Top Ten Platformers…..with a twist


Hi-Score is bringing you a new feature this week that will see a Top Ten but with a twist. This first edition sees a Top Ten of platformers, but what’s the twist?

Each entry in the Top Ten will be chosen and written by a different writer, they will talk about the game in their own way. These ten games are in no particular order, we’re just ten people talking about games we love. Please feel free to tell us YOUR favourite platformer in the comments section or of course tell us if we’re wrong.

This week is part one, featuring five games by five writers; Christos Reid, Matt Armstrong, Lauren Wainwright, Sinan Kubba and John Cranston.

Psychonauts – PC, XBOX, PS2

Christos Reid – Freelancer – For The Gamer Good

psychonautspccd

When calling into question the various reasons I’d choose Psychonauts as my personal platforming masterpiece, you may think me slightly psychologically unhinged. The prospect of delving into the various aspects of a person’s subconscious, represented aesthetically as a rather neon-filled platforming arena, isn’t so much a visual representation of the Jungian “shadow-subconscious” as a mess filled with bright lights and even prettier bright lights.

But we’re forgetting one vital organ in this body of work – Tim Schafer. Time and time again, the man has proven that storytelling is key in helping the player to overcome the loss of realism they encounter on a second-by-second basis inside the game world. In the case of Psychonauts, we follow Raz, a psychically gifted young individual who sneaks into a summer camp for children with other brain-boosted abilities of varying degrees. Simple enough, but when their tasks involve solving the inner hurt inside each other by slapping a small door on their target’s head and jumping in, it begins to fall down the rabbit hole so very enjoyably.

And it’s down this rabbit-warren of a game that Psychonauts shines – the boss characters can be anything from a suppressed memory of an abusive parent, grown monstrous in size due to the infantile concept of the parent allowed free reign in terms of evolution and growth, to censorship itself. That’s right. Censor representatives are the meat you’ll grind inside the subconscious, attempting to both boot you out of the subconscious you’re so happily jumping around and punching things in, and sealing away the more hideous, real problems that really do need to be dealt with.

LiPo_SS_12

Don’t think of yourself as a player, think of yourself as a therapist. You have the ability to save these people, and if you can’t, well, things are going to go sour pretty quickly. Some are heartbroken, and some are mentally scarred – The Milkman in particular is an interesting example, his subconscious a suburban neighbourhood infested with intelligence agents disguised as residents, a visual representation of the conspiracy theorems and paranoia that have driven him into a single-minded, boring profession, delivering milk that no one ever drinks to an insane asylum.

Your abilities rely largely on Raz’s uncanny evolution above the other camp-fiends – he takes the best aspects from the various X-men cookie-cutter stereotypes around him and turns them into weapons, defences and boosts to his own puny physical abilities. Telekinesis, pyrokinisis and more, all blended into the body of our saviour, “the boy who dreamt.” The only thing you are barred from doing is reading the minds of others, and why? Because you’d know the bad guy in the first half an hour, and hiding him is the very reason you stumble around the repressed urges and scars that comprise the platformer’s landscape.

This is beyond a game that simply requires the collection of coins and saving a princess; this is a masterpiece of Schafer’s, the devotion to the suggestion that, through exploration of the psyche we can finally explain all the military stereotypes, the derogatorily oversexed female icons, and of course, ourselves.

Sonic The Hedgehog – Every blinking platform

Matt “SnakeLinkSonic” ArmstrongMisanthropic Gamer

title-highres

Through design, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been served to me as a rowdy, impatient, and delinquent little mascot. It’s a common understanding these days that those of us who grew up with a Sonic preference (as opposed to a certain Italian plumber) have dwindled to nothing more than an abused bunch of fanboys. From what I’ve been able to conclude however, the most responsible catalyst for this abuse was not so much Sonic’s shift to 3D (that was just an after-effect), but the fans/developers ineptitude to recognize the problems he had in a 2D plane to begin with. That’s not really such a bad thing though, considering we were all young at the time and were absolved of trying to pick games apart to the degree that we often tend to now.

One thing of interest though is how the young mascot fares today, within wavering titles of varying enjoyment. Despite problems that have even been recognized by Sega themselves, Sonic still sells. This could easily be seen as the problem I skated around above simply repeating itself. Children and young adults have now been presented with problematically designed 3D games that will continue to move forward without evolving, which is exactly what the 2D games did in the first place.

A lot of people have either simply given up on the franchise or are content enough with it to keep buying into it as a game without serious fault. Spoiled and neglected at the same time, the games will continue to travel down a slippery slope until somebody decides to catch it (or at least attempt to do so). I personally find the whole process fascinating because as a platformer, Sonic has always been an explosive experience; far off kilter from what his once-rival Mario always seemed to offer in a far more well-rounded package.

bbe_suite_4-image12

A perpetual problem for Sonic has also been centered on developers somehow raising his game’s design to match our hyper-acuity for what we don’t like. Unfortunately, there has been little discipline to fundamentally reestablish his stance in the ‘big picture’ because there are multiple parties contributing to his overexerted legacy:

1 >>> New fans, which are primarily children that are repeating the same mistakes that many of us made when we were young.

2 >>> Old fans that refuse to admit that there may not be a problem with the games.

3 >>> Those of us who grew up and have resorted to calling foul on every single thing that the titles don’t absolutely nail.

4 >>> Developers that continue to pedal the games to groups 1 & 2, while condescendingly (albeit silently) ignoring the third group.

5 >>> The marketing folk that are amusingly distorting his image slightly askew since they know that group #1 are what still put meals on their tables.

6 >>> Did I miss anyone?

I love Sonic because he and his games have baggage in the truest sense. That’s something I can’t get with any other platformer, so I stand behind it finding some sense of solace in design, appearance, and reception…someday…maybe?

~sLs~

Tomb Raider – PS1, PC, Saturn

Lauren Wainwright – Writer – Viera.nu

Tomb_Raider_Pal

In 1996, a game called Tomb Raider was released to an audience of salivating males and impressionable girls. Its lead, a large breasted-British-brunette, not only managed to conquer the hearts of millions with blend of witty charm, and sexy looks but also became the most successful video game media darling of all time.
It’s 2009 now and Joe publics’ excitement for Lara and her dramatic archaeological discoveries has dwindled. She’s now played by more female gamers than ever before and her breasts are getting marginally smaller by the year.

Time warp back to 1996, I was 10 or 11 and life was pretty simple. All I had my video games, family life and an awkward school life to deal with. Suddenly, Lara Croft becomes an important icon in my life, and even as I hit my 23rd birthday, I still get as excited about a new Tomb Raider game as I did back then.

What was so special about Tomb Raider anyway? First of all, I had never really sunk my teeth into a decent action adventure title for quite as many hours as I did with the original TR. I really felt I have full control over Lara, even if she was dubbed as a tank. I spent hours playing around in her newly moved in mansion, the reception filled with giant brown crates to climb over. The glorified swimming pool where I developed severe Aqua Phobia, watching as Lara twitches to death and float lifelessly in the pool.

tomb4

Even small touches like holding the R1 button (PlayStation version) when Lara hulks herself up on a surface to pull off a rather pointless, but at the time highly amusing, handstand. Tomb Raider just blew me away!
The main reason Tomb Raider really captured my heart was that I really felt I was there with Lara, exploring these long forgotten tombs. Everything felt so unique and real and it really brought out the collector in me, spending hours swimming in small pools looking for secrets and medipacks.

I jumped when wolves and tigers appeared out of nowhere, when those bloody bats hit me just when I was about to take that jump over the pit, resulting in a frustrating death. Sat mouth wide open and marvelled at the intricate level design, and sheer size of environments.

Oh and remember that MASSIVE T-REX!? That thing was going to eat me and I was having none of it! Running backwards, occasionally jumping, all while pummelling lead from my trusty dual pistols until it finally dropped dead. Now I look back and laugh a little, the T-REX is quite cute now.

It really depresses me that the Tomb Raider machine has lost a lot of its public momentum. I can honestly say, bar 1 or 2 titles, the series has been fantastic so far. The latest game, TR: Underworld is probably one of the most beautifully designed adventure titles I have played in the last 2 years, and even though it reviewed well it still has sold less than the first Tomb Raider.

And you know what? I really miss walking to the edge, jumping back and taking a run up. Those were the days!

Rainbow Islands – Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, NES, Master System

Sinan Kubba – Writer and Features Editor – You Have Lost! and TheGameReviews

rainbow_islands_01

There may well be 2D platformers better than Rainbow Islands. It lacks the accommodating difficulty curve of Super Mario World, instead opting for an intimidating surge of impossibiltiy in its final quarter. Rather than featuring Bionic Commando’s array of stirring 8-bit beats, it settles for something repulsively bubbly and then sets it to loop. But when it comes to individuality, sheer eccentricity, and clandestine depth, nothing beats Taito’s 1987 arcade classic, even to this day.

What was most distinctive about Rainbow Islands was its base mechanic, namely the player’s ability to shoot rainbows. These were used to defeat enemies and as the platforms for moving up – yes, up – through the game’s levels. This unusual form of both movement and ability gave Rainbow Islands an edge over the wealth of competing platformers that were aligning themselves with the successful Mario template at the time. As the sequel to Bubble Bobble, it’s unsurprising that Rainbow Islands replicated that game’s unusual platforming elements.

And just like its predecessor, Rainbow Islands was nauseatingly cute, right down to the cutesy enemy critters that moved around with the trademark bobbing eyes and shuffling feet. But, as someone who played Bubble Bobble, I knew that Taito didn’t specialize in simplistic, childish platformers. Like Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands betrayed its charming visage with depth, vigour and mystery. In those regards, however, Rainbow Islands made Bubble Bobble look like childsplay. For me, it remains the most intricate, secretive platformer ever made.

Rainbow_islands1_qjpreviewth

Its bottomless depth lied primarily in its power-ups. On my first play through Rainbow Islands, it felt like it was handing out its items randomly. But every third item that appeared was tied in to the player’s actions. If you killed a certain number of enemies, you’d get a certain item. If you walked a certain number of steps, if you’d jumped a certain number of jumps, if you’d collected a certain number of a certain item – you get the idea. For a game made in 1987, the code within Rainbow Islands must have been disturbingly complicated. To this day there remains speculation on the requirements on some of its vast array of power-ups. And as for the power-ups themselves, they were simply awesome. The game became transformed by the ability to shoot lighting bolts across the screen, having a potent pixie bodyguard, or even being able to fly right to the top.

Then there’s the game’s wealth of secrets, way too many to go into here. If you thought Super Mario 3 had lots of secrets, then you simply haven’t played Rainbow Islands, and only the very skilled were able to unlock the Narnia held within the secret doors of each Rainbow Islands world. But for me, just completing the game was an achievement. The final two worlds represent some of the most challenging gaming to be found. I’ve only ever completed the game once, and I never will again. But I’ll keep on playing Rainbow Islands regardless, because every time I do I can’t help but let out a knowing smile. Maybe the best summary of the game’s eccentricity is its sixth world, entirely an homage to the classic game Arkanoid, and its boss is a giant Tron-esque, computerized head that shoots blocks at you. Like I said, there may be better games than Rainbow Islands, but when it comes to personality it’s right up there with the best.

Super Mario World – SNES

John Cranston – Writer – Johnus Maximus

super_mario_world

I won’t lie to you, in my early gaming days I was a complete Sega (ergo Sonic) fanboy, swearing that anything to do with moustachioed plumbers, mushrooms and princesses was nothing but utter tat. All that changed when I played Super Mario World.

In the halcyon days of the early 90’s, before Britpop and girl power, there used to be an exciting TV show for gamers – Gamesmaster. It was on that show that I remember watching clips of SMW with envy, thinking how it amazing it looked and wondering how many paper rounds would I have to do to get my hands on a Super Nintendo.

In the summer of 94, I was finally able to come to mutual understanding with a playground friend that allowed me use of a SNES for two weeks during the school holidays, and so was finally able to play what I now consider one of the most timelessly exciting and fun platform games in the history of video gaming.

I remember fondly that whimsical introduction music and a few lines of text to set the scene – Mario is in Dinosaur Land and wouldn’t you believe, that crafty rascal Bowser has kidnapped Mario’s favourite female friend. Okay, so no points for originality in the plot (boy meets girl, boy loses girl to giant dinosaur, boy goes on quest to get girl back), but it was the many other aspects of the game that just blew me away.

166

The environment art, the sprites and the animation were so beautifully vivid and really brought each stage to life, from the Donut Plains to Chocolate Island. Accompanied by Kōji Kondō’s enchanting soundtrack this was a revelation in 16-bit gaming. The sheer volume of missions, side quests, bosses and unlockable secrets was enough to keep you busy for hours on end (thank the gods for the robust save-game system).

There were Ghost Houses with creepy music and terrifying Boo’s, Switch Palaces to make previously unattainable paths possible, hidden exits which led to Star World and Special World that upon completion altered the game in many strange ways, yellow capes to let Mario fly and glide round the stages, challenging boss castles with plenty of traps and home to the Koopalings, the dastardly Reznor and of course Bowser in his clown-like flying machine.

But let’s get on to the best bit – the unsurpassed enjoyment of riding Mario’s epic mount Yoshi. During the second stage you are greeted with the site of an egg cracking open and a small green dinosaur appearing. Similarly aggrieved by Bowser they form an alliance, allowing Yoshi to eat Mario’s enemies to gain special powers and letting Mario stomp on enemies that would previously have killed him.

To say that this game changed my life is an understatement; it changed my fanboy ways forever and opened my eyes to loving all games, no matter the system. Thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto and the fifteen other people that worked on it, I will cherish its memory always.

Well, that’s part one over………Phew that was long, but so worthwhile. Check back very soon for part two of this Top Ten!

Advertisements
  1. August 17th, 2009
  2. August 21st, 2009
  3. September 20th, 2009

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: