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GOTY 2022

My year of games in 2022 can probably be summarized as surprising narratives and mechanics that offered especially refined and/or complex versions of things I already pretty well liked. This certainly would not have been the list I would have guessed at the beginning of the year, but with the unstable nature of game releases and the constant release of extremely strong indie games, expectations get thrown out the window pretty quickly. These games all spoke to me or pulled me deep into their worlds and mechanics in some significant way, and I'm certainly happy with the year of games in 2022. On to the list!

Honorable Mentions: Neon White, Tunic

List items

  • In a strong year for narrative-first games, Citizen Sleeper is the one that hit me the hardest. Life on Erlin’s Eye is both fantastical and grounded, a vision of a spacefaring dystopia that cares most about highlighting people and the struggles (and successes) of their daily lives. Characters and locations on the Eye bubble over with personalities that are both alien and human, with a perspective that is often as hopeful as it is grim. The people aren’t the problem, but the systems of society have failed at nearly every turn.

    Much of Citizen Sleeper is delivered in a visual novel style, with some dice rolling mechanics straight from a tabletop RPG. The sense of balancing actions and searching for the optimal plays each day is very much something I connect with, and it couples perfectly with constant narrative decisions about how your character interacts with others and their own goals. On top of all of that, the art and writing are top notch, and the music perfectly fits and elevates the moody cybernetic setting. Every piece fits, every piece matters, and Citizen Sleeper wastes not one second or one ounce of energy on things that don’t mechanically and narratively flow together.

    As I reached the end stages of Citizen Sleeper, many of the mechanics of the game faded into the background, and the flow changed. Instead of a daily struggle for survival and search for a place to belong, the narrative weight shifted to “what do you really want?”. Weighing options and slowly but surely turning away from one and then another and another, wondering if I would regret it - it’s the next stage of this story’s hopeful melancholy. Citizen Sleeper did not offer guarantees, or present a true path, or a correct answer - it poses the question. There’s no other game this year that so fully captured my attention and nailed everything it was going for so completely, and it is my favorite game of 2022.

  • Marvel Snap is an addictive concoction of extremely clever design decisions polished to an extreme degree. The small decks and quick matches make this one of the most streamlined collectible card games I’ve ever played, complimented by the added randomness of location effects and the inspired snapping mechanic. I’m not even a huge Marvel fan or a fan of ranked competitive games, but I’ve spent countless hours fiddling with different combos, upgrading my cards, and just enjoying the seemingly countless ways all the pieces of this game can combine to create new interactions. When I try to really build a strong deck and gain ranking it is very satisfying to see strategies come together after some testing and refining. I’ve probably played as many hours of this game as any other in 2022, and I think it will continue well into the new year.

  • What an awe inspiring, massive undertaking. Elden Ring almost redefines what it means for a single player game to be big, in the same way I felt the Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild did before it. This escalation has its pros and cons, but the sheer magnitude is not ruined by the necessary reuse of locations and enemies, and that alone is an achievement. The landmark locations are as detailed and well designed as most areas across previous Souls games, and felt like entire shorter versions of these games encapsulated within a massive world. I really appreciated the break from Dark Souls lore, and the slightly more accessible narrative, while still maintaining much of what made Dark Souls such a memorable take on dark fantasy. I may not have explored every cave and delved to the depths of every catacomb in my 130 hours of playtime, but the time I spent testing and honing my character’s skill with a twinblade and dark flame spells across The Lands Between was thrilling and rewarding.

  • While it starts as a competent but safe entry in the “Remember Final Fantasy Tactics?” genre, Triangle Strategy eventually found its own unique place for me, and I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised. Tactical battles here are varied and engaging, and with exactly the right level of complexity that I want. A large cast of unique characters with very specific roles to fill on the battlefield made it easy for me to build a team that I innately understood. I also love the simplicity of units each having a small pool of points for special abilities, restoring one point each turn. The effect of that system is obvious right from the start - abilities that cost one point can be used each turn, and any more than that will burn out your character faster. Many of the systems in Triangle Strategy feel this way to me - intuitive but allowing for strategic depth. The other, and even more surprising, element of Triangle Strategy is the narrative. This story weaves back and forth and turns on a dime so many times, but manages to build to an exciting conclusion that is well earned, and I came away from it extremely impressed.

  • Tinykin is perhaps 2022’s best example of “does a lot of things that have been done before and does them all extremely well”. It is a colorful and cheerful experience of being a tiny little guy exploring a human space that appears giant to you. It is a 3D platformer where you move from level to level climbing, jumping, gliding, and performing simple environmental interactions to collect a bunch of little bits and bobs. It is in essence Mario 64 where you make friends with bugs who have taken over an abandoned house, brought up to modern gameplay and visual standards, and it is great. The collectibles are rewarding but rarely challenging, and the levels are expertly crafted to push you along to the next thing right around the corner, and then have it all loop back together when you run out of things to find on a given path. This is a feel good game that I enjoyed every moment of playing.

  • The level of nonsense on display in Stranger of Paradise is inspiring. The original Final Fantasy did not need a prequel story, but by the time I finished Stranger of Paradise, it felt justified in a strange and striking way. It is nonsense, but the best kind of nonsense that I laughed right along with once it really got going. I also really enjoyed the combat here as a big fan of Souls/Sekiro and FF7 Remake, and this carves out a specific niche that felt modern and unique. The combat doesn’t skip out on any of the madness pervasive throughout the rest of the game though. Character builds are insanely detailed as you mix and match skills across different classes and switch between 2 active classes on the fly. The amount of abilities and combos overload the controller and make fights spectacular to watch and nearly impossible to keep up with. When I felt like I could keep up with what was going on, this game felt like I was a wrecking ball on a roller coaster, and the more I played the more consistently I got that feeling.

  • Ragnarok managed to correct most of my complaints from the 2018 God of War, and is a heck of an example of what a high level production can achieve. This is a gorgeous and polished experience with fantastic writing and performances throughout. I found myself pulled forward with constant momentum as the game shifts between exploring wide areas and marching forward to the next big moment, and even enjoyed completing the collectible checklists across the realms. The conclusion to this Norse mythology era of God of War mostly worked for me, but it was the individual moments and characters that made the experience great. I also really appreciate the steps that are taken to set up what the future of the series could be while closing the book on the most important elements.

  • Norco’s style is uniquely weird, and it isn’t afraid to just be weird without compromise. Southern gothic, cyberpunk magical realism, call it what you will, but this is a story and a world unlike any other game I’ve played. A gig work app is literally present in the world as a destabilizing monstrosity, the homeless and directionless squabble (and kill) to claim some form of religious authority, and the smoke stack skylines rise up over streets full of a bunch of absolute weirdos. Norco also kept me constantly off balance with its timeline jumping perspective shifts, and I have to think that many of the decisions were made with a goal of not letting the player ever get too comfortable with this city. Mission accomplished! Even though I don’t feel that I have a great grasp on all the details of this story, it was a ride that I am very glad to have experienced.

  • There was a lot that was surprising about Pokémon in 2022. GameFreak released two full priced, big games for the Switch during the year with Pokémon Legends Arceus at the beginning, and Scarlet/Violet at the end. Both were attempts at transitioning Pokémon to an open world formula and to reinvent what Pokémon is. Also both were maybe some of the most busted and unfinished feeling Nintendo first party games I can think of. Among those surprises is how much Legends Arceus specifically managed to rethink the concept of being a Pokémon trainer into something that felt both revolutionary and true to the series at its core. Wandering the open areas of the historical Sinnoh region and trying to catch bucketfuls of wild Pokémon to fill out the newly revamped Pokédex system took me back to how I felt as a kid playing my first Pokémon game, at least for a little while. The basic interactions with these weirdo creatures worked again, and I can’t overstate how much that meant to me this year despite the very clear flaws of Legends Arceus.

  • Sifu really goes all the way in for its idea of a cinematic, tough as nails brawler. A playable martial arts film about an undying need for revenge with an extremely detailed combat system that is ready to put you in the ground at a moment’s notice, wrapped in a novel twist on the roguelike genre. The low points can be infuriating, distressing, and cruel. The highs can involve nailing a sequence of combos and counters to finish off an encounter that had completely ruined you before without even taking a hit, and then savoring that moment before pushing on. When it works it works, and it worked often enough for me to be one of my favorite experiences this year.