If you’re a PC gamer then you know that the potential of your machine is almost limitless - provided that you have the time and money to upgrade it to its full capacity. But not all of us have that time or money, and some of us have laptops or PCs that are difficult to upgrade at all.
If your PC isn’t on the more powerful end of the spectrum, it can start to get difficult to find games that your machine can run comfortably. Often, the biggest drain on your system requirements is graphics; the higher quality the graphics are, the more drain the game will be on your PC.
Don’t worry - this doesn’t mean that you’re stuck playing sub-par games. The rise of vintage pixel graphics in modern games has brought a huge range of amazing, beautiful titles to us - and these games will let your poor, overworked PC take a breath. Here are the top 10 pixel art games for low-power PCs.
10. Whispers of a Machine
In this world, technology has taken a dark turn. We’ve gone past the glittering cyberpunk futures imagined by titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and into an age of rebuilding. After AI destroyed the world as we know it, humanity lives in fear of advanced technology - which is sort of a problem for the cybernetically enhanced detective, Vera. Vera has been sent to a remote town to investigate a string of strange murders; along the way, she discovers that a clandestine terrorist sect might be attempting to do the unthinkable.
This title is absolutely beautiful; the pixel graphics give it a certain grittiness that suits the dark storyline. The music is intense, and the subject matter is the bread and butter of the sci-fi noir genre, borrowing a lot of themes from things like Ghost in the Shell while taking it in a new, interesting direction.
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
If you’re into horror games, you’re probably used to fighting the monster. In Carrion, you are the monster. Players take on the role of a horrifying tentacled blob living in the vents around a hidden research lab - your only goal is to eat, grow larger, and eventually escape the lab.
Carrion is a completely new experience for horror game players, and we absolutely love it. The interesting, almost puzzle-like gameplay and sick satisfaction of devouring all of the scientists in the lab make it really fun for those of us who are bored with traditional horror. And the sound design is perfect - it’s visceral, disgusting, and too terrifying for words.
Developer: Hidden Layer Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Nintendo Switch, iOS
This gorgeous, atmospheric platformer has a lot to offer - you follow three characters through a crumbling, creepy world, uncovering the past and seeking answers for the future. Each character has their own unique playstyle, and their stories are intertwined in a uniquely emotional experience.
The pixelated style is uniquely suited to this strange, crumbling realm, and the music is hauntingly beautiful. Fun fact: this title is published by the same company that published Stardew Valley - Chucklefish. Talk about a diverse portfolio!
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Google Stadia, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360/Xbox One, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, WiiU
Terraria might just be the best-loved 2D sandbox RPG ever made, and it deserves the title. Gameplay is similar to games like Minecraft - you build your base, explore the world, and engage in all sorts of survival activities like combat, mining, and crafting. The world you’re exploring is mysterious and magical, and there’s so much to discover.
Terraria has been a fan-favourite for ten years now, and it’s still one of the best pixel-art RPGs for people who don’t have high-power PCs. The character sprites are adorable, and the world is surprisingly expansive. And the worlds are generated differently every time, allowing you to replay the game over and over again.
6. The Final Station
Developer: Do My Best Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Edward Jones is just trying to do his job. He’s a train operator, trying to navigate a world that was devastated by an otherworldly catastrophe called "The First Visitation.” As he forges his way through this desolate landscape to deliver vital components of a machine meant to save humanity, he’s struck by a terrible realization: the Second Visitation is coming. And nothing is as it seems.
The Final Station is a deliciously creepy side-scrolling adventure that takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The train mechanics are refreshingly unique, and serve to break up the story into manageable pieces. We loved the creeping sense of something being wrong that sort of crashes over the player as the story progresses - you don’t want to miss this game.
5. Hyper Light Drifter
Developer: Heart Machine, Abylight Studios
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS
Hyper Light Drifter received critical acclaim when it was released in 2016, and has remained a favourite of pixel-art fans since then. Players take control of The Drifter, a mysterious wanderer who has access to technology that the rest of the world has long forgotten. He seems to be searching for a cure to the illness that is killing him.
The game’s beautiful graphics and interesting mechanics make it a must-play for fans of the pixel art genre. Further, it was inspired by a host of blockbuster titles - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Diablo, and the Studio Ghibli films Castle in the Sky and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
4. Dead Cells
Developer: Motion Twin, Evil Empire
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
You’ve woken up in prison. You’re a corpse. And you need to fight your way out. Dead Cells follows an unnamed gelatinous creature who has taken control of a corpse in order to try and escape a winding, dungeon-like prison. Levels are procedurally generated, and you gain cells with every run, which you can use to buy upgrades and unlock items to try and help you in your next run.
This fast-paced rogue-like was inspired by Edmund McMillen’s Binding of Isaac series, but the environments and mechanics are more detailed and complex. The game has tons of cool items and interesting things to discover as you run through the levels, and it employs an interesting, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that simultaneously softens and adds to the game’s bleak setting.
Developer: Toby Fox
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PS4/PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Unless you were living underneath a rock in 2016 (and who could blame you, considering everything), you’ve heard of Undertale. Players take the role of Frisk, a child who has stumbled into the Underground, where the monsters live. As they make their way through this strange, wonderful world, they meet a wide range of wacky, wonderful monster characters that they can either befriend or kill.
Undertale is a cultural phenomenon in its own right, and it absolutely deserves all of the attention it gets. The game’s story is emotional, humourous, and endlessly charming, and the characters are intensely memorable. The project was clearly a labour of love for Toby Fox, and that love shows in every pixel.
Developer: Extremely OK Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
This intense platformer was made in just four days during a game jam in 2016, and the fully finished version has taken our breath away. Celeste follows Madeleine, a young woman determined to go on a spiritual journey by climbing Mount Celeste. She battles the elements, monsters, and a dark version of herself as she struggles to reach the summit.
The game’s mechanics and story elements are fascinating, and a lot of fans love the game’s allegory of working towards mental health recovery. You have a lot of interesting platforming moves and items at your disposal to explore the magical realm of Mount Celeste.
1. Stardew Valley
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4/PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
The internet’s favourite farming sim is the crown jewel of pixel art games, and for a good reason. Stardew Valley follows the player as they inherit their grandfather’s homestead in the idyllic Stardew Valley in the Ferngill Republic. When they move in, they start to get to know the residents of the nearby village of Pelican Town, forging friendships and even romances as they explore the beautiful, mysterious wilds of Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is one of the best-selling pixel art games ever made, and its popularity only grows with each new update that ConcernedApe graciously releases for us. The game’s charming graphics, beautiful music, and interesting cast make it compulsively playable, and the game’s vastness means that you can sink hundreds of hours into it without ever feeling like you’re reaching the end.
There you have it - the best pixel art games for low-power PCs. We hope that you’ve found some new games to try, or have been inspired to revisit old favourites.