The Return Of 2D

With Sony and Microsoft introducing the newest eighth generation consoles – the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively – some of the highest graphic potential games are imminently poised to enter the market. Video game technology is one of the fastest moving industries, and in order to compete studios are consistently testing the confines and boundaries of what that technology is capable of producing.

Some of the hottest games slated for 2014 include Titanfall and Destiny that immerse a player in a hyper-realistic setting with incredibly detailed character and in-game design. The sheer size of some of these virtual environments is amazing. Additionally, the freedom to be able to create entire worlds has allowed developers to take full advantage of the human imagination, inhabiting these other universes with anything from monsters and mech-robots to protolithic deities and cartoon characters.

But sometimes it’s easy to forget about the precursors to these next generation gaming experiences. The beauty of consoles like the Super Nintendo was that the limitations on their technology, what they were able to display, did not hamper the creative process – quite the contrary, it fostered it. Some of the first role-playing games (RPG) to grace the video-game industry like the initial Final Fantasy and the time-shifting Chrono Trigger were (and are) just as expansive and imaginative as games coming out today, both in terms of their innovation in actual gameplay, their focus on story and character development, and their playability even decades after their release.

That seems to be where a lot of modern games lose their steam – press releases for new games tend to emphasize how many hours of gameplay are to be expected, and this notion of setting a quota often makes the games quite interesting to play, but don’t really imprint any lasting effect. Arcade-style and strategy games, like the original RPGs for the SNES, are iconic not only in their capacity to draw us, but also in their tendency to keep us coming back for more.

Some studios have picked up on this latent nostalgia for simpler formatted games which emphasize 2D interfaces, most notably Klei which brought out Mark of the Ninja for Xbox and continues to release updates to its survival game Don’t Starve. But the beauty inherent in coming back to an older format of video game is being able to look at it through a contemporary lens, and develop novel ways of approaching the gameplay.
Independent studios, which often lack the same sort of funding and manpower, are the guiding forces behind this 2D re-emergence, as well as other businesses that are picking up on the accessibility of gaming. Online casinos and developers of applications for mobile phones and devices are consistently using the 2D style to display their applications and services – think of any Online Poker or Slot Game, or the craze that Angry Birds experienced.

It’s proof that advanced and complex graphics don’t necessarily make for a good game (consider all the heat that subsequent installations in the CoD saga have experienced). What makes a good game is a good idea, and the ability to tell a story in a fun, interesting, or controversial way – the release of Reus from Abbey games is an excellent example, where you take on the role of a god by creating entire eco-systems. The dimension-shifting 2D game Fez takes a meta-approach t by allowing the player to shift the environment 180 degrees on its axis.

Although there is something exciting in the course of video-game evolution, and its endeavour to supply an interactive form of entertainment and adventure, it’s important for developers to recognize that technology is a tool, not a crux. A game can be as flashy and loud as an ambulance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appealing. The rise of independent game developers, by virtue of the resources available to them, are beginning to represent a shift in video game culture as more and more people pick up on the creativity afforded by a simple 8 bit graphics card.

Simon is a writer and content specialist who is addicted to being on the front page of anything. A graduate of Dalhousie University, he specializes in using the em dash too often. Currently, Simon rests his typing hands in Vancouver, Canada. Check out his recent thoughts on online gaming.


Games to Avoid During a Hangover



Oh, right…sorry. I almost forgot most of you are probably dying of hangovers today after the biggest drinking night of the year. Hopefully, you’ve managed to secure the day off to rest and recover, and maybe you’re even taking the time to catch up on some video games.

If so, that’s a great choice. However, not all video games are created equally, and some were most certainly not designed with a hangover in mind. That being the case, if you’re truly looking to recover from your misery, I would suggest avoiding the following games, in the way you couldn’t avoid that last shot of tequila.

Hotline Miami

I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about “Hotline Miami”, but it is one of the true hidden gems of 2012. It’s a no holds bar killing spree, that provides  a variety of tools of death for the player, and set them loose in an ultra stylish retro Miami to cause unchecked havoc while wearing a variety of power inducing masks. It’s flashy, intense, and full of the best kind of mayhem.

In other words, it’s exactly the type of game you should avoid today. Besides all of the flashing lights irritating your headache, you’ve also got to deal with a pretty serious challenge level that can frustrate you even in times of saintly levels of previous alcohol consumption. But by far the biggest reason you should stay away from “Hotline Miami” is the out of your mind storyline. “Hotline Miami” is designed to play with your sanity, and is not the kind of thing you want to wrap your head around when it’s busy swimming in a sea of jackhammers.

Definitely play “Hotline Miami”, just not today.


I’ll sing the praises of “Fez” to anyone who will listen. Not only does it carefully and casually re-invent the most classic of genres (the 2D platformer), it does it while still producing a very entertaining game. It’s one of the best of the year, and possibly beyond.

Avoid it like the plague with a hangover though. Fez’s multi-dimensional worlds require you to put some serious thought into the layout, and makes every movement, and decision a puzzle in its own right. Considering you might be having trouble getting your head around making a properly laid out sandwich at the moment, you probably don’t want to tackle such a mind, and level, bending journey today.


Much like “Hotline Miami”, I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about “FTL” yet, and hate to only do so here when telling you to avoid it.

However, as brilliant as “FTL’s” spaceship simulation gameplay is, it also requires a series of life and death micromanagement decisions. In its most intense moments, it’s like playing several games of chess at once, and can be unbelievably frustrating as you hopelessly try to salvage what remains of your mission around every turn. Considering you may currently be trying to re-build every aspect of your own life after a night of personal destruction, I wouldn’t try to take on intergalactic problems as well.

Borderlands 2

Everybody has hangover cures, but truthfully the best way to go is some vitamins, some liquids, maybe a couple of aspirin, and of course plenty of rest.

You’ll get none of this with “Borderlands 2”.It’s a game that begs you to devote hours and hours into exploring its unique and incredibly deep world filled with jokes, style, and weapons galore. Playing “Borderlands 2” is signing yourself up for another long night filled with misguided debauchery, and will only serve to making tomorrow just as miserable as today. It’s siren song is irresistible, so go nowhere near this time consuming temptress.

Spec Ops: The Line

In general, you should avoid shooters on a day of a hangover. They’re loud, big, intense, and don’t offer the kind of serene environment of recovery you could so desperately use right now.

A special mention must go to avoiding “Spec Ops” with a hangover though, as it’s storyline forces you to really face the atrocities of war head on as you dive into a plot that will see you, and everyone around you, grow in impactful ways as the horrors of the modern world re-shape them. Since you’re probably wrestling with some moral conundrums of your own after last night, you should probably not shoulder these burdens as well.



It seems like every year there’s at least one standout XBLA title released that is simply too good to ignore (“Braid” and “Limbo” come to mind), and this year, that game is “Fez.” But while the long-in-development indie platformer has been showered in just as much critical praise as those other titles, there’s something about “Fez” that makes it a lot more memorable, more addictive and more deserving of the recognition. Perhaps it’s because the game never stops surprising you, continuously growing both in scope and in the mind-bending difficulty of its puzzles, which in turn will make you equally frustrated and intrigued – a dangerous recipe for any gamer who refuses to call it quits.

You play as Gomez, a little white creature that lives in a 2D world; or so he thinks. After receiving a letter from a fellow villager asking to meet him one morning, Gomez comes into contact with a powerful artifact that grants him the ability to navigate the universe in three dimensions using the titular fez hat. But when a rift in space threatens to destroy Gomez’s world, the pint-sized hero must embark on a mission to collect all 32 of the golden cubes that make up the powerful hexahedron (most of which have been shattered into eight smaller cube bits) before time runs out.

The catch, however, is that although Gomez’s world is in 3D (comprised of four flat sides that can be rotated on an axis), he can still only move two-dimensionally. That means that players must constantly switch perspective using the left and right trigger buttons in order to maneuver around each level and solve puzzles. And because there are no enemies to fight or penalties for dying (if Gomez falls from a ledge, he’s promptly brought back to life), the emphasis is instead placed on exploration and discovery, of which there is enough to keep you busy for several days.

“Fez” is both incredibly simplistic and maddeningly complex, but how much time you choose to invest in the game is completely up to you, as there are many secrets to unlock, some of which can’t even be solved on your first playthrough. The game’s success doesn’t just hinge on the clever design and gameplay mechanics, though, but also on a more basic level as a giant love letter to 8-bit gaming, with visual and musical references to “Tetris” and “The Legend of Zelda,” and a fantastically nostalgic soundtrack by Disasterpiece that’s simply the icing on the cake. Though the game is plagued by a surprising number of bugs for a title that’s been in development as long as it has, “Fez” is so damn unique and charming in just about every way that they’re pretty easy to ignore.


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