What makes a good platformer?

Matt Barton's picture

A blog called "Significant Bits" has a very nice editorial up about What made those old, 2D platformers so great?. The article is well written and illustrated, with screenshots as well as video clips. Definitely don't want to pass this up if you're a fan of platform games. Link via Slashdot.


Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
What makes a good platformer? What IS a platformer?

I read the article in the link, and it seemed to delve into the esoteric side of game design, but I'm not sure it's the whole story.

The truth is, I don't have a clue what makes a good platformer, but I know "good" when I see it (or play it).

The article seems to concentrate exclusively on the "scrolling" platformers, but what about Donkey Kong? Lode Runner? Jumpman? Pharaoh's Curse? Impossible Mission? And there were countless other non-scrolling platformers that were great.

The term "Platformer" seems to cover a lot of varied ground. How do you compare Donkey Kong, Flashback, Lode Runner, Prince of Persia, Metroid, Super Mario Bros., Contra, and Mario 64? Heck, even "Frogger" might be considered a platform game if you break it down to its basic elements.

What makes a great platform game? I think the bottom line is ease of controls, great atmosphere, and compelling "story" that makes you want to get to the end. I think all platformers, done right, compels the player to see the ending. Somehow, you MUST get to the end, because during the journey, there's always more to see, more to play, higher challenges, and more to discover. You must BEAT the game.

A few flaws that many platformers fall into are pixel-perfect jumps, clunky controls, and samey levels. There should be some leeway in the jumps, so I don't fall 5000 feet and have to climb all the way back to where I was (or die in the process). That's not fun, that's torture. But then again, I found myself playing "Rick Dangerous" on the Amiga endlessly, and it is all about killing you if you don't play it 100% correctly!

And if I make it past a level, I want to see a NEW level, and not just the same level rearranged. Keep my interest by rewarding my perseverance! I guess this advice holds true for just about any game. Then again, how do I explain "Lode Runner" with its samey levels? I don't know.

All that being said, game design isn't just a science, it's an art. Some things leap beyond mathematical subroutines and into the realm of the human intuition. How do you quantify Super Mario Bros or Lode Runner? Yes, you can break them down logically, but when you play them, they're just fun. It works, and I don't think anyone can completely explain it over other similar games.

What makes a good platformer? A good platformer is fun. I know that sounds overtly simplistic, but how else can you quantify it? A=(X+Y/Z)??? There doesn't seem to be many rules that apply, or can't be broken. A good platformer can be defined as a good platformer, not by analysis, but by intuition. I suspect that rule holds true for any game genre.

"Don't think. Feel!" - Bruce Lee

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Joined: 01/21/2009
I do agree, what is a

I do agree, what is a platformer? Is a game like Bubble Bobble (arcade game) a platformer? In my mind a Platformer is a game like Flashback, or Blackthorn, 3 vikings. Super Mario too, and I must admit one of the most addicting. Super Metroid, while almost always beloved, is not one I enjoyed, much to much penelty for screw ups, I DO NOT like doing the same thing over and over (falling down deep holes becuase of bad jumps or enemies that "push" and climbing all the way up again. Peneltys like that seem to be just "game extenders" just a way to make the game seem longer then it is. Some of my favorites: GODS (amiga), Turrican (amiga again, but is that a shooter?)and some of those insanly diffucult Psygnosis games on the amiga. Rick Dangerous, never played it but seen it, reminds me of Captain Goodnight (apple), zero misteps or you start way back. Not sure how to not think that is just as bad as Metroid, but the fall to bottokm of pit and rejump up 30 platforms, just to fall again, did not like it. Dying instantly and rerunning throuhg several screens (didnt like it either, but prefer that). I have been playing some oldSchool Castlevania on #60 Live.. THIS is what i call a perfect platformer, hard, unforgiving, but alwasy make it a few steps farther. I recenely plaied Braid also, and sadly am stumped, so lost interest.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I'm planning to do my next

I'm planning to do my next Matt Chat on The Lost Vikings, so maybe I'll use this article for context. I had forgotten how great TLV is to play. Man, it's so awesome on the SNES. I had only played the Amiga version before, but the SNES is perhaps even better (at least control wise).

I submitted my proposal for Floyd Lives! to our agent yesterday, so it may be that I'm going to start working on that in addition to Woot!. So, don't be surprised if Matt Chats start getting focused on adventure games. :)

Joined: 05/20/2006
The Mario games always had

The Mario games always had an amazing "physical" feel to them. You can feel that Mario has mass & momentum when he runs and jumps and bounces and flies and swims.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
"Feel" is important in platformers
Catatonic wrote:

The Mario games always had an amazing "physical" feel to them. You can feel that Mario has mass & momentum when he runs and jumps and bounces and flies and swims.

Yeah, that's a key point we make in the Super Mario Bros. chapter in the "Vintage Games" book. Super Mario Bros. was one of the first games to really have what felt like a finely tuned/nuanced control that didn't feel slippery or forced, a la the earlier Mario Bros.

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.


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