🔖 7 min read

The vaporwave experience is interactive as well as audio-visual. Many games have been claimed by the vaporwave dynasty as influential relics. Additionally, a few have even been borne directly from it. From the violent tendencies of Hotline Miami (2012) to the relaxing ambience of Islands: Non-Places (2016), the aesthetic has dripped into video game designs across the board. Whilst some of the influences fall more clearly into the realms of synthwave or retrowave, the aesthetics can undoubtedly be appreciated by those of the vaporous wave style.

Vaporwave video games take design cues from the vaporwave aesthetic, which often favours a vintage look in both visuals and audio. It is a flavour defined by nostalgia and retrofuturism in its music and style. It often uses and combines elements of Japanese characters and imagery to create the unique vibe of the vaporwave aesthetic. From it also arose music and fashion in the early 2010s, characterised mainly by a vibey synth trip.

Video games that fall under the umbrella term “vaporwave” might be anything from action games to puzzle games to role-playing games. They might also be made accessible on various devices, such as personal computers, gaming consoles, and smartphones. The aesthetic is a popular choice that hipsters worldwide love to proclaim their love for all things retro-Japanese. This vibe has leaked into many creative expressions, such as vaporwave wallpapers, backgrounds, and text. Even vaporwave anime is a thing, with shows such as Serial Experiments Lane adopting trippy visuals and sound design into its masterful screenplay.

However, the word “vaporwave” may be open to interpretation; not all games in this style are considered games from the genre. Most games include 8 or 16-bit graphics, a futuristic scenario, a piece of music from the 1980s, and allusions to Japanese culture. It’s common for players of these games to experience a pang of melancholy or a yearning for simpler times.

Below is a list of Nakama’s definitive video games in the vaporwave aesthetic:

Disco Elysium (2019)

One of the newer entries on this list, Disco Elysium, is a role-playing game developed by up-and-coming video game studio ZA/UM and released in 2019. It has received widespread critical acclaim for its deep and complex narrative, rich and immersive world-building, and innovative gameplay mechanics. It’s set in a fictional city called Revachol, located on the island of Martinaise in the world of Elysium. Revachol is a blend of different cultures and influences shaped by its history, politics, and the various factions and individuals that inhabit it.

It isn’t a vaporwave game in the strictest sense of the term, as it is not explicitly designed to be part of the vaporwave genre. However, the game incorporates some elements of the vaporwave aesthetic in its design, such as its retrofuturistic setting and use of the 80s and 90s pop culture references. This is a prime example of how some games aren’t exactly 100% vaporwave but incorporate elements to give it an edge and charm that is only found in some games with similar settings.

Regardless, it is a certified banger and, in our opinion, a must-play game for its clever gameplay, complex narrative, and excellent writing and voice acting, all of which bring the characters and world of “Disco Elysium” to life.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)


The most famous game that stands (unbeknownst to its developers at the time) arm in arm with vaporwave is the classic Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). You cruise around a city based on 1986 Miami in stolen cars of the era, blasting the radio packed with 80’s classics. Of course, floral shirts, lo-rez beach sunsets, and night-time drives are included. Devolver Digital produced a pixelated gore-fest complete with nostalgic trips to the video store and local pizzeria back in 2012.

The hit game, Hotline Miami, is retro in every way except its release date (though it’s only a matter of time before that is too). In an interview for Eurogamer with game creators Dennis Wedin and Jonatan “Cactus” Söderström, Wedin tells us that “[Drive] was a really big inspiration for the game. The music and feel to the story – not much dialogue and how the violence was portrayed in the movie – were a big inspiration.” Something in the zeitgeist of the early 2010s asked for a reboot of digital nostalgia. Hotline Miami answered that by packing 80’s tropes and aesthetics into a fast-paced and ultra-fun video game with a catchy synthwave soundtrack.

New Retro Arcade: Neon (2016)

If you want to live in your own retro-futuristic world playing games from a time when you could only do so by going all the way to a place with massive pieces of tech, New Retro Arcade: Neon is just for you. It’s a virtual reality game that allows you to explore and play classic arcade games within an arcade setting. It has received generally positive reviews for its immersive gameplay, nostalgic 80s atmosphere, and variety of arcade games available to play.

You can relive your youth at New Retro Arcade: Neon, which gives you an immersive setting-slash-mancave with oldies such as the original Donkey Kong, mini basketball, and skeeball. The bowling alley is lit with neon signs for that cyberpunk feel, and there’s a lounge with comfy recliners for watching vintage movies.

The game’s vintage music and sound effects provide the perfect setting for fans of the classic gaming era, transporting you to a world painted in the vaporwave aesthetic.

Crap No One Loves Me (2015)


Jade Statue’s vaporwave album “Executive Towers” has an official game to play alongside it, programmed by daffodil in 2015. This is a rare example of a game sprouting directly from within the community. It’s available to download on a “name your price” basis, so you can give the Vaporwave immersive experience a go before deciding to part with your hard-earned moolah.

Crap! No One Loves Me (2015), a game where you are a coffin that surfs like a Counter-Strike terrorist down a zany, winding road, is the only vaporwave racing game you’ll ever need (not just because it’s the only one that exists). Increasingly tricky levels lead you through quirky 3D worlds that sweat imagination. Feeling tired after all that sliding? Visit the Vape Shop, where all the iconic symbols of the micro-genre live and breathe (digitally). The blue and pink walls welcome all those under the Macintosh Plus banner.

Soda Drinker Pro (2016)


Soda Drinker Pro (2016) is an odd game floating around the vaporwave circuit. Snowrunner Games produced this unintelligible FPSD (First-Person-Soda-Drinker) for an even more unintelligible reason. Due to this, it’s gained enough of a following for individual Let’s Play videos on YouTube, like Jacksepticeye’s, to amass over 1.5 million views. If you still need to google this strange phenomenon, I’ll give you a brief overview.

You walk around different abominably textured (and themed) square rooms sipping and collecting soda. That’s it. I can only imagine the connection to vaporwave is the complete annihilation of what some people might consider a fond nostalgic idea concurrent with pre-noughties media: walking along the beach with a soda.

Islands: Non-Places


A game with a similar lack of objectives, but a much more pleasing visual aesthetic compared to the last game, is Islands: Non-Places. Carl Burton’s game is available exclusively on Apple and IOS devices. It looks like Plato’s realm of the forms, vaporwave edition. The moody, textureless rooms feature fountains, dining tables, pillars, and lamps that seem to belong deep inside the bourgeoise ziggurats of Blade Runner (1982).

LSD: Dream Emulator (PSX)


LSD: Dream emulator is a PS1 game from 1998 that will subvert your idea of what a video game is. Traverse obscure dreamscapes are made of blocky textures and graphics that are uncomfortable to look at. Every time you bump into something, you get transported to another dream. You could end up anywhere from a glass bridge between the mouths of two giant masks or the bar of a dancing head. The game’s complete reinvention of computer graphics and video game purpose make this a solid Vaporwave title.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)


In 1991, the too-cool-for-school hedgehog’s debut on the SEGA Genesis proved a decent play. You’ve gotta love slotting the cartridge into the console, listening to the unforgettable SEGA opening title, and zooming through the high-contrast landscapes as Sonic to save those animals from Robotnik.

The Spring Yard Zone brings up the expensive, swinging lifestyle that so much vaporwave music tackles. It would be great to hear a remix of the level’s theme. Not so much the gameplay, but the world that Mirror’s Edge (2008) takes place in is akin to a telesales advert for the perfect city that is hyper-efficient, clean, and safe. Take the album cover of PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises – Home™. It brings to mind the almost creepy idea that advertising can gloss over familiar places like the home.

If you want to extend your A E S T H E T I C experience beyond the realms of music optimised for abandoned malls, why not give some Vaporwave video games a go? If you want to find more, just ask the vaporisers on Reddit where to look. I’m sure daffodil, who programmed Executive Towers, would love to hear from you once you’ve played the game.


About Cleary Mallard

My Katamari is always rolling, picking up new underground music and videogames from Japan. I DJ and produce as Kamer, vibrating dubstep, noise, ambient and videogame soundtracks.