There are a lot of cool art styles in video games and I would like to devote this page to talking about some of the games I personally think have some of the coolest art styles. All of these games are ones I have played. Obviously I probably haven’t played every game with a cool, unique art style but I will try to point out some cool games that I have discovered at the end of my list. But here are my top 10 favorite games with cool art styles in no particular order:
1. Dark Souls series
Dark Souls is a game series created by FromSoftware. These games are renowned in the gaming community for how unforgivingly difficult they are. This series has a very cool, realistic but gritty art style that I very much enjoy. The main color used is black so it is not a very vibrant experience. Although, it aids the delivery of the plot that the world is in a very dark state and also that the game is not going to be friendly to the player. All of the characters and environments have a similar look to them in design style that makes them look like it’s from Dark Souls. Each enemy looks like some sort of warped creature that you wouldn’t want to necessarily mess with. They are very difficult games but I love to play them.
2. The Legend of Zelda series
The Legend of Zelda is a great game series from Nintendo that continues to change its art style, game after game. The art style in The Legend of Zelda is not something Nintendo views as needing to have a consistent standard for and instead they experiment with it. Each game has a distinctive style that helps aid the spirit of the game and what that game will bring to the player. Wind Waker has a cel shaded art style which influences adventure and exploration throughout the vast ocean. Twilight Princess is a more realistic take on The Legend of Zelda which fits with its darker plot. Skyward Sword even has an art style that looks like it was hand painted which makes the experience feel like you’re playing a painting. Since I would probably fill this list with all of The Legend of Zelda games, I decided to put them into one group. They are a landmark in the gaming industry and are a great place to look for seeing types of styles work. If you haven’t given any of The Legend of Zelda games a try, definitely do it.
3. Outlast (1 and 2)
Outlast and Outlast 2 are some of the scariest (and warped) games to come out in the past couple of years. Outlast is made by Red Barrels, an indie studio, and helped redefine first person horror by giving the player a constant sense of helplessness and fear. While this isn’t a game that does anything super inventive in terms of art direction, the game is in first person and you carry a camera because you are filming the whole thing. It’s kind of like a lost footage movie sort of idea such as Cloverfield except you can put the camera down so you aren’t always seeing from the camera’s lens. Although the main mechanic in the game is the camera’s night vision capability. Since you are travelling through dark areas and rarely encounter a well lit room, you have to use it to see anything. This results in a constant fear of the dark and not knowing what is going to pop up next. On top of this, your camera has a limited battery life so if you can’t find any batteries you’re left in pitch blackness to find your way to the next battery. If you love horror games as much as I do then you’ve probably played Outlast but if you haven’t, do it.
This is a game from Thatgamecompany that is as it is named, a journey. You travel the vast desert to get to the mountain that you see in the distance. The world is noticeably empty except for a few others you encounter. Ruins, graves and random kites soaring in the wind are spread out through the desert. Every bit of the journey, the player learns more about the character and about the world they are in. The art style is very simplistic but vivid. The low poly modeling style is used with the man-made structures and is crossed seamlessly with the natural and smooth look to the desert. This game plays very well and the desert is really fun to explore. The art style allows for the narrative to be told through the world and not a direct verbal summation for the player. This provokes thought and intrigue for the player and it is very well done.
This is a 2-D platformer from Playdead that has an art style of silhouettes. The background and foreground is made of many levels of parallaxing which conveys the depth and detail that exists in the weird environments. The light comes down from the sky in beams to offer the contrasting colors to all of the silhouettes. This makes for a very unsettling experience as the player plays as a little boy navigating his way through a strange and dark world filled with nasty creatures. Although it is a little unsettling, it makes for a very fun game to look at. The blurring effects allow for the world to also feel like a veil of fog is over everything which adds to the unsettling feeling and mystery of the world. As you play the game, you never know what’s going to come out of the darkness which is a really cool experience. I definitely recommend playing this game. It’s not a very long one but it’s fun.
6. Yoshi’s Wooly World
Nintendo is and always has been the company to care more about the experience that games provide than making graphics look as realistic as possible. While many people give them bad rep for it, their games are always truly unique visual experiences. Yoshi’s Wooly World is no exception. This playful and fun experience is one that is made entirely of yarn and crafts materials. It plays like any other Yoshi game you have played in the past and has the same general goal so it is something that will feel familiar but refreshing. It’s always fun to see the environment literally unravel and how the felt and yarn-made pieces are more than a simple art style gimmick. It adds a new level of depth to the experience as things tear at their seams and unfold as you would expect them to in real life. This is very much a delightful game to play.
7. Sonic Mania
You may look at the above image and think that that is a Sonic the Hedgehog game that was probably made in the 90’s because it looks just like the old games. You’d be right about it looking like the old Sonic games from the 90’s but it actually came out in 2017. Sonic Mania is a fantastic throwback game made by SEGA which didn’t just take sonic back to its 2-D platforming days but also made it look and play just like the classic games. It is truly a long time Sonic fan’s dream for a game like this to exist and it somehow does. The pixel art is superb and it just makes my 6 year old self scream with joy. They have managed to encapsulate the 90’s pixel art perfectly. Even the narrative is told in the same in-game pixel animations like in Sonic 3. It is a fantastic game with an amazing soundtrack done by Tee Lopes. Definitely check this out if you are into Sonic.
Okami is a game where you play as a wolf named Amaterasu and try to restore the land of Japan to its normal state. It is heavily based on Japanese legends and folktales so if you are not familiar with them then you might learn some things. Of course, the game takes its own spin on it though. The first big thing you notice is the art style looking like a Japanese brush illustration. This also plays into the mechanic in the game where you control the “Celestial Brush” to paint the world back to its normal state. This game’s art really helps illustrate the world Okami takes place in to feel authentic and magical. To create such a look in a game, the developers needed to use cel shading as well as have their shader script add dark black outlines around edges so that it has a brush stroke look to it. This game is a great example of showing how you can be entirely inventive with the art style in a game. There is no boundaries.
This game was released this year by Lienzo and is based off the culture and folklore of the Tarahumara Native Americans. The developer of the game decided go with a low poly art style which is fitting for the size of their small development team. They do a fantastic job at making the world of Mulaka feel alive and diverse. The low poly style is one of my favorites because the art is familiar due to it representing objects we are used to seeing but it strips away the complexity and detail to make it foreign. It makes you look at the environment as a whole instead of each individual piece. As with Journey, it allows for more emphasis to be put into the narrative and gameplay. This is done really well in Mulaka because not only is the world beautiful to look at but the narration is curious and captivating.
The last game on my list is most definitely not least. Cuphead is a really unique game with an art style based off the style of early cartoons in the 1920’s and 30’s. This game was made by Studio MDHR and they didn’t just draw inspiration from the style of the animation but also the method. Each individual character was hand drawn frame-by-frame and the settings were each water colored. The music sounds straight out of the 1920’s which helps make Cuphead feel like a classic animation that is playable. This game is super fun too with its run-and-gun play style. It is also very difficult so this game will definitely take some time to play through if you haven’t played a game like this before. I definitely recommend it.