It's been a whole decade. A decade of T@P! Somehow I'm still here, doing these. Let's get right into it, starting with...

10. Eternights

Eternights is the most anime game I played all year, by every metric possible. One part dating sim and one part cyberpunk dystopia, Eternights is all about a group of plucky teenagers trying to survive when an anti-aging drug wreaks havoc. After the rest of the world morphs into techno-infused organic masses, it’s up to a handful of unaffected teenagers to save everyone and everything, all while battling their own hormones.

It is no mistake Eternights is first up, because it is rough around almost every edge. The character models convey emotion with big anime eyes and sweat drops, but look quite basic otherwise. The combat is full of creative ideas, but there’s a janky, imprecise feeling to every swing and dodge holding them back from their full potential. Of most note, however, is the writing itself. The broad story takes many engaging twists and turns, but a juvenile quality pervades all interpersonal interactions. For every joke to make me laugh out loud, another made me cringe so hard I almost imploded from second-hand embarrassment.

And here’s the crux of my dilemma here — to some extent, it actually makes the game more authentic. The average teenager is full of cringe. They’re tumultuous years where you’re still figuring out who you’re supposed to be, all while in the midst of a sexual awakening. Who wouldn’t deal in high volumes of cringe during the powder keg that is puberty? But boy, when you’re stuck watching the main character get squeamish because a girl needs a basic necessity like pads and you’re supposed to feel gross about it because "girl things icky," it is a pain without cease.

All that said, Studio Sai is the debut designer I'm most excited to see develop and grow. Despite all its rough qualities, Eternights is still a captivating and impressive accomplishment, especially from a studio the size of one. I almost have a sense of deja vu, placing Eternights here — back in 2013, Larian Studios took my 10th spot with Divinity: Dragon Commander, a game equally rough around the edges. Ten years later, Baldur's Gate 3 swept the game awards.

We'll see if I'm as on the mark with Studio Sai in a decade, too.

What's that? Where's Baldur's Gate 3 on my list?

Well, it's not number nine.

9. Sea of Stars

Another impressive indie release takes the number nine spot. Like many indie titles, Seas of Stars harkens back to SNES era J-RPGs. It’s with some regret I must say, this initially put me off from trying this one at all; many indie developers create games harkening back to an era that inspired them, but don’t always understand what made these games good in the first place. For every excellent SNES or NES-like indie game, there's nine similar well intentioned but poorly executed ones on the front page of Steam. Sea of Stars had the good sense to not simply be a carbon copy of an inspired work, but instead iterates to create something original.

Sea of Stars follows Valere and Zale, two children who undergo a strict training regimen to become "Solstice Warriors," soldiers who wield magical powers from the sun and moon. After experiencing their time-lapsed training montage (which also serves as your tutorial), you embark into the world to stop the ascension of a vile sorcerer known as “The Fleshmancer.” Like any good J-RPG, the gang amasses a band of plucky and eccentric allies along the way.

While visually Sea of Stars closely resembles Chrono Trigger, The more obvious inspiration here is Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Combat is built around timing button presses during attack and defense animations, with a few unique twists in your special moves. Where it takes a relatively unique approach, however, is resource management. Basic attacks refresh your MP, while skills and attacks fill a combo gauge, which allows two characters to perform a powerful action in tandem. There’s no saving your resources here — you’re encouraged to spend, spend, spend, then attack to refill your meters. It makes for a different kind of RPG experience, where you’re always free to use your biggest and baddest moves rather than hoard those resources for only boss fights.

Of last note, this one really comes together with impressive world building. Anytime the gang camps, the traveling historian Teaks is there to share stories about acquired tomes or artifacts, framed almost like a bedtime story for the crew. These stories are well worth hearing, but by no means are you forced to endure diatribes about the history of this strange land and its non-euclidean architecture. They're all entirely optional and easily skipped if you're just here for a fun adventure. For the lore hounds though, there's much to dig into, and it goes to show just how much work Sabotage Studios did creating a consistent, believable world.

Sea of Stars is a tremendous accomplishment in the indie scene, and delivers the complete fantasy RPG package from the days of old.

8. Jedi Survivor

I had many positive things to say about Star Wars: Jedi Survivor already this year, and back in the summer, I thought it might be a real contender for a top three spot. And yet, here we are.

Jedi Survivor picks up five years after Fallen Order. The cast of the original game is now scattered to the winds, fighting the Empire indepedently across the galaxy. When Cal accidentally awakens a deranged Jedi-gone-sith from the High Republic era, he also discovers a path to the planet Tanalorr, tucked away in an unknown pocket of space. He sets out to reunite the old crew in an effort to stop the rogue Sith, and locate this lost planet outside the Empire’s reach.

Unlike the relatively linear first game, Jedi Survivor instead bounces Cal and company back and forth between the same planets in one system, as new gadgets and abilities open new pathways. The star map to Tanalorr lies somewhere in this solar system, which leaves Cal and friends in a race to find it before their foes do, world hopping as both parties follow breadcrumbs back and forth.

It may be ambitious to say, but currently, this particular series stands poised to be the best modern Star Wars trilogy, assuming the final entry sticks the landing.

7. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk

In the words of the new hit track from Hideki Naganuma, I just can’t “Get Enuf”.

The inspiration for Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is apparent to anyone who ever owned a Dreamcast. Since Sega didn’t seem interested in making a new Jet Set game for the last decade, Team Reptile set out to do it themselves.

The premise? Welcome to New Amsterdam, where gangs all over are trying to make their mark as writers. Only the best succeed in going “All City”, tagging up the whole town while evading law enforcement and rival gangs. Cyberfunk strikes a darker tone than its predecessor though, because before you're even out of the tutorial, you get decapitated. You wake up with a red cybernetic dome instead, and set out to go All City to draw out “DJ Cyber,” who still has your real head preserved in a jar somewhere like a Futurama episode.

From there, it’s off to tackle each region and borough in New Amsterdam, taking on the other local crews, each with their own eccentric attire and hairstyles. Challenges vary between high scores, long combos, scuffs with local gangs or law enforcement, and tricky-to-reach tag locations. Bomb Rush does an excellent job putting all your skills to the test, sending you out on long distance grinds or dropping you into dry pools to test your air game.

As the game goes on you’ll add new members to your crew, all of whom use either bikes, rollerblades, or skateboards to get around. While similar in many respects, there’s some unexpected nuance between the three — bikes seem best for distance challenges, skates string together fast tricks, and the skateboard seems like the middle ground option between the two. Swapping between the appropriate choice for each challenge is key to success in Cyberfunk.

Honestly, the only reason Bomb Rush Cyberfunk took so long to beat is I kept getting distracted. Yeah, I could go do the next mission, but I’m at a 39 multiplier while cruising around the city and I’m not about to drop it now!

6. Final Fantasy XVI

It’s been a while since I’ve had positive things to say about a mainline Final Fantasy game. In fact, since we launched the website no single player Final Fantasy game has made the chart. The Final Fantasy XIII article (which I hope the fine folks at Hard Drive enjoyed) certainly isn’t an endorsement, and Final Fantasy XV I found good, but not great. Too many key aspects of the plot were relegated to outside media, or even worse, cut from the game entirely.

After two back-to-back subpar entries, Final Fantasy XVI was a treat. While the setting brings Final Fantasy back to high fantasy with castles, kings, royal families, and dangerous magic, the gameplay itself is a continuation of a trend XV began. Forget turn-based anything, Final Fantasy is now an action adventure affair.

While there’s a sense of betrayal about this shift, this direction is hardly surprising. In fact, I would even surmise the combat in XVI feels like what XV wanted to be — fast, frenetic, and flashy. Clive even begins the game with an ability not unlike Noctis and his phase shift. It doesn’t take long, however, for Clive to quickly add more tools to his utility belt of spells.

Combat in Final Fantasy XVI is all about cooldown management. Clive can only use his big flashy moves so often, and choosing when is crucial. In this regard, Final Fantasy XVI borrows another idea from a previous Final Fantasy entries with the stagger state. Once you bring a large enemy to its knees, the damage you inflict multiplies. Then you unleash all your big, flashy abilities to lay on the hurt, and return to a new phase of battle to build the stagger meter again.

Despite many articles claiming the story of Final Fantasy XVI is difficult to follow due to an abundance of proper nouns, it’s actually quite simple — and not just because the game includes a live encyclopedia. The game primarily follows Clive Rosefield, first son to the archduke of Rosaria. When tragedy strikes, the whole kingdom collapses and his family is scattered to the winds. Final Fantasy XVI follows Clive’s life from his teenage years all the way to adulthood as he hunts down all responsible parties, and reunites with his lost family along the way. And, of course, amasses a never-ending assortment of allies and godlike powers which you will use to slay even more gods and steal their powers.

Bombastic set pieces, grand spectacle, and tight controls make this one of the strongest mainline Final Fantasy games in quite a while... but, amazingly, that was not enough to crack the top five this year.

5. Hi-Fi Rush

I suspect Hi-Fi Rush will be missing from a great many lists due to its early release in 2023, and that’s going to be a grave injustice.

This is the closest we’ll ever get to playing an Edgar Wright movie. Much like his famous action scenes, all of Hi-Fi Rush moves to a musical pace. When our idealistic protagonist Chai goes into Vandalay Technologies for an arm replacement, he winds up with an MP3 player embedded in his chest. Vandalay can’t have anyone thinking they make such accidents, however, so it doesn’t take long for killer robots to start hunting him down. Thanks to the power of his new arm and the never-ending beat in his chest, Chai now sees the rhythm of the world.

And it ends up “the rhythm of the world” comes straight from my high school playlist, as every boss fight is set to a licensed song. Along the way you’ll duke it out to Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy, The Black Keys, and even 2000 era deep cuts like The Joy Formidable.

In terms of game mechanics, this means everything in Hi-Fi Rush happens on the beat. When you dodge on beat, the dodge is invincible. Likewise, attacking on beat does additional damage and powers up your blows. Even the enemies move to a rhythm, making all their actions and attacks consistent. The challenge comes as the game layers on more and more enemy types, all of which require different tools to conquer. Most of these tools come in the form of your companions, who Chai summons for tandem attacks. By the end, you’ve got a whole band of witty rebels at your disposal.

Mechanically and visually, Hi-Fi Rush is already on another level, but even putting that aside, the comedic writing is shockingly good. No game made me laugh out loud as consistently all year, as this gang of jokesters and wisecrackers somehow bumble from one victory to another. There’s a positive, upbeat energy from beginning to end, and an infectious nature to the optimism shining through all the darker elements.

I’d love to see this cast tackle more challenges someday, but even if such dreams never come to pass, this game is the total package.

4. Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3 is an exceptional hallmark of just how far Larian has come since the previously mentioned Divinity: Dragon Commander.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a D&D campaign come to life, complete with a narrative thrust to force a seemingly disjointed band of compatriots together. When your chosen (or created) character awakens aboard a Nautolid ship, mindflayers have prepped you for a very gross assimilation. After assembling a band of likewise abducted and infected citizens, you all band together to find a cure before you become mindflayers yourselves.

I do not think it is controversial to say Baldur’s Gate 3 is perhaps the best D&D game ever made. Where previous games in the series (including its titular predecessors) hid the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons, Baldur’s Gate 3 makes them front and center. Every skill check comes with a D20 to roll, fights are all turn-based, and just about every outcome or plan of action you can imagine is accounted for.

The greatest testament to the impressive design here is how every quest has a multitude of solutions. Goblin camp got your local druid grove down? Well, you can simply go murder them all. Or, you could make friends with them. Or, you could pretend to make friends with them, then go warn the druids and fight to protect the grove when they arrive. Or, you can get up on a cliff, stack up 40 barrels, and thunderwave them all down into the camp in a murderous hail. Or, if you really want, you can even side with the goblins and slaughter the whole dang grove. What'd the druids do for you anyway?

More memorable yet though, is the cast of rejects who make up your party. Everyone has their own goal, their own twisted little backstory, and their own interpersonal drama to play out along the lengthy journey to the eponymous big city. Their stories seem like side adventures, but they soon weave into the main narrative in ways that often caught me (and them) by surprise.

With as many moving parts as Baldur’s Gate 3 has, perhaps it’s not surprising I must caveat all this praise and say it is still a buggy mess. Crashes are still relatively common, especially in multiplayer on console, and there are plenty of odd quirks and bugs that popped up along my journey. At one point, a guard I’d already killed scolded me for trying to steal things out of a barrel nearby. Other times, characters suddenly wanted to talk about something that happened hours ago — and was something we’d already discussed at length when it happened. Fortunately autosaves happen enough none of these incidents ever set me back more than a half hour, but having to replay a difficult battle over after a crash will always be obnoxious. To Larian’s credit, they’ve pumped out one comprehensive patch after another every month since release, adding not only bug fixes but entirely new content.

Despite its flaws, Baldur’s Gate 3 still ranks high for its outstanding premise, complex design, and originality. There’s nothing quite like it out this year.

3. Resident Evil 4 (2023)

In my book, the original Resident Evil 4 is the gold standard for the entire franchise. For the past twenty years, I’ve compared almost every subsequent entry to Leon’s original Plagas-ridden adventure. After the success of the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, I had high hopes Resident Evil 4 could deliver again.

It exceeded expectations at every turn.

Rather than faithfully recreate 4, the remake instead looked to the original as an inspired template. Leon Kennedy is still exploring a nondescript rural Spanish town, the president’s daughter is still kidnapped, and a cult leader named Saddler is still at the center of everything, controlling the populace with the dreaded, tendriled Las Plagas.

However, the similarities begin and end at these broad strokes. Leon is a much more capable combatant this time around, now adept at using his knife to parry blows and deliver silent takedowns. The story also does a much better job tying all the major players together in a sensible way, rather than acting like a rotating door of randos who show up every chapter to complicate Leon’s life and leave. The phone calls (formerly used for Leon to deliver one-liners to the baddies) give the cast more time to endearingly converse and joke with one another.

The new script makes the cast more fully realized, rather than a collection of B-movie tropes. Saddler is reimagined as a charismatic cult leader instead of a seemingly disingenuous huckster, Ashley is now a more capable young adult instead of a bleary eyed teenager, and Ada Wong makes more of an effort to be a duplicitous spy operating from the shadows instead of a Bond femme fatale. Of particular note is the improved roles of Jack Krauser and Luis Sera. Krauser’s role as a former mentor and partner to Leon is more thoroughly explored than a single off-handed remark before a boss fight, and Luis Sera now spends much more time adventuring alongside Leon.

But don't worry — it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without some serious B-movie energy. Leon and company deliver plenty of cheesy one-liners in the face of danger, and the ostentatious monster set pieces are cranked up to eleven.

Altering a classic is always a dangerous gambit, but the Resident Evil 4 remake succeeded in delivering more than nostalgia — it sent me on a familiar adventure with a dozen new twists and turns, and in doing so improved on an experience I never thought could be improved upon.

2. Street Fighter 6

Street Fighter 6 is an absolute master class in Fighting Game design.

In the wake of Street Fighter V — a bungled mess from start to finish — it was hard to be optimistic about a sequel. Street Fighter V released with few modes, nasty input delay, and embarrassing net code. While it saw many improvements during its lifespan, it struggled to keep an active audience around.

Street Fighter 6 had more to prove than any other entry in Street Fighter history, but prove itself, it did. At EVO alone, Street Fighter 6 set the record for most entrants, easily doubling the pool of Strive competitors.

To start with the easy wins, Street Fighter 6 is like someone followed a checklist of everything wrong with the Street Fighter V launch and did the opposite. For those with little interest in online play, Street Fighter 6 delivers arcade runs, and a robust single player adventure called World Tour. As the name suggests, you design your own character and go world hopping, off to meet the cast in their various home countries. As you meet more and more, you also get to build your own moveset, like a stitched together Frakenstein’s monster of a Street Fighter character. Want Dhalsim’s stretchy limbs and Zangief’s SPD? Have at it. Want to Sumo Headbutt and Spinning Bird Kick in one combo? Also an achievable dream here.

If you aren't interested in chasing ranks, it’s off to the Battle Hub, where everyone assembles in a virtual arcade. While you can engage in some honest Street Fighter here, you could also partake in extreme battles (fights with additional modifications like falling bombs or running bulls), or even sit at a cabinet and play some totally unrelated old Capcom games.

Two concepts make this the best fighting game to date — the Drive Gauge, and modern controls. The Drive Gauge governs a whole host of mechanics, all of which give a player more options defensively and offensively. You can burn the bar to power up special moves, abruptly close distance, parry incoming attacks, push an attacker away and create space, or even go for a counter blow known as the Drive Impact. It creates a complex system of interactions which go beyond the typical strike, block, or throw mixup essential to the genre. Modern controls, meanwhile, removes the technical input barrrier to be competitive and turns special moves into simple button presses. While there’s been much, uh, “heated discourse” over this inclusion, I think it’s essential — the fighting game genre has always been a more niche scene, and modern controls brought many who wouldn’t have played otherwise into the fold. Plenty of pros have now proven the viability of modern, and I’d say it's for the best. For people like me who desire full optionality, classic controls are still there to master.

The one area I will levy critique at this new Street Fighter entry is the shop. Despite charging $60 for the game itself (plus a battle pass for additional characters), Capcom has set their sights on mobile game whales anyway. The prices in the goods shop are incredulous enough, but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle event was actually madness. Fifteen dollars per turtle costume is some Lex Luthor level nonsense. That’s 15 dollars to change the color of a bandana.

My gripes with Capcom’s greedy business model aside, Street Fighter 6 stands poised to have just as much impact on the entire scene as Third Strike, and that is about the highest praise anyone could offer a fighting game.

1. Alan Wake II

After thirteen years Alan Wake is finally back, and somehow, Remedy made it worth the wait.

If you have no idea why this man has a II after his name, allow me to get you up to speed. In the original Alan Wake, the eponymous author finds himself trapped in a horror story of his own making during a vacation to the small town of Bright Falls. An entity known as The Dark Presence, which resides nearby within Cauldron Lake, feeds off creative energy — music, art, and writing all serve to make it stronger and push its influence beyond the lake. Whenever anyone with a talented mind shows up in Bright Falls, The Dark Presence seeks to manipulate and control them.

In Alan Wake II, Alan is still lost in the Dark Presence’s domain after fifteen years. The new main character, Saga Anderson, is an FBI agent investigating disappearances and murders around Cauldron Lake... and while doing so, finds manuscript pages from a novel about herself. From here the game bounces back and forth between Alan and Saga, as Saga investigates his absence while contending with a violent cult, and Alan tries to write a way out of The Dark Place. The two storylines blend together, weaving in and out. Saga takes a calculated approach, operating in analyzation and deduction.

Alan's chapters meanwhile, are like being caught in a nightmare. The same doors lead new places, and Alan's ideas force a shift in reality. Instead of a board full of logical deductions, he instead uses the Plot Board to swap ideas in and out to alter his environnment.

In terms of combat, there's some similarities between Alan Wake II and our number three spot. While Resident Evil 4 succeeds in making you feel like a world class agent with tight controls, Alan Wake II instead conjures up the feeling of a mad scramble. Your “dodge” is more of a hurried stumble, and even the way characters reload or fire their weapons conveys a sense of desperation. The ammo capacity in every weapon is extremely low, which makes every shot essential and keeps tensions high until the threat is put down in one violent burst.

What truly separates Alan Wake II from everything else on the list is a powerful authorial intent. Everything is dripping with intentionality and purpose, even when it may not make for an enjoyable experience. Take, for example, Alan Wake II’s gameplay segments. Human silhouettes populate The Dark Place, and only a handful of them will manifest and attack. You have no way to know which ones will become violent until you’re right next to them. Now, you could shine your light on every single one, but resources are scarce. Discretion is the key to survival. It forces the same sense of dread and frustration Alan Wake feels upon you as a player. He’s never able to trust anything around him — the people, the world, even his memories will all turn hostile the second he becomes complacent. It does not take long for you to want out of the Dark Place just as badly.

Alan Wake II culminates into a powerful exploration of the fine line between creativity and obsession, the way such obsessions hurt loved ones around us, and the way in our darkest times, we turn our own facilities against ourselves... but it also examines the other side of the equation. How in our toughest hours, those very same people we hurt are our salvation, and have the power to pull us out of any Dark Presence.

That's the top ten, but there's a few other games worthy of mention. Starting with a very obvious absence...

Notable Omissions

Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

For once, I actually did play an entry in this header... for about five hours. Despite the clever premise, I couldn’t stick with it. I appreciate the creative expression Tears of the Kingdom allowed for, but when it comes to yours truly, all I did was build bridges to solve every problem. Get to a castle? Bridge. Get to a faraway island? Long bridge. Get around a U-shaped bend? Three bridges stapled together. My brain simply couldn’t grasp how to put the pieces together in compelling ways, and eventually I bounced off. I loved watching people play Tears of the Kingdom, but playing it myself felt like failing a pop quiz at every turn.

It’s not you, Link, it’s me.

Dishonorable Mention

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Gollum is excruciating. To start with the obvious, I don’t know who out there clamored for a Gollum game. It’s a bit like hoping for a Die Hard game where you play as Sergeant Al Powell.

If you ever played Uncharted or Prince of Persia and thought, “I wish this game was only climbing,” have I got the product for you. Gollum immediately opens with its titular character getting thrown into an orc camp, where you will proceed to spend seven hours climbing around wooden barricades and reddish cliffs. Sometimes you get to kill an orc with your bare hands, but only if they aren’t wearing a helmet.

The most engaging part of Gollum is when, in classic Gollum style, you have a debate with yourself. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between tedious hours of cliff hanging.

Of everything released this year, I found Gollum the most unpleasant. Apparently I streamed this game for three hours, but it felt like a full day.

Honorable Mentions

Double Dragon: Gaiden

I play a lot of beat ‘em ups. So many. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years, it’s how the genre really struggles to find its legs outside of the coin-op era. Double Dragon: Gaiden envisions a way forward by borrowing elements from roguelikes.

In Double Dragon: Gaiden, you pick two tag team characters to save the city from four gangs holding the city hostage. At the end of every stage, your characters get some kind of upgrade — additional properties on a special move, more health, invincibility frames. Something to make subsequent stages easier. Each stage you leave for later gets an additional area as the gang in question bolsters their defenses, adding another level to punch through before you reach the boss.

This means it's impossible to see the whole game in one run, because each gang’s hideout has areas you’ll only see if you leave them for last. It also creates a compelling reason to play again and again, to try out new builds, unlock new characters, and see the additional stages. It’s not the most robust Beat ‘em up I’ve played, but the novel approach is commendable and it would be cool to see others iterate on the concept.

Super Mario RPG

While the Resident Evil 4 remake looked to the original as inspiration, Super Mario RPG went the other direction entirely. It is the most faithful recreation of a beloved classic you could ask for. I had a great time playing this remake, but aside from the good nostalgia feels, it doesn’t bring much new content to the table. There are new trio attacks and a handful of post-game boss fights, but for the most part, it simply polishes what was already there to a delightful degree. I highly recommend it to both fans and first-timers alike, but it felt far too faithful of a one-for-one re-creation to make the list.

Marvel Snap

Yup, still playing it. All the time. Send help.