The Fascinating History and Evolution of Platformers
If you like playing games, you may have come across the word “Platformer” at least once in your life. Some of you might know it as one of the popular game genres, and some might not.
Simply put, platform games, commonly refer to as platformers, are games where a player controls a character and make it progress through series of obstacles and platforms to get to the goal.
In this article, let’s talk about what a platform game is and its impact on the gaming world throughout the history in detail.
What is Platformer gaming? (History and Introduction)
A platform game, commonly known as a “platformer”, is a style of video game in which the player causes a character to move through an environment using a series of action-based movements such as running, jumping, or swinging with ropes.
Platform games originated in the early 1980s, with characters performing actions on a single screen and moving to a new screen upon completing the level. Later in the decade, scrolling motion allowed a character to continue moving through an environment, with the rest of the environment appearing on-screen as they moved vertically or horizontally.
The game name “Platforms” refers to a set of platforms that a character can walk and jump on in many games. In a platform game, the player’s avatar may have to solve puzzles, defeat enemies, avoid obstacles, collect coins, reach a goal, and complete other level goals.
Platformer games are pretty simple to make using the multimedia system Fusion and are an excellent way to get into a computer game style. Platform games are often thought of as a subgenre of action games, but many of their elements can be found in different genres such as adventure, strategy, and puzzle.
However, it is not a filtered genre and often combines with other genres’ elements. Like the shooter elements of Contra, the adventure elements of Flashback, or the RPG elements of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Although commonly associated with console gaming, many large platform games have been released for arcades, handheld systems, and home computers. Europe, North America, and Japan have all played essential roles in the genre’s development.
The themes of the platform range from comical pet games to sci-fi and fantasy epics. Platform games were once the most popular video game genre. At the height of its popularity, it is estimated that between a quarter and a third of console games were platform games—no genre before or after has achieved a similar market share.
As of 2006, the genre is much less dominant, with a 2% market share (up from 15% in 1998), but is still economically viable, with several games selling millions of units.
There are some fundamental elements platform games include, which are:
- A unique and robust main character.
- Actions and things to do.
- Stuff to collect.
- Jumping and dexterity puzzles.
- Moving platforms and other obstacles.
- Enemies to defeat.
- Quests or tasks to accomplish.
- Sometimes, unlockable abilities throughout the game.
- New jobs to do throughout the game.
Features of Platform Games
Because this game genre has evolved significantly over the years, many games may look different.
However, platform games generally have the following characteristics.
A game’s environment or level design determines what a character can do. Platform games, in particular, are designed to challenge the player as their character advances through a game with intricate obstacles such as spiked platforms, deadly traps, or cannons filled with fire.
Many platform games are designed in a third-person perspective, meaning the player can see the character they control on the screen. However, first-person games are played from the character’s direct point of view. In recent years, more games have experimented with first-person perspectives to create a more immersive experience.
Vertical and Horizontal Movements
Most platform games are two-dimensional side-scrolling, meaning the player sees a side view of their character as the screen moves horizontally or vertically with them. Recent platform games expanded into a three-dimensional perspective, allowing more dynamic movement and exploration.
One of the main characteristics of a platform game is that the player controls the character’s jumping ability. Jumping is often necessary for these games to move around the environment and get to the next level.
Evolution of Platform Games
It is not uncommon knowledge that, in their times, platform games were the most popular genre of gaming. But unfortunately, with the gaming industry’s advancement, they saw a decline in popularity. Nonetheless, platform games went through a whole roller coaster ride of revolutions.
Now we will look at the stages of evolution of platform gaming.
Single Screen Era
This was the very first stage of the introduction of platform games. This was when the characters in the game could not jump but could climb and fall down the ladder. The very first game in the single-screen era was space panic.
Platform games were limited to a single screen at the time: the level wouldn’t scroll horizontally or vertically if you hit the edges. However, it was a monkey that started this revolution.
In 1981, Nintendo introduced Donkey Kong, which is believed to be the first true platformer of all time. Players control Jump man as he leaps over individual on-screen barrels and scales ladders to save his true love from Donkey Kong.
The game’s success led to a new franchise starring Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, and Mario Bros, which featured cooperative platforms. The single-screen formula saw some innovations like Activision’s Pitfall in 1982 on the Atari 2600.
It was known for bringing multiple individual screens together to create robust levels. Unfortunately, the platformer genre was still somewhat limited at the time due to the power of consoles.
Undoubtedly, the most famous game of this, some can say it is still renowned a lot, was the Super Mario Bros series. The side-scrolling format is most commonly executed in genres of platform games, with characters running, climbing, and jumping through a series of sequentially advanced levels.
One of the purest examples of a side-scroller is the original Contra (1988) for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), where players move through each level from left to right with no option to go back.
With the advancement of graphics and computing power, video games have evolved beyond the side-scrolling perspective. However, some games are still designed with side-scrolling elements or as side-scrolling games.
As time passed, there had to be some advancement in this era. The advancement was known as Next Generation Side-Scrolling Era or Vertical-Scrolling Era. Side-scrolling and vertical-scrolling platform games can be identified by their scrolling screen and the background that moves when the player moves to an edge of the game screen.
Many of these scrolling platform games can also have multiple levels. Players travel across the screen, collecting items, defeating enemies, and completing various objectives to complete the level. Once completed, they will move on to the next level, which is usually more challenging and move on.
Many of these platform games also have each level ending in a boss fight, and these bosses must be defeated before advancing to the next level or screen. Some examples of these scrolling platformers are classic games like Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pitfall.
The 16-bit era was another generation of video game consoles. It was ruled by the clash between the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, making it one of the most intensely competitive periods in North American video game history. The TurboGrafx 16 was also part of this era.
However, it had little success entering combat in the North American market but was pretty successful in Japan. This generation is interesting because it contains some of the best platformers. Capcom’s platform shooter Mega Man had broken new ground with the more mature Mega Man X series on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Nintendo has further expanded its console’s range of platform games with the purchase of Rare Studios. Rare took a significant risk back then by producing expensive pre-rendered graphics for Donkey Kong Country. Sega was still riding the hedgehog wave with Sonic and Knuckles.
This platform gaming era has become one of the most popular eras in its evolution. This was because it marked the decline of the 2D era. The age of the 3D period was now beginning, and as we all see today, 3D platform games are everywhere. The mid-1990s to the early 21st century was the time when 3D platformers were on the rise. Thanks to Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, the genre exploded with more freedom of movement than the side-scrolling ancestors of previous hardware generations.
But by the 2000s, the public had grown tired of hanging out in colorful settings and collecting trinkets. FPS (First-Person Shooter) games were on the rise, and even Nintendo was starting to shy away from the 3D platformer, a genre that made it famous in the first place. Meanwhile, Nintendo has openly channeled the spirit of Super Mario 64 spectacularly in Super Mario Odyssey. While enough time has passed for gamers to wish for the simpler days of the late 1990s, according to Fabian Rastorfer, developer of our cover game Demon Turf, there’s more to the revival than mere nostalgia.
With the popularity of 3D games in the market, competitors like Sony and Nintendo saw it fit to raise the level of their games.
Although Sony got off to a rocky start with the PlayStation 2 in 2000, it became famous for introducing a new generation of 3D platformers. Sucker Punch brought us Stealth mechanics with Sly Cooper; Naughty Dog branched out into open-world gameplay with Jak and Daxter, while Insomniac introduced combat-oriented platforming in Ratchet and Clank.
Last but not least, this era marked the diversification of platform games into many other genres. Nintendo was busy with its new GameCube console in 2002 only. Super Mario Sunshine was released for it. The Metroid series, dormant since the SNES, returned with Metroid Prime for the first time with a first-person shooter perspective.
With the popularity of 3D games in the market, competitors like Sony and Nintendo saw it fit to raise the level of their games.
AAA Platformer Era
This is the era of Platformer gaming we see today. AAA is a formal rating of games. The terms generally refer to games with an extensive production and marketing budget. Because of this, they are expected to be high-quality and sell many copies, usually in the millions.
AAA is the gaming industry equivalent of the word “blockbuster” used for the same product category in the movie business. In most cases, AAA games are at the forefront regarding the technical aspects of the graphics, audio design, and a limited number of bugs. They are able to deliver their high production value thanks to big budgets and teams of people working on all aspects of presentation and mechanics.
Triple-A games can be hit or miss if your main attraction is the story aspect. However, current bestsellers like God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, or Insomniac’s Spider-Man offer compelling storytelling complemented by unique and often related characters.
Some Famous Platform Games Throughout The History
There are different types of platform games for a range of consoles, from retro to
modern. Here are some examples of popular platform games.
One of the most well-known platform games. The Castlevania franchise’s story revolves around vampires and a vampire hunter clan Belmont. It features many enemies you’d expect from vampire horror stories like bats and ghosts.
Believe it or not, this game was where Mario first made an appearance. This is a game where Mario goes through obstacles in order to save Princess Peach, and Donkey Kong does his best to stop Mario in his tracks by throwing barrels from the top.
Sonic The Hedgehog
This game is mainly about making it to the end as quickly as possible while collecting as many rings as possible and defeating the enemies in the process. Gotta go fast!
Super Mario Bros
This game mainly shows Mario, but sometimes his brother Luigi, too. The primary purpose of this game is to make it to the end by overcoming the obstacles they meet on the way and saving Princess Peach. Oh, and defeating various enemies and the ever-so-popular King Bowser in the process.
Are You Making A Platform Game With Unity Engine Right Now?
If you’re developing a platform game with Unity Engine right now, do check out my other articles for tips and tricks on Unity game development. I have written many cool guides like how to make one-way jumping platforms which might interest you.
Or if you’re not making a game but is interested in making one but don’t know what kind of game you want to make, check out my article on what kinds of games are recommended for beginner game developers.
I hope this has been a good read for you. Have a nice day!
Pixel Adventure by Pixelfrog