Videogames are about to become another form of art. Let’s be honest, pulling cell shaded art is not a difficult task, every production company can actually do it as they want to give their videogames a more unique aesthetic. What’s really difficult is pulling cell shaded graphics in a compelling and very good looking way, so it fits the game’s general tone and is pleasing for the player to watch. There are so many cell shaded games nowadays that it is very hard to come up with the ten most memorable ones, but here I tried to arrange them.

Cell shaded is practically used always to give he videogame a cartoony look, short of like trying to blur the limit between videogame and animated movie. What better way to present a game about being trapped inside a movie than in a cell shaded light tone? The graphics of Viewtiful Joe fit that purpose at 100%, as we actually forget we are playing a game. A thick white line surrounds the characters and the objects that populate colourful stages and levels. The game play is never interfered by this aspect, not even when we slow the game down, so we can enjoy how well the effects and graphics are developed in such minimalistic way. Edgy.

I think Ubisoft realized they were stepping away from the lightness that characterized the first Prince of Persia they did, since Warrior within and The two thrones gave us very dark environments and even darker characters. Well, it looks like the guys of Ubisoft took the colour palette and splattered all over the Prince of Persia world. Where there used to be shadows and gritty now there’s colours, and where there used to be gloomy graphics now we have cartoony graphics. The world of Prince of Persia has never looked this cheerful, and it works so well that, if an specific part of the game is frustrating you, you can stop for a second and stare at the level design. How many games can be used as stress relieving tools?

When we say cartoons, we can’t help but thinking on The Looney Tunes (at least I can’t). We certainly grew with the image of Bugs Bunny and co. in their own wacky world of cheer tones and tunes. Well, now take the cheerfulness and apply it to any of the Thieve games, and what you get is a little Cartoony furry Racoon named Sly. The Sly Racoon series took the best of stealth game play and robbery skills and splattered a whole colour scheme over it. There’s not a single level that looks the same, they are filled with life and eye popping tones, as the characters are very well designed 2D cartoons in the shape of a three-dimensional avatar. Add to that a series of cute hand drawn cut scenes, and you can get the picture…get it?

Okay now. This is the first game on the list to be very, very adult, very, very creepy and absolutely risky. Killer 7 has one of the most violent aesthetics in videogames. I am not speaking for the bloody violence depicted in the game as a cartoony device, but about the high contrast. Black is a colour that appears throughout the entire game, but it’s swallowed whole by the nerving yellows, the shooting blues, the dangerous reds and the peaceful greens. The whole game is a continuous contrast, to the point that you can sense if danger is or is not around by the colour of the screen where you are stepping into. Even if it’s hard to pick a genre for this game, the aesthetic is clearly unique.

Suda51 likes cell shaded. He did the previous game, Killer 7, and with No More Heroes he demonstrated the style in which he is comfortable. Probably one of the biggest mind twisting games ever made, No More Heroes is unique on its own by having a otaku nerd wannabe assassin that kills his enemies with a light sabre katana, rides a giant motorbike and has a little pet kitten. So Suda51 said: “Mmhmm, how can I make this even more unique? Oh yeah! I will make it all in cell shaded animation!” And so he did. The game graphics’ look perfect, without a crack or a flow, and the style is never too violent for the eye to swallow.

Capcom’s (and Sony’s) answer to The Legend of Zelda happens to be one of the most original adventure games ever designed and developed. The universe of Okami is like a giant painting from an old Japanese scroll. See it as if you have found a magic scroll and when opened all of the characters from the story is telling you come to life and appear before your eyes. The soft pastel tones mixed with the ability of using a brush as a weapon make this game one of the best examples of cell shaded animation. And what’s even better, the transition between cut scenes and the real game is basically non existing, because the entire game shares that aesthetic and tone. That mixed with the lightness of the story and the epic feeling of the development, and you have, what? A game about a dog goddess that defeats her enemies with a giant painting tool. I never thought I’d wrote that.

Many of the games in this list follow a very basic logic. If the videogame is related to graphic arts, then it should be cell shaded. Jet Set Radio was basically a game about being the best graffiti artist in the city of Shibuya, while defeating a master evil that tries to control it. So the game takes a very artsy approach as it becomes more and more a living breathing graffiti before our eyes and takes us by the hand into a universe of colours and techno music.

At the time this was wrote Madworld was yet to be released, but it certainly looks amazing. It’s like somebody at PlatinumGames said: “Hey, you know what does the Wii need? A Sin City look-a-like game” And so they made Madworld. The story about a man named Jack that’s taken into the sick game of Death Watch is told with, probably, the most violent cell shaded contrast ever made for a game. Pure white and deep black stages and characters, with the red colour of blood splattered all over the place and the yellow onomatopoeic letters of “CRASH!” and “KABOOM!” as the only notes of colour. Unique, funny, and over the top, Madworld takes the concept of cell shaded art to new heights, and demonstrates that it’s the best graphic style for the Wii, without making it kid friendly.

Miyamoto had all the fan boys behind him, sharpening their collector’s edition Master Swords and reading the most vile comments on the tips of their tongues, when they saw the first trailer of the new Zelda game for the Game Cube. It was childish, it was incredibly colouring and tremendously family friendly. Compared to the “gritty realism” of the Zelda games in the N64, Wind Waker looked like a step back. Instead, it was a giant leapt. The Zelda series has never looked this good and immersive, and if we ever have to have a Zelda movie, it should be like this. A super-deformed very young Link in a land of Hyrule that’s all a giant sea made of blue and white acrylic paint and beautiful environments in the shape of scattered islands. I know, I know, this game was the pinnacle of cell shading, everybody saw it as the ultimate cell shaded videogame. Then how can it not be at number 1?

Because Street Fighter IV re-invented itself. Let’s face it. With the series being so good, so famous and so loved by the fans, Street Fighter IV needed a good infusion of originality. And in a current gen filled with graphics that looked like somebody has dragged the filters through a field of rocks, sand paper, oil and used coffee filters, the colourful style of Street Fighter IV stands out. Beautiful final attacks. Fantastic facial expressions that match a Looney Tunes cartoon (but with a tad more seriousness). Perfect character design that stays faithful to the original models and gives them a more animated look. This game is the answer to those who thought that cell shading was stuck. It mixes perfectly both the cartoony aspect of cell shading with the realistic looking graphics of the current gen, in such a good measure that you will not see were the realism ends and the cartoony begins. And that’s the best signal of a good cell shaded game.

Number one choice was not arbitrary, neither made to cause polemic discussion. I think that the current console generation has a problem with the graphics. Is not that they are bad, graphics are amazing nowadays, but sometimes we forget that games are not real, and so looking for the ultra realism is not always a good decision. That’s why is so satisfying to see that a series as big as Street Fighter has taken a different avenue and decided to go cartoony.

List by james_corck (02/19/2009)

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