Comprehensive list of the greatest, most ambitious 2D PC games
February 2, 2015 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I can't play 3-D games without getting dizzy. Can you help me make a comprehensive list of the best contemporary 2D games in the all different genres?

I love computer games but I hate navigating 3D space in games, which drastically limits what I can play. Still, I'd like to sample as much as I can within these constraints.

I asked an earlier question that was trying to nail down a certain sensibility, but now I'd like to throw the field wide open. What kinds of contemporary 2D games do you enthusiastically recommend?

I'm looking for games that are ambitious in one way or another - I want to expand my horizons as best I can within that 2D constraint. So no Farmville or other time-waste-y phone games.

Games I've loved:

Binding of Isaac
Don't Starve
Papers Please

Thank you!
posted by pretentious illiterate to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on your definition of "contemporary", but I have a big soft spot for Heroes Of Might & Magic 3, the old (1999ish, I think?) PC game. It's available for cheap on and you'll get lots of playtime out of it.

Braid is excellent. I know it's on 360, it's probably other places by now too.

Super Time Force is kind of a mindfuck, but is also excellent. Definitely on Xbox One, also probably other platforms.

Geometry Wars 1 and 2 (not 3) are fast-paced and fun. 360.
posted by Dilligas at 5:19 PM on February 2, 2015

Spelunky (PC, XB360) - One of my all-time favorites. Exquisitely well-designed randomized platform/adventure game.

Hotline Miami (PC, Vita) - Bright neon murder simulator. Gloriously grindhouse. Actually this one might make you dizzy too.

Second Braid, it's a thoroughly excellent puzzle game.
posted by neckro23 at 5:23 PM on February 2, 2015

Does Diabolo count as 2D?
posted by plinth at 5:24 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved Aquaria.
posted by 4th number at 5:24 PM on February 2, 2015

I've recommend The Swapper a few times lately, but your thread apparently wasn't one of those times. It's also moody; it would fit the linked thread just fine. Gameplay is side-scrolling puzzler with a backdrop of a space station that gradually reveals a story of horribly unethical research, alien discoveries, madness, etc.

When you say 2D, I think you might be restricting yourself to side-scrolling or top-down games. I'm not sure if you want to include Isometric games which, though often using 2D tech, create the illusion of a third dimension by increasing the number of sprites to represent things. The original 1998ish Starcraft is a prime example; not a 3D bone in its body, but used perspective to suggest 3D.

If isometric view games are okay, I recommend the outstanding XCOM: UFO DEFENSE, the 1994 game (which has 2 remakes on the market in the last couple years, XCOM:ENEMY UNKNOWN and XENONAUTS). Available for PC, tablets-- all sorts of things now. Part base-building game, part turn-based combat. Combat can enter the third dimension, but it does so by representing 1 level at a time; if a character ascends a ladder or stairs (or flies), the game takes the former level out of your vision, and draws the new one. Any action that occurs on multiple levels (i.e. you spot an alien at a second-story window) give only the most minimum violation of this conservation of a single level.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:51 PM on February 2, 2015

I've purchased but not yet played Gunpoint (all Steam links this post), a side-scrolling action/stealth game.

Frozen Synapse is a turn-based action game-- a bit like Hotline Miami but being turn-based, it's about thinking and planning rather than twitching. Top-down view, but 3D rules are at work as far as sightlines.

Monaco is a multiplayer co-op heist game that's top-down.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:59 PM on February 2, 2015

Have you played Guacamelee? You might look at the silly title and art and think it looks like it's just a silly game based around wacky art, but it's actually a really good Metroidvenia-style game (those being games where you explore a large map and get a series of new abilities to improve your exploration). And the art looks way better in motion. The animation is really smooth and colorful.

Steam is also suggesting Steamworld Dig, which is another really good exploration-heavy 2D game. I had a lot of fun with it.

Both of these games are best played with an Xbox 360-style controller.

You should also check out Cave Story. The original version is free with a great fan translation, as well as a paid version that has higher resolution graphics and more content, plus ports on more systems than PC.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:59 PM on February 2, 2015

When I used to play, I found Metal Slug to be fun.

I get sick playing 3D games (and viewing Google Earth) so I feel your pain.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 7:26 PM on February 2, 2015

All the infinity engine games, baldurs gate et al.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2015

posted by emptythought at 10:34 PM on February 2, 2015

Thomas was Alone is a platonic 2d game. Bastion is a wonderful isometric, hurra! Stealth Bastard is great fun too.
posted by Iteki at 11:07 PM on February 2, 2015

Best answer: Because Binding of Isaac and Don't Starve both feature permadeath, unlockable playable classes, and other roguelike elements, I bet you'll like these games that share those features. They're light on story but rich in setting, and they're very, very replayable.
FTL: Faster Than Light (Steam): Survive by gathering resources, upgrading your spaceship, winning battles, and taking calculated risks as you outrun your pursuers. Although battles play out in real time, you can pause to make tactical decisions.
Risk of Rain (Steam): Survive by killing enemies to collect experience and money, and unlock chests dropped from the same crashing cargo ship that stranded you on a hostile planet. As time passes, tougher enemies spawn. Stay on a level too long trying to gather upgrades, and you may be overwhelmed. Move on too quickly, and you'll be under-equipped for the next challenge.
Rogue Legacy (Steam): Survive by-- just kidding, you'll die. But you'll leave your gold for your heirs to buy upgrades that will hopefully help them progress further in your quest, which is to battle through a procedurally generated castle. Oh, and your heirs will have interesting but honestly kind of gimmicky genetic quirks that can affect gameplay, such as color blindness.
Crypt of the Necrodancer (Steam): A classic dungeon crawler, with the twist that you and your enemies can only move to the beat of the soundtrack (by Danny B, who did the original Binding of Isaac soundtrack). It sounds gimmicky, but you'll find that making split-second decisions to the tempo of the soundtrack is a real challenge. It's still in beta, but I'd recommend it as-is.

Also, if you like the challenging platform of Rayman, try Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV (Steam). They're about as classic as something made as recently as 2010 can be.

I also think it's worth checking out RPGs and adventure games, since there's such a wealth of really creative games in those genres. I'd recommend trying the original Fallout games (2D, but isometric) and one of the classic LucasArts adventure games. My favorite is Day of the Tentacle, but until that's available, you can try Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis or Sam and Max (or the TellTale Sam and Max series).
posted by knuckle tattoos at 11:52 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

(You might also try console gaming, or just turning down the frame rate if you can, as (for me, anyway) it can be the high frame rate making you dizzy, like HFR movies vs 24fps. Prob has to do with just too much information hitting the visual cortex.)
posted by sexyrobot at 1:18 AM on February 3, 2015

Mark of the Ninja is pretty great. It's a 2D stealth game.
posted by Sibrax at 8:10 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you keep an eye on the humble bundles you will quickly have more decent 2D games than you can play in a lifetime.
posted by yeolcoatl at 8:34 AM on February 3, 2015

I like games that are fast-paced and really hard and require you to immerse your brain entirely to have any chance of winning, as opposed to contemplating it at a distance as you might an abstract puzzle game. I don't know if that's what you like in a game, but if not I have a couple of other recommendations later. But first!

Super Hexagon is the distilled essence of this sort of game. Here's a "Let's Play" video that really gives a flavour of what it feels like to play it.

N and Dustforce are two awesome platformers that focus on momentum and agility and make you feel like an unstoppable ninja parkouring across the level. And N is free!

Teleglitch (which I first learned about from MetaFilter) is like an intense top-down roguelike Doom where you're always low on ammo. It's extremely tense and extremely hard and you will die a lot.

Towerfall: Ascension is a fantastic, finely-tuned single-screen platformer where you kill things with archery and stomping. It has the best multiplayer of last year! Its single-player campaign is also pretty great.

The non-actiony recommendation(s), as promised: Amanita Design is a game studio that makes lovely point-and-click puzzle adventures with an utterly charming art style. Check out Samorost (and its sequels) and Machinarium.
posted by a car full of lions at 1:30 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Anodyne is a well-built early-Zelda-like game with an interesting moody atmosphere and good music.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:07 PM on February 3, 2015

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