The Long Jump

The breakout success of Super Mario Bros. helped to make scrolling platformers the leading genre of console gaming for two generations. Neither before nor since has one kind of game so completely dominated the landscape. But scrolling screens in platform games didn't begin with Super Mario, or even its most direct precursor, Pac-Land.

Jump Bug
The first scrolling platformer came when the genre was just a few months old. Jump Bug, a collaboration between Alpha Denshi and Coreland, made its way to American arcades in December of 1981 (exact dates for the Japanese release are unavailable, but may have actually been later). At the time, even Donkey Kong had yet to be widely copied, and Jump Bug's direction didn't seem influenced by Miyamoto's classic at all.

Instead, Jump Bug drew from Konami's Scramble, which was transforming the side-scrolling shooter genre by offering multiple levels with unique graphics and layouts. Jump Bug followed in its footsteps, and used the side-scrolling shooter format as the foundation for its own innovations. Instead of a futuristic space ship, you controlled a bouncing Volkswagen Beetle. In the early stages, the platform jumping is limited to just some simple jumping on rooftops and clouds, but by the fourth level it really starts to look like the genre we know and love, with a labyrinth of platforms that scrolled in all four directions.

Jump Bug's creators probably didn't even think of their game as being in the same genre as Donkey Kong, let alone its next evolution. Platform games continued to evolve in their own direction, and when they finally started to scroll, it was more of an extension of multi-screen games like Jet Set Willy and Pitfall than this odd little arcade game from '81.

You Got Shooter in my Platformer!

A few years later, as scrolling was finally beginning to gain popularity in the platform genre, one game was already pioneering the "run and gun" subgenre we've grown to love through games like Contra and Metal Slug. Hover Attack didn't have a large audience. In fact, it was first published as source code in the August, 1984 issue of the Japanese programming magazine I/O, and ran on the Sharp X1, an 8-bit computer that unsuccessfully tried to compete with the NEC PC-8801.

Despite its homebrew origins and a struggling platform, it featured a completely original design, almost like a primitive Turrican, with graphics that freely scrolled in all directions, and a character that could shoot diagonally as well as straight ahead. It even sported sloping terrain, which wouldn't be common in the genre until much later. It pushed its hardware remarkably well and loaded the screen with enemies and projectiles for a maddening amount of action -- and brutal difficulty.

Hover Attack

The unique design captured the eye of publisher COMPAC, who ported the game to other Japanese computer formats. Despite this, it never gained a huge following, and when one of the genre's breakthrough titles, Thexder, released next year, its programmer credited Major Havoc as his inspiration, and not the underdog Hover Attack.

But at least one budding programmer turned to the classic shooter for inspiration. In the late '90s, Yoshiyuki Matsumoto -- known to his fans as "Yaiman" -- decided to remake the game on the Nintendo 64. Eventually he tampered with the design to the point where it became an original game, the cult classic "Bangai-O," but it remains a loving tribute to a forgotten pioneer of computer gaming.

Bouncing Into the Third Dimension

At the onset of the 32-bit era, finding a way to bring platform games into 3D was a near crisis. Platformers were the most popular genre of the day, and popular mascots helped drive sales of the last two generations of consoles. Many developers tried all sorts of approaches, from the first-person view of Jumping Flash, to the fixed perspective of Bug!, but it really wasn't until Mario 64 came along that the industry adopted a standard for what the genre would become.

Long before that, when we were still playing Mario 3 on the NES, Cristophe de Denechin was creating the world's first true 3D platformer, Alpha Waves. At the time, the vast majority of 3D games were still variants of space simulators, flight simulators, and simple first-person shooters. Alpha Waves was something completely different; an attempt to fuse original mechanics and platform game concepts into a sprawling, open-ended labyrinth of levels.

Alpha Waves

It was a revolutionary design. Not only did it offer incredibly advanced full-screen 3D graphics without pop-in -- something previously unheard of on 16-bit computers like the Atari ST -- but it played completely unlike anything before it. While there was no jump button, as in most platform games, Alpha Waves was littered with trampoline-like platforms that players had to bounce across, making precise 3D jumping its core mechanic. Lining up your jumps in 3D has always been a tricky problem for designers, and Alpha Waves offered the same solution that later games like Mario 64 would: a shadow, cast directly below the character, to show where he would land.

Alpha Waves was reasonably successful in its native Europe and was later ported to the Amiga and IBM-compatible PCs, but it would be a long time before anyone else would follow in its footsteps. The next game to even attempt to do platforming with real polygons, the X68000 shooter Geograph Seal, didn't come for another four years. The biggest impact that Alpha Waves had was on Frederick Raynal, whose work porting the title to IBM PCs inspired him to go 3D with his next title, the seminal survival-horror, Alone in the Dark

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