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The Future of Platformers: Looking Forward To Super Mario 3D, Land, LittleBigPlanet Vita, The Last Guardian, and More!

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Posted October 19, 2011 - By Guest Writer


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The Future of Platformers: Looking Forward To Super Mario 3D, Land, LittleBigPlanet Vita, The Last Guardian, and More!

The hop and bop genre has been through quite a bit since its humble beginnings, when Pitfall Harry and Mario first took their first leaps of faith. We’ve seen the rise and fall and rise again of the mascot platformer, the renaissance of 2D, and the advent of user-generated content.

Platformers have always been incredibly important to Nintendo, being the flagship franchise bearer’s genre of choice, but increasingly, we’re seeing plenty of innovation in Sony’s devices, and on the indie-friendly platforms – including Xbox Live Indie Games, IOS devices, and even in browsers.

Indies have been making waves by kicking it old school with a twist (see VVVVVV and Bit.Trip.Runner for a couple of excellent recent examples), breathing new life into both the aesthetics and the mechanics of the 8-bit platformers that paved the way. Think of it as revisionist history. Meanwhile, 2D has come back into style again, with the runaway success of New Super Mario Bros., and larger studios are mixing and matching genres to give the hop n’ bopper new tricks.

Looking ahead, unique physics, experiments in perspective shift, and genre blending are going to be the strongest trends moving forward. From industry standards like the big N and Sony all the way down to the tiniest indie studios, experimentation is keeping the genre alive and well in 2011 and 2012. Here are a few of the most exciting and likely influential games on the horizon.

The Future of Platformers: Looking Forward To Super Mario 3D, Land, LittleBigPlanet Vita, The Last Guardian, and More!

Super Mario 3D Land

The humble plumber who could represents both the past and the future of the genre. Mario’s upcoming adventure is a throwback to the 2D adventures of yore, while presenting the world in crisp Mario Galaxy style 3D.

Built expressly to shepherd gamers who took kindly to the New Super Mario Bros. series into the third dimension, it plays heavily on nostalgia (see: the raccoon suit is back!), while dishing up new challenges for everyone. If Nintendo is good at anything, it’s reinventing Mario – and next month’s 3DS release looks like it will point the way forward for both the franchise and their handheld strategy.

Luigi's Mansion 2 Coming To The Nintendo 3DS

Luigi’s Mansion 2

Also a prime Nintendo property, Luigi’s Mansion 2 marks the second time Mario’s brother will grab the spotlight in an adventure of his own – a brand new take on 2001’s underrated puzzle-platformer. Mixing 3D environments with both 3D and 2D action (with layered graphics courtesy of the 3DS’ signature capabilities),

It’s another key example of Nintendo’s strategy on its latest handheld – they’re innovating on established brands, mixing 2D and 3D gameplay in novel ways, and trotting out the Mario bros. at every opportunity.

Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes

The future of platformers is… rhythm games? It just might be, if this stylish, abstract, and absolutely beautiful Vita game sparks a trend. Playing the game tasks you with moving your abstract little avatar around a field with simple blocks – called notes – that all add to the soundscape when you hit them. It plays like a sort of chilled out, up-rezzed version of one of the Bit.Trip games in its interplay of 2D graphics and pumping soundtracks, and a very cool take on blending genre staples.

In another impressive core feature, players will be able to “compose” and share levels, using an intuitive interface that lets you select instrumental elements and arrange them into stages. Other people can play and “remix” your creations, making for a nice twist on the “play, create, share ethos” that LittleBigPlanet made so famous.

The Future of Platformers: Looking Forward To Super Mario 3D, Land, LittleBigPlanet Vita, The Last Guardian, and More!

LittleBigPlanet Vita

This series deserves a spot in the platformer hall of fame for making good on its simple tagline: play, create, share. LBP 1 introduced the idea of make your own levels, LBP 2 tasked players with bending genres (while increasing the incredibly robust creation tools), and LBP PSP made it all portable. The Vita version is one to watch, with new creation tools, animation tools, and the best new feature of them all – touch screen controls.

The Last Guardian: 11 Things You Should Know

The Last Guardian

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, both PS2-era masterpieces, showed just how emotionally resonant the action/adventure/platformer style of game can be. The Last Guardian, a true spiritual successor (and the third game from the same team), will continue designer Fumito Ueda’s quest to make adventure matter emotionally, by combining elements of the first two titles with now-gen graphics and behavior.

Players take control of a young boy who befriends Trico, a huge cat/dragon/bird looking beast that will respond in kind to the way you treat it. The creature has a mind of its own, so you’ll need to find different ways to get it to help you solve the giant environmental puzzles scattered throughout the world. You’ll also be using Trico as a big, intelligent moving platform – how’s that for innovation in the genre?

The Future of Platformers: Looking Forward To Super Mario 3D, Land, LittleBigPlanet Vita, The Last Guardian, and More!

The Bridge

Here’s a game that will be a complete surprise to you unless you play in the indie circles, but it’s central conceit is so clever, and it so beautifully exemplifies the innovation that the best indie platformers bring to the table that we couldn’t exclude it from the list. An Indiecade finalist and Dream.Build.Play Innovation Honorable Mention, this black and white “pencil-sketch”-style game imagines the player as a Victorian gentleman trying to find his way about a bunch of ultra-confusing structures straight out of an MC Escher painting.

Players need to rotate the world - think EchoChrome, but in 2D, and with many more layers of puzzle structure - in order to traverse the deviously drawn environments. You can grab the demo from the game’s official site right now – go indies!

Shifting the world (along with moving the player) is one of the most intriguing trends in the genre, and something shared with our next item on the list.

Fez

Fez

Like The Bridge, Fez is a celebrated upcoming indie that requires gamers to twist the world around the player character, the 2D rendered “Gomez”. Your little guy is flat in all the right ways, but the world around him is 3D - think Crush or Super Paper Mario on steroids and you are halfway there. With bright graphics and a totally clever central mechanic, this title has been hotly anticipated for years – and it’s been a PAX 10 selection and Indiecade best in show.

When it finally releases in early 2012, Fez will be teaching the big boys new tricks.

Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, digital media professor, and nonprofit web ninja from Boston. You should

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