Wise Fwom Your Gwave! - Isometric Puzzle Platformers

Hey duders, this is a blog that I wrote and posted to the internet. I might just skip these introductions in the future.

We're all aware of and have varying levels of excitement for the resurgence of two major genres from our childhood that had since vanished (or retreated to the dark realms of the hardcore and foreign audiences): Graphic Adventure games and Fighter games. But what of the other niche genres that disappeared as times and attitudes and technology changed? Whenever the urge strikes, I'll be using this feature to highlight some nearly-forgotten type of game that I've noticed has made a comeback through the increasingly relevant channels of downloadable Indie games - created by developers who clearly fondly remember this shit as much as I do.

On this edition of Wise Fwom Your Gwave we're looking at Isometric Puzzle Platformers. Now, we're all familiar with the isometric viewpoint - that weirdly 45-degree-angled bird's eye view where "up" isn't up but actually diagonally up and right. Many games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Baldur's Gate or Diablo and plenty of others use this view as a stylistic choice. The true isometric puzzle platformer, a genre that really started with Q*Bert and Zaxxon but found its groove in classic C64 and Spectrum games like Knight Lore and Head-Over-Heels, depends on its slightly disorientating presentation to set up several jumping, item-placing and maze-orienteering puzzles to test players with their sheer difficulty. More examples: The Cadaver games attempted to meld this action-puzzle gameplay with a more traditional RPG, Solstice and Equinox make for a very accessible duo of NES/SNES adventures and Monster Max is a very densely packed series of puzzles for the original Game Boy.

Because the isometric format can be considered a form of "2 and a 1/2"D, a concept I'm not technically allowed to talk about due to Gerstmann's Law, it seemed like a sneaky way for designers and artists with too much integrity to create highly detailed sprite-based 2D worlds and characters while appeasing whatever marketing executives or focus groups that refuse to release anything with fewer dimensions than three. Of course, as 3D technology caught up to be as aesthetically pleasing as the older and wiser 2D format, the number of new releases that used the isometric view slowed to a trickle - including these platformer puzzler things. Which brings us to the present.

Moonpod's Mr. Robot (available on Steam) is a sci-fi themed puzzle platformer that uses the isometric format to depict a tiny robot attempting to rescue the stasis-kept humans from the hostile forces on board. Orbital Media's Scurge: Hive is a (very) derivative Metroid-esque adventure that is based around exploring non-linear isometric rooms and figuring out how to acquire keys and activate transporter nodes. Crystal Dynamics' surprisingly not awful Tomb Raider game - Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - isn't quite isometric, but sets up its puzzles with a fixed 3D camera which creates a similar effect. It's starting to feel like this genre has a presence again, if only in small numbers so far. If Super Meat Boy is any indication, we're all eager for more super-tough nostalgia trips.

Bonus Comics

After reading (or skipping >:( ) all that waffle, it's time for more of this thing I do a lot now.

Deus Ex

Yup. Don't neglect the martial skills, kids.

Scurge: Hive

Spent way too long drawing those dumb hair logo jokes. Jenosa Arma: Demonstrating the thin line between attitude and sass.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge

Hunted had a lot of problems. I had trouble narrowing it down to one that Yahtzee hadn't already covered, though, so here's a thing with rock heads.
3 Comments
4 Comments
Posted by Mento

Hey duders, this is a blog that I wrote and posted to the internet. I might just skip these introductions in the future.

We're all aware of and have varying levels of excitement for the resurgence of two major genres from our childhood that had since vanished (or retreated to the dark realms of the hardcore and foreign audiences): Graphic Adventure games and Fighter games. But what of the other niche genres that disappeared as times and attitudes and technology changed? Whenever the urge strikes, I'll be using this feature to highlight some nearly-forgotten type of game that I've noticed has made a comeback through the increasingly relevant channels of downloadable Indie games - created by developers who clearly fondly remember this shit as much as I do.

On this edition of Wise Fwom Your Gwave we're looking at Isometric Puzzle Platformers. Now, we're all familiar with the isometric viewpoint - that weirdly 45-degree-angled bird's eye view where "up" isn't up but actually diagonally up and right. Many games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Baldur's Gate or Diablo and plenty of others use this view as a stylistic choice. The true isometric puzzle platformer, a genre that really started with Q*Bert and Zaxxon but found its groove in classic C64 and Spectrum games like Knight Lore and Head-Over-Heels, depends on its slightly disorientating presentation to set up several jumping, item-placing and maze-orienteering puzzles to test players with their sheer difficulty. More examples: The Cadaver games attempted to meld this action-puzzle gameplay with a more traditional RPG, Solstice and Equinox make for a very accessible duo of NES/SNES adventures and Monster Max is a very densely packed series of puzzles for the original Game Boy.

Because the isometric format can be considered a form of "2 and a 1/2"D, a concept I'm not technically allowed to talk about due to Gerstmann's Law, it seemed like a sneaky way for designers and artists with too much integrity to create highly detailed sprite-based 2D worlds and characters while appeasing whatever marketing executives or focus groups that refuse to release anything with fewer dimensions than three. Of course, as 3D technology caught up to be as aesthetically pleasing as the older and wiser 2D format, the number of new releases that used the isometric view slowed to a trickle - including these platformer puzzler things. Which brings us to the present.

Moonpod's Mr. Robot (available on Steam) is a sci-fi themed puzzle platformer that uses the isometric format to depict a tiny robot attempting to rescue the stasis-kept humans from the hostile forces on board. Orbital Media's Scurge: Hive is a (very) derivative Metroid-esque adventure that is based around exploring non-linear isometric rooms and figuring out how to acquire keys and activate transporter nodes. Crystal Dynamics' surprisingly not awful Tomb Raider game - Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - isn't quite isometric, but sets up its puzzles with a fixed 3D camera which creates a similar effect. It's starting to feel like this genre has a presence again, if only in small numbers so far. If Super Meat Boy is any indication, we're all eager for more super-tough nostalgia trips.

Bonus Comics

After reading (or skipping >:( ) all that waffle, it's time for more of this thing I do a lot now.

Deus Ex

Yup. Don't neglect the martial skills, kids.

Scurge: Hive

Spent way too long drawing those dumb hair logo jokes. Jenosa Arma: Demonstrating the thin line between attitude and sass.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge

Hunted had a lot of problems. I had trouble narrowing it down to one that Yahtzee hadn't already covered, though, so here's a thing with rock heads.
Moderator
Posted by buzz_clik

I loves me some isometric gaming, and with the exception of Batman (which was really just foreplay for Head Over Heels, anyway) you covered every single game I was going to mention.

Equinox is an excellent romp; the fact that Tim Follin was involved in the music for that game makes it even better.

Moderator
Edited by Mento

@buzz_clik: I actually found the music in Equinox quite intimidating as a youngster, especially the boss music. It has a weirdly intense and atmospheric (but great!) soundtrack for such a brightly-colored, cartoony game. Plok is a similar case.

EDIT: Turns out Plok is Tim (and Geoff) Follin's work too. Figures.

Moderator
Posted by ArbitraryWater

As the original creator of the Isometric Viewpoint page (yes, back in the heyday of September 2008), I can say that I do like me some games with that perspective. You know. Like Baldur's Gate. Also Diablo. And X-COM. It's a pity technology has made it less desirable. Most of the best RPGs of the "good old days" (Read: Pre-Neverwinter Nights) used it, and the ones that didn't were first person. The value of the Isometeric Perspective over others is that the developers can show you stuff exactly how they want it to look. Those hand drawn backdrops for the Infinity Engine stuff would certainly be a lot harder to pull off using actual polygons.

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