John Walker’s Top Ten Games Of 2022, The Year Of Great Stories

2022 may have been a year left somewhat fallow for AAA releases, but it had no shortage of fantastic games further down the financial scale. I’ve spent more time playing a card game on my phone than I have playing God of War on my couch, while I’ve been told some of the most interesting and evocative stories through indie adventures.

In putting together my top ten games of 2022, I created a list of all 16 of them. Which is a mathematical problem. While I’m blessed not to be subject to that most awful of games critic curses—feeling the need to include games so as to be seen liking them—I do still wonder how best to go about being honest.

For instance, do I include Powerwash Simulator? It’d be silly to claim it’s one of the best games of the year, but it’s the game that got me through a grim bout of covid, and as such, I have very positive feelings about it. Do I include it at the expense of Vampire Survivors, which I played until all I saw when I closed my eyes was floating blue gems, but never really got any good at?

Then what about those games that obsessed me for three or four days, provided me with a huge amount of entertainment, but then I promptly forgot all about until I browsed through other “best of” lists to check what I’d missed? Cult of the Lamb would be one such incredibly unfair victim of my abysmal memory. As is Nobody Saves the World.

These might seem like introductory rhetorical questions, but they’re genuinely the things I’m asking myself right now as I put off whittling down the list to the obligatory ten…

OK, god, I did it. It hurt. Leaving off Return to Monkey Island is stupid and wrong, because the game is amazing, but I can play the “declaration of interests” card on that one (I wrote a mock review for it). The Case of the Golden Idol should absolutely be on everyone’s top 10 lists, but it’s really hard, and I haven’t gotten through enough of it to be an authority. One Dreamer is inexcusable not to include, but I get to write another one of these lists, unplagued by the big-name games, over on Buried Treasure, so I can make up for it over there. Those are my excuses.

Here we go. These are genuinely in no particular order, because I honestly wouldn’t know how.


Powerwash Simulator

Powerwash Simulator's dirty dinosaur slide.

Screenshot: Futurlab

You might have detected that I chose to include it after all. Here’s the hesitance: the first thing I want to do when talking about Powerwash Simulator is say what’s wrong with it. Like, how you can spend an inordinate amount of time searching for that one tiny smear of dirt that’s hidden behind a wheel arch, and only visible when lying prostrate on the floor at one specific angle, and yet moments later have a huge amount of mud suddenly ping off the screen long before you’d finished washing it. I hated that! Don’t remove the dirt I haven’t sprayed yet, you ridiculous simulation of powerwashing playground furniture!

Yet, for days I obsessively—if somewhat mindlessly—played that game, as I lay on the couch, riddled with the fluey awfulness of covid. I am pretty sure I’d have played it a lot anyway, but being too sick to get up meant I got to play it loads more than I’d have otherwise been able to justify. And with a podcast on at the same time, PWS provided me with the comfort of pointless busywork right when I needed it. So yes, thank you, you loonies at FuturLab, and hurry up and give me some DLC.


Horizon Forbidden West

Aloy rides atop a giant robo-platform-giraffe, looking at the sunset.

Screenshot: Sony / Kotaku

If anything, I’ve been smelling something of a backlash to this sequel of late, perhaps because it was a little too similar to the original, or perhaps because people just like to start not like things once they’re ubiquitous. But I just adored HFW, and spending another few dozen hours with Aloy and chums. Horizon Forbidden West is absolutely one of my favorite games of 2022.

While I honestly couldn’t tell you in much detail about its silly story of returning super-powered humans from space, nor can I really remember why there was another whingy, whiny Aloy-clone moping about the base, what I loved about this game—and its predecessor—is the systems. It’s the Ubisoft Format done far better than Ubisoft is able: a vast open map of stuff to do, and enormous satisfaction to be found in doing it. This is then enormously improved by the wonderful, sympathetic performances by the voice actors, most especially Ashly Burch as Aloy.

I was able to find time to play Zero Dawn because I’d had my gallbladder removed and was forced to stay sat down for a week. I was tempted to get rid of another vestigial organ to justify the time I’d need for Forbidden West, but in the end found it all so compelling I just bent space-time to get it all in.


Jigsaw Puzzle Dreams

A jigsaw of some colourful buildings.

Screenshot: That’s Nice Games / Kotaku

No, I wasn’t expecting to put a jigsaw puzzle game in my end-of-year list either. But I probably spent as long playing Jigsaw Puzzle Dreams as I did anything else here, if not more. If it weren’t for having fallen down the Pokémon TCG Online hole, I would probably still have it running in the background right now. (Well, it is again now, since making that screenshot for the top of the article.)

Scan Steam and you’ll see that there are approximately 57,942 jigsaw games released every day. 99.6% of them feature hentai porn, and the remaining 0.4% are other types of porn. All of them are dreadful. But I am really enamored with the idea of being able to complete jigsaw puzzles on my PC, given I’m a fan of them in real life, and have for years sought something that could accurately simulate the experience.

Jigsaw Puzzle Dreams is that experience! It’s unlike any other product, because rather than reducing a puzzle down to dragging pieces and clicking them into place, it attempts to accurately simulate the tangible experience of putting together a jigsaw. Firstly, it sets it in a 3D house, which you can decorate to your tastes. Secondly, it presents it all with realistic physics. You can play puzzles on various tables, or if you’re me, on the floor, and really get to work sorting out those edge pieces, piling up pieces of similar colors, and then picking away at a puzzle of any size you like.

It’s so realistic that at one point, when playing on a coffee table, I put a piece down too near the edge and it toppled onto the floor. I had to get up and go find it under the table. It’s only lacking a cat to come in and walk all over your neatly sorted piles. With some crappy TV show on the other screen, this is a joyful way to wile away a spare half hour.


Norco

A busy street, with a man dressed as Santa asking for money.

Screenshot: Geography Of Robots / Kotaku

Right, so, I run this site called Buried Treasure. The idea is, I review games that aren’t getting covered anywhere else, because the games are totally unknown and thus readers won’t click on them, and money is lost by websites looking for any excuse to fire their staff. But the games I feature all deserve wider coverage, and my great hope is that by covering them, I can prompt other sites into taking a risk on an article.

Most of the time, I am left demoralized by the ignoring of some of the most remarkable games out there. Scarlet Hollow, the best game of last year (and technically this year, given how wonderful its new chapters have been), has a miserable three scores on Metacritic, and one of them’s me. But sometimes I’m left delighted, and one of those cases in Norco.

Now, I’m not claiming credit, even though I was the first person to publish a review. PC Gamer’s glowing write-up came out the next day, and clearly it was going to get press either way. But it could so easily have gone the other way, because, well, see Scarlet Hollow, and any number of other stunning narrative adventures.

Which is all to say, aside from encouraging you to play the amazing Norco without knowing anything about it first (see what I did here?), please also make the effort to click on articles about games you haven’t heard of. Readers lament endlessly that sites are “obsessed” with AAA games, breathlessly reporting every fart that comes out of Nintendo’s bottom, but then when you post about a game that’s not the recipient of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign, the same people scroll right by. So stop it! Start clicking! Tell sites (including this one!) how much you want to read about the unknown, and suddenly it becomes a profitable endeavor. But also, play Norco.


Pokémon Scarlet And Violet

Me and my Spiratito.

Screenshot: Nintendo / Kotaku

Oooh, controversial! All the cool kids are picking Arceus to get around the issue of listing this more recent buggy ol’ disaster of a launch, but I just couldn’t click with that game. Scarlet, however, has had me playing every day since it came out.

It’s kind of weird that everyone thought that this latest game would suddenly break free from a formula Game Freak has been recycling for 25 years, and as such, I’m really grateful for everything that is new here! But more than anything else, I’m grateful for the game’s ability to hook up for local co-op.

Playing SV with my son has been such a joy. We’ve had a rough few weeks as a family, and being able to sit next to my boy on the sofa and just muck about in this game he’s loving so much has been wonderful. We have really different priorities as we play. He’s all about getting every Pokémon to level 100, and repeatedly winning the Academy tournaments. I’m all about filling in every gap in the Pokédex, and thus forcing him to get all the Violet-exclusive monsters so I can CATCH ‘EM ALL.

As a games critic, it’s a broken game that Nintendo should be far more ashamed about. As a tired man and a dad, it’s delightful, and I’m so glad I’ve played it.


Ctrl Alt Ego

A little robot in Ctrl Alt Ego.

Screenshot: MindThunk / Kotaku

Imagine if I told you there were an immersive sim you’ve never played. This most elusive of genres, almost entirely occupied by the descendants on the Looking Glass family tree, is not usually a space into which indie games can make their way. Yet Ctrl Alt Ego achieves this, and like a bit twit, you haven’t played it yet.

It’s all about being a disembodied ego, floating between electronic devices on an abandoned space station, and piecing together the events that took place beforehand. With the ability to operate various robots, as well as information storing machines, this allows you to solve puzzles, read piles of emails, and even take part in rare combat.

It reminded me a lot of Arkane’s incredible Prey, albeit clearly on a fraction of a percentage of its budget, and impossibly was created by just two people. And despite this incredible achievement, this superb game has had a grand total of ONE review from this god-awful industry, and that was me. Which is unforgivable. So bloody buy it.


Supraland: Six Inches Under

The citizens of Supraland worry about the end times.

Screenshot: Supra Games / Kotaku

There’s a cursed time to release a video game when it comes to GOTY lists, and that’s the end of December to the beginning of January. You just know there’s a conversation at every website about whether they should put Vampire Survivors on their 2022 lists, despite releasing in the dying breaths of 2021, and while that enormous hit will likely win out, smaller games tend to get entirely forgotten. So I shall not make this mistake!

Supraland: Six Inches Under is a follow-up to one of 2019’s best games, Supraland. A vast, hilarious, and utterly absorbing first-person Metroidvania, it felt like something that should have come from a first-party team at Sony, not one guy on his own. Six Inches Under was an attempt to make something for a game jam to distract what is now a small team building the direct sequel to the original game, that ended up becoming a full-size creation of its own.

Once again you play as a blue plastic toy in a kid’s backyard, but this time the focus of the story is set in an underground realm of long-abandoned toys, six inches beneath the lawn. It’s enormous, packed with new abilities to gain as you progress, and is once again incredibly funny. These are joyful games, that I wish would get console releases, so the press would finally pay attention.


Scarlet Hollow Chapters 3 & 4

A younger version of a character lies on the backseat of a car.

Screenshot: Black Tabby Games / Kotaku

There aren’t many games that can claim a massively-deserved spot on a Best Of list two years running, but Scarlet Hollow does it with ease. This tale of creepy woodland creatures and small-town rumblings presents itself as a visual novel, but stacks on top of this with RPG elements, the most extraordinary writing and art, and most of all, a storyline that adapts itself to an eye-watering number of narrative choices you make.

Four chapters in of its intended seven, it is blowing my mind with how it has taken on board the decisions I’ve made, the people who’ve lived or died as a consequence of my actions, and more than anything else, the nature of the relationships I’ve formed with other characters in the game. I find it hard to imagine how the story would or even could play out, were I not as deliberately close to my cousin Tabitha as I have chosen to be, nor indeed how any of the events would have been perceived had I not picked a character who can talk to animals.

Few games are this well written, and it delivers its progressive perspective without being cloying or performative. It reminds me of the best sort of creepy podcast, but one where the story I’m being told is phenomenally shaped by me as I experience it.


Marvel Snap

A selection of griefy cards from my deck.

Image: Second Dinner / Kotaku

I promised myself I wouldn’t buy the idiotically over-priced battle pass this time, then did it anyway. £8 it costs on my island, which is a ridiculous amount of money for four weeks of paltry imaginary rewards on a mobile game. That’s £24 ($30) I’ve spent so far, which is more than three or four of the indie games above combined. Surely I won’t buy the next one? Please?

But goodness gracious, this is a bit good, isn’t it? I’m late (as ever) to the card game genre, and have never played whatever Hearthstone is in my life. But Zack’s enthusiasm had me download it, and I think I’m right in saying a day hasn’t gone by since when I haven’t played.

I love that I’m actually OK at it! I love that I’ve built a deck that’s so dickish that it routinely beats people playing whatever might be the current meta. God bless you, Heimdall.

I wish they’d sort out their deranged pricing, and start charging a far more reasonable price for the battle pass, because otherwise I fear I won’t be alone in dropping off in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, though, Snap has proven to be one of the most wonderfully balanced and refined games I’ve played in so long.


Perfect Tides

Two characters stare off the side of a boat into the wind.

Screenshot: Three Bees Inc / Kotaku

2022 really was the most extraordinary year for point-n-click adventures. The genre demonstrated the reasons for its longevity, and in almost all cases, in its most classic form. With Norco, Return to Monkey Island, Lucy Dreaming, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, One Dreamer, Nightmare Frames, and The Plague Doctor of Wippra, plus surely many I’ve missed, it’s been good times, and that’s even in a year without a first-party Wadjet Eye release. But top of all of them for me is Perfect Tides.

Created by Meredith Gran, the author of the well-loved web comic Octopus Pie, this is a tale of adolescence captured with more honestly and authenticity than anything gaming has previously achieved. Teenagers are woefully poorly written in gaming, generally stereotyped or parodied, and rarely treated with the dignity they deserve, despite every single adult making games having been one once. Not so in Perfect Tides, that so perfectly represents the state of mind of being within the clutches of puberty, that it repeatedly made me cry with nostalgia and anguish.

15-year-old Mara Whitefish is a late bloomer, struggling to fit in with her family and friends as she battles to become who she’s going to be, while clinging on to who she was. That desire to be protected as a child, but set free as an adult, and incapable of understanding why those around her won’t grant her these paradoxical wishes. The game is about this time in her life, rather than some overarching plot, nor is it just used as a background to an alien invasion or what-have-you. It’s about being a teenager, her relationship with her mother, and all the self-sabotage and selfishness that undermines attempts to succeed.

Gran’s writing is so generous that, despite telling what’s seemingly a very personal tale, even as a person of a different gender from a different country I was able to share in her unique experience, while reflecting on my own. It certainly helped that I too was a teenager around the the same time as the game’s late-90s setting, with all the burgeoning online romances, and sense of being on the cusp of a shift from an analogue to digital world.

I adore this game, and tentatively consider it my favorite of 2022.

https://kotaku.com/best-of-2022-horizon-forbidden-west-marvel-snap-pokemon-1849891927 John Walker’s Top Ten Games Of 2022, The Year Of Great Stories

Curtis Crabtree

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