Flapperdoodle's Gaming Blog Ep. 98: THE PERFECT PLATFORMER! Ep. 10: First Levels (Multi-g1 Special)
Oh yeah, now my hatrid of putting any words in this section for this show is 10 times as large...
Ladies and gentlemen, we have finally made it! Everyone's favorite show about the best of the best elements in platforming games has hit its first ever milestone! For the last nine episodes, we have discussed things that platformers strive to master, whether it be sidekicks, robots, graphical design, or challenge! But today, we are gonna get some outside opinions, so let's get started! It's time for the original Flapperdoodle series,
If you read the title correctly, you will notice this is the 10th episode of this spankin' awesome series, and at first, I was writing up a typical episode. But ya know what? This is a cause for celebration, so I had to do something special to commemorate it. So, I gathered up 16 of my bestest buddies right here on ScrewAttack, and I asked them a simple question, "What is your favorite first level in platforming?". With that question being said, today's topic is,
First levels have a lot to live up to when it comes to platforming games. Not only do they have to teach you how to play the game while still staying enticing for the player, but they also have to want you to keep playing. It has to seamlessly introduce you to this world, and it has to be convincing and easy to get into. If you have a boring, choppy, poorly designed first level, the player won't want to play the game! It's all about first impressions, and while a first level doesn't need to completely sell the game, or be perfect to prove a game good or not, but the first level is still very important when playing any game, let alone platformers. Hell, even Egoraptor knows what I'm taking about, considering many people watched his Sequelitis episode which went into insane detail on how well done the first level of Mega Man X was.
So, with that being said, instead of me choosing four first levels, I wanted this to be a more personal episode, and I wanted it to be larger in scope. It is the 10th episode after all. So, I gathered up some friends, and they all sent me responses on their favorite first levels. So without further ado, he are all the responses I got. Enjoy!
The Emerald Zone (Sonic The Hedgehog 2)
The Emerald Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is such a great first stage. Its very colourful, fast, fun, and the music is excellent. It definitely takes you back to the good old days of blast processing. I simply like the jungle and green stuff and Sonic runs real fast with the spin-dash. So that is why the Emerald Zone is one of the best first stages.
Green Hill Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog)
I wasn't a huge gamer when I was really young, so I had no idea what the Genesis was or what 32-bit graphics were like. All I remember is that one day, for whatever reason, my family got a Genesis and from then on I was hooked. I played through Green Hill Zone at least a dozen times. One of the greatest things about it is it's all there to show you how amazing 32-bit consoles are.
The bridge dips as Sonic runs across, he gets a little air on the ramp following it. A little later on the little outcropping of land breaks as he walks on it, maybe he falls, or maybe he's quick enough to get across and hit the checkpoint. He gains speed as he runs down the hill, speeds through the loop, curls up into a ball and spins through the curvy tunnels, gets some crazy air off a ramp, grabs a bunch of rings, destroys the badnik on his way down... It's all designed to wow you and it works perfectly every time.
Another great thing about it is that isn't the only route. You can hop up onto some floating platforms and run across the top of the level, or maybe you fall when the outcropping collapses and you have to run through the bottom of the level. Green Hill Zone is a great introduction to a great game and the best thing about it is it's only the beginning.
Green Hill Zone (Sonic The Hedgehog)
The Green Hill Zone is a great example of a level that successfully grabs the player's interest early on in the game. Sonic the Hedgehog is well known for his signature speed, and the open fields of this first level allow the player to experiment around with the maximum potential of said speed, which is also coupled with cooperative level design. The design is simple enough to adapt new players to the gameplay without scaring them away from the experience, but the multiple paths still allow for a good deal of exploration. The bright fields and pleasant colors also contribute to a happier environment, which lets the player know that he or she is certainly welcome. And the music is of course one of the most memorable songs in the series, which may largely be due to its optimistic and upbeat instrumentals. The overall experience culminates with a final boss that initially intimidates the player, but once the villain and his massive wrecking ball are pushed back, then the player feels a sense of hope and victory.
Ceres Space Colony (Super Metroid)
It was rare to see a Super Nintendo game that tried to be atmospheric and rarer to see it be pulled off well, but lo and behold Super Metroid pulls it off with flying colors! After being informed that an incident had just occurred at the Space Colony Samus had just unloaded a Metroid into, the player is brought back to a once civilized space craft only to find it dead-out of power and riddled with corpses. The player continues further into the ship to find more corpses as they begin to wonder what the source of it all is until they reach a final room to find the lone baby Metroid… and beside it the giant, flying, space dragon Ridley.
People who have played through the game through before know the fight against is meant to end in a draw, but it still does an excellent job keeping the tension high, since the player can’t rely on the power-ups they would regularly have. The lack of power-ups also makes it all the more satisfying when you do take down Ridley later on with more fire-power. Suddenly a self-destruct sequence is activated, Ridley fleas, and you realize why the designers put all those oddly constructed, yet empty rooms between you and the entrance. They act as an obstacle course for you to overcome. Better hurry and overcome them, the ship is about to explode. You frantically try to escape and hopefully succeed. The atmospheric isolation, followed by the 'intro-fight' with Ridley, and the final attempt to escape to your ship all combines to make a damn fine intro to arguably the greatest game for the SNES.
"First Three Rooms" of Brinstar (Metroid)
I keep thinking about my very first platforming experiences - from the first level of Super Mario Bros. to the one from Donkey Kong Country 2. But one "level" in particular comes to my mind that I think nobody gives enough credit.
It's the first three rooms of the NES classic, Metroid. Hardly a first level, by any means, since you could call the entire Brinstar area the first level, but these first couple of rooms actually tell you exactly what is Metroid all about. Back when you were a kid, the only platforming experience you had was that packed-in title called Super Mario Bros. In it, you learned that the objective of the game was simply reach from Point A to Point B, with no chance to go back to Point A. In Metroid, it's a little different. A new player would naturally just go right like in a Mario game, but two rooms later you'll find an obstacle - a large wall with only a tiny tunnel on the bottom. You can't croutch nor dash, so that trick you always did in the Mario games to sneak in tight holes is out of the question. Instead, you do the natural thing: turn back. When you do, you find out that there was a segment of the game on the LEFT side of where you spawned, and it is there where you get your first item: the Maru Mari, also known as the Morph Ball. It is there that you learn that not only you can actually turn back to where you spawned, but also that the game is designed so that there's always a tool out there to overcome a certain obstacle. It's just a simple puzzle, but it's clearly one that defines what Metroid is all about.
Test Chamber 0 (Portal)
Portal might start out a bit slow, with GLaDOS telling you all the basics and you getting used to the portal physics. But something about the first couple of levels gives you that triumphant feeling, as if you could now solve any puzzle the world throws at you. It all starts when you put that box on that button and say to yourself "I'M A FREAKIN' GENEUS!" And from then on, you become hellbent on completing all the puzzles the game has because you don't want the game to win. You refuse to let the game introduce you to a puzzle that you can't solve. And it all starts with those first couple of levels to give you that boost of brainpower. Not only that, but the first few levels (along with the rest of the game) improve your logic skill and make you smarter! The first levels when GLaDOS is talking to you make you feel as if you aren't very alone. But once she tries to kill you, all the feeling of belonging is gone. The first levels are there to lure you into a false sense of security before turning on you. If that isn't clever game design, I don't know what is.
Level 1-1 ('Splosion Man)
I'll admit, this was hard. Really hard. I've been gaming longer than some g1s have been alive and the platformer is one of my favorite genres. The first level is obviously really important as it gives you your first impression of the game. I had to think long and hard about this, and I'm willing to bet my response is going to leave more than a few people scratching their heads.
My favorite first level in a platformer is the first stage of Splosion Man. You read that right, stop rubbing at your eyes. Splosion Man is great. The level opens with two scientists speaking in gibberish. There is sudden explosion and the flying debris decapitates one scientist. Immediately, a fountain of.....STEAKS AND COLDCUTS erupts from his neck. Then Splosion Man leaps into the room, giggling wildly and clapping his hands. From there you take control and it only gets more insane.
Everything about this first level is perfect. Tight controls for running. A to splode, B to splode, X to splode, and Y to splode. Pulling off a triple wall jump or detonating on a barrel in midair to launch even higher is fun,rewarding and challenging. The character himself also sells the first level. He holds his arms out and makes fake airplane noises. He shouts Bork bork bork! He does cartwheels. He giggles like a madman the whole time. Throw in great music, hidden cake bonuses that Splosion Man freaks out over, and this is an amazing first level. Seriously, if you play this level and don't find yourself grinning like an idiot... seek medical attention immediately.
Bob-omb Battlefield (Super Mario 64)
Hmm…favorite, first platforming level, huh? That’s a toughie, but I’m going to with Bob-Bomb Battlefield. Why? Because aside from being the first level in my favourite game of all time, it embodies the very essence of the type of entertainment I enjoy most: simple on the surface, yet rich in goodies underneath. And that’s exactly what Bob-Bomb Battlefield is all about, as there’s so much to do in such small and basic parameters: fight a giant bomb, race a giant turtle, outsmart a giant ball with teeth, you get the idea! And I wouldn’t have it any other way, either.
City Escape (Sonic Adventure 2)
An intro level to a 3D platformer has a tricky job indeed. It needs to engross the player immediately yet keep a mild difficulty, be epic yet not hyper sensory. You don't want to scare the player. You need to introduce the main concepts of play that the player will be using for 90% of the game, and finally, there should be an incentive to return to this level at a later date.
My favourite first level in a Platforming game is City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. Straight away "WHOA FUCK YES SONIC IS SKATING DOWN SAN FRANSISCO WHILE AN ELITE GOVERNMENT UNIT IS TRYING TO KILL HIM UUUGHHH FUCK YES". Epic, check. Engrossing, check. When the skating part comes to an end then you have a bit of time to mess around with the controls. Enemies not far off test your homing attack, and for now that's all you need. Later you'll learn how to do the somersault and that's 90% of what you'll be using through the game. Check.
Also, in Sonic terms, this should be a good time to introduce it's main feature, Speed. And yup, the minute you start running down the hill, fast as all hell. Even when you're running down the building, you're in awe of just how fast and awesome this game is, and will be. What seals the deal is the final chase at the end, with the truck coming after you. This is the OH SHIT RUN RUN FUCK, introducing a mild difficulty into the players head (even though it ends up being really easy). Cue end level Cue orgasms everywhere.
As I said it shouldn't be too complicated or overly crazy, and it isn't. It's in a city, that's easy to understand. Imagine if the first level had been on the ARK? The one thing that could've been done better would be the music. Don't get me wrong, I love "Escape from the City" as much as the next guy, but if you contrast this song with the rest of the music in Sonic Adventure 2 it's very different, and could've fooled the player into thinking all levels would be like this musically. On the flipside, this song made this level very memorable for everyone who played it, so maybe it was for the best.
That's how you do a first level right ;)
Ceres Space Colony (Super Metroid)
My favourite first level for a Platformer is in Super Metroid, what? Not Mario or Sonic? Does Metroid even count as a Platformer? OF COURSE IT FUCKING DOES! YOU JUMP ON PLATFORMS, DON'T YOU? YES! SO SHUT UP! *Ahem* So, anyway, the opening level/sequence is a truly spectacular one, especially given the limitations of the SNES. Basically, you answer a distress call from a Science...ship...thing, and when you arrive, everyone's dead and it's all dark and quiet! Spooky, right? So anyway, you go into this room, and oh look! There's the Baby Metroid! You go over to get it and then...oh...OH SHIT! What's that in the background? OH FUCK IT'S RIDLEY! AHHHHHHH! And he flies around and shit and you gotta shoot at him and it's real hard cause you don't know the controls yet, AND THEN HE MODE 7'S AT YOU and then the ships all like WOOP WOOP WOOP DANGER DANGER and you've gotta RUN OH FUCK RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! BABBABABABAOOOM BOOM! 1 MINUTE TO ESCAPE! AHHHHH! THE SCREEN'S TILTING SHIT IS EXPLODING OH NO! OH NOOO! OHH NOOOOahh I made it. And then Samus flies away and the real game begins. The first level is just 5 minutes long, roughly but it's so fucking epic! Super Metroid is a brilliant (if not infuriating at times) game and the opening is easily one of the main reasons why.
Intro Stage (Mega Man X)
I'd hate to take a page from someone else's book, but I'm going to have to copycat Egoraptor and say that the best first level in a platformer is the intro stage for Mega Man X. It just lays out every single solitary thing you need to know about the game, from the gameplay, to the main story and goal, all in one single level. It is a perfect example of classic game teaching mechanics before the age of tutorials, and pixelated storytelling without the aid of instruction manuals. It's just perfect.
World 1-1 (Super Mario Bros. 3)
The first level of any Platformer is the most crucial part in not only preparing the player for what lies ahead, but also engrossing them in the game's world with it's mechanics. When discussing about first levels, I like to use the word “playground”, essentially, the first level in any perfect Platformer is like a playground; where the player is free to test and play around with the game's platforming mechanics.
Super Mario Bros. 3's first level nails down this concept perfectly, not just this game, but almost all Nintendo first party Platformers do. Remember Egotaptor's “Sequelitis” episode on Megaman X, where he analysis the first level and demonstrates why it is perfect for tutoring the player about the game? The same can be said for level 1-1 on SMB 3. Obviously players who have experienced previous Mario Plarfomers already know of the basics, such as, jumping and moving right to get to the goal. What about first time players? What's the first thing you notice when you start the level? A Goomba. This will teach first time players the super basic jumping mechanics of the game. I could literally sit here and analyze World 1-1 and why it is perfect for first time players. If one were to look at 1-1, they would be able to see what the developers were aiming for. Designing it for both new and experienced players.
Every Mario game brings something new to the table, this time around there are new power ups (as to be expected) and most importantly – the 'P' Meter. Right at the early stage of the level, players will notice a '?' Block on the ground. It's just there and you can't do anything. Jump on it? Tried that, nothing happened... Then what!? Hey look, a Koopa! *POW* Maybe if I hit the Block with this shell? *Ta-daa* New power up! The Super Leaf? Raccoon Mario? Ah, yes. Raccoon Mario, with the ability to fly. This is where the “playground” aspect of the first level comes in. Everyone knows (I hope everyone knows) how to fly as Raccoon Mario, you will need to fill up your new 'P' Meter by running then tapping the 'A' button repeatedly. In no time, Mario will be soaring through the clouds.
The first level wasn't meant to be played through only once, but multiple times. The first time around, you might beat the level the normal way, you know... by jumping. However, when you return to that first level, you will have learned about the ability to fly, so this time around you'll probably beat it by differently. When flying high in the sky, you'll reach platforms you couldn't see before, a new area of the level has been discovered! This keeps the level fresh and from becoming tedious from playing through it multiple times over; there's always different ways players can go about completing it.
You hear that? Yeah, that; the music. The music has that classic Mario feel to it, which is awesome. It goes perfectly with the feel of the level.
World 1-1 of Mario Bros. 3 is a short level, which makes it perfect for first time players and veterans; where they can easily swift through it. Nintendo knows their level design and I haven't seen a developer do better!
The Vale of Tears (Alice: Madness Returns)
Dunno if I should be introducing myself, or what not, but hi, I'm g1 Kainin.
My platformer is not your typical one. In fact, this game is actual classified as a Horroresque game, but it does have some platforming elements to it.
The game I am discussing, is Alice: Madness Returns. Madness Returns, is the sequel to American McGee's Alice, for PC. In Madness Returns, we have a slightly older Alice Lidell, who has grown up some, since the previous game. Alice must once again return to Wonderland, and restore it, along with her fragmented mind. Once you arrive in Wonderland, you might get a bit distracted by the colors and design of the game. The art is very breath-taking, and the terrain is very detailed, right down to the smallest items (and trust me, you we see this when you shrink yourself)
After I got the camera-angles down, it was interesting seeing where you could go. Like most platformers, timing is everything, but in Alice, proper depth perception can save your life. Alice can run, jump, climb and float her way through each level. Aside from a few minor frustrations, I thoroughly loved everything in this game.
Pop Star: Level 1 (Kirby 64: The Crystial Shards)
Favorite first stage in a platformer... wow, that's a tough one. I think I'm going to have to go with the opening stage of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, Pop Star. First reason it is my favorite opening to a platformer, the music. Just right on par with what we've come to expect from Kirby games, awesomeness. It's light and fun to listen to. It isn't pulse pounding or lulling, it's just flat out fun, just like any Kirby game ever made. Second, the stage starts my favorite Kirby game and one of my favorite N64 games. Sure there are other great games on the N64 and in the Kirby series, but this one is on top, or near top, in both categories. And the third reason, it's the level that starts your obsession. What obsession is that? The power to combine and get new forms. So naturally, you have to find them ALL. Electricity and ice makes you a food throwing fridge, bomb and cutter makes you a ninja throwing explosive stars, fire and blade gives you a flaming sword Kirby spits out of his mouth. Heck this game's power-ups made a ScrewAttack vault , because they are that awesome! It is the quintessential first level with teaching you the mechanics of the game and showing you why they are awesome, while at the same time being insanely fun to mess around in.
Border Village (Commander Keen [in Goodbye Galaxy!] - Episode 4: Secret of the Oracle)
Ah, platformers. They sow seeds and tend to their crops and - no, wait, that's plot-farmers. My bad. Platformers, on the other hand... well, I would say that platformers are one of my favourite kinds of games, but that's a bit redundant - they're a favourite kind of game to everyone. But after going back and forth from Rayman 3 to Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, I realised the only platformer I could talk about, knowing safely that it was my favourite, would be Commander Keen 4, the first game I ever played.
Border Village pales in comparison to the bigger, better levels later in the game, but it's still full of nostalgic fun, from the hidden items and the secret exit, to the giant underground statue of a slug. Seriously. It's the perfect level to learn the basics to the game, it has a catchy, upbeat tune, and it has enough secrets to warrant replaying a few times. All in all, it's a great introduction to one of my favourite games.
Sorry for the plot-farmer joke. If you can call that a joke.
City Escape (Sonic Adventure 2)
Today I'll be talking about Sonic Adventure 2's First levels, City Escape.
City Escape: You are a kid, you just selected the Hero part because you think heroes are awesome, and then you suddenly see a Blue Hedgehog escaping an helicopter and using one part of it, as an Snowboard,You have you mind BLOWN, and then the level is loading, the level finishes to road and you are snowboarding down hill of a city streets Escaping. Now,the first thing you try is moving, you use you Analog stick to move left and right you probably crashed some cars, but it didn't hurt you. You are going down and you see a ramp ahead, you look down on your controller, you know that the B button doesn't do jumping so, the first button you press is the biggest one, which is (talking in Gamecube controllers) the A button, and then ZOOM, you jump and do a magnificent trick.
You finish going downhill to actually going on foot!? Confused you are, but you still go on. You see a little robot and you approach it and it tells you it's name, Omochao, and that it is here to help you. You probably don't mind, go on, and then a robot appears, you know it's no good, so you see the controller, and press the jump button again, and you destroy the robot. Moving on, you then start running. and accidentally, you are running on walls at high speed! You then encounter a wall of boxes,you press the A button but you can't do nothing, but hey, your friend Omochao tells you to do a Somersault pressing the B button! You do it, and then you see a line of rings on a rail, the natural thing to do is jump on the rail and BOOM, now you slide on the rail. After that, you go at high speed through another wall and there you find right at the same high a capsule, but you don't know how to reach it. What do you do? You press the A button and then press it again to see what it does, but instead of a double Jump, you do a homing attack!
You then find yourself going at crazy high speeds until you are ambushed by enemies. There are more than one, so you know the jump button won't cover it. You then remember the homing attack, and see if it works on enemies. You try it and tear those robots to pieces! Now you know that the homing attack works against enemies. You continue running around ,and then you find a weird box, your friend Omochao then tells you that inside that box is the Key to the Chao Garden. You do a somersault, and carry on. After doing that epic building walking, you land on a stick, and you see Sonic spinning around it. You see that there is a red Line when Sonic does the spin,you press the A button and then Sonic does a trick! Then you do it again, and after that, you seem to have gained a power up which makes you invincible against enemies! You use the homing attack, and rail your way and then suddenly…
A GIANT TRUCK WANTS TO MURDER YOU… RUN!
You survive the truck, and then you see a giant ring with the Words "Goal" in it. You touch the ring, and done!
Now let's see what this level teaches us:
- You move with the analog stick
- You jump with the A button.
- Omochao is a guide for you.
- You can jump to destroy enemies.
- You can run into walls if you are in high speeds.
- You can slide on rails.
- You can do a homing attack to get things in midair or do a chain attack on enemies.
- When Sonic is spinning on a stick he can reach inaccessible places.
- There are power ups.
- And Sonic is awesome.
Thanks Flaps for letting me contribute in this. Lime out.
And… that's it! Lots of good choices huh? Yup, I think I made the right call going in this direction, I wanna thank every g1 who participated in this project of mine, I really appreciate it, even if some of them came in late. Be sure to subscribe to every single one of these awesome people on their ScrewAttack pages, and be sure to subscribe here so you never miss an episode of The Perfect Platformer! Thanks for reading everybody, only two more blogs to go before hitting triple digits!
- Larry :)
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