Are Games That Two Dimensional?

2 - Sonic

Okay, I confess – I am a huge retro junkie. Arcade cabinets, dusty old broken and beaten up pieces of plastic, wired controllers in the same shape as a Galaxy chocolate bar – I loved it all. To this day I keep every console, game, and accessory I’ve owned for the past 15 years tucked snugly away under my television and give them a weekly dusting off. It brings back that special feeling of sitting awake late at night in a dark room with only the faint glow of your television screen to light up the controller. Moments like that hold a special place in my heart, and as it turns out, I’m not alone in that feeling.

Retro revivals have been swamping the marketplace for decades now. Companies scraping through their old trademark papers hoping to find an old franchise just begging for a bargain budget badly programmed comeback to sap the remaining love we have for the franchise (I’m looking at you Bionic Commando). One particular brand of the days of old has been making a massive final push for glory though – 2D.

Not only have 2D games been breaking back onto the scene, but they’ve brought their less successful younger brother with them — 2.5D games. You know, those games where the gameplay takes place on a totally two dimensional plain but has super pretty next generation 3D graphics to try and disguise the fact you’re still just holding the joystick constantly to the right. The little brother genre does consist of some truly great games; ‘Splosion Man, Trials HD, Trine – but we can all see the 2D in denial.

Sonic 4 is screaming into view for a summer release, and ever since the announcement I’ve seen more unknowingly leaked screenshots and videos than Paris Hilton after a weekend-long bender with a camcorder. That’s not even mentioning the upcoming ‘Pacman Battle Royale’, which, aside from having the best name of any video game ever, has been hyped all over the internet to the point where many people didn’t use the internet for porn for a whole six minutes to watch the teaser trailer. It’s clear that gamers worldwide are craving the two dimensional. The only question that remains in my head is why the sudden ‘splosion in popularity?

The man known as 'BrentalFloss'
The man known as 'BrentalFloss'

To aid me in what is sure to be a star-studded journey of love, loathing, and self-discovery – I have recruited internet-sensation and avid retro gamer/singer BrentalFloss. “Hi folks!” For those unfamiliar with Brent’s work, he adds custom lyrics to old video game themes he’s had stuck in his head for the past two decades, including: MegaMan 3, The Legend of Zelda, Ducktales, and Tetris. Oh, and he has a CD which has come out recently with some of his best on, you should totally go and buy it… that plug good enough for you Brent? “That’ll work just fine!” Excellent.

So to avoid the question later on when it may feel forced, are you a fan of these 2D retro revamps/remakes which are making a comeback? “Well, this is what humans have done throughout history. We love “throwbacks”. If you think about it, all the classic movie versions of novels (Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Gone With The Wind) were just retro throwbacks at the time of their release. The entire Tea Party movement (not to get political but I’m getting political) is based on the idea that times were better when people who are currently elderly and middle-aged were young. If you sell someone good memories, they’ll buy them. So now that the children of the Nintendo and Sega generation are reaching their thirties and in some cases forties, the nostalgia of their youth is becoming a hotter and hotter commodity. That said, I love throwback games and “Wiimakes”… my favorite so far is Punch-Out!! on the Wii.”

22 years difference demonstrated by deleting the colour green.
22 years' difference demonstrated by deleting the colour green.

With over 16 years in between Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and Sonic 4, I think it would be a fair assumption to conclude that the demand has suddenly peaked in recent years. The leading culprit for this that springs to my mind is the success of the Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and Virtual Console. Easy, mini, bite-sized games thrive in the two dimensional plain. Possibly it could be nothing more than mere exposure that brings in the cash? After hearing them several thousand times more than I would have liked to, I know Lady Gaga lyrics a little too well for someone who can’t stand her music – perhaps the mere presence is enough to re-addict us.

Especially if Capcom can take the initiative to release not just one, but two brand new Megaman games but in 100% retro style, then I’d say almost every old school franchise could end up with its own re-birth into the gaming Universe. Maybe even ToeJam & Earl! (dare I dream?) “Well, if we’ve learned anything from games like ‘Mega Man: The Wily Wars’, it’s that the brilliant simplicity of 2D often can’t be improved upon. You can make the graphics better, but it doesn’t necessarily enhance the gameplay. That said, I’d love to see a continuation of the Chrono Trigger series, and an SNES-style 2D Earthworm Jim follow-up could do very well.”

No caption is required. Just thank you, Capcom. Thank you.
No caption is required. Just thank you, Capcom. Thank you.

I think we may be onto something there (by which I mean, Brent, may be onto something). It’s the shattered remains of our hopes and dreams which are almost forcing this 2D virus to emerge from its shell to hope to cure the disease of disappointment. I’ve hated Sonic games since 1992, Mario games since 1994, and almost every other gaming franchise which has been able to lumber through sequels for longer than a decade. I have very little doubt in my mind that I would happily sacrifice at least one testicle if it meant that Sonic would never, ever, EVER change into a Werehog ever again. So maybe the whole appeal lies in the vain thought that perhaps a brand new coat of paint on an old beat-up graphics engine is enough to sucker us back into giving a damn about these games.

I’m excited about Sonic 4, as much as I don’t want to admit to that, and I’ve done everything in my power to ignore every other Sonic game I’ve come across in recent years. I shouldn’t. I should be joining the legions of ill-informed protestors against the game who are too busy whining about Sonic running funny rather than the game itself; but instead I have my Microsoft Points card sitting comfortably on the shelf waiting patiently.

“This is what has always happened throughout time. People like being reminded of things they enjoyed in their younger days. The home video game concept has reached the point in its maturity where new concepts are getting more and more scant while nostalgia for old concepts is getting more and more plentiful.” A tragically fair point. I will buy Sonic 4, but that doesn’t mean it will be a worthy purchase. Sonic fan websites have been bombarded since the announcement with bitter complaints and petty whining of the smallest gripes imaginable – and the game hasn’t even had a chance to be released yet. At time of writing, we’re nearly three whole months away from it even being a glimpse in the game store shelf’s eyes.

Give the people what they want, and they will give you what you want.
Give the people what they want, and they will give you what you want.

What’s happening is not a revival of the games, the issue isn’t that two dimensional, but rather a revival of the name of the games. The 2D aspect is just engrained into the gamer brain from the years of oldand remains because it has consequently earned the title of ‘timeless’. “Absolutely. It’s like soccer or hackey sack now. If there is electricity, there will be 2D gaming.”

Subtle, but true.
Subtle, but true.

Exactly! Sonic will sell games. Bionic Commando will sell games. Captain Jelly-Face and His Merry Band of Misfits will probably not sell games (although possibly in Japan…). The only thought that haunts me slightly is that games may quickly become zombie-fied as they are resurrected only to be able to slap the brand name onto the marketing blurb to draw customers’ hands towards the box as it sits upon the shelf or in the various online marketplaces.

There are definitely some positives to come out of this though; the biggest is that true original titles are being made in 2D to take advantage of this storm of popularity in the genre. This means indie and up-and-coming developers don’t need to throw in the required money and time that the 3D game development blackhole requires. ‘Braid’ was terrific, ”Splosion Man’ was frustrating but excellent, and even the up and coming game ‘Limbo’ looks to be a true piece of art. All they need to do is to raise their head above all the sludge ever so slightly, and great things may still come from this blizzard of two dimensional games. I just hope that what glimmers of hope do still exist don’t fall flat… no, I can’t do it. I refuse to end an article on a pun, it’s just not in me. I’ll leave by thanking BrentFloss for his infinite opinions on retro games, and a picture of what Pacman would look like on the Playstation 3 instead:

2 - Pacman







One response to “Are Games That Two Dimensional?”

  1. Leon avatar

    2D is a genre that I love, because many 2D titles I played when I was young I still genuinely believe to be good games now – Sonic, Gunstar Heroes, Castlevania: SOTN, the list goes on.

    One problem I find (with retro remakes/sequels) is that developers seem to refuse to use 2D graphics any more. Now, I don’t hate the new look of Sonic 4, but personally I would have been just as happy (if not happier), if they had stuck with the same art style, only improved the resolution to create smoother animation. Megaman X was remade on PSP, with shoddy 3D polygons that looked like PS1 graphics, when the console would have been perfectly capable of crisp 2D animation. I’m not adverse to 2.5D, but sometimes it just seems like an unnecessary change that doesn’t really improve anything – I don’t understand the mentality of “games only look good in 3D.” Castlevania was one of my favourite series’, and a new, full blown HD successor to Symphony of the Night would be spectacular. At first, I turned to GBA for the likes of games such as Metroid Fusion, but now even the handhelds seem to be turning to 3D games.

    Looking back at some early 3D titles (PS1,N64) – they haven’t aged well at all. 3D ages so fast, while 2D almost always looks just as good as you remembered. It really feels as though 2D graphics are dependent on artistic skill, while 3D are more dependant on the latest hardware only to be outdone in the next generation.

    And when it comes to brand new 2D titles (such as XBLA titles), I find that developers aren’t really prepared to go the whole way with a full game. None of them seem particularly fluid, or they are “artistic” and quirky in some way – I loved Braid, but it didn’t feel like a new-age Sonic/Mario/Megaman title. Sonic was always a fluid title, and I still think it plays well today.

    Shadow Complex was probably the best XBLA title I’ve played – because aside from it’s outer appearance it was essentially a Metroid clone. So I’m sure if Nintendo were to make a new 2D Metroid I would still enjoy it amongst todays games – as much as I enjoyed Fusion, which is amongst my favourite games of all time.

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