It’s the most wonderful time of the year because we’re back once again with a slight tweak to the annual awards show, where we’re now looking at our top ten in countdown format, all the way the game of the year, just for a bit more excitement! But it would probably be wrong to end up at a piece of DLC, especially when it’s for last year’s Retro Arcadia game of the year, Resident Evil Village, so before we begin I’ve got to give the Winters Expansion a quick shoutout instead! The Shadows of Rose story arc that comes with it is really nice bit of Resident Evil, more supernatural than the main game and an enjoyable bit of a stretch as a result, but most of all being back in Castle Dimetrescu and its surrounds just felt like coming home. It’s genuinely up there with the best few hours I’ve had in any game this year too, so it deserves a mention!
And with that out of the way, I want to give a couple of other shoutouts for other out of scopers before we turn our attention to the top ten countdown and the coveted game of the year for 2022… I’d not been serious about any fighting game since IK+ on the Atari ST many moons ago, but I always liked a bit of Darkstalkers so the Capcom Fighting Collection, with all of them included, was a no-brainer, and a rare pre-order on Nintendo Switch. I’ve since played the whole series to death, as well as spent plenty of time with the rest on there, and it’s really reignited my passion for the genre in general, so that’s got to be mentioned too as my definite purchase of the year. The A500 Mini isn’t far behind either, opening up the world of the Amiga to me for the first time, and some really great experiences with the likes of Banshee, Apidya and Zool, as well as new-to-me versions of old favourites like Stunt Car Racer, Battle Chess and a couple of Monkey Islands to name just a few.
Last piece of business before the countdown finally begins is our predictions for this year’s game of the year from this time last year! Hollow Knight: Silksong was the clear favourite at that point, but sadly still no signs of life so no doubt we’ll be seeing that again in what will be a separate look ahead to 2023 in a couple of weeks! Blood Bowl 3 is another one not out yet, but I’ve lost track of that a bit after it just didn’t click when I got involved in the beta last Summer. Then there were some others in that prediction that revealing here would spoil the fun incoming now, so just hold that thought for no less than three of the top five…
10. Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! (Xbox Series X)
This appeared on Game Pass from virtually out of nowhere while we were still hanging around in January, and it wasn’t the only early game of the year contender all the way back then either but we’ll come back to the other one! No other game series puts a stupid grin on my face like playing this one does though, 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!
9. Tinykin (Xbox Series X)
I totally ignored this when it first appeared on Game Pass – too cute and I’ve never got the appeal of Pikmin, which is what it looked like. Wrong! This is simply the very purest of gaming fun, wrapped in a meticulous 3D platforming wonderland. Every stage sees your tiny guy dumped into a huge, multi-level playground, all of which in reality are just regular rooms in a regular house, dressed to perfection and built to avoid any frustration whatsoever, organically opening themselves up as you explore, aided by the unique skills of your collectible, even tinier helpers, all deployed without a second thought thanks to automatic, context-based selection. There’s also loads to do beyond the main objectives, and after it’s nine or so hours you’ll probably still want to. If Super Mario Sunshine played like this it would be the best game ever!
8. 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 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…
7. Gunvein (PC)
Apart from stuff we’re still waiting for, there wasn’t much I was more excited about getting my hands on this year than Gunvein, which finally arrived on Steam in November! It’s a vertically scrolling bullet-hell shoot ‘em up, not a million miles from something like DoDonPachi but bringing plenty of its own ideas to the party too. There’s so many modes that you’re going to experience its absolute exhilaration whatever your play level, from entry-level genre tutorials to objective-based missions, a story mode and the relentless arcade mode, where there’s no let up to the destruction – which, by the way, also never ceases to look great! Up there with Crimson Clover as a modern schmup masterpiece.
6. Vampire Survivors (PC & Xbox Series X)
Technically appeared on PC 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 thirty minutes 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 moving in, and the no-frills pixel-art aesthetic quickly turns into automatic, RPG-infused beautiful chaos too, and it’s all just so addictive once you start unlocking stages and characters and arcanas and weapon evolutions until you’re barely playing as you approach the end-game, but that’s the most exhilarating part! Plays nice on your biggest TV via Xbox Game Pass now too!
5, Windjammers 2 (Xbox Series X)
What a treat just three weeks into the year, and like our previous very early contender, it was 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 warped game of tennis at times. And there’s way more depth to both aspects than I’ll ever properly master, but it still feels wonderful regardless!
4. 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 done it again, but this time we’re replacing xenobiology in alien oceans (and the most immersive submarine experience since Submarine Commander on the 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 too!
3. Cotton Fantasy (PS4 & Switch)
We waited forever for a brand new entry into one of my all-time favourite game series, but here comes an enormous amount of magical candy to rot your witchy teeth with to make up for it, especially if you’re a schmup fan familiar with the extra characters on offer from elsewhere or looking for multiple gameplay experiences in one place, and 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 and exhilaration, life and personality, and loads of cute ‘em up fun. Full review here.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Xbox Series X)
Hooray for Game Pass! And we’re not quite done with it yet, either! TMNT feels just like how you remember the original arcade games but given a Streets of Rage 4-style modern spruce-up, with varied and very fluid combat against some authentic but mostly creative dynamic backdrops, with enemies taking genuinely hilarious advantage of each, whether carrying shopping bags through a mall, cooking in a restaurant kitchen or busy working behind desks in an office before they notice you and attack! The stages join together 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 I’ve ever played!
1. Return to Monkey Island (Xbox Series X)
As desperate as I was to Return to Monkey Island when it appeared on Switch a few months back, I was equally desperate to finish off the second game (which directly precedes this) after all this time first, and as it’s been a while I thought it worthwhile playing through the original again too! And all that delaying paid off because it gave the brand new “third” game a chance to appear on Xbox Game Pass and here we are! With its prelude out of the way the first thing that hit me was a feeling of coming home… The pirate lookout, the Scumm Bar, that gorgeous-looking main street we came across recently in our tour of Wonderful Sights in Gaming… Okay, it looks a bit different now, and while the art style definitely took a bit of getting used to coming direct from originals, it suits what the game’s become perfectly. As do the wildly varied soundtrack, the mostly fathomable puzzles (especially the five season one on Terror Island, which was the moment I realised this game was the one!), the time-friendly hint system in case they’re not fathomable, and the newly console-friendly point-and-click controls. We can safely say the all-important writing is as excellent as ever too, which hasn’t lost a drop of its marvellous sense of humour – just got a bit older if not wiser like the rest of us! The magical Monkey Island sense of adventure is why it’s here though – that feeling of accomplishment (which actually came a good hour or so before the end) as you look back on all the bizarre adventures that felt like the whole game at the time but in reality were all tiny parts adding up to this wonderful whole. The original sits comfortably in my list of favourite games ever but I do wonder how a couple more play-throughs in the coming years might make this compare! In the meantime, it was close but in the end nothing else compared to Return to Monkey Island in 2022!
Well, Windjammers 2, Cotton Fantasy and Shredder’s Revenge also came good from last year’s predictions, but halfway through this year we had a look at the top ten as it was shaping up back then, so some more shoutouts for those we lost from the other end of that list… Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is some fantastic light exploration, puzzling and slashing with a whimsical look hiding a more menacing tale, and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming sequel. Far: Changing Tides is a melancholy puzzle sequel mixing large-scale set pieces with extensive and mostly meditative journeys that never ceased to thrill. Then there was PowerWash Simulator, which I hated myself for playing as much as I loved its ludicrous gameplay! And finally, The Empire Strikes Back – C64 Fan Remake is an absolute stunner that any retro-gamer needs to experience, if only to celebrate a new game on the Commodore 64 in 2022 that can not only compete with the best of the modern systems (for half the year at least), but is a remake of one of the Atari 2600’s finest to boot!
Before we finish, I’ve also got to give a bumper shoutout to Prodeus, which was in the list until Monkey Island came along and screwed everything up with a just few days to go! It was a nice surprise when it appeared on Game Pass not that long before – an all-retro FPS with a few modern flourishes – think original Doom, Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein and the like but with dynamic lighting, dynamic music (I think) and some really juicy body horror as swathes of demonic enemies explode into a gory mess at your hands, literally all over the screen. Apart from those, it’s joyously old-school, with a really weighty arsenal of weaponry to pick up, brilliant movement mechanics and some really exhilarating level designs. Once you’re done with the campaign there’s online multiplier and a ton of user-designed levels to mess with too. Really nice surprise that once again justifies always trying pretty much everything when it appears on the service.
And with that we’re done for this year! Congratulations to Return to Monkey Island, as well as Xbox Game Pass in general for delivering once again – seven out of ten this time… Who needs exclusives? That said, the Silent Hill 2 Remake might still force me back to PlayStation with its pesky exclusivity after all, but we’ll be looking forward to that (I hope!) as well as everything else that might or definitely will be coming in 2023 in the aforementioned Retro Arcadia Game of the Year 2023 Predictions, coming on the 5th of January to be precise. See you then, and in the meantime, I hope your Christmas is as wonderful as this Christmas scene from Deathsmiles II, and have yourself a happy New Year too!