Definitions

Platform_Game

Platform game

Platform game, or platformer, is a video game genre characterized by jumping to and from suspended platforms or over obstacles. It must be possible to control these jumps and to fall from platforms or miss jumps. The most common unifying element to these games 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 the term "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. As long as the platform mechanic remains a prominent part of the gameplay, it may still correctly be termed a platformer. Because of this, there are many diverse sub-genres of platformers.

The genre has been the result of a great deal of cross-pollination of ideas between platforms and across national borders. 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. Platformers are thematically diverse, ranging from cartoony "mascot" games to science fiction and fantasy epics.

Platformers were, at one point, the most popular genre of video game. At the peak of their popularity, it is estimated that between one fourth 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, but still commercially viable, with a number of games selling in the millions of units.

History

Single screen era

Platform games initially appeared at the beginning of the 1980s, when many video game genres were just beginning to form. Because of the technical limitations of the day, early examples were confined to a static playing field, generally viewed in profile. While platformers offered a new kind of gameplay, they still borrowed from earlier games. Frogs, an arcade game released by Gremlin in 1978, was the first game to feature a jumping character, making it the genre's earliest ancestor. 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, is sometimes credited as the first platform game, but the distinction is contentious, since the player had no ability to jump, swing, or 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.

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 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 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.

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 the best selling game 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.

Scrolling era

Like many of the gaming firsts mentioned in this article, 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!. It 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 shooter with light platform jumping elements. It was similar to Jump Bug, but the platforming was not nearly as well developed, consisting of little more than hopping over small obstacles.

In the early 1980s, home consoles 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 double jump move, as well as a hub level similar to the ones used in later 2D Super Mario games. 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, pioneered the hop and bop sub-genre, and 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 ape this success with their Alex Kidd series, as well as with the Wonder Boy series. The later Wonder Boy games were also notable for combining adventure and role-playing elements with traditional platforming.

Platformers went portable in the late '80s 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 has 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 comprised of a number of mini-games, including a simple platformer (the largest of the mini-games), along with a shooter 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. Though the 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.

Second-generation side-scrollers

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. In 1990 Hudson Soft released Bonk's Adventure featuring a character that would be positioned as NEC's mascot.

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!, 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 80s and early 90s, 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, 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 Yoshi's Island and the 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. 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 formula has been repeated many times. Pandemonium and Klonoa brought the 2.5D style to the PlayStation. More recently, Klonoa 2 and Viewtiful Joe have continued this tradition.

Third dimension

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. The first games to simulate a 3D perspective and moving camera emerged in the mid-80s. 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 1987, Squaresoft released 3D World Runner, a forward-scrolling action game that had players leap over obstacles and chasms. 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 Japanese 3D platformer, 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 going multiplatform 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 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 their standard Nintendo 64 controller, something which had not been included in a standard console controller since the Vectrex. 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. However, not all 3D platformers were like this. Crash Bandicoot and Sonic Adventure featured more linear action-oriented obstacle courses, similar to the traditional platform model.

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 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 is simply 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 Sony PlayStation and 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 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 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 pace.

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 the Crash Bandicoot series 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.

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 larger 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. 2007 saw the release of Super Mario Galaxy and Ratchet & Clank Future 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.

Sub-genres

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.

Puzzle platformers

These games are characterized by their use of a platform game structure to drive a game whose challenge is derived primarily from puzzles. Doki Doki Penguin Land, released by Sega for the SG-1000 is perhaps the first example, though the genre is diverse, and classifications can vary. The game 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 Dori was another handheld game in the genre. Klonoa: Empire of Dreams, the first handheld title in its series, was also a puzzle-platformer.

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, 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.

Cinematic platformers (Prince of Persia style)

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. The tradition is fluid life-like animation that's usually rotoscoped, realistic movement (such as falling damage, five-foot-long jumps and the ability to grab onto and climb up ledges) and little to no scrolling. These games blend action, adventure and puzzle-solving elements, and were highly influential of the Tomb Raider series.

Flashback, Another World and Heart of the Alien, Blackthorne, Heart of Darkness and the first two Oddworld games all served to popularize this style. Several are also notorious for their high difficulty and wide variety of sudden deaths, sometimes involving cutscenes. Impossible Mission shared many of the same elements but predated Prince of Persia by several years.

Comical action game

This genre lacks a commonly agreed upon name in the West, but 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.

Isometric platformers

Arguably a sub-genre of both 3D and 2D platformers, isometric platformers present a three dimensional environment using 2D bitmaps for graphics. Although games like Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy games are technically isometric, in gaming the term is generally used to refer specifically to games that use the ¾ perspective. Although not the first isometric games, the earliest examples of isometric platform games are the arcade game Congo Bongo in the arcade and Ant Attack for the 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 an attempt to do the same for the Sonic series.

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.

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 Japan, North America, and across Europe, and since the earliest uses, the concept has evolved, particularly as the genre peaked in popularity during the later 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.

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.

Although some games are retroactively excluded from the genre, they should not necessarily be regarded as unrelated. They have an important place in the evolution of the genre, and are close cousins of what became the modern platformer.

See also

Notes and references

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