The Up/Down/Left/Right Scrolling Platformer

So far I’ve been referring to terms like Platform Game and Side-scrolling Platformer in a similar way, but I’ve been thinking about how different these two terms are, and how this effects what I’m doing.

In my original Synopsis of Study, I stated that I would be making a Side-scrolling Platformer. In its most basic from, this simply refers to a game which is viewed from the side, and generally plays from left-to-right. The reason for its significance in history is due to its impact on the standard “Platform” game.

Donkey Kong is among the original and most notable Platform games. The game was played on one single screen at a time, which would only move onto the next by completion of the level. The game actually only consisted of three levels, which repeated until the player ran out of lives or reached the game’s “kill screen” which ended the game mid-level.

Super Mario Bros transported the hero of Donkey Kong into a much larger world by creating a screen which was simply a view of something much larger. Dedicated technology could process the game’s larger levels by drawing a slither at a time, as the character moved from left to right. Thus the Platformer became the Side-Scrolling Platformer.
Having a game that moved from a starting point to a finishing point meant that the game had a more obvious end, rather than simply repeating screens.

One game that astonished players with its non-linear gameplay was the original Metroid for Nintendo Entertainment System. The beginning of the game acted like a normal side-scrolling platformer, but at times would also allow the player to travel up and down.

Here you can see a cross-road where the player has the choice to continue jumping onto the platforms above, or open the door on the right and travel horizontally. The vast map made Metroid one of the first games that a player could get lost in, and part of the challenge of the game was simply to get from start to finish. I am quite ashamed to say that I’ve never finished the original Metroid, partly due to the frustration of being lost!
The vastness of the game can be seen in its map as a whole:

So can you call Metroid a side-scrolling platformer? It’s played from a side-view, but moves in four directions.

Obviously, as technology improved, games were able to draw larger levels and the ability to free-roam 2D levels became more common. A great example of this is the Gourmet Race from Kirby Superstar for SNES. Traditionally, the Kirby games have always been Side-Scrollers, with the occasional ascent and descent here and there. The Gourmet Race demonstrates the progression from side-scroller to free-roam platformer in three levels, and proves how this adds challenge to gameplay. In level one, the object is to move from left to right, but by level three, the player must make swift path choices which could help or hinder them without warning. As the level zig-zags, the player is more disoriented and the end more unpredictable. But as well as getting from start to finish in a limited time, the player must avoid obstacles and collect items, so there’s a lot to concentrate on!

I’ve played this level on Kirby Superstar now several times to work out how to start my level design for Hanami. The pace will be much slower, but in terms of objectives they are quite similar. I want to present the player with options which could end up with positive or negative or simply unpredictable results. Ultimately, the player must reach the end of the level with all items collected. So, in conclusion I don’t think the term Side-scrolling Platformer is really relevant, more of an up/down/left/right scrolling platformer really.

Edit: I found site dedicated to Video Game maps which has a great high-def map of the each of the Gourmet Race stages. You can see the third (and most complicated) stage here.

What Makes A Platformer?

From David Perry on Game Cliches:

The platform action game is one of the oldest game genres, and there have been multitudes of variants on the theme. Naturally, there have been some tried-and-true design decisions over the years, and many of them have become clichés of the genre.

Do Re Mi Fantasy for SNES

1. Millions of items to collect
Usually, the item being collected is does nothing on its own, but can grant the player something special if enough are collected.

Megaman 2 for NES

Special power-up and pick-up items
Some items instantly grant the player the ability to do something extra, or will restore previously lost stats like health, ammo or lives.

Super Mario Bros for NES

Plenty of low-level NPC enemies to fight
Enemies are usually defeated by simply jumping on them, throwing something at them or using a special character skill.

Prince of Persia for SNES

Your character is very acrobatic
The playable character of a platformer must be able to reach hard to get areas by running, climbing and jumping about and being very flexible!

Sonic The Hedgehog for Sega Megadrive

There are many animals as main characters
Here the protagonist is a speedy hedgehog. Interesting.

Tombi for Playstation

Oddball storylines
In Tombi! the world is taken over by evil Pigs who have stolen an ancient amulet, and must be captured in magical purses to restore order. It’s undoubtedly a good game setting.

Abe's Oddysee for Playstation

Obviously, platformers consist of an arrangement of platforms which in many cases are reached by jumping.

Limbo for XBLA

Although in traditional side-scrolling platformers to objective is to travel from left to right, in order to reach you destination the path will often take you up and down.

Rayman for Atari Jaguar

Moving platforms
In Platformer games, some platforms scroll left and right or up and down for no apparent reason other than to add an extra challenge to the player. Miscalculating a move on a moving platform can result in an unwanted casualty!

Super Meat Boy for PC

A game world in a Platformer consist of levels, usually increasing in difficulty. Each level differs slightly, although the game mechanics are usually very similar.

Earthworm Jim for Sega Megadrive

A “Boss” in a platformer is a tougher enemy, which usually makes an appearance at the end of a level. Losing to a Boss will halt progress until the Boss is defeated. The final Boss is usually the game’s main villain.

Kirby Superstar for SNES

Keeping Score
By collecting items, defeating enemies or simply reaching a destination in a certain time, the player gains points which will either grant the player a bonus or get saved on a list of high scores, which the player can later try to beat.

Braid for XBLA

Minimal Story
An example of a classic Platformer story is a Mario scenario where a damsel in distress is kidnapped and must be rescued by the protagonist. The game represents the journey the hero must face in order to save his love. Interestingly, this reference in Braid does not fully represent this scenario, as Braid has a reputation for its especially convoluted back-story!

So yes, we do have game clichés. Like all entertainment media, games have developed some clichés — situations and actions that are recognizable or that lead to predictable results and other predictable stereotypes.
Although clichés are useful because they allow players to operate within a familiar environment and they allow game designers to assume certain elements of a game and predict some of the responses of the players, they can also be an opportunity to throw some surprises into the mix…