After the two COVID years, I thought I will finally tame my backlog. Yet, what many predicted came to pass, and the post-COVID game releases came thick and fast, obliterating my control over it. Now, I have many games released in 2022 to look forward to, but this blog is about the games I played in 2022.
Last year was a sad year for me in personal terms. I unexpectedly lost three of my uncles last year, which was a gut punch after I thought my family escaped unscathed from the pandemic. In addition to that, my mother injured her knees, and my grandmother is in critical condition. Frankly, that made it difficult to enjoy playing video games sometimes, and even question the amount of time I spent on this hobby.
Oh well, video games are, after all, a profound waste of time.
So, if you are going to waste your time in any way, then this list of 10 games is at least a great way to do it. Finally, I am starting with the great year of 2019, with 6 games on this list released that year (including the Honorable Mentions list). Other than that, a combination of great indie games and some PS1 games I reviewed make up the rest of the list.
Without further ado, here is my list of the top 10 games I played in 2022, in alphabetical order:
Axiom Verge: (Switch, 2015/2017)
Metroidvania’s are ubiquitous in the indie space. It seems to me that every other game chooses not only to be of the same genre but as a straight homage to the games that defined it. As such, it's difficult for any game in the genre to truly stand out, especially one that wears its love for the original Metroid on its sleeve.
Axiom Verge does it not only by being a damn good game but by also creating a memorable alien world of its own. Thomas Happ creates an eerie world filled with disconcerting creatures and a mysterious plot, which comes to life through great music and suitable 16-bit graphics. There are many weapons to choose from (too many weapons to be fair), and you unlock tools that open the map. Those tools are science themes, as suits the game, with the highlight being a hacking gun that can change the function of enemies and environmental objects.
Overall, it's no single element that makes this a great game, but a combination of very good parts all over. It’s clear that the game is a huge passion project of someone highly passionate about the genre, and it shows the clear signs of a singular vision that marks the best indie games.
I cannot separate playing Dino Crisis II from my memory of first seeing my cousin play the game. For some reason, he was such a huge fan that he finished the game tens of times, reducing his clearance time well into the night. That addiction turned out bad for him, as his mother found he was slacking in his studies and duties because of the game, so she THREW THE DAMN CONSOLE OUT OVER THE STAIRS. My poor cousin never recovered from that trauma (he does not play games anymore) but I remember how much fun he had in those days.
Now, after playing the game for myself, it made sense to me why my cousin was so addicted to the game. While the first Dino Crisis aped the Survival-Horror style of the Resident Evil games, the sequel focuses much more on the action. As a result, this became one of the most fluid-moving PS1 shooting games.
With a big arsenal of weapons and an expansive island to explore, you will be shooting at all kinds of dinosaurs, and they are frankly at a disadvantage to you in this game. As either character (And you switch between both in the game), you can kill enemies so efficiently the game tracks your shooting combos. Sure, this is a PS1 game with slightly blocky character models, fixed camera angles, and pre-rendered backgrounds, but it is just as fun to pick up and play today as it was for my cousin all those years ago.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses: (Switch, 2019)
I don’t think that Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Three Houses) has the best tactical combat, story, characters, or even character customization. In each of those elements, you would find better games in its genre, some within the Fire Emblem franchise itself. However, I don’t think combines these elements (which are all from solid to very good in the game) in the same way that Three Houses do. By setting the first half in a school setting, the game creates a situation where you get to develop your characters as you get to know them, and then the extremely interesting set-up of the game’s world drives the story in the second half.
The game is entirely governed by the choice you make early on, choosing which of the titular three houses you join. Then, you start developing your class, building them to fulfill any role in the army you would like them to (different character do have their preferences though), and getting to know their individual characters. Later, a big story event happens, and it gets interesting, but no single playthrough delivers a “Golden Route”. It’s simply impossible to satisfy all the competing factions in the game, which frankly creates a much more memorable story than otherwise.
As someone who finished the game once, I am still compelled to play all the different routes, which can be more fun thanks to how flexible the game is. I will probably play this game for the next two years until I finish all routes, and won’t be bored of it. Finally, it's worth it to say how good the game’s soundtrack is; one so brilliant that it's hard to pick a favorite track from.
Into the Breach: (Switch, 2018)
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was apparently my second most-played game on the Switch this year after Monster Hunter. If anything, that’s a testament to both how addictive and streamlined this game is. Each playthrough can be done in less than an hour, but it is so damn compelling that I find myself going through one or two more runs without noticing.
The game is ostensibly a turn-based tactics game with a significant puzzle element, In each run, you command three different units and go through several small-sized levels protecting the earth from an alien threat. Each level takes about five turns, where you can forecast the next turn and use that to your advantage to destroy your foes and protect humanity. The puzzle comes in the form of the various effects each of your units can do through their attacks. Pushing enemies, pulling them, shielding cities, stopping spawning points, and a myriad of other options. The game has several pre-built squads, each drastically altering how your approach the maps, and you can even unlock the option of customizing a squad yourself later.
With a lot of units, some extra challenges to contend with, and procedurally generated challenges, the game never gets boring. I played it for months without getting all challenges, and I still feel like back to it now and then. In fact, the only reason I stopped playing the game is that I knew I would get addicted all over again if I do, and I really want to tackle my backlog someday.
Metro: Exodus: (PS4/5, 2019/2021)
I feel that the Metro games are perennial underdogs in the world of First-Person Adventure Shooters. Their blend of a bleak post-apocalyptic setting and survival-based shooting mechanics is a turn-off for prospective players. I must admit that even though I really liked Metro: Last Light, I didn’t feel much excitement for Exodus. Its jump into a more open-world setting seemed arbitrary, and I felt it was aping games I found repetitive and boring like the Far Cry series.
Thankfully, it turned out I was wrong to dismiss the game because this is one of the best incarnations of “Open-World” Adventure Shooters. The game is divided into several mapped areas, each with not only its own storyline but also some unique gameplay hooks. Threading all these areas together is the steam train that serves as your hub through the game, and the emotional story of your crew trying to survive in this bleak world.
Here, I would be remiss not to mention the story of the game’s development. It’s made by a Ukrainian studio based on a Russian novel, and as such is the product of a simpler time even though it points to the disastrous consequences of war. Due to the ongoing war on Ukraine, the future of both the studio and the franchise is still in doubt. While the studio does have offices outside of Ukraine, many developers chose to stay and help the ongoing survival efforts, and in a way, implement some of the values explored in their own games.
Resident Evil 2 [Remake]: (PS4, 2019)
When I learned that Resident Evil 2 was built with multiple playthroughs in mind, I was initially hesitant. I knew that it means reusing several environments and set pieces, as well as it being evidence of a short game. Yet, when I immediately and without thinking started a new playthrough the moment my first was done, I knew my hesitation has completely disappeared.
This is a brilliantly constructed game and is probably the best merger of the classic Resident Evil style and the formula with modern gaming sensibilities. Not only does the game looks absolutely gorgeous (and suitably horrifying as well), but plays like a modern retooling of the classic games. Survival is foremost in your mind as you shamble around the crazy police station, running from Mr. X while solving the labyrinthian maze of keys and puzzle switches. It plays like a charm as well, giving you a fair advantage at running or fighting enemies while always keeping a modicum of tension throughout.
Across multiple playthroughs, it never got any boring, and still managed to be briefer than many other games on this list. It's just a damn well-constructed game from start to finish, and that’s sometimes more important than the length in my humble opinion.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: (PS4, 2019)
One of the great mistakes in playing Sekiro is to treat it like other From Software Soulsborne games. Sure, the game’s world is a beautiful labyrinth that would fit nicely in any Souls game, and the hook of retrieving your lost loot once you die is still here (as well as the famed difficulty level), but it stops right there. Simply put, Sekiro is a pure action game, and treating it any way else is a recipe for disaster.
You can’t improve the stats of your character, weapons, or armor to make any challenge easier, and that makes a huge difference to how difficult this game is compared to Souls-like games. You either get better, or you get stuck, and that uncompromising nature is KEY to making this game as good as it is, otherwise, the extremely satisfying push-and-pull nature of its combat would be moot.
At its best, which is often, you will zone in a whirlwind of action: Parrying a strike, striking back and getting parried, narrowly avoiding a cut, hitting back with scratch damage, parrying a flurry of attacks, using a ninja tool to disrupt an unavoidable move, another scratch attack, avoid and heal, parry and get parried back, kick, jump, dash, jump attack, parry, and THERE an opening for a death blow. It’s exhilarating in a way very few games manage to be, and consequently, this might just be my new favorite From Software game.
SteamWorld Heist: (Switch, 2015/2017)
I like the unique design and trappings of the steampunk SteamWorld games. That unique design sense served them well when they explored a well-worn genre like the vertical digging exploration world of SteamWorld Dig, and it serves them just as well in this 2D Strategy Action game as well.
It is as difficult to explain how this game works as it is to explain why it's so good. Battles are set in a 2D plane where your crew of three or four infiltrate a ship and move forward to get some loot to fulfill another objective. Battles are turn-based, where your crew moves in, takes cover, and shoots their weapons; angling them like you would in a Worms game. It does not sound very exciting, but getting a headshot from a long-range by looking at the angles or just causing a huge explosion out of a lucky shot just feels so damn good.
With a huge cast of colorful characters (and all the team permutations that allow), there is a lot of replay value built into the game, but I liked that the main campaign was just the right length. It allowed me to naturally experiment through the growing strength of my characters, and create the best space-faring Steampunk Robot Pirate Crew in the galaxy.
Valkyria Chronicles 4: (Switch, 2018)
I had the first Valkyria Chronicles in my list of Top Games I Played last year. It was a unique Strategy RPG (with a mix of Real-Time and Turn-Based elements) with a freshly realistic war setting and surprising emotional depth. When playing Valkyria Chronicles 4 right after it, I didn’t think the game would live up to the reputation of its predecessor, and won’t have a chance at making my end-of-the-year list. It looked like a retread of the original while having more anime tropes built into the narrative and character design.
Two things changed my mind. First, what appears to be a retread of the first game’s gameplay mechanics proved to be a significant evolution to it; your entire army moves with greater speed and synergy than it ever could before, giving everyone a useful function. Second, a section mid-game where your army is struggling to survive a Russian-like winter had a lot of realist drama at stakes that endeared the cast to me.
By the end of the game, I felt that this was a natural evolution to the first game in many ways, providing a deeper combat system while also giving you more chances to explore the stories of your lesser squad members. Also, while it's debatable which story is better between it and the first, there is no doubt that the characters in this game are extremely well-realized, and the story proves to be more thought-out than the initial anime trapping suggests.
Valkyrie Profile is a cult classic on the PS1 for several reasons. It’s a beautiful 2D JRPG with some of the best sprite work on the system, it has a somber and unique story about a Valkyrie collecting the souls of dead heroes (Einherjar) in preparation for a grand war, it has a unique Action-focused combat system that is intensely fun to figure out and leads to crazy battles, and it has some of the best battle cries in any game I played.
This is a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. The gameplay has many opaque elements that would probably require a guide for you to figure out, but the combat sings once you understand how to prepare your party, and it’s fun regardless of which characters you are using. As for the story, it is something you fill with the help of some clues, character mannerisms, and great art.
That latter aspect, along with the game mix of blood-bumping and ethereal soundtrack (some of Motoi Sakuraba’s best work) is what mostly carries this game, a testament to the excellent 2D capabilities of the PS1. I have to say though that among all the games on my list, this one is probably the weakest, with it seriously overstaying its welcome by the end.
Blaster Master Zero 2: (Switch, 2019)
This is an excellent follow-up to the retro classic revival, Blaster Master Zero. The retro classic is famous for combining 2D Search-Action gameplay as a tank with Top-Down Dungeon sections as the human rider. The sequel to the first game remake expands on those concepts and is the closest game to break into my top 10 list. That honor may be entirely due to the end-game section, where the game goes into a glorious explosion of Anime-cliches and earnest storytelling to deliver a brilliant finale, accompanied by brilliant dramatic music. I think the game is worth playing for that ending alone.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night: (Switch, 2019)
It's highly likely that without its myriad of technical issues, especially on the Switch, this game would have been a shoo-in for my top 10 list. After all, this is basically another Iga Castlevania in everything but name, somehow combining all Koji Igarashi did for that series in one game (that deluge of systems might be a minor weakness to some). As such, despite its obvious technical flaws, it has a driving beat to it (helped greatly by the music) that propelled me to finish it all with a huge smile on my face. Also, it's worth saying that the 2 accompanying original Castlevania homages, Curse of the Moon 172 are both really good.
The Outer Worlds: (PS4, 2019)
For a part of the game, The Outer Worlds is just as good in everything it does as Fallout: New Vegas, but then it gets a bit longer, and you start feeling the shallowness of its gameplay systems. There is no doubting the strength of the game’s writing, humor, and lampooning of hyper-capitalism. In addition to that, there are many ways to tackle the game’s problems through both dialogue and action. Yet, just like the Unreliable at the beginning of the game, it doesn’t cleanly stick the landing in its combination of elements, becoming a bit boring by the end.
Yakuza 5 Remastered: (PS4, 2020)
It's becoming a tradition at this point to have a Yakuza game in my honorable mentions list (also the fourth year in a row with a Yakuza game ), since no game in this series is genuinely great except for Yakuza Zero, and Yakuza 5 takes the honor this year instead of the terrible Yakuza 4. In this game, you can see the storytelling abilities of the team starting to recover after the debacles of 3 & 4, and you begin to understand how Zero will eventually come to be. Also, the absolute bloat in content that the series is known for peaks in this game, with five protagonists, including an entire Idol storyline for Haruka (which ironically is one of the best parts of the game), each with their own unique parallel gameplay storyline (except for Akiyama), along with all the side stories and mini-games.
Yoshi's Crafter World: (Switch, 2019)
Like with all of the other games developed by Good-Feel, playing Yoshi’s Crafted World made me feel really good. Its “crafted” world was truly a marvel to behold, with each level being constructed with Arts and Crafts materials that made tangible and physical sense. So, while the level design was a step down from the excellent Yoshi’s Wooly World, I still had a blast going through this game, especially when playing it with my younger sister.