games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Cel-Shaded Games – Borderlands, Zelda, More

December 11, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week I’m here to talk about cel-shading in video games. I like cel-shaded games, not all of them of course, but the effect can be really unique and produce some dazzling video games. Probably the biggest omission on this list in Sly Cooper, as I haven’t played a ton of the series. Let’s begin:

#8: Crackdown

One of the better things about Crackdown, when it was first released, was its art style. While the game world played it fairly normal, the art style for the characters was very comic book-esque. There’s another super-hero game later down on this list but it does make sense for the main character and the baddies you are fighting against. I actually think the art style works best in Crackdown 1, as Crackdown 2 and (from what I’ve seen) Crackdown 3 look atrocious.

#7: Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

The graphics in SMT: Nocturne aren’t as flashy as some other games on this list but I actually think that is kind of the point. The setting of the game takes place after the apocalypse where the world has basically been destroyed. Demons infest the landscape and only a few survivors are left and most of them have gone crazy. There is somewhat shift of dungeon graphics vs. battle ones, the battle graphics are more in detail and vibrant while the dungeon (and world) look is much more washed out. Also, the glow effects on your main character do look nice.

#6: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I picked this Zelda game over Wind Waker because I’ve actually played this one. I’ll grant that Wind Waker has a much more vibrant art style but I’ve seen 10 minutes of it, so I can’t judge it based on that. The look of BOTW is no slouch though even if it does have a somewhat more realistic bent to it. The world of this Hyrule is really well designed, destroyed buildings dot the landscape, half-buried machines are common-place and the few pockets of civilization are pretty rare. This game has a lot of detail as well, but my favorite bits are the Guardian Machines reanimating and the neon that comes off of them.

#5: X-Men Legends 2

This is the other big comic book game on this list. X-Men Legends 1 and 2 went with a deliberate cel-shaded look meant to invoke the comic book world. Characters have some inky definition to them that makes it seem like they just popped off the page of an X-Men comic. The later Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games went with a more realistic look that was “fine” but wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. The announcement of that Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3 game looks to try and re-capture this look but something about it just seems off.

#4: Borderlands

The one thing I always view as a positive about the Borderlands franchise is the art style. It is a deliberately cartoon-ish look but set in a semi-realistic world. The character designs are all great from game to game which helps keep the franchise somewhat fresh. I actually think the best looking game in the franchise was Tales from the Borderlands, because it wasn’t entirely focused on shooting and let you take in much more of the world than the traditional games in the series.

#3: Jet Set/Grind Radio

Jet Set/Grind Radio is probably the first big game to have cel shaded graphics and actually be good. The original Jet Grind Radio almost looks like an anime come to life, with vibrant colors and extremely detailed character models and environments. Every character was distinct and different and the world really came off the screen. Jet Set Radio Future had a somewhat more sedated look but was also impressive just because it had more overall detail.

#2: Dragon Ball FighterZ

I like to think the impetus for DBFZ was someone in the Arc System Works boardroom asking someone else “Hey, we have a beautiful and entirely unique fighting game engine, let’s now populate it with a license that people actually care about?” Nothing against Guilty Gear, but its popularity pales in comparison to that of Dragon Ball Z. The best thing you can say about DBFZ is that it perfectly emulates the anime look of the TV show. The cut-scenes could easily be made into episodes of the show, but the actual fighting engine is incredibly detailed and solid. The occasional foray into the third dimension is also welcome (and something from Guilty Gear XRD), which gives depth to the game that most fighting games don’t have.

#1: Okami

God, I love the cel shaded look in Okami. It has a great, Japanese art look that other games can’t hope to ever achieve. Okami is like a painting that has come to life which is extremely apt given that one of the main mechanics of the game is painting in the game world which produces effects like harming your enemies, causing bombs to appear, turning day into night and so on. What I also love are some of the smaller details, like the constant swirls on Amaterasu’s fur or how the wind looks when you look up at the sky. The game is even better with the HD version with increased detail and color quality.

For comments, list your favorite cel-shaded games and why.

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Top 8 Wanted Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Characters

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The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison