Sammy gets his new column off to a running, jumping start.
Tue, 28 February 2006
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I've been asked a few (hundred) times to write articles about classic games. I thought about several ways of approaching the subject and wound up deciding to make a regular column out of it. So, from here on, you can consider Old Games That Sure Don't Suck to be a continual ongoing feature here at Buttonhole. I thoroughly enjoy both playing and talking about all the golden oldies, so I consider it to be a pleasure (even if it that pleasure is a pretty time consuming one). A half-arsed rush job just didn't appeal to me, as something that would be worth either writing or reading. As for when each installment will get posted, it is really just a matter of whenever I have enough time to get them done. Reviews of our supporter's products will always be Buttonhole's top priority.
Please keep in mind that these columns are intended mainly as opinion pieces, not some sort of essay on the history of videogames. I'll be discussing what I consider to be the best games (of all the different styles) from years gone by. I have a particular fondness for the 16-Bit era, so games from that period are likely to get the greater majority of my attention. But, whether it is an established favourite, or an obscure gem, if it is good (and I've played it) I'll get to it eventually. There's certainly no shortage of material. At this rate, I expect to have enough stuff to keep the column going for about the next 300 years. So, let's bust the cherry and get this first one on the board!
2D Platform Games: Introduction (A Brief History)
Every era in videogame history had a particular genre of games that dominated the market. For example; there was a time (actually, it was a couple of times, but that's a bit confusing. I'll go into it in a future instalment) when the most popular style was the space shoot-'em-up. And, in the heyday of Streetfighter and Mortal Kombat, the 2D beat-'em-up games were kings of the hill. These days, TV is saturated with shows featuring a bunch of supposed "celebrity" (I have no clue who most of them are) dickheads playing poker. Okay, that last thing is not actually relative to this article, I just find it annoying.
Getting back on topic...what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. You know how a few years ago (and, to a far lesser extent, still today) it seemed like every second game was a first person shooter? Well, there was a time when the same could have been said for 2D, side scrolling platform games. You know the kind; you control some little cartoony lookin' dude and run across the screen, jumping over precarious terrain, whilst either avoiding or killing a bunch of goofball monsters.
Platformers, in their simplest form, existed from very near the start, with titles such as Pitfall and Joust (though that one was kind of a shooter as well, but we'll include it anyway) on the Atari 2600. They got a bit more advanced, however, and really became popular in the 8 Bit days, thanks especially to a certain fat Italian plumber.
|You are wasting your time dude. The Princess is in another castle. |
The NES console and Super Mario Bros. cartridge were the biggest hit combination since drinking TaB while watching Knight Rider. The highly addictive fun of its gameplay and the sense of wonder derived from exploring Super Mario's ingeniously designed levels laid the groundwork for every platform game that followed.
Platform games really took off during the 16-Bit era, due to the obvious boost in graphics and overall technical capabilities. What could be done with the crazy 2D worlds and characters became significantly more eye catching. One of the first titles to really make that abundantly clear was Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. Although the Megadrive (or Genesis, in America) was never too successful in Japan, in the US, Europe and Australasia the blue Hedgehog's game made it a massive hit. Sonic was a huge reason why Sega and their 16-Bit console were, for a time, the industry leaders.
The popularity of Sonic (and, to a slightly smaller degree, Nintendo's brilliant Super Mario World on SNES) caused an explosion of colourful platformers, with every company attempting to jump on the bandwagon. In fact, 16-Bit platform games took off to such a degree that it eventually lead to a big dose of overkill. There were just too damn many "run and jump" games starring zany cartoon characters released and before too long most gamers grew sick of the sight of them. When Sony's PlayStation hit the shelves, with its fancy 3D polygon games, a new era was ushered in and the 2D jump fests suddenly seemed very old fashioned.
That's kind of a shame really because, right about the time people stopped caring about them is when 2D platformers truly hit their peak. Developers had thoroughly mastered the formula, in terms of their looks and clever twists to the gameplay. Some exceptional games were almost completely overlooked. Going back to them now, with the benefit of having some time apart (like a "trial separation" or something), it is easy to see what made platformers so popular in the first place. In fact, I'd even go as far as saying that, of all game types, 2D platform games could very well be my favourite kind.
So, now that I've crapped on and gotten that history stuff out of the way (in a limited fashion), let's take a look at some of the games themselves! We're fortunate to now live in an age of emulators, meaning if you look around, you can find nearly any classic game ROM and play it on your PC (or even on other formats, such as Xbox and PSP). As always, I am obliged to mention that game publishers do not condone the use of emulators and it is illegal to download ROMs, unless you own an original copy of the game. That's up to your individual discretion and Buttonhole accepts no legal responsibility. Even if you could sue my arse, I'm totally broke, so it'd just be a waste of time. If you want to do things by the book and not risk getting into trouble, you're best bet for acquiring classic games would be to search online at places like EBay. You should still be able to find most of the more popular titles; it'll just require far more time and expenditure.
The Best Known Hits
The extremely well known titles don't really require much explanation, since they're already...umm...well, extremely well known. Nevertheless, any article about classic platformers would not be complete without acknowledging them properly. I know I've already covered Mario and Sonic somewhat, but (since, as I said, it is basically unavoidable) I'll go into them more now. It is best just to get the more obvious stuff out of the way first, so that I'll be free to move onto some more obscure shit in future instalments.
Nintendo's Mario would have to be the best known and most beloved mascot (or icon even) in all of gaming. He's really the only videogame character that could be considered a "household name" (with the possible exceptions of Sonic, Pac-man and that chick with the hooters). There are a variety of reasons for this, but - from a gamer's perspective - the main thing that makes Mazza so endearing, is that the vast majority of game's he's been featured in have been absolutely superb. Like I already said, Super Mario Bros. on the NES was the game that really set the standard for platformers and it was also the game that helped gaming reach heights of popularity it hadn't known since "Pac-man fever" was in full effect. Although platforming staples, such as hidden areas, warp zones, power-ups, coin collecting (or variants thereof) had previously existed, in some form or other, they where solidified most fully and expertly in the original Super Mario Bros. I could go on all day about the history of the Mario platform games, but that has already been done to death. I am attempting to keep it relatively brief (even though it might not seem that way!), hence the omission of numerous minor details.
All the NES Super Mario titles were later spruced up (with better graphics) and included on the one Super Nintendo cartridge, entitled Super Mario All Stars (or "Collection" in the states). I still dust off my SNES and indulge in a bit of Mazza fun with that bad boy every so often. It is relatively easy to find too, so you shouldn't have much trouble tracking down a copy. The SNES was also home to Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island (still a Mario title, but I guess you could it a prequel, as he's a baby in that instalment). Both the 16-Bit Mario platform titles are phenomenal games and, when played now, still hold up beautifully.
|Mazza sure loves cake |
The big N also re-released every one of those games for the GameBoy Advance (yeah okay, some smart arse will probably point out that the first Super Mario conversion is actually for GameBoy Color, with the "Lost Levels" as an unlockable feature, and neither of those was ported to GBA - please file these kinds of things under my "omission of minor details" clause!). It is cool being able to play those classics in portable form, though, in Ninty's typically ungenerous style, you have to buy them all on separate GBA carts. Prior to that, as far as handheld fun goes, there were some GameBoy exclusive Mazza games. Super Mario Land now looks utterly primitive graphically, but it is still pretty good fun. The GameBoy games sorta morphed into the Wario Land series, which is pretty darn great in its own right.
When it comes to emulation, Nintendo is probably the single most determined game company there is at protecting their intellectual properties and shutting down sites that offer downloadable ROMs of their titles. So, the classic Mario games are just that touch trickier to find than average. They are still out there though, if you look around. There are even some "homebrew" Super Mario "hacks" going around. These are interesting experiments that creative people, with plenty of time on their hands, have come up with. They alter the layouts of the levels and change the sprites and so on. They're completely unauthorised though and, again, not at all legal!
Despite their hatred of people emulating their games without permission (which, I have to admit, is not unreasonable), Ninty have obviously caught onto the fact that there is a market for that kind of thing. Apparently, their upcoming Revolution console will allow you to download the entire back catalogue of Nintendo's NES, SNES and N64 titles.
And the winner is (Sammy's "Best 2D Mario Platform game" award):
Rightio then, that's all well and good, but my intention with these articles is to tell you which old games are best. So, which 2D Mazza title rocks the most? Some people like to call themselves "purists" (which always sounds a bit wanky to me) and those folks usually claim that Super Mario 3 is the best one. Well, that's certainly a wonderful game, but I disagree about it being the pick of the bunch. I will always have a special place in my heart for the original Super Mario Bros. because (while I'd loved games before then), that game was the first that I was utterly obsessed with and I have so many great memories of playing it with my friends.
However, in my opinion, the best of them all are Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island (Mario World 2). I love both of them and they'd each be in my top 10 favourite 2D platform games ever, easily. But, if forced to choose, I'd have to go with Yoshi's Island (for those keeping score, that'd be placed at number one). Yoshi's presentation is greatly superior to Mario World's and like nothing else seen before (or since really). The graphics use a really inventive style, that looks as though it was drawn with crayons, and suits the game's unique design perfectly. It also has a vast array of cool special effects mixed in; using every trick the SNES hardware (and an inbuilt cartridge chip) had to offer. On top of that, the game's levels are huge, with an enormous amount of hidden areas to discover, and the gameplay is deceptively deep. The basics are easy to get to grips with, but, with all the different things you can do, there's a tremendous amount of variety and replay value. Finally, it has some really funny and cool boss battles.
All of the old time Mario games (and the majority of the more recent ones too, for that matter) get spoken about with an overwhelming passion and reverence by most game geeks. There's a very simple reason for that; they really are just that f*#king good. The original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World and (especially) Yoshi's Island don't just belong on the list of my favourite run and jump games; they'd likely find their way into my top ten (twenty at the very least) if I ever did a list of my all time favourite games of any kind. If for some reason (unfathomable as it seems to me) you've never played them, you MUST! And don't come back to Buttonhole until you have. Actually, you better come back regardless, our supporters tend to consider it important for us to have some readers.
Next instalment coming soon, to a PC (or Mac) near you!
There is only one platform game character to ever equal Mario's heights of popularity and that character is Sonic the Hedgehog. Now days, Mario has well and truly beaten him into a very distant second (even that's probably being quite generous) in gamer's hearts and minds. But, for a time, he was actually on top. I'll start the next instalment with a look the Megadrive Sonic titles. What made them hit the big time? Which one is the best? Yep, all of that caper. From there, I'll get into some other classic platformers from the 8 and 16-Bit eras. Some of them not as widely recognised, yet all thoroughly deserving of any game enthusiast's playing time.
|Sonic is explaining how many buttons are required to play his Megadrive titles |
You're always welcome to email me if you have any thoughts to share, or questions to ask. Though I'd appreciate it if you'd put a little more effort into it than the dude who sent me one recently that read simply "Your game sucks". I still have no idea what that was supposed to mean. Anyway, keep your thumbs limber, Buttonholers. I shall see you all again soon, with another heavy dose of nostalgic recollection.
*Pimptastic!: Remember folks, if you like to play the classics via the wonders of emulation, you need to give them the smooth control they deserve. Be sure to get yourself a sweet USB control pad adaptor, from Buttonhole's pals at Realgamer.*
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