Here's some screenshots from older Commodore 64 games with visuals made mostly with PETSCII, the internal character set.
It seems that in the early days of 1982-1984, programmers took the character set pretty seriously. Well, there probably were not that many tools for producing bitmaps, so the character set provided an easy and memory-efficient entry to the world of visual games.
Many commercial games were even produced in BASIC, and in there text/PETSCII was pretty much the only choice, as the C64 sprite commands were so slow.
Back to Nature, 1982 Commodore
A simple but ingenious game where pressing keys 1-9 will direct the tongue of the frog to different parts of the screen. For such an old BASIC game it's pretty impressive and the use of PETSCII is already quite sophisticated.
Lemonade, 1982 Commodore Educational software
A bit of a cult game, this. At one time it seemed every type-in BASIC game for a computer was something to do with fiddling money and resources. At least there's something to see here. The PETSCII use is quite minimal, we're talking almost text art here, but as the game is so old I wanted to include it.
Commodore Educational published a huge amount of tiny math/physics/history etc. quiz and workbook type software, which have a nominal amount of character visuals in them.
The Attack of the Phantom Karate Devils, 1983 Phantom Software
Can't help but to mention this game. Me and some of my Karate-hungry friends would play this in absence of better games! It's not that bad and pretty much precedes the entire 1980s beat-em-up craze. Both the logo and the game background make use of simple PETSCII, the very definition of "old school" text graphics. Later sprite and bitmap-based efforts made this kind of game look very primitive.
Murder, 1983 Rabbit Software
Here I'm mostly impressed with the two-story building plan rendered in PETSCII and displayed in parts. The game is very slow but rather well done murder investigation game. The program builds a random murder case and you have to solve it by logically deducing the killer from the answers you get from people.
The Secret of Bastow Manor, 1983 Computer Classics Pty
An early text adventure made in BASIC, with quite poor PETSCII visuals. At least it is somewhat atmospheric, though, from what little I played it. (Obviously it's very slow.) Combination of PETSCII with text adventure was quite common back in the time, and there are numerous examples in different languages.
Stroker, 1983 Magic Carpet software
An infamous yet iconic 'ma5turbati*n simulator'. Enough said.
(Well, ok, the PETSCII animation is actually pretty well done for something so old, I just won't show it here. Find the game at your peril...)
Snoopy, 1983 Commodore Educational software
Goddammit, I thought the wonky sprite-driven Radarsoft Snoopy (which BTW also has PETSCII backgrounds) was the first Commodore outing of that character. What sad state has Snoopy declined into, he seems to have more in common with Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer than a WWI ace.
Murder on the Waterfront, 1984 Softgold
Softgold made a few of these games with the same "engine". Here we have an inventive PETSCII logo (+ some ads in PETSCII before the game) and the game appears to be the same murder-fare as before, but in a more text-adventure vein. The character sports a Dick Tracy-style watch, rendered in glorious PETSCII. But I could not get into the game really. Could-a-been a contender, though.
Alien, 1984 Softgold
Here's Alien from the same. The initial scenario is pretty intriguing, you are driving a car in Arizona desert and spot an UFO (an animated sprite). Then you encounter an Area 51-esque compound but can't get in without any credentials. Hmm....
The environments seem better than in the 'Waterfront, there's even some attempts at one-point perspective as can be seen from the piccy.
Apparently Alien was also published for the Sega SC-3000, but with crappier line-based pictures.
Subsunk, 1985 Firebird
Subsunk is yet another plain old text adventure created with an adventure writing package. It's a bit better than the earlier BASIC efforts, and the pictures have been cleverly combined with the text box to form graphic layouts. In fact I suppose the pics+text are both contained in the same data. I don't know how common this was at the time, but clearly it's an easy way to integrate some neat visuals in an adventure. The Firebird logo is pretty decent!
The Toy Store, 1988 Loadstar/Softdisk
Just an example that even fairly late, commercial software could excuse having PETSCII visuals if the theme was "educational". The letters have been changed and there are sprites so it's not so pure PETSCII. The layout appears borrowed from Donald Duck's Playground, though.