I thought this was a garbage year for new releases until… ::checks watch:: …like a month ago.

It actually wasn’t a bad year, but up until December, 2022 seemed like a year defined by my GOTY pick and not much else. Upon further reflection, many of the games on my list were peppered throughout the year, but a solid seven or eight of my picks either didn’t come out until very late in the year or, in the case of my #2 choice, I wasn’t even aware of until mid-December. This is partially why this list is so late, as I needed a January of actually playing these games to decipher my own awards.

2022 was also a year in which I played less videogames than maybe any year since I was eight. I’ve officially hit my mid 30s, got married, my career is in full swing, and a quickly-developing poker habit means a lot of Sunday afternoons that would’ve been spent playing the latest and greatest game is now spent at a local card room playing low stakes tournaments. I still love games and will be first in line for many in 2023, but I’m starting to think that the days of “gaming” being a defining part of my life are numbered. My mother would be so proud.

With that said, I still played a fair bit (especially lately), and I’ve still got the ability to write lists, so here is the only guide you’ll need to know what was worth playing in 2022.

The “I Just Felt Like Giving This Game An Award” Award: MyVegas Slots

Ok so here’s the thing: This game is trash. Its UI is awful, it takes forever to get into the actual game, its microtransaction scheme is borderline predatory (which makes sense given it’s a game about playing slot machines), the art sucks, and it essentially preps any child who plays it towards being a gambling addict. It’s one of the few games ever made where I legitimately believe the Earth would be a better place if it didn’t exist.

So why on God’s Green Earth am I giving a terrible game released over nine years ago one of my incredibly prestigious awards? Well, frankly, it saved me hundreds of dollars this year.

I ended up going on vacation to Las Vegas twice this year. I DO NOT recommend this, but I got married there this past summer, and then my wife & I went there for Christmas this year as well due to my mother retiring to Lake Havasu, Arizona, and Vegas is the closest major airport to her.

For both trips, I used MyVegas to collect various coupons on our trip, as on top of collecting chips, the game also has another currency based entirely on length of play that can unlock various rewards to use on The Strip. So for about a month beforehand each trip, I would have this awful game running on a spare phone in the background grinding BOGO Buffet coupons and discounted show tickets. It got my best man a free room at Excalibur on his way out of town, and overall I probably used about $400 worth of MyVegas Rewards on both trips. I even got a match play that I won, so it got me $50 cash as well. Considering this is the only videogame in history to actually give me tangible, cash based rewards due to play, I felt it earned a spot on my year-end wrap-up.

With that said, if you’re never ever planning on going to Vegas (good plan), please never play this exploitative dreck.

2023’s Story of the Year: Who Gets Bought Next?

Corporate consolidation is one of the more nightmarish things happening on Planet Earth currently, and 2022 was a year where the videogame industry got hit hard by this sickness. Microsoft spent tens of billions of dollars purchasing both Bethesda Software and Activision, then Sony got scared and overpaid for Bungie… just because, I guess? NetEase decided to waste a bunch of money on Quantic Dream, and secret-CCP-Tentacle-Monster Tencent continued acquiring studios (Sumo Digital) while also owning like 10% of every company you enjoy the work of.

Also have you heard of Embracer Group? The Swedish corporation went on an absolute tear by essentially buying the backlog of multiple companies, including purchasing all of Square-Enix’s Western studios and IP for a shockingly low amount.

Speaking of Square-Enix, they were the catalyst for this award, as I don’t see them being an independent company come 2024. Considering they are tripling down on NFT’s a year after the world realized they were a sick joke brainstormed by Philistines, I expect the Final Fantasy studio to be a Sony subsidiary by year-end. Electronic Arts I could see being acquired as well. The boards of public companies are essentially incentivized by stock subsidies to cash out and sell to the highest bidder to line their own pockets even if the company is doing well, and I see no reason why this won’t continue. Less choice is always bad for the consumer, and despite various ten-year Call of Duty promises thrown about by Microsoft, there is no planet where any of this can be spun as a good thing.

2022’s “Ehh…I’ll Play It Later” Award: TIE between God of War: Ragnarok & Horizon: Forbidden West

These two games essentially take the same space in my head. Both are sequels to games I enjoyed, both are big-budget triple-A games by prestige developers, both are Playstation exclusives, and both serve very well as “Next-Gen Showpieces” for people lucky enough to have a PS5. The problem is that both God of War: Ragnarok and Horizon: Forbidden West essentially did the same thing — take the first game, slightly pretty it up, and make it bigger-er. “Longer” is not a feature I value highly in gaming, and that’s essentially the biggest innovation for each of these titles.

I recognize the immense quality of each along with the massive amount of work that went into each title, but neither of these games made me particularly excited to actually play them. I finished Horizon: Zero Dawn for the first time in the lead-up to Forbidden West’s release, and it took literally a half hour of playing the newest entry in the franchise for me to realize that this was not the game I wanted to play at the time, and I still haven’t touched it since. I hadn’t played God of War (2018) since…well, since 2018, and it still felt way too similar to me upon release. Could either of these games have made my list if I played them in their entirety? Sure. Again, there’s a lot of good in these two titles. With that said, I really don’t have a lot of drive to do so, which is, when you think about it, pretty damning.

Turd of the Year: Sonic Origins

You know it’s a weird year when the 3D Sonic game was a pleasant surprise while the 2D effort was an embarrassing letdown. Considering it’s been the other way around for two decades, I was shocked to see Sonic Origins be so profoundly disappointing. Leading this years pack in the “How did you f**k this up?” category, Sonic Origins took the seemingly simple task of enhancing Sonic 1-3, Sonic CD, and Sonic & Knuckles, then proceeded to inject nearly 30-year-old titles with a variety of new bugs and some downright awful input lag. Also, if developer Headcannon is to be believed (I’m inclined to believe them due to their exceptional work on Sonic Mania), the final product is actively worse than the gold copy they turned in to Sega.

On top of that, Sonic Origins has officially taken the title of “dumbest special edition ever” from a multitude of Ubisoft games with the downright insulting “Digital Deluxe Edition”, which charged players an extra $5 for things like a letterboxed background, the ability to control the camera in the main menu, and a music player. I don’t know which is more befuddling — Sega having the audacity to put such “features” behind a paywall (for a game that was already questionably priced at $39.99) , or that Sega thought people would be down to pay extra for such an odd assortment of bonuses. Considering remasters of old classics have been around since Super Mario All-Stars, Sega continuing to do their mascot dirty is as shocking as it is unsurprising, which is a pretty amazing feat to pull off in its own right.

Ohh and they changed Sonic 3’s music because Michael Jackson’s weird family is running out of his money and threatened to sue. When you remake a game and the final product makes me happy I have the original (now de-listed) releases on Steam, you f****d up.


Honorable Mention: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII REUNION

While my list has an assortment of major nostalgia trips and a half-remake/half-sequel… thing, I’m happy to see that I, without trying, made a list that doesn’t feature a single straight-up remaster or remake. Again, maybe 2022 was better than I thought?

With that said, remakes & remasters still exist, and the best one this year modernized the only Final Fantasy VII Extended Universe thing I ever liked. The PSP advertised itself as the first handheld to offer “true” console gaming on the go, and despite the system’s limitations, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII got closer to that promise than maybe any other game released for Sony’s first portable gaming device. It featured (at the time) mind-blowing graphics, an entertaining Action RPG combat system, exceptional music, and a main protagonist that was infinitely more enjoyable to play as compared to Cloud Strife.

REUNION takes that original game and puts a next-gen-ish sheen on it. While it uses the assets from the FFVII Remake, it doesn’t quite reach those heights graphically. However, it’s a monumental jump from the PSP release. It also features smart enhancements to the combat that make it a little more fast-paced, and it’s a profound improvement over a release that really should not have been trapped on the PSP for the past fifteen years. Considering it’s importance to the new FFVII canon, this remaster both makes sense and is expertly crafted, which are the two things one really looks for when judging a remaster.

10. Sonic Frontiers

So, again, who knew that Sonic Team and their latest attempt at making Sonic in 3D would be the shining beacon for the blue hedgehog in 2022? I certainly didn’t believe it after early trailers didn’t even get me on board with another “Sonic Cycle”. Here’s the thing — while it being 10th on the list kinda makes this obvious, Sonic Frontiers is definitely the worst game here (…okay it’s not as bad as MyVegas Slots).

It maintains a lot of the problems 3D Sonic has had for literal decades like problematic camera controls, awkward enemy targeting, bugs galore, wonky physics, and a baffling story that seems perfectly tailored to the Pixiv crowd. Sonic coming to a complete stop when landing from a jump is one of the more daft design decisions I’ve run into in a long time. The pop-in is the worst I’ve seen in a videogame since Days Gone, and the way pipes just kinda appear in the sky makes the game occasionally look like something out of an alpha build. The Super Sonic sections, while they are massive in scale and offer some truly inspiring metalcore, are broken messes of failed motion that nobody could ever reasonably call fun.

All of these things are true, but Sonic Team may have actually solved the “What the hell should Sonic the Hedgehog even be in 3D?” question after all these years.

Breath of the Wild was obviously a huge inspiration as Sonic runs through massive islands sparsely populated with little nibbles of content that slowly pad stats and open new areas to explore. I’ve never enjoyed using Sonic more in a 3D space, and that’s due to the sprawling open-world design eliminating many of the cheap deaths from simply not being able to see obstacles or react accordingly to them (cheap deaths still very much exist). Now while I enjoyed my time with this game immensely, it really only rises to the title of “successful proof-of-concept”. Sonic Frontiers is a deeply problematic title, but within it one can see amazing potential, and I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Sonic in the third dimension. Here’s hoping their next entry will produce less fan “art”.

9. Bayonetta 3

Is it weird calling the 9th best game of the year sorta disappointing? We finally get a sequel to the best game of 2014 and the 2nd best game of 2009, so needless to say my expectations were rather high, but frankly, there’s a lot in this game that I do not like.

The performance is rather terrible, which causes serious problems in a complex character action game. If one wanted a poster child for “Hey maybe the Switch is a bit long in the tooth”, Bayonetta 3 is it. Also, for a series that’s famous for its over-the-top nature, here’s actually too much going on in some scenes, as the game has a need to show off how epic everything is by panning the camera out at the expense of gameplay. The addition of giant Kaiju monsters to help out in combat looks cool, but how frequently they are used takes away from the core mechanics. Considering Bayonetta as a franchise has been known as one giant fever-dream of a party, this newest addition with multiple apocalypses just seems a bit dour compared to its predecessors.

Lastly, I’m kinda with a lot of internet people who say that the romance featured in the game is both nonsensical and antithetical to who I’m pretty sure Cereza is. In other words, this is a problematic title.

But here’s the thing — middling Bayonetta is still better than 95% of all videogames ever produced, and Platinum Games still has some of the better combat mechanics conceived by man to fall back on. When Bayonetta 3 focuses on delivering the manic combat the series is famous for, it excels, and many of the trimmings longtime fans want are here. The art is preposterous, the music is sensational, and there were few experiences so sublime this year as when Bayonetta 3 clicks. I also really liked using the new character Viola, although her addition isn’t quite as impactful as, say, Nero was in Devil May Cry. It’s a great game with quirks that keep it from hitting the delirious highs of the previous games, but that’s enough for a new Bayonetta to crack the list.

8. Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Xenogears was one of my absolute favorites as a teenager. The game was peak anime melodrama in a time where I was into that sort of thing, but above all else, I loved Xenogears because it was, and remains, totally f***ing bonkers. There are multiple scenes of characters murdering everyone they know, it hammers players over the head with themes in a way that makes Hideo Kojima look subtle, and disc 2 is essentially a multi-hour interrogation cutscene followed by fighting God. It’s a mess, but it’s a gloriously entertaining mess that stuck with me way longer than any other JRPG made by Monolith Soft with the word “Xeno” in it. The Xenosaga series was… good but never really reached that peak level of silly championed by the first game. The first Xenoblade game is an absolute classic with numerous gameplay innovations that JRPG’s now are barely getting on board with, but outside of a few hints here and there, it didn’t really strike me as a Xeno game, whatever that means. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was literally the moment in my life where I said “hmm…maybe I’m actually not into anime anymore?”.

Now, while it still doesn’t reach the wild heights of Xenogears (probably for the best, honestly), Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was the first time I believed I was playing a true successor to the ol’ OG. Child soldiers dying over and over again in endless wars so they can power demonic robots is the kind of ridiculous concept I’ve wanted from this series for years, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 actually tells a great story with this idea thanks to the absolutely stellar main cast. This is one of the more enjoyable group of superfriends I’ve played in a JRPG in a long time, which is good considering the staggering length of this title. Expect a 60 hour playthrough at the absolute minimum, and thankfully the inventive combat makes it engaging for the player the entire way. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is absolutely worth the time investment for anyone into anime that goes on-and-on about the nature of existence.

7. Neon White

“Style over substance” is a bit of an overused term at this point, but in the case of Neon White, it’s actually the opposite, as the “Style” part of Neon White is its worst aspect. Unfortunately, the visual novel aspect of the game features a putrid story with some of the most grating characters I’ve encountered in a while, and the ethereal aesthetic wasn’t my cup of tea. At least the music somewhat slaps, and the game makes it pretty easy to skip through the nonsense.

Now the substance of Neon White is what gets it on the list. Once you get past the bad art and borderline tasteless writing, there is an immensely satisfying puzzle-platformer underneath with perfectly tuned controls and exceptional level design.

There are very few feelings better this year than absolutely nailing a level while bouncing around it like a ninja, and there are few feelings more infuriating than finding out that baller run was actually four seconds off the Platinum award time. Racking my brain around how to shave off those crucial seconds led to high levels of gratification. This is about the last thing I expected the Donut County developers to make, but I’m sure glad they did.

6. The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe

So a bit ago I said this list didn’t feature any remasters, and I stand by that when it comes to The Stanley Parable 2, which (…Spoilers?) is the actual title of The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe once players progress beyond a certain point. Ultra Deluxe is a dramatically expanded rendition of 2013’s funniest game — so much so, that I think it’s somewhat of a disservice to label it a a simple remaster. The original game had 19 endings, Ultra Deluxe has a whopping 42. There are hours’ worth of new dialogue from the GOAT-contending narrator along with large swaths of new areas to explore.

Furthermore, there’s a whole lot of new, hilarious introspection from writers Davey Wredan & William Pugh, who have essentially made most of the new content center around what the hell it was like to make a massively successful indie darling and the daunting task of following it up. These are themes touched on in their previous work since the original Stanley Parable, but they take it to hysterical heights here. Ultra deluxe takes what was a neat little thing with the original title and transforms it into a complete work that absolutely shines in 2023.

Did I mention it’s really goddamn funny?

5. Return To Monkey Island

The point-and-click adventure genre has had various “comebacks” over the years with the now-defunct Telltale Games kicking it off in 2004. How ironic that they then practically killed off any other modern interpretations when The Walking Dead unfortunately morphed an entire genre into “Dialogue from Bioware Games: The Game” before things got worse with titles like Gone Home sprinkling item collecting into walking around and damn near removed puzzles from the Adventure equation altogether. Weird low budget adventure games from small European studios kept the genre on life support, but this wasn’t exactly a vibrant genre in 2022.

Thankfully, Ron Gilbert is back and… he’s pretty much doing what he did in 1990 — and that’s A-OK in my book. Take away the exceptional art, voicework, and modern trimmings, and this is essentially a SCUMM game with dastardly puzzles as obtuse as they were 30 years ago. They require a fair bit of moon logic, and if you’re not up for that, they’ve put in a mode with simplified puzzles for those who just want to enjoy the absolutely stellar writing. With that said, this decidedly old-school experience was a delight from the get-go due to both its ardent convictions of genre conventions and the reverence it has for the source material. Sure, it kinda ignores the past three Monkey Island games because Ron Gilbert is a stubborn old man, but if that’s what it takes to get him to make another LucasArts adventure genre, that’s a trade i’m willing to make. This is an absolute must-play for anyone who grew up making literal mountains out of molehills.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

The moment the game started with a Mike Patton rendition of the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme was when I knew Shredder’s Revenge was gonna be special. Tribute Games clearly loves themselves some early ’90s TMNT games, and this is one of the best nostalgia trips i’ve played in a long time. The sprite work on display here is wildly expressive while also maintaining an old-school aesthetic that I appreciated. They also did a great job with the combat, as it keeps things simple while adding a layer of depth that’s attainable to novice players. It’s not super long, but it’s longer than most games of this ilk, and there are plenty of reasons to go back.

All of that is great, but this game makes the list due to the special memories I have playing it with my wife. She’s not much of a gamer, but she had some experience with arcade beat-’em-ups as a kid and I thought this would be a good attempt at an evening of couch co-op. This was correct thinking on my part, as we had an absolute blast playing through the entire game, and she ended up being the one who demanded we continued on from where we left off the next day. This is her Game of the Year and she’s my better half, so that definitely played a part in this game being so high on this list.

3. Marvel’s Midnight Suns

For a game that I was super excited for because I thought it was going to be “XCOM with Spider-Man”, I was actually surprisingly delighted to see that it isn’t that. I wasn’t expecting a 60-hour RPG/Dating-simulator with the breadth of dialogue options found in an old-school Bioware RPG. It also doesn’t have the same sense of dread that permeates an entire XCOM run, as it’s probably for the best that a mainstream Marvel product for the masses isn’t set up to ruin 20 hours of work with one bad mistake. While I was hesitant hearing Midnight Suns was card-based in its combat, it actually became one of the strengths, as building decks allows for high versatility in all characters while allowing me to tailor my superheroes based on the situation.

Midnight Suns is built around a Marvel Comics run from the 90s, and the team at Firaxis did a great job of capturing that feel. These are great interpretations of the characters, and I appreciate that they didn’t try to ape the current vibe of the MCU. Yes the characters are quippy, but that was the style of the decade as well in the comics, so it’s appropriate. This is a fabulous comic book game made by a bunch of dorks who used their undeniable talents to deliver a deep, intricate, surprising, and meaty experience. This is the only game on this list that I paid $70 for, and it was worth every penny.

2. Vampire Survivors

So, as previously alluded to in my MyVegas rant, I kinda hate slot machines. Poker is both cheaper and more stimulating, and I’ve never really understood the appeal of dumping money into a machine and… just kinda hoping for the best? Poncle, the stage-name for the developer behind the most out-of-left-field GOTY contender I can remember, used to develop slot machines, and that shows with Vampire Survivors. He was able to take the audiovisual stimulation of a slot machine and inject it into a rather unassuming roguelike to crystalize the most potent digital crack-cocaine I’ve experienced in a long time.

Vampire Survivors‘ greatest strength is how it’s able to take the sensibilities of exploitative, microtransaction-based shovelware and craft a legitimate experience out of it. It has all the trappings of a game I should find offensively terrible, but a $5 game with weird Castlevania knock-off art has no business being this engaging and interesting, especially once players progress to a certain point and, well, things get weird. This miserable pile of secrets is something I adored peeling apart one collectable at a time, and discovering all the game has to offer on my own without asking the internet was immensely gratifying. It’s not quite Game of the Year, but it’s the best value of the year by a country mile, and I’ll happily pay for every bit of DLC that Poncle wants to drip out.

This game is a sickness infecting my brain, and I’m down for it.

1. Elden Ring

That’s right, I’m going chalk. Everyone else’s Game of the Year is my Game of the Year for the same reasons everyone else will list. Elden Ring is the culmination of nearly fifteen years worth of ideas and gameplay innovations smelted into a defining achievement for an entire genre. This is not just the best Souls Game ever made. Elden Ring is the Souls Game. If someone out there somehow didn’t know what a Souls Game was and they asked me to pick one for them, without any hesitation whatsoever, without any worry on if they’d “miss something” by not starting with the original games, I would hand them Elden Ring and tell them to go nuts. It’s so good that it makes other games in the soulsverse (is that what we’re going with?) practically obsolete. I tried to go back and play the Demons Souls remake and Dark Souls Remastered after finishing FROM Software’s newest release, and while my 90-ish hours with Elden Ring definitely prepared me to better perform while playing their older titles, the smart gameplay enhancements and truly unparalleled scope of Elden Ring make their previous efforts seem like quaint, yet important relics that allowed their masterpiece to flourish.

Ocarina Of Time is a game that people often reference as having a huge, impactful “moment” when they get out of the starting village and see the huge open world that Link had to explore. It was transcendent for so many people, but that feeling did not even compare to the feeling I had after spending 20 hours running through what I thought was the entire map, only to realize how much I hadn’t even discovered yet. This is the best open world environment ever put in a videogame, full stop. Every single inch of this absolutely massive map feels as meticulously designed as the intricate dungeons it houses, and it’s pretty rare for me to play a game for literal days with a feeling that I’ve barely scratched the surface. While I still think I may personally like Sekiro more due to its aesthetics and combat, I find Elden Ring infinitely more impressive.

An extra congratulations goes to Hidetaka Miyazaki, who has transformed what was a pretty middling studio (anyone remember Enchanted Arms?) into one of the preeminent developers on Planet Earth, churning out hit after hit after hit. He’s in the upper echelons of gaming visionaries now. Miyamoto, Kojima, Garriot, Meier, Schafer, Carmack, whomever else I’m forgetting, and now Miyazaki. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to have the same desire for a cult of personality around him the way that some of those aforementioned names do, and I think this bodes well for both his future and the future of FROM Software. Their runaway success as a formerly-smallish independent studio goes against the grain of everything this industry stands for currently, and I can’t wait to be there with every subsequent release.

Elden Ring is not the Game of the Year. It’s the Game of Our Time.

Jarrod Johnston
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1 month ago

Good list.

Enchanted Arms is one of my favourite RPGs… Dark Souls and Demons Souls wasn’t even what got me into Fromsoft games