It might be hard to believe, but yes, there have been videogames other than Elden Ring this year. It’s rare for a single game to dominate the conversation as thoroughly and as long as Elden Ring did over the first half of 2022, but it’s also rare for a game to give us so much to talk and think about. Elden Ring is a true triumph, and one of the greatest games in recent memory. And somehow it’s not even the best game of the year so far.
If you’re looking for an incomprehensibly massive open-world RPG to disappear into for months at a time, Elden Ring has you covered. If you love the perfectly calibrated action and adorable aesthetic of top-shelf Nintendo, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the game for you. If you want to push yourself to the edge of your abilities with blazingly fast time trials and breakneck platforming, you need to go download Neon White right now. And if you want to remember that games can be a uniquely powerful and perceptive narrative medium, capable of telling stories in ways no other artform can, you owe it to yourself to check out NORCO and Citizen Sleeper—one of which is the best game we’ve played so far this year.
No matter what you’re into, 2022 has the game for you. And here are the best of the best.
Platforms: Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
I need to remind y’all that I write an irregular column about shoot ‘em ups, aka shmups—those old-fashioned games where players pilot some sort of craft or creature or vaguely Barbarella-inspired angel across the screen while shooting as many enemies as they possibly can. A core staple of any gaming diet in the ‘80s, the genre gradually fell out of favor with the masses, and exists today primarily as a cult curiosity or nostalgic throwback. Sol Cresta, the latest heir to the inexplicably difficult 1985 shooter Terra Cresta, probably won’t restore the shmup to the top of the gaming pyramid, but it’s not like it’s trying to. It’s a shoot ‘em up solidly for shoot ‘em up fans, and the latest high-energy action game from Platinum, the studio behind Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Nier: Automata. Terra Cresta’s defining feature is the ability to expand and contract the power-ups collected throughout the game; instead of just beefing up the ship’s weapons, they can be used as pods that orbit the ship and provide a wider range of fire. Sol Cresta pays tribute to that concept by letting players dock multiple ships together. It’s an exciting new entry in a largely overlooked genre, and while everybody else was venturing forth into Elden Ring for the first time, I was shooting up space again like I’ve done a million times before.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
This loving tribute to the multiplayer beat ‘em ups of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s focuses like a laser on the nostalgia of a certain generation. It’s not just that it’s based on the version of the Turtles from the first cartoon and toy series (complete with the original voice actors), the same era that inspired the beloved arcade brawler from 1989; the entire genre is so inherently old-fashioned that it can’t help but feel like some long-lost game from 30 years ago. If you miss teaming up with your friends to bash generic punks and thugs in a cartoonish version of New York City, Shredder’s Revenge will wind back the clock for you. It wouldn’t make this list if it was just nostalgia, though; Shredder’s Revenge adds enough modern tweaks to drag that formula into the 21st century. It’s an example of a game that does what it sets out to do about as well as it possibly could.
Platforms: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
The third in Roll7’s series of arty, lo-fi skateboard games follows the typical trajectory of a videogame series: everything is bigger, longer, deeper. Beefier, even. It has characters. A whole story, even. At its heart it’s still the thumb-aching, quick-twitch trick machine that OlliOlli has always been, but with the narrative and world-building elements expanded so thoroughly that it doesn’t always feel like the elegant puzzle engine it used to be. That’s neither good nor bad—it comes down to your personal tastes—but it’s all done with the same charm and the same cool aesthetic that the series is known for. And given that it’s been seven years since the last time we dipped into a new OlliOlli, this is very cool World is a welcome one indeed.
I am no great lover of Kirby, Nintendo’s adorable little fluff ball who seems to star in a brand new videogame every single year. Kirby and the Forgotten Land shouldn’t be missed, though. It can be difficult for a non-Kirby diehard to tell the difference between a “mainline” Kirby game and all the various spinoffs he stars in, but just as Mario’s central platformers are a notable cut above the miscellaneous games he pops in, Kirby’s main entries are where the series truly shines. Forgotten Land innovates by dragging Kirby into the third dimension, and also by introducing a new skill that recalibrates how Kirby interacts with his world but that also feels perfectly in character for him and the series. After years of inhaling his enemies and stealing their abilities, Kirby can now swallow all manner of objects and assume their qualities for himself. Forgotten Land feels like no Kirby game we’ve played before, but it’s still purely, unmistakably Kirby, with all of its colorful charm and the flexible difficulty that makes it rewarding for both young beginners and stalwart veterans. It’s another successful Switch reinvention of a classic Nintendo series.
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
Horizon Forbidden West proves the open world genre doesn’t have to be as creatively bankrupt as it currently is, even while sticking close to the genre’s conventions. With the right focus, the right setting, and the right storytelling, a game can remain in thrall to a familiar format and still feel inspired. It isn’t a game that will surprise you or make you rethink the possibilities of what games can do, but it’s proof that games can still be really fun even if they don’t try anything new, and that’s something we don’t often see from big budget corporate games like this one.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
You know what’s just full of respect? Andrew Shouldice’s Tunic. That’s what. This one-man adventure jam doesn’t go easy with its puzzles, having faith that its players will be able to think their way through every tricky scenario presented to them. It also has a deep and overt respect for ‘80s Nintendo games, specifically the original Legend of Zelda; that’s evident not just in the game’s isometric view and general environment, but also in its in-game manual, which isn’t just some mystic, sacred text the adorable fox hero has to seek out, but also a recreation of an NES-era instruction booklet. Tunic sifts through the shared experiences of our gaming past to create something new and unique enough to exist outside the easy allure of nostalgia.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
You’d be forgiven for thinking Elden Ring was the only game that came out this year. For a solid three months it seemed to be the only thing anybody talked about, wrote about, or even played. From Software blew its signature RPG formula up into one of the largest open world games in memory, which makes it more accessible than their earlier Souls games, but also even more mysterious and unsettling. Its massive, secret-filled world is clearly influenced by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but with the brutality and subtle approach to storytelling you expect from a Souls game. It might be a little too big, and devolves into a bit of a slog in the late game, but Elden Ring remains an almost unthinkable achievement. I’m dumped over 170 hours into it and still occasionally pop in again to look for any caves or ashes I might’ve overlooked. Elden Ring has a way of setting up camp inside your head and refusing to leave that few games can match.
Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X\S
You can think of Citizen Sleeper as a sort of digital board game set in a sci-fi dystopia beset by end-stage capitalism and all the rampant dehumanization that entails. It’s a game about work and death where the only levity comes from the relationships we make with others—yes, the friends we made along the way, but not nearly as banal or obvious as that sounds. It questions what it means to be a person in a system that inherently subjugates personhood to corporations and wealth, and it probably won’t surprise you that the answers it lands on aren’t always the most optimistic or uplifting. Here at Paste Cameron Kunzelman described its “melancholy realism” as part of a trend alongside other story-driven games that are largely hostile to the dominance of capitalism, and it echoes the impossibility of thinking seriously about this medium, this industry, and, well, every aspect of society today without discussing the impersonal economic system that drives it all. It’s a heady RPG that respects your time and intelligence, and one of this year’s must-play games.
Platforms: Switch, PC
Neon White is pure motion. It might look like a first-person shooter—it’s in first person and you shoot a lot—but it’s all in service of the constant heedless rush at the game’s heart. Almost every time you shoot a demon it’ll be to acquire whatever kinetic ability it gives you, which you will almost immediately use to jump a little higher or rush forward a little faster or to literally grenade yourself dozens of feet into the sky to reach the next platform. You’re not here to shoot, per se, but to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and the shooting merely facilitates that. When you fully tap into its flow Neon White is about as exhilarating as videogames get, becoming an extension of your own nervous system as you effortlessly string moves together while trying to shave microseconds off your best time. And on top of its mechanical excellence it also has a story and cast of characters so well-written that I’m able to overlook its unfortunate reliance on an aesthetic and character tropes right out of anime. Neon White combines arcade elegance and extreme replayability with a genuinely thoughtful and surprising story, making it almost the best game of 2022 so far. It’s the only game that finally, fully broke Elden Ring’s hold over me; I haven’t set foot in the Lands Between since my first time sprinting through Heaven.
As a Southerner I don’t really trust anybody to write about the South unless they, too, are from here—or at least have lived here long enough to truly understand what makes it great and awful in equal measure, and how the ways in which the South is actually fucked up often diverge from the ways in which outsiders think it’s fucked up. NORCO, a smart narrative-driven game about the unique ways in which institutions like religion and big business have exploited the South, its people and its land throughout history, is clearly the work of people who understand this region and its fundamental defects. It’s an unflinching, occasionally surreal glimpse into an only slightly exaggerated version of Louisiana, with its mythical and allegorical flourishes only highlighting the aimless mundanity and real-life degradations of the modern South. If you only play one game from this list, make it NORCO.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.