Sequels are often contentious, but I feel like video games can get away with being a part of a long-running series – and, crucially, still be good while they’re at it, well past the point where a book or movie franchise would have outstayed its welcome.
The thing is, though, when it comes to GOTY lists like our Advent Calendar, it’s a much bigger task to convince your fellow voters of the merits of your new favourite game when it’s the third, fourth, or maybe even sixteenth in its series. I’m adamant that those games deserve their share of recognition at the end of the year, which is why my honourable mentions celebrate 2022’s new entries into some of my favourite ongoing series.
Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip
I know it feels like I bang on about Monster Prom all the time, and to be fair, that’s pretty accurate. But at the same time, it’d be unfair to write off Monster Roadtrip as just some sequel I was guaranteed to love because I was already so invested in the series. A lot of work has clearly gone into refining and redirecting this franchise for its third outing, and it’s a bit churlish of you, honestly, to expect me not to highlight that just because you’re sick of hearing about how great I think Monster Prom is. ’Tis the season of goodwill, after all.
Truth is, I just really liked Monster Prom 3. It’s miles better than the second game – which, while still great as a visual novel, fell down a bit as a multiplayer party game – and could even give the original a run for its money. Personally, Roadtrip has overtaken the first game to become my favourite in the series.
In truth, Monster Prom hasn’t been a dedicated dating sim for a while; it started out that way, sure, but the pursuit of romance became more of a jumping-off point for telling a much wider variety of stories about different kinds of love, friendship, self-acceptance, and paranormal hijinks. Monster Roadtrip takes that to its logical conclusion by properly relegating the romance elements to side-stories which, while delightful, aren't the focus of the game. Because sometimes you want to take a break from lovin' on hot monsters and just enjoy the scenery in the company of good friends! But of course, in an ideal world, you get to do both, which is why Monster Roadtrip is simply the best one yet.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil In Me
No matter what disappointments and setbacks I may have suffered at points in 2022, it will always be the year when we got two Supermassive horror games within six months, and that goes a long way to nudging my internal happiness needle back towards the positive. We voted The Quarry (a standalone spiritual successor to the studio's breakout hit Until Dawn) onto our collective GOTY list, but there was slightly less love going around for The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil In Me.
While The Quarry is accessible to players who may be new to cinematic adventure games, The Devil In Me is in many ways a response to feedback generated by the first three games in the anthology (and even to Until Dawn itself). There's more puzzle solving and free-roaming exploration, alongside a wider variety of button-mashing activities at intense moments. At last your characters properly run when instructed, rather than speeding up to a very slight jog, and some of the new traversal mechanics require a small amount of actual finesse. In other words, The Quarry is a very good interactive horror movie, and The Devil In Me is a very good adventure game with survival horror elements. And if you like the sound of both of those, well, maybe 2022 was your lucky year too.
The Devil In Me is also the Season One finale of The Dark Pictures Anthology, and while my elaborate theories on how it all ties together haven't exactly been confirmed (yet), I have some satisfaction in having called that there is a running storyline in the framing narrative. The best part of this game for me, though, has to be the fact that after spending a full year talking up my adoration for Jessie Buckley, her character was the only one I got killed during my first playthrough, so I guess that's canon for me now. RIP Kate, sorry I failed so hard at "protecting you at all costs".
The Past Within
Here’s my last hot take of 2022: modern co-op games are dropping the ball when it comes to people who live with their favourite gaming buddy. Happily, couch co-op is a feature of The Past Within - and it’s available on mobile devices as well as PC, where its system requirements are low enough that you can run it on the most potato-ey of laptops. This alone made this game a lovely little surprise, made even better by the fact that my partner and I were both already avid fans of the Rusty Lake series of surreal puzzle games.
The premise of The Past Within is both very simple and mind-bogglingly complicated, and involves time travel alongside the series' usual mix of complex family saga and Twin Peaks-inspired mysticism. You don't need to know anything about the overarching story, however, to appreciate that this is a cube escape take on Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes with a creepy shadow person occasionally scuttling around in the background. You and your partner are communicating across a span of decades via a physical time machine, with the hopes of transporting bits of your dead dad from the past so that he can be reincarnated in the future.
Do it without screen-cheating and it's a satisfying couple of hours of good communication and cooperative puzzle solving. As a delightful bonus, the devs thoughtfully included two versions of all the puzzles in the game, so you can replay it with the roles swapped to see both sides of the story.
The Past Within really is the sixteenth game in the series, but the non-linear nature of the plot means you can jump in anywhere and be just as baffled as all but the most seasoned veterans of the Rusty Lake fan wiki (and even they’re just making educated guesses about what’s going on most of the time). The Rusty Lake games range from short to very short and are either free or very cheap, so despite its complex underlying story it’s a very easy series to get into, although potentially a hard one to stop thinking about once you're hooked.