While I have a bachelors degree in game development, I’m not very good at the programming side of things but it has taught me enough to be able to look at stuff and think: “Wow, that’s impressive.”

With Pico-8, developers use a ‘fantasy console’ to impose strict limitations on themselves and have to perform fantastic feats of code contortion to make it run anything more complicated than an 8bit platformer. And that’s why I love Pico-8 development so much. It’s a wayback machine to when developers had to not only out-think their competition but the very software they were working with.

But enough gushing, if you want to read more about the Pico-8 I recommend checking out their website. At the very least, you’ll find thousands of free games to play.

Here are some that I think are cool:

Alpine Alpaca by Johan Peitz
A cute alpaca on a skiing holiday that challenges you to use a deck of movement cards to ski down a mountain. Hitting gates unlocks new cards with special abilities like the Snow Bomb which clears an area around you, boost cards that increase the distance moved with each card, and sideways movement cards for tactical re-positioning. As you speed down the mountainside you have to avoid trees and boulders (though there is a card that allows you to vault a single obstacle). Crash into anything other than a stump or gate post and its game over.

I’m glad it doesn’t reveal that 12 is probably my Hi-score…

This is actually much more challenging than it looks and a really fun arcade deck building puzzle game. I really like the visuals in this one, they’re crisp while still maintaining a lot of character.

Sk8border by Leif Halldór Ásgeirsson, Marc-André Toupin and Ben Wiley

Tear down Trump’s wall with the power of skateboarding!

Sort of like Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland if you squint hard enough

The game revolves around grinding along the border wall, alternating front or back wheels by holding the Z or X keys and jumping by letting go. Very simple mechanics that are really difficult to master. Timing your jumps is crucial but can be really satisfying when you get it right and when the level generator gives you a nice long section to grind on. 

The goal is to stay on long enough to get that red bar full, at which point you destroy Trump’s wall. However, touch the ground and the bar goes right back to the bottom.

Low Mem Sky by Paul Nicholas
A demake of No Man’s Sky, that, with the very limited power of the Pico-8, has managed to emulate the feeling of NMS to the letter.

Starting on an alien planet, you fix up your ship and head off into space. You can fly around on a beautifully rendered 8 bit universe, fast travelling to new galaxies, discovering new worlds, and docking with very little loading time.

The amount of galaxies and planets in this boggles my mind.

On the planets you can come across alien lifeforms (though no hostile ones that I’ve found yet), guardians (again, non-hostile as far as I’m aware), and loot.

The only goal seems to be to collect Warp Cells in order to jump to new star systems (which was basically the point in the original NMS as well).

While Low Mem Sky might not be as fun as other games on this list, it’s worth checking out for its technical ability.

Brutal Pico Race by Yourykikki
I’ll be honest, I sucked at Wipeout and Brutal Pico Race seems to have a lot of influence from that. But putting aside my constant last place, BPR is quite impressive. With a semblance of 3D, 10 ships, and 6 tracks to pick from, it’s actually a really good offering. Especially with the multiplayer option and tactical boosting.

I swear one of those buildings in the background is laughing at my terrible driving…

A great one to bust out when you’ve got a few minutes to kill waiting for the microwave.

If you want to check out more Pico-8 games or to get into Pico-8 development yourself, head over to their website HERE