2D: Crisis of confidence

As I mentioned in my 1UP review of A Boy and His Blob, a lot of gamers have a dire view of hand-drawn visuals. They see a 2D game and immediately dismiss it; if it ain’t a DLC game, if it ain’t ten bucks or less, it ain’t a good deal. Are you one of these people? If so, come closer. No, closer. There. Now, stand still.

Aaaaaannd: POW.

Now, you may be wondering why I’ve just kicked you in the genitals. This is a reasonable question, but it has a simple answer: It is because you are a terrible person and I do not think you deserve to procreate. I have just weeded your foul seed from the gene pool. I’m sorry, but it needed doing.

Also annoying: The pervasive mindset that downloadable games are somehow less worthwhile than retail games. In truth, the ratio of cream vs. crap is about the same regardless of medium — most things are terrible, and the relatively rare good stuff is worth celebrating no matter what form it takes — so that’s a meaningless dichotomy to begin with. But it becomes even more irritating when you consider the aforementioned collective dismissal of 2D graphics and apply the logical transitive conclusion to these assumptions: that is, 2D games should be downloads; downloadable-only games are worthless; ergo, 2D games are worthless. This is not acceptable.

There’s nothing about 3D games that’s inherently better or worth more than 2D games. But that doesn’t mean 2D games are automatically superior, either. That’s just silly. Some games work better in one format than the other, and I always appreciate a developer who knows which approach is best for a given project. I hate playing the early Grand Theft Auto games, because the top-down view was inadequate for what DMA was aspiring to. Truth be told, I even kind of like Dragon Quest better in 3D, despite the fact that it’s such a traditional series — the dynamic camera angles of Dragon Quest IX are a simple embellishment, but they make the battles much more interesting. On the other hand, something like Symphony of the Night or, obviously, A Boy and His Blob is going to be a lot more fun in two dimensions. Of course, the Mario games are probably the shining example of knowing which format is best for the job: Super Mario Galaxy couldn’t possibly work on a flat plane, and New Super Mario Bros. would have been a disaster if EAD had tried making it some over-the-shoulder mess.

Of course, one need look no further than the previous version of A Boy and His Blob — the ghoulish DS atrocity that thankfully died a quiet death after its E3 showing several years ago — for an example of how using the right format for the job can still go horribly wrong if you misuse that format. No offense to the person who designed Blob’s DS graphics, but I sure am glad the game ultimately ended up in the hands of WayForward, a company that really respects the artistic merits of the medium.

The version of A Boy and His Blob we did get, the one on Wii, is really a lovely game, a children’s picture book come to life. It’s charming through and through, with countless little animations to give life to the characters. Every level has incidental life crawling through it, worms and bugs and fireflies and weird little… blob things on Blobolonia — something generally lacking in all games. It goes a long way toward making the world feel alive. And like I said in the review, it stands apart from most lush hand-drawn games by offering actual substance beneath all that beauty. There’s a lot to the game, probably a good 20 hours of play (at least) if you want to complete all 80 stages. And it’s challenging! And fun!

It’s a shame the game faces an uphill sales battle because it’s lovingly hand-crafted to resemble a Disney movie rather than built from rubbery (and probably not especially charming) triangles. But who can fathom the mind of the average gamer? I’m pretty sure that everyone except me is crazy, so I don’t even bother anymore. Anyway, the point is that A Boy and His Blob is great, and lovely, and anyone who poo-poohs it as an overpriced bit of fluff that should have been a download-only game is never allowed to have babies.

35 thoughts on “2D: Crisis of confidence

  1. Dang. Now I feel bad that I haven’t been paying attention here. Time to play catch up, the lazy way! First off, on the beauty factor, at least tell me those backgrounds are static, otherwise it’d look just too darn good. I’m also kind of curious about going with a level based structure instead of the giant sprawling maze that was the original game. I could see that either turning into a real simple series of straightforward puzzles, or something resembling a Lemmings/Humans sort of thing, where you have to deal with more and more heavily restricted jellybean assortments.

  2. It’s unfortunate that the big 2D revival got it’s big push with MM9. I love that game, but it kind of set the standard for the whole ‘2D games should be downloads not full retail’ thing we’re seeing. I’ll still pay full price for something great, like Blob and Mario (and Sonic if Sega gets it right, and if it really isn’t HD exclusive).

    I guess if the attitude towards downloadable games changes, maybe 2D games will command more respect. I’d like that. I’m a bit fed up with having to defend the wonders of 2D to the children of the mid to late 90s.

  3. A Boy and His Blob Wii looks absolutely breathtaking, and I’d purchase it if I had one. I fully support crotch punching eugenics if it means our children will learn to appreciate games like this.

  4. Good job being awesome, Parish. I don’t always see eye-to-eye with you, but this is something you’re 100% right about. Biases against graphics styles either way are counter productive, puzzling and detestable. When a developer makes a choice THIS right, it should be rewarded in a big way. Sadly, Wayforward seems to lack confidence in sales so much that only one single copy was shipped to my nearest Gamestop, and I’m the one who bought it.

  5. Go WayForward, the Vanillaware of USA.
    Thanks to the Wii price drop A Boy and his Blob and Muramasa are the two games I’m going to get when I buy a new system.

  6. I don’t spend much time in the trenches (1up’s message boards and the like), so I don’t know for myself that the “Ewww, 2D” attitude is in fact real. Have you guys really seen people dismiss something solely because it’s 2D?

  7. I picked up the game yesterday after seeing your previews and also for having a soft spot for the concept from playing the original about 20 years ago. I got through about three levels last night and it was even fun to go back and find all the treasure chests after the iniital level run through. You are right that there is a lot of depth to the game. Nowhere in any of the levels I played did it feel like it was cut and pasted or show signs of lazy level design to artificially lengthen the game. Everything seems to be there for a reason, like a good Mario game. I’m looking forward to playing this game chunks at a time in the coming weeks. And thanks again for making this game more visible leading up to it’s release. It’s definitely worth the $40.

  8. I’ve bookmarked this article for my nephew as we’ve been having this debate frequently lately. Great work!

  9. garsh, the crisis of faith isn’t WayForward’s. That would rest on the shoulders of the retailer, and maybe of publisher Majesco. Mostly the retailers, though.

  10. “In truth, the ratio of cream vs. crap is about the same regardless of medium — most things are terrible…”

    Sturgeon’s Law is the Absolute Truth – especially when regarding video games. Hell, 90 percent of GAMERS are complete rubbish!

    If I could afford it I’d buy it now, but the price of this game will inevitably drop within a few months due to the poor sales. So I’ll just wait until then.

  11. I’m still baffled that you can’t use the dpad in the game (unless that was a nasty rumor). Still, I’ll be buying this soon because I hate the idea of letting the price crash because nobody bought it. (Although, competition-wise, releasing it this week was a poor choice on their part.)

  12. I thought the popular argument consigning 2d games (remakes included) to second-rate status was the idea that they should stagnate on portable systems only never to defile console systems that are 2 cool for 2d.

    hmph. I must be behind the times. :

  13. Blob doesn’t allow use of the D-pad for controls because it maps the hug button to Up! Almost as importantly, it’s because the jellybean selection dial is mapped to the natural 8-way directional slots that surround the nunchuk analog stick. Play it and it’ll make sense.

  14. I just got back from a Toys R’Us buy 2 get 1 free raid with A Boy and His Blob, Uncharted 2 and the new Mario and Luigi. The guy at the games section was actually reading your review when I asked if they had it in. While he rang up my haul he was telling me that ABAHB was his most anticipated game for Q4 ’09. I will be playing Blob over Uncharted and M & L, hands down.

  15. From the review: “From a practical standpoint, Blob is probably a Wii game because of the prohibitive expense of creating such gorgeous animation on an HD system.”

    Why is this so? I don’t have any appreciable knowledge of how 2-D game art is produced, but I’ve seen similar comments (about BlazBlue, I think) without explanation as to why. Just curious about it.

  16. Sarcasmorator — Assuming the 2D game is actually hand-drawn (that is, the animation is a series of sprites), consider how much detail is needed to render an HD character — even using programs that help with the in-between frames of animation. A game like Street Fighter 2 has aged OK, sure, but if you download a sprite sheet for that game, you can see how (comparitively) little detail is needed to animate the characters. Now imagine drawing all of their veins, shadows, threadwork, etc. etc. in HD for each frame of animation. Now imagine the game is much more complex than Street Fighter, and you get the idea.

    3D is cheaper because you model the characters once (maybe more depending), create, say, a walk animation using inverse kinematics (quite like operating a puppet), and then it’s animation works from every angle. What’s more, 3D engines can handle a large variety of events — in 2D, just about everything has to be drawn by hand.

    Fortunately, vector and cel shaded 3D animation are becoming more convincing — hopefully we’ll see more lifelike pseudo-2D games in the future.

  17. Makes sense, thanks. My reptile brain was all “just draw it bigger durrrr” and I knew I must be missing something.

  18. Wait, this is a Wii game? I had no idea.

    Also, your review mentioned “games [that sport] beautiful hand-drawn animation” without much substance or challenge to back them up. What are some you were referring to, specifically?

  19. Hey Glynn? When the price drops it means your purchase means literally nothing to anyone involved. If you want to support a game you have to do it when your sale means “make more games like this” and your dollar has a chance of reaching the developer who dun good. Once the price drops, that window is slammed shut.

  20. I didn’t call out other games by name, Dan, because then people’s comments on the review would have degenerated into the usual stupid bickering that happens whenever you make a passing disparagement of a game that some people like. Since you ask, the first game that comes to mind is Wario Land: Shake It!, but there are plenty of others that seemed to get as far as making things look pretty and called it a day.

  21. Both major games retailers here in Australia have no mention at all of ABAHB on their websites at all.. and nor does Nintendo’s AU site, but that’s not surprising.. their local team is pretty useless really. Not sure if they’re understaffed or what, but even with first party games the best place to find release dates is a retailer. Well.. I hope it appears here anyway.

  22. If this game came out in January or February of next year I’d be all over it but as it stands Demon’s Souls, Muramasa and Raiden IV have depleted my gaming fund and that’s gonna last until MW 2,L4D2 and NSMB Wii come out. On one hand I feel kinda guilty because I love 2D platformers and I want to support their development but on the other hand Wayforward had to have the foresight to know that they’re releasing something extremely niche during the heaviest part of the year. Doesn’t this happen every year? A niche game gets released during the winter deluge and gets passed by. That’s just poor business strategy on their end.

  23. “…because then people’s comments on the review would have degenerated into the usual stupid bickering that happens whenever you make a passing disparagement of a game that some people like.”

    Xenogears wasn’t a fighting game at all!

    (My deepest apologies. I am in full agreement with your point here; I would be ecstatic to see 2D games wrenched out of the developmental ghetto they sort of now occupy and propped back up as a viable, sensible way to make video games. Maybe even progress a little, and learn some new tricks along the way. As such, I am really enjoying the revived focus on 2D.)

    Also: I totally swoon when I see superflat posting in a 2D games topic.

    Also also: Gosh, this game looks pretty.

  24. As someone who runs a site devoted to 2D games, I’ve had this discussion many, many times.

    2D, like 3D, has its plus and minuses. For me, the biggest draw of 2D games are accessibility (people just get it–no need to fiddle with camera angles), and the stylized art.

    The artwork, in particular, wows me when done well. When I first played the new Boy and His Blob, I was just floored by the genuinely warm feeling the game gave me. I simply couldn’t imagine the emotional responsive coming from a polygonal title.

  25. The problem with that, Jeff, is that the sad reality is 2D games aren’t “easy to get into” for casual gamers. There’s a reason games used to be niche. In a 3D world (that we live in) it’s abstract to imagine life on a 2D plane. The ones who could (kids mostly, us) started playing video games. The rest saw them as silly. Now that games look like the real world (ie. 3D) those non-2D people no longer have to think in abstracts. They can understand moving back and forth as well as side to side. Whereas if they play “Blob” they’ll wonder why the boy doesn’t just sidestep those shadow creatures.

  26. Tomm, that’s a very good point. I never thought of 2D as being a handicap of sorts to those used to 3D play. But then what explains the success of the DS and games like New Super Mario Bros? Does that return us to JP’s original point of 2D being only good for light play in the minds of many?

  27. Tomm, I’m gonna have to disagree that 3D is somehow more intuitive to light players. Maybe 3D visuals are, but maneuvering in 3D space isn’t. Someone who rarely games is going to have a much easier time playing New Super Mario Bros. than Super Mario Galaxy, which is why the former has sold so much better than the latter. Virtual 3D space is much more intimidating to someone who doesn’t deal with games much, because they have to deal with the control mechanics. Now, for something like Wii Sports, where all they have to do is make parallel gestures with their arms, 3D is completely intuitive. But make them move along platforms and jump and aim and they’re gonna go right back to Galaga.

  28. Tomm, I just realized that you stated that “casual” gamers are more likely to overlook 2D for 3D—that I completely disagree with. If the casuals were looking for 3D titles instead of 2D, Popcap Games would be filing for bankruptcy.

  29. A perfect example of why Parish didn’t want to make comparisons to other games in his review – IGN’s take on Blob is that its visuals are “good, but not as good as Muramasa”. As if we need to have two wonderful 2d games duke it out like that.

  30. Picked this up today. The game is incredible. The animation is impressive, and it’s an absolutely perfect update of the formula used in the original. I’ve put in 4.5 hours today on it, having finished 15 main and 15 bonus stages (I have this obsession with getting everything as I go, it seems).

    People, it’s worth the $40. Really. I sat on the fence, finally gave in, and haven’t regretted it one bit.

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