Top 10 Non-AAA Games of 2022

2022 has been an excellent year for video games. Sure, a lot of the big AAA blockbusters we were all hyped for ended up delayed but there’s a whole world of gaming outside of that space. Mid-budget AA games and indie games are the backbones of the gaming industry. It’s where you’ll find the most innovative, weird, risk-taking ideas because they aren’t attempting to make a game that appeals to the broadest audience possible, they don’t have the budget for that. Instead, they commit to a singular vision and usually end up with more of an identity than the bigger, more popular games. These aren’t trying to please everyone so they might not be as beloved as the big blockbuster AAA games but in a lot of cases, they’re better. These are what I think are the 10 best games of the year outside the AAA space.

Honorable Mention: Immortality

While I didn’t fully love Immortality I can’t deny that it’s an experience that hasn’t fully left my mind since I played it. No other video game this year is like it and despite personally feeling like it fell short of what it was trying to accomplish it’s a game that when it hits, it really hits. It’s an FMV puzzle game where you scroll through live-action clips of three fictional unreleased movies from the 60s, 70s, and 90s starring an actress who disappeared. Your job is to comb through the clips and find out what happened to her. Immortality is a puzzle game with more layers than its simple and somewhat mundane surface lets on. It just barely misses my top ten but it features a moment that is one of the greatest I’ve ever experienced in a game and despite my overall mixed feelings about it I recommend everyone try it out.

10. Bear & Breakfast

The coziest game of the year, Bear & Breakfast has you play as a bear who opens a bed and breakfast. It’s up to you to keep customers happy and earn enough to expand your business. You’ll do this by gathering resources throughout the forest, building more rooms, and decorating your establishment. It’s an incredibly chill and addicting gameplay loop. Even when customers start ramping up their demands it never becomes overwhelming, it’s always manageable. Unlike some other management/life sim games, it never ends up feeling like a job that you have to boot up all the time to make progress. It’s simply a cozy game to chill out to and vibe while you help Hank the bear become a hotel mogul.

9. Evil West

Evil West is just awesome. Essentially a playable B-movie where you’re a vampire hunting cowboy in a steampunk wild west. Evil West doesn’t waste any time on things like puzzles, exploration, or side missions. Instead it just fully commits to moving you along from combat encounter to combat encounter where you will be pummeling and shooting monsters with your arsenal until nothing is left but pools of blood. It’s a refreshing change of pace in a gaming landscape filled with bloat in the never-ending quest for each game to take as much playtime as possible. Evil West isn’t trying to be serious or mature or about sad dads, all it wants to be is a schlocky fun action game and it succeeds tenfold.

8. TinyKin

In a word, delightful. A 3D platformer mixed with Pikmin, TinyKin sees you control a tiny man as you explore a house trying to find pieces to fix your spaceship. You’ll jump, climb and glide through different rooms of the house to collect tinykin to use their abilities to access more areas and collect ship parts. Featuring a wonderful art style of 2D animated characters in a fully 3D environment TinyKin is a tight and compact throwback to the heyday of the collect-a-thon. It’s a chill, low-risk platformer. There are no enemies to speak of and falling off platforms never leads to death. TinyKin won’t make you stretch your platforming muscles but it offers great level design, big areas to explore, and a really pleasant vibe.

7. Return to Monkey Island

Return to Monkey Island is Monkey Island as it always has been and that’s a very good thing. Guybrush Threepwood and LeChuck are headed back to Monkey Island and we should all be thankful because this new adventure is not just a throwback to the golden age of adventure games but it’s one of the best modern ones as well. The writing is just as clever and funny as the classic LucasArts games we all remember and the puzzles are much improved. Gone are the obtuse puzzles of yesteryear of combining unrelated objects, in their stead are more coherent ones. With a casual mode for more streamlined puzzles or a hard mode for more involved ones, Return to Monkey Island is a brilliant game whether you’ve played the originals or not and the funniest game of the year.

6. Metal Hellsinger

Heavy Metal incarnate. Part Doom, part rhythm game, Metal Hellsinger has you killing demons in Hell to the beat of original heavy metal songs made specifically for the game by artists such as Lamb of God and System of a Down. With weapons ranging from a shotgun, dual pistols, and even a demonic skull you’re given a suitable arsenal to take down the forces of Hell and rock as hard as possible while you do it. The art style is like a heavy metal album cover has come to life and raking up a combo of perfectly on-beat shots until the vocals kick in is an absolutely badass feeling. Not since Brutal Legend has there been a video game that captured the spirit of metal so accurately.

5. Nobody Saves the World

A weird and whimsical game where you can play as a Knight, a Ranger, a turtle, an egg, and a lot more. This shapeshifting top-down action RPG from the developers of Guacamelee is fun, funny, and surprisingly deep. With the ability to change your form to combat different types of enemies and make it through dungeons, it’s a simple game to grasp and playthrough with enough depth to keep hardcore RPG fans satisfied. Each form has its own abilities that you can mix and match and level up separately to tailor to your play style and each dungeon scenario. It came out in January and got lost in the shuffle of conversation but it deserves recognition for being one of the most fun games of the year.

4. Pentiment

A wonderful adventure game about art, about stories, about not erasing the past, and about not wasting the time you’re given. Pentiment is a slow burn, playing more like a visual novel than a standard adventure game but its medieval murder mystery is one well worth it. The art style is ripped straight out of a 16th-century art book and touches like each character having a different speech font depending on their societal class help make it one of the most beautifully immersive games this year. While there are no puzzles like most adventure games, you’re given a strict time limit to explore the town, talk to suspects and gather information to solve the case. You’re not given enough time to talk to everyone which makes it all the more suspenseful and effective when the time comes to accuse someone and potentially not know for sure if they truly are guilty. Within that mystery, the plot is a moving story about art itself and what we choose to do with our lives.

3. Beacon Pines

Beacon Pines is the best narrative game I’ve played since the original Life is Strange. It’s a Stranger Things-style adventure set in a Twin Peaks-style town with a breathtaking art style that looks ripped straight out of a classic storybook. Much like Pentiment, it’s less interactive than most adventure games. You’ll be walking around and picking dialogue options more than you will be interacting with objects or puzzles but the story is well worth it. An absolutely wonderful and charming mystery story about dealing with change and moving on. The main mechanic has you finding keywords that when you use them at certain story points will change how the story plays out. You can see each story branch and rewind to change your options when you find more keywords until you find the real ending. It’s like a Metroidvania choose your own adventure and it melds beautifully with the coming-of-age story’s theme of change.

2. TMNT Shredder’s Revenge

TMNT Turtles in Time is still revered to this as not just one of the best beat em’ ups of all time but one of the best games. It still holds up despite being over 25 years old. Leave it to an indie studio to make a TMNT game that not only harkens back to Turtles in Time but matches its quality. Maybe even exceeds it. Featuring up to six player co-op both online and local and seven distinct playable characters, Shredder’s Revenge is a certified cowabunga classic. Its art style is retro inspired and beautifully cartoony and expressive, the action is fast, frantic, and fun whether you’re just button-mashing or have actual skills. Add to that an incredible soundtrack featuring an original Wu-Tang Clan song and you have a new all-time TMNT game.

1. Vampire Survivors

I’ve never done drugs but thanks to Vampire Survivors I’ll never have to. This is video games distilled to their purist form, just a constant dopamine rush. It’s so simple that anyone can play, all you do is move around. You attack enemies automatically so all you must do is maneuver through hordes of enemies to survive, level up, and choose which weapons and upgrades you want to add to your arsenal. As you play more, you’ll get better at surviving, unlock better weapons and upgrades, and before you know it you’re an unstoppable force doing nothing but killing monsters and collecting cash. Everything you do leads you toward unlocking something. More power-ups, more weapons, more characters, more levels. Vampire Survivors could have come out in the 80s and it would be hailed as classic today. If it came out in fifty years, it would still be one of the best games to release. It is a perfect video game.

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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