Looking back on 2022 and all the games that I played, I apparently went out of my way to play anything that doesn’t fit on a list like this, as short as it is. For 2022, I played older games from my backlog, replayed games at higher settings on my new PC, and barely even touched the new releases I bought at full price (sorry, Rollerdrome and Splatoon 3, and also my wallet). Plus, I also played a bunch of brain-rotting – but in a good way – arcade roguelikes.
My Jumpys pick falls into this last category.
My Game of the Year:Vampire Survivors
Most roguelikes are about maxing out your efficiency in one way or another, and about the player leveraging their knowledge as best they can with every run. Vampire Survivors turns this routine into a machine-gun slot machine packed with fireworks. Everything about it, even its crunchy nu-retro Castlevania visuals, seems designed to shoot endorphins through your eyes and straight into your brain.
Vampire Survivors fits into the wider range of indie roguelikes that trade on procedural generation, and choosing between weapons and items to craft “builds”. But like The Binding of Isaac, Hades, and Slay the Spire before it, Vampire Survivors has suddenly established a new meta in the genre: top-down bullet-hell horde survival. In Vampire Survivors, the player attacks automatically with a maximum of six weapons that are gained via level ups, and roams a map that extends infinitely in each direction. The aim is to survive for thirty minutes, with each horde wave featuring a predetermined encounter that is dependent on the map. Games like 20 Minutes Till Dawn, Boneraiser Minions, and Brotato quickly introduced their own twists on this formula.
Compared to a lot of modern roguelikes, Vampire Survivors leans arcade: automatic attacks means that gameplay is almost entirely about positioning, build composition, and some level of forethought. It’s about moving yourself to maximise the number of mooks your chosen weapons can sweep away per second, scooping up as much of the shiny experience and gold dots they drop as you can, and building a loadout that will strengthen exponentially enough to survive the full thirty minutes.
It’s a massively addictive mix for the right kind of player: enough so that I burned out on Vampire Survivors after about a week. I’m not kidding when I say I never want to touch it again: the game is now sitting in the same dusty attic of my mind as The Binding of Isaac — its addictive qualities left an imprint of pure exhaustion on my soul. Yet, Vampire Survivors probably had the biggest impact on me out of any game this year and is absolutely one of the most impressive and singular titles I’ve played. It even led me to a bunch of other games that I love.
Honourable Mention:Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Everyone forgot about it in the wake of Scarlet and Violet’s dramatic arrival in November, but January’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus is worth a (honourable) mention. Game Freak’s first attempt at an open world(ish) title was a mishmash of memorable qualities and experimental features that was a truly refreshing take on the series’ formula.
The game’s main pivot was prioritising collecting mechanics over combat. Instead of playing as a trainer, you play something closer to a researcher or explorer: your goal is to learn and discover the world and all the Pokémon that live in it, and in doing so, unite the region. Combat is simplified, catching Pokémon can be done in multiple ways, and filling out the Pokédex is a more varied task than simply catching one of each species.
Even the story and period setting reflects this: set in historical Japan (basically), Legends revolves around a community collectively overcoming their fear of Pokémon by both learning more about and living beside them. There’s definitely a slight colonialist vibe, but the constant consideration of and respect for the environment and wildlife underlines a more naturalist, holistic theme than previous titles.
Basically, a new Legends entry has a lot of potential if given the chance – more so than even Scarlet and Violet. By smoothing out some of its rougher edges (mainly world detail and repetitiveness), Legends could become a phenomenal on-going B-side to the mainline games.
What I’m looking forward to playing in 2023:Shadows of Doubt, Dredge, and Pacific Drive
I couldn’t pick just one, so here’s three.
Shadows of Doubt is a game that I’ve been following for a while: an open-world, procedurally-generated detective simulator from developer Cole Jefferies. It’s finally set to release next year. It’s been massively impressive from the jump as an ambitious mystery sandbox – not many games even try to procedurally generate narratives, let alone succeed at it (and we’ll have to wait to see if the latter is true for Shadows of Doubt). But a free-roaming detective title is something I’ve been wanting for a long time and I can’t wait to try it.
Meanwhile, both Dredge and Pacific Drive hit a certain niche I found myself suddenly craving towards the end of 2022: adventure games where you can only (or at least mostly) control a vehicle. Dredge is a fishing adventure RPG where you play a small boat guy using your fishing profits to upgrade said boat, so you can venture further out into the spooky eldritch unknown to visit new islands and uncover more about the world.
Pacific Drive has similar vibes, except you’re driving a station wagon around a patch of Pacific Northwest forest called the Olympic Exclusion Zone — which is filled with spooky anomalies — investigating the mystery of the Zone while you upgrade and customise your ride with even more blinking lights and CRT screens. Both games look excellent.
As I always tell people, and shout at passersby: video game characters need more wheels and propellers, and less feet. Throw a detective in there while you’re at it.
After buying a beefy new PC in November, my gaming habits have already changed drastically, and I don’t see that stopping in 2023. I’ll be looking for more roguelikes that I can instantly jump into, finally playing a few of the hundreds of games that Epic Games has given me, trying out Game Pass, and so on. I played an eclectic bunch of games in 2022, and I bet that will be even more true this year. Maybe I’ll even finish a few of them.