When you look at Cuphead you need to catch your breath. This is a video game. An interactive video game you can play and control. The animation and art is so smooth and unique it seems to fulfill the promise of ‘playing a cartoon’ many gamers have wanted since Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island teased the notion.
Quality animation in games is important, and lots of games have it. However, few look as cool, or innovate in the same way Cuphead has. Some have. Thus, presented for your approval at 4 semi-obscure games that took animation and art direction to unique places, and are worthy of praise for doing so.
You may have heard of Armikrog’s older brother, The Neverhood. A point and click adventure game released in 1996 that utilized a breathtaking claymation style. It won multiple artistic achievement awards, and more importantly, a place in the heart of gamers that seek out truly unique experiences and visuals in interactive media.
Unfortunately there weren’t *enough* gamers, because The Neverhood sold under 50,000 copies, making the chances for a true sequel moot (though there was a platformer on PS1 using a similar style).
Until a Kickstarter campaign. Exceeding the funding goal of 900 thousand dollars, Armikrog, the spiritual sequel to The Neverhood began development and was released in 2015 on PC, and August 2016 on PS4, Wii U, and Xbox One.
Unfortunately at release Armikrog featured numerous bugs and was a little short. After patching and several price drops, Armikrog is a steal at 9.99 for gamers looking to…clay around with a title whose visual style is wholly unique to modern console gaming.
No, *you’re* getting misty eyed at the trailer for Figment, not me. Nope. Developed by Bedtime Digital Games, Figment is an action / adventure game that does the Psychonauts thing of putting you in someone’s mind. But instead of a weirdly warped world, the visuals here are charming and bright and whimsical, resembling something by Salvadore Dali.
If the choice of a song with lyrics in the trailer interested you, you’re in luck. The game has music puzzles and all sorts of other visual and auditory delights. Currently out on Steam, the game is angling for a Nintendo Switch and Xbox One release soon.
Don Bluth is to animation what Bob Dylan is to song lyrics. Out of this world and one of a kind. Often animating at a frame-rate beyond traditional cel animation, his style was often more fluid, mesmerizing, and at times darker than most other ‘cartoons’ of the time.
So when Dragon’s Lair hit the arcade with its fluid animation, humor, and insanely hard difficulty, it became a smashing success – getting ported to all sorts of consoles and devices.
But no one really talks about the sequel, Space Ace. Similar in style, quality, and silliness, Space Ace spawned a short-lived animated series and is now generally regarded as on par with its predecessor, though obviously not as ground breaking.
Currently available on Mobile, you can download and play this wonderfully charming and masterfully animated game today. Check it out.
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4. Dust: An Elysian Tail
Playing Dust: An Elysian Tail for the first time is akin to a religious experience. There’s an elegance and attention to detail present in the animations, characterization, and combat that will leave you with your mouth agape, wondering how, exactly, you haven’t heard of it before.
It feels like an interactive watercolor painting walked into the Metroidvania genre.
It becomes even more shocking when you learn the game was designed by one man, Dean Dodrill – who was an illustrator and animator first, game developer second. As a result, the art shines in Dust, from lush and vivid backgrounds to incredible attack animations.
That doesn’t mean the game itself is subpar. Quite the opposite. It’s very competent tried-and-true action platforming – elevated by the incredible animation on display.
If you’re looking for a single game that can wow you like Cuphead, and bring the goods challenge wise, this *is* the game to play.
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But don’t take my word for it. What do you think are some of the most beautifully animated games of all time? Okami? Out of This World? Jet Set Radio? Post your favorites below and they may be included in a followup!