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A platform game (or platformer) is a video game characterized by requiring the player to jump to and from suspended platforms or over obstacles (jumping puzzles). It must be possible to control these jumps and to fall from platforms or miss jumps. The most common unifying element to games in this video game genre is a jump button; other jump mechanics include swinging from extendable arms, as in Ristar or Bionic Commando, or bouncing from springboards or trampolines, as in Alpha Waves. These mechanics, even in the context of other genres, are commonly called platforming, a verbification of platform. Games where jumping is automated completely, such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, fall outside of the genre.
Platform games originated in the early 1980s, and 3D successors were popularized in the mid-1990s. The term itself describes games where jumping on platforms is an integral part of the gameplay, and came into use some time after the genre had been established, but no later than 1983. However, it is not a pure genre and is very frequently coupled with elements of other genres, such as the shooter elements in Contra, the adventure elements of Flashback or the RPG elements of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
While commonly associated with console gaming, there have been many important platform games released to arcades, as well as for handheld systems and home computers. Europe, North America, and Japan have played major parts in the genre's evolution. Platform themes range from cartoony "mascot" games to science fiction and fantasy epics.
Platform games were, at one point, the most popular genre of video game. At the peak of their popularity, it is estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of console games were platformers. No genre before or since has been able to achieve a similar market share. As of 2006, the genre is far less dominant, representing a 2% market share (compared to 15% in 1998), but still commercially viable, with a number of games selling in the millions of units.
- 1 History
- 2 Sub-genres
- 3 Dispute about classification of early platformers
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes and references
- 6 External links
Single screen movement
Platform games appeared at the beginning of the 1980s. Because of the technical limitations of the day, early examples were confined to a static playing field, generally viewed in profile. The earliest video games to feature jumping were sports games based on basketball; while earlier titles like Taito's Basketball (1974) could not accurately represent jumping due to simple paddle controls, later titles such as Atari's Basketball (1978) could more accurately represent jumps using a joystick button. Frogs, an arcade game released by Sega/Gremlin in 1978, was the first non-sports game to feature a jumping character, making it an early ancestor of the genre. Players could not control the direction of the jump however, nor was it possible to jump between different platforms, only to fall off either side of the one platform on screen.
Space Panic, a 1980 arcade release by Universal, is sometimes credited as the first platform game, though the distinction is contentious, since the player had no ability to jump, swing, bounce, or fall, and as such, does not satisfy most modern definitions of the genre. However, it was clearly an influence on the genre, with gameplay centered on climbing ladders between different floors, a common element in many early platform games. Another precursor to the genre released that same year was Nichibutsu's Crazy Climber, which revolved around the concept of climbing buildings.
Donkey Kong, an arcade game created by Nintendo, released in July 1981, was the first game that allowed players to jump over obstacles and across gaps, making it the first true platformer. Donkey Kong had a limited amount of platforming in its first two screens, but its other two accessible screens have a more pronounced platform jumping component. This game also introduced Mario, an icon of the genre. Donkey Kong was ported to many consoles and computers at the time, and the title helped to cement Nintendo's position as an important name internationally in the video game industry.
The following year, Donkey Kong had a sequel, Donkey Kong Jr.. The third game in the series, Donkey Kong 3, was not a platformer, but it was succeeded by Mario Bros, a platform game that offered two-player simultaneous cooperative play. This title laid the groundwork for other popular two-player cooperative platformers, like Fairyland Story and Bubble Bobble, which, in turn, influenced many of the single-screen platformers that would follow. Bubble Bobble was also an early example of a game with multiple endings, which depended on the player's skill and discovered secrets.
Beginning in 1982, transitional games emerged that did not feature scrolling graphics but had levels that spanned several screens that could be traveled between. Pitfall!, released for the Atari 2600, featured broad, horizontally-extended levels. It became one of the best selling games on the system and was a breakthrough for the genre. Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle was released on the ColecoVision that same year, adding uneven terrain and scrolling pans between static screens. Manic Miner (1983) and its sequel Jet Set Willy (1984) continued this style of multi-screen levels on home computers. Later that same year Epyx released Impossible Mission, which further expanded on the exploration aspect and laid the groundwork for such games as Prince of Persia.
The first platform game to use scrolling graphics came years before they were the trend. Jump Bug was a simple platform-shooter, developed by Alpha Denshi under contract for Hoei/Coreland and released to arcades in 1981, only five months after Donkey Kong. Players controlled a bouncing car and navigated it to jump on various platforms like buildings, clouds and hills. As part of a nascent genre, it was not strongly influenced by existing conventions, nor was it a major influence on games after it. In the years that followed, Jump Bug was largely forgotten, but it offered an early foreshadowing of what was to come, with uneven, independently suspended platforms and levels that scrolled both horizontally and vertically.
In August 1982, Taito released Jungle King. The title featured Tarzan (an unauthorized use of the character that would result in a lawsuit), with vine-swinging mechanics similar to those in Pitfall! released a month later. Jungle King also featured a scrolling jump and run sequences that had players hopping over obstacles. In many ways, the gameplay was more simplistic than Pitfall!, but the scrolling proved a compelling addition to the formula. This same year Irem released Moon Patrol, a side-scrolling shooter with light jumping elements that introduced layered parallax scrolling to give an early pseudo-3D effect.
In the early 1980s, home consoles - except for the Atari 2600 (vertical scrolling only), Atari 5200 and Emerson Arcadia 2001 - did not yet have hardware support for scrolling. This made it very difficult to produce a scrolling effect smoothly on a console. Despite this, Sydney Development released B.C.'s Quest For Tires in 1983 on the ColecoVision, as well as several home computer platforms. The game features large, smooth-scrolling levels and simplistic platform gameplay in which players jumped over oncoming pitfalls and obstacles, much like Moon Patrol. Not long after this, a scrolling platform game appeared on the Commodore 64 and Atari 800 computers called Snokie. It began to bridge the gap between these earlier scrolling arcade-style games and a more mature vision of the genre, with uneven terrain and an emphasis on precision jumping.
Namco took the scrolling platformer a step further with the 1984 release Pac-Land. Pac-Land came after the genre had a few years to develop, and was an evolution of earlier platform games, aspiring to be more than a simple game of hurdle jumping, like some of its predecessors. It was not only a very successful title (and later ported to many consoles), but it more closely resembled later scrolling platformers like Wonder Boy and Super Mario Bros and was probably a direct influence on them. It even had multi-layered parallax scrolling, an effect that would become much more common during the second generation of scrollers.
1984 continued to be a big year for scrolling platformers. Taito released Legend of Kage, which offered levels that extended in all directions. Sega released Flicky, a simple platformer with horizontally scrolling levels that featured their first mascot character. Namco followed up Pac-Land with the fantasy-themed Dragon Buster, a game notable for introducing the hub level similar to the ones used in later 2D Super Mario games. It was also the first video game to feature a life meter, called "Vitality" in the game. By the end of the year the scrolling platform game had been firmly established, but it was not until these made their way to home consoles that the genre would be propelled to a new level of mainstream popularity.
Nintendo's platform game Super Mario Bros., released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, became the archetype for many platformers to follow. The title was bundled with Nintendo's systems in North America, Japan, and Europe, and went on to sell over 40 million copies according to the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records. Its success as a pack-in led many companies to see platform games as vital to their success, and certainly contributed greatly to popularizing the genre during the 8-bit console generation.
Sega attempted to emulate this success with their Alex Kidd series, which began in 1986 on the Master System with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, an ambitious platformer that featured horizontal and vertical scrolling levels, the ability to punch enemies as well as rocks, and shops where the player could buy power-ups such as a shooting power wave and vehicles such as a motorbike that can plow straight through rock, helicopter powered by pedaling, and speedboat. The bosses were fought through a minigame of rock-paper-scissors, the game could be continued through passwords, and the environments were varied, including mountains, caves, oceans, forests, and underwater segments. Another Sega platformer series that began that same year was Wonder Boy. The original Wonder Boy in 1986 was inspired more by Pac-Land rather than Super Mario Bros and featured skateboarding segments that gave the game a greater sense of speed than other platformers at the time, while its sequel Wonder Boy in Monster Land took the series in a new direction by combining action-adventure and action role-playing elements with traditional platforming. Wonder Boy in turn inspired platformers such as Adventure Island, Dynastic Hero, Popful Mail and Shantae.
Platformers went portable in the late 1980s with games such as Super Mario Land and continued to maintain the genre's popularity, with many titles being released for the handheld Game Boy and Game Gear. Because of the small size, technical constraints, and blurring associated with early LCD technology, fast paced action-based platformers were more difficult to execute on handheld systems. Because of this, many handheld platformers leaned toward slower paced play styles and a greater emphasis on puzzles. After the transition of home consoles to 3D, handhelds became a bastion for 2D platform games, and they still remain popular to this day with New Super Mario Bros being a recent example of a very successful traditional platform game, selling more than five million copies in Japan and North America during its first year of release.
On the NES, as well as on most 8-bit arcade hardware, platform games generally only scrolled in one direction at a time (usually horizontally). This meant designers had to use a very narrow level progression, or break levels up into areas that scrolled in one direction at a time (as was the case in Metroid and Mega Man). The first platform game to scroll in all four directions freely and follow the on-screen character's movement was in a vector game called Major Havoc. Major Havoc was composed of a number of mini-games, including a simple platformer (the largest of the mini-games), along with a shoot 'em up sequence, a landing sequence, and even a Breakout clone. The first raster-based platform game to scroll fluidly in all directions in this manner is the 1984 classic, Legend of Kage, mentioned earlier.
In 1985, Enix released an early open world platform-adventure game, Brain Breaker. The following year saw the release of a more successful open-world platform-adventure, Nintendo's Metroid, which was critically acclaimed for having a balance between open-ended exploration and knowing where to go. Another platform-adventure was released that year as well, Pony Canyon's Super Pitfall, which was critically panned for its vagueness and weak game design. That same year, Jaleco released Esper Boukentai, a platform-action sequel to Psychic 5 that scrolled in all directions and where the player character can make huge jumps several stories tall, which are needed in order to navigate the giant vertically-oriented levels. Telenet Japan also released its own take on the platform-action game, Valis, with its anime-style story cut scenes.
In 1987, Capcom's Mega Man introduced a non-linear "level select" option. This was a stark contrast to both linear games (like Super Mario Bros.) and open-world games (like Metroid). GamesRadar credits the "level select" feature of Mega Man as the basis for the non-linear mission structure found in most open-world, multi-mission, sidequest-heavy games. Another Capcom platformer that year was Bionic Commando, a multi-scrolling platform-action game known for introducing the grappling hook mechanic that has since appeared in dozens of later platform games, including Earthworm Jim and Tomb Raider. Though multi-directional scrolling did not seem like a big deal at the time, it would become a distinguishing feature of the next generation of platformers.
The advent of 16-bit home consoles marked an evolutionary step for the genre. By the time the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo launched, platform games were the most popular genre in home console gaming and were seen as vital for winning the console war. There was a particular emphasis on having a flagship platform title exclusive to a format, featuring a "mascot" character. In 1989, Sega released Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle. The title was only modestly successful, and Sega realized it needed a stronger mascot to move Genesis units. That same year, Capcom released the platformer Strider, which scrolled in multiple directions and allowed the player to summon AI partners, such as a droid, tiger, and hawk, to help fight enemies. Sega's Shadow Dancer, released in the same year, also featured an AI partner, a dog who follows the player around and helps fight enemies. In 1990, Hudson Soft released Bonk's Adventure featuring a character that would be positioned as NEC's mascot. The following year, Takeru's Cocoron, a late platformer for the Famicom, introduced true character customization, allowing players to build a character from a toy box filled with spare parts.
1990 marked the release of the Super NES, along with the much awaited Super Mario World. In order to fend off the new competition, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog. Whereas Nintendo's offering featured a conservative design, true to the Mario tradition, Sonic showcased a new style of design made possible by a new generation of hardware. Sonic featured large fields that scrolled effortlessly in all directions, as well as all manner of uneven terrain, curved hills, and a complex physics system that allowed players to rush through its levels with well-placed jumps and rolls. It proved to be a massive hit, was a successful pack-in with new systems, and cemented the view that platform games would make or break a console.
The Sonic character was also seen as a new model for mascots in the early 1990s, particularly for his perceived "attitude," which characterized him as a rebel from the status quo. This "attitude" would soon become the status quo, as companies attempted to duplicate Sonic's success with their own brightly-colored anthropomorphisms. Very frequently these were characterized by impatience, sarcasm, and frequent quipping to give them personality. These mascots, which included the likes of Gex, Bug!, Aero the Acro-Bat, Awesome Possum, and Bubsy, have mostly faded from relevance.
Although there had long been important platform games on home computers, a second generation of platform games for computers appeared alongside the new wave of consoles. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Amiga was known as a stronger gaming platform than IBM-compatible PCs, thanks to its more powerful stock video hardware and sound hardware, and the Atari ST was solidly supported as well. Games like Shadow of the Beast and Turrican showed that computer platform games could rival the graphics and sound of their console contemporaries, and Prince of Persia featured an unprecedented level of animation.
In 1990, DOS PC gaming made a breakthrough in the genre. Commander Keen, released by id Software, became the first IBM-compatible PC platformer to feature smooth scrolling graphics thanks to a technique programmer John Carmack had pioneered for EGA graphics displays. The success of this game via the shareware distribution model prompted many others to attempt more console-styled scrolling platformers on the PC, including Duke Nukem, Jill of the Jungle, and Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure. None of these scrolled as smoothly as Commander Keen, but many were well-received. These games helped fuel the shareware model, which would drive PC gaming to greater relevance in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Other notable platform games from this time period include Earthworm Jim, Zool, Ristar, Bubsy, and Rocket Knight Adventures. Frequently, console games based on film, television, and comic book licenses would be platformers, such as those based on Aladdin, Jurassic Park, James Bond, and Mickey Mouse.
Decline of 2D
At the end of the 16-bit era, some very successful platform games were released, including Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country titles, but the release of new hardware caused players' attention to gradually shift away from traditional 2D genres. The Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 nevertheless featured a number of successful 2D platform games. Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X4 helped revitalize interest in Capcom's blue bomber. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night revitalized its series and established a new foundation for later Castlevania games. Oddworld and Heart of Darkness kept the sub-genre born from Prince of Persia alive. Unusually, the Nintendo 64 had the fewest 2D platformers — only Yoshi's Story and Mischief Makers — and both met with a tepid response from critics at the time. Despite this, Yoshi's Story sold over a million copies in the US and Mischief Makers rode high on the charts in the months following its release.
The difficulties of adapting platform gameplay to 3D led some developers to compromise by pairing the visual flash of 3D with traditional 2D gameplay. These games are often referred to as "2.5D". The first such game was a Sega Saturn launch title, Clockwork Knight released in December, 1994 in Japan (and subsequently as a launch game in the U.S.). The game featured levels and boss characters rendered in 3D, but retained 2D gameplay and the used pre-rendered 2D sprites for regular characters, similar to Donkey Kong Country. Its sequel improved upon its design, featuring some 3D effects such as hopping between the foreground and background, and the camera panning and curving around a corner.
The term 3D platformer usually refers to games that feature gameplay in three dimensions and polygonal 3D graphics. Games which have 3D gameplay but 2D graphics are usually included under the umbrella of isometric platformers, while those that have 3D graphics but gameplay on a 2D plane are called 2.5D, as they are "somewhere between 2D and 3D".
The first attempts to bring platform games into 3D used 2D graphics and an isometric perspective. These games are nearly as old as the genre itself, one of the earliest examples being Sega's Congo Bongo in 1983. The first platformers to simulate a 3D perspective and moving camera emerged in the early-mid 1980s. An early example of this was Konami's platform game Antarctic Adventure, where the player controls a penguin in a forward-scrolling third-person perspective while having to jump over pits and obstacles. Originally released in 1983 for the MSX computer, it was ported to various platforms the following year, including the Arcade, NES, and ColecoVision. That same year, I, Robot, though not a platformer, featured filled 3D polygonal graphics, flat shading, and camera control options, which would not be widely adopted by platformers until the 1990s.
In 1986, the Arsys Software game WiBArm, a platforming action-adventure, introduced a fully 3D polygonal third-person perspective for exploring indoor areas, though the platforming sections of the game were still in 2D graphics. That same year saw the release of the sequel to forward-scrolling platformer Antarctic Adventure, called Penguin Adventure, designed by Hideo Kojima. It included more action game elements, a greater variety of levels, RPG elements such as upgrading equipment, and multiple endings. Trailblazer, released to various computer systems in 1986, used a simple linescroll effect to create a forward scrolling pseudo-3D play field where players manipulated a bouncing ball to leap over obstacles and pitfalls.
In early 1987, Square released 3-D WorldRunner, designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nasir Gebelli. Using a similar forward-scrolling effect to Sega's 1985 third-person rail shooter Space Harrier, 3-D WorldRunner was an early forward-scrolling pseudo-3D third-person platform-action game where players were free to move in any forward-scrolling direction and had to leap over obstacles and chasms. It was also notable for being one of the first stereoscopic 3-D games. Square released its sequel, JJ, later that year. In 1990, an Estonian developer called Bluemoon released Kosmonaut, a forward-scrolling driving/action game similar to Trailblazer, which consisted almost entirely of difficult platform-jumping obstacle courses. While the gameplay took place in three dimensions, and the graphics were polygonal it is considered pseudo-3D because it used a fixed viewpoint. The game was later remade in 1993 as SkyRoads, which experienced much wider popularity.
The earliest example to be found of a true 3D platformer is a French computer game called Alpha Waves, created by Christophe de Dinechin and published by Infogrames in 1990 for the Atari ST, Amiga and PC. It featured full-screen 3D graphics, true 3D movement, and a movable camera, all firsts for the genre. The environments were abstract, with simple gameplay focused on hopping from trampoline-like platforms. The game was released in North America by Data East, under the name Continuum. Much like Jump Bug before it, while it is believed to be the first of its kind, it is not widely recognized as especially influential (though it is sometimes regarded as a precursor to Jumping Flash!). While its appearance was quite dissimilar from the popular 2D platformer of the day, it was billed as a platform game on its packaging, suggesting that it was seen as an attempt to bring the genre into 3D.
In 1994, a small developer called Exact released a game for the X68000 computer called Geograph Seal. The game was a fully 3D polygonal first person shooter hybrid with a pronounced platform jumping component. Players piloted a frog-like mech that could jump and then double jump or triple jump high into the air, as the camera panned down to help players line up their landing. In addition to shooting, jumping on enemies was a primary means of attack. This was the first true 3D platform-action game with free-roaming environments, but it was never ported to another platform nor released outside of Japan, so it remains obscure in the West.
The following year, Exact released their follow-up to Geograph Seal as an early title for Sony's new PlayStation console. Jumping Flash!, released in April 1995, is generally regarded as a direct continuation of the gameplay concepts in Geograph Seal, and was likewise a mix of first-person shooting and platforming, with similar controls and camera-work. The frog-like mech was traded in for a more cartoony rabbit mech, called the "Robbit." Beyond this, the level design had an even greater focus on platform hopping, and it was released in Europe and North America as a launch title, helping it gain a much higher profile. The title was successful enough to receive two sequels, and is remembered as the first 3D platformer on a console.
Bug!, a Sega Saturn game that was released in 1995, offered a more conservative approach to true 3D platforming. It allowed players to move in all directions, but it did not allow movement along more than one axis at once — the player could move left to right, or forward and backward, but not diagonally left and backward at the same time. Its characters were pre-rendered sprites, much like the earlier Clockwork Knight. The game played very similarly to 2D platformers, but it was considered a true 3D title, and even let players walk up walls and on ceilings. It was a moderate success and had a sequel, Bug Too!.
In 1995, Delphine Software released a 3D sequel to their popular 2D platformer Flashback. Entitled Fade to Black, it was the first attempt to bring a popular 2D platform game series into 3D. While it retained the puzzle-oriented level design style and step-based control and bore a strong resemblance to its predecessor, it does not meet the criteria of a platform game, and was billed as an action adventure. It used true 3D characters and set pieces, but its environments were rendered using a rigid engine similar to the one used by Wolfenstein 3D in that it could only render square, flat corridors. This eliminated any hopping from suspended platforms. Fade to Black would set the stage for other series, such as Metroid and Duke Nukem, that would gradually shift away from the traditional platform formula while retaining many of its gameplay conventions.
There was a great deal of pressure on Sony, Sega, and Nintendo to release mascot platformers before the 1996 holiday season. Sony chose to adopt an existing project by developers Naughty Dog, a small developer at the time, who had recently released the questionable Way of the Warrior. The move paid off; their game, Crash Bandicoot, beat Nintendo's new console to market in North America and was released in time for the holiday in Japan. Crash would remain Sony's unofficial mascot for the next several years before switching to multiplatform releases in the following console generation.
Sega did not fare as well. They had tasked their American studio, STI, with bringing Sonic the Hedgehog into 3D. Their project, titled Sonic Xtreme, was to feature a radically different approach for the series, with an exaggerated fisheye camera and multi-directional gameplay reminiscent of Bug!. Its development was rocky, due in part to conflicts with Sega of Japan and a rushed schedule, and the game never made it to market.
Reshaping the genre
In 1991, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto had conceived of a 3D Mario game, called Super Mario FX, while working on Star Fox. Miyamoto developed most of the concepts for the game during the era of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and considered using the Super FX chip to make it a SNES game, but decided to develop it for the Nintendo 64 due to the former system's technical limitations. The game was renamed Super Mario 64 and went into development in 1994.
In 1996, Nintendo released Super Mario 64. Until this time there had been no established archetype for bringing platform games into 3D. Mario 64 set a new standard and would be imitated by many 3D platformers to follow. Its gameplay allowed players to explore open 3D environments with greater freedom than any previous attempt at a 3D platform game. To aid this, Nintendo incorporated an analog control stick to its standard Nintendo 64 controller, something which had not been included in a standard console controller since the Vectrex (and has since been incorporated into the Sony DualShock, among other controllers). This allowed for the finer precision needed for a free perspective. Players no longer followed a linear path to the ends of levels, either, with most levels providing objective-based goals. There were, however, a handful of "boss" levels that offered more traditional platforming, and showed what a more direct conversion to 3D might have been like.
Some argue that many modern 3D platformers, especially those influenced heavily by Mario 64 are not platformers at all, or at least are not really an extension of 2D platformers. Super Mario 64 brought a change in the goals of some platformers. In most 2D platformers, the player only had to reach a single goal to complete a level, but in many 3D platformers, each level had to be combed for collectible items such as puzzle pieces (Banjo-Kazooie) or stars (Super Mario 64). This allowed for more efficient use of large 3D areas and rewarded the player for thorough exploration, but they also often involved more elements of action-adventure games, and less jumping on platforms.
As platform games settled into this new free-roaming model, it became necessary for developers to program a dynamic, intelligent camera. This was a non-issue with 2D platformers, which were able to maintain a fixed viewpoint. The addition of a free camera also made it more difficult for players to judge the exact height and distance of platforms, making jumping puzzles more difficult. Some of the more linear 3D platformers, like Tork and Wario World use scripted cameras that allow for minimal player control. Others with more open environments, like Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie needed intelligent cameras that follow the players movements. These intelligent cameras are not perfect, and require the player to adjust the view at times when the view is obstructed, or simply not facing what the player needs to see. Other games like Sonic Adventure use a combination of scripted angles and free control, which has presented its own unique problems. There has not been an agreed-upon solution to the camera problem, and most games in the genre are prone to at least some of these issues.
Platformers into the present
3D platformers never managed to achieve the kind of popularity or relevance that 2D platformers held. Much of this may be the result of a diversified market. Final Fantasy VII was a major commercial breakthrough for RPGs, first person shooters were steadily rising in popularity, and more complex action-adventure games like Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid were capturing consumers' money. Even so, Tomb Raider became one of the best selling series on the PlayStation, along with Insomniac Games' Spyro and Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot, one of the few 3D titles to retain the linear level design of 2D games. Also, many of the Nintendo 64's best sellers were first and second-party platformers, like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64.
By the sixth generation era, platformers were no longer seen as hot system-sellers. Sega finally produced a 3D Sonic game, Sonic Adventure, on its new Dreamcast console. It used a hub structure like Mario 64 but featured more linear, action-oriented levels, with an emphasis on speed. Although the game was a hit, it was not enough to save the Dreamcast from an early discontinuation in 2002.
Nintendo launched its GameCube console without a platform game, but in 2002, it released Super Mario Sunshine, the second 3D Mario game. While the title was well-received at its time of release, it has since received criticism regarding such factors as its low number of levels, the lack of variety in its locations, and its level design, which featured an abundance of open space making for a much slower speed.
Other notable 3D platformers trickled out during this generation. Maximo was a spiritual heir to the Ghosts'n Goblins series. Billy Hatcher offered Yuji Naka's take on a Mario 64-influenced platformer, and Psychonauts became a critical darling based on its imaginative levels and colorful characters. Rayman's popularity continued, though the franchise's third game was not received as well as the earlier two. Naughty Dog abandoned Crash Bandicoot in favor of Jak and Daxter, a series that moved further away from real platform action with every sequel. A hybrid platformer/shooter game from Insomniac Games called Ratchet & Clank further pushed the genre away from traditional platform hopping, as did Universal Interactive Studios' rebooted Spyro trilogy.
Platformers remain a vital genre, but they have never recaptured the popularity they once held. In 1998, platform games had a 15% share of the market (and even higher during their heyday), but only four years later that figure had dropped to 2%. Even the much acclaimed Psychonauts experienced modest sales at first, leading publisher Majesco to withdraw from high budget console games although its sales in Europe were respectable, and franchises like Tomb Raider began to sag. Other forms of third-person action games have cut into the sales of platformers, while genres such as RPGs and first-person shooters have continued to grow in popularity. A broader and more diverse video game market has developed, and no single genre has managed to achieve the same kind of dominance that platform games did during the 8, 16, and 32/64-bit console wars.
Despite a much smaller presence in the overall gaming market, some platform games continue to be successful into the seventh generation of consoles. 2007 saw the release of Super Mario Galaxy and Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction to positive critical and fan reaction. Super Mario Galaxy even went on being awarded the Best Game of 2007 on high-profile gaming websites including GameSpot, IGN, and GameTrailers, and is currently the second most critically acclaimed game of all time according to GameRankings. In 2008, LittleBigPlanet paired traditional 2D platform game mechanics with physics simulation and user created content, earning strong sales and critical reaction. Electronic Arts released Mirror's Edge, which coupled platform gameplay with a first-person camera, but avoided marketing the game as a platformer because of the association the label has with games geared toward younger audiences.
Nintendo has created a surge in recent years releasing numerous platform games, to high sales. New Super Mario Bros. was released in 2006 and has sold 18.45 million copies worldwide and is the second best-selling game for the DS, and the fourth best-selling non-bundled video game of all time. Super Mario Galaxy has 8.04 million sales, while Super Paper Mario, Super Mario 64 DS, Sonic Rush, Yoshi's Island DS, Kirby Super Star Ultra, and Kirby: Squeak Squad also have strong sales, and keep the genre alive. Super Smash Bros. Brawl's solo (and sometimes co-op) mode could also be considered a platform game.
Recent years have shown renewed interest in 2D platformers, which can be attributed both to handheld consoles such as the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, and low-risk downloadable services offered by WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Steam. These range from classic revivals such as Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Contra ReBirth, to original titles like Splosion Man and Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. Wario Land: The Shake Dimension, released in 2008, was a platformer that featured completely two-dimensional graphics, offering a rich visual style. Other games such as Braid, A Boy and His Blob, and The Behemoth's BattleBlock Theater also use completely 2D graphics. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is particularly notable, as unlike the majority of 2D platformers in the 21st century, it was a direct release for a non-portable console, and not restricted on a content delivery network. The success of New Super Mario Bros. Wii lead to Nintendo releasing similar 2D platformer games for their classic franchises the following year, namely Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby's Epic Yarn.
There are many games that are platformers that do not adhere to any of the sub-genres below, but the following are some of the more recognizable archetypes for different platform styles. There are many more vaguely defined sub-genres like "action-platformer" and "platform-adventure" that are not mentioned here because they are not as easily defined.
Hop and bop
One of the most common styles of platformer. Super Mario Bros. is recognized as the originator of this style, and it became even more popular in the 16-bit era with games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Bubsy, and Donkey Kong Country. The defining trait of a hop and bop is that enemies are defeated primarily by jumping on their heads. It is also generally the case that these games feature very colorful, cartoony imagery and characters. While a few 3D platformers like Super Mario 64 allowed players to defeat enemies by jumping on their heads, this was not the main means of dealing with enemies. The problems of manipulating a character in 3D with enough precision to jump on enemies makes this a predominantly 2D genre. Sonic Adventure introduced a homing-jump to allow this mechanic to work in 3D, making it a rare example of a 3D hop and bop.
These games are characterized by their use of a platform game structure to drive a game whose challenge is derived primarily from puzzles. Enix's 1983 releae Door Door and Sega's 1985 release Doki Doki Penguin Land (for the SG-1000) are perhaps the first examples, though the genre is diverse, and classifications can vary. Doki Doki Penguin Land allowed players to run and jump in typical platform fashion, but they could also destroy blocks, and were tasked with guiding an egg to the bottom of the level without letting it break.
The Lost Vikings was one of the more popular titles in this genre, as well. It featured three characters with different abilities that could be switched between. Players had to use all three characters to aid each other to reach the level goals.
This sub-genre has a strong history on handheld platforms. Wario Land 2 moved its series into the puzzle-platformer genre, as well, by eliminating the element of death and endowing status ailments (like being squashed or lit on fire) with different powers to solve puzzles. Wario Land 3 continued this tradition, while Wario Land 4 was more of a mix of puzzle and traditional platform elements. The Game Boy update of Donkey Kong was also a successful portable puzzle-platformer and it later has a sequel on Game Boy Advance called Mario vs Donkey Kong. Toki Tori was another handheld game in the genre. Klonoa: Empire of Dreams, the first handheld title in its series, was also a puzzle-platformer.
In more recent years, the genre has experienced some revival, especially in independent game development. Braid uses time manipulation for its puzzles and And Yet It Moves uses frame of reference rotation. In contrast to these side-scrollers, Narbacular Drop and its successor, Portal are first-person camera games that use folded space to solve puzzles in 3D. Since the release of Portal, there have been more puzzle platformers that use a first-person camera, including Purity and Tag: The Power of Paint.
Run and gun platformers
The run and gun platformer genre was popularized by Konami's classic Contra. Gunstar Heroes and Metal Slug are also among the most popular examples of this style. Side-scrolling run and gun games are an attempt to marry platform games with shoot 'em ups, characterized by a minimal focus on precise platform jumping and a major emphasis on multi-directional shooting. These games are sometimes called platform-shooters. This genre has strong arcade roots, and as such, these games are generally known for being very difficult, and having very linear progression, without backtracking.
There are games which feature a heavy degree of shooting but do not fall into this sub-genre. Mega Man, Metroid, Vectorman, Jazz Jackrabbit , Earthworm Jim and Turrican are all platformers with a heavy focus on action and shooting, but unlike Contra or Metal Slug the platform jumping elements, as well as exploration and back-tracking, still figure more prominently. Run and guns are generally very pure and, while they sometimes have vehicular sequences or other changes in style, they stay focused on shooting throughout.
A well recognized sub-genre without an agreed-upon name, cinematic platformers are usually distinguished by their likeness to Prince of Persia, the most direct archetype for the style.[original research?] These games are distinct from typical platform games in that they focus on fluid, life-like movements, without the exaggerated physics found in nearly all other platform games. To achieve this realism, many cinematic platformers, beginning with Prince of Persia, have employed rotoscoping techniques to animate their characters. Jumping abilities are typically roughly within the confines of an athletic human's capacity, which is often compensated by the ability to grab onto ledges. Other distinguishing characteristics include step-based control (where an action is performed after the character completes his current animation, rather than at the exact moment the button is pressed) and multi-screen stages that do not scroll.
Flashback, Another World, Heart of the Alien, Weird Dreams, Blackthorne, Heart of Darkness, Limbo and the first two Oddworld games are among the most successful games in this style. Since these games tend to feature characters with ordinary human abilities and weakness, they are often considered quite difficult, involving a great deal of trial and error. Impossible Mission pioneered many of the defining elements of cinematic platformers and is an important precursor to this genre.
Comical action game
This genre lacks a commonly agreed upon name in the West, but they are most commonly called "comical action games" in Japan. The original arcade Mario Bros is generally recognized as the originator of this genre, though Bubble Bobble is also highly influential. These games are characterized by levels that are only one screen (and thus do not scroll), and cooperative 2-player action. A level is cleared when all enemies on the screen have been defeated, and vanquished foes usually drop score bonuses in the form of fruit or other items. CAGs are almost exclusively developed in Japan and are either arcade games, or sequels to arcade games (though they are also a common genre among amateur doujinshi games). Some more popular examples include the likes of Don Doko Don and Snow Bros. In more recent years Nightmare in the Dark and Zupapa on the Neo-Geo have carried the torch.
Arguably a sub-genre of both 3D and 2D platformers, isometric platformers present a three dimensional environment using two dimensional graphics in isometric projection. Although not the first isometric games, the earliest examples of isometric platform games are Congo Bongo in the arcade and Ant Attack for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, both released in 1983.
Knight Lore, an isometric sequel to Sabre Wulf, helped to establish the conventions of early isometric platformers. This formula would be repeated in later games like Head Over Heels, and Mystic Towers. These games were generally heavily focused on exploring indoor environments, usually a series of small rooms connected by doors, and have distinct adventure and puzzle elements. Later, Japanese developers would blend this gameplay style with that of Japanese action-adventure games like The Legend of Zelda to create games like Land Stalker and Light Crusader. While these games are more generally thought of under the broader umbrella of action-adventures, they are still very much isometric platformers, and an extension of earlier games in the genre. This influence would later travel to Europe with the Adeline Software's sprawling epic Little Big Adventure, which blended RPG, adventure, and isometric platforming.
Before consoles were able to display true polygonal 3D graphics, the ¾ isometric perspective was used to move some popular 2D platformers into three dimensional gameplay. Spot Goes To Hollywood was a sequel to the popular Cool Spot, and Sonic 3D Blast was Sonic's outing into the Isometric genre.
Many games fuse platform game fundamentals with elements of action-adventure games such as The Legend of Zelda or with elements of RPGs. Typically these elements include the ability to explore an area freely, with access to new areas controlled by either the gaining of new abilities or through the use of inventory items. Metroid and various 2D games in the Castlevania series are among the most popular games of this sort, and so games that take this type of approach are often called by a portmanteau of these two games, either "Metroidvania" or "Castleroid". Other examples of such games include Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, Mega Man ZX, Cave Story and the recent Shadow Complex.
Early examples of free-roaming, side-scrolling, 2D platform-adventures in the vein of "Metroidvania" include Nintendo's original Metroid in 1986 and Konami's Castlevania games Vampire Killer in 1986 and Simon's Quest in 1987, as well as Enix's sci-fi Sharp X1 computer game Brain Breaker in 1985, Pony Canyon's Super Pitfall in 1986, System Sacom's Euphory in 1987, Bothtec's The Scheme in 1988, and several Dragon Slayer action RPGs by Nihon Falcom such as the 1985 release Xanadu and 1987 releases Faxanadu and Legacy of the Wizard.
Dispute about classification of early platformers
The term "platform game" is somewhat ambiguous, particularly in reference to many games predating the widespread international usage of the term. The concept of a platform game as it was defined in its earliest days is somewhat different from how the term is commonly used today.
The genre of non-scrolling platformers featuring ladders was initially referred to as "climbing games." These included Donkey Kong, Canyon Climber, Miner 2049'er, Lode Runner, and others. The two most common gameplay goals of climbing games were to get to the top of the screen or to collect all of a particular item. The first two screens of Donkey Kong illustrate both of these.
Beginning with Space Panic, a small genre of games emerged, characterized by a profile view, and a game field consisting of a number of tiers connected by ladders. By 1983, press in the UK began referring to these tiers as "platforms" and started calling these titles "platform games" not long after.
The term has since gained wide use in North America, and across Europe, and since the earliest uses, the concept has evolved, particularly as the genre peaked in popularity during the latter half of the 1980s. Many of the games that were part of the early platform genre, such as Donkey Kong and Miner 2049er are still regarded as platform games in the modern sense. Others, like Space Panic and Lode Runner, are excluded because they lack the jump mechanic that is central to nearly all modern definitions of the genre.[original research?]
Similarly, there are other games that were distinct from the earliest concepts of the platform game that are retroactively included. Jump Bug, for example, was very different from the games inspired by Space Panic and Donkey Kong, but exemplifies many conventions popularized later that make it fit modern definitions.[original research?]
- List of platform game series
- Scrolling Game Development Kit
Notes and references
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Video game genres Action Action-adventure Adventure Role-playing game Simulation Strategy Vehicle simulation Other genres Related concepts
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