Maybe I hadn't looked hard enough, but I played a lot of games this year which ended up being a bit naff or totally fine. All of my top picks made it into the Advent Calendar, so that's good! But otherwise, I didn't have to think too hard as to what I'd shout out here. Hope you're having the merriest of Christmases and catch you for - hopefully - a big 2023 filled with big games.
Rogue Legacy 2
I know that roguelites are meant to be difficult and thrive off your demise, but man, sometimes they make death such a painful thing. Thankfully Rogue Legacy 2 doesn't fall into that category of roguelites where you're only able to play them for a bit before they become a day-ruiner; in fact, the total opposite is true. The game builds on the original, where death being an absolute pleasure is its biggest triumph.
Every time you die in RL2, your children succeed you. These kids of yours may be born with superhuman traits like gigantism, which transforms them into a hefty titan, or simple fears like vertigo. Maybe they'll be a pacifist, or maybe everything for one of your great, great, great grandsons will be topsy turvy. As you fight your way through dungeons, the family tree becomes a gnarled oak that blooms and curls in on itself in myriad directions.
What's neat is how the game incentivises taking on a tough challenge. Choose an heir that's been born with a pretty difficult trait, and it'll reward you handsomely for even the most short-lived of runs. Not to mention that, in general, RL2 is flooded with stuff that means that you'll unlock yet more stuff. Pour cash you've found into one thing and you'll find yet another offshoot appears in its place. It's such a dense game that there's almost too much to say! But just know that it provides the thrills associated with finding magical lutes as well as those brought about by endless investment. You will never run out of things to improve and somehow, it never gets tiresome.
Two Point Campus
I'll be the first to admit that most management games aren't for me. As someone whose brain immediately switches off when I see a cluttered UI filled with numbers and folders that open into subfolders, I've rarely enjoyed your RimWorlds and RimWorld adjacent games. Two Point Campus is different, though, as it’s campus management for everyone - including people like me, whose attention span is severely limited.
As the name suggests, Two Point Campus is about building university campuses that deliver a solid education as well as foster happiness amongst their students. From the get-go you're steered through each step clearly and methodically, with brilliant examples that let you off the leash at just the right moment for you to flex those new managerial muscles. Everything - and I repeat, everything - is wonderfully clear and crisp: the menus are simple, hints are concise, and it's easy to pick out the one teacher who simply won't stop littering and pissing.
Simplicity doesn't necessarily mean a lack of depth, though. The game introduces layers upon layers of things that fold into one another, and it's up to you to keep them from spilling over. But it's all dictated by how far you want to take your campuses, as each has a star-rating to fulfil. Whether you want to or not is up to you.
Put simply, Two Point Campus is a really lovely time. Courses are magnificent, with wizarding schools, mech-building, and the famed sport Cheeseball all rendered in colour that pops. Want to craft the ultimate university for Knights with peak happiness and excellent test results? It'll let you. Want to dabble in a university for a bit and like, chill after a hard day at work? It's more than happy to accommodate.
Warstride Challenges didn't get the attention it deserved this year, and it breaks my heart. It's a retro-inspired FPS (think Doom 2016) where you race through levels as fast as you possibly can. So long as you've mulched every enemy along the way your time counts. And it's an absolute blast.
The game gets speedrunning right, where bunny-hopping lets you steer through corridors at lightspeed and precision aim is required to mince demons that stand in your way. There's also a dedicated slow-mo button which you can use sparingly for the tightest of turns (the cool factor also ups massively when you do this). Everything marries together to form an FPS with the aim of guiding you through carefully crafted rally courses, and making sure you look good and feel powerful as you go.
Don't worry if it all sounds a bit intimidating, as the game has a nice tutorial that gradually introduces you to the basics of movement, aim, and things like doors or buttons. And it's the littlest things like buttons that can totally derail a run, so you'd best pay attention!
I mentioned it in my first article on the game, but I love how it makes the simplest actions in an FPS feel like an actual rally game. For instance, timing your reloads is as important as shifting gears, and positioning your mouse is just as important as twisting your steering wheel through winding corners. If you want all the perks of a racing game but with guns and demons instead of garages and nitrous, then Warstride is the place to turn.