Platform games are that treasure we RetroGamers will always cherish. There is no doubt that we have enjoyed games previously to this genre, although their arrival to the screens was the climax of arcade machines. One after the other, coins passed quickly from our pocket to the stomach of those arcade machines that we all wanted to have in our bedroom. In this post we are going to travel through the history of platform games, to see where do they come from, what have they brought us and where are they taking us. Join the trip?
PLATFORM GAMES… WHAT IS THAT?
The main feature of a platform game is… the platforms. The purpose of the game is based, usually, in reaching the level goal, most of the times by going from one screen to the next, which are connected horizontally. How do we do that? With jumps, jumps… and more jumps. Whether it is to a raised platform, or upon a rock on the way, or even on an enemy, we have to cover the route avoiding obstacles with jumps. In some games the classic jump has been replaced by swinging or extensible arms, but in all of them it has to be possible to control when the action of jumping or swinging is going to happen. Also, a mistake in one of these actions usually implies seeing how our character falls into a well, or drowns, or is devoured by an enemy.
We can consider that the father of any platform game arrived, as many other things in the videogames world, by the hand of Nintendo. Donkey Kong, published in 1981, allowed our character jumping from one platform to the other to rescue the princess from the hands of the evil (although stupid) Kong. Saying simply “our character” is a bit simple, as this was no less than Mario, in his first star appearance. Not even him suspected how famous he would become after jumping over some barrels and climbing a few stairs to save the princess. Other examples of this generation of videogames could be its predecessor Donkey Kong Jr., as well as Mario Bros., which also added the possibility of a cooperative mode for 2 players. Bubble Bobble adopted the cooperative mode of Mario Bros., becoming a model for a lot of platform games that would arrive in the near future. And this was just started.
Until that moment, the typical platforms of this genre where all included in a static screen. It was possible to get to another level, with the resulting change of the screen structure, but still it was a static screen, independent from the previous one. However, in 1982 some “transitional” games started to make it to the screens, in which the player could “browse” freely from one screen to the other, resulting in a map of interconnected screens. Pitfall!, by Atari, was one of the pillars of this new platforms version, extending the character’s route through horizontally interconnected screens. In this category we do not have to forget games like Manic Miner, published in 1983, which expanded even more the browsing posibilities: in this case it was possible to go through the map between both horizontally and vertically interconnected screens.
The incorporation of scroll was another small step in this genre. Until that moment, individual screens where completely static and there was no kind of transition when going from one to the other. In 1981, just 5 months after Donkey Kong, the game Jump Bug was published. It added scroll between the different screens in the map, although it was one of the big unknown games added to the genre, so it was not much taken into account in later developments. Jump Bug was developed for arcade machines, as by then home consoles did not have yet the proper hardware for generating scroll with some exceptions, like the Atari 2600, which could generate vertical scroll. Even so, some managed to produce scroll via software, and they did in quite a realistic way. Quest for Tires, published in 1983, is one example of this and was developed for the ColecoVision and other home platforms. Later on, in 1984, games like Pac-Land improved the scroll effect, starting the branch which would generate other unforgettable games like Wonder Boy and the king of kings: Super Mario Bros.
As we have seen, platform games have a history way more complicated than we can think at first. In future posts we will see how they evolved until the really sophisticated games hitting the market still nowadays.
See you soon, RetroGamers!!!
You can also read: Everything about platform games. Part 2: Evolution
You can also read: Everything about platform games. Part 3: Maturity
You can also read: Everything about platform games. Part 4: Current times