Cell shading is often an underrated and underused graphical technique in gaming -- providing a more stylized and artistic look to a game, rather than having it look plainly realistic. There are games where it works perfectly in, games where it was a terrible choice, and games that would have benefited from a little bit of cell shading.
Despite a mainstream need to have photo realistic games, and although there are plenty of games that look great with that style, there are a ton of games that wouldn't be the same without being cell shaded.
Take for instance, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. There are plenty of gamers that can't stand the cell shaded visuals in The Wind Waker -- but the game would admittedly feel very different if it had a more realistic style, similar to Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess. The great thing about the visuals in The Wind Waker are that they're very smooth and have a "cartoony" side to them, even though it's an epic Zelda adventure. Effects such as bombs blowing up look great too, with a mixture of 2D sprites on a 3D plane to pull off the explosion. The cell shading was also able to give detail to little things in the game, such as Link's eyes.
Cell shading isn't just for games that have a cartoonish feel to them. The best example of this is Borderlands -- an FPS-RPG title released for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC by Gearbox Software and 2K Games. While Borderlands isn't the most serious game out there, it definitely has a more mature edge than The Wind Waker -- all with stylized, cell shaded visuals.
This technique doesn't always work great for a game, however. Madden NFL 10 for Wii is a prime contender for the worst looking cell shaded game ever to be created. Instead of going for the realistic visuals the HD versions had, EA opted to take the Wii iteration of Madden 10 in a highly stylized direction. While the menus look great, the in game graphics aren't so hot. The field is bland and one shade of green, all players of the same position look exactly the same, and overall the visuals just look simple -- which is not what cell shading is about.
There are several games, specifically in the current generation, that would benefit from having some level of cell shaded visuals or style to them. Most first-person shooter based games have a lot of brown color in them -- especially ones that are set in a post-apocalyptic era. A title like Fallout 3 looks very bland and boring, even though most gamers can agree that it's a great game. Fallout 3 does feature a 50's theme, but if Bethesda opted to add more of a cell shaded style to the game it could have gone a long way to make Fallout 3 feel fresh instead of plain.
What are your thoughts, readers? Would you like to see more cell shaded games, or what current games would you like to see have a cell shaded style? Post your thoughts in the comments section below!
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