‘Man, I don’t think I played enough video games this year,’ I remember thinking to myself before I even started on my Game of the Year picks for 2022. By the time I finished punching title after title into my spreadsheet, exclaiming ‘oh yeah, that one!’ and ‘no way, that was this year?’, I probably had exactly one thousand games on there (and several more on my ‘oh gosh, I should really play this before the end of the year’ list).
Like a lot of people who keep close tabs on the video games industry, either as a hobby or job, my brain will often mentally plot the year using the expected big-name blockbusters as tentpoles. Those tentpoles became fewer this year, which led to a skewed perception about the kind of year it was for video games. Blockbusters are certainly not the be-all and end-all of the industry, and their existence doesn’t represent the overall quality of the year’s games.
I play surprisingly few of those AAA games these days. Sometimes I have no interest in them, sometimes I just bounce off them after a few hours. Often it’s both of those things, combined with a lack of time to devote myself to something I know my heart isn’t set on.
Like most adult video game enjoyers, I tend to find the precious time I have to devote to games is usually best enjoyed with shorter titles that do something unique or incredible, that burn brightly in a short amount of time. Often, they’ll be focussed games from small studios, or mobile games I can play in short bursts and squeeze in around all the shit I need to do in my life.
My reasoning from the outset is that if things don’t end up clicking, I probably won’t have invested too much wasted time into it. More often than not, it’s these games that end up sticking in my mind for the longest time.
Man, I played a lot of video games this year. But part of me wishes I could restart the year and take a completely divergent track, to play everything I know I would like, but just didn’t have time for.
Anyway, here’s a list of my favourite games of 2022.
10. Vampire Survivors
Vampire Survivors was the very first game I played in 2022, sometime in January – it had recently come out on Steam Early Access. A lot of people saw the magic of the game very early on, and I was morbidly curious by this incredible amateur-looking, dirt-cheap game.
It’s been very entertaining seeing clusters of people suddenly cotton on to its uncanny magic throughout the year, as I did. As of writing this in December 2022, I’m still seeing people’s minds and spare time being blown away by Vampire Survivors for the first time.
I get the hesitation when people tell me they haven’t tried it. I mean, it looks like shit. I remember being mad they had just seemingly ripped off Castlevania’s sprite work. But once you get through the first few runs, I will be surprised if it doesn’t completely threaten to take over your life. It certainly did for me.
Vampire Survivors has created a whole new genre, and that’s not something you can say about many games released in 2022. It capitalises on the fascinating lure of idle games and gives you just enough active agency to make sure you never take your eyes of the screen. It’s the Among Us or battle royale of 2022. The difference is I’ll probably stick with this one for a lot longer – it just fits into my life more neatly.
I actually fell off Vampire Survivors somewhere during the midpoint of the year, but when it got a surprise free release on iOS and Android during The Game Awards, I couldn’t download it fast enough. I suddenly had a reason to start it all over again, and relive its gradual power curve. It’s genius stuff.
9. The Case of the Golden Idol
This is one I almost missed, and like Vampire Survivors, it was because I was initially put off by its art direction. There’s a lot of care and attention in the art of The Case of the Golden Idol, mind you, but its Victorian(?)-era characters are just so pompous-looking and hateable. I think that’s the point, though.
One of my favourite games of all time is Lucas Popes’ Return of the Obra Dinn, with its self-directed detective mystery putting all of the onus on you to make sure you understand exactly what is happening in each scene. I’m surprised more games haven’t copied it, honestly, but The Case of the Golden Idol tries its hand at putting a new spin on it – and it’s fantastic.
Each murder mystery scene in this game is frozen in time, with your job being to decipher who everyone is, what’s happening, and why. Needless to say, it’s very satisfying, and exercises your brain in ways that might make it a little sore. The Case of the Golden Idol is designed in such a way that it really wants you to make sure you understand everything going on, and I love that it goes that extra step – but also that it doesn’t give you any concessions, either. Work it out!
The Case of the Golden Idol is one of the rare titles I just had to stay up late and stick with, until every loose end was tied up and I was completely done. Thoroughly gratifying. I loved it. Give me more.
Go play Return of the Obra Dinn. And then play The Case of the Golden Idol.
8. Elden Ring
Oh – so soon? Well it’s no surprise that the two blockbusters to make it to my list are the biggest and probably the undisputed best of the year – although I’ve had a hard time deciding which should go above what. (Not unlike basically everyone else, I imagine).
I’m probably not alone in disbelieving that Elden Ring came out this year. But unlike countless other people, I unfortunately didn’t have the luxury of being able to spend months on end just existing in its world and taking multiple character builds through it. The worst thing about covering games professionally is the voice in your head telling you that you need to constantly move onto the next thing. Despite this, I’ll never forget the constant sense of awe I felt walking into every new location in Elden Ring.
It’s the thing I love most about FromSoftware games. Cresting a hill or turning a corner with your character, and seeing some towering, ugly beast over 10 times your size. You’re quaking in your boots, and wondering how the hell you’re going to ever be able to beat it. It’s an incredible feeling that only really exists in video games, and Elden Ring has these moments in spades. The sense of wonder and mystery of the unknown is just unparalleled. With so much to conquer, that long-hard-fought sense of achievement also comes in spades, provided you’re persistent or diligent enough.
I can’t wait to replay it in a few years when my mind has mostly ejected all that knowledge and information out of my head, and I get to experience it for the first time again.
7. God of War Ragnarok
Do you want to know a secret? Until about a week before I started playing God of War Ragnarok for preview and review purposes, I couldn’t care less that it was coming out. Don’t get me wrong – I really loved the 2018 God of War but in my mind, Ragnarok was simply going to be More Of The Same.
The fact that the opening hours of the game, which I experienced in isolation for a preview, didn’t show off many of the brand-new things in this adventure didn’t help. I had also recently bounced off Horizon Forbidden West after loving Zero Dawn, and that contributed to my malaise.
But I was wrong. And I’m glad I was wrong. Ragnarok is great. Just the kind of blockbuster that has you on a long, constant rollercoaster ride that you love every minute of until you reach the end, get the Platinum Trophy, and hop off.
As someone who loves fighting games, this was the character-action game with the combat system I found the most solace in this year (sorry Bayonetta 3 – I’ve got a lot to say about you, perhaps in the near future). Every hit and impact feels great, and I loved playing around with enemies and inventing completely impractical combos. I loved playing as (spoilers!) Atreus with his far more nimble style, and I loved the new companion characters, and the assists they brought with them.
But most of all, I love how hard they went with the emotional character drama. At times, it feels like they’re using all the big blockbuster tricks to push you into feeling a certain way – music swells, incredibly advanced facial animations – but Raganarok also works to build genuine, meaningful connection to its characters with plenty of valuable moments during the quieter parts of the game, too. I feel like it does a lot to earn those emotions.
It’s just fantastic work all around. Well, maybe not those Sigil arrow puzzles, but other than that, I only have very fond memories of Ragnarok. I still think about the ending… and the epilogue. Specifically, the hurdy-gurdy dirge. It makes me start to tear up. It’s so bittersweet. This is what all blockbuster games should strive to be.
6. Return to Monkey Island
Adventure games! I grew up on them. They raised me. I learned how to type by playing Sierra On-Line games like the Quest for Glory series. My sense of humour was shaped by playing Sam & Max Hit the Road. So, of course Return to Monkey Island, a direct continuation of Ron Gilbert’s timeline of LucasArts history circa 1991, was going to have a big impact on me.
Given the whole schtick of Return to Monkey Island involves protagonist Guybrush Threepwood revisiting old haunts and reminiscing with old characters, it was bound to have a weird bittersweetness to it. But I certainly wasn’t expecting how perfectly this game would tie up loose ends, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it to have such a poignant and moving message at the end of it all. This is a comedy game, right?
Yes, it still is. It’s just a well-put-together adventure game too, a great modern refinement of the traditional LucasArts formula. If anyone could make a good one of these, it’d be Gilbert and David Grossman. Tim Schafer could definitely still do it too, of course, but he’s moved on to more ambitious pastures.
A lot of the games are on this list because they left memorable, lingering effects and feelings on me. I think any 1990s adventure game fan would have Return to Monkey Island high on their list for that same reason. So, that’s why it’s here, and why it’s this high. It’s just something personally special to me, you know?
This is not an original sentiment by any means, but I am still stunned that a game like Pentiment had the backing and marketing muscle of Microsoft behind it. I mean, Microsoft and Xbox had a pretty slow year and all, but still – a 16th-century narrative adventure? Well done, Xbox. Good job, all.
Director Josh Sawyer and the small team that put Pentiment together have basically said that it was only due to a fortunate set of circumstances that they were allowed to make an experimental (for the company) narrative-focussed game, without needing to think about the other intricate RPG systems Obsidian has become famous for. I’m really glad.
The game that Pentiment ended up being wasn’t just a showcase in unique art direction and themes, though that is certainly one of its best and most striking features. More than that, it’s a game that spends a lot of time simmering on the relationships and politics of a small town, and revelling in its historical setting, while allowing you to get in there and disrupt things with your own special sort of protagonist, watching how the ripples you make impact everything over a long period of time.
It’s one of the more intimate-feeling games I played this year, and one where I felt a pretty strong attachment to almost every individual in the town – but not the ones I hated and didn’t talk to, obviously. Pentiment seems to expertly mould every bit of its story and world around your specific version of the events, and the effect makes you feel so deeply attached to the town, its inhabitants, and its story, that I was incredibly sad to see it come to a close. I’m really going to miss seeing all those kids grow up.
Of course, it also makes you have a little think about your own life, the relationships you have with the people and the world around you, and how that all of it might be remembered or portrayed decades and centuries down the line. It’s a game about leaving your mark on history that’ll also leave a mark on you. Now that’s what I call gaming.
4. Neon White
There’s a pretty iconic episode of The Simpsons where Milhouse sits in front of a video game, and the intensity of what’s happening on the screen is enough to assault him with an intense gust of wind that blows back his hair. If there was a game that could hypothetically reach those same levels of intensity, it would be Neon White.
A first-person platformer and shooter, Neon White’s primary point of excellence is its heart-pounding, hand-twitching potency. Short-burst levels challenge you to speed-run through gauntlets that require zippy movement, fast reflexes, and pin-point accuracy to succeed. It’s exactly the kind of thing I click with.
But it’s really the leaderboard aspect that completely got its hooks into me while I was playing this one. Before the game was released to the public, I spent far too long trying to beat the times of Ben Esposito, the developer of the game whose deer avatar taunted me on every stage. I think I maybe got the best of him twice?
Post-release, it was so incredibly fun to see mutuals blasting through the levels and cursing me in the same way. I loved getting into petty feuds and trying to one-up anyone who managed to eke out a better time than me. I can see why so many people take up speedrunning video games as a hobby – Neon White gives you a fantastic taste of the highs you can get.
The month I spent playing Neon White every day to chase that high was certainly a month to remember. Maybe I’ll go back and see how my scores are doing…
Oh my god, I played so much Poinpy this year.
I really loved Downwell, the previous game by Poinpy creator, Ojiro ‘Moppin’ Fumoto. So when Netflix (of all companies!) and Devolver Digital suddenly announced a new game by him, I. Lost. My. Shit.
Where Downwell had you falling fast and attempting to never touch the ground, Poinpy does the same thing, only this time you’re fighting gravity to keep heading upward. It’s Upwell. The best part is that every time you touch the screen, you’re blessed with an incredibly tactile satisfaction. Each pull of the game’s invisible slingshot will slow down time, and come with a ratcheting sound and feel before you send Poinpy flying and squishing around the level. It’s so satisfying. It never gets old.
The leaderboard curse also got its hooks in me with this one, as I threw screenshots of high scores at friends, and we challenged each other in Poinpy‘s post-game challenges, which puts handicaps on the tools you have to stay airborne.
Poinpy was incredibly hard to put down. And when I finally did so, it was really only because I had squeezed every last achievement out of it, and beaten every friend who challenged me to a score competition. Poinpy is pure joy. Thanks for the memories.
2. Marvel Snap
Oh my GOD, I played so, so much Marvel Snap this year.
I’ve never been a big fan of collectable card games. I tried to get into Hearthstone for a while, but it got to a point where there was just too much to juggle in my head. I played Magic: The Gathering for what was probably one brief month of my life. However, I am a sucker for the insanity of the Marvel comic book universe, and mobile games that use the property in weird abstract ways. I spent years of my life with Marvel Puzzle Snap, for instance.
So, when Marvel Snap first launched in July, and promised to be an even faster, more streamlined card game develop by a lot of the key folks behind Hearthstone, I figured I would at least give it a shot. It used a lot of cool art. What I didn’t expect was how badly it would get its grip on me.
I love how fast it is, so I can squeeze either one or one thousand matches in, depending on what I’m doing. I love how small the deck sizes are, so I don’t need to waste my life theory-crafting enormous and probably bad decks. I love the randomness (or rather, surprises) of the locations you have to try and win each match, and the chaos they can cause. I love how surprisingly complex and intense the strategic decision can get just seconds into a match. There’s never a dull moment in Marvel Snap.
I love the weird, deep pulls from Marvel lore they’ve taken. I love the reverence for the comic book universe, over the cinematic one. I love the stupid announcer that says dumb stuff like ‘Shiny Logo’. I love that I’m so horribly deep into the game (Collector Level 3000+ at the time of writing), but I haven’t felt pressured to spend any money on it, at any time. I love that you play it in portrait mode.
Marvel Snap is the perfect mobile game. I have played it every day since it launched. I’m playing it right now. I’m probably going to keep playing it until the next Game of the Year listicle.
Honestly, I feel like most of the following games could sit within this top 10 list, and I’d feel perfectly happy. There is such a slim margin between everything on here.
The more I think about The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, the more fondly I feel about it. I love every adventure game Wadjet Eye Games publishes, and the developer of Hob’s Barrow, Cloak and Dagger games, really nailed the folk horror vibes of this one. Everything about the style and presentation is fantastic – the great uses of unnerving close-ups, the eerie score, and the great vocal performances.
Like my relationship with most folk horror stories, I was a little underwhelmed by the ending, but the further away I get from it, the more that falls away, and what still lingers in my mind is the great atmosphere and feeling of unease that is so consistent throughout.
Shadows Over Loathing deserves a shoutout because Asymmetric is one of the few studios putting all their efforts into games that make you laugh out loud, and I think that’s the best. They’re really good at it, too. I loved West of Loathing a lot, and this Jazz-age sequel tickles a lot of the same bones, while expanding into a more ambitious adventure/RPG, too. It’s a ten-chuckle-a-minute game, at least.
I had a brief flirtation with Wordle at the beginning of this year (who didn’t?) but Knotwords from Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger soon took over for me. Like their past games, it’s such a smart twist on familiar game concepts – in this case, Sudoku and Crosswords – and massages your brain in just the right ways. A great, minimalist interface and smart user interaction experience make it both a comforting and moorish game I keep finding joy in.
A few more more to mention:
- Rollerdrome has a fantastic 1970s sci-fi style, and the rollerblading and shooting action makes me feel so cool.
- Nintendo Switch Sports got me so enthusiastic to beat the world at every sport ever for a good few months… until I reached those incredibly tough gold ranks and everyone trounced me.
- Gran Turismo 7 has good driving and very round wheels on its pretty cars. I like driving a lot, and I think its classy vibe is great and sometimes hilarious.
- Sifu is a game I have a hesitant love for. I think its martial arts system is absolutely fantastic, one of the best in recent memory, especially outside of a dedicated 1-on-1 fighting game. But I really can’t look past its slapdash use of East Asian culture. Sorry. Just set the sequel on the streets of France, please. I’ll play it.
No doubt in my mind for this one: Immortality is the best game of 2022.
One of the fantastic things about video games is the kind of powerful experience you get when you feel you’re in control – as an active participant, when you’re charting your own destiny, creating your own goals, putting together the pieces of the puzzle on your own volition. It’s one of the most gratifying things in the world.
In the same respect, one of the most powerful things games can do is to suddenly rip all that power away from you. Make you feel utterly helpless. Uneasy. Afraid to keep going. That experience could apply to a game like Elden Ring, but for me, the more memorable and impactful example was Immortality.
A narrative mystery game from Sam Barlow (Her Story) and the team at Half Mermaid, Immortality asks you to be a first-hand protagonist. Your job is to sift through reels of raw camera footage, filmed for three separate movies that were never released, to find out what happened to missing actress Marissa Marcel.
It’s such a strong premise, and the execution is so, so incredibly captivating. For long stretches, you’re a voyeur, using your own initiative to peek behind the curtain of the creative process, and discover intimate details about the people involved. Before the director calls ‘action’ and after he calls ‘cut’, you’ll discover subplots, motivations, relationships, and piece together several overarching, interconnected narratives. You’ll start putting the bigger picture together in your head, and feel like a genius detective the whole time. Well, almost.
At a certain point, Immortality will strike you with fear, shake you to your core, and make you afraid to go on. But it will also pique your morbid curiosity so severely, it’ll be impossible to resist seeing it through.
You’ll be sucked right into the lives of these characters in an intense parasocial relationship. You’ll explore and ponder themes of art-making, exploitation, and the creative spirit. The performances from everyone involved are just absolutely astounding. Nuanced, multi-faceted, completely enthralling, and undeniably impressive.
I can still remember the late nights I spent sitting in my dimly lit study, sifting through each shot frame by frame, and absolutely shitting myself at the thought of what else I might discover. To Sam Barlow, Manon Gage, and the rest of the cast and crew of Immortality – you created something absolutely incredible.
Immortality is vital, and utterly unforgettable. Please play Immortality.
For more on the best games of 2022, explore the rest of our game of the year coverage:
- Cult of the Lamb wins GamesHub’s Game of the Year 2022
- The Best Nintendo games of 2022
- The Best PlayStation games of 2022
- The Best Xbox games of 2022
- The Best PC games of 2022
- The Best mobile games of 2022
- The 5 best indie games of 2022 you definitely didn’t play
- Meredith Hall on 2022 with God of War, Card Shark, and RMIT Games
- Award-winning developers Fuzzy Ghost on their favourite games of 2022
- Umurangi Generation developer on the impactful moments of 2022
- Tempopo developer Sanatana Mishra’s favourite games of 2022
- Kelsey Gamble’s Top 4 Games of 2022
- David Wildgoose on his Game of the Year for 2022: Elden Ring
Stay tuned for more curated lists from GamesHub staff and special games industry guests.