The PICO-8 Fantasy Console game engine was created to allow anybody to make, share and play games…
Games that have a simple retro feel like the kind of games many of us fell in love with in the 80s and 90s. It feels exciting.
These simple games can be played directly on a web browser, making them extremely accessible.
And with a little bit of tinkering, they can even be installed and played on retro handheld consoles like the RG351MP… or in my case, the RG351V.
That process is crazy easy, so if you own one of the RG consoles, definitely give it a go!
I have personally taken on the challenge of browsing the entire library of games available for the Pico-8 to save you the time and trouble.
So if you are new to the world of Pico-8, let me introduce you to the 8 best Pico-8 games for newcomers. Enjoy!
We picked eight, cause.. well.. come on man.. it’s the Pico-8!
Nothing beats a good puzzle game on a Sunday afternoon.
Puzzle games are perfect for short play. You can pick them up, play a round for 5 minutes, then go back to your normal life. (Isn’t how the term “pick up and play” came about? Yup!)
Matchy Matchy is a perfect little matching puzzle style game with an interesting mechanic that offers a bit of challenge to complete the task at hand and get the full completion status.
It might take you a minute to actually understand the mechanic, but once you got it, it’s a ton of fun.
Matchy Matchy is also one of the cutest games on this list. An easy recommendation for newcomers to the Pico-8 world!
A really simple game with a really simple concept: You only have so many steps to progress.
If you take too many steps, you go back to the previous checkpoint. If you make it to the flag, you get another chance to survive!
Simplicity is really gonna be the main descriptor I will use for a lot of these games, and Steps is no exception.
It is a simple idea that works, and makes for an interesting play.
Interesting and challenging enough to make it worth it.
Perhaps the most well known title to emerge from the Pico-8 library…
Celeste is a platformer that takes a Super Meat Boy style approach of jumping, dashing and wall sliding and throws their own spin on the formula.
The game was designed with 30 unique levels and offers a high level of challenge.
Requires ultra precise reflexes to conquer, and you may want to scream at the game… but you will for sure come back to try again.
There has since been a full game developed for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, Linux, and Stadia (yeah, Stadia).
But it was the original Pico-8 game that put Celeste on the map.
The 2016 game (sometimes referred to as “Celeste Classic”) was actually created in 4 days for a game jam. Which always blows my mind to think people can put together games that become classics in just a few days.
An absolute must-play game for the Pico-8. And the first to come to mind when creating this list of the best Pico-8 games for newcomers.
High Stakes is perhaps a game concept you would not necessarily expect on a retro game engine…
Because the concept here is you are playing a high stakes card game for your life… with vampires.
And if that doesn’t already have you intrigued, High Stakes features some of the coolest art and coloring of any game for the Pico-8.
There is one vampire card in the deck, and if you think you know where it is located, you can stab it with a wooden stage to save your life. If you’re wrong.. you die.
And that’s how we like our video games… with true life or death decisions. Ha.
But it wasn’t a tough decision to include this on the list, it’s one of the coolest concepts on the Pico-8, and a fan favorite.
A list of the best Pico-8 games would not be complete without High Stakes.
Here is yet another really cool concept for the Pico-8…
Orul features a mirrored stage design with a light and dark world.
Your goal: help get both characters to the other side.
Which will not always be as easy as it sounds.
The stages are varied, and offer a decent amount of challenge to get your brain working and trying to make sense of how to move both players around.
And it is all presented in a super minimal looking game, with a very pleasing color palette.
A fun concept, and one that makes for an entertaining ten minutes of play.
Check it out!
Swordfish is a game that will feel like familiar territory for anybody who played Nintendo or Super Nintendo back in the day.
To me, this feels exactly like a game you might have picked up back then.
A cute swordfish swimming around the ocean, in stages that feel straight out of Super Mario Bros.
And as you might expect playing as a swordfish, you get to dash and poke your way through the other sea life in each stage.
It’s yet another simple idea, but one that will keep you coming back for more.
A great game to take a poke at, and one we had to include on our list of best Pico-8 games.
Porklike is a really interesting dungeon crawler that features randomly generated rooms full of danger.
There are unique attacks that you collect along the way that will help you survive. Though.. it’s unlikely you will. Which is part of the fun.
The most interesting mechanic, in my opinion, is how the room is only revealed as you explore it. A simple feature, but one that makes for more intrigue and challenge.
I’ve only ever made it through the first couple rooms, so I do not know what happens after that. But I can only assume it is more darkness and more punishment.
Definitely fun to try to survive past the first room.
And there was even a full remake made for the Nintendo Game Boy as part of the Game Boy Competition 2021. So if you have an EZ Flash cart… you can play this on your Game Boy too!
Just One Boss
This is, in my opinion, the absolute best Pico-8 game ever made.
Just One Boss is exactly what it sounds like… while being so much more.
Players are given one simple task: defeat one boss. Just one boss.
The only problem is he is incredibly difficult to defeat. And just keeps coming back.. more powerful and more angry. And he keeps throwing more at you. Literally.
For as simple of an idea as it is, to me.. this has a lot going on. The game is so well made, has so many cool effects, and it all performs at 100%.
I really appreciate the creativity and talent it took to even think of something like this. Like I have said about pretty much every game on this list… it’s the simplicity.
And that is perhaps a great summation of Pico-8 in general: An uncomplicated tool to create small games.
And it will be the developers who can create simple and creative concepts that will rise to the top.
If you play just one game on this list, please make it Just One Boss… it is the perfect example of what the Pico-8 is all about. And my favorite on this list of the best Pico-8 games for newcomers.
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Anthony has been a video game lover ever since he can remember. He became a fulltime nomad in 2018, living throughout most of Asia. He focused his passion in retro gaming and began creating a game for the Game Boy Color while living in Nara, Japan during the 2020 pandemic. He is now in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he spends most of his time gaming, going on long walks and meeting as many stray dogs as possible.