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Platform game (or platformer) is a video game which involves guiding an avatar to jump between suspended platforms and/or over obstacles to advance the game. These challenges are known as jumping puzzles or freerunning. The player controls the jumps to avoid letting the avatar fall from platforms or miss necessary jumps. The most common unifying element of games of this genre is the jump button, but now there are other alternative like swiping in touchscreen. Jumping, in this genre, may 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 3D games in The Legend of Zelda series, fall outside of the genre.
Platform games originated in the early 1980s, with 3D successors 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 after the genre had been established, no later than 1983. It is not a pure genre; it is frequently coupled with elements of other genres, such as the shooter elements in Contra, the adventure elements of Flashback, or the role-playing game elements of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
While commonly associated with console gaming, there have been many important platform games released to video arcades, as well as for handheld game consoles and home computers. North America, Europe and Japan have played major parts in the genre's evolution. Platform themes range from cartoon-like games to science fiction and fantasy epics.
At one point, platform games were 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 either before or since has been able to achieve a similar market share. As of 2006, the genre had become far less dominant, representing a two percentage market share as compared to fifteen percent in 1998, but is still commercially viable, with a number of games selling in the millions of units. Since 2010, a variety of endless running platformers for mobile devices have brought renewed popularity to the genre.
Single screen movement
Platform games originated in the early 1980s. Because of the technical limitations of the day, early examples were confined to a static playing field, generally viewed in profile. Space Panic, a 1980 arcade release by Universal, is sometimes credited as being the first platform game, though the distinction is contentious. While the player had the ability to fall, there was no ability to jump, swing, or bounce, so the game does not satisfy most modern definitions of the genre. However, it clearly influenced 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 and 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 last two screens had a more pronounced platform jumping component. This game also introduced Mario, a modern icon of the genre, under the name Jumpman. 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 in the video game industry internationally.
The following year, Donkey Kong received 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 such as Fairyland Story and Bubble Bobble, which in turn influenced many of the single-screen platformers that would follow.
Beginning in 1982, transitional games emerged that did not feature scrolling graphics, but had levels that spanned several connected screens. 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. Wanted: Monty Mole won the first ever award for Best Platform game in 1984. 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.
Classification of early platformers
The term platform game is somewhat ambiguous, particularly when referring to games that predate the widespread, international use 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.
Beginning with Space Panic, a genre of games emerged characterized by a profile view and a game field consisting of a number of tiers connected by ladders. These included Donkey Kong, Canyon Climber, Miner 2049er, and Lode Runner. The two most common gameplay goals were to get to the top of the screen, and to collect all of a particular item. By 1983 press in the UK began referring to these tiers as "platforms" and started calling these titles "platform games" not long after. The North American press, including Electronic Games Magazine, labeled the genre "climbing games."
The term "platform game" 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.
The first platform game to use scrolling graphics came years before the genre became a trend. Jump Bug is 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 control a bouncing car that jumps on various platforms such as buildings, clouds, and hills. As part of a nascent genre, its development was not strongly influenced by existing conventions, nor was it said to be a major influence on games immediately after it. Jump Bug offered an early glimpse of what was to come, with uneven, independently suspended platforms and levels that scroll both horizontally and vertically. This style of gameplay was further refined in the arcades by such games as 1983's Major Havoc.
Home consoles of US early 1980s generally lack hardware support for background scrolling — except for the Atari 2600 (with only vertical scrolling), Atari 5200 and Emerson Arcadia 2001, and notwithstanding Japan's Famicom. This makes it very difficult to produce a smooth scrolling effect on a console. Nevertheless, Sydney Development released B.C.'s Quest For Tires in 1983 on the ColecoVision and several home computer platforms. The game features large, smooth-scrolling levels and simplistic platform gameplay in which players jump 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 implements 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 was an evolution of earlier platform games that had more than simple hurdle jumping game like some of its predecessors. It was not only a very successful title that was later ported to many consoles, it 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 both horizontally and vertically. Sega released Flicky, a simple platformer with horizontally scrolling levels that featured the company's first mascot character. Namco followed up Pac-Land with the fantasy-themed Dragon Buster, a game notable for introducing the hub level system similar to ones used in later two-dimensional (2D) Super Mario games. By the end of the year, the scrolling platform game was firmly established, but it was not until such games 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 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 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. It's a platformer that features horizontal and vertical scrolling levels, the ability to punch enemies and obstacles, and shops where the player can buy power-ups and vehicles. Some of the bosses are fought through a minigame of rock-paper-scissors where others you have to fight or crash the Sukopako "motorbike" into a pirate bear. The environments are varied, including mountains, caves, oceans, forests, and underwater segments. Another Sega platformer series that began that same year is Wonder Boy. The original Wonder Boy in 1986 was inspired more by Pac-Land than Super Mario Bros, and features skateboarding segments that gives the game a greater sense of speed than other platformers at the time, while its sequel, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, takes 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 the genre continued to maintain its popularity, with many titles released for the handheld Game Boy and Game Gear systems. Because of their small size, technical constraints, and blurring associated with early LCD technology, fast paced action-based platformers are more difficult to develop for these handheld systems. Because of this, many handheld platformers lean toward slower-paced play styles and a greater emphasis on puzzles. After the transition of home consoles to three-dimensional (3D) displays, handhelds became a bastion for 2D platform games, where they remain popular. New Super Mario Bros. (2006) is 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 stock Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), as well as on most 8-bit arcade hardware, platform games generally only scroll in one direction at a time, usually horizontally. This means designers must use a very narrow level progression, or break levels up into subareas that scrolled either horizontally or vertically, as was the case in Metroid and Mega Man — or effectively upgrade the system using memory management controller chips, embedded into each relevant cartridge. One of the first platform games to scroll in all four directions freely and follow the on-screen character's movement is in a vector game called Major Havoc, which comprises a number of mini-games, including a simple platformer, a shoot 'em up sequence, a landing sequence, and a Breakout clone. One of the first raster-based platform games to scroll fluidly in all directions in this manner is the previously mentioned 1984 classic, Legend of Kage.
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 and guided exploration. Another platform-adventure released that year, Pony Canyon's Super Pitfall, 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 allowed the player character to make huge multistory jumps, which were necessary to navigate the giant, vertically oriented levels. Telenet Japan also released its own take on the platform-action game, Valis, which contained anime-style cut scenes.
In 1987, Capcom's Mega Man introduced a non-linear option allowing the player to choose which part of the game to play next. 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 multidirectional-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 multidirectional scrolling did not seem important 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 Genesis and Super NES 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 artificial intelligence (AI) partners, such as a droid, tiger, and hawk, to help fight enemies. Sega's Shadow Dancer, released the same year, also featured an AI partner, a dog who would follow the player around and aid in battle. In 1990, Hudson Soft released Bonk's Adventure, featuring a character that was 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 eagerly anticipated 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. Lastly, there was the game's eponymous main character. Sega decided to give Sonic a rebellious personality in order to appeal to older gamers, and a super speed ability, in an attempt to make him appear "cooler" than Mario. The game 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 seen as a new model for mascots in the early 1990s, particularly for his perceived attitude, which characterized him as a rebel. 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 quips. 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. 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 developed by programmer John Carmack called "adaptive tile refresh". The success of this game via the shareware distribution model prompted many others to attempt more console-styled scrolling platformers on the PC, including Todd Replogle's Duke Nukem, Duke Nukem II, Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure and Dark Ages by Apogee Software, and Jill of the Jungle, Xargon and Jazz Jackrabbit by Epic MegaGames. These games helped fuel the shareware model, which would drive PC gaming to greater relevance in the early to mid-1990s.
Decline of 2D
At the end of the 16-bit era, some very successful platform games were released, including Sonic & Knuckles, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country, but the release of new hardware caused players' attention to gradually shift away from traditional 2D genres. The Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 nevertheless featured a number of successful 2D platform games. Rayman, a traditional 2D platform game, was a big success on 32-bit consoles. Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X4 helped revitalize interest in Capcom's Mega Man character. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night revitalized its series and established a new foundation for later Castlevania games. Oddworld and Heart of Darkness kept the subgenre born from Prince of Persia alive. In a break from the past, the Nintendo 64 had the fewest 2D platformers—only Yoshi's Story, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, Goemon's Great Adventure 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 three dimensions 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 (1994). The game featured levels and boss characters rendered in 3D, but retained 2D gameplay and 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 corners.
The formula has been repeated many times. Pandemonium and Klonoa brought the 2.5D style to the PlayStation.
The third dimension
The term 3D platformer usually refers to games that feature gameplay in three dimensions and polygonal 3D graphics. Games that 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 a blend of 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 subsequently ported to various platforms the following year, including an arcade version, NES, and ColecoVision. That same year, I, Robot, though not a platformer, featured filled 3D polygonal graphics, flat shading, and camera control options, which were not widely adopted by platformers until the 1990s.
1986 saw the release of the sequel to forward-scrolling platformer Antarctic Adventure called Penguin Adventure, which was 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 line scroll 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 forward-scrolling effect similar 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 could leap over obstacles and chasms. It was 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 platform-jumping obstacle courses. While the gameplay took place in three dimensions, and the graphics were polygonal, the game is considered pseudo-3D because it used a fixed viewpoint. The game was later remade in 1993 as SkyRoads, which experienced wider popularity.
The earliest example 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!. Though its appearance was distinct from the popular 2D platformers of the day, it was billed as a platform game on its packaging.
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 orthogonally but not diagonally. 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 let players walk up walls and on ceilings. It was a moderate success, and spawned a sequel called 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 did 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, rather than suspended platforms that could be jumped between. 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 multi-platform releases in the following console generation.
Sega did not fare as well. They had tasked their American studio, Sega Technical Institute, with bringing Sonic the Hedgehog into 3D. Their project, titled Sonic Xtreme, was to have featured a radically different approach for the series, with an exaggerated fisheye camera and multidirectional gameplay reminiscent of Bug!. Its development was rocky, due in part to conflicts with Sega Enterprises in 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, Super Mario FX, while working on Star Fox. Miyamoto developed most of the concepts for the game during the era of the Super NES 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 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 landings. 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 Japan, so it remains relatively unknown 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, in free-roaming 3D environments. The frog-like mech was traded in for a more cartoony rabbit mech, called 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. Rob Fahey of Eurogamer highlighted that the game was arguably one of the most important ancestors of any 3D platform game at the time. Jumping Flash holds the record of "First platform videogame in true 3D" according to Guinness World Records. Another early 3D platformer was Floating Runner, developed by Japanese company Xing and released for the PlayStation in early 1996, predating the release of Super Mario 64. Floating Runner used D-pad controls and a behind-the-character camera perspective.
Nintendo released Super Mario 64 in 1996. Before then, there was no established paradigm for bringing platform games into 3D. Mario 64 set a new standard, and it was imitated by many subsequent 3D platformers. 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 added an analog control stick to its Nintendo 64 controller, something which had not been included in a standard console controller since the Vectrex, and which has since become standard on 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 a handful of boss levels that offered more traditional platforming.
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 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.
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: Prehistoric Punk and Wario World used scripted cameras that allowed for minimal player control. Others with more open environments, such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie, needed intelligent cameras that follow the players movements. These intelligent cameras were not perfect, and required the player to adjust the view at times when the view was obstructed, or simply not facing what the player needed to see.
RPGs, first person shooters, and more complex action-adventure games were all capturing more market share. 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.
Into the 21st century
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 2001.
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 the time of its release, it has since received criticism regarding such factors as its short length, lack of location variety, and level design, which featured an abundance of open space, making for a much slower-paced game.
Other notable 3D platformers trickled out during this generation. Maximo was a spiritual heir to the Ghosts'n Goblins series. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg 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 as well received as the first two. Naughty Dog's deal with Universal was up, and they moved on from Crash Bandicoot to Jak and Daxter, a series that moved further away from traditional platforming with each sequel. A hybrid platformer/shooter game from Insomniac Games called Ratchet & Clank further pushed the genre away from such gameplay, as did Universal Interactive Studios' rebooted Spyro trilogy.
Platformers remained a vital genre, but they 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, even though 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 eras.
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 was awarded the Best Game of 2007 on high-profile gaming websites including GameSpot, IGN, and GameTrailers, and was the 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 had developed with games geared toward younger audiences. Sonic Unleashed featured stages containing both 2D and 3D styles of platform gameplay; this formula was also used in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations. Two Crash Bandicoot platform games were also released 2007 and 2008.
Nintendo has revived the genre 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; it is the best-selling game for the Nintendo DS, and the fourth best-selling non-bundled video game of all time. Super Mario Galaxy has sold over eight million units, 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 active.
After the success of New Super Mario Bros., consumers and publishers 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, Contra ReBirth, and Sonic the Hedgehog 4, 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 and a rich visual style. Subsequent 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 led to Nintendo releasing similar 2D platformer games for their classic franchises the following year: Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby's Return to Dream Land.
In 2009, independent developer Frozenbyte released Trine, a 2.5D platform game that mixed traditional elements with more modern physics puzzles. The game proved to be a commercial success, eventually selling more than 1.1 million copies. It spawned a sequel, Trine 2, which was released in 2011. The 2D platformer Rayman Origins, was also released in 2011 as a retail title on several platforms. In 2012, Nintendo released two more 2D platform games: New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS and New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U. Nintendo has also released 3D platform games with gameplay elements of 2D platform games, namely "Super Mario 3D Land" for the 3DS in 2011 and "Super Mario 3D World" for the Wii U in 2013, the latter of which also included cooperative multiplayer gameplay. Each has achieved critical and commercial success.
There are many games that are platformers that do not adhere to any of the subgenres below, but the following are some of the more recognizable archetypes for different platform styles. There are many more vaguely defined subgenres that are not mentioned here because they are not as easily defined.
Puzzle platformers are characterized by their use of a platform game structure to drive a game whose challenge is derived primarily from puzzles. Enix's 1983 release 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 (1992) was one of the more popular titles in this genre, as well. It featured three characters players could switch between, each with different abilities. Players had to use all three characters to reach the level goals.
This subgenre has a strong presence on handheld platforms. Wario Land 2 moved the Wario series into the puzzle-platformer genre by eliminating the element of death and adding temporary injuries, such as being squashed or lit on fire, and specialized powers. 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 saw a sequel on Game Boy Advance called Mario vs Donkey Kong. 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 portals 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 platform game
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, one-way game progression.
There are games which feature a heavy degree of shooting but do not fall into this subgenre. 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, platform jumping elements, as well as exploration and back-tracking, still figure prominently. Run and guns are generally very pure, and while they may have vehicular sequences or other changes in style, they stay focused on shooting throughout.
Cinematic platform game
Cinematic platformers are a small but distinct subgenre of platform games, usually distinguished by their relative realism compared to traditional platformers. These games focus on fluid, lifelike movements, without the unnatural 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 based on video footage of live actors performing the same stunts. Jumping abilities are typically roughly within the confines of an athletic human's capacity. To expand vertical exploration, many cinematic platformers feature the ability to grab onto ledges, or make extensive use of elevator platforms. Other distinguishing characteristics include step-based control, in which an action is performed after the character completes his current animation, rather than the instant the button is pressed, and multi-screen stages that do not scroll.
As these games tend to feature vulnerable characters who may die as the result of a single enemy attack or by falling a relatively short distance, they almost never have limited lives or continues. Challenge is derived from trial and error problem solving, forcing the player to find the right way to overcome a particular obstacle.
Prince of Persia was the first cinematic platformer and perhaps the most influential. Impossible Mission pioneered many of the defining elements of cinematic platformers and is an important precursor to this genre. Other games in the genre include Flashback (and its 2013 remake), Another World, Heart of Darkness, the first two Oddworld games, Blackthorne, Bermuda Syndrome, Generations Lost, Heart of the Alien, Weird Dreams, LIMBO, INSIDE, onEscapee, Deadlight.
Comical action game
This genre lacks a commonly agreed upon name in the West, but games in the genre are most commonly called "comical action games" (CAGs) 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 single screen, non-scrolling levels and cooperative two-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. Other examples include Don Doko Don, Snow Bros and Nightmare in the Dark.
Isometric platform game
Arguably a subgenre 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 the arcade game Congo Bongo 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 Monster Max. 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. Japanese developers blended 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 classified as action adventures, they are also isometric platformers and an evolution of earlier conventions in the genre. This influence would later travel to Europe with Adeline Software's sprawling epic Little Big Adventure, which blended RPG, adventure, and isometric platforming elements.
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 subgenre.
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 granted by either gaining new abilities or using inventory items. Many 2D games in the Metroid and Castlevania franchises are among the most popular games of this sort, and so games that take this type of approach are often labeled as "Metroidvania" games. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night popularized this approach in the Castlevania series. Other examples of such games include Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, Tails Adventure, Cave Story, Mega Man ZX, Shadow Complex, and the recent DuckTales: Remastered.
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.
Endless running game
"Endless running" or "infinite running" games are platform games in which the player character is continuously moving forward through a usually procedurally generated, theoretically endless game world. Game controls are limited to making the character jump, attack, or perform special actions. The object of these games is to get as far as possible before the character dies. Endless running games have found particular success on mobile platforms. They are well-suited to the small set of controls these games require, often limited to a single screen tap for jumping.
Game designer Scott Rogers named side-scrolling shooters like Scramble (1981) and Moon Patrol (1982) and chase-style game play in platform games like Disney's Aladdin (1994) and Crash Bandicoot (1996) as forerunners of the genre.
In February 2003, Gamevil published Nom for mobile phones in Korea. The game's designer Sin Bong-gu, stated that he wanted to create a game that was only possible on mobile phones, therefore he made the player character walk up walls and ceilings, requiring players to turn around their mobile phones while playing. To compensate for this complication, he limited the game's controls to a single button and let the character run automatically and indefinitely, "like the people in modern society, who must alway look forward and keep running".
While the concept thus was long known in Korea, Eurogamer credits Canabalt as "the title that single-handedly invented the smartphone-friendly single-button running genre" in 2009 and spawned a wave of clones. Fotonica (2011), a one-button endless runner viewed from the first person, was described by The Sixth Axis as a "hybrid of Canabalt’s running, Mirror's Edge’s perspective (and hands) and Rez’s visual style".
Temple Run (2011) and its successor Temple Run 2 have become especially popular endless running games. The latter became the world's fastest-spreading mobile game in January 2013, with 50 million installations within thirteen days. Other successful "endless runners" include Subway Surfers, Sonic Dash, Rayman Jungle Run, Stampede Run, Flappy Bird, and Snowden Run 3D.
Notes and references
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Platform games.|
- Platform games at MobyGames
- Video Games: Platform at DMOZ
- The evolution of gaming: computers, consoles, and arcade from Ars Technica