While a bit of a reductive way to look at the numerous positives and negatives from any given work of art, I’ve always been fond of the list format. I find it very soothing to ponder and categorize my experiences with various pieces and present them. It’s fun!
I played a lot of video games from 2022, and I wanted to talk about all of them at least a little bit.
#50: Saints Row
I’ve written about Volition’s 2022 Saints Row reboot before on this blog, so I won’t repeat myself too intensely here, but this game is an unfortunate catastrophe. While I’m not the biggest fan of what the franchise was doing before the reboot, 2022’s game leans so far into trying to be a “serious” game while holding onto the wacky, care-free annihilation of meaning that the resulting game is an infuriating slog. Even now, it’s hard to tell where Saints Row stands on anything, and when combined with a stock-feeling world, dull gunplay, and numerous technical issues, there’s nothing to recommend here.
#49: Trek to Yomi
Developer Flying Hog has had a hell of a 2022, with this game, Shadow Warrior 3, and Evil West all coming out and showing that they have a real knack for making things that strike you with their visuals. While I haven’t played Evil West and we’ll get to SW3, though, that visual strike doesn’t have nearly enough weight behind it to count. Trek to Yomi positions itself as a 2D take on Ghost of Tsushima’s love letter to classic Japanese cinema, and like with that game, I find the homage pretty hollow. Beyond that, the game never reaches the smooth connection between the game and player, holding you to a combat system and traversal that isn’t hand-crafted enough to elicit memories of Inside nor refined enough to get the adrenaline pumping.
#48: The Callisto Protocol
It’s very hard to talk about a game that is fundamentally busted from the idea phase onwards, and for Dead Space spiritual sequel The Callisto Protocol, that can’t be more true. A survival horror game where the main form of interaction is a proto-Punch Out melee system is one of those ideas that is novel and unique, but should have been immediately discarded upon the arrival of a prototype. Mediocre level design and an uninspired story also hamper this game, only bolstered by its truly exceptional visual and sound design, but at the root, Callisto Protocol plays more like a PS1 de-make of Dead Space than the next-gen evolution its visuals tout it to be.
#47: Horizon Forbidden West
A lot of people loved the sequel to 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, and I wish I was one of them. While Zero Dawn’s characters and combat were enough to distract from the bloated world and nonsense story, Forbidden West doubles down on those negative attributes, creating the exact sort of game people who wanted to live in Zero Dawn’s world wanted. Unfortunately, that’s not what I come to games for, so while I can confidently say that I enjoyed very little of my time with Aloy, this is a me problem, and a comfortable reminder that the Ubisoft open-world formula feels like wading through a swamp for me.
#46: Aperture Desk Job
I love Valve’s games. When they’re on, with Portal, Half-Life, or Left 4 Dead, it’s like magic. And it’s unfair to expect the free 30-minute Steam Deck tech demo to live up to those lofty ambitions, but even in its limited scape, Aperture Desk Job just isn’t all that interesting. Without really any meaningful gameplay to toy with, the narrative is all that’s left, and Aperture Desk Job doesn’t hit that mark. It feels like playing Job Simulator without the charm of being in a VR space, and I don’t know what the appeal of that is.
#45: Sonic Frontiers
There’s a good argument to be made that Sonic Frontiers is the most interesting game of 2022. Not the best, not by a long shot, but the most interesting. Sonic Team’s balancing act between Sonic Adventure and Breath of the Wild is a big swing, and a swing I hope they continue to refine, but as is, Sonic Frontiers is a messy, glossy failure. Even the best 3D Sonic games feel unfinished, but Frontiers is so big and so empty that at times it’s hard to believe you’re not playing an alpha version, even when the game’s moments of greatness shine through and distract you from this feeling.
#44: Dying Light 2: Stay Human
I maintain my long-held belief that the original Dying Light is a spectacular game. Plot aside, the game’s setting meshes perfectly with a hyperactive set of movement that sings like a dream. This belief got my appetite very wet for the long-awaited sequel, and as long as they kept the plot sparse and the movement fluid, I wouldn’t have a problem. They beefed up the plot by about 500% and didn’t make it much better. By trying to play with the big boys as opposed to refining their beautiful little sandbox, Dying Light 2 is just another big AAA open-world and that’s not good enough.
#43: Windjammers 2
This one isn’t the game’s fault, it’s mine. A gloriously bright revival of an old arcade two-player sports game, it isn’t Windjammers 2’s fault that I don’t like that era of arcade sports games, because such a meticulous recreation deserves someone who likes what the game is recreating. But I would be lying if I didn’t put it here.
#42: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
Having only played Borderlands’ first and most recent game (I’m getting to the good ones soon), it is with a glad heart I can confidently say that not only is Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands far and away the best Borderlands game I’ve played, and also at points kind of good in its own right! Ashly Burch’s performance carries this game, and the more whimsical tone/humor are a lot more compatible to me than Borderlands’ Reddit-speak, although the funky mixture of arena shooter with grindy RPG still doesn’t sit particularly right with me.
#41: Shadow Warrior 3
For someone with a severe love of old-school shooters, I haven’t dipped into the famously racist 1997 shooter Shadow Warrior, nor its Devolver-published, Flying Wild Hog-developed revival, starting my journey with this series with its quickly forgotten third entry. Even without first-hand knowledge, it’s clear from Shadow Warrior’s story and humor that the Polish studio is still reckoning with this series’ past, although more earnestly than I would have expected. This achievement doesn’t, however, improve the humor or the level design that often finds itself uninspired, cramped, and forgettable. In this second golden age of the FPS we’re living in, Shadow Warrior 3 is a capable drop in the bucket that will be damned to a fate of being forgotten, neither remarkable nor poor enough to make an impression.
#40: Metal: Hellsinger
Sometimes it’s bad form to critique a game solely by comparing it to a similar game, and maybe it’s unfair that every minute I spent with Metal: Hellsinger felt like a hollow imitation of 2020’s exceptional BPM: Bullets Per Minute, but that’s how I felt. Following the same core loop of a rhythm-based arena shooter taking a lot of design cues from classic and Boomer shooters, Metal: Hellsinger trades the rogue-lite structure and gaudy art design for polish and a frankly miserable story led by a rather weak Troy Baker performance, and in its polish loses what made BPM one of the best games of its year: the fun. Metal: Hellsinger is a love letter, and maybe that letter would read better if I didn’t have a better game to compare it to, but as it stands, this letter has some sloppy penmanship.
#39: Nintendo Switch Sports
While I’m sure it didn’t cost nothing to make, has there even been a better return on investment than Wii Sports? Outside of maybe Super Mario Bros. or Halo in terms of launching consoles, the Wii’s pack-in freebie is still a source of great joy and nostalgia, so it’s not a shock that Nintendo would continue to try and strike gold another time…again. I’m not sure why the WiiU’s Wii Sports Club wouldn’t have tipped Nintendo off that the magic of that original minigame collection came not from its content but in its free-ness and ease of understanding, but I’m sure when the Switch 2’s sports game comes out, they’ll have finally learned their lesson. The games themselves still kinda rule though for about an hour.
#38: Not for Broadcast
Much like how we’re still seeing knock-offs of Portal 15 years later, has there been a more influential indie game from the 2010s than Papers, Please? I’m sure no, if for no other reason than that decade had more influential indies than I can count, but much like Valve’s game, Lucas Pope’s title seems to inspire people to take as much from the original text as they’re legally allowed to without plagiarism. This brings us to Not for Broadcast, a fascinating and mechanically thrilling game focused on running a news broadcast of FMV clips in a fascist 1980s country. The problem here is the writing, honestly. While the mechanics of running the show never cease to be a great deal of fun, even when the game pisses off and forces me to restart my entire computer, Not for Broadcast’s view of dystopia is not just muddled politically, although I’m still not sure what it’s even saying, but the desire to lean into wacky pastiche cripples any greater themes by wasting minutes at a time on the broadest culture critiques imaginable. Points should be set aside for the lead performances of Andrea Valls and especially Paul Baverstock as the lead anchors for this news program, but even their inspired work can’t keep Not for Broadcast from being crushed under the weight of its political and creative indifferences.
#37: Nightmare Reaper
I love rogue-lites, I really do, but I think the genre’s prevalence has steered some very promising developers in the wrong direction. Unlike other Boomer shooter misfires, like the ones on this list, Nightmare Reaper doesn’t lack for personality, story, or an impressive level of design. The gameplay feels great, and it’s no place of mine to lie and say that Nightmare Reaper isn’t made with a masterful degree of skill. However, the randomized levels bloat the game severely, crippling the spatial awareness and (at times) memorization that makes the best shooters sing. If the developers behind Nightmare Reaper make a traditional shooter with all of the same bells and whistles but with a prepare set of levels, I think it’ll sit alongside Dusk and Amid Evil as one of the titans of this FPS revival, and should that happen, I’ll gleefully buy it day one.
#36: Midnight Fight Express
I really wish I liked Hotline Miami. The hyper-difficult top-down brawler/shooter made a great deal of waves with its hyper-kinetic gameplay and nihilistic story, but the harshness of the game’s difficulty and general air of meaninglessness never sat right with me. Midnight Fight Express fixes some of these problems, being far more generous with its difficulty and replacing the joy of nothingness with the joy of B-movie schlock, but the core gameplay loop never managed to impress me all that much. For people clamoring for more Hotline, Midnight Fight Express is a more than acceptable substitute, but it’s not enough to get me to fall in love with this style of game. Is that fair pressure to put on a single game? I’m not sure.
#35: Forgive Me Father
What I would give for the level designer of Forgive Me Father to join forces with the Nightmare Reaper team. A Boomer shooter with a Lovecraftian twist, Forgive Me Father bogs itself down with systems upon systems, often to the point where it obscures genuinely fantastic shooter design and a delicious cast of otherworldly enemies. Sure, the Lovecraftian twist is overplayed, but even though many aspects of Forgive Me Father wore me down, there is a hell of a game in here that deserves to be iterated upon.
#34: Cult of the Lamb
Every year in tandem with the various AAA games that I don’t click with, there are always one or two beloved indie gems that do surprisingly little for me. I always end up buying them on Switch and being let down. This isn’t to say that Cult of the Lamb is a bad game, it’s made with buckets of love and polished to a mirror shine, but it just doesn’t…feel right. I’ve really fallen in love with a number of great management sims and a vast number of action rogue-likes, but Cult of the Lamb’s genius-on-paper decision to combine the two with a sickly cute story cripples both sides of the equation to make a paper-thin experience that starts magical and quickly falls.
#33: Pokémon Legends: Arceus
What a weird year it’s been for the most profitable media franchise of all time. Pokémon has always been an odd duck, often stuck in the 90s, both in good and bad ways. The mainline games constantly find themselves reveling in elegant simplicity, only to be bogged down by ideas and gameplay shifts that, while about as refreshing as a tall glass of water on the surface of the sun, has none of the polish that comes from making the same game for 25 years. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the most exciting Pokémon game ever made…and I think by the fifth Legends game, it’ll finally work for me. The atmosphere is elite and I want GameFreak and The Pokémon Company to continue to stretch their wings, but without proper time and testing to make a game worthy of these high ambitions, I can’t see these games, for as loved as this entry is by many, having the same staying power as the janky, old-fashioned, but purely refined traditional games.
Oh, look, another beloved indie I’m wrong about. Stray’s appeal has often been reduced to ‘the cute cat game’, which even for a game I was let down by, feels mean-spirited and willfully ignorant of what the game is trying to do. A gorgeous adventure title with a whole lot of world design and an equally large amount of screwing around, Stray’s charms wore thin for me, sure, but they never compromised themselves. It’s more than a cat simulator, it’s a stealth game, and a puzzle game, and a walking simulator, and an evolution on the point-and-click genre…but maybe the game would have been more fun for me were it just a cat simulator?
Sweet, sweet Tunic. As more and more indies take inspiration from Dark Souls, the results have been weird. Sometimes it sings, but more often than not, it’s clear that From Software walks a specific line to make their design choices so impactful without bogging themselves down in it. Tunic’s inspiration runs deep, maybe the most inspired by Souls a non-Soulslike is aside from the masterpiece that is Hollow Knight. Much like that game, Tunic’s Zelda-inspired map and traversal is breathtaking, rewarding stuff, but unlike Team Cherry’s game, Tunic’s combat is unclear, hampered by the game’s refusal to give easy answers, and can often crumble under the isometric perspective. Without combat, Tunic is one of the best games of the year. With the combat, it falls into the wrong side of frustration far too often to be worth the magic of the game’s better half.
#30: Spark the Electric Jester 3
The best Sonic game this year, Spark the Electric Jester 3 is another entry in the mini-canon of Sonic fan games that became series in their own right, definitely below Freedom Planet in notoriety, but no slouch in the game design sense. Mostly similar to Sonic Adventure 2 or Sonic Heroes (the best one) in its design, Spark the Electric Jester 3 carries over some hedgehog staples into its book: a bonkers story, weird backtracking, dreadfully inconsistent performance, and a litany of other issues. The difference is the level design is really good, and while I wouldn’t call Spark’s third outing a great game, it’s the best 3D Sonic game in at least as long as I’ve been an adult.
#29: The Quarry
The good universe version of Quantic Dream, prolific developer Supermassive Games has had a hell of a time both riding on the success of, and attempting to recreate, their PlayStation 4 success story Until Dawn. The Quarry is the closest they’ve gotten, succeeding far and above the mediocre-to-abysmal Dark Pictures Anthology series, but it still fails to capture the campy bliss of that 2015 game. The Quarry is ambitious, long, and sprawling, with a story with not enough juice to recreate any of those adjectives, but this intention does produce enough charm to keep you walking towards the end if this is your sort of thing. This is absolutely my sort of thing, so while The Quarry is pretty terrible at communicating with the player while also being obnoxiously wordy, and is hampered by technical issues and uninspired performances, I can’t help myself but root for these guys. One day they’ll make The Great Horror Narrative Game, and I’ll be happy. Until then, I’m not happy per say, but I’m confident knowing I will be one of these days.
#28: Far: Changing Tides
When looking at a game like 2018’s Far: Lone Sails, it’s easy to desire the game’s satisfying exploration loop to go on longer. The first Far is barely three hours long, polished to a razor’s edge, and one of the few recent games to feel like it’s carrying on the legacy of thatgamecompany’s titles like Journey, if not as impressive as that game. I came to Far: Lone Sails at the beginning of this year, mostly to prepare for the 2022 sequel; I believe that was my biggest mistake. Would I have spent four years in between these two games, it would have been much harder for me to feel the lack of innovation, and instead been happy to return to this idea, only bigger and more complicated. Having less than one year between experiences, though, it’s hard not to think on how this game hasn’t excelled, because while Far: Changing Tides is still fun and relaxing, it is now just a little too complex, a little too long, and vastly less optimized technically. It’s still good, because that initial instinct is right: a good game sprouts desire for more of that good game. But the original’s restraint was there for a reason.
#27: Trombone Champ
Meme games have a tendency to suck, and while it would be easy to write off Trombone Champ as a meme game, hastily built for a quick gag, it’s anything but. A game filled with weird secrets all built off a few solid jokes that have only slightly less gas in them than the game’s runtime allows, Trombone Champ never matches the hysterical heights of seeing it in action for the first time (and I think the game’s mild virality might have robbed the audience of this moment a bit), but it’s no slouch as a goofy rhythm game in its own right.
#26: Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
My favorite game of 2019 is still Fire Emblem: Three Houses. No, I haven’t played Disco Elysium yet. No, I haven’t played Outer Wilds yet. But as an introduction to the long-running strategy RPG series, Three Houses is a bit of a miracle, a dense text worth sinking your teeth into every aspect of so you can suck all the marrow out. That same care in the writing and character work is given to the Musou alternate universe spin-off, Three Hopes, and it helped me realize just how much the tactical gameplay was imperative to how much I liked Three Houses. Three Hopes is an incredibly accomplished game, its wonky performance on the Switch a constant reminder at how much worse it could be, but when Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was starting to get on my nerves a bit as a 20-hour game with a wholly unique story, Three Hopes’ 40-hour trip through memory lane just isn’t going to cut it.
#25: Bayonetta 3
I don’t get Bayonetta, I never really have. All three of the games are incredibly well-designed games, but compared to other character action games like Devil May Cry or even other entries in the genre by Platinum such as Metal Gear Rising or the exceptional Nier: Automata, I’ve never felt at home controlling the sexy, all-powerful witch queen. So maybe what Bayonetta superfans didn’t connect with about this third game, the wackier premise and bigger focus given to other characters, is why Bayonetta 3 is my favorite game in the trilogy, I understand that it’s a swing that’s not going to work for everyone. Even so, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Bayonetta’s game feel just isn’t made for me. Give her a sword, or something.
#24: Grapple Dog
Wonky physics and occasional difficulty spikes can’t keep Grapple Dog down. For a game where you can zip to surfaces with a grappling hook, the most shocking thing about Grapple Dog’s design is that it is meticulous, taking more cues from 90s exploratory platformers like Donkey Kong Country or Gex than the speedy Sonics or Bubsys that it looks like. This choice lets Grapple Dog’s design come out in interesting and creative ways, an unabashedly charming game designed first and foremost for kids and people who want to feel like kids. It won’t turn heads the way Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair or even Kaze and the Wild Masks did, but for a few bucks and a few hours, it’s nice to feel like a kid again.
#23: Hardspace: Shipbreaker
A dance on a tightrope between zen and absolutely not being zen in any way whatsoever, Hardspace: Shipbreaker’s greatest trick is slowly revealing to the player how dangerous the ships you’re destroying are. A job simulator where you dismantle and process unwanted spacecraft for an evil mega-corporation, Hardspace could have (and sometimes should have) rested on its laurels and just made a mechanically dense sandbox, but the game’s ambition to delve into a greater focus on story and wacky challenges can’t be understated. Hardspace is a great deal of fun, with powerful themes even if the writing isn’t terribly good, and a real knack for detail. I do think it goes on for too long, though.
#22: Ghostwire: Tokyo
I’m still kind of mad that Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t one of my favorite games of the year. A small open world with a meticulously designed recreation of Tokyo set amidst bizarre enemies taken from Japanese folklore, Ghostwire: Tokyo is fun, impressive, and quite possibly the prettiest game on the PS5 (either that or Horizon: Forbidden West). But coming off The Evil Within, Tango Gameworks seems to have traded campy bliss for a clearer head, and while Ghostwire: Tokyo could be a goofy classic, as a more restrained, thoughtfully designed game surrounding its weak story, it’s a perfectly acceptable amount of fun and eye candy. I enjoyed every minute of Ghostwire: Tokyo, but the urge is so real to want for more.
#21: Supraland Six Inches Under
It’s an odd feeling to miss the jank, isn’t it? 2019’s Supraland is an explosive gem, the sort of game that feels like a vicious lesson to AAA developers that a large, winding game can be guided so elegantly that the experience is a delight if nowhere near flawless. The side-game follow up, Six Inches Under, on the other hand, is less elegant, but polished to a shine. The puzzles are the focus, and combat/exploration have taken a big backseat, which for a small interlude, is perfectly fine, and I would never say that Six Inches Under is anything less than a very fun game worth your time, but I hope the upcoming Supraworld listens to the heart a little more than it listens to the playtesters. I want developers to stretch themselves even if it doesn’t always work, and Six Inches Under feels more like a rest day.
Teardown, above all else, feels like a game from five years into the future. A delicately balanced heist simulator made from a fully destructible voxel world, the technical marvel of this game not only existing but being genuinely playable on low-level hardware is a feat of magnificent proportions. The game around it, however, lives between some of the best moments in a game this year to confusing, frustrating, and ridiculous tasks that often feel like a dense puzzle instead of the meticulous thriller its opening sets up. Maybe I just wanted the game’s intricate sandboxes to feel a little more like a Hitman level and a little less like a tech showcase.
#19: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
For as well designed and shockingly good Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was, it takes a great deal of balls to completely rework the design for a bigger and flashier sequel. Even though I strongly prefer 2017’s game to Sparks of Hope, that respect will never go away, and people who were put off of Kingdom Battle’s rigidity to the tactics genre will have much to love in this more open, exploration-heavy entry in the series. Is it wrong to want a series to regress when bold ideas made a great game in the first place? I think so, so even if Mario + Rabbids never reaches the height of the first game, and even if I continue to like each entry less and less, I’ll keep playing them. Maybe that’s all a game like this wants.
#18: Rogue Legacy 2
Did you like Rogue Legacy? I sure did, it’s a fun rogue-lite that while some blame for the degradation of the genre, I’m not a weird asshole, so I enjoy it well enough. Rogue Legacy 2 is the same game but bigger, sometimes better, sometimes worse. That’s all you need, and all I can really say about the thing.
#17: PowerWash Simulator
I can’t explain it, but the 30 hours I sunk into PowerWash Simulator this summer was the closest I think I’ve ever gotten to meditation. Satisfaction is the name of the game here as opposed to fun, and as your mud-covered targets get bigger and sillier, the gameplay loop of making the dirt go away never fails to calm you and put you into a good feeling. Maybe it’s foolish to put a game, even a great one, with such narrow ambitions this high up on the list, but games, like all art, are about eliciting emotion. PowerWash Simulator is one of the most potent emotional experiences I had in 2022, even if that emotion is just chilling the fuck out for once.
#16: Kirby and the Forgotten Land
The prodigal puff ball has returned, and my god, is he better than ever. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is, as someone who doesn’t always vibe with Kirby, the best Kirby game. Taking the best things from all the previous games, Forgotten Land is a gorgeous, exciting platformer that knows exactly what makes Kirby such an appealing character to follow and to play as. Nintendo, per usual, has crafted some mighty levels here, crafted to perfection, all so you can have your adventure in the name of the singular pursuit of fun. Also-wow does it make Kirby Star Allies look even worse by comparison.
#15: Vampire Survivors
The biggest indie sensation of 2022, Vampire Survivors has been and will continue to be discussed, especially as its imitators flock out of the woodwork to capitalize on the new addictive craze. And addictive it is, Vampire Survivors pulls you deeper and deeper into its core gameplay loop until the sun’s gone down and you realize you haven’t had any dinner yet. To quote Jacob Geller, a game that “might take over the world”.
#14: OlliOlli World
An improvement on its predecessors in every way, OlliOlli World plays like butter. It’s got a lot of charm and a goofy aesthetic, but you’re here for the skating, and to relive the thrill of either Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Skate depending on what you’re looking for. I’m sorry Skate fans, but this one is just for the Pro Skaters, and I genuinely believe the creators of OlliOlli World know how much of a compliment that is.
#13: Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator
The tactile feel of crushing ingredients is at the heart of Potion Craft, an indie simulation game about figuring out how to best serve your customers. While the game’s tertiary systems eventually cloud the experience, there’s so much to say about how powerfully this game sucked me in with its sense of exploration and discovery. Potion Craft sits above quite a few more polished games with more concise design, but that doesn’t account for the magic of it all. Sure, spells fade, but their memory sticks with us, and few games had me itching to return quite like Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator.
#12: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Beam ‘em ups are difficult to talk about, and even one with as much power behind its name as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game bears frustratingly little fruit for analysis. That said, Shredder’s Revenge is exactly what it says on the tin, a return to form for this long-forgotten genre that stands tall against Streets of Rage 4 as one of the best of the genre, and with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World the Game as one of the most smile-inducing beat ‘em ups I’ve ever played.
A historical epic of both refreshing and bizarrely intimate proportions, Pentiment stands tallest not as a game, nor as a teaching tool, but as a testament to how far Microsoft is willing to go to keep their developers happy. The closest thing the man in green has to a winter exclusive to stand against Sony’s God of War Ragnarök and Nintendo’s Pokémon Scarlet/Violet, Pentiment tells a sad tale of a 16th Century German artist working in an abbey under the increasingly hostile rule of the church. What it lacks in combat it makes up for in pure style, lacks in excitement makes up for in imagination, and lacks in consistency it makes up for in heart. Pentiment isn’t nearly as heady as it seems to be at first glance, telling a quiet story of one man’s effect on a town he grows towards and away from. It’s not always great, but it’s the sort of thing that pushes the medium towards more thoughtful, introspective work, and every accolade it earns is more than well-deserved.
#10: A Plague Tale: Requiem
Another game that I’ve already spoken about, the worst thing about Requiem is that it’s punching up as opposed to knowing exactly what it wants to be. The sequel to 2019’s A Plague Tale: Innocence is bigger, bolder, and at times even more compelling in its narrative and characters, even when the extended length starts to cripple the design. That said, the game never fails to pull the player in, and the road to its heartwrenching climax is an unforgettable one, and an experience that cements Asobo Studio’s place as a developer worth keeping a very close eye on.
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest but good. If that idea interests you, there is no excuse not to pick up this lovingly detailed retro title that knows exactly how much old-school nonsense is needed to make the memories flow but without hampering actual enjoyment. There’s not a lot interesting to say about Infernax, but it’s a well-designed game made with love and a great deal of care and about as gorgeous of pixel art as the 8-bit style can muster, and sometimes that’s enough.
#8: Citizen Sleeper
The second-best written game of the year behind my #1 pick, Citizen Sleeper is a bite-sized visual novel/RPG hybrid about entropy and how nice it is to have friends. The game’s oppressive setting hides how hopeful this game truly is, and even when the audio-visual tricks the game pulls weigh ever harder on your quest to have a good life as a forever failing husk of a robot, the compassion you have to your own avatar and their compatriots never leaves. Citizen Sleeper feels like being in the hands of the world’s greatest dungeon master, weaving a complicated and emotional tale out of a few scraps of world-building, and the game’s ending system somehow manages to offer a litany of options without any of them feeling cheap.
Rollerdrome is the sort of game that makes me want to think critically about eSports. “Tony Hawk with guns” is a perfect pitch in and of itself, but when taken into consideration just how much is lifted from Neversoft’s skating masterpieces, Rollerdrome is a dazzling effort. Fast, replayable, and perfectly lean, Rollerdrome is about the most concentrated blast of high-octane fun you can have in 2022…if it wasn’t for one more game later on in this list.
Amidst a sea of challenging, both mechanically and mentally, games this high on the list, it can feel quaint to talk with such love about a game like Tinykin. From Splash Games, the makers of 2017’s woefully underrated Splasher, Tinykin is a 3D platformer that takes notes from Pikmin and Chibi-Robo to make a game that you could have sworn came out in 2003 for the Gamecube. It’s not deep, nor is it particularly challenging, but in the same vein as titles like Katamari Damacy, Tinykin is a game about the inherent fun of games, offering a burst of unashamed joy that knows better than to pretend it’s something more clever than just “isn’t it fun to be a little guy in a big house”.
#5: God of War Ragnarök
Do you ever feel like you love something, but still undervalue it? That’s where I’ve landed on God of War Ragnarök, an improvement in nearly every way on the 2018 reboot of the franchise that took the world by storm. Ragnarök is at once more of the same and a further, gnarlier deconstruction on the Greek tyrant we’ve come to love since 2005’s bombastic entry, upping the stakes, writing, and visual splendor to a degree worthy of the AAA moniker. Kratos and Atreus’ story never fails to impress, and even though the ending does feel rushed and slightly anticlimactic upon reflection, God of War Ragnarok is the rare title, much like 2018’s entry, that seems to appeal to everyone without compromising an iota of what it’s trying to do, a four-quadrant mega hit that’s actually deserving of all of its praise.
#4: Nobody Saves the World
DrinkBox seems a step ahead of everyone, but they are really one step ahead of me. I got into their Guacamelee duology right at the point where I was starting to enjoy Metroidvanias, with the two games’ simplicity and breathtaking style easing new players into the genre’s conventions. With that pattern set up, I guess I’m going to get into Diablo and Divinity Original Sin next year, because the shape-shifting adventure Nobody Saves the World is the best advertisement for the top-down action RPG I could have asked for. Often genuinely hilarious, unendingly creative, and with a suction cup pull on my attention span, Nobody Saves the World is the game that confuses me the most with its placement here, but even as someone with no experience in the genre being lovingly recreated, my god is the love powerful.
#3: Elden Ring
I am severely unequipped to talk about Elden Ring. It’s my first time sinking a great deal of time into a Souls game, and while some of From Software’s choices in the name of obscured, controller-smashing design can sometime bristle against the uninitiated, it’s impossible to not talk about Elden Ring with profound reverence. The best open world game since Breath of the Wild, which means it’s one of the two best open world games ever made, Elden Ring glistens with gold from tip to toe, even if it’s a little too big for its britches sometimes. But also-who cares? This game is exceptional.
#2: Neon White
You remember in the Rollerdrome entry when I teased that one more game was better at high-octane fun? It’s Neon White baybee, Donut County’s Ben Esposito’s new game that never fails to miss a single step as it dazzles you. A platformer/shooter inspired by speedrunning that takes a lot from puzzle games and deck-builders, Neon White is a slick, cool experience that is one of the most “video game-y” video games I’ve ever gotten my hands on. The story is deliciously cheesy and the action is damn near perfect, especially with the Switch version’s gyroscope controls. Some games feel like a PS2 game in a negative sense, but Neon White makes you feel like a child playing a PS2 and realizing just how much joy you can milk out of four face buttons, some triggers, and two analog sticks.
Jesus Christ, what else is there to even say? 7 years ago, Sam Barlow directed Her Story, a tense, winding FMV thriller that shook the indie market and emboldened others to dip their toes back into the FMV pool that had been dormant since the late 90s. While these copycats were less than successful most of the time, I get snidely giddy thinking about what low-rate cash grabs could be used to mimic Immortality, a sprawling epic of intimate proportions that is the best thing I’ve experienced from this year, game or otherwise. How could one even attempt to knock-off such a mature, intelligent, prosaic work? Manon Gage’s electric performance is at the center of a sea of equally formidable actors, making Half Mermaid and Sam Barlow’s masterpiece a game worth playing, replaying, discussing, and contemplating for months and years on end.