Video games are composed of a lot of different elements. Gameplay and story come together to create a unique sensory experience, but the first thing people notice is usually the graphics.
In honor of our Animation Month I have compiled a list of five video games with cartoony graphics that you should definitely play (if you haven’t already). These games are memorable not just for their gameplay or their story, but for a distinct art style. Games with cartoony graphics make a bigger impression than the gritty, realistic graphics of games such as Call of Duty or Fallout 3. At the time of their release, those games look good, sometimes beautiful, but after just a year the graphics begin to look dated. With a cartoony art style, games hold up longer, and the images have been burned into our minds even after we have forgotten everything else.
One of the most popular casual games of all time, the Animal Crossing series is known for having a charming aesthetic, coming mostly from its character designs. In Animal Crossing, you live in a small town inhabited entirely by animals. They’re not just dogs and cats, either! There’s deer, hippos, alligators, foxes, hamsters, toads, or even giraffes, all equipped with big eyes and even bigger smiles. The most recent Animal Crossing game is New Leaf on the 3DS, released last summer.
While it is another game made up of animal characters, the Sly Cooper series eschews cute visuals in favor of a comic book style. The games follow professional thief Sly Cooper and his accomplices Murray and Bentley (a raccoon, hippo, and turtle). They get into all sorts strange and wild situations in their search for various treasures. These events play out through animated comic book panels, cel-shaded graphics. The character designs are varied and interesting, particularly the enemies.
Sly’s gang fights many different types of animals throughout the series, such as werewolves, bulls, and giant spiders. The whole series remains a memorable part of my childhood, and received high definition remakes in 2010 for the Playstation 3.
Plants vs. Zombies
Just from the title, anyone can tell that Plants vs. Zombies is clearly a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The basic premise of the game is that zombies are attacking your house, and you have to defend your yard with an assortment of deadly plants.
If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. The character models for the plants and zombies all perfectly complement the silly premise. Zombies attack while wearing inner tubes, traffic cones, football uniforms, or even disco outfits. The sunflowers smile with blissful ignorance, and the defensive wall-nuts stare wide-eyed into the distance as zombies desperately claw at their shells.
Plants vs. Zombies is undeniably a captivatingly cute game and has gathered a fan base of casual and hardcore gamers alike with its combination of challenging gameplay and its Saturday-morning-cartoon visuals.
In 2009, Borderlands released to wide praise from critics and hardcore gamers alike. It featured fast-paced action, cooperative gameplay, a robust leveling system, witty humor, and appealing cel-shaded visuals. The game and its 2013 sequel have struck a chord with a large number of people, due in large part to the graphics. Borderlands takes place on a desert planet called Pandora, which sounds like it should look bleak, bare and unappealing. Instead the graphics take on a bright color palette to make the environments of Pandora vibrant and varied.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
When Wind Waker was first announced, hardcore Zelda fans went into an uproar over the new cartoony, cel-shaded graphical style. They said the art style was too childish, that Nintendo didn’t care about the adult fans anymore. The controversy continued for some time after the game came out, but started to die down after gamers everywhere and of all ages became enthralled by the beautiful game.
Even if you missed the Wind Waker boat, don’t worry: a high definition remake was recently released for the Wii U. Wind Waker is remembered as one of the classic Zelda games, and it is my personal favorite of the series. More than a decade after its original release, the game still looks absolutely beautiful. The water effects, the way the wind visually wooshes by, the way enemies explode into a swirl of dark smoke helped solidify Wind Waker’s status as not only a great Zelda game, but one of the best games ever made.