It’s somehow halfway through the year, so I thought I’d take a look at some of the movers and shakers we’ve covered in our regular Sunday Weekly Spotlights and see where the top ten currently lies. Before that though, we did do a bit of a look forward to what new games might factor here back when we did our Top Ten of 2021, and of those, the three that have been released so far from there are all present and correct below. Of the other two we mentioned, I’m actually playing a closed beta of Blood Bowl 3 right now, though I’m not sure that’s going to go much further, but hopes are still high for the game of the year favourite, Hollow Knight: Silksong, now we’ve had a new hint that it’s on the way. Maybe this year! Anyway, until then let’s concentrate on what is here already and run down the current top ten games of the year at the end of June 2022…
10. Far: Changing Tides (Xbox Series X)
Despite owning its predecessor on some service or other, I was never interested enough to actually play it, and was only just about curious enough to download this one when it appeared on Xbox Game Pass, but what a fantastic surprise it turned out to be! It’s a melancholy puzzler that rewards observation, whether in its sometimes large-scale set pieces, or in the extensive and mostly meditative journeys that link them. There were a few occasions when it bit off slightly more than it could chew, both with movement mechanics and also graphically, but on the whole it’s a stunning game in a sub-Journey kind of way, and the above to below water transitions never ceased to thrill for its duration!
9. The Empire Strikes Back – C64 Fan Remake (Commodore 64)
I’d been waiting for this for a while, but even though the preview screenshots never stopped telling me otherwise, I really never expected to be quite so impressed by this! Think Defender on Hoth, but in reality the original was more than that and this is more again, and that’s before you come face to face with the best looking 8-bit AT-AT ever conceived! It might have been put together by some incredible talent with an impressive pedigree, but it’s still a fan version… Not to mention a brand new Commodore 64 game in 2022. And an update of an old Atari 2600 favourite. And a Star Wars one at that! Full review here.
8. Vampire Survivors (PC)
Technically appeared right at the end of 2021, though it was still in Steam early access when it caught hold in January, and then it was only a matter of time before this managed to suck me in… and yes, you can still Count on me for a mediocre play on words! Anyway, it’s a minimalist rogue-lite from one of the Ultima Online team, where you need to survive for as long as possible against what quickly becomes huge hordes of undead and their ilk, while powering up and collecting gold to increase their next victim’s chances. It’s ridiculously simple, with you only controlling the direction you’re running in, and the simple pixel-art aesthetic quickly turns into RPG-infused automatic beautiful chaos too, and it’s all just so addictive!
7. Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion (Xbox Series X)
A whimsical aesthetic and pretty lighthearted to play too, or so you might think, with you out to get shot of your huge tax debt and generally bring down the corrupt vegetable government by exploring, puzzling and slashing your way through a load of dungeons that resemble the pile of Munch Bunch books I used to have (think fruity Mr Men), but maybe with a bit more menace! Less than three hours, not as cute as it makes out and exactly the kind of surprise you want to be turning up on Game Pass on a regular basis!
6. Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! (Xbox Series X)
This one appeared on Game Pass from virtually out of nowhere, and that meant a second game of the year contender (the other is coming) while we were still hanging around in January! No other game series puts a stupid grin on my face like playing this one does, and once again there’s little here not to smile about, from the only-in-Japan playlist to drum along with, to the completely bonkers visual feast doing its best to distract you from the fiendishly simple rhythm gameplay. Oh yeah, that playlist has Out Run’s Magical Sound Shower on it too! Still the ultimate party game, even if you’re the only one invited!
5. Elden Ring (Xbox Series X)
Relentless discovery of relentless challenge, and it turns out that’s a mix that’s almost impossible to put down for its one hundred and fifty-plus hours! Enormous and bewildering, and sometimes ridiculously hard too, but there’s always a way; you just have to work it out. And if you can’t, just lose yourself doing other stuff for another dozen hours and come back later. It really is as awesome as everyone’s been going on about relentlessly. Still can’t get on with Bloodborne though…
4. Windjammers 2 (Xbox Series X)
What a treat just three weeks into the year, and also on Game Pass too! I loved Windjammers and have been waiting for this for years, and its frantic Tron-Pong gameplay didn’t disappoint! Visually it’s a lot like Streets of Rage 4 – no surprise as it’s from the same place – with a stylish hand-drawn art style replacing the Neo Geo pixels of the original, but that game’s near-perfect core mechanics are intact with a load more besides, making it feel as much like a fighter as a pseudo-tennis game at times. And there’s way more depth to both aspects than I’ll ever properly master, but it still feels wonderful regardless!
3. Cotton Fantasy (PS4)
We waited forever for a brand new entry into one of my all-time favourite game series, then this arrived with twenty years worth of magical candy to rot your witchy teeth with! Whether you’re a schmup fan familiar with the extra characters on offer from elsewhere or you’re looking for multiple gameplay experiences in one place, this has you covered, but even more so if you’d like to be a schmup fan because I can’t think of any better starting point! More welcoming than overwhelming, full of energy, life and personality, and loads of cute ‘em up fun. Full review here.
2. Citizen Sleeper (Xbox Series X)
More Game Pass! This is by the same guy as my 2020 game of the year, In Other Waters, and he’s come up trumps again, but this time we’re replacing xenobiology in alien oceans (and the most immersive underwater experience since Submarine Commander on VIC-20) with synthetic robots on ruined space stations! It’s a stylish, atmospheric cyberpunk narrative RPG that plays out like a visual novel built on a simple balancing act of dice-based survival. The meandering paths you can travel over it’s six hours or so of excellent writing offer more than you can feasibly take in during one play-through, and it’s brilliantly paced one more turn loop will have you struggling for that to not be a single session play-through!
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Xbox Series X)
Hooray for Game Pass! Shredder’s Revenge feels like the original arcade games given a Streets of Rage 4-style modern spruce-up, with varied and brilliantly fluid combat against some authentic, mostly creative dynamic backdrops, with enemies taking genuinely hilarious advantage of each, whether carrying shopping bags through a mall, cooking in a TV studio kitchen or busy working behind desks in an office before they notice you and attack! The stages join into a decent story that moves nicely through brief cutscenes, and the soundtrack similarly comes to life the further you go. There’s a story mode, arcade mode, single and multiplayer, and loads of replayability with all your favourites and a lot more to explore. While its hefty dose of nostalgia is another big part of the draw, even that doesn’t make me hesitate in saying that this might be the best Ninja Turtles game I’ve ever played!
That’s our lot for now, but as always, we’ll be back for the official game of the year countdown a couple of days after Christmas where we’ll see what’s made the final cut. Between now and then though, there’s a few things other than a new Hollow Knight that I’ve got my fingers crossed for… Guess the biggest one is Scorn for Xbox Series X/S and PC, a big budget first-person biopunk survival horror adventure that I really hope is less boring than Dead Space was when I finally got to that recently. Then I did like what I played of NES-style action adventure Infernax when it first arrived, before I decided to save it for a rainy day that in reality is increasingly less likely to ever arrive, which is also true of the new ZOSYA ZX Spectrum racer Rubinho Cucaracha. At the very least that deserves the picture here though, just for existing! Finally, Gunvein and Stellar Fury are a couple of very cool looking upcoming shoot ‘em ups that I very much fancy from what I’ve seen (or played) so far! The best thing is not knowing what else yet though, especially all with that lovely homebrew stuff which never dries up, so we shall be patient and see where we are when we reconvene in six months time. And if there’s anything else you know of that should be on our radar, please comment below!