Mind the Gap: The Return of the Platformer
In just a few weeks, North American players will finally get their hands on ‘New Super Mario Bros 2’ for the 3DS, the latest in a long line of classic platforming titles from Nintendo, and the most recent installment in what has become a renaissance for the platforming genre. Over the past few years, platformers have evolved from relics of forgotten consoles to modern classics — some selling millions of copies. In a games industry dominated by first person shooters, platformers are a breath of fresh air; a return to simpler times.
The House that Mario Built
Nintendo has more or less been credited with inventing the console platforming genre, releasing the original Super Mario Bros alongside the NES in 1985. Therefore, it isn’t hard to believe that it was Nintendo that managed to revive the dying genre with New Super Mario Bros for the 3DS, the first original 2D Mario title since the Super Nintendo. The game was a huge commercial success, selling nearly 30 million copies world wide, and was one of the DS’s most critically acclaimed titles. New Super Mario Bros sent shock waves into an industry void of blockbuster 2D experiences, and opened the door for the next wave of platforming games.
Old Friends, New Places
All three current generation consoles have enjoyed the rebirth of platforming, but none have as many 2D blockbusters as the Nintendo Wii. First, Wii owners recieved New Super Mario Bros, shortly followed up by the return of Donkey Kong Country, as well as Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Nintendo was bringing some of its most treasured 2D games out of retirement, and back into the spotlight, and it paid off. While the list of excellent platformers for the Wii is truly expansive, many of these titles tread framiliar territory, and were less inovative, and more nostalgic.
Playstation owners experienced an entirely new breed of platformer when Little Big Planet came into being. LBP gave players the tools to create their own platforming experiences, and in the process, a community dedicated to building the next great level was born. Little Big Planet 2 took what was established in the first game, and super charged the creation tools, allowing players to build just about any type of game they could imagine.
The Rise of the Arcade
When Microsoft launched Xbox Live Arcade, few if any could have predicted the amount of amazing titles that would eventually grace its digital shelves. Platformers have sold incredibly well on the service, games like Trials Evolution, Splosion Man, and Super Meat Boy were crowd pleasers, and reminded many that 2D games can co-exist alongside the shooters and action titles of Xbox Live. (Trials Evolution is a hardcore platformer, I assure you). Most importantly, these titles were priced at $5 - $15, significantly less than the standard $59.00 asking price for a new release game, pulling in millions of players who would’ve never given these games a chance, had they have been a full retail release.
The Indie Explosion
If you’ve ever dabbled in game design, you know that 2D development often requires less technical skill and patience than 3D. It’s simply the nature of the medium. It comes as no suprise that some of the most amazing platformers to come out in recent years was the work of small, independent teams, free to create as they please. Indie platformers have touched all platforms in recent years, from Steam to XBLA and PSN. Indie studios are responsible for successful titles like Super Meat Boy, VVVVV, Fez, and Bit Trip Runner. It’s also impossible to ignore the vast library of indie titles available on iOS and Android, all competing for your $.99. When talented developers create somethng truly challenging, yet beautiful, the world takes notice.
The Next Level
There was a time when the run and jump ways of the platformer were all but forgotten, and thankfully, those dark days are long behind us. If upcoming titles like New Super Mario Bros 2, and Rayman Legends are anything to go by, the platformer is here to stay.
Nick Moore is a guest writer on Noble Press, so be nice and leave him lots of comments! A collection of his extended works and writing can be found at www.iamvideogames.com. Please support Nick by visiting his site and reading his next level content.