Quite recently a review for the game Crawl was brought to my attention over social media. The game is a relativly simple dungeon crawler but the issue that had the reviewer up in arms was the art style, pixel art. Enraged they demanded that it should be removed from Steam, reasoning that it is 2017 and pixel art has no place there. Initially I thought about how ridiculous this claim is, and it is, then about how the choice of style is designed to best represent the game.
Pixel art itself to me is the pointilissm of the gaming world. Pointillism is the effect of using many dots of colour to build up a picture and was developed by the neo-impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in the 1880s. Pixel art has something more to it than just being a developed art form, it stems from a time when all machines could render were these blocky images. It gives a feeling of nostalgia to those who grew up with the pixelated games of the 80s and 90s. Which in turn is driven home with glorious reminiscence in games such as Thimbleweed Park which return you to play styles from that era.
Beyond Eyes is another independent game which brings a different style. Taking the role of a blind girl, Rae, searching for her pet cat the world is built up around you. Sounds, scents and noises produce a powerful and stunning environment around you. It gives a softness to the world which feels more natural to the situation Rae is in. Where nothing is particularly well defined.
For a more solid design, the Dishonored games go for what feels like an oil painting, muted colours give a feeling of oppression as you sneak and slash your way around its environments. Here a more colourful and vibrant style would have taken away from that feeling, reduced the sinister environments impact.
With cel-shaded games bringing eye popping graphic novel aesthetics in games like Crackdown and XIII, to the cartoon stylings of the hand drawn Cuphead the art direction in games is huge even before you get to the race for photo realism with games like Battlefield and Call of Duty.
But photo realism seems to be what people expect, there seems to be a growing itch to jump the uncanny valley. Strides have been taken in advancing graphics across the board, with hardware increasingly being better at producing more photo realistic environments.
The only particular reason why pixel art may stand out as being old and out of date is that it hails from a time when the choices for games were pixels or wire frames. Possibly giving the impression it shouldn’t be a choice.
Pixel art done well is beautiful, and this is how all game art should be seen as, not its style but whether it accentuates the game and has been done well. Pixel art games still deserve a place in our hearts, even if it is reserved for point and click games like Thimbleweed Park, and dungeon crawlers like Crawl. In the end it also has the bonus of nostalgia.