2022 was a year in which it was easier to count the video games that were delayed out of 2022 than it was to count the games that managed to still get released in 2022. Weird year, and yet one still full of wonderful experiences that made me laugh, scream, and cheer.
Every year, I wonder how I’m gonna cobble together 10 games that impacted me enough to spit out a few thousand words on them, and every year, I’m forced to come up with increasingly ridiculous excuses to remove games from that list in order to make the list fit.
In other words, apologies to Immortality (Game That I Removed For Made Up Ethical Reasons Because Something Had to Go) and Citizen Sleeper (Game That Was Taken Off Solely Because Norco Was Already On There), two very excellent video games from 2022 that I’m happy got plenty of appreciation and consideration on our game of the year podcast.
I even managed to sneak a game from 2011 on here. Who am I, Rob Zacny?
10. Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure
The Playdate’s absurd crank caught my eye the moment it was announced, and Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, where you hopelessly guide a date-bound doofus through a series of puzzles by cranking his animations at different speeds, is the game I still think about the most. It doesn’t work without the crank. It’s the whole ball game. The first game I imported was an expansion disc of tracks for Dance Dance Revolution on the original PlayStation, and soon after, a series of increasingly expensive dance pads. Dance Dance Revolution was my first window into a world where playing video games did not have to exclusively happen through a controller. Samba de Amigo. Sega Bass Fishing. The Wii. I’ve always found myself drawn to odd input methods, a way of interacting with games beyond tapping and A and B. Playdate continues this tradition, and a game like Crankin’ suggests it may have a future.
9. The Quarry
There are precisely two types of films that people will show up for in theaters these days: superheroes and horror. Superheroes are the cinematic equivalent of a football game, complete with CGI titans fighting for our entertainment. Horror, however, is catharsis, and The Quarry developer Supermassive Games understands such catharsis is often achieved communally. It’s no great shock these games have evolved to become multiplayer affairs. It also helps that The Quarry, like Until Dawn before it, does not look down on the genre it’s playing in. The Quarry understands the tropes of horror movies—in this case, the slasher—and uses those expectations to subvert, surprise, and add unexpected depth. You know everyone might die at any time, but it sure helps if you care about them along the way.
Some of my earliest gaming memories involve flipping through a manual on the way home from Blockbuster and believing anything—anything—could happen when that cartridge was turned on. Decades later, with writing about games as my profession and cynicism running in my bones, it’s rare to still encounter that feeling. And yet, beautifully, Tunic frequently made me feel like that kid again. It’s rare to play a video game with a confidence bordering on arrogance, a game that refuses to explain itself in the hopes that you, the player, will be curious and angry enough at the sheer denial to figure out why it is this way. It was worth it.
7. Return to Monkey Island
I enjoy puzzles in video games until I don’t. God of War Ragnarok, a game I otherwise enjoyed, cannot stand the idea of players spending more than a few moments thinking about a puzzle without arriving at the solution and moving on. Return to Monkey Island, a shockingly touching sequel that expertly demonstrates how to modernize without losing your soul, has the most ingenious hint system I’ve ever encountered because it’s exactly that: a hint. A hint is not a solution. It’s a nudge in the right direction, or a reframing of the problem. I consulted Return to Monkey Island’s hint system on a few occasions, but when the credits rolled, I did not feel cheated. Instead, I felt like I solved the game with the help of a friend.
I visited a lot of worlds in games this year, but the one I want to return to the most took place in Norco. This place felt real in a way that’s tough to describe, in large part due to the colorful cast of characters who inhabit this futuristic take on a swampy, exploited Louisiana. At one point, a character can put on clown makeup, an option that I expected the game to play for laughs—the easy route. Instead, I was treated to a nuanced portrait of a person who finds a way to reveal more of their humanity underneath a mask. It was beautiful, just like Norco.
5. Iron Lung
Horror is a genre best suited for brevity, because the unknown is what’s truly scary. The best horror lets your imagination do the heavy lifting, and in Iron Long, a game that lasts an hour at most, suggestion is everything. A cataclysmic event called The Quiet Rapture blipped the majority of the universe—planets and all—out of existence, except for a series of moons. One of them has an ocean of blood, and it’s here where you find yourself locked into a submarine, searching for answers. It’s fucked, as are the sounds of the crunching metal desperately pushing back against the oceanic pressure and the sounds of whatever is beyond the constraints of the submarine. The tiny visual glimpses in Iron Long have long faded from memory, but the suggestive roars have continued to echo long after it was over.
4. Elden Ring
One of the defining traits of previous Souls games was banging your head against a door until, through sheer force of will, you broke it down. You had no choice, because the only way forward was through the door. Elden Ring still asks you to bang a lot of doors, but the difference is that A) you have the option of walking away from the door and doing something else before returning to said door and kicking it down because you leveled up a bunch and found an extremely sick sword and B) you can just walk around the door and find another. If this is what FromSoftware does on their first attempt at an open world, what comes next?
3. Metal Hellsinger
When I was younger, my friends dragged me to metal shows, specifically “hardcore” shows. The central attraction was people screaming into a microphone as loud as humanly possible, while everyone else beat the crap out of each other in a mosh pit. It’s not the kind of music I’d never have listened to in my own time, but in person…it was electric. You understood why everyone in that room was feeding off the energy coming from the stage. Metal Hellsinger’s soundtrack is more traditionally metal—and frankly, much more tolerable!—but the central point remains the same. It’s an excellent music rhythm game shoved into the costume of a first-person-shooter, acting as a conduit for a genre of music that’s alien to me. Hail Satan!
As kids get older, it becomes harder and harder to connect on the same level as them. My oldest is only six years old, and I can already sense that tension at work. It’s very important to me that my kids figure out their own interests, meaning that just because my life is about video games does not mean my children have to walk the same path. I did not introduce my oldest child to Minecraft—it came through one of her friends down the street. But when Minecraft entered our lives, I was hesitant because I’d written off the game years ago. I have immense conceptual respect for Minecraft, but I’m the kind of person who looks at a stack of LEGOs with confusion, not wonder. Give me a set of instructions, though, and I’m off to the races. With Minecraft, my daughter and I can play in the same world together, and the power balance shifts completely. She is the one in control, the one with more knowledge than me. She’s the one guiding me from one area to the next, telling me what to do and what to build. She’s the one asking me to find this or that resource, to help build a house she’s working on. When I’m asking her to do homework, I’m a parent. When we’re in Minecraft, we’re peers.
1. Neon White
No other game pushed me to the same mental and physical brink the way Neon White did. No other game had me punching the air with truly embarrassing gusto while no one was watching. No other game had me switch from playing on one platform (Steam Deck) to another (PC) because I needed the heightened accuracy. No other game had me chuckling in the dark as I beat a friend’s level completion time, knowing I was the only one who cared. No other game had me, at various points, losing themselves in the flow state of the game to the point that you were no longer thinking about what your eyes and fingers were required to do, and instead relied completely on the two dozen hours of institutional knowledge to serve as an instinctual foundation to see your way through. No other game made me feel so alive.
Games That Were on This List And Got Cut
- God of War Ragnarok: It feels weird putting games I haven’t finished on these lists, but Ragnarok is a big, dumb, enjoyable spectacle that I look forward to crying to over break.
- Steam Deck: The Switch I always wanted, and a genuine revolution in how I play games.
- Scorn: An absolute chore to play, an absolute marvel to look at. A truly disgusting game.
- Immortality: UI of the year, for sure. I wanna see if I can get my wife to actually try this.
- Citizen Sleeper: A game that had me (me!) role-playing. That’s an award all its own.
- King's Field IV: The Ancient City: I know, we need to finish this, but in the hours I did spend with it, it was truly cool to see how the FromSoft-y stuff FromSoft was doing pre-Souls.
- Below the Ocean: Neat lil’ puzzle game that lasts exactly as long as it needs to.
- GhostWire: Tokyo: Gorgeous idea of a video game, at least.
- PowerWash Simulator: An opportunity to spend hours talking with Rob? That’s a good time.
- Rollerdrome: A tragedy it didn’t make the list, and only because Neon White nudged it off. Neither game had a story worth caring about, but both had me white knuckling while playing.
- Stray: Very cute cat in a very cool environment in pursuit of a story worth caring about.
- Tinykin: Barely remember what happened playing this, but enjoyed every minute. Delightful.
- Signalis: Absolutely would’ve been high on this list had I actually finished it. I’ll get there, one gross hole at a time.