Greetings from the far and fuzzy past... no... wait, I need to get new glasses... sorry.
Recently I was dredging through some of my old favorites and got to thinking about old platform games. You know, the old classic platformers for the NES: Ninja Gaiden, Batman, Metroid, Castlevania, Bionic Commando, Contra, and others. It struck me that while there have been many platform titles that I've played over years, I still go back and give these games a play from time to time.
To be honest, while I've made it to the final bosses on these games, I've never actually solved a good number of them... and when I sit down and play one of these unsolved games there's always the thought in the back of my mind that "this will be the day -- if I have enough free time". And sure the graphics are nowhere as good as what's found on next gen platforms, but the game... the game itself is so good, that the lack of rendered graphics doesn't factor so heavily (come to think of it, if a Black & White movie is good, the lack of color doesn't bother me either). Sure I'm picky, my entertainment time is precious to me and I would rather spend that time on something of substance and quality over something that leaves me bored when I'm finished with it.
Now, I've mentioned that I haven't solved some of these titles. But, I don't feel bad about it and I don't criticize the game for being too difficult -- although the difficulty is quite high. One thing about these games is that they follow a pretty steady skill curve, so by the time you get to the final boss it's no surprise that they're going to clean the floor with you. And when you inevitably lose, you don't feel like less of a gamer for your troubles... you normally "lose" because you decide to quit. Also, if you do manage to win, you actually get rewarded by a satisfying ending... not just a high-score page. And, you almost always have the option to continue indefinitely.
This points to some other thoughts I've had about platform games these days. Today, it appears to me that platformers fall under one of five categories (in no particular order):
Personally I like a game to challenge and engage me. I've always felt Batman by Sunsoft (for instance) is one of a few classic examples of a perfect skill curve in a game (feel free to take a look at the video we have of this game in our archive). As you progress, you must master new techniques. Additionally you find yourself dealing with two or even three enemies on the screen at a time, and while they're mostly small enemies, that's ok. I'd rather have a couple of challenging small enemies over a mildly challenging enemy the size of the screen... repeated over and over and over and over again.
Gee, that makes me think of something else I miss from older games... Walking enemies off the screen. If you've played games for long enough, then you know about one of the top ten gameplay techniques in existence. Essentially you have an enemy who is exactly at the edge of the screen and happens to be moving back and forth. Quite frequently in older games and in a few, more recent titles (Earthworm Jim in the underwater tunnel areas) all you have to do is follow the enemy so that as they walk backwards you scroll the screen along with them. Then when their initialization point is completely on the screen (their pixel point of appearance) -- and while they are still moving away from you -- step back so they drop off of the screen but so their start point is still on the screen. Then walk forward and if you've done it right, many times the game will glitch and "lose track" of the enemy sprite making it disappear. No, you don't get points for a kill, but the enemy is gone. I can't think how many times I've used this. In fact there is one specific point in the NES Batman where walking a specific enemy off the screen is part of my solution for the level.
Not to be knocking all of the more recent platform games, sure there are current games that bring me back again and again even though I've solved many of them, but it really seems that the cool to lame ratio has really gone to the opposite extreme from what I remember it being years ago. Unfortunately I don't see things changing anytime soon, since more and more companies are more interested in the quick buck over the quality game. What I don't get is, sure the quick buck approach gets you money now, but your game usually quits selling after a few months. Look at some of these real greats of the past on the other hand, Metroid was still selling new in stores up until a year or so ago for $20 (US) or more... marking it a steady source of revenue to Nintendo for years. Personally I'd like to release a game that makes me money for almost 10 years! Oh well...
Till next time...
AVI of Sunsoft's Batman for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Video source: Captured footage from the U.S. release
File size: 4.8 Megs (zipped)