For more than two decades, cel-shaded video games have been popular, with hundreds of companies relying on the more cartoonish approach to bring their characters to life. Some games have used the concept better than others, but it can come across as foolish or lazy if not done well. Here are our top 10 cel-shaded video game favorites of all time.
Our top 10 cel-shaded games of all time
Cel-shading refers to games that forego photo-realistic visuals in favor of a more stylized, cartoonish appearance. It can have a more kid-friendly look with block colors and hues utilized to bring the figures to life, however this is not always the case.
It takes a lot of elegance to release an entirely monochromatic game, but PlatinumGames did exactly that with Bayonetta. Mad Future is set in an apocalyptic world in which terrorists organize a game show in which people are forced to battle to the death for financial rewards. It’s a tad rudimentary in idea and battle is repetitious, but you can’t deny how distinctive the images are. It’s an excellent example of using cel-shading to create something completely unique.
The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
This game continues the tale of The Wind Waker as part of The Legend of Zelda’s Fallen Hero storyline. It follows Link on a journey to save the pirate Tetra from the villain Bellum, who has turned her to stone. While the dungeon design was somewhat repetitious, the game was gorgeously presented on the DS and is still one of the greatest cel-shaded games even years later.
NEO: The World Ends With You
The original The World Ends With You is widely regarded as one of the finest JRPGs of all time, and its sequel succeeded in recreating its distinct graphic style with 3D models by employing cel-shading and perspective methods. The game follows the participants in Shibuya’s Reaper’s Game. This competition puts recently deceased souls to the test, with the winner receiving a second shot at life. There’s a terrific mystery to unravel here, as well as some inventive gameplay, but the characters and their distinctive designs are what make this game so good.
Jet Set Radio
The Dreamcast wasn’t the most popular platform, but it did have some great treasures in its catalog. One of these was Jet Set Radio, which cast players as graffiti-tagging skaters traversing wonderfully stylized versions of Tokyo. The game was one of the earliest cel-shaded video games, paving the way for other developers to employ the technology to build their own cartoon and comic-inspired worlds. We might not have gotten many of the other games on our list if it hadn’t been for this title and its fantastic music.
The Wolf Among Us
Telltale Games’ trademark use of branching storyline was never completely fulfilled as thoroughly as it did with The Wolf Among Us. This game brings to life the universe built in the fantastic Fables comics as a detective narrative directed by none other than the Big Bad Wolf himself. The cel-shaded graphics of the game bring the detective noir aesthetic to life, allowing players to explore a version of New York City teeming with supernatural life and people straight out of a warped version of classic fairy tales.
You’d anticipate a bizarre cast of characters in an universe inspired by comic book superheroes. Joe must utilize his newly acquired superpowers to save his abducted love in this side-scrolling beat’em up. The straightforward idea lends itself to the comic-book action that follows, with Joe able to use his Viewtiful Effects Power to speed up or slow down time during fight, resulting in some stunning views of foes flying across the cel-shaded globe.
While the platforming parts of Okami haven’t aged as well as the rest of the game, there’s no doubting that this PlayStation 2 title employs cel-shading to produce stunning, one-of-a-kind graphics. Each frame and movement is designed to look like a Japanese watercolor painting, with ink trickling down and trailing after the wolf-goddess Amaterasu as she wanders through the globe, reviving it. Okami is one of the most visually striking games of its time, as well as one of the greatest cel-shaded games ever developed.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
If you’re going to build a fighting game based on the world’s most popular anime franchise, you must emulate the unique Dragon Ball visual design. Dragon Ball FighterZ employs cel-shading to make its 3D models appear to have been plucked right from Toriyama’s fighting comic, complete with enormous hair and stunning changes. At debut, it was a wonderfully well-balanced and approachable fighting game, and it has continued to grow its roster in the years afterwards.
Persona 5 appears on these lists almost as a cliché, yet this installment in the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series harnesses its distinctive aesthetics to create a game with infinite style. It follows a group of Japanese high school students as they take on the role of Phantom Thieves to right the wrongs of their world, and it contains magnificent character designs and dramatic combat in practically every frame. This game employs cel-shading methods to get an appearance reminiscent of anime, and it has one of the greatest soundtracks available in a video game.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
The Wind Waker, widely regarded as the finest Legend of Zelda game ever, demonstrates how Nintendo has always worked around technology restrictions to create visually stunning games. Set on the open sea above a long-submerged Hyrule, Link is on a mission with the pirate Tetra to save his sister from the reborn Ganon, who turns out to be the reincarnation of Princess Zelda. Every frame of this game is brilliantly produced, giving players a look that is unlike any other Zelda game at the time.