Lookie here! I haven’t done one of these types of posts in a little while. Now that I am out of games journalism, I’m free to sort of peruse my way through whatever I care to try out at any given time. Even so, I didn’t play too many games this year—a little over twenty was the final count. Even so, there were more than enough titles played that I think are worth shouting out. And because content is content, this at-one-point-yearly list shall see life anew.
Disclaimer: Please note that this is not a traditional “Top 10 Best Video Games of [Year]” list. Rather, this is a list of the best video games I played in 2022, as in it did not have to be released this calendar year to make it, only that I had to have finished (a majority of) it in 2022.
One last thing I’ll mention beforehand is that my taste in games is very… selective. Ergo, you will not see things like God of War: Ragnarok, Elden Ring, or various other AAA blockbuster titles on this list. My preferences tend to veer more towards smaller indies, but as I am also a slave to Nintendo since childhood, there will be a few names from that company, too. Not to say I don’t have an interest in AAA titles, I just never got around to them (price and console limitations don’t help, either).
10. Lil Gator Game
We begin with something that was released very recently (just over two weeks ago). Lil Gator Game is something I first discovered through a Wholesome Direct sometime earlier this year. Though it gives off that similar sort of “cheeky indie game with low-res graphics telling a hyper-aware narrative,” there was something very smooth about the way it played. Obviously inspired by a certain game that seemingly inspired everyone since its release, its focus seemed to be on the thrill of exploration.
Upon playing, that is the most glowing praise I can provide it. Playing this title is wonderfully addictive, almost assuring that those fully onboard with its in-game rules will binge it all in one sitting. (It’s about four hours of content.) Jumping, climbing, running, shield-surfing, gliding, and more literal shield-surfing, the fluidity of the control helps to make this a very rewarding small-scale (ha) adventure.
I’ve seen some compare this to A Short Hike, a game that garnered praise for its simple yet refined control scheme and emotional writing style. Lil Gator Game also harnesses some sentimental value through its narrative by incorporating familial ties and the pain of facing the reality of growing up. Though its short runtime may not produce the most riveting tale, the simplicity is appreciable on its own. I ended up liking… most characters by the end.
Heavily recommended for those who want to play something within an afternoon and remember it for a long while afterwards. However, I would also advise waiting for a price drop. $20 for four hours of content that basically boils down to “Explore an island and do a bunch of basic favors for people” is admittedly a tad steep.
So I finally played that one indie game that everyone proclaims is a masterpiece and was so popular that it was even nominated for Game of the Year at the 2018 Game Awards. Is it as good as everyone says it is? Well, it made this list, didn’t it?
Snark aside, I do believe Celeste is a well-produced and enjoyable game to play. However, it is also a game that requires a lot of patience and precision, something that I have a sort of love-hate relationship with as of late. Difficult games can certainly reward skilled players with the elation of relief upon overcoming gargantuan challenges—this is even a major theme of the game’s story. For me, personally, you can push this a bit too far. This game does that on occasion.
Though what I believe is more groundbreaking in this case is the relatability of the game’s story, which is a fairly mature and creative take on dealing with anxiety and getting through the day. As a small disclaimer, I do not suffer from a substantial amount of anxiety, so the story didn’t really “hit home” for me. Regardless, I can appreciate the story for the care it took to push something more meaningful to a lot of people, and I think it did it pretty well.
Despite spending well over a hundred attempts to complete rooms in later stages, it was a fun experience. Am I glad I ended up playing it? Absolutely. Will I ever go back to it again? Ahhh…
8. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Will not go into too much detail with this one here given I already have a post on this game.
Poor Kirby doesn’t get a whole lot of love from me. His franchise is one I’ve dabbled in sporadically, but rarely do I cherish it as much as other Nintendo IPs. When I saw trailers for its latest title in The Forgotten Land, I got pretty excited! A 3D Kirby? About time we got another one of those!
The results ended up being about as engrossing as the trailer foretold. It’s likely my favorite game in the series, even if it doesn’t have a whole lot of competition. Going through each stage in each world rarely got tiring, and I recall going through the game at an even pace over the course of a week-ish. All the different circumstances one can interact with in the “home base” and the copy ability upgrades made for engaging side content to alleviate any main-game fatigue.
While I wouldn’t call it a “must-have” for Switch owners, it’s definitely worth the price point it’s set at. Doesn’t excuse Nintendo for almost never dropping the price of their games no matter what, though!
Store Link: Nintendo Switch
Having played a demo for Transiruby a year ago, it seemed like an endearing title that understands the essence of search-action games pretty well. Seeing as search-action, or “metroidvania,” is my favorite game genre, anything with that outer shell is going to appeal by default. Of course, it helps when that outer shell is a distinct, colorful pixel-art style that speaks to my old-man preferences.
I’m also fond of following the careers of independent developers. Developer Skipmore was also responsible for KAMIKO a few years earlier, a game I’ve played a few times and have enjoyed for what it is. Transiruby seemed like the next “step” in their career, following up on that type of game, so I was intrigued with how they would tackle it. Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the same qualities (and sound effects) of KAMIKO transferred over in heightened ways.
Consistency is a really great quality to games. So long as a game is consistent in whatever it wishes to embody, there’s a high chance of its success. Here, consistency lies in a fast-paced, rewarding gameplay loop that flexes itself in different ways at varying points. Whether puzzles, fetch quests, or basic exploration, the scale is just balanced enough to keep everything in front of the player, ensuring no loss of direction. All the best qualities of a smaller form all-in-one-type game.
It did have a few bugs when I played it, though… one of which was game-breaking. Haven’t checked in a while to see if they patched it out, but fingers crossed, I suppose. Otherwise, it’s a finely tuned and fulfilling time of shooty-shooty slice-slice bang-bang.
Speaking of following an independent developer’s career, the creator of SHEEPO released a new game this year, and it’s a great one! Islets takes the foundation of the prior game and hoists it to new horizons. Where the first game was a quirky, almost experimental type of 2D puzzle-platformer, this follow-up adheres more to traditional, adventure-style cuisine.
Complete with a Ghibli-esque art style (though I personally see it as more of a unique portrayal), there’s simply a lot more to it. Exploring different worlds with different creatures and terrains to traverse. A (albeit passive) story of personal glory and looming threats meanwhile. Lots of abilities to fiddle around with. It is, as may be expected of me by this point, a search-action game that oozes that sweet back-and-forth, weak-to-strong formula quite splendidly.
I remember remarking to myself when I was about three quarters into the game how good it felt to just play the game. Running around, slicing up foes, jumping about; to be in complete control of the character and what the game expects of you. Like practicing a skill for years, only to look back and see how far you’ve come and how natural it all is to you in the present. Islets is incredibly satisfying in a deeply psychological way.
One thing I will nitpick, however, is I was somewhat let down by the soundtrack. SHEEPO had a very minimalist, but emotionally engaging score that captivated as much as the game’s visuals. Here… it’s a tad more standard. Some tracks work, but not to the same degree. The one sore spot in an otherwise very memorable adventure.
5. Grapple Dog
As one YouTuber always says: Good games are good, but when you add a grappling hook to them? They reach a whole new level. (Also I have a post on it.)
Another game I played a demo for last year, Grapple Dog is a doggone good time. You can grapple onto things, swing around at the speed of sound, pet the dog after every level, and collect a bunch of secret shiny bits to unlock stages where you collect more shiny bits. Basically, if you love dogs and you love thinking like a dog and running around like a dog and believe we should have a dog rule the world because humans just aren’t cutting it, you should buy this game.
In all seriousness, this is a title clearly made with a great fondness for games like Donkey Kong Country and similar 2D sidescrolling adventure platformers. Thus, if that immediately caught your attention, this is something to have on your radar. The grappling mechanic provides a great dose of speedrunning opportunities (as I’ve attempted in the past) to push the game past its physical limits. Acquiring that sensation is just a pinch of what’s to enjoy about the game as a whole.
Visually appealing, invigorating control, likable characters(!); so much of Grapple Dog oozes that sort of whimsy that makes those it’s clearly inspired by such beloved classics. In time, the game may reach that same level of recognition and communal fervor as those before it.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
This is another case of “I’ve technically played this game before, but it’s been nearly a decade so it’s almost like playing it for the first time.” I wished to limit the amount of games I’ve played before for this year’s list, yet I cannot leave off a game that means as much to me as this one.
The Legend of Zelda franchise is one I understand millions the world over have a great fondness for. I just happen to not be one of them. Much like Kirby, I’ve often found LoZ to be mostly good, just not really my preference. Wind Waker, however, is the game that I would consider my favorite, if only because of nostalgia and the expressiveness of the entire game.
Which is why I don’t really feel the need to elaborate much upon the game itself. Most players know what Wind Waker is, if not the franchise it comes from on its own. All I’ll say is that, though it is more simplistic and easier than other games in its own series, it still holds up wonderfully as a memorable and rewarding adventure game. Dungeons are cohesive and entertaining, the characters are neat, and sailing—with the addition of the Swift Sail—is a neat mechanic. I was never bored.
3. Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
This is often seen as “The best Paper Mario pseudo-sequel since The Thousand-Year Door.” If you were to ask me, it’d just be “The best Paper Mario game.” (For more on that, I have a post.)
I had heard for many, many years about how good this game is. About how it’s the perfect scratch for those itching for something more in line with the classic Paper Mario style. Nothing prepared me for just how rigorously detailed and embellished the game was, though. It was easy to assume that it’d just be Paper Mario with bugs. That does the game a disservice—it’s an entirely different world with its own identity that happens to play like Paper Mario.
For example, the story and writing is better than what I would have given it credit for. The characters and stakes of the story are genuine and gripping, far more than anything of its inspirators. Though it takes a bit for the game to really grow (the first two chapters are mostly just adequate), by the end, I wished it had no end. These stories within a story, and the proven-great turn-based battle system, make Bug Fables great on its own merits.
Even if you didn’t recognize what it was inspired by, the game is one I would recommend in a heartbeat. It’s a phenomenal achievement of love.
2. Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils
Indeed, I enjoy following the work of independent developers. None have made quite the same impact on me personally as Colorgrave, however. Their first work, Prodigal, has since become one of my favorite games of all time. When it was announced that they were working on their follow-up game—one that was hinted to involve universe continuity with their prior work—my excitement became pretty palpable.
When I played the demo for it soon afterwards, I became a little concerned. Not that it wasn’t very good, only that there were some minor gripes that prevented it from being what I knew the developers were capable of creating. Time passed and delays kept being installed. Eventually, a set release date was established and I hopped in immediately. (The devs were very gracious to provide me with a free key.)
Yeah. It’s incredible. Probably not as good as Prodigal, but all of the best practices of “Good Games 101” are pressed upon in full. Super fluid control, memorable soundtrack and visuals, small details all over the place, tons of secrets, worldbuilding, character development, postgame work, replayability, speedrunning potential, and far more. Even includes a few winks to people who played their prior game. It’s like having a new, exciting meal with a side helping of what you already love.
Only gripe I could include that prevents this from being all the better is a somewhat unbalanced story. They feel as though they want to be super grandiose and tell a lot of lore in the background, which sometimes ends up distracting from things. The very basic premise of the game is that an acrobatic girl is trying to save her boyfriend from the clutches of her rival. By the end, there is way more to it than that.
Even so, it’s near the top of this list for a reason. Entertainment value is nearly infinite, and I’m looking forward to going back and replaying it when the time strikes. I would highly recommend it to any that enjoy the finer things in life—moving from left to right and jumping on things. With a dash of worldly stakes, of course.
Store Link: Steam
1. Hollow Knight
So I finally played that one indie game that everyone proclaims is a masterpiece and is so popular that anytime any AAA publisher announces an indie-focused game showcase, thousands of rabid fans take to social media to rile themselves up about any news pertaining to its long-since-announced sequel, Silksong. Is it as good as everyone says it is? Fuck yeah.
In the first couple of hours, I didn’t get it. Slowly, I traversed the starting areas and killed a lot of bugs while coming to understand what the game required from me. Yet my thoughts always turned to “Is this it?” No, you impatient swine. Let it build. Grow with the knight you play as. Gaze upon the ruins you sweep through and connect the dots through its subtle visual storytelling. Cryptic, haunting, and moody. This is one of those games where you need time to let it work its finesse.
Hollow Knight is not a game that will “wow” you in an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride that promotes excitement behind every corner. Think of it more as a methodical, slow-acting poison that eventually erodes your sense of reality, resulting in everything glowing with a delicate, addictive quality. By the time I beat the game for the first time, I felt entirely unfulfilled. I craved more—I ended up beating the game for a second time just a short time afterwards. It all felt predetermined.
What I said before in the Islets section, about looking back and seeing how far you’ve come, is applied far more heavily here. How this game almost innocently lures you into precarious situations, only to “reward” you with tough challenges and enemies that you will eventually overcome… how lovely it is. Not terribly challenging (until postgame stuff), but the perfect balance of toughness to have you be proud of yourself, even if you shouldn’t be.
There is far more I could comment on, though the greatness of Hollow Knight is best served blind. Do yourselves a great favor and give it a try if it seems at all appealing. Your only regret may be not being able to play it again the first time.
The rating for these titles and most others can be found on GG|.
For more gaming Top 10’s, check out the associated archive.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.