5 Side-Scrollers Reviewed

Hollow Knight:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visual Style:

Hollow Knight’s art style is beautiful and haunting, with the dark colour scheme evoking a sense of longing and melancholy, furthered by the other atmospheric elements of the game, such as audio and storytelling. The combination of hand-painted backgrounds, stylised character designs, careful use of colour, and fluid animations creates a beautiful cinematic experience. Various gameplay elements and mechanics are separated from the environment via colour, style, animation and design, allowing the player to make sense of the visual information that they are presented with.


Hollow Knight, while evoking a sense of melancholy and longing, follows an unwavering protagonist whom ventures into the ancient city of Hollownest. The adversity he faces, and friends he makes along the way, further contrast his small stature, and back-footed nature, as he ventures through this ruined world. Starting off with just a cracked nail, the player becomes more and more powerful as they continue their adventure, coming across various archetypes, themes and elements, some light-hearted, some dark.


Gameplay revolves mainly around melee combat, general movement, dashing/dodging, and jumping. There is an energy-like resource that one collects, from both within the environment and fighting enemies, that allows the player to heal and charge up/use certain abilities. Adding to this would be the various ‘nail arts’ (special moves), and ‘charms’ that one may equip. These charms, equipped while sitting at a bench (save and healing station), allow the player to upgrade and specialise their character for different playstyles.

There are various hidden areas, upgrades and mechanics within the game, with the player being encouraged to seek them out. They may provide benefits such as; upgrades/charms, extra quests/lore, maps, and transportation routes.

The currency, Geo, is collected within the environment and from enemies, allowing the player to purchase upgrades from various NPCs, usually hidden throughout the environment/s, for their character.

Health-wise, the character has a few ‘points’ of health, of which can  be added to (the ‘energy meter’ can be added to/upgraded as well) via the purchase and discovery of items/upgrades within the environment/from NPCs.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visual Style:

A unique visual style is present in Cuphead, of which borrows from and pays homage to the Western cartoons of old, blending water-colour backgrounds with graphic cell-shaded animations and characters. Readability is paramount, with platforms, projectiles and enemies standing out from the background via the stark contrast between outlines and flat shading versus water-colour backgrounds and landscapes, the textures, volume of detail, and animations separating them from each other while still maintaining coherency.


The game revolves around two characters, Cuphead (main character) and Mugman, whom accidentally stumble upon the Devil’s Casino. There they are tricked into signing over their souls to the devil, who assigns them a task; collect a series of soul contracts from the indebted residents on the isle they inhabit to gain back their souls, or they remain under the Devil’s possession for eternity.

The themes, of course, involve hell and gambling, as well as various tropes and clichés spawned out from the era of animation upon which the game is based.


The gameplay revolves around general movement, crouching, dodging/dashing, jumping and shooting, with various upgrades, weapon types and supers available via an in-game currency, earned within the optional run-and-gun levels within the game.

The gameplay revolves mainly around dodging various attacks, and learning the levels/bosses, progressing through a series of creative and unique boss fights. A parry function is present, allowing the character to charge up their super abilities by jumping when about to encounter any pink projectile or object within the game environment.

The character has limited HP, with each hit lowering the counter, of which can be added to via an upgrade that can be purchased with in-game coins.


Ori and the Blind Forest:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Visual Style:

Similar to Hollow Knight in regard to beauty and aesthetics, the hand-painted approach, focusing on aesthetics and readability, works wonderfully. Certain colours, like in Hollow Knight, are reserved for certain gameplay elements and mechanics. However, there is a greater range and intensity of detail, colour and atmosphere, with a variety of emotions being created through visual and auditory storytelling, furthered by the fantastic character and environment design.


The story, focusing around a small monkey-like being, involves heartbreak and adventure, crafting likeable, hateable, and quirky characters of which are communicated through visuals/design, audio, animation and gameplay. The once vibrant forest inhabited by the main character has fallen into ruin via the meddling of a gargantuan owl, the man villain, causing the environment to become hostile and dangerous, with the trees bearing no fruit and monsters lurking around corners. The caregiver of the main character, within the opening sequence, meets their end due to the declining nature of the environment. This spurs the main character on, hoping to solve the issues pervading its home.


Gameplay revolves around general movement, shooting, jumping and swimming, with the character gaining extra abilities throughout the game that allow them to traverse previously inaccessible areas, of which is something that occurs within Hollow Knight as well.

The character has limited HP and ‘charge’, of which can be restored and upgraded via traversing the environment and discovering upgrades and areas of rest.


Shovel Knight:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visual Style:

Shovel Knight, similarly to Cuphead, pays homage to what came before. In this case, however, it harkens back to the Super Metroid era of platforming, with the distinctive visual style of the platformers back in the day being revitalised. The pixel art aesthetic, evoking a sense of nostalgia in both new and old fans of platformer games, is executed beautifully. The sprites and backgrounds are not too complex, they are, instead, rather graphic and simplistic via their limited individual palettes and colour schemes/combinations.


The main character must attempt to rescue his friend, Shield Knight, and to do so he must defeat the members of “The Order of No Quarter”, who have been sent by the main antagonist, the Enchantress, to defeat him. The game touches on topics of heroism, friendship and evil.


The gameplay revolves around general movement, jumping, attacking with a shovel, as well as various upgrades/special abilities that the character may purchase from a hidden vendor/NPC throughout most levels, or from NPCs within villages. The shovel that the main character possesses allows him to fight enemies, dig up treasure, or aim below him when attack enemies while jumping to bounce upon them.

An element of risk-and-reward is present in this game, where the player may choose to destroy checkpoints to gain greater treasure. Upon death, the player drops some of their currency, of which can be retrieved via collecting the flying sacks that spawn near where they last died. A similar mechanic is present in Hollow Knight, where upon death you lose a portion of your max energy, of which can be resolved via defeated your ‘shade’ near where you last died.

Completing the game allows the player to choose New Game Plus mode, allowing them to replay the game at a harder difficulty.

Super Metroid:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visual Style:

Super Metroid, being one of the older platformers, still holds up strong to this day. As stated above, Shovel Knight borrows from this game in regards to aesthetics, with the pixel art style in this game being extremely ambitious for its time, with bosses being packed full of detail, contrasting nicely with the thematic environmental backgrounds.


The main character, Samus Aran, pursues Ridley, the main antagonist, who has stolen the Metroid larva Samus delivered to the Ceres Space Colony after her previous expedition. This larva, having believed her to be its mother, had imprinted itself upon her.


Gameplay focuses on running, jumping, crouching and shooting, with other special movement options such as wall jumping (similarly to Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight), as well as the “Moon Walk” ability.

Power-ups are available throughout the game, allowing the player to unlock special abilities and areas of the game, similarly to Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest, two games that also feature backtracking that is unlocked via exploration.



En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Cuphead. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuphead [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Ori and the Blind Forest. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ori_and_the_Blind_Forest [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Shovel Knight. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shovel_Knight#Shovel_of_Hope_campaign [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Super Metroid. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Metroid [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

GameSpot. (2015). Ori and the Blind Forest Review. [online] Available at: https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/ori-and-the-blind-forest-review/1900-6416053/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Parish, J. (2017). Metroid Game By Game Reviews: Super Metroid. [online] USgamer.net. Available at: http://www.usgamer.net/articles/metroid-game-by-game-reviews-super-metroid [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Provo, F. (2007). Super Metroid Review. [online] GameSpot. Available at: https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/super-metroid-review/1900-6177708/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

Tucker, B. (2015). Retro Thunderdome – Metroid (NES) vs Super Metroid – Skirmish Frogs. [online] Skirmishfrogs.com. Available at: http://skirmishfrogs.com/2015/11/05/retro-thunderdome-metroid-nes-vs-super-metroid/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

USgamer.net. (2014). Daily Classic: 7 Reasons Super Metroid was an SNES Masterpiece. [online] Available at: http://www.usgamer.net/articles/daily-classic-7-things-that-make-super-metroid-a-timeless-masterpiece [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].


Side-Scroller Story and Game Concept

The story and game I am currently developed may be summarised like thus;


A robot, powered by sunlight, wakes up after millennia on standby in low power mode. The world, dominated by metal/synthetic based life forms, has started to fall to ruin by a biological plague. This plague, of which catalyses synthetic materials to organic matter has started to progressively consume its way through a complex network of cities.


This robot, controlled by the player, possesses a flaw in their internal network and operating system. This flaw lead to him being placed in a standby mode while ‘doctors’ worked on figuring out and curing his ailment. The machinery that held him in stasis eventually ran out of power, ejecting him into the current time period.


The robot that the player controls is not an original synthetic life-form, but is instead a robot created as a servant to serve those higher up in the social and economic hierarchy. Being the favourite of a more influential synthetic being, he was put under stasis while his ‘glitch’ was being analysed for a cure.


He then leaves the facility that he wakes up in, venturing forth into the decrepit world he once knew. He discovers that the flaw of his, one that causes over-powered energy discharges, works to his advantage when encountering hostile lifeforms. Driven by a desire to understand why his world has fallen into ruin, what happened to his brethren, and hoping to finally cure his ailment, he strikes out towards the capital in a desperate bid to find help and make sense of the current situation.


Along the way, not only does his ‘flaw’ save him many times from crazed synthetic life forms, half consumed by the aforementioned biological plague, by allowing him to discharge high levels of energy in their direction, but it also uses the abundance of solar energy to protect his machinery from said biological plague. A thin layer of electricity coats his outer matter, frying and eliminating any biological matter that hopes to latch on and seep into his circuity.


The mechanics of these are explained through the use of visual and auditory storytelling, with animations and accompanying diegetic and non-diegetic sounds supporting the message being told to the player.


Biological life-forms are seen absorbing old machinery, however, when a tendril touches the main character while he is in sunlight it recoils from a static/electrical shock. The same occurs when the character is at full energy level, of which is required if the character is infected when not meeting the right requirements, for negating the effect to ‘dispel’/cure it. Synthetic life forms have micro solar panel-like ‘cells’, absorbing and converting the energy into electrical currents that then power their bodies, processes and networks.


Several bosses and enemy types will have different views on the biological plague; some may embrace it, some may hate it and attempt to exterminate it, some wish for a pure and exalted race of synthetics, some may be hoarding energy and controlling energy nodes/weather modifiers etc.


The different factions will have different aesthetics, enemy types and mechanics, as well as different motivations and opinions regarding the main character.


You must find and reconstruct energy nodes to help power up sections of cities and environments, their inherent energy levels having been lowered through the changes in weather and lack of sunlight in many areas. Once back online, the energy nodes will enable weather modifiers/manipulators to clear the skies and provide greater and more powerful sources of sunlight to shine down. This changes the environments, with the synthetic life-forms and miscellaneous objects changing in various ways to reflect the influx of power. Not only that, but one is then able to progress to the next area via the opening of a door or the defeat of a guardian/boss.


Collecting the various parts required for the energy nodes requires one to explore the zones, horizontally and vertically. Some areas require that you complete the energy nodes to progress, others requires you to defeat a boss and/or guardian, or complete a puzzle and/or quest. Even if the node is not required, it does make progressing through the area easier, and is especially helpful during difficult boss fights. The more nodes you reconstruct throughout the game, the easier fights may become.


Narrative will be delivered purely through visuals and audio, with some text-based pick ups or signs in the environment. The character, for the most part, is silent and reclusive, having spent the majority of his time either in stasis or avoiding others for fear of hurting them due to his flawed systems/processes.


Visually, the original synthetic society strove to be a utopian paradise (with heavy influences from modern and futuristic architectural concepts), with flowing and organic forms. Contrasting, yet complementing simultaneously, would be the organic plague, of which possesses similar flowing forms, however the textures, colours, shapes and forms that it creates intertwine with and assimilate into the original structures and forms present in the world.


The original synthetic life-forms will possess many similarities to the life-forms present on earth, however their materials and evolutionary tracts differ greatly. For the most part, the player will come into contact with the robotics, machinery and biological plague as enemies, especially in the early levels of the game.


NPCs, certain enemies and bosses may provide dialogue options and/or speak to the player when not prompted to do so. The dialogue provided will help build up the world, as well as the characters within it. Certain bosses and enemies may be spared should you share their ideology, with different rewards based upon how you dealt with them. The same may go for collectables and mini-quests, with NPCs sheltering away from the plague and eager for/to help, willing to reward those that come to their aid.


Various factions and communities have built up and fallen over time, with several gaining traction and developing into a formidable force, holding and improving territories. These different areas reflect that, with shelters, props and environmental factors indicating the predominant inhabitants.


Bodies and augmentations can be altered and modified, allowing different enemies and friendlies to customize themselves in a way that depicts their intentions. Some, however, still appear (underneath, and apart from, the biological plague covering/infiltrating them)  as they do before the plague hit. This also helps distinguish between those in different social classes before and after the plague hit, with augmentations being scavenged and reproduced using makeshift and repurposed factories/assembly lines.


Different cores and weapon types may be added and combined, providing different combat options and effects when combined together. These effects may influence your movement, damage, weapon type/spread/speed/attributes, regeneration/absorption of energy and more.


The player must utilise jumping, dashing/dodging, shooting/aiming, shielding, powering/charging, general movement and weaponry upgrades/augmentations to their advantage. You may have a specific weapon type, however, you may augment it with an upgrade that provides different benefits (some of which may carry over from/be similar to another weapon’s properties).


There will be health and energy bars, with either the lack or abundance of these resources affecting the player’s character in different ways. Charging your energy levels requires you to stand in sunlight, or use a recharge node/port, and when doing so allows you to use your abilities to a greater extent, especially your ‘channeled’ shield ability (of which drains energy the longer you hold it). The player may change their current weapon type and augmentation at any time, with this customization being available through a menu/inventory system (You may need to be near a certain node/station to customize your weapons/augmentations).


The different weapon types and augmentations are visible through their firing patterns and properties, as well as the visual representations on the character’s sprite. Different colours, shapes and forms represent different customizations/combinations.


Different areas will be affected differently by the plague, of which will affect the enemies and their motives within those areas. Moving more and more towards the capital, the player may take note that the patchiness of the plague morphs into a steadier covering and epidemic. Upon discovery of where the Central Core is housed, the revered synthetic being that orchestrates their society, the player finds that the area/building/tower is overrun by the plague, with tendrils and vines of misshapen organic and synthetic matter intertwined amongst each other.


Auto-defence systems and guardians are ‘infected’, their programming malfunctioning and overridden, unlike the other beings where they are in the middle of reprogramming (causing them to go mad) these beings have a completely altered perception of the world and its inhabitants, seeking to destroy all synthetic life-forms. However, a large portion of their matter is still synthetic, yet covered and intermingled with organic matter.


The robot, upon discovering that the Central Core is the source of this plague, must use his own flaw to defeat the glitched Central Core that is creating and perpetuating the epidemic of organic matter.


There are several avenues that the story may depart down, of which I will list here:


-The Central Core did this on purpose, wanted to start anew and create a perfect race utilizing the marriage of organics and synthetics?


-Was glitched/flawed due to some other reason?


– Someone reprogrammed it, having acquired a sample of organic matter offworld and used it to alter the Central Core?


The player must defeat the guardians of the Central Core, possibly saving and freeing it or destroying it as well?


-Another boss fight, where you must defeat the being within the core controlling it and/or the one who reprogrammed it?


-All powerful celestial being is imprisoned inside, his mind being mined in order to create and program an entire synthetic planet?


-Experiment in synthetic evolution derived through biological processes?


The story of this game, especially relating to the main character and his development, is influenced by The Hero’s Journey, a re-occurring story-telling theme throughout history and mythology. To summarise, The Hero’s Journey usually occurs in a series of stages; Departure, Initiation, and Return. All three of these relate to the character’s journey, especially since most characters involved with this formula are usually flawed in some way. The presence of flaws within a character, whether it be physical, mental or emotional, help create a more real and believable character, one that some may be able to identify with.

Notable examples of The Hero’s Journey would include;

-Star Wars by George Lucas

-The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

-The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

-A Variety of Myths and Legends

-The Story of Theseus



McQuire, S. (2016). What Your 6 Favorite Movies Have in Common [Infographic] – Venngage. [online] Venngage. Available at: https://venngage.com/blog/heros-journey/ [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Mythologyteacher.com. (n.d.). MythologyTeacher.com. [online] Available at: http://www.mythologyteacher.com/The-Hero%27s-Journey.php [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Ray, R. (n.d.). Hero’s Journey Examples | Monomyth | Heroic Journey. [online] Storyboard That. Available at: http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/e/heroic-journey [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Shmoop.com. (n.d.). Theseus: Birth and Early Adventures Hero’s Journey. [online] Available at: https://www.shmoop.com/theseus-birth-and-early-adventures/heroes-journey.html [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

YourDictionary. (2014). Examples of Each Stage of a Hero’s Journey. [online] Available at: http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-each-stage-of-a-hero-s-journey.html [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].