The End Cometh
It always starts innocently enough; The level opens, you begin walking forward, maybe jump on a platform or two. Then IT appears. IT chases you, dogs you, tries to trap you, squash you. If you aren’t fast enough… IT will kill you.
I am of course talking about Scrolling Levels. Or to be more specific, forced Scrolling Levels where the “camera” or borders of the screen will move in a certain direction across the stage and if you don’t keep up you will either be shoved into a bottomless pit or crushed between a border and a hard place. These types of levels are most prevalent in 2D games, but sometimes they can make an appearance in 3D ones as well. In scrolling or on-rails shooters, a scrolling camera/level makes sense since the entire game is designed to push you forward without any player input. Platformer & action games on the other hand, you are in full control of your character’s horizontal and vertical movement so having the screen push you forward is an unnecessary complication.
I mean come on, platformers aren’t always about getting to the end of the level as fast as possible. Many platformers rely upon the player’s curiosity and exploration to discover the game’s secrets. Many games like Mario, Sonic or Donkey Kong even alternate routes and secret areas that can only be found by exploring, backtracking and not always following the straight path to the end of the level. Forced Scrolling levels often don’t have any of this exploration or secrets; if they do, it’s incredibly annoying to find since you’re constantly being shepherded forward or up or down. Forced Scrolling also makes just navigating the actual level unnecessarily more difficult. Since you’re on a crunch to keep moving lest the screen dump you off a cliff or squish you against a wall and since the screen often isn’t big enough to show what platforms or enemies are coming, you frequently have to make blind jumps of faith and hope you land on something solid. There is no room for error in Forced Scrolling levels; one missed jump or MarioFoot slip and it’s Game Over. Or at least try again. DO YOU HAVE NO PATIENCE GAME?!?
Of course, it’s not always just the camera or screen that’s chasing you forward. Some games try to work the forced scrolling into the level design. A volcano level for instance might have lava rising up from the floor and you have to jump your way up funnel to avoid getting deep fried and roasted. Or a level might have a giant monster, or I don’t know, a giant boulder chasing you that you have to outrun. Or maybe a really mean wall that decided you’d make a nice sandwich. While making the forced scrolling a part of the level/hazard design is certainly more creative than just having the screen arbitrarily move forward, it can still make for some needlessly frustrating platforming.
I personally have no time of day or night to spare for Forced Scrolling levels. I think they’re annoying, frustrating and generally just make things harder than necessary. It’s like putting an arbitrary time limit on a level; more often than not, it’s just unnecessary and only serves as a quick and easy way to up the difficulty of a normally un-challenging level. Oh, and the worst thing about Forced Scrolling levels? WHEN YOU CAN MOVE FASTER THAN THE SCREEN BUT THE SCREEN WON’T LET YOU.
So yeah, Forced Scrolling levels. Maybe they can be done well. Maybe they can add to the immersion of a level. But I don’t have time for em. Now excuse me while I go play Metro Cross.