Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 15, 2009

History of 2d platforming success extends beyond Mario

Let me do my message forum impression: “Blah blah blah, NSMB Wii won’t sell because no one buys 2d platformers, blah blah blah.”

It would be too easy to point out the success of virtually every 2d Mario game and their massive sales. But let us look at a more general picture.

How has 2d platformers affected console gaming in its history? This is a very interesting question!

Donkey Kong

Let us start with Donkey Kong. Of course it saved Nintendo of America and made Miyamoto a permanent game designer. But Donkey Kong was a major home console title that was paid dearly for. Donkey Kong was packaged with Coleco-Vision systems!

Coleco-Vision sales came storming out of the games due to the addition of Donkey Kong.

Pitfall

The major hit on the Atari 2600 was the game called ‘Pitfall’. It sold around 4 million copies which I don’t believe was ever done before. We are talking 1982 here folks. It was a different era.

The game put the new third party company of Activision on the map. This 2d platformer was the most popular game at its time.

Jumpman

On the Commodore 64, Randy Glover made ‘Jumpman’ which completely destroys Donkey Kong. While the game is one screen per level, what is so unique is that the gameplay rules change drastically with each level. Jumpman made Randy Glover a millionaire and is probably why the reason ‘Jumpman’ from Donkey Kong had a name change.

You can see how innovative the level design was. This is from the ending levels of the game:

Jumpman was a major hit on the Commodore 64.

Pitfall 2

While Pitfall 2 never was a major impact on any platform that I can recall, it was the last great Atari 2600 game. (I love that heroic background music of course) It was quite a Metroid-vania type of game, almost more of an adventure game than a platformer.

People say there are no epic Atari games. Pitfall 2 says otherwise.

Super Mario Brothers

If I have to explain the impact of this game, you are hopeless. Moving on…


Megaman

I’m going to include Megaman because a game with five sequels on the NES shows a major success. Megaman 6 being published by Nintendo shows that they strongly valued this series on their system.

NES era was truly the era of 2d platforming. There would be too many great titles to mention without leaving many out. Capcom’s Disney games were phenomenal in Ducktales and Rescue Rangers. With Rescue Rangers, it was a 2d platformer that two people could play at the same time.

Super Mario Brothers 2

While not intentionally trying to be a ‘Mario’ game, this game was a major hit in the year 1988 and 1989. While it still had much of the same mechanics of the 2d platformer, it had multiple choice protagonists which had different abilities. In a way, it is the 2d Mario with the most replay value because of that.

The Dreamland lore fit right in with the Alice and Wonderland mythos that the original Super Mario Brothers had. This game held as much wonder and awe as the original Super Mario Brothers which is a stupendous feat for any game.

Super Mario Land

While Tetris sold the Gameboy, Super Mario Land was also reason to buy the system. Super Mario Land 2 also eventually came out.

Super Mario Brothers 3

The release of this title is noteworthy for many things. But it is perhaps the only instance, in the history of gaming, of a hyped title actually delivering. It was the best selling non-bundled game until just recently. Then, as is now, it is considered the best NES game ever made.

Super Mario World

Rushed to meet the SNES release, the game sold SNES systems left and right. Though compared to SMB3, it was somewhat a disapointment. Proof of the game’s weakness is that a debate between the 8-bit SMB3 and the 16-bit SMW can even exist.

Sonic the Hedgehog



It became seen that in order to push hardware, you needed a good 2d platformer. But who can compete against Mario? Sega’s Sonic really drove interest in the Sega Genesis. Screw Altered Beast.

Sonic 2 was interesting with a multiplayer mode to it.

Bonk’s Adventure

Not to be outdone, even Turbograhx-16 had Bonk’s Adventure. While it didn’t drive interest in the system as Sonic did the Genesis, it was the most famous game on the system.

While Sega is stuck on stupid with Sonic games, maybe we can convince Hudson to return to making 2d Bonk games.

Donkey Kong Country

This is a very interesting release in the history of 2d platformers. While a successful 2d platformer in Sonic the Hedgehog kicked off the great 16-bit ‘war’ between Genesis and Super Nintendo, it was another 2d platformer in Donkey Kong Country that ended it.

Why was Donkey Kong Country so successful? Surprisngly, it wasn’t really the graphics. It had good core platformer gameplay. But two things Donkey Kong Country did very, very well. The first was the multiplayer aspect of it. While two people could not play at the same time, they swapped turns in the middle of playing the game. When someone died, the other person jumped in at that very moment unlike previous 2d platformer games where the 2nd player had to start the stage all over. In Donkey Kong Country, the second player was an ally, not another seperate player.

The second thing Donkey Kong Country did that really helped people overlook the poor gameplay aspects (especially in 2 and 3) was the music. The music has not been surpassed by any 2d platformer.

No More 2d Platformers

After that, there were no real 2d Platformers. GBA saw a re-release of all the 2d Mario games. On consoles, there was only 3d Mario. Console companies, such as Sony, did not like 2d games because they did not show off what the hardware was capable of. Console companies were likely pressuring game companies to not make anymore 2d games.

Nintendo’s console division, shrunk by the massively successful Sony, now had its handheld division threatened by Sony’s PSP. The DS was pretty much rushed out the door with nothing much but a N64 port of Super Mario 64. But then in 2005, Nintendo showed off a brand new 2d Mario game for, I suppose, the panic of the DS platform losing its way (Nintendogs was first showed off at E3 2005 too). Remember that at this time, the PSP was outselling the DS.

New Super Mario Brothers

It is said that non-customers do not pay attention to E3. Anyone with a remote interest to games will hear about the ‘big things’ that are announced at any E3. I know this because I was one of those non-customers. 2d Mario is reason enough to buy a console. When Nintendo stopped making 2d Mario, I stopped buying game consoles and this lasted well over a decade. When NSMB DS was showed, I soon went out an bought a DS (a Japanese red/black original DS. I imported!).

DS has already exploded in latter 2005 in Japan and was sold out at the beginning of 2006. The DS Lite came out in 2006. In America, the DS never performed too well until the release of the DS Lite and, one week after the DS Lite came out, NSMB DS.

Three years later, NSMB DS is still crawling its way into the top ten software sales charts.

NSMB DS has outsold Super Mario Brothers 3. It will soon outsell Pokemon.

The only non-bundled games that have outsold NSMB DS are Wii Play, Wii Fit, and Nintendogs.

What is so incredible about NSMB DS sales? It is that it is selling to the New Generation, it is selling to children who never knew the original Super Mario Brothers, to children who do not know what a NES or SNES is. But should this be any surprise that 2d Mario is selling to the Blue Ocean? Super Mario Brothers, in a crashed market where everyone said couldn’t come back, is the original Blue Ocean game.

NSMB DS was full of mini-games and even multiplayer mini-games adding more than what Super Mario 64 DS had. But there was a Versus mode on NSMB DS which, itself, was worth the price of the game.

If only they made a full version of that mode, I thought.

New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Nintendo has been dragging their feet on making a new 2d Mario for the console for quite a while. The sales success of NSMB DS had the sales guys at Nintendo beg Miyamoto to make another. Yoshi Island DS, a game that is pretty sub-par and recieved no marketing, recieved considerable interest and sales which surprised Nintendo. Super Paper Mario was an RPG Mario with 2d elements grafted on. Super Mario Galaxy, a 3d Mario, went into ‘2d mode’ and was designed, as Miyamoto said, to sell as well as a 2d Mario. Galaxy failed in that regard. After decades, fans are finally going to get what they want.

The game has some challenges to overcome before it becomes a ‘rocket’ to boost Wii hardware sales. Unlike NSMB DS, it is going against the grain of console gaming by putting out a 2d platformer which under uses the console hardware. Unlike NSMB DS, whose predecessors were the Super Mario Land games, the predecessors to NSMB Wii are the highest classics of gaming and the criticism will be based entirely on comparison to those classics. There will be a much more harsher microscope this time. Unlike NSMB DS, this game will be $50 instead of $30.

The biggest question about NSMB Wii will be its content. Each console 2d Mario carved out the Mario universe that Nintendo has been exploiting for decades. NSMB DS added absolutely nothing new except Dry Bones Bowser. What new memorable enemies will be introduced? If there are none, and the levels are plain vanilla, the game will be considered a disapointment.

NSMB Wii comes with Demo Play which could literally change the way how we play games. The four player multiplayer will also resonate well.

The biggest criticism will likely be in the controls. Grafting motion controls into NSMB Wii was stupid because they are not needed (even the lantern in the underground realm can be done with the L and R buttons), it forces an uncomfortable controller onto the customer. Many would rather play wtih the Classic Controller or even an arcade stick. But Nintendo has axed out those options, sadly.

A promising video that indicates meatier content is in this video:

Flying Goombas are back. P blocks are back. Even the music notes are back. I like the new cloud enemies.

Why 2d Games Haven’t Come Back

Quirkiness and “I’m-making-it-for-myself” syndrome.

Look at the so-called ‘mature’ games on the Wii such as Madworld, Manhunt 2. These games go OVER THE TOP with the violence. They wouldn’t even sell well on the HD Twins. But yet, for some bizarre reason, the directors decided to make them quirky as hell or to make it for themselves. They ended up not being quality titles because they were so overextended.

This is why 2d games haven’t come back on consoles. The games either end up being WAY too quirky or they end up being too hard. It is like the directors decided from the beginning the audience was niche and didn’t even try to design the game for the mainstream. Let’s look at some examples.

Braid is a very quirky game. I fall asleep just watching the video. After a minute and thirty seconds, on the second stage, an enemy appears. There is even ‘text to read’ in this 2d platformer! And what is with the Celtic music? The game is just way too quirky which is limiting its appeal.

Megaman 9’s retro 8-bit graphics actually give it character. What kills the game is not the ‘difficulty’ but the ‘cheap deaths’. Many people don’t understand that there is a difference between the two. Littering the game with spikes and placing enemies to knock you into pits is not ‘difficult’ but ‘cheap’. The developers recognized this so they threw in ‘spike shoes’ and all in the shop which is a band-aid for bad game design.

In order for Megaman 9 to hail in a 2d renaissance, it had to be as fun as Megaman 2 or 3. At best, it is at Megaman 1 levels which makes the title ultimately forgettable. Megaman games used to be massmarket. Megaman 9 isn’t even trying to be massmarket.

While I might buy something like this, this game doesn’t have a prayer of making any impact. A Boy and His Blob won’t sell because it is actually a puzzle game, not a 2d platformer. It won’t sell because it has an awful name. And it won’t sell because the original NES and PC title didn’t sell. Innovative game, yes, but it didn’t work. So why in the world is it being brought back?

It is a ‘quirky’ game. Its ‘quirkiness’ probably is what attracted the developers in the first place. But what attracts developers and what attracts customers are not the same. Its quirkiness will put people off.

Klonoa bombed when it came out for Wii. It is quirky as hell, and it looks like a free flash game. Yuck.

To clean out this foul taste of bad 2d platformers, I need to look at more NSMB Wii goodness:

I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo tries to cash in on the Old School 2d Mario fans by offering a ‘Super Mario Collection’ or something ( a good way to put out Super Mario All-Stars).

After E3 2009, I said that no one will remember that Natal or Sony Wand were introduced but everyone will remember that it was the E3 when 2d Mario returned to home consoles. While there was no hype from the web at E3, excitement will slowly bubble up and become more intense the closer the release date comes.

Everyone is going to say NSMB Wii ‘failed’ when it comes out because it won’t be lighting up the sales charts. What it will be doing is selling forever. It is the new Wii Play and Wii Fit.

Hearing what the players say when they play the game is funny. *looks at one another*. “We just died!”

The video’s end has a good idea: I’m hungry too and going to go eat now.

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