2023 has been filled with a ton of fantastic games, many of which are filled with innovation. Games like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Alan Wake 2 have redefined their genres through innovation, but not every 2023 release reaches that high bar. There are a handful of games that didn’t make big changes and feel just like games that came before them, or in some cases, a step back. These aren’t the worst games of the year. In fact, most of these games are good, if not great. They just didn’t have much innovation, falling into the trap of feeling cookie cutter in a year of great releases.
1. Sonic Superstars
Criticizing a Sonic game almost feels like cheating, but after Sonic Mania and Sonic Frontiers, Sonic Superstars feels like a step back. Both entries prior to this focused on innovation, with Sonic Frontiers going open-world and Sonic Mania making a retro 2D platformer with modern sensibilities. Sonic Superstars on the other hand goes back to the well of 2D Sonic, using a generic art-style and uninventive gameplay. It has a ton in common with Sonic The Hedgehog 4, which was another failed attempt at making a modern 2D Sonic game. Combine all that with a release date near Super Mario Wonder, and Sonic Superstars never had a chance at standing out.
2. Fire Emblem Engage
Remember when Fire Emblem: Three Houses reinvigorated the series by having incredible characters that you can develop deep relationships with? Fire Emblem Engage throws that out the window by filling your roster with cookie cutter characters and an uninteresting story. It trades a deeply politic story about shaky alliances and racist rulers for a silly romp with magic rings. Not only does Fire Emblem Engage not innovate, it actually takes a step back from the previous entry. Its saving grace is that Fire Emblem Engage has phenomenal tactical combat, which keeps it from being a complete disaster.
3. Wild Hearts
With the popularity of Monster Hunter at an all-time high, it makes sense that other studios would want a piece of the pie. Wild Hearts from Koei Tecmo and EA is a pretty solid attempt at making a Monster Hunter-style game, but it has one fatal flaw: it doesn’t really do anything beyond being a cookie cutter copycat. The biggest difference is that the monsters are closer to real world animals and there’s a building mechanic as well. The building mechanic was meant to be what makes Wild Hearts stand out, but it’s cumbersome and ultimately more of a tool than a core mechanic. By no means a bad game, Wild Hearts suffers from its inability to be different enough from Monster Hunter, while also not improving on it, either.
4. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a ton of fun to play, but it doesn’t do anything special in the Souls-like genre. In any other year, being a good one of those might have worked, but in a year when Lies of P and Lords of the Fallen brought plenty of innovation to the genre, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty doesn’t really stand out. Its cookie cutter status is earned through its lack of special sauce. Every mission goes through a linear level where you unlock some short cuts, leading up to a big boss fight. The gameplay is fun and some of the bosses are interesting, but this formulaic feel drags it down. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty falls victim to sticking too close to the staples of the Souls-like genre.
Perhaps the shining example of cookie cutter games in 2023, Starfield can be summed up by simply saying “it’s a Bethesda RPG.” While there is fun to be had, it contains many tropes of the studio’s past games, like the classic face zoom cutscenes. What felt like a studio style, now feels old and out of date. It has jank in its gameplay and frustrating systems like encumbrance. It’s biggest failure is that the main innovation in the game is its massive universe filled with explorable planets. Unfortunately, many of those planets are empty and all start to feel similar, making for unrewarding exploration. For a game that was marketed as a genre-defining experience, Starfield feels like old Bethesda RPGs in an outdated way.