BEST OF 2022: GOD OF WAR, WORDLE LEAD THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY IN A YEAR WHEN MOST GAMES UNDERPERFORMED

It’s been a bumpy year for video games, in part thanks to the ongoing repercussions of the pandemic. Some significant releases got delayed (2023 could be a doozy), but enough crossed the finish line to keep gamers happy. Indie developers held up their end, delivering creative challenges and fascinating stories. Here are the games we enjoyed the most in 2022.

God of War: Ragnarök 
The latest chapter in the saga of surly Spartan warrior Kratos delivers everything you could ask for in a AAA Sony PlayStation blockbuster. There’s bone-crushing combat against awe-inspiring mythical monsters. There are clever environmental puzzles to solve when you need a break from the mayhem. There’s a surprisingly moving story about fatherhood, regret, and the battle between fate and free will. And there’s the year’s best vocal performance, by Richard Schiff (Toby from “The West Wing”!) as a droll, manipulative Odin. Epic in every way.

Wordle 
On the other end of the spectrum are this simple yet seductive word and the logic game you can play in a few minutes while eating breakfast. Created by software engineer Josh Wardle for his partner’s amusement, Wordle became a phenomenon when he added the ability for players to share their successes (and failures) on social media. Some fans complained when Wardle sold his creation to The New York Times for a reported seven-figure payday, but it remains a tasty daily snack for language lovers.

Horizon: Forbidden West
Back to the epic. Sony’s other big release of 2022 is this sprawling postapocalyptic adventure. In 2017’s “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” fearless heroine Aloy discovered why civilization collapsed; now, she has to stop a mysterious enemy from wiping out humanity for good. The result is a spirited journey across an often breathtaking American West, where the robotic buffalo roam while our descendants patiently try to rebuild culture from the mess we’ve created.

Pentiment
Not often do you see a video game in which a central plot revolves around Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. But such is life in 16th century Germany, the setting of this thought-provoking whodunit. It starts with a murder in an abbey, and your choices as you investigate the crime have irreversible effects on the people in the surrounding village as the decades go by. It’s a provocative examination of faith, history, and unforeseen consequences told with beautiful graphics that evoke the manuscripts and woodcuts of the medieval era.

Norco
A young woman named Kay returns to her Louisiana hometown after her mother’s death in this absorbing mystery. Norco — a town built around a giant oil refinery — is a lonely place, damaged by flooding and decades of pollution. Still, it takes on an odd kind of beauty thanks to vivid pixel art reminiscent of classic LucasArts games of the 1990s. And as Kay searches for her missing brother, lively characters and moments of rueful comedy balance out the sense of melancholy. It’s one of the most thoughtfully written games in years.

Return to Monkey Island
Speaking of LucasArts, one of the mad geniuses of its golden age, Ron Gilbert, came back this year with a loud reprise of his most famous creation. Stumbling wannabe swashbuckler Guybrush Threepwood is determined to finally learn the Secret of Monkey Island promised in the 1990 original. (Spoiler: It’s ridiculous.) The puzzles are as demented as ever — one involves repairing a laundry machine so you can flatten a talking skull — and every encounter is crammed with jokes. Even if you’re new to the franchise, it’s a cruise worth taking.

Elden Ring
Since 2011’s Dark Souls, Japan’s From Software has built a dedicated fan base for its notoriously difficult — some would say sadistic — adventures. Elden Ring is a bit more welcoming, at least giving newcomers time to get their bearings and build up their strength before taking on its most fearsome beasts. It’s still challenging, but the studio’s move from gloomy, claustrophobic castles into a more colorful, inviting open world at least gives less masochistic players a chance to explore its singular take on sword-and-sorcery.

The Case of the Golden Idol
The tiny studio Color Gray Games (essentially two Latvian brothers) made a splash with this ingenious mystery linking 12 gruesome crimes into one big conspiracy. Each case gives you a series of primarily static screenshots, and your job is to figure out not just what whodunit but what the heck happened in the first place. It’ll make you feel like Columbo — albeit in the 18th century — as you piece together bits of evidence to assemble a coherent narrative. Golden Idol has more “a-ha” moments than most big-budget games, and I hope the brothers have more cases up their sleeves.

Marvel Snap
There are tons of collectible card games and just as many superhero games. Still, somehow the studio Second Dinner (formed by a veteran of the card battle classic Hearthstone) has uniquely combined the two. Each player has a handful of Marvel characters played in three locations with different effects; the goal is to take over two of the three spots. One game takes just a few minutes, but it’s easy to lose hours playing just one more as you try to assemble a killer deck.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land
This year, Nintendo’s best Switch game finally takes Kirby into a 3D world, opening up some new skills and challenges for the adorable pink blob. Kirby’s talent — he can inhale enemies and take on their powers — has always ensured plenty of variety, but whoever expected him to vacuum up an entire car? Forgotten Land is accessible, but it’s fun to play co-op with younger kids, and there are enough hidden secrets that you’ll want to replay each level after the kids have gone to bed.

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