Gaming has grown to become an extremely popular hobby over the years. With an ever-growing fanbase comes the need for evolution in high-fidelity graphics and player immersion. As of 2023, a plethora of games exists that try to create completely immersive worlds either through high graphics or world-building. There are a lot of positives with such an approach, but it is not exactly the be-all-end-all. High fidelity doesn’t necessarily mean a game can be detailed or enveloping. Within the crevices of the gaming industry, visually simplistic (or pixel art) games have become extremely popular because of how deliberate they are with their storytelling and world-building. Here are 5 such games I recommend you try out.
The first one is Celeste, a 2018 platform game developed and published by an indie studio Maddy Makes Games. The player controls Madeline, a young woman faced with anxiety and depression, adamant about climbing Celeste mountain. The game is known for how metaphorical it is in nature; Madeline encounters obstacles that represent her inner demons. The game tries to convey to the player the importance of acknowledging, understanding, and processing their feelings. That it’s okay to not be okay, and even in that current state of hopelessness, one should never give up on themselves. The game emphasises the need to accept and love oneself in spite of it all. Madeline’s inner demon manifests as an entity that plagues her in the first half of the game, but as she progresses through the game, she learns to accept and love herself for who she is, flaws and all. The game also excels at spreading positive messages about self-acceptance and resilience. The soundtrack is icing on the cake too.
Available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox.
Katana ZERO is a stylish neo-noir, action platformer. The game is set in a dystopian metropolis and follows Subject ZERO, a katana-wielding assassin with amnesia who can slow down time and predict the future. The game explores the nature of violence. The protagonist is able to complete his missions with brutal efficiency due to his ability to rewind time. Despite this, the more he kills, the more he begins to question the morality of his actions. The game’s story is told through a series of vignettes, some more straightforward than others. From simply assassinating a corrupt politician, to killing a group of children. As the game slowly begins to unravel, ZERO’s memory begins to slowly return to him. The game features a multi-choice dialogue system that enables different outcomes depending on what the player selects. Because the game also explores the metalanguage of violence, the dialogue system allows the player to interrupt the NPC’s speech, which is an act of violence in itself. The game is genuinely amazing, with extremely engaging sound design and effects. It’s sure to stay with you long even after finishing it.
Available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox.
Okay now I know this technically isn’t a pixelated game, but I thought I’d throw it in here regardless. This is an action game set within the vibrant world of Ancient Greek Mythology. The Gods of Olympus have abandoned humanity, decimating them in the process. As humanity’s last champion Nikandreos, it’s the player’s duty to take up arms and fight against the same beings they glorified in the first place. The game is noted for its visually striking art style, heroic narrative, based on Greek Mythology, and the level of customisation the player has at their fingertips.
The game is also open-world in nature and aims to stay as true to the source material as possible. The game reassures the player that in spite of our mortality, we are capable of achieving great things.
Available on PC and PS4.
A top-down role-playing game well-regarded in the community, Undertale has been unanimously praised for its unique and thought-provoking story. The game’s message is complex but centrally enunciates the importance of player choice. A player is urged to think about the consequences of their actions and to consider the value of compassion and forgiveness.
As you progress throughout the game, you come across vibrant characters. A single act of kindness in the game can have an almost baffling ripple effect, as the game’s pacifist route shows how much of a difference even the most seemingly insignificant choices can make. The game’s opening sequence alone sets the tone for the rest of the game. You decide the fate of the characters in the game. The game is about personal morality, as well as perseverance. One can never fall so far that they are without hope.
Available on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox
Regarded as one of the most beloved pixel art games of all time, Stardew Valley has built itself an incredible reputation over the years. As a role-playing game, the player’s goal is to build a farm and restore Stardew Valley. One can grow crops, raise animals, cook meals, go fishing, and much more. The game celebrates the simple things in life. The player is rewarded for taking time to build relationships with the townsfolk, explore the surrounding countryside, and tend to their crops. Through hard work and perseverance as a farmer, the game rewards players. The game is genuinely wholesome and is an instant recommendation to those who want an extra dose of positivity and warmth.
Available on PC, Switch, iOS, Android, and Xbox.
The list of recommendations cannot be exhausted. Honourable mentions include Lisa, Papers Please, Deltarune, Vampire Survivors, Hotline Miami, and many more. Hyperrealism isn’t the standard that defines whether or not a game is worth playing. Realism is not just graphics, after all. It’s feeling.