The Top 3 C++ 2D Game Engines of 2021

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Previously, we talked about the most popular C++ game engines for 3D game development based on Slant’s rankings — now, we’re going to do the same thing for 2D games, which continue to maintain their hold on the video game industry.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a huge market for 2D games until today. While nostalgia plays a huge role in its enduring success, it’s not the sole reason. 

Through 2D art, users gain a specific kind of experience 3D might not be able to offer. It could have something to do with storytelling, game mechanics, or the overall project itself. It all boils down to the developer’s vision.

So if you’re looking to build one with C++, you can cut your research time in half because we’ve done most of the scouring for you! Using Slant’s rankings again, we took a deep dive into the top C++ 2D game engines of 2021.

Image credits to Canva

Godot

Written by software developers Juan Linietsky and Ariel Manzur, Godot is a cross-platform, open-source game engine capable of developing 2D and 3D games. It’s free and is under the MIT license, giving creators the freedom over any gaming output they build on Godot.

In under a decade, Godot has expanded not only in terms of what it’s capable of but also in terms of its community. For new game developers, it’s easy to find resources on this 2D game development platform, including Github, Reddit, or even Discord.

It uses several programming languages, mainly GDScript, but of course, you can also code in C++. According to its website, developing Godot games with C++ often results “in the fastest code.” But using custom modules in conjunction with this language is frequently advised.

The most recent version of this game engine is Godot 3.3.

What’s Good About Godot?

Godot’s capacity for 3D art is pretty impressive. Its ability to render light and shadows results in realistic graphics, which you can see in, say, ΔV: Rings of Saturn (2019). But Godot’s diverse enough to also provide developers with support for 2D game development. 

Its rendering engine can produce the kind of realistic lighting fit for 2D game elements, as well as animation meant for 2D rigs. And one of the best parts about Godot is that even artists can tinker with the game engine. 

Apart from having C++ support, which essentially allows developers to use C++ throughout the development process, Godot also has visual scripting. This is supposed to make game coding easier for artists and designers with little to no background in programming. 

Some Games Made with the C++ 2D Game Engine Godot

  • Resolutiion (2020)
  • Kingdoms of the Dump (2022)
  • Haiki (2021)

GDevelop

GDevelop is a free, open-source, cross-platform game engine that claims to “take visual programming to the next step,” according to its website. Unlike many game engines, this one specializes only in 2D game development. It’s also under the MIT license, so game creators have full control over their work.

In an interview with InfoQ, an online community of developers, main GDevelop writer Florian Rival revealed his primary intention for creating the game engine. “The idea with GDevelop is making game creation accessible to anyone, from beginners to seasoned game developers,” he said.

Everything about GDevelop was designed to be intuitive. It’s a suitable game engine for independent developers who want to get their game idea out there in as little time as possible. 

The most recent version of this game engine is GDevelop 5.

What’s Good About GDevelop?

Similar to Godot, GDevelop is all about introducing game development to a non-tech-savvy audience. In fact, one of the pages on its website gives anyone the opportunity to try out the engine on their browser.

With GDevelop’s beginner-friendly interface, thorough documentation, and extensive 2D game development tools, interested users — whether or not they have some background in coding — can familiarize themselves with the working parts within the game engine.

GDevelop’s overall design has accessibility in mind, as Rival pointed out. For new developers and non-developers, this means an easy entry point to game development. For seasoned developers, this means faster development and rapid prototyping. And for budding game studios, this means being able to send your game out into the market quickly across platforms.

Some Games Made with the C++ 2D Game Engine GDevelop

  • Hyperspace Dogfights (2018)
  • Lil BUB’s HELLO EARTH (2015)
  • Red Tether (2021)
Image credits to Canva

Polycode

Polycode is an open-source, cross-platform framework for interactive applications. However, it was built mainly for creating games. Using C++ and Lua, developers can create 2D and 3D games and other highly visual apps for free under the MIT license.

This framework can run on Mac, Windows, and Linux, and its array of tools for game development — from graphics to audio to game physics — are enough to help creators build a full-fledged game. However, Polycode might be ideal for small-sized projects or for developers simply testing the waters of their idea, especially since it hasn’t been updated in years.

What’s Good About Polycode?

During a talk, Polycode writer Ivan Safrin delved into what he believed were the attributes of a good development tool. It had to be free and open-source, easy but capable of professional development, and it had to be cross-platform. All these he had in mind when he created Polycode.

Polycode is as flexible, accessible, and free as budding developers want it to be. It aims to minimize coding with Lua without sacrificing the level of complexity intended for the project. 

So aside from its 3D and 2D rendering tools, an attractive facet of Polycode is the fact that its Lua API mirrors the C++ API, which, according to Safrin on GitHub, “can be used to easily create prototypes and even publish complete applications to multiple platforms without compiling C++.” One major downside to using Polycode, however, is it hasn’t seen any updates since 2015.

Some Games Made with the C++ 2D Game Engine Polycode

  • Sidescroller, which was a part of a museum (2012)
  • Bitworld, which is a 2.5D game (2010)

Special Mention to This C++ 2D Game Engine

Cocos2d-x & Cocos Creator

While this game engine’s not a part of Slant’s rankings, we just had to include Cocos2d-x & Cocos Creator on the list. 

Like all the previously mentioned game engines, Cocos2d-x is an open-source and cross-platform game engine that allows developers to build 2D or 3D games without needing to pay any royalties. It can deploy games across multiple operating systems (namely, iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac) and devices (such as tablets, mobile phones, and the web). 

The game editor Cocos Creator (previously Cocos Studio) is a recent addition to Cocos’ game-building platform. While the game editor mainly supports and runs on JavaScript and TypeScript, Cocos2d-x was built using C++ and lets game creators code with Lua, JavaScript, and — of course — C++. 

Since its initial release in 2010, Cocos2d-x has garnered a huge following. Until today, its forums remain active. This alone can help beginners explore the already intuitive environment of both the game engine and the game editor, providing developers with all the tools they need to bring their game ideas to life.

The latest versions of both technologies are Cocos2d-x 4.0 and Cocos Creator 3.2. A few examples of their recent games are Star Traders: Frontiers (2017), Minimal Dungeon RPG (2019), and Imperial Saga Eclipse (2019).

In Summary

The top 3 C++ game engines for 2D game development are:

  • Godot
  • GDevelop
  • Polycode

While not on Slant’s list, Cocos2d-x and Cocos Creator are still included in our article because of their equally amazing capacity to build 2D games with C++.

Want to partner with 2D game developers for your project? NarraSoft has all the tools and talent you need.

Our outsourcing services include C++ development, general game development, and 2D art creation. We’re the whole package! 

Partner with us today for top-notch C++ game development! Go ahead and leave us a message using our contact form or chat box, or send us an email at sales@narrasoft.com.

Sources: Slant | godotengine.org (1) (2) (3) | InfoQ | gdevelop-app.com (1) (2) | polycode.org (1) (2) | GitHub (1) (2) | cocos.com | NYU Game Innovation Lab’s YouTube | Cocos YouTube

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.