Welcome to Staff Picks, our annual countdown of our staff’s favorite stuff from the past year. We begin this year with video games instead of manga, because our staff members were so busy that they don’t have enough picks for manga! (Editor-in-Chief Evan Minto read a lot of manga in 2022 but has recused himself because he works for a publisher.)
The following list highlights our usual range of game styles and genres, including smash hit AAA games and weird indie experiments. Enjoy!
1. Elden Ring
From Software’s open-world follow-up to the Dark Souls trilogy is the best game I played this year, surprising no one who knows even a little bit about me. I was pessimistic at first, since I wasn’t convinced that anyone could design a proper Souls-like game with horseback riding. Amazingly, it all came together just moments after I was cast into the Lands Between with nothing but a spectral steed and a wooden club, and I was gripped to the day I became the Elden Lord. I might never again experience the sense of wonder that I felt with that first playthrough of Elden Ring, when everyone was discovering all of the game’s secrets for the first time, together. However much time it might take until FromSoft feels like surpassing what they accomplished here, I’ll be sure to come back to this game again and again in the years to come.
3. Halloween Hide & Seek v. 2.0
Look, you’re lucky I played three entire new games this year. I’m currently traveling but I don’t even need to log into Steam to know my end-of-year retrospective is clicking its tongue at me for playing Age of Mythology for hours and hours, precisely like I’m in high school again and my parents are scolding me. The blood siblings who created Homestar Runner, The Brothers Chaps, have always been game designers at heart, deeply passionate about deeply uncool retro genres: text adventures, “famicom hard” platformers and point-and-click adventure games. I didn’t play Halloween Hide & Seek when it first came out, so the new, updated version with voice acting THAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY PAY MONEY FOR(!) was perfect for me. TBC have struggled somewhat to re-capture the magic of the classic Homestar era, but not focusing on it full time also means when they do release something it’s near and dear to them. There’s a lot of love in everything they do, and emulating the style of the things that inspired their own creativity is something that gives them immense joy. I re-played this several times over for an afternoon and it made me feel whole in a way few things can ever make me feel.
2. Pokemon Scarlet/Violet
There is absolutely no reason why a Pokémon game should be released in this state, other than Nintendo demanding the release for their bottom line. A shockingly unfinished product, the latest Pokémon generation is filled to bursting with issues at all levels of the game. It is, somehow, simultaneously completely underdone and inscrutable, but also over-tightened to the point of not being much fun. The Byzantine whorl of different systems and mechanics, each with their own bespoke QOL additions, all fail to coalesce into a complete whole.
I kind of love it?
Pokémon is in its Megaten era, with its reach far exceeding its grasp and much, much more ambition than ability to deliver. But where Pokémon is a worldwide pop culture icon beloved by adults and children alike, Megaten, even at the absolute zenith of its popularity, has always been niche entertainment for perverts. Nobody is going to school with a Nahobino lunchbox, or re-making Shujin Academy in Roblox. This really does feel a lot closer to the Pokémon I grew up with, an undercooked, deeply weird experiment built entirely of rough edges and fun ideas with questionable execution, where every little mechanic feels just a little off. It shouldn’t exist, and it’s beautiful.
In the grand tradition of Obsidian games, Pentiment is a wild experiment with a lot of rough edges, a narrative-heavy adventure game with a lush visual style evoking the illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period. In the 16th century, change is sweeping through Europe: life is cheap, and can be short and brutal. As the player character Andreas, you navigate 25 tumultuous years to figure out a murder mystery, experiencing the change firsthand. It’s one of those games where the less I tell you what it’s about, the better, but I will say if you’ve played other Obsidian games you almost certainly have an idea of what to expect. It’s not perfect, especially if you’re a VeRiSiMiLiTuDe pervert like me (a couple of moments stand out as being decidedly anachronistic). And there’s a decent amount of Obsidian-ness to it that might put first timers off. Even given all of that, it really is quite an achievement all the same, in the way video games in the year of 2022 rarely get to be.
2. Neon White
Following on Donut County‘s #3 spot in my 2018 Staff Picks, Ben Esposito is back with a new innovative game mechanic. Neon White is a first-person shooter 3-D platformer deck-builder, which is the sort of genre alphabet soup that I love in an indie game. Each level is a short obstacle course full of platforms, barriers, enemies, and more, all of which can be traversed and fought via a small arsenal of guns. The twist? The guns are cards with limited shots per card, and discarding them triggers a different secondary effect depending on the gun — double jump for a pistol, dash for a rifle, and so on. The process of exploring each level to hone the optimal route is clearly inspired by speedrunning, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you pull off the exact combination of precision platforming and gunplay to beat your previous best time. The level design is so fun that I’m willing to give it a pass for its story, which is extremely cringe anime OC stuff about lost souls in heaven. Skip that and you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular gameplay.
1. Vampire Survivors
Of course. Vampire Survivors is the biggest video game success story of 2022, a work of outsider art genius from solo dev poncle. The sprite art is atrocious and you don’t DO anything other than walk around while your weapons auto-fire, but it’s the steady roguelite progression that makes the game impossible to put down. Every run — less than 30 minutes apiece — nets you some new unlock or enough gold to buy an upgrade, and every time you think you’ve hit its limits you’re offered another tantalizing way to push past them. “Addictive” doesn’t do justice to just how expertly this game presses all the buttons in your lizard brain. When I started playing Vampire Survivors I recommended it to all my friends. Now I warn them not to touch the stuff. For just $4.99 on Steam with a $1.99 DLC pack, it’s the cheapest drug habit you can get.
3. Live A Live
With Live A Live, Square Enix was able to remake one of their forgotten SNES classics and finally make a good game in the HD2D style, both of which are huge accomplishments. It’s clear from the moment you start it that this was a labor of love for the team. Comprising a number of different stories with their own protagonists, Live A Live turns into a series of mini-RPGs within a bigger game. The characters are all charming, the expressive SNES-style sprite work is wonderful, and the stories are just long enough to keep you engaged without wearing out their welcome.
2. Air Twister
Air Twister would have been the best game of 2022 if not for Vampire Survivors. What if Yu Suzuki made a new Space Harrier exclusively for Apple Arcade but now you ride a weird bird and the soundtrack sounds like Queen? Air Twister. It’s weird and brilliant and feels like something out of another era. If you have access to Apple Arcade you must play it.
1. Vampire Survivors
Vampire Survivors is the best game of 2022. If you disagree you either haven’t played it or are wrong.