You know the saying: another year, another batch of video games. As always, video games have become a refuge when the going gets tough. 2022 had a lot of challenges, but it had way more highlights. Chief among them was getting engaged to the best persona fuser on the planet! It was also the first full year of living with my now fiance, so many of the games I played were alongside her on the couch, which makes almost all of the titles on this list a shared multiplayer experience of sorts. It’s been a wonderful new way to enjoy video games and I look forward to our shared gaming journey in 2023 and beyond.
To see more thoughts on specific games, you can peruse my 2022 Game Journal tag on Tumblr.
Game of the Year
Let’s get the big one out of the way first, for fun.
You know what’s cool? Riding a double jumping horse through a swamp while swinging a big fuck-off greatsword at a fire breathing dragon that had just unexpectedly screamed from the clouds, torching everything in its path.
Elden Ring had moments like this in spades. Released from the shackles of linear level design, yet still retaining key moments of hand crafted dungeon design, the latest FROM game made the leap to open world with aplomb. I wanted to scale every mountain, explore every crevice, and take down every boss. The hardest thing in any open world game is to make all that exploration worth it, and to this Souls player, I was handily rewarded in boss fights, grotesque designs, and curious landscapes that told a story all of their own.
What a fun world, and in hindsight, the perfect logical step for the Souls series. We were all school kids again, trading weapon locations, boss tips, and illusory wall locations over digital playgrounds. It was so damn fun. I missed out on Breath of the Wild’s release, but I imagine the feeling of everyone crawling over every inch of the world and swapping stories and ideas was much the same.
We all made ourselves sick on Elden Ring, didn’t we? After beating the game around the eighty hour mark, I was thoroughly spent and needed a break. It was clear the bosses were repeating themselves, some areas were unfinished, and I just wanted to be done with the damn thing. We were saturated in Elden Ring, and I thought maybe there was too much of a good thing. Was it all hype?
Then months later, my fiancee’s dad needed help with a boss fight and she booted up the multiplayer again and started wandering around the world. That sense of wonder came back instantly. This game is impressive as hell. It looks stunning, the designs are fascinatingly unique, the boss fights are tough and interesting and fair, and the myriad of play styles had me exploring ways of play I hadn’t since I settled into my greatsword swinging ways in Demon’s Souls.
Elden Ring wins my GOTY for providing such a complete, memorable package. It’s a game that will endure just as long as its progenitors. A year later, it still hasn’t really left the public conversation. It’s a world I look forward to visiting again in the future and uncovering all the secrets I missed.
Hindsight is 20/22
The game that I’ve changed my opinion on over time.
Devil May Cry
I played the first Devil May Cry almost two years ago and it just did not click for me. For context, my only prior experience with action games went about as far as Kingdom Hearts. I was in for a rude time, and I was frustrated I couldn’t seemingly grasp the mechanics in a way that was very fun. Still, I stuck with it, and played Devil May Cry 3 the following year, which I enjoyed much more.
This year I played Devil May Cry 4 and my god it finally happened – the series clicked for me. DMC4 was incredibly fun, and I went from just trying to survive the levels to actively trying to string together combos for high scores. It was transcendent, and I was hooked.
So when I got my Steam Deck this year, one of the first things I did was go back and try Devil May Cry again from the beginning. The game freaking rules. I was no longer getting stomped by bosses and getting frustrated at starting entire levels over, I was sweeping them with panache and style. I knew the combos, strung together moves, and was beating levels in record time. It felt like the way the game was meant to be played.
I climbed a gameplay mountain in a way I haven’t since starting Dark Souls. It’s unlocked a whole new genre for me, and I can’t wait to play more.
Just please, no more forced platforming sections.
Didn’t Click Award
Not my thing.
I credit the first Bayonetta with introducing me to action games proper and showing me what they should feel like. Unfortunately for Bayonetta 2, I had just come off the heels of Devil May Cry 4 and was in the mood for a more challenging action game experience. I was let down by the comparative lack of depth Bayo 2 seemed to have, and I slept walked my way through most of the levels. Supposedly hard mode is where the gameplay shines, and I did enjoy the challenge levels, but…
It doesn’t help that the whole thing is wrapped in a fairly grating story that annoyed me more than it charmed me. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is how Devil May Cry felt when it first landed in pre-teen living rooms. I finished it quickly and moved on, and don’t feel a particular need to see the series out.
Game I’d Write a Dubious Essay About Award
What it says on the tin.
I’m going to keep this one short lest I actually devolve into writing a full blown dubious essay about Pentiment.
What starts out as a quirky, charming murder mystery in a small rural peasant town turns into a dour affair by second act as your choices have come to roost. It’s not until the final, third act of the game that it really blossoms into something else. Seeing the ways you affected this town, in so many small ways, adds up to a moving conclusion about the legacies we leave behind based on the relationships we make, no matter how fleeting they are.
It was the game that left us sobbing and hugging each other on the couch. A masterpiece of writing.
Assassin’s Creed II
I played Assassin’s Creed II in an attempt to immediately relive the wonderful trip to Florence my fiancee and I took earlier that year. It was my first Assassin’s Creed game, and it’s frequently touted as the best in the series with the most solid writing.
Unfortunately for the game, it kinda actually sucks. It’s a stitched together mess that barely holds itself together under the weight of its useless mechanics, over dramatic writing, and mid-2000s sensibility world design.
Fortunately for the game, that only enhances the amount of fun I had it with. Assassin’s Creed II is entertaining as hell. I was constantly trying to break it in any way imaginable, abusing the instant kill blades and jumping off walls at odd angles to break through enemy defenses. My Ezio wasn’t a graceful assassin so much as he was a bumbling idiot with knives strapped to his arms.
This culminated in my little cosplaying assassin bungling the final kill by falling into a crowd before emerging from the mass with a gun and shooting the pope, obviously not the way the developers intended this very serious story to crescendo. We couldn’t stop laughing. What a gas.
Stretching the definition of DLC a bit here.
Persona 5: Royal
Leave it to Persona 5 to save the best for last. The Royal specific content at the end of the already gargantuan jrpg is head and shoulders the best part of the hundred-plus hour game. The writing gets personal, the dungeons are perfectly paced, and the villain motivation is compelling. It’s an incredibly strong finish that made the entire journey worth it.
By now you know I don’t really play multiplayer games, but this one comes closer than most years to fitting the true definition.
Is there anything that can beat the universal experience of watching a horror movie with someone who absolutely cannot handle horror movies? Watching alongside a friend who viscerally reacts to every twist, gruesome kill, and suspenseful fake out can really elevate a schlocky monster b-movie into an incredibly fun time.
Now, give that person a controller and have them making decisions for individual character choices in the middle of a horror movie? Chef kiss, as they say.
The Quarry follows the classic horror movie setup of “group of teens stuck at a summer camp,” but where the multiplayer shines is in letting individual people control specific characters. A session typically involves passing the controller around hot-potato style on the couch as the game moves from scene to scene, splitting them up Scooby-Doo style. You have to control your character both via quick time events to avoid being ripped to shreds by the monster, as well as making subtler, very teen choices. It’s a ton of fun, and the game is heightened if you’re playing with the right group of friends who play characters in ways you necessarily wouldn’t on your own.
It helps that The Quarry’s character work is very good. It takes its time in the opening hours to really let you settle into the characters and have fun with them, so by the time they start being ripped apart by the supernatural terrors at the camp, the entire couch was screaming. Just a great time all around, and best played with friends.
Most Forgettable Award
Oh yeah, I did play that this year didn’t I?
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Look, Paper Mario TTYD is a good game. It’s very charming, has lots of good music, and the writing is still fun. But overall, it felt like a step backwards from the original Paper Mario. After finishing the game, I find myself hard pressed to really remember any of the companions or notable story moments. The Peach sections weren’t as interesting, and the combat made some bizarrely frustrating decisions.
When I think about Paper Mario, the original game is what springs to my mind. TTYD is a great game, excellent even, and I’m disappointed it didn’t hook me in quite the same way.
The OST on repeat this year.
Silent Hill 3
Yeah, if there was an award this year for “best vibes” it is absolutely Silent Hill 3, bolstered by its incredible soundtrack. Its crooning, catchy indie rock was the perfect soundscape to accompany early fall in the Northeast United States. The OST was on repeat for quite a while.
Channeling Heather energy going into 2023.
Favorite Game Encounter
The best individual moment from a game.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Radiant Dawn has one helluva sense of humor. The game starts out with you playing a ragtag group of misfits who are absolute and complete garbage units. Sorry to the Dawn Brigade, I escaped each of their chapters by the skin of my teeth as each person on my team let me down again and again. Meanwhile, Ike and the Greil Merceneries were nowhere to be found. I figured they’d show up (Ike’s on the cover, after all), but I didn’t know the game was holding them off for a big, daring reveal at the end of Act II.
It’s a really effective fist-pumping moment. Seeing so many favorite characters return in full force was an absolute joy. They not only get a hero’s welcome in their kickass reintroduction cutscene, but you instantly feel like the mercenary force to be reckoned with that you so desperately deserve to play as now. The Greil Mercenary chapters in Radiant Dawn are some of the best in the Tellius games.
To cap it all off, almost all of the Greil Mercenaries received a glowup for the sequel. Including our favorite middle manager who just wants to do his job and go home.
Seriously, why did no one tell me Ike became a hunk?
Waiting for Game-dot
The one I’ll play eventually.
Hello, Alex. I promise I will play this game in 2023.
Let’s Play Award
The game I had the most fun watching.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
My fiance got really into Phoenix Wright at the end of 2022 and I’m so glad to be along for the ride. Solving puzzles, especially video game mysteries, are some of the most fun we have together, and the visual novel nature of the game makes for lots of cozy nights on the couch scratching our heads and laughing at the sharply written dialogue.
Ace Attorney is so tightly written that you can’t help but say one more trial day as you unspool each mystery. It’s a fantastic let’s play game, providing just as much if not more fun to watch someone else play and help figure out the riddles alongside with.
Glad I Stuck With It
It builds character.
When I first tried playing Silent Hill, I was still in high school. I made it up until the hospital before I gave up, confounded by the lack of clear objectives and old school tank controls. This year, I attempted to play the game again from scratch and boy am I glad I did.
You can easily make a strong argument that it’s one of the best PSX games of all time. The low poly world is really still quite effective at being scary in a way that even the sequels don’t really reach. The tank controls, while maybe dated today, are helped by a really smart camera that pivots cinematically with the push of a button. The lighting is haunting, and the flashlight creates shadows that play tricks on you and superbly hint at the horrors lying within them.
It’s a top notch, AAA horror experience and impressive as hell for 1999. Shit, it’s impressive in 2022.
Game of the Year II
Hey, there are no rules here. Call this my wildcard, call this a “Player’s Choice Award,” whatever makes you feel better.
I’m never one to go for the big time achievements. I have no interest in time trials, being the best-of-the-best, or getting the high score. It was certainly a surprise to me that I was so damn addicted to Neon White’s gameplay loop that I felt compelled to get Ace ranking for every level of the game, trying over and over again to perfect my run and shaving micro-seconds off my time for that illustrious jade medallion. It was just too damn fun.
Neon White is easily the tightest gameplay experience I had this year. Each movement, action, and item usage is perfectly calculated for you to sail through a level, slaying demons and beating the clock, all for an illustrious place in heaven. It’s a master class in introducing players to new concepts while slowly ratcheting up the difficulty.
Even the little visual novel sections in between missions were enjoyable. While the plot itself leaves a bit to be desired, the characters are a lot of fun, and I enjoyed checking in on them and watching their relationships grow as the game went on. These moments provided just the right amount of cooldown between pulse pounding missions. It’s pitch perfect.
I’d also be remiss to not mention the soundtrack by Machine Girl. Providing both pulsing beats that got your adrenaline pumping while pulling off high speed level-breaking shenanigans and chill, relaxing vibes for the visual novel sections, the OST crops up on my daily work playlist from time to time all these months later.
So there we go, two GOTYs.
Elden Ring wins GOTY for being an enduring game I’ll be thinking about for a long time, and I’m still impressed on how it iterated and took risks over what should be a very safe franchise by now (you can ride a horse and he can freaking double jump!)
Neon White wins GOTY for being just the most pure fun I had all year. I could not put this game down until I aced everything, and even then I went back for more. It’s a game I had zero prior expectations for, yet became something I instantly wanted to be good at, share runs, and showoff strategies for friends. It rules.
My video game soul was satisfied this year.
As always, thanks to the hodgepodge gang in the Gameological Society’s Discord group for providing the prompts for this year’s best-of lists! Y’all are an amazing community that have helped me find more joy in video games with each passing year. It really is a hobby that’s best shared with others, and I’m thankful for all the discussions, memes, and recommendations for games that I wouldn’t have played otherwise (like Neon White!)
I’m looking forward to 2023 with you all! Much love, gamers.