Action Platformer #1: Introduction, Yoshi and Scary Girl!

It’s been nearly thirty years since Mario jumped his first barrel and climbed ladders to reach the evil Donkey Kong in his attempt to save the girl. Following Donkey Kong was Atari’s megahit Pitfall, and by the early 80s, side scrolling action games with jumping and running were a premiere video game genre.

It’s tough to truly define the action platform genre, but there are two core concepts that are universal – jumping and places to jump. Through the last 25 years there have been additions and modifications to the formula, including stalwarts like item collection, head bopping, boxes/crates/whatever to break open, but if the game has jumping and stuff to jump over/onto, it could probably be called a platformer.

As I’m looking into the top level trends in gaming I’m finding that the action platform genre has become the red-headed stepchild of gaming. Despite the fact that some of gaming’s biggest franchises are platformers at their core – Mario, Sonic, Ratchet and Clank – most action platform games are summarily dismissed as derivative dreck. It’s arguable whether originality is the most important facet of new game development, but it seems inarguable to me that the platforming genre sees less innovation than comparable genres – shooters, sports, fighting, racing.

After reading Lucard’s Legendary Starfy review , it simultaneously occurred to me that not only is the platforming genre is under-appreciated by most gamers, but that the genre can’t possibly be as dead as its claimed with the sheer quantity of games across all platforms and spectrums of gaming. It was one of the more surprising results on Fyrebug (my user-generated flash game site) that the most popular game type was a platformer by a gigantic margin.

This column is designed to celebrate the platformer and its various cousins and incarnations. My definition of a platformer varies widely. As gaming has progressed, genre definitions have changed and new genre definitions are blurred. While most people would consider the Ratchet and Clank series a 3D platformer, a case could also be made that it’s a third person shooter and not a platformer at all. In general, these are sub-genres I’m most likely to cover in Action Platformer.

2D Side Scrolling – This is what is universally accepted as a basic action platformer. Think Mario or Sonic – the main character is a cartoon human or furry animal, there is running and jumping, enemy bopping and collecting. Modern example would be Little Big Planet or New Super Mario Brothers Wii.

2D Side Scrolling Shooters – The shooter genre has come to mean first person shooter, the bane of my existence, or sometimes it may mean a third person shooter. The games I once knew as shooters are now more commonly called shoot’em ups or shmups. But games like Contra and Metal Slug, despite being shooters in a sense, are more like platformers to me, with shooting as the main means of offense.

2D Side Scrolling Fighting – Games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage and other titles in the Beat ‘Em Up genre have fallen out of favor. They are barely considered their own genre by younger or more casual gamers, so I will give them a home at Action Platformer. They sometimes feature no platforms or jumping, but most of the time they closely approximate a platformer enough to warrant inclusion. Some modern examples would be Castle Crashers or Invisible Tiger.

2.5D Side Scrolling – I always found 2.5D an amusing moniker, but it’s difficult to describe these games any other way. For the most part, a 2.5D platformer will have gameplay that exists solely or largely on a 2D plane, but uses 3D graphics and viewpoints to mix things up. Examples of these games would be Klonoa and Pandemonium.

3D Platform – This is the basic 3D extension of the 2D platformer, with running, jumping, collecting and mid-air platforms. The grand-daddy is of course Mario 64, with most major mascots taking this route over the last 15 years, including Sonic, Crash, Spyro and Banjo-Kazooie. This is the dark side of the platformer in 2010, as movie tie-ins and cheap kids games often resort to formulaic platforming to push shovelware out the door. However, some license-based 3D platform games are better than they are given credit for.

Platform Cousins:

Kart Racing – While kart racing is somewhat off the path of what one would consider a platformer, it’s notable that nearly every kart racer uses platform-style characters and locations, usually based on an existing platform game. I have no hard statistics to back this up, but I think there is more crossover with kart racing players and platform players than there is say kart racing and Gran Turismo fans. From time to time we’ll have some kart racing coverage in Action Platformer as well

Quirky Character Based Titles – Less gameplay-related and more thematic, I tend to also group quirky, colorful games with difficult to pinpoint genres as platformers as well. Games like Katamari Damacy or Viva Pinata that have a platform-like cast of characters and locales might also be fair game.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll post a new Action Platformer every Saturday, with a look at what’s going on with current and future platforming games, a look at some of the great platformers of the past, and coverage of everything and anything platform related.

Flash Game Spotlight – Scary Girl

One area where platforming game are thriving is the online Flash game arena. Most of the games are free to play, and the quality of the graphics and gameplay exceeds some console releases.

It’s not the newest game on the web, but an awesome game to kick off this column is Scary Girl – an incredibly polished flash game with platforming controls and puzzles to solve. There is an item inventory and some challenging gameplay, but the most remarkable part has to be the striking graphics. Scary Girl is only one part of the creator’s multi-facet vision for the character and universe (the site also features toys, graphic novels, ) and would be a prime candidate for port to Xbox Indie Games or the iPhone.

Platforming Vaporware – Yoshi’s Story GBA

It’s a dirty secret of mine that one of my favorite games is Yoshi’s Story on Nintendo 64. It’s not challenging and not a glamorous pick, but the charm of how Yoshi moves and sounds in that game is unrivaled.

When first showing off the Gameboy Advance, Nintendo showed off the power of the handheld with a video of Yoshi’s Story running off the GBA hardware. Of course, most people assumed that this would lead to the game being released on GBA, either at launch or close after. However, the game was never officially announced, and the GBA launched with a revamped version of Super Mario Brothers 2. Whether or not the game was ever real is unknown, but it never did come out.

For fans of Yoshi and fans of the game, here is some YouTube video of the never-released Yoshi’s Story for GBA:

With GBA obviously a dead format, and Nintendo focusing on touch and DSi-enabled games, it’s unlikely we’ll see this game on a portable system anytime soon. However, given the Nintendo DS uses similar hardware to Nintendo 64, hope remains alive that games like Yoshi’s Story can be revived in portable form.

Current Platforming Events
January is often a quiet time in video games, but this year has already seen some big releases in the world of platforming.

Platform curmudgon Lucard has to heap praise on the latest entry in the Castlevania series, available on WiiWare. Castlevania: The Rebirth Adventure brings the series to its purest platforming core, eschewing the action-RPG direction of the modern games in the series.

I’ve just finished Matt Hazard: Blood, Bath and Beyond and while it’s not the best run and gun platformer I’ve played this month, it is a decent game. It’s hard with a decent learning curve. If you plug away long enough and it will reward you.

Late last year I stumbled upon a sweet 2D side scroller on both XBLA and iPhone called Twin Blades that has awesome vector graphics and a pretty fun gameplay mechanic. I would love to see what Indie developers Press Start Studio could do with a full-sized game.

Of course I imported Metal Slug XX recently only to learn that it would be coming stateside sooner than I expected. Oh well, still a solid sequel in the series and worth picking up for $20. Plus alongside the Metal Slug Anthology, the PSP becomes the only system where its possible to play every game in the series!

Action Platformer Release Schedule
It’s still early in the year, but there are already a ton of action platformers announced for release through the year. I’ll update this every week as new games are announced or shifted.

January 25th, 2010
Legend of Kay (NDS)

February 9, 2010
Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll (Wii)

February 23, 2010
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

March 2, 2010
Sonic Classic Collection (NDS)

May 11, 2010
3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3)

Spring 2010
ModNation Racers (PS3)

2010 TBD
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Bonk: Brink of Extinction (Multi)
Sparkster (Multi)
Mega Man 10 (Multi)
Sonic: Project Needlemouse (Multi)
Behemoth Game 3 (360)
Epic Mickey (Wii)

That will do it for the first edition of Action Platformer here on Diehard GameFAN. Please let me know what you think and I would love suggestions on games to feature in the column in the future.

Jonathan Widro is the publisher of Diehard GAMEFAN and owner/CEO of the Inside Pulse Network. He understands why those kids at Fyrebug made more platformers than all the other games combined. Jonathan still believes he can be taken seriously as a gaming journalist listing Yoshi’s Story amongst his all-time favorites. Action Platformer, an unabashedly biased view on the platforming genre, is published every Saturday on Diehard GAMEFAN.



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