Con-soul Searching: A Generation Behind and a Dimension Short
Remember on Super Mario Bros. when the screen could only scroll to the right? If you took one step too far, you would miss that secret 1up on 1-1. The first time I played Metroid I missed the morph ball because I didn’t think to walk to the right side of the screen. The second my brother and I realized what was up, we both agreed that we had to buy Metroid immediately. That was one of the best decisions we ever made together in my opinion. 2D side scrollers used to be ‘the game’ to make. Now-a-days, that right falls to the first person shooter. This doesn’t mean the side scroller is extinct, but it has just had to evolve with the times.
As the home console grew more powerful, the type of game developers could make grew more complex. The SNES saw side scrollers hit their prime with games like Super Metroid and Kirby Super Star. Over on the Genesis, the Blue Blur was blasting his way through Sonic 2. Developers were refining the aspects of their games. Then the N64 and PlayStation hit. The gaming industry saw the 2D scrollers of the previous generation break through to the third dimension. Nintendo changed the world again when they introduced Mario 64. Sonic saw brief success in his first 3D adventures, but as we all know, Sonic games would take a long time to reach the same level of quality we saw on the Genesis. The industry was changing and our favorite mascots had to change with it. Once the jump to 3D was made, it was rare to see a traditional 2D outing. In my mind, the Oddworld games on PlayStation are the flagship side scrollers of that era.
What really let us scratch our 2D itch were the handhelds. Thankfully the Game Boy Advanced kept the side scroller alive. It is kind of odd when you think about it. Since handhelds are typically a generation behind the technology of the home consoles, developers were forced to keep their games small and simple. The best way to do that was to trim three dimensions down to two. Because of this hardware limitation, a style of game was kept alive for new generations to play. The refinement from the SNES and Genesis days were allowed to continue on the GBA. Super Metroid begat Metroid Fusion, etc.
The DS and PSP are our current handhelds, and while they have their share of 2D games, they are both quite capable of producing the 3D environments of the N64 and PlayStation. Since developers are constantly pushing the boundaries of the hardware they work with, more and more 3D games are released for our pocket consoles. The interesting thing to me now (and after four paragraphs, the whole point of this article) is that side scrollers have found a new place on the download services for home consoles. Mega Man has made a return to form with Mega Man 9 and 10, Excite Bike World Rally gave us back our side scrolling racing, even Sonic may finally get the game we have been dreaming about for years with Sonic 4. Once again due to limitations, developers are forced to keep their games small and, once again, side scrollers are being refined even more. Shadow Complex is brilliant example of the future side scroller. It plays like Super Metroid and looks like Gears of War. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with a combo like that.
Now this isn’t to say that a side scroller can’t work as a retail release. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is proof that 2D games sell fine. However, New Sups Wii did meet a lot of ridicule from fans and critics alike. Many complained that the game didn’t do anything to push the limits of the hardware. Some even argued that the game was just New Sups DS with a fancy coat of paint. It makes me wonder, if New Sups Wii would have been a WiiWare game, would it have sold as well? Would it still have cost $50? Would it have met the same complaints of looking like a fancy DS game? I am going to guess the answer to all of those questions is no.
Thanks to hardware limitations, the 2D side scroller from the NES days has not only survived but it had flourished. What will be the next limitation to force developers into limiting their games to two dimensions? Where will side scrollers end up next generation? Will they end up being downloadable games for handhelds? Has this already started happening with the PSP Go and the DSi? Maybe cloud gaming will force file sizes to stay small for streaming purposes. However it happens, the side scroller will be there for future generations to come. I guess I will just have to keep waiting for Metroid Dread.