Platformers formed the basis of the video game revival after the crash that of 1983. One game that saved the industry, in particular, was the original Super Mario Bros for the NES. Super Mario Bros saved the industry almost by itself and the game went on to inspire developers throughout the 8 bit and 16-bit eras. During the 90’s platformers were in their prime, and the iconic clash between the Super Nintendo and Genesis/ Megadrive was led by two platforming franchises, Mario and Sonic. Mario games were precise very responsive, whereas Sonic games Sonic was fast and had the ‘cool’ factor. Other 8/16 bit platformers included Mega Man, Castlevania, Duck Tales, Ghosts and Goblins, and Donkey Kong Country, among many others. When the 3D era hit with the release of the N64/ PS1 generation 2D platformers took a back seat in favour of 3D platformers. During this time the market was full of colourful, open 3D game worlds. Again Nintendo led the way with Super Mario 64 (the pinnacle of early 3D platforming according to many). Other early 3D platformers included; Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and the M rated Conker’s Bad Fur Day. In the Wii/ Xbox 360 era 2D platformers had a resurgence, let’s take a look at some of the games that led this revival.
Rare originally developed the Donkey Kong Country games for the Super Nintendo in the golden age of 2D platformers. Then after a long absence, Nintendo’s second party developer Retro Studios released Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii. The game was brutally hard, had great graphics and was a return to form for Donkey Kong. It was great to see the return of a classic franchise and this was one of many revivals.
New Super Mario Bros and New Super Marion Bros Wii were the first new 2D platformers starring Mario in years. The games were polar opposites to the new Donkey Kong Country games, with easy, accessible gameplay and simple ‘no frills’ graphics. Nevertheless, the games sold great and introduced 2D platforming to a whole new generation.
Rayman, Ubisoft’s version of Nintendo’s and Sega’s Mario and Sonic followed a similar trajectory to the two iconic, flagship mascots, going from originally 2D to 3D as the industry developed. Then in 2011 Rayman Origins was released for the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 (among other platforms). This game was a return to 2D platforming and was received well critically. The graphics were extremely detailed and the sound was atmospheric and catchy. These three games I have mentioned helped bring the classic 2D platformer into the modern age, but there’s one part of the industry I haven’t yet mentioned in regards to 2D platforming.
Recently, Indie games have really become a key part of the industry and platforming games aren’t exempt from the software being released. Including Shovel Knight, Freedom Planet (which is heavily inspired by Sonic), and the recently announced Cuphead (which has a really unique art style). Shovel Knight, in particular, is one of the most critically acclaimed indie games ever and although it transcends genres (its influences range from Mega Man to Zelda 2) is heavily inspired by 2D platformers.
So that was our look at the resurgence of 2D platformers. Let’s hope there are many more classics to come in the future!