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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mind the Fluid


If you recollect, gamers of the early 1990's were mollycoddled by a mass of quality platform games. I grew up playing Bubsy the Bobcat, Sonic and Toejam and Earl; and although I was hardly a critical child, I believe I became a discerning gamer through recognising and rejecting the titles which I'd have less fun in playing - the Cool Spots of my day.

Contrary to Nintendo and Sega's belief at the time, I don't think the appeal of platformers lay in the identity of each game's main character. Even to my childish mind the fun was in the fluidity. The spontaneous grace to which that bright figure on the screen would gesticulate and gyrate, I'd watch in awe until an obstacle reminded me that I remained in control. Perhaps platformers attained the best fusion of video and gaming at a time before interactive movies - Sonic's sprightly aerial springing relegated my person to the status of viewer for a few exciting seconds before placing my nimble fingers back into the digit-shaped hotseat.

I won't deny it, Ubisoft's recent offerings to the Prince of Persia shrine have proven that much of what I have termed 'fluidity' can be delivered alongside a third dimension, but much of that essential avatar autonomy seems to have been lost. For example, I've never seen the prince take initiative beyond the limits of my frantic clickery. I enjoyed that moment in Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy where Lucas broke the restrictions imposed on him by the Bust-A-Move style gameplay and shocked me by violently impacting his punching-bag off its hook and directly across his living room. If the combat (and, more generally, the game proper) of modern titles allowed for your character to amaze even you - the master and controller - once in a while, I think we'd see better games.

I believe the below video of Fancy Pants Adventure (world one) displays much of what has been lost from gaming since the demise of the 2D platformer. If you like what you see, check out the Fancypants demo.

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