Nintendo Life Staff Game of the Year 2022
Image: Nintendo Life

Another year has come and gone (almost) and once more we're looking back over all the games we've played, along with those we wish we had played. It's been a great year for Switch releases, with a crop of excellent first-party Nintendo games joined by some great third-party offerings (Square Enix, in particular, has been on fire the last few months), plus choice ports of older titles and more incredible indies than we know what to do with.

While our Top 50 reader-ranked list of the Best Switch Games of 2022 serves as the main course in our GOTY rankings (and will be published soon!), we also publish an annual NL staff GOTY list. Typically, we compile all nominations in a spreadsheet, and then everyone on staff adds points in reverse order for their top 10 games of the year, which is then tabulated to create our 10 staff picks. This is fine but a) it tends to produce a crop very similar to our reader-ranked counterpart, and b) smaller games — ones that rank very highly on our personal lists — usually get pushed off the bottom by familiar big-name fare, despite the passion they inspire in individual team members.

So, we're shaking it up a little from last year. Rather than a ranked list, everyone on staff submitted their top five GOTYs and we're presenting the accumulated nominations to you below, in no particular order. We feel this gives smaller games that we've adored this year a better chance to shine amongst the usual suspects making up GOTY lists across the web (and we've saved the game that got the most staff votes for the very end, if you're curious to know what's toppermost of the poppermost at Nintendo Life Towers).

You'll find 29 games below, with comments from NL staffers who were moved to write about them. Of course, with such a bumper year of Switch game goodies, there are loads of titles that aren't featured here. Special mentions to the following: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, Portal, Arcade Paradise, Inscryption, Card Shark, Jack Move, The Stanley Parable, NieR Automata, and end-of-year arrivals Chained Echoes and Lil Gator Game.

Okay, let's get stuck in...

NL staff key: Alana Hagues (AH), Felix Sanchez (FS), Gavin Lane (GL), Jim Norman (JN), Kate Gray (KG), Liam Doolan (LD), Ollie Reynolds (OR), PJ O'Reilly (PJ)

Neon White (Switch eShop)

Neon White (Switch eShop)
Neon White (Switch eShop)
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive / Developer: Angel Matrix
Release Date: 16th Jun 2022 (USA) / 16th Jun 2022 (UK/EU)

Neon White is totally unafraid to be what it is. Which is, admittedly, a cocktail of totally different ingredients that shouldn’t go together but absolutely do. Over-the-top, edgy anime characters go speedrunning, shooting, and platforming through heaven is absolutely a thing I adore now.

Neon White manages to capture the thrill of speedrunning and the delight of success succinctly, developer Angel Matrix concocting a unique and addictive formula with the perfect difficulty curve. I love it for being unabashed with its identity and defying expectations. Oh, and Machine Girl’s soundtrack? It’s an all-timer. AH

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (Switch eShop)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (Switch eShop)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (Switch eShop)
Publisher: Dotemu / Developer: Tribute Games
Release Date: 16th Jun 2022 (USA) / 16th Jun 2022 (UK/EU)

Shredder’s Revenge was always going to hit for two groups: beat ‘em up fans, and Ninja Turtles fans. While I have often dabbled in the former camp, I am a lifelong subscriber to the latter. All that the game really needed to do was hit me with some sewer-surfing action to guarantee a swift thumbs up, but it managed to do so much more. The catchphrases! The music! The superb idle animations! Shredder’s Revenge took me back to my childhood of watching cartoons and picking out my plaster cast colour based on my favourite turtle (Donnie, for anyone wondering). It managed to be nostalgic and new. JN

Visually electrifying and snappy to play, this is a classic that’s bursting with love and passion for the source material, and it’s a total joy to play to boot. Make sure you bring friends along for the best possible time. AH

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13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch)

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch)
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch)
Publisher: Atlus / Developer: Vanillaware
Release Date: 12th Apr 2022 (USA) / 12th Apr 2022 (UK/EU)

I hadn't played 13 Sentinels before it came to Switch, so I think I'm justified in choosing this as one of my 2022 GOTYs! It's just such an incredible game, and I really think its title doesn't do it justice, because I thought it was way more sci-fi. Turns out it's a beautifully-told story about these kids and their relationships with each other throughout a kinda confusing timey-wimey story. I loved it, so much. KG

One of the best games of 2020 is on Switch? And it looks and runs like a dream? 13 Sentinels blew my mind when I first played it, and it still does to this day. The way the mystery unfolds and the way I fell in love with the characters one by one as their relationships blossomed and how they dealt with the game’s revelations – the shock and those feelings are things that you’ll remember for years to come. It’s also the best-looking game ever. Yes, really. Don’t argue it. AH

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch)

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch)
Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: 28th Jan 2022 (USA) / 28th Jan 2022 (UK/EU)

I’d pretty much decided I was done with Pokémon until Legends: Arceus came out, but this game’s big changes to the formula, new Pokémon forms, and wild twists (the Pokémon attack you in the wild!?) were exactly what I needed to bring me back. I couldn’t be happier. I want another Legends-style game because this is one of the best Pokémon games ever. AH

This is the Pokémon game I dreamed of as a kid and felt like the beginning of something truly special. I finally know what it feels like to crawl around in the grass and catch Pokémon. Another lifegoal I can tick off! LD

You know, I wasn't going to add Pokémon Legends: Arceus to my GOTY list, buuuut I think it deserves recognition for finally shaking up the Pokémon formula. There are so many cool things you can do with the series, but Pokémon Legends is the first time Game Freak has been unafraid to ditch a lot of the bad legacy features in favour of interesting new ones, rather than slowly evolving the games over years. It's not perfect, but it's better than it was. KG

Return to Monkey Island (Switch eShop)

Return to Monkey Island (Switch eShop)
Return to Monkey Island (Switch eShop)
Publisher: Devolver Digital / Developer: Terrible Toybox
Release Date: 19th Sep 2022 (USA) / 19th Sep 2022 (UK/EU)

Despite not having a massive history with the Monkey Island games — I only ever played Escape from Monkey Island rather than the classics — I'm a fan of Thimbleweed Park and found the call of this nostalgia trip back to adventure gaming's golden age too strong to resist.

What I found upon returning was an utterly thrilling, razor-sharp adventure that, yes, accepted that nostalgia was the primary draw for most players but refused to make it the game's North Star. The number of times I normally laugh out loud while playing games is staggeringly low. A warm smile? Sure. A tear? On occasion. But an audible laugh? That's a very rare thing. Return to Monkey Island's wit had me guffawing throughout and the Secret it contains was pitch-perfect. Couple that with the smoothest implementation of staple adventure game mechanics I've ever experienced, and I ended up feeling nostalgic for games I never played. A remarkable return. GL

Tunic (Switch eShop)

Tunic (Switch eShop)
Tunic (Switch eShop)
Publisher: Finji / Developer: TUNIC Team
Release Date: 27th Sep 2022 (USA) / 27th Sep 2022 (UK/EU)

Where to start with Tunic? I hadn’t had a chance to play the game before it landed on Switch and despite everyone and their dog telling me to pick it up, I was still somehow surprised at how quickly this rocketed to the number one spot on my GOTY list.

You don’t really need somebody else to tell you about how you must try the manual mechanic, about how all-consuming the final puzzle is, how upsetting/uplifting the endgame can be. This is a game that fully grabbed me and didn’t let go for each hour that I lovingly poured into it. My conversations were insufferable while I was playing and I can only apologise to all those I spoke to upon finishing it. There's no question that Tunic is my overall GOTY. JN

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero (Switch)

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero (Switch)
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero (Switch)
Publisher: NIS America / Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: 27th Sep 2022 (USA) / 30th Sep 2022 (UK/EU)

I’m a big Trails fan, but even though I’d heard how good Trails from Zero was, its long-awaited official localisation still blew me out of the water. The series’ outstanding worldbuilding and lovable characters are all intact here, and the combat is simple yet addictive, but – more than any other Trails game before it – I love the setting. Crossbell is a fantastic place wounded by the scars of history and struggling under the weight of political expectations. It managed to do what Trails does so well and shrink that down to a more compact area, which is why I think it’s among the best in the series. AH

Rogue Legacy 2 (Switch eShop)

Rogue Legacy 2 (Switch eShop)
Rogue Legacy 2 (Switch eShop)
Publisher: Cellar Door Games / Developer: Cellar Door Games
Release Date: 9th Nov 2022 (USA) / 9th Nov 2022 (UK/EU)

Having adored the original, I was game for Rogue Legacy 2 even before I'd heard all the good things about it from Early Access players. At first, it felt much the same, which was fine, but I expected something more. However, over the hours that followed, fresh mechanics, items, and ideas accumulated and I found myself just as drawn in as I ever was. RL2 reveals itself to be a brilliant, beautiful sequel that refines its roguelite loop to the absolute Nth degree. It has made several of my mornings notably tougher after I stayed up late for 'just one more' run the previous night.

To hang a game's merits on its addictiveness and the bad habits it engenders feels reductive — there's a mastery of presentation, mechanics, and writing here which feeds into RL2's intoxicating game feel. But given the significant restrictions on my gaming time (hi, kids!) it takes a very special game to keep me up past midnight. This year, this was it. GL

Splatoon 3 (Switch)

Splatoon 3 (Switch)
Splatoon 3 (Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 9th Sep 2022 (USA) / 9th Sep 2022 (UK/EU)

Splatoon 3 is more of the same, it is true, but it just so happens that the ‘same’ is really, really good stuff. You ink, you swim, you repeat. But never has that inking, swimming, nor repeating looked and felt so good. The controls are optimised, the customisation options are expanded, and the story mode is better than ever before. Splatoon 3 is the best in the series and one of the best of the year. JN

Prior to release, I wasn’t sure I even wanted a new entry, but when I finally got my hands on the third outing, I was hooked once again. As noted by Jim, it is more of the same but it’s just a really solid experience. About my only gripe is the reduced frame rate in the hub section, Splatsville. Apart from that, Nintendo really has managed to improve pretty much everything about the world of Splatoon in this latest outing. LD

TRIANGLE STRATEGY (Switch)

TRIANGLE STRATEGY (Switch)
TRIANGLE STRATEGY (Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 4th Mar 2022 (USA) / 4th Mar 2022 (UK/EU)

You know the only thing I don't like about Artdink and Square Enix's Triangle Strategy? I don't like that I gave it a 9 instead of a 10 in my review earlier this year. What was I thinking?!

In the months since I first played through this fantastic slice of turn-based tactical action, it's a game I find myself thinking about and discussing with friends often. It's got deeply satisfying, flexible, and clever combat, a truly memorable cast of characters, a cracking story and, if that wasn't enough, the whole thing looks and runs like a dream. It also really makes you feel as though you're part of a proper epic war story, with your choices along the way affecting the future of the world which you inhabit. If you're still on the fence about playing this one, if you think it's gonna be too long or difficult, please do yourself a huge favour and dive into it ASAP. PJ