You know, at the start of 2022 I didn’t really know what to expect out of, well, anything. I got to hang out with Solon and Franny over in Seattle, got fired, got a new job, and in between all that I managed to play a lot of games. The staggering issue as I find myself compiling this list is that I played a lot of stuff I’m either in the process of finishing (I just finished Xenoblade 1, okay?) or just had an awful time (as chronicled on this site). Thankfully I did manage to hit some high gaming marks so here’s a chance for me to recollect some and get set for a stacked 2023.

5. Spark the Electric Jester 3

spark the electric jester 3

People were peddling Spark as the answer to Sonic all the time, and as a Sonic fan, that just doesn’t sit right with me. I know what Sonic is, and I take solace in the series, even if the last game I played prior to Frontiers was Unleashed. That said, I gave the series a chance with Spark the Electric Jester 3 releasing this past summer, and it cemented what makes the genre of 3D platformer fun to me. Spark is a spry little college graduate (seriously) who gets through each stage with little issue. Each level is designed so that you’re able to get through them as fast as possible alongside additional missions like medal collecting and enemy clearing. It doesn’t overstay its welcome at around 6 hours for the main story, which by the end is full of peak fanfiction audacity. Seriously, when I showed everyone here at Chooch what happens in the final segment of the game we were collectively losing our shit. I highly recommend you check the whole series out when you can as they’re all fairly short, but Spark 3 is truly a great capstone to this love letter to the genre.

4. Need for Speed: Unbound

car need for speed unbound

Last year I praised Hot Wheels Unleashed for being such a blast as an arcade racer that felt great to handle. This year a new torchbearer came out with Need for Speed: Unbound. I had no expectations for this game since I didn’t play the last game, Need for Speed: Heat, but I definitely didn’t hear any glowing reception. Unbound truly lives to its name as a game that loves to make you hyped about racing. Set in the Chicago stand-in of Lakeshore, your create-a-character finds themselves in a tale of betrayal and redemption that harkens back to a simpler era of street racing movies. You’re on the quest to supe up and collect multiple cars, which means you get to feel a clunker work its way up to barely street legal levels of power. The visuals are also a key feature of this experience, the city of Lakeshore being highlighted by hand drawn iconography that adorns your car on every jump, boost, and drift. If you’re not a gearhead but still want to sink your teeth into a racing game, Need for Speed: Unbound is a solid compromise that more than delivers on what’s offered.

3. Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher

ultra kaiju monster rancher gomora

Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is a game I undersell my enjoyment of whenever I think about it. I never played the original series, and didn’t really have too big an attachment to the tokusatsu franchise it crosses over with. But the announcement that this would indeed get a US release made me curious, and from there, I lost more than 50 hours of time raising Kaiju champions. The UI isn’t complicated, which helps in easing anyone into the overall experience. The monthly juggling of training, rest, and competitions in order to raise a strong and victorious Kaiju gets complicated in a fun way thanks to the Anger mechanic. Don’t piss your big guy off, otherwise there’s a good chance Ultraman himself has to come by to put an end to the temper tantrum. I enjoyed how much I spent picking the game up even in moments of frustration (since you’re mainly fighting random number generation). It made moments where I was just stoked to get through a round with my Alien Baltan all the more rewarding, figuring out the gear that made my run click. I also really appreciate Ultraman as a series more thanks to this addictive entry point.

2. God of War: Ragnarok

God of War Ragnarok Kratos Smiling On His Boat In Photo Mode

A AAA sequel from a game series I played nothing of beforehand is the last game I would have expected to enjoy wholeheartedly enough to call my game of the year. Yet, God of War: Ragnarok manages to do so much in its expansive package and then some. Maybe there’s some bias, after all it’s the game that got bundled with the PS5 I bought; but the more I think on what this game does, and specifically what it offers in the middle of its immediate contemporaries that I loathe and just have no interest in touching, the more I find myself recognizing it as one of the best experiences I’ve had all year.

It’s great that there’s a game with so much budget behind it that still makes sure its gameplay feels good. Kratos gets access to both his Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos from the outset, so your combo wheelhouse immediately feels stacked. The upgrade system is relegated to experience trees per weapon that gain additional stats or bonuses based on how much you use each move. The armor system also manages to feel robust, where no one set is the definitive peak of gameplay so long as you have an understanding of how to manage your armor sets for your style of play. I can do Witch Time in this game and it feels so good.

Of course, I wouldn’t be singing this game’s praises if it didn’t also hit narratively as much as it does visually and mechanically. It’s truly incredible how fleshed out Kratos feels in Ragnarok, compared to the gruff older man beckoning for his boy in God of War (2018). He treats Atreus with respect, knowing that he needs to have faith in the man he raised, but is also reckoning with the bloody past he’s held onto for so long. Atreus likewise feels like someone ready to burst out of the sidelines to take charge, but adolescent excitement can’t replace experience and he’ll be failing plenty of times before he can truly claim growth. It’s more than just a Sad Dad Game, and it’s thanks in part to former director Cory Balrog handing off development to Eric Williams and the rest of Santa Monica Studio. You immediately feel the years of criticism and praise working in tandem to create a story that acknowledges its missteps and seeks to do better. It’s heartfelt at moments, especially with characters like Angrboda who just melts the tension when they’re on screen, or Odin who is such an affable villain that it’s easy to forget you’re supposed to hate him until he gives you a great reason to. I felt emboldened to see the game’s various sidequests through because I cared about the world they cultivated, and by the end it felt like I knew The Nine Realms for ages. I have no idea what’s in Kratos’s future now that the Norse era of the series is over, but thank you God of War: Ragnarok for being the catalyst in my interest to see what’s next.

1. The House in Fata Morgana

fata morgana maid and other girl I don't know

Now, while I recognize that God of War is the best game I played that was released in the year, but I can’t write this list in earnest without touching upon The House in Fata Morgana. This was a game I remember starting a year or two ago and from the initial opening featuring the title track, I knew that by the end I would be taken with this game. Suffice to say, this is quite possibly one of the best video games I’ve ever played and one of the strongest narratives I’ve been able to experience.

Moyotaro’s art is achingly beautiful throughout. Every character portrait carries a heaviness to it that you come to realize throughout the story. The backgrounds of each scene, these hazy and ephemeral reflections of mansion interiors, rose gardens, and old European backstreets make the characters pop as a result with the dialogue being unobtrusive. The UI plays well with the overall immersion, as you never get asked to start a new game or continue, rather you recollect your memories or enter the mansion for the first time. Yes, visual novels tend to focus on the presentation of their game since your main interaction is through pressing a button to progress the story. However, it feels so easy to ignore that aspect and thus devalue this entire genre which is rich with genuinely gripping narratives. If you tried to tell the story of The House in Fata Morgana in any other narrative, you lose so much of the mystery and impact this game has because you’ve shifted the apparatus away from the first person. You aren’t crafting, you aren’t shooting, you aren’t choosing from a list of options most of the time, but you’re still acting and doing.

The narrative itself I can’t talk about. I usually don’t care too much to consider spoilers, but this was a case where I wanted to keep myself in the dark, to allow myself to truly not be aware of what’s to come the more I played. This story of optimism and community is definitely balanced by the darkness it sets itself in. If you do need content warnings I won’t blame you, as a lot of the content can genuinely be difficult to tackle. However, the mark of a good story is being able to reckon with the reality of humanity and create something that speaks to the human condition and to what makes that desire to persevere worth it. I laughed, I cried, I was hunched over on my laptop at my parents’ house full of joy and empathy for moments of this game. I really can’t say much else aside from the fact you ought to play this game. In a year that felt like a reset for myself in multiple ways, having this chance to see a game recognize things can get shitty but that it can become better really makes this my game of the year.

About Maverick

Hey it’s Maverick! He/him, living out here in New York. From video games to anime and more, I’m always eager to give some thoughts.

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