In a year filled with long epics, it’s the shorter games that stood out. “Elden Ring” is deserving of game of the year honors, but that long-form adventure was one of several that dominated the charts.
Sometimes it’s better for a game to buck that trend and the ones that did stood out. It’s also one of the biggest reasons for my favorite game of the year. Here are my top 10 games of the year.
1. “Marvel Snap” — The most popular game machine on Earth isn’t a console. It’s the smartphone, but many core players don’t take that platform seriously despite the enormous audience. Second Dinner’s card battler should make them reconsider that opinion.
Built from the ground up for the smartphone, the free-to-play game takes advantage of the medium with its vertical layout and the way cards appear three-dimensional, based on how players tilt the phone. But the biggest draw is how “Marvel Snap” fits into everyday life.
The short but satisfying game sessions and portability mean it’s great to play if you have a busy life that includes, say, putting a baby to bed at 2 in the morning. With plenty of cards and strategies to pursue thanks to its rotating and randomized locations, it’s a game that tests players’ ability to adapt to their opponent and circumstances.
Best of all, it’s a title that feels as though free-to-play players can compete against grizzled veterans. “Marvel Snap” doesn’t ask players to buy packs of random cards. Instead, it doles out cards as players upgrade the looks of their own collection, and with time, they can amass a solid set. (iOS, Android and PC)
2. “Elden Ring” — Software’s epic adventure in the Lands Between dominated the conversation for the first part of the year. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki successfully adapted his “Souls” formula to an open world and created an expansive continent that begs to be explored.
Players can venture into the unknown, but they better be prepared to die. Because this is a “Souls”-type game, the difficulty is merciless. It will frustrate players, but in their struggle, they’ll also find the gratifying thrill of victory and other life lessons that have always been at the heart of Miyazaki’s games. (PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One)
3. “God of War: Ragnarok” — The sequel to one of the best games of 2018 continues to push the boundaries of video game storytelling. Sony’s Santa Monica Studio follows Kratos and his son, Atreus, as they again attract the attention of Odin. The boy has a connection to Ragnarok and the campaign follows the two as they try to fight fate.
Despite all the jaw-dropping moments, it’s the acting (Christopher Judge gives a fantastic performance as Kratos) and the quieter moments between father and child that separates this game from other adventures. “Ragnarok” will stay with you long after the credits roll. (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4)
4. “Bayonetta 3” — Platinum Games knows how to make action titles and its flagship franchise starring the Umbran Witch shows the extent of that mastery. For each chapter of the franchise, the developers have managed to one-up themselves in terms of creativity and gameplay.
With this third entry, the team roars forward with Bayonetta battling a multidimensional threat. The campaign takes players to different realities as they encounter fascinating versions of the protagonist, all while the team incorporates new weapons, fighting techniques and ways of traversal for a frenetic but deeply playable experience. (Nintendo Switch)
5. “Horizon Forbidden West” — Sony bookended a great year for its first-party titles with this follow-up to the amazing “Horizon Zero Dawn.” This sequel again follows Aloy as she encounters a new threat in the post-apocalyptic world.
She has to find a way to repair the terraforming program that is rebuilding Earth when she encounters a technologically advanced group called the Zeniths. Her adventure to fend them off and unite the warring tribes of the West is as exhilarating as it is beautiful.
Open-world adventures such as this often get bogged down with uninteresting side quests, but director Mathijs de Jonge and the team at Guerrilla Games find fresh ways to make these forays better than another paint-by-numbers chores. They offer a master class on how to turn these optional experiences into rewarding must-play adventures. (PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4)
6. “Stray” — BlueTwelve Studio arguably had the best new protagonist of the year. The titular orange tabby stole players’ hearts as they controlled the feline through a mysterious underground world. After being separated from its friends, the kitty has to navigate a strange realm filled with robots and flesh-eating monsters.
As a cat, players have plenty of agility and quick reflexes, but the addition of helpful artificial intelligence called B-12 lifts the narrative and makes this adventure more than just a cat simulator (though there isn’t anything wrong with that). It tells a surprising story about loss, perseverance and the kindness of the human spirit. (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and PC)
7. “Splatoon 3” — Nintendo finally put together all the pieces and created a family-friendly shooter that’s packed with content for all sorts of players. Competitive gamers will find a robust online mode that’s less onerous than previous entries. Fans of cooperative play will find plenty of reasons to jump into Salmon Run Next Wave.
Those who want a single-player experience will find an intriguing adventure that takes players through the mysterious Alterna shelters. It sheds light on the “Splatoon 3” world and its origins.
All the modes are tied together with a progression system focused on gear and collectibles that will keep players busy until the next wave of content comes out. (Nintendo Switch)
8. “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” — The pink puffball celebrated his 30th anniversary, and Nintendo pulled out all the stops with a special concert and this fantastic platformer from HAL Laboratory. It’s the first game in the series to be in full 3D and elegantly transitions the hero to the new style.
Kirby still has his copy ability that lets him steal powers from his enemies, and players can those powers as they save more Waddle Dees. On top of that, the puffball has a Mouthful Mode that lets him swallow large objects such as cars or vending machines, giving him ways to open up new areas and beat powerful enemies.
“Kirby and the Forgotten Land” was one of the best games in the series in years and one of the top family-friendly adventures of 2022. (Nintendo Switch)
9. “Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope” — The follow-up to one of the best strategy games in ages is even better than the original. “Sparks of Hope” maintains the unpredictable and combo-heavy nature of its combat system, but this time around, Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Paris have refined it even more, giving players more freedom while also increasing the depth thanks to the introduction of Sparks that add modifiers to attacks and abilities.
Throw in new characters such as Bowser, Edge and Rabbid Rosalina, and players have plenty of heroes to take on Cursa and its minions. The project explores more of the gaming landscape that the original touched upon and crafts more inventive missions that lets the gameplay shine. (Nintendo Switch)
10. “Gran Turismo 7” — Although Sony’s flagship racing franchise has lost ground to the “Forza” series, Polyphony Digital’s latest entry showed that the developer still has plenty in the tank. The team doubled down on the sim aspect of the series creating an experience that feels great on the DualSense controller.
But the most enjoyable part of the project is the GT Cafe, which offers a compelling campaign despite its simplistic structure. It does a great job of introducing and celebrating car culture to fans. (PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4)