Has 3D killed true platformers?

Lately, I realized all my stream games have been platformers (except for Eathbound)…which is great. I love platformers, I grew up with them and I seriously think they are like the root of all games. From Super Mario Bros to World, to Sonic the Hedgehog, to Mega Man and X, Crash Bandicoot, etc etc I can go all day, they are fantastic games. However, it feels since the beginning of 3D-worlds (1996- Super Mario 64), 2D platformers are regarded less by the gaming community and are now a rarity to find. Look at Rayman Origins, one of the few good 2D platformers  in a while not named LBP (sorry Kirby Return to Dreamland, and NSMB2). Because of how good the game was, it in a sense “reintroduced us to platforming”; unfortunately, this was not in a major way. The best example of “moving us” was that of the LittleBigPlanet series, a new type of 3D-2D platforming, that took creativity to the maximum in games. While the game implements its gameplay on that of 2D platforming in 3D worlds, the true point of LBP was that of creation, exploration, and multiplayer.

A true platformer, in my opinion, is a game that brings a challenge to every level, one where one levels are beautifully designed and offers either similar or different challenge from previous levels, only to get harder. The game gives false pretenses like “that world/level was easy”, only soon to find yourself going…COME ON! after dying for the 10th time on the same part of the same level. In addition, timing is the key element in this game. Looking at Sonic games, speed makes the game go, but it’s not like you can just hold forward and do nothing and boom the level is over. Take any Mario game, while his jumping “gravity” is better than Sonic’s, going to far ahead may mean your death, because, for example in Super Mario Bros 3 World 5, a few of the sky levels require you to wait for floating platforms while the screen advances on you (meaning death); thus pointlessly running ahead and not having a real strategy leads to your death. Rayman Origins had a few of my favorite platform levels, the game was just amazing. All the Skull Teeth levels and the last level, The Valley of the Livid Dead, were my absolute favorites because of the speed, skill, timing, and difficulty the levels required. Sometimes wall jumping was the key element, other times it was using your floating ability correctly. I don’t look at Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a platformer at all, I look at it as an adventure game, because you go to different worlds and have the freedom of choice of getting to point B. It has platform elements, but it is not a “true” platformer.

But still, I haven’t even got to the point.

Looking at the gaming market today, there are a fair share of RPGs and Shooters (3PS,FPS) and of course adventure, action, and “platform”. Platform today is considered the 3D world games we play such as Super Mario Galaxy and many of the 2D platforms have been relegated to that of handheld games. Even at that though, there are still very few platformers that are released as console games. If you don’t believe me, walk to your local game shop or even check out this link from Metacritic listing platformers http://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/genre/date/platformer/all?view=detailed . Notice many of the games are PSN, iOS/Android, releases except for the few (forget scores because a lot of new age gamers don’t’ appreciate platformers). Why is that? Have they been phased out? Or has 3D world adventures completely pushed platformers to become obsolete? While full 3D-worlds are fantastic in so many aspects, occasionally going back to the roots isn’t necessarily a bad thing (unless you are New Super Mario Bros Wii). The same does get stale and the mass has become very critical in this day and age, so trying new things is a risk, while staying exactly the same as a former game is open cooking for criticism.

A great example to look at is New Super Mario Bros series, a level under the original Super Mario Bros Series. New Super Mario Bros DS, was a fresh-relook-new take on Mario and the platform genre when it came out for the DS. Mario used to be a rarity to come out every year, not as much as Legend of Zelda, but still it was pain to wait for Mario games…but now that only applies to consoles. Now, Nintendo is pulling an AC, Call of Duty, etc. type ploy and releasing one almost every year (Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros 2, New Super Mario Bros Wii U) and to the worst part of the extent, is the game really has no changes from it’s “predecessor”. At the same time, I feel the NSMB series has no challenge, and is missing the key aspect of allure and challenge meshed together to make it a memorable series, heck Super Mario Bros 2 is way more favored on my list, than the horrible New Super Mario Bros Wii. The thing is as a business you need to make money and that is what Mario and his name brings to the table; but right now you are pushing his credentials. I still, along with millions of others,and always will buy a Mario game because of what the past has offered me, and I do believe the NSMB is a good “handheld series” but at the same time dumbing down the game for others to enjoy is something I never condone.

But that last paragraph really had nothing to do with the 3D debate of killing platforms either. See, 3D gaming is almost a necessity and most “hardcore gamers” or basically new gamers have rarely played 2D side-scrolling games. Heck, they didn’t even play 2D-3D world games. The benefit of 3D worlds is that of discovery, which isn’t to say 2D side-scrollers don’t have that but not to the extent of 3D worlds. In addition, as I mentioned before for the NSMB getting easier than elder Mario games, difficulty in today’s games are much easier than they were back then. Thus, the level of patience has deteriorated (which I also mentioned in my last blog) because people can’t stand a real challenge. In addition, I would have to say 2D platformers have a greater aspect of “speed” in a game, (not time or movement) but the way the game is handled and must be played. While it is possible to play a Sonic or Mario game “slow” and time your jumps, at the same time that strategy may not always work. E.G. In Super Mario Bros Lost Levels, the camera takes away the “back” element, so the further you move up the less screen you have to your left. In World 1-2 right in the beginning, not running and playing patient trying to cross that huge gap in the middle is impossible, because you need the speed to move over it.

Platformers though are not truly dead in true gaming communities. People talk about old games all the time and really looking at the NES and SNES, platformers were king. Debates over Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World still exist to this day, because that is what platformers are, a timeless classic. Hopefully we get more 2D platformers in the future, not some cheap crappy iOS game I would never buy, or some downloadable game which no one cares about. Mega Man 9 and 10 were praised for bringing back the “old”; platformers are the greatest risk reward out there because everyone loves a good platformer.
Basically the main point is why aren’t big name retailer companies producing 2D platformers anymore? Are they scared? Are graphics too much of a factor? Edit: A big thing I have noticed from people (on my other blog as well) is how many platformers come out for the iOS or bring up Kirby and Mario. Unfortunately, the point I am referring to is good platformers, released on console systems, like that of Rayman Origins. Kirby and DKCR or New Super Mario bros are 2.5D platforming side-scrollers, not 3D platformers like that of Super Mario Galaxy. The problem I have with iOS is, you can make a million games of a gaming-genre: platforming but that doesn’t mean the series is alive, you need to have masterpieces.


Michael Troina writes features and reviews Nintendo games for Analog Addiciton. When he’s not writing or playing games or sports, he’s out at his job at the Daily Bugle taking pictures as the web-slinger we all have come to love…either that or he’s getting sandwich saving one world at a time. Find him anywhere with this flavors.me/michaeltroina


6 replies »

  1. I’m not quite sure what the point of this article is; 2D platformers were largely killed off during the last two generations, and if anything, they’ve made a comeback this gen.

    There weren’t really ANY viable 2D platformers released got consoles last gen (maybe Jungle Beat?) while this gen we’ve not only seen a resurgence at retail, but at every level. Doesn’t the fact that Nintendo is, as you point out, now making yearly 2D Mario titles an indication that the genre isn’t dead? Or Rayman Origin’s success and coming sequel? Or rebirths of DKC, and the Kirby franchise? Hell, Sonic Generations and the Sonic 4 episodes even managed to do justice to the once proud franchise.

    The success of platforms such as Steam, XBLA, and PSN have only further enabled the rebirth of the genre. Games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVV aren’t just retro throwbacks, they’re vital and important additions to the genre. And yes, there’s a ton of mobile phone demand, on top of retail console demand, on top of the digital middle market.

    Your article seems to be years too late and equally outdated. This is the best era for 2d platformers since the 90’s.


    • I’m sorry dude but you are completely wrong. Are you insinuating that because of this year of Nintendo releasing two Super Mario 2D platform scrollers they are yearly? New super mario bros Wii came out in 2009 that was the last 2D Mario for a “console” that came out since Super Mario World. NSMB2 and NSMBU have come out in 2012 that is a 3 year gap. Next, Rayman Origins shows that 2D platforms are not missed by the community and brings up the question why aren’t more 2D platformers coming out? Sonic 4 episodes are A) DLC content/games when I mentioned why aren’t retailers coming out with these games.
      In fact from 1996-2010 there weren’t any 2D platformers that stood out unless you refer to the first new super mario bros for the DS in 2006. Kirby hasn’t had a rebirth he had the most games released on the DS in his life! DKC returns is one 2D platformer that came back you can point out the success it had along with Sonic Generations (which didn’t do as well and wasn’t perceived as well from die-hard Sonic fans) to counter your point that 2010 2D platformers are on their way back; but for every 2D platformer there are at least 3 FPS.
      Once again I state this has noting to do with mobile phone demand


  2. Indie games are still keeping the 2D Platformer alive, and show unprecedented levels of difficulty across the board – Super Meat Boy, Dustforce and Ms. ‘Splosion Man are just a couple of examples.


    • That’s true indie devleopers are “keeping it alive” but in reality there are so many gimmick 2D platformers on the indie market, it’s almost disgraceful. While you named a few good ones, A) you must look through say a library of every 200 to find one good one and B) the point is the show the main companies and retailers are straying away from 2D platformers.


      • Indeed, it’s going to be inevitable that 2D platformers will remain as a niche genre, but at least it’s not totally dead, and they still get a bit of life on handhelds or within the indie market. It’s better than nothing, I suppose.


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