I don’t have much to say about this past year other than it was busy and stressful, and I didn’t get through as many games as I wanted to. There were a handful of gems in the ones I did play, though, especially the Game of the Year. I also didn’t blog as much here in 2022 as I had hoped to do, and to be honest, I’m not sure I can pick up the pace in 2023. More than anything else, 2022 has left me tired. Here’s hoping for a more energetic 2023, whether or not that means I post here on a more regular basis.
As usual, every game here is one I’ve beaten (or played extensively, in the case of “endless” titles) during the past year, regardless of release date. For each game in the top ten, the title, developer/author, platform(s) I played it on, and the release year for said platform in my region has been included, along with a little bit about why I found this game so memorable.
• Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past – For its ambition, storytelling, and classic Dragon Quest gameplay.
• WHAT THE GOLF? – For its cheeky humor and often surprising reinventions of the game of golf.
• Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Mega Mix+ – For its deep playlist drawn from across the entire Hatsune Miku Project series, and its accessibility.
• Lifeless Planet: Premier Edition – For its unique story and likable low-budget character.
• Touhou Luna Nights – For its savvy action and soundtrack jam-packed with remixes of classic Touhou tunes.
Tale of Tales | Windows | 2015
It took me four years to complete my journey through Tale of Tales’ oeuvre, and as it turned out, this last game of theirs is also one of their finest. Set in the early 1970s, Sunset puts the player in the shoes of a US citizen working as a rich art collector’s maid in a fictional Latin American country on the verge of revolution. Exploring the empty, exquisitely furnished penthouse each day unravels new threads in the story, mostly told through the protagonist’s thoughts. A sometimes clunky, yet often beautiful, meditation on life, culture, and politics.
Long Live the Queen
Hanako Games | Mac | 2013
This simulation visual novel puts the player in the shoes of a pink-haired princess, who must learn the necessary skills, and make the right decisions, in order to survive until her coronation. There are over three dozen subjects that Princess Elodie can master, and her mood and outfit can affect how well she does in various subjects. The challenge lies in choosing the right combination of skills and pastimes in order to progress in the story, and indeed, to not die. Throughout the course of the game, Elodie will have to deal with suitors, magical secrets, political intrigue, and her subjects’ expectations for their future queen. I was not prepared for how deep this game is, nor how engrossing.
Ys: Memories of Celceta
Nihon Falcom | Windows | 2018
I went into 2022 with one of my goals being to make a dent in my Ys backlog. My replay of Ys VI and first time playing Ys Seven were both enjoyable enough, but the highlight of the experience was the first Ys I played this year, Memories of Celceta. This game is not only the most modern of the three and a final, canonical version of Ys IV, it also traces through series hero Adol Christin’s origins as an adventurer. The result is not just another rollicking journey, but a love letter to Adol himself, and the passion for travel and exploration that has fascinated and driven him since he was a young child.
Touhou Fuujinroku: Mountain of Faith
Team Shanghai Alice | Windows | 2007
Even though I played three Touhou games this year, it says a lot that the best of the bunch was the official entry from ZUN himself. Mountain of Faith, the tenth Touhou Project, introduces a fresh slate of yokai and gods for Reimu and Marisa to fight, a finely tuned battle system, and some of the prettiest danmaku and catchiest music in the world of doujin games. The bullet patterns this time include flowers, stars, spirals, horizontal lines (trust me, this is more exciting than it sounds), and the usual abstract bursts and curtains that behave in fascinating ways. As of now, I have no idea what my fourth mainline Touhou will be, but whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.
Pick Pack Pup
Nick Magnier & Arthur Hamer
Playdate | 2022
The only Playdate game I beat this past year was also one that was right in my wheelhouse: a match-three puzzler with a unique gimmick. Pick Pack Pup stars a dog working in a warehouse who must ship out various products in order to meet their quota. By matching the same types of objects together, they get packed into boxes which remain until they are “shipped”, at which point money is earned, or until the timer runs out and the bottom row falls off the screen. Combos can be racked up by shipping multiple boxes at one time, and of course, that means more money. It’s a simple concept I hadn’t seen in match three before, and it works well with this premise. The Playdate’s signature crank controller is used to scroll through the cutscenes and not much else, but don’t let Pick Pack Pup‘s lack of novelty in this respect put you off.
Patrick Traynor | Windows/Mac | 2022
If, like me, you enjoyed Baba is You but also struggled with it, Patrick’s Parabox is an outstanding alternative. Instead of words, this Sokoban-style game uses space and scale within its puzzles. Our square pink avatar can push tiny environments around, then go inside them to push and/or enter even more boxes. Failure can mean more than just the usual pushing a box into the wrong spot; a recursive loop, as seen in the screenshot here, or an escape into infinity itself can quickly have you reaching for the rewind button. As the stages go on, the new concepts introduced become progressively more mind-bendy; by the time I neared the end of the game, I tried not to think about the world’s logic too much.
Frog Detective 3: Corruption at Cowboy County
Grace Bruxner & Thomas Bowker
Windows | 2022
The third and final game in the Frog Detective series is the easiest one in terms of its puzzles—not to say that the previous two were difficult—but shines when it comes to story and humor. Our hero, the Detective, is summoned out to Cowboy County to handle a case that his neighbor Lobster Cop couldn’t handle on his own. Quirkiness and good natured comedy follows, as does an ending which put a huge smile on my face. Even though this is a standalone entry in the Frog Detective series, some familiarity with the events of the first two games is recommended.
An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs
Strange Scaffold | Windows | 2021
Just barely beating out Patrick’s Parabox for the Third Place prize was this, an adventure game where our protagonist, one of the last humans left in the Solar System, walks around and solves problems in interplanetary airports staffed by stock photos of dogs. There’s Bribe Dog, the dog who loves bribes, who must be placated any time you want to fly somewhere new. There’s also the many, many dogs who run the shops and restaurants in these airports, who hate briefcases, hawk toilet paper and bananas, or may try and convert you to their cult. Drunk pilots, elf ears, a giant swimming pool, spray paint cans, secret hideaways, Uranus, and balls, balls, balls are some of the other sights and delights our hero can come across during his interplanetary journeys. By now, you’re probably wondering if you can also pet the dogs. Not only can you pet them with a randomly-generated disembodied hand, there’s an achievement for petting them 704 times in a single session. I sure hope you like petting good doggos, but more than that, I hope you’ll love this weirdo game as much as I did.
Metroid: Samus Returns
Mercury Steam Entertainment/Nintendo | 3DS | 2017
It’s interesting how little of my time playing Metroidvanias have involved actual Metroids or Castlevanias. I’ve never played a game in the latter series, and prior to this past year, the last Metroid I played was in 2010. Perhaps I should do something about that, since this game, a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, is phenomenal. I found myself hooked on it fairly quickly, eager to explore every nook and cranny of the metroids’ homeworld. Upgrades and abilities are doled out at a good clip, and figuring out how to use them to get past various obstacles could be extremely satisfying. Just as satisfying is the combat, with a melee counter that becomes rhythmic second nature in between firing beams and missiles. The major boss battles are oh so tough, but fair; any frustration I felt during those fights was ultimately overcome by the joy of taking those monsters down. At any rate, hopefully it won’t take me another twelve years to play Super Metroid and Metroid Dread.
First Place: Game of the Year
poncle | Windows | 2022
I don’t remember where I first heard about Vampire Survivors, but after getting that little taste on itch.io, I knew that I would be getting this game, Early Access be damned. At the beginning, it reminded me of Witch & Hero, a cute, single-screen tower defense game where you played a lone knight defending a petrified witch. However, in Vampire Survivors, there’s nothing to defend but yourself, both the maps and the number of enemies are way bigger, and your weapons all fire automatically.
And what weapons! The whip was an early favorite of mine, with its large white arcs and satisfying sound effect. Like many a Vampire Survivors player, I took a shine to the garlic, which creates stinky circles around your character that are so volatile, they will harm anything that comes near you. Knives, bibles, crosses, and so on: if it can be used for fighting vampires, chances are you can equip it. Plus, with the right power-ups equipped, most of the weapons can be evolved into awesome spectacles of skeleton death. Some weapons and characters which can be unlocked later on, and that I dare not spoil, are hilarious, a blast to play with, or both.
I first “beat” Vampire Survivors in early February, back when it was version 0.2.10 and had a paltry forty achievements. Feeling that a lot more was to come, I put the game aside and awaited its proper release, which came in October. Truth be told, I was impressed and delighted by how much poncle had added to the game in the intervening months: new characters, new weapons, an “Arcana” feature which can hurt or hinder your loadout, and some wild new stages and secrets. Vampire Survivors went from being a personal GotY contender to absolutely cementing that position. If you don’t own this already, it’ll be the best five bucks you spend this week, or even this year.