2022 is almost over, and so now in the same fashion as last year, I wanted to model some Game of the Year awards through categories in addition to simply ranking my personal favorites. Between now and the dawn of 2023, I'll be updating this page regularly with new entries for each category, so make sure to check in and see what titles win which awards.
For each of these categories, I'll choose a winner and mention some notable runner-ups. Any game nominated or chosen for any of these cateories is then eligible for the final category, Best Game, which is the culminating category where I will construct a ranked list of my favorite games from this year.
Best Old Game
Into the Breach
It is very tempting to deem Genshin Impact the winner of this category once again. I am now at 817 days active on the game and don't really see any sign of slowdown. But, having it win again would be wrong for a couple reasons. First, it would be boring. Second, it would be disrespectful to one of the greatest games of all time that has finally made its way to mobile: Into the Breach.
I may not play it nearly as frequently as some other games, but Subset Games's followup to FTL still as just as joyous to play each and every time you play it as it was on release in 2018. Now that you can finally play it on a device this site covers, it deserves a ton of recognition, especially since the mobile version is impeccable. Heck, it's almost worth subscribing to Netflix just to play it on the go. I'm not sure I've played any game that feels so varied and deep using so few tools. This feat feels like magic and--by the transitive property--makes you feel magical when you play it.
Best Portrait Mode Game
Making a quick switch in category here as I didn't stream many games to an iOS device this year, but I did play an awful lot of portrait mode games, and I know that form factor is crucial for some folks who want to enjoy games on their phone at all.
The top of the heap from 2022 has got to be Afterplace, a game I really had a hard time putting down. It's a little messed up in places, but the vibes it puts out and the mystery of its world make probably the richest and deepest feeling game I played without having to turn my phone sideways or even use a second finger to control the action.
2022 felt a little weak in terms of game music that really stood out to me, but a lot of what kept Finding Paradise's emotional core in tact across the story was its beautiful soundtrack. Even when the characters are making the corniest, most unnecessary jokes that feel overly forced, the backing track keeps you in the moment.
I've posted my favorite track above, but the whole thing is worth listening to. You can buy it here.
On pondering this category, the first game that popped into my head was Night Skate and after dipping back in to a few games and spending time reminiscing on other stylish experiences I had this year nothing was able to dethrone it.
Night Skate is a very simple arcade game but its limited use of color, pixelated graphics, and chiptunes give it a very nostalgic, cozy, and cool vibe that permeates the whole experience. I just love looking at it. It's a surprisingly fun game, too!
Super Auto Pets
One of the greatest benefits of playing games on your phone is the ability to dip in and out of them quickly. Multiplayer games often don't really allow for this, but Super Auto Pets does. This isn't the only reason it's winning best multiplayer for 2022: It's also a really goofy and fun spin on auto-chess. That said, the ability to hop in and out of it at a moment's notice is what kept it installed on my phone and toward the top of my mind all year long.
OPUS: Echo of Starsong
How do you write about a game winning best story? I'm not entirely sure. OPUS: Echo of Starsong wins by a country mile, though. It has a ton of heart, is beautifully told, hides layers of meaning, and creates a fascinating universe. There's nothing plucky or tryhard about how this game's story unfolds, and it's well worth just about everyone finding some time to play through to experience it.
I couldn't bring myself to cut my list down to just ten games, so my first honor starts at number 11 with Afterplace. It's an easy number 11 because it's a very inventive and strange take on open-world adventures like The Legend of Zelda but it's also kind of messed up and funky. It isn't an easy game to play all the time, but its friction is part of what also makes it such a memorable experience. Worth playing, but a game with limited appeal.
10. Vivid Knight
It was a big year for me finding ways to actually enjoy auto-chess games. In addition to Super Auto Pets (honored above), I was quite taken with Vivid Knight in the early parts of this year. Not only does this game have you try to mix-and-match units of a specific type to reach some optimal synergistic combo, but it deploys that mechanic in a fast and fun roguelike dungeon-crawl that ends up feeling like a tear through a full-on jrpg combat system in a fraction of the time it typically takes to do that.
9. Night Skate
In doing write-ups for this year's honors, I redownloaded Night Skate, which turned out to be a mistake because I spent way more time playing it than I should have. There's something magical about this game's vibe because it isn't all that deep and I've already done and seen everything the game has to offer, yet I couldn't help but fall in love with its sense of flow all over again. It's just a great game with basically perfect arcade balance.
I didn't know and frankly didn't really care that much about Finding Paradise's lineage as part of the To The Moon series. I guess after finishing it I'm now glad to know there are other stories available to explore in that world, but the standalone story in Finding Paradise has such heart and sincerity that it instantly became one of the most memorable games I played this year, even despite some of its grating personality.
I am a sucker for deck-based roguelites, and Monster Train is an extremely good one of those. Actually, probably the best one of those, at least on iOS. The amount of variety and combinations you can come up with in this game is staggering, but everything moves at the ideal pace for a phone game: turn-by-turn. This game had a little bit of a rough launch with some aspect ratio problems but those have now all been sorted out and you can easily play seamlessly on multiple devices making it basically a permanent fixture in my game folder for the foreseeable future.
Pawnbarian takes a few tried-and-true game concepts like the dungeon-crawler, roguelikes, and chess and combines them into one of the most mind-bending experiences I've ever had. This game is very intuitive and clear in how it operates but nevertheless ends up weaving some of the densest and most challenging scenarios you can get in games. It's brilliant.
Vampire Survivors is one of the most perfectly distilled versions of video game power fantasy I've ever encountered, and it's incredibly good at delivering that in new ways to keep the idea of almost idly moving through environments entertaining. It also helps that the game is filled to the brim with secrets and unlockables that make you constantly question whether you actually know everything there is to know about it.
I long for more games to build to the strengths of mobile devices, but it's not always clear exactly what that can and should look like. Bossgame: The Boss Is My Heart is a tremendous example of thoughtful design around touch-based controls that results in one of the most satisfying action-oriented titles I've played in many years, not just this one. It's also very cute and clever in its story, which feels like sprinkles and cherries on top of what is already such a delicious treat.
How does a game make it to the top three of the "Best Game" category without being nominated in any previous category? The answer to that question for Dungeons of Dreadrock is purely through puzzle design. I don't have a category that really captures the immaculate creativity and novelty of a game's challenges, but if I did, this game would win without a second thought. Go play this game, and while you do I might rethink some of these categories and how I can capture something like this for next year's awards.
I have a hard time talking about what is so special about Dicey Dungeons because its magic is in how it is able to hide so much of its complicated nature and appear so easy, elegant, effortless, and intuitive. I wouldn't dream of recommending other roguelikes on this list to a lot of people but Dicey Dungeons I'd recommend to just about anyone. It's so smart and friendly and I just can't say enough good things about it.
As a beautiful story wrapped in a game structure I don't think I've ever encountered before, OPUS: Echo of Starsong takes the top spot as Game of the Year for both its ambition and execution. This game is gorgeous top to bottom and was easily the most touching and heartfelt experience I had in the world of games this year. OPUS: Echo of Starsong is the 2022 Game of the Year, and it absolutely deserves the honor.