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12/25/2022

Best Games of 2022

I thought 2022 would be a straightforward end-year list, but then they crammed a half-dozen amazing games into the last two months, so getting this list written out and released before 2023 came roaring in was definitely a challenge.  Not to mention the fact that, as ever, I've also gone to the trouble of playing every single other game released this year too to spare everyone the trouble of telling me I missed something.  Yes, even that one.

HM: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection (Digital Eclipse/Konami, PC/Switch/PS4/PS5/XBox One/XBox Series)

The Ninja Turtles games from the late '80s to the '90s were a big part of my childhood, and for a long while they got only very sporadic digital releases on various platforms (and a crappy remake of Turtles in Time on the 360).  So, when Digital Eclipse announced a proper collection, you can imagine how excited I was.  Sure enough, they did a fantastic job with it - Box and manual scans, different regional versions of all the games, and everything from the classic arcade games all the way to the late-era Game Boy and 16-bit titles.  There's even a few cool bonuses that weren't available in the original versions, like having an enhanced minimap in the third Game Boy game and enabling the bosses as playable in Genesis Tournament Fighters.  An excellent collection of classic games.

16. Return to Monkey Island (Terrible Toybox, PC/Switch/Windows/Linux/PS5/XBox Series)

The first Monkey Island game with Ron Gilbert at the helm since the series' second entry, and he certainly made every effort to bring it back in style.  A somewhat controversial style, at that - the game was plagued with fan backlash before release for its heavily stylized animation and design.  I find it kind of charming, personally, but the real draw of the series is of course the strong writing and sense of humor, as well as seeing the series' creator come back to finish the story as he originally envisioned it.  It certainly succeeds there, with another series of creative puzzles, a strong sense of irreverent humor (especially about itself) and plenty of hilarious dialog throughout.

15. Dragon Quest Treasures (TOSE, Switch)

An action RPG offshoot of Dragon Quest XI starring Erik and Mia as they explore a series of floating islands in search of riches.  It's quite a fun journey to undertake too, thanks to some smooth movement (your character automatically hops up over short obstacles and can effortlessly glides across the landscape with various monster abilities), fun cooking and crafting elements and that good old Dragon Quest charm.  There's a lot to offer for long-time series fans or just those in search of a good open world lootfest game, and it's all brimming with personality, charm and fantastic music.

14. Tactics Ogre Reborn (Square Enix, PS4/PS5/Switch/PC)

A polished-up version of the PSP remake of the Super Famicom/PS1 tactical game, and it's easily the best version of Tactics Ogre there's ever been.  Characters now have separate levels rather than being split up by class, so you don't have to grind for hours to get the most out of new classes you get.  It's quite a great experience too, with a grim storyline that actually changes up depending on your actions and some very well-written and complex characters throughout the journey, complimented by quite good voice acting.  If you've never tried an Ogre game before, do it now; you shall not regret.

13. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Vanillaware, PS4/Switch)

Confession time - I actually got this one for Christmas on PS4 back in 2020, but didn't get around to playing it until this year.  But since the Switch version launched in 2022, I figured I'd just count it as a 2022 release and review it accordingly.  With that out of the way: 13 Sentinels is a visual novel with some light adventure game segments (searching and using items), and a convoluted story involving 13 teenagers from various time periods and (apparently) parallel dimensions.  Their links to one another aren't made very clear at first, especially when the game abruptly cuts to a ruined city in the future and has them all battling hordes of invading "kaiju" in giant mecha called Sentinels.  These parts play out a bit like a real-time strategy game, though the action pauses to let you select a character and whether they will move, attack, repair or charge power, and after taking an action they will then have to spend a period of time locked in place before they can act again.  These parts aren't especially deep, but they're also generally short enough to not wear out their welcome, so I didn't mind them too much.  The story is something of a slow burn, but it keeps you glued with its imaginative elements and Vanillaware's trademark gorgeous hand-painted art.

12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion (TOSE/Square Enix, Switch/PS4/PS5/PC/XBox One/XBox Series)

A remaster of the PSP prequel to Final Fantasy VII, which I played some of ages ago but never got a chance to complete.  It's a pretty awesome experience once you get into it, with some tight-controlling, surprisingly intense action and the constantly-spinning reels of the Digital Mind Wave (DMW) adding new twists to battles.  The story is great too, shedding light on the events leading up to Final Fantasy VII's beginnings and one of its most enigmatic elements, Mr. Zack Fair himself (who you only see in a vague cutscene or two in the original game).  A treat for fans of the classic RPG, especially if you found a lot of its other spinoffs to be disappointing at best.

11. Atari 50 (Digital Eclipse, XBox One/XBox Series/PS4/PS5/Switch/PC)

Digital Eclipse is a company well known for producing compilation games, and Atari 50 is another fantastic piece of software from them.  Featuring well over 100 Atari games spanning their earliest arcade games to their late-era stuff like the Lynx and the Jaguar, there's definitely no shortage of playable content.  But more than that, the game offers a comprehensive history of the company with developer interviews, looks at some of their failed outings (like their infamous oversized and failure-prone pinball machines), and an objective historical look at all the highs and lows of the company.  There's even some previously-unreleased prototype games and a handful of new titles inspired by the classics.  A must-get for any gaming historian!

10. River City Girls 2 (WayForward/Arc System Works, PC/Switch/Playstation 4/Playstation 5/XBox One/XBox Series)

The original River City Girls was a fine beat-em-up RPG and a strong seller besides, so why not make another one?  That's what they did here, adding in more playable characters (Riki, Kunio, Provie and Marian of Double Dragon fame), a more mission based game structure and a plot building on the first game's.  The character banter is as amazing as ever too, as is the general irreverent tone, brilliant music and excellent pixel artwork and animation.  WayForward does it again.

9. Live a Live (Square Enix/Historia, Switch)

An oddball Square RPG on the Super Famicom that went unreleased in the west for a long time (save for an unofficial fan translation), Square decided to give it the HD-2D treatment when they finally brought it over, and wouldn't you know it, I think it's actually the best game to use the gimmick so far.  It genuinely looks very good, with its popping colors, dynamic camerawork and consistent style, beautifully redone spritework to match the 3D elements, and they even added in some surprisingly decent voiceover for the cutscenes to convey what the sprites couldn't.  Gameplay-wise it's a bit of an odd beast, with a turn based combat system on a grid and each characters' moves affecting different sets of tiles, and each chapter in the game is quite short - only a few hours long at most (in fact, some can be finished in as little as twenty minutes through non-conventional endings).  Your choices also do make a tangible difference on each story's outcome, unlike most modern games that tout that as a feature, and once you've completed all seven stories there's a final chapter where all the characters come together to face a greater threat.  It's not one of Square's strongest in terms of design, but for an early attempt at the "anthology RPG" format and a building block for games like Chrono Trigger and SaGa Frontier, it's worth a play nonetheless.

8. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga (Dancing Dragon Games, PC)

Another example of a game clearly inspired by classics of the genre (Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle in particular), but which ends up being so well-made that it stands out and becomes a fantastic title in itself.  Case in point, you move across the map with your squads (consisting of up to nine units of varying classes), capturing towns, utilizing strongholds and terrain to give themselves an advantage in skirmishes, and exploring characters through mid-battle dialog scenes. Battles get surprisingly large in scale (sometimes overwhelmingly so), though you get powers to do things like grant units extra turns or deal damage over a large area to help speed things up or get yourself out of a jam.  A wonderful and engrossing strategy RPG.

7. Freedom Planet 2 (Galaxytrail, PC/Switch/PS4)

Freedom Planet is a game I absolutely adored back in 2014, as it did what so many games failed to - capturing the vibrant visuals, smooth gameplay and fast pace of Genesis era action titles like Sonic, Gunstar Heroes and Rocket Knight Adventures.  Well, we had to wait eight years for its sequel, but I think it was well worth it.  Upgrading to a new engine (Unity!), tightening up the pacing of its story scenes and adding a new playable character in Neera Li, the game remains as brilliant as ever with its expansive levels, surprising amount of variety and intense boss battles.  A wonderful platforming experience which, unlike most of the aforementioned games' successors, really shows off the magic of the era it's inspired by.

6. Marvel's Midnight Suns (Firaxis Games, PC/PS4/PS5/XBox One/XBox Series/Switch)

You can bet that I'll buy almost anything Firaxis creates, so when they announced a tactical combat game with Marvel heroes, I was on board right away.  It's not quite a superhero themed XCOM style game as I'd thought, but what we get is still a lot of fun.  Basically a turn based card combat game with some strategy elements, you play as a team of heroes (preselected on some missions, customizable in others) and battle waves of foes in some pretty creative ways - launching enemies into each other, inflicting statuses, buffering allies, and weaponizing the environment and objects in it as free actions when available.  Between missions, your avatar of sorts (a customizable character called "the Hunter") interacts with superheroes to raise (or lower) affinity with them and tweak her own loadout to better synergize with premade superheroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and the Hulk.  Pretty fun stuff, and the sheer amount of dialog and variety within keeps it fresh per Firaxis standards.

5. Triangle Strategy (Artdink/Netchubiyori, Switch/PC)

It took me a while to get on board for Triangle Strategy, as I wasn't really impressed with Square Enix's earlier "HD-2D" outing (Octopath Traveler).  Still, I tried out the demo, and it managed to surprise me by being what that game wasn't - inventive, well-paced, genuinely challenging and quite strongly written.  Gameplay-wise it's somewhat similar to Shining Force, with a focus on characters who have very distinct special abilities - creating walls of ice, setting up traps that send opponents flying, raining down arrows from above, or charging right through on horseback to name a handful.  The game also features branching story paths and multiple endings, though your choice in them isn't unilateral - you actually have to convince your allies to side with you and win a majority vote to continue down that path.  So, I quite liked Triangle Strategy - good gameplay with some clever twists, plenty of replay value, solid storytelling, a stupid title and ugly graphics.  And hey, it's actually a reasonable length so you don't have to dedicate months of your life to finishing any given story path.  It's an A from me.

4. TMNT: Shredder's Revenge (Tribute Games, (PC/Linux/Switch/PS4/XBone)

The Ninja Turtles and their assorted toys, games and comics were a big part of my childhood, so when they announced a new game based on the '80s series in the style of the classic arcade (and NES and SNES) beat-em-ups, you can imagine my excitement.  Especially when several members of the team worked on the excellent Scott Pilgrim beat-em-up, and they even got most of the original voice cast back.  Hell, they even got Mega Ran and the Wu Tang Clan to contribute to the soundtrack, so it's just a flashy, over-the-top, highly polished and enjoyable game all around.  You can even play online with up to five other players, so let the good times roll.

3. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (TaleWorlds Entertainment, PC/PS4/PS5/XBone/XBox Series)

Mount & Blade is a sandbox RPG with a focus on large-scale medieval warfare that was mostly dismissed by professional reviewers for its very low production values.  However, it acquired a substantial fan following for its surprising depth (particularly in its combat) and became a popular game to mod and a surprisingly strong seller besides, paving way for a sequel.  Mount & Blade II ups the ante in just about every way, with more robust physics and controls, larger battles with sieges, sharper graphics and sound design (including voiceover) and more complex character interactions, including a courtship and marriage system (and should the player's character die, their children can take up the reigns of their army and fiefdom instead, becoming the new player character).  The original game walked so this gem could fly.

2. Wartales (Shiro Games, PC)

A game seemingly inspired by the cult classic DOS RPG "Darklands", now with the benefit of technology that can actually handle what the original was attempting to create - a seamless low-fantasy sandbox RPG with tactical combat.  Playing as a small band of mercenaries, your goal is pretty simple - keep your band happy, well-fed and paid.  Which means taking on jobs to slay monsters, rout bandits, perform rescue missions, or if things get really tight, just rob people on the roadside and dodge the law for a while.  Combat plays like a more polished Banner Saga, with turn-based action on a grid-based battlefield, and you can earn and spend "Valor Points" to perform special moves that allow you to damage multiple enemies, maneuver to a more advantageous position without triggering opportunity attacks, snipe enemies from afar, and so forth.  As you explore the world you'll gradually unlock more perks and side-jobs to benefit your party, doing everything from making money and food stretch further to crafting new gear (weapons, armor, lockpicking tools and so forth) to gaining the ability to dash for short distances, which can help avoid some unwanted encounters.  There's a bit of a narrative too and you're afforded the option to take sides in conflicts in the game's numerous regions, but these are by no means necessary to complete; you can explore, fight and train at your leisure with or without them.  A delightful, engrossing and consistently challenging title, and a very fresh gaming experience for 2022.

1. Dwarf Fortress (Bay 12 Games, PC)

Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress (yes, that's its full title) has always been a legendary title among PC gamers despite being in a constantly unfinished state for over fifteen years, and even after getting a paid Steam release in December, it's still very far from done.  But it is at least considerably more accessible now, with a window and icon based user interface, tile graphics instead of just ASCII characters, Steam Workshop modding support and some quite excellent, moody music and ambient sound on top of everything.  Gameplay-wise it's a bit hard to describe, but I think an apt description is "Simcity plus the Sims, only much more complex".  Basically, you generate a world and its complete history, then start out with a small caravan of dwarves and try to set up a colony, building and maintaining every imaginable thing you'll need to that end - workshops, stills to brew liquor, bedrooms, blacksmiths, fields to farm, traps to deter invaders and so forth, and you give your dwarves jobs to carry out each of these tasks as needed.  You're also constantly beset by all manner of hazards from both within and without, from goblin raids to illness to subterranean horrors to fits of murderous madness, and you just try to survive as long as you can before things get into a downward spiral and your fort is ruined.  There's no concrete win condition and all manner of things can and will go cataclysmically wrong, but as the game's motto goes - Losing is Fun!