Nothing warms my heart more than a well-designed 2D platform game. The genre is like home-made lasagna: familiar, comforting, and evocative of simpler times.
Some of the best gaming moments of my life involved trying to finish a succession of platformers from Pitfall to Mario to Sonic. To this day, I still maintain that the most under-rated three-game series of videogames is Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3.
One of the best and most comforting attributes of the 2D platformer is that, even today, all variants continue to pay homage to Miyamoto’s masterpieces.
The top 10 platform games of all time
If you’ve read my column prior to my recent shift to tablet games, you know I can’t resist a good list. They are essential to (my) life. Case in point: This evening, I had a brief skirmish with my friends regarding the top 10 most influential musicians from the year 2000 to now. The specific question that triggered this heated conversation was: Is Kanye West on this list? (My answer = no, and to protect them from eternal embarrassment, I will refrain from naming my friends who thought otherwise.)
Dokuro, the game that most commanded my attention the most his week, caught my eye because it is a fairly pure, nostalgic blend of Castlevania, Little Big Planet, and Mario—with some modern underpinning elements.
It is retro enough that it made me collect my thoughts around my call of the top 10 platform games of all time. After considerable thought, I’d place them in this order:
10. Super Mario Bros. 2
9. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
6. Sonic the Hedgehog
5. Earthworm Jim
4. Little Big Planet
3. Super Mario Bros
2. Donkey Kong Country
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
My pick for this week’s spotlight is no different from some of the above games in that it puts forth a constant and compelling forward motion, a captured princess, a love lost, and a Dark Lord. It also creates such a strong sense of place and mood through visual design, sound design, and gameplay that it stays with you for a surprisingly long time.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that this is an iOS and Android conversion from a PlayStation Vita game developed by Game Arts and published by GungHo Online Entertainment—the same GungHo that created Puzzles and Dragons, one of the biggest mobile hits of 2013. (How big? When I was working at Wikia earlier this year, the wiki for Puzzles and Dragons quickly set all-time records for wiki traffic, content creation, and growth.)
The narrative concept is simple: You control Dokuro, a ghastly-looking character trying to save a princess from the Dark Lord who wants to marry her.
The gameplay is similarly straightforward, with a few intriguing twists. You move Dokuro from left to right over a series of interconnected levels, solving puzzles and manipulating the environment in a manner that allows the princess—who is also constantly moving from left to right—to survive. From time to time, however, you will need to drink a potion to transform into a handsome-ish prince and carry the princess across stages of various levels. (Tragically, she never seems to care who you are, and at times, you’ll wonder if she is even aware of your presence.)
Another twist is the game’s haunting themes and tones, which feel more in line with a twisted children’s fantasy than most games. Homage to Mario and Castlevania and even Limbo is evident here, but with a uniquely baroque vibe.
From a pure game design perspective, the most interesting aspect of Dokuro is how varied the game mechanics are. You jump and double-jump your way through some levels, use touch-based gestures in others, and fight traditional-looking enemy monsters as well. As the complexity ramps up, you’ll find yourself performing combinations of all three actions, and then some.
This is where Dokuro shines: Much like the original Mario games, you become more motivated to save the princess than you could ever imagine. And you’ll find yourself playing and failing and experimenting and playing and failing over and over again in an effort to figure out each level.
One other note here: The tutorial feels like a breakthrough for a mobile action game. The screenshot says it all really, but what Game Arts has accomplished with its use of instructional in-game signage is pretty unique. More importantly, it is not obtrusive like so many other tutorials.
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Other tablet games I’m playing
1. The Room 2: I travelled a lot last year, and got totally and completely hooked on The Room—a surprisingly absorbing mechanical puzzle game. FireProof Games is back at it, with an equally awesome sequel.
2. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga: I confess to being a total Lego fanboy, so I’m super excited about the debut of all six Star Wars adventure on iOS. Phantom Menace is free, but you’ll have to pay for episodes II through VI. Totally worth it.
3. AntiSquad: Interesting and surprisingly deep turn-based strategy game about a group of vigilantes intent on wiping out criminal elements in Mexico, East Asia, and other locations.
4. Heroes of Dragon Age: A remarkable extension of Electronic Arts’ famed role-playing games. Build your party, fight monsters…and the in-app purchasing element isn’t obnoxious. Available for both iOS and Google Android.