The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)
We start off with one of our favorite cel-shaded games of all time. When it was originally announced, many Nintendo fans felt slighted. They felt they were victims of a bait-and-switch. The previous Spaceworld showed a demo of a more "mature" (for lack of a better word) Link facing off against Ganondorf in sword combat. However, the following year, a toon Link appeared, revealing the art style of Nintendo's next Zelda game. Deemed "Celda" by gamers and members of the press, when the final product, The Wind Waker, finally came out, gamers loved it. Another example of fans seeing their skepticism turn out as nothing to worry about after all. What we are left with now is a game that is looked back on fondly, and that is greatly due to The Wind Waker being Link and the gang being at their most expressive.
Okami (Wii, PS2)
A game no doubt inspired by The Legend of Zelda series (and you won't see us complain because we feel there aren't enough Zelda-like games as is!), Okami starred a goddess in the form of a white wolf named Amaterasu. Okami separated itself from Zelda by looking like a watercolor Japanese ink painting come to life. The original game came out on the PlayStation 2 on 2006 (Japan, North America) and in 2007 (Europe, Australia). It then was ported to the Wii in 2008, and popped up on the PlayStation 3 as a downloadable game recently. There's currently a recent rumor that Okami might be making a return of some sort. The Nintendo DS system's Okamiden was a nice start, so we're interested to see where Capcom would take the franchise next.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
The most recent game on our list seems to honestly be an anime, more specifically a Studio Ghibli film, come to life. Seeing a full game based on the mastery artistry of Studio Ghibli (makers of such fine films as Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke) was an astounding delight. Exploring the animated world with Oliver and his familiar partners was something totally special, and if we can get this from the PlayStation 3, we just wonder how beautifully done cel-shaded games on the PS4 and next Xbox will look.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)
Dragon Quest VIII, the PlayStation 2's sole mainline Dragon Quest entry, arrived on the system in 2004 in Japan, 2005 in North America, and 2006 in PAL territories. The game used cel-shading for characters, textures, and the environment to create the series's first three-dimensional world. Using Akira Toriyama's (Dragon Ball series) art, Dragon Quest VIII is one of the prettiest PS2 games for us, and that's all thanks to our favorite art style, cel-shading.
Platinum Games' sole Wii offering was MadWorld, a blood-soaked beat-em-up starring Jack Cayman in a competition to kill as much as possible through any means necessary. Right away when you look at the screenshots associated with this game, you will see something quite striking, a trichromatic color scheme with black, white, and myriads of red. That's essentially what you do in MadWorld, paint the town red with the blood of your many many victims. MadWorld unsurprisingly bombed on the Wii, as the market for those kinds of games either was never there or abandoned the system.
Killer7 (PS2, GCN)
Looking like something lifted from a graphic novel, Killer7's cel-shaded art style feels gritty and perfectly suited for the noir-style game it is. Critics were split in their opinions of the game. Some found the on-rails paths your members of the Killer7 assassin group could traverse on to be limited, they disliked the controls, and the story confused them. Then you have people like us who enjoyed the unique approach to movement, got used to the controls, and loved the complex story and quirky nature of the game. Goichi Suda (Suda51) would use the cult status success of Killer7 to make another delightful cel-shaded and well-received game, No More Heroes.
Viewtiful Joe (PS2, GCN)
It seems like it was just yesterday we were talking about Viewtiful Joe. Oh, wait. It was yesterday we were talking about Viewtiful Joe! We jump anytime we have the chance to talk about one of the best games from "the Capcom 5", so let's dish again. Viewtiful Joe was a superhero action movie put in video game form, complete with a comic book cel-shaded art style and all the puzzle-solving, superpower action you could shake a red hot one-hundred at.
XIII (PS2, GCN, XBX)
The first-person shooter genre is one that we feel has run its course for the most part. We know it's popular, and there's nothing wrong with those who still enjoy it. We've just been burnt out on it because so many games feel the same, just set in different universes with one or two small changes. XIII is like a breath of fresh air in comparison, and that is mostly thanks to its comic book presentation (makes sense since the game is based of a Belgian comic book of the same name). It still is a looker despite being almost ten years old, and if more first-person shooters went with style instead of realism, perhaps we'd still be enamored with the genre like so many consumers are today.
Ultimate Spider-Man (PS2, GCN, XBX)
Speaking of comic books converted to video games, that is exactly what Ultimate Spider-Man was. Based off Spider-Man in Marvel's Ultimate universe, the game had players web-slinging around Manhattan as the webhead as well as switching characters to play as the strong-armed symbiote Venom. We listed Ultimate Spider-Man as our top Spider-Man title two times in a row. It really isn't just a great Spider-Man experience, but one of the best superhero games ever conceived.
Jet Set Radio Future (XBX)
One of the most sadly under-appreciated titles in the Xbox library, Jet Set Radio Future featured an immensely detailed cel-shaded art style, an eclectic soundtrack of songs outside the mainstream, and challenging roller-blading gameplay. Tagging the streets of the city was a blast, and the visual orgasm of colors made for an utterly beautiful game. A certain site yesterday (not naming any names) might have asked for this particular series to make a glorious comeback.
Naruto: Rise of a Ninja (360)
Like many games before it such as Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja on the Xbox 360 showed that anime and the cel-shaded art style is a combination that generally works, and when it does, it works really really well. While we haven't hit the level where games look exactly like animated movies come to life, the games of this generation certainly came close. We cannot wait for what the next round of more powerful gaming hardware brings, and you can most definitely believe it.
Prince of Persia (PS3, 360)
The last video game version of Prince of Persia to release did so in 2008. Since then, the game has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, and the following year won the "Outstanding Achievement in Animation" award at the twelfth Annual Interactive Achievement Awards. It's no question why-- the game is highly detailed, looks like a painting at parts, and just animates like a dream. We wish Ubisoft would return to this form of the Prince of Persia franchise with a follow-up for this upcoming generation. Do it, Ubisoft, as you seem to be doing the right things lately.
Punch-Out!! on Wii by Next Level Games (Mario Strikers: Charged, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon) proved to the gaming populace that not only was the studio capable of making excellent titles under Nintendo, but also that good-looking and greatly animated games could be on the less powerful Wii as well. The animations are just top-notch for this reflex-based fighting game. If the fighters you face as Little Mac don't knock you out, the marvelous art style most likely will!
Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
Valkyria Chronicles was a PlayStation 3 exclusive that looked radiant, sensational, and somewhat understated in its beauty at the same time. Using Sega's CANVAS engine, the game looked like a watercolor painting in motion, something that fans of the game cannot get enough of. It's just a shame that the other entries in the series went on less powerful hardware, the PSP. Still, we cannot be too mad at Sega because they did make two more sequels for gamers, though one of them never left Japan.
We no doubt did not list every terrific cel-shaded game in existence, so that is where you come in. What games using this fabulous art style do you enjoy the best? List your faves in the comments section below!