What is a Platform Game?

Everything your need to know about platformer games

A platformer is a video game in which the game-play revolves heavily around players controlling a character who runs and jumps onto platforms, floors, ledges, stairs, or other objects depicted on a single or scrolling (horizontal or vertical) game screen. Though similar to it, this is not the same as an auto-runner game. It is frequently classified as a sub-genre of action games.

The first platform games were developed in the early 1980s making it one of the earliest video game genres to exist, but the term platform game or platformer wasn't used until a number of years later to describe the games.

Tree and platforms in platform video game
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Many game historians and fans consider the 1980 release of Space Panic to be the first true platform game while others consider then 1981 release of Nintendo's Donkey Kong to be the first. While it's debated which game actually started the platform genre, it's clear that early classics such as Donkey Kong, Space Panic, and Mario Bros were very influential and all had a hand in shaping the genre.

In addition to being one of the first and most popular video game genres, it is also one of the genres that blend in elements from another genre such as leveling and character abilities that can be found in role-playing games. There are many other examples where platform game contains elements from other genres as well.

Single Screen Platformers

Single screen platform games, as the name suggests, are played on a single game screen and typically contain obstacles the player must avoid and an objective he or she tries to complete. The best example of a single screen platform game is Donkey Kong, where Mario travels up and down steel platforms dodging and jumping barrels being thrown down at him.

Once the single screen's objective is complete the player moves on to a different screen or stays on the same screen, but in both cases, the objective and goals for that next screen typically become more challenging. Other well known single-screen platform game includes Burgertime, Elevator Action and Miner 2049er.

Side and Vertical Scrolling Platformers

Side and vertical scrolling platform games can be identified by their scrolling game screen and background that moves along as the player moves towards one edge of the game screen. Many of these scrolling platform games can also be characterized by multiple levels. Players will travel across the screen collecting items, defeating enemies, and completing various objectives until the level is complete.

Once complete they'll move onto the next, typically more difficult level, and continue. Many of these platform games also have each level end in a boss fight, these bosses must be defeated before advancing to the next level or screen. A few examples of these scrolling platform games include classic games such as Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pitfall!

Decline and Resurgence

As graphics have become more advanced and video games, in general, more complex, the popularity of the platform genre has declined considerably since the late 1990s. According to the video game developer website Gamasutra, platform games only accounted for a 2 percent share of the video game market as of 2002 while they made up more than 15 percent of the market at their peak. In more recent years, however, there has been a resurgence in popularity of platform games.

This is due in part to the popularity of recently released platform games such as the New Super Mario Bros Wii and classic game packs and consoles that have been released in recent years but is primarily due to mobile phones. Mobile phone app stores, such as Google Play for Android users, are filled with thousands of different types of platform games, and these games have introduced a new generation of gamers to the genre through the re-release of older games and new original games.

Some amazing freeware platformers include classic remakes as well as original PC titles such as Cave Story, Spleklunky, and Icy Tower that can be downloaded and played on your PC for free.

In addition to the many freeware platform games available for the PC, there has been a resurgence in the platform genre on mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, and other tablets/phones. Popular iOS platform games include Sonic CD, Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid, and League of Evil to name a few.

  • What is a 2D platform game?

    It's a platform game in 2D as opposed to 3D. Before the late 1990s, the overwhelming majority of platform games, and all video games really, were 2D because of technical constraints. In the modern-day, making your game in either 2D or 3D is an aesthetic and design choice.

  • What is a platform game engine?

    This refers to the underlying engine that powers a platform game. Most platform game engines aren't specific to platform games, though. Popular platform game engines include Unity, one of the most popular game engines out there today, that's used to make many kinds of games.

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