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.

Cathedral

A game by Decemberborn Interactive for PC, Mac, Switch, iOS, and Android, originally released in 2019.
Cathedral is a retro-style metroidvania inspired by the classics of the 8- and 16-bit era. The player takes on the role of an unnamed knight who is suddenly transported from another world in a flash of lightning. With no knowledge of who he is or what he is meant to do, he begins exploring a sprawling cathedral filled with enemies and traps. Early in his adventure, the knight meets a mysterious spirit named Soul who guides him on a quest to collect five elemental orbs and bring them to a mysterious door.
The game takes place across a large environment and several themed regions, with the player facing enemies and solving environmental puzzles along the way… and facing off against the guardians that protect each of the orbs. As you fight and collect treasure, you are able to buy better armor and perks, allowing you to survive tougher encounters, and you learn new abilities that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas, per genre conventions.


Summer Catchers

A game by FaceIT for PC, Mac, Switch, iOS, and Android, originally released in 2019.
Summer Catchers is a lighthearted endless runner-esque road trip game featuring a girl named Chu on a journey to find summer. She grew up in the north where it snows all the time and realizes that she has never seen a beach nor experienced summertime, and so she sets out to find it. As she travels the world, she encounters a colorful cast of characters who help to guide her in the right direction – after she helps them with tasks of their own – and she makes many friends along the way.
Chu’s journey takes her across eight themed areas, from the snowy tundra to windswept plains to lava-filled tunnels to the sandy dunes of a desert. She discovers that there is much more to the world than she ever expected as she meets mysterious creatures and sees strange things off in the distance, and she even faces off against giant bosses, all while puttering along in her handmade vehicle.


Adventure Bit

A game by Seep for PC, originally released in 2021.
Adventure Bit is a retro-style single-screen platformer modeled after the games of the MSX console in visual, audio, and gameplay styles. In particular, the male protagonist, Harry, has a lot in common with the hero of the classic MSX game La-Mulana, given that he wears a green outfit and wields a bullwhip. Of course, the design of both characters was also heavily influenced by the iconic Indiana Jones (and Harry could be short for Harrison). The game also features a female protagonist named Lana (another possible reference to La-Mulana) with the same skillset, and the game may be played alone or with a friend in 2P local co-op.
The player is tasked with exploring an ancient Aztec temple and the surrounding jungle while fighting enemies and collecting treasures along the way, with the most valuable treasures coming in the form of crystal skulls (another reference to the adventures of Dr. Jones). The game is deceptively simple, offering only a Novice mode to start, and 12 easy levels (plus three treasure rooms) before the player reaches the end of the game… but it’s not over.


Turrican Flashback

A game compilation by Factor 5 for Switch and PS4, originally released in 2021.
The original Turrican was created primarily by German developer Manfred Trenz and released by Rainbow Arts on the Commodore 64 in 1990, and then ported to numerous other systems. Notably, some ports of the game were handled by The Code Monkeys and others were handled by Factor 5, the studio that would go on to develop future entries in the franchise. A graphically-enhanced Amiga port from Factor 5 arrived in 1991 with the addition of a soundtrack by Chris Huelsbeck (the original C64 release had sound effects but no music). The game was a great technology showcase for the 8-bit Commodore 64 and the 16-bit Amiga, providing visuals, animations, music, and fast-paced combat beyond what most action-platforming titles were delivering on those systems at the time.
The success of the original game allowed for a sequel in the following year, entitled Turrican II: The Final Fight, released on the Commodore 64 by Manfred Trenz by way of Rainbow Arts, and also ported to other systems. (The Factor 5 port of the Amiga version was actually the first to market). Home console versions of this game were adapted by The Code Monkeys and rebranded as Universal Soldier, an action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lungdren, with sprites swapped out to represent characters, locations, and military themes from the film, and shmup stages were cut and replaced with on-foot shooting stages.


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.