I went into 2022 thinking there wouldn’t be enough excellent games to fill the coming 12 months. Certainly, there would be no Rockstar game and no Legend of Zelda from Nintendo. In fact, many products were delayed, partially due to the residual effects of the pandemic, partially because they are complex to create. But once Elden Ring was released, it was almost enough game to play all year long. As the year ends, our New York Videogame Critics Circle found so many games to add to our potential nominees for January’s New York Game Awards, it turned out to be a very healthy year for games, especially for independently made offerings. In the end, it usually is.
Elden Ring: Both weird and surprising, From Software’s Elden Ring proved that a sword and sorcery game with high difficulty could be as addictive as Candy Crush. For over 100 hours, I kept coming back because of the peculiar narrative that unfolds slowly as you try to find pieces of the Elden Ring, sometimes in surreal environments (like Caelid, a Dali-like desertscape with attacking giant crow). Its potpourri of brilliantly-created NPC’s (non playable characters) are as compelling as those in The Witcher 3, the best game of 2015. While there’s constant dark beauty within Elden Ring’s dangerous environs, there’s are touches of deep sadness within its inscrutability. Ultimately, however strange this game can be and however many times you die, the key to Elden Ring is how it mimics the ups and downs of life. Just as it’s an escape from real life, it’s about real life, too.
Immortality: Immortality is a grand, horror-oriented mystery with an interactive depth that only the mind of Sam Barlow could create. It introduces the brilliant Manon Gage as Marissa Marcel, a young, missing actor who left behind not one, but three genre movies. As you pour through clips, rehearsals, wrap parties, locations, you begin to find answers to what happened, and it’s eerie. Creeping down this rabbit hole, I felt a haunting, engaging affinity within this woeful wonderland. Immortality pays homage to the best of Hitchcock, Scorcese and Welles — at the end, you feel like the lost Marissa Marcel movies should be released on their own and streamed on Netflix.
Wylde Flowers: The Apple Arcade may well be the best value in games, and the games to play are many. But it’s not so big that I couldn’t find the gem that is Wylde Flowers. Farming simulators like Harvest Moon have been around for decades. But in this one, you farm by day and play a witch at night. The story, beyond the farming and fishing, is deftly written, and may actually be the first time the word “lesbian” appears in a game. You constantly want to hear what happens next, and though Tara Wylde is no Wednesday Addams/child full of woe, she’s come back to the farm heroically, to help her ailing grandmother. Within the magic, farming and the bigotry against witches, you might find yourself shedding a tear.
God of War Ragnarök: This action adventure game is a sequel to 2018’s father-and-son story set within varied lands of big gods with big egos. Yes, God of War Ragnarök is not quite as surprising or moving as the predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it won’t amaze with a twisting, turning tale of Norse gods that moves quickly from the get-go. As you leave the snowy land where the grizzled Kratos and young Atreus make their camp, you’ll be astounded byga this stunning world. Its varied soundtrack is well-paced, as are the meticulously-created levels which are rife with puzzles and mythic surprises at almost every turn.
Stray: During one summer week, playing Stray became a trend that stretched beyond the gaming community. That’s because Stray featured a generally realistic looking orange and white tabby in a strange sci-fi world. The ardent cat, not a cute, humanized animal, deftly jumps to window sills and upon tin roofs, rarely falling. It wanders the world avoiding speedy mouse-like enemies called Zurks and comes upon a helpful robot called B-12. This story of empathy and exploration strikes the right chords of mystery and sweetness as the feline tries hard to return to its home.
Cult of the Lamb: This sinister, wonderful offering begins with a wide-eyed lamb about to die in a sacrifice. Moments later, you’re given a second chance at life by a shackled being, The One Who Waits. But like Robert Johnson at the crossroads, there’s a price to pay. You have to start a cult to worship and then free The One Who Waits, who looks like a scary soul indeed. Not only do you hack and slash your way to murder four bishops to free the entity, you also have to manage your cult properly, feed hungry spiders, bury the dead, and preach to your minions. If it’s a dark game, there’s also something alluringly magical here in this colorful mashup that sold a million copies in its first week of sales. That’s amazing in itself, especially for an indie game.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land: “Along the way, stuff your belly and nap a while.” Those song lyrics accompany Kirby, the roundest and pinkest of Nintendo characters, after he wakes up in a cheerfully post-apocalyptic land and swallows a car to get around a sprawling 3D world. Yet this isn’t “The Last of Us.” There’s no heavy gloom or doomed relationships here, just a delightful character in a land that’s bloomed with flowers and vines following its abandonment. Yet it’s menacing: the pear-shaped, mouthless Waddle Dees have been kidnapped by the Beast Pack, a group of angry, humanized animals with superpowers. As Kirby fights to save the Waddle Dees, ingenious puzzles and bright environs abound. Hands down, it’s the year’s best kids’ game.