Best Free & Paid Game Engines for 2D Games

Best Free & Paid Game Engines for 2D Games [Beginner-friendly]

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XPPen 2024-06-27 14:24:11 9 min read

Back in the Dark Ages, in the time when games like Pong and Pac-Man were all the rage, game developers had to create their own game engines.

As time progressed, and games became more complicated, full-fledge game engines were created and released by and for developers.

Today, there are a variety of game engines to choose from including a lot of options for 2D game development, some of which are user-friendly and great for beginners.

On that note, let’s get a better understanding of how to choose the right game engine, and then we'll review some of the best game engines for 2D games.

You will also find our hand-picked best drawing tablet for 2D game design, in case you are interested in creating your own game art.

How to Choose a Game Engine

When considering which game engine is best for 2D games, you’ll want to first consider:

  • If you’d prefer to use a programming language or a no-code solution to create the game

  • What platform(s) you want to release the game on (e.g., counsels, VR, web, mobile, etc.)

  • How graphically intense your game will be

  • The amount of effort you want to put into learning how to use the game engine

Game engines come in all kinds of shapes and sizes which is why many developers find themselves switching from engine to engine.

So, don’t feel like you have to choose the “right one.” Instead, feel free to experiment with them to find one that best suits you.

With that being said, here are seven great game engines for 2D games:

1. Best 2D Game Engine for Beginners

Godot has become a classic in the 2D game development world for its intuitive interface and the fact that it’s completely open-source.

Popular Games Made with Godot—Sonic Colors: Ultimate, Endoparasitic, Cassette Beasts, and Brotato.

Price—As an open-source engine, Godot is completely free to use.

Coding Language(s)—Uses GDScript, C#, and C++. You can choose the one that you’re most familiar with.

Top Feature—Has a 2D-specific engine that uses pixel coordinates to make game development more intuitive.

Godot is a well-rounded game engine that has all the tools you need to get started with game design. As such, it is a good starting point for those just getting into the game dev world. Additionally, you’ll have access to a large number of community resources from tutorials to assets that will make your transition to Godot seamless.

2. Best Game Engine for 2D Games for Beginners and Pros

It’s safe to say that Unity is known by most if not all game developers due to its versatility and wide community support.

Popular Games Made with Unity—Among US, Subway Surfers, Fall Guys, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

Price—While Unity does have paid plans as well as fees for games that cross a certain selling and engagement threshold, beginners can take advantage of Unity’s free personal plan which allows individuals to create free games.

Coding Language(s)—Uses C# and also has visual scripting options.

Top Feature—Cross-platform game support as well as the ability to export your game to just about every platform out there.

Unity offers plenty of support and community assets for 2D game design. It’s ideal for both beginners and pros, however pros should consider subscription plans and fees before choosing Unity. If you want to hit the ground running, then Unity is a good choice as once you master it, you’ll find that you can master most other game engines.

3. Best Easy Game Engine for 2D Games with No Coding Required

For visual learners out there, Construct 3 is the best game engine for 2D games. While written code is an option, Construct offers a powerful no-code approach with drag-and-drop functionality.

Popular Games Made with Construct 3—Mighty Goose, The Old Guard, Beach City Drifters, and Small Saga.

Price—For beginners, the personal plan will work just fine and is $15.99 a month.

Coding Language(s)—Java Script is available to use, but Construct primarily relies on its no-code building interface.

Top Feature—Browser-based and can be used offline once loaded up.

Construct 3’s no-code interface allows developers to quickly learn how to make games and is useful for experimenting with different game designs. Getting a handle on game logic can be difficult, which is why Construct 3’s visual building blocks can be a good starting point for those who struggle in this area.

4. Best Game Engine for Graphically Demanding 2D Games

If you want to make highly realistic art and graphics for a 2D game, then Unreal Engine is a great choice.

Popular Games Made with Unreal Engine—Cyberpunk 2077, Tetris Effect, Fortnite, and Borderlands.

Price—Free to use with a 5% fee for games that exceed $1 million in gross revenue. However, the fee is waived if the game is published on the Epic Games Store.

Coding Language(s)—C++ can be used or Unreal’s Blueprints node-based scripting editor.

Top Feature—High-end graphic tools that include live link data streaming and animation blueprints, among others.

While not the go-to choice for 2D games which tend to have simple graphics, if you want to buck the trend and create a complex and visually stunning game, then Unreal is worth looking into. However, you should keep in mind that creating graphically intense games will require a higher-end computer.

5. Best Visual Scripting Game Engine for 2D Games

Like Construct 3, GameMaker is known for its no-code approach to game development allowing individuals to make compelling games without needing to write one line of code.

Popular Games Made with GameMaker—Undertale, Katana Zero, Nuclear Throne, and Hotline Miami.

Price—Free to use, however, if you want to publish your game commercially, then you will need to buy the professional plan ($99.99 one-time purchase) or enterprise plan (79.99 a month).

Coding Language(s)—GameMaker is primarily powered by a visual scripting interface, though you can also use GameMaker’s own GML code for a more traditional coding experience.

Top Feature—Powerful creative tools from sprite animations to image editors.

If you want to take it slow, then GameMaker is for you. It’s specifically designed for 2D game development, which means you won’t get bogged down with tools and interfaces that are not relevant to your game. Ultimately, GameMaker is a good stepping stone into more complex game engines.

6. Best Game Engine for Web-Based 2D Games

While not technically a game engine, Phaser provides the framework for developers to create their own web-based and mobile games.

Popular Games Made with Phaser—PokéRogue, Guard the Tower, Circuit Rescue, and Hexagonia.

Price—Completely free!

Coding Language(s)—JavaScript or TypeScript accompanied by a visual editor.

Top Feature—HTML5 export capability.

While not the most popular choice among game developers, Phaser has an activity community and is ideal for those wanting to create browser games. However, you should keep in mind that since Phaser is primarily a framework and not a game engine, you will have fewer tools to start with and will need to rely on manual coding to make up the difference.

7. Best Free 2D Game Engine for Advanced Developers

Like Phaser, MonoGame offers the framework for programmers to design the tools they want and use them to create the game of their dreams.

Popular Games Made with MonoGame—Chasm, Mercenary Kings, Tiny Life, and Tooth and Tail.

Price—Completely free!

Coding Language(s)—C# and .NET languages.

Top Feature—Allows for cross-platform development.

While not for everyone, if you are an experienced coder and want to create the perfect tools for your game, then MonoGame is a good choice. Unless you are one that thrives in confusion, as a beginner, you should bookmark MonoGame and come back to it once you have more coding experience.

Bonus: Hone Your 2D Game Art with XPPen Drawing Tablets

The most engaging games not only have great mechanics but also compelling art. With that being said, if you’re interested in creating your own game art, besides choosing the best 2D animation software, opting for a drawing tablet for game design like XPPen Artist 15.6 is helpful as well.

The Artist 15.6 tablet offers a compact and ultra-thin form factor that supports 4K displays. It also comes with a stylus with 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, offering the utmost precision and convenience to capture your inspiration.

Plus, it’s affordable at around $300, making it one of the best graphics tablets for indie 2D game makers.

Conclusion

Game development may seem difficult at first, but, regardless of which game engine you choose, there will be plenty of resources to consult and a vibrant community ready to answer any question you have.

With a powerful graphics tablet and a wide array of 2D game design tutorials, you will find it much easier to kick off game art design as well. From drawing game characters like Xianyu in Genshin Impact to game environment design, we’ve got you covered.

So, instead of worrying about “What game engine is best for 2D games?” pick one, try it out, make a game, and share! Follow your passion, get your gadget, and unleash your creativity to build your game world now!


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