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What Makes a Game a Platformer? A Deep Dive into the Origins and Characteristics of Platform Games

Welcome to the fascinating world of platform games! These games have been entertaining gamers for decades with their unique blend of action, adventure, and challenging gameplay. But have you ever wondered why they are called platform games? And what makes a game a platformer? In this article, we will explore the origins and characteristics of platform games, and discover what sets them apart from other genres. So, buckle up and get ready to dive deep into the world of platformers!

The Origins of Platform Games

The Early Arcade Classics

The early arcade classics played a significant role in shaping the platformer genre. These games laid the foundation for the elements that would come to define the genre, such as jumping, running, and climbing. Some of the most influential early arcade games include:

Pong and the Rise of Video Games

Pong, released in 1972, was one of the first video games to gain widespread popularity. It was a simple game that involved players controlling a paddle to hit a ball past their opponent. While Pong was not a platformer, it was a significant milestone in the history of video games and paved the way for the development of more complex games.

Donkey Kong and the Creation of the Platformer Genre

Donkey Kong, released in 1981, is often credited with creating the platformer genre. In the game, players controlled Jumpman (later renamed Mario), who had to navigate a series of platforms while avoiding obstacles and trying to rescue a damsel in distress from a giant ape named Donkey Kong. The game featured the iconic “jump” button, which allowed players to jump over obstacles and onto higher platforms.

Donkey Kong introduced several key elements that would become staples of the platformer genre, such as jumping, climbing, and obstacle-filled environments. The game’s success led to the creation of numerous sequels and spin-offs, including the iconic Super Mario Bros. series.

Other early arcade classics that helped shape the platformer genre include Pitfall!, Super Mario Bros., and Sonic the Hedgehog. These games built on the foundation laid by Donkey Kong and expanded the genre in new and innovative ways, making platformers one of the most beloved and enduring genres in gaming history.

The Evolution of Home Consoles

The NES and Super Mario Bros

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a groundbreaking home console that revolutionized the gaming industry in the 1980s. Released in 1985, the NES introduced a platform game that would become a staple of the genre: Super Mario Bros. Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. featured a plumber named Mario who could jump, run, and defeat enemies by stomping on their heads. The game’s level design, which involved navigating platforms and avoiding obstacles, set the stage for future platformers.

The Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog

In 1988, Sega released the Sega Genesis, a 16-bit home console that competed with the NES. To compete with Nintendo’s flagship character, Sega developed Sonic the Hedgehog, a platform game that emphasized speed and momentum. Created by Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, Sonic the Hedgehog featured a blue hedgehog named Sonic who could run at high speeds, jump, and spin into enemies. The game’s level design emphasized fast-paced gameplay, with loop-de-loops, springs, and ramps that encouraged players to move quickly through levels. Sonic the Hedgehog became a massive success and spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs, and merchandise, cementing its status as a classic platformer.

Characteristics of Platform Games

Key takeaway: Platform games, also known as platformers, have become a popular genre among gamers. They are characterized by jumping and running mechanics, collectibles, power-ups, and level design and progression. Platformers have evolved over the years, resulting in numerous variations and subgenres, such as Metroidvania, Run-and-Gun, Puzzle-Platformer, and Rhythm-Based. The joy of platforming, the challenge of overcoming obstacles, and the emotional connection with relatable characters and worlds are some of the reasons why platform games are so popular. As technology continues to evolve, platformers will continue to adapt and innovate, ensuring their ongoing relevance and importance in the world of gaming.

Jumping and Running Mechanics

The Importance of Platforming in Platformers

In platform games, the player character’s ability to jump and run is the core mechanic that drives the gameplay. Jumping and running are essential movements that allow the player to navigate through various obstacles, overcome challenges, and reach new areas. These mechanics are the foundation of platformers, and without them, the genre would not exist.

Different Types of Jumps and Movements

There are various types of jumps and movements in platformers, each with its unique characteristics and functions. Some of the most common jumps include:

  • Simple jump: This is the most basic jump in platformers, where the player character jumps into the air and falls back down. This jump is used to clear small gaps and obstacles.
  • High jump: This jump is performed by pressing a button at the right time during the jump to extend the jump’s height. High jumps are used to clear larger gaps and obstacles.
  • Double jump: This jump involves two consecutive jumps, where the player character jumps into the air, then jumps again before hitting the ground. Double jumps are used to navigate complex obstacles and platforms.
  • Gliding: This is a jump where the player character jumps and then glides through the air, allowing them to cover long distances or reach high places. Gliding is used to explore large areas and reach hidden areas.
  • Sliding: This is a move where the player character slides along the ground, often used to avoid obstacles or enemies. Sliding is also used to gain speed and perform certain moves.
  • Dashing: This is a move where the player character quickly dashes forward, often used to overcome short distances quickly or to avoid obstacles.
  • Climbing: This is a move where the player character climbs walls or ledges, often used to access new areas or to navigate around obstacles.

These different types of jumps and movements add variety and excitement to platformers, making them a popular genre among gamers. They also require precision and timing, which adds to the challenge and satisfaction of playing the game.

Collectibles and Power-ups

In platform games, collectibles and power-ups play a significant role in enhancing the player’s abilities and progressing through the game. These items can range from health upgrades to special abilities that allow the player to traverse the game world in new ways.

The Role of Power-ups in Platformers

Power-ups are items that temporarily enhance the player’s abilities or give them a brief advantage over their enemies. They are often found throughout the game world and can range from simple health upgrades to more powerful weapons or special abilities.

One of the most iconic power-ups in platform games is the “super” or “hyper” ability, which temporarily grants the player increased speed, strength, or invincibility. These abilities are often used to help the player overcome challenging obstacles or defeat powerful enemies.

Another type of power-up is the “multi-directional” ability, which allows the player to move in multiple directions or jump higher. This ability is often used to navigate the game world more efficiently and overcome obstacles that would otherwise be impassable.

Common Collectibles in Platform Games

In addition to power-ups, platform games also feature a variety of collectibles that players can gather throughout the game world. These collectibles often serve as rewards for exploring the game world and can include items such as coins, gems, or other items that can be traded for upgrades or power-ups.

One of the most common collectibles in platform games is the “heart” or “life” upgrade, which increases the player’s maximum health. This item is often found by defeating enemies or breaking open crates and chests throughout the game world.

Another type of collectible is the “score” upgrade, which increases the player’s score multiplier. This item is often used to rack up high scores and earn additional rewards.

Overall, collectibles and power-ups play a crucial role in platform games, providing players with the tools they need to overcome challenges and progress through the game world. By understanding the role of these items, players can better strategize and optimize their gameplay experience.

Level Design and Progression

The Importance of Design in Platformers

In platform games, level design plays a crucial role in determining the player’s experience. The design of each level must be carefully crafted to create a sense of progression and challenge. This includes factors such as the placement of obstacles, enemies, and collectibles, as well as the layout of the level itself. A well-designed level will keep the player engaged and encourage them to continue playing, while a poorly designed level can frustrate and turn players away.

The Role of Progression in Platform Games

Progression is a key element in platform games, as it drives the player forward and keeps them engaged in the game. Progression can take many forms, such as unlocking new abilities or areas as the player progresses through the game. It is important for progression to be tied to the player’s performance, so that they feel a sense of accomplishment as they progress. Without a clear sense of progression, players may become bored or disengaged, leading to a decline in player retention.

Additionally, progression can also serve as a form of reward for players. As players unlock new abilities or areas, they are rewarded for their efforts and are encouraged to continue playing. This sense of reward helps to reinforce positive gameplay habits and can help to keep players engaged over the long term.

Overall, level design and progression are two key elements that contribute to the success of platform games. By carefully crafting levels and providing a sense of progression, developers can create games that are engaging, challenging, and rewarding for players.

The Platformer Formula

The Standard Platformer Template

The standard platformer template consists of a player-controlled character navigating a series of obstacles and enemies while progressing through levels. The player must time jumps, dodges, and attacks to successfully complete each level. This template has been the foundation for many classic platformers, such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog.

The Variations and Subgenres of Platformers

Platformers have evolved over the years, resulting in numerous variations and subgenres. Some popular subgenres include:

  • Metroidvania: Games that feature large, interconnected levels and a focus on exploration and backtracking, often with a growing collection of abilities for the player character. Examples include the Metroid and Castlevania series.
  • Run-and-Gun: Games that emphasize fast-paced action and shooting, often with a continuous scrolling background. Examples include Contra and Metal Slug.
  • Puzzle-Platformer: Games that combine platforming mechanics with puzzle-solving elements, often requiring the player to manipulate the environment to progress. Examples include Portal and Braid.
  • Rhythm-Based: Games that incorporate music and rhythm elements into the platforming mechanics, often requiring the player to time their actions to the beat of the music. Examples include Dance Dance Revolution and PaRappa the Rapper.

These subgenres showcase the versatility and adaptability of the platformer formula, allowing it to be tailored to various interests and playstyles.

The Appeal of Platform Games

The Joy of Platforming

The Thrill of Jumping and Running

Platform games offer a unique experience that sets them apart from other genres. One of the main reasons for their popularity is the joy of platforming. This includes the thrill of jumping and running, which is deeply satisfying for players.

The Challenge of Overcoming Obstacles

Another aspect of platforming that contributes to its appeal is the challenge of overcoming obstacles. In platform games, players must navigate through levels filled with hazards, enemies, and other challenges. Successfully overcoming these obstacles is immensely rewarding and creates a sense of accomplishment.

The combination of these elements creates a gameplay loop that is both challenging and rewarding, making platform games an addictive and beloved genre.

The Emotional Connection

The Relatable Characters and Worlds

One of the primary reasons why platform games have such a strong emotional connection with players is the relatable characters and worlds they present. Many platformers feature protagonists that are likable, brave, and resilient, embodying traits that gamers can admire and identify with. These characters often face challenges and obstacles that require them to grow and adapt, which mirrors the personal experiences of players. The journey of the protagonist is a reflection of the player’s own journey, as they overcome adversity and strive for progress. By embodying these characters, players can feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as they help the protagonist navigate through the game’s world.

The Memorable Soundtracks and Visuals

Another factor contributing to the emotional connection in platform games is the memorable soundtracks and visuals. Many classic platformers are known for their iconic and catchy music, which becomes deeply ingrained in the minds of players. These tunes evoke nostalgia and create a sense of familiarity, which reinforces the emotional bond between the player and the game. The visuals in platformers are also designed to be visually appealing and immersive, with vibrant colors, imaginative environments, and well-designed character models. These aesthetics contribute to the overall atmosphere of the game, creating a world that players can lose themselves in and become emotionally invested in. By combining captivating music and visuals with relatable characters, platform games create an emotional connection that keeps players engaged and coming back for more.

The Future of Platform Games

The Impact of Technology on Platformers

The Rise of Mobile Gaming

Mobile gaming has had a significant impact on the platformer genre. With the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, developers have been able to create platformers that are accessible to a much larger audience. This has led to an explosion of creativity in the mobile gaming space, with developers experimenting with new mechanics and designing games specifically for touchscreens. As a result, mobile platformers often emphasize simplicity and ease of use, with controls that are intuitive and accessible to players of all ages.

The Influence of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have also had a profound impact on platformers. VR platformers use motion controllers to create a more immersive experience, allowing players to move their characters through virtual environments in a more natural way. AR platformers, on the other hand, use the player’s real-world environment as the game world, with digital elements overlaid on top. This creates a unique blend of physical and digital gameplay, with players interacting with both the real world and the game world at the same time.

Both VR and AR have the potential to revolutionize the platformer genre, but they also present unique challenges. Developers must carefully design their games to take advantage of the unique capabilities of VR and AR hardware, while also ensuring that the gameplay remains intuitive and accessible to players. As these technologies continue to evolve, it is likely that we will see even more innovative platformers that push the boundaries of what is possible in gaming.

The Evolution of the Platformer Genre

The Revival of Classic Platformers

As the gaming industry continues to evolve, classic platformers have seen a resurgence in popularity. This revival can be attributed to several factors, including the nostalgia-driven desires of gamers, the emergence of retro-inspired indie games, and the increasing demand for remastered versions of old favorites. Many gamers look back fondly on the golden age of platformers, which spanned from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, and are eager to relive those experiences. As a result, numerous classic platformers have been re-released on modern consoles, while others have been remastered with updated graphics and sound.

The Emergence of New Subgenres and Indie Games

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of indie games that draw inspiration from the platformer genre. These indie games often experiment with new mechanics, art styles, and storytelling techniques, resulting in a diverse range of platformer subgenres. For example, there are platformers that focus on exploration and discovery, such as the popular “Metroidvania”-style games. Other subgenres include “roguelike” platformers, which incorporate elements of roguelike games, and “musical” platformers, which require players to time their jumps and actions to the beat of a musical soundtrack.

The emergence of these new subgenres is a testament to the enduring appeal of platformers and the creativity of indie game developers. By pushing the boundaries of what a platformer can be, these games continue to innovate and challenge players in new and exciting ways.

The Importance of Platformers in Gaming Culture

The Continued Appeal of Platformers

Timeless Gameplay Mechanics

One of the primary reasons for the continued appeal of platformers is their timeless gameplay mechanics. The simplicity of controlling a character as they navigate through obstacles and enemies is an engaging experience that transcends generations. This core gameplay element has allowed platformers to evolve while retaining their essence, ensuring that they remain relevant in an ever-changing gaming landscape.

Accessibility and Family-Friendly Content

Another factor contributing to the enduring popularity of platformers is their accessibility and family-friendly content. These games often have minimal violence and a focus on exploration, problem-solving, and lighthearted humor. This approach appeals to a wide audience, including children and casual gamers, making platformers a staple in many households. The universality of these games ensures that they maintain a broad fan base, even as new genres and gaming trends emerge.

The Impact of Platformers on the Gaming Industry

Platformers have had a significant impact on the gaming industry, shaping it in various ways. They have inspired numerous game genres, such as metroidvania and side-scrolling action games, and have influenced game design principles, level design, and character progression systems.

Moreover, platformers have been instrumental in the development of new technologies and innovations in gaming. For example, advancements in animation, graphics, and sound have been driven by the need to create immersive platformer experiences. The evolution of platformers has also pushed the boundaries of game control schemes, with the introduction of dual-analog controls and motion-sensitive technology, such as the Wii Remote and PlayStation Move controllers.

In conclusion, platformers have not only withstood the test of time but have also played a crucial role in shaping the gaming industry. Their impact on game design, technology, and the broader gaming culture has been immense, making them an essential part of the gaming landscape. As the industry continues to evolve, it is likely that platformers will continue to adapt and innovate, ensuring their ongoing relevance and importance in the world of gaming.


1. What is a platform game?

A platform game is a type of video game that involves the player controlling a character that can jump, run, and interact with the environment. The player must navigate the character through a series of obstacles and enemies to reach the end of the level or complete a specific objective.

2. Why is it called a platform game?

The term “platform” in platform game refers to the various platforms or ledges that the player’s character can jump between. These platforms are a fundamental part of the gameplay, and the player must use them to navigate the environment and overcome obstacles.

3. What are the characteristics of a platform game?

Some of the key characteristics of a platform game include the ability to jump and run, a variety of obstacles and enemies to overcome, power-ups and special abilities, and a series of levels or stages that increase in difficulty as the game progresses.

4. When did platform games first appear?

The first platform game was created in 1980 and was called “Space Panic”. Since then, platform games have evolved and become a popular genre in the video game industry.

5. What is the origin of platform games?

The origin of platform games can be traced back to the arcade games of the 1980s. These games were designed to be played on a machine with a joystick and buttons, and they often featured simple graphics and addictive gameplay.

6. Who are some famous characters in platform games?

Some famous characters in platform games include Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot. These characters have become iconic figures in the gaming world and have appeared in numerous platform games over the years.

7. What are some examples of popular platform games?

Some popular platform games include Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot. These games have been beloved by gamers for decades and have influenced many other platform games that have followed in their footsteps.

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