Nostalgia is serious business. In gaming, it’s also a profitable business. When the 16-bit era gave way to the PlayStation and Saturn, polygon-based 3D games turned our side-scrolling past into ancient history.
But after a few months of struggling with unruly cameras and bland, textureless environments, we began to feel a bit lonely for sprite graphics and 2D platforming. Sony America reluctantly loosened its laws against 2D titles, and games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Mega Man 8 reminded us that while change is good, there’s a reason why 2D games kept us thoroughly entertained for years on end.
3D games have in fact co-existed with 2D “throwbacks” for years. The aforementioned Mega Man and Castlevania series, for instance, have maintained a lesser presence on consoles, but have thrived on handheld systems like the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. Handheld systems are traditionally a step or two behind consoles in terms of power, making them an ideal stable for two-dimensional games.
But the PSP can already handle some pretty hefty graphics processing, and of course the whole spiel behind the Nintendo 3DS is 3D graphics. Do we stand at the cusp of another 3D game glut, wherein 2D games will be forgotten and finally fade out of existence?
Yes and no. As previously stated, nostalgia is a profitable business if marketed correctly. There’s still a demand for 2D, mainly from twenty- and- thirty-somethings who want to chew on the unforgiving challenges that Nintendo reared them on. And then there are the ladies and gentlemen who have an appreciation for sprite-based artwork.
But today’s 2D enthusiast may well be forced to put games on the backburner while his or her career and/or family life heats up. Younger gamers will step up to the challenge, but their gaming pasts won’t be steeped as strongly in 2D as the previous generation’s was. As a result, 2D games will therefore probably tuck further into their niche, which means fewer developers will want to finance and distribute a side-scroller on a system that emphasizes 3D magic.
It sounds like grim times for 2D fans, but there’s no reason for us to despair. The Nintendo 3DS will feature accessibility to the Nintendo DSi Shop, or some variation. Digitally-distributed games running wholly on the nostalgia engine like Mega Man 9 illustrate that developers still love their old-school goodness. In fact, a studio is more likely to indulge itself and make a 2D game for a downloadable service, whereas it would otherwise have to consider carefully before throwing everything into a 2D adventure that might not sell beyond a nostalgic audience at retail.
Moreover, the rise of 3D on the Nintendo 3DS and the potentially increased segregation of 2D on Nintendo’s download services might give the Nintendo DSi Shop a much-needed vitamin shot. DSiWare has potential, but few developers are using it, and fewer users are downloading from it. If some big-name titles become DSiWare exclusives, people will have an incontestable reason to haul their 3DS online.
In other words, don’t fret over the state of 2D gaming. It’s a tough little guy, if a bit grizzled. It’ll do fine, even as consoles get fancier.