Feel. An enigma when it comes to talking about games. We often struggle for the right language to describe it and rely on overused terms like ‘visceral’ and ‘clunky’, but it’s such an important part of the overall experience that it’d be irresponsible to not try to talk about it. When you grip a controller or place your hands on a keyboard, you’re getting a sense for how a game feels. How do we describe this sensation, and how do we quantify it?
The truth is, when a game feels good, you just know it. A game’s feel is the sum of several things, often barely noticed. It might be controls that feel tight and responsive, a button layout that feels natural, a difficulty curve that feels satisfying, animations and sounds that make your actions feel weighty and real, or a wide range of settings you can adjust that allow you to make the game feel just right for you.
Or perhaps it’s something greater - games that feel great can be the most immersive or captivating. The world melts away. We forget about ourselves, and are transported to a place where we can be who we want to be. Powerful, agile, intelligent, caring, with the agency to affect the world around us. The game becomes an extension of ourselves. The impact we have, and how that impact feels, are core to an experience that only games can deliver.
With all of that in mind, what were the games that had your favorite feel? And even though it may be difficult to explain, what is it about them that makes them feel so good?
On one hand, I’ve played relatively few games this year (relative to the past 2-3 years at least), and that feels like everything I say on these threads should be taken with a caveat. On the other, the one big reason I played so few games this year is that one game essentially commandeered my brain with its feel — and for a solid seven months, playing anything else just did not feel good in comparison.
Anyway, no secrets folks, if Elden Ring was all I ever got to play for the rest of my natural life, I would probably still be forever satisfied with its feel. The Soulsborne feel is already something I get lost in — the methodical, mildly but not overly twitchy combat, with a limited set of options that makes it all a simple puzzle with surprisingly creative solutions. But what ER does with its weapon arts is, in a word, just cooler than I’ve ever felt playing a video game before. Unsheathing Moonveil for the thousandth time feels not just as good as the first, but even better, because after three hundred hours in the game I know exactly what I need to do to feel like an anime protagonist unleashing a signature move. And that’s just the surface. Sword of Night and Flame? Dragon incantations? Comet bleepin’ Azur? And I haven’t even mentioned Torrent. I think this is how character action games are supposed to make you feel, but I don’t think fast enough for those, so this is where you’ll find me, slicing nameless zombies with my moonveil and still feeling great doing it.
(All that said… I do though want to give a minor shoutout to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a game I think will probably get overlooked a lot because of its early release and the year that followed, for how rewarding it made traversal feel despite (and often actually because) of its jank, and for how well-designed and seamless its various movement and engagement options are. Here’s a moment I posted over on twitter than kinda sums that up. Hope all that progress makes it into a main series game at some point, Game Freak! Please!)
I’m probably in agreement with @diglett about Elden Ring having the best feeling gameplay this year, but for the sake of discussion I thought I’d nominate something else; Marvel Snap.
Ok, you’re probably thinking how on Earth can a mobile, turn-based card game can possibly have great game feel. But seriously, the game feels so good to play. Cards all have fun animations when you drop them on the board that never slows down the game or gets old no matter how many times you play them (seriously, put Cyclops in a deck and check out those laser beams). And the haptics, oh the haptics. At least on my iPhone 11 (can’t speak to the PC version) the game pulses, shakes, and murmurs in such a way to feel discreet in a public setting while still conveying important information, such as your turn-timer ticking down or when you opponent plays that jaw dropping combo to win the game. Second Dinner really didn’t have to go the extra mile to make all this work; the game is very well designed and the art is top-notch. But the animations and vibration give Snap that extra oomph that makes it feel so good to play.
The dice system in Betrayal at Club Low is amazing. Being able to create and change your own dice on the fly, by combining pizza toppings, and then watching them roll on the screen, brings a fantastic tactility to every roll. I replayed the game right after finishing it just to mess with the system some more.
Potionomics might be the second most stressful game I played this year (you really need to plan every day almost perfectly towards the end), and yet it was very addictive. The systems all interact with each other in intricate ways: you make potions to sell in your shop, and also to give to adventurers so they can bring you ingredients. You use cards to raise the price of the potions, but each sale raises your stress level ; spending time with friends lowers your stress, and gets you new cards for your deck. Money gets spent on upgrades, and ingredients, and marketing campaigns… The design is complex but works really well.
Number one stressful game? That goes to Signalis. It sounds weird to talk about good game feel when I had to stop playing every two hours because the game was just too much, but I enjoyed letting the tension overwhelm me. I know some people had gripes with the limited inventory ; me, I loved taking time to plan my trips, studying the map and considering whether to bring more ammo or some health items.
And for all that Stray annoys me for overshadowing more interesting indie games, it did feel great to explore and jump around as a feline. The detail in the cat animations and all the small interactions you have with the environment make moving around really fun.
I feel like Metal: Hellsinger needs to be in the conversation here for completely nailing “what if Doom 2016, but a rhythm game, with a legitimately good metal soundtrack”. It was a short game, but I absolutely adored every second of it, entirely due to that good game feel.
What made it good?
a) Every weapon has a unique combination of which beat you you fire on, how often they reload (triggering the reload mini-challenge) and reason to use it.
b) The way the game rewards you for keeping the beat (increased score, activating perks, increased damage AND as your multiplier grows more layers of the song start playing, culminating in the vocal track kicking in at max multiplier). I really found myself motivated by that last bit more than anything. Just a huge dopamine hit when those vocals kick in.
c) Numerous “come back” mechanics, letting you succeed even when you make rhythm, twitch or tactical errors.
d) It knows exactly what it is and commits to the bit. This does so much for keeping you in the games flow.
I doubt I could articulate how good it feels to shave milliseconds off of my time in Neon White, but I don’t think I need to. Even the harshest critics I’ve seen of the game find the fast-paced action fun. It’s not the best game of the year, but it might be the smoothest one.
A nod to Card Shark, too. One of the few games of the past few years where I felt like I was playing something new. Unusual inputs and a different way to look at a game play out, it manages to sell ‘cheating at cards’ as a whole art form.
Best game feel of 2022 for me 100% goes to Trombone Champ. It’s viral nature is based on the amazing and hilarious silly slide-y feel of how they adapted that wonderful instrument. I didn’t finish the narrative in the game, but that week I played it was an absolute highlight of games in 2022.
Soulstice released to very little fanfare this year. Despite enjoying the trailers that showed up at various events, when I found out it had come out when I wasnt looking I didnt even know what kind of game it actually was. So I loaded up a 20 minute or so video of gameplay out of curiosity.
Less than 3 minutes in and I closed the video and bought it. This was a game laser targeted at my heart. The set camera angles, the animation of the sword swing, the effects of the red upgrade currency exploding out of destructable environment objects, this was a Devil May Fucking Cry game, and Devil May Cry is an integral part of my DNA. And in even more pleasant surprise: it turns out to be an itteration of the highly underrated Ninja Theory DmC: Devil May Cry, with it’s own version of that game’s Ikaruga style Red and Blue enemies idea and doing a really stellar job at matching that game’s fantastic gamefeel down to the minutia. And on top of that introducing it’s own very cool alternative to the usual ranged options these games.
You play as 2 characters at once, in a sense. Briar, channeling Guts Berserk with a big black iron sword that transforms into other oversized weapons, is the one doing all the moving, jumping and sword swinging. But hovering over her shoulder is Lute, the ghost of her sister attached to her by a questionably moral Rite, who acts as a semi-independant entity throwing out ranged attacks and special effects as well as providing the red and blue auras required for the respective enemy types. Lute is also in charge of counters and parries, hitting O (ps5) when the prompt comes up will respond to enemy attacks with effects ranging from slowing, parrying with knockback or launching them into the air. And most importantly: this is all completely independant of Briar. So long as you keep an eye out for the prompts and dont go too early(which locks out Lute for a second or 2 as she’s “distracted”) you can keep up your offensive without stopping to counter the little shittos all over the shop, and giving you time to move away from bigger enemies as they stand frozen mid swing. It comes together to do an incredible job of feeling like 2 people working as a unit. And thats before even talking about the game’s Metal As Fuck version of a Devil Trigger, which has 2 stages and you know what I’ve been talking a lot already. Soulstice fucking whips and is the best character action game this year by a SIGNIFICANT margin(Get outta here Bayo 3. Worst Bayonetta game. Sonic Forces ass Bayonetta game). Everybody play Soulstice.
But after all that on my fave game this year, shoutouts to Spark the Electric Jester 3 with it’s incredible understanding of Adventure Era Sonic the Hedgehog. Just absolutely nailing the feeling of throwing yourself off of an edge on to a grind rail or a dash pannel into a homing attack into a spring etc etc. Great stuff.
I didn’t find Hardspace Shipbreaker to be easy to jump into but once I mastered to controls it was a joy to dissect spacecraft in a simulated vacuum. There’s a lot of PUSH and PULL to this game, different sources of gravity and momentum. When it got to the point of muscle memory it felt incredible.
Great pull! Almost everything you do in Hardspace: Shipbreaker feels good, whether you’re grappling along the external support beacons for extra speed, racing against burning fuel lines to release the tanks before they explode, or cutting through hulls to neutralize the pressure. Extra points for that satisfying pop that happens after you cut the last joint between two parts and they begin slowly drifting apart.
It’s some of the most fun I’ve had simply moving through spaces in a long time.
This may not be a completely new thing given that it’s the fourth game in a series that’s been around for almost a decade, but it’s my first time playing one of these games, and I had such a great time with it because of how good it feels to play.
OlliOlli World combines the satisfaction of nailing stylish skateboard tricks to a sick soundtrack in the Tony Hawk games with the visceral thrill of speeding through a dynamic 2D Sonic level without ever stopping.
Getting this high score goal on one of the later levels required me to basically do a perfect run, and it gave me a high that’s comparable to beating a tough boss in Elden Ring.
Also have to give a shout-out to Sifu for making me feel like a martial arts master with all the exquisitely mo-capped, fast, and hard-hitting pak mei kung fu animations and like an amateur martial arts movie director with the most recent December update that patched in a super cool replay editor.
Had a blast replaying this part of the game without taking any damage, and then going into the replay editor to make it ~cinematic~ lol:
It might not make my top 10 this year but I want to shout out Sonic Frontiers for this one.
The movement in this game feels…a little imprecise in the actual levels, I often find myself boosting out into the middle of nowhere and missing jumps and so on as a result. But in the open world? Perfection, beautiful. It’s so much fun to just run full speed through the obstacles scattered around the world, fighting enemies and zipping around like our speedy blue friend has always wanted to. Just one of those games that is fun to pick up and run around in for a bit.
Bonus mentions: Olli Olli World, Kirby And The Forgotten Land
I have to echo the Neon White mention earlier in the thread. I try to play so many games that I tend to move on to something new before I feel like I master the controls or mechanics of a particular game, but I could not stop myself from shaving off time in each new level of Neon White. Whipping the camera around to shoot a few enemies before discarding a card for a double jump or ground pound feels so damn good. I did a few casual streams of the game, but even when no one was watching me, I wanted an audience just so I could exclaim, “are you all seeing this right now?!” It made me feel so cool every time I played it.
I see a couple OlliOlli World mentions in here, and while I didn’t play it, I loved the previous OlliOlli games. However, for my pick I’m going with their other release from this year, Rollerdrome.
People often describe Rollerdrome as “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with guns”, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, that’s a pretty apt description in the best way. The team at Roll7 are masters at making satisfying-feeling 2D skating games, and that talent absolutely translates to the 3D space. Combining jumps, spins, flips, grabs, and grinds across ramps, half-pipes, and rails would’ve been satisfying enough. But add in the extra challenge of having to take out dozens of enemies while dodging their gunfire, missiles, and mines while maintaining a combo, no other game managed to put me in a flow state quite like this one whenever I managed to pull off everything just right.