I am practically done grad school, and Covid persists. Hopefully there’ll be a time in the future when the constant lethargy I’ve felt this year will be nostalgic, and not the beginning of the rest of my life. This year I returned to a lot of tried and true series that I love, but some new experiences found their way into my life. Anyways, video games!
10) Pokemon Unite
My first moba was the Defense of the Ancients mod in Warcraft 3, which I had fun with for a long time as it was a novel type of game in 2003. I’d ignored the genre until I came across Pokemon Unite, a moba good enough to hold my interest for 44 hours. That said, I think I’m done with mobas for the next 18 years. Matches in Unite take a breezy 10 minutes, and it’s fun laning as a Slowpoke or Snorlax. Unfortunately, persistent moba problems like idling teammates and poor character balance reminded me why I abandoned the genre in the first place. As the game continues to develop I might revisit Unite. It’s very polished and runs great on the Switch. For now, though, I’ll wait and hope they add Magikarp.
Best Pokemon: Snorlax
Most Annoying Pokemon: Anything that’s fast and does a lot of damage
Eternally Bad Moba Mechanic: Self-healing
9) The Gunk
The Gunk is a game where you wander around a planet vacuuming up a substance called “The Gunk” in order to find out what the hell is going on. Main character Rani is endlessly curious and peppy in her fight against The Gunk, and I found her enthusiasm to be infectious while I hoovered everything in sight. Accompanying the suction based gameplay is a story of surprising depth that touches on themes of extractivism and humanity’s exploitation of nature. The Gunk had me thinking about the now familiar plight of our planet, but it also made me reflect on how video games so often insist that players mindlessly harvest everything in your path for the sake of a win condition. Check this game out if you like cleaning up your surroundings while learning a poignant lesson about environmental sustainability.
Best Game Title: The Gunk
8) Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
More than any game on this list, Nocturne needs a big asterisk next to its ranking. This asterisk would express the fact that if I had played Nocturne when it was released, I would’ve completely lost my mind about how cool it was. If the joke about JRPG’s all ending with you killing God is true, Nocturne is it’s most literal example. After hearing about this game for so long I was glad to be able to experience it through its remaster. The infamously difficult boss battles didn’t disappoint. The story is as stark and striking as its visuals, taking a minimalist approach that is all the more remarkable considering how extravagant JRPG’s were in the early 2000’s. While the battle system was a ton of fun, I found the dungeons’ reliance on trial and error to be excruciating. That being said, this game is absolutely worth checking out if you like pain in JRPG form.
Best Song: Reason Battle
Worst Fight: Trumpeter
Best Fight: Noah, Baal Avatar
7) Fuga: Melodies of Steel
This one is going to take some explaining. Fuga: Melodies of Steel is set in a world where anthropomorphic animals are living through their version of WW2. You play as a group of children who find a magical tank in Dog France and push back the invading Berman (as in, Doberman) army. The combat is turn based, and each character specializes in light, medium or heavy attacks. The fun of this game is in finding the most efficient ways to destroy enemies by utilizing each characters’ particular advantages in battle. If you can get past bestial premise (the art is quite beautiful regardless), you’ll be rewarded with an intense and rewarding RPG.
Banner of the Maid Award For Excellence in French Alternative History: Fuga: Melodies of Steel
6) Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2 is great because it tells a story about trauma with care and humour. It also plays pretty well, which is significant for me as I’ve bounced off of every other Double Fine game that I’ve tried. The levels are imaginative and I really can’t believe how good the character animations and voice acting was. I did get hung up on some finicky sequences, one of which took me 40 minutes to overcome. Psychonauts 2 is a psychedelic story tbat’s definitely worth experiencing.
Best Level: Psi King
Best Power: Pyrokinesis
Most “Teeth Stuff”: Psychonauts 2
I don’t know how many top-down platformers there are out there, but if Ynglet is the template there needs to be more of them. In Yngle you play as a little microbe creature and bounce around levels that look like transit maps. You jump from ameobae to ameobae (at least I think they’re ameobae), rubberbanding yourself to get to the end of each level. Although this game is extremely chill, I white knuckled my way through some of the later puzzles. If single cell organisms and funny noises are your thing, check out Ynglet.
My Best Guess: “Ing-Lets”?
4) Shin Megami Tensei: V
Another SMT game! I believe that SMTV is the inverse to Nocturne in that the dungeon crawling and world exploration is fantastic, but the narrative leaves a lot to be desired. The usual highschooler-to-god plot is present here, but different wrinkles in the formula are intriguing albeit underdeveloped. What really makes this game a winner is how it plays. The platforming in this game is genuinely fun, which feels weird to say about a JRPG. The combat is the best it’s ever been, with a clear UI making the classic press-turn battle system easy to understand while retaining all of its strategic depth. SMTV is also gorgeous. The battle animations of the demons you recruit are evocative and put other RPGs on the Switch to shame. There are also some real bangers on the soundtrack. This game was a joy to play, and if the story had been stronger it would have easily been my game of the year.
Best Fight: Shiva
Best Hair Care Routine: Nahobino
Best Demon: Chironuppu
Best Song: Da’at Battle Theme/Devil Decadence/Shiva Battle
3) Lost Judgment
Lost Judgment, the second outing of Detective Yagami, reveals an identity crisis in the series. Half of Lost Judgment has you uncovering a government level conspiracy, and the other has you mentoring high school students. I’m not sure what it says about the future of this series that I found the latter experience far more enjoyable. The main plot, while intriguing, rehashed many of the same plot elements of Judgment before it. Conversely, everything about the high school missions was a blast. While some of the mini-games were better than others, the writing got me deeply invested in the future of the precocious teens that I took under my wing. You help the Robotics Club win a tournament, the Dance Club get to regionals and uncover a cheating conspiracy in the Gaming Club. I hope Judgment continues to explore the civilian side of things, both to further differentiate it from Yakuza and because Yagami shines as a character in that setting.
Best Song: Green Vibes (Snake Style Theme)
Punk Teens Beaten-Up: Like 100
2) Guilty Gear Strive
As with any Guilty Gear game, I don’t know where to begin. I love this series to death, and I still can’t believe how much success it’s seen since Strive was released. When Strive was announced, ArcSys indicated that they wanted it to be a more accessible version of Guilty Gear than previous titles. Strive is a lot less frenetic than XX or Xrd, and I do miss that faster pace. Strive is a slower game, but it’s also more legible while retaining Guilty Gear’s complexity. The new characters that they introduced are fantastic. I adore playing Nagoriyuki (a vampire samurai with a sick cybermask), but every newcomer is so unique and creative that I’ve spent a significant amount of time figuring them out.
There’s some things I don’t like about Strive. While the netcode is the best I’ve ever experienced in a fight game, the lobby system is awful and tedious. The new soundtrack has some heaters, but I find myself hoping that the future of Guilty Gear isn’t lyrical music. That being said, Strive is a fantastic base game. I’m ecstatic about having so many friends try out a series I love. Some of my best memories this year are playing matches with friends and absolutely robbing them of a win. I can’t wait to see where Strive goes from here.
Best Songs: Love the Subhuman Self, What Do You Fight For, Requiem
Best Song Title: Smell of the Game
Best Character Name: Goldlewis Dickinson
Bring Back: Slayer
“He Needs It” Award: Nagoriyuki
- The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
All of the games that I’ve mentioned so far have something preventing them from hitting the top spot. The Great Ace Attorney, meanwhile, is flawless. There is no weak link in this game. The characters have brilliant designs and incredible animations (one particular great detective is a standout). The music is layered, heightening the emotional weight and elevates a fantastic story. The Great Ace Attorney is the total package.
The Great Ace Attorney takes place in England and Japan in the beginning of the 20th century. The real world setting is very well utilized. The main character, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, descendent of Phoenix Wright, faces a lot of prejudice in his time in London. The class realities of 20th century London are also laid bare (the pattern of the English legal system failing its poorest citizens is a recurring theme). What really makes The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles work is the immaculate English localization. Each character’s voice is heard loud and clear despite there being limited actual voice overs. I think Great Ace Attorney’s localisation is a true achievement and it’s what I point to first when recommending the game.
There’s so much more I can say about Great Ace Attorney. The story is unpredictable, fun, and shocking. Herlock Sholmes is a brilliant character. This game has captivated me, and I hope we get to return to these characters someday.
Best Case: The Adventure of the Unspeakable Story
Best Song: Herlock Sholmes: The Great Detective of the Foggy Town
Best Character Name: Odie Asman
Thank you for reading! I’ve been writing these lists for several years now, and I always enjoy getting my thoughts in order. May the next year be full of great games. Gamer salutes, and have a great 2022!