By ZombiePie 21 Comments
Author's Note: Hello there! My name is ZombiePie, and I am a Giant Bomb forum and wiki moderator. Every year I look at the various sources of entertainment I enjoy and dislike. During my awards show, I pit games, television shows, animes, athletics, albums, board games, and movies in a fight to the death! As such, my awards are more "special commendations" and are open to any medium I consumed during the last year.
Additionally, you can expect to see classic and current works of entertainment vying for the top positions of each merit and demerit on this blog. Oh, and one more thing, there are SPOILERS in this blog! Before reading any of my justifications for each award recipient, keep that in mind. Also, prepare your pitchforks as things occasionally get a little "spicy!"
Best New Addition To A Fighting Game - Neco-Arc (Melty Blood: Type Lumina)
Look, I get it. Bridget in Guilty Gear -Strive- is "probably" the correct award recipient in this category. It is terrific that Arc System took one of the more problematic characters in the series and made them a source of empowerment. It shows that Arc System is an industry leader in depicting characters and character experiences involving the LGBTQIA community. But GODDAMNIT, Y'ALL! Neco-Arc in Melty Blood: Type Lumina is fucking good! And before you ask, yes. I did end up buying the game because of the funny cat lady that also happens to be a chaos god. Bite me. Her special is a roulette wheel where the best version involves her using her phone to summon Saber from Fate/Grand Order. Then, there's the special where she fills the screen with a giant version of herself as she pretends to be a VTuber. Does this do any damage to the opposing player? No, but it is funny as fuck. What if I told you one of her other specials summons a Neco-Arc clone that drags a truck tire tied to a rope, and it is almost impossible to do any notable damage to your opponent and is more of a visual goof?
With Street Fighter VI set to be a significant 2023 release, I miss when fighting games had joke characters that were absolute dogshit in the meta. I miss mainstream fighting games saying, "Fuck it!" and putting in joke characters like Bad Box Art Mega Man in Street Fighter × Tekken. I'm not saying Street Fighter VI won't have some permutation of a "Dan-like," but in today's hyper-aware world of fighting games where every bit of the online meta needs to be examined with a microscope, I miss characters like Neco-Arc. To me, the genre as a whole has matured in a way where it's not as willing to laugh at itself, and that's part of the reason why I can't help but get the slightest bit happy at seeing Neco-Arc make a bold return. Neco-Arc's damage is awful, and that's why I love her.
Runner-up: Bridget (Guilty Gear -Strive-) -
As mentioned earlier, Bridget is the "correct" answer to this category. I will add that Bridget having a messy road to their current gender identity is somehow more empowering than the whitewashed trans experiences mainstream television and Hollywood tend to provide. She's also a fun character, considering she's one of the most "true neutral" characters in modern fighting game history.
Best Meme Game - Trombone Champ
The "Meme Game" is a nebulous term these days. Some games like Moonbase Alpha have gone on to become meme games, despite not endeavoring to do so, whereas dreck like Meme Run deliberately courts the internet into a cheap joke. Virality is also a factor, with most games in this category gaining mainstream attention thanks to out-of-context video clips, Tweets, or other social media postings driving engagement and sales. Regardless of where any meme game lies on that spectrum, they rarely have any staying power beyond a year. While some might dispute that last part, especially with the two games I have picked for this award, history suggests otherwise. And before anyone chimes in about PowerWash Simulator, I disqualified it because I don't think it is a true "meme game." First, the game falls in the well-worn "simulator" genre and delivers an experience that embodies that genre in totality. Second, the attention and love given to the game was an organic groundswell because people already understood its therapeutic gameplay and what it would provide. On the other hand, Trombone Champ came out of nowhere and GREATLY benefitted from a bunch of silly meme Tweets of people misplaying it. That's a "true" meme game!
Only time will tell if Trombone Champ will buck the trend of these sorts of games having a concise shelf life. Nonetheless, at least while the game was kicking, we all had fun playing it and laughing when we couldn't get past the second stanza of a song. Is Trombone Champ a "good" rhythm game? Shit, I don't know, but it made me fucking laugh. Furthermore, I played every song in it at least once, which I only sometimes do in rhythm games. To that note, one could argue Trombone Champ doesn't want you to play it well and that you'll derive the most significant amount of joy from it from playing poorly. Likewise, with the rhythm genre dead, it was a breath of fresh air to see some life in that arena get injected into it, even if that syringe was full of sugar water, and I'm still high on the placebo effect.
Runner-Up: Choo-Choo Charles -
With Choo-Choo Charles, you have the same idea as Trombone Champ, but with a different veneer. Choo-Choo Charles has one gimmick, and your ability to accept or buy into it determines your overall opinion. Unfortunately, the game maintains its highs significantly shorter than Trombone Champ and is far more frustrating.
Best Anime of 2022 - Chainsaw Man
2022 was an excellent year for video games, but it was also one of the strongest years for anime in decades. Each season this year had some venerable titans and straightforward recommendations for anime newcomers and veterans. One such easy recommendation from the year was Chainsaw Man. It's a masterpiece and a rare example of a new show that we will continue to cite and point at in years to come. This individual season isn't just a riveting ride but one of the best-paced manga adaptions I have seen in a long while. The main cast all get their flowers, and there are plenty of opportunities for the show to embellish ancillary and secondary characters as well. And as someone who read the manga before watching the show, the first season has thoroughly left me waiting with bated breath to see how it tackles some of the latter story arcs, with one of particular interest.
Also, I don't know how we as a society got to this point, but there's a new wave of backlash against the show that I find abjectly terrible. I'm not even talking about the people starting a petition to get a different studio to "re-animate" the first season because those are the sorts of people you don't make direct eye contact with under any circumstances. No, some people don't enjoy episodes seven and eight, and I don't "get it." To a certain degree, I understand the uneasiness with the show's natural horniness, but every character's actions are overtly consensual; I don't see how you can't find a modicum of personality with how it conveys intimacy. In the case of episode seven, it perfectly captures the awkwardness of an intimate kiss and then delivers on the comedy. I understand there's a grossness factor, but that was the modus operandi of the source material and everything leading up to that point. Also, if you don't like the worm in episode eight, then I don't know what the fuck we are even doing anymore.
Runner-up: Spy x Family -
I struggled between Spy x Family and Mob Psycho 100 as my runner-up. The conclusion of season three of Mob Psycho might be my overall favorite thing from 2022 across all media, but I still have to give it to Spy x Family for having three of the best and most fully realized characters in 2022. Watching the show's trio navigate one ridiculous premise or set piece after another never failed to entertain. The show also strikes a pitch-perfect balance between drama and zany anime hijinks.
Most "Mid" Thing I Enjoyed - Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a video game platypus. It is a game that shouldn't work, as it has several awkward parts and pieces and is a technical shitshow. While its job system is highly rewarding and a delight to explore, the game doesn't offer enough enemy types, animations, or interesting locals to make them feel entirely fully realized. Most levels are linear corridors with a few bespoke branching paths that always lead to hidden treasure chests. Some environments are awe-inspiring re-treads of Final Fantasy classics, whereas others feel entirely phoned-in. The character models are sometimes ugly, and the format of how the game conveys its worldbuilding and story is an abject mess. However, it's a fun time, and when the game finally decides to deploy its plot, it strikes an exciting and wild tone.
I'm never in a hundred years going to argue Final Fantasy Origin is better than Elden Ring. I will, however, say that I think Origin provides a more "pure fun" experience than Elden Ring, and there are people who would seek more joy from it than From's latest outing. The game's many quality-of-life settings make for a more welcoming experience for newcomers and Souls skeptics. The game's malleable difficulty settings allow more stakeholders to wade their feet into its waters before jumping in. Unfortunately, the game also has a smattering of rough edges. The equipment and smithy systems are innately annoying to interact with and feel needless. The game also having critical parts of its story conveyed through tooltips and hidden treasure sprinkled throughout the world is equally shitty. Nonetheless, when the game boils down to Jack and his buddies having a good time punching things in the face, there's no denying it's a sight to see.
Runner-up: Digimon Survive -
I'll be short here as I have already expressed my disappointment with Digimon Survive on the site. However, the game's ending act is far better than what I characterized in that blog and does a lot to tie everything together and encourage players to invest in multiple playthroughs. That doesn't change the tactics portion of the game being very "average" and the lion's share of dialogue choices coming across as arbitrary trolley dilemmas.
Best Pick-Me-Up - Mystery Science Theater 3000 (2022)
2022 was an interesting year for Joel Hodgson. After Netflix axed the revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 2019, he and the new crew he assembled were left with no clear path forward to keep the show going. Yes, the 2017-2018 revival was jumpstarted on Kickstarter. Still, Netflix's budget and platform played a role in helping the show to differentiate itself from the now better-known Rifftrax run by Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. So, when Hodgson announced "The Gizmoplex," wherein he and his fellow staff air reruns, host events, and post new episodes at a far more leisurely pace, I was excited but also prepared for disappointment. Familiar faces were set to appear alongside the fresh blood from the Netflix show, which tends to be a recipe for disaster.
Luckily, I was wrong. The thirteenth season of MST3K struck a delicate balance between showcasing old-school monster flicks with more modern 90s action films. It was a far more diverse spread than the usual output from RiffTrax or other imitators, which ensured the show felt both fresh and distinct in a now crowded field. Jonah Ray and Baron Vaughn are as good as ever with on-point witticisms and cultural references, and the crew's chemistry is still the best part of the show. It was refreshing to see everyone come together, sit in front of a movie screen, and riff shit like the good old days. They didn't do anything revolutionary with this project, and anyone with long-standing aversions to MST3K and RiffTrax is not likely to be swayed. However, this is an easy and pleasant recommendation for those of you that have one or two line reads from the original television program burned into your lexicon.
Runner-up: Kirby and the Forgotten Land -
This will sound mean, but Kirby games are the video game equivalent of "Oscar bait." The games are about delivering a known outcome or experience with a different package or wrapping. Kirby games elicit emotional reactions like they were designed in a chemistry lab. However, when you need a pick-me-up, there are few options better than a new Kirby game.
Most Disappointing - Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it (Season 2)
Trying to explain the appeal of Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it is virtually impossible to do in text. Reading a synopsis that the show involves two scientists trying to use experiments to describe their love for each other sounds like the worst shit imaginable. However, its odd mix of slice-of-life comedy, romance, and science education works far better than it has any right to, and the first season was a fun "filler show." It was a silly and upbeat exhibition that tugged on your heartstrings and mostly accomplished that task. That's partly due to its two primary characters being equal screwballs in a fanciful adventure. The show avoids the typical Manzai act, with one character playing things straight and the other being a zany anime-delivering mechanism. That template wasn't rocket science, and fans of the show, myself included, were incredibly vocal about that being why they enjoyed the show in the first place.
So, color me disappointed that the second season decided to pull the rug from underneath its fans, ramp up the melodrama, and pivot the light-hearted adventures of its two characters to be more like a soap opera. Seeing a show so dramatically shirk away from what made it even marginally novel is fucking bizarre. It's also not like the dramatic junctures lead to heartfelt moments of sentimentality or the characters refocusing their energies on each other. Instead, the show becomes a very "by the numbers" romantic dramedy with a cast of characters that feel poorly equipped for such a change in tone. As if that weren't bad enough, the second season even muddied the water by adding new secondary and recurring characters that distracted the plot from its leading actors. Again, part of the show's appeal was that it was so hyper-focused on its leads that it didn't waste your time with anime chaff. Backtracking on that feels like a complete betrayal of sorts.
Runner-up: Gotham Knights -
The minute more details emerged about how Gotham Knights would be commoditized, my interest in it plummeted. However, I was still disappointed with the final product when the game came out. The loot system remains poorly utilized, and the mission structure is often unsatisfying and cumbersome. The characterization was fine. However, the storyline involving two secret organizations vying for power doesn't congeal enough, which is a shame because the game uses the Court of Owls storyline, which remains one of my all-time favorite Batman storylines.
My Game Of The Year 2022 That Actually Released In 2022 - Pentiment
Breaking news, the team at Obsidian is good at writing video game stories. Shocking, I know, but after giving them a bit of guff over the last third of The Outer Worlds and their habit of releasing games "hot," it is worth highlighting their strengths from time to time. The way Pentiment makes you not only reconsider your actions and phases of investigation make it one of the most engaging experiences from 2022. Every clue or hint it provides is a double-edged sword because they very often have more than one logical path to lead you down, with only one "true" direction holding firm in the background. Also, when everything comes to a head at the end, you're once again left wondering what you could have done better and where you may have gone astray. At generously fifteen hours, it's something I had no hesitation in jumping back into after a complete playthrough.
Likewise, as Jess eloquently articulates in her 2022 GOTY list, the game makes you care about history. The game's director, J.E. Sawyer, is a self-identified history buff, and when he gets free reign to be nerdy with his worldbuilding, he goes all the way to eleven, and Pentiment is no exception. The game actively teaches you accurate historical vocabulary with pure earnestness, and I cannot help but love it for that. But the way the world around you evolves is where Pentiment truly shines. As your player character builds a rapport with even the gruffest of NPCs, they eventually come to their aid. Similarly, those you slight will hold that against you until the end. It's a tour de force of writing and a sight to see, even when it results in gnarlier situations. When I fucked another character over, and that came to bite me in the ass in the final two hours, I couldn't help but respect Pentiment's commitment.
Runner-up: Kirby and the Forgotten Lands -
After slinging a good amount of yang against Kirby, I cannot deny that I am the same rube that I was apt to pounce on in my previous diatribe. This pink marshmallow vore machine will always put a smile on my face, and the games they grace are always a joy to play. Exploring environments and testing out new outfits brought me joy in the 90s, and it is just as effective today. I'm a hypocrite; what can I say?
Most Improved - The Sacramento Kings
For the past two years, I have given my hometown sports franchise, the Sacramento Kings, a demerit. At the start of the 2022-2023 NBA season, that tradition seemed like a safe bet yet again. However, despite a few hiccups here and there, the Kings have accomplished two things they have not done prior for nigh twenty years. First, they have pioneered an offensive identity that, at times, has been the best in the league. Second, they have finally addressed their frequent chemistry issues by making De'Aaron Fox the team's centerpiece and doubling down on coach Mike Brown's up-tempo offense. It doesn't sound like much, and something the franchise could have recognized earlier to avoid maintaining the longest active post-season appearance drought in American professional sports. Yet, here we are; the Kings are fun to watch and not a national embarrassment.
I understand a lot can happen in the world of sports between publishing this blog and the official end of the 2022-2023 NBA season. That concern aside, the past three months have given me hope. It's an odd feeling I have not felt since 2006, the last time the Kings made the playoffs. The team is, at best, a "pretender" rather than a true championship contender, but considering how bad things have been since 2006, being in the playoff hunt is an appreciated improvement. And to the handful of you that do not give a shit about sports, let me explain why you should love the Sacramento Kings. At the start of this season, the Kings organization started a tradition of shooting a giant purple laser beam into the sky whenever they win a game. That's what the picture above is. I have yet to learn how this does not violate FAA regulations, but it is a giant pillar of purple light you can see from miles away from the arena.
Runner-up: Westworld Season 4 -
Westworld's fourth and final season was far from perfect. However, when you consider where the third season left its world and characters, it's a writing miracle that it avoided being absolute dreck. Yes, things end on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved, given the show's cancellation, but at least some of the better characters got to shoot the shit out of things one last time before the lights went off.
The Most "Fans Of The Genre Will Enjoy This" Thing I Played - Star Ocean: The Divine Force
As stated in the first episode of my retrospective on Lightning Returns, tri-Ace is an "interesting" developer, especially if you are a JRPG fan. They started things off with Star Ocean, Star Ocean: The Second Story, and Valkyrie Profile within three years. Following Valkyrie Profile, the studio decided to kick things back and take things noticeably slower with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. And as I articulated before, Till the End of Time represents a turning point in tri-Ace's history as its highly controversial story choices flogged them into wanting to avoid taking high risks with a project ever again. And so, here we are with the studio lurching towards bankruptcy after losing millions in the gacha industry. This is why many people have characterized Star Ocean: The Divine Force as their "last ditch effort" not to shutter their office permanently. The studio took SIX YEARS to make this game following the highly anemic Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, and promised to deliver on the franchise's higher points. In that regard, they mostly missed the mark, but not severely enough to summarily dismiss Divine Force.
Divine Force is a perfectly good video game that feels like it is trying to be its own thing instead of chasing after other industry zeitgeists like Integrity and Faithlessness. The game utilizes a refined version of Last Hope's combat system with tri-Ace's love for rhythm and juggling thrown into the mix. However, I still can't call Star Ocean: The Divine Force a "return to form" for the series, considering how poorly it compares to the first three titles in the franchise. If you are in for anime wackiness and pie-in-the-sky storytelling, be warned, you are not getting that with Divine Force. In fact, Divine Force might be the most competently straightforward story the studio has ever told. It exists within the limits of your typical anime logic and heart-wrenchingly attempts to convey stories of war-torn countries and refugees like a serious Star Ocean outing. The plot twist of Till the End of Time continues to be a looming specter the series refuses to reconcile, and tri-Ace continues to refuse to take spectacular risks that made them a name worth rooting for in the past. But at the end of the day, the game is "solid," and that's at least worth something.
Runner-up: Soul Hackers 2 -
Remember how Atlus Co., Ltd. released a video game in 2022? Boy, Soul Hackers 2 sure came and went! And who can blame people for not being enthused by this incredibly workmen-like outing by the Devil Summoner series? The game has some fun story-related moments, but those are stuck between some of the most uninspired and frustrating level designs from Atlus since Tartarus in Persona 3. That's not to say Soul Hackers 2 is a bad time, but it compares unfavorably to practically every game Atlus has put out for the past ten years.
Best Tactics Game - Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters
As covered by ArbitraryWater, 2022 was an AMAZING year for tactics games. Since the reboot XCOM games struck a chord with audiences and players, a new batch of games has refined and redefined many of the genre's hallmarks to allow more stakeholders and studios to join the tactics game mix. Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters is a by-the-numbers XCOM clone on paper. It has random events, a turn-based navigable overworld, and tech trees. It also uses the expected hunkering down and cover systems that are now codified gameplay tropes. It has scripted missions that can feel punishingly difficult, and it enjoys talking directly at you more than and longer than it should. The game also has a severe issue with balance, wherein a few Space Marine classes far exceed others in the grand campaign. However, it still provides one of the more accessible entry points into the world of Warhammer 40K and even throws a handful of interesting new ideas into the tactics game stew to keep things spicy.
Chaos Gate has also taken many criticisms directed at Firaxis' modern tactics games to heart. One thing that makes Chaos Gate an improvement over XCOM 2 is how it incentivizes you to move forward in a battle. Often, it will provide scenarios in which the only winning strategy is to move forward. When it sends endless streams of foes, if you can waste them, it has the decency of refunding your characters their ability points, so it better maintains its free-flowing pace. Speaking of avoiding common Firxis pitfalls, the boss encounters in Chaos Gate are highly entertaining, cinematic, and a delight when they are not caving in your teeth. Even when shit goes sideways, I didn't feel as demotivated about trying again as I normally am when I run into what I usually perceive to be a poorly designed boss encounter in the XCOM series.
Runner-up: Marvel's Midnight Suns -
Midnight Suns is another game that falls into the "more than the sum of its parts" bag. Technically, the game has plenty of rough edges and has a ton of ancillary sub-systems and mechanics that reek of Firaxis playing Three Houses more than a few times. Nonetheless, the core gameplay more than delivers on a satisfying hero-based romp with plenty of twists and turns as well as fun shooting-the-shit moments with the likes of Wolverine and Blade.
The "Eh, Okay, You Got There Eventually" Award - Andor
The perceived "slow start" to Andor has many a would-be YouTube video essayist hot and bothered about whether the show justifies said slow start. I flip-flop on the issue considering the show's conclusion more than makes up for the first two episodes but concede the worldbuilding is poorly paced at times. The precise lengths the first three episodes go to paint a whole picture about the universe the show exists in and why the characters are doing what they are doing could have been spaced apart rather than entirely front-loaded. However, the show values a wholeness to its world we have not seen since the likes of the original trilogy, and its conclusion is one of the better Hollywood spectacles you'll see from 2022. It's weird calling a thing with the Star Wars label "art," but that's how I feel about the whole of Andor now that the dust has settled, and I think the performances put out by its cast are some of the best in the franchise.
If anything, Andor is another case of modern Star Wars showing how it works better as a series of one-offs rather than a collection of epic trilogies that need to work with each other in lock-step synchronicity. I never want to give Disney any credit considering they own an entire generation's childhood, but I wouldn't blame them if they put the kibosh on all future trilogy projects and stuck with one-offs or spin-offs for the next decade. That is, unless they are willing to work with someone that is willing to stick with a singular vision for three whole movies that can also thread the needle between mainstream audiences and intolerable super fans. That's never going to happen, so I'll continue to count my blessings that things turned out for the better with Andor. This universe works better when it is not beholden to a grand vision of being the most epic science-fantasy property in the world. Give me more stories of people trying to escape shitty situations in a world where space wizards carry swords made of light, and evil wizards have electric batons.
Runner-up: Total War: Warhammer III -
Hey, will you look at that? Do you mean to tell me a tentpole game from Creative Assembly launched hot and without many of the features that made previous ones enjoyable? Who could have ever foreseen this happening?! But in all seriousness, releasing Warhammer III without the Immortal Empires campaign was a mistake, and it is good that it's finally in the game, in some capacity, as the original story campaign has a severe replayability problem. That said, there's no denying that Warhammer III is a nigh inaccessible experience to newcomers, with no viable on-ramps for anyone who missed the first two.
Worst Thing I Saw All The Way Through And Should Have Stopped Earlier - The Rising of the Shield Hero (Season 2)
The anime "sophomore slump" is alive and well! Not since the second season of The Promised Neverland have I seen an anime community so viciously turn on a single season quite like the second season of The Rising of the Shield Hero. As someone who hated the first season and everything it represented, it was a sight to see and convinced me I had to see the fuss in person. And boy, did I fucking regret it! As I said, it's not like the first season wasn't an adherent nightmare that incel culture gravitated toward because its protagonist exudes the virtues of a player character generated for Fatal. And how could we forget about multiple characters engaging in slavery and the main plot thread involving an enslaved woman being presented with freedom but returning to a life of slavery because she needs the male protagonist to "complete her." It's disgraceful shit, and I knowingly went into the second season expecting the absolute worst and was shocked at what I saw.
First, the second season picks up almost immediately where the first ended and has the two female characters re-explain why they are okay with being enslaved by the male lead and why he's not a complete scumbag for practicing slavery. Seriously. At that point, I thought I was watching an anime for incel manlet edgelords, but things changed. The characters then spend two episodes reflecting on their behaviors, engaging with quests, and doing the opposite of what they would have logically done in the first season. The reason is that the characters have thought about their behaviors and realize they need to be better people while also still practicing slavery. The show doesn't even fully commit to the shitty audience it courted after the first season and decides to Third Way its heinous bullshit by humanizing its world and making its cast engage in acts that show "they have changed." It's the fucking Bill Clinton of anime, with a comparable amount of misogyny! All the while, there are still no less than two female characters that actively beg for the protagonist to place them under his ward to protect them from the cruelty of the outside world. It's the most "both sides" shit I have ever seen, and it doesn't bring someone like me on board because it's still putting a happy face on chattel slavery like it is Song of the South. But fans of the first season are pissed because all the characters did was talk about morals and engage in isekai fluff instead of continuing the edgelord shit from before. I have not seen a show completely misunderstand its audience to this degree in my life.
Runner-up: Star Trek: Picard (Season Two) -
Red Letter Media warned me, but I did not listen. Picard spending two episodes on the characters suffering in our present timeline was lazy shit, even if I agreed with what the show was attempting to put forth. Having black and brown characters have less than pleasant run-ins with border patrol, and that's the message the show is trying to impart, is somehow less clever than having half-white/black-painted people talk about racism in the original series. I will add that it is AMAZING that Picard continues to side-step and not address the plot twist of the first season involving Picard canonically being a goddamn android.
Worst Puzzle I Ranked Or Experienced In 2022 - Starship Titanic's "Tending the Titanic Titillator" Puzzle
Starship Titanic is an experience instead of a video game. The game is an adaption of the mind of Douglas Adams, both in spirit and heart. It features the likes of Terry Jones and John Cleese and is unrelenting in its "Britishness." However, at its core is one of the cruelest and most unusual adventure games I have seen in a long while. To the game's credit, that's part of its humor, as it falls into the same adventure game category as Discworld, where it takes pleasure in making you sweat. As I reviewed in the first part of my "Blogging About Failure" series, there's a puzzle that is impossible to solve in all digital re-releases because the only way to find the solution is to look at a picture on the physical release's game box. That's the kind of shit you sign up for when you play Starship Titanic, and you have to give it to the designers for not letting up on their wonton cruelty at any point.
Case in point, there's a segment in the game when you need to make a cocktail for a robot bartender. Sounds simple, but what if I told you this cocktail required four ingredients that each need you to find bespoke locations and grace you with several fiddly or annoying puzzles along the way? I don't want to burn my material because I want to write a proper blog for this nightmare of a game, but I'll at least share how you get lemons for this robotic concoction. First, you need to find a perch hiding in the "Parrot Room," and it in no way looks like something you can pick up in the first place. Second, you need to navigate back to a different location and use that perch to poke a button several times to make a vending machine bestow a hammer. Poking the button once does nothing, so you could be forgiven for not thinking this was the natural solution to this part. Third, you need to go to another location, find a closet, and use the hammer to break a false wall that has a stick hiding behind it. Then, and only then, can you use the bar to pick lemons FROM A RANDOM TREE for the fucking cocktail! AND THAT'S JUST ONE OF FOUR PARTS!
Runner-up: Return To Zork - The Swamp Bog Sequence -
The following sequence is the worst part of an already malicious video game. Return to Zork does a more than admirable job translating the innate cruelty of the original text adventure games into an FMV adventure game with Myst-like puzzles. However, the swamp bog puzzle is a low point with the player needing to navigate a randomly generated repeating maze with nothing to help them but a stick and a compass rose. I could only beat this puzzle AFTER I broke out some graph paper, and even then, it took me about twenty minutes.
Help I'm Trapped in Sisyphean Torment Award - The Tower Of Druaga
I had a hard time assessing if I wanted The Tower of Druaga OR Unlimited SaGa taking my Sisyphean Torment Award. Unlimited Saga has combat that functions on a roulette wheel, but Druaga has old-school quarter-sucking sensibilities. So, I went back and thought about what defines "Sisyphean torment" in the realm of video games. To that end, I don't necessarily want a game arbitrarily long or abjectly unplayable. I am looking for a game that feels like torture and bestows a sense there's no hope of ever reaching the end. And in that regard, The Tower of Druaga stands tall. With sixty floors and each of those floors having hidden items and quests, there's simply no world where I ever see myself finishing it. Even if the depths of the underworld gave me an infinite amount of time to wail away on it, I still think I would be stuck at floor eight or nine hoping the ghost wouldn't fuck up my shit.
I can imagine a world where I finish Unlimited Saga. It might take me ten years, but Unlimited Saga, even with its randomly generated bullshit, feels like classic Microsoft FreeCell. Like FreeCell, in every tableau the game gives you, there's exactly one way to win, and if you deviate from that critical path even once, you're fucked forever. Even when I used a guide and memorized what I needed to do in The Tower of Druaga, the game STILL managed to ruin me. Also, because it was designed to be a quarter-sucking son of a bitch, it sometimes doesn't play by its own rules and, instead, will employ cheap bullshit to throttle your progress backward. The game deserves credit for inspiring the people at From making the games that made them big, but there's no reason for even the most die-hard Souls fans to play The Tower of Druaga. Please don't do it.
Runner-up: Unlimited Saga -
Despite pleading the case of The Tower of Druaga, I don't want any of you thinking Unlimited Saga is a game worth playing. It is noted as a product that only makes sense to the person who made it, Akitoshi Kawazu. The moment you boot the game up, you are essentially at the whims of RNG. The whole game and your ability to play it depends on if Lady Luck is on your side, which leads to one of the most futile feeling RPGs. To see stats and characters I spent hours leveling and training, get wiped clean in a matter of seconds, fucking sucks, and that's what you sign up for if you play Unlimited Saga.
ZombiePie's 2022 Ostrich Moment - Elden Ring
Every year I award my "Ostrich Award," a unique commendation to any source of entertainment that resulted in an unwarranted hostile response on my part. As I have said, these works of art make me feel like a proverbial ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. I have three video game-related opinions that consistently get me into trouble on this site. One, I don't like Castlevania games because I have a personal aversion to backtracking. Before anyone chimes in about Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, I'm not too fond of that game either, and my reaction to it while playing it sealed my case on the series not being my shit. Two, Final Fantasy Tactics is a mediocre tactic and strategy game that is carried by an excellent story. And finally, I don't like Souls games. Of those three, the last always leads to the most significant amount of backlash, even after I have prefaced that I have no ill will directed at From and the people who like these games. Even when I did so in my blog about the need for people that are not Souls fans to review these sorts of games, I still got a handful of people that entirely missed that and called me a whiner. So, knowing I'm likely better off not saying any of this, here we go. Let's talk about why I don't love Elden Ring.
I'm tired of From's approach to open-world game design. I no longer have the time for a game needing 100% of my gaming attention for weeks, and the genre's anti-player and anti-pick-up-and-play design is not for me. I had a colon biopsy checking for cancer, which came out negative, but I was out for a week, and when I returned to Elden Ring, I was so goddamn lost. That's thanks in no part to From's insistence they don't need quality-of-life designs in their games. Likewise, Souls fans overbill the worldbuilding in these games. I find From's writing in their tomes and weapons bios incredibly rote and a slog to read at times. I would even contend needing to read these bios in the first place isn't a net positive and, instead, storytelling malfeasance. Additionally, I'm "done" with these games' clipping issues. I fucking HATE taking cover behind a large solid object and a boss's lance or axe clipping through the said object and killing me. Fuck that; it's fucking bullshit. I am 1000% done with the awful platforming in From's games where you need to make leaps of fate and don't know if you are jumping into immediate death or entering a new location. And don't get me started with From STILL not being able to design a goddamn fucking camera that can snap into place whenever you fight a giant boss. How are we this deep into their catalog, and they STILL do not know how to make a camera that shows you more than 50% of their boss character models?
Runner-up: Marvel Snap - I have nothing especially vicious to say about Marvel Snap. It's a game I played for a bit to see what the hype was about and enjoyed for a while until I felt like I butted up against players that obviously spent real money on the game when I did not. I wasn't angry at the game, considering that's how all mobile games operate, but when presented with that wall, I uninstalled it and moved on with my life.
Best Non-Video Game Thing I "Played" As Much As Most Of The Video Games On This GOTY Blog - Duolingo
Yeah, I know people love dunking on the owl, but I had a ton of fun fucking around with Duolingo this year. It could be the program helping me get into a routine with something that wasn't gaming related. Still, I have honestly come to enjoy the language and vocabulary exercises it employs, and I'm making progress with what I am trying to learn. And before any would-be Noam Chomsky-likes chime in I'm not developing the critical parts of language proficiency with Duolingo; I know that. I make no pretensions about my warm-up exercises in Spanish or Japanese ever translating into me being able to walk the streets of another country and kicking up a conversation with the people I meet. But that's not the point with Duolingo. It is excellent when you approach it as a fun mental exercise that always leaves you feeling successful or that you have learned something new. Beyond that, there's nothing else to say other than it's fun, and I'm happy I decided to try it.
Runner-up: Mexican Train Dominos -
Mexican Train Dominos is better than OG Dominos. There, I said it, and I regret nothing! It's far easier to teach, better allows for teams, and is incredibly fun when adult beverages are also part of the picture. If you haven't given it a shot and are still fucking with Liar's Dice as your party game, replace it with Mexican Train Dominos and immediately bring new life to your adulting efforts.
Best Thing I Discovered For The First Time In 2022 - Ogre Battle 64
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber is incredibly slow, clunky, and not even the best game in the series. It takes time to get used to what it's trying to tell you on its battle map, and its tutorials barely cover the surface of its in-depth combat mechanics and its myriad of job classes. While the main story indeed progresses at a slow but deliberate pace, there are whole swaths of the game that might not present themselves in any given playthrough if you do not know what you are doing. It was not until I consulted OgreBattle64.net that I discovered how to get all of the Elem Pedras, how the Chaos Frame system works, or how to find the "Drakonite Magic." In terms of being a random event generator, Ogre Battle 64 is one of the better out there, but that also means your experience may diverge wildly from those that claim it to be a hidden treasure in the N64's catalog. I would hazard to say Ogre Battle 64 has more in common with Pokemon than some games bearing its namesake that precede it.
And yet, I had a fantastic time with the game, mainly thanks to using a guide. When I read more about the requirements for the Princess, Vampire, and Venerable Dragons units, a part of my brain got turned on, and I treated the game more like Viva Pinata than a proper tactics game. That same depth that I suggested earlier that might make the game a daunting challenge for some has endless depth and provides an ungodly number of options for players you rarely see in modern tactics games. That adds to its replayability and makes the game a timeless classic, even if it is an aberration compared to its predecessors. It is notorious for how expensive it is in the used game market and is well-known for being the only Ogre Battle game that did not have Yasumi Matsuno as its director, and that shows, but it is worth checking out nonetheless.
Runner-up: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link -
I have already said my piece about Zelda II, but all I will add is that as I interacted more with the Switch port, which features a ROM hacked version that bestows Link with max stats at the start, I have softened my stance on the game. There's a world where an overtly roleplaying version of The Legend of Zelda can work and exist, and the games Zelda II inspired are proof of that. Playing Shovel Knight or Hollow Knight proves this can work if love and attention are given to it.
Blogger Of The Year From The Giant Bomb Community - borgmaster
The Giant Bomb blogging community is a small but close-knit group of people. We don't just follow each other on the site but also know each other's addresses and social security numbers! While borgmaster is not new to the blogging game, to see someone introduce a new blog and text-based premise and fully deliver on it in less than a year is nothing short of amazing. If even one percent of every lurker on the site were willing to take such a risk and not care about the fear of reprisal or lack of viewership, things would dramatically change for the better. As I have said before, sometimes you should write, not because it can make you famous or even lead to greener pastures or new job opportunities. Sometimes you should write for yourself and be amazed at how creative and passionate you can get. If you have yet to let your thoughts flow, I strongly recommend it, even if you have hesitations about working with the written word.
But let's return to borgmaster and their two massive blog projects on the site. When I first heard they were going to explore the PS1's first year of video game goodness, I did not think they would be able to finish it at the pace they first set for themselves. And yet, they did. Not only that, but just like clockwork, they started a new journey looking at the Sega Saturn's first year on store shelves. I can barely convince myself to commit to a bi-weekly blogging schedule, and here they are, putting me to shame. I also give them credit for inspiring a non-zero number of people to join the fray in covering retro and classic games on the site. Again, fantastic stuff all around.
Runner-up: Mento/bigsocrates/ArbitraryWater -
While I was pretty dead-set on who to give my top props for, I struggled with my runner-up, so I settled for a cop-out in the form of a three-way tie. Mento is a name that needs no introduction as they continually find ways to publish upwards of three blogs per week. bigsocrates engages the community with riveting prompts and explorations with long-forgotten gems or game mechanics. ArbitraryWater falls into the same group of bloggers that developed a new gimmick and has used it to their advantage to cover many games and gaming topics therein.
Game Of My Year - Final Fantasy VI
What else is there to say about Final Fantasy VI that I haven't already said? I eventually settled on calling Final Fantasy VI a "forever good game" in that there's no logical head-space ever to claim it is a terrible experience. Does the game have its share of flaws? Indeed, and I will be the first to call the game's latter levels bullshit and its Relic system fiddly. Also, the game has Setzer, one of the worst overall characters ever to be included in the main cast of a mainline Final Fantasy game. Not all of the characters get full-fledged arcs, and some reach the end of the game feeling incredibly half-baked. Nonetheless, the ones that stand out are likely to be characters I hold on to until I turn to dust, and the broad vinegar strokes of Final Fantasy VI are among the most magnificent to grace the franchise. It is the quintessential Final Fantasy game in that it is the game that has everything that makes the series even remotely interesting to follow all in a single package.
But there's another reason I felt inspired to include Final Fantasy VI as the "Game of My Year" this time. Final Fantasy VI might be the most necessary game in the series and JRPG genre for everyone to play. Chrono Trigger is the usual title for the latter, but if you wanted people to know what defines the soul of the JRPG genre and why people still latch to it, Final Fantasy VI pleads those cases emphatically. People need to see the Opera House scene and the game's big mid-game plot twist. Every self-identified video game historian has to see these two things at least once. It also helps that playing the game helped me fight through one of the worst bouts of writer's block I have ever experienced and doubled my love for writing about games. That's always nice.
Runner-up: Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven -
With Larian lurching closer to Baldur's Gate 3's official release, I have increasingly come to miss games like Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven. Honestly, I miss when CRPGs had a level of silliness and were willing to lampoon their own bullshit. Yet, here we are in this post-Game of Thrones world where everyone needs to fight back against a monolithic evil, and everyone around you kind of sucks shit. Yet, here we are, and with Ubisoft sitting on the IP and not wanting to do anything, it does not look like that's changing any time soon. Of the many MS-DOS-based CRPGs you can play these days, Might and Magic VI is one of the most welcoming and pleasurable and magnificently showcases the gulf between console and PC RPGs that existed for ages.