Many forms of media feature a wide variety of art styles, from abstract to bright. Seeking a different artistic purpose, these styles use a wide variety of colors. Monochromatic color schemes, though, can do at least as much with less. With primarily two colors to use, due to technology handicaps or intentional choices, these games sold their visuals the hard way, for better or worse!
Playdead hit the indie market with their first platformer project, LIMBO, a 2-D atmospheric side-scroller with minimal visuals. Ulike Playdead’s second project, INSIDE, this game features a monochromatic color scheme. It gives the game a melancholic and lonely feeling to it, since nothing visually pops out at the player. Since its puzzles rely on environmental cues, the player has to pay attention to the monochromatic surroundings and use almost everything available, from levers to dead bodies. Should someone go to real-life Limbo, I’d imagine it to look a lot like Playdead’s monochromatic gem.
Return of the Obra Dinn
Many computer players from the 90s remember puzzle detective games like Fantasy Quest with a dithering look due to the limited technology of the Macintosh. Papers, Please developer Lucas Pope sought to recapture this aesthetic with Return of the Obra Dinn, a first-person detective game requiring the player to investigate the mysterious deaths of the crew of the missing ghost ship, the Obra Dinn. As mentioned, this game uses its monochromatic color scheme for nostalgic purposes to send players back to the 90s sitting in front of their Macintoshes slowly unraveling the mystery of the challenge set for them.
West of Loathing
Due to their simplicity and wide range of potential expressions, stick figures have formed their own comedic art style. Developer Asymmetric, known for Kingdom of Loathing, released a spinoff in 2017 called West of Loathing. It features slapstick humor and stick figures for characters, similar to KoL, while boasting a Wild West setting with turn-based role-playing gameplay. Since it relies on stick figures for its simple slapstick humor, the game has monochromatic visuals.
World of Horror
Similar to the ninth entry, this game focuses on the dithering 1-bit style of old Macintosh games. In addition to point-and-click gameplay, World of Horror adds roguelite elements to make each run different from the last in a choose-your-own-adventure format. The narrative and art style take inspiration from Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft in telling a tale of cosmic horror with grotesque, haunting imagery. The game remains in Early Access for now.
Interrogation: You Will Be Deceived
Film noir emerged back in the 20th century, and its influences have shown in works like Sin City, Seven, and the number six entry: Interrogation: You Will Be Deceived. The player controls an interrogator making an effort to get suspects to talk by any means necessary. Push too insignificantly, and the suspect remains confident and silent. Push too far, and not only will the suspect turn on the interrogator, but the interrogator may lose any sense of morality. The monochromatic style goes with old detective stories of the time, from which the game takes inspiration.
Armed With Wings: Rearmed
Flash games often serve as the “monochromatic aesthetic” of gaming: simple and limited for better or worse. A few of these games, such as Meat Boy, Plants vs. Zombies, and Armed With Wings gained notoriety and received ports to other systems. Armed with Wings returned as Armed with Wings: Rearmed with the same art style and similar gameplay. The simplistic monochromatic visuals complement the game’s simplistic approach to story-telling and gameplay as well as contributing to a land of darkness and tyranny.
Similar to the previous entry, this game’s art style and gameplay go for a simplistic look to contribute to the monochromatic aesthetic. Gato Roboto takes inspiration from metroidvanias and features a cat piloting a mech suit fighting aliens.
Choices That Matter: And The Sun Went Out
As well as point-and-click games, text-based games like Zork emerged from the early days of computer games. And the Sun Went Out serves as the first installment of the Choices That Matter series from Tin Man Games. Since the game relies on text to tell its story and involve the player, it relies on monochromatic visuals to not distract from the text.
Minit crafts its entire sales pitch on simplicity. The player must venture out to lift a curse that ends each day after one minute. Due to the simplicity, the visuals only require two distinct colors.
The earliest days of cartoons on television featured monochromatic animations, and DVNC seeks to revive the old rubber hose cartoons for their new pun-filled project, Monochrome RPG. The player plays as Otto, an insecure rabbit seeking to make it big in a society built around entertainment. Monochrome emphasizes entertaining opponents with support from other entertainers encountered on Otto’s journey instead of fighting them. With the game, DVNC aims to bridge the gap between the old and the new.