Best of 2022: Five Special Awards

Last year this list of mini-lists had a bit of a shake-up, thanks largely to the increased amount of TV content with tenuous connections to the material Vagrant Rant normally covers; but I figured it had been such a unique year that 2022 would surely see some of the older categories come back. Nope, here we are with the exact same five. Maybe 2021 was more of a trailblazing year than it appeared?

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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.

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Best Third-Party Game Publisher

Square Enix

We kick off with a back-to-back win for Square Enix; but even though its competition could only be described as paltry this year, the way the Japanese gaming giant went about dominating 2022 could not have been more different from its more measured and western-leaning 2021 efforts. As covered on yesterday’s list, Square didn’t exactly come out of the blocks flying this year, but never in my wildest adolescent dreams could I have expected the sheer volume – and at times relentless pace – of the Japanese role-playing output they had in store to help people forget how weird it was that they shed all those powerhouse western teams all at once.

Re-releases, fresh ideas and combinations of both abounded as Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster led into Triangle Strategy, the aforementioned Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, the shock localisation of Radical Dreamers as part of the Chrono Cross remaster, the even more shocking localisation/remake Live A Live, then Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, The DioField Chronicle and Valkyrie Elysium back-to-back, a premium-quality Nier Automata Switch port, then a five-week holiday period stuffed with Harvestella, Tactics Ogre Reborn, Dragon Quest Treasures and finally Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core Reunion. There were also two whole Voice of Cards RPGs released throughout 2022. Given where this company was at a decade ago “staggering” doesn’t begin to cover it, and I’m probably forgetting something too. Is a 2023 win on the cards too? Looking at the schedule, I wouldn’t count it out.

Runner-Up: Focus Entertainment

Best Indie Game Publisher

Devolver Digital

As always, this was a fun one to call; it seems indie publishers are only getting better at curating and fostering quality in gaming’s most exciting space. Raw Fury had a quiet one by their standards, only really offering the critically-loved NORCO as a brand-new title; everything Chucklefish announced got delayed (almost certainly a good thing); and most of the glints in the eyes of Gearbox Publishing are still on the horizon. That left us with a good old-fashioned heavyweight battle pitting Annapurna Interactive – house of the beloved Stray, A Memoir Blue, and Neon White – against Humble Games – who gave us runaway hits Temtem and Signalis alongside the underrated Chinatown Detective Agency and Prodeus. It’s a toughie, but my pick goes to Annapurna – just – for reasons that may become clear by the end of the year.

All that fight is just for the runner-up spot, of course, because Devolver Digital spent 2022 doing a lot more than simply producing their best mid-year game presentation in years. The indie publishing veterans showed the rest of the industry how it’s done, letting loose the likes of Samurai Warrior 3, Trek to Yomi, Weird West and Card Shark to delight players with all kinds of tastes in the first half of the year alone, before sealing their dominance with two of the biggest indie hits in recent memory. Return to Monkey Island is the point-and-click return to form no one saw coming, and as for Cult of the Lamb… well, that one may have just codified an entire subgenre.

Runner-Up: Annapurna Interactive

Best Game Expansion Content

Shadows of Rose

Yes, I know the clear winner of this category is Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak, but this is my list and I didn’t play that (Destiny 2 is in the same boat despite some supposedly fantastic new content drops). My personal pick was very nearly the ludicrous set of updates and patches making up Halo Infinite‘s “Winter Update” – a transformative piece of wizardry that tidied up every corner of every game mode and added the most powerful Forge level-maker tool in the history of the series (and possibly all of gaming?) to give the game a theoretically endless stream of ever-evolving content right before its one-year anniversary.

But no, ultimately I have to give this one to Shadows of Rose, the next in a surprisingly long line of standalone DLC adventures built from the bones of a modern Resident Evil game. That classic lock, shock and key gameplay formula, honed in the post-RE7 era on one of the greatest videogame engines ever developed, is still a winner in 2022. Rose largely leaves behind RE Village’s more action-focused approach and moves back towards the third-person resource-balancing style of RE2, in the process granting new purpose to the gorgeous environments the base Village could at times breeze past. Fun new abilities and cheesy enemy designs help spice up the end of the Winters saga without overplaying a single empowered hand, and I relished every second.

Runner-Up: Halo Infinite Winter Update

Best MCU Television Show

Moon Knight

It’s probably an understatement at this point to say the prevailing attitude towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV shows has soured quickly; it’s hard to believe this increasingly inconsistent arm of the world’s biggest fictional universe isn’t even two years old yet. But while arguably nothing has backed up the sheer variety and daring of WandaVision quite yet, it’s no coincidence that the show with the next-most-bizarre setup arguably made the strongest impression in 2022.

Make no mistake; Ms Marvel ran it close thanks to a bar-raising first episode, a wonderful core cast, an array of genuinely groundbreaking scenes and the best overall look of any MCU show thus far. But unfortunately its various antagonists all suck, every major plot point is so abrupt that the rush feels like an in-joke by the end, and the superhero ‘money shots’ just get in the way of the far more interesting family / historical drama (or, in one case, a riotous dance number).

By contrast the largely self-contained Moon Knight, while not exactly perfectly paced either, is remarkably efficient with its time; early pieces of foreshadowing go off spectacularly in later episodes as a handful of seemingly disparate mysteries intertwine, superpowered action scenes are positioned sparingly in service of tension, very few of the plentiful what-just-happened moments are wasted, and Oscar Isaac gets to face off against 2022’s busiest actor Ethan Hawke… and also more Oscar Isaac. Then there’s that astonishing fifth episode, a multi-level labyrinth of devastating reveals matched for impact by a performance masterclass from the lead. It may just be the best hour of TV Marvel Studios has produced so far, and goes a long way to make up for the show’s occasionally glaring visual shortcomings.

Moon Knight isn’t anywhere close to the best television show of 2022 – it’s no Shoresy – but it’s still easily one of the best things to come out of the MCU in the Disney+ era.

Runner-Up: Ms Marvel

Best Videogame Adaptation

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

Apparently when it rains it pours, because following 2021’s unexpectedly exemplary Arcane we now have a second highly-stylised season of Netflix animated television re-contextualising a videogame world for a new audience with flying colours. As a Studio Trigger joint, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners can be a much more, well, edgy proposition than Riot Games’ pseudo-prequel effort; the prodigious anime house did not need much of an invitation from CD Projekt Red to splash Night City with gore and filth. But the substance arrives on time with the style, nailing the dystopian themes of the Cyberpunk IP arguably even better than 2077 as it delivers a range of soaring emotional highs and gut-pummelling lows.

The short series hooks viewers in early with the underdog story of a down-on-his-luck trouble kid protagonist, but truly catches on fire with a harrowing sixth episode that raises the stakes, resets the fun and sets devastating events in motion en route to a barn-burner of a finale. A surprisingly good dub and a gnarly soundtrack led by none other than Franz Ferdinand puts the icing on the chrome cake. It’s almost disappointing given the standalone quality of this show that it successfully managed to reignite my interest in the 2020 videogame, because that was so clearly its secondary purpose; but such is life, choom.

Runner-Up: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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