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Have you noticed how there are plenty of types of 2D games in the market? You get combative games where your goal is to defeat droves of enemies in order to succeed. You get puzzling games where problem-solving is at their core. And you even get games with a full-blown story with you as the main character.
There are hundreds of mechanics you can bring into your 2D game. But if you’re curious to know which types of 2D games are the most popular and which ones people tend to enjoy, this listed article is for you.
But before we get into them, let’s first take a look at what 2D games are.
Defining 2D Games
- 2D game art, which includes the characters, objects, and environment
- Limited movement confined to side- and vertical-scrolling or none at all
Games with primarily 2D art set in a 2D world are so familiar to us by now. But breaking it down into its parts gives us a clearer idea of what qualifies as a 2D game. And it gives us a clear mental picture of the following types of 2D games in terms of gameplay and artwork.
Common Types of 2D Games
More commonly known as RPG, role-playing games are games with a protagonist or hero who goes through different levels to improve their skills and defeat enemies. Inspired by Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), role-playing games, especially in the earlier years of gaming, are often rendered in 2D.
But it’s often difficult to determine whether a game is an RPG. Thankfully, Techopedia sums it up. According to the educational website, the elements of RPGs are:
- Character improvement through stats
- A menu-based combat system where players can choose from different methods to attack enemies
- Quests, both main and side, the latter being optional
- Interaction with the game elements
- Other chief characters with unique skills and abilities
A few popular examples of RPG are the Pokémon series (1996), The Legend of Zelda (1993), and Final Fantasy (2004), all of which were playable on the decades-old gaming console, The Game Boy.
If you’ve ever played games with your friends non-competitively, then you’ve probably played co-op. Cooperative games, or commonly referred to as co-op games, bring players together often in the same setting. But instead of working against each other, as is the case for multiplayer games in general, players work as a group toward a common goal. You can see this type of 2D game in titles such as Castle Crashers (2008), Terraria (2011), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ upcoming installment Shredder’s Revenge.
One of the reasons why the graphics in co-op games often take the form of 2D is it has its roots in arcade games. In fact, many regard Fire Truck by Atari, an arcade game, to be the first-ever co-op game. With the video game industry’s massive advancement, however, developers have produced a slew of 3D co-op titles, like Phasmophobia (2020).
Another example is Among Us (2018), but who you get to cooperate with depends on the role you get. As a crewmate, you cooperate with fellow crewmates. And as an impostor, you work with your fellow impostor. At the same time, however, Among Us is a multiplayer game as groups of players receive competitive and opposing objectives.
Run and Gun, Beat ‘Em Ups, Hack and Slash
Action-packed and built for fighting, these three types of games all have a similar flavor with some nuances. And much like the previous type, its origin stems from arcade games, which explains why 2D graphics are often associated with these.
Run and gun, beat ‘em up, and hack and slash all give players waves of enemies in succession. The key difference among the three is the type of weapon or method of combat the players employ. In run and gun, the main weapon is — you guessed it — a gun, or any weapon that fires ammunition. In beat ‘em ups, combat often allows only for unarmed brawling or the use of melee weapons, such as swords. The latter is what makes hack and slash similar to, and arguably the same as, beat ‘em ups. However, some sources say hack and slash video games are an offshoot of the table-top game D&D, which explains why this type often merges with RPGs.
For a clearer picture of each, check out the following examples. For run and gun, the Unity-based 2D game Cuphead (2017) is a fine example. As for beat ‘em up, a good example is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, combining the elements of beat ‘em ups and co-op games. And for hack and slash, Castle Crashers and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge are equally good examples since they allow you to use melee weapons.
One of the earliest platformers that became a massive and lasting icon is Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (1999). Through the player’s commands, Mario enters a series of levels with increasing difficulty, and it all takes place in a 2D environment. As the name suggests, platformers let players surmount obstacles and progress through levels by “[jumping] or [climbing] between different platforms on screen,” says STEM-oriented educational group iD Tech.
Many arcades and early consoles released a ton of platformer titles as they are generally easy to make. And since there was not much technology to execute 3D games at the time, let alone games with more complex mechanics, studios and developers created mainly 2D platformer games, for which many gamers tend to be nostalgic.
Other well-known and well-loved examples of 2D platformers include Castlevania (1986) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). However, you will notice platformer games, like the other genres on this list, will often find themselves in hybrid form with other types of games
Puzzle games are a more familiar group. Originating from board and table-top games, they require a more cerebral effort from players. The concept is very simple, requiring equally simple graphics. This is why many puzzle games you will find are rendered in 2D. Popular puzzle games are Unblock Me (2009), Candy Crush (2012), 2048 (2014), and You Must Build A Boat (2015).
Purely puzzle-based games can be fun, but it doesn’t always engage players long-term. Nowadays, you will see a ton of commercially available puzzle-based games paired with other video game genres. One particularly popular hybrid is the puzzle-platformer, which combines the thrill of jumping and climbing platforms with your problem-solving skills. Great examples of this genre are Limbo (2010), Braid (2008), and Fez (2012).
Do Side-scrollers Fall Under the Types of 2D Games?
You’re probably wondering why we didn’t include side-scrollers on the list. This is because the side-scrolling facet of 2D games is merely a point-of-view (POV) for gamers. In side-scrollers, players participate through a third-person POV.
So does this mean there are 2D games with a first-person POV? Yes, there are! However, this can be tricky territory. For us, what we consider first-person POV set in a 2D environment are mostly text-based games and a few visual novels. But we can also consider old 3D games, such as Monster Maze 3D (1981), as 2D games in today’s context, even though we think it passes as 3D for its time.
Common Types of Art Styles in 2D Games
At first glance, you will notice cel-shaded art looks perplexing. It straddles between 2D and 3D as it’s characterized by flat-looking graphics with shadows and lighting. The process in creating cel-shaded art starts with creating 3D figures and then rendering them in 2D afterward, often with heavy outlines. However, artists can do this manually too, applying shadows and lighting on the assets as they go. If you’re interested to see a good execution of cel-shaded game art, check out Jet Set Radio (2000).
FUN FACT: According to the resources site Okuha, cel-shaded takes its name from “celluloid”, a process artists traditionally use for drawing cartoons.
Pixel art is a pretty common 2D game art style. Games with a pixelated visual aesthetic are made up of characters, objects, and environments with very visible pixels. It looks as though these game assets were made from lego blocks! While this style originally resulted from limitations in game development technology, studios and developers continue to use it today mainly for a nostalgic effect. For a clearer picture of what pixel art in games looks like, search Contra (1987).
The flat game art style was obviously built for 2D games. Its very name suggests a game is made up of only 2D assets. With flat art, everything in a game is embodied by blocks of color. It makes use of basic shapes to build characters, game objects, and the entire game landscape. Check out Limbo (2010) to see what we mean.
Like flat art, abstract art in games also makes use of geometrical shapes. However, their difference lies in how these shapes are used. In a previous blog post, we defined the abstract video game art style as one where “[u]sers have to surmise what a game element’s function is”. This is because abstract art-based games do not have clear characters. Most of the time, they only provide roles.
For example, the circular object in Pong (1972) represents the ball players have to hit using separate flat surfaces, which represent their rackets. Taken out of Pong, these shapes do not retain their role as ball and racket.
To simplify 2D games, we narrowed them down to their elements. Two-dimensional games are essentially games with predominantly 2D graphics that have limited movement.
Some of the most common types of 2D games in terms of gameplay are:
- Role-playing games
- Co-op games
- Run and Gun, Beat ‘Em Ups, Hack and Slash
- Puzzle games
Game developers and studios tend to create hybrids out of these to make their 2D games more complex.
In terms of 2D game art, the following styles are some of the most predominant:
- Cel-shaded 2D graphics
- Pixel art
- Flat art
- Abstract art
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