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2023 has officially arrived, which means another year of possibilities, opportunities, worries, and most importantly, chances to replay Chop Goblins. But before we officially start looking forward to 2023’s slate of titles, let’s look back at what 2022 had to offer one last time. Before we begin announcing the site-wide Game of the Year Award winners, we’ll kick things off by talking a bit about some of the games that left the greatest impressions on us as writers in 2022.
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative
AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is a narrative tour de force that, having reviewed it earlier this year and loved it, only seems to improve with age in my head like the proverbial fine wine. It’s a wonderful ‘twisty-turny’ story from Uchikoshi, which the player is always trying to second guess, only to be consistently ‘sleight of handed’, but always in such a naturally organic way that it feels like you’ve had your own eureka moment and solved a part of the narrative puzzle. Some of the best character work I’ve seen this year is from AI — I would literally die for Mizuki — and it effortlessly flips from emotionally difficult moments to having you laugh out loud like it’s the easiest thing in the world to do, while the great voice acting brings it all to life. The Somniums (a sort of dream walking) contain some wonderfully inventive and entertaining gameplay moments, and if that’s still not enough for you, AI has a brilliant toe-tapping musical number expertly weaved in. AI is all style, and all substance – a rare breed that deserves to be recognised as one of the best games of 2022.
When you weren’t playing multiplayer games with friends in the early 90s, you were probably getting lost in a legendary Japanese role-playing game like Final Fantasy II on SNES or Shining Force on Genesis. Well, 2022 has its own JRPG legend, a humble indie game called Chained Echoes that punches well above its weight class. Inspired by Final Fantasy, alongside Terranigma, Chrono Trigger, and Xenogears, it’s a masterful turn-based title with a deep mythology, engaging story, sympathetic characters, eye-popping art, epic music, and tactical and strategic gameplay as deep as the ocean. It’s a real shame that Chained Echoes launched in early December, because it limited its ability to reach a large audience ahead of game-of-the-year season. I’ve no doubt that by next year it will be appreciated as a new classic that rivals the best of 2022, including Elden Ring; indeed, I suspect that many turn-based RPG fans will enjoy it more than From Software’s latest tour de force. Consequently, I strongly encourage anyone with a passing interest in JRPGs to check it out.
Miyazaki & FromSoftware have once again managed to set a new bar for the Soulslike sub-genre in a multitude of ways, packing Elden Ring with a seemingly endless number of epic boss fights and chance encounters; a quirky, original, and frequently deadly but sometimes endearing cast of characters; beautifully varied environments and foes; and perhaps above all a huge open world that mercifully doesn’t descend into a checklist of chores. Elden Ring cleverly builds upon the Dark Souls formula, while expanding its remit with uninhibited exploration and increased player options, and in doing so has managed to attract the enormous audience it deserves.
Moss: Book II
From my recollection, ‘PSVR Fever’ started hitting a stride from two 2018 titles: Astro Bot: Rescue Mission & Moss (Book I). Four years have passed since then. The amount of technological leaps and mechanical concepts expanding across all platforms has exponentially increased. So, what did Polyarc build upon to make Book II one of my favorites of the year? Well, beyond having an actual finale, it’s more a story of building on the little things.
That’s not to dismiss its wider vocabulary of nouns and verbs: grander locales, more weapons, new means of interacting with the world, and so on. But in the ever-present shadow of previous winners, such as Half-Life: Alyx, it’s easy to see such upgrades as conservative. That’s where its heart comes in: the relationship of Quill & Reader spiritually tethered together. How that’s utilized within gameplay and storytelling never ceases to captivate. Incorporating the player as an active participant in a new-age Redwall story wouldn’t have the same punch without VR. That’s what makes the difference. Book II might not boast the widest breadth of content, nor insane mechanical complexity, but a rare few titles can dare to match its earnest warmth and overwhelming charm.
2022 wound up being a year full of memorable titles for me, but more often than not those were games that I had little in the way of expectations for coming in (or, in some cases, had barely even heard of). One such instance was Neon White; a fast-paced action-platformer that proves just how much fun moving can be as long as it’s quick, responsive, and most importantly, accompanied by a variety of guns with different effects. Neon White’s unique gun/card mechanic allows for both improvisation and optimization, making the game a treat to play both on the initial and subsequent playthroughs.
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet
The Pokémon situation has been very paradoxical for me this end of year. Pokémon Scarlet & Violet took heavy flak for being technically sub-par, resulting in unappealing OpenCritic and Metascores. At first I thought that all this criticism was correct, but after playing for 70 hours I became more than satisfied – thrilled even – by my experience in the Paldea region. My take is that Pokémon Scarlet & Violet brilliantly fixed what was utterly wrong in Pokémon Sword & Shield (a game with which I was strongly dissatisfied). Scarlet & Violet revive exploration and great level design, where Sword & Shield were a bland series of straight roads. This year we got a true Elite Four, more varied music, a solid story, cooler characters, and enticing post-game content. The more I played, the more I felt my passion for the series returning, and the more distant all the graphical criticism seemed to become. In my mind, there is no doubt that Pokémon Scarlet & Violet are the very best Pokémon games of the Switch era. Attacking them with such ferocity, as many critics have done, equates to validating Pokémon Sword & Shield’s “pretty graphics” approach, and forgets what has defined the series’ experience for decades. Scarlet & Violet simply return Pokémon to what it is and should be: a JRPG franchise with content at its heart.
Good, fast-paced combat games feel increasingly difficult to come by. Many AAA games have shifted towards a slowing of pace or an increase in set pieces and quick time events, and in some cases both. This is why Soulstice, a fantastic indie title from Reply Game Studios, is so encouraging. From a combat system that relies on player-built combos, to a variety of interesting weapons that are all fun to play around with, to the myriad of well-designed and engaging enemies to fight, Soulstice nails nearly every fundamental you could want from the genre.
It’s not a perfect game; the pacing is uneven, and some boss fights leave a lot to be desired, but the amount of stuff Soulstice gets right vastly outweighs its shortcomings. If you consider yourself a fan of hack-and-slash games at all, you owe it to yourself to try it out.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge looks like something you’d play with friends on Super Nintendo in the early 90s, with a pack of fruit gushers by your side. A love letter to the beat-’em-up Turtles titles of old, Shredder’s Revenge is an outstanding action game with addictive co-op brawling and a nostalgic cartoon aesthetic. Upon its release earlier this year, it immediately became the best ever game in the sizable TMNT canon, unseating Turtles in Time, which had worn the crown since 1992. Shredder’s Revenge takes the solid foundations of the Konami coin-op classics and builds upon them, adding more interesting moves and attacks, six total playable characters, support for local and online multiplayer, some lovely pixel graphics, and a rocking soundtrack from Tee Lopes of Sonic Mania fame. As Raphael would say, “it’s totally tubular, dude.”
Tunic has all the surface level ingredients to already be a top game: a lovely art style compliments the charm that surrounds your foxy character, backed up by a mesmerizing electronic soundtrack and satisfying gameplay mechanics and progression. Like Elden Ring, it runs much deeper than that though; Tunic embraces a hands-off approach, which only serves to accentuate that genuine sense of awe and wonder of discovery throughout. Yet it’s how it handles the narrative lore and guidance that I found inspired. As you fumble about early doors, you start to find pages of a retro-styled instruction manual, easily dismissed at first, but each one subtly guides you in various ways about ‘everything’ in the game, including its most cryptic secrets hidden amongst a fully functioning glyph language, affectionately termed as ‘Trunic’. The detail is incredible and brilliantly used throughout, many a time giving you those spine-tingling ‘wow, that’s so cool’ moments, even going so far as to create perfect synergy between the sound design and music, which utilises the secret language to give these beautiful audio clues. Tunic has passion and quality in abundance, and I love it for that.