I was playing through Yoshi’s Woolly World the other day, and about halfway through the second world I put the controller down and decided I’d probably never come back to it. There’s nothing wrong with the game per se – and I love the way everything has been lovingly reworked in wool – but I just realised that I wasn’t particularly enjoying myself. It felt like I was going through the motions.
In short, it felt like I’d seen everything in the game many, many times before.
Woolly World came in for a bit of criticism at its release for failing to offer much innovation over its various prequels, so you could argue that it’s just not a particularly original game. But then again, I felt the same way after playing, and quickly abandoning, Yoshi’s Island on the DS. And I barely made any headway into Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D before I gave it the old heave ho, bored to tears. Most damningly of all, I’ve barely played New Super Mario Bros. U since I bought it at the launch of the Wii U some three years ago. I’ve played the game with friends, who seemed to love it, but I’ve been unable to work up much enthusiasm for playing it solo. And we’re talking about a game that’s supposedly one of the best in the 2D platforming genre.
Basically, I’ve come to realise that I just don’t like 2D platformers that much – a realisation that actually came as a bit of a surprise, since some of my first and fondest gaming memories are playing through the first three Super Mario Bros. games with my sister. I spent hours happily exploring each level of those games, so there was clearly a time when I loved 2D platformers. Nowadays though? Meh.
I think my apathy is partly due to the fact that the mechanics of these games have barely changed in the 30-odd years I’ve been playing them. It’s still the same old mix of moving platforms, spikes, slippy-slidey ice worlds and head jumping. I suppose you could argue that there are plenty of games whose mechanics have barely changed (beat ’em ups, for one) but that still remain relevant; however, with 2D platformers I feel like I’m playing the same game again and again and again, just with a different skin each time.
Thanks to the resurgent indie scene and smart phone proliferation, gaming is awash with 2D platformers at the moment, but I don’t think you can blame this glut of games for the staleness of the genre – its corpse was going off long before the indies resurrected it. I’m as surprised as anyone by how 2D platforming has undergone such a resurgence – once Super Mario 64 came out, I, like everyone else, saw the writing was on the wall for 2D platforming. But against all odds, it has clung onto life. Yet even back in the nineties, it was starting to feel like all of the decent ideas for platformers had been used up. There are only so many ways to skin a cat, after all.
I can already feel the readership of AMAP swelling to launch an impassioned defence of 2D platformers, and I’ll certainly concede that there are a few gems among the tiresome 2D fool’s gold. For example, I recently played Never Alone, which is a platformer based around the Inupiaq culture of Northern Alaska, and I was captivated by it. The mix of gaming and cultural insights felt refreshing, and the artwork was beautiful, plus I liked the way that you were required to switch with your fox companion to solve puzzles. The setting, too, was brilliantly original. But then I realised that I liked it despite it being a 2D platformer. It was a wonderfully inventive idea wrapped around the decaying skeleton of decades-old game mechanics.
It feels a bit sad to realise that a genre I grew up with just doesn’t hold any excitement for me any more. But on the other hand, it’s almost a relief to let go. 2D platformers are a bit like an old friend from school who still wants to hang out every once in a while, even though you now have nothing in common. I feel like I’ve just plucked up the courage to delete them from my Facebook friends list.