There is something utterly charming to me in the way pixels form together to create a picture. Like many others, my childhood was full of games rendered in sweet, sweet blocky pixels. Whilst many gamers have moved on to the wonderful world of modern HD graphics, I have for the most part stayed behind. There is something that keeps me coming back again and again to games with the older style of art. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for times past, but the way pixel art makes a game look so artificial yet somehow organic is incredibly appealing to me. While the “golden age” of pixels may have passed, that doesn’t mean that amazing games using the art style stopped being released. This list is (in my opinion) the best of the best! I proudly present my top 10 modern pixel art games!
10. Dead Cells
The clock is ticking, your potential score is getting smaller and smaller with every second that passes. Kill monsters, get loot and reach the exit. Dead Cells is a race against both time and death. This side-scroller roguelike is a frantically paced game set in a gloomy island. Health is scarce, and the enemies are brutal, so you must use your wits and reaction time and try to survive. Special doors that can only be entered if reached under a set time are scattered throughout levels. Full of top-tier loot, it’s a fun exercise to race against the clock and possibly miss out on some XP just to get that high-level flaming sword. Dead Cells’ permanent upgrades round out the exercise, giving players a real reason to keep playing.
A huge breakout game from indie developer Toby Fox, Undertale has won over the hearts of countless fans. The game is absolutely full of charm with its memorable characters, witty writing, and groundbreaking trope subversion. This RPG experience is unlike any other. Taking inspiration from older games such as Earthbound, Toby Fox crafts a flavorful world full of several surprising endings. The game takes an interesting look at the idea of RPG monsters actually having their own unique personalities and feelings. Undertale is a strang experience full of feels and not one that I will forget anytime soon.
8. Crypt of the Necrodancer
Taking the tried and true genre of roguelike dungeon crawlers and putting a fun twist on it, Crypt of the Necrodancer is an extremely innovative title. Taking standard turn-based dungeon combat and turning it on its head with the addition of rhythm-based movement. Each level comes with its own beats and enemies, and each character provides a very different playstyle. A fully voiced cast really brings the game’s simple yet endearing story to life. To top it off, it has weekly challenge levels to compete with your friends and the ability to put custom tracks into levels for your own enjoyment. Being able to import your favorite track into your favorite level never gets old, plus the later dungeons will take even experienced gamers a while to complete.
7. Nuclear Throne
Irradiated wastelands filled with mutants and littered with guns. Bullets fly and radiation mixed with blood seeps into the ground. Play as a single brave mutant on a quest to conquer the Nuclear Throne. This game is a traditional top-down, arcade-like roguelike with a colorful cast of characters. Featuring 7 distinct levels and a multitude of secret areas, Vlambeer’s flagship game is a pleasure to explore. A plethora of playable characters each with unique unlocks keeps the game interesting and allows for many different playstyles. Combined with over a 100 different weapons and a level-based perk system, Nuclear Throne will quickly eat away all your free time.
6. FTL: Faster Than Light
Running low on fuel, half the ship you are on is on fire and the rebel scum keeps sending volley after volley of lasers into the hull. This is the FTL experience: unforgiving, harsh and full of failure. Yet I keep coming back for more. Nothing can compare to venturing into space, slowing upgrading your ship with new gadgets and guns and finally risking it all on the final fight. Subset Games bring roguelikes to space in this procedurally generated adventure. Featuring 10 ships each with multiple layouts as well as interesting achievements, FTL has a huge amount of content for its price point. With so many playstyles and randomized encounters, FTL stays fresh long past its expiration date.
Phil Fish’s FEZ is one of the most complicated and interesting puzzle games I have played. FEZ is a 2D platformer in a 3D world. An extremely refreshing breath of fresh air in a world of run-of-the-mill physics puzzles, this title is all about looking at problems from another perspective. The cute little pixelated hero, Gomez, is lovable, and the mechanic of rotating the whole world to unlock different pathways is brilliant. This combined with various puzzles from code cracking, to platforming, to even date-based puzzles will have you scratching your head for hours. The rush of completing a puzzle in FEZ is unlike any other, and for that reason, it makes the top ten list.
4. Shovel Knight
A love letter to NES era games, Yacht Club’s Shovel Knight is a retro-themed platformer bursting with polish. While extremely punishing, Shovel Knight is an equally rewarding experience. Taking all the best parts of NES games and leaving behind old, clunky controls and the technical limits of the era, the game is ruthless without feeling unfair. Each level comes with a unique theme, and every boss has you on the edge of your seat as you fight for your life. To top it off Shovel Knight boasts a highly catchy soundtrack. A nostalgia trip for older gamers and a great introduction to old style games for younger players, Shovel Knight is a title that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
3. Stardew Valley
Start-up Stardew Valley, kick back, relax and- oh damn, it’s morning already? Time flies when you’re having fun, and Stardew Valley is nothing but fun. Start simple with a basic plot of land then turn it into a highly optimized money making machine of a farm, or just make something that looks really pretty. The options are limitless with Stardew Valley. Just as you think that you have done everything, a whole new branch of the game opens up. This combined with well-written characters, romance options, cute art, a calming soundtrack and an extremely long endgame, Hopoo Games’ title is a must for both casuals and hardcore gamers alike.
2. Hotline Miami
Blisteringly fast-paced, violent, drenched in neon, blood, and blasting beats, Hotline Miami takes arcade action to a whole new level. Taking the traditional top-down shoot ’em up and filling it to the brim with style and pixelated gore, Dennaton Games created an instant classic. Every level brings a new challenge to the table with unique level layouts, creative bosses, and scores of weapons each with their own playstyle will keep players coming back for years to come. While the main storyline is only a few hours long, its twists and turns will leave you scratching your head for even longer. At the end of the day, the temptation of achieving ridiculously high scores and combos will draw gamers in for hours.
1. Hyper Light Drifter
A full, vibrant world, complex and punishing combat, interesting narrative, and rewarding exploration, this game has it all. The gorgeous title from Heart Machine Games, Hyper Light Drifter, is an experience that blows the competition out of the water. Telling the tale of a mysterious wanderer trying to cure himself of a deadly disease, Hyper Light Drifter is an absolute joy to play. Bringing something to the table for every breed of gamer with well-oiled fighting mechanics and hours of exploration, the experience is best described as a pixelated combination of The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. The art of this game is about stunning and it boasts a rich soundtrack as well. At only 20 dollars, Hyper Light Drifter is a must buy and cements itself at the top of the list.