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2D Reciprocity: Games that should be continued in 2D
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posted by: Chris Martin
date posted: 12:00 AM Mon Dec 6th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Mon Dec 6th, 2004

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Is it just me, or are videogames quickly becoming the next "moving picture"? After the advent of sound in films (or "talkies"), and implementation of ideas by film directors/critics like Sergei Eisenstein and André Bazin, moving pictures grew into a worldwide phenomenon, and, eventually, into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Videogames have grown up, too. But they have been growing more quickly than their photography-based brother due to the contemporary computer and graphics scene, which is constantly changing and evolving. They have even usurped film as a dollar-for-dollar, pound-for-pound industry.

Games are becoming expensive to produce, graphically dependent bombshells that require companies to put more emphasis on launches, hypes, and (if they have one) familiar franchises. Like movies, videogames now have a formula. Find this key, kill this boss, and open this door. See enemy, shoot enemy... and so on. And videogame characters have become the "actors" of our age, making appearances in commercials in order to persuade gamers to purchase another cartridge or disc. Mario alone has starred in an uncountable number of adventures, sports games, racing games, and party games. But he's a veteran -- he's like a Marlon Brando or Richard Burton (I suppose in that way, Peach is like Elizabeth Taylor?).

In any case, it's the up and coming "actors" -- the Nicholas Cages, so to speak -- that are dropping these bombshells. And strangely, these characters are becoming more popular than some other pop culture icons. To put things in perspective: I once saw a film where a child had difficulty identifying a picture of Jesus -- I wouldn't doubt if he knows who Master Chief, Link, and Solid Snake are.

I don't mean to sound negative about these new games. That is not my intention. They are (sometimes) gorgeous labors of love that have shifted the once-2D market into a whole new realm. The new wave of games makes me proud to be a gamer, to be spending a good chunk of my time away from my loved ones. Games innovate and expand the game scene in much the same way Pong did table tennis. For example: games have shifted from "just for kids" to "kids and adults alike." They have innovated storytelling and pushed video hardware to an extreme. Constant advancement. Remember the first time you saw Black & White or Half-Life? Let's not kid ourselves (or our pocket-books), the new age of games is constantly changing and evolving, becoming more desirable and more socially acceptable.

There are many games that successfully made the jump from 2D to 3D. Some weren't so lucky. Some were lost in the annals of the 16-bit systems, or ignored because of the clamor of the new, better, bigger games. Where did the old games go? Well, some are still here, if only in spirit (long live Streets of Rage 2!). Others have been forgotten completely, or replaced. Most you have to buy off Ebay. Let's not forget it was the 2D classics that brought about the innovation in games we have today -- without them we'd still be in the gaming "stone age." And with the seasons quickly converging and the glee of Santa fitting down my vent merely a month off (I don't have a chimney), I've compiled a list of 10 old school games that I hope would see the light of day again in 2D form on any of the new systems.

10) Final Fantasy series: Why did they ever stop making 2D versions of Final Fantasy? Final Fantasy III is still, arguably, the greatest of the series, and it didn't boast polygonal characters or highly textured objects either. It had an ingenious story and some unforgettable characters (I miss you Kefka). Now I know you're thinking, "But they're still making Final Fantasy games!" Well yes, they are. But for an RPG the storyline is its selling point, not the graphics. And, well, the storylines of the new games have not mustered the same old "fantasy" that they used to. Square-Enix -- formerly Square, formerly Squaresoft -- could always set aside a small development team for the sole purpose of advancing the 2D Final Fantasy games. It would be easy, they have the resources. It would be a dream come true for a veteran to Final Fantasy. But will they? Well?

9) Sonic The Hedgehog: Anyone who has played Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 can tell you, the spunky blue hedgehog has seen better days in 2D. Sega has even gone so far as to re-release the old Sonic franchise on the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. The games include Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic Spinball, etc. for a total of 20 classic games (the Gamecube version has a few less). I have a hard time believing that Sonic has done it all, and that there's no challenge left in the old blue blur -- I still pop in Sonic 2 now and again and remember how great it was to beat up a floating, egg-shaped man.

8) Zombies Ate My Neighbors: I remember -- a long time ago -- staying up very, very late trying to kill evil, alien worm-thingies with soda grenades. Oh! How wonderful were those days when zombies could be easily dispatched by a squirt-gun! Now they take all sorts of wacky firepower. The two-player simultaneous play was a riot, and taking out those axe-wielding dolls was pure satisfaction. Konami could bring this game back to any console and people would go ape over it. Zombies Ate My Neighbors was a riot from beginning to end, even if they brought it back in 3D it would be a hit.

7) Samurai Showdown: Samurai Showdown is one of the best fighters ever (and the best fighter for Neo Geo) and boasts a hardcore fanbase. Showdown has had iterations on PlayStation in the past, but never reached the glory of the original. This one might not be such a dream; Samurai Showdown 5 is being worked on by SNK for Xbox and PlayStation 2. Let us hope 5 stays in 2D, lest it succumb to the same fate as Street Fighter.

6) Mutant League Football: How great is a football game where you can literally obliterate the opposing team? Shenanigans, illegal plays, and sharp objects are the name of the game here. I remember the satisfaction of making my center split an opposing tackler in two. Mutant League Football needs to be remade, now. Right now!

5) Smash T.V.: Remember this one? Smash T.V. and its semi sequel Total Carnage were fast, furious, bad-guy blasting fun. Utilizing two joysticks -- one to move and one to fire -- Smash T.V. kept the action hot and smoking, while giving enough power-ups and point bonuses to keep any gamer happy. Add in 2-player co-op and the times get a-merrier. Recently, Midway re-released Total Carnage on their Midway Arcade Treasures 2 bundle, one of the most enjoyable games of the lot. It would be a pleasure to blast things again in new landscapes, with some upgraded resolution and some more giant headed bosses.

4) Gauntlet series: I am liable to offend some people by saying the Gauntlet Legends series was less than satisfactory, but there was only so much that 3D could do to the already stellar wizard-and-warrior series. It was fun, for a while. The ability to buy level-ups gave it some more options, but it was more of the same... just prettier. I find it easier to imagine great levels, challenges, and numbers of enemies on, say, a portable system like the Nintendo DS (wireless link play, anyone?) which could bring some triple A gaming to an already impressive handheld. In fact, the 2D level style would lend itself to the layout. Puzzle-like levels? Sure! Random dungeons? That would work. And imagine the uses for the DS touch-screen in a game like that. Red wizard needs health badly? Just touch an inventoried food. Still, most games that go 3D don't go back simply because of gamer expectation -- this is why a portable would be perfect for Gauntlet.

3) Mario series: I love Mario. I love Mario Tennis, too, but I wish they'd work on giving Mario a new game of his own -- a new 2D game of his own. Forget the water gadget of Mario Sunshine. The worlds of Mario are not all conquered. The great thing about Mario is that he could go anywhere, do anything.  Desert? Sure! Mountains? Heck yeah! Giant ice slide? Bring it on! The joy I experienced in Mario 64 is not the same joy from Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3. Sure, the Nintendo 64 gave him freedom, but also depth-perception issues. Half of the greatness of the old Mario games was the strategy at getting passed certain obstacles with jumping, picking up shells, and hurling them with pinpoint precision. Jumping was what Mario did best. After all, he was originally called Jump Man. I miss the plain 2D, cape-wearing, hammer-smashing plumber. And I don't mean Game Boy Advance ports of SNES classics. I don't care how many castles I have to search through, I must find the princess.

2) Earthworm Jim: Sure, this one isn't going to happen, but I can dream. The Shiny team has disbanded, rejoined and disbanded over the course of so many years that I am not even sure if they exist anymore. I don't want to even hear about the lackluster N64 game; Jim needs 2D like Brittany Spears needs a drive-through annulment chapel. EWJ was one of the most revolutionary 16-bit 2D games ever made. It encompassed everything from artistic flair, sardonic humor, and firepower. I laughed my jaw off when I tipped over the goldfish's fishbowl at the end of Down the Tubes. I soiled my knickers when I saw the cow fall on Princess-What's-Her-Name. I still have my copy for Genesis, Level 5 still haunts me, and Psycrow chases me through my nightmares. Groovy.

1) Castlevania: I decided to end on a positive note. The Castlevania series has been rather productive in contrast to the other games on this list. Ever since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the Playstation, 2D games seemed to just pale in comparison. For those not familiar with Symphony of the Night, you play Alucard, son of Dracula (Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards). Alucard is a badass. He's one of the best anti-heroes since Snake Pliskin from Escape from New York.

In this 2D platformer (a genre almost solely the realm of Game Boy games, nowadays) you hunt down demons in the attempt to right the wrong of your big daddy. The game was chocked full of secrets, an upside-down castle, and the controls were spot-on: perfect. The game itself was a marvel to behold, combining elegant symphonic music and gorgeous sprites that not only did justice to 2D games, but to all the hardcore Castlevania fans out there. It did away with the whip and chain of the old Belmonts and introduced an RPG style of leveling with an inventory and numerous weapons, sub-weapons, and powers.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was one of the finest 2D games ever, hands down. They are still inviting change and evolution into an already good series. There have been attempts at 3D versions of Castlevania (with 2 versions on N64) but it failed to generate the same quality that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night did. They tried again at 3D with Lament of Innocence on PS2, which was a much tighter, more polished 3D Castlevania, but still was no where near the quality of Symphony. Since this series is still being developed (mostly for Game Boy Advance) I, and many other Symphony fans, can only welcome the return of Alucard and the world of Castlevania to its 2D roots.

Though it's only a hope, there is light for some of these games. The possibility of a return to 2D is in the hands of the publishers who lay out the money. And with the great new things happening with graphics and physics engines, companies are much more reluctant to go back to the past. Companies are always looking for the bigger, the better. It's good to look ahead, but one cannot help but wonder if our gaming roots will be forgotten, the way we used to play cast aside. Movies, even nowadays, are shot in black and white sometimes. Color in films only became mainstream (there were short color films before this) when Gone with the Wind used it in 1938. I remember the height of Nintendo's 2D empire with the SNES. It was just two decades ago that games were as simple as 2 paddles and one wacky, pixilated ball.

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