best of 2022

The Best Video Games of 2022

In a year devoid of many major blockbusters, eccentric titles had their time to shine.

Photo-Illustration: Rowena Lloyd and Susanna Hayward; Photos: Courtesy of Finji, Annapurna Interactive, Nintendo and FromSoftware Inc.
Photo-Illustration: Rowena Lloyd and Susanna Hayward; Photos: Courtesy of Finji, Annapurna Interactive, Nintendo and FromSoftware Inc.

From a purely financial perspective, 2022 was a down year for video games. Overall sales have swooned since 2021, which analysts have chalked up to both regression from the COVID boom and the lack of a central, needle-moving blockbuster on the release schedule. It’s hard to squabble with that point as you take stock of the cycle; 2022 did not contain a marquee installment to a galactic franchise — Starfield, Final Fantasy XVI, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom are each earmarked for 2023. Instead, we received a constant trickle of eccentric, offbeat projects that seemed destined to appeal, unapologetically, to a very specific type of video-game fetishist. Our top-ten list for 2022 contains ’90s-worshipping arcade throwbacks, wooly economic simulators, eldritch dungeon crawls, and ultra-high-concept RPGs. There was always something fascinating on the horizon this year, and while gamers weren’t swallowed up by a white-hot Zeitgeist, the hobby never ceases to blow our minds.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One)

If you are a child of the ’90s, you likely once fantasized about a world with unlimited quarters. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade games that paneled barbershops and bowling alleys were notoriously difficult, designed specifically to separate you from your allowance by the time you hit the second level. But in 2022, millennials finally had the chance to enact their revenge. Shredder’s Revenge is a full-throated tribute to the twilight of the arcade era, when beat-’em-ups reigned supreme. You and a gaggle of friends churn through a legion of identical, purple-clad ninjas, without ever fearing a trip to the change machine again. The campaign is swollen with all sorts of vintage TMNT throwbacks, which will cement you back at your happy place: standing in the corner of a Chuck E. Cheese, a slice of pizza propped against the joystick, with one of those infinite weekend afternoons ahead of you.


Disney Dreamlight Valley (Mac, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)

It is a little strange that more developers haven’t aped the tried-and-true Animal Crossing formula. Gameloft, the venerable mobile-oriented studio, finally took the bait in the best way possible. Disney Dreamlight Valley, as the name implies, sends you to an overgrown hamlet that was — at least once upon a time — home to a variety of Disney characters. As you clear out the bramble and break away the stone, slowly but surely, those former residents make their return, eager to present players with a bucolic, homesteading fantasy. At last, a chance to furnish a home with Remy the rat, or tend the garden with Mickey Mouse, or enjoy the sunset with Kristoff. Dreamlight Valley is textbook emotional manipulation, but it effortlessly captures the core fantasy of the average Disney Adult. Life would be so much simpler with friends like these.


Victoria 3 (Mac, PC)

The grand strategy titans of Paradox Interactive tend to stick with antiquity in their games. Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis are both set in the High Middle Ages — an age of kings and regents — where swaths of territory can change hands with a severed bloodline. But Victoria 3 shifts the parameters to the 19th century, where the stakes are a tad more relatable. You are given the controls of the commodity market at the dawn of globalization: managing an economy, organizing trade routes, and charting the political future of your people. Will you plunge the United States into socialist revolution? Grind the East India Trading Company to a halt? Reverse the forces of colonization in the heart of Africa? Victoria 3 gives us the world. Results may vary.


Stray (PC, Playstation 4, Playstation 5)

A lot of ink has been spilled over what made Stray — the debut game from French indie BlueTwelve Studio — such a massive hit over the summer. Is it the low-key cyberpunk aesthetic? The tastefully implemented puzzles? The plights of the sad-sack robots inhabiting this fallen world? No, not at all. Stray succeeds because it is a full-throated love letter to cat people. Your orange tabby can scratch up carpets, ruin couches, haphazardly knock over household items, and make those uniquely feline leaps into tight spaces. Never has so much effort been made to re-create, in exacting detail, the proclivities and mercurialness of the average house cat. No wonder BlueTwelve had us eating out of its hands.


Nobody Saves the World (PC, Xbox One)

That title is more literal than you might think. In Nobody Saves the World, you take control of a little white blob named, you guessed it, Nobody. He’s slow, feeble, and weak-minded, but he can transform into a whole slew of RPG archetypes to conquer the dungeons splayed across this saturated, Saturday-morning cartoon landscape. Yes, Nobody can become a wizard or a warrior, who are both outfitted with tons of D&D tropes — but he can also swap into a turtle equipped with a ricocheting Koopa Troopa attack, or a slug who can ink the combat arenas with speed-dampening slime. That is when Nobody Saves the World sings; ping-ponging between a litany of forms and finding the peculiar synergies within. As it turns out, a rat and a dragon make for a devastating one-two punch. Oftentimes I finish an RPG with a lingering regret that I rolled the wrong character and that I would’ve had more fun with, say, a greater emphasis on an ignored school of magic. Nobody Saves the World renders that problem totally irrelevant. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have seen everything that little white blob is capable of.


Splatoon 3 (Nintendo Switch)

There is an argument to be made that Splatoon has been on cruise control since the first game in the series emerged as a surprise hit for Nintendo during its dark, financially precarious Wii U era. Yes, it is true that Splatoon 3 very much resembles Splatoon 2, which itself was a modest — but insubstantial — refining of the ideas in the original. You are still going to be battling other punky squidling teenagers for superiority, coating the map in your national colors with a variety of esoteric water guns that dispense massive, oily payloads of ink in a variety of different shapes. (Ink shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles, and so on.) The innovations in the combat will only be noticed by the most ardent Splatoon addicts; the ability to boost out of wall-runs is surely transformative for the Über-competitive scene, but will mostly be unnoticed by laymen. And yet, Splatoon 3 is the best the series has ever been, and it’s rarely left my Switch for long. There may come a time when Nintendo needs to drastically reengineer the blueprint, but for now, I’m more than happy with a few new wrinkles, and lively multiplayer servers, every couple of years.


Marvel Snap (Android, iOS, PC)

You can complete a game of Marvel Snap in three minutes. This is a Magic-style collectible card game shrunk down to its base atomic particles. You’ll have a deck containing only 12 cards, and over the course of six turns you’ll battle for supremacy at three different locations; win two of them, and you’ll claim victory. The design team is made up of Hearthstone veterans, who they bring that game’s silly, flavor-rich splendor to the Marvel universe. (For instance: Mr. Fantastic, with his long limbs, can boost your power at two adjacent locations at once.) But by far, the team’s best innovation is its titular gambit; if you think you’re ahead — even on turn one — tap the Snap button at the top of your screen. You’ll double your rewards if you claim victory, and risk brutal punishment if your hubris fails. Marvel Snap is built for bathroom breaks and subway-station transfers, and it passes that test with flying colors.


Tunic (Mac, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Tunic is a Legend of Zelda game with a deviant streak. You are exploring a diorama realm filled with monsters that are no match for your sword and shield, but you’ll quickly discover that everything in this game — the dialogue, the signs, even the pieces of the in-universe manual you find scattered around the atlas — is written in a coded language. It is up to you to parse the runes, and the only tools in your inventory are cunning and guile. Those moments where you discover a whole new dimension hiding in plain sight are Tunic’s lifeblood. It lends to a genuine sense of metaphysical puzzle-solving. You’re not prying open secret passageways or trapdoors; you’re uncovering that maybe there is a fast travel system stashed in the mechanics … so long as you know what button to push. That’s Tunic’s finest magic trick; by the time you’re finished, you’ll finally understand how to play the game.


Neon White (Nintendo Switch, PC)

Neon White is a first-person shooter where players are pretty much invincible. You are a celestial sinner — on the bubble of purgatory — who needs to prove his mettle before gaining access to heaven. The evil-eyed demons in your path can’t muster much more offense than an evil glare; most of them will be easily dispatched with one pull from your divine arsenal of firearms. No, the true villain in Neon White is the timer, which can mercilessly separate you from a gold or a bronze medal in a matter of seconds. The levels in Neon White can usually be completed in a minute or less, and they each require a tight network of air-dashes, double-jumps, and Super Mario–style ground pounds — like a parkour sizzle reel in zero gravity. When it all comes together, Neon White is a master class of momentum and control, even as you’re struggling to shave that last millisecond off the registrar to guarantee your immortality.


Elden Ring (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

If you recall the decaying gothic ramparts in Dark Souls, or the condemned Victorian hell of Bloodborne, then you already know that when FromSoftware is at its best, the studio creates some of the most iconic settings you’ll ever find in a video game. Elden Ring expanded on From’s tried-and-true formula — a dense, clockwork universe packed with furtive secrets and ecclesiastic lore — into, perhaps, the largest world ever rendered on a console. The Lands Between, where Elden Ring takes place, encompasses about 30 square miles of digital real estate. It takes a player three and a half hours to walk across its diameter, and they’ll find 157 unique boss fights across innumerable dungeons, alcoves, and temples along the way. FromSoftware took no shortcuts; every inch of this forsaken realm is authored and intentional, operating with a euphoric indifference toward the player. Will you find all of its secrets? Elden Ring could care less. You can play for hours before discovering a nondescript marble elevator that sinks down to a verdant underground river coursing, eternally, below our feet. The world map pleats open, revealing even more for us to chew on. Elden Ring’s scale is a singular achievement. I still can’t believe they pulled it off.

Honorable Mentions

Throughout 2022, Luke Winkie maintained a “Best Video Games of the Year (So Far)” list. Many of those selections appear above in his top-ten picks. Below are the rest of the games that stood out to Winkie this year:

Core Keeper (Windows PC)

Photo: IGN/YouTube

Core Keeper takes the bucolic charm of Stardew Valley and moves it deep underground. This year’s foremost Steam breakout hit is a satisfying meld of all sorts of other fantasy homesteading simulators (think Minecraft, Valheim, and Terraria) except, this time, your sprightly survivalist is lost in an expansive, procedurally generated network of caverns. Core Keeper strikes a sublime balance between precarious dungeoneering and the cozy chores back home. Yes, sometimes I would like to face off against the monstrosities waiting for me at the abyssal depths as long as I get to tend the garden by torchlight afterward.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Nintendo Switch)

Photo: Nintendo/YouTube

Pokémon didn’t necessarily need to change. Over the past three years, we received new editions in the primary series with Sword and Shield as well as remasters of two DS classics in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Those games all sold extraordinarily well, proving the Pokémon formula remains lucrative 30 years after Red and Blue. But Pokémon Legends: Arceus provides an alternative timeline in which Nintendo abandoned the Über-simplistic RPG trappings for something a little more substantial. Here you are: a Pokémon trainer alone in the wilds enjoying a crisper, spookier vision of what life among the untamed Pikachus would actually be like. Sneak up on Pokémon and blindside them with a Poké Ball, battle down your prey without being locked into a turn-based slog, and run for your life after angering a giant Electrode. It’s Pokémon meets Bear Grylls, which means I’ve been dreaming about playing this video game since I was roughly ten years old.

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves (PlayStation 5)

Photo: Playstation/YouTube

Naughty Dog frequently rereleases its back catalogue, so it was no surprise that the great PlayStation developer bundled its PS4 Uncharted games in a package that coincides with the mediocre film adaptation. But if you missed Uncharted 4 or The Lost Legacy when they first arrived in 2016 and 2017, The Legacy of Thieves is absolutely worth a look on the spiffy PlayStation 5. The Uncharted series typically presents Nathan Drake as an unruly man-child who grows weirdly petulant whenever he doesn’t get his way, but the fourth and final game in the narrative was the first to actually scrutinize his selfishness. (It’s one of the best action games of the past ten years.) And The Lost Legacy, the mini-chapter that focuses on two of the franchise’s most beloved characters, found Naughty Dog experimenting with an open-world gestalt that still has me excited for whatever the company is cooking up next. It will likely be a long time before we get another Uncharted game, and that’s probably for the best. After all, the series went out on top.

Strange Horticulture (Mac, Nintendo Switch, PC)

Photo: Iceberg Interactive/YouTube

As the name implies, Strange Horticulture is a game about looking at plants. Beleaguered customers pour through your door and request specific herbal remedies, and you consult a dusty tome full of botanical theory before delivering the specimen of choice. This may sound boring, but by the time Strange Horticulture hits its groove, you’ll begin to appreciate the deep deduction system animating the design. You’re asked to pore over an encyclopedia of phytologic caveats with just a few clues, slowly narrowing down the exceptions and edge cases until you are sure, without a doubt, that the man in your shop needs the plant with blue flowers and triangle-shaped leaves. At last, a video game that allows us to feel intelligent and bucolic at the same time.

Rainbow 6 Extraction (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: Ubisoft/YouTube

Rainbow 6: Extraction feels like a generous expansion pack. The game includes the same arsenal and characters as Ubisoft’s venerated first-person shooter Rainbow 6 Siege, but it trades the squad-based multiplayer for a horror-flick romp through an obscene, viscerally unsettling alien apocalypse. The antiseptic halls and corporate antechambers crucial to the franchise’s muted aesthetic have been overrun by oozing pustules, curdled zombies, and infectious muck — think John Carpenter’s The Thing with SWAT teams — as you and two friends attempt to complete a trio of challenges before succumbing to the horde. I went into Extraction with exceedingly low expectations, and I found a game that evoked the morbid, white-knuckle thrills of the best high-stakes XCOM missions. Did you leave behind one of your friends in the churn? Next mission you gear up to free them from the clutches of the parasite, or else they’ll suffer a punitive progression tax. After so many co-op experiences that treat us with kid gloves, you remember what it’s like to truly fear death in Extraction.

Horizon Forbidden West (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)

Photo: PlayStation/YouTube

It’s tough to wrap your mind around the setting of the Horizon series. You’re a neolithic cavewoman in a prehistoric America that happens to be populated by hulking cybernetic dinosaurs. You’ll fight them off with a spear built from serrated silicon chips. Oh, and you explore underground ruins that appear to be the abandoned laboratories of a much more modern human race. The original game, which arrived in 2017, did a fantastic job of spindling together all of these wild plot threads, and that diligence continues in Forbidden West. Gameplay-wise, this is still a competent open-world adventure that’s at its best when you’re facing off against one of those aluminum-plated T. Rexes, but you’ll stick around for the story, which tactfully unravels more of the mysteries lingering in this post-post-postapocalypse. The question at the center never changes: Does humanity really deserve a second chance?

Total War: Warhammer III (MacOS, Windows PC)

Photo: IGN/YouTube

Total War was once a franchise consumed with historical dogma. We wreaked havoc from Napoleon’s front lines to the Oda clan of feudal Japan, forever bound by the limits of planet Earth. But developer Creative Assembly pivoted to orcs, elves, and demons with 2016’s Total War: Warhammer, and six years later, we have received the conclusion of the trilogy. Like the previous games, Warhammer puts you at the helm of a marauding army eager to meet its rival force on the open field of battle. There is plenty of positional strategy to calculate, yet Total War is more about sitting back and enjoying the grand viscera when your cavalry executes a perfectly timed flank. Warhammer differs from its forebears with its emphasis on narrative. Creative Assembly is free of the analects here and has carte blanche to dream up gristly scenarios involving the many putrid creatures that populate the Warhammer canon. If you’ve always been curious about this grimdark universe but never felt the urge to paint those expensive pewter statues, Total War is a fantastic jumping-off point.

Sifu (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC)

Photo: PlayStation/YouTube

The beat-’em-up is dead. We aren’t getting a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game anytime soon, and you still need to drive to your local Six Flags if you want to drop quarters into the Simpsons arcade game. Sifu was born in that void, and it resurrects one of the most primal joys of video games: knocking out a bunch of dudes in a dive bar. Sifu has no plot other than a warmed-over collection of kung fu tropes, and its gameplay never deviates across a seven-hour running time. (Angry men want you dead. Show them no mercy with your fists.) But that doesn’t matter because meshing together a package of punches and kicks on some nameless heavy leaning on a pool table feels as good as it did in 1993. For those of us who love getting lost in an intuitive combat system, Sifu is close to heaven on earth.

Read Lewis Gordon’s review of Sifu.

OlliOlli World (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: Nintendo/YouTube

We’re in the midst of a minor skateboarding-game renaissance, which is unsurprisingly peaking right alongside a wave of early-aughts Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater nostalgia. OlliOlli World doesn’t take much inspiration from those classics. Instead, it brings skateboarding to a two-dimensional plane where forward momentum is king. Each level puts you into a hellacious obstacle course bracketed by ramps, rails, and half-pipes; your core goal is to make it through the checkpoints in one piece. In practice, that means you’ll be blending wall rides and 5-0 grinds like clockwork, creating a rhythmic, almost parkourlike cadence with your repertoire of tricks. But what makes OlliOlli World uniquely memorable is its slacker-utopia aesthetic. Who wouldn’t want to live on a planet that can be navigated only by kickflips?

Norco (MacOS, Windows PC)

Photo: Raw Fury/YouTube

Norco is a real place. It’s located just outside of New Orleans, hosts a population of around 3,000, and is dominated by a monolithic Shell oil refinery that both supplies and oppresses the town. The interpretation presented in Norco isn’t exactly true to life — Louisiana is not pockmarked by elegiac androids and swampy, revanchist death-cults — but for all of that pulp, Norco feels surprisingly rooted in the myriad tragedies of 2022. This is a point-and-click adventure that asks you to solve an enticing mystery but wants you to bathe in a uniquely American dystopia. You’ll feel the sorrow with every breath of that damp, sulfur-flecked air.

Read Lewis Gordon’s review of Norco.

Ghostwire: Tokyo (PlayStation 5, Windows PC)

Photo: PlayStation/YouTube

Tango Gameworks first made its name with the pulpy, janky Evil Within series, but Ghostwire: Tokyo is the first time the developer has actually orbited greatness. It has left American suburbia behind in favor of an eldritch, rain-slicked Tokyo, haunted by every vengeful spirit in the Japanese legendarium. Ghostwire can be dragged down by its grind at times, but I’ve remained captivated by its silky first-person animation and vivid enemy design as well as the resonant hometown pride Tango takes in its capital city. This is a game in which you will banish demons before stopping into an ersatz 7-Eleven for some health-restoring mochi. It’s Japan in the midst of an apocalypse, presented as honestly as possible.

Weird West (PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One)

Photo: IGN/YouTube

Weird West comes from WolfEye Studio, a development team staffed with Arkane (Dishonored, Deathloop) veterans, and to nobody’s surprise, it has brought one of its trademark, eternally cursed realms to the American frontier. Bounty hunters, cultists, and the chittering undead are afoot as you wrest control of several misbegotten characters out for revenge. This is a top-down, tactical shoot-out in which the playing field is wide open. Nothing is taken for granted. See that chimney on the roof of the bank you’re trying to rob? Find a way up there, and you might discover you can shinny down the hatch to avoid a deadly firefight. WolfEye believes that gamers should be allowed to touch the worlds they explore, and Weird West is the ideal proof-of-concept for that philosophy.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: Warner Bros. Games/YouTube

Traveller’s Tales has happily adapted its Lego games into every IP willing to host it. It has made landfall in Harry Potter, Marvel, DC, and the Tolkien legendarium, but Star Wars was always its first — and best — home. The Skywalker Saga is the studio’s chance to be truly definitive in its relentless documentation of pop media, and quite frankly, no other game bearing the Rebel crest has ever crammed this much Star Wars into its source code. There are six different playable versions of Lando Calrissian. You can take control of Malakili, the guy who owns the Rancor monster in Jabba’s palace. On Tatooine, there is a reference to a “ghost droid” that exclusively appeared in a popular piece of non-canon fanfiction. Traveller’s Tales left no stone unturned, and the result is a living encyclopedia of both the glorious heights and abyssal lows of Star Wars. Yes, you will play through all of Attack of the Clones, and you will like it.

Dune: Spice Wars (Windows PC)

Photo: Funcom/YouTube

It’s incredible that Dune, a franchise that has laid in total dormancy for decades, has suddenly stirred from its licensing slumber thanks to the all-powerful Timothée Chalamet bump. We are suddenly inundated by Dune movies, Dune board games, Dune comic books — and someone at Warner Bros. had the good sense to hand the universe over to Shrio Games for a Dune-themed RTS. Shrio’s previous project, Northgard, borrowed liberally from Age of Empires as it allowed players to marshal Viking bands through the verdant wilderness of the arctic rim. The warring factions of Arrakis are translated beautifully into Spice Wars’ design philosophy; House Atreides and House Harkonnen clash in the wasteland, and players race to consolidate every dash of melange and spritz of water they can get their hands on to keep the war machine afloat. Of course, Sandworms are a constant threat and answer to no master. There’s always a chance that one of your battalions will be swallowed whole, sending your game plan back to square one. It’s brutal, ornery, unfair, and quintessentially Dune. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe (MacOS, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: Crows Crows Crows/YouTube

2013’s The Stanley Parable was a masterclass in postmodern game design. You awake in an abandoned cubicle, haunted by a kindly, omnipresent narrator who annotates your various feeble adventures within the white-out drudgery of corporate life. The goal is to, effectively, break the game, and subvert the one-way conveyor belt that comprises the average linear, single-player campaign. Ultra Deluxe is the first time The Stanley Parable has come to consoles, and it adds enough new content to effectively double the initial offering. As always, expect the narrative to be bitingly self-referential and extraordinarily mordant — especially now that it has a chance to be in constant conversation with the original. How do you create a sequel to a game that was already so prickly to the touch? The Stanley Parable doesn’t know either, and it’s incredible to watch it try.

Rogue Legacy 2 (Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: CellarDoorGames/YouTube

You could make the argument that the first Rogue Legacy, released in 2013, is responsible for the roguelike boom we’re currently living through. The game brought Machiavellian concepts like permadeath and no save points from the dankest niches of PC gaming to the front page of the Steam charts. Rogue Legacy 2 enters a gaming ecosystem where countless other developers have iterated upon its original doctrines, and the series graciously integrates many of those modernizations. Rogue Legacy 2 now has a wide array of unique classes, a la Hades, and a strong emphasis on environmental diversity, like Minecraft or Dead Cells. Best of all, the game holds onto the core gimmick that initially made me fall in love with the series. After a character dies, you wrest control of one of their direct descendants, who is beset with all sorts of congenital boons or curses. (You might have quick-feet, but you suffer from colorblindness.) It’s like a paperback fantasy serial stretched out to its tropiest extremes; just an endless series of sons and daughters avenging mothers and fathers. At last, the return of the king.

Evil Dead: The Game (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: IGN/YouTube

The euphorically schlocky Evil Dead franchise always deserved a loving video game adaptation, and as you’re running around a haunted forest, boomstick in tow, defending the Necronomicon from ghastly interdimensional invaders, you’ll honestly start to wonder why it took so long for Evil Dead: The Game to exist. Saber Interactive distills all the gory thrills of the films into a tight, highly asymmetrical multiplayer experience. Four players take control of various Necronomicon-brandishing heroes, (Ash Williams, Henry The Red, and so on,) while a fifth commands a literal Army of Darkness. It’s a blast to survive by the skin of your teeth, but I have more fun taking the reins of a cruel dungeon master. You summon chittering demons from the gates of hell, who maraud around the map claiming the souls of your victims one by one. At certain junctures, you can even possess one of the heroes, turning their weapons against the team. The first Evil Dead movie was a miraculous sleeper hit; nearly four decades later, the video game surprised me in the exact same way.

Eternal Threads (Windows PC)

Photo: Secret Mode/YouTube

You’re a time-traveling detective standing in the ruins of a burnt-out boarding house. Six people died in the flames, and the goal is to survey the dimensional feedback that led up to this tragedy and edit a few choices made by the residents in order to forge a timeline where they get out alive. Most of the gameplay in Eternal Threads is spent scrolling through a week’s worth of arguments, secrets, seductions, and heart-to-hearts, and watching those conversations play out on screen as you uncover two mysteries at once. How did this house burn down? And what, exactly, are all these people hiding? The premise hooked me immediately, if only because Eternal Threads allows us to indulge in a fantastic bit of kindness. Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time and finetune our decisions?

Diablo Immortal (Android, iOS, Windows PC)

Photo: Diablo/YouTube

Diablo Immortal was guaranteed to be controversial as soon as it was announced. This is one of the most esteemed PC franchises of all time pivoting to a mobile-first, microtransaction-heavy model — at a moment where the corporate image of Blizzard is in total freefall. Many of those concerns remain valid, but nothing can change the fact that Immortal feels shockingly intuitive on an iPhone. The demon hunter’s crossbow bolts stream across the screen with the flick of the index finger; wizards call forth arcane storms with a fidelity that almost rivals a mouse and keyboard. The game packs a full dungeoneering motif. You can party up with friends and delve into accursed catacombs — just like you did in 1999 — and allow the loot-lust to take over your life. Diablo Immortal will not save Blizzard’s reputation, but it is pretty cool to explore Sanctuary on the train.

Card Shark (MacOS, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC)

Photo: DevolverDigital/YouTube

We’re in the middle of a digital card game boom, and the best ones on the market — Hearthstone, Slay The Spire, Legends of Runeterra — all essentially ape the formula established by Magic The Gathering in 1993. There’s a lot of math, a lot of keywords, and a lot of tempo swings back and forth before someone with a superior deck, or a superior brain, sends you back to the matchmaking queue. Nerial’s Card Shark, on the other hand, evokes an entirely different philosophy. You’re a 17th-century peasant on a quest to cheat the gentry out of their unearned shillings, and you’ll accomplish that with the ancient art of sleight of hand. Thumb through the deck, feel for the aces, and cut them to the top of the deck. Pour a glass of wine to get a quick peek at whatever your adversary is holding. Screw up, and it’s straight to jail. Card Shark understands that the best part of poker is manipulating the other people at the table, rather than staring down at whatever you happen to be holding. Let’s hope Nerial gets the Rounders license next.

The Quarry (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)

Photo: 2k/YouTube

Supermassive Games made its bones with 2015’s Until Dawn — a gristly slasher-flick pastiche in which you escort a cadre of idiot 20-somethings to their untimely deaths. The Quarry is essentially the game’s spiritual successor. This time, we’re in charge of a group of teenagers attempting to survive the night at a moonlit summer camp, and to nobody’s surprise, the action goes off the rails quickly. The Quarry unfolds like an interactive drama. You dictate the choices of characters over a series of daisy-chained cutscenes and watch as they inevitably meet some sort of terrible, midnight-movie end. It’s cheesy, hematic, and graciously unpretentious. Some horror games want to clue the audience in on its big ideas about the cosmic fallacies of morality, and some just want to toss your body on a meathook. Both are vital in their own way, but in the sublime early days of summer, The Quarry hits the perfect tone.

DNF Duel (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC)

Photo: DNFDuel/YouTube

Arc System Works has built a legacy on some of the most visually stunning fighting games of all time. Five years ago it released a beefy, bruising tribute to the Toriyama estate in the form of Dragon Ball FighterZ, and now it’s back with a take on a media franchise that has gone almost entirely unplayed in the west. Dungeon & Fighter is a massively popular RPG in South Korea, and Arc System Works has been tasked with injecting the series into a throwback, Street Fighter facsimile. But you won’t need to fret about the canonical touchstones you’re missing, because it’s incredible to watch DNF Duel in motion. Beams of crackling neon energy pour out of the combatants; bang out a super move, and you’ll be interrupted with a brief anime cutaway — some celestial fighter taking to the air and raining hellfire from above in a stunning coup de grace. DNF Duel pares down its control scheme to the most basic inputs; nobody is expected to master any esoteric joystick motions. That means this is an Arc System Works product that is genuinely approachable to newcomers, which is a reform that the fighting-game genre has needed for a very long time.

Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC)

Photo: Nintendo/YouTube

Cuphead languished in development for ages, because like the Merrie Melodies classics it was aping, it takes a long time to knit together zillions of hand-drawn animation cels — particularly when they’re stretched across a ten-hour video game. So I don’t think anyone was surprised to see Cuphead’s first expansion arrive a good five years after the original made landfall. Studio MDHR has used the opportunity to deliver more of what made its debut indelible: a marathon of brutally hard boss fights, rendered with the lustrous fidelity of Disney’s infamous cartooning sweatshops of the 1940s. The Delicious Last Course is accessible from the beginning of a new save file, so if you’re returning from a long absence, you won’t need to fear any of the game’s ridiculous trials to get to the fresh stuff.

Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga (Windows PC)

Photo: IGN/YouTube

Some of the best indie games on the market are made by designers who are singularly obsessed with a bygone franchise. For Symphony of War, the touchstone is the early turn-based Fire Emblem RPGs on the Super Nintendo. You are given a flat, top-down map — populated by manicured sprites and tastefully beautified 16-bit terrain — and you are constantly campaigning against the rival kingdoms jostling for power. The new wrinkle introduced by studio Dancing Dragon Games is a de-emphasis on individual units. You will not be deploying an outrageously potent collection of individual anime heroes who can destroy an entire battalion with one swing of their sword. Instead, you’ll be outfitting a raiding party of squads composed of a wide variety of units who are greater than the sum of their parts. This gives the player a much higher degree of creativity as they shape their warforce. Maybe you dedicate one squad to be a training operation for soldiers who show potential for upper management? Maybe you devise a perfect blend of strengths that can absolutely decimate the munitions favored by your rival? It’s a brilliant idea — let’s hope Symphony of War sinks into the DNA of the genre.

Raft (Windows PC)

Photo: Axolotgames/YouTube

Survival games have experimented with so many different wild permutations over the last ten years, but I appreciate the simplicity of Raft. You are, as the name implies, marooned on a small bundle of wooden planks and floating in a massive ocean pockmarked by the occasional tiny island. You scour the sea for debris that can be used as crafting material, and before long, you will have transformed your humble seastead into an indomitable water fortress. Like most other survival games, you’ll be growing crops, raising livestock, and staving off the sharks who are always prowling a few inches off board. There is real euphoria in wrestling a massive base of operations out of a video-game map, and Raft captures that glory beautifully.

As Dusk Falls (Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC)

Photo: Xbox/YouTube

As Dusk Falls was expressly designed for people who don’t play a lot of video games. Instead, it’s more like a highly interactive comic book. You watch as tragedy unfolds in the small desert town of Two Rock, Arizona, and interject at certain flex points in the narrative — like a choose-your-own-adventure novel — as the wayward souls of this world tumble toward their fate. As Dusk Falls is clearly aiming for the western-ish family drama of Breaking Bad or Yellowstone, but the feature that’s received the most acclaim is its cooperative mode. You — and seven other friends — can watch the story and vote on the moral decisions that come up, which reveals the inner Machiavelli in the room. Can you believe mom voted to shoot the crook robbing the convenience store? To the surprise of everyone, As Dusk Falls is the party game of the summer.

Live a Live (Nintendo Switch)

Photo: Nintendo/YouTube

Live a Live is one of the great lost role-playing games of the early ’90s. Square Enix released it exclusively in Japan and never translated or localized it for western markets. It grew in renown among collectors because of its fascinating premise: The player would navigate through eight vignettes told in different time periods and genre pastiche — a sci-fi tale, a shinobi story, a caveman saga, and so on. Thankfully, Square has amended the record with this gorgeous remake, finally available in English. The muted graphics of the original have been revamped with a resonant blend of 2-D and 3-D, which pleats these landscapes deep into your screen. The combat has retained its grid-based tactical intrigue, which is just as relevant in 2022 as it was in 1994. After the long wait, it’s a blessing to have Live a Live in our hands. Now if only Nintendo could release the other RPG classics that never made it over to America.

Bear and Breakfast (Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch)

Photo: Armor Games Studios

Video games have pushed us on adventures to save the world, rescue princesses, and avenge our fathers, but in Bear and Breakfast, we just want to make sure that our humble woodland hotel is running smoothly. You play as a bear named Hank, and it’s your job to renovate abandoned log cabins to host our human guests and take their hard-earned cash. Bear and Breakfast is designed within the lineage of Stardew Valley and My Time at Portia; coziness is the prime directive, and this is a game to cuddle up with as the leaves change. When you tire of high stakes and white-knuckle tension, Bear and Breakfast lets you amble down a murmuring brook, picking up sticks with hopes of fashioning a nice kitchen.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (Nintendo Switch)

Photo: Nintendo

You can make the argument that Xenoblade Chronicles has taken on the mantle of the most popular Japanese RPG franchise in the West. The series packs a ridiculous expanse of psychedelic lore you mean to tell me this planet we’re on is actually a gigantic celestial tortoise? — and the latest game is easily the most ambitious entry yet. The vistas in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are Breath of the Wild–size in scope, and Monolith Software has slimmed down both the onerous filler of the side quests and the chronic grind of the combat. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is still very much beholden to a whole host of anime tropes, but if you’re a newcomer to the genre, there’s a pretty good chance it wins you over. Few games on the market share the same full-throated commitment to its fiction; Monolith is ready and waiting to overwhelm you into submission.

Two Point Campus (Linux, MacOS, Microsoft PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)

Photo: Two Point Studios

Two Point Studios has made a name for itself by churning out sprightly, low-stakes simulation games that bring to mind library-PC classics like RollerCoaster Tycoon and SimCity. Two Point Campus puts you in charge of the worst university on the planet at which you drum up a series of questionable programs for your bemused student body. (Do they want to major in virtual reality? Or perhaps the art of spying?) You’ll hover above the action, plopping down new classrooms, dormitories, and lounges across the grounds. The faint hint of an economy rumbles in the background, but like the best simulators, Two Point Campus shines when it allows us to take something small and make it big, without bumping up against any monetary guardrails. Were you the type of child who played The Sims with all the cheats turned on? Two Point Campus has your back.

Cult of the Lamb (MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)

Photo: Devolver Digital

Animal Crossing is one of the most popular game franchises of all time, so it’s honestly kind of surprising that its DNA hasn’t made its way into other studios. Thankfully, Cult of the Lamb is here to imagine an interpretation of the formula in which your island of misfit anthropomorphs is enthralled by the darkness of Cthulhu. You play as a lamb who has been given the task to unchain an ancient eldritch deity, and you do that by running through a series of procedurally randomized dungeons, which gives you the materials necessary to flesh out your home base and access to a steady flow of new members who happily drink the Kool-Aid. The developer, Massive Monster, has rustled up a delightfully jejune world of peaceful critters; it is your job to corrupt them into enthralled scions of the cause. We knew that Tom Nook shouldn’t be trusted.

Rollerdrome (Microsoft PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)

Photo: Private Division

The London-based studio Roll7 is best known for its peppy skateboarding series, OlliOlli, but in Rollerdrome, it has pivoted to a far more dangerous sport. You play as a man in a tracksuit, on a pair of Rollerblades, brandishing a whole arsenal of firearms. He is here to grind rails, backflip off half-pipes, and pump lead into an army of robots that has set up shop in the skate park. It’s a hilariously dystopian premise, but Rollerdrome sticks the landing with airtight controls; the game evokes some vintage Max Payne bullet time as you ricochet from kill to kill. Roll7 drapes the whole package in a delectable cel-shaded veneer like an unearthed ’80s anime resting on a forgotten laser disc. You won’t forget it anytime soon.

 Isonzo (Linux, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S)

Photo: BlackMill Games

Blackmill Games has dedicated itself to digitizing each of the cataclysmic fronts of World War I, and in Isonzo, it turns its attention to southern Europe along the granite caps of the Dolomites. This is a taut, multiplayer-only first-person shooter — players march under the banner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Kingdom of Italy — where battles are won and lost with single-shot rifles and pugilistic trench beatdowns. But unlike some of the steelier military sims on the market, Isonzo is wondrously pulpy and surprisingly approachable. A swig of a canteen probably didn’t do much for the battalions of 1916, but in Blackmill’s world, it can give you a useful stamina boost. It’s playing fast and loose with history; I doubt the actual conscripts of the struggle could equip a perk to reduce their weapon sway. It’s all the World War I pomp and circumstance filtered through the prism of Call of Duty. No trench foot. Only headshots.

Metal Hellsinger (Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox Cloud Gaming)

Photo: Funcom

Rhythm games have been reduced to plastic guitars and limp dance routines for far too long. Thank God Metal Hellsinger breaks the mold. Here is a first-person shooter forged in the Doom tradition (a demon invasion, one fire-and-brimstone supersoldier to wipe them out), except that the combat is all syncopated to an overflowing playlist of big-budget groove metal. (Lamb of God, System of a Down, and so on.) When Metal Hellsinger hits its mark, it achieves a rarefied sort of euphoria — every sword slash or shotgun slug does extra damage when unleashed in time with the bass drum, as if you’re moshing with mouse clicks. Metal Hellsinger might not have the staying power of more mechanically rich shooters, but like the best thrash records, the decibels are more important than the resonance.

Return to Monkey Island (macOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch)

Photo: Devolver Digital

It is good to see Ron Gilbert winning. The design legend’s indomitable run of adventure games in the early ’90s — Day of the Tentacle, Maniac Mansion, and of course, The Secret of Monkey Island — possessed lyrical dialogue, brilliantly moody art direction, and the sort of swashbuckling adventurous spirit that was genuinely Pixar-worthy if he was working in movies. Still, the idea of Gilbert coming home to his most beloved work, decades later, had a slight air of bitter nostalgia. Could he really find the magic again? Reader, he hasn’t lost a step. Return to Monkey Island is the sixth game in the series, and if you’ve never taken the journey before, expect a point-and-click journey through an eccentric, cockeyed interpretation of the age of piracy — the Caribbean bustling with used car salesmen, discount voodoo shops, and a handful of puzzles that are always tough, but never unfair. The star of the show, as always, is Guybrush Threepwood: a cheery, quippy, wannabe pirate at the heart of the fiction, who has a Frodo-like propensity to stumble into ancient cults and eldritch blood rituals. We’re happy he’s back. The video game industry is better off when Ron Gilbert is at the peak of his powers.

Grounded (Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S)

Photo: Obsidian Entertainment

Survival games love to throw players into brutal conditions. I’ve been marooned along the frozen reaches of the Canadian arctic in The Long Dark and guarded a homestead from marauding greylings in Valheim, but Grounded shifts the setting to a much more familiar environment. We are a collection of grade-school ne’er-do-wells who’ve been shrunken down to ant dimensions by some sort of accidental sci-fi mishap. Now, either alone or in a group, you must forage for food and spindle together a shelter in the most challenging of all climates; the average suburban backyard. Like most survival games, Grounded has you scrounging together whatever resources you can find in order to forge them into munitions, infrastructure, and rations — but instead of toppling ancient oak trees and fending off flesh-eating zombies, you’ll be working with some incredibly meager, cul-de-sac supplies. (Blades of grass, grains of sand, maybe a shred of lint, if you’re lucky.) It all gives Grounded a delightful, Nickelodeon-ish verve; as if you and your friends are role-playing your own made-for-TV movie.

Scorn (Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X/S)

Scorn is ugly by nature. The first-person shooter celebrates the gross, gothic single-player dirges of the ’90s — like Doom or Heretic. You play a nameless, faceless husk trapped in an unforgiving wasteland with a vague objective to figure out what went so wrong on this long-abandoned planet. The upstart Serbian studio Ebb Software nails its one-of-a-kind art design. An ominous purple mist chokes the rotting desert that sprawls out between blackened industrial plants, and the corridors inside are knotted with sinewy, pulsating organic matter. You’ll have plenty of puzzles to solve and interdimensional horrors to dispatch inside the mazes, but Scorn is to be experienced for its vibes before anything else.

A Plague Tale: Requiem (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Cloud Gaming)

It’s always a joy to see a studio stumble into a surprise hit and suddenly be blessed with the resources to truly nail its vision in the sequel. A Plague Tale: Innocence arrived in 2019 with a clever — if occasionally janky — set of stealth-action puzzles and a delightfully downcast Middle Ages veneer. (You frequently would be asked to avoid a horde of diseased rats. It was pretty gnarly.) Requiem gives that premise far more oxygen with larger levels, a more devious arsenal, and a genuinely startling graphical advance — medieval France has never looked better. But best of all is the storytelling, which somehow manages to ground this gothic nightmare in the human beings who need to survive it — one swarm of vermin at a time.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope (Nintendo Switch)

Nintendo rarely lets other video-game companies play with its toys, so it was pretty surprising when the Switch was unveiled in 2017 with … a Ubisoft-developed Mario game? In which the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom engaged in tactical, turn-based strategy with the mediocre Rabbids franchise? It was even more shocking that Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle turned out to be good, and this year’s sequel is even better. Sparks of Hope is the best tactics game of 2022. The synergies and combos you can find on these war fronts rival your best XCOM turns. You can bounce one of the members of your squadron off of another dormant character, putting them in perfect flanking position. You can unlock floating sidekicks who grant a whole new slate of abilities. You can build out a Luigi like he’s a League of Legends champion. Sparks of Hope is a roaring success. Just like everyone imagined, right?

Bayonetta 3 (Nintendo Switch)

Bayonetta is an eight-foot-tall librarian, with two pistols and a sword, whose entire body is sheathed in a coil of black, leatherlike hair. As you orchestrate combos, that hair unspools and morphs into nightmarish beasts that bolster your damage output. The premise is so ridiculous and politically fraught that it seemed unlikely the character’s namesake series would ever catch on among a discerning video-game audience, and yet people were absolutely parched for more Bayonetta after its eight-year hiatus. Bayonetta 3 keeps the series’ scintillating, whip-smart combat system, but PlatinumGames mixes in a number of interesting wrinkles for franchise veterans. For instance, Bayonetta can now summon a litany of demons to fight by her side like an Amazonian Pokémon trainer. There’s a new playable character in the mix, Viola, a punk-rock witch who’s equipped with a samurai sword that can transform into a gigantic, carnivorous cat named Chesire. It’s all proudly over the top, which is to say that Bayonetta hasn’t lost a step.

The Best Video Games of 2022