Jumping. It has been a staple of games since a little plumber leaped to impossible heights for his portly Italian frame onto an ill fated goomba. Jumping was just the first step into the genre known as platforming. I find that platformers are more about flow than about strategy. And perhaps the only games I excel at most times. Timing and better than average reaction time to the environment are key. It is difficult to put into words what makes one good at a platformer. It seems to be more about just understanding how the character moves and then adjusting your expectations based on that. From the early years of my gaming memory I was hooked on such games as Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and Kid Icarus on my Gameboy. These games were the ones I would come back to over and over again.
My experience in platformers really defined how I looked at most games. A somewhat bias outlook but one that carried over nonetheless. Shadow Complex was a good idea of what a new type of platformer can do though it is not strictly a platformer in the sense of older types. More similar to Mega Man than Mario, but then again Mega Man is considered an old school platformer as well just with some shooting elements. Still it doesn't yet feel as if it is a true platformer in the way the Mario Bros. and Mario World did. I believe a very good idea of a platformer is exemplified in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. One of my favorite games of all time MAINLY because of the acrobatic platforming sections more so than the combat. I thought the new Prince of Persia was a fantastic game for its extensive platforming sections that downplayed the combat. This is mostly because of my personal preferences however and couldn't care less of others opinions dealing with such things as the broken story progression and ending, of which I loved that as well by the way. No the great thing was that I felt elated with the wall dashes, slides, flips, jumps, leaps, and general acrobatics in the new POP. So much so that I yearned from some other games to pick up on this formula. The controls felt as smooth as I remember the older 2d platforming games of my heyday. The NES and SNES were strewn with tons of those genre games. And with good reason. It was simple to put such gameplay in the limited horsepower of those systems and still make them not only fun but looking good too.
I can't really say what it is about platformers that draws me in so much. I suppose it is the simple ability to jump to impossible heights and fall without getting so much as a sprained ankle. Even more than flying, jumping was much more fun. I spent hours in Crackdown simply leaping from building to building, collecting those enticing agility orbs so I could jump even higher. In Little Big Planet you enjoyed a world of your own imagination just as you did as a kid. In Tomb Raider the scrambling across ledges and leaping to catch another always made me eager for the next tomb to be thoroughly raided. The simple ability that seems more than human and yet so easily understood as human of leaping, running, jumping, climbing. It's like being a kid again but now you have nearly no limits and no scraped knees. That elation of simple enjoyment that you get from climbing a tree or running as fast as you can is translated when Sonic races across a screen to jump onto a spring and fly through the air to land on some bumpers and fly in another direction. That sense of freedom that is felt on a trampoline is reflected in Jumping Flash as you rocket skyward to your next point. When you pull of a particularly tricky run through obstacles and enemies in N+ you feel accomplished. Splosion Man reflects the sillyness of the incredible gaps of free space one crosses in platformers to reach a goal in a perfect example of platforming goodness and a lesson in its frustratingly difficult challenges. VVVVVV shows that it doesn't have to look next gen to be fun, frustrating, and fast paced.
I notice a trend in many newer platforming games is the use of weapons. Sure Mario could spit fireballs but that wasn't really a main focus of the game. Perhaps its merely a new facet of gaming but I prefer a game that relies mostly on its moving through the levels rather than worrying about shooting enemies. A sandbox game seems to be a natural progression of the platformer. Your Crackdowns, Prototypes, Assassins Creeds are all examples of a very platform heavy game that also doubles in the action department. These cross genre games are very fun and satisfying but I find myself itching for some old 2D type gaming. Braid was certainly a welcome addition to that genre adding in its own gimmick of time manipulation that made for some rather head scratching environmental puzzles. As for future titles I can't say for sure. To be honest when a new platformer I hadn't heard of comes out I am just as surprised as most as they seem to be not nearly as hyped as the larger AAA titles of today. Which is rather sad in a way. Mirror's Edge was about the last nearly pure platformer I can think of in recent history that was hyped as much as any other game. And that didn't do so well due to some control issues that came up.
Truly good platformers are not only fun but difficult. I mean this in a way that makes them rewarding for accomplishing a level after working at it. Timing just the right jumps at just the right times is just as difficult as taking out an enemy in an FPS or landing that combo string in a fighter. You feel just the same kind of rush in running through a gauntlet of dangers and coming out unscathed as you do when you finish the raid in an MMO or scoring perfectly in a music rhythm game. They are smaller moments to be sure scored by simple landings or a brief run through a near impossible maze. But let me tell you when you finally reach your princess in the RIGHT damn castle this time you are king of the damn world.
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