Why Do We Look Down On 2D Games?

Why Do We Look Down On 2D Games?

Time was, nearly every game was 2D. Side-scrolling or top-down view, the vast majority of games from the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s depicted a two-dimensional play area. But since the proliferation of 3D games, 2D has become a dirty word. Why?

Over on his Gamespite blog, 1Up editor and staunch 2D-ophile Jeremy Parish despairs, when discussing the new Wii version of A Boy and His Blob, at the relegation of 2D games to the domain of the download-only or retro throwback. He writes:

The pervasive mindset that downloadable games are somehow less worthwhile than retail games. In truth, the ratio of cream vs. crap is about the same regardless of medium — most things are terrible, and the relatively rare good stuff is worth celebrating no matter what form it takes — so that’s a meaningless dichotomy to begin with. But it becomes even more irritating when you consider the aforementioned collective dismissal of 2D graphics and apply the logical transitive conclusion to these assumptions: that is, 2D games should be downloads; downloadable-only games are worthless; ergo, 2D games are worthless. This is not acceptable.

Allegedly – and this may be an apocryphal tale – during the PlayStation 2 era, Sony actively discouraged the release of 2D games in the fear such antiquated graphics technology would reflect poorly on the capabilities of their hardware. It’s not hard to imagine Microsoft thinking along the same lines with the original Xbox. Does the same mindset pervade the gaming community as well?

I’ve written before about the psychological barrier when it comes to downloadable games pricing and perhaps it’s also true of 2D games. The question remains: why?

Many of this medium’s finest experiences were crafted in 2D; from Pac-man to Super Mario Bros. to Street Fighter II. Why do we perceive modern 2D games as somehow less valuable than their 3D cousins?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

2D: Crisis of confidence [Gamespite]


  • I think the real question is how value the game you’re playing, is it:
    – Money vs Time spent playing
    – Money vs Effort Spent Developing


    I think the general community would be a bit miffed about paying $100 for a 2D game, why? In my opinion it’s probably because it appears that less money has been spent on developing the game. A 2D sidescroller graphics and physics engine are a very small fraction of the cost of a 3D game engine. Sure, there’s an argument that no less effort has been put into the artwork (an of course sprites have to be individually painted), but I can guarantee that the overall development cost of Super Mario Borthers 3, if developed today, would be far less than New Super Mario Brothers.

    So it begs the question, would you pay $99.95 for a game that you suspect cost the developers a lot less money than it’s 3D counterparts?

    • $100 for a 2D game? Yes

      Do you not think that the New Super Mario game won’t sell a truckload?

      Personally, I would pay $100 for a new… Oddworld (Abe), Battletoads and others…

      The dev costs are relative and if SMB3 was made today and they gave the game the same amount of resources, then it would be close to the same development cost.

      As long as the game concept is fleshed out and designed well there is nothing stopping a 2D game from becoming successful.

      • The question I’m posing is not about the success of a title, but rather development costs versus recommended retail price.

        I understand marketing, management, PR, box art, etc.. all disciplines outside of development would remain similar, but the cost of developing a 2D game is generally cheaper than an equivalent 3D game.

        But essentially it comes down to the consumer and how they rate value on a video game title, and whether the perceived development cost even comes into it. Halo ODST for instance was widely critisised for being priced too high compared to development cost, regardless of the replay value.

  • I don’t know how this article is even relevant when there are plenty of 2D titles out there doing well like Braid, Castle Crashers, Fat Princess and even the Street Fighter II HD Remix, Marvel vs Capcom and Bionic Commando remakes. Then you’ve got “full” games like Viewtiful Joe and Jet Set Radio that also did fairly well.

    So I’m not what you and/or Parish are talking when “we” look down at 2D games.

    • The first six 2D games you mention may well have “done well”, but none of them were full-price releases. Part of “looking down” on 2D games is the expectation that they will be “budget” downloadable releases, not worthy of a full-price disc release.

      Viewtiful Joe, sadly, didn’t do well and Jet Set Radio isn’t a 2D game.

      • I don’t know why I wrote Jet Set Radio – I meant to write Scribblenauts… completely distracted with Uncharted 2 when writing that.

        Scribblenauts made “a credible” appearance on the sales chart and it’s 2D. What about XIII – it may not have done well sales wise but it was critically acclaimed and not frowned upon. Warioware, Wario Shake It or Shake Dimension depending on where you call home.

        Like the people have said – it’s a really weak argument.

      • What about Paper Mario on Gamecube? I’m sure that was full priced and that was a pretty awesome game.

        And when you mean ‘2D games’ do you include pseudo 3D-2D side scrolling into that category? If so what about something like NiGHTS: Into Dreams? Its sequel, Journey of Dreams on the Wii may be pushing the limits of what is deemed as a quality game but nevertheless the original was genuinely great.

        Oh, and don’t forget about the new Sonic game that’s in development that is supposedly going back to its roots!

  • This is a bad argument from a bad game developer who is jealous that his game sold badly.

    Want successful 2D games? Some FULL PRICED (IE: Not downloadble) ones such as BlazBlue and Metal Slug 7, and there have been some fantastic downloadble ones like Castle Crashers and Mega Man 9.

  • I cut my gaming teeth on the likes of Super Mario Bros, Metroid and Mega Man. As much as I do love games with that extra dimension, games like New Super Mario Bros and (to an extent) Little Big Planet have proven that 2D platform games still have more to give.

    As for the Downloadable games, I suppose when you can actually hold the physical media is your hand then you somehow validate your purchase. I would have felt better about buying FFCC: My Life As a King had I been able to place it next to the other FFCC games on my shelf… And had it been a better game.

  • I’m with Game On!

    I remember, a while ago reading an interview between and older gamer and some young kids. They played all the classics and they universally to say. ‘This game sucks, where are the graphics!’

    As a smart man (Game Overthinker) said, originally, games were designed on simple graphics, as that was all they had so had to be fun and simple, Or fun with a great story.

    Then, in the 64/PS One era. Gaming changed and the simple and fun (often Camp) graphics needed to change and be more appealing to the new Larger market. Instead of your archetypal Nerd, they now had to appeal to what is considered the Core gaming market. Young men aged 12-25.

    To remove the ‘Nerd’ stigma they moved away from the story and ‘simple fun’ and began to focus on Graphics and realism. Graphics became a competition point, the rest is history.

    It’s only now that were seeing a revival, with those guys who played in 2d, before the PSOne/64 era now coming of working age and spending money on these games.

    I don’t mean to cast aspersions or offend anyone. I am a STAUNCH nerd and i LOVE my 2d games. If anything i feel that saying we look down upon them is far too broad a generalization, and to an extent a bastardization of the best of my child hood and that of anyone who is over 20~. Neither can i deny that i love things like COD4 and the modern. What this says, is that there are people out there, who just wanna see the pretty things in live, like whores and ignore all else.


  • 2D and 3D games are sold in a real market. Most consumers don’t care about development costs or effort. They care about their own fun factor and that relates to what their friends and reviews say about a game.

    The cruel, hard, nasty truth is 3D games are often better.

    You asked “Why do we perceive modern 2D games as somehow less valuable than their 3D cousins?”

    I’ve given you the bottom line :Fun. The more detailed answer mainly lies in flexibility and in immersion. 3D games have full blown visual flexibility not only in the camera angles you look through but also in animation. They do 1st person perspective properly (rather than quasi 3D) which nails down immersion.

    Some 2D games do well actually but that’s because they are strong in areas other than graphical content.

  • Lamentations. I love the illustrated form, and eagerly awaited the Sega Saturn which promised more levels of parallax scrolling than ever before. But there was an upstart! The PS delivered 3D graphics, it was a shining beacon of a new era. The Saturn, struggling to keep up never got its dual processors into each leg of its pants and halfheartedly tried to compete, never (really) being used for that which it was designed.
    It didn’t matter that the models were ugly, it didn’t matter that Lara’s bosom was pointed with drawn on curves. The 3D era was here, to stay.
    Pixar’s Toy Story has cast a similar shadow on traditional animation. Disney shut its studio, and WB’s Iron Giant which is a stunning example of the genre failed to be marketed with savvy. Its as if the Audience had moved on, it didn’t matter how gooD or how beautiful 2D is, it had to be CG to sell.
    But between 3D’s clunky inception and arguable renaissance why has the beauty of hand drawn art never filled the gap? It can only be blamed on the market I suppose, which in my eyes repeatedly rejects any product with a sense of style. Borderlands I fear may find its fate as a result of the Artist’s uprising, although I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Like the impact the camera had on art, the arrival of (almost) photo realistic graphics has put pressure on a glass ceiling. The goal has been reached, and more of the same will eventually fail to satiate the market. What point is there to a virtual reality that is no different to our own? Gaming must traverse its impressionism or cubism and as it does I hope for a return of traditional art forms. But until that point, and while we most needed it, 2D has been perceived as obsolete.

  • His argument felt poor to me immediately because he reiterated the fact that disagreeing with him was an offense worthy of castration…
    However he raises an interesting question that many games are judged quite heavily upon the elements that can most effectively reflect the funding of the project and people place value accordingly. In turn however as Steven said, many titles that are represented in 2D still have potential to be accepted by the greater gaming community. However as with some of the other contributors back on Jeremy’s blog I wasn’t even aware of that title’s release and I like to think that I put a more than average amount of effort into researching new releases; perhaps marketing is a greater factor here? Not necessarily the absolute reason, but it has perhaps been overlooked in this instance?


  • I don’t think we, the people who loved gaming when 2D was standard, have any issue with 2D. The problem appears stem from the sudden increase in casual gamers during dawn of the 3D era. The period where games stopped being just for dorks and gained a lot of popularity.
    When I say ‘casual gamers’ I’m not referring to the non-gamers who own a Wii and three movie tie-in games. I’m talking about the people who play after school/work a couple of nights a week. Gamers who play games casually.
    These casual gamers don’t really know how to evaluate an unreleased game (or even a released one they haven’t played yet). They’ve got some winners in their library, but its mostly made up of games that had good trailers or were recommended by friends.

    With the introduction of this new majority, unequipped to properly evaluate new titles, the market shifted towards certain staples while avoiding other things like the plague.
    When you take away your ability to pick up on the subtle hints of whether a game is good or bad, suddenly Kane & Lynch looks like a better choice than the low-tech (and thus inferior) Shadow Complex. Its like someone who is colour blind decorating a house.

    [Just to be clear. I don’t hold a grudge against casual gamers. Its not their fault they don’t love gaming the way some of us do and its not their fault they outnumber us a hundred-to-one. They’re playing for fun just like me.]

  • muramasa; although its one of the best looking games ever made in any perspective, it falls short of better 3d games not in graphics but depth. 2d is great and i bought it mostly to support a new 2d game, but you need to have more innovation or do something interesting that 3d can’t, like in trine, but yeah i don’t mind at all if 2d games only exist in a smaller, less-expensive, download only space just bring more out

  • As someone that runs a site devoted to 2D games, I’ve had this discussion many, many times.

    2D, like 3D, has its plus and minuses. For me, the biggest draw of 2D games are accessibility (people just get it–no need to fiddle with camera angles), and the stylized art.

  • From an eye-candy standpoint, it’s a shame really cuz so many 2D games can be done artistically well. Just because it’s in 2D doesn’t mean it can’t be as pretty (or better) as something in 3D.

  • I have grown up with 2D games and still consider the Snes as some of the best graphic’s on a game console ever.
    I personally don’t understand why people prefer 3D over 2D. The way I see it, it’s not how it looks but how it plays.
    However, some 2D games look hundreds of times better then 3D. Muramasa: The demon blade, A boy and his blob(wii), Lost winds, Odin Sphere. Plus many more.

  • Games are a medium driven by technology, to think of 2d games as being equal to 3d games would be like comparing a car to a horse.

    I think anyone who cries over 2d games being thought of as ‘lesser’ games than 3d titles is overly nostalgic about the medium. Yes it started 2d, yes their were some great 2d games but that era has passed.

    Theirs nothing wrong with 2d games, some recent examples are truly amazing considering the limitations but I’d never pay full retail for one these days, that’s just insanity.

  • People don’t look down on 2D games it’s just the market is changed.
    The game world has become more competitive and thus more demographics/niches are formed.

    Consoles have now become 3D powerhouses not pixel pushers, turn to casual gaming on portals like bigfish, or iphone and facebook like social gaming networks and you’ll see where the new niche has been formed.
    2 Types of gamers are immersing, social and casual. It span out of the mmos and tabletops, people weren’t complaining about lower graphical quality below the PS2s normal mapping and flashy maps as a trade off for less lag in a huge mmo arena with online friends.
    People weren’t complaining about less detailed environments and characters and tons of information packed into one screen, as a trade off for simple, cartoony, LARGE graphical elements chocked full of stories on devices like the ipod.
    Girls are also an exploding demographic in the 2D gaming market too, because more than 60% of casual gamers are female! The cutesy cartoony look seems to bring in adult gamers as well INCLUDING the 80s guys trying to revisit what games have ‘lost’ in the old school 2d titles!
    New gamers now aren’t looking to consoles they’re growing up with myspace, facebook and itouches!

    Even PS2 games have to heed to the call, they’re switching to networks like Direct2Drive, consoles might be phased out all together and 2D and 3D Graphics will be in a spectrum where they can live in harmony and BOTH me cool. via the internet 😉

    2D graphics dead/looked down on? Nah! You’re just looking at the wrong market because that’s where you were USED to seeing them growing up! 🙂

  • well im currently a game production student, and my talent lies in making art, so im on a graduation quest so far to bring back 2d side scrolling games and currently working on a 2d game for my final.

    so far the reaction to the art that im pumping into my project has been getting alot of good feedback, so i have to say that we shouldnt look down on 2d games, but learn to use better art to evolve 2d gaming

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