The Platforming Renaissance

In 2003, Capcom released a game called Mega Man Network Transmission for Nintendo’s GameCube. A 2D platformer, Network Transmission had arrived at a time when the videogame industry was still shying away from anything that wasn’t a cutting-edge, 3D title. IGN’s review of Network Transmission embodies this mindset, as demonstrated by the reviewer who asserted that “newcomers to the series — no nostalgic feelings to haze their judgment — may find the gameplay style downright dated when compared to some of today’s more cutting-edge, technology-driven software”. The tragedy here being the notion that “nostalgic feelings” are the sole reason people enjoyed games like the original Mega Man and that they held no intrinsic value.

I’ll concede that Network Transmission might not be the greatest Mega Man game ever made, but it certainly deserved more than the 6.7 IGN blasted it with (it’s excellent graphics were deemed worthy of a 4 due to being too much like those of a SNES game). Before games like New Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man 9 and 10, the videogame industry was hellbent on dismissing 2D and platformers. They’d become something of a leper to videogame journalists in particular, who saw sprites and linear movement as relics of some bygone era. EGM had even gone so far as to deem the SNES Donkey Kong Country trilogy as being massively overvalued; ironically, it wasn’t that long afterwards that Donkey Kong Country Returns was praised for bringing the series back to its platforming roots (and the magazine itself became defunct).

There were blips on the path to retribution, most notably Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe games. Still, the retroactive abuse of platformers and classic titles was frustrating for those who didn’t need a reminder of their worth. It speaks to the youth of the videogame industry that its own journalists would so callously dismiss its history simply by virtue of what was shiny and new. Fortunately, we’re quickly speeding away from this mindset as more and more studios embrace the platforming genre.

There has been a wealth of platformers released in this past generation of consoles, from Sony’s Little Big Planet games to Nintendo’s murderer’s row of Super Mario, Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Kirby titles. That’s saying nothing of the stunning resurgence of platformers coming from indie developers, too. Cloudberry Kingdom, Sound Shapes, and Guacamelee! are great recent examples, with tight controls, brutal-but-fair gameplay, and brilliant aesthetics. With DuckTales Remastered, Shovel Knight, and many more titles on the way, the floodgates are clearly wide open for a genre many journalists had once practically labeled as dead.

When I write about this topic, I can’t help but think of an IGN editor I got into a debate with once. He had asserted that platformers were an inherently inferior genre of videogames when compared to any other, and thus not worth the price tag of full-retail games. While I have my own thoughts on the pricing of modern games, I was floored that an honest-to-goodness videogame journalist would say such a thing about one of the most quintessential and timeless forms of gaming. The editor tried to suggest that online multiplayer, DLC, and other similar features are what held the genre back, to which I quickly countered with Little Big Planet… and the conversation stopped. Online or not, there’s more to a videogame genre than whether or not a title has online leaderboards or costumes for sale. Platformers are as expressive and creative as any other type of game and earn their worth like all others; by virtue of their quality and fun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to blast through more of Cloudberry!

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