My Top 10 Games of 2022
Usually when I try to make GOTY lists, I realize that most of the games I've played throughout the year weren't actually released in the year that I played them. However, for once, I'm able to have a list of 10 games that not only released this year, but I also enjoyed quite a bit for one reason or another. These are in order, with #1 being my Game of the Year for 2022.
Without further ado, here are some rambles, thoughts, and semi-reviews about my top 10 games of the year!
Number 10: Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration
Futzing around with Atari 50 made me feel like I was walking through a really cool interactive museum. While the main appeal of this collection is the games, both original and reimagined, I'm honestly way more enthralled by the historical videos and images.
When I think of "early video games" my brain immediately jumps to Super Mario Bros. on the NES. I've known for years now that Atari's games in arcades and the 2600 came first, but I still jump to the pixelated Italian plumber when I think of games that were "before my time." Playing Atari 50 lets me learn about a time that my 90s baby brain can't even really picture.
What this collection describes as the "golden age" of Atari is both far back enough that I can't picture it, but not so far back that it feels like something I would've been taught in my middle school history class. After all, we played video games in 2022, we played video games in 1972, but I can't really say the same for the decades before that. What a cool thing.
Number 9: Trombone Champ
Games with humor as the primary draw never really appealed to me. But I've laughed so dang much while playing Trombone Champ that it needed to have a spot on my list.
When deciding whether or not to pick up I watched this video of the funniest musical timing I've ever seen in a song, let alone a rhythm game. I had to see what else Trombone Champ had to offer.
Trombone Champ's got a card collecting meta-game, allusions to Dark Souls, and a prophecy plot involving baboons. But most important of all, it's a blast to show to a friend who's never seen it before.
Also of note, I tried playing it on my Steam Deck. It's almost impossible to get a good rank on a song with the control stick or touchpad, which can actually make things even funnier depending on the song's difficulty. I wouldn't recommend it as one's primary way to play the game, but it's good for a frustrating laugh.
I don't want to say too much about it, since Trombone Champ is best experienced blind. I'll end this by sharing that while playing this game I had to think some sad thoughts for my own safety since I was laughing so hard that I couldn't breathe. That's genuinely not an exaggeration.
Number 8: Temtem
Many of the Steam reviews I've seen for Temtem say that "it's unfair to compare this game to Pokémon." I personally think this is doing the game a disservice as I've found the game to be superior to Pokémon in quite a few ways, and drawing attention to these aspects is beneficial to Temtem.
Every design choice in Temtem feels like there's been a decent amount of thought put into it. That doesn't necessarily mean all of these aspects are good or enjoyable, but it's more than I can say for Pokémon where a lot of the design decisions are "well, that's the way it's always been."
Temtem is also very good about representation of queer characters. A good chunk of important plot characters are queer, but the game is never like "I'm trans let's make a big deal about it." It doesn't feel phoned in, it's just really nice and natural. We don't even need to compare this to Pokémon, there's no contest.
This game did generate one of the more frustrating gaming moments I experienced this year. During the very difficult final battle of the campaign, there's a limited number of turns before you automatically lose. I defeated the boss on the final turn. But even though I "won", the game registered it as a loss, resulting in me having to attempt the fight several more times. This is not only player-hostile, it effectively creates a turn where the player can take actions but the fight is impossible to win.
That having been said, the challenge of Temtem's mid/late-game fights was very welcome to me. The mainline Pokémon games have been very easy in recent years. While this is a good thing – Pokémon games are designed primarily for children – it leaves something to be desired for someone like me who enjoys challenging JRPG combat. Temtem is maybe a little too hard for the average player, but man, it's so satisfying to win a tough fight with just a sliver of HP left on your final Tem.
I will note that it often feels like I'm fighting with the UI, even when using a mouse and keyboard. Things like the frustrating boss fight moment and having to scroll for way too long while trying to find the right item in the inventory are the primary reason why Temtem isn't higher on my list. Still had a great time min-maxing my way through the campaign, though.
Number 7: Super Auto Pets
Both this game and the following one on my list didn't come out this year, but are ongoing games that received significant updates throughout 2022, so I'm allowing them.
I sunk hundreds of hours into Storybook Brawl (my first auto-battler) and had an incredible time. Putting aside the fact that the devs sold their game to some cryptocurrency scumbags, I was gradually growing more and more concerned about their way of balancing. The changes being made felt very random and "your turn"-y. I have never felt that way about Super Auto Pets, a brilliant auto-battler.
I'm having trouble putting into words why the balance in Super Auto Pets is so good, but I think that's a testament to it. When a game's balance is bad, it's very in-your-face. When a game's balance is great, it stays out of the way so players don't even notice it. Super Auto Pets is the latter.
I also love the intuitiveness of the pets in the game. A lot of the effects the pets have just make sense while not making sense at the same time. Let me explain.
The Turtle pet has the following effect: "Before Faint: Give one friend behind Melon Armor." These words are nonsense to someone who hasn't played the game, but make perfect sense once our brains are able to parse the language of Super Auto Pets. We can subconsciously remember that the Turtle pet also has the effect "when I am defeated, the pet behind me gets my shell, so it can be protected."
So many of the pets in Super Auto Pets are like this. A little tricky to remember exactly what they do, but very easy to remember the theme of what they do. Brilliant balance and design work.
Number 6: Old School RuneScape
I have faded memories of playing RuneScape back in 2004 or so on Miniclip (RIP). I was like 9 and learned that if you type "bastards" into the chat, it would turn into "b*******." This was extremely funny to 9-year-old me and I'm pretty sure it got my account banned.
In 2016 I was feeling nostalgic so I tried out Old School RuneScape, effectively a fork of RuneScape from 2007 that received different updates from the current build. I quickly ran into the problem I ran into with many MMOs. I would just stand in the middle of a town with absolutely no idea what to do next. I eventually let my subscription lapse and didn't think about it for a while.
For whatever reason (I don't remember exactly why) I gave OSRS another try in 2022. At this point, there was a page on the official wiki called the Optimal quest guide. I started following this guide, and it turned the game from a puzzle box into a to-do list. This was the turning point for me. Sometimes, all I want from a game is a to-do list with boxes that I can check off. OSRS provides that very well (assuming you either know exactly what you're doing or use the Optimal quest guide).
I genuinely read almost none of the dialogue in the game, I just hold the space bar and let the invisible quest progression meter get ever so slightly further along. This gave me similar brain-feels to collecting pickups in an open world game. Not a challenging task, but still a rewarding one.
Number 5: Judgment
I don't really have anything interesting to say about this one. The Yakuza / Like a Dragon games are vast, intriguing, and wacky in all the right ways. Judgment is no exception and I've had a great time exploring Kamurocho as Yagami.
Much like Yakuza 0, Judgment is a fantastic starting point for anyone looking to get into Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's fantastic games.
Being able to play the game on PC means I might finally finish the dang thing and move on to Lost Judgment. Double the framerate means half the playtime, right?
...That's not how that works? ...RGG is working on how many games!? I've got a lot of catching up to do! Maybe one day I'll finish Ichiban's debut...
Number 4: Vampire Survivors
For years I've had the idea of a game called "Dopamine Rush" that was primarily a lot of sprites and particle effects going nuts on the screen with semi-minimal input and decisions from the player. I never got around to fully designing the thing, but now I don't have to, Vampire Survivors did it for me!
We've all got a good game idea or two, they're a dime a dozen. Actually executing on your ideas is what's important, and wow, Vampire Survivors executes.
I've seen Vampire Survivors (as well as my own game, shameless plug) be described as "gaming comfort food." I love this comparison. It's very satisfying to eat a meal after devoting a lot of time and effort to making it, but sometimes I just want to eat some pretzels. It's very satisfying to experience the late-game of an ARPG like Path of Exile, but sometimes I just want to reach the late-game in 15 minutes instead of several hours.
There's not much I can add that hasn't been said by Vampire Survivors' thousands of Steam Reviews, but I will note that if your game inspires others to make games like it, you're definitely doing something right.
Number 3: Card Shark
Card Shark's gameplay is not for everyone. It's very difficult to grasp and keep up with if you don't have prior knowledge of playing cards and card games. Fortunately for me, I grew up playing poker over several summers with my cousins. We never bet any money, we just used chips. One time we used potato chips as a gag, but I ended up accidentally eating too many to be able to bet.
Anyway, back on topic. Card Shark is a game about cheating at card games. There's a pretty good story involving The French Revolution, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I honestly would love an "endless mode" version of this game. The tricks/cheats in the game are so satisfying to learn and execute, seeing how many rich jerks you could swindle before getting caught would be very fun.
Thinking about this reminded me of the endless mode in Papers, Please. Comparing discrepancies dozens of times before eventually slipping up was unironically a fun way for me to spend a Saturday afternoon. A Card Shark endless mode wouldn't be for everyone, though. I can see many players feeling satisfied after reaching the "end" of Card Shark and an endless mode might diminish that. That having been said, the endless mode in Papers, Please was only unlocked after reaching an ending of the game, so maybe it's fine.
I will note that there was a very frustrating design choice I encountered at the end of the game. The game has several endings that branch based on the final game of cards. I initially reloaded my save after experiencing an ending to play differently and see the other ones. A few days later, I played through the game again with my partner and was shocked to find that my save was effectively restarted in a new game+ mode, making me unable to go back to the final game and see the other endings.
I initially thought this was a bug, but after asking the developers on the Steam forums, they confirmed this was an intentional design decision made to "make the final decision more meaningful." I respect the commitment, but it also is very frustrating when there's really nothing from stopping one from backing up their save file if they know what's coming. You're really just punishing players for making it to the end of your (otherwise great) game.
Number 2: I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1N IT!!!1
CW: Family member death
Media preservation is important for a number of reasons.
About five minutes into playing the recent port of this game I was flooded with memories that I had long forgotten. I was 14 years old in my parents' living room playing this game on my Xbox 360. My dad came into the room, asked me to pause the game, and told me that my grandmother had died. I knew she was in poor health so it didn't surprise me that much, but it felt odd to unpause this goofy zombie game after finding out someone close to me was no longer alive.
Playing this game again in 2022 made me think about how much I've grown as a person since then. If she could see me now, I think grandma would be proud of me. Ska Studios and OMNIViOLET obviously didn't intend for me to have this kind of reaction when porting this game from XBLIG to Steam, but I never would've felt this surreal set of emotions from a "relic of the past" if they hadn't done so.
Thank you for doing that.
However, with apologies to my late grandma, this game still isn't my Game of the Year...
Number 1: AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES - nirvanA Initiative
The visual novels that Kotaro Uchikoshi works on hold a special place in my heart.
999, the first of the Zero Escape games, was a mindblowing visual novel when I first played it in 2010. Virtue's Last Reward, the sequel, is my favorite game of all time (I'll write up my thoughts on that masterpiece some day). Zero Time Dilemma, while definitely the weakest of the trilogy, was still a game I enjoyed my time with. AI: The Somnium Files was a risky departure from the quantum craziness of the Zero Escape games, but one I adored.
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES - nirvanA Initiative is some of Uchikoshi's and his team's best work. The pacing, writing, twists, and humor are better than any of the other Uchikoshi games I've played. The UI also feels more responsive and intuitive than the first game. The game's dialogue is almost entirely voice acted, which makes it much easier for my ADHD brain to pay attention. I genuinely don't know if I could play these games if they weren't voice acted.
There's even a spoiler-free mode for folks who haven't played the first game, which as far as I can tell, works very well. This feature is something that I've never seen a game do (let alone a visual novel) and I hope more games add similar toggles where possible.
Unfortunately there's not much I can discuss in regards to the game (or most visual novels) without spoiling most of it. So I highly encourage you to play this game for yourself if you're even slightly a fan of story-heavy games. I will note that there's a retcon-y aspect to one of the returning characters that I could see many folks disliking, but I was personally fine with it.
Credit where credit is due, this game wasn't actually directed by Uchikoshi, he was a scenario writer for this one. The assistant director of the previous title, Akira Okada, directed it. Either way, the work of their team will stick with me for a very long time. Just brilliant.