Hey Poor Player’s Top 25 Games Of 2022: Starting The New Year With A Look Back At The Old
2022 was a rough year for many, particularly the people of Ukraine, who have experienced the brutality of an ultra-nationalist madman, though their bravery and spirit in the face of tyranny is something we can all be inspired by. Gosh, seems a bit of a heavy opening for a listicle about games, doesn’t it? Well, it’s important to remember that games are another form of art. Tyrants would like all art to be in lockstep – in praising their leadership and thoughtless obedience to it. In 2022 we’ve instead seen a lot of art instead exemplifying unbridled creative expression and the human experience, and plenty of the games below do this magnificently. So join the HPP team as we run down the best games from the past year, and appreciate the exhilarating interactive art that lightens our spirits and gives us a little extra hope for brighter days ahead.
25. Ghostwire: Tokyo
Ghosts? Japan? Supernatural Powers?! Really, there was no reason I shouldn’t have liked what Ghostwire: Tokyo brought to the table. Starring a recently deceased Akito being revived by ghost protagonist KK, you’re plopped in the middle of Japan’s Shibuya district where ghosts and monsters of Japanese folklore come marching in with a wave of fog, humans vanishing by the truckloads in their wake. I love playing around in virtual Japan and doing so in one plagued by ghosts and monsters went right up my alley.
For those that yearn to play in the urban jungle gym that is Shibuya and love ghost stories, this is absolutely paradise. I couldn’t get enough of slinking around rooftops looking for something else to catch my interest or imagining what the place was like before all the residents suddenly vanished.
While the combat keeps to the simple side, there was a satisfaction to stringing together attacks. Even the stealth had a heft to it, helped tremendously by the PS5 controller’s new tech. The characters here, protagonist Akito (and ghost protagonist KK), come off as believable, and while the story wraps up fast, it’ll leave you wanting more. Probably one of my favorite parts though is the enemy design, using a mixture of modern and classic interpretations of a plethora of creeps and critters belonging to Japanese mythology, and even gives you a nice little lesson about their origins, whether made up for the game or rooted in mythology. For what few faults I can find from Ghostwire, I can honestly say that for a first shot at a new IP has great potential to grow into a very good ghost story series.
- Cory Clark
24. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Perfectly capturing the spirit of Konami’s beloved TMNT coin-ops, Shredder’s Revenge is the most memorable beat-’em-up since Streets of Rage 4 slugged its way to the number two spot in our GOTY list in 2020.
Developed by Tribute Games, it takes the tried-and-true formula found in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game and Turtles In Time and hones it to a razor’s edge with a slew of new gameplay mechanics to create a surprisingly deep brawler that belies the game’s old-school aesthetic. These new features include punishing co-op attacks, flashy supers, and dizzying combos for sending even the meanest mutants flying across the screen. Shredder’s Revenge’s blend of fleshed-out-fisticuffs, combined with its superb presentation, make cleaning up the streets of Manhattan with the Heroes in a Half Shell more satisfying than a piping-hot peanut butter and jelly pizza.
Throw in some exceptional four-player co-op and a meaty story mode that has the Turtles battling iconic foes from Central Park to Dimension X, and it’s no secret why these ooze-infused turtle dudes deserve a place in our top 25 games of 2022.
- Francis DiPersio
23. Sonic Frontiers
Sonic Frontiers is one of those games that I think we’ll all look back on in a few years and realize it was the start of something special.
While not everything in this game is perfect, the game does feel like a fresh step forward with its Open Zone design. It’s not quite the full open-world I think many want but it’s a solid foundation to build the next Sonic project off of. And while forging a new path ahead, it also manages to be a solid capstone on the recent era of the franchise through its story.
It’s been a long time since anyone has pointed at the story in a Sonic game as one of the main selling points. However, Sonic Frontiers delivers on it in spades. While the primary focus of the narrative is on the mystery of the Starfall Islands and the Titans that inhabit them, another major point for me are the characters. The characterization in Frontiers is probably the best in the franchise. With lots of nods to the past but also development that looks to the future. Including my favorite portrayal of Dr. Eggman. If you’re a Sonic fan and have been on the fence, definitely check out our review and give this a try.
- Benny Carillo
22. Shovel Knight Dig
It’s no surprise by now that Shovel Knight is a bit of a phenomenon. Not only was the original adventure outstanding, but overall the subsequent DLC was very well received as well. The question then was how would Shovel Knight hold up in future iterations? Little side stories that kept the fun coming?
Though I enjoyed Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, it lacked that special something that made me love the original game. Not so with Shovel Knight Dig. Dig managed to capture the essence of the original, mix it together with a little Downwell, and toss in some gorgeous SNES-style graphics. Unlike the original, Shovel Knight Dig is pretty brutally hard, and very fast-paced. There’s a rhythm to playing it that takes some getting used to but quickly becomes ingrained.
Not only is Shovel Knight Dig challenging, but it’s gorgeous and full of stunning music from the one and only Jake Kaufman. While the core adventure isn’t all that long to beat, you’ll be coming back again and again to unearth more secrets and lovely loot. A worthy successor to the original, and a great reason to keep on digging in the new year.
- Josh Speer
21. I Was A Teenage Exocolonist
I’ve never played a visual novel / deck-builder / dating simulator / survival / exploration game, and I’ve definitely never played one like I Was A Teenage Exocolonist. A mechanically diverse coming-of-age story, I Was A Teenage Exocolonist centers on one of several teenagers settling Vertumna, a far-flung planet that is seemingly rejecting its new sentient inhabitants. As a teenager, it’s your job to learn, grow, explore, and foster friendships; as a colonist, it’s your job to farm, forage, fight, and survive.
I Was A Teenage Exocolonist does everything it attempts well — it has a scintillating story complete with complex characters that evolve over time set in an alien world where danger (and opportunity) lurk at every turn. Additionally, it features an interesting deck-building mechanic that increases in depth as the player gains experience. Where I Was A Teenage Exocolonist excels is how all of this is blended together, each mechanic interwoven into the other in a beautiful, natural, and fascinating way.
What I Was A Teenage Exocolonist does best, however, is exemplifies the ups and downs of the teenage years juxtaposed to the joys and hardships of exocolonist life. The characters must navigate puberty while exploring exciting new territory, see their relationships blossom while growing alien crops on foreign soil, and forge their own identity while carving out a corner of this galaxy for humanity. And with dozens of endings not only waiting for players but canonically part of each individual playthrough, I Was A Teenage Exocolonist is a genre-defying adventure and definitely not just a phase.
- Heather Johnson-Yu
20. Astlibra Revision
I feel like 2022 has come to a conclusion and there are still a number of Steam gamers that read “Astlibra Revision” and go “what in the hell is that game and why would it make someone’s GotY list?!”
Astlibra is not a perfect game. There were a few bits of dialogue in the story that made me roll my eyes. And, after playing the demo where I was provided with a multitude of starting abilities, I wasn’t feeling the vibe. But settling into the first hour or two of the game changed everything and I quickly came to realize that it IS a perfect game for scratching the itch that it is designed to soothe. I will also say that this game’s siren song of an OST certainly helped helped to cement that opinion for me.
It takes the best of classic 80s 2D action RPGs like Faxanadu and Ys 3: Wanderers from Ys that I loved as a child. Then it expands upon their combat systems and utilizes multiple streams of character growth such as learning skills from weapons and spending enemy drops to increase stats and learn new transformation and summon abilities to constantly keep you feeling as though the next new acquisition is just around the corner. Top it all off with a great overall narrative and you have yourself a JRPG classic that feels as though it, like Astlibra’s main character, was displaced from 1989 and dropped into the future world of 2022.
- Pernell Vaughn
19. Shadow Warrior 3
Shadow Warrior 3’s protagonist Lo Wang might be a little bit more politically correct than his 1990s incarnation, but he’s no less fun. Stuck in a mythical otherworld world by a series of mistakes of his own making, the wisecracking Wang has to save the world the only way he can: by carving through every demonic obstacle with his samurai sword or blasting them to smithereens with his twin uzis.
What really sets the new Shadow Warrior apart from the raft of modern-day shooters is just how focused it is on chaos. The platforming aspects and fast-paced action fits seamlessly into the combat as Wang can wall-run across vines walls to escape enemy fire, shooting adversarial oni as he grapple-hooks around. You’ll never slow down to count bullets because all ammo types are universally available from handy blue orbs and constantly respawning. This way the pace is kept intensely urgent, and you’re always focusing on the next enemy in front of you. Shadow Warrior 3 commits wholeheartedly to being a visceral arena shooter and outright elevates the subgenre as a brutally violent art form.
The finisher mechanic gives players the chance to be extra creative and devious when felling the many foes they’ll encounter. When facing down one of the giant ogres, Wang can tear off one of their bulky arms, all the grimy viscera and sinew rending in the process, and use it to club nearby Tengu to death. It’s one of many examples of how joyously mad Shadow Warrior 3 is. This is evident in the story as well, which manages to be just as filled with laugh-out-loud moments as it is surprisingly heartwarming scenes for the well-intentioned hero who creates unintentional (and intentional) calamity wherever he goes.
If you sometimes get tired of plodding, greyish-brownish-greenish pseudo-realistic military shooters, this is the antidote. Dazzlingly colourful, unrelentingly fast-paced, unrepentantly zany and bursting with potential for player creativity, Shadow Warrior 3 is absolutely joyous to play from start to finish. So after 25 years, do I STILL want some Wang? You’re damn right I do!
- Jonathan Trussler
OK, yes, it’s true that Marauders is in early access. And yes, in the past, games in early access wouldn’t be properly reviewed, or counted in these lists.
But after canvassing Hey Poor Player’s deputy editor, and a slight rethink of what constitutes entry to this article, Marauders more than deserves its place in its current state. And that’s down to developer Small Impact Games, making a big splash in the extraction shooter genre, dominated by Escape from Tarkov.
Marauders hits all the right buttons for me: dieselpunk setting, post-WW2 aesthetic, spaceflight, and of course, mountains of loot to chase.
However, tension is Maruader’s primary currency. There’s always that dichotomy of whether you should push on and find more loot or extract with what you have.
Looming over every decision you make is always what’s around the corner. Is it a group of NPCs? Which in a group is a pretty easy situation to deal with. Or is it a couple of human players, who ruthlessly gun you down and steal your loot and ship? Like me, when you play Marauders, these are the things you’ll grapple with, as you stalk the claustrophobic corridors of the military base or mining facility.
- Jon Davis
17. Horizon: Forbidden West
Go figure this would be round two of our favorite robo-dinosaur rumbler to pick fights with gaming juggernauts, releasing hazardously close to Elden Ring. That said, this juggernaut is no less worse for wear, taking our favorite pastime of wrasslin’ robot critters for their parts and loot to a new level. Horizon: Forbidden West picks up almost right after the end of the first game, with Aloy skipping the celebration of the last game’s feats so she can head right for the far west part of post-apocalyptic USA. Without going into too many spoilers, there’s some really important plot pieces that could turn the post-apocalypse into a fresher world. Ashley Burch still absolutely nails her role as Aloy, the characterization marching on at just the right pace, and the story leaves off on a very jaw-dropping moment.
What always drew me to the first Horizon game was the absolutely stunning graphical fidelity, showcasing every little rusty structure and lush flora with precision and detail, and Forbidden West absolutely takes it to another level. Seriously, when the HDR kicked on for my 65-inch, I thought the colors were going to sear my retinas. My PS5 put its best foot forward keeping this one a looker, with little loading and smooth-as-butter gameplay. While I worried I’d feel over-encumbered with all the new tools and tricks, it didn’t take me long to catch up with and love the new additions to combat.
Really, if you had any interest in Horizon: Zero Dawn, you really should make your way to Forbidden West. The end of the world has rarely looked so goddamn beautiful, and scarcely seen such an in-depth story.
- Cory Clark
16. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
March seems so long ago and forgotten doesn’t it? However, it was in that month that a certain pink puffball got iseikai’d into a familiar looking world. Yep, I’m talking about Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
Kirby’s latest adventure is a definite step-up from Star Allies both in style, difficulty, and design. It’s also notable for being the first Kirby game to truly be a 3D-platformer. While many other franchises have struggled to get past this hurdle, Kirby manages to soar over it just as easily as he can fly. But what really sets Forgotten Land apart? Well, really it’s the abilities and the mystery of this new world.
On one hand, Kirby’s upgradable abilities allow for a lot of different ways to tackle each challenge. And you’ll find yourself going back into levels to try and see how to rescue more Waddle Dees or tackle an old boss with each new ability you unlock. As for the world, it’s eerie just how similar this world looks to Earth or a modern society. And as you progress through more and more of it, the mysteries only deepen. If you haven’t tried it yet then I’d encourage you to see what Kirby’s latest mouthful of an adventure is all about by checking out our review.
- Benny Carillo
I’m not very often flabbergasted by a new game I review. But that’s exactly what happened when I reviewed NeverAwake. I knew going in that it had a distinct visual style and a challenging free roaming Shmup style. What I couldn’t have known is how quickly NeverAwake would cement itself as one of my favorite games of the year.
NeverAwake tells a tale of a girl trapped in her own body while her mind is beset by nightmares. Which sounds bad, but there’s an upside. You have a subconscious defender named Rem, and their job is to blast the monstrous figments to smithereens. While doing so, you’ll harvest energy from foes that will empower you to escape each stage’s repeating loop. It’s a really unique take on the standard Shmup, and really forces you to learn stage layout.
Another way NeverAwake innovates is the shop that lets you purchase upgrades between missions. You’ll not only get new weapons, but also gear that can change how you play. There’s a ton of unlockable stuff you can buy. Throw in some massive and freaky boss fights and a strangely compelling story, and you have an adventure everyone should experience themselves.
- Josh Speer
Marissa Marcel was supposed to be the next big thing. She went on talk shows, did interviews, and starred in three major movies over a span of around thirty years. Yet none of those films ever released and nobody knows what happened to her. Want to find out?
The latest found footage game from Sam Barlow will feel familiar to anyone who has played his other games such as Her Story and Telling Lies, but IMMORTALITY is easily the most interesting game he’s ever made. To make this game he had to actually recreate both the films and the filming of three separate movies set as much as 30 years apart, capturing the styles of the times, the look of the films, and influences that would feel right, before tearing it all apart into bite sized pieces for players to discover. As someone well versed in all of these periods of cinema, he knocked it out of the park, and a fantastic cast really sells their performances.
Perhaps the most important evolution in IMMORTALITY is in the actual play experience. While some of Barlow’s past games have featured great mysteries hidden behind awkward systems, IMMORTALITY is a joy to actually play with the new match cut system making jumping from clip to clip feel like magic and the game’s emulation of a Moviola editing suite captures the feel of scrubbing through footage beautifully. This is the first Barlow game where moving through clips doesn’t feel like a chore. That alone is good reason for those who may have bounced off those earlier titles to check IMMORTALITY out.
- Andrew Thronton
13. Splatoon 3
It feels weird writing about Splatoon 3 when I can still remember how justifiably uncertain people were about the original. Nintendo just wasn’t known for FPS, multiplayer or online experiences at the time. And yet somehow the original Splatoon was so wildly popular that now we’re two sequels in.
While the basic formula for the series hasn’t changed too much over the years, there’s a certain “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” nature to the affair. They just keep finding more ways to mix things up. New weapons, new gear, and especially new villains. Even though every Splatoon is mostly focused on the multiplayer component, I always appreciate the robust single-player campaign, and Splatoon 3 is no exception. We get some of the weirdest foes ever, and that’s saying something.
There are some fun new elements, such as an optional card game and seasonal DLC that is both paid and free to keep things fresh. Even though me and many others wish Nintendo would focus more on in the game’s online stability, Splatoon 3 is yet another worthy foray into a world of stylish aquatic wonder.
- Josh Speer
Sifu immediately drew me in with its premise set on Pak-Mei Kung Fu and Chinese culture. Heck, Si Fu in Chinese literally means “master” or “teacher”. Being Chinese myself, I found myself enthralled with the game before I even knew what kind of experience it was!
The developers at Sloclap have learned from the mistakes of their first fighting game, Absolver, and made Sifu into an absolute indie gem. It excellently combines elements of roguelites and posture-based combat inspired by Sekiro to present a journey like no other.
The unique aspect of Sifu is each time you die, you respawn as an older version of yourself: more powerful but also more fragile. It’s all about learning from your past mistakes and the narrative themes tie in so smoothly with the gameplay. What’s nice is that Sloclap has added many free updates to the game, including difficulty levels and cosmetics, with even more to come next year!
- Henry Yu
11. Vampire Survivors
I personally felt as though it would have been a massive disservice to indie ingenuity and creativity if we somehow managed to omit this title from our best games of the year roster. A perfect gaming representation of the idiom “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” – I originally wrote this game off as a quick cash-in Castlevania asset flip, something later proven to be false, without bothering to play it before being pressured by one of my best friends into giving it a try.
I sat down with it, selected my first character and entered what I perceived to be the first area. I scoffed at my inability to activate my attacks by choice. I laughed as I spotted Castlevania-esque enemies. And then I got my first new ability. And then the enemy intensity picked up. And so came another ability followed by even more and more of them. I became obsessed with watching my experience point bar increase as I looked forward to the next ability that I’d unlock. Soon, I found a treasure chest that I opened to reveal a light and sound spectacular reminiscent of a glitzed out Atlantic City slot machine. I continued to do this and until, before I had realized it, thirty minutes had passed and I was being murdered by Death himself. My game ended and, realizing that I had only sort of scratched the surface of the game, I decided to immediately jump back into another session as my friend watched and laughed as I came to grips with the folly of my previous judgment.
Vampire Survivors is, without a doubt, THE indie darling of 2022. This is something that I feel could also be acknowledged by anyone that didn’t personally come to enjoy the game. Because, whether it be the sheer amount of player base talk that spawned from it, the amount of money that it made despite launching at such a low price point, or the multitude of new games in the newly minted “Survivors-like” subgenre, it can be safe to say that Vampire Survivors proved that there are still fresh and engaging gameplay concepts to discover within a game development landscape where everything feels like it has already been done.
- Pernell Vaughn
10. Sunday Gold
Picture the scene: London has become a nightmarish dystopia of poverty, crime and corruption where shady billionaires stash their dirty money and use it for diabolical schemes. Now that I’ve finished describing present-day London, let’s talk about Sunday Gold, set in 2070, where things have apparently gotten even worse. The main character is a small-time career thief named Frank Barber, notable for possessing both a stylish quiff and a mountain of debts that are about to come due. The only way he can square his finances is to team up with a motley crew of cash-strapped mates to do some high-stakes heists.
Sunday Gold really impressed me this year with its unique combination of turn-based mechanics and its focus on nail-biting high-stakes heists. Time used to fight security guards during the JRPG-styled combat is also time shared with whatever you’re doing out of combat, whether it’s carefully rotating tumblers to pick locks or scratching your head hacking into computers. And whatever you’re doing, time is always ticking and the alert level continues to rise, piling on the pressure and ratcheting up the tension.
Sunday Gold is an intriguing mix of genres that really does a good job at capturing the intensity of a criminal crew going on a high-stakes heist, but with more of a psychological edge than Ocean’s Eleven. It has a beautifully twisted graphical aesthetic reminiscent of Disco Elysium that really conveys how the characters start buckling under the pressure when the heat is on, having minor mental breakdowns in unique ways. If your cup of tea is cyberpunk cockneys havin’ a right laugh uncovering labyrinthine conspiracies and making a few bob in the process, then you’d best have it, my son.
- Jonathan Trussler
9. Dying Light 2
Dying Light 2’s road to release was rocky, but man, was it worth the wait.
Taking place 20 years after the events of the previous game, Dying Light 2 transports players from the zombie-infested streets of Harran to a sprawling new setting: the fortress-like city of Villedor, a perfect playground for Dying Light’s mix of parkour-based exploration and brutal melee combat with its towering skyscrapers to scale and countless viral ghouls that roam the ruined streets below.
Just as you’d expect, it takes the things that worked so well in the original game; a rewarding skill tree and crafting system along with an exhilarating world to explore, and ups the ante with a more focused narrative that forces you to choose your allegiance between two warring factions, each with their own motives for wanting control of the city. With your choices shaping the world around you in various ways, deciding where your loyalty lies in Villedor can be easier said than done.
Of course, you may never see the story to its conclusion if you allow yourself to be distracted by its endless side-quests. With over 500 hours of content crammed into this title, Dying Light 2 is a beast of a game that should keep completionists glued to their controller for weeks on end.
- Francis DiPersio
When Microsoft announced Pentiment, I doubt they planned on it being their big fall release for 2022. Yet thanks to delays, a smaller scale narrative title about a 16th century artist became their big fall release. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Taking place over many years, few games in memory have done more to explore consequences and how we can manipulate the world around us. When Andreas Maler arrives in Tassing he’s a young man, intent to finish up his masterpiece and become a master artist. This little village is only supposed to be a stepping stone on the way to a big life. Yet thanks to some poorly timed events and choices he makes, it will dominate a huge portion of his life, shaping it in a way that players won’t see coming.
Players will get to know Tassing deeply. The village itself, its people, their children, its history, and its mysteries. Seeing it evolve and grow is a joyful experience, even if the events you’re watching unfold there are often anything but. Players who have enjoyed other Obsidian games like Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity, or The Outer Worlds may not think a game about an artist set hundreds of years ago is what they need but the company’s DNA runs deep on this one and in many ways Pentiment is their most fully realized game yet.
- Andrew Thornton
7. As Dusk Falls
I feel as though As Dusk Falls flew somewhat under the radar in 2022, and it’s a great shame that it did because it gave the over-saturated narrative adventure genre a much needed shot in the arm.
By relying solely on static, comic book style screens, and removing direct control of it’s characters from the equation, As Dusk Falls smart design choices instantly removed a lot of the filler and mindless wandering that often pads out the run time of narrative adventures.
Too often, this is a genre that becomes obsessed with having you mindlessly stumbling around in-game environments in full 3-D as you search for the next conversation or interactive environmental object. With As Dusk Falls, your choices are always clear, the path forward always apparent, and there is never any concern that you are going to miss something due to the simplicity of the static screen approach it takes.
Not only do those design choices make As Dusk Falls a breeze to play, they allow the player to place a razor sharp focus on the impeccably crafted narrative. Taking place in the fictional town of Two Rock, As Dusk Falls has players stepping into the shoes of various characters, all unfortunate enough to get caught up in a Motel heist. The journey players go on following this is a complete rollercoaster of emotions as the characters’ and town’s troubled history gets reveals itself, layer by layer.. It’s a tale packed with gut wrenching choices that, for me personally, set a new bar for the genre and provided for an extremely malleable experience. As Dusk Falls truly allows the player to carve their own path, rather than simply presenting the player with the illusion of choice as is so often the case with this genre. Other studios should taken note; this is how you create a tale that feels personal and unique to each player.
- Shane Boyle
6. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Xenoblade has to be one of the more unexpected success stories in Nintendo’s history. It took a massive fan campaign to even get the original game released in the United States, which seems absurd when it already had an English translation but makes a bit more sense when you consider that it was part of a niche genre on a dying console. Apparently, it did well enough to convince Nintendo the series had a future because Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is now the fifth installment in the series to be released in the US in a little over ten years, and that’s not even accounting for the original being rereleased on both the 3DS and the Switch.
I’ve bought every game in the series shortly after release, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was the first time I did so with trepidation. While I loved the series’ start back on the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 lost me, and I feared it might be for good. There were certainly good things about it, but between combat that felt like it got too complex for its own good and a significant change in tone that felt like a step in the wrong direction, I had to wonder if Xenoblade was still for me.
I’m glad to say I had no reason to worry. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 fixes almost every issue I had with the second game while providing an experience RPG fans owe it to themselves to check out. It’s not only the best game in the series; it’s one of the best JRPGs I’ve played in years, and is likely the best JRPG of 2022.
While it doesn’t end as well as it starts, that doesn’t ultimately change how much I love Xenoblade Chronicles 3. With fantastic characters, deep combat, and an enormous world to explore, it was more than worth pushing through those final hours to see the ending to one of my favorite RPGs in years. Monolith Soft have the Xenoblade series back on the right path, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
- Andrew Thornton
5. The Cruel King and the Great Hero
When recommending The Cruel King and the Great Hero to others, I jokingly call it “baby’s first JRPG” due to its simple mechanics, storybook art style, and young protagonist. In truth, this focus is what makes the game brilliantly shine. On the heels of NIS’ sleeper hit The Blind Prince and the Liar Princess, The Cruel King and the Great Hero follows a spunky little girl, Yuu, and her dragon king dad as the former pledges to become a real hero and the latter promises to do everything in his power to see her dream come true — even if it means being slain by her hand.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero comes at a time when it feels like turn-based RPGs are fighting for relevance; instead of introducing convoluted new mechanics in an attempt to stay fresh, The Cruel King and the Great Hero recognizes the genre’s strengths are in its simplicity and cleverly ages the characters and their goals down accordingly. We see the world through a child’s eyes, feeling Yuu’s excitement as she makes new friends while helping townsfolk; we also share her struggles as she learns some of life’s toughest lessons, like mourning the loss of a loved one, healing from trauma, and bravely choosing to trust again. It’s this sense of childlike innocence that defines The Cruel King and the Great Hero, allowing players to experience these impactful moments for the first time all over again.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero has everything — character growth, oodles of personality, incredible music, enchanting art, energetic exploration, and comfortable combat mechanics all wrapped in a charming story. But what sealed the deal for me was seeing that poignant title screen after the credits rolled, realizing its true meaning while rinsing through the emotions of a game well done. I may have shed a tear after completing The Cruel King and the Great Hero, but, like a bedtime storybook, this beloved, cozy adventure is eager to be enjoyed again.
- Heather Johnson-Yu
Way back in the ye olde times of the 90’s there was a rather brilliant First Person Shooter called Blood. It had the player murdering their way through wave after wave of chanting cultists, gargoyles and demons with archaic weapons like a pitchfork and hairspray turned into a makeshift flamethrower. Now Jason Smith, the one-man band behind Jassoz Games, has created a truly worthy spiritual sequel to the FPS he loved as a child with Cultic, while boldly changing the formula in some key ways.
Right from the first time I picked up a gun, I felt an almost creepy sense of glee. Every weapon looks and sounds amazing, from the pained clank of shoving another magazine into the handgun to the beautifully detailed animation of the double-barreled shotgun yawning open to receive another pair of shells. Aptly for the setting, the weapons feel suitably sturdy and old-fashioned. There’s a bolt-action rifle that can blow off cultist heads in a single well-aimed shot before loading another bullet into the chamber with a satisfying “chonk”. Let’s not forget the dynamite that needs to be handled extra carefully, making you respect the screen-shaking, awe-inspiring destruction it can create.
What I loved about Cultic is that there’s a much greater focus on building an eerie atmosphere than in Blood, with humour mostly discarded in favour of horror. With the often sharp polygons in the scenery and muted, filtered colour palettes, Cultic often looks a bit reminiscent of the early Alone in the Dark games and definitely has that same feeling of mystery and foreboding around every corner.
Cultic is an astonishing achievement for a one-man studio, managing to become not just one of the finest FPS titles of 2022, but of the decade thus far. It was not only my favorite game of the year, but also that of Editor-in-Chief Francis DiPersio as well. It has the creepy, sinister atmosphere of the finest horror titles, packed with the cathartic carnage of the best shooters. It’s an odyssey into the heart of darkness, with the path blasted open by dynamite. Far more than just a worthy spiritual successor to Blood, Cultic is a descent into pure madness that’s simply unmissable.
- Jonathan Trussler
Cat is all you need to know about this game. Stray took the world by storm when it was announced back in 2020 and introduced everyone to our beloved orange tabby protagonist getting lost in a dystopian cyberpunk world. It faced some delays but now that it’s out, it was definitely worth the wait.
BlueTwelve Studio has created a refreshing indie masterpiece here that serves as a love letter to feline admirers. Stray is a third person adventure game where you are put into the paws of a lost cat looking for its way home. All the while you uncover the history and truth of the mysterious world you live in whilst meeting memorable characters along the way.
Stray is more than just a cat simulator, as it pays homage to cats and cat owners alike in an adventure filled with twists and turns. Being a cat owner myself, this game speaks to me on another level and captures all the minute details of being an adorable little cat. How many other games like this can you think of? We need more indie games like this!
- Henry Yu
2. God of War: Ragnarok
It has been such a long time since I ever had to redo my top 10 games of all time but God of War: Ragnarok has dared to force its way into it. Ever since the last game rocked the PS4 by bringing a new spin on the classic god-slaying adventures of Kratos, the teaser of Thor’s appearance at the end had players clamoring to see the next stage in Kratos’s new life. This chapter takes Kratos and Atreus, no longer just Boy, on a romp through all nine realms to figure out the true meaning of Loki’s part in the war against the Aesir, led to some giant secrets that reveal that the Norse god of war, Tyr, is still alive and may have more answers for our young adventurer. Really the twists and turns of this plot left me guessing, and eager to see what would be thrown my way next. It all comes off as so grandiose but still a personable tale of fatherly love and brutal, Norse god slaying
The thing with God of War: Ragnarok that really spins such a memorable tale for me is the characters and their rich, well-thought out personalities. Seeing Kratos finally give in to kindness and gentleness, have serious talks with his kid, and even go as far as to admit how proud he is of Atreus absolutely melts your heart, seeing what once was an absolute ball of hatred and rage become a sincere, responsible father figure. For what is probably about 40 to 60 hours of gameplay, Atreus, Kratos, and really all of the other characters along the way have wormed their way into my heart with such tenacity and potency that God of War: Ragnorak has become one of only four games to ever have moved me to tears with their superbly powerful storytelling and character development.
And this is only touching the surface of what God of War: Ragnorak offers. Lush, vibrant realms filled to the brim with points of curiosity and power-ups to collect keep the player constantly combing the world. The combat keeps such a stable balance, every weapon fitting into different combat scenarios with such fluency that you keep wanting to get in battles to see what different combos you can come up with. Our wait for Ragnarok was worth every minute, and have set such a high bar for what’s expected of the series now that I don’t know how Santa Monica could ever top this.
- Cory Clark
1. Elden Ring
Hidetaka Miyazaki’s mesmerising masterpiece is, of course, our game of the year. While Soulslike games have been mainstream for years now, thanks to Miyazaki and the magicians at FromSoftware; Elden Ring has transcended all Souls-like games ever created.
I’ve often wondered why that is. Is it because of the well-documented collaboration with George RR Martin? Or is it because Elden Ring is one of the finest examples of an open-world game? Maybe it’s because Souls-like games are having their moment in the sun, similar to how Grand Theft Auto III provided the blueprint for future open-world games?
To be honest, I think all three statements are true. Elden Ring is the definitive Souls-like experience. It’s also one of the greatest games ever made. And that’s because of how utterly selfish a game it is.
This is a game that’s been made by FromSoftware to firmly stick the middle finger up to collectibles, filler content, microtransactions, and player engagement statistics. No, Elden Ring is a game that respects your time, bestows enormous freedom upon you, demands you pay attention to it, and rewards you with one of the premier experiences in video games.
Its boss design is some of the most inspired I’ve seen in any game. The breadth of weapons, skills spells, and accessories provide an almost unlimited number of options for build crafting. And the marriage of FromSoftware’s interpretative narrative design, alongside the twisted machinations of George RR Martin’s imagination, provides a deep and fascinating story, doled out in tidbits, but there, if you know where to look.
The only bad thing about Elden Ring is that I’ll never get to experience it again for the first time.
I’ll never get to walk out into the Lands Between for the first time and bask under the Erdtree in all its splendour.
I’ll never get to stand in awe of the enormity of the game as I flick through its enormous world map.
And, I’ll never get to feel that minuscule sense of progress, as I learn more of Malenia’s attack patterns, successfully dodge them, only to be caught – again – by the Waterfowl Dance.
And do you know what? I think that’s fine. I’ll have the memories of my first playthrough that I’ll hold dear for the rest of my life. I can’t say that about many games. But Elden Ring certainly qualifies.
- Jon Davis
So there we have it! Another year gone and another GOTY list done. Did your favorite game of the year make our list? Be sure to sound off in the comments section below!