Selecting the appropriate art style for a mobile game is a major decision. It influences not only the visual appeal but also how players interact with the game. Make the right choice, and you’re on the path to success. However, the process isn’t straightforward – there are a multitude of options, each with unique pros and cons.
So, where should you begin?
This article will guide you through the most popular mobile game art styles, offering key insights to inform your choice.
Note that the listed mobile game art styles are sorted by how many games are using them, according to data from AppMagic. This gives you an idea of how popular each art style is.
Stylized Mobile Games
When it comes to mobile game art styles, stylized is a term you’ll encounter quite frequently.
What does it mean exactly?
A stylized art style often departs from realistic portrayals, focusing instead on exaggerated or simplified elements that create a unique aesthetic. This could be anything from vibrant colors and exaggerated forms to unique textures.
Interestingly, a significant portion of mobile games opt for stylized art – and for good reason.
This approach allows for greater creative freedom and can also be less resource-intensive, which is a big plus. Stylized art is also highly versatile, covering a wide spectrum that includes subcategories like cartoonish art styles.
So, what type of players gravitates toward these visually inventive games?
Generally, it appeals to players who value a unique and engaging visual experience over strict realism. Games like Monopoly GO, Royal Match, and Subway Surfers are prime examples that showcase the versatility and popularity of stylized art in mobile gaming.
Low-detail art style takes the stylized approach and pushes it one step further by actively minimizing the intricacies of visual elements. In a low-detail mobile game, you’ll often see basic shapes, simple color palettes, and minimalistic textures. The emphasis is on simplicity and functionality rather than high fidelity.
Why do developers often opt for this art style?
One reason is that low-detail graphics are both resource and cost-efficient, which means they’re cheaper to produce and run smoothly on various mobile devices without consuming too much processing power. This is a significant advantage for games aimed at a broad audience.
This style is particularly prevalent in hyper-casual games, where the focus is more on gameplay mechanics than visuals. You’ll also find low detail in certain casino, puzzle, and word games, where streamlined visuals can actually enhance the gameplay experience.
2D Mobile Games
2D art style in mobile gaming is all about flatness and depth illusion.
Unlike 3D games that aim for a more spatial experience, 2D games operate on a single plane, consisting of length and width but no depth.
It’s often easier and quicker to develop, which is perfect for developers working on a tight schedule or budget.
Another advantage of 2D art is its versatility – it can be seamlessly combined with other art styles. Whether it’s a stylized 2D game with cartoonish elements or a high-detail 2D game with intricate designs, the possibilities are expansive. You could even venture into niche styles like anime 2D games.
Popular games like Coin Master, Homescapes, Clash of Clans, and Evony: The King’s Return showcase the diversity and adaptability of 2D art in mobile gaming. Whether you’re looking for simplicity or a fusion of artistic elements, 2D can be a solid choice.
3D Mobile Games
While 2D games excel in flatness and depth illusion, 3D mobile games take it a notch higher by adding the z-axis – an element of depth. This additional dimension allows for a more immersive experience, where characters and objects can move in all directions within the game world.
A hallmark of 3D games is their spatial realism.
Elements like shadows, textures, and lighting all combine to create a lifelike environment. This makes 3D art particularly well-suited for genres that aim for immersion, such as action, adventure, and simulation games.
But let’s clear a common misconception: 3D art isn’t exclusively about high detail and realism. Much like its 2D counterpart, 3D art is versatile and can be combined with various other styles.
Take Genshin Impact as an example; it combines 3D and anime art styles to create a unique visual experience.
Other popular 3D games that showcase this adaptability include Pokémon Go, Subway Surfers, and Call of Duty: Mobile. Even in the world of horror games, titles like Identity V and Hello Neighbor use 3D art to heighten the sense of suspense and intrigue.
Normal detail in mobile gaming strikes a middle ground between the minimalistic approach of low detail and the intricate realism of high detail. This art style aims for a balanced visual experience, offering enough detail to captivate the player while not overwhelming the device’s resources.
In terms of graphics, normal detail typically includes moderate texture resolutions, more defined shapes, and some level of shading. However, it generally avoids ultra-realistic lighting or overly complex models.
Popular games like Free Fire, Eggy Party, Whiteout Survival, and Monopoly GO! showcase the efficacy and appeal of the normal detail art style. These games manage to engage players with compelling visuals while keeping performance smooth across a range of mobile devices.
While many mobile games opt for stylized or abstract visuals, there’s a segment of developers who aim for a realistic art style.
In a realistic mobile game, the graphics closely mimic real life, featuring high-resolution textures, advanced lighting effects, and intricate models. The goal is to create an environment that looks and feels as true to life as possible.
This art style often complements genres that aim for immersion or simulation, like first-person shooters or sports games. The reason is simple: realism enhances the credibility of the game world, which makes the player’s actions and choices feel real.
Who’s drawn to this style?
Players who value immersion and complexity often gravitate toward realistic games. These are individuals who appreciate the nuances and details that come closer to mimicking the real world.
However, realism does come with its challenges.
For starters, realistic games often demand higher computational power, making them less accessible for players with older or less capable devices. Additionally, the development process can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive, given the level of detail required.
Popular examples like 8 Ball Pool, PUBG Mobile, Knives Out, Call of Duty: Mobile, and Design Home showcase how realism can elevate the gaming experience.
Manga/Anime Mobile Games
Manga and anime aren’t just popular forms of entertainment in Japan; they’ve also carved a unique niche in the world of mobile gaming, particularly in the Eastern market.
While manga typically refers to printed comics and anime to animated TV shows or films, both share core stylistic elements like exaggerated facial expressions, vibrant colors, and unique character designs.
What sets these styles apart in the gaming world?
They’re often associated with gacha games – a type of mobile game that involves drawing virtual items at random. This model aligns well with the episodic and serialized nature of many manga and anime series, creating a compelling loop for players.
But is it a breeze to develop an anime-style game?
That’s particularly true for IP-based anime games. One of the main challenges is capturing the essence and aesthetics of the source material. This means detailed character models, intricate backgrounds, and sometimes even coordinating with the original creators to maintain authenticity.
Examples such as Genshin Impact, Honkai Star Rail, Goddess of Victory: Nikke, and Fate/Grand Order highlight the potential of manga and anime styles to create visually striking and deeply engaging mobile games.
Originating from the early days of video gaming, pixel art is a digital art form where images are created on a pixel level. Its charm lies in its simplicity – each pixel serves as a building block to create characters, landscapes, and more.
It’s nostalgic, but it’s also a choice that carries its own aesthetic and functional advantages.
So why would a developer opt for this style?
The main advantage is the art form’s unique charm, which can distinguish a game in a crowded market.
The audience for pixel art games often includes retro gaming enthusiasts or those who appreciate the minimalist, abstract form of expression that pixel art offers. It’s a style that evokes the origins of gaming, appealing to those who have a soft spot for vintage visuals.
Creating a pixel or blocks game isn’t necessarily easier, though.
While the art assets might require fewer resources, they demand a high level of precision and a keen eye for detail, as every pixel counts. Designing assets that are both simple and expressive can be a meticulous process.
Games like Minecraft, Crossy Road, 1945 Air Force, Tomb of the Mask, and Block Craft 3D serve as prime examples of how pixel and block art can offer a distinctive yet accessible gaming experience.
High-detail art style is less prevalent in mobile games compared to its ubiquity in video games.
The primary reason?
Resource constraints and high development costs.
Mobile devices often lack the processing power and memory to handle the computational demands of high-detail graphics. High-resolution textures, complex models, and advanced lighting effects are resource-intensive, making them less suitable for the average smartphone.
That said, high detail in mobile games offers an unparalleled level of visual fidelity.
The graphics often feature intricate designs, dynamic lighting, and even photorealistic elements. Whether stylized or realistic, the aim is to present an environment so meticulously crafted that it pulls you into the game world effortlessly.
It’s worth noting that high detail isn’t exclusive to any single genre or player type; it spans both casual and core games.
MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games like Honor of Kings and Mobile Legends Bang Bang often feature high-detail graphics to capture the complexity and depth these games offer. Simulator games also benefit from high detail, using it to enhance realism and immersion.
Examples such as Asphalt 8, Clash Royale, Homescapes, and Diablo Immortal demonstrate that, when executed well, high detail can significantly elevate the gaming experience, offering players rich, immersive worlds to explore.
Semi-realism straddles the line between the authenticity of realism and the whimsical qualities of stylized art.
When it comes to mobile game art styles, this means graphics that capture the essence of real life but infuse it with artistic liberties — think characters who have realistic proportions but exaggerated features, or environments that mimic the real world but add a touch of fantasy.
The balanced nature of semi-realism makes it a versatile choice for a range of game genres.
For instance, simulation games like SimCity: BuildIt benefit from semi-realistic graphics that make the cityscapes relatable yet imaginative. Similarly, fighting games like Mortal Kombat use semi-realism to make the combat visceral, while still allowing for over-the-top moves that defy physics.
Other examples of games that have successfully employed semi-realism include Granny, where the dark, eerie atmosphere is both believable and exaggerated, as well as Last Day on Earth: Survival, which blends realistic survival elements with fictional scenarios.
Retro Art Style
The retro art style brings players back to the early days of gaming by embracing the aesthetic limitations of older hardware to create a nostalgic experience.
Think 8-bit and 16-bit graphics, simple color palettes, and chip-tune music.
This style captures the essence of vintage gaming, and transports players back to an era where less was more in terms of graphical representation.
Despite its nostalgic allure, retro art isn’t as widespread in mobile gaming.
The modern mobile game ecosystem leans more towards higher fidelity graphics and advanced gameplay mechanics, as devices have evolved to support them. However, this doesn’t mean that retro art style is obsolete; it still has its niche.
Certain genres shine with a retro art style.
Arcade games, for instance, find a natural fit due to their origins in the retro gaming era. Puzzle games and platformers also align well with this style, capturing its straightforward and accessible nature.
Games like Tomb of the Mask, Retro Bowl, and Galaxiga Arcade Shooting Game demonstrate how retro art can carve out its own space in the modern mobile gaming landscape.
While not the mainstream choice, it certainly holds its own charm and appeals to those seeking a trip down memory lane.
Mobile Game Art Styles: A Summary
Choosing the right art style for a mobile game is a nuanced decision, influenced by various factors from device limitations to player preferences.
Whether it’s the nostalgia of retro, the balance of semi-realism, or the distinct charm of anime and manga, each style offers its unique flair and challenges. By understanding these diverse mobile game art styles, you’re better equipped to select the one that will best bring your game vision to life.