solomon’s key

Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — #5-1

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: You can read the intro to this list here, the entries for #15-11 here, and the entries for #10-6 here.

5. Solomon’s Key (1986)

Solomon’s Key, designed by Michitaka Tsuruta, might star a sorcerer who is perpetually trapped in locked rooms, but the game’s central mechanic — the ability to create and destroy square platforms — gives the player a unique type of freedom. Most 2D platformers before and after Solomon’s Key feature platforms that are set in place, so being able to manipulate the very things that inspired an entire genre creates the brilliant illusion that you are a magician. Adding to Solomon’s Key’s sense of magic is the weird secrets throughout its 50 levels. After you accidentally make a few odd discoveries, it’s hard to resist the urge to experiment in all corners of the enchanted rooms, especially since you will be revisiting the levels many times due to the game’s high degree of difficulty. Before Spelunky and Dark Souls, there was Solomon’s Key.

4. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989)

Although Konami’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse keeps the deliberate style of the original Castlevania, it holds a different place in video-game history by reimagining how players might progress through a journey in an action platformer. After you complete certain levels, branching pathways offer distinct challenges as you inch closer to Dracula’s castle; it’s impossible to experience every level on a single playthrough. On these different paths, you can discover multiple secondary characters, each with a completely different style of play and who can replace main protagonist Trevor Belmont with the touch of a button. No matter what path or character you choose, the game is full of ingeniously nerve-wracking sequences, the best of which is the optional Clock Tower level, where you must scale the building then work your way back down through its various mechanisms. Very few platformers can compete with Castlevania III’s epic quality, and none of them can match its emotional tension, partially because of the game’s startlingly articulate soundtrack, which is one of the greatest technical achievements on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)

For a sequel to one of the most crowd-pleasing franchise hits of its era, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has a ton of gall. The game’s hand-drawn art surges with a joyful and nervous energy that has yet to be surpassed among platformers — sometimes it seems like the visuals are about to, elatedly, rip apart at the seams, as when, in one stage, you touch Fuzzy and get dizzy (an unforgettable ode to psychedelic drugs) or when the first boss, initially diminutive, blows up to take up about half the screen. Then there’s Yoshi’s Island’s bizarre and even irritating premise: to survive, the player must take care of a young Mario, who cries and floats off in a bubble whenever Yoshi is hit by an enemy. By daring to turn a Mario game into one long escort mission, producer Shigeru Miyamoto and his team make an uncompromising artistic statement, rejecting the philosophy of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And that’s why when people talk about this title, they rarely say, “Super Mario World 2.”

2. Ninja Gaiden (1988)

When director Hideo Yoshizawa decided to transform the 1988 Ninja Gaiden arcade beat ’em up into a cutscene-filled platformer — the birth of “Tecmo Theater” — he changed video-game history. As a story about a young man wanting revenge on the ninja who killed his father, Ninja Gaiden is simple, emotive, and urgent, inspiring scores of developers to try their hand at complementing action with bursts of cinematic aplomb. But no cutscene has yet transcended the Sergio Leone-inspired opening sequence of this game, which, through alternating close-ups of faces and running legs, showcases the anxiety, excitement, and tragedy of a duel. The last image in this montage is the masked visage of a son enraged by what has occurred, and so when the first stage finally starts, the player is already shot with adrenaline as they take control of a hero with quick feet, a beyond-efficient sword slash, and the ability to jump off walls. As the story becomes more complicated after each level, and as the soundtrack evokes everything from energetic rage to demonic mystery, Ninja Gaiden never lets up.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)

It’s not just that the eight worlds of Super Mario Bros. 3 contain enough ideas for several video games. It’s that the realization of the game’s concepts leads to a wide variety of emotional states. The child-like thrill of sliding down a tall hill, taking out multiple foes as you go, and landing into a pool of water. The sense of dread while you jump onto moving tanks and dodge cannon fire and walking bombs. The urge to laugh when you first see the silly oversized goombas. The shock of being swallowed alive by a giant flying fish. Whether you’re in the middle of a level, navigating a world map, or going toe to toe with a friend in Battle Mode (which is more fun than most fighting games), Super Mario Bros. 3 constantly appeals to senses and feelings and, of course, our fascination with moving an avatar on, around, between, above, and under platforms in a wonderful array of fashions.

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Octahedron Review — Sexed-Up Mechanics

by Jed Pressgrove

Whereas the overrated Celeste is more interested in death and whining than creative expression, Octahedron can’t get no satisfaction with its basic idea of a hero creating temporary platforms to reach new heights. From level to level, developer Demimonde obsessively introduces wrinkles to his game, showcasing a thirst for change that recalls the passion of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.

In Octahedron, the primary goal of every level is to reach the exit. You play as a blockheaded protagonist whose only power is to form platforms that disappear after a second or two. This premise somewhat recalls the 1986 classic Solomon’s Key, but Demimonde delivers a more urgent experience. To the textures and beats of a trance and house soundtrack, you can slide your temporary platforms to the left or right before they dissipate, allowing you to access the farthest corners of the game’s neon tunnels. All the while, you must keep count: initially, you can only create two platforms before needing to touch a permanent platform in order to recharge your precious ability.

The journey keeps morphing via a neverending well of rules, contraptions, and enemies. In one level, Demimonde gives you the allowance of 50 platforms that you can call into being before needing to land on solid ground, but this freedom comes with the price of having to navigate a maze of electrified walls while dodging the lasers of a stationary sentry whose counterclockwise rotations evoke a disco ball gone mad sniper. In another level, you can only create one platform at a time, unless you grab plus-sign power-ups in midair to add to your capacity.

Octahedron has no shortage of environmental puzzles that arrive with no detailed tutorial; Demimonde asks your lust for experimentation to match his. Thankfully, the ideas are as intuitive as they are stimulating, from pipes that suck you into different parts of levels to platforms that pop in and out of existence based on how far you move to the left or right. The affair becomes more complex when you gain the ability to conjure a second type of platform that shoots destructive beams from its bottom. This dominating power comes in handy when you must, say, deal with platforms that turn into bat-like pests once you get high enough above them.

Like many other platformers, Octahedron offers items to collect for a perfect performance. Unlike the case with Fez or Celeste, the collecting here feels orgasmic rather than constipated. Flowers bust out of light bulbs that you smash with your gliding platforms. Secret areas illuminate when you dare to go to precarious inches of the levels. Sometimes you pass the literal boundaries of stages. The fluidity and restlessness of Demimonde’s game is gasp-worthy.