Pixel art in games has become a surprisingly divisive visual style. At its best, it can lend a game with old-school sensibilities that wonderful sense of authenticity and nostalgia. At its worst, it can blend in with the hundreds of other games that look just like it or make a game feel somehow slight or cheap. Instead of parsing through to find the cream of the crop, some simply avoid games with pixel art altogether. If that’s been the case, allow me to show you some that are just too good to pass up.
1. TowerFall Ascension
TowerFall is as much fun as you can have with a group of friends and a Switch this side of Smash Bros. It debuted on the Ouya (no, I’m not kidding) in 2013, and was later ported to the Switch, prior DLC included. Each archer starts off with a measly handful of arrows with the objective of taking down any opponents. Matches are fast, frenetic, and usually involve lots of screaming. It’s ridiculously easy to pick up, but nuanced enough to leave ample room for strategy, skillful play, and more screaming. Add to that a lovely pixel art aesthetic, a full co-op campaign, a wealth of modifiers and maps, and a heap of polish, and you’re left with one of the best multiplayer games on the system. As a neat little bonus, you can even play as Celeste! Speaking of which…
You all saw this one coming. Celeste has been heralded as one of the best platformers… ever, really. Its genuinely heartfelt story and fantastic theming are paired with level design, controls, and mechanics that are just about pitch-perfect. The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in ages, there’s an absolute boat-load of content, a maddeningly satisfying level of difficulty… if you haven’t picked up Celeste, you absolutely should. Once you do and see all the game has to offer, be sure to check out some of the insanely impressive speedruns.
3. River City Girls
River City Girls taps into what made the arcade brawlers of yesteryear such dependable quarter munchers. It’s a fun, loud, and immensely satisfying pseudo-sequel to the cult classic River City Ransom. The gist is that you controlling the girlfriends of that game’s heroes on a quest to save their main squeeze. Combat is punchy, full of personality, and sumptuously animated, and the soundtrack sets the perfect mood for dabbing your enemies to death. Writing, voice acting, and presentation throughout are all absolutely top-notch. That’s no surprise coming from the talented guys and gals over at WayForward. The pixel art and animation in particular are killer. If you’re looking for something to replace the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World sized-hole in your heart, look no further.
4. Into the Breach
Into the Breach is possibly the most well-designed strategy game I have ever played. Everything is conveyed to you with exceptional clarity, and the wide array of options at your disposal make you feel like there’s always a way out of a tight spot, if only you can figure it out. This one’s a roguelike, with a surprising amount to unlock and pursue even after finally mounting a successful run. The presentation is all great too, with a moody soundtrack and effective world building giving each turn a sense of importance. Just as notably, portability, stability, and some nice HD rumble make this a great port, and trust me, that’s not always a given. Into the Breach‘s small maps and relative simplicity back up a game that’s been polished to near perfection. You should definitely give this one a try.
5. Sonic Mania
Mania is the best game in the series, hands-down. I adore the Genesis games, but Mania took what made those games so special and built on it beautifully. It comes rocking huge levels with a myriad of branching paths and secrets to discover, creative level themes, fantastic artwork, and one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming. Just about the only negative I can conjure is that most of the game’s zones are aesthetically based on older ones. All of them have been completely redesigned with different level layouts, gimmicks, and remixed tunes, but Green Hill Zone isn’t quite as exciting as, say, literally anything else. That just means that the sequel has room to be even better! I mean… that is happening, right? Sega? Can we talk?
Boy, there sure are a lot of fantastic games rocking pixel art on the Switch. So many, in fact, that I’ve decided to split this article into two parts! Be sure to check back soon for another five pixel art games that deserve your time and attention, and thanks for checking out SwitchWatch!