Welcome to 8 Bit Horse

8 Bit Horse is a website dedicated exclusively to 2D video games for all systems, old and new.

2D RADAR

The 2D RADAR Watchlist is our list of promising 2D games currently under development.

Lessons in 2D Game Design

We delve into the design lessons learned from classic 2D video games.

Picks of the Decade

Our picks of the most memorable games from the previous decade.

A Celebration of 2D

Our list of notable 2D video games.

Galaga

A game by Namco for the arcade, originally released in 1981.
In 1978, Space Invaders took the world by storm, popularizing shmup mechanics with its simple yet effective design. The game features rows of alien invaders marching back and forth along the top of the screen and slowly descending on the player's position. Enemies drop bombs and the player fires shots of his own, with only a row of barriers along the bottom of the screen to protect him, but these are worn down with each hit they take, even with friendly fire. As the player destroys his foes, they begin speeding their descent (a result of the original arcade processor being able to more quickly animate smaller numbers of sprites), becoming more menacing as the level wears on.
The popularity of this game led to other developers trying their hand at similar gameplay styles, but few were as popular as Namco's Galaxian, which was released in 1979, predating their most seminal arcade title, Pac-Man, by a matter of months.

Galaxian features multi-colored insect-based enemies (with true color, rather than overlays) that move back and forth along the top of the screen, but rather than simply dropping lower and lower, these enemies break off from their formation to dive bomb the player's ship.

In Galaxian, the player is able to attack dive-bombing enemies or focus his fire on the larger formation, but he can only have one bullet onscreen at a time. As a result, firing on the dive-bombing enemies presents a greater risk but also allows the player to fire more quickly if he hits his target. Once enough enemies are destroyed, they no longer return to the formation but rather continuously dive-bomb the player, and later levels allow more enemies to dive bomb simultaneously and fire more shots while doing so.

In Galaga, Namco refined this formula, making improvements in every aspect of gameplay. For starters, enemy waves fly across the screen in a line before taking their places in the formation, giving the player the opportunity to clear some of the enemies before they form up, but also giving the enemies a chance to drop bombs and send some of their ships down to dive bomb the player. Instead of simply marching back and forth, alien formations eventually pause and begin expanding and contracting. Once enough enemies have been destroyed, they begin to dive bomb they player continuously, with more ships doing this at once in later levels.

The game features three main enemy types, each with its own set of behaviors. The red enemy is fast and can drop straight down the screen. The yellow one can fly in circles, sometimes dropping below the player ship’s position at the bottom of the screen, and then circling back up to hit it from below. And finally, the most impressive baddie of all of them all… an enemy that takes two hits to destroy and can capture the player's ship.

This large ship dive bombs the player along with other enemies, but it sometimes halts and extends a tractor beam downward that can capture the player's ship when it comes in contact. The player has a bit of time to fire at the enemy ship before the tractor beam reaches him, or he can dodge out of the way, but if his ship is captured, the enemy moves back into formation with the player's ship in tow.

If the player manages to kill this enemy when it dive bombs again, he then recaptures his ship, allowing him to control two ships simultaneously for double the firepower. However, this endeavor has its risks, as the player may potentially destroy his own ship when trying to recapture it, and playing with two ships at a time makes the player a larger target for enemies, potentially causing him to lose additional lives. This mechanic adds a layer of strategy that had not previously been seen in games of this type.

A challenge stage appears every few levels where enemy waves enter the screen, fly though a pattern without dropping any bombs, and leave without entering a formation. Bonus points are awarded based on the number of ships destroyed during these stages, and destroying all 40 ships awards an additional bonus. Destroying every enemy relies somewhat on the player's knowledge of where enemies will emerge and what patterns they will perform. Having two ships makes it easier to achieve a perfect score in these stages, and the player is granted extra lives at certain score thresholds.

The player’s ship is faster and more maneuverable than its Galaxian counterpart, and 2 bullets can be onscreen at a time, allowing for a faster firing rate. As a result, a skilled player can stave off death as enemies become incredibly aggressive in later levels, increasing their speed, firing more shots, and descending in larger numbers. The game also offers some surprises in the form of enemies that can transform and spawn additional foes that speed ahead or trail behind them.

Namco continued to iterate on this formula with titles like Bosconian and Gaplus (later re-released as Galaga 3) before returning to the ever-popular Galaga foundation with the release of Galaga '88 and Galaga Arrangement, along with ports and emulations of Galaga for a variety of platforms, and the occasional new Galaga-themed effort such as the 3D rail shooter Galaga: Destination Earth and the fast-paced pattern-based Galaga Legions.


2D CRED
Galaga was developed by Namco, the developer behind a number of formative arcade titles from the late 1970's and early 1980's, including Pac-Man, Rally-X, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Xevious, and Mappy, as well as their subsequent sequels and spin-offs. The studio has gone on to re-release these games - along with various updates and new takes on their franchises - across numerous systems, while also developing entirely new popular series, including Ridge Racer, Ace Combat, Tekken, Klonoa, and Katamari Damacy. Bandai purchased Namco in 2005 and formed Bandai Namco Entertainment, which primarily focuses on releasing games that fall within Namco's established franchises.


Morbid: The Seven Acolytes

A game by Still Running for PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2020.
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is an isometric action-adventure set in the world of Mornia. You take on the role of the last surviving Striver of Dibrom, and it is your mission to locate and defeat the creatures known as the Seven Acolytes, which have become possessed by evil beings, giving them almost godlike power. With this power, they have crushed mankind underfoot and left them barely clinging to life. Those that remain eke out pitiful lives surrounded by grotesque monstrosities that threaten their lives, slowly killing them off, driving them insane, or leaving them to wallow in misery as they drink themselves into oblivion.
The game leans heavily into its aesthetic, offering overgrown gardens and forests, dank caverns, and small patches of humanity set in a world that is filled with Lovecraftian creatures and evidence of arcane blood rituals and human sacrifice. As you wander the landscape, you discover long-abandoned towns overrun by carrion, boarded up structures with faint lights coming from within, and the bodies of fallen warriors lying here and there. The experience is accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack that underscores a feeling of danger and dread.


Montezuma’s Revenge

A game by Robert Jaeger for a variety of home computer systems, originally released in 1984.
Montezuma’s Revenge stars a treasure hunter called Panama Joe on an adventure through the ancient Aztec tomb of Montezuma II. Of course, the only reason he is exploring Montezuma’s tomb as opposed to anything else is so the developers could use the name “Montezuma’s Revenge”… a euphemism for the terrible and potentially life-threatening diarrhea that comes from drinking the water in Mexico. This puts the game on a very short list of quality titles named for bodily functions. (ed note: All Montezuma's Revenge screens were taken from the C64 version of the game.)
Montezuma’s Revenge is a game of fast-paced exploration across a series of single-screen rooms littered with enemies, obstacles, and items. Among the enemies are snakes that sit stationary and must be jumped over, spiders that move back and forth and sometimes climb ladders, and skulls that roll along the floor or bounce high into the air.


Centipede

A game by Atari for the arcade, originally released in 1981.
Atari’s Centipede was one of the most iconic games of early 80’s arcade gaming. In this era, an arcade machine’s physical design and attract mode essentially played the part of the carnival barker, offering hints as to the amazing things that lay beyond the opaque curtain (“Step right up! See the amazing Centipede! Cut it in half, and it just keeps coming! Only 25 cents, folks!”).
Centipede lured players in with its amazing cabinet art, unique visuals and audio, and its use of a trackball as its primary control input – one of the first arcade games to do this. The unique mechanics, environmental interaction, visual progression indicators, and tension-driven gameplay kept players coming back to sustain the centipede on its diet of precious quarters.

As is typical of arcade game design, the game starts out slow and escalates very quickly, offering a balance of engaging gameplay and frequent death, tempting the player to drop in another coin when his stock of lives is depleted. The player character sits at the lower end of a mushroom field, and the player is able to move around in a confined area at the bottom of the screen and shoot upward. At the top of the screen, your multi-legged foe moves back and forth, dropping one level downward and reversing direction when it touches a mushroom or the edge of the screen, steadily descending on your position.

You must fire upward at the centipede, but hitting it in the middle causes one segment to be destroyed – and replaced by a mushroom – while the centipede splits at that point, sending one part onward and the other part backward, making it an even tougher target. For each section of the centipede you destroy, a new mushroom is added to the playfield. And the more mushrooms there are, the faster the centipede is able to move downward.


Crypt Stalker

A game by Sinclair Strange for PC, originally released in 2020.
Crypt Stalker is a sidescrolling actioner heavily inspired by classic Castlevania games from the NES era, before the series crossed into the open world metroidvania genre that it is known for today. You take on the role of Gladys, a descendent of the eponymous demon-slaying Crypt Stalkers, who must stop an invading demonic force with her whip and pistol.
It seems that demons are able to open portals into crypts in the human world after every 90 solar eclipses, and their latest invasion begins in the Egyptian pyramids of the damned. The story is limited to short introductory and ending sequences and is presented in poorly-written English to replicate the shoddy translations of Japanese games that Western gamers received in the early days of console gaming.


Blasphemous

A game by The Game Kitchen for PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2019.
Blasphemous is a brutal melee-based action-platformer with light metroidvania elements, set in an open world filled with nasty creatures and tormented souls. As it says on the tin, the game employs no small amount of blasphemy in its narrative and visuals, opening with a nun pounding her chest with the base of a small statue as she calls out to claim the Grievous Miracle and begs for punishment. Then she rubs her thumb over the statue’s penis, clicking it to reveal a gigantic sword, which she rams into her chest, apparently summoning forth a being known as The Penitent One.
The player takes on the role of The Penitent One, whose first act is to withdraw the thorny blade from the chest of the dead nun, who has now turned to stone. The Grievous Miracle – rendered by a righteous yet pitiless deity whose will is unknowable – spread throughout the land, manifesting the pain of every soul into reality, which was a blessing for some, but a vile punishment for most. Many creatures encountered in the game are burdened by heavy objects that they are cursed to carry as they forever wander, and some NPC’s and bosses are undergoing continuous torture as well.


20XX

A game by Batterystaple Games for PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
20XX is a roguelike action-platformer heavily inspired by the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series. The game takes place in the ever-popular year of 20XX, and you take on the role of either Nina or Ace – or both in 2P co-op – as they fight their way through platforming challenges, mechanical enemies, and robot masters on a mission to save the human race. The game simultaneously acts as an homage and a parody of the classic Mega Man series with many of the series staples in place, but with the operation run by a pair of somewhat inept mad scientists.
The opening cutscene shows a building in the foreground as the camera pans quickly upward, mimicking the famous opening cutscene in Mega Man 2. At the top of the building is Nina, standing in her blue armor with her helmet off as she stares out over the city. Suddenly, the city is rocked by explosions. Nina runs to her companion, Ace, who is in communication with scientists that have seemingly unleashed some terrible robot upon the city, and that’s your cue to get moving.


Alwa's Legacy

A game by Elden Pixels for PC, Mac, Linux, and Switch, originally released in 2020.
Alwa’s Legacy is the follow-up to Alwa’s Awakening, and both are retro-style open-world metroidvania adventures. In the first game, Zoe is summoned from another world to help save the land of Alwa from the evil Vicar and his four agents. She begins the game passed out and face down outside of a tall structure where she is greeted by an elderly woman named Saga, the one who summoned her. Zoe climbs the tower to retrieve a magical staff, and then sets out on her grand quest. After she defeats the final boss, she enters a chamber and walks up to an altar. A light comes down from above and envelops her, knocking her unconscious. While passed out, she appears to grow in age, and she is returned to the entrance of the tower where Saga once again greets her and tells her about her quest.
Alwa’s Legacy begins with Saga walking through a grand library and picking up a large book. She speaks to a man, saying “Yes, she’s about to wake up. I want her to have it as soon as she’s here,” and then she follows this statement with a more mysterious one: “This time around, let’s hope she makes the right choices.” Zoe is, of course, lying unconscious outside the tower, just as she was at the end of the previous game, only now she is somewhat older. She has lost her memory once more, and the only thing she can recall is standing in front of an altar and a light coming down from above. The opening sequence seems to suggest that Zoe somehow failed her prior mission and that she is cursed to repeat it until she gets it right.


Blaster Master Zero 2

A game by Inti Creates for PC, Switch, and PS4, originally released in 2019.
Blaster Master Zero 2 is the direct sequel to Blaster Master Zero, which itself was a reboot and retelling of the original Blaster Master that also incorporated story elements from the Worlds of Power Blaster Master novella. The original game starred a kid named Jason who had a pet frog named Fred. One day, Fred hops out of his terrarium and runs into the back yard where there's – for no understandable reason – a crate of radioactive material just sitting out in the open.
The frog touches the crate, begins growing in size, and then jumps down a hole that leads to a gigantic subterranean labyrinth. Continuing his pursuit, Jason also jumps down the hole where he encounters a body suit, helmet, and a gigantic tank called SOFIA III. As any reasonable person would do, he puts on the suit, hops in the tank, and heads off into the unknown.


Spinch

A game by Queen Bee Games for PC, Mac, and Switch, originally released in 2020.
Spinch is a psychedelic platformer set in a world of flashing rainbow colors. As it turns out, colors are alive, and being a color requires a lot of energy - and therefore a lot of food - thus endangering the lives of non-colored creatures. You are a member of an endangered species known as spinch. A full-grown spinch isn’t terribly tasty (apparently bearing the bitter metallic taste of its properly-spelled cousin, spinach), but their babies are like a fine milk-fed veal… a mouthwatering delicacy to the carnivorous colors.
As an adult spinch, you must keep your delicious and nutritious children safe from harm, but in the first few seconds of the game, all 12 of your offspring are sucked up by some kind of demented-looking rainbow face. Your children are spread across four levels (three in each), and you must collect as many as you can before you face off against the rainbow-face creature, where your babies become ammunition in a huge gun… and that tells you a lot of what you need to know about the game’s tone.


Spirits Abyss

A game by Caiysware for PC, originally released in 2020.
Spirits Abyss is a roguelike platformer offering procedurally generated destructible environments. The opening cutscene shows a parent carrying their child as they trek up the side of a mountain under the light of a blood moon. Legend has it that there is an opening on the mountaintop that leads to the gates of the Resting Realms, and any child cast into the abyss on the night of a blood moon may someday return with great wealth and power over The Undying. You take on the role of the child who is tossed into the abyss, and you must battle your way out... or die trying.
While the game takes many inspirations from Spelunky, it carries over the aesthetic qualities and dark childlike humor of the developer’s previous works, Straimium Immortaly and Skelly Selest. Each of these games offers multiple gameplay modes, a gritty pixel style punctuated by occasional garish colors, and arcane beings who offer to help you to survive for just a few more minutes, often in exchange for some kind of sacrifice. These games are brutally difficult at the start but become more manageable as the player makes progress, gains an understanding of the inner workings, and eventually begins unlocking new characters.


Witcheye

A game by Moon Kid for PC, Switch, iOS, and Android, originally released on mobile in 2019, and released on computers and consoles in 2020.
Witcheye is a retro-style actioner set in a colorful world that is filled with cute but deadly creatures. The wizard Senexis has hired a brave knight to help him gather up the ingredients he needs to create a potion. But rather than embarking on some grand quest to retrieve these items, the knight is instead tasked with stealing them from a witch named Mabel. The wizard promises to reward the knight with great power should he complete his mission.
Meanwhile, Mabel is in her witchey lair, minding her own business, when she decides to whip up a potion of her own. But when she turns her back to the cauldron to gather up the ingredients, the knight sneaks in and opens a huge sack. As Mabel tosses the ingredients (and gems) nonchalantly over her shoulder, the knight catches them in his bag and then runs away. Angry, the witch transforms herself into a giant floating eyeball and gives chase. The player takes on the role of this floating eyeball on a journey through more than 50 levels spread across six themed environments.