I don’t want it to be nostalgia

I’ve seen genres come and go, which is only natural in a young, dynamic and constantly growing industry. The most egregious casualty was the point and click adventure game, a genre I was addicted to as a young lad but which until recently was not so much dead as coughing up blood and ignored in the gutter. It always annoyed me when pundits and journalists went on a rant about how game storytelling needed to be more betterer, yet everybody seemed to have forgotten that we’ve had magnificently scripted games for a long time. Luckily this particular genre seems to have made a bit of a comeback, surged back from the pits of amateur freeware, where, to be frank, some hobbyists made some excellent adventures, to the mainstream, more or less, with titles like Sam & Max, hurray!

But there is one beleaguered genre I, personally, am aching to play again: the 2D platformer. Now obviously the genre is still around, specifically on the handheld consoles where more often than not they are licensed IP shovelware, and occasionally in the realms of homebrew. But ever since home consoles have become powerful enough to carry amazing, visually eye-popping platformers, nobody has really been making them anymore.

Xbox Live Arcade has had a few attempts, mostly in the lower end of the quality bell-curve, and a few more are on the horizon, like the much anticipated, by me, remake of Bionic Commando which by all accounts looks to be much better than the actual new title in the series. But that’s about it.

The death of this genre can be pinpointed to the time where consoles went all 3D on us and platform holders made it an unspoken requirement that all titles make the best use of their hardware, i.e. being in 3D. Of course the much lauded Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a last hurrah for the genre, but since then, not a sausage. More optimistic readers may point to the better 3D platformers, like Mario 64, of course, the Banjo Kazooies and whatnot, but if I’m brutally honest, these never really grabbed me. Half of the game was always battling the camera and learning new controls, whereas the simplicity of the mapping of the 2D platformers always meant they were easy to play and difficult to master rather than the reverse which seems to be true with most 3D games.

On top of that, 3D graphics age badly. Check out any Playstation 1 game and see how horrific the textures, how limited the polycount. Yet open up one of the later Super Nintendo games and bask in the glory of their beautiful 2D graphics, even today. Though today’s better 3D titles are indeed gorgeous, I am the first to admit, I have no doubt this time next year there will be several titles that look even better and come the next generation we’ll look back on Uncharted and laugh at the quaintness of its visuals. And now I have a big telly and some powerful consoles, I want to sit on my sofa and play 2D games!

What I’m selfishly aiming at is for people like Konami to just damn well bite the bullet and give us another home 2D Castlevania. With 3D graphics, possibly, and classic 2D gameplay how could this do anything but rock hard? Better yet, give the current masters of gorgeous 2D visuals, Vanillaware, makers of Odin Sphere, free use of the Castlevania IP and you’ll have a title on your hands that will sell forever and ever. Or Nintendo should put a full-stop after this recent and excellent Metroid Prime series and make another 2D adventure for Samus to plough through. Make it WiiWare if you must, I’ll buy it!

In the commercial sphere Sam & Max have proven there is life in an old genre yet. Who will do the same for the 2D platformer?

19 comments:

  1. ..so I take it you didn't like N+?

    I don't think the state of platformers is at all different than that of adventure games -- there are lots of indie teams making games that rival the "real" platformers of the past.

    You might want to try Lyle in Cube Sector, Darkside Adventures, Knytt, An Untitled Story, or Cave Story (though you've probably already played that one), those are all great "adventure" platformers.

    I didn't like La Mulana, but maybe you will. If The Underside is ever finished, it should be great.


    Some awesome "non-adventure" platformers are Super Bubble Blob, Polychromatic Funk Monkey, Treasure Tower, Poyo, FLaiL, Jumper 2/redux, Puchiwara No Bouken, and some of ikiki's games (Nikujin/Tekkyuuman/Teppoman/Teppodon/Bimboman) .

    And of course N, which apparently you hate ;p

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  2. I keep hoping the success of New Super Mario Bros. will convince publishers that 2-D platformers can still sell, but I think they might attribute that to a blend of nostalgia and the strength of the Mario brand in general. I'm really looking forward to playing Braid, though, and as soon as I'm done working today I'm downloading Lost Winds for the Wii. I think the indie/handheld/DLC scenes are our best bet - nobody's going to put a 2-D platformer on a DVD or Blu-ray anytime soon. (But I would so buy that game if they did.)

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  3. I would love to see some new 2d games. I can play the old ones for nostalgic value and the indie community pretty much gives us those old games in a new coat.

    Nothing wrong with that but I would love to see some games that update the formula. Jumping for platform to platform works just so much better in 2d.

    I still have high hopes for Oboro Muramasa Youtouden. It's been a while since I heard some news about that game. The footage I saw more than a year back looked more than promising though.

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  4. Raigan, heh, I was wondering if somebody was going to mention N+. I don't "hate" it, obviously, but it's not quite what I'm looking for. There is no exploration, no "progression" in the traditional sense, etc.

    Oboro looks great, absolutely fantastic, but Idon't really know what kind of game it is yet. If it's a true platformer I'll be in Heaven! Same with Alien Hominid, and Castle Crashers, both excellent looking titles, but brawlers, not platformers. :(

    Braid is on my to-get list, and so would Lost Winds be if I had any indication it'd be released in Japan, which I have heard nothing about yet. :( It seems the US is getting the best WiiWare, you lucky sods...

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  5. If you are looking specifically for 2d platformers like 2D Mario then yea, you might be right. But it seems like there are a ton of new creative games that remind me of 2d platformers.

    Crush for PSP has been recommended VERY strongly by friends

    Echochrome just came out for PS3, something about it reminds me of games of old.

    Fez might come out someday

    I know several people that got addicted to Exit

    For me, most of those old platfromers are unplayable. Of course we all have different tastes. I can still pick up any 2d Mario for a few minutes but I can't play Sonic anymore or Earthworm Jim. Mega Man is way too hard for my old fingers.

    And those are the top games. After that the majority of those old platformers were crap.

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  6. I guess I never counted exploration as a necessary part of platformers -- to me Metroid and Castlevania don't properly count as platformers, the former is very shoot-y, and the latter is more of a fighting/beat-em-up.

    And more importantly the movement/jumping in both is nowhere near as fun/fluid as it should be if it was the primary focus.

    SMB3/SMW are my faves, and they're pretty abstract -- no exploring or developing powers.. the different "worlds" and level types (castle, underwater, ghost house, etc) do add something though.

    We're trying to make our next game more adventure/explore-y, but it's hard to figure out what that even means! Is just having scrolling levels enough? Is SMB an adventure? SMB3? It's confusing ;)

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  7. I'm glad you mentioned Odin Sphere, which made my old 2D bones feel new again. I'm currently making my second journey through LostWinds, which I think is a genuine and graceful gem. It's perhaps a bit too easy, but it's clearly not designed to be a Gunstar Heroes style shooter.

    I hope you get it soon in Japan. Maybe when you do they'll also include the sequel, which Frontier has already announced.

    I thought Nintendo gave you everything first in Japan? ;-)

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  8. Exit...I'm really disappointed by it. It's just so clunky in terms of controls and character movement, it's a chore to play. Art direction is cool though.

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  9. You don't hear about it much, but yeah, Lyle in Cube Sector is really great.

    Also, if Bionic Commando Rearmed isn't the greatest thing since Sliced Bread(now for Wii!) then the world of 2d gaming is so misunderstood these days that it may as well just be nostalgia.

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  10. Raigan, yeah, it's hard to quantify. At its base, all I'm saying is, "gimme another console Symphony of the Night, dammit!" :)
    But I think a certain level of exploration and semi-non-linearity is important. A part of platforing is finding the hidden areas, the power-ups and whatnot, so the ability to revisi, by walking back in Castlevania, or reselecting a level as in SMB, is very important. I've played plenty of platformers where a finished level was, well, finished forever. That is utterly unsatisfying to me.
    If you ever need a "consultant / playtester" for your product, I'm available! ;)

    y.datura, I wholly agree about Exit. Great concept, nice presentation, but too clunky to be really fun. I understand why it was done the way it was done, but in the end the result is just too sluggish. A damn shame.

    And Scott, hear hear. Bionic Commando Rearmed better blow my tiny mind or I'll loose all faith in game designers forever!

    Michael, no, apparently not. Probably to annoy me personally, just about the moment I moved to Japan Nintendo started to focus more on North America, releasing most (though not all) of its major titles in the US first. Japan's WiiWare channel is pretty dull with very little on the horizon to make it better. And considering all these developers bringing these interesting titles to the US channel will need a Japanese publisher if they want to release it here, and considering Japanese publishers are cowards with regards to Western developed titles, WiiWare Japan will turn into a wasteland soon enough... :(

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  11. Yes, I think 2D games do last longer, if not forever. My THE favorite game of all time is none other than SEGA's (the old, glorious SEGA that is) "Guardian Heroes" for SEGA Saturn.

    With its pixelated graphic sprites, it left just enough room for my imagination to fill in the gap and create the most fluent and beautiful 2D graphics ever (to me, at least). The fight system was fun and makes anyone giggle with utter happiness while beating up 40+ peons, or challenge player with gigantic and awesome boss fights.

    And wasn't I tremendously disappointed (even angered) by their shameful attempt to bring it back to life with hideous Guardian Heroes Advace....

    The original is and will always be my #1 game. They should bring it back and port it to Xbox Live Arcade (without re-working any single thing to the perfect game).

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  12. Have you tried DoS or PoR? I played both before I came across SotN (on XBLA) and I didn't really like it as much as the DS games.. it felt a lot more awkward and tedious (or maybe it's because I'm totally stuck!).

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  13. There is a new DS Castlevania game on the horizon. Doing a new platformer comes across to publishers as a huge risk since who wants their game to get likened to Castlevania that somehow falls short in one way or another?

    Platformers are viable, but you've got to get 'em right. How many people can be sure they've done that?

    Screenies for the new DS Castlevania look quite interesting.

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  14. It's also difficult to find people who are good at pixel art these days to pull together these type of projects.

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  15. There are a lot of recent 2D gems (like the sublime Aquaria) by independent developers floating around. Most of them can be discovered by checking out tigsource.com's backlog.

    People should know dis.

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