Many of these games surpass their 8 and 16-bit predecessors in regards to level size, game mechanics, detailed lighting systems, and flashy particle effects.
In this list, we’ll highlight the best pixel art games to play in 2021, specifically modern video games that use pixel-based art to achieve the desired look.
We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any of your favorite pixel art games!
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Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS
What a better a game to start with than the one-man passion project, Stardew Valley, developed by Eric Barone, aka ConcernedApe.
Inspired by the beloved Harvest Moon games, the game is presented as a 2D farming sim with some light RPG mechanics and vibrant pixel art graphics.
In it, you create your own character and set out to bring your grandfather’s old farm back to life by gathering seeds, planting crops, and selling them for a profit.
Eventually, the game opens up and lets you explore other areas such as ranching, wine-making, baking, and more.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Black Skylands is a pixel art sandbox game that casts you as Captain of a skyship exploring a top-down open-world comprised of floating islands high up in the clouds.
Gameplay revolves around building up your vessel and arming yourself before setting out to battle factions of pirates and monsters to claim territories for yourself.
Along the way, you encounter various resources and crafting materials that allow you to upgrade your weapons, gear, and skyship.
Skylands’ sandbox world also boasts an assortment of random events such as aerial combat encounters and village distress calls, as well as a base-building component.
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
Strangeland is a surreal pixel art adventure game from the makers of Primordia that sees you exploring a nightmarish carnival filled with otherworldly attractions and characters.
You play as a mysterious man who awakes in this twisted amusement park to the sounds of a woman crying out before leaping to her death.
This prompts your character to set off in search of answers while encountering a cast of morbid characters and carnival attractions.
The game explores many heavy themes and contains dark imagery that may be overwhelming for some, but features some of the best pixel art designs we’ve seen.
Hyper Light Drifter
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac, iOS
Hyper Light Drifter is a stunning pixel art action-adventure RPG in which you play as a hero called the Drifter.
At the start of the game, the hero is shown suffering from a deadly illness, prompting him to venture into the mysterious lands of Buried Time in hopes of finding a cure.
What ensues is a grand-scale, atmospheric journey through menacing environments filled with branching paths and secrets to uncover.
You won’t find a single line of dialogue in the entire game, as it relies on telling its story solely through visuals.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
When discussing ‘must play’ pixel art games, Celeste is one that definitely comes to mind.
The universally acclaimed 2D action-platformer manages to strike the perfect balance between gameplay and story, although some may find its default difficulty a bit overwhelming.
In it, you play as Madeline, a girl looking to escape the struggles of everyday life by climbing a mysterious mountain.
Players advance the story by completing a series of hand-crafted platforming levels that revolve around precise jumping and dashing.
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
Octopath Traveler is a turn-based RPG from Square Enix that takes pixel art to new heights with its unique ‘HD-2D’ aesthetic.
Complementing the game’s distinct look is a lengthy 60-hour campaign spread across eight playable characters that come from wildly different walks of life.
Combat is played out using traditional turn-based battle mechanics in which characters use special class-based abilities and talents.
Battles are where Octopath Traveler’s pixel art truly comes to life, showing off the game’s dynamic shadows, lighting, and particle effects.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android
Dead Cells is a pixel art game that focuses on combat and exploration as you traverse procedurally generated dungeons.
Each run sees you gathering materials to craft better gear as you hunt down formidable bosses and minions throughout a sprawling 2D labyrinth.
Upon dying, players are returned to the starting area with slightly more resources than their previous run, eliciting a risk vs. reward approach to progressing further.
Interestingly, the game is technically rendered in 3D but uses a 2D perspective to trick you into thinking you’re playing a side-scrolling pixel-based platformer.
Developer: Massive Damage
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Star Renegades is a turn-based strategy RPG that sees you commanding a squad of futuristic heroes as they travel to different dimensions and try to prevent the Imperium Army from destroying the world.
Like Dead Cells, the game employs a roguelike structure where each run offers unique challenges and outcomes.
Combat emphasizes interrupting and countering foes using a timeline-based battle system.
The game has a lot going on both visually and mechanics-wise, blending elements of JRPGs, real-time tactics, and more into a vibrant pixel art package.
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS
In Papers, Please, you play as an immigrant inspector on the border of Arstotzka, a nation experiencing high levels of political tension with its neighboring countries.
As the story progresses, things get a lot more challenging as the application requirements to enter Arstotzka become increasingly demanding.
Things also start to bleed over into your character’s personal life, with both your family and livelihood at risk of being stripped away.
This is all delivered in pixel art graphics that rely on a limited color palette that reflects the game’s tone and mood.
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
Carrion is a 2D reverse-horror action-platformer that sees you controlling a monster on a warpath to kill its captors and escape containment.
The game features a ton of cool monster-based abilities that complement its metroidvania design and are fun to explore.
This includes being able to grow or shrink in size in order to squeeze through the narrowest air ducts government funding can buy.
The monster can also grab and fling both objects and humans using their powerful tendril-like arms and slip through cracks to unlock new areas.