Video game visuals have come a long way since the days of vector graphics. Numerous techniques have been developed and perfected through the generations to bring us the best-looking virtual experiences. One such method was using digitized sprites. Actors would be photographed and tracked on blue screens for their models to be put in the video game.
While the effect looks primitive today, it is still the closest thing we have to “real-life graphics.” The games below all use digitized sprites effectively to create unique graphics. It also helps that these are all classics most gamers still enjoy today. The graphics, though indicative of the time, give them a unique flair that most modern games lack.
8 Mortal Kombat
This fighting game is not only notable for its violence, but it also has great gameplay. With shorter combos and special moves that are relatively easy to remember, Mortal Kombat was more accessible than more complicated piers.
The digitized sprites only lent to the controversy around its violence since detractors could argue that the graphics were so realistic in their betrayal of death. The blood and gore are really too cartoony to be anywhere close to realism, though. After Mortal Kombat 3, the series left digitized sprites behind and no longer released in arcades, though the core gameplay remains intact.
7 Road Rash
Racing games can be some of the friendliest competitive video games. Most encourage going as fast as possible to beat the competition. Road Rash, however, is all about violently taking out the other racers on the bike.
The name itself is even aggressive. You have to use weapons to knock others off their motorcycle, but also be careful not to fall victim yourself. The racers are all represented by digitized sprites, and FMV cutscenes are included in the game to add to the realism.
6 Killer Instinct
After Mortal Kombat’s success, it only made sense for more mature fighting games to come out that also utilized this graphic style. Killer Instinct was developed by Rare, who would go on to make all-time classics like GoldenEye 007. The game uses pre-rendered character models made using the Silicon Graphics Workstation instead of real actors filmed for the roles.
This allowed for more imaginative character designs that would not be so easy to capture if it was a person in a suit or even a doll. One sequel came out with a similar visual style, and then a reboot came out with the launch of the Xbox One in 2013.
5 Area 51
Many light-gun games used digitized sprites before games like Virtua Cop and Time Crisis normalized using polygonal models for characters. Area 51 is among the best of these titles, having come a little later in 1995. True to its name, the game has you shooting up humanoid aliens and mutants around a research base.
The graphics won’t fool anyone into thinking you are shooting real people, but today they have a distinct charm. The console ports did not fare as well critically, so it is pretty hard to get the authentic experience unless you can find the arcade machine.
4 Alien Vs. Predator
while the movie adaptation of Alien Vs. Predator was not satisfactory; the video game version of the comic book series managed to capture the essence of both creatures as well as the space marines. While digital sprites look primitive today in this game, they still can scare you if you are the one holding the controller.
The game features three campaigns for the xenomorphs, predators, and space marines. It was one of the few FPS games that prioritized atmosphere over bombastic action, and it was even more special for doing it on a console.
As the first king of the FPS genre, Doom lives on in perpetuity. You are so in the zone whenever you play this classic shooter it is easy to forget that the enemies are digitized sprites. Most of them are sculpted models.
Making something in 3D and then putting them into a 2D space still gives them detail and life that other methods of the time might not have accomplished. It also makes us uneasy to know that these demonic monsters actually do exist in the real world, albeit as clay models.
2 Primal Rage
Where many fighters with digitized sprites photographed actors to get their action, Primal Rage exclusively used models and stop-motion animation. This meant every beast could work outside the limitations of human ability, and many were not even humanoid in form.
The game’s roster is small, but every beast is brimming with detail, and the animations are incredibly smooth for 1994. Taking obvious influence from Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage also features special finishing moves to finish off prehistoric opponents in fascinating ways.
1 Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country’s graphics were dazzling on the SNES. How did Rare come up with something so realistic on the console? It was the same thing they did with Killer Instinct. The characters were pre-rendered and then compressed into the 2D game.
While a lot of detail is lost in the transition, they still look beautiful and, at the time, made for stunningly unique graphics on the console. It also helped that it is just a great platformer. Digitized sprites have long been out of fashion, so it makes sense that they weren’t used for the newer games, Donkey Kong Country Returns.