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The Rise of Platformers

Posted by Jonathan Terbeche on June 7, 2013 at 12:55 AM

With the growth of the industry, and more and more people playing games than ever before, the domination of first and third-person shooter games is not that surprising. Games like "Call of Duty," Battlefield," and "Gears of War" have not only sold more copies during their respective releases, but have changed the minds of publishers and consumers alike to expect new titles in the series every year. It was not so long ago when the most popular genres in the video game industry were much different than the ones today. One such genre is pretty much responsible for starting it all with a certain Italian plumber for a hero. That's right, platforming games were once the reigning champions. Thankfully, they're coming back, and in a huge way!

Platforming games, often associated with action, adventure, or action-adventure games, have traditionally been the most well-known types of games. When asking a random person what do they think of as a typical video game, the answer (at least used to be) Mario, or something just like it. Any game where the screen scrolls from the left to right, and which requires you to run and jump over obstacles is your typical side-scrolling platformer, and it is the foundation for what many gamers believe to be true games

The classic "Mario Party" mini-game, Platform Peril.

The Mario games popularized the trend and, as a result, Nintendo systems have traditionally always been home to some of the greatest platforming games. Games like "Mega Man," "Battletoads," and "Ninja Turtles" all got their start on the NES. Then there are the plethora of Nintendo first-party titles that are some of the most well-designed platformers to ever exist. Series' such as "Donkey Kong Country," "Kirby's Dreamland," and of course, "Super Mario World" are all exclusive to Nintendo platforms. It's a good thing Nintendo won't let these masterpieces die each time a new system is out. 

A few games in particular, all of which have come out within this last console generation have set new standards for not only platforming games, but all video games in general. "Donkey Kong Country Returns" is perhaps the greatest example of how to bring back an older franchise. Sticking to the series' roots, "Country Retuns" is a side-scrolling platformer, where up to two players can join co-operatively to beat levels, and obtain collectibles. Hectic boss battles, challenging secrets to find, and creative levels are all a part of what makes this game so great!

"Donkey Kong Country Returns" proved remakes and reboots can be done right.

On the other end of the spectrum, "Kirby's Epic Yarn" for the Wii was an entry to the Kirby franchise that no one saw coming. With a new in-game engine, aesthetic, and mechanics, almost every part of the Kirby formula was re-written with this title; and it was fantastic! "Kirby's Epic Yarn" has one of the cutest looks to a video game, almost assuredly prohibiting its own sales from some embarrassed older gamers. Gorgeous aesthetics aside, the gameplay in "Epic Yarn" is a return to classic Kirby platforming, where exploring, finding hidden paths, and using different power ups is the main focus. While it is impossible to technically die in the game, just losing an amount of gems you've collected is punishment enough!

"Kirby's Epic Yarn" was a mix of whimsy and classic gaming goodness.

The follow up to the amazing "Super Mario 64" on the Nintendo 64 had mixed reception. While "Super Mario Sunshine" was, critically a well-received game, it would take a long time before most dedicated Mario fans would warm up to the title. So when it was time to bring Mario in 3D over the Wii, it was very much up in the air, as to what Nintendo would deliver. Back then, if you would have said that they would release a game that was more critically acclaimed than "Super Mario 64" and competed with it for the position of greatest 3D platformer, you would be the cause of much laughter. Yet sure enough we recieved just that... twice!

"Super Mario Galaxy" was an amazing game that, quite literally, turned 3D platforming on its head. Using an amazing design where gravity played a key role on small planetoid levels, the sense of freedom, and scale in the game was unlike any other. This was shortly followed up by a sequel in the form of "Super Mario Galaxy 2" that was even better recieved than the first! Taking the same basic design, but adding in more characters like Yoshi, new power-ups, and refining a lot of the motion control elements, made for a gaming experience that was truly out of this world. "Super Mario Galaxy 2" remains the highest rated console game released this generation!

No one could have predicted that the next 3D Mario games, "Super Mario Galaxy" (1 and 2) would be so different, and still be so good!

Nintendo aren't the only ones who are showing up to the party though. As hundreds of new video game developers emerge, so many compelling, new indie games have become available, many of which are designed as platformers. Hundreds of platforming indie games have been released this generation, which alone is enough to showcase the strength of the genre. However, there are some standout titles that truly elevated what the genre can deliver.

(Top Left) Braid, (Top Right) Limbo, (Bottom Left) Super Meat Boy, (Bottom Right) Fez.

"Braid" was perhaps one of the first few indie games to be released that delivered a compelling, emotional experience but played almost identically to Mario. It showed that writing and story in platforming games can be even more compelling in some cases than any other forms of games.

"Limbo" was yet another emotionally driven platforming experience. Focusing less on an overt narrative, the story that "Limbo" delivered was derived and created by the player progressing through the world. With an amazing, black and white aesthetic, it perfectly hightened the sense of isolation, fear, and hopelssness that the game instills.

"Super Meat Boy," much like its name sounds, is all about fun and strangeness. With the heaviest focus placed on gameplay, no other game could compare to the responsiveness of the controls, the mastery of level design, and the quick respawn system to allow players to immediately jump back into the action. It is unquestionably the best game to showcase the challenge that only platforming games can offer.

"Fez" was the late-comer to the party, but was certainly in development for a long amount of time. Combining elements of many games, it was a complete package in all areas. The story to the game was light-hearted and whimsical, the atmosphere and aesthetic designs were perfect for its homage to gaming, and the gameplay was tight and fun and had incredibly designed puzzles and mechanics. It's truly a platforming adventure game to be proud of.

Sony's new first-party platformer, "Puppeteer" promises to provide a positively perfect platforming performance!

This generation has already proven to be a rekindling, or rebirth of the platforming genre, but what does the future hold? We've already seen screenshots, trailers, and heard announcements of some really exciting new titles coming in the following months. Sony's new exclusive title, "Puppeteer," available for the PS3, has an amazing design to it. The game takes place on a stage world, where everything that happens throughout the game is narrated and shown like a performance. The levels in the game even rotate around the main character, Kutaro, like new sets on a stage. Instead of a traditional weapon, Kutaro uses these magical scissors which allow him to cut any prop or stage design in the world to progress through levels, deal damage, or find secrets. Another unique aspect is that Kutaro doesn't have a head, and so he can use the heads he finds in the game to gain unique abilities.

One game this generation that has almost single-handedly reinvigorated the entire platforming genre, and which certainly has reinvigorated it for Ubisoft, is "Rayman Origins." The creators of Rayman had been more focused on their other licenses, or creating more "Rayman Raving Rabbids" spin-offs most of this generation to allow for a proper new Rayman game. But when it came, it delivered the platforming experience we had all been waiting for. It was so highly rated, in fact, some argued that it had finally surpassed Mario as the king of platforming games this generation. Seeing the critical success of "Rayman Origins" a sequel announcement was only a matter of time.

Certain levels in "Rayman Legends" will have musical platforming, where you must run through the level to the beat of a song, like a mariachi version of "Eye of the Tiger" for the level above.

"Rayman Legends" was originally a Wii U exclusive, but was most recently announced to be available this holiday on all major consoles. With the same amazing visual style used in "Rayman Origins," it truly feels like playing in a painting that has come to life. Not only is Ubisoft maintaining the difficulty and amount of platforming in the game, it's actually increasing it, with unqiue experiences in the form of musical levels. Think of some kind of crazy combination bewteen "Rock Band" and Rayman and that's essentially what they've created. It is a fresh take on an already satisfying expereince, and one which will hopefully be around for dozens of games to come!

Platforming games truly are a mixed bag. From ones with compelling stories, to those that focus on amazing gameplay and level design, to even those doing things new with music and visuals, there is something for everyone. It is the genre that started it all and is only growing bigger each year. So, next time you're at a cross-roads, watch your step, take a leap of faith, time your jump, don't look back, and remember, always run to the right!

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1 Comment

Reply gamer5
3:32 PM on June 9, 2013 
How do you forget lbp arguably the best platformer of this gen

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