Between the huge success of the Street Fighter II games in the '90s and the resurgence that SFIV brought, the Street Fighter franchise struggled to secure mainstream success. The reason that SFIV worked so well is that it stuck to what made SFII such a pleasure to play—2D brawling and colorful, simple graphics.
This is a love-it-or-hate-it game, and I hated it. The "puzzles" are kind of annoying, the shooting is terrible, and there is absolutely no reason for all the action to be on rails. Nonetheless, this is one of the earliest examples of cel-shading being used to mimic a dark and bloody graphic novel, and it was the beginning of a great career for Suda 51—who went on to use cel-shading in No More Heroes and its sequel.
Last generation, Viewtiful Joe set out to remind us how fun—and frustrating—old-school beat-'em-up games can be. The plot conceit was that Viewtiful Joe's was trapped in a world of movies and needed to be rescued, and cel-shaded graphics were the perfect way to represent the world's bizarre sensibilities.
This is the father of them all—the cel-shaded game that inspired countless others. It was revolutionary when it was announced in 1999, and it's become a cult classic in the years since. In the game, you have to paint Tokyo in graffiti despite the efforts of rival gangs and aggressive law enforcement to stop you. Each time you defeated a rival gang, you made it closer to your goal—and the world of video-game graphics was never the same again.
This is sure to be a controversial pick, I know. Aside from Zelda II, Wind Waker is the outcast of the franchise, thanks solely to its use of cel-shaded graphics. Many Zelda fans were put off by the comic look, and outside of the handheld realm, Nintendo has not used this technique for the franchise since.
With all due respect—none—those people are wrong. Wind Waker was a great-looking game, and unless you think Nintendo should keep remaking Ocarina of Time over and over again, there's no reason this GameCube title doesn't deserve its full place in Link's canon. What's more, the cel-shading and color palette make Wind Waker look a bit like A Link to the Past, a game whose greatness no one disputes. Gutsy, well-handled, and true to the franchise's history—this is, second to none, the best use of cel-shaded graphics in a video game.
By Robert VerBruggen
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*