Although there are more and more games with realistic graphics at the highest level, pixel art indie productions rise like a phoenix from ashes. Why is this happening? And what pixel video games are really worth playing today?

Pixels feel sentimental to many of us. It’s like the good old days playing the latest console games after school. For others, it’s the raw appreciation for the art form, as composing an evocative, easy-to-read image from individual pixels is harder than it seems, and making it animated is harder still.

However, you don’t have to reach for old titles to plunge into the retro aesthetic world. More and more new fantastic pixel games are easily available on Steam. In this particular category, you will find everything: horrors, farm simulators, RPGsarcade games, fantasy and much more, all benefitting from modern design ideas.

The list below is just the tip of the iceberg.
GameReleaseDeveloper
Eldest Souls 2021-07-29 Fallen Flag Studio
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge 2022-06-16 Tribute Games
Vampire Survivors 2021-12-17 Poncle
Dead Cells 2017-05-10 Motion Twin
Dwarf Fortress 2022-12-06 Bay 12 Games
Stardew Valley 2016-02-26 ConcernedApe
Terraria 2011-05-16 Re-Logic
Undertale 2015-09-15 tobyfox
Blasphemous 2019-09-10 The Game Kitchen
Owlboy 2016-11-01 D-Pad Studio
Shovel Knight Treasure Trove 2014-06-26 Yacht Club Games
Celeste 2018-01-25 Extremely OK Games
Broforce 2015-10-15 Free Lives Games
Octopath Traveler 2018-07-13 Square Enix
Moon Hunters 2016-03-10
To The Moon 2011-11-01 Freebird Games
Rakuen 2017-05-10 Laura Shigihara
Axiom Verge 2015-05-14 Thomas Happ Games

Eldest Souls

Release date:2021-07-29
Developer:Fallen Flag Studio

You’re just a lone warrior wielding a chunky sword made of pure obsidian. Which is neat, but a fancy blade won’t be enough for the warrior to face the calamity inflicted upon the world by the vengeful old gods. Thankfully, you’ll be there to lend your skill, right? But be careful, Eldest Souls not only sounds like it mixed Elden Ring and Dark Souls, it’s also comparably lethal to the unwary.

Despite only having a single weapon to fight with, there is a satisfying degree of build flexibility thanks to a robust (but manageable) skill tree. Eldest Souls features lovely, detailed and evocative pixel art you get to enjoy from a camera high above the map, giving you a good view of the battlefield as you dash around avoiding the attacks of nasty creatures and gnarly bosses.

Key features
  • Tight, precise melee-oriented action game
  • Awesome world and creature designs
  • Big build potential despite limited arsenal
  • Dark fantasy world

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge

Release date:2022-06-16
Developer:Tribute Games

A true blast from the past in more ways than one. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a old-school beat’em up based on classic TNMT cartoon from the 80s, and featuring a retro pixel art aesthetic. If you’re old enough to experience old TNMT nostalgia, it’s a dream come true, but even if you’re not, it’s still a phenomenal action game you shouldn’t miss out on.

You not only get to play as the four heroes in a half-shell, but also as April, Casey, and even Master Splinter. Appropriately, you’ll be facing a ton of classic enemies, from the foot clan, through Bebop and Rocksteady, up to the man himself, Shredder. The game has both a single-sitting Arcade mode and a lengthier Story mode, so it’s great for quick breaks and longer sessions alike.

Key features
  • Seven playable characters with unique movesets
  • A nostalgia trip through and through
  • Excellent old-school beat’em up
  • Two game modes: Story and Arcade

Vampire Survivors

Release date:2021-12-17
Developer:Poncle

This game answers a question that didn’t need to be asked, but it’s a good thing it was. What would Castlevania be like if it was a reverse bullet hell? Well, it would be awesome. Vampire Survivors borrows a lot of its aesthetic and arsenal from old Castlevanias, but instead of a side-scrolling combat-platformer we get a horde survival with an auto-attacking character in the center.

The characters might be attacking on their own, creating a zone of destruction around them, but it’s up to you to pick gear and upgrades and exploit synergies. Of course, some luck is involved, as level ups and chests present randomized rewards, but if you play your cards right, with specific catalysts your weapons might evolve, surrounding you in a true bullet hell of your own.

Key features
  • Many characters with different progression and starting gear
  • Lots of tricky secrets to uncover across multiple maps
  • Some persistent progression in addition to gear found during specific sessions
  • Lots of weapons with unique traits

Dead Cells

Release date:2017-05-10
Developer:Motion Twin

Dead Cells is not just one of the best pixel-art games, it’s also one of the best-rated games on Steam in general. It turns out that creating a game with precise combat, great aesthetic, engaging progression and finely tuned difficulty is a recipe for success. And it was! Dead Cells is a fantastic metroidvania/rogue-lite mixture that will keep you occupied for many, many hours.

In Dead Cell you play as a blob of cells capable of attaching itself to cadavers littering the sewers in a prison located in a fantasy kingdom that has seen better days. Your job? Get out of the prison, of course, but there are many weird enemies between you and your goal, including bosses who might even know something about your situation. But that’s for you to slash your way towards.

Key features
  • The world might be dark, but the game doesn’t take itself too seriously
  • Excellent melee-oriented combat
  • Side-scrolling rogue-metroidvania of the highest quality
  • Several expansions

Dwarf Fortress

Release date:2022-12-06
Developer:Bay 12 Games

Dwarf Fortress is probably the grandest-scale game on this list. Originally a freeware game using ASCII graphics, this legendary title has finally found its way to Steam and a new set of lovely pixel-art graphics along the way. It’s rather minimalistic, however, as you have a very top-down view of your dwarven colony, and everything is tiny.

DF is a famously complex and deep colony sim, tasking you with helping a bunch of unreliably competent dwarves find a new home in a procedurally generated fantasy world. You’ll tell them to carve out rooms, assign jobs, make sure they are healthy and happy, and then see them die because of something you didn’t know the game simulated. As the game will tell you, losing is fun!

Key features
  • Much more complex than it looks
  • It can generate a full world, from geology to history of fallen kingdoms and heroes
  • Chill soundtrack
  • A great version of a legendary ASCII game

Stardew Valley

Release date:2016-02-26
Developer:Tribute Games

One of the most popular pixel RPGs, Stardew Valley constantly receives overwhelmingly positive ratings on Steam. Leave your boring city life behind and embark on a new fabulous adventure on a country farm you inherited. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to work! Renovate your farm, cut down trees, pull up weeds, and create your new home in the countryside.

Explore the area and collect resources. Or fight monsters. Or forge lasting relationships with the local community. In this economic sandbox inspired by the Harvest Moon series nothing limits you, and the opportunities to dedicate yourself to new activities multiply spontaneously. Chill out in Stardew Valley and live out your country life fantasies.

Key features
  • Renovate the old farm and restore it to its former glory
  • Explore to get resources and valuable treasures
  • Meet your neighbors and establish friendly relations
  • Play solo or in co-op for up to four people

Terraria

Release date:2011-05-16
Developer:Re-Logic

Do you happen to dream of letting your creativity run wild in a beautiful pixel sandbox? Play Terraria. Build a base, gather resources, and prepare an arsenal to defend your home, because there are many enemies happy ruin your day, and even a few terrifying bosses which will take a lot of effort to defeat. On the flipside, you don’t have to do it alone: helpful NPCs and co-op partners can be there with you!

Your possibilities in Terraria are endless – in this game, you can achieve anything! There are diverse biomes, robust crafting, and RPG systems which will give you an edge against the environment and the foes in the dangerous underworld. All of that presented as a side-scrolling pixelated adventure which feels pleasantly old-school.

Key features
  • Explore a procedurally generated world of endless possibilities
  • Collect resources and build whatever you want
  • Travel to fight bosses and discover many secrets
  • Get the necessary equipment and set out to conquer Terraria

Undertale

Release date:2015-09-15
Developer:tobyfox

Undertale is a rightfully venerated classic, which not only tells a compelling and twisting story about the world of monsters and its relationship with the humans from the surface, but also takes a look at the conventions of the RPG genre. Complemented with great writing and design, this game will amaze you with its meta-awareness and biting critique.

Which is not something you’d expect from a very retro-looking game about a kid who ends up in an underground world full of weird creatures. Gameplay involved a lot of exploration and meaningful interactions with the underworld’s denizens, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to be nice or fight everyone to the death. Just remember: the game doesn’t forget, and it will judge your choices.

Key features
  • Learn the details of a mature story intertwined with a good sense of humor
  • Weighty interactions which might even influence future playthroughs
  • Peace is an option, but it won’t be easy
  • Pleasant exploration

Blasphemous

Release date:2019-09-10
Developer:The Game Kitchen

In Blasphemous you play as the Penitent One, a knight finding himself on a mysterious land, where omnipresent depravity has brought everything to ruin. Although your story will not be certain at the beginning, in time you will learn more and more of its details about this twisted, corrupted place inspired by the dark corners of Christian mysticism.

The game is a very competent Metroidvania, with quite a few inspirations taken from the Dark Souls games, especially where the combat difficulty and the dusty, corrupt vibe of the world is concerned. It’s an excellent title for any fan of 2D action games, and with a sequel coming rather soon, it’s a perfect opportunity to get the first game under your belt before the second arrives.

Key features
  • Explore the grim world and discover its dramatic secrets
  • Practice your deep faith to survive in this gloomy reality
  • Eliminate hordes of enemies and fight bosses
  • Learn the secrets of your story and the history of the entire land of Cvstodia

Owlboy

Release date:2016-11-01
Developer:D-Pad Studio

As the titular Owlboy named Otus you will embark on a fantastic journey to save your village attacked by pirates. It turns out that only he can really solve this problem. Although he lacks the ability to speak, Otus can fly, which is a massive advantage on the battlefield. Travel, go on adventures and face the evil Sky Pirates.

Along the way, you’ll meet new travel companions who can prove extremely helpful in combat. The world is depicted through beautiful, evocative pixel-art graphics. D-Pad studio spent nine years working on the project, and this is proven by every step of the way. It isn’t a particularly hard game, so it is perfect for kids or adults hungry for some 8-bit-like epic adventure.

Key features
  • Experience a fantastic platform adventure carried on Owlboy’s wings
  • Enjoy the pixel-art of the highest quality
  • Meet companions who will support you in the fight against pirates
  • Explore and discover the treasures and secrets of this lovely, colorful land

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove

Release date:2014-06-26
Developer:Yacht Club Games

Become the mighty Shovel Knight and experience a series of adventures that truly transport you back to the times of 8-bit NES games. If you like retro games – this is your absolute must-have. Armed with a shovel and your brave heart, you will fight evil, explore the rich fantasy world, and engage in entertaining dialogues. It is all about dexterity! Each level is a unique set of traps and enemies.

The gameplay may resemble Mega Man or occasionally even Dark Souls, but it hosts a special, one-of-a-kind atmosphere, exemplified by the fact that you’re a mighty knight using a shovel. It’s a charming game with interesting combat, fun story, and delightful retro aesthetic mixed to create one of the best titles in the genre.

Key features
  • Play the complete edition of all Shovel Knight games
  • Get carried away by the audiovisual setting and mechanics straight from the 90s.
  • Explore, find secret passages, discover treasures, and fight  plentiful enemies
  • Play solo or in co-op with a friend

Celeste

Release date:2018-01-25
Developer:Extremely OK Games

Celeste is a platform action game where agility and acrobatics are important, but not essential. As Madeline you will embark on a dangerous journey to the top of a great mountain. It is a great title for players who like a fair challenge and appreciate a simple but polished audiovisual design. And the secret sauce is the fact that Celeste might look challenging, but it’s just the first impression.

The title offers several tutorials to help you quickly master new moves, as well as robust difficulty customization. The heroine has a few handy mobility talent skills, such as dashes, that allow her to perform various acrobatic maneuvers. In addition to the journey up the mountain, you should also be on the lookout for secrets hidden around the levels, because there are quite a few of those.

Key features
  • A cute and enchanting game where dexterity and cleverness truly count
  • Explore maps full of secrets
  • Master your skills to make traversing the map easier…or adjust the difficulty
  • Avoid traps and use the elements of the environment to your advantage

Broforce

Release date:2015-10-15
Developer:Free Lives Games

Among the best pixel-art games, there is one shining star that takes players to the golden times of the manliest men known from movie productions of the 90s. Broforce! As classic heroes like Brobocop, Bro Lee, or Indiana Brones, you will demolish the entire map and while some badasses only work alone, you don’t need to, because the game is even more bombastic in co-op!

Broforce is a 2D action platform shooter in which explosions, flying bullets, and muscles are basically the whole game in a nutshell. Armed with weapons and a few grenades, you hit the very epicenter of all destruction at the very beginning and spent the missions riding the shockwave. Your task is to travel through the levels, eliminating enemies and freeing people from captivity to unlock new bros.

Key features
  • Play as the heroes of classic action movies from the 80s and 90s.
  • Use weapons and grenades to wreak maximum havoc
  • Free your bros from captivity
  • Play solo or in a group of up to four players

Octopath Traveler

Release date:2019-06-07
Developer:ACQUIRE Corp.

Eight heroes. Eight stories. Shared world, and interwoven paths. That’s the promiseof Octopath Traveller, and the game delivers on it, and then some. It also happens to be a gorgeous mix of 2D pixel-art sprites and 3D environments, resulting in a one-of-the-kind aesthetic experience lending the title a lot of charm. And we haven’t even talked about the gameplay yet!

Octopath Traveller is an old-school Japanese RPG not unlike old Final Fantasy games. Which means that the game has a lot of exploration, interactions with NPCs, and, indeed, turn-based combat with a few very satisfying mechanics. If you’re keen on retro jRPGs and think they don’t make them like they used to anymore, give OT a chance, especially since the sequel is already here and at least as good.

Key features
  • Choose from eight characters and guide them through the vibrant world of Orsterra
  • Discover new locations and meet interesting characters
  • Turn-based combat
  • Beautiful, magical 2.5D pixel graphics

Moon Hunters

Release date:2016-03-10
Developer:

Enter the procedurally generated fantastic land of Mercuria and become a member of the Moon cult. Unfortunately, the balance of this world has been disturbed, and chaos creeps into everyday life when it turns out that the Moon has disappeared. The prime suspects in the affair are evil Sun cultists who seek the cultural unification of the entire land.

Gather a party of up to four players and set off on a journey to find the Moon! Explore, discover, fight and build your reputation. Craft items, investigate the magical world, and learn the secrets of productive cooperation. It is up to you to decide whether you will be recognized in legends as a hero, or forever lost from the memories of many.

Key features
  • Gather a team of up to four players and embark on an adventure
  • Build an arsenal of weapons and powers to win the battle against Sun cultists
  • Make decisions that will affect the progression of your story
  • Gain experience and develop your unique skills

Pixel-perfect experiences

This concludes out glimpse at the rich world of pixel-art using games. Of course, as we stated previously, the games listed here are just a tip of the iceberg, as this pixelated aesthetic has become rightfully popular. Hopefully our recommendations gave you a good place to start your pixel journey, and inspired you to do some digging of your own.