The Return of the Platformer

If you think about the past few years you’ll see an interesting trend amongst videogames. While mainstream titles have increasingly relied on glitzy graphics, blockbuster action storylines, multiplayer components and in one baffling case, hats, there has been one genre that has been growing silently but surely for years now: platformers. Yes, platformers have been steadily spreading and growing in number, complexity and critical success and have started to find mainstream success nowadays.

Thinking back at the past few years we can see how the platformer found its way back into the mainstream. Back in the late 90s, early 00’s the Oddworld series was the last concentrated effort to create a side scrolling platformer that was in tune with the times in terms of graphical complexity. It didn’t meet with any degree of success and the next decade was all about 3d games, shooters especially. Consoles seemed to present a refuge for a while but soon enough they too were overrun with 3d graphically intensive games. For a long time, fans of platformers like Sonic the Hedgehog had to limit themselves  to flash game sites like for their platformer fixes. And yet, in the heyday of  the third generation of consoles, amidst Gears of War and GTA IV platformers started coming back.

It started with quasi-philosophical puzzlers like Trine or Braid that were overwhelmingly well received by critics but scoffed at by ‘serious’ gamers. But the success of these games soon  turned commercial as well, to the bafflement of game publishers everywhere. It seems that the nostalgia factor, alongside the low time demands of such games in a sitting managed to bring back dormant gamers who had grown up with platformers in the early nineties and that were now financially independent and had easy access to games thanks to digital distribution without queuing up for hours on release days.

Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, I want to be the Guy and other indie gems started to become popular and talked about and there was soon a market for simple indie platformers. It evolved in to a significantly larger market with companies exploring new game styles in 2D platformer fashion. Shank, Rochard and Mark of The Ninja, Fez of Deadlight were all very different takes on platformers with decent budgets behind them but built around the principle of 2D scrolling. Terraria is for lack of a better description, 2D Minecraft. The 2D indie revolution just keeps rolling and rolling.

And finally, old platformers are starting to get some love as well. Sonic the Hedgehog 4  Episodes one and Two were released in the past two years, a new 2D Metroid, a new 2D Mega Man and a new Oddworld title have busted out to good commercial success and massive nerd appeal. Mario is back to 2D as well in the second instalment of hte New Super Mario Bros . series and in 3D on the 3DS. And with some of these games now coming to mobile devices as well the future looks quite bright for platformers. It looks like nostalgia sells quite a few more games than anybody expected.