This past year was a phenomenal one for artistic video games, so its no surprise there are such strong contenders for the Independent Gaming Festival’s Excellence in Visual Art award.
From rubber hose cartoon animation to decadent alien temples, serene autumnal town streets to fractured dreamscapes, the nominees each have something about their art style which elevates them above the rest, and makes them more than worthy of being recognized for their originality. With all of the great games released last year however, it wouldn’t be surprising if you hadn’t had the chance to see some of them, so here’s a breakdown of each game and their different takes on art.
Night in the Woods
Who would have thought someone could make small town life as eye catching as the team at Infinite Fall did? Set against the narrative of a young woman named Mae Borrowski returning home after dropping out of college, Night in the Woods’ 2D art style breathes life into the sleepy mining town of Possum Springs. Trees glow with the colors of fall, as anthropomorphic animal citizens wander the streets of a town brimming with culture and life. It’s easy to get distracted marveling at the smaller visual touches like a fiery sunset or characters’ charming expressions during dialogue. Throw in ethereal dream sequences which treat players to an otherworldly color swap and you’ll be drawn fully into one of last year’s most lauded adventure games.
When Studio MDHR’s Cuphead was first revealed during Microsoft’s E3 2014 press conference, viewers were blown away by the concept of a run-and-gun indie with a 1930s cartoon aesthetic and couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. The excitement proved well founded when the game finally launched this past year, whisking players into a world of color, imagination and classic styles. The game’s characters Cuphead and Mugman dart around the screen as they blast their way through hand-drawn havoc, with enemies reminiscent of classic Disney and Fleischer styles. One moment, you’ll be dodging thunderbolts from malicious train rods; the next, the train itself will spring to life, hurling fire balls from its engine. It’s a one of a kind experience and one of the most inventive takes on what video game art can offer.
It’s hard to say exactly what is most striking about the art of Ultra Ultra’s SciFi stealth title Echo. Set in the gilded, maze like ruins of a long dead world, players take the role of En, a spacesuit-clad being in search of a way to bring someone dear to her back to life. Rumors say that buried deep within the pristine corridors of the ruins lies something capable of this feat, but unknown forces soon prove it will be anything but easy to take.
This juxtaposition of decadence and science fiction art styles meshes beautifully, helping to add to the tension and sense of unease as players avoid blob like horrors and mimics to make their way toward their ultimate goal. It’s an inspired take on how science fiction can be conveyed, and something fans of the genre won’t want to miss.
If nothing else can be said of Funomena, they are masters at bringing a paper fairy tale to life, as seen in their title Luna. The premise is simple: After being enticed by an owl to eat the last sliver of a waning moon, a small bird must set the universe back in order. By solving celestial puzzles, players breath life back into the world and watch as lakes, forests and animal spirits spring to life. It’s bright, cheery and uplifting, with a paper aesthetic which stokes the imagination to wonderful effect. If you’re looking for something simple and pleasing to the eyes, you can’t go wrong with this title.
The Gardens Between
A beautifully illogical puzzle adventure, The Voxel Agents’ mind bending offering is a perfect example of how to bring abstract art to video games. Taking the role of a pair of friends, players must work to traverse their way across several garden islands, each with their own strange elements which make them unique. One moment, players could be making their way along an island with giant computer parts strewn about; the next, they could be rewinding time to make their way past a hack saw driven into a wooden board. The cluttered randomness gives the game a dream-like quality, drawing you into this charmingly innovative experience.
Chuckle from Amanita Design is a strange game. A simple point and click title, it tasks you with guiding the titular character in his daily adventures and pursuit of cherries. Everything, from how players interact with the world to the mini games which stem from these interactions, range from bizarre to insane. And yet, thanks to the expressive and heart felt designs, the game is downright enchanting in how strange it is. Chuchel and his friends’ designs convey their creator’s love and consideration for them, giving the impression of a desire for fun which is hard not to get drawn in by. It’s one of a kind in a way few things can ever claim to be, and players will struggle to leave it without a big smile on their faces.
Know of any other games that had stand out art styles? Mention them in the comments below, and be sure to vote for your favorite nominee when the IGF’s audience choice awards voting opens later this month. You can check out the rest of our IGF 2018 coverage right here.