Angela Porobom

What even is a Platformer?

Platformers: The Quintessential Video Games

It's more than likely that the first thing people think of when the term "video game" is bandied around is a red-overalled plumber hopping on turtles and mushrooms. Long before Fortnight and PUBG, the king of video games was the platformer.

But what exactly is that, anyway? Gamers today still have access to these gems both in the form of remakes and also in newer content. Many players find controlling a character in a 2-D world, scrolling left to right far too boring as entertainment, but decades of gaming tell a different story.

Let's take a look back at 10 different games and discern what really makes the concept of platformers still hold up today.

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong

Named after the biggest ape in cinema and the world's most stubborn animal, Donkey Kong took the arcade world by storm in 1981. While not the first true platformer (Space Panic takes that prize coming out in 1980 with similar mechanics), this Nintendo gem changed the way players looked at gaming.

With the ability to jump over barrels, climb ladders and move from platform to platform, Donkey Kong introduced the concept of movement towards a specified goal while avoiding obstacles. Since it was limited by a single screen, programmers had to find new ways to move forward.

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros

Arcade games like Jump Bug had side-scrolling adventures where the protagonist would continue in a rightward direction. Others revolutionized depth-of-field with backgrounds moving at different speeds in a process called parallax.

Nintendo again showed its ability to take aspects of other games and transform them into the apex of a genre. In 1985, Super Mario Bros. on the Famicom took advantage of those simple mechanics and incorporated new techniques to craft a simple yet engaging world of jumping, growing and battling that dominated the platformer scene.

Mega Man

Mega Man

At this point, there was a platformer boom on the Famicom and NES. Programmers were anxious to take this concept in a variety of new directions. Metroid, Nintendo's 1986 release, brought platforming to a whole new level with labyrinthine level design and an almost open-world feel.

Since games were generally short, there was a need to make them exceedingly difficult to increase playing time. Games like Capcom's 1987 hit Mega Man and its sequels are excellent examples of this trend. Players would need to almost memorize each level to avoid the multitude of enemy robots before fighting that stage's final boss.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic The Hedgehog

The 8-Bit era of the Famicom and NES was coming to a close, and newer systems were capitalizing on the popularity of platforming games. Though the Sega Genesis made it to shelves two years before the SNES, Nintendo reimagined its star in the visually and technically groundbreaking Super Mario World.

Sega wasn't far behind with a new type of digital hero, a hedgehog that took the power 16-bit processors provided to speed through bright and crisp digital landscapes. Sonic showed gamers that a platformer didn't have to be a leisurely romp but could be as fast-paced and challenging as any racing simulator.

Super Metroid

Super Metroid

Sega wasn't the only company taking advantage of all that power to craft new and different types of video games. Nintendo wanted to reiterate its dominance in the genre and again looked to an old property for new ideas.

Enter Super Metroid, considered one of the greatest platformers ever made. With innovative levels, outstanding graphics, and an engaging story, this classic still holds up today. Its success is illustrated by the number of clones, some of them, like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, are standout games in their own right.

Crash Bandicoot

Crash Bandicoot

Platform video games had taken entertainment to new heights. Level designs were at an apex and developers found they could incorporate complex stories and exploration into 2-D side scrollers. The next step was to take on another dimension.

While not the first to do so, Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot brought the third dimension to these games in an innovative way. While still basically a scroller that incorporated other types of gameplay like vehicles, it introduced an art style that fully incorporated a 3-D flair.

Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64

Things really began to heat up in 1996. The Nintendo 64 arrived on the scene, and though its wonky controller didn't impress much, it had a game lineup that was next to none. Topping the charts was its favorite plumber making his z-axis debut.

Super Mario 64 was truly a 3-D platformer in that it took the basic concept of its previous side-scrolling titles and allowed a full 360° range of motion. Mario could explore the environment while programmers were free to experiment with new concepts like "camera placement."

Psychonauts

Psychonauts

As 64-bit systems took to the stage, there was a definitive drop in platformers. New games that took advantage of higher polygon counts and free-roam environments like first-person shooters dominated, pushing innovative tiles to the wayside.

While games like Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank experimented with open world gameplay, the pinnacle of storytelling came on the PC with Psychonauts. Highly beloved for its quirky sense of humor and striking visuals, this 2005 gem kept platformers on life support for the time being.

Skylanders

Skylanders

Trends move in waves, and video games are no exception. Platforming would make a comeback in a variety of ways, including a resurgence of retro-style "impossible" titles, like Super Meat Boy, but one dragon was able to make platforming mainstream again.

In 2011, Spyro and the Skylanders arrived, bringing a new feature to the table. With the ability to change out characters via a portal in real-life, the game incorporated role-playing elements with platforming to make a truly memorable experience.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey

Today, the platformer resurgence still continues. Remakes of older games such as Banjo Kazooie hit the shelves while indie developers tap into nostalgia while still providing quality titles, like Shovel Knight and Cave Story.

When it comes to modern-day graphics, Nintendo leads the pack with Super Mario Odyssey. The plumber returns for a new adventure on the Switch, ensuring platforming gameplay still holds high esteem.

From its humble beginnings, these games have developed into open-world entertainment that gamers still find enjoyable today. Having come a long way from hopping over barrels to reach the ape at the top of the screen, platformers still have many stories to tell and exciting places to take gamers.