Continuing the site’s prestigious Year-in-Review series, I’m back with an enhanced category this year that expands on my history of shouting out the developers and publishers that defined the industry the past year.
These are five of the most impressive companies that operated in the gaming space during 2023, leading the charge on what was an extremely strong year of titles. These can be developers, publishers, hardware makers and more.
Plus, fitting the theme of celebrating those that worked hard on putting out great games or related products this year. I’ve added a portion to shout out at least a couple folks at each firm integral to the projects these companies have produced. Companies aren’t monolithic. They aren’t the building, logo or executives. They are people.
Note this is usually reserved for larger, often publicly-traded, firms. I have a separate post incoming soon running down the incredible indie studios that launched amazing games in 2023 as well.
Here’s the full list, in alphabetical order!
Long-time Japanese publisher Capcom continued its resurgence this past year, launching two of the industry’s most recognizable, outstanding experiences. First in May, teams teams put out a remake to the classic Resident Evil 4, an enhanced version of the already classic survival horror game, becoming one of the fastest-selling Resident Evil titles and scooping up various accolades.
Then there was Street Fighter 6 in June, a return-to-form for the fighting franchise that captivated fighting games and a more casual audience. Plus, September’s Monster Hunter Now was one of my favorite mobile titles of 2023, an exceptional adaptation of the formula to a new set of devices.
Special kudos to Street Fighter 6 director Takayuki Nakayama and art director Kaname Fujioka. These two guided the general design and art of one of Capcom’s fastest-selling fighting games, and a competitive platform that will be heavily featured in official tournaments and off-book battles for years to come.
Insomniac Games (United States)
The team at Insomniac Games single-handedly carried PlayStation’s first party output in 2023, launching a major sequel in its beloved modern Spider-Man series in collaboration with one of last year’s winners in Marvel Entertainment. Plus, it showed resilience earlier this month when hackers breached its data in a cruel criminal act that rocked the industry.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, which had the single biggest 24 hours of sales in PlayStation history when it released in October, felt like the pinnacle of the studio’s ethos. It’s a free-flowing take on the comics with its own spin on the hero’s journey that features both Peter Parker and Miles Morales, plus the villainous Venom which is the star of the title’s most exhilarating sequence. It’s a, hm, marvel of technical prowess and smart accessibility, with the snappiest loading and finest traversal of any game this year.
Creative lead Bryan Intihar was wonderfully sharp and candid in interviews, clearly exhibiting his deep love for the series and studio’s legacy. I’d also like to call out Senior Community Manager Aaron Jason Espinoza who runs the developer’s social accounts and is a solid follow himself.
Larian Studios (Belgium)
It was a Larian Studios world in 2023, everyone else was just living in it. The 400-person Belgian team’s appearance here comes on the strength of Baldur’s Gate 3, a decade plus effort that started in early access back in 2020 then fully launched this year in August to widespread critical acclaim and highly-deserved commercial success.
The instant classic has already won multiple Game of the Year awards, and will contend on my list when I finish it up, redefining the computer role-playing space with its scope, breadth and utter audacity of ways to play, reacting to player choices like no other game in recent memory.
One of my shout outs has to be Swen Vincke, photoed above, Larian fixture and star of The Game Awards in his shiny armor. Vincke’s talent is outmatched only by his team dedication, posting an endearing set of thank yous on social to those that made Baldur’s Gate possible. Plus, there’s Adam Smith, who led the title’s writing. The sheer amount of dialogue, story beats and permutations is enough to make one’s head spin, and Smith’s team coordinated it brilliantly.
In the potential final year of Nintendo’s now illustrious Switch, it brought the heat in a portfolio of games that rival only the hybrid console’s 2017 launch window. May’s The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and October’s Super Mario Bros. Wonder are easy Game of the Year contenders, with the former reaching nearly 20 million units sold already and the latter being the fastest-selling mainline Super Mario.
The company rounded out its 2023 lineup with Pikmin 4, already the franchise’s lifetime top seller, Metroid Prime Remastered, Detective Pikachu Returns, WarioWare: Move It! and Super Mario RPG remake. Then, back in April, it collaborated with Illumination Entertainment on box office blast The Super Mario Bros. Movie, an awesome adaptation that exceeded most expectations both in quality and cash generated.
Usually it’s Shigeru Miyamoto that’s associated with the Italian plumber, and rightfully so. I want to point out the more unsung, tenured heroes on the team in Super Mario Bros. Wonder producer Takashi Tezuka and director Shiro Mouri. Tezuka-san is a living legend, starting at Nintendo a staggering 40 years ago. Dude was assistant director on 1985’s Super Mario Bros. for crying out loud. Mouri-san is a relative “newcomer” who worked on F-Zero during the Nintendo 64 era then certain 2D Mario and Zelda titles. These two have a magnificent track record and helped craft what I think is the greatest side-scrolling Mario since 1990’s Super Mario World (a game that Tezuka-san also led).
Remedy Entertainment (Finland)
If 2019’s Control was Remedy going for mind-bending action, October’s Alan Wake 2 was its foray into classic survival horror, and a monumental one at that. There’s nothing quite like a Remedy game as the Finnish studio’s approach is unlike any other, pushing boundaries of both technical aspects and genre-mashing to form titles that are wholly different and often groundbreaking.
This year’s masterful sequel to 2010’s Alan Wake was the culmination of a 13 year journey for the team, showing a level of sticktoitiveness that plenty of studios would abandon. Alan Wake 2 is an experience that blends suspenseful story, full motion video and over-the-shoulder mechanics in what’s the most uniquely bizarre triple-A joint of 2023.
From the above image are lead writer Sam Lake and Alan Wake 2 director Kyle Rowley, clearly enjoying themselves while winning at The Game Awards. Industry visionary Sam Lake has become the face of the studio and is prominently featured in their games, thus carving carved out a lane for Remedy’s weird, magical approach to design. As for Rowley, if there’s anything that the new Alan Wake installment should be known for in the annals of history, it’s game direction. The definition of an impressive effort by him and his team.
Sources: Company Media & Investor Websites, Kotaku (Image Credit).