Billy’s Top 6 Games of 2022 (That May or May Not Have Come Out in 2022)
Billy Dent checks the rearview mirror for unexpectedly close videogames.
I don’t believe in Game of the Year lists. I’m almost always behind the curve on playing new games, so when it comes time to gush about all the shiny new things, I’m usually thinking about games that came out anywhere from one to twenty-four years ago.
I want to gush about these games!
In the spirit of compromise, though, allow me to present to you my top three games of 2022 and my top three games of not-2022.
#3 Game of 2022 – Nowhere, MI (Demo)
(Of course I can put a demo on my game of the year list. I make the rules. The alternative is that I write about Elden Ring, and you don’t need more of that in your life, do you?)
Feverdream Johnny, the solo developer behind “Nowhere, MI”, is a man after my own heart. Why do we make games, if not to gestate a horrible little goblin creature in our mind-brains, name it Brungus or Yumbo or whatever, and unleash it upon an unsuspecting public?
Part and parcel of being a person who grew up extremely online is figuring out your relationship to the suffocating, isolating nature of irony and cringe culture. The place I’ve settled, and Johnny clearly has too, is to exist in a superimposed state between distant, ironic shitposting and intimate, emotional sincerity, and I’m absolutely here for it.
Nowhere, MI’s demo is a fantastic look at what us Gen Z monsters are bringing to the table. Searching for your missing brother in a haunting world, you’ll find a talking gun, propel yourself through meat tubes, and kill a baby angel to the tune of fantastic, spacey alt-rock. Every single UI element is constantly wobbling or pulsating. It’s weird, silly, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also a polished, excellent gameplay experience, and centres an earnest story about a broken family. Yes please!!!
This is the zoomer mode of creation—fun, personal, heartfelt art constructed out of the most esoteric wizard memes on your timeline. I couldn’t be more excited, and I’m eagerly awaiting the full release of Nowhere, MI in the future!
You can find the demo of Nowhere, MI on Itch.io.
#3 Game of Not-2022 – Psychonauts
Something I really love about the PlayStation through PlayStation 2 era of platformer games is their obsession with gimmicks. I think much of the game design and business wisdom since this era has leaned towards games that use their core loop effectively for the whole game. Side features, like the ubiquitous fishing minigame, exist mainly to ward off habituation (the tendency for doing something over and over again to become increasingly unsatisfying). I don’t feel that same strategic design sense in games like Psychonauts—I feel a completely unreasonable, wasteful devotion to the idea of novelty, and I adore that about it.
Psychonauts features such gems as a level set in one location, where you alter a theatrical set to progress. How about a level where you stomp through a city as a kaiju-sized kid. Consider a level where you move pieces around a giant catan-esque board game.
The funny thing is, I didn’t actually like the gimmick of two of these levels that much! I still look back on them fondly though, because they were memorable, they had interesting ideas, and at the end of the day, Psychonauts ploughs through bespoke features like it’s worried Warner Brothers is going to patent them.
As a game developer myself, I think it’s probably a good thing that we’ve moved back in the direction of refining ideas and gameplay, rather than ballooning them into nightmare webs of decadent one-off content. That being said, Psychonauts is an absolutely breezy game that never slowed down long enough to bore me, and that’s something I love about its ilk, from Crash Bandicoot: Twinsanity to Kingdom Hearts and beyond.
#2 Game of 2022 – Death Roll Frenzy
Of the four 3D platformers they’ve released this year alone, Death Roll Frenzy was my favourite by far, which I think is a result of it being the most focused and stripped back of the lot.
It’s real simple—you need to lug a big six-sided die around to the end of the level to complete it. Golding the die weighs you down, restricting your movement. There’s a huge amount of depth within the three verbs the character has access to—jump, dash, throw (the die)—and it’s this chaining together of a few basic moves, all the while attempting to stay in possession of the die, that makes this platformer feel absolutely magic to get better at. As you discover the quirks of the system, you can completely skip sections of level with risky throws and acrobatic finesse.
The level design is ever-so-slightly unreasonable towards the end, which was a blessing more than it was a curse, because it felt all the more amazing to trounce it the second or third time. It was the closest I think I’ve ever come to legitimately speedrunning a game, and whenever I’m a bit fidgety and bored, I give it another run through.
I’ve failed to mention why the die is a die so far. You’re on a time limit, and the time you start with literally cannot be used to complete most levels. Every time the die lands, it gives you a random amount of extra time based on the faces, and boy, that really sucks in a game that otherwise loves rewarding you for your skill! Luckily, on the easy mode (which I personally recommend you play), you only have to stop and grind for time once or twice in the later levels.
You can find Death Roll Frenzy on Itch.io.
#2 Game of Not-2022 – Parasite Eve
Marking the first game on this list that didn’t actually come out in 2022, here’s a random modestly-well-known JRPG for the original PlayStation.
It simply must be said that The Mitochondria Is The Powerhouse Of The Cell. The biologists at Square circa 1998 understood this, and posed a terrifying question: what if they unionised?
Thus begins one of the campiest game stories I’ve ever experienced, combining a cheesy cop drama with the God of the New World planet-exploding grandeur of the greatest fantasy JRPGs.
The thing I really want to highlight about this game, though, is the dungeon design. Parasite Eve is set in New York City, and every dungeon is based on a very real place—Carnegie Hall, Central Park, and the Museum of Natural History, among others. What truly blows me away about these dungeons is just how much they feel like real places: not real places blended up and poured into a gamey, dungeon-shaped hole, just completely real places. The Museum of Natural history, with just a few key doors locked and a few key windows smashed, becomes an incredibly memorable, functional game space.
Parasite Eve had me looking at the world around me and mining it for its level design potential. I want to fight monsters inside Scienceworks! Get on it!
You can find Parasite Eve inside various abandoned gadgets, including the PlayStation, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation TV. I did not purchase any of them. If you get me.
#1 Game of 2022 – Wayward Strand
Wayward Strand is the most exciting thing to come out of games in Melbourne in quite a while. I feel like a lot of the articles I’ve seen recommending this game fail to express just how special it is, so I’m gonna give that a shot.
Technologically, this game is a major accomplishment. In Wayward Strand, everything happens in real time: every character is hopping along throughout the hospital, bumping into each other, chatting, spending some alone time in a disrepaired part of the ship. I have never played a game where characters are enabled to feel so independent of the player.
I wandered into a room where two nurses are sighing in relief, having found resident sweetie pie Ida, and realised I had missed the entire hospital staff losing their mind, and the other oldies gossiping, because I was off lounging about with Ida myself in the aforementioned disrepaired section of the ship!
Excellent writing goes a long way to making each of Wayward Strand’s characters feel alive, multifaceted, funny and charming, and Wayward Strand truly does have excellent writing, but a game can only get so far when typical design wisdom (and economic practicality) means that most content exists to ensure a player can see it, when they want to. It takes a little bit of madness and a deep, deep love to take such a big risk, and I dearly hope Ghost Pattern is rewarded for that.
I could gush about almost every part of Wayward Strand—the gorgeous art direction, the lively voice acting, each and every character (but especially my mean granny icon Esther) and the real help it gave me in dealing with the recent loss of a family member. I want to make sure, though, that the record states Wayward Strand isn’t just a fantastic story presented confidently—it’s a bona fide achievement for games, from top to bottom, in a way that few games released WORLDWIDE this year were.
You can find Wayward Strand on Steam as well as the Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox stores.
#1 Game of Not-2022 – Clockwork Calamity in Mushroom World: What Would You Do if Time Stopped Ticking?
My favourite thing about playing games in recent years is that my favourite tends to drop on my lap out of nowhere: for 2020, that was Paradise Killer, and for 2021, that was Outer Wilds. I was worried that wasn’t going to happen this year, until my friend Andy invited me to take part in Sylvie’s Game Jam #1, which motivated me to finally give Sylvie’s games a try.
In a year with game-of-the-year lists drowning in the awe inspiring scale of Elden Ring, where even I (as a certified AAA open world hater) was astonished by the sheer density of its unfolding world, I was not ready for the most gigantic experience I had to be such a simple looking game.
Clockwork Calamity is a game that will surprise you over and over again. When I learned how its quaint and obtuse little trading system works, I grinned. When I learned that you can drop items into the world, and you can jump on them to platform higher, I clapped. When I traded for a car shaped like a wizard, which enabled me to delve deeper yet into the procedurally generated nightmare dungeons the game calls “Mushroom Zones”, I was ecstatic.
When I ran out of oxygen in a mushroom zone, pixels away from one of the game’s rarest items, respawned at the entrance without my wizard car, realised I had no way to get back to it, and spent the next three hours planning and executing my wizard rescue plan? I was in heaven.
Every item, every NPC, every place in Clockwork Calamity has a twist. Take the museum, essentially a completionist monument that also allows you to experiment with items in a no-stakes environment, as an example. You can, with the help of an NPC, rob the museum, essentially duplicating any item in the game for free. However, another NPC will never respect you again if you do, and you’re just gonna have to decide whether or not you want to find out what that means!
Clockwork Calamity never stopped surprising me, even after the credits rolled. It delivered a sense of wonder that no game short of Outer Wilds has really given me before, and it has adorably awkward little songs in every area. I absolutely cannot recommend this game enough, and as luck would have it, the game is free—give it a chance.
Billy Dent (any/all) is a Melbourne-based game developer and writer with thoughts and feelings, apparently. Their work is surreal, goofy and bursting with personality, running the gamut from fishing in a deep fryer to a literal retelling of the Hero’s Journey. If you want to give them a smooch, you’ll have to go to @VoydVoyd on Twitter and ask nicely.
Please note: Haywire Editor Dakoda Barker briefly worked as a consultant on Wayward Strand.