Best of 2022: Top 10 Disappointments

Another year, another increasingly personal and petty list full of stuff that upset me personally about the media I consumed in 2022. And in a year filled with more deeply upsetting stories about the people who work on said media, that is absolutely worth repeating more than ever: this list exists as a chance to whinge and complain about the end products that make their way into consumer’s hands and have a bit of fun getting a bunch of first-world problems off my chest. As a normally quite optimistic person, I wouldn’t bother to start this otherwise positive two-week-long celebration with a negative list if that wasn’t the case. And my oh my, were there some petty things to complain about in 2022. Time to dig in.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

10. No Hands on Deck Down Under

We are entering another golden age for dedicated portable gaming, roughly a decade after it was given its last rites across media outlets the world over. The Playstation Vita and the Wii U sure as hell didn’t save it from the threat of casual phone gaming, but the Nintendo Switch sure did – and now years later there’s a burgeoning handheld PC market bubbling up to fill the processing power gap left by the Switch’s ageing components. The golden child of this movement? Valve’s Steam Deck, which has been in the hands of enthusiasts and influencers overseas for over a year now. Every few months Valve announces a few more worldwide territories for the hardware’s launch, and every few months Australia fails to make the cut. Thank goodness for the AyaNeo range.

9. The Dinosaur Movie That’s Somehow Too Big

2022 was actually a really good year for movies; I personally found actual disappointments not only hard to come by, but vastly outnumbered by genuinely wonderful surprises. Alas, I can’t very well have this entire list be videogame-related, so I’m giving a dishonourable shout-out to Jurassic World: Dominion. Somehow a perfect fan-servicing cast and more onscreen dinosaurs than ever added up to an overblown, unfocused mess unwilling to pick a lane or convincingly land any punches. All-up there was probably one 2022 movie more disappointing than Jurassic World: Dominion, but this was still probably the least fun I had in the cinema all year.

8. Mario’s Own Goal

It’s becoming quite tiring to watch Mario sports games with excellent technical performance and rock-solid mechanical underbellies launch on the Nintendo Switch and immediately flame out, usually thanks to a perceived lack of day one content or some basic functional mistake. Despite a powerful surge of fan hype thanks to the series’ all-too-long absence from Nintendo consoles, Mario Strikers: Battle League Football fell hard over the latter obstacle when its exciting online clubs feature failed to let players team up with more than one friend on-field. This despite an amazing eight-player local VS mode that showed just how enjoyably insane a four-on-four match could be. With no real story mode to speak of, the otherwise beautifully polished game almost immediately killed its own momentum.

7. The Action Detraction

The difficulty of marketing videogames without a great deal of wham-bam action in them is well-documented, and part of an unfortunate long-standing industry reality. The tendencies of loud fans online to take small elements of trailers and magnify their importance online according to their own hopes and wishes is another such reality. Occasionally these two facts of life like to team up and work together to damage the reputation of any upcoming game more interested in plot or atmosphere than straightforward tests of reflexes or shows of spectacle; you can raise the odds of this happening if a popular media property is involved. 2022 had an unusually high concentration of those games, as you’d know if you followed the preview/review/reaction cycle for Scorn, Digimon Survive or Triangle Strategy.

Though each has plenty to offer the player, the former is barely interested in combat or jump scares, choosing instead to pump up the foreboding atmosphere inherent in its stunning Giger-esque art design; this rubbed sci-fi horror fans the wrong way after a marketing push that understandably had trouble deciding how to showcase this. You can pretty much paint Digimon Survive and Triangle Strategy with the same wide brush here, as both are turn-based tactical games with so much emphasis on story that they play more like visual novels most of the time, but it’s hard to lay the blame on the advertising this time – story-heavy trailers were everywhere by launch. Yet Survive’s infamous multi-year saga of delays only heaped more expectations on the game to deliver pizazz on the level of older Digimon titles, and as for TriStrat – well, fans saw the camera angle and the Square Enix name and screamed FF TACTICS REVIVAL to the heavens for months.

6. ChocoBabylonian Blues

Speaking of Square Enix, as sure as Jack Garland will say the word Chaos a whole bunch, it really is worth stressing how terribly the publisher started this year so we can contextualise the sheer insanity that came afterwards. Though Triangle Strategy eventually overcame its expectation issues thanks to strong critical reception and word of mouth, it was joined at the beginning of March by two of the outright worst gaming launches Square had ever seen back-to-back. First the ill-conceived live service hack-and-slash Babylon’s Fall – a strange partnership with Platinum Games – flopped so hard out of the gates that it was later announced the game’s servers wouldn’t even last a full year. Then came Chocobo GP, a kart racer trading on PS1 nostalgia that was packaged as a near-full-price retail cartridge release despite a blatant free-to-play mobile game monetisation structure absent from almost all its marketing. Shortly after that came Final Fantasy Origin (see the honourable mentions section below) and then weeks later the bombshell announcement that most of Square’s western studios had been sold off. Things were looking mighty grim all of a sudden, but then… well, stay tuned tomorrow.

5. Glitches in the Pokemon Machine

It’s another year for the Vagrant Rant Top 10 Disappointments list, so of course there has to be a paragraph on something Pokemon-related. I don’t make the rules. Luckily this year Game Freak made things easier than ever, because Pokemon Scarlet and Violet run like I did on the football field as a teenager: very poorly, with plenty of awkward stutters and the occasional crash. Ever since the main series Pokemon games made the move to full 3D rendering, the graphical presentation of the series has been a point of contention with the fanbase; this, however, is a new low for such a powerhouse of videogame sales. With the underwhelming technical chops of Sword and Shield in our rearview mirror and the impossibly ambitious open-world promises the new games seemed hell-bent on delivering, we probably should have seen this coming: the Pokemon Company is just awful at balancing development resources with project scope and time constraints, and they’re only getting worse. Most unfortunately of all as far as the possibility for change goes, Scarlet and Violet are actually otherwise really fun – and they sure are selling like it.

4. Bore: Lull & Blunder

Look, it’s fun to come up with titles for these negative entries, but I don’t actually hate Thor: Love & Thunder. The cast is great, it’s hard to imagine a world where I don’t personally enjoy Taika Waititi’s particular brand of awkward offbeat humour, and there are two action scenes in the film worthy of standing alongside the MCU’s best. But you won’t be seeing the movie anywhere near the final post of the year, largely thanks to a meandering lack of purpose compared to its incredible predecessor, a woefully underused villain, and the same level of wildly inconsistent visual effects we’ve unfortunately come to expect from Marvel movies these last few years. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t just one of the best MCU movies ever made for a whole host of reasons, it’s also my personal favourite of them all, so to see so many of the same ingredients and personnel line up in the same place only to put out such a comparatively poor follow-up is a real shame.

3. Breaking the Price Barrier

I really don’t want to harp on this one, because economics are complicated and talking about affordability can be a prickly subject even by the standards of this first-world list. But in a year packed with stories about Sony showing off that classic “arrogant videogame market leader” attitude to the world, the fact remains that the Playstation 5 became the first console in history to officially raise its Recommended Retail Price in Australia – and most of the rest of the world. The kicker? In some kind of karmic twist to make up for last year’s weird international price discrepancy in the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, the United States (Playstation’s biggest market) completely avoided the increase. At the time of the price rise, the PS5 was still months away from being readily available for sale thanks to voracious ongoing demand, and Nintendo and Microsoft did not follow suit. Just not a good look no matter how you slice it.

2. Infinite’s Sophomore Blues

My 2021 game of the year arrived exceptionally late – about three weeks before the big list was published, to be precise – so suffice to say it was a bit of a risk to give it the crown when so much of its identity was built on the promise of future support. That said, Halo Infinite was my most-played game of 2022 and it wasn’t even close; this is still a wonderfully-built multiplayer experience and it certainly didn’t become less fun to play over the weeks and months following launch. But that’s about where the good news ended, as 2022 would come to be defined by plentiful content expansion delays and lengthy periods of silence amid developer departures and dwindling player counts. This came to a head after a particularly rough few months when the long-promised 4-player splitscreen co-op feature, controversially left out of the last main Halo title, was unceremoniously cancelled – despite a menu glitch that kinda allows players to do it anyway. An admittedly massive and consequential update did eventually land almost a year after launch, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that if this game didn’t have the Halo brand attached, it may have been long-dead by now. Oh, on that note…

1. Rolling Off the Edge

You can go ahead and roll your eyes now, and then rest assured there’s a half-decent chance this will be the last time I ever have to mention Roller Champions. When that magical 2019 E3 shadow drop of the game’s first playable build gave way to years of silence from the Roller team at Ubisoft, I swatted away any doubts with the firm belief that the riotously fun core 3v3 gameplay mechanics of that public demo would be enough to carry the day; how long that day took to arrive ultimately didn’t matter. Imagine my shock when I nearly missed Roller Champions’ May 25th launch this year thanks to one of the most underwhelming marketing pushes I have ever seen for the launch of a new multiplayer title – let alone one from a top-tier publisher. To say the game launched with minimal fanfare is a titanic understatement, and I daresay the constant connection errors I received on the opening few weekends were probably related. When you have to put out a public statement a mere two months into your game’s life to insist it won’t be cancelled, you know something went wrong. At the time of writing, Roller Champions is still at least putting out gradual content updates, and I do hope it catches an unlikely second wind somehow, but the lack of chatter around the game is likely a sad canary in a sad coal mine.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

Honorable Mentions

–Chaotic Soup of Chaos

This isn’t a massive dealbreaker; I have it on good authority that Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin does in fact get quite good by the end, and the game’s combat bones are solid. But in a year sprinkled with a few too many overblown controversies around sub-par graphics in games, this one stands out like a sore, blurry thumb. I’m certainly no developer, but vaseline visuals at a maximum resolution of 1080p on current-gen machines is a real head-scratcher.

–Ghosted Potential

In a year rather notable for its absence of the “Ubisoft formula” influence on open-world titles, it’s more than a little weird that the biggest 2022 offender was a Bethesda title from the makers of The Evil Within 1 and 2. Ghostwire Tokyo isn’t even that big, but its lacking combat options do a poor job of covering for a sea of repetitive map icons demanding the same repetitive tasks again and again. You hate to see it within such a cool setting.

–Vale to our Heroes

The long-on-the-cards death of Heroes of the Storm, which maintained a devoted community right up until the last of the writing went up on the wall early in 2022, is a grim reminder of the realities of market saturation in the free-to-play multiplayer space – especially for MOBAs (good luck to Crash Bandicoot and pals).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: