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Game of the Year 2023

So, why strike when the iron is hot?  No, no, no, striking when the iron is cold is all the rage these days.  That’s why I, Brian, have decided to delay my Top 10 Games of 2022 post to right now so I can control the algorithm and provide you, dear reader, with the newest and freshest top 10 list of the season.  It definitely doesn’t have anything to do with how busy life has been lately.  So, without further ado, let’s get into it.  The top 10 games of 2022 are……..

 

10.  Strange Horticulture

 


Unique experiences.  These days, I find myself much more likely to engage with a game that I find truly unique as opposed to games that feel like re-skins of games we’ve seen come out over and over again.  Enter Strange Horticulture.  This game came onto my radar via a YouTube channel I subscribe to called “Best Indie Games.”  It was pitched to me in about 30 seconds:  you are a botanist who works with strange and mysterious plants.  Identify plants, help the villagers by providing plants and herbs that they are in need of, and uncover a mystery.  On its face, a neat little plant identifying game seemed interesting enough for me to give it a try.  What I found out was that I was only scratching the surface of a well thought out narrative adventure puzzle game.  Identifying the plants and filling out my shelves was only one aspect of this game that ended up hooking me.  Mysterious notes from villagers, an ancient religion that was shrouded in secrecy, and travelling across a map while stumbling upon discoveries kept me rapt from the jump.  What I thought was just a neat little plant game turned out to be so much more.  The way the mysteries layer on each other form a wholly unique experience that evolved from a mild interest into a unique obsession.  An absolute recommend for list-makers and fans of point and click mysteries.  Can’t wait to see what Bad Viking cooks up next.

 

9.  Cult of the Lamb


 

Baa-nding of Isaac.  Get it?  Seriously though, Cult of the Lamb earned it’s place on this list for a number of reasons.  Cult management as a game mechanic seems interesting enough on its own but when it is wrapped in the cute-sy art style of Cult of the Lamb, it almost makes it feel ok to sacrifice your followers in the name of an elder god.  Managing the cult and your followers is only one part of the job as the other involves taking down four ancient deities and bringing more wayward souls into the fold.  You enter rogue-like style dungeons to tackle these gods. This game does all of the rogue-like stuff you are used to, but it doesn’t commit to them in such a way that your experience feels married to your choices.  After all, if you fail a dungeon and die, you can always come back and manage the cult.  Parts Animal Crossing, parts Rogue Legacy, it manages to feel like your participating in these systems without ever being bogged down by any of them.  I think this game threaded the needle between too much and not enough, providing a completely satisfying finished product.

 

8.  Infernax


 

Yo, you like Castlevania, right?  Who doesn’t?  Infernax does the retro, 8 bit platformer thing in the best way.  Visuals are brutal with pixel art that is just breathtaking.  It is difficult…but not too difficult.  You are given choices of how to handle each major conflict in the game.  These choices are often black and white, evil and good, but they do make you feel like you have some agency over the narrative.  Playing this game is like a magic trick.  It makes you feel the way you did when you played 8 bit titles of the NES era.  However, it is much smoother, quicker, more refined.  The combat and platforming are challenging and satisfying, never frustrating or unfair like many of the games that inspired it.  This game also manages to do something that its predecessors do not.  It empowers you to a point where you feel like you can rise to the challenge, if only just barely.  In a world filled with retro styled throwbacks, this is one that rises above its contemporaries.  Infernax, in a word, rules.

 

7.  Nobody Saves the World


 

I love Drinkbox games.  I love the art.  I love the music.  I love the writing.  Nobody Saves the World feels like a significant evolution for the studio.  This game is basically Diablo but instead of getting better gear, you are upgrading your forms.  Your character, Nobody, is a featureless husk who gains the ability to assume different physical forms, all with their own play styles.  You get to play as so many different forms that, at first, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them all.  What I find is that this game rewards you for switching between characters, upgrading all of your forms, and becoming well versed with all of their skills.  From horse to slug, turtle to zombie, each of these embodiments come with a unique range of skills and features that allow you to custom fit your playstyle.  Challenges encourage experimentation and the results are wonderful.  It was one of the first games I played in 2022 and I’m still thinking about it now. 

 

6.  Pokemon Legends Arceus


 

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I am a Pokemon pervert.  So you can imagine my disappointment in the recent entries in the main line Pokemon franchise.  Then, in January, along came Pokemon Legends Arceus.  An open(ish) world Pokemon game where the pokemon are just there for you to catch.  Just run up to them and catch ‘em.  And they’re HUGE, larger than life, and they’re just out in fields hanging out, doing pokemon stuff. I was expecting a cool little side story, just a detour in the Pokemon lineage.  What I got was a reimagining of what Pokemon is.  This game took chances in catching and battling, completely reworking a system that had made them billions of dollars.  It took 3D open world traversal and made it a real thing that you could do in these biomes.  It showed pokemon interacting with each other in the wild, just doing dumb animal shit that delighted me.  It was incredible.  It felt like a giant positive first step towards taking Pokemon into the future.  Unfortunately, Scarlet and Violet were just around the corner to bring me down.  Alas, Pokemon Legends Arceus, we will always have that beautiful winter together in the sun.

 

5.  Escape Academy


 

When seeing preview coverage, I thought Escape Academy looked pretty neat.  I’ll try that, it’s on game pass, what is there to lose?  Turns out, I was selling it short.  I love puzzle games, love point and click games, but have never done an actual escape room.  What Escape Academy did for me was take a lot of the things I love about video game puzzles and kind of pull them all together in a way that just worked for me.  The puzzles were inventive and challenging without ever becoming so obtuse that they couldn’t be solved.  The levels were all satisfyingly unique, allowing for a lot of variety in the puzzle solving.   I think the Prison Escape level was one of the best video game levels I have ever played and I kind of rode that high to the end.  The DLC is currently waiting on my hard drive for a rainy day, a day where I just need to tune out the world and detach.  To escape, if you will.  See what I did there?  Poetry.  I’m probably the most talented poet I know.   And the most humble. 

 

4.  Live A Live


 

I love 90’s JRPG’s.  I had never played Live A Live in any of its forms.  This 2.5D remake hit me in all of the right ways.  Each chapter is its own little universe where things never seem to interact.  There is a Street Fighter style chapter.  A wild west showdown.  A truly heartbreaking mystery aboard a derelict spaceship.  There are highs and lows but, by the end, each story ties in so neatly and completely that it was a struggle to put it down.  One of the most glaring downfalls of the 90s JRPG is that they were all slogs.  Have you tried playing a SNES JRPG lately?  Sure, they are awesome and I love them as much as anyone, but they are grindy.  There are hours of battle after battle just to boost stats or farm for items.  The greatest strength of Live A Live is that once you can start to feel that grind, the monotony tugging at your chest, its about time to move on to the next chapter.  It’s a JRPG that does the impossible; it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  And it is all the better for it. 

 

3.  A Plague Tale: Requiem


 

Tears.  Death and Tears…..wait.  Death, Despair, and Tears.  So many god damned tears.  I was pretty effusive in my praise of A Plague Tale: Innocence a few years back and this game just takes that foundation and builds on it in every meaningful way.  The gameplay is much better, stealth feels more adaptive and enjoyable.  The visuals are stunning, creating some of the more memorable sequences of last year.  The story is heartbreaking and somehow reserved despite the themes.  The voice acting is just superb.  World class stuff here.  The emotions I felt for Hugo and Amicia by the end were real.  I felt like I knew those characters.  I felt sadness and regret when seeing Amicia become increasingly violent.  I felt compassion and grief as Hugo’s disease continued its slow progress.  And then it ended, and I was a wreck.  Big, ugly, fat tears streaming down my face.  I finished this game at about 11 PM, sat on the couch until about midnight, and then made sure to go in and give my kids an extra hug and kiss before I went to bed.  And there I was laying, staring at the ceiling.  There are legitimate complaints that this game is too long, a complaint that I honestly share.  While reflecting, though, I’m glad it was that long.  It allowed me to spend more time with them.  When I think of this game, I don’t think of the rats and the plague.  I think of Hugo and Amicia playing hide and go seek.  And I smile. 

 

2.  Sephonie


 

Say it with me:  Analgesic Productions makes unique, inventive, and important games.  Doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?  If you have played Anodyne, and more specifically Anodyne 2, you will know if you like these games or not.  Obtuse narrative adventure games with unique gameplay loops.  In this game, you go to a undiscovered island as a trio of researchers.  At its core, this game is a 3D platformer.  You run around, jump over gaps, and collect items.  You are doing plant research and, when you encounter a new plant in the wild, you are doing a tetris style block puzzle game in order to synthesize the plant’s DNA.  After this, you can talk to the plants.  And then you realize the island is alive.  And then you start questioning your own existence.  Analgesic games have this way of naturally weaving philosophical meaning and existential thinking into their games.  What starts as a research voyage turns into a trip for these characters to find out more about themselves.  As they link with key species on the island, they learn more about their own motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.  When stranded on an island with no way to leave, what would you think of?  What would matter to you?  Would anything matter?  Would everything matter?  These are the questions that Sephonie asks.  If you were to watch a trailer, you would think that this is a gamecube style platformer with an interesting art style.  When you play Sephonie, you start asking questions about who you are as a living, breathing, feeling being on this planet.  It is wild what this game accomplishes and it does so in such a simple and elegant way.  I’m gushing but this game deserves it. 

 

1 .  Elden Ring


 

BORING CHOICE, EDWARDS!!!  It’s true, it’s true.  But have you played this game?  This game got so much discussion and praise that a paragraph from me at the end of a post that is already too long won’t convince you if you haven’t been convinced already.  What I will say is this.  Everyone who talks about games always talks about what all video games need to learn from the ‘souls’ series.  Meanwhile, the people who make the ‘souls’ games have been sitting back and learning from everyone else and applying those lessons with ruthless proficiency.  This game is a masterpiece and it is a rare game that sets a standard for how all video games are judged.

 

And, exhale.  That was fun.  Expect more nonsense from me soon.  Listen to the Character Issues Podcast and Cane and Rinse.  We work really hard on these.  See you soon?  I’m bad at ending these things.  Check you later. 

 

 

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