5 Unique Art Styles to Make Your 2D Game Stand Out

One thing that many indie game designers struggle with is their game’s art direction. In today’s indie ecosystem, hundreds of indie games appear on Steam and other app stores every week.

As much as developers hate to hear it, but if you want your game to stand out above the others, you will need an eye-catching art style to draw people to your game. At the end of the day, gameplay is more important than anything, but you still need a striking visual style to get people to try your game out in the first place.

The goal of this post is to showcase some unique art styles, games that use them effectively, and how you can get started on them

I’ll be sprinkling in links to resources to help you and inspire you. I’ll also put a full list of the resources at the end.

1 – Outlined Cartoon + Digital Painting (SkullGirls)

Image courtesy of megagames.com

Let’s start off strong with an art style that is very effective, but difficult to create. Take a look at the above picture — you’ll notice a two things

  1. The characters in the foreground are the largest characters with the cleanest designs. They have hard outlines and strong silhouettes. This is the outlined cartoon style. Characters designed in this style will stand out easily from the background, and will very easily draw the players’ eye.
  2. The background is digital painting with broad brush strokes. The player can see what’s going on in the background, but it’s undefined enough to where it won’t distract the player from the gameplay. It’s very important that, if you have a busy background, you don’t put hard outlines on anything.

For this art style, I strongly recommend traditional frame-by-frame animation over the easier bone rigging system.

Naturally, this art style requires hiring an artist and most likely and animator. If you’re interested in becoming a traditional artist, I recommend getting started with Draw a Box and learning more from there. As for animation, if you’re interested in learning traditional animation, you should check out The Animator’s Survival Kit — it has a lot of great info on animation how-to’s, theory, and advice.

2 – High Quality Pixel Art (Owlboy)

Image courtesy of owlboygame.com

Pixel art? Really? Yes, really. Many critics are against the use of pixel art in indie games due to the massive amount of games that already use the art style. However, many indie games have very low-resolution art (character sprites 8×8 pixels). The kind of art you see in games like Owlboy or Axiom Verge is higher resolution and uses far more color.

While this kind of art style is difficult for a beginner to achieve, it’s still easier than doing full-on digital painting. For pixel inspiration, you should check out PixelJoint, and for the actual creation of the art, I recommend Aseprite.

3 – Arts and Crafts (Snipperclips)

Image courtesy of gamespot.com

The arts and crafts style has been explored a bit more recently, but not very much in the indie scene. If your game is a bit less serious and a bit more cutesy, you could draw some inspiration from arts and crafts. Varieties include yarn, quilt, paper, and just about anything else you can pick up from from your local hobby store.

Animating in this style is where you’ll need to get creative. The easiest way to animate here would be to use a bone rigging software like Spine.

For this style, I recommend getting creative with photos and textures using either Photoshop or its free cousin, GIMP.

4 – Neon (Geometry Wars)

image courtesy of youtube.com

Everybody loves fireworks. The bright eye-popping colors on the dark backdrop of the sky is magical. If your game has more of an abstract theme to it, popping in a fair amount of neon and particles can give your game an effect similar to a fireworks show. The key to making this style work is to use simple shapes that are easy to read, choose colors that go well with each other, and use a TON of particle effects.

For the shape creation itself, I recommend a vector software like Adobe Illustrator or its free cousin, Inkscape. For colors, you can use a color palette generator like coolers.co. Particle effects can be handled in-engine with some experimenting.

5 – Sketchbook (Hotel Dusk)

Image courtesy of youtube.com

To be honest, Hotel Dusk has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s a noire detective mystery game in which you hold your DS console sideways, like a detective’s notebook. One very striking thing about this game that I haven’t really seen since is the sketchbook style character art. I feel that this art style could make for some very interesting gameplay if implemented correctly

For this style, I recommend starting with pencil and paper, and moving on to traditional frame-by-frame animation.

Resources & Tools

reference and information

Learn to draw — Draw a Box

Learn traditional animation — The Animator’s Survival Guide

Look at pixel art — PixelJoint

Tools

Pixel art drawing & animation software — Aseprite

Free Photoshop alternative (bitmap art) — GIMP

Free Illustrator alternative (vector art) — Inkscape

Bone rigging animation software — Spine

Color palette generator — coolers

 

What are some unique art styles you’ve seen in indie games? Leave a comment!

 

Thank you for reading,

Harrison N