Best Minimalist Games on Current Consoles

Highlights

  • Minimalist games can convey a lot without saying much, using straightforward gameplay and vibrant visuals.
  • Minimalist games like Solar Ash and Hollow Knight offer incredibly engaging gameplay without overwhelming the player with information.
  • Indie gems like Journey can provide unique and immersive experiences through simplicity and innovative storytelling.

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Games today continue to push the envelope when it comes to visuals and graphics. With each new release, the characters, environments, and textures get more and more lifelike, almost like playing a movie with control over the actors. It’s an impressive goal to strive for, but sometimes the old maxim of less is more works just a little bit better.

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Not all games need the 4K visual enhancements, some just need a few well-placed pixels or polygons, a riveting story, or addictive gameplay to be an absolute hit. By feeding into those appetites, these minimal games keep players coming back again and again.

Updated September 7, 2023 by Gary Kay: The popularity of minimalist games has not decreased but has instead been picking up steam over the last couple of years with plenty more games gaining success with a more minimal style. While enjoying the most technically impressive games can be entertaining, having a more relaxed experience with your games can be just as rewarding. So, if you want a game that won’t bombard you with information, and lets you enjoy yourself at your own pace, we have some more entries that fit the description!

14 Abzu

Abzu Screenshot of Diver approaching surface

One of the most impressive aspects of more minimal games is how much a game can convey to the audience without saying too much, and that is perfectly displayed in Abzu. The premise of Abzu of simple with you playing as a diver exploring a colorful and vibrant ocean with simple controls and gameplay that is easy to understand, but still offering a little challenge.

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The feel of controlling Abzu is unbeatably satisfying, and the simple visuals are gorgeous. The game also manages to tell a narrative without any lengthy exposition or extended dialogue, a refreshing change of pace from other narrative driven games.

13 Solar Ash

Rei runs along a path as lava pours from a mountain behind her Solar Ash.

A common trait with some minimalist games are how satisfying they can be to control, and one of the best examples of this is Solar Ash. Skating and dashing through the color blocked environments of Solar Ash is an engaging but relaxing experience, and while there is some combat as well, it is not too punishing to kill the momentum.

Solar Ash manages to tell an impactful story with well-paced sporadic dialogue scenes that convey the themes of Solar Ash effectively. You can choose to absorb or ignore as much of the story content as possible while zipping through the stunning landscapes.

12 Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight: The Knight In Key Art

A misconception with minimalist games is that they lack depth, and while this can be true for some, it is not an all-encompassing statement. Hollow Knight, while offering plenty of options for exploration and gameplay, never chooses to waste any time, with the environmental storytelling and short dialogue moments carrying the brunt of the narrative.

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This lets the focus of the game remain on the challenging but rewarding gameplay, all held up with a simplistic art style that is effective at creating an ambiance and a richly detailed world that is a joy for players to explore at their pace.

11 Thumper

thumper

When thinking of minimalist games, most people think of open-world exploration, or a relaxing life simulator, and something like a psychedelic rhythm game tends to avoid consideration, but that is exactly what Thumper is.

Thumper is an intense and pretty punishing rhythm game, but with its simple gameplay and simple narrative told entirely through the gameplay, it would be hard to avoid calling it minimalist. If you are a fan of rhythm games, or love to be entranced and engaged in abstract gaming environments, then Thumper will be an unforgettable experience.

10 Tunic

A fox wearing a green tunic holds a sword in the air in a dense forest

The Legend of Zelda set the standard for adventure games back in the 80s and has been dominating the genre since, but very few of the games in the series can really be considered minimalist. So, if you want something similar to Zelda, but with a minimalist twist, but still with a surprising amount of depth, then Tunic is an amazing option.

The gameplay is reminiscent of a classic 2D Zelda game, but sets itself apart with unique storytelling that uses a fourth-wall-breaking instruction manual that you collect throughout the game to tell the story.

9 Hyper-Light Drifter

It could be said with very little exaggeration that Hyper Light Drifter is probably the most visually complex on the list. 16-bit graphics will always win favor from the retro gamers, but it’s the very minimalist story that wins it a spot.

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In this strange hybrid of Dark Souls, A Link to the Past, and Metroid,the story is left for the gamer to figure out themselves. There is no one exact answer, only theory after theory inferred and concluded by the player. A bold move for such a simple style.

8 Ashen

It’s not an easy job to make a Soulslike game with such a minimalist style, but it can be done. Ashen bears all the makings of a Dark-Soulsinspired title, but with very simple polygonal artwork.

It has the dark and mysterious atmosphere, the crunchy combat, the difficulty, and everything that made its inspiration iconic, but there’s something else at play as well. Something organic and strange that makes it stand out from others of its kind.

7 Journey

Landscape in Journey

Journey is magnificent. That’s a fact gamers in and out of the Indie Circle can all agree on. There is a definite adventure at play, if not a story of sorts. But there’s no grand or majestic narrative, the art style is simple yet clear and definitive, and there’s a certain emotional element to the entire experience few games can replicate.

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It’s about exploration, visual storytelling through environments and music, and a strange spiritual quest in finding one’s own kind. There’s more to the game than just getting from A to B.

6 VVVVVV

VVVVVV

From looking at it, one wouldn’t know that this game is actually about the captain of a spaceship trying to save his crew from a malfunctioning transporter device. Who knew stick figures lived such interesting lives? Deceptively simple would be putting it lightly.

In the game, the player controls the flow of gravity to explore a multitude of rooms in the spaceship, rescuing crewmates and avoiding traps. Its naturally engrossing nature and simplistic gameplay are what keeps its fan base alive and well.

5 Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone Jump

Platforming games generally don’t require much complexity to begin with, but when the game’s graphics are literally rectangles of different colors and the title comes with an award-winning narrative, people take notice.

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The rectangles in question represent AI programs set in a dark, geometric mainframe world, and the story is narrated phenomenally by Danny Wallace, giving it massive creative props. Suggestion is a powerful tool, but the amount of imagination that has to go into making this game happen is pretty impressive.

4 Limbo

The boy standing at cliff with boxes with birds dangling from trees as part of the many puzzles seen in Limbo.

Sometimes the simple approach is all one needs to create a truly eerie horror game, and no title captures that concept better than Limbo. This shadowy puzzle-platformer gets its scares and intensity without a single drop of gore or even a single saturated color.

Death is frequent and brutal in this game, and it will take more than an understanding of physics to escape the clutches of the darkness that surrounds the player. At this point, the shadows and limited visuals work incredibly in the game’s favor.

3 Superhot

Superhot VR killing an enemy

A first-person shooter seems like the last game that would work with a minimalist aesthetic, but Superhot manages to make the player feel like they’re in a scene from The Matrix with chunky graphics and faceless enemies.

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The time-manipulation paired with the shooting element of the game makes for a rather interesting and unusual puzzle experience. Plus, it’s practically impossible not to feel like a hot-shot action hero while taking down the red, shattering enemies with a variety of weapons.

2 Geometry Wars Series

Wavy dark grid background and a ship flying around shooting colourful shapes

One of the biggest stars of the Xbox arcade is the Geometry Wars series. The basis of the series is literally shapes shooting shapes at other shapes. Easy to grasp, easy to animate, and easy to render. All with a touch of Atari-level simplicity and style.

This series was a modern-retro title before the genre was even really a thing. Some serious Arkanoid and Asteroid vibes are going on with these games, and with three beloved titles still being played, the fanbase is strong with this one.

1 Tetris

A large group of Tetris blocks fall from the sky

There’s not a gamer on the planet that hasn’t been exposed to Tetris, or at least some sort of clone or spinoff. Although its formula has had some form of variation since its existence, the core game has remained steadfast and simple.

Different colors and layouts have come and gone, but the falling of various blocks of different shapes has remained the same since 1984. At the end of the day, it’s a simple case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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