As the industry began the process of recovering from COVID-19 shutdowns, 2022 was packed with huge titles from massive publishers, as well as plenty of successful indie titles. While there’s been recent comments in social media about there being not enough variety in the landscape today, I think the breadth of titles that resonated with the public this year proves that wrong. From Cult of the Lamb to Splatoon 3 to Elden Ring, there’s been a load of big hits across the spectrum of budget, genre and scope. Out of what I’ve played this year, there have been many really, really great games, but this is just a list of my personal favourites, flaws and all.’
Technically, this is a 2021 game, but it’s also the game I played the most while I was isolating at home during my bout with COVID at the start of the year. While it’s yet another iteration on the Yakuza formula, this time on the side of the law with Yagami’s detective character, and it re-uses the open world from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it distinguishes itself with its focus on a Japanese high school and the social pressures teens face. Feeling like an interactive Jump Street, you’ll spend just as much time chasing down thugs as you will leading your high school dance club to win the regional championships, and it’s all marvellously wholesome while not overly saccharine.
AS DUSK FALLS
An interesting take on an interactive narrative, with excellent performances, music and direction, even as its visual style is presented as a series of still painted images. Taking the form of a limited dramatic series in episodic format, the hostage situation which forms the first chunk of the game is gripping and heartbreaking at the same time, as it’s fleshed out from all sides. The main reason this isn’t higher on the list is the weaker second half, which takes the story in an entirely new direction that can’t match the breathless pace or intrigue of the first.
POKEMON LEGENDS ARCEUS
The first properly open world Pokemon game wasn’t even developed by the franchise’s main studio, Game Freak, but it turned out to be massively more enjoyable than many of the recently mainline entries. While Pokemon battles are present, the focus is shifted away from beating wild animals into submission, and more enticing and befriending them to catch them. Which is slightly better. Ultimately, the historical setting and freedom of movement and objective make it the most refreshing Pokemon game in quite some time.
A genuinely odd but utterly memorable venture into Japanese folklore and mythology, Ghostwire Tokyo contrasts its highly detailed recreation of Tokyo’s Shibuya district with an influx of Japanese spirits and monsters, that have spread throughout the city for you to exorcise. Many of them are fought through combat, with Kuji-kiri hand movements, while others require detective work or experiencing spooky and surreal hauntings. It’s cool to see something this strange come from a big publisher, and while not everything it throws at the wall works, Ghostwire Tokyo is definitely among the most unique games this year.
STRANGER OF PARADISE: FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN
Roundly mocked when it was first shown off for its dumb-as-bricks protagonist yelling about killing Chaos, nobody was more surprised than me when it turned out Stranger of Paradise is actually quite good. It’s Team Ninja’s Nioh, or a version of the Souls formula if you prefer, but more focused on giving the player as much power and as many options as possible. A parry that can copy enemy abilities? It’s part of your core moveset. A wide array of jobs with massively powerful combos and movesets? If you spec just the right way, you’ll be staggering bosses in just a few strikes. The only letdown here is the rather ordinary level design, that doesn’t come close to matching the cheekiness of the Souls games they sometimes ape.
This is probably higher on my list since it’s such a surprise, but it is a very welcome surprise for a longtime Sonic fan. After using and abusing the ‘Boost’ playstyle established in 2008’s Sonic Unleashed for over a decade, Sonic Frontiers finally pushed the blue hedgehog’s 3D gameplay forward into a fresher design, focused on the open world, exploration and combat. A lack of polish across the entire experience hurts, but it’s one of the few games I’ve come back to again and again long after I’ve finished the main game, just to play around with the mechanics. I also like the way you can finish the game more or less entirely by fishing.
GOD OF WAR RAGNAROK
The follow-up to 2018’s God of War builds on everything that made that reboot of the series a success, with more fleshed-out realms, improved combat and an extremely new fun weapon to play around with. It also has some fantastic characters, with an inspired take on Odin and a surprisingly emotional version of Thor. It doesn’t quite make the top of the list, as while it’s a welcome evolution of 2018’s formula, it never feels as memorable or surprising as that game, and suffers a little from cramming too much in as it rushes towards its apocalyptic conclusion.
RETURN TO MONKEY ISLAND
Ron Gilbert’s return to the Monkey Island series has been 30 years coming, and what a return it is. As a sequel to his second game, while respecting the work other writers have put into the franchise, Return to Monkey Island is not only a ripping adventure game with a deftly created hint system, but also a surprisingly meaningful reflection on the stages of life of both its characters and creator. It’s not just a great point-and-click adventure game, it’s a great Monkey Island game, and that’s about the highest praise I can lavish upon it.
KIRBY AND THE FORGOTTEN LAND
Kirby and the Forgotten Land feels like the definitive 3D Kirby game. It’s taken 25 years to correctly crack the formula, but now that Nintendo have, it’s an absolute winner, and as defining for Kirby as Super Mario 64 was for Mario. Not too easy, as some Kirby games can be, but never frustratingly difficult, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is full of beautifully designed levels, entertaining enemies, cheeky and clever power-ups and addictive challenges. One of my first games was the original Kirby’s Dream Land on Game Boy, and it’s super rewarding to see just how far our little pink lad has come.
The effort that’s gone into Immortality is staggering, as an FMV game that essentially encompasses three feature films, behind the scenes material, promotional material and home videos, all of which feel entirely authentic. Immortality casts you as a kind of editor, watching through various scenes and filmed material of missing actress Marissa Marcel, but able to find further scenes through ‘match cutting’ between similar imagery, and otherwise playing around with playback controls. The layers to the mystery around Marissa Marcel can peel back slowly or suddenly, depending on your luck, but the experience of uncovering it is unlike any game out there right now. Hugely original, impressively authentic and full of incisive commentary and parody of the film industry, Immortality can’t be missed.
From the moment I got my hands on Elden Ring, I knew it would be tough for anything to beat it this year, and that’s not because it hasn’t been a fantastic year for video games, it’s just that Elden Ring is that damn good. More encompassing than just expanding the Souls formula into an expansive open world, more intriguing than just adding the talents of George R.R. Martin in writing the lore, and more challenging than just having a massive array of unique bosses, Elden Ring is a juggernaut of an experience. Full of stories, both small and grand, both developer-written and player-emergent, and both terrifying and beautiful, there’s so much to recommend about Elden Ring and virtually nothing to complain about. Wonderful.