platformer ‘splosion

When Super Mario 64 showed the world exactly how 3D platformers were meant to work, it was seemingly a death knell for the classic 2D platformer. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that it was New Super Mario Bros. in 2006 — ten years after Mario 64 — that seemed to kick-start a minor revival in the genre. Two of 2008’s most innovative and impressive titles, Braid and LittleBigPlanet, were also 2D platformers, and now, in 2009, 2D platformers seem to be back with a vengeance.

‘Splosion Man hit Xbox Live Arcade two weeks ago, and I’ve been playing the hell out of it over the last few days. Gameplay-wise it’s a essentially old-school 2D platforming, with levels that are really quite punishing at times, but the feeling you get when you pull off a quick succession of crazy jumps is just awesome. It’s really the presentation that puts it over the top, though — from the ridiculous and varied animations of the protagonist (running along making aircraft noises, arms outstretched, has to be my favourite), to the fact that scientists get turned in to neatly processed cuts of meat when you blow them up, the entire game is hilarious. It also has a co-op mode with up to four players, through a set of 50 levels that are entirely separate to the single-player game’s own 50 levels.

This week’s XBLA release was another 2D platformer, Shadow Complex, which is a very modern take on a Metroid/Castlevania-style game. I’ve only played the demo, but it’s very promising so far — the gameplay is solid with a few modern touches, such as being able to aim with the right stick, and it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at, seamlessly moving between full 3D cutscenes and the 2D gameplay.

Perhaps the biggest news, though, is the new video of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo gets exactly zero points for naming skill, or for pushing the Wii’s graphical capabilities, but it sure looks like a hell of a lot of fun, with lots of new Mario abilities and co-op gameplay to be had. There’s no official date on it yet, but it’s due some time this year.

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