I've finally been released from the grasp of BioShock: Infinite which is seriously the best game I've played for a long, long time and I can tell it's going to be my personal GOTY (unless something really surprises me) and I'd very much like to write about it soon. Also the protagonist Booker DeWitt has my initials tattooed on the back of his hand so what's not to like!
But I digress, as I also recently finished Thomas Was Alone
I'd like to write a little bit about one of my favourite genres; the humble platformer.
The platformer to me is the perfect blend of pure delirious fun and technical skill and whilst I do like my videogames to have depth and story it is sometimes worth remembering that they do exist as a piece of entertainment and were made for our enjoyment.
With that said however you will find below some platformers which I feel defy the implied limitations of the genre and bring so much more with them then joy:
Super Mario World
This has to be the first, simply because it is the first. My first ever console was my uncle's second hand SNES and it came with Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario All-Stars and a few others. It also came with Super Mario World which is probably one of my top 5 games of all time.
The game handled well, the controls were tight and when we got our first colour TV I fell in love with the games visuals. What I like most about SMW from a design standpoint is it's inclusion of secrets. You needed to be smart and always looking out for hidden doors, especially in the ghost houses. I still think that the Secret World with the hilarious 80's/90's themed level titles is one of my favourite secrets of any game ever. SMW is on the surface a run of the mill Mario title, but if you let yourself become invested in it, you'll find a surprising amount of depth.
For those that say videogames can't be artistic I would like to direct them to Rayman Origins (and to Limbo, but I'll talk about that later). Rayman Origins is a bloody gorgeous game.
The art and sound design is impeccable, the animations are fluid, characters look fantastic, levels are well thought out and provide a wonderful backdrop to the antics of Rayman and his buddies.
These things alone earn it high ranking in my eyes, but combine that with simple controls, sublime handling and the ability to build up a rhythm within seconds and you have poetry in motion. A perfect platformer and one of my favourite games of all time.
As with Super Meat Boy death is more a mild obstacle than a ball ache and is little more than a hiccup in the games flow. If there are any readers that haven't gotten into platformers, I STRONGLY recommend checking out Rayman Origins as it might just change your mind.
Thomas Was Alone
At a meagre price on Steam (soon to be on the Vita) and featuring narration by the wonderful Danny Wallace (that's Shaun Hastings of AssCreed for the non-British) TWA is a steal (you have no idea how tempting it is to put another T on the end of that).
To say the game is simple is an understatement, characters are coloured quadrilaterals leaping on or over specifically placed groups of quadrilaterals The writing and controls are competent but what stands out for me in this game is the team dynamic. I felt strangely invested in the little red rectangle and his friends despite not hearing a single word from them. Each character has their own unique skillset and personality and serve as a reminder that you can have many characters with depth in a simple platformer, it doesn't have to be one playable character doing everything against everyone else and there is a way to provide challenge without having to include enemies.
For £6 and a decent gameplay time, TWA is proof that there is a lot of hope left for indie platformers, that don't need to copy most of their elements from Mario (ahem Braid).
Limbo is just as artistic as Rayman Origins in my opinion, but not in the bright colourful "Celebration of Life and Imagination!" kind of way.
The game is genuinely unsettling, a lot of this is due to it's grey-scale colour scheme, it's amazing sound design and the perspective doing everything it can to remind you that you are an insignificant speck and it really is a miracle that you are alive. Bleakness is what they aimed for and they got bullseye.
The horror elements of Limbo are rooted in atmosphere, atmosphere is everything for Limbo and it's drawn me in just as much as Lone Survivor and Silent Hill before it. The denial of knowledge approach is certainly effective in this instance, ordinarily a situation where you know you could be killed at any second with no idea when or how would be frustrating, but the sheer frequency of checkpoints quickly kicks that notion into touch.
To anyone who says that horror is fixed to a certain genre of game, Limbo is one giant, stark middle finger.
I will give a brief nod to Cave Story as, although it didn't do anything awe-inspiring for me, it is a fantastic game. Readily available, very well made, plays like a dream and a hell of a lot of fun. Go play it!
Also, although I hate a lot about it, honourable mention goes to Braid. It had a really well implemented time mechanic and very slim, very faint beam of genius shone through during the end sequence. It's a shame that it just lifted many more of it's elements from a well established series, demonstrated all of it's story in one of the worst ways possible and was about as deep as Battletoads...
Man I love Battletoads.