Five of the Best Pixel Games
There has been a rise in the usage of pixel art in video games in recent years, and much of it is owed to the nostalgia cycle coming full circle. Back then, us gamers who grew up on retro consoles had no other choice but to play with games that utilize pixel art, and even if 3D graphics are shinier, we always come back to the style that we grew to love. And since this includes gamers who grew up into game developers as well, the amount of games that harken back to the olden days only keep increasing.
The good thing is, even though these games are meant to give you a nostalgic kick by looking like the games of yore, their gameplay is usually aligned with today’s gameplay philosophies and design. Baba is You is an excellent example of this, because no matter how retro it looks like, how it plays out its concept of being a top-down puzzler with various interactable objects whose elements change depending on which attribute you assign to it as a player, is pretty much an impossible to execute concept back in the day given the technical limitations of the consoles of old. And if top-down puzzlers aren’t your thing, how about we take a look at some other examples of this? In no particular order, here are five of the best modern games that utilize pixel art.
Released back in 2016, Stardew Valley remains highly beloved due to its consistent updates and charming gameplay. Developed entirely by one man, Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone created everything within the game’s world entirely via his own hands. And yes, that’s actually everything, from animation to sound design, which seems like an unfathomable amount of work.
But he was able to push through with every aspect of the game to create the game that he wants to play.
A large part of this was his desire to play Harvest Moon games, but after Back to Nature for the original PlayStation, he felt that most of the series was gradually becoming worse. And seeing that there were no other games on the market that seemed to try and do what Harvest Moon was doing, he took it upon himself to create the perfect farming simulator in the same vein as his beloved franchise.
And boy, does he deliver. Despite the game’s usage of pixel art, the staggering amount of elements within the game’s world are pretty much impossible on old consoles. And with the constant trickle of new content, it’s no surprise that Stardew Valley continues to endure to this day as one of the greatest farming simulators that has ever existed. So if you used to enjoy the Harvest Moon series, you can check out more about Stardew Valley and its creator at https://twitter.com/ConcernedApe.
If you’re looking for something with more action than just plowing your field, The Messenger will take you right back to the days of Ninja Gaiden with its usage of 8-bit graphics but without the clunky feeling of hardware limitations. Because even though it looks similar to the 1988 classic, it being released in 2018, a whole 30 years after Ninja Gaiden, Devolver Digital certainly manages to put it on par with modern day precision platformers.
The game is an 8-bit side-scrolling action platformer that is centered around your player character, the appointed Messenger. He needs to deliver a scroll to the top of a mountain to a person known as the “Western Hero” to prevent a great disaster. And unfortunately, that’s most of what I can reveal when it comes to this game’s plot without spoiling any of the major twists in the game, because this game is so good when it comes to plot twists, especially since some of that involves time travel and even applies changes to how the game is structured.
And with this game nabbing several awards and consistently getting great reviews due to its unexpectedly innovative gameplay, The Messenger is definitely slated to become one of the staple classics from our time. You can check them out at https://twitter.com/messengergame.
Despite being released in the same year and boasting the same retro-inspired graphics as The Messenger, Celeste is an entirely different beast. It’s part of a burgeoning subgenre called precision platformers, where most of the game is divided into single screen platforming puzzles wherein maneuvers that are almost pixel perfect are needed to move on to the next screen. And with how popular it is within the speedrunning community, it shows that today’s crowd is tired of all the hand-holding that some AAA games are prone to.
Created by Extremely OK Games, the game follows Madeline in her effort to climb Mount Celeste. And while that may sound like a pretty bare plot, Celeste has been known to evoke a strong emotional response with plenty of people within its player base due to the story dealing with certain aspects of the human psyche. And while a precision platformer may sound like the farthest thing from being a video game that has sold more than a million copies, the inclusion of an Assist Mode, which increases the game’s accessibility, certainly helped the game in terms of reaching a wider audience.
Like The Messenger, Celeste’s unique blend of retro graphics and controls that are impossible to implement in actual older consoles also received almost universal praise from critics and fans alike, even receiving multiple perfect scores in various video game review sites and nabbing plenty of awards for itself as well. And if you’re looking to gander at its beauty, you can start your climb and check it out at https://twitter.com/celeste_game.
The oldest game on this list, Terraria came storming the scene way back in 2011, and while I personally know people who simply dismissed it as a 2D take on Minecraft, it is anything but. While Minecraft has such an immense focus on building mechanics, Terraria is more focused on combat and exploration, and even though it utilizes pixel graphics, the amount of content within it is far too impossible for it to be a game from the olden days.
Now, I won’t turn this into a debate about which game is better, but developers Re-Logic definitely had a gem in their hands. And with an active player base that is thankful to still receive updates up until today (especially after the final update scare way back in 2012), it definitely shows that pixel graphics are not something to be looked down upon in today’s landscape of beautiful 3D graphics.
Boasting infinite replayability due to each game starting with a procedurally generated world with plenty of layers of interactivity and deep combat mechanics, Terraria continues to be the one game in this list that has managed to match the pace of its competition. With it just recently having turned 10 years old, you can expect more updates from its developers, so stay tuned to them via https://twitter.com/Terraria_Logic and bask in all of its retro glory.
Bookending our list with another game developed by a single person, Toby Fox meant to rekindle the spirit of Earthbound in terms of aesthetics while also trying to implement a battle system as engaging as the ones in the Super Mario RPG line. The implementation of a bullet hell style battles paved the way for this 2015 release to be a unique experience.
Unusually, this is the one game in this list that is probably possible to be developed during the times of older consoles due to it not relying on any modern design sensibilities, and it would have been mind blowing if it was released then. But the prevalence of social media today transformed this game into a cultural phenomenon, transcending beyond the confines of its video game barriers. That one aspect of Undertale would be lost if it was released during a time when most of the older generation is still very cautious about video games.
And it would be a shame to lose that part of the experience, because even with Undertale’s excellent story and gameplay, the connection that its players have fostered through the various fan created material that spread beyond Toby Fox’s control remains to be one of the delightfully curious aspects of the game. And if this fills you with determination to play the game, you can check out more of it at https://twitter.com/undertale.
Even though these games all utilize pixel art, most of them often have qualities that will be impossible to emulate on older consoles. And even though these qualities are not the sole reason for them to be considered as gems in the modern landscape of gaming, they all add to the wonderful experience that they provide to the players.
It goes without saying, however, that this list is by no means definitive. There are plenty more modern games that utilize pixel art, so let us know which ones among the myriad of great games make your personal list. And if you want more retro gaming goodness, you can check out our cat-alogue of games made for retro consoles at https://megacatstudios.com or head on over to our Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/MegaCatStudios for more retro gaming news. Until then, may we all continue to long for beautiful pixel art in our games.