Games 2Die For

Rumours abound online around everything, videogames no more so than anything else; but if the current rumour surrounding Sonic The Hedgehog is true – that the next instalment of the Sega mascot’s adventures will be in a glorious HD, 2D, scrolling format – does it mean we are approaching a return to old school platforming heaven?

Back in the days of the Megadrive and the SNES, the platformer was king. Sonic and Mario, the most famous of all videogame characters, wore the crowns and sat on the thrones. Each heads of state in a world where East was Mario and West was Sonic. And, for a while, the only argument worth having about videogames was: what’s best, the Megadrive or the SNES? With any answer invariably involving both mascots and a lot of pointless verbal tit-for-tat, they completely ignored the fact that both systems were excellent and both mascot’s games were the pinnacle of early 90’s gaming.

But by the end of the decade the entire gaming landscape had changed. The technically superior PS1 and N64 had become the dominant consoles of choice for gamers the world over. By 2000, the 2D platformer was dead in the water, eating 3D dirt as Mario’s N64 incarnation was a fleshed out, tubby, free-roaming, lapsed-plumber, Sonic was struggling to save the Dreamcast with his shiny new 3D Adventure, and a glut of 3D, free-roaming platform understudies like Ratchet & Clank, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot and Banjo Kazooie, were itching to get in there and usurp the aging monarchs.

So here we are, approaching the end of another decade. A decade in which the 2D platformer is little more than a fond memory for 30 and 40something gamers, where the platformer itself has become just another videogame genre, when once it was the top boy. Yet, has the transition from 2D to 3D really made platforming any better? We gamers are like magpies – show us something shiny and new and we’ll dive on it, shove it in our beaks and take it back to the nest to coo over it like a favourite fledgling taking its fist tentative flaps. Never mind that it could just be a grey, snail trail coated, pebble that just happened to glint in the right manner under the dawn light. It’s shiny – it must be good. Right?

Consider this. You have a Wii (56 million sold worldwide means at last two of you do, even if you’re ashamed to admit it in front of any ‘hardcore’ gamers), Nintendo have finally added Super Mario All-Stars to its list of playable content on the virtual console (and at the time of writing the rumour mills are grinding away), and you’re faced with the choice of playing this classic of classics or the already available Super Mario 64. Which one would you rather play? It’s quite likely that the pedantic, argumentative soul in you will plumb for Super Mario 64. Well, for once, avoid that I-will-argue-with-anything-anyone-ever-says-online part of your personality and give the SNES Mario a go. Then try out the N64 version. When you come back, you are more than welcome to shoot down everything you read here if, and only if, you truly believe that the N64 Mario is the better game and that 3D platforming is better than its 2D ancestor. But you’d be wrong, because it isn’t. Neither is Super Mario Galaxy the top dog. That doesn’t mean either of these games are rubbish – far from it, they’re both fantastic titles that are both satisfying and joyous to play. It’s just that they’re by no means as satisfying or joyous to play as the 2D Mario originals.

The new Sonic, tentatively titled Project Needlemouse (see Gamespot’s interview with Sega’s associate brand manager, Ken Ballough, for very little information on it other than the confirmation that it will be both in 2D and HD) might just be another desperate attempt by Sega to revive a wheezing-through-its-last-breaths brand. Or it could be that, after years of Sonic fans filling cyberspace with 2D shaped white noise, someone at Sega has finally logged on and taken on board the back catalogue of bitching. Or perhaps that same someone has realised that platform games were always more fun when they were in 2D, and that just because the technology is there to make 3D platformers, doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.

Think back over the murky, pixel-blurred years of videogames to the quintessential classics. Remember Pitfall? Would you really like to see a free-roaming, 3D version? Chuckie Egg stir any childhood memories? Would that benefit from a 3D overhaul? Would Donkey Kong 3D be worth making? If some bright young thing at a multinational publishing company stumbled upon his dad’s Spectrum, cranked it up, loaded Manic Miner and decided that it would be a brilliant idea to make an all-singing, all-dancing, 3D version of the iconic platformer, would you be calling him a genius or crying into your Kempston joystick interface? And now that these legends of platforming history have been brought back to your attention, are you right now searching for emulators to play them on or shutting down your computer and reaching for the wiimote?

However, if you’re lamenting the death of the 2D platformer right now, then fear not. There are plenty of games out there that will rekindle your old school flames. Because although major developers have turned their backs on 2D platforming, indie developers still carry a torch for the dearly departed. Jump into Xbox Live’s Indie Games market and you’ll find a huge selection of 2D platforming treats, and they’re not just reworked versions of old favourites. The gloomy and atmospheric Dark is unlike anything you ever played on the SNES and Megadrive, as is the hilarious, cartoon doodled Run!, while the retro gaming contingent are more than amply catered for with fantastic titles like Jump! and Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp. Even more old school, and we’re talking 8-bit old school here, is the simple but thoroughly engaging Pixel Man – which wouldn’t look out of place crammed into an Atari ST cartridge. What is most noticeable in the majority of these indie games is the abundance of humour, the likes of which we haven’t seen since indie game developers the length and breadth of the country were busily coding games for the Spectrum 48K. What they lack in graphical ability is more than made up with boundless charm.

Ultimately, whether Project Needlemouse sees the light of day in 2010, and whether the feelings it stirs even vaguely approach the feelings experienced playing those early Sonic masterpieces, remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain, platformers were always more enjoyable in a 2D format no matter how graphically superior their offspring have grown to be, and those of us who look back fondly on the 8, 16, and 32-bit eras will be itching to try it out for ourselves. As long as it doesn’t turn out to be a full-priced, pay through the nose, oh god, why did I spend fifty quid on this release. Download only, please, Mr Hedgehog.

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Written by Neil

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  1. KrazyFace /

    Good read Mr.Sid! It’s true what you say about the lack of humor in games now-a-days. I remember playing silly stuff when I was a kid like Maniac Mansion, which was full of crazyness that would probably be left out of a modern production. Earth Worm Jim also had a great ammount of sillyness and wasn’t afraid to use it.

    The cow at the very end was classic!

  2. SEGASky /

    Good article, but I would pay full price for a new, AAA 2D Sonic! Or, if you want, for a good AAA 2D platformer!

  3. You’re a kinder man than me 🙂

  4. SEGASky /

    Might be because I work as a game developer, but I really feel so! Also, Sonic is great (or was great) and could be great again (that’s what we all wish and hope). Beside that, did I mention I love SEGA? 🙂

  5. You’re right about Sonic. I vividly remember bunking school to spend 8 hours finishing it, including all the secret bits – and man has that little blue fella sucked large for a long time. With any luck, this new one will rekindle the flames of fandom and show a lot of younger players exactly what it was we all went doolally over in the first place.

    Oh, and Krazyface, Earthworm Jim! Yeah, there’s another great 2D platforming memory. Shall I say Cool Spot right now? Greatest videogame character walk ever.

  6. SEGASky /

    Yeah, you’re right! Right now I’m looking forward to Xbla Earthworm Jim remake! Can’t wait, should be out soon.. I just hope they don’t mess with graphics and gameplay. Also, they (EJ and Cool Spot) were both by David Perry, think about how cool would be him developing a 2d sequel!

  7. Would he do it? Who’s to say, but with both Sonic and Mario going all 2D on us, maybe he could be tempted…

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