The Top Ten Games of 2022: Kirby Shares a Soul with the Tarnished
2022’s allotted five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes are just about up. The coming of the New Year is inevitable, but not as inevitable as the “Top 10 Games of 2022” that are cooked up by my fellow game writers and podcasters.
“Do you have a Top 10 Games of 2022 list, Nadia?”
Child, aim to ask fewer silly questions in the coming year. Or don’t, I’m not your mom. Yes. I have a Top 10 list. So as the stagehands disassemble 2022 and haul it away, let’s look back on the good times and the bad times. The triumphs for open-world games, the agony of prominent delays, and the little indie surprises that, once again, wriggled their way onto our Switches and Steam Decks, and into our hearts.
Disclaimer: This is my own list, and does not reflect the opinions of the general Blood God crew. In other words, if you’re going to get mad about God of War not being on this list, come after me with that ornamental flea market axe, not Kat or Eric.
10) Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration
9) Vampire Survivors
8) Pokemon Legends Arceus
6) Kirby and the Forgotten Land
5) Shovel Knight Dig
4) Rogue Legacy 2
2) Xenoblade Chronicles 3
1) Elden Ring
2022 was unique in that it was dominated by two massive open-world RPGs. Er, three if you count Horizon: Forbidden West…which didn’t make this list, so read that as you will. All I know is I wrote God himself a personalized Thank You note when Nintendo bumped The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to May of 2023. Yes, we’re all going to pay for the glut of 2022 delays in blood come the middle of 2023, but I still wouldn’t want to exist in a world where I have to weigh Tears of the Kingdom versus Elden Ring.
I missed way too many great indie games in 2022; if I don’t at least play Pentiment in the coming year, Eric will probably put a hit on me. I’ll resolve that, same as I’ll make sure to play some Citizen Sleeper, Neon White, and Signalis in 2023. I’m sorry for missing out the first time, amazing indie games. Allow me to perform a remorseful dance.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection took up a lot of my “putzing around” time in 2022’s last quarter. As I’ve often said on certain pods, the NES was the first video game console that I became obsessed with, but I still have a deep history with the Atari 2600. Some Atari games are admittedly pretty crap—Atari’s deluge of mediocrity is what triggered the collapse of the home console market in 1983—but as Digital Eclipse’s collection reminded me, it was once deservedly the king of everything. It’s still easy to pour hours into Combat‘s brick-simple multiplayer arenas, and there ain’t a whole lot wrong with the Atari 2600 port of Missile Command. But the best part of Atari 50, aside from its ingenious, baked-in history lessons, is that it reunited me with my first video game love, Solaris. Its complex, highly imaginative take on space combat demonstrates the Atari 2600 could give us games almost as complex as Super Mario Bros. on the NES, but that didn’t happen for several thousand reasons.
On the topic of games you putz around with while waiting for UberEats, Vampire Survivors is a last-minute entry for me. The combination of action and bullet hell mechanics pushes my dusty endorphins release button. Vampire Survivors is a huge hit, and it looks and plays like some Digipen freshman’s end-of-year project. That’s wonderful. Crappy-looking games with soul-grabbing mechanics need to keep rising to prominence amidst the triple-A blockbuster titles.
That puts me in the mind to talk about the Pokemon games we saw in 2022, including Legends Arceus, Scarlet, and Violet. Dear God Pokemon Company, what are we going to do with you? Arceus proved to be a fantastic single-player Pokemon experience, whereas Scarlet and Violet proved…buggy. Not the little bugs that sometimes find their way into your rice, though. I’m talking about the big honkin’ centipedes with sixty-five legs. Those are the bugs that plague Scarlet and Violet.
Despite Scarlet and Violet’s disappointing condition, people generally love it. They love the open world, they love the story, they love the new Pokemon designs. It’s frustrating to see Pokemon in this state, because I think it’s clear Game Freak is an enormously talented studio that’s pushed to produce, produce, produce. Everything about Pokemon runs by the anime’s schedule, making delays impossible. I shudder to think about how the team managed during COVID. If Game Freak was allowed the time and resources it needs to do whatever it wants with Pokemon, we’d be living in VR Pokemon worlds by now. Will Game Freak continue to fix up Scarlet and Violet? Or will it be shooed along to the next Pokemon thing? Take a pill, Pokemon Company, and let Game Freak take pride in its work.
Square Enix went a little crazy at the end of the year. It released a glut of mid-tier games that mostly proved wonderful in their own ways, but were simply tacked with a $69.99 price tag and left to fend for themselves. This is the reason why another one of my favourites for 2022, Harvestella, will have to fight for relevance in the coming months. Harvestella’s fighting and farming mechanics aren’t as well-developed as they could be, but good heavens, what an odd new world Live Wire has put together. Harvestella points at the Xenoblade series and says, “See that weeb shit everyone loves now? We started that.” Honestly, it works. There are story moments that made me say “What?” out loud. Square Enix, please give me assurances that we’ll visit the ghostly world of Harvestella sometime in the future.
Speaking of weird worlds, give it up for our boy Kirby. Kirby and the Forgotten Land wasn’t the open world Kirby adventure I kind of wanted, but hey, it’s not like that genre was starving in 2022. Besides, The Forgotten Land was exactly the palette cleanser I needed between Elden Ring and Xenoblade Chronicles 3. I loved being guided through overgrown malls—and the haunted back corridors of said malls. (Anyone who’s worked in a mall understands that vibe big time.)
This is actually a great time to tag in Elden Ring, which excels at something The Forgotten Land excels in, too: Visual storytelling. I generally like reading about SoulsBorne games more than I like playing through them, but Elden Ring was easy for me to latch onto because it doesn’t make me feel boxed in like Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Big, bad monster slouching your way? Torrent the magical blue horse-goat will get you to safety in a flash. That sense of freedom made it much easier for me to appreciate the sad, stagnant realm of the Lands Between. And every biome I visited told a story, from the rain-soaked hills of Stormveil to the wretchedly diseased mesas of Caelid. For my money, FromSoft is the king of visual storytelling, and Elden Ring is just one big, unsettling picture book. The pages are all mixed up, there aren’t a lot of words, but disassembling and reassembling that narrative is half the fun of a tight-lipped game like Elden Ring.
And it’s half the fun in Kirby, too. HAL has a talent for making Kirby just mysterious enough and just threatening enough to keep him interesting. That way, Kirby’s intrigue seasons every game setting he’s plonked in. And poor Kirby sure tends to find himself in a lot of worlds where a mass exodus or major extinction event occurred. The player is encouraged to read the signs and clues in The Forgotten Land’s crumbling infrastructure and actual biological horrors, but Kirby? He exists only to help his friends, sleep, and eat sandwiches. His detachment to the civilization that preceded his arrival just makes The Forgotten Land all the more creepy in a uniquely Kirby way.
I love me some bouncy platforming, and Shovel Knight Dig scratched my itch alongside Rogue Legacy 2. Shovel Knight Dig is basically Downwell with Mr. Shovel Knight, so expect a lot of digging, a lot of leaps of faith, and a lot of decisions on how to best level up the valiant knight with your paltry resources. Shovel Knight Dig pushes my aforementioned endorphins button, especially since it boasts some of the liveliest sprite work I’ve ever seen. Nitrome has always made good-looking games with a distinctly candy-coloured, exaggerated style, and it works brilliantly for Shovel Knight’s motley cast. Rogue Legacy 2 is likewise bursting with life thanks to its bright visuals. It’s also a good meal if you love twitchy platformers with weird gimmicks. Rogue Legacy 2 saddles you with bloodlines of warriors who carry unique traits. Some of those traits make it easier to fight, move, and use magic. Or the game might turn black and white because your scion is colourblind, and that’s how colourblindness works. Rogue Legacy 2 has made me laugh as it’s made me swear. Easy recommendation.
Moving on from cheerful things, it’s time to pay tribute to Omori. Now, this moody RPG from Omocat came out on PC in 2020. I played it for the first time with the Switch release that came out this year, though, so I’m counting it for 2022. Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to talk about it, because whoo-whee. It took me a little while to warm up to Omori because I initially had it pegged as an Earthbound clone with the twist that “Ness” has depression. But as I kept playing, it became clear there’s more to Omori and his troubled mental state. Omori isn’t just a depressed boy; he’s a borderline hikikomori because of something he did. Something so terrible, so unmentionable, his subconscious threatens to stifle the secret forever—and Omori’s sanity along with it. Unraveling Omori is a heart-wrenching endeavor, but it feels so good to help the poor kid navigate through the muck and onto a brighter path.
Finally, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 wound up being a huge personal favourite. If the shock hasn’t caused your heart to seize up, let me admit that I initially wasn’t looking very forward to Xenoblade 3. If you listen to me with any regularity on Blood God or Retronauts, first, I want to offer my sincerest apologies for your inexorable brain damage. Second, you’ve already heard me rant about how I caught some crap for falling in love with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. That includes being called a “bad feminist” for playing a game where a sword with big ta-tas and booty shorts saves the world with some kid in perpetual Big Daddy Bioshock cosplay. It’s interesting to look back at Xenoblade Chronicles 2 nowadays and notice how queer-positive it was for its time, but that discourse was muffled in 2017.
I get it. Playing Xenoblade 2 is like hanging with a teenager. It’s loud, energetic, interesting, infuriating, and also has great taste in music. And I adore it. So when Xenoblade 3 was announced, I prepared myself for more exhausting discourse about anime ladies’ chests. Instead, I saw Metacritic scores of 9 and 10. I was kind of shocked, but when I played Xenoblade 3, I quickly understood that high praise is justified. Xenoblade 3 is far more serious and sombre than its energetic brother. It’s deeply-polished and has some of the best-written sidequests I’ve seen in an RPG. It’s proof Monolith Soft has grown up, and more than earned its right to stand by Nintendo. Not just the developers, either. I think the main theme for Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which pops up often during some of the game’s most emotional interludes, is composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s best work since Chrono Cross’ “Scars of Time.” That opinion might be controversial, but I feel like it shouldn’t be.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is also the reason why I’m taking half a step back from the discourse about how the Switch needs a more powerful successor. Each fight pits seven fighters against some big mech or beast, and there’s almost never any slowdown or frame drops. I also need to commend the work Monolith Soft did on the characters’ expressions. They blink, they move their eyes, they sway slightly when they stand still. When things hit rock-bottom for our heroes, the emotions they express during those moments of fright and frustration are what cemented them as one of my favourite RPG parties, ever.
Monolith Soft is disgustingly talented, and not every dev is capable of the studio’s Switch witchery. But Switch games that are pure jank can’t blame all their problems on the hybrid’s lukewarm power. Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Dragon Quest XI S, Persona 5 Royal, and 13 Sentinels are all examples of how high quality Switch games and ports are possible with a little extra time and care—two things Game Freak isn’t allowed to have much of, unfortunately.
This was a long wad of discourse, and I expect 2023’s wad will be even longer. There’s a storm of games comin’. Before I brace myself against the push, let me thank you all for keeping up with Axe of the Blood God in 2022. We guarantee 2023 is going to be big and cool enough to find out where you live and blow your socks off like a cornered Voltorb.
Until then, happy adventuring.