In the past few weeks, I’ve been revisiting quite a few old games with greater interest than usual. From complete playthroughs of Metal Slug X, Aladdin on SNES, and Halo: Combat Evolved, to some dabbling in EarthBound, for whatever reason I felt it necessary to revisit some classics that I missed out on long ago. It’s been a fun adventure into the past, and it really helps to put current gaming into perspective when you see the facets of yesterday’s gaming and how they evolved.
One game in particular brought on a realization about the transition from 2D to 3D, specifically how most of the early forays into the third dimension failed to capture the same control ingenuity that had been honed in 2D for so long. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a game beloved by many. Allow me to (attempt) to put it into a negative, yet realistic perspective.
No, I did not play the Nintendo 64 offering of Kirby when I was a kid. The N64 was the console to introduce me to gaming, but I wasn’t old enough to realize that game stores were a thing and I mostly played what I got: a whole lot of Toy Story 2, Mario Kart 64, and Super Mario 64. So I was excited when a friend pulled out a cartridge of Kirby 64 and offered to let me give it a swing. I’ve always been a big of the series and wanted to see how well it first made the transition into 3D.
With exception of Kirby Air Ride (which is NOT a Kirby game), there have only been two true 3D Kirby games to date. Crystal Shards was first, and Return to Dreamland came second on Wii a few years ago. They thrived in 16 bit on both the SNES and the GBA, and Kirby games have always offered a certain smoothness to their controls that give a high level of immersion. It’s a sensation that makes you feel connected to the games with near biological perfection, a feat too often missed by developers.
Kirby 64 misses that mark. No, I am not going to argue that it’s a bad game. It’s plenty fun, and deliciously unique for a Kirby game. But does it feel nice to play? Does Kirby flow through the levels with a high level of agility? No. It’s slow, like walking through molasses. Suddenly I had to relearn everything I had ever known with Kirby, and I wasn’t pleased.
I began to remember the frustrating experiences I’d had with that whole generation. 3D games are a tenacious bunch, constantly upgrading and evolving with time. Their majority represents a newer, more consumeristic mentality of flash and pizazz that gets outdated fast. There’s a reason Star Fox was one of the ugliest games ever on the SNES, even though it was a system filled with what I consider stunning artistic prowess. Someday I’ll look back at Uncharted and think gross, how did I ever think THIS looked good. I’ll ALWAYS find Muramasa: The Demon Blade beautiful. And that was on the Wii.
Now I’m not trying to be old fashioned for the sake of being a hipster and I certainly do believe that great things can be achieved with 3D. In many ways, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is everything Kirby’s 64 wasn’t for me. It was bright, beautiful, varied, and most importantly smooth. The industry knows how to make 3D games now, and how to make them work (for the most part, at least). But that doesn’t change the fact that games that relied on fast paced action in the N64 and Playstation era do not function well today when compared to what has been accomplished. And yet, many, many SNES games do.
What I think I’m trying to say is that 2D games are great because they don’t require the same constant evolution that 3D games do. Sure, the jump from NES to SNES or Master System to Genesis was important and entirely necessary. And yes, many great indie 2D games today wouldn’t have been possible even then. But 2D games are the equivalent to black and white film. They don’t age like 3D games or effect-heavy color films. Try watching a color film from the sixties. Try even watching a color film from the nineties. That’s an area of the medium that constantly gets reworked and updated. Black and white films made today look and feel just like they did when they were in prominence, and it’s because they’re just timeless, plain and simple. Ocarina of Time, as jaw dropping and wonderful as it is, wouldn’t have needed a remake on a modern console, even though perfectly available on the Wii’s virtual console in its original form, if it could truly say that for itself. Same goes for Halo, or even my personally beloved Shadow of the Colossus.
Again. I like 3D games. Pokemon Gold is the only 2D member of my all time top five games and I love new technology that can show off the latest 3D games have to offer. It’s just important to remember that as Cracked.com once loudly proclaimed, graphics do not equal innovation. Jumping the gun and underestimating the difficulty of emulating the same flow and precision 2D games enjoy to a 3D game is the reason why the N64 and PlayStation era can be one of the least fun to revisit, and certainly why less mechanical JRPG’s exploded at the time.
We’re lucky to live in the third, and almost fourth, predominately 3D console generation (apologies to PC gamers for the lack of recognition in this post… you’re cool too), because developers have had adequate time to raise the standard of control in 3D games to a significantly higher place than before. And that constant evolution and growth is actually quite exciting to be a part of. Many, many good games of late have realized the important of using the graphical flexibility of current technology as a means for atmosphere and depth, instead of just sparkles and cheap appeal. Not all games need to be the circus. The circus is fun, don’t get me wrong, but think about how old it would get if that was the only way to have fun. Forever.