satoru iwata

Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — #10-6

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: You can read the intro to this list here and the entries for #15-11 here.

10. Downwell (2015)

Some might define Downwell as a shooter, but developer Ojiro Fumoto ingeniously riffs on one of the platformer’s most common features: the ability to dispatch an enemy by bopping them on top of the head. In Downwell, you can safely bop certain enemies but get injured by touching others, and it’s this concern that gives this pacey game its fundamental tension as you try to rack up combos or merely survive through the greatest fall in video-game history. The newest game on this list, Downwell shows that Fumoto is a brilliant independent artist who should get more attention from the gaming press (which is too obsessed with, among other things, the randomly generated sci-fi banalities of No Man’s Sky).

9. Kirby’s Adventure (1993)

Kirby’s Adventure doesn’t exactly conform to the standard notion that platforming should involve a distinguished approach to jumping. This Nintendo classic — which has the fingerprints of the late and great Satoru Iwata, in addition to those of long-time Kirby and Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai — is more driven by the freedom to fly, and Kirby’s copycat ability both complements the established formula of 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land and predicts the surreal, morally dubious nature of Super Mario Odyssey. As a game where you can casually advance through its levels or dive deep into its hidden areas through fun uses of the hero’s many powers, Kirby’s Adventure has flexible appeal and is one of the greatest technical achievements of the 8-bit era.

8. Spelunky HD (2013)

I’d like to meet someone who has stopped discovering tricks and quirks in Derek Yu’s Spelunky HD. The fundamentals of this game — the climbing and hanging, the running and jumping, the throwing and dropping — are fine-tuned to an absurd degree, and Yu’s level design strikes an impeccable balance between randomness and familiarity. And pay attention to the game’s underrated satirical undercurrent, where the protagonist’s greed and treachery — the damsel in distress, who is wryly labeled a villain in an in-game notebook, can literally be used as an object — are almost always rewarded with death.

7. Mega Man 3 (1990)

An honorable mention in my 15 greatest shooters list, Mega Man 3 fully realizes the potential of its predecessors. This game’s silky smooth run-and-jump action, a revelation after the slippery play of the first two Mega Man games, is accompanied by faster screen-to-screen transitions and a now-legendary move, the slide, that redefined how the blue hero can travel and react to threats. The game’s kinetic flare makes it hard not to feel propelled through its gauntlet of outstanding villains, from Snake Man to Gemini Man to Top Man. (For more on the greatness of Mega Man 3, read my essay here.)

6. Donkey Kong (1994)

The best remake in video-game history, this Game Boy masterpiece opens with the four levels of 1981’s Donkey Kong before sending the player, as Mario, on an indisputably epic quest. Without a tutorial sucking the creative spirit out of the whole affair, you’ll learn how to create temporary ladders and bridges, ride on the heads of harmless enemies to reach higher ground, take advantage of a highly athletic moveset (a clear inspiration for the acrobatics of Super Mario 64), and more as you identify and then carry a key to open the door to the next stage. This stunning interpretation of Donkey Kong as a limitless well of dynamic action is also an audiovisual home run, with sound effects that pay homage to the arcade classic, an urgent soundtrack that ranks among the best on the Game Boy, and cinematics that amusingly reimagine Mario’s neverending pursuit of the titular antagonist. Jonathan Blow, eat your heart out!

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In Honor of Satoru Iwata, Not Consumerist Fantasy

by Jed Pressgrove

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is dead. When you look at his history as a developer, executive, and, most importantly, a joyful man, it’s no surprise that perfect strangers have felt intense sadness in the days after his death.

Both Iwata’s amiability and cause of death (cancer) make it difficult to be critical in assessing his impact on video games. Yet it’s important to celebrate what Iwata did versus what some people want him to represent as part of a consumerist fantasy.

Iwata’s passing presents an opportunity to reflect on the role of his enthusiasm and vision in Kirby’s Dream Land, often dismissed as too simple by critics who overlook the elation and originality in the game’s marriage of platforming and storybook appeal. Unfortunately, this artistic milestone hasn’t received as much attention as Iwata’s supposed creation of a “gamer” world. While I have no problem with the term “gamer” by itself, the word has been and will continue to be used to patronize audiences, as in Chris Kohler’s article “Thanks to Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata, We’re All Gamers Now.” Kohler describes Iwata’s legacy as “bringing them [games] to everyone” within the last decade, yet he can only support this notion with a nonexistent scenario: “[T]he perception that games as a medium are not ‘for’ any particular gender or age of person is gone, thanks in great part to Iwata’s pursuit of game hardware that would weaken such barriers and software that would tear them down entirely.”

The suggestion that video games no longer have any possible negative connotations in terms of gender and age is ludicrous, but the bigger problem lies in dollar-sign logic. Intentionally or not, the basis of Kohler’s eulogy has more to do with his belief in Nintendo product than it does with Iwata’s influence. Overstating the effects of Nintendo marketing is different than acknowledging Iwata’s vision for an inclusive gaming mainstream.

Iwata used “gamer” in a context much more articulate than unofficial members of the conservative and progressive gaming parties are likely to admit: “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” Iwata’s comment is remarkable not only in its admittance of his privilege but also in its separation of the corporate and the personal. His perspective should inspire us to reconsider “gamer” as an internal conviction rather than as a marker of consumptive standing. If we can’t see the humanity in Iwata’s phrasing or in Kirby’s Dream Land and EarthBound, what’s the point of remembering him?