Side-scrolling video game
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A side-scrolling game or side-scroller is a video game in which the gameplay action is viewed from a side-view camera angle, and the onscreen characters generally move from the left side of the screen to the right (or less commonly, right to left) to meet an objective. These games make use of scrolling computer display technology. The move from single-screen or flip-screen graphics to scrolling graphics, during the golden age of video arcade games and during third-generation consoles, would prove to be a pivotal leap in game design, comparable to the move to 3D graphics during the fifth generation.
Use of side-scrolling
The most popular use of the side-scrolling format is in the platform game genre. Platform games are action games that feature jumping, climbing, and running characters who must be guided through many diverse levels. Games such as Super Mario Bros. are among the most famous side-scrollers of this type.
The side-scrolling format is also popular among beat 'em ups, such as the popular Battletoads series. Side-scrolling is even used in certain role-playing video games such as the 2D Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or the Korean MMORPG MapleStory. Often in beat 'em ups the screen will scroll to a certain point then stop and require the enemies on screen to be defeated before it moves on.
Another popular use of the side-scrolling format is in the Shooter genre, typified by games like R-type, and more recently Jets'n'Guns. In this game style the player usually starts with a basic ship that flies from left to right and acquires Power-ups that allow them to face an ever increasing horde of enemies. The popularity of this genre traces its roots back to such fast-paced games as Defender.
With video games that use side-scrolling, often the screen will scroll forward following the speed and direction of the player character, and can also scroll backwards to previously visited parts of a stage. In other games or stages the screen will follow the player character but only scroll forwards, not backwards, so once something has passed off the back of the screen it can no longer be visited. Some games have stages where the screen scrolls forward by itself at a steady rate, and the player must keep up with the screen, attempting to avoid obstacles and collect things before they pass off screen. The screen in shoot 'em ups such as R-type often side-scrolls by itself in such a way. The Mario series has used all of three of these different ways of side-scrolling.
The screen in many games that use side-scrolling, for the most part, follows the player character and tries to keep it near the center of the screen. Other games will adjust the screen with the character's movement, making the character off-center in the opposite direction of its movement, showing more space in front of the character than behind.
Also, a game can use the side-scrolling mechanic without being a side-scroller/ side-scrolling game. One such game like this is Awesomenauts, where a side-scrolling mechanic is used, but since the objective is not simply met by scrolling to the side, it is not considered a side-scroller.
The first scrolling shooter was Defender, released by Williams Electronics and Patrick Loughran in 1980. This was a major breakthrough in that it allowed the game world to extend beyond the boundaries of a single static screen. Defender is also notable for introducing the mini-map or radar, along with Rally-X and Battlezone that same year.
In 1981, Scramble was the first side-scroller with multiple, distinct levels. The art of the side-scrolling format was then greatly enhanced by parallax scrolling, which is used in side-scrolling games to give an illusion of depth. The background images are presented in multiple layers that scroll at different rates, thus objects closer to the horizon scroll slower than objects closer to the viewer. This technique was first featured in Moon Patrol in 1982.
In 1984, Hover Attack for the Sharp X1 was an early run & gun shooter that freely scrolled in all directions and allowed the player to shoot diagonally as well as straight ahead. The following year, 1985, saw the release of Thexder, a breakthrough title for run & gun shooters.
In 1985, Konami's side-scrolling shooter Gradius gave the player greater control over the choice of weaponry, thus introducing another element of strategy. The game also introduced the need for the player to memorise levels in order to achieve any measure of success. Gradius, with its iconic protagonist, defined the side-scrolling shoot 'em up and spawned a series spanning several sequels.
Shoot 'em ups such as Ikari Warriors (1986) featuring characters on foot, rather than spacecraft, became popular in the mid-1980s in the wake of action movies such as Rambo: First Blood Part II. The first game of this type is uncertain but the first influential example was Commando, released in 1985. 1987's Contra (a modified version of which was released as Probotector in Europe) was particularly acclaimed for its multi-directional aiming and two player cooperative gameplay. However, by the early 1990s and the popularity of 16-bit consoles, the scrolling shooter genre was overcrowded, with developers struggling to make their games stand out (one exception being the inventive Gunstar Heroes, by Treasure).
Side-scrolling racing games
In 1980, Namco's driving game Rally-X was the first game to allow scrolling in multiple directions, both vertical and horizontal, and it was possible to pull the screen quickly in either direction. It also featured an early example of a radar, to show the car's location on the map.
By 1984, there were a few racing games played from a side-scrolling view, including Nintendo's Excitebike and SNK's Jumping Cross. That year, SNK also released Mad Crasher, where the player drives a futuristic motorbike along diagonal-scrolling roads.
The first scrolling platform game was Jump Bug, a simple platform-shooter released in 1981. Players controlled a bouncing car and navigated it to jump on various platforms like buildings, clouds and hills. It featured levels that scrolled both horizontally and vertically.
In 1984, Pac-Land took the scrolling platformer a step further, aspiring to be more than a simple game of hurdle jumping. It was not only a successful title, but it more closely resembled later scrolling platformers like Wonder Boy and Super Mario Bros and was probably a direct influence on them. It also featured multi-layered parallax scrolling. That same year saw the release of Legend of Kage, which offered levels that extended in all directions. Sega released Flicky, a simple platformer with horizontally scrolling levels that featured their first mascot character. Namco followed up Pac-Land with the fantasy-themed Dragon Buster the following year.
Nintendo's platform game Super Mario Bros., released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, became the archetype for many scrolling platformers to follow. The title went on to sell over 40 million copies according to the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records. Its success contributed greatly to popularizing the genre during the 8-bit console generation. Sega attempted to emulate this success with their Alex Kidd series, as well as with the Wonder Boy series. The later Wonder Boy games were also notable for combining adventure and role-playing elements with traditional platforming.
Side-scrolling beat 'em ups
In 1984, Hong Kong cinema-inspired Kung-Fu Master laid the foundations for side-scrolling beat 'em ups with its simple gameplay and multiple enemies. Also in 1984, Karateka successfully experimented with adding plot to its fighting action and was among the first beat 'em ups to be successfully ported to home systems. It was also the first side-scroller to include cutscenes.
In 1986, Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun deviated from the martial arts themes of earlier beat 'em up games and introduced street brawling to the genre. The Western adaptation Renegade (released the same year) added an underworld revenge plot that proved more popular with gamers than the principled combat sport of other games. Renegade set the standard for future beat 'em up games as it introduced the ability to move both horizontally and vertically.
In 1987, the release of Double Dragon ushered in a "Golden Age" for the beat 'em up genre that lasted nearly 5 years. The game was designed as Technos Japan's spiritual successor to Renegade, but it took the genre to new heights with its detailed set of martial arts attacks and its outstanding two-player cooperative gameplay. Double Dragon's success largely resulted in a flood of beat 'em ups that came in the late 1980s, where acclaimed titles such as Golden Axe and Final Fight (both 1989) distinguished themselves from the others. Final Fight was Capcom's intended sequel to Street Fighter (provisionally titled Street Fighter '89), but the company ultimately gave it a new title. Acclaimed as the best game in the genre, Final Fight spawned two sequels and was later ported to other systems. Golden Axe was acclaimed for its visceral hack and slash action and cooperative mode and was influential through its selection of multiple protagonists with distinct fighting styles. It is considered one of the strongest beat 'em up titles for its fantasy elements, distinguishing it from the urban settings seen in other beat 'em ups.
On the IBM PC
Side-scrolling had been a well-known phenomenon in arcade and console games of the 1980s, as they possessed hardware optimised for the task. However, it was not considered feasible on the PCs of the time, which did not have the hardware necessary to produce smoothly-scrolling graphics at an acceptable framerate. Smooth scrolling was first successfully implemented on the PC in 1990 by John D. Carmack, then working for Softdisk, using a technique known as adaptive tile refresh. The technique was demonstrated in with the proof-of-concept game Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement, which consisted of a clone of the first level of Super Mario Bros. 3, but with Mario replaced by the character Dangerous Dave of earlier Softdisk games. The success of the demonstration led Carmack and others at Softdisk to resign and form their own company, id Software. Id Software went on to develop Commander Keen that same year, which was the first publically available PC game to feature smoothly-scrolling graphics.
In recent years side-scrolling games have become less popular in favor of 3D games, which allow characters to move in all directions, rather than just forward or backward. Side-scrolling is still a popular format on handheld systems such as the Game Boy Advance, since many games are ports, and because of the limited memory of such handheld systems. For the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable there are many games which you can move in all directions, such as Super Mario 64 DS, as well as side-scrollers, such as Sonic Rush. Games such as New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, Alien Hominid on the Gamecube/PS2/360, the PlayStation 2 Action RPG Odin Sphere, and the Xbox 360 and PC game Braid are examples of modern sidescrollers. Modern platforming games, like Super Paper Mario, Crush, Sonic Unleashed, include both 2D and 3D element and most recently New Super Mario Bros. U and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Side-scrolling remains popular in online games.
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