Our Pixelated Picks For An Indie Game Christmas

Our Pixelated Picks For An Indie Game Christmas
Image: Underhero / Paper Castle Games

There’s something comforting about a game with pixel graphics. Perhaps it’s the feeling of nostalgia that comes with how most games used to look. Maybe it’s the awe of what game designers are capable of with the simple pixel format. Hey, it could just be that they’re cute. I am personally a fan of many games with pixel graphics because so many of them do put extra work into their story and unique game mechanics. Another thing about them is that there’s not really just one type of ‘pixel game’. Some are more detailed than others. Others go in and out of having great detail. Sometimes, you see games use an interesting mix of 2D pixel and 3D graphics. Genre-wise, these games can be anything.

As a lover of these games, I thought it might be nice to give you good folks a list of recommendations.


Undertale/Deltarune

Image: Undertale / Deltarune / Toby Fox.

Is it wrong to start with one of my favourite games? Maybe. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Undertale is a roleplaying game by American indie developer and composer Toby Fox. What I love about this game is that depending on how you play it, Undertale can become two completely different experiences. The same goes for its sequel Deltarune, which is currently in its second chapter. The games both boast a colourful and goofy cast of characters that you can’t help but connect to, with a story that keeps you enveloped. Despite the rinsing of memes about it, the game is really quite fantastic. Not to mention, the music of this game is composed entirely by Fox and has a sense of unforgettableness that I can only liken to the Zelda series.

Omori

Image: Omori / Omocat, LLC

I love a game that’s unexpectedly spoopy.

Omori is a psychological horror roleplaying game, this time based on a webcomic from artist Omocat (who also developed the game). The game deals with issues of anxiety, depression, and self-destruction, but is also a tale of friendship and working together. You flip in and out of the real world and a fantasy world where things are largely different, including your personal relationships. Something that really stands out with Omori is the use of emotional states in battle, where being angry, sad, or happy will have an effect on how you battle.

Stardew Valley

Image: Stardew Valley / ConcernedApe.

Stardew Valley is the Harvest Moon game that the newer Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games are trying to be.

The pixel art design of Stardew Valley is of a different ilk to games like Undertale and Omori, going for a more detailed look and allowing for simple character customisation. It’s a gorgeous farming and life simulator where you’re tasked with bringing the community centre back to its former glory by taking part in the community and adventuring as much as you can. This game feels even better to play when you know that its creator Eric Barone actually met one of his heroes Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of the Harvest Moon series, who told him how impressed he was with Stardew Valley.

Garden Story

Image: Garden Story / Picogram.

You are a little grape.

Garden Story is an incredibly cute semi world-building RPG where you are a sweet little grape that is now in charge of protecting the world. It’s a big job for a little grape, but with the help of your froggy friends and other vitamin-C buddies, you can do it! The design of Garden Story is just so wholesome but can be deceiving as the battle aspect of the game can actually get pretty challenging. The writing is very quirky and fun, and it’s very easy to lose track of time while playing this one.

Celeste

Image: Celeste / Matt Makes Games.

My hands hurt from squeezing the controller while I play this game.

Celeste is a platformer from Matt Makes Games, and is an incredibly well-loved pixel game. It’s a game where you will die a LOT. You’ll keep dying over and over until you don’t, you finally overcome a barrier and feel this sweet sense of relief and reward as if it was all worth it in the end. It’s won a bunch of awards and has scored tens across the board, so it’s one you probably shouldn’t miss.

Eastward

Image: Eastward / Pixpil.

Publisher Chucklefish knows how to spot the good ones.

Eastward is an action-adventure and a love letter to old school RPGs, made by Pixpil. It is simply bursting at the seams with unique characters, and the pixel artwork has such incredible attention to detail that really captures the energy of each area. The story is also quite moving and will stick with you after you play it. The music is also fantastic, making this game a comfortable all-rounder. Real GOTY energy.

Unpacking

Image: Unpacking / Witch Beam.

Speaking of attention to detail, WOW.

You’ve probably seen Unpacking on many an end-of-year list, and rightly so. Unpacking is a story-driven puzzle game that tasks you with unpacking the moving boxes of your character throughout the important years of their life. The detailed pixel art of this game is a masterclass in pixel art, with everything looking just so right. The audio design of this game is also incredible, with the crew recording tens of thousands of sounds to achieve absolute accuracy when it comes to putting an object down on a certain surface. The story tugs at the heartstrings and the process of putting things away really put you in the protagonist’s shoes and feel for them in the pivotal moments of their life.

Ikenfell

Image: Ikenfell / Happy Ray Games.

Representation in a magic school? In a way that isn’t a ‘Dumbledore Gay’ tweet? Sign me up!

Ikenfell is a turn-based tactical RPG following a group of diverse students at a magic school trying to uncover a mystery. Think Harry Potter meets Earthbound meets the Mario & Luigi RPG series. The characters you meet and play along the way each has their loveable quirks and the story is strong and keeps you hooked. I found the combat system to be more engaging than in the typical turn-based RPG, and I know this is a weird reference but it actually reminded e a lot of the recent South Park RPGs which I believe did a great job with their combat systems. I loved this game and it made me cry.

Underhero

Image: Underhero / Paper Castle Games.

Last but definitely not least, this bad boy is a hidden gem.

Underhero is an RPG-platformer where the true hero has failed meaning you, an underling of the evil king, must reluctantly take his place as the new hero. It’s an incredibly clever game with a funky rhythm-based combat system. The art style is colourful and bombastic but delves into the unknown later on. The characters you meet along the way are very well written and this attention to  detail is quite reminiscent of early Paper Mario games. I played this game when I was in a bit of a gaming rut, having not played anything for months. Underhero pulled me right out of that and kept me enthralled the entire way through, and I honestly believe it deserves way more attention than it’s gotten.


Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know!

Comments

  • I see we’re going more 16bit rather than 8bit aesthetic, otherwise I always need to tell people about Spirits Abyss since not enough roguelite fans seem to know about it.

    This also reminds me I should replay Shovel Knight.

      • Yeah Caisyware has a really good understanding on leveraging crunchy pixels as a distinct aesthetic instead of just cheap design, and Spirits Abyss is like a friendlier class-based approach to the Spelunky formula.

        I also recommend Caveblazers for a more chaotic Spelunky-like with visuals a bit like the first Risk of Rain, and did you ever play the old Downwell, or Super House of Dead Ninjas? At least the latter two got their time in the sun much like other classics like Towerfall, but there’s so much well designed retro-styled stuff that not nearly enough people find out about!

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