Every color of the rainbow (so long as it's brown)
The current console generation is winding down, making this the perfect time to reflect on the history of 360, PS3, and Wii. Each expanded gaming in their own way, but it seems like many will remember the HD visuals of this era as an excessively sandy, rock-strewn brown and yellow expanse. But that narrow viewpoint ignores many gorgeous games that never settled for such a limited color palette.
Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Fallout may have made bombed out, brown levels famous, and that limited collection of hues was certainly adopted by countless imitators. Still, there were many games that took advantage of the entire crayon box, creating some the most diverse stages wed ever seen. Take a look at the many games that kept color alive over the last generation, starting with
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
After one look at El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, you wont be shocked to learn that the games lead developer was once one of Capcoms top artists. Head developer Takeyasu Sawaki took the skills he used when designing Devil May Cry and Okami and created one of the most aesthetically stunning games of the generation. Each stage was a different work of art, sometimes looking like a colorful childrens book, and other a neon world filled with dozens of staring eyes.
Every level had a clear artistic direction distinct from the last, taking pains to fill the corners of each world with deep purples, reds, and greens. The gameplay wasnt always equal to the advanced visuals, but no matter how frustrating the 3D platforming could get, wed be entranced by the creativity on display in strange areas, like the underwater dance club and futuristic cityscapes, that kept popping up during the brief narrative.
The recent reboot DmC was one our big inspirations for creating this list. Early sections of the game hint at some of the creative use of color it has in store, as the subdued real world is overtaken by demonic, crimson hues. But thats just the start. Two of the later levels, particularly the boss fights, gave the art team a real chance to shine.
Spoilers if youve yet to play it, but the dance club thats home to the big bads special lady is full of electric oranges and blues, and those vibrant colors are even more memorable due to them directly affecting what kinds of attacks you can pull off. Meanwhile, when you jump into a TV to confront a murderous, faux-Fox News anchor, bright blues and reds fill the screen, reflecting the patriotic facade of the network. Both stages proved the developers were in in the mood for more than the oranges and reds of Hell.
Super Mario Galaxy
You can safely expect any Mario game to be a colorful adventure. The characters cartoony world lends itself to the type of visuals seen in Super Mario Sunshine and Yoshis Island. Still, Super Mario Galaxy gave the developers the opportunity to create a game for the Wii that not only kept up with its HD competition graphically, but also pushed the artists to express classic Mario designs in diverse, imaginative ways.
Each planetoid was a new chance to splash buckets of digital paint all over the screen. The world where flowers bloomed behind Marios every step, the planet where bright red fire and blue-tinted ice existed on the same sphere, and hang gliding with a bird through a tropical paradise are just a handful of the polychromatic levels the game had to offer. Even with less graphical horsepower, the Galaxy games proved the Wii could at least surpass its HD competition in the color department.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Street Fighter IV legitimized 2D fighting games for a whole new generation, and it did it with a colorful cast of new and old characters. But that game was just a taste of the eye-searing visuals that Capcom would bring to the long-awaited comic book crossover, Marvel vs Capcom 3.
The game, and its expanded Ultimate edition, had a bit of help in the color department, thanks to the flashy costumes of the Marvel characters. But even without masked men in bright reds, blues, and yellows, the glowing energy emitted by every characters special attacks fill the screen with pulsing color every few seconds. The added layer of shadows on every character might make MvC3 look murky at first glance, but its much different once the action gets started.
Developer DICE was celebrated for its Battlefield games, which took first-person shooting to new levels of multiplayer excitement, but it seems the team wanted to keep the decidedly solo Mirrors Edge separate from its marquee franchise. MEs free-running gameplay that deemphasized gunplay made a big difference in making it distinct, but so did replacing war-ravaged settings with a bluntly colored vision of the future.
The stage design got a lot of mileage out of contrasting white walls with bright reds, blues, and greens, but the eye-catching art also had an impact on the gameplay. The different colors were used to direct players in the direction they needed to go, pushing them away from the boring white buildings around them and towards their next goal. Mirrors Edge was at its best when it made players feel the fluid motion of its protagonist, and the gaudy visuals revealed the quickest route to that sensation.
This list wont feature many downloadable games of this generation, mostly because XBLA/PSN releases had the advantage of smaller budgets and niche appeal that allowed them to get more experimental with the art. That made vibrant visuals pretty standard for those titles. Still, Geometry Wars was such a trailblazer of console downloadables that it deserves a space here. And as addicting as its twin-stick action was, its neon graphics deserve almost as much credit for its success.
The line art on the ships and the graph paper backgrounds might have looked simple, but they pulled people in immediately. The stark art design really stood out from the drab appearance of 360 launch games like Gun and Call of Duty 2, making the $5 release the killer app for all those looking to soak in the fresh HD visuals. The games early success influenced so many downloadables, but the original Geometry Wars strong artistic design remains burned into the memories of all that played it.
Developer Rare made a name for itself on the N64 by crafting colorful worlds for its many mascots, but the team currently uses its diverse collection of digital paint to make trifles like Kinect Sports. But before that transition, Rare took a stab at creating an animal collecting franchise. Viva Piata might never have been the huge success it deserved to be, but the cheeky, all-ages adventure at least stood out from pack of major 360 exclusives.
We loved caring for the pun-laden piatas like Pretztail and Horstachio, and they were all so well-realized in purposefully gaudy paper mache. The characters were adorned with blazing primaries that were usually restrained to a childs birthday party, and they all frolicked together in a sunny field of your choosing. Better yet, the colors were made even more enjoyable thanks to the surprisingly deep sim gameplay that hid underneath. The kiddie look might've prevented VP from being the hit it deserved to be, but wed hate to see it look any other way.
Prince of Persia (2008)
Given the Arabian Nights feel of Prince of Persias desert setting, youd expect the series to end up with the bland color palette that this generation is infamous for. Perhaps done to offset such expectations, the would-be series reboot, 2008s Prince of Persia, went with a cel-shaded style that emphasized cooling tones of green and blue set against the earthen coloring of the area.
Each area of the open world was distinct, from the floating platforms in the bright blue skies to the watery, underground puzzles. Additionally, every stage was dotted with glowing blue orbs that stood out from the world almost as much as the striking main characters. Oily evil may have coated every stage, but that only made the areas look even more gorgeous once Elica purified the land Okami-style.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Most games that envisioned a post-apocalyptic world usually went with washed out vistas and barren landscapes, so we welcomed the approach to a ruined Earth taken by Ninja Theorys Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Set centuries after the fall of man, the world of Enslaved may have destroyed buildings and scrap metal as far as the eye can see, but its all underneath the vegetation thats been slowly taking back the now-empty cities, making for the greenest wasteland weve ever seen.
Its a unique choice, and one that beautifully illustrates that, even after humanity dies out, the world will find a way to keep on going. Later stages found similarly vibrant approaches to the tribal cities that sprung up around the remains of humanity, along with giant piles of trash that somehow made for a gorgeous mountain view. Enslaveds green apocalypse seems to have inspired the similarly gorgeous The Last of Us, though that isnt surprising, since the games both credit Mark Richard Davies as lead designer.
Epics Unreal 3 engine and its marquee title--Gears of War--were known for best-in-class graphics, but the worlds they inhabited had a reputation for washed-out, muted tones. Perhaps that explains why Epics internal studio People Can Fly tried its best to play off that perception with the comically violent Bulletstorm.
Though Bulletstorm still had its fair share of gritty, rocky wastelands and sun-bleached ghost towns, People Can Fly found ways to add dazzling color wherever they could. Blue lightning, red skies, and some green killer cacti made for visuals that were much more creative than they appeared on the surface. Sure, the stages might not have been as colorful as Bulletstorms dirty language, but it showed a versatility to Unreal 3 that many other games never took advantage of.
Child of Eden
Whether played on the Dreamcast, PS2, or as an HD remake, Rez was a psychotropic acid trip in game form, so its sequel had some very trippy shoes to fill. Fortunately, Child of Eden was up to the task, showcasing intoxicating graphics that were more than fitting for its equally exceptional soundtrack.
Technically a shooter, Child of Eden was more like an art exhibition meant to be experienced multiple times. Its true that a single playthrough was pretty short, but CoEs kaleidoscopic levels should be felt dozens of times--with or without mind-altering substances.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The Uncharted series shares a lot fictional DNA with the James Bond and Indiana Jones films. All feature charismatic men of action, and they also take their characters to some of the most exotic locations in the world. After limiting its settings to a tropical island in its predecessor, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves took players on a tour of some of the prettiest--and deadliest--places on Earth.
Nathan Drake found himself in a variety of colorful locales: a simple mountain village, frozen temples, tree-shrouded railways, frosted-over outposts, and well-appointed Turkish museums. And the game ends with a visit to the legendary Shangri-La, which was as outlandish and mysterious as youd expect. The cinematic setpieces might grab your attention, but Uncharted 2 is just as great to look at when you take a moment to stop and soak it all in.
The Witcher 2
When it comes to fantasy games, most players have gotten used to the understated coloring of titles like Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age. Thats what really distinguished The Witcher 2 from its competition. Developer CD Projekt RED created a world filled with the striking colors usually seen in kiddie games, and put those colors alongside a particularly mature game narrative.
Witcher 2 is still one of the most gorgeous games around, particularly when played on a PC that can accommodate its full visual capabilities. But even console players can appreciate the stunning blues, greens, and reds, which look even more striking next to the protagonists stark white hair. After graphics like those, its hard to imagine what the developers will pull off with The Witcher 3 on next-gen consoles.
Alice: Madness Returns
American McGees name is one of the most well-known in gaming, thanks in no small part to the PC hit Alice. Fans had been clamoring for years for McGee to return to his fractured take on the world of Lewis Carroll, eager to see Wonderland with a new coat of HD paint. And while the overall game wasnt all that memorable, the level designers at least got creative with their new 1080p canvas.
Wonderland had never been more murderous, but the classic settings from the books still had some of their affecting style beneath all the blood. Queensland, Dollhouse, and the Deluded Depths all had fresh takes on the familiar world of Wonderland, all with distinctly hued takes on the psychotic concept. Were not sure we ever want to go through this particular looking glass again, but at least it made for a nice postcard.
A new coat of paint
Those are some of the most striking games of the last seven years, but do you have any other colorful examples? And how do you think color will be used in next-gen? Share with us your thoughts on ROYGBIV in the comments!