The Coolest Games We Played At Summer Game Fest 2023
You've probably already seen all the news out of Summer Game Fest 2023, but as with E3 in the past, this show allows members of the media and other content creators to meet with the developers of many of the hottest games on the horizon. At Summer Game Fest Play Days, we spent hours trying out all the most anticipated games, all while discovering several hidden gems among the leviathans.
While the Play Days aren't nearly on the scale of something like E3, which would typically happen during this time of year annually, the Game Informer crew has seen plenty of amazing games over the course of our time there. Check out our favorite titles we've seen, played, and talked about below, and be sure to check back throughout the weekend as we see more games!
Less than one year removed from his most well-received 3D entry in decades, Sega's Blue Blur is hoping to deliver a strong 2D entry to bolster the brand's recent resurgence. Sonic Superstars gives players the same 2D action they know and love from the classic run of Sonic games, as well as Mania. In addition to branching paths and the best 2D physics we've ever seen in a Sonic game with modern visuals, players can also play four-player co-op and utilize a new suite of Emerald Powers.
For more on Sonic Superstars, check out the reveal trailer here, or our full, hands-on impressions here. –Brian Shea
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals feels like returning to a familiar place in a great way. I’ve known about the sequel for a couple of years – since it was announced in 2021 – but it wasn’t until I went hands-on with it during Summer Games Fest that it dawned on me just how long it’s been since Oxenfree first came out.
It looks beautiful and features some excellent voice acting. While it plays largely the same as the first Oxenfree – walking, talking, and using things like a new walkie-talkie or radio to communicate with others on the sequel's Camena Island while selecting dialogue choices to add flavor to seemingly pre-determined conversations – it's fluid and feels like exactly what you'd expect out of a sequel to Oxenfree. I only got a taste of the story to come, but my 30 minutes of hands-on time ended with an event that reminded me that at the heart of the Oxenfree series are strange phenomena and spooky happenings.
I'm excited to see what this appetizing taste is teasing in the full game when Oxenfree II is released on July 12.
For more on Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, be sure to read my full impressions here. –Wesley LeBlanc
Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle game where you use outdated technology to manipulate your reality. The core gameplay mechanic on display during my demo is the ability to hold up a photo, drawing, or painting and transform it into reality wherever you were holding it from your viewpoint. During my playtime, I cross gaps by creating rooms and rotating a photo of a bridge to create a ramp that lets me reach the roof of a building.
These forced-perspective puzzles create trippy effects that I never got used to during my short time with the game, but the perspective-based puzzles were so enthralling that Viewfinder immediately catapulted to the top of my most anticipated games of this summer. Thankfully, if you want to check it out for yourself, you can play a demo right now, or you can simply wait just longer than a month for the full release on July 18. –Brian Shea
In Hauntii, you step into the role of a ghost who has arrived in the afterlife exploring to learn more about your past life. While that typically sounds like the setup for a cozy experience (particularly with the serene-yet-striking art style you see in the image above), Hauntii leans closer to an atmospheric twin-stick shooter with enemies and obstacles to blast through.
However, that doesn't mean you should expect bullet-hell-style gameplay. Instead, you use the twin-stick combat to solve puzzles and "haunt" objects. I use this to haunt a hillside, which does little to progress my playthrough. But by possessing a nearby turret, I'm able to crack open a previously impenetrable reservoir of resources and load up on health and shards. I enjoyed my time with Hauntii, but we have a bit longer to wait, as Hauntii is scheduled to arrive on PC (including Steam Deck) and consoles in Q2 2024. –Brian Shea
From the creator of the critically acclaimed Chicory: A Colorful Tale comes Beastieball. This Pokémon-inspired adventure subverts traditional team-building and role-playing mechanics by framing it all through the lens of a turn-based volleyball RPG experience with team member recruitment mechanics.
While it's difficult to truly grasp the merits of an RPG during a short demo, I love how the game pays homage to the basic Pokémon formula, complete with wild-creature encounters. And yes, the battles play out as turn-based volleyball games with each turn allowing for three actions. Beastieball sunk its hooks in me quickly, and I can already tell it might be a favorite indie title of mine when it comes to PC and Mac in 2024. –Brian Shea
Mortal Kombat 1
Each successive entry in the Mortal Kombat franchise feels like a big deal, but Mortal Kombat 1 feels monumental even among the long-running, beloved series. Representing a new era for the franchise, Mortal Kombat 1 brings its brutal-yet-beautiful combat forward, while adding new levels of depth in the form of a new Kameo system where you bring a classic version of an iconic character to perform various moves.
You can read our full hands-on impressions of Mortal Kombat 1 right here. –Brian Shea
Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior
I hadn’t heard of Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior before Summer Game Fest, but now it’s a game I can’t wait to play again. Developed by Sand Door Studio, this top-down action hack ‘n’ slash is novel and polished: fight opponents and obstacles, rewind time, and work with past versions of yourself to progress through challenging arenas. The core goal is to destroy every enemy in the arena as quickly as possible. Impressively, the development of Lysfanga started as a student project at ISART Digital, an international video game institute, and is now part of Quantic Dream’s new indie game publishing label.
Before starting a fight, the camera hovers over the arena – often featuring door switches, forcefields, and other traps – and allows you to chart the best path forward. While you can make quick work of weaker opponents, more complex enemies require precise coordination to defeat. For example, the Twins are a pair you must eliminate simultaneously, which is only possible by killing one, rewinding to the start of the fight, and targeting the second unit. At the same time, your remnant loops your previous actions. Another favorite is a shield-bearing enemy that requires you to draw its attention on your first path and then attack from behind during your second.
Perhaps the best sign of a great gameplay system, I found myself quickly reloading arenas repeatedly to best my previous completion time.
Since its reveal last year, I've been excited about Cocoon, a new sci-fi puzzle game from Jeppe Carlsen, a former lead designer behind Playdead's Limbo and Inside. And after playing it for roughly 30 minutes, I'm highly impressed with how it's shaping up. Its minimalistic, alien aesthetic is immediately striking, and the gameplay is fluid.
I solved puzzles to advance deeper and deeper into this strange world, and while the puzzles lacked challenge, they were serene, matching the overall ambiance of the game's setting. My demo ended with a unique boss fight, partly due to Cocoon's lack of traditional combat. This boss fight was more about surviving than defeating the enemy (although I did that, too), and I'm excited to see how Cocoon keeps me on my toes when the full game is out sometime this year. – Wesley LeBlanc
Paper Trail is an upcoming game from developer Newfangled Games, and while it's coming to PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC, I checked it out on a tablet because it's also releasing on mobile devices exclusively via Netflix Games.
At the core of this game is a unique puzzle mechanic that allows you to fold the scene before you like paper, hence the name "Paper Trail." It starts simple but quickly ramps up in difficulty, so much so that the Netflix producer with me informed me that Newfangled Games is working on an in-depth but optional hint system to help players out for the full release.
You need to move through each scene, but your path forward is often not clear. And that's because you need to fold a corner, or the top half or bottom half, of the scene before you in order to reveal a new spot to move the character. It's a unique mechanic and in my 10-minute demo, I saw it escalate in ways that hurt my brain. With that hint system and more time to fully engross myself with Paper Trail's unique paper folding mechanic, it could be a puzzle game I really enjoy. As for when to expect this game, Netflix tells me it’s coming soon. – Wesley LeBlanc
Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis
Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis is an upcoming free-to-play mobile version of Final Fantasy VII, retelling the original story (separate from what the remake is doing) with the narrative of Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core integrated into it. While this isn't necessarily something I've been asking for – I have the original Final Fantasy VII on various consoles and Final Fantasy VII Remake on PlayStation 5 already – I'm impressed with this mobile take on this beloved story.
I played a demo that consisted of the game's opening bombing mission. When walking around Midgar, Cloud and the gang are presented as Chibi characters, but the world around them looks akin to what's in Final Fantasy VII Remake (although lacking the same fidelity since this is on mobile devices). When characters talk, though, gorgeous, sharp portraits of each character appear next to their dialogue. And in combat, the game looks like Final Fantasy VII Remake (although, again, lacking in visual fidelity compared to the remake due to the mobile device constraint).
Combat plays out quite simply, with an active time battle bar dictating when you can use moves, and Cloud and friends level up in traditional RPG fashion.
This version of Final Fantasy VII isn't necessarily for me, but I don't think I'm the intended audience. If someone wants a streamlined, easy-to-comprehend, and on-the-go version of one of gaming's most beloved stories, Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis looks like a great fit. – Wesley LeBlanc
In Thirsty Suitors, you play as Jala, who has returned home after a pretty bad breakup. Returning home isn't easy, though, because Jala's now-defunct relationship caused turmoil elsewhere in her life. Back home, she attempts to repair her relationships with her parents, sister, and six exes.
To do that, you'll cook with your parents, battle your exes and minions in unique turn-based combat, and skateboard to your heart's content. The skateboarding is simple but fun, feeling less like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and more like Jet Set Radio. And the combat rules, utilizing status effects like "thirsty" and "heartbroken" and unique attacks to flip turn-based mainstays on its head. I only got a taste of the story, but it's backed by a great-sounding voice cast, and I'm excited to learn more about how Jala repairs her various relationships back home. – Wesley LeBlanc
When Foamstars was revealed last month, I admittedly wrote it off as a less-interesting take on Nintendo's Splatoon franchise. After playing it for roughly 30 minutes, though, there might be something to it. Two teams of four – comprised of four characters selected out of eight total characters across four class types – duke it out on an admittedly empty arena map. Our goal was to take out enemy players using our standard foam weapons and special abilities, but it was equally as important to cover the ground with foam so that moving around the map is easier and faster.
The combat was fun, and I liked how the different abilities mixed and matched. The map was disappointing, though, because it's quite literally a large empty area. Sure, foam quickly fills it, but it's lacking the inspiration and map diversity seen in its primary inspiration of Splatoon. Still, I enjoyed what I played, and I look forward to seeing how it shakes out in multiplayer games. Regardless of how it fairs, its jazz-pop score is something I'm already excited to hear more of. – Wesley LeBlanc
Monster Hunter Now
Following the runaway success of Pokémon Go in 2016 (and Ingress before that), Niantic continued creating augmented reality and map-based mobile games ranging from all-new IP like Peridot and Campfire to established franchises like Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Pikmin Bloom. The next licensed game from the AR team is Monster Hunter Now, a map-based monster battling game featuring Capcom’s beloved and renowned franchise.
Using your mobile device’s location, you can walk to nearby monsters, then engage in action-RPG combat. By swiping up and down, you can move closer and further away from your target, while swiping left to right lets you circle the monster and dodge. Tapping unleashes your equipped attack, though some weapons, like the longsword, have strong long-press charged attacks. The early monsters I hunted gave me little trouble solo, but the giant beast I attempt to slay alone takes me too long and the timer runs out. Thankfully, you can invite nearby players to join your hunt, with crafting rewards doled out to all who participate. Using that loot, you can upgrade your different weapons, with several different loadouts able to be equipped, including ranged weapons, longswords, shorter blades, sword-and-shield builds and more. I came away pleasantly surprised by how engaging the combat is and the loot system seems like a fitting reward for taking on some of the gnarly beasts that await in September. –Brian Shea