Can We Start Believing in 2D Platformers Again?

(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)

I usually play through a demo two or three times after downloading it, just to get a good feel for a game before it launches. With the Sonic Generations demo, I can’t tell you how many times I played it but can confirm it was more than a few. That demo is great as far as this writer’s concerned. Almost perfect. However, my love of the demo is tinged with sadness, as I can’t stop remembering that the 2D brilliance is going to be followed by the considerably less pleasing 3D racing-style section I played at E3. There’s just no way SEGA would dare release a full-fledged 2D platformer  on its own at retail, and I find myself asking … why? Why did we get it in our heads that you just can’t do that anymore?

Like many gamers who grew up in the nineties, I played a lot of 2D platformers. Sonic was joined by Zool, Mr. Nutz, Earthworm Jim, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure and countless knock-offs, all boasting the 2D gameplay that undeniably defined the 16-bit generation. When technology allowed for 3D graphics, however, everything changed. Sony didn’t want grotty 2D gaming on its technologically superior PlayStation, and games like Spyro, Crash Bandicoot and Croc became the new platforming blood. We managed to get a handful, such as the well-respected Heart of Darkness and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but 2D platformers mostly fell by the wayside. Over the intervening years, they never regained their respect.

You still see 2D gaming on handhelds and downloadable platforms, but that is considered the best they can do. They simply aren’t considered good enough to share retail space with 3D games. SEGA’s highly anticipated Sonic the Hedgehog 4 launched on downloadable platforms, and Konami won’t release a retail Castlevania unless the sprites have been replaced by polygons and the beautiful 2D levels replaced by boring, drab, dreary bullshit. These are old school games that have struggled to create decent 3D experiences, and I have to ask … why are they trying? Why not stick to what works? Because of an old grudge that console manufacturers had against 2D gaming two generations ago? It’s ludicrous.

I think there’s a serious amount of potential in releasing an “old fashioned” platformer at retail, complete with HD graphics and a full eight-to-ten hours of gameplay. If  Sonic Generations consisted entirely of 2D levels, I know I’d buy it, and I can guarantee you a significant amount of people would join me. The Generations demo features impressively tight gameplay and beautiful visuals. I want an entire game like that, not half a game just because of an old and silly stigma.

As game budgets increase and products frequently cut content due to deadlines and financial constraints, I’d say the time has never been better for 2D platformers to make a return. Level design would be easier and you could pack in so much more content due to not needing to create huge 3D environments. The knock-on effect would be intuitive titles that offer more gameplay due to the saved time and money. I’m not developer, I fully hold my hands up to that, but I invite any developer to explain to me why a 2D platformer wouldn’t be significantly easier to craft in this day and age. I think it would be so much simpler to create a gorgeous, lengthy, tightly paced 2D game than it would be to make a 3D one.

I also think there’s a significant market for it, too. Retro is cool, and you don’t get much more retro than a platform game. Adults would dig the nod to their old school past, while kids would easily buy a brightly colored game that’s easier to get to grips with. As the owner of a child, I can tell you that they’re not discerning in the least and will literally play anything. That, right there, is a significantly widened audience compared to a purely kiddy game or a purely adult game. Anyone can play it. Again, I’m not a developer, but this makes total sense to me.

2D platform games were a huge part of my life as a gamer, and I find it incredibly sad that they’ve been relegated to handheld and downloadable arenas. While it’s great they at least have some sort of home, I want to see more HD, full-length platformers and I don’t think I’m alone. We’ve had a few returns to the genre, such as A Boy And His Blob on the Wii, but most publishers are still of the “nobody wants 2D games anymore” mindset that germinated swiftly at the end of the nineties.

Well, I want 2D games. I want platformers like the ones I used to play, but with 3D models and gorgeously polished new environments. There has to be a market for that, right? I’m not just dribbling this opinion on my own, am I?

Some of us just want to go from left to right, and don’t need to spend half a game looking at Sonic’s arsehole in order to buy a product at retail.

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4 Comments on Can We Start Believing in 2D Platformers Again?

LBD "Nytetrayn"

On July 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I do agree, for the most part. After all, we can’t completely overlook Nintendo’s contributions as of late: New Super Mario Bros. Wii (which sold like gangbusters), Donkey Kong Country Returns, Wario Land Shake It!!, Kirby’s Epic Yarn (for better or for worse), and the upcoming Kirby Wii, plus the New Play Control! version of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

The big problem, I believe, is in getting OTHER companies to hop on that boat as well. Fortunately, isn’t Rayman: Origins supposed to be a side-scrolling platformer? And thankfully, Ubisoft is releasing that as a retail game now, so it seems there is a little confidence building.

I think we just need to keep up the pressure on our side, though there should probably be some adjustment on the developers’ side, too. For example, I don’t think a standard Mega Man formula (eight Robot Master stages, four Wily stages) would really cut it as a full-price retail game these days, no matter how good it looks or how well it plays.

On the other hand, tweaking the formula a bit– 12 Robot Masters, for example– would probably allow it to stand a better chance. Mega Man 3 seemed to have the right idea, but then they pulled back the reins on that after.

Similarly, the Castlevania II/Symphony of the Night formula would probably work better at retail than that of the original Castlevania. Or, if one wanted to compare apples to apples, Super Castlevania IV might be able to do the trick where something like the original Castlevania would not.

But there is definitely a difference between 2D and 3D gameplay, and I tend to favor the former. A little more top-down action-RPG-type stuff like the older Zeldas and Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, and the like would be welcome, too.


On July 6, 2011 at 6:37 am

ahhh yes the the golden years of gameing, when it was all platform gaming, man I played sonic for hours as a kid, and others like gargoyles, bubsy, radical rex, pitfall mayan adventure, tiny toon adventures. Those games were golden they were easy to learn the controls and they were kid/adult friendly. What has happened to the gaming market, granted new graphics and effects are cool but some games would just do better as a 2d platform.

Nintendo is doing a fine job pulling it off with their hd retro releases of classic characters, so bring back more characters into the new hd era with the classic 2d concept. Well we can dream

and rant

and protest

and break stuff

and kidnap the CEO’s of every major game corporation until our demands are meant XD


On July 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

“as the owner of a child” lol i like how that was phrased