These days, it’s simply impossible to keep up with every great game that releases in a year. With such a mass of experiences to choose from, players have no choice but to curate. That means that every year is bound to produce what I’ve started calling “forgotten games.” It’s a term I use to describe sleeper hits that would have garnered attention in a less crowded year, but were simply lost among a sea of great titles.
“Forgotten games” tend to break my heart. Generally, they didn’t do anything wrong — save for maybe skimping on their marketing budgets. They’re strong games, just ones that didn’t generate conversation. Sometimes it’s just that they weren’t groundbreaking enough to break into “game of the year” discussions. They’re not polarizing or controversial enough to generate discourse. These games simply aren’t conversation pieces and that’s a difficult place to be in during our social age, which makes them hard to prioritize.
With a few weeks of quiet before 2023 starts strong, this January is a perfect time to give those games a shot. Though they may not break into your year-end list, they’re simply well-designed games that are worthy of some attention. They’re a perfect, low-stakes way to ease into what’s about to be a hectic year for gaming.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes might be the best game of 2022 that just didn’t generate any buzz. I imagine that’s because its Dynasty Warriors-like gameplay has a niche appeal, something that’s held back excellent spinoffs like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and Persona 5 Strikers. Three Hopes isn’t a game to miss, though, especially if you’re a fan of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The action RPG is essentially a full-fledged sequel to that game, trading in its tactics for delightfully loud and proud Musou gameplay. Though what’s most impressive is that it’s as rich an RPG as Three Houses, complete with deep unit customization, new support, conversations, and a host of social activities.
With Fire Emblem Engage just weeks away, it’s a good time to revisit the world of Three Houses before setting sail for Elyos.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
I can understand why a Borderlands game might not carry much social weight in 2022. While the series’ first two games were genre-defining looter-shooters, mainstream audiences seemed to cool on its loud-mouthed, meme-infused comedy by the time Borderlands 3 was released. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands may look like more of the same from an outside perspective, but that’s selling this incredibly fun shooter short. The action game is a breath of fresh air for the series, playfully fusing fantasy tropes into the series’ established first-person shooter formula.
There’s also a surprisingly engaging story under all the noise here, as Ashly Burch brings more depth (and a touch of sadness) to the titular Tiny Tina. Between Wonderlands and the similarly overlooked New Tales From the Borderlands, 2022 was probably the best year the series has had in a decade — even if few players paid much attention to it.
Sometimes, a bad release date is all it takes to bury a good game. Ghostwire Tokyo didn’t just have the misfortune of launching a month after Elden Ring, but it also dropped the same day as Kirby and the Forgotten Land, the one game that would manage to pry people away from that open-world epic. Decent reviews made the oddball action-adventure title seem like a bit of a B-game, so it was quickly swallowed up by Kirby.
That’s a bit of a shame because Ghostwire Tokyo was one of the most inventive major releases to launch this year. Though it has plenty of flaws, developer Tango Gameworks created an eerie, horror-adjacent title that made clever use of Japanese folklore. Its first-person spell-casting puts a creative spin on traditional first-person shooting systems, making it feel unlike anything that released this year. My hope is that Ghostwire Tokyo gets a second shot at life when it inevitably comes to Xbox Game Pass sometime this year.
Sniper Elite 5
You’d think that Sniper Elite 5 would have generated controversy due to its ultra-violence and full-throated hatred of Nazis. It seemed that audiences were desensitized to that though, as the stealth game slipped by without offending a Senator. It could have used that outrage buzz because then players could have discovered some of the best level design 2022 has to offer.
Like previous installments, Sniper Elite 5 drops players into intricate maps and has them hunting down targets in whatever way they deem appropriate. It’s a World War 2 immersive sim that rewards sharp spatial awareness. One of its standout missions, for instance, has players infiltrating a massive spy academy that makes great use of vertical space. It’s a densely packed map filled with nooks and crannies — perfect for hiding a pile of Nazi bodies. If you need to take out some political rage before primary season, I’d recommend popping in for a quick therapy session.
Nintendo Switch Sports
Had Nintendo Switch Sports been a free console pack-in game, it could have been a phenomenon in the vein of Wii Sports. However, $40 was a lot to ask for a slim package of motion-controlled minigames, which made it a tough sell. While I don’t blame anyone for skipping it, Switch Sports is the kind of party game that any Switch owner needs to have on deck. It’s the ultimate local multiplayer game in a year that was short on them.
Believe it or not, Switch Sports was one of my most played games of 2022. It became a weekend routine for me, as I’d spend a few hours every Sunday morning bowling and listening to music. It was a good excuse to get my body moving as I grinded for cosmetics, building out the most Italian-looking avatar possible (full tracksuit, of course). My love for it only grew this year after its Golf update, which added a fun online elimination mode that’s worth checking out. If the price still feels wrong, keep an eye out for a good sale this year.
Among Us VR
There’s no greater indication that players have cooled on VR than the fact that not even Among Us could revitalize interest in the tech. While the social deduction game isn’t the cultural phenomenon it was in 2020 (well, Glass Onion cameo aside), you’d think that an excellent VR version of the game could at least turn some heads. That wasn’t the case, as it sat on the sidelines next to excellent 2022 VR games like Moss: Book 2 that didn’t get the shine they deserved.
Though I’ve only had the chance to play it a few times, I’m confident that Among Us VR is the definitive version of the game. The first-person perspective makes the experience significantly more tense, as it becomes a game about nervously checking your blind spots. Tasks are more nerve-racking, as I found myself whipping my head behind me every few seconds to make sure no one was sneaking up on me. The few times I got to play it with friends (and even strangers, for that matter) were some of the most fun I had with a game this year. Hopefully, the PlayStation VR2 can help get it a fresh audience in 2023.
Shovel Knight Dig
The Shovel Knight franchise is the absolute king of sleeper hits. The retro series turned in perhaps 2021’s most underrated game, the brilliant Shovel Knight: Puzzle Dungeon, and history repeated itself in 2022 with Shovel Knight Dig. Created by the studio behind Downwell, the indie title is a great little roguelite that implements the Shovel Knight IP in clever ways. It’s all about getting down to the bottom of a mine, combining traditional platforming and Dig Dug-like digging. Though not one of the genre’s very best, it’s an absolute charmer that’s a great fit for a quiet weekend.
If any of these games sound up your alley, I urge you to check them out as soon as you can. Once Fire Emblem Engage and Forspoken break 2023 in a few weeks, it’s going to be nonstop from there. Your backlog will thank you later, trust me.