The Value Proposition Of 2D Platformers


After finishing New Super Mario Bros. U I started to question where the 2D Mario games were headed. Now after finishing Kirby And The Rainbow Curse I’m starting to think about the future of 2D platformers in general and where they stand in today’s retail console market.

A lot of people today probably think of sidescrolling platform games as the kinds of things indie developers make and sell for $10, to be completed in a few hours and put away. I’m starting to feel the same way about the 2D platformers Nintendo decided to make for the Wii U and sell on retail discs for between $40 and $60. Rainbow Curse has an insane amount of production value put into its visuals for a 2D platformer in 2016, but content-wise I feel the same way about it I did upon completing the last couple NSMB games, wondering whether it felt like a $40 game (I’ve been renting all these).

These games tend to contain challenges and secrets aside from just finishing the levels, but those are really only attractive to people who are heavily invested in the games, which I think are probably in the minority. Most will probably just experience the core levels which usually don’t take as long as, say, the story mode of an open-world game. I imagine traversing 2D space naturally takes less time, and in a platformer every bit of that space has to be a cleverly-designed game. Given that, there’s only so much of it you can craft. Compare this to a 3D open world game that usually involves a lot of repeated traversal over the same space. Even 3D platformers like Super Mario 64 have this play time advantage.

The earliest point where I started to feel this problem of 2D platformers feeling too “short” was probably Super Mario World, and I think one major cause was the inclusion of a save function. As kids we spent so much time on the original Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3, and the Genesis Sonic games because they were really hard and because we had to start them over every day. 2D platformers it seems have had an especially hard time adjusting to the post-arcade gaming world.

The only conventional 2D platformers I can think of that may have escaped this problem are Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends. The only reason I can think of as to why is because they had a lot of levels, or at least it feels like they did. I’m not sure. I also remember them being harder than the recent Mario sidescrollers but I’m not 100 percent sure on that either.

In my post about NSMBU I wondered if Super Mario Maker was a logical conclusion for solving the content problem of full retail priced 2D platformers, relying on user-generated content. Another similar solution is procedural generation, the most acclaimed example being Spelunky. Really though it’s just about introducing more variance in the gameplay. I’ve already talked about how I think Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best Mario sidescroller at doing this which is why it’s the one I most often return to even after finishing it.

This whole problem is probably another reason so many developers are making Metroidvanias. Exploring and repeatedly traversing the space in those games is like the 2D equivalent of an open-world game.


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