While I was doing some research for my column Catching Up over at TV World, I came across an obscure Aeon Flux fan-made game called Aeon Flux Episodes. Interesting in its own right though sadly never to be finished according to its creator, the game is a throwback to the classic platforming style pioneered by Broderbund back in 1989 with the original Prince of Persia. Though PoP is now old enough to order a beer in the United States, I still consider it an essential for anyone who wants to truly understand and appreciate video games. For its time, it was a graphical masterpiece and the majority of its content is innovation. It's a glorious, engrossing and challenging experience that's the perfect mix of action, reflexes, puzzle-solving and lateral thinking. Few games have managed to be such works of interactive art. What's more, Prince of Persia influenced an entire subgenre of games, from the gritty classic Blackthorne to the graphical wonder that is Flashback to, most notably, the all-time star of the style, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. But by the time Abe's saw a sequel, 3D was starting to take over gaming and the PoP-style puzzle platformer disappeared. But we may be on the cusp of a resurgence.
Portable gaming is the fastest growing segment of the games industry and with good reason. Not only are mobile devices like the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP more affordable, more convenient and more appealing to a wider audience than their home console counterparts, the cell phone market is trending more and more toward smartphones as standard issue. Those smartphones are only getting more powerful, so the gap in sound and graphics between mobile and console devices is rapidly closing. We may still be a few years away from Xbox 360 games on an Android, but today's popular mobile titles suggest people may not even want games of that visual complexity for their handheld tech.
Between Flash games and mobile games, we're seeing a lot of old styles being dusted off and updated. Everything from Space Invaders to Lunar Lander and Excite Bike have multiple Flash analogs these days and we definitely have the tech to bring Prince of Persia and puzzle platformers like it back into the limelight. Heck, I'd personally love to see one of today's indie sector art game designers even pick up Jordan Mechner's rotoscoping technique for a graphical homage.
Today's independent game designers are mining the games they played growing up to make the best of the limited technology they have in Web and mobile platforms, but I hope they don't forget those classics when handheld gaming becomes as powerful as modern console gaming. The truth is, there are just certain gameplay styles that don't translate to 3D. There's no reason to push older styles off the board just because they aren't as pretty as the new stuff.