The Gratuitous Rainbow Spectrum

The Return of AAA 2D

The Return of AAA 2D

Kris Randazzo
6 minute read

Everything Old is New Again

The very existence of Metroid Dread is wild. Beyond the fact that it had been rumored for ages before being announced in a shockingly awesome Nintendo Direct presentation, the game was an honest to goodness full blown, big budget home console 2D game. Now, Nintendo is no stranger to releasing 2D games on their home consoles, but they’re the exception, and they tend to mostly be attached to properties aimed at younger audiences. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Kirby Star Allies, etc. have all been successful, but hardly the norm in the industry. So when Nintendo announced Metroid Dread was going to be a full-priced game, a lot of people balked at the idea.

This always struck me as strange because some of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in the last decade have been 2D games. Granted, a lot of them have been indie titles, and certainly didn’t cost $60, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t have felt ripped off if I did pay that kind of price for the likes of Ori and the Blind Forest, The Messenger, Celeste, or Hollow Knight. Those games are all commonly considered masterpieces, and I put plenty of hours into each. So why the stigma toward 2D games with high production values being priced the same as the latest 3D game?

Back in Blue

This year there are several high-profile 2D games hitting home consoles from some big name publishers, and I personally couldn’t be happier. Just this last week, there were two new 2D adventure games announced, and both are pretty high-profile stuff. First, we had Sonic Superstars. Sonic is an interesting franchise because depending on who you talk to, the only good games in the series are the 2D ones. This is a story that the most recent releases have arguably backed up. The reviews for Sonic Frontiers were mixed at best, while Sonic Mania was almost universally acclaimed. Don’t get me wrong, 3D Sonic games have their fans, and they are VERY proud of the games they love, but it’s my experience that the perception at large is that those games aren’t really very good.

Sonic Superstars is getting some pretty solid hype, with a much smaller contingent of the gaming populace giving the game guff for being 2D. It probably doesn’t hurt that it has a really nice-looking aesthetic and clearly seems to be trying its best to invoke the spirit of the traditional 2D adventures, which is where the majority of the franchise’s nostalgia is rooted.

Return of the Prince

On the other hand, Ubisoft finally announced a new entry in the Prince of Persia series. Of course, a few years back they announced a remake of Sands of Time, which has since vanished off the face of the Earth, but that’s neither here nor there. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is a brand new adventure in the long-running franchise, and unlike every console release since the 90s, it’s 2D.

This wound up getting a pretty fascinating response. The trailer on Nintendo’s YouTube channel was fairly well received, and I have to imagine this is because Nintendo’s audience is more used to seeing cool-looking 2D games. But over on other YouTube channels the game was getting ripped to shreds. To my eyes, the game looks fantastic. It’s got a great art style, and the gameplay looks fast and fun. But a large portion of the audience seems to think the game is lesser because it isn’t 3D. Amusingly enough, there are even folks out there ragging on the game for not being true to the series history, which I have to assume is because they think Sands of Time is where it all started, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Heck, that wasn’t even the series' first 3D entry!

Sixth Time's The Charm

Meanwhile, there’s one genre of 2D game that doesn’t seem to get any flack for not being 3D, and that’s fighting games. Take Street Fighter, for example. Street Fighter 6 is off to a great start. It’s already far more feature-complete than Street Fighter V was by this point, and people really seem to love it. Yes, it does have a 3D story mode where characters can roam free in all three dimensions, but the actual fighting is done in 2D, and it’s spectacular. There was a time when people clamored for Street Fighter to go full 3D, but that sentiment seems to be long gone. Maybe folks just didn’t like the Street Fighter EX series all that much, but I tend to think it’s because there’s a clear difference in how a 2D fighter and a 3D fighter play, and when it comes to Street Fighter, 2D is what matches its style best. Why this perspective isn’t applied to the rest of the gaming world will always be beyond me, but here we are.

Finish Him!

On the other side of that same coin we have Mortal Kombat 1. This pseudo reboot made waves at Summer Game Fest and has fans quite excited. It’s got a fun new mechanic that involves past fighters showing up as assist characters, and the action is as brutal as it’s ever been. It’s also 2D, and again nobody seems to mind. Mainline Mortal Kombat actually went full 3D for a while there and then reverted back to 2D to considerable acclaim, so again, the public perception in other genres confounds me.

What’s the deal? Why do 2D fighting games get to be full price and action adventure games don’t? I honestly don't get it. I can see the point that many 3D games look like they take more work to create and should therefore cost more, but on the other hand, I don’t tend to value games based on how much work it took to make them. I value games based on how much enjoyment I get out of them, and there have been plenty of 3D games that I’ve enjoyed way less than 2D ones over the years.

I’m very interested in both Sonic Superstars and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. More so than just about any other game coming out for the rest of the year. Meanwhile Street Fighter 6 is already a huge success for Capcom, while Mortal Kombat 1 is one of the most anticipated games of the year across the board. And if Hollow Knight: Silksong manages to come out this year, a 2D game might just be a contender for overall Game of the Year.

I guess the point is, 2D games can be great, and I don’t think their prices should be based solely on how many dimensions your player can move around in. The more the industry comes around to that way of thinking, the more games like Metroid Dread we’ll get. Now that’s a world I’d like to live in. 

« Back to Blog