There used to be a time when all games were pixel games, simply because that’s just the maximum of what technology was capable of. But times have certainly changed now, and everyday video game graphics crawl closer to becoming almost lifelike in terms of realism. But even now, pixel games continue to be fairly popular and have evolved into more of a preferred art form. Developers choose to make them just for the artistic value of it and not just because they’re bound to.
Pixel games are now often associated with indie games, as it’s the indie developers who like to make use of this style the most in their games. These games can be anything from puzzle platformers to dungeon crawlers to RPGs. A good place to find the best takes on these games is to look on the esteemed review-aggregator site Metacritic.
10 Death Road To Canada (2016) – 79.6
Death Road to Canada puts players in control of a car with four people, right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse with the only objective being to somehow survive the endless hordes of the undead. The game was built with replayability in mind, as such, it randomizes gameplay elements such as location every time a new game is started.
There are different kinds of characters (apocalypse survivors) to interact with and play as, who have unique personality traits that add greatly to the overall humorous atmosphere of the game. DRTC is certainly not a video game that will make zombies seem scary again, as it instead falls more on the comedic side of things.
9 Terraria (2011) – 81.3
It’s clear that Terraria takes heavy inspiration from Minecraft and basically brings the sandbox elements such as mining and crafting that make Minecraft so great to the two-dimensional world. The game prioritizes player freedom, which is great because there are uncountable things to mine, caves to dig and explore, and houses to build.
On the surface, Terraria may seem like just another indie adventure side-scroller, but its gameplay has some serious depth despite how simple it looks. Multiplayer with friends is also a great way to make it more fun.
8 Hyper Light Drifter (2016) – 82
Hyper Light Drifter is a game that thrives on beautiful minimalism. There is no dialogue in the game at all and all information is expressed through images and mostly visualization. Combined with the outstanding soundtrack, this makes the world much more immersive for players, although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The combat is swift and the hand-drawn minimalist graphics are lively, which give off a kind of retro feeling that will attract people of all ages regardless of the nostalgia factor.
7 Enter The Gungeon (2016) – 84.5
The bullet hell genre is exactly what it sounds like. Wild fast-paced action-packed gameplay against enemies that leaves little room to breathe, and that is an accurate description of what Enter The Gungeon, one of the best roguelite games on Steam, is essentially like.
The word gun just isn’t in the title, but the majority of the game revolves around guns as well. The player, a “Gungeoneer,” makes their way through the “Gungeon” while fighting legions of “Gundead” and bosses to get to the ultimate prize at the end, which is a gun that can kill the past.
6 Owlboy (2016) – 86.5
Indie games are generally characterized by their small scale, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to make, such as in the case of Owlboy which was in development for nearly a decade.
Released in 2016, it tells the story of a humanoid owl Otis on a quest to defeat the pirates that have attacked his hometown, a flying city high up in the clouds. The art is lively and the story is adventurous, with the game drawing heavy inspiration from the past such as classic Nintendo titles.
5 Stardew Valley (2016) – 87.8
A farming simulator game that has a lot more activities than just farming, Stardew Valley is perfect for those looking for a relaxing gaming session doing random chores around their farmhouse. Players start with a single plot of land inherited from their grandfather, which can be expanded upon as the game progresses.
Stardew Valley offers a large quantity of fun to enjoy, and there are so many things to do that many players will never discover some of them.
4 Shovel Knight (2014) – 88.25
A game that doesn’t just look like an 8-bit platformer from the ’90s but plays like one too, Shovel Knight follows the adventures of the titular hero on a mission to rescue his companion, Shield Knight. The primary weapon to be used in the game is of course a shovel, but other types of items can be unlocked as well.
The game was re-released in 2019 as Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove which includes three more campaigns besides the base game that follow other knights, and even multiplayer. It is one of those indie games that prove retro is still relevant in the gaming world.
3 Dead Cells (2018) – 89
2018’s Dead Cells is one of the many popular Metroidvania-style games to come out in recent years, and definitely one of the greats that you should play while waiting for the much anticipated Metroid Dread. The swift and fluid combat combined with a permadeath system creates a gameplay environment that is as challenging as it is addictive.
Players make their way through procedurally generated dungeon levels while fighting enemies and acquiring new abilities in this action platformer.
2 Celeste (2018) – 91.25
Celeste is about climbing a mountain while playing as a young woman named Madeline, but things are not as simple as they sound. The journey to the top is meant to be therapeutic for Madeline as she fights against her anxiety and depression, and even her “evil” personality in the form of Badeline, who is the villain of the game.
Like any good platformer, there’s plenty of jumping and bouncing from one wall to another involved, and hundreds of puzzles to solve. Platformer video games can be quite difficult at times, and Celeste is one of the hardest of all time, although that shouldn’t discourage people from playing it.
1 Undertale (2015) – 92.3
With its bare-bones visuals, Undertale is almost like the antithesis of modern flashy AAA video games, and its popularity goes to show how much people don’t care too much about good graphics in a video game. After falling into a world filled with monsters, the player must solve puzzles and battle enemies to survive.
The unique combat system allows for the option to not fight enemies at all and instead befriend them even, and such actions alter the story of the game in many ways. The gameplay, the fantastic soundtrack, the eccentric lore, and the characters all come together to make Undertale one of the best games for retro RPG fans.