PICO-8 Games: the shiny retro world of Fantasy Consoles

I must admit, when Minecraft became mainstream, I was not a big fan of low-res graphics. But lately, as I’ve played more and more retro games, I’ve warmed up towards the pixel art style. Lucky me, PICO-8 became so popular.


The devs at Lexaloffle Games define PICO-8 as a “fantasy console”. Why? Because there is no actual hardware for this gaming device. Just rigid specs to simulate retro consoles, emulators for Windows, Linux and Mac OS, and stylish developer tools (or so I was told). Plus each and every game uses the same 16 colors (a great pallet), same inputs (for 1 or 2 players), and 32kB of space. This means that each game is 32kB max.
While PICO-8 is not the only “fantasy console” out there, its community is definitely one of the most active and helpful there is. Especially when it comes to retro games. Plus Lexaloffe also hosts a number of free ones on their website, some of which are… not that exciting, while others are very very good. But let me give you 3 examples.


This gem is a fun card game with rather complex mechanics for PICO-8 standards (you have to actually read the instructions).
You are the party leader and guess what? A boss is around the corner, just waiting to be slain. But oh no! Your team is made up of Jerry with a pitchfork and the local drunken bard. Quick! Hire the mighty… florist? Well any pair of hands would help. Oh dear… Our sleepy witch turned the ninja into soup… again. At least now we can kill that leafy green and have a healthy wallet! Come and join the fray. Excellent choice for half an hour of fun!


You find yourself in a bit of a predicament. One late night 5 vampires decide you would make a great meal. Luckily for you, they have a gambling problem. This is a game all about chance and calculating risks.
The gameplay is very intuitive, and if you take a moment and think about the odds the game becomes beatable. Still, thanks to the grace of lady luck, you can never be sure of a win. Plus, like true gamblers, if the stakes are high, your opponent will double down. Will you accept such a gamble?


I declare myself guilty of losing hours upon hours trying to get 5 stars on the toughest difficulty. Slipways is a sublime, simple but engaging, relaxing management game about managing human colonies.
In a quiet distant galaxy, through a pitch black wormhole, a few colony ships arrive full of hope and life. Settlers from old mother Terra come forth and land on the nearest earth-like planet. Oh, but they need food! Soon a second farm colony is founded on an ocean planet for cultivating algae. Now our new farmers desperately need robots. As such a third human outpost is formed on an ancient remnant planet. Long ago species far more advanced than ours transformed the planet into a giant factory. It ate thousands of tons of metal to produce microchips and robots. Now our scavengers will repurpose the droids to resist the crushing pressure in the algae farm. And so the first 3 trading routes are formed. It’s high time we tame the whole sector!
I think it’s obvious I was very much captivated by this fantasy console full of retro games. The gameplay is crisp, retro and stylish. I cannot get enough of it. Hopefully, after reading this, you will try some of the games yourself. After all, they are free!


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