What a ride 2022 was! Filled with more twists and turns than the best adventure game mystery, there were highs, there were lows, even a few loop-de-loops. At last we’ve reached the end, but looking back there are at least two enduring, wonderful things to come out of this year. The first, of course, is the Adventure Game Hotspot itself, which only arrived in October but already feels at home. The other great thing about 2022 is the ridiculous abundance of great games released.
In fact, by our count there were over 220 new adventure games launched this year. That is NOT a typo: 220! Some were a Very Big Deal™, like a brand new Monkey Island game back in the hands of Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman, and the next installment in the beloved Syberia series to carry on Benoît Sokal’s legacy. But big budgets and brand name recognition aren’t everything. Many more were from small indie developers, even first-timers who absolutely blew us away with their artistry, cleverness, and sheer entertainment value.
And so, as the year comes to a close, it’s only fitting that we reflect back on the top games that 2022 had to offer. There were many other noteworthy adventures nominated, but these are the ones that left the most lasting impressions on us. In descending order counting down to our Adventure Game of the Year, read on to find out why in the first-ever edition of the Hotspot Highlights!
#15 – BROK the InvestiGator
COWCAT’s BROK the InvestiGator is a unique hybrid between a beat-em-up arcade game and a puzzle-filled detective story. Set in a futuristic dystopian world inhabited by anthropomorphic characters, all beautifully brought to life in an art style that resembles the classic 90s cartoons, it deals with the conflict between those who live outside and inside a dividing hermetic dome. Yet the real story is less about the society they inhabit than it is about the relationship between the titular alligator, a former boxing champ turned detective, and his now-deceased-wife’s feline son and how they grow closer together, or further apart, depending on the choices you make. The point-and-click aspects are well-designed, yet it’s the ability to switch to combat mode and just punch and kick your way through enemies or obstacles that makes for such a fun and varied experience. You can opt out of fighting completely if fisticuffs aren’t your thing, but we encourage you to try, as there is simply nothing else this year that so gloriously manages to fuse together such different genres, ideas, and characters.
#14 – The Quarry
For any gamer with even a passing fondness for the cheesy scares and goofy schlock of a good teen slasher, Supermassive Games needs little introduction. The acclaimed British developer set a high bar to clear with 2015’s Until Dawn, and has been churning out a steady flow of new horror releases ever since. Featuring the same choice-heavy, gameplay-lite formula, The Quarry reaches for that high-water mark set seven years ago. It nearly manages it, too, with a rich atmosphere and a cast that’s as fun and loveable as any we’ve seen since then, portrayed by a star-studded, multi-generational list of Hollywood actors. What could be campier than an actual group of summer camp counselors in over their heads, in this case trapped overnight as something grim and bloodthirsty picks up their scent? With an entrancing soundtrack supporting the eerie chills, this is one night in the woods you won’t want to weather alone. And you don’t have to, as either on your own or in local or couch co-op, The Quarry is popcorn gaming at its finest.
#13 – Lost in Play
As befits the first game from a development studio called Happy Juice, Lost in Play is about as delightful as a game gets. This captivating point-and-click adventure about two siblings and their wild escapades in a whimsical make-believe world has humour, childlike charm, and the look and personality of a Saturday morning cartoon. Even with its relatively short playtime, the experience is packed to the gills with fresh and playful ideas, with no two characters, locations, or puzzles feeling the same. It’s a game that anyone young at heart will appreciate, but since the pace is fast and the challenge level is fairly light, for those with kids of their own it works especially well for playing together as a family, as the quirky jokes, imaginative scenarios, and nostalgia-tinged setting will dole out smiles all around on the way to its heartwarming ending.
#12 – The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
Cloak and Dagger’s The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow aims to tell a quiet late-Victorian folktale, a real and earthy one that burns ever so slowly in unveiling its haunting mystery. Players control antiquarian Thomasina Bateman, visiting the sleepy English village of Bewlay to dig up an old burial mound on the advice of a local who has since disappeared. As you explore the town and its eerie surrounding environs, you’ll begin to uncover a story that ties supernatural legend together with cosmic horror with a movingly personal touch. The sprawling bucolic countryside is depicted in gorgeous pixel art, accompanied by a soundtrack that’s light and chilling, never overshadowing the natural ambience of a babbling brook or wind whipping over the moors. The puzzles are not elaborate, as the game prefers a cool and simple approach, impressive in its restraint. The deliberate pacing might not appeal to everyone at first, but it all culminates in a tremendous final act that ensures it will stick with you long after you’re done.
#11 – Voodoo Detective
Another pleasant surprise from a fresh new developer, Short Sleeve Studio, Voodoo Detective‘s tone and visual style feel like a confident combination of the late 2D era of LucasArts point-and-click classics and the original Broken Sword. The often zany plot unfolds on the once charming, now over-commercialized isle of Zo Wanga in the 1930s, where our perpetually down-on-his-luck protagonist (whose name is actually Voodoo) is pushed into action by an amnesiac client determined to discover who wiped her memory. It’s got charm by the boatload, with its numerous beautiful hand-drawn scenes and animated characters providing a visual feast, accompanied by great voice acting and a lovely jazzy score by Grim Fandango composer Peter McConnell. Not every puzzle lands as well as the others, but overall it’s quite a blast from start to finish: fun, silly, yet with a compelling mystery at its core.
#10 – IMMORTALITY
The latest FMV production from Sam Barlow and his team at Half Mermaid is an extravagant, lavish love letter to cinema, and an intriguing mystery to boot. Players must remotely scour through B-roll footage and discarded video clips from three original films spanning three very different eras – all produced entirely for IMMORTALITY – along with other assorted media appearances for clues to what really happened to doomed Hollywood starlet Marissa Marcel. Barlow is clearly growing as a director himself, and the acting throughout is sublime, including a terrifyingly creepy performance from Charlotta Mohlin and most notably the starring role from Manon Gage, who plays both on-screen and off-screen Marissa across several decades and absolutely nails every scene she’s in. As with every game from the creator of Her Story, there will be moments where you’re unsure if you’ve figured everything out and when to call it a day, but stick with it to unravel one of the most unique and jaw-droppingly bonkers experiences of 2022.
#9 – Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit
To call Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit a Broken Sword clone would do it a great injustice. It wears its influence proudly on its sleeve, but Tag of Joy’s stellar debut is an epic adventure with a distinctly Lithuanian feel that stands as an excellent game in its own right. When young Milda Kovas leaves Chicago and wings across the ocean to settle her deceased grandfather’s affairs in his Baltic homeland, she soon gets swept up in a tale of intrigue, lost artifacts, and interwoven Lithuanian history that would give George Stobbart a run for his money. Set in a world of lush visuals and rich audio, its tale is a lot of fun to uncover even as you find new ways to cover up the protagonist. Adding to the enjoyment is the ability to customize Milda’s wardrobe and career, both of which have a clever impact on the puzzles that must be overcome. With the hint of future adventures on the horizon, this splendid start to Milda’s journey will hopefully not be the last.
#8 – FAR: Changing Tides
As a sequel to the excellent FAR: Lone Sails, Okomotive’s Changing Tides further develops the side-scrolling vehicular adventuring of its predecessor, complete with a sprawling, half-sunken world to explore and a wide variety of clever ways to interact with your aquatic vessel and the lonely machines scattered throughout the desolate, water-logged landscapes. The hybrid gameplay of platforming, puzzle-solving, and resource management isn’t especially challenging, but everything from the stunning visuals and the beautiful folk/classical score to the wordless storytelling and the subtle details of weather changes and animal life makes Changing Tides another work of art. Despite the melancholy postapocalyptic scenario, the game keeps wonder alive as you traverse the environments above or below the waterline, persevering through each obstacle until you arrive at the fittingly moving finale. It’s a story of beauty amid chaos, hope in the face of disaster, and new beginnings even at the end of the world.
#7 – Stray
Wandering a broken, postapocalyptic world may never be more fun than through the eyes of the feline protagonist in BlueTwelve Studio’s Stray. It’s more linear than you might expect, but as you prowl, pounce and claw your way through the fascinating cyberpunk environment, you’ll spend many enjoyable hours exploring the neon-lit back alleys and apartment balconies of a robot city long since devoid of any human beings. With its quirky android characters, intuitive puzzles and worthwhile side quests, all accompanied by a beautiful and atmospheric soundtrack, Stray checks all the boxes that qualifies it as a memorable adventure. The adorable tabby is joined by an amnesiac drone named B-12, and together they discover what has happened to this run-down but stunningly realized world. Step by four-legged step on the way to a reunion with the furry protagonist’s buddies, the journey is sure to leave you purring in delight.
#6 – Lucy Dreaming
Playing Tall Story Games’ Lucy Dreaming caused us to lose quite a bit of sleep, staying up far too late because we couldn’t get enough of its potent combination of charm, challenge, and just plain fun. It’s also really, really funny in a distinctly British way, which you might not expect from a mystery so compelling it’d do Alfred Hitchcock proud. Alternating time spent in Lucy’s present-day real world and the more fanciful, nostalgia-tinged locales in the depths of her subconscious is entirely appropriate, because this game beautifully co-occupies the spaces of “modern original” and “loving homage to the Golden Age” of pixel art point-and-click classics. Its endearing young protagonist leads a colourful cast of characters all skillfully acted, and there’s more than enough thoughtful puzzles to solve in a delightfully substantial adventure to remind us that sometimes they really do make ’em like they used to.
#5 – Perfect Tides
Real-life adventures can be as scary and confusing as they are exhilarating, often with no clear end in sight. Mara Whitefish, protagonist of Meredith Gran’s Perfect Tides, is a fifteen-year-old dreamer stuck in a tiny tourist community with no outlet but the internet at the turn of the millennium, and she’d like nothing more than for her adventures – through school, toward adulthood, across a raging sea of hormones – to end. She’s imagined a life for herself, and she just has to survive adolescence to start living it. Following Mara across a year of her life, through challenges at home, in her social life, and online, players will experience every high and low right along with her. The stellar writing, impeccable cartoon art, and deep, empathetic characterization allow us to feel every step on her journey as if it were our own, and the puzzle design helps to remind us of the real challenges we once faced as teenagers. A testament to the intense reality of youthful emotion and the creativity, resilience, and value that we so often overlook in young people, Perfect Tides is a timeless adventure for all ages.
#4 – Return to Monkey Island
No adventure game this year had to shoulder the expectations that Return to Monkey Island did, so we were overjoyed when it largely met those expectations and sometimes even surpassed them. Once more in the hands of Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman for the first time in over thirty years, Guybrush Threepwood is back, and he’s as loveable as ever, in an obliviously dastardly sort of way. (And voiced to perfection by a superb Dominic Armato.) For this latest voyage he brings along most of the beloved series favourites, along with a whole bunch of worthy new characters in a story that’s one of the franchise’s best yet. The puzzles are satisfying, the punchlines will have you squirting milk out your nose, and the (absurdly controversial) graphics prove to be the perfect vehicle for delivering the many madcap capers and mischievous escapades. It even leaves us with another ending to think about, and possibly new adventures to follow. Many happy returns!
#3 – Syberia: The World Before
You just can’t keep a good adventurer down. Not only was Kate Walker in desperate need of a bounceback performance from an underwhelming Syberia 3, she starts off The World Before imprisoned in a Russian salt mine. In the hands of Microids Studio Paris, however, Kate soon escapes and embarks on a journey to explore the background of the game’s second playable character, Dana Roze, which you’ll get to experience first-hand. Players must guide the seventeen-year-old Dana, who bears a striking resemblance to Kate, through the tumultuous 1930s in the shadow of the Second World War. Following in her footsteps decades later, as Kate probes ever deeper and learns how the two women’s lives are intertwined, she’s forced to confront the reality of the choices she’s made. Filled with poignant moments of tragedy, wonder and joy, all taking place in a gorgeously designed world, this is truly an experience worthy of the Syberia name, and a beautiful tribute to Kate’s creator, the late Benoît Sokal.
#2 – NORCO
With NORCO, first-time developer Geography of Robots was able to brilliantly weave together a story about family and the ghosts that are shared across generations, an indictment of a society that deems certain people and communities worth sacrificing at the altar of profit, a science-fictional look at a possible future under industrial capitalism, and a haunting tale about the powers that seek to harness the spirits of people and places for their own purposes. It begins simply, with a young woman returning to her shattered family home, and from there blossoms outward to encompass all humanity, along the way introducing monsters, prophets, alien beings, and wanderers through the corridors of time. A haunting score and gorgeous visuals suffuse the experience with all the melancholy and longing of its brilliantly drawn characters, and its world is like nothing else in the adventure genre. A game like NORCO almost defies explanation, but in the end, the only other thing that really needs to be said is: play it.
Adventure Game of the Year
#1 – The Case of the Golden Idol
Every once in a while, a game comes along that’s so thoroughly “itself” (and with such blistering success) that you can’t help but wonder why it hasn’t already been done before. That it’s the very first release by a small new development studio makes it all the more impressive. It borrows heavily from Return of the Obra Dinn‘s whodunit deduction rulebook, but The Case of the Golden Idol’s gameplay quickly and gleefully upends any traditional genre conventions while never losing sight of its roots, establishing itself as a true one-of-a-kind original. Surpassing two adventure game titans (and many other fellow impressive indie competitors) for the top spot, this surprising little gem is the Hotspot’s brightest highlight as our Adventure Game of the Year for 2022.
Players are presented with a dozen murder scenes (some simple, some quite intricate) and then asked to identify all the key details through a fill-in-the-blank-style interface, where your only inventory items are the words you’ve dragged straight out of the various books, letters and signage spread throughout the scene. Going far beyond Clue-like basics (“[blank] killed [blank] with a [blank]!”), Golden Idol mixes things up and frequently asks you to ID every single witness, figure out who ate what for dinner, or learn the esoteric customs of the secret societies operating in its fictionalized 18th century setting. The frozen-in-time tableaus are filled with strikingly animated art, excellent music, brilliant red herrings, and nonstop sleuthing. It’s a smashing, totally filler-free experience that keeps your brain engaged at every elaborate turn, and nails the “a-ha!” satisfaction of cracking a case like nobody else. Well done, Color Gray Games. You killed it.