2022… An odd year to be sure. It started out well, with several massive games, but once the first few months were out of the way, gaming pretty much dried up entirely until October. This year I was finally lucky enough to claw my way into getting a PS5, a console that not only is now over two years old, but also went through a price hike, which I think is the first in video games. That’s not how technology progresses, but thanks to inflation and the general world still being in disarray to the stupid decisions of the past two years, the world is more screwed up than ever. Gaming still hasn’t fully recovered, and I think it has changed for the worse, and just in general 2022 is somehow the worst year in video game history.
Not to be too down on everything, but man, it’s just been an abysmal year for video game releases. I struggled not only to build a top 10 list, but also to find time to play 2022 games that I wanted to. At the tail end of the year, there were a solid few games that I ended up finally getting to, but looking back on the year, there were only about 3 or 4 games that stood out above everything else. Due to a few different factors, some of my most anticipated games got left out because I simply just didn’t have the time to play them since they were released so late into the year. The biggest bummer for me was A Plague Tale: Requiem, which I was made aware of thanks to the Couch Money discord server. The first game, called A Plague Tale: Innocence was February's Game of the Month, and I really enjoyed every moment of the gruesome gameplay about a 14th century brother and sister traversing the countryside avoiding plagues of demonic rats.
I played and completed the least amount of games I ever have this year, and most of them were quickly forgotten. It was an odd and disappointing year. But 2023 is so crammed with massive games that have all been delayed for it, that I have no clue how anyone will be able to get through the majority of them. So here is my list of games that came out this year that I played, finished and thought were good enough to rank.
Grounded came out in Early Access back in 2019 and released version 1.0 during this Summer. I was immediately drawn to it because it resembled something that I feel is really lacking in games, a miniaturized world view. The first time I remember it was in NES games like Mario 3, Rescue Rangers and Monster In My Pocket. Basically a video game form of Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Grounded is an open world survival Co-Op game. Allowing me to be a kid who is the size of a few droplets of water, and explore a backyard with various gardening equipment, landscapes and bugs of all kinds, some used as food, others trying to hunt me down. I didn’t get to finish the game, since it required so much time to gather resources, build and just explore and hunt in a pack. It really is a game that nearly requires others to play with to make significant progress without a massive time investment. And I just couldn’t do that on my own. But the time I did spend with the game, which was a couple dozen hours, I had a blast. Exploring and trying to build little huts along the way to have waypoints to signal my progress was enjoyable. It’s a great game, but hindered by needing others to play along with.
Indie games are what make up the majority of game releases now, with a developer who works with big publishers putting out a single game per year, if that, at this point. So around 90% of this year’s games were indie titles. One that seemed wholesome without pushing any sort of agenda was from Annapurna called Stray, the story of a little stray cat in a post-apocalyptic world. It seems most of the love for the game was really down to “OMG You get to play as a cat!!!” but once that initial gimmick wore off, it was a fairly straight-forward simple game. However, that isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the game. In fact, I loved it. I played it with my wife, and we are both big cat people, but the story of the human race going extinct and how robots inhabited the world and took on more human traits was something interesting and fresh (similar to Neir: Automata). It’s a short game with just a handful of hours, but we searched and found every little collectable, and just enjoyed playing in the world. Being a cat and the nuances of cat characteristics that I got to push buttons to initiate were cute and fun. Scratching at a door, rubbing up against a leg to get a robot to notice me, or even just curling up on a pillow and taking a cat nap were all just little touches that made the game feel much more polished and believable. Some aspects, like the enemy globs of pulsating skittering goo don’t make much sense and never really get explained, but I found the main plot of trying to get back home and also helping a city, closed off from the rest of the world, really interesting. Adorable is probably the most accurate word to describe this game.
08. Two Point Campus
Theme Park on the Jaguar (Yeah, the Atari Jaguar, I was one of “those” kids) was my first park sim game, and building 2D parks filled with pre-fabricated attractions always filled me with joy. Once Rollercoaster Tycoon came out in 1999, I forgot about the Bullfrog developed Theme Park game. I didn’t play Theme Hospital till around 2009, but I realized I missed out on an expansion of that type of humor and gameplay. When the original developers created Two Point Studios and made Two Point Hospital, basically Theme Hospital in 2019, it was the start of the new “Two Point” Universe of games. Naturally, everyone thought Two Point Theme Park was next, but instead we got a continuation of the Hospital gameplay, and swapped out with a College experience.
Thanks to a couple really bad weeks of my life I spent a couple bed ridden weeks plopped down in front of this game, and devoured most of it. Until a game breaking bug cropped up and I couldn’t finish the campaign. I felt like I saw 99% of what the game had to offer, and I did enjoy it, but it felt like the cosmetic items were a much bigger draw for the devs than deeper gameplay was. What is there is exceptional with the dry British humor that doesn’t always land, but again, it feels wholesome with tongue-in-cheek jokes in a way most gaming doesn’t anymore.
07. God Of War: Ragnarok
A continuation of the 2018 God of War game, that picks up just a bit after the ending events of the PS4 game. Atreus is a bit older, lending the character to experience much more complex and mature emotions, and Kratos diving deeper into a different side of his personality. The gameplay remains almost fully intact, and the story is drawn out over 40+ hours of gameplay. The swapping back and forth between Kratos and Atreus gives a much needed break for the characters to reflect on what is going on in the story, and I really did enjoy this game fully. But because it really is just a continuation of the previous game without expanding on it much at all other than more cutscenes and challenges that become something to do besides the story, it just dragged on a bit too much. It really should have been a game that was split between two titles.
I’m not one to advocate that everything has to be a trilogy, and in most cases, they shouldn’t. But the story told here in this game clearly was designed as a three game story. Parts of the story drag on way too long, and other parts are quickly glossed over. The ending feels absurdly rushed in a way that I didn’t even realize I was at the end. A balance of gameplay and story would have greatly benefited the whole game.
The standout core of the game is the characters… and I’ll just emphasis this now, because it is such a big part of the ending,
and one in particular which I didn’t really get until the very end is Sindri. What starts out as a dwarf that seems shy and adverse to confrontations really turns a point once his brother Brok dies. The end, where he basically bails on the entire crew and becomes engulfed in rage, mirrors what happens to Kratos at the beginning of the original God of War. His whole reason for existence is wiped away, and he no longer cares about anyone or anything. He still has a nugget of good inside of him, but who Sindri really is, deep down has completely changed and will never return. I can see a next game, where Sindri is so entrenched in anger and wrath that he becomes the villain of the game and goes after Kratos or Atreus and the ending is him having a Darth Vader-esque death scene and apologizing for trying to kill them.
Ragnarok is a great game, but is a bit too long and loses focus too much to be considered the best this year. It also suffers from the Sony “Prestige” genre, where all the big Sony games all feel very similar, where it focuses on the cutscenes and story over the gameplay. I love story in games, but there needs to be a balance, and Sony games are unbalanced with a priority on story and cutscenes far outweighing the gameplay aspects. I felt like the gameplay was secondary to the narrative moving forward, and if this would have been a trilogy of movies instead, or a TV show (which I guess they are doing as well) then it wouldn’t have lost much at all. The game opens up with much more things to clean up after you complete the end of the game, but I did most of everything in the game, and the Bezerker bosses aren’t enough to get me to boot the game up ever again.
06. Sniper Elite 5
The most bland protagonist in modern gaming, Karl something-or-other takes on yet another Nazi secret power weapon. This is the flip side of the coin of “too much story, not enough gameplay”. The story is barely there, and what is there is extremely uninteresting. The voice acting is boring, with flat delivery and so little emotion that I would get up and go make a sandwich while the cutscene played out, which I never do. I think story in games is just as important to gameplay. But when it came to the gameplay, nothing comes close to the thrill of lining up the perfect sniping shot and seeing a bullet whizz through the air in slow motion several hundred yards to shatter the glass of a rival snipers scope, pierce the eye and exploding the enemy's skull like the Sledge-O-Matic mashing a juicy watermelon. The tense hour plus levels forced me to backtrack and hide more than I am used to in games, but each moment I sat there, holding my breath as I lured an unsuspecting gestapo into a booby trap encounter was so joyful. I grinded with glee as I held my breath and pulled the trigger, awaiting to see lungs collapse and hearts pop with the most gruesome X-Ray kills in video games, putting Mortal Kombat to shame.
There is a patience that is required to fully enjoy this game, and it took time for me to really learn that. I’m a run & gun type of person in games, and waiting around, camping for a single kill is very rarely worth it. But with the Sniper Elite series, it makes every kill one to remember. If they could only get a writer to come up with a much more interesting story that involves something more than “Nazi’s have built a new super weapon and Joe Smith needs to take it out”, the series could really become a breakout hit.
05. TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been one of my favorite things in my childhood. I had anything and everything turtles related (even a tortoise, it would have been a turtle, but I didn’t like that they mainly required a tank with water). I love the NES brawler games, and even own a original Konami TMNT arcade cabinet that I put up in my gaming store I owned back then. Shredder’s Revenge cashes in on Turtles nostalgia in a big way by using the designs and voice actors from the 80’s cartoon. It’s one of those “love letters to the real fans” games that come out every so often.
Sadly, the game is fairly shallow, with not much beyond a story mode that can be beaten in a single couple hour sitting and easy collectables that don’t do anything. A single unlockable character that doesn’t change the gameplay up enough to warrant playing it again just wasn’t enough for me. The music, art style and design of the characters in Pixel art, and the gameplay itself are all perfectly executed to bring back childhood memories of playing those games with friends. But it wasn’t enough for me to get more than a single evening of fun out of it, since I did and saw everything the game had to offer in one sitting.
I fell deep into the Castlevania series a few years back, and ever since, I have really enjoyed diving deep into similar styles of games. Simon’s Quest, the second game in the Castlevania series is considered the more difficult one to go back to today, thanks to its strange gameplay mechanics and obtuse use of items. Infernax is one of the rare indie games that doesn’t just copy and replicate those loved games that no one makes anymore on its surface, It takes other aspects of similar games in the era and genre and melds them together into something much more interesting and creates a deeper experience than just “hey, remember this game? We made one just like it!”.
Infernax takes Simon’s Quest gameplay and adds onto it a bit of RPG elements, and 16-bit cutscenes and character dialogue that results in branching paths of the story that play out differently depending on how you handle certain situations. It all culminates into an incredible experience that falls back on well designed gameplay, levels and platforming sections. Having to be precise with the timing of attacks and jumps is required to finish the game. It also helps that the difficulty is not so devious that it’s one of the more masochistic titles out, like so many Throwback games are. There is no “NES Hard” difficulty from the outset, it treats you with enough mercy that you can get into the game without throwing the controller on the first boss.
03. Vampire Survivors
Probably one of the most simple games out, but one that has much more depth than even the biggest budgeted titles. Vampire Survivors took me and enthralled me from the opening moments. I didn’t realize that the game didn’t even require me to use an attack button at first. I immediately pressed buttons and nothing happened on screen, a couple seconds later, my character let out the crack of a whip. I thought something must have been wrong, maybe the game was corrupt, mabe there was a lag in the connection of my controller. But it wasn’t until after I ran into a few bats and died for the first time, that I realized, there was nothing wrong with the game, controller or me. But that it was designed with an unfathomably simple control scheme. Just move. That’s it, just move around the screen and try not to get hit. Dodge enemy attacks and the hoards of shuffling monsters. Once I realized that… I spent the next 17 hours of the game unlocking more power ups and items and characters and levels. Grinding in the library for half an hour at a time, until the Grim Reaper appeared and sliced me up with his ghostly sickle.
The fact the game was on Gamepass not only got me to try it, but the gameplay itself is so addicting, giving way to that “Just one more try” that lasts until well beyond 3am. Once I got my fill, I also realized the game wasn’t even finished. It was still in Beta. With its 1.0 release near the end of the year. Once it was going to be released in its 1.0 version, I ended up buying it for the absurd price of $3.99 on sale and also purchased the newly released DLC. Forcing me to replay the entire game on steam from scratch. But with just a single evening I already dropped 4 hours into it without batting an eye. I would have never guessed how addicted I would become to this game without realizing it. But the simple aspect of dodging enemies while growing more and more powerful until the game exceeds the chaos of Geometry Wars by a country mile is just something I can’t ignore. It’s nearly a crime this game is as good as it is and also so cheap. It’s worth every penny several times over.
02. Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course
While this is technically DLC, its scope grew into basically what is a sequel that is played right within the main game. And since this year had so little quality games, I’m putting this in the Game Of The Year category, since nothing came close to it.
When Cuphead’s creators came out on Microsoft’s stage back in 2018 saying they were releasing some DLC, I thought it would have been released at the end of the year. After living in three different houses, the DLC finally came out 4 years later. I continually blamed the easily seen monetization of the property as the culprit. The massive amount of toys and merchandise, which we all know is the real moneymaker. And the announcement, development and release of the first of 3 Seasons on the Netflix produced TV Show before we were able to get our hands on the DLC for a 2017 game. But it was all worth every single moment of waiting and anticipation, because this DLC is basically Cuphead 2 (which is probably something we’ll never get knowing how long it takes to make Cuphead games).
I’m not good at Mega Man style games, and that’s basically what Cuphead is, the gameplay of it always has the phrase “tough as nails” attached to it by gaming media, because it’s one of their three phrases they are allowed to use when talking about difficult games from the big book of gaming media canned verbiage. But in reality Cuphead isn’t all that difficult. It does require extremely quick responses and the learning and memorization of attack patterns, which I usually am against in games. But for whatever reason, I was pulled and sucked into this game unlike really anything else this year because of how fond of memories I have with the original Cuphead game. I’m not some insane person that tried to get gold perfect runs on each level and boss. I did the best I could and moved on once I finished the boss. Cuphead’s art style is something I’m still surprised we haven’t seen more of yet, but that’s because the dedication to hand drawing everything in the game does take time, and it’s not easy, because it’s art. This is a game that should always be talked about when in the dreaded “are games art” conversation comes around. In which, duh, of course they are.
Cuphead’s DLC story might not have been amazing, and the addition of the new playable character wasn’t good enough for me to switch out my Mugman main, but everything that was special about Cuphead back in 2017, is brought back to life here in this year when gaming really needed it more than anything else. The boss battles are imaginative (with the couple fake out endings bringing me to tears of frustration as I frantically picked the controller back up after thinking I had a moment of rest) and the few secrets that are scattered along the map. Having a whole floating island dedicated to boss battles that only could be damaged using the parry system was so ingenious, I had to save it for last, because I had to retrain my brain and muscle memory to not shoot and dodge constantly.
01. Elden Ring
I hate Dark Souls games with a passion. I feel like I’ve written that opening line several times, but it’s still true as the day I first wrote it. I don’t find From Software games to be very enjoyable, as they take the “NES / Ninja Gaiden Hard” difficulty to an extreme. I’m up for a challenge, I like to be able to conquer something demanding, but there is an ill-intent on the developers towards the player in their games that I’ve never enjoyed. Punishing the player merely for not anticipating that the game is designed to be predictable in unpredictability. Walk forward and a character leaps from an unforeseen location, almost as if they just phased through a wall with no way of knowing, and push you off a cliff. Not only killing you, but requiring you to hunt and gather your XP/souls and basically lose all progress and start from scratch battling the same respawning enemies over and over again. It’s all just an unenjoyable slog and is just a bigger showcase of “these games hate you and want to waste your time”. I don’t enjoy that. Ever. My time is much more precious than to spend it on a game that wants to waste it. So when Elden Ring is basically “Open World Dark Souls”, I wasn’t wanting to give it the slightest bit of my attention. But thanks to it being March’s Game Of The Month in the Couch Money discord server, and getting a code to make it cheaper on the day before launch than it would be for the rest of the year, I decided to just jump in and stream my first hour or two before I uninstalled it and forgot it existed.
Those couple of hours of streaming I found myself being overly cautious with trying so hard not to die, along with way too much running back to safety and grinding out easy souls for basic early upgrades. Then came the first real boss, the large troll under the bridge. I spent a solid 15 or so tries while a single viewer watched on. I finally did end up beating him and moved on just a bit before ending the stream. Talking with the viewer for another 15 or so minutes to recount how much I didn’t like the game, I still had a small bit of me wanting to see what was next. I ended up spending the rest of the evening playing and wasting around an hour on the first “Real” boss of the game, “Margitt the Fell Omen”, which frustrated me to rage quit and swear off the game. Forgetting that this game was an open world, and I simply could go in any other different direction and do something else. That was the simple change in gameplay that changed my entire outlook on the game. Realizing that it wasn’t my skill that was at fault, but the game simply didn’t want me to be there yet, and I could go do something else and learn the game better and build up my repertoire of moves, weapons, armor, and simply get better at memorizing and seeing attack patterns and opening windows of opportunity.
That’s when the game clicked and sucked me in for an additional 90 hours of gameplay. I was not only hooked, but obsessed. I still ended up grinding out a few hours over the course of my time with the game to continually upgrade gear and weapons and armor. I even ended up making a little YouTube video for a spot that allowed me to get a thousand souls per minute. Before learning of a better trick to get even more souls, quicker. But there was something to this game that really made it much more enjoyable. The ability to jump, the movement and speed of the character, and not feeling like I was walking through molasses like in other From Software games. Having a horse to traverse large sections where there isn’t really anything interesting. The few interactions between characters like Patches the frenemy thief/merchant, or Alexander the giant talking clay jar who only wants to be a warrior.
Elden Ring’s whole world and lore and mythos is drenching in George Martin’s fantasy world he helped create, and was a massive part of the marketing campaign for the game. But I have no respect for a man who can’t finish a single novel millions of fans have been clamoring for, for over a decade. His contributions for the game's story and characters might as well be completely removed from the game, and I don’t believe I would have noticed one bit. Elden Ring might as well have the story of a single sentence and I would have felt the same way about it. It’s a 100% gameplay based game for me, and while some of the creatures and characters were very interesting to look at, and interact with, outside of the talking pot and a couple interesting boss designs, I couldn’t care less.
I fell in love with the gameplay, how my character moved throughout the world, only wishing certain imaginative things would have shown up more. For example, in the early starting section of the game, there is a caravan of trolls and undead zombies who are a procession for a massive funeral carriage. Stopping them on the road as they traverse the plains to destroy them all, and loot the carriage was so cool looking and was drenched in that gothic horror aesthetic that seemed to be taken right out of Bloodborne. But it only appears a couple times in the game, and nothing else similar to it shows up anywhere else. It feels like a forgotten concept that never was expanded upon.
While I did love the game deeply, the finale few hours of the game almost completely soured me on it. The entire game is trying to get to and burn down the ErdTree, a massive colossus of a tree in the game’s skybox, overshadowing the entire realm. Once the ErdTree was burned up, I felt like the game was going to end. And it should have. But then there is a whole final stretch that continues on and forces much more laborious trekking in a barren sky arena to fight the final bosses, all which come one after another. It’s basically a Boss Rush mode and I lost all love I had built up for the game in its final hours. I regret playing the final section of the game, and I would have had a much more rose colored memory of the entire game if that section was lopped off from the final product.
Elden Ring is the best version of a single type of a game that this developer knows how to create. I want something different than Dark Souls, and Elden Ring, the only one I could stand and finish burnt me out entirely on the style of gameplay. It’s a fantastic and wonderful game that I would only recommend to people who like that developer, but it’s also by far the best game that came out this year that I played. Which says all I need to say about 2022.
This has been the most abysmal list of Game Of The Year write ups that I have done. It’s the most negative I have ever been about gaming in Game Of The Year, and that’s because this year was a rotten year for games. There have been wonderful games released this year, and I immensely enjoyed a few games this year which will leave a lasting impression on me, I won’t kid myself. However the gaming industry was decimated this year by the majority of the industry deciding to basically skip 2022 and release every massive game in the first two or three months of 2023. So many games will get forgotten about because one or two games will dominate the news cycle.
But I will try and do a better job of focusing on the games that interest me, and hopefully I can get more input on some of the smaller, more innovative and personal games to come out next year and not focus so desperately on the bigger games with a larger development and marketing budget. It’s a topic for another time, but gaming has changed dramatically over the course of the last couple years, and it’s never going to be the same. Indies are the majority, the “middle-tier” games have gone, but a small handful are starting to show back up, and the big budget is just becoming more of a product than an artform. But all hope is not lost, as long as there are people who want to create something interesting and there is heart behind that creation, gaming will still shine as a great pastime and hobby. There is something for everyone at this point. And that, at least gives me hope to expand my horizons on gaming as a whole, and start experiencing new genres that I’ve never paid attention to before.