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Cel-Shaded Games: A Short Appreciation (and Examples)

An online writer who is also an avid geek to automotive, video games, and anime. Have a soft spot for racing games

photo credit: Steam/Team Reptile

photo credit: Steam/Team Reptile

In the early days of gaming, you are limited to 2D and sprite-based graphics. Come the 1990s, you have another option than sprites, the 3D. Entering the Millenium, another kind of game presentation emerged combining the two.

Enter the cel-shading. Also known as toon shading, it is a rendering approach to make 3D models resembling hand drawn artworks, using flat colors and bold outlines. Cel-shading enables video game makers to blend the gameplay featured in 3D video games and the 2D presentation. Such style is also referred to as 2.5D

Judged by its cartoony aesthetics, you might associate cel-shading with cartoons or Japanese animes. Indeed, cel-shading is unique as it signs the influence of animations on another medium. The application of cel-shading in video games, however. could be considered a new thing as cel-shaded games broke into the industry as early as the 2000s.

photo credit: GameFabrique/Capcom

photo credit: GameFabrique/Capcom

The Appreciation

Nowadays, video game companies are given varied options for game presentation. The presence of cel-shading in the video game industry came at the same time video game graphics marches on, marking the use of unrealistic imagery to drive players into immersing the game.

Cel-shading allows video game makers to make a more explorable game in cartoony fashion. This would result in a drastically different gaming experience compared to games presented in full 3D. Playing a copy of a 2.5D game, for example Viewtiful Joe could give you a different impression from a 3D game such as Batman: Arkham Asylum.

As a 3D-based game, there is a unique impression from cel-shaded games that doesn’t present in those rendered in 3D CGI. While lacking the realism aspects of 3D, cel-shaded games compensate that with striking, catchy visuals. Often, the toon-like imagery is the thing that makes cel-shaded games leave a timeless impression.

This is why cel-shaded games are yet to die. Some of them found success in the video game industry. Think of Jet Set Radio which received critical acclaim for its innovative graphics and gameplay and became iconic and Hades which was nominated and won several game awards.

photo credit: Steam/Sega

photo credit: Steam/Sega

1. Jet Set Radio

When we are talking about cel-shaded games, Sega’s Jet Set Radio (known as Jet Grind Radio in the USA) comes to mind. It was known as one of the first games that codify the use of cel-shading in the video game medium.

The game was released in 2000 for Dreamcast, sporting a youth-centric theme as exhibited by the game’s story of rollerblading, spray painting teenagers fighting over turfs while headbanging soundtracks provided by Hideki Naganuma playing in the background. Here, the player is tasked with various challenges while roaming and skating around the city of Tokyo-to, spraying graffiti in rival turfs and avoiding patrolling armed police around the open-world environment.

Long time after the discontinuation of Dreamcast, Sega would later port this game to PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. As of now, the game is still available to purchase digitally.

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photo credit: Capcom

photo credit: Capcom

2. Auto Modellista

Another notable example of cel-shading application in its early days is Capcom’s Auto Modellista. While racing games in the early 2000s such as Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 went the realistic route, Capcom ignored the route and opted for a racing game presented in vibrant, anime-ish look.

Like other Japanese racing games at that time, players must navigate an automobile through Japanese urban roads and mountain roads, not unlike with what one have seen in Initial D. Initially, the game was available for Japanese and European players. Capcom would later release the game for American continents, adding more cars such as the cover car Dodge Viper and American-inspired race tracks.

Auto Modellista wasn’t the only cel-shaded racing game. Capcom’s path would later be followed by GT Pro Series (launched in 2006 as a launch title for Nintendo Wii) and Drift City (an MMO racing game).

photo credit: Game Skinny/Capcom

photo credit: Game Skinny/Capcom

3. Viewtiful Joe series

Capcom’s experiment in cel-shading graphics didn’t stop in Auto Modellista. Enter Viewtiful Joe, a toku-themed side-scrolling beat 'em up.

The series sees players take a control of the titular Joe in his (mis)adventure in Movieland. Accompanying players in progressing the game is the VFX power which grants the player to slow down time, move faster, and speed up combat against the goons. So far, the series spawns four games and an animated adapation.

In 2020, Guinness World Records awarded the first game as the first cel-shaded beat 'em up.

photo credit:Steam/Team Reptile

photo credit:Steam/Team Reptile

4. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk

The influence of Jet Set Radio in video games doesn't stop to this date. One game, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk by Team Reptile appears to be created as a spiritual successor to the 2000 masterpiece.

The game follows the adventure of street graffiti artists in the environment where, as Team Reptile's Steam page described, ‘new heights of graffiti are reached’. It has the similar promise to Jet Set Radio, the dance, the graffiti, the skate tricks, and most importantly, the cops you face against. And to progress the game, you need to gain enough reputation.

The game is slated for released sometime in 2022.

© 2021 Muhammad Azka Prasetya

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