Best of 2022: Top 15 Games

What a weird year for those of us who follow videogames.

The flow of the annual release schedule remains a frustrating thing to predict year-to-year, but it took on an extra-strange shape in 2022: as far as the wider triple-A scene was concerned, virtually all the big game action was localised to the first and last quarters of the year. That meant enough of a relative chasm in the middle to allow me to complete a massive-scale catch-up project I never thought I’d have the time to do, but it also meant an unusually dense December full of release dates that didn’t blink for once. So it’s no surprise that, with a couple of big-name exceptions, this GOTY countdown is defined by the only two consistent sources of quality game releases all year: prestige indies and the Nintendo Switch.

Single-player games don’t qualify unless I played them for over five hours or finished them, which this year eliminates *deep breath* Sonic Frontiers, The Callisto Protocol, Tinykin, Harvestella, Soul Hackers 2, Live A Live, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, AI: nirvanA Initiative, Card Shark, The DioField Chronicle, Metal: Hellsinger, and Evil West from contention, even though any of those games could have genuinely challenged for a place on the list had I got to play more of them – and I’m probably forgetting quite a few others. Extra-special shout-out to Chained Echoes, High on Life and Sports Story, which arrived at the eleventh hour and rocketed up in hype after I had already started the year-end writing process in earnest and had absolutely no hope of playing them.

Parentheses indicate the platform (or platforms – cross-save is truly a wild concept) where I played each game.

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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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15. Stray (PS5)

2022 was a year positively teeming with quality indie games, and they ran the gamut of genres and presentation styles. Only one of them was really trying to follow the triple-A game design formula. It was the cat game. The game where you play as a literal cat. In a way, that kinda made it this year’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits: a Sony exclusive with a wide linear level design structure, evolving stakes, tempting PSN trophy design and great use of the Dualsense controller; it is thankfully much easier than Kena though. Stray also has an excellent soundtrack, goes to some pretty wild places in terms of its oddly endearing AI supporting cast, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Good stuff to kick us off.

14. Triangle Strategy (NS)

Triangle Strategy can perhaps consider itself one of the unluckier victims of 2022’s release schedule quirks, hitting in the middle of arguably Square Enix’s worst PR month in years when it already had enough to deal with regarding its terrible name and warped fandom expectations. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s tempting to imagine an alternative situation where it let, say, the Tactics Ogre Reborn remaster go first to allow it’s story-first tacical gameplay approach room to breathe around JRPG July or something. But contextual frustrations aside, this game is a treat, fusing a meaty Game of Thrones-infused narrative epic with stunning artwork and rewarding, character-driven progression to add intimate significance to on-field strategic moves and major off-field democratic choices alike. Speaking of which…

13. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope (NS)

It’s surprisingly easy to call 2022 the Year of Tactics with flippant glee, which is an achievement given the rare modern absence of a new Fire Emblem game or the delays of Metal Slug Tactics and Advance Wars Re-Boot Camp. But while XCOM masters Firaxis turned up late in the year bearing Disney money and the well-received card/tactics hybrid Marvel’s Midnight Suns, the better XCOM-like had already come out by then. Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is a monstrously good sequel showing off every one of its five development years at every turn. This is still a solid cover-based ranged tactics game at its core, but almost everything else around it has seen a complete overhaul; the new radial movement system is freeing, the eponymous hot-swappable Sparks lend instant flexibility to team composition, and the unrecognisable overworld design draws comparisons to Super Mario Odyssey that honestly aren’t that far-fetched. Even Grant Kirkhope’s score is more noticeably cinematic this time. Ubisoft’s best game in years.

12. As Dusk Falls (Mob)

The first nominally Xbox-exclusive game I’ve ever played entirely on a phone, As Dusk Falls‘ optimised Game Pass streaming control scheme makes its story of an ill-fated desert motel feel essentially like a native mobile game – and the unique motion-comic art style ensures any feed quality drops never really hurt the experience. But that’s ultimately a bonus, because the real benefit of said art style is that the narrative can really diverge at times, with enough possible character fates to make any Telltale veteran’s head spin. Yet despite all the possibilities, events never stray from the grounded mission statement of the writing team, giving the piece an early-2010s prestige television feel. Of course that art style could have been a double-edged sword without strong vocal performances, so it’s a good thing the cast is almost uniformly great. If As Dusk Falls is to be a marker of quality for the renewed wave of point-and-click adventure games, we’re all in for a good time.

11. Bayonetta 3 (NS)

I live my life by only three rules: a melodic whistle always improves a song; a dance sequence always improves a movie; and a grappling hook always improves a videogame. Bayonetta 3 seems to agree, but there is absolutely no chill in the way it implements the philosophy. Multiple different flavours of grappling hooks – each found within a different transformation, summon, alternative protagonist, or even alternate-universe protagonist – can be called upon, and they are just the tip of the technicolor acid iceberg. This is a beyond-ideal action sequel that keeps the good stuff, builds on it, throws style-drenched experimentation at you approximately twice an hour, then winks at you before pulling the rug out from under your feet – again. Even its own insane ambitions – which at times really push at the seams of the Nintendo Switch – can’t dampen the fun of the ride. Worth the wait.

10. Pokemon Scarlet (NS)

How do you solve a problem like ranking the ninth generation Pokemon games? At the time of writing Pokemon Scarlet still runs like garbage in its open-world sections – which rather comfortably entails most of the game – but it also meaningfully reinvents the locomotion of the series on the back of the strides made by Pokemon Legends Arceus and throws out the streamlining philosophy of Sword and Shield to deliver a suite of artistically varied towns and cities you might actually need to revisit from time to time, alongside plentiful hidden secrets in the wild, to make exploration more rewarding than it has ever been.

And yet Scarlet‘s (and Violet’s) three greatest strengths are its novel split-delivery storytelling, which staves off the customary mid-game staleness that so often plagues the series; its Iberian-flavoured new Pokemon designs / old Pokemon remixes (this is the best set of starters in at least five generations, and whoever came up with Toedscruel isn’t getting paid enough); and its unprecedented leaps forward in competitive Pokemon preparation speed. Somehow, this pair of games has reunited the old gang I used to battle regularly against a decade ago, and I don’t foresee my 100+ invested hours losing momentum anytime soon.

9. Neon White (NS)

About the only thing Neon White and creator Ben Esposito’s previous game Donut County have in common is they’re both really good, but this is about as far from a reverse-Katamari puzzler as you can get on an artistic budget. An all-action first-person platform race through dreamy nightmares that does for speedrunning what Hades did for roguelites, Neon White is the first game since Sonic Adventure 2 to scratch that gotta-go-faster itch for me – only this time the incentive isn’t raising the perfect virtual pet, it’s unlocking more gloriously cheesy 1990s edgy anime dialogue (with none other than Steve Blum on the voice cast) via the visual novel-esque gift system. And thanks to a near-flawless 60FPS presentation with razor-tuned gyro controls on the Switch, the deviously clever “Insight” feature can really spread its wings to get the player flying. It even has its own zippy take on a grappling hook.

8. Horizon: Forbidden West (PS5)

2022 was the year I finally became what I just assumed I would be in 2017 – a fan of Sony’s Horizon series – but it wasn’t automatic. I don’t often mention when in the year I play eligible games, but that’s a pretty important detail here: I wasn’t the only one to drop it lightning-quick when another game further down this page came out days after its February launch. But then in May Horizon: Zero Dawn essentially became the vanguard of my aforementioned 10-year videogame catch-up adventures (and subsequent re-ranking efforts) this year, so when I went straight from at last completing that game into the sequel after that ridiculously great performance patch hit, every single little improvement to the weaponry, momentum, graphical engine, and world design was clear as day. Forbidden West is a seven course meal of a game that leaves behind most of the “Ubisoft-formula” constraints of the first game – though the story isn’t quite as good – to further cement its own immersive identity within a series worth savouring.

7. Splatoon 3 (NS)

It’s always dangerous to compare positions on an annual ranking list like-for-like, but there’s still something a bit poetic about where Splatoon 3 ended up on this one. Landing “between” the heady heights of the 2015 original and the less self-assured rawness of the 2017 sequel, 3’s greatest quality feels like a sarcastic accidental jab at the videogame industry as a whole: it launched with an absolute ton of fully-featured content, including five completely different modes of play encompassing single-player, co-op and competitive multiplayer tastes, each packing its own progression path plus a clear future content roadmap and a sixth progression path overlaid on top to tie them all together.

Opening weekend in Australia aside, every time I’ve opened Splatoon 3 there has been more to achieve, more playstyles to explore, more fun to be had with the still-unparalleled gameplay loop. There isn’t a single mode here that can’t conceivably be called the best of its kind in the series. We’re honestly talking 2010 Black Ops 1 / Halo Reach-level value here. Everything looks and runs beautifully too, and though it undoubtedly owes much of its quality to the struggles of what came before, Splatoon 3 is still quietly one of Nintendo’s finest products of the Switch era.

6. A Plague Tale: Requiem (XSX/PC)

Gareth Evans’ film The Raid 2: Berendal, f(x)’s album 4 Walls, Dan Harmon’s fifth season of Community, Asobo Studio’s videogame A Plague Tale: Requiem: these four remarkable pieces of entertainment media will now live together in my brain for years to come, united by their ability to deliver supremely unlikely high-quality sequels to well-received originals despite massive changes to scale, tone and structure that could’ve rendered them unrecognisable.

Requiem trades in the claustrophobic stealth mechanics and on-the-run tension of predecessor Innocence for full-on triple-A progression systems, massive cinematic set-pieces, the best environmental visuals of the year, and even an Uncharted-style mini-open world area. Principal protagonist Amicia gets more aggressive weaponry to go with Charlotte McBurney’s amazing, embittered performance; the story goes globetrotting, seafaring and temple-diving; even the AI companions expand in variety and usefulness. But this series isn’t about to go full-pulp on us: A Plague Tale: Requiem is still a tale about a single unending emotional toll, and it definitely does not pull its punches.

5. God of War: Ragnarok (PS5)

“Death can have me when it earns me.”

Kratos has never felt like more of a fully-rounded character than he does in God of War: Ragnarok; it turns out all the long-running series needed to do to achieve this is put out a game where the Spartan man-mountain grumbles, mutters and yells his way through single parent troubles in the woods, then release a follow-up four years later where the player’s control frequently switches away from him to his impetuous but empathetic son.

Ragnarok’s opening hour is the best any Playstation-exclusive has presented since the original The Last of Us, picking up all the momentum from the 2018 game despite a significant in-universe time-skip. While it does have its own pacing issues after that, the highs are so much higher – and more interesting – than the last time out, as Kratos and Atreus realise they’re playing with the big boys now. Every question left open by the first game gets an answer, which leads to tasty further questions along the seemingly unchangeable stream of fate and prophecy. Though Ragnarok is the least graphically impressive of 2022’s big Playstation exclusives – at times it appears identical to the last title – this world certainly isn’t lacking in artistic flair or spectacle, and the mildly-improved combat is transformed by the 90+ FPS mode on the PlayStation 5. I can’t believe Sony Santa Monica pulled this off.

4. Signalis (XSS)

This was the first year since 2018 without a new full Resident Evil game of some kind, but RE fans did not merely have to make do with the short-and-sweet Shadows of Rose DLC for Village, nor the more Dead Space-adjacent rollercoaster ride The Callisto Protocol. Something entirely unexpected – and magnificent – slid under the radar of the casual survival horror fan in 2022 until it suddenly didn’t anymore, and that morsel of science fiction dread calls itself Signalis.

Built on the iconic risk-reward survival horror loop of the PS1 era that also inspires its voxel visual filter, Signalis adds in a devious additional layer of puzzle complexity that occasionally calls to mind the likes of Another Code: Two Memories from the early DS days. Stuffed with head-trip cutscenes straight out of the Bakemonogatari directorial handbook, this German-made Lynchian enigma often plays like an extended version of Danganronpa 2‘s masterful second chapter sprinkled with Oxenfree-esque creepy radio hijinks; all of which is to say it feels aimed directly at me. Yet others who have played the game cite vastly different nostalgic connections, very few of which are the expected sci-fi horror cliches. Signalis successfully raises itself above a suddenly-crowded subgenre to reach rare heights. To think I almost missed it…

3. Tunic (XSS)

I’ve never seen or played anything quite like Tunic. I’ve played plenty of cute isometric action games, I’ve had my fair share of soulslike combat systems, and I’ve absolutely run through a Zelda homage or twenty. But Tunic is not only a good version of all these things: it’s a fresh example of how to weaponise nostalgia to unlock a mind-blowing way of interacting with a game world; a shrewd reminder of the benefits of trusting your player’s curiosity and intuition. The prime collectible in Tunic is not health, stamina, bomb capacity or magic upgrades – though they are all certainly present and handy – it’s pages of the game’s own NES-era manual, and the text in said manual is only partially legible. Your only clues on what an instruction means are often (adorable) illustrations, context clues, and/or other future manual pages. Secrets, hints and alternate pathways hide in literally every part of the map, and when you work out what you have to do to unlock the mother of them all – well, I think I’m still recovering from the audacity of that solution. What a game.

2. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (NS)

After a decade of hearing superlatives about the Xenoblade franchise – and a combined 100+ hours playing through the opening acts of every game in the series – 2022 gave me and millions of other fans a priceless gift: thanks to the extra time Nintendo needed to polish up Splatoon 3, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 moved up the calendar to the very end of JRPG July, leaving the entirety of the traditionally-quiet August to attempt the unprecedented: finish a Xenoblade game inside the year it released. So I bought a cheap physical calendar, rationed my hours, and somehow got it done in 92. Was it worth the effort? You better believe it was.

Ostensibly combining the worlds of Xenoblade 1 and 2 within the game’s story and UI while working off clear feedback notes from each, the talented folks at Monolith Soft conjured nothing less than post-processing magic to achieve what neither of the prior Switch releases could: a great visual experience in handheld mode. Needless to say that’s pretty crucial for a JRPG series known for its sheer scope, and from there the best-in-class bones of the game can really shine.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is assured in every choice it makes. This is, after all, a story that introduces you to all six of its main party members early on (you know, for a Xenoblade game) so it can tease out their interpersonal conflicts and collective triumphs – both big and small – over a long time, like a great anime. And like a great anime, the cinematic action is sensational, the hype moments fist-pumping, the low points devastating. The nods to the fandom are somehow both subtle and gigantic, allowing newcomers to start with this one and never feel left out. The combat and progression automate the boring stuff and put control where its most important – and fun. The environments are incredible. The music, more contemplative than ever, is beautiful. Lanz is my favourite videogame character of the last several years.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is magnificent.

1. Elden Ring (XSX)

I really hate being this predictable.

Or at least, this in line with critical consensus. I’ve never had a FromSoftware title on any best games list before, so Elden Ring could have gone either way for me. But it was clear within the first few hours that this impeccably-designed videogame would have its hooks in me until the bittersweet end. Like XC3, Elden Ring showed me the benefits of appointment gaming: I played it almost exclusively on Mondays for three straight months so as to limit theoretical frustrations from a tough battle loss. But those frustrations rarely eventuated because – stop me if someone’s told you this one before – in Elden Ring, if something gives you trouble, you can just turn around in the opposite direction and ride for ages in search of some other new discovery.

I can sing the praises of this game’s wildly varied spectrum of viable character builds; the flexible co-op features that make failure feel punishing when it really isn’t; the delectable lore stuffed into every nook and cranny of the world; those spectacular boss encounters; but really the reason Elden Ring is all the way up here does come down to the world itself. Trying to encapsulate in words the sheer impact of this game’s ingenious marker-free map design feels almost as pointless as thinking you’ve explored it all, but suffice to say when Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom hits next year it won’t just be gunning to top Breath of the Wild in the eyes of many. It’s certainly no coincidence that Dark Souls’ development team cited the very first Legend of Zelda as a key influence, and now here we are. Congratulations Miyazaki, you’ve snared another one.

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Honorable Mentions

–Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (XSX)

Bit of a shame this wouldn’t fit on the list, because it’s the best thing to come out of the Borderlands series in a good while. What could easily have been a minor style re-skin instead meaningfully changes classic progression systems, then delivers the most enjoyable story since at least Borderlands 2 thanks to an expensive voice cast that commits to the zaniness.

–TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge (XSS/XSX)

What’s not to like about a colourful six-player beat-em-up that outshines its direct inspiration in places, nailing the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aesthetic to the wall with smart modern nips and tucks while also balancing world design in a satisfyingly throwback manner? Yep, this is yet another modern Dotemu classic for the ages.

–Pokemon Legends: Arceus (NS)

At the end of 2022 this ambitious Pokemon spin-off can easily claim to be a better single-player product than Scarlet / Violet, especially if collecting is the main reason you enjoy the franchise. It feels better to play moment-to-moment than anything the main series has ever released, and the quill-and-paper art style is a winner for performance and vibe. It’s just a shame for me personally that the balancing of the battle system whiffs so hard.

–FIFA 23 (XSX)

I mean, we laugh, but the last football game of its name is actually a banger of a send-off. Packing a lovingly-rendered playable rendition of AFC Richmond from Ted Lasso, womens’ club teams, and maybe the best world cup treatment in the series’ long history (sigh), the game also delivers on the pitch with a fresh current-gen engine crowned with the ludicrously fun power shot mechanic.

–Windjammers 2 (XSS/XSX)

What was that about a power shot mechanic?

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