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A Close Look at the 2D Platformer Craze

by: David Sanchez ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Bright Hub takes a look at the current state of the 2D platformer, from the 1980s to the revival of the genre over the past few years.

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    A Long-Lasting Genre

    Super Mario Bros. started a revolution. 

    The 2D platformer has lived on for quite some time, and at the rate things are going, the genre is bound to last a lifetime. Originally a spectacle of the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Genesis consoles, the sidescrolling platformer saw a bit of a halt during the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Dreamcast era. Though titles such as the disappointing Yoshi’s Story and the enjoyable Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards popped up infrequently, open world 3D platformers like Super Mario 64, Rayman 2: The Great Escape, and Banjo-Kazooie dominated the run-and-jump genre.

    But while indie games continued to play around with the sidescrolling formula during its stagnation, major home consoles and handheld systems slowly started reviving the 2D platformer with games such as New Super Mario Bros. and Wario Land: Shake It! These days, the genre is just as commonplace as it was during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it’s strange to think about the period when it was missing due to an abundance of 3D platformers.

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    A Lull in the Genre

    For a time, 3D platformers took the spotlight once held by their sidescrolling brethren. Upon the launch of Super Mario 64, the title many gamers consider to be the first true 3D platformer, a revolution was started. Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Rayman all invited gamers to enter vast worlds and to explore them fully, running through fields, investigating swamps, and jumping around inside volcanoes. At the time, the boundaries seemed endless, and developers took advantage of the tools at their disposal to create compelling adventures set in beautiful worlds.

    The sheer size of these 3D game worlds caused a lull in the production of 2D platformers, and it would be at least a few years for the genre to rise to prominence once more. After the 3D platformer craze, however, many companies went back to basics and decided to start putting sidescrolling platformers out once more for gamers to revisit a classic genre.

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    An Uphill Climb

    Yoshi tried, but he could not bring back the glory to the 2D platforming genre by himself. 

    It took some time for 2D platformers to return in full force. Yoshi’s Story was one of the first games to explore the genre after years of 3D platformers practically owning the gaming market. Unfortunately, though the game possessed some classic qualities and posed a few good ideas, it didn’t exactly provide the impressive gaming experience that old-school titles such as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island did back on the SNES. Nintendo gave the genre one more go with the HAL Laboratory-developed Kirby 64, and while this game wasn’t the most original game in the genre, it was certainly a step up.

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    Old-School Meets New-School

    Games like Super Meat Boy successfully capture the magic of the classic genre. 

    Creativity has managed to reach an incredible boom period. These days, countless titles are released for every console and handheld that showcase the extent of human creativity. This is the case with 2D platformers, and over the last few years we’ve seen outstanding sidescrollers such as New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS, Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Nintendo Wii, Super Meat Boy on Xbox 360 and PC, and many, many more. The lull has pretty much been done away with, and 2D platformers are now back, garnering a massive fan base that consists of both old-school fans as well as younger gamers.

    Developers mow take the myriad of tools and technological advancements at their disposal to create compelling 2D experiences that can appeal to a massive crowd, a small niche group, or both. Super Meat Boy and Spelunky, for example, have bright and colorful visuals that attract different types of gamers, but their intense difficulty puts off many people, making it a better choice for gamers who enjoy sadistic challenges akin to those found on classic NES games. Of course, a game like Kirby’s Epic Yarn may not appeal to older (or extremely close-minded) gamers due to its cutesy appeal, but those who give it a chance will find a deep and satisfying platformer that begs you to explore every inch of its world. Then there are games like Donkey Kong Country Returns and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which combine the best of both worlds by offering cheery graphics, a family-friendly look, and plenty of challenge to keep even the most jaded gamers entertained.

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    The 2D Platformer Lives On

    Spelunky will totally kick your butt. More than just an oxymoron, the statement that 2D platformers are both retro and modern holds very true. Games such as Super Mario Bros. 3 live on to this very day, while current franchises such as Limbo, Meat Boy, and countless indie games manage to modernize the genre while simultaneously paying homage to the classic days when we used to play with intense, wide-eyed, open-mouthed looks on our faces as we tried to defeat that ridiculously tough boss or get across that horrid pitfall that always got the better of us. The 2D platformer is here to stay, and rightfully so. Not only does it bridge the gap between generations, but it still manages to kick our butts, only to give us that immense sense of pride when we finally get through that freaking level that haunted us so badly.