My Top 10 Games of “2022”
By Brian • 23 February 2023
Another year has come and gone, and with that, another journey through the fabulous medium that is video games.
As you know by now, I like to offer a brief summary of my thoughts on the games I played in a given year in the form of these Top 10 lists. However, 2022’s journey through games proved something of a departure from the norm. It was the year of the pick-up-and-play experience, dominated by arcade games, co-op outings with Craig (both online AND in-person), and other short, controlled bursts of gaming joy. Not a single meaty RPG, or any game requiring a lengthy amount of attention or dedication, for that matter, made this year’s list. In other words, when I played video games in 2022, it was either by appointment with Craig, or where I could steal fifteen minutes here or there to sneak in a quick game of a favorite arcade classic, or to hastily guide Samus Aran from one save room to the next before bedtime.
Are you ready for my Top 10 of “2022?” Here are this year’s criteria:
- I beat the game for the first time in 2022. “Beat” simply means I saw the end of the game—it does not necessarily mean I’ve seen or done everything the game has to offer.
- If the game is a high-score chaser or otherwise doesn’t really have an ending, just playing a lot of it makes it eligible.
- I try not to repeat games that have made my Top 10 lists before. For example, I played a lot of Donkey Kong and Stardew Valley this year, but those games have already received coverage, so I left them off this year’s list.
Let’s get started!
Honorable Mention: Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch, 2019)
I mentioned in a post last year that my appreciation for Super Mario Maker 2 grew once I started building levels with my daughter. Before that, I was mostly just disappointed in my mediocre-at-best level designs—Shigero Miyamoto, I am not. However, collaborating on levels with her and getting to watch her play the levels I build adds a completely new dimension and exhilaration to the experience. Whether we’re throwing a bunch of crazy crap into a hellscape devoid of logical design, or I’m crafting an elaborate puzzle for her to solve, it’s been a great bonding experience for the two of us.
She’s not great at games (yet), so it’s sometimes hard for me to strike a balance between the level I want to build, and a level I know she will be able to both finish and enjoy. However, I’m getting better at it, and so is she, so I’m excited to see what we come up with in the coming years.
10. A Short Hike (PC, 2019)
A Short Hike received attention in my post about relaxing games. But, if this is the first you’re reading of it, A Short Hike follows Claire, an anthropomorphic bird person, on an isometric getaway with her Aunt May to Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Here, Claire is able to get away from it all, explore the island thoroughly (or as little as possible), and solve some minor puzzles and fetch quests for other park visitors. However, she’s also expecting a phone call and spends much of her time on the island preoccupied by getting to a spot with enough signal to receive it. No, there is no world-saving in this story, but it’s not without its intrigue.
I appreciated the freedom A Short Hike offers. At its core, it’s pretty standard fare—a main quest of reaching the summit of Hawk Peak, and numerous sidequests helping other visitors or finding and solving some light puzzles. However, aside from collecting Golden Feathers, which improve Claire’s movement ability and are needed to reach certain areas, she’s free to do what she wants on the island, without a doomsday clock or a world-in-peril surrounding her. Despite Claire’s preoccupations (totally relatable, by the way—who hasn’t been on a family trip, but didn’t appreciate it at first because of some weekday stressor?), the game delivered a relaxing, stress-free experience for me. I didn’t have to worry about Claire dying or missing important story beats. It was just fun.
9. Kirby's Dream Course (SNES, 1994)
Something I never expected in life is how gripping I find these ridiculous golf video games. I am not a golfer or even a golf fan in my day-to-day, but sit me in front of the TV with a golf video game? Easy chip-in.
So, here we have Kirby’s Dream Course, which ostensibly is miniature golf, but Kirby is the golf ball. Players putt Kirby into enemies on the course, eliminating them until the hole appears. From there, it’s a race to see which player can sink their ball first. Plus, there are plenty of Kirby tropes here, such as power-stealing, cute aesthetic, Whispy Woods wasting space, as always, and so on.
Craig and I play this frequently on Nintendo Switch Online, and it has become comfort gaming over the last couple of years. It’s a game in which we don’t have to devote a lot of thought or effort, but it’s just competitive enough to stay engaging. And, with four courses from which to choose, Kirby’s Dream Course also offers plenty of variety and a desire to suss out the tricks, hazards, and idiosyncrasies of each hole.
8. Pac-Man 256 (Switch/PC, 2015)
Having played Pac-Man 256 on my PC sporadically over the last few years, I knew I liked it, but I never got super into it. However, I bought Pac-Man Museum+ on a Black Friday sale last year, which includes Pac-Man 256, and thanks to the versatility and portability of the Nintendo Switch, the game took a turn for the much more accessible and addictive. Oh no.
Here, players control Pac-Man and do normal Pac-Man things (eat dots, dodge ghosts, get high scores and score multipliers, shoot lasers at ghosts—wait what?), while navigating an endless maze. However, the maze is slowly, but constantly consumed by The Glitch (a reference to the 256th level of the original Pac-Man arcade game, and this game’s namesake), so players have to keep moving or be swallowed by a hungry mess of garbled graphics.
I love the high score chase, so I naturally keep coming back to this one. Plus, there’s enough randomness and variety of hazards, bonuses, and power-ups to keep Pac-Man 256 endlessly interesting. Also, I recently discovered its co-op mode, which I have tried with both Craig and my daughter. She doesn’t really care for it—I think there is just too much happening for her eyes and reflexes to keep up, but Craig and I could potentially sit and play it forever, if only those dang red ghosts would leave us alone, already! Get out of here!
7. Vampire Survivors (PC, 2022)
How’s this for a change of pace?! It’s not often I pick up a trendy new game the year of its release, but Vampire Survivors is one of those outliers. I just saw somebody talking about it on Twitter one day, got curious, tried the free version on itch.io, and instantly grew addicted. It seemed so simple, innocent, and charming—all I had to do was move my Castlevania-inspired characters around as they auto-fired projectiles at hordes (literal thousands) of spritely skeletons and bats and so forth, pick up gems and treasure boxes, and have a day.
BUT, I soon discovered so much more. There is a deep strategy to finding effective weapon and upgrade combinations. I’m paraphrasing Jeff Vogel here, but a well-played game of Vampire Survivors is one in which, by the late game, the player doesn’t even have to move their character—the projectiles will take care of everything for them. Not only that, if you pair the right weapon with the right upgrade, and the weapon is leveled up completely, it will evolve into a new, even more effective superweapon. However, I couldn’t keep up with the evolution requirements for each weapon, so I became a madman and started taking notes. Many of the levels have their own secrets and special items to collect, as well. It’s a straightforward game at a glance, but there is a lot of nuance and intrigue going on here. I still have a bunch of secrets to find and characters to unlock. There’s a good chance the soundtrack is playing in my head at any given moment, as well, especially that Inlaid Library theme.
Still not sold? One of the playable characters is a dog. I dunno—lots of incentive to try this one. One of the best games of my 2022, but also one of the best games to actually release in 2022!
6. Mario Bros. (Arcade and NES, 1983)
It’s only appropriate that Craig covered Mario Bros. in his Arcade Archivist series last year, as we both spent a lot of time guiding Mario and Luigi through the dangerous, but profitable, sewers beneath New York (I guess?) in search of points and glory. The Arcade Archives version on Nintendo Switch is the superior iteration of Mario Bros., but it lacks an online 2-player mode, so it’s best for the single player experience. For a 2-player game, we play the NES version on Nintendo Switch Online. We probably both played it at the Underground Retrocade, as well.
Here’s the thing about a 2-player Mario Bros. game: we do our best to help each other out, to try to push each other to the best scores we can get. However, it rarely works out. Things will start out great, but then I’ll accidentally push Craig off a platform and into the waiting claws of a Sidestepper. Craig will then accidentally bump me from underneath, directly into the path of a fireball. Then the POW block will be hit unintentionally and flip a Shellcreeper back on its feet just before one of us is about to knock it off the screen. Once a couple of mistakes are made, the whole game spirals into a cascading failure of comical blunders. It is a maddening and yet somehow beautiful sequence of events. It comes with the joy of the game, one of my favorite arcade games and a masterpiece of simultaneous 2-player action.
5. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS, 2017)
As a big Metroid fan, I was disappointed in myself for how long it took me to get around to playing Samus Returns. I started playing in 2018, but quickly bounced off of it. A combination of preoccupation with other games and other priorities factored in, but I think the fact that the game is a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus on Game Boy—my least favorite game in the series—contributed, as well. I struggled to get excited about it. But, in time, it occurred to me that this remake could only be an improvement on Samus’s first portable adventure, and it was time to give the game a playthrough in earnest. (Also, Metroid Dread came out, and it was completely out of line for me to have two mainline Metroid games sitting unplayed in my backlog.) Time to go to work.
Once I put real effort into Samus Returns, I found it to be another great Metroid game! It’s the same story from Metroid II—Samus infiltrating planet SR388 to wipe out the Metroids on their home planet—but there are some new ideas here that work well, such as parrying enemy attacks. It wasn’t really something I thought of before, but it makes sense for Samus’s big honkin’ power suit to be capable of some sort of blunt force, like knocking overly aggressive enemies senseless, leaving them extra vulnerable to a blast from Samus’s arm cannon. I also appreciated the Scan Pulse, which allows Samus to detect hidden passages and items. It’s like the X-Ray scope from Super Metroid, but easier to use. The encounters with the Metroids were often intense, making for a challenging experience, overall. My only complaint was that I had so many abilities by the end of the game that I couldn’t remember to use the appropriate ones when I needed them.
Overall, Samus Returns was some of the most fun I’ve had whilst shouldering the somber task of eradicating an entire species from existence.
4. Contra (NES, 1988)
I somehow managed to never beat Contra (at least not without save states or the infamous Konami Code) until 2022. I never owned the cartridge growing up, or when I collected later in life. (It quickly became unreasonably expensive on the used games market.) Contra is an infallible, genre-defining NES classic, but the first Contra game I played was its sequel, Super C, and that has always been my favorite. I don’t dislike Contra! I just like Super C a lot more.
Before my door gets busted in by a clutch of angry gamer bros demanding retribution for the blasphemy of the above paragraph, I must reiterate that I have nothing bad to say about Contra. Except for maybe those over-the-shoulder, inside-the-enemy-base levels, which have always felt a little clunky to me. Besides those, it’s a blast, a game that never fails to deliver fun and hordes of enemies to mow down. Come on. I’m a bad enough dude—of course I like Contra. The sidescrolling levels are all interesting and certainly challenging, ranging from jungle to snowfield to alien lair and more, each with their own unique hazards and appearance. The constant barrage and variety of enemy forces perpetually keep players on their toes, especially those dudes prone to sneaking up behind our unsuspecting shirtless heroes. Finally, the spread gun. Was a finer video game weapon ever conceived? Well, perhaps the Metal Blade, but that’s a debate for another Top 10 list.
The snowfield proves to consistently be my make-or-break level. If I can clear the snowfield without much trouble, there’s a good chance I can make it close to the end of the game. If I struggle on the snowfield, I might as well start over. Those enemy gun turrets trip me up constantly.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Switch, 2022)
The beat ’em up revival continues! As you may recall, the Streets of Rage franchise made its glorious return in 2020 with Streets of Rage 4, making my Top 10 list last year. Now, in 2022, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gets its much-deserved modern sidescrolling beat ’em up in Shredder’s Revenge. I got to play this with Craig at his house when I visited last year, so we were able to fully embrace nostalgic couch co-op, in the same vein as playing TMNT: The Arcade Game on NES together as kids all those years ago.
Complete with an aesthetic and voice talent directly from the cartoon of the 1980s and 90s, Shredder’s Revenge couldn’t be more fun or comforting. It feels like the perfect evolution of the genre, with all the trimmings of the classics. We beat up a bunch of foot soldiers. We fought Rocksteady and Bebop and the rest of Shredder’s dumb friends. And Shredder, of course, who did not get his alleged revenge. We saw cameos by the Neutrinos and the Punk Frogs and the crew at Channel 6 News! The controls felt great! The music rocked! Playing Shredder’s Revenge for the first time was like reliving the day I first laid eyes on The Arcade Game. A radical example of unabashed gaming joy. Cowabunga!
2. Heroes of Hammerwatch (PC, 2018)
Another co-op experience, which is proving to be quite the running theme of this list. Craig and I spent a lot of Thursday nights over the last couple of years trying to beat Heroes of Hammerwatch. This Gauntlet-like adventure sees heroes attempting to battle their way to the top of the Forsaken Spire, taking on hordes of monsters while traversing mines, dungeons, an ancient library, the ramparts at the top of the spire, and more. Attempting to battle their way being the key phrase here, as Heroes of Hammerwatch is also a roguelite, meaning every death sent us back to the bottom of the mountain. If we played smart, we at least got to keep some of the gold we earned along the way, which we spent on permanent upgrades that would make the next adventure easier.
Nevertheless, two years. Maybe we were just really bad, despite all those permanent upgrades we accumulated. In our defense, the Forsaken Spire was practically bursting with traps, enemies, and large, unforgiving bosses, including favorite enemy tropes like a vampire and a giant eyeball. What more do you demand from us poor, humble, ill-equipped adventurers?
It was funny—we struggled through the entirety of Heroes of Hammerwatch, but when we finally reached the last area, we cleared it in one sitting, without dying. To finish the game—especially our uncharacteristically efficient trek through the final area—almost felt surreal, given how long we worked on it. Bittersweet, in one way, but maddeningly satisfying in another. Lucky for us, when we want to play again, there are more character classes and a New Game+ mode.
1. Metroid Dread (Switch, 2021)
I know it took me a while to get to Samus Returns, but one of the hidden blessings of that delay was getting to play two new Metroid games in one year! It felt like 2002 all over again, when both Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion were released. The other in this case was, of course, Metroid Dread, in which developers MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD took a lot of the new, good ideas from Samus Returns, put them in a gorgeous, Nintendo Switch-powered presentation (which, relatively speaking, isn’t that powerful, but a vast improvement over the 3DS), and delivered a fantastic new Metroid experience that was originally conceived in the mid-2000s, but thought to be lost to time and technical limitations.
Samus investigates Planet ZDR after the Galactic Federation learns the X Parasite, the big bad from Metroid Fusion, may be alive and well on the planet. They send seven EMMI (Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers) robots to investigate, initially, but lose contact with them shortly thereafter, so it’s up to Samus to intervene. This becomes important later, as the EMMIs have gone nuts and attempt to hunt down and kill Samus if she enters their jurisdictions, which is where that titular dread factors in.
On its own, Metroid Dread is a great installment in the series. I really liked the logic and flow of moving between areas and revisiting them later—for instance, an explosion might damage an area and force Samus to find a detour, or an area might freeze over, prompting Samus to investigate what’s wrong with the heater. Metroid Fusion also did this well—I was reminded of it on numerous occasions. The boss battles were difficult, but exciting, and included a familiar face or two. I came to enjoy parrying and became much more adept at it than I ever was in Samus Returns. Plus, a huge subject of curiosity for me was the Central Units in the EMMI zones—they reminded me very much of Mother Brain. They even had Rinkas and laser turrets protecting them, like Mother Brain has in both Metroid and Super Metroid. I suspected there might be a connection, but was left wondering. Bad enough friend Jon suggested I might need to play more of the Metroid Prime series to find a few additional references.
But what about those EMMIs, you ask? Yes, those dreaded EMMIs. They’re fast, nimble, can climb on any surface, and can hear a pin drop. They make these chittery little beeping sounds as they explore, and to hear those beeps a corridor over, getting closer and closer, unnerves me on a level I can’t describe. They can’t be fought head-on, so Samus must do her best to avoid them—quietly, at that—which, in my case, usually resulted in a comedy of errors. Samus gets a camouflage ability later on, but I didn’t have much success using it, often because I made panicked use of it right in the path of an oncoming EMMI, at which point it literally ran into my invisible bounty hunter and scored a free kill. Let me tell you, the anxiety associated with keeping my distance from these things was real and intense. Real intense. I felt the same way I do watching final girls maintaining a slim lead on their slasher adversaries. Mistakes are costly, and nothing was more stressful than when I thought I had finally given an EMMI the slip, only to have it appear in front of me for yet another Game Over. Exhausting, yes, but undeniably fun, as well.
That’s it! That’s the list! What did you think? What were your top games of “2022?” Thanks for reading, and see you next mission!