heard of, or only heard of in passing, but are well worth your time and money.
OTXO’s title comes from the Basque word for wolf, and this game makes you feel like one of nature’s greatest hunters. A top-down shooter that sees you battling a veritable Venetian ball’s worth of masked oddities, a cybernetic basilisk, and…lizards?
The action is complemented by a brilliant soundtrack and slick movement. You’ll be tossing an empty shotgun at an enemy one moment before leaping over a sofa and booting his friend in the face, splattering him against a nearby wall. Oh, and it’s a roguelite too, demonstrated by the ability to pour the coins you get from building up mighty combos into unlocking new drinks to imbibe between levels, with effects that range from a recharging shield to contorting reality into making dead bodies explode.
With stark black and white graphics, this game feels like a moody take on Hotline Miami, crossed with John Wick. Sections of the game will bring to mind that bathhouse fight from Eastern Promises or the shootout in the Continental from John Wick 3. So if you’ve got a Hotline Miami-shaped hole in your life, OTXO is an absolute must-play.
STONKS-9800: Stock Market Simulator
Do you like making outlandish amounts of cash? How about hanging out in bars to swap stock tips? Or going into business with the Yakuza and potentially meeting a sticky end? If you answered yes to any of the above, hop into the time portal to 1980s Japan that is STONKS-9800, and get ready to make some serious money.
Unfortunately for you, it's not all sunshine and roses. A negative story got out about Mirubishi just after you gained a large share of the company. You’ll experience both the highs and lows of stockbroker life with STONKS, and yes, all-caps for its title are entirely necessary.
You don’t need to be part of Generation Remix to enjoy the wonderful adventure that is Cassette Beasts. It’s essentially Pokémon or Shin Megami Tensei, with your protagonist hurled into a parallel dimension called New Wirral. The map will delight anyone familiar with the North West, containing references to various places from the area.
As you traverse this region, you’re tasked with capturing ‘beasts’ by recording them onto cassette tapes and fusing them with the collection your NPC partner boasts to create hybrid monsters with a variety of moves that come in handy later down the line. Battling your way across the region is essential if you’re going to find your way back home.
Cassette Beasts is an endlessly inventive little passion project that, while stoking nostalgia, doesn’t wallow in it, allowing itself to reinvent old concepts into brand-new, fascinating ones. If you have any love for Pokémon, cassette tapes, or creating Frankenstein’s Monsters of your very own, you’ll find reasons to love Cassette Beasts.
Chants of Sennaar
At University, I studied both French and Russian at various times and to various levels of success. If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you’ll know how intimidating it is to sit down in front of a book full of glyphs you don’t recognize, but, you’ll also know how great it feels to crack that code and start to understand it.
Chants of Senaar files that feeling of wonder and accomplishment down into one razor-sharp point to jab into the language center of your brain (in a safe way). Loosely based on the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the game tasks you with learning the fictional languages of its inhabitants, and ultimately translating them into one another, letting different groups learn and befriend each other.
It’s a fantastic game for anyone who loves languages, with its driving themes prioritizing a smart and fulfilling experience, offering a genuine sweetness at its heart.
Food is a strong link for memories. You’ll remember what it was like the first time you tried your favorite food or the meals that you shared with those you love. Venba is a wonderful game that explores meals as moments that trap memories like amber, whether they are good, bad, or anything in between.
You play as Venba, an Indian woman from Tamil Nadu who has moved to Toronto with her husband. Over time, you’ll follow the couple through the birth of their son, experiences of racism, and grief, all framed by food. The meat of the game revolves around cooking various meals, puzzling out recipes from a damaged cookbook, in between scenes of the family’s experiences in Canada, and how they navigate the aforementioned scenarios.
It’s a heartfelt game that explores a perspective that typically goes unexplored in more mainstream gaming, and even though it is short, it’s an essential game of 2023.
Mr. Sun's Hatbox
Mr. Sun’s Hatbox begins with Mr. Moon stealing a box of hats destined for the kindly Mr. Sun. The player character, a courier, had one job: deliver these hats, and you’re going to make sure he gets his parcel no matter the cost.
This game launched out of nowhere and we’d argue it was one of the silliest, most enjoyable roguelite experiences of the year. The game’s main focus is on traversing platform levels that wouldn’t look entirely out of place in something like Rogue Legacy, bar the turrets and cameras, but it’s what you need to do in each of these levels that makes it pure gaming gold. In some, you’ll need to steal a certain item, but in others, you’ll need to kidnap certain other individuals. To do this, you’ll use a Fulton system which feels like something straight out of Metal Gear Solid 5. There are a dizzying number of different weapons and, of course, hats, each with its own status effect to help you on your way.
If that wasn’t enough of a genre mashup, you can add elements of XCOM in there too. In between missions, you’ll manage a base and be responsible for recruiting (and kidnapping) new footsoldiers, each with their own personality quirks and classes. Enjoy Mr. Sun’s wild ride and dream of a day when Evri is as efficient as your humble (if a little megalomaniacal) courier.
Shadows of Doubt
In a hard-boiled alternate 1980s where a corporation can be President, solving crimes seems to be no longer the domain of the (now privatized) police. Instead, this responsibility falls to you, a player-created private investigator. Tasked with solving all sorts of cases, you’ll need to establish just the facts, before checking phone records, CCTV footage, and a whole lot more to determine the guilty party. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at this game, so my PI tends to act like an absolute pillock, getting into fights with strangers and shouldering doors down.
That is a valid way to play the game though, and it’s a testament to how freeform Shadows of Doubt can be. Better players than me will crawl through vents, discover passwords for the game’s version of email, V-mail, and get to act all Sherlockian. This is the immersive sim genre at its finest, capable of generating an entire city unique to you, with every room able to be explored. It’s a game that could never have existed before now, and one that you should soak in, even with it still in early access.
Our list of the best indie games may also offer some overlooked adventures, however, if you want something more console-specific, we've got a list of underrated Switch games that will help you make the most of your hybrid handheld in no time.
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Freelance writer Joe Chivers has been playing games since the mid-90s, starting out on his brother’s old Amiga. Since then, he has played too many video games and thought too much about them, and has been published in The Guardian, PC Gamer, and Metro. Corner him in a pub and he’ll talk your ear off about why games are a legitimate form of artistic expression.