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Platformers aren't dead, they're just mostly indie right now

Some people consider platformers dead, but the truth is they're alive and kicking if you know what you want.

Everyone has their favorite game genre. RPG, FPS, puzzle, RTS, MMORPG...the list could go on.

The popularity of individual genres comes and goes in waves. Right now we're in a third-person action RPG phase. A few years ago we were amidst the big first-person shooter boom. Somewhere before then, RPGs dominated all but the sports game market -- and right in the middle of that period came the fall of platformers, the genre many who played games in the late 80s and early to mid-90s grew up with.

I grew up in that era, and like many others I cut my gaming teeth on Super Mario Bros. 3. Later I moved onto Kirby and Sonic, devoured Mega Man and Castlevania, then spent ages demolishing Rareware's N64 offerings, Spyro, and Crash Bandicoot. Some move on from platformers but I have not. Platforming games are all I need.

Within reason.

Someone outside of the retro or indie gaming communities may assume the platforming genre is dead. After all, how many big name platformers have been released in the past few years? And don't point toward third-person action adventure games like Uncharted and modern Tomb Raider as examples. They may have "jumpy bits" but they are certainly do not fit within the overarching "platforming" genre.

Platforming isn't dead, it's just not AAA anymore

Despite the genre's current "sleeper" status, there are still plenty of good platformers released today for both consoles and PC. One look at Steam's "Platformer" tag coughs up 630+ results, and a sizable portion of the best on there were released within the past three or four years.

So why is it the platforming genre is generally considered "dead"? At a time when more platformers are being released than ever, one can only assume it's simply because AAA developers/publishers aren't putting them out, with the odd game in the genre released by a big publisher being minimally marketed.

Sorry, Rayman Legends.

You can take the above as it is and go, "Yep, that's it!" but the issue may just be more complex than the exclusion by big publishers.

On one hand we have a woefully small pool of marketed platforming games these days, but on the other hand we have...well, a really mixed bag of indie releases.

The genre is one of the biggest among the indie development community. Indie platformers come in all styles, difficulties, types, and quality levels. And the quality levels are where people who are less familiar with the indie scene have trouble -- with platformers being one of the easiest genres to make, there are a ton of indie releases in the genre that are less than spectacular.

In the land of indie platforming games

There are 630+ games on Steam tagged as being platformers. But what percentage of that 630+ is worth your time? Not a ton, but wading through the indie game pools can lead to some truly stellar platforming experiences.

There are a lot of great games of the genre on Steam, but let's be real: A lot of what's available isn't exactly what most people would even consider halfway good.

Spelunky is, though. You should play it.

I'm not saying this is indicative of the average quality of platformers today, but it is something that every modern fan of the genre that plunges into the grimy depths of indie platforming games has to bear in mind when they're looking for something new.

Now let's be totally clear: Some of the indie-developed platforming games I've played over the past few years fit very snugly into my list of favorite games: La-Mulana, Spelunky, Risk of Rain, Freedom Planet, Wings of Vi, Rogue Legacy, Rabi-Ribi -- these are just a few of the indie platformer offerings that have won my heart (and rage) over the past three years. And each one is insanely different, showing creativity in the genre isn't dead.

It'd be too easy to lament the amount of not-so-great options out there these days, but variety is the spice of life. Many new developers migrate towards the genre because it's easiest to dive right into making, and everyone has to start somewhere. And that somewhere may lead to something truly special later.

The future of platforming

You may not see advertisements for the genre anymore, but it is by no means dead. Indie developers have kept the platforming train chugging along, filling the genre with respectable games and keeping the hype alive for what's to come.

Platformers may be hiding in the corners of both hardcore and casual gaming for now, but it's not going to be that way forever. The genre dips in and out of popularity as soon as another genre strangles the market share, but it never goes away. It never will -- platforming is one of the few genres developers haven't squeezed all the potential from, and it's possible they never will.

While I am eagerly awaiting upcoming indie platformer darlings Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Laylee, even without those big names coming I could do just fine with what's else is on the pipeline. There's so much in terms of the platforming genre today, it's hard to get dissatisfied with what's available, even among the sub-par options. There are just too many good platformers out these days to count, much less let the bad wash away the good.

Just because platforming games don't get the attention they used to doesn't mean they're dead, and it certainly does not mean there aren't any amazing recent releases. Platforming is the one genre that can stand the test of time -- and right now it's standing quite proudly, regardless of its current marketing clout.

Published Feb. 16th 2016

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