Platformer Revival

How popular is that classic old school 2D sides-crolling platformer?

Pretty damn popular, I’d say. The reaction to the Retro Studios-developed Donkey Kong Country for Wii proves it. Add Metroid Prime: Other M and the direction that game is taking, we’ve really got something going here.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always loved the platformer genre and even played the sparse and terrible mediocre games available over the past 5 years or so. Yes, that even includes my cute little purple dragon, Spyro, as well as the silly Daxter game and, well, I admit I gave up on the Ratchet and Clank ones. I love the platforming genre and I love how even in the age of 3D environments and realism, something or other is keeping it alive and well.

There’s just something so simple, entertaining and addictive about platformers. I might even say their appeal is universal; no gamer has not enjoyed one of the first three Mario titles available for the NES. New Super Mario Bros was a fresh breath of air into an ancient and much-loved franchise, and it managed to not tarnish the Mario reputation. If executed right, a modern platformer like New Super Mario Bros, or the highly anticipated Donkey Kong Returns, can not only wow us with the bright, happy visuals but also “wow” us into wondering how this genre has gone so far wayside.

After all, it must be simple to make a platformer right? No camera control or anything, nothing to really worry about here, nothing complex. To make us happy, use a recognizable and long-absent character (Donkey Kong), get the physics right and the jumping mechanics right, add in a bunch of hidden secrets, get your best level design guys on the case and, well, you’ve got a platformer.

The platformer could even be used to shake things up. In a franchise like Metroid, which has made a great transition from the days of Super Metroid to Metroid Prime, and now back again to a 2D sidescrolling and third-person action game.

Last fall lesser-known developer Chair Entertainment finished a superb game and released it on Xbox Live Arcade: Shadow Complex. This is a game that absolutely everyone should play. You follow the role of boyfriend-who-was-picked-up-at-the-bar, and end up thwarting a terrorist attack using some preeeeetty sweet gear. You are initially only armed with a flashlight, but quickly acquire better stuff in Metroid-like fashion, using upgrades to unlock previously inaccessible areas.

Whether or not there’s a revival of the genre, there is still interest. Nintendo seems to be leading the charge in keeping it at the very least, alive. And that’s just fine, because they’re damn good at it.