Here’s the Thing; Side Scrolling Games

By Joe Strange


So here’s the thing; I have a secret video game love.

No, it’s not Princess Daisy. I promise.

Despite the amount I talk about 3D shooters, adventure and RPG games, I am completely enamoured with 2D side scrolling games. I think it stems from the fact that, apart from Tetris, the first games I remember playing were the Sonic games for the Megadrive (that’s the Genesis for Americans). Really it was the first type of game that I played. Which isn’t all that weird considering that when I was growing up the consoles of the time didn’t quite have the power for fully immersive 3D experiences.

It’s one of those loves that doesn’t show itself until I start experiencing it again, like my love of sit coms or risotto. Once I start again I can’t stop, and recently I’ve been playing Mark of the Ninja.

For those who don’t know, Mark of the Ninja is a side scrolling action/stealth game that has a brilliant artistic design as well as having fantastically designed gameplay. The version I bought from Steam also came with the creators’ commentary, which gave me a brilliant insight into the inner workings of the studio, a lot of these pieces focussed on the gameplay and layout of the levels. It’s clear when reading these snippets that a lot of thought went into giving the player a very cohesive and complete experience, and it also became apparent to me that a lot of these things couldn’t have worked half as well in a 3D environment.

When it comes to game design, a player’s possible movements and actions are one of the most important factors to consider when making your levels. It’s why so many of the more successful 3D games have wide open spaces, to give the player a sense of freedom  in a 3D space, but that’s also more difficult to design around. When you give a player one plane of movement, you restrict their options, but as one part of commentary from Ninja states ‘restrictions often breed creativity more than complete freedom’. You can create precise and well thought out experiences for the player, which is more rewarding for both parties in the end.

Honestly I think this is the main issue with the 3D Sonic games. The Sonic games of old were all about speed and reactions, with the 3D instalments they give you three dimensions to play in, but restrict your movements within that space too much to be, ahem, FreeD. When you can easily twitch your control stick and send Sonic into a wall you take away that speed that Sonic was so well known for, and you end up with a game that no one wants to play.

You see, because today’s consoles have enough power to give us fully realised 3D worlds, unlike the consoles I grew up with, the 2D side scroller has seen a decline in numbers, but luckily many of those that do get made are made just as well as Mark of the Ninja. Recently Kickstarted 8 Bit style platformer Shovel Knight was received incredibly well, and quite rightly so. It took the surface simplicity of a NES side scroller and, thanks to the added power of modern consoles, added a lot of little features that make today’s games all that more appealing.

For every ounce of love that I have for the Metroid Prime series, I have twice the amount for the 2D instalments such as Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. These games seem compact, but never incomplete. I have a major soft spot in my mushy bits for the ‘metroidvania’ sub genre of side scrollers. They present to me the best parts of 3D adventure games, that exploration and discovery, with the complete, precision of the 2D world.

One of my favourite games of all time is Shadow Complex, an XBLA game from 2009 which was very much a Metroidvania game. You were given upgrades as you proceeded through the story and could go back to almost anywhere to use these upgrades to reach areas you couldn’t before. While your character worked across the foreground and only walked across this line, enemies would come in from the background and you could aim at them from their first appearance. This 3D/2D hybrid style was what really brought this game to the forefront of my collection, and really showed what the genre could do in this day and age.

So while I appreciate the movement away from the 2D platformer, the 2D action adventure and the Metroidvania style games I don’t think they should be written off just yet.

With the restrictions of the media an intelligent creator can make a much more cohesive and complete experience for the player out of this age old style than this new fangled ‘Three Dimensional’ thing. And I am just looking on the horizon for another 2D Metroid game for the 3DS.

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