The continued influence of early 8-bit games, from Mario to Mega Man to chiptunes, speaks to the ingenuity of early game designers. Both the earliest pixelated games and the 16-bit titles that followed have nothing short of iconic reputations. It is perhaps no wonder that despite the advances of mobile technology, some of us want to use our smallest gaming platforms to take it back to the old school to either revisit arcade classics or to see how today’s retro game designers compare.
With that on our minds, as well as the launch of the awesome Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series, here are some of the most fun pixel games that you can play on mobile today:
This one is for the creative types out there. Depending on how you look at it, in The Sandbox players either take up the mantle of a game designer or a god. Whether they want to create interactive experiences, works of art, or fully fledged game worlds complete with electricity and farming, The Sandbox has something to keep everyone happy. Players (literally) start with the building blocks of a world and work their way up to life forms, magic, zombies, ninjas, electricity, cities and whatever else might take their fancy. The possibilities are near endless.
The Sandbox has an impressive amount of functionality for a mobile game; players can even design accompanying chiptune music and sound effects to get the full 8-bit game design experience. While creation is fun, often the most enjoyable part is the destruction. What better way to spend a quiet afternoon than to build a pixel-art masterpiece and then send it to oblivion? If nothing else, it’s an exercise in impermanence – like the mobile game equivalent of a Tibetan sand mandala.
Are you a fan of classic pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons? Following on from the highly successful original 8-bit mobile game, Knights of Pen and Paper, KoPaP is back again with twice the bits and twice the creative turn-based JRPG adventure.
Considering the simplicity of its 16-bit graphics, Knights of Pen and Paper 2 manages to take things to an epic level of narrative. It achieves this tongue-in-cheek storytelling by making light of the tropes and cliches of classic RPGs and D&D campaigns all while still employing uniquely clever mechanics (the player controls both fellowship and dungeon master). It is, at its core, a love letter to two different types of classic gaming: retro pixelated games and pen and paper RPGs. Trust us when we say it’s a love letter that you’d like to receive.
And the best news yet, the once premium mobile game is now completely free!
You didn’t have to be a video-game industry insider to know that Stardew Valley was going to make this list. It’s the colourful pixelated mobile game that captivated a generation with its cutesy tale of a family farm left to disrepair. It’s your job as our plucky agricultural hero to bring your grandpa’s farm back to its former glory, all the while reconnecting with your country roots.
Of the many, many mobile farming simulation games available, what is it that makes Stardew Valley so special? It’s heart-warming, it has seemingly infinite content, its mechanics fuse perfectly with the pixel aesthetic and original soundtrack, and it’s undeniably apparent that the game design was a labour of love.
From charming farming to daring dungeoneering, Dead Cells is unbridled comic book horror violence in pixel form. Leave the tractors and farming RPGs at the door and instead adopt Dead Cells motto of “Kill. Die. Learn. Repeat.”
Dead Cells is a “roguevania” indie hit that made its way across platforms and is now available on mobile. It compromises frantic 2D combat with rogue-lite replayability and the ever-present risk of permadeath. It’s fast, it’s frustrating and it’s damn good fun. If you’re into games like Enter the Gungeon, then this one is for you. Think you’ve got what it takes?
Are you ready for some 8-bit amnesia? 7 Years From Now sounds like a strange name for a mobile title, but the narrative game’s introduction puts things into context, sort of:
‘7 years ago, I lost my memories…But there is one promise I can never forget…“I’ll be waiting for you, 7 years from now…”…A promise with someone I have no recollection of.’
This slightly jarring start readies the players for a non-combat mobile game full of surprises and plot twists. The story follows Haruto Soraki in his search for his memories and his lost love. It uses its understated pixel art to good effect; the art style gives life to the world but is non-distracting, allowing the player to lose themselves in the sad and melancholic story. Fear not though, there are also truly beautiful moments of happiness is this peculiar little piece of interactive fiction; and it is well worth a playthrough.
Breathe in, breathe out. Meditation isn’t for everyone, but something with seemingly universal appeal in recent years is adult colouring. Once dismissed as a gimmick for so-called lazy millennials, adult colouring has transformed into a super-craze recommended by health experts and hippie gurus alike. So, if The Sandbox isn’t in fact the exercise in healing mindfulness that’s right for you, this just might be.
Instead of the usual mandalas and Bob Ross style landscapes, Pixel Art – Color by Number has over 10,000 kooky and quirky designs from donuts to deserts. When we mentioned in our introduction that it would be fascinating to see what modern game developers come up with using older technology, this is exactly the sort of addictively simple innovation we were after. And yes, okay, there may be a few 16-bit mandalas in there too.
If pixel artwork, pixel roguelites, pixel RPGs, pixel farm simulators, and pixel narrative experiences haven’t done it for you, how about a fully-fledged pixel MMORPG? Bit Heroes is a comprehensive retro dungeon crawling MMO complete with pets, guilds, PvP and everything you’d expect from the best MMO games.
Bit Heroes is old school gaming encapsulated in a well-designed smorgasbord of nostalgia, exploration, and turn-based combat. Powerful bosses roam the dungeons, cutesy unicorns and floating pizzas make for delightful pets, and its very own chiptune soundtrack wraps things up nicely. Moreover, Bit Heroes features lots of fun little surprises such as the fact the top global PvP player of the moment gets their very own statue in the town centre. Do we like that? Just a bit.
For another game that combines the best of two gaming worlds, look no further than the modern pixelated classic of Terraria. Another pixel art mobile port of a PC game, Terraria combines the freedom and creativity of sandbox games with classic RPG action.
In the randomly generated worlds of Terraria, the journey is just as important as the destination; each player’s experience of the game is unique. They may choose to become fearsome warriors, they may opt to be city builders, or they may wish to dig down ever deeper into the earth looking for lost secrets. Terraria is almost universally praised as one of the best modern pixel art games, and with constant free updates, they know how to keep their fans happy.
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