They’re SO pretty!
I’ve recently talked about scary horror games here and here, so now I think I need a break from the darkness. For that, I want to look at games that just so beautiful you can’t help but take a moment to appreciate them with your eyes. This would be a straightforward task if I just wanted to talk about just the realistic beauties in gaming with great graphics like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Red Dead Redemption 2, but what I’m looking for today are also the ‘artistic’ ones—the ones that do something unique and different but still capture our hearts (and eyes) with every frame of the game.
The game that really reinforced the idea that ‘video games are art’, Flower is an artistic experience that set the tone of what the developers at Thatgamecompany (yes, that’s what they’re called) wanted to achieve. You literally play some petals drifting in the wind and it opened up the conversation of artistic expression in video games. Nowadays, you’ll often find video games in museums and art galleries as part of interactive installations or for the fact that video games are indeed art in their own right. A lot of that is because developers like Thatgamecompany made games such as Flower.
Thatgamecompany (really it is a confusing name for a development studio) went on to make other artistic video game experiences including my personal favourite, Journey. Quite a different game where you’re a lonely character heading towards a light. That’s it. Doesn’t sound like much but the sparkling sands and setting sun set a spectacular scene as you slide across the shimmering silica. The real beauty comes in that feeling of loneliness, until you come across another player. That’s right, it’s kind of a multiplayer game, a great example of anonymous multiplayer. You don’t know who that other player is and they could come and go as they please. You could team up or they could abandon you at a whim. The only form of communication you have is your movements and a pinging noise you can make, but if you end up sticking together till the end, you might feel that you’ve made a friend for life, only for the relationship to end forever once the game is over. If that doesn’t stir up some emotions, I don’t know what will.
A newer entry to the list, Gris is a wonder to look at from it’s deliberately drawn yet smooth animation to the supreme use of watercolours. It’s rare to see a game look like this and the way it incorporates the visuals into the gameplay will impress even the harshest art critic. Besides the colours and designs of the characters and world, the animations are just unbelievably smooth and unique, making this probably the most beautiful video game of 2018.
A fun and lighthearted expression of a game, this brings the Mexican aesthetic to your screen in a fun metroidvania action game with an unbelievably colourful vector style. If you’ve ever tried colouring something in, you might’ve found that if you use too many colours it just looks like an absolute mess, but somehow in Guacamelee they seem to have used every colour imaginable and still kept it coherent and beautiful. Those looking for high-end art might not recognise this as typically beautiful but it brings a new flavour in my opinion and nothing else quite looks like this in the way it pulls it off.
5. Ori and the Blind Forest
An emotion and beautiful metroidvania game where you play a small creature against the world. Visually this game looks amazing and magical; the colours and designs of everything on screen will draw you into the environments. Subtle animations and attention to detail really bring it to life too. What’s more, the sequel to the game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is scheduled to release in 2019, so if you haven’t gotten enough beauty from this game, more is on the way.
6. Bastion & Transistor
Beautiful games with amazing soundtracks, these are just a pleasure to look at but also a pleasure to listen to. Built on emotional stories, the style of these two games from the same developers brings you into their worlds and if you play through them they’re ones you never forget. Might also be because you end up finding their soundtracks on Spotify and end up listening to them on repeat, or maybe that’s just me?
7. Shadow of the Colossus
This is a game where the beauty comes from its loneliness. The fact that you are a lone character travelling across an uninhabited land, not even running across a bunny let alone an enemy to fight. You explore the world looking for giant stone colossi to defeat in an attempt to save the one you love, so it’s a journey searching for companionship steeped in being alone.
8. Dark Souls & Bloodborne
Many wouldn’t think of the ‘Souls games’ as beautiful and maybe they don’t fit the traditional definition, but there is definitely a haunting beauty to these games. It’s always my opinion that the ‘horror aesthetic’ is something that can be morbid but beautiful, as I talk about in this other article, and the Dark Souls series along with Bloodborne express this perfectly. Epic landscapes, unique architectural designs, haunting music, and otherworldly creatures are all amazingly crafted in these dark games.
9. BioShock Infinite
On the slightly more ‘realistic’ side, BioShock Infinite was designed to be surprisingly beautiful. Coming from the dank and dark predecessor game, in this one you rise above the clouds into a glimmering utopia. A city that’s pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside, but still really pretty on the outside nonetheless. The abilities in the game from Vigors, Gears, and Infusions also give a magical steampunk vibe to the game, which plays into the almost magical theme of the city and the magical feeling you get looking around.
This whole game is styled as if it’s a sumi-e painting and it’s a great action-adventure game filled with amazing characters to boot! In the game, you discover new brush techniques so that you can paint your way through and you can even attack enemies by painting at them. The whole game is unrelentingly stylistic from the colours to the distinct inky outlines and it’s a game that makes you want to pick up painting in real life. The music won’t disappoint either, ranging from pretty and pleasant village tunes to epic and evil boss fights, the iconic soundtrack will keep you sucked into the painted world. This game is so well loved, despite the game studio that made it no longer existing, it’s been remade into HD and is even now on the Switch and on Steam, so I can’t recommend this game enough whatever platform you want to play it on.