Everything’s better, down where it’s flatter

I woke up this morning about an hour earlier than usual and couldn’t fall back asleep, because from the moment my eyes opened my mind was running at full speed with a sudden obsession: ToastyFrog 2D.

For those of you who haven’t been reading the site for years and years, which is most of you, ToastyFrog 2D was a very well-intended idea I had about a decade ago. It flopped horribly. The idea was simple; as PlayStation and N64 had gained steam, the industry transitioned rapidly to making 3D, polygonal games almost exclusively. And while I enjoyed many of those games, I was also acutely aware that 2D games would be sorely missed. Even then it was clear that most developers were more than happy to burn their bridges to the past and shift entirely to a world made of many tiny, textured, Gouraud-shaded triangles, leaving hand-drawn bitmaps a forgotten thing of the past. And even then I thought it was a shame, because 2D games are different than 3D games, and not just on some superficial visual level. They look different, they move differently, they play differently. So, I decided to change the focus of my budding young site to covering news and releases for the increasingly rare creature known as 2D games.

Traffic to the site plummeted precipitously. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I lost something like 3/4s of my readership practically overnight. Because no one really gave a crap about 2D games back then, you see.

In retrospect, I still think it was a great idea for a site. But maybe it was just a little too early? Like, seven or eight years too early? At that point, 2D games were almost entirely relegated to portable systems, which few people took seriously. It’s only been with the DS and PSP that the world at large has begun to give portables their due, and even so I know of a few developers who are internally antagonist to them even now — despite the fact that there are more DS owners than people who own Wiis, PS3s, and Xbox 360s combined. Still, there’s a growing movement of people who acknowledge that 2D and 3D gaming are different, that each has its own distinct strengths, and that there’s room in the world for both formats — and that great classic-style games deserve just as much attention as the latest envelope-pushing 3D graphical extravaganza.

I’m pretty sure what jolted me awake this morning was… well, probably the Casino Royale-style martini I had at dinner had something to do with it. But yesterday I woke up and finished up my review of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, which quietly boasts some of the most elaborate traditional sprite animation I’ve ever seen in any game. Then news slipped that WayForward has finally found a publisher for its long-simmering sequel concepts for Shantae (that publisher being itself, via DSi Ware). And then I went to sleep playing Scribblenauts, which uses a simple marionette-like 2D style to offer a visual lexicon of thousands of interactive objects. Meanwhile, Sega’s finally putting together a high-definition 2D Sonic for consoles, Castlevania is getting WiiWare’d, and… some other stuff that I’ve heard about that will be awesome.

I have a lot of irons in the fire, which is a simple way of saying that my time is stretched entirely too thin. But this stuff’s important to me, for some stupid reason, and like everything else I post here I can’t really seem to find a way to make it work in the context of my job. Yeah, there’s the retro blog and all that, but after you’ve written about a few dozen new “retro” games you start to think that maybe these aren’t some bizarre throwback or evolutionary oddity but simply an entirely separate category of games that can exist side by side with Halo and Assassin’s Creed and that lumping them all together as “retro” is a disservice to them. And then you go and create a 2D category for your blog so you have an outlet for an old idea that you were really fond of and that you think maybe has a fighting chance this time around, especially with a moderately successful site wrapped around it to absorb the dissatisfaction of people who don’t go in for that crap. And you think: Hey, maybe this will be something good.

And maybe it will. I guess we’ll see.

9 thoughts on “Everything’s better, down where it’s flatter

  1. While I can respect 3D and what it does, a big factor in my love of handheld gaming is all of the 2D games available through it. Even many of the Nintendo DS’s 3D titles tend to be very 2D in structure.

    Heck, one of my favorite (third-party) titles introduced through handheld gaming was Konami’s Survival Kids. It was basically a survival RPG, but with elements blended in from Zeldalikes and roguelikes, as well as multiple endings. It’s a shame its continuation (under the Lost in Blue label) lost sight of what made it so great by making things too complicated.

    …..But I digress. I loved 2D gaming even when the world wanted to toss it away for polygons, and I still love it today.

  2. I for one approve of this notion. Viva la 2D! And things of its ilk. I too am a great admirer of all things sprite-art, and definitely second the above-posted admiration of Mario & Luigi RPG 3’s smoothly animated sprites.

    I know for certain that one of the primary reasons I kept myself motivated to get through both DS remakes of DQIV and V were the gorgeously animated enemy sprites. While obviously adapted from the original PS1 remakes, they still had a certain crispness to them on the handheld that always stood out to me.

    On the more minimalist side of things, I was also really impressed by the tiny sprite work for *ahem* Holy Invasion of Privacy Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This? –The subtlety of movement in single pixels to create its enemies with surprisingly smooth animations kept me entertained through the demo… Though sadly not to a purchase, due to the arcadey “one life only” playstyle.

  3. Hey, while you’re reviving all these old features, remember that Truffle Farming bit you had going around the time of the premature death of the Dreamcast? I’d imagine the DSi dropping the GBA compatibility and the PS3 ditching PS2 games means we should be about due for another round of games being abandoned en masse to bargin bins, no?

  4. You… you mean Mushroom Hunting, right? (I have no idea if that was intentional or not. It’s too early in the morning for my sarcasm meter to operate.) But yeah, that could also be cool, though I seriously doubt Jeremy has time for another semi-official “project” at the moment. Long-running forum thread, anyone? Then again, probably 1/4 of the games we gush over in the forums already fall into that category.

  5. I must be the odd duck. I started reading the site regularly specifically because of Toastyfrog 2D.

  6. Yeah, I wish this had panned out more back in the day. But hey, better late than never – after all, 2D is the best D.

  7. I sometimes worry that Mr. Parish is overworked and it will lead to his early death, therefore robbing me of something to read on the Internet when I get old. But then I remember that I can always go back and re-read articles of his that I’ve already forgotten and then I can sleep a little better.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is BRING IT ON.

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