PICO-8 is a fantasy console, which gives a retro visual style to the games created within it. It is defined as “like a real-world console, but without the inconvenience of actual hardware.”
The engine has everything that makes a console a console except physical cartridges. Instead, programs made for the engine are distributed on png images which look similar to cartridges. There are lots of interesting and tiny — but super fun — games made on the PICO-8 console.
As hallmark features PICO-8 games tend to have simple controls; normally two buttons (Z & X) as well as the arrow key inputs. Below, I am going to cover a few of my favorites from the hundreds available.
Celeste by Matt Thorson & Noel Berry
Celeste is an elegantly-made, hardcore platformer following a cold mountain climb. You play a character with pink hair by jumping, including wall jumping, and activating a boost ability to get around the level. Once you use the boost, your hair shifts to blue until you touch back down on a surface, at which point it will to pink. Throughout the level there are occasionally pink balloons floating around — you can jump or boost into these to get an additional boost to use right away. This is crucial to finishing the levels which the balloons feature within. There are also keys, chests, and strawberries dotted around various levels; you can collect the keys to open a chest and reveal a strawberry which, like those floating around each screen, will provide bonus points.
Instead of horizontal levels in Celeste you go up in altitude, reaching the next screen once you cross the top barrier, which is a great feature. There’s quite a challenge to the game, but the new mechanics dotted along the mountain make it very enjoyable.