Today, we’re going to walk you through our top picks for Pico-8 games you can start playing in your browser, and fill you in on need-to-know info about Pico-8. Within this wonderfully simple 8-bit framework, developers have created some truly remarkable games and experiences.
And yes, of course we provide the links so you can play these great creations right away!
Another way to play games through your browser is cloud gaming! So check out our list of the best games for Amazon Luna.
What is Pico-8?
Pico-8 is a “fantasy console” operating under very real technical limitations that put it in the punching weight of a Game Boy Color. Despite how niche and absurd this concept may sound to a layman, Pico-8 has grown a fairly large community in its own right. Lots of people are making lots of games on this platform, even learning how to make games to begin with using it.
A big reason that Pico-8 is so popular is that it’s based on Lua, an actual programming language. Lessons you learn making games in Pico-8 can be carried over to making games in Lua, to the point where the game Celeste famously went from a tiny Pico-8 game to a career-defining multi-platform success.
Pico-8 games can be played in a modern HTML5-based web browser, including ones on Android phones and Chromebooks. Depending on the developer, you may also get downloadable offline versions that can be run on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
1. Combo Pool
An intensely compelling game, Combo Pool is a bit like a mix of actual pool and Bubble Bobble. You fire a black pool ball onto a table, trying to hit a ball of the same color. When you do, that ball then changes color, with the ultimate goal being to knock all balls of the same color against each other until you go through all the colors and eventually have none left on the table.
You don’t need to wait for the ball to stop moving before taking your next shot, so this can become quite a hectic little experience. The creator’s also made an Android version of the game, available on their itch.io page.
2. Dank Tomb
One of the more technically impressive and atmospheric Pico-8 games out there, Dank Tomb got a full release last year. The game sees you navigating dimly-lit tombs from a top-down perspective, solving puzzles and exploring the murky depths. The game has a nice deep color palette, and forces you to tread carefully through the darkness as you work out the game’s mysteries.
3. PAT Shooter
Evoking classic 80s arcade shmups (shoot-em-ups) like Battle of Midway, PAT Shooter is a fast-paced game that will give the older ones among you flashbacks to losing endless quarters to coin-ops. It has a lovely soundtrack, plenty of power-ups and a snappy style that makes you keep coming back for more (and it doesn’t cost a quarter each time you want to play!).
If lightning-fast future racer Wipeout had come out in 1981, then this surely is what it would’ve looked like. Sure, the graphics in PICORACER-2048 are simple (though elegant) wireframes, but it has an excellent sense of speed as you and a friend race your little arrows around the tracks. You can play split-screen against a friend, or take turns beating each other’s times in hotseat mode. 60fps too!
A beautiful Pico-8 homage to the classic co-op arena shooter thingy Bubble Bobble, Mistigri throws you and a friend into its arena. You throw enemies into other enemies, shoot them, grab powerups and even ambush them by scrolling between the left and right and top and bottom of the screen. Multiplayer Pico-8 games are a bit of a rarity, and this is among the best of them!
6. Dusk Child
Pico-8 games are quite visually basic by nature, but that means that with a bit of good writing, they can really pull you into the world and let your imagination run wild. Dusk Child is a 2D puzzle-platformer that sees you exploring a mysterious cave system. Beyond the platforming, you can examine items to figure out there function, and it has some very nice graphical effects too (like those lovely water ripples).
7. Just One Boss
Just One Boss is a fairly small-scale game focused on a single multi-phase boss fight. Pretty much all you do is move on a fixed grid to deal damage to the boss or avoid the boss’s attacks, which can vary from simple hand swipes to overwhelming lasers. Despite its simplicity, this Pico-8 game captures the idea of a back-and-forth boss fight fairly well.
Slipways is a space strategy sim. The core gameplay loop is based around colonizing planets and strategically linking them based on the resources offered or needed by a given planet.
9. Galactic Wars
Galactic Wars is a schmup (shoot-em-up) akin to something like Gradius. You fly through space and fire at enemy spacecraft, who return fire with their own variety of weapons. Using various power-ups, you can go from firing a single shot to firing literal walls of bullets. The classic schmup is completely intact in this game, and it runs at a butter-smooth 60 FPS on top of all that.
Aeronauts is a game where you fly a plane and drop mail on people’s houses. It looks fairly good for a Pico-8 game and controls smoothly. Depending on who you are, you can have fun just flying around and exploring the map or speed-delivering mail. If you’re just looking for a relaxing experience rather than hectic action or head-scratching puzzles, this is the game for you.
Picohot is a demake of Superhot, an indie FPS/puzzle game where time only moves when you move. This means you can stop bullets by standing still, and carefully weave between openings to avoid a one-hit kill. Add a variety of weapons, stages, and enemy layouts, and you have the Superhot experience! Picohot is pretty much just that, but a lot smaller…and with an odd limitation.
For whatever reason, you can’t actually turn your head! You can move in all 4 directions but you will only ever be facing in one, and the stages/enemy layouts are restricted by this compared to the full-fat Superhot game. Even with those limitations, the core gameplay still shines through, and it being done on Pico-8 is still impressive.
12. The Lair
The Lair is a tough-as-nails beat-em-up. To emphasize that aspect, I’ve chosen to use the death screen as my thumbnail for this review, because we’ll both be seeing quite a lot of it. Don’t let that discourage you, though! The game is hard but fair, and allows mostly free movement on an isometric plane while providing access to a basic sword and shield on your two attack buttons. Power-ups may appear during waves of combat against a variety of enemies, too!
13. Pico Racer
Pico Racer is a short-and-sweet racing game inspired by the retro racing games of old, like Pole Position or F-Zero. It has a surprisingly catchy soundtrack and smooth-feeling controls, so I heartily recommend it to fans of racing games looking for a taste of nostalgia without all the usual downsides. I mean, yeah, the graphics aren’t groundbreaking by today’s standard, but the color palette is pleasant and the gameplay is smooth.
P.Craft, or Pico Craft, is pretty much a Pico-8 take on Minecraft and other crafting-survival games. From the beginning you’ll be collecting resources to craft weapons to fight zombies, which should sound familiar to any fan of that genre. What P.Craft does in this regard is greatly simplify that core gameplay loop while still keeping that appeal and generally respecting your time.
POOM is a Pico-8 demake of DOOM that I’m completely in love with. Since each individual level has its own Pico-8 “cartridge”, the density of content and fidelity of graphics in POOM are nigh unmatched compared to other Pico-8 games. This is a fully-functioning first-person shooter which includes mouse aim, controller support, multiple weapons… basically all you’d expect from a real Doom game.
If you’re looking for a quick, free, high-quality FPS fix available in just a few clicks, POOM is the right game for you.
16. Celeste 2: Lani’s Trek
Celeste 2: Lani’s Trek (or Celeste Classic 2), is a sequel to the original Pico-8 Celeste game. Compared to that game, it has more levels, greatly improved graphics and sound, and substitutes the aerial dash mechanic for a grappling hook. What results is a pretty fun but also quite punishing lo-fi platformer. To push yourself to the limit, try to collect all 16 strawberries hidden in Celeste 2. Pursuing full completion in a small-but-difficult game like this is, in my opinion as a lifelong gamer, a lot of fun.
We hope you have managed to find some fun Pico-8 games to sink your teeth into during shorter gaming sessions. Small-scale, low-to-no-budget games can still be pretty fun, and the Pico-8 scene is a great place to find games like that.
If these are not to your liking, check out some of the best sites to play tabletop games online. Or, if your internet connection can handle it, why not try your hand at some of the best games for Google Stadia?
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