Five Video Games That Visually Redefine The Medium As Art

Jet Grind Radio

The art style of the original Dreamcast game was, and still is, unlike anything I have ever seen or played.

Please understand, I am not talking about remakes or HD re-releases here. I am talking about the original, Jet Grind Radio for the Sega Dreamcast. When I first played this game, and saw my avatar, in crazy Japanese-graffiti style, I just about shit my pants. I know that is intense, but it’s true. It literally made my intestines twist with glee. There I was, cell-shaded (first time in my life I had ever seen it, and fell in love with it immediately), the music was frantic and amazing, and the fact that, in the actual game, I was tagging walls and running from cops was just so badass to me. I mean, for a few years in my life, that is what I did. I was obsessed with stickering and tagging everything (and there are various pieces of art between the Northeast, California, and even Mexico that stand as proof of this) and here, that lifestyle was being represented, to a tee (although, ofcourse, exaggerated) and to me, that was Heaven.

And just like Okami and Bioshock, it was a three attack process that made this game a living, breathing piece of interactive artwork. The sound matched up with the visual style, which matched up with the gameplay.  I can still vividly recall how it felt when I got to the final levels of that game and I was trying to put up tags as swat team members were dropping in and tanks were trying to take me out. It was hyper-active, gorgeous fun.

And honestly, I have been in love with cell-shading since.

Shadow of the Colossus

Hey, maybe in the sequel, I can play the big guy?

Scale, people. In this case, it is all about scale. Outside of some STUNNING scaling in the God of War series (which also deserves a HUGE nod in the graphics department), I have never seen or felt scale like I did when I played Shadow of the Colossus. Those moments, those long, quite moments between battles were as much a part of the game as the game itself.  Because it was those moments that you bonded with your horse, and you wondered what marvelous beast would you be trying to topple next.

And then, the moment when it came into view, and you heart stammered for a second. Yes, that is art. That is art, and storytelling, and every single aspect, working together to pull you into a world that doesn’t even exist, yet, in those single moments, it does. That is what is awe-inspiring about all the games on this list. Any time I played any one of these games, I was IN those worlds, completely. Yet, those worlds are just coding. You see, nerds and artists, they work together like mad scientists to build these worlds. And in so many cases, it feels like a game. But in these five cases, atleast for me, it felt like a crawled into a framed painting that somehow just kept evolving.

Honorable Mentions:

Star Fox: Now it looks jagged and out-dated, but when this game came out, we had never seen anything like it.

Once upon a time, this was enough to drop our jaws.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Say what you want, but the first time I played Sonic, I looked over at my best friend and said: This IS playing a cartoon. Games will NEVER look better than this! Boy, what a stupid child I was.

Out of This World: Wow, looking back, I apparently had a thing for polygons.

Also, shameless, out-of-context plug.

  • rcrd

    Braid is missing, that game is the reason people stop looking down upon indie games.

  • Great call, that game was staggering, but I chose Limbo to rep the indie games because I dug the visuals that much more.

  • Dzuksi

    No Flower, Journey, Unfinished Swan? I know that they are Playstation games but still… Also Braid should be a must on list. Kudos for Okami really underrated game.

  • Mostly agree…. you missed Braid (my guess is you haven’t had the chance to play it… that happened to me with Okami a long time ago when I wrote a similar post in my blog)

    Where the fuck did you get that screenshot for Starfox? It looks like a prototype or something…

  • Enjoyed the article, Remy.

    Maybe a few alternate entries could be Rez, LoZ: The Wind Waker, and El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.

  • trashcanman

    Well, I’ve read two full articles on Unreality today, and already two instances of pants-shitting. And you wonder why we keep coming back for more. Kudos on remembering Out of This World. That sucker was amazing when it came out.

  • Remy and I have a special connection. A video game-related pants-shitting connection. Did I say “connection?” I meant “condition.”

    And guys, re: Braid: Sure, the gameplay blows the mind, but would you say it’s particularly striking from a *visual* perspective? I disagree that it belongs on this particular list.

  • ^ Have to agree with Sara on this one. LOVED Braid, and the story (end ending) floored me, but did it redefine itself more as art than a game, no. Now for an article about a story, or unspoken narrative, hell yes. Also, sorry for the lack of PS3 love, as Flower is a perfect example. Sadly, I lack a PS3. Rez and El Shaddai are definitely deserved of some nods. I sat there, racking my brain, knowing I would miss a few and kick myself. Another one I should be called out for missing is the Oddworld series, all of it. Those games were stunning.

  • Heche

    My favourite thing about BioShock was throwing the glitchy broken corpses around with telekinesis. You know the ones I’m talking about? They were just completely floppy?

    I also loved the splicers and their ravings. Awesome game ^_^

  • Albert

    ‘Journey’ should definitely should be on this list.

  • Reed

    two of my favorite games (Okami and Shadow of the Colossus) definitely deserve to be here. I would also include Bastion from Supergiant games. the narrator and art style really set that game above most if not all indie games for me.

  • greg

    its been two years
    The man gave his opinion on a subject to the best of his abilities
    video games as a whole are not about art they are about science and sport

  • Caleb K

    All these games deserve to be on the list. The guys who did Jet Set Radio also did 4 Panzer Dragoon games which although on the Sega Saturn and (one for Xbox) and kind of rough on the eyes by today’s standards are still my favourite games as far as artistic direction is concerned. All you need to do is look at the world they take place in. Simply stunning. I would do unspeakable things to play another Panzer Dragoon RPG.

  • Rob

    i never liked braid, gave it a chance, i hate it, i love terraria, minecraft and project zomboid tho. so indies are the way to go futurewise.

  • Grrey

    That Starfox screen is from Starfox 2 which got canned by Nintendo in favor of working on Starfox 64 (they’d have been finished around the same time and didn’t want the two to compete) but a while back, a disgruntled Nintendo employee dumped the ROM file onto the internet and the game was finished by independent programmers. Starfox 2 would have pushed the boundaries of what the SNES was capable of, featuring full 3D environs, free motion (no rails like in other installments), 3 different Arwings to choose from (6 different pilots) which were transformable once you got planet side, and a real time system where events continue to happen and enemy positions continue to advance while you are locked in combat or moving about the map. the goal was to defend Corneria from oncoming missile and fighter squadrons while takeing back Lylat and introduced many of the same features that starfox 64 had, such as different vehicles (in the form of the walker), battles with StarWolf, and the all range mode. now if only nintendo would remake this one with updated graphics, it would be the absolute shiznit

  • That one wolf girl

    Okami, my first Wii game. First off, I’d like to mention that I’m a wolf trainer in real life, the exact reason i got this game was because everyone told me that game was practically about me just as a wolf. Worst part is that game actually had some scary – interesting omens to my life. All of my greatest loves were all combine in that game, Japanese style arts, Japanese lore, Animals, Nature. it broke my heart to see it get such terrible reviews from the critics. Just goes to prove “Not everyone can enjoy fine art.” -sigh- with that being said, if someone brought a wolf to comicon / Animecon What wolf would be most popular to bring?