The video-game levee finally broke. After a long COVID slumber marked by dispiriting delays, botched launches, and the murky unreality of living through the aftershocks of a global pandemic, the first few months of 2022 were absolutely lousy with high-profile releases. The power brokers of the game industry admitted defeat last summer and hastily retreated from the 2021 Christmas season. That collective evacuation led to a historic, panic-inducing bottleneck at the end of February. Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, and a new Destiny expansion all come out in the same week. Smaller studios are actually pushing their shipping dates earlier into the year, just to eschew the onslaught. At long last, the stove is hot again.
Last year, we highlighted some of the more offbeat games catching traction in the void left behind by absconding triple-A publishers. That will remain true going forward — the indie scene is as vibrant as ever — but I’m thrilled that the Zeitgeist is back. I think the most fun I have playing video games is when everyone in the hobby is knee-deep in the exact same campaign. Titillating rumors, coded memes, and semi-concealed spoilers slowly build up pressure in the timeline as we all race to see the credits roll in order to join the conversation. We’re all going to have a lot of fun talking about games this year.
Nintendo Switch Sports (Nintendo Switch)
In 2006, countless moms across the country became gamers thanks to Wii Sports. The minigame collection, included for free in every Wii console sold, boiled down tennis, boxing, golf, bowling, and baseball into their base fundamentals. The sprite on screen would dig a serve out of the baseline with just a limp-wristed swing of the Wiimote. Wii Sports wasn’t all that technically precise — I never could tell how much my movement was impacting the action — but it was undeniably fun. The game was a brilliant marketing strategy for Nintendo, as Wii Sports sold zillions of consoles to people who had no interest in the next Zelda game. Now the publisher is returning to the well five years into the Switch’s lifespan. Nintendo Switch Sports will include soccer, volleyball, bowling, tennis, badminton, and something called “chambara,” which I understand to be fencing. Nintendo Switch Sports is probably not going to rock the world like its predecessors, but we’re always in desperate need of a game to bring home to our parents. Out April 29.
Two Point Campus (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)
The archetypical PC gaming experience is to hover above an empty grid, plop down a few new buildings, and watch a bustling community grow within your borders. (This is the peaceful sensation that’s powered the joys of Cities Skylines, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Crusader Kings, and many other simulation games.) Two Point Studios is committed to resurrecting those classics, and they did so beautifully with 2018’s Two Point Hospital. The player manages their economy as they proceed to organize the most functional — or perhaps the most demonic — hospital they can imagine. After all, the core appeal of these games is to fuss over a clockwork masterpiece, before destroying it in one fell swoop. Who among us hasn’t let a hurricane tear through our SimCity metropolis? Two Point is trying to recapture the magic again with Two Point Campus, which shifts settings to an eccentric university. Once again you can play it straight and train a legion of thoughtful Ph.D holders, or you can throw caution to the wind and allow your good students to major in, erm, knight combat. The world is our oyster, for better or worse. Out May 17.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp (Nintendo Switch)
Advanced Wars was supposed to come out in early April, but due to the ongoing catastrophe in Ukraine, Nintendo decided to put its remake on ice for the time being. (Something about candy-colored tanks rolling into pastoral villages didn’t jive with the newscycle.) The company has yet to unveil the new release date, but we have to imagine that it’s not too off. After all, Advance Wars is about as breezy as a tactics game can get. The original diptych arrived on the Game Boy Advance back in 2001 and 2003, and both delivered an uber-simplified soldiery experience for amateur supreme commanders across the globe. Move your battalions of infantry, armor, and air force across a grid, check for attack and defense modifiers, and rout the forces dressed in a different uniform color. The combat was tight, the systems were easily decipherable, and fans have been clamoring for a remake for decades — because nothing pairs better with a 20-minute Subway ride than a round of Advance Wars. That day is finally coming, we’ll just need to wait a bit longer. Release date TBD.
Coming later in 2022
Mario Strikers: Battle League (Nintendo Switch)
I am always a fan when Nintendo turns Mario into an athlete. The company does a consistently good job of capturing the essence of a sport — in this case soccer — while shedding all of the nerdy dogma surrounding the license. Nintendo is paying no licensing fees to the EPL, so naturally, their version of soccer involves ridiculous special powers, an abbreviated game clock, and five players per side. Mario Strikers: Battle League won’t appeal to the FIFA purists out there. But for those of us who can’t name more than, say, four Champions League clubs, we finally have our entry point into the culture. Out June 10.
Saints Row came into this world as a shameless Grand Theft Auto clone. The game’s developer, Volition, pulled together a murderous urban sprawl, and told a by-the-numbers crime saga that featured copious carjackings, drive-bys, and home invasions. But over the years, Saints Row morphed into something much more interesting. Saints Row The Third was an absurdly meta send-up of, like, triple-A video game tropes as a whole? And Saints Row 4 threw everything out the window for a sci-fi departure that cribbed liberally from the Mass Effect formula. (Yes, this GTA facsimile now had loyalty missions.) Safe to say, we’re very interested to see what Volition cooks up for Saints Row, which is positioned as a reboot of the canon. Will the studio’s resonant stupidity thrive in 2022? We certainly hope so. Out August 23.