I’m bored of 2D platformers

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.

Love the wool. Not that bothered about the game.

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.

You know that feeling you get when everyone else loves something and you just can’t see the appeal?

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.

Never Alone is a wonderful game – just a shame about all the platforms.

10 Comments

  1. Outland is an interesting example – I agree that the clever colour-switching gameplay and the stark visuals were what dragged me in, but I still remember getting that ‘seen it all before’ feeling when I was triggering moving platforms and the like. Even so, the original touches managed to elevate it above the ordinary and make it worth playing.

    I disagree about the games’ endearingness though – Woolly World is a good example of a game that looked wonderful but that failed to engage me. And I’ve found every Kirby game I’ve played to be deathly dull, although I know that a huge number of people absolutely love them.

    I think perhaps that as I get older I’m tending to focus more on genres that I really love, like turn-based shooters/RPGS, and on games that seem to be totally unique or are pushing boundaries in different ways. When I start playing 2D platformers, however, I can’t help feeling I’ve done it all before…

    1. Interesting that you mention two French games there, and Matt brings up Rayman below – maybe it’s France FTW?

  2. Oh well, that’s a shame.

    I never saw 3-D platformers like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie as an evolution of 2-D platformers. The two kinds of games are so different they actually feel like different genres altogether, so I was super happy when 2-D platformers made a return. Better yet, that return was marked by a bunch of incredible gems: Rayman Origins and Legends, the two DKCR games, New Super Mario Bros Wii and its Wii U counterpart, Woolly World (which I think is absolutely awesome and whose reviews make me utterly confused) and many others.

    Too bad they just don’t do it for you.

    1. I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the 2D revival! I’m a little surprised I haven’t been enjoying it so much, considering I used to play games like Duck Tales for weeks at a time. In some ways I feel like I’m missing out!

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