Beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em up, left side to right side brilliance. The side scroller has always and will always be an integral part of video game history. From Pitfall to Mario Bros., gamers adore the side scroller for its nostalgic feel and testament to what games once were and what have become. In recent years, the format that brought us some of the classics has resurged as a popular format for console games. Always waiting in the wings, the side scroller is ready to once again seize the gaming world by the throat.
We remember jumping your way through a magical world as a plumber, sprinting through an industrialized realm as a hedgehog, shooting our way through evil robots as the robotic child of a doctor, and laying waste to aliens as some girl in a space suit. Super Mario Bros. (NES), Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega), Mega Man (NES), and Super Metroid (SNES) helped revolutionize the platform game and act as a skeleton for the new breed.
Two other genres evolved parallel of the platform game which has also become popular throughout the course of history. Beat ‘em ups generally involved a hero(s) beating the tar out of bad guys. Using minimal plot as a base for the game, the good guys used their fists rather than words. Battletoads and Double Dragon (NES) and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Playstation) are examples of classic beat ‘em ups.
Also part of the evolution of the side scroller is what became known as the shooter a.k.a. the shoot ‘em up. Aircrafts blasting alien life forms or other aircraft was often the primary and only objective of the game. Also thin on the plot front, shoot ‘em ups often provided little explanation at all as to where you were and what the hell you were doing there. Famous titles within this vein include R-Type (Sega/Playstation) and Lifeforce (NES).
A diverse genre, the side scroller has been a highly influential aspect of video game evolution. In recent years, bastard children of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario have been popping up throughout the gaming world. Becoming popular for their retro feel and often updated graphics and game engine, side scrollers are beginning to wipe out the complexity of moving in three dimensions while still creating a challenge. Those who didn’t complete the original Super Mario Bros. until their mid twenties know what I speak of.
Hack your way to glory, erase your shortcomings by altering time itself, fist-fight terrorists on the Pacific coast, and beat undead ass once again with the new wave of side scrollers.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Xbox Live Arcade, PSP, originally for Playstation)
After being defeated by legendary vampire hunter Richter Belmont, Dracula’s resurrection is at hand, and could mean bad news for humanity. The player must hack, slash, and cast their way through Dracula’s unforgiving castle as Dracula’s disobedient son Alucard. Fight legions of undead and traverse traps designed by dear old dad in order to send him back to Hell once and for all. Combining RPG with side scroller, the revolutionary SOTN offers players open-ended exploration of Dracula’s castle and a heap of secrets. Upgradeable weapons, countless items, shape shifting capabilities, and new spells that get learned via strategic button makes SOTN the perfect hybrid of platform and role playing game. Released On March 21, 2007, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night changed the entire face of Xbox Live Arcade, becoming the largest game on the network. Castlevania shattered the previous 50MB game size and changed the maximum to 2GB. You’re welcome Xbox enthusiasts.
Castle Crashers (Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network)
Incorporating elements of Castlevania including item collection, experience, familiars, and good old fashioned beat-downs, Castle Crashers emerged onto the XBLA scene in 2008. It quickly became the Arcade’s best selling game of the year, and was awarded Best Game of the Year at the XBLA Awards. The beat ‘em up incorporates up to four player action via Xbox Live or a local network. Leveling up and finding weapons throughout the game offers a role playing element without sacrificing fast-paced action. Unlockable characters as well as downloadable content give Castle Crashers a hulking replay value. Deep in capacity and online interaction, Castle Crashers has revolutionized multiplayer capability in side scrollers. I mean, think of how much better Quadruple Dragon would have been.
Braid (XBLA, Windows, Mac OS X, PSN)
Combining puzzle and platform, Braid was developed by independent software developer Jonathan Blow. Taking it back to the platform classic Super Mario Bros., the basic story revolves around a man named Tim attempting to rescue a princess from a monster. Classic. Clues embedded in the game lead to metaphorical interpretations including faltering relationships, the development of the atomic bomb; pretty basic stuff. Run, jump, climb, solve puzzles and control time, negating all of your shortcomings with the push of a button. One of the mostly highly recognized independent releases of recent history this game became the highest critically rated game on Xbox Live. The simple addition of strange game dynamics to the basic puzzle/platform format, Braid offered a critique of trends in game development. It just may have not only revolutionized how platform games are viewed, but changed the landscape of games within every vein.
Shadow Complex (XBLA)
Perhaps it’s not the first side scrolling action game to introduce semi 3D mechanics, but it’s one of the best. Part Super Metroid, part Metal Gear Solid, the main character Jason Flemming is Solid Snake’s skinnier and cleaner shaven younger brother; or maybe Samus Aran with man-parts. Designed in what is known as 2.5F, the game world is fully three-dimensional but the player can only move in two. Shadow Complex screams Super Metroid with its color coded power ups, unlimited ammo for primary weapon, bionic exoskeleton type suit, and friction dampening run booster. Inspired by Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Shadow Complex allows players to level up, boost stats, and collect a variety of personal upgrades. Minimalistic in its plot, dynamic in its design, and amazing in its game play, Shadow Complex has the combined elements of one of the most unique side scrollers to date.
They’re back. They’re sending the asses of many gamers to their two dimensional, x-y axis roots. They’re once again introducing new mechanics into the world of games. They’re the new generation of side scrollers.
All images are screenshots of their respected games in promotion for their product