What makes a Platformer stand out?

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What makes a Platformer stand out?

Postby Sky-Fox » Sun Aug 30, 2015 4:37 am

I'm aware that Platformers are a bit of a weak spot for me, so I'd like to ask those familiar what are the sorts of things that you notice when you're playing a platforming game that really sticks to you. So far as the stuff I'm talking about I could say I hear people debate over which Mario title is the best, but I'm never sure what metrics are used to determine it. What is it that makes the levels, mechanics, or design better than any other?
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Re: What makes a Platformer stand out?

Postby Zanreo » Sun Aug 30, 2015 5:12 pm

I'd guess level design and just what you do with this type of gameplay.

Hide secrets around the level, try out alternate paths, ect. is stuff I enjoy as someone who likes collecting and exploring. However, make it fair and not frustrating.

Generally, make it fun - I guess "fun" is a rather vague answer but it's kind of just something you know as you play the game.
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Re: What makes a Platformer stand out?

Postby Sky-Fox » Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:06 pm

Thanks for the response, Zan. I guess my problem is I can see how those things can all be key to having a good game, but I don't quite understand how they correspond to a game's identity as a Platformer. I can say Dungeon Crawl 6 allows me to get through a dungeon is different ways, while also harboring secrets but that doesn't make it a better platformer per se.

I suppose my line of thinking is that a Platformer may or may not have certain attributes inherent to the genre. If it does, how can 2 games within this genre be compared, and in what ways can you determine one is better than another? Of course, I realize this may be a shallow (or totally wrong) perspective on it, but I'm interested in what folks have to say.
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Re: What makes a Platformer stand out?

Postby Yourself » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:42 am

I guess I'd say a platformer is a game in which the primary challenge is to navigate between points and the primary opposition is some mechanical force impeding that progress, namely gravity. In Diablo you can click any location and your character will automatically navigate to it - there is no "wrong" way to get there. In Mario only certain sequences of inputs can take you past that first Goomba.

Thus, what makes a platformer interesting is its definition of navigable space and its implementation of mechanics. Take Ranger X, a game we played here. Ranger X has pretty complex mechanics, but one of the core tenets of navigation is that the jet booster is necessary to move against gravity, yet is limited by a meter that recharges only when inactive. So immediately, just crossing a gap requires both knowledge of how long the meter will last and dexterity in timing boosts to make the jump while managing meter. To build on that basic challenge, the design uses elements like bullets, traps, and moving platforms.

What Ranger X is particularly good at is defining level styles that bring out different aspects of the platforming challenge. The first stage is a flat plain which allows the player to get used to the boosting system and timing jumps over bullets. The second is a labyrinth with very little space that requires the player to get used to quick, short movements and slow vertical progress. The third stage has top and bottom halves which encourages a skipping horizontal style, the fourth is a straight vertical shaft that requires maximizing height, etc. This kind of redefinition of space that forces the player to use the mechanics in new ways is something that can easily be compared across games.

Another good point of comparison is interplay with individual elements. That's part of what makes the Mario series so distinctive. By interacting in specific ways with specific elements, the player can trigger all kind of behavior that creates new paths. Breaking blocks with Mario's head alters the platforming landscape. A kicked Koopa shell can clear out enemies and blocks, and it can hurt Mario too. It's also a new element he can bounce off of. That's not only an element the player can create, it's a layered one too. Super Mario Bros. 3 takes this a step farther by letting Mario carry a shell, allowing the player to use it throughout the level and again broadening navigation possibilities. These are the kind of complexities missing from a simpler (not necessarily worse) platformer like Adventure Island or Mega Man.
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