Remembering 2.5D

I don’t know why, but it occurred to me recently that I miss playing 2.5D games. If you don’t know what those are, they are basically games where the actual movement options and controls are more or less identical to those of a 2D game (like say, an early Mario game) except the game is visually in 3D and there are some forays into the foreground and background. Something like this:

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So if you press left or right, you follow the path sensibly instead of plummeting to your death.

There have been some kiiiiinda 2.5D games in the last few years, but they were mostly popular around the original Playstation era. Yeah, sure, technically everything is 2.5D now because people can’t be bothered to do spritework any more for their 2D games, but in my eyes, it doesn’t count unless the plane you move along snakes around a bit, the camera changes, different perspectives etc. You can’t JUST have some 3D things in the background of your 2D game to count. For example, Wikipedia’s list of 2.5D games includes New Super Mario Bros.

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No! This is just a pure 2D game. If viewed from above, Mario would be walking in a straight line. There’s not even an illusion of depth!

That’s right, I’m just talking about a certain subset of 2.5D things. My blog, my rules! Anyways, back to the weird old games. Why was this style even a thing anyway?

I’m quite sure sometimes it was because people hadn’t quite figured out how to make good 3D camera controls yet, and there were a bunch of tricks you could do to overcome hardware limitations to make your game look nice while still moving fast and smooth. :3 Here are a few I remember, nostalgically speaking.

Pandemonium!

This is the main one I think of when talking about games in this style. Pandemonium! (yes, it has ! in the title) was the first time I encountered this style of game. It’s a competent, fun platformer that came out in… 1996 (oh, right in the ageing bones) that had a pleasant variety of fantasy environments and a pair of slightly different characters to choose from. I always preferred Nikki since double-jumping is clearly better than being able to attack, am I right?

Honestly I think visually the game has aged pretty well for a 20 year old PS1 game. Here are the first few levels run through quickly by some person, if you want to take a gander.

This was honestly pretty impressive at the time. The levels weave around far smoother than if the player was in charge of controlling all 3 dimensions. For example, trying to get gaming newbies playing Crash Bandicoot was really difficult, but this was much more manageable. In particular I remember my big cousin liked this game.

Tombi!

Or Tomba! for you Americans. (Hey, what is this, another ! in the title? Okay.) Tombi! was an absolutely bananas game. I mean just look at the box art we had:
box-art-tombi-185790_240_240
This is an accurate depiction of in-game events.

While Pandemonium! had a basic plot of ‘oops, unleashed an great evil, better go do something about it’ and standard level progression,  Tombi! had an evil pig empire, a million side quests and collectables, and was basically some kind of open-world platforming RPG. It felt truly unique, and the kind of weird and wonderful concept that someone would come up with while on some kind of hallucinogen.

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Don’t mind me, just yukking it up with these creepy clown flowers before biting some pigs so I can toss them at other pigs so I can rescue the puppy lost in the clouds and then learning to swim…

This wasn’t AS heavy on the 2.5D stuff, in that it didn’t bother weaving around the place all the time, but there were plenty of areas where you had to navigate around buildings, round corners, branching paths etc. It still looks pretty great too. Yeah, sure, resolution’s a bit low these days. But things are colourful, imaginative, and has a definite goofy charm to everything. I never did finish it actually, I need to go back and do that sometime.

I played the hell out of the first couple hours of the game though. It was on a demo disc, and unlike most demos they let you play a pretty decent amount into the game!

Wild 9

Wild 9 (no !) was a decent game. It was made by a bunch of the same guys that made the Earthworm Jim games, but hasn’t aged nearly as well in my opinion. The whole gimmick of this game was that you had this Rig, which was basically an energy arm which let you grab onto objects and particularly enemies. You would then use those enemies to navigate the obstacles in the environment.

Giant fan in the way? Clog it with enemies! Spike floor? Cover it with enemies and jump on them! Thing needing destroyed? Smash an enemy into it until something breaks! You get the idea.

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Sometimes there’s no puzzles. Sometimes you just murder the wacky aliens!

Honestly it played fine, and was worth a run through, but the joke got old before the end.

Anyways, there were more, like Klonoa, Tarzan, and others I can’t remember right now. I’m honestly slightly surprised it isn’t used a bit more, since it’s an easy way to design really lovely environments to walk through without having to code in collision detection for those naughty players that always manage to find ways to be in places they shouldn’t be.

Huh, is this the first time I talked about video games since Syberia? I guess it is. I hope I’ve given some of you a nostalgia hit. Coming soon will be some stuff about my recent Bologna trip, the Undertaker, and Magical futures.

See ya!

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