Don’t let the simple pixelated graphics fool you. Pico-8 is a phenomenal source of free, unique games from a wide range of game developers. With such a massive catalog to choose from, it can be difficult to find which ones are worth your time to play and which ones could use a little more development time.
To help you find the right game, we’ve made this list of the best Pico-8 games you should play right now.
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 to the punching weight of a Game Boy Color. Despite how niche and absurd this concept may sound, Pico-8 has grown a fairly large community in its own right. A large group of game developers (both new and old) are making games on this platform.
A big reason that Pico-8 is so popular is that it’s based on Lua, a lightweight but powerful scripting language, and its simple pixel graphics aren’t difficult to create assets for compared to full 3D models in other engines like Unity and Unreal. This simplicity allows new developers to quickly test design ideas and to experiment with novel concepts that are more difficult to create in other places. An example of this is the game Celeste, which famously went from a tiny Pico-8 game to being rebuilt in Microsoft’s FNA/XNA game engine into a career-defining, multi-platform success that was later.
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 rich, dark color palette, and forces you to tread carefully through the darkness as you work through the game’s mysteries.
3. PAT Shooter
Evoking classic 80’s arcade shoot-em-ups like Battle of Midway, PAT Shooter is a fast-paced game that will give older fans of the genre flashbacks to losing endless quarters to coin-ops. It has a lovely soundtrack, plenty of power-ups, and a snappy style that will have you coming back for more (and it doesn’t cost a quarter each time you want to play!).
If the lightning-fast, future racer Wipeout had come out in 1981, then this is what it would’ve looked like. Although the graphics in PICORACER-2048 are simple (though elegant) wireframes, 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. It also runs at 60fps too!
A beautiful Pico-8 homage to the classic co-op platform game, Bubble Bobble, Mistigri throws you and a friend into its 2D stages and lets the chaos unfold from there. You shoot enemies to stun them, then pick them up and throw them so they can ping-pong around the map and collide into other enemies. 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 has you exploring a mysterious cave system. Beyond the platforming, you can examine items to figure out their function, and enjoy the lovely graphical effects to the game’s colorful assets (like those lovely water ripples).
7. Just One Boss
Just One Boss has a simple premise – you just have to defeat a single boss. That one boss however has multiple phases, each one bringing a new mechanic for you to juggle. To defeat the boss, you have to run over and touch a highlighted square while dodging whatever the boss throws at you.
Despite its simplicity, this Pico-8 game condenses the back-and-forth of conventional boss fights into its core components and turns it into a simple yet entertaining game.
8. Birds With Guns
Birds With Guns is a top-down, twin-stick roguelike shooter. An evil robot fox has stolen all the bird eggs and your job is to get them back. You’ll play as one of twelve birds, each one with a different starting loadout of guns. As you play through the randomly generated stages, your birds will discover new guns to blast the dastardly foxes with.
The guns themselves and the overall theme of the game makes it an amusing adventure. Guns range from hyper destructive rocket launchers, to high-powered miniguns your poor bird will struggle to maintain any semblance of control over, to a simple boxing glove.
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 getting killed. Unlike SUPERHOT, due to the limitations of Pico-8, your character will only be able to look forward. However, when combined with the smaller rooms and easy ways to pause combat, you’ll still have full control over most fights.
This is at its most apparent in ‘Endless’ mode where you’ll get to blast your way through an unlimited number of opponents. The challenge here is to see how many enemies you can beat before dying.
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.
17. Matchy Matchy
Matchy Matchy is a simple puzzle game that holds a surprising amount of depth. At the surface, all you have to do is press on a square that shares the same row or column as the animals you want to match.
From that basic premise, Matchy Matchy creates a world of complexity. It challenges you to clear all the animals on the screen with its ‘ Puzzle’ mode, rewarding careful planning and forward thinking. Fast thinkers will find a home in Matchy‘s ‘Time Attack’ mode, where you have to make as many matches as possible before the timer runs out.
18. Buns: Bunny Survivor
Vampire Survivors fans will be familiar with the concept of Buns: Bunny Survivor. You play as a pink bunny and your only objective is to survive against an endless horde of spawning enemies.
It differs from other games in its genre through its single-minded focus on survival. Most games like Vampire Survivors will bring in roguelite elements like metaprogression to help get you through levels. Bunny Survivor‘s addition of a dash and lack of out-of-run progression puts an emphasis on how well you can manage enemies and keep up with the swarms of ever growing enemies.
This is the result of over 50+ developers coming together to recreate the micro-games of the Warioware franchise in 24 hours. PICOWARE is the final result of all their hard work. It has 68 different minigames and plenty of modes to unlock.
PICOWARE‘s story mode will have you playing through a series of micro-games that also show what is happening to your character in each game. The games can get pretty chaotic, but the story and chaos create an unhinged, but altogether enjoyable experience.
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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