However, many of these titles end up surpassing their 8 and 16-bit predecessors’ when it comes to level size, game mechanics, lighting, etc.
In this list, we’ll highlight the best pixel art games to play in 2023, specifically modern video games that use pixel-based art to achieve their desired look.
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Platforms: Windows, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch
In Potion Permit, players find themselves transported to the small town of Moonbury, an idyllic villager that has always been wary of the outside world.
Taking on the role of a chemist, you’ll help cure the mayor’s daughter and convince the residents of Moonbury of the wonders of modern alchemy.
To be successful, you’ll have to first gain their trust by tending to villagers’ needs ranging from brewing remedies to battling monsters to upgrading the town.
All the while, you’ll find yourself taking breaks to soak up the countryside and spend time exploring, fishing, and playing with your loyal dog companion.
With a pixel art style reminiscent of the Game Boy Color, Prodigal is an irresistable 2D adventure game inspired by The Legend of Zelda.
You play as a pickaxe-wielding adventurer who decides to strike out on their own in a vibrant world overrun with monsters, puzzling dungeons, and friendly townsfolk.
Prodigal offers a compelling story that’s made even better due to its romance system in which players can win the hearts of various NPCs.
This adds an extra layer to the gameplay experience that results in a immersive dungeon-crawling adventure that pixel art fans won’t want to miss.
Songs of Conquest
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Next on our list is Songs of Conquest, a turn-based strategy adventure game that blends RPG, tactical combat, and kingdom management with gorgeous pixel art.
It sees players building an army and harnessing ancient magical powers to conquer lands near and far as they grow their empire.
There are a wide selection of maps and viomes to explore, each housing its own brand of enemies and loot that can be used to improve your troops’ battle performance.
What’s more, Songs of Conquest includes two single-player campaigns along with online PvP multiplayer.
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
If you’re looking for a bite-sized strategy game with a pixel art aesthetic, look no further than Pierre Vandermaesen’s tactical RPG Tinyfolks.
In it, players assemble a team of heroes from different villagers with unique weapons, abilities, and backgrounds before heading off into battle.
The goal of the game is to defeat monsters and use resources gathered to upgrade your town.
Tinyfolks features over 20 classes, 13 unique biomes, and over 70+ enemies along with several bosses that will test your might.
Little Witch In The Woods
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Mac
In Little Witch in The Woods, players take on the role of a witch named Ellie as she completes her magical apprenticeship.
Along with learning the ins and outs of witch school, they’ll get to make new friends, gather materials, craft potions, and explore unique areas.
Environments and characters are depicted with charming pixel art that’s further complemented by relaxing gameplay.
The game is great for casual play and has a ton of small little details and secrets that encourage you to take your time exploring.
Platforms: Windows, Switch, Mac
What Eastward may lack in compelling gameplay it more than makes up for in the visuals department, specifically its pixel art presentation.
Developer Pixpil managed to create an impressively detailed 2D world whose environments feel truly lived-in.
The game’s story centers on the duo John and Sam, a silent yet strong man and energetic young girl that leave their underground community looking for answers.
Eastward takes its time setting up its fantastic narrative and relateable characters while keeping players engaged with its pixel art design.
Platforms: Windows, Linux
Fans of 2D sandbox survival games will no doubt find something to admire about Core Keeper, an indie game with remarkable pixel art designs.
In it, players set out to explore an underground cavern teeming with mystery and danger using only their mining tools.
The objective of the game is to build a base, gather resources, and craft useful items while discovering new areas, bosses, and shortcuts.
Where Core Keeper stands out is its bigger emphasis on co-op, allowing up to 8 players to work together to achieve their goals.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Unsighted is a top-down indie action RPG that sees you playing as a cyber-enhanced automaton in a dystopian world run by machines.
After embarking on their adventure, players will traverse visually striking sci-fi environments using special powers to defeat enemies and reveal hidden pathways.
The game offers challenging combat with demanding bossfights, precise platforming, and a deep arsenal of wieldable weapons.
If not for anything else, Unsighted is worth playing through to be rewarded with gritty sci-fi visuals and storytelling that’s further complimented by stunning pixel art.
Platforms: Windows, PS5, PS4
Blurring the line between 2D and 3D, ANNO: Mutationem is a stylish cyberpunk action RPG that drops players in a vibrant neon-soaked city.
In it, you play as Ann: a highly-skilled agent tasked with exploring a sprawling metropolis dominated by soulless mega-corporations.
Gameplay combines 3D exploration with 2D side-scrolling hack and slash combat that focuses on melee attacks, long-range weapons, and more.
Mutationem’s stunning pixel art is truly a sight to behold and will keep your eyes glued to the screen from start to finish.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Mac
While it can be easy to write off RPG maker games for their lack of originality, especially when it comes to visuals, Omori proves the opposite can be true as well.
Heavily inspired by Earthbound, the game presents itself as a retro-style pixel art RPG centered on a depressed boy and his many adventures with friends and strangers.
The protagonist is constantly questioning the nature of his friendships and putting himself down while struggling to remember key parts of his mysterious past.
Over time, players will come to realize things aren’t as they appear as they begin unraveling secrets via turn-based battles and explorative sequences.
Flynn: Son Of Crimson
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Flynn: Son of Crimson is an indie action-adventure game that boasts colorful 2D pixel art characters and environments.
Players take on the role of the titular Flynn along with his companion Dex as the pair set out to save their home from a dark evil force.
The game features a robust combat system that allows Flynn to use a wide array of weapons, abilities, and attacks to fell his foes.
Additionally, it offers Metroidvania-inspired progression with deep exploration using new tools that Flynn picks up along the way.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS
What a better a game to include 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.
Rogue Star Rescue
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
Blending twin-stick shooting, tower defense gameplay, and pixel art, Rogue Star Rescue offers a fresh take on roguelike bullet hell shooters.
You play as a hero blasting their way through different planets while rescuing teammates and laying out traps for your defensive strategy.
Like many roguelikes, the story is nonlinear, allowing you to focus on mastering Rogue Star’s many intricacies and outcomes by taking on challenges across the galaxy.
It’s definitely the kind of game you can sink about 50 hours in and keep discovering new things; more so if you take on the co-op campaign with 1-4 players.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
Huntdown is a fantastic side-scrolling arcade shooter with over-the-top action and comedic undertones complemented by satisfying game mechanics.
In it, you play as a bounty hunter tasked with liberating their futuristic city from a criminal underworld of thugs who have overpowered the police.
The game sees you traversing 20 gritty, neon-soaked levels inspired by 80s cityscapes as you track down gang leaders to collect the bounty on their heads.
Levels and characters are depicted in 16-bit pixel art graphics complete with hand-drawn animations, fluid 60 FPS performance, and a synth-heavy soundtrack.
The Last Spell
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch, Mac
Part tactical RPG and tower defense game, The Last Spell is another roguelike pixel art game that sees you defending the last pillar of humanity with an army of heroes.
Gameplay is divided into day and night cycles, with days spent rebuilding and placing defenses in your city, and nights spent waging war with hellish monsters.
Survival requires a careful blend of magic and brute force as you devise unique strategies to squash out different enemy types by exploiting their weaknesses.
Your heroes can be leveled up to enhance their abilities and unlock more powerful weapons that will inch you closer and closer to reclaiming the world.
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch
It’s not often we get a pixel art rhythm game that combines RPG mechanics with great story-telling and a hard-hitting soundtrack.
Set in a strange world where everything is not quite what it seems, Everhood sees you controlling a wooden doll whose arm has been stolen by a blue gnome.
As you set off on a quest to retrieve your arm by completing a series of musical battles, you’ll encounter a diverse bunch of characters and unexpected twists and turns.
The entire journey will take you about 5-6 hours to complete but there’s also a custom battle editor where you can spend hours crafting your own scenarios.
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch, Mac
Rhythm Doctor is another unique pixel art rhythm game that starts off with a rather intriguing premise.
You play as a doctor treating sick patients by defibrillating in time to their heartbeats, requiring you to learn each patient’s distinct rhythm while defeating boss viruses.
During the rhythm mini-game, the screen may become flooded with trippy visual and audio effects that force you to keep track and visualize the beat in your head.
Like Everhood, it offers a robust level editor and an addictive soundtrack comprised of heart-pumping, soul-soothing music.
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 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.
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.