Thursday night’s annual presentation of The Game Awards was ostensibly about recognizing the best games that came out in the last year, and titles like God of War: Ragnarok and Elden Ring ended the night as big winners. But anyone who’s watched any of the annual Geoff Keighley-led award presentations in the past knows The Game Awards aren’t really about the awards. They’re all about the countless “World Premiere” trailers and announcements for upcoming games coming in the next year and beyond.
In that spirit, we present Ars Technica’s first ever “The Game Awards” Awards. The below list comprises our picks for the most exciting, interesting, confusing, or otherwise noteworthy trailers of the night, all presented without the need to sit through over three hours of awards show padding. Best of all, we get to make up the categories as we go, ensuring we can give a prize to any worthy trailer we want.
So, without further ado, onto the awards:
Best Unexpected Sequel
Supergiant Games’ short history has only featured four games so far, and all of them have been instant classics, from 2011’s Bastion to 2020’s Hades. What none of them have been, though, is sequels; Supergiant tends to start from scratch each time, crafting a new, strikingly original game from the ground up. So when a trailer for a proper Hades sequel popped up at The Game Awards, it was easily the night’s most pleasant surprise.
This time around (according to an accompanying FAQ) you’ll be controlling Melinoë, a princess of the underworld who’s trying to stop Chronos, the seemingly unstoppable Titan of Time itself. The settings and basic gameplay look awfully familiar in this trailer, even for a sequel. Then again, when you’re making a follow up to our favorite game of 2020, maybe you don’t need to change all that much.
Best “Bioshock” Successor
Even without the introductory text screaming that it’s “from the creator of Bioshock,” it would be easy to clock Judas as a spiritual successor to Ken Levine’s popular franchise. Everything about this trailer screams “BioShock in space,” from characters who can “load” flame powers into the back of their hand to the use of recontextualized folk music and old-timey scenery design to set the mood.
The trailer ends with a message of “Fix what you broke,” and doesn’t give a whole lot of context for what exactly that means. But the quick cuts between gameplay scenes feature enough heavily mechanized robots, destroyed space transports, and vaguely steampunk weaponry to pique our interest. Now that we’re approaching ten years since Bioshock Infinite, we’re eager to see what Ken Levine and his new team at Ghost Story Games can pull off in this totally new setting.
Death Stranding 2
The “Keep On Keeping On” Award
Planned release: TBD
Links: Official website
Back in 2017, the trailer for the original Death Stranding left us scratching our heads at what the hell we had just seen. And when we finally got to play the game in 2019, we can’t say out confusion was reduced by all that much.
The DS2 trailer starts off a little more comprehensible, with a scared mother figure cradling a baby as she tries to escape a shadowy threat on some sort of motorized unicycle. After she’s knocked down by a bullet, dropping the baby on the ground, we cut over to Death Stranding protagonist Sam Porter Bridges, watching a huge metal hover-fortress rise up from the black muck. “It’s time for you to hit the road and start a new journey,” we hear.
Seems relatively straightforward for Kojima, and despite the utter perplexity of the first game, we still somehow can’t wait to see what wild ridiculousness he has in store for us this time around.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The “Actually a Movie Trailer” Award
Platforms: Theaters, DVD, streaming
Planned release: April 7, 2023
Links: Official website
Just a few days after the second formal trailer for the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie, The Game Awards gave us our first extended sequence from the film, comprising just over a minute of uncut screen time. That quick footage is absolutely loaded with Toads and also with hidden Easter eggs for Mario fans—keep an eye out for the Crazy Cap Shop, P-balloons and music boxes in the background, and an antique shop selling NES cartridges (“You just have to blow in it” to get it to work).
We also get our first extended look at the movie version of some common Mario platforming staples, from moving platforms and floating brick walkways to clear pipes that bounce Mario painfully around every curved corner. The mix of slapstick action and pure game-based nostalgia seems likely to be a hit with families, even if Chris Pratt’s weird voice is still a bit off-putting.
Most Mind-bending Gameplay
An unseen protagonist holds up a photo on a printed tweet. A click is heard, and the tweeted photo suddenly becomes a window into a full 3D room that the protagonist can enter and explore. We’re only five seconds in and my mind is already struggling to comprehend what is going on in Viewfinder.
The idea of projecting 2D images onto a 3D scene for puzzle solving purposes isn’t totally original; games like Scale and Antichamber have similar conceits, to name just a few. But Viewfinder‘s implementation seems especially elegant and beautiful in this short trailer, which slowly evolves into some truly Escher-esque space-bending situations. By the time the trailer ends with the screams of multiple Edvard Munch paintings, we’re completely lost and also completely intrigued.
Dead Cells – Return to Castlevania DLC
Best “Needle Drop” Moment
Sure, this animated trailer featuring the fire-headed Dead Cells protagonist starts out strong. But our hearts really started pumping about 34 seconds in, when the familiar “ba-da-bum-bummm” of the Castlevania theme music dropped in, along with the reveal of new playable characters Richter Belmont and Alucard.
The trailer doesn’t show any gameplay indicating how these new characters will actually fit in to the Dead Cells world, and frankly we don’t much care. Just play that music and we’re there.
Most Beautiful Pixels
There are some definite Fallout vibes to this trailer’s early, tinny radio broadcasts, which discuss how a radiation disease is wreaking havoc on the planet. But then the scene transitions to a gameplay featuring smoothly animated, 2D characters (complete with chunky pixels) moving through hyper-realistic 3D environments.
It’s a stunning mix, and one that immediately stands out from all the other slickly packaged titles at this year’s Game Awards. The most striking thing about the whole presentation is the lighting, with neon lights reflecting off of standing pools of water and held torches casting realistic shadows on the otherwise flat characters. While we don’t yet know how fun this game will be to actually play, we already know that we can’t stop looking at it.