Are the collectathons dead?

Are the collectathons dead?

"Collectathon": a word that probably many passionate gamers have not even heard of, has long since fallen into disuse. To be sure, even in the golden age of the genre it was a term that was very seldom used. Yet, many of us have had dozens of collectathons on our hands, some of them have achieved the status of true legends in the undergrowth of nerd culture, many are still counted in the charts of the best video games ever made. The collectathon platformer is a videogame genre that reached its moment of maximum splendor in the 64bit era, becoming the protagonist of an extraordinary explosion caused mainly by a difficult problem. We are talking about the big problem that kept thousands of developers awake in the mid-90s, namely: "how can we translate platformers, or the most successful video games in two dimensions, in a world that travels towards 3D technology?".

This question brought with it a series of extremely complex problems, so much so that some producers came to label the possible transposition operation as impossible. It happened, however, that a game designer you have probably heard of, such Shigeru Miyamoto, managed to imagine and show the bewildered audience a three-dimensional version of the plumber Mario, teaching the world that the future of platformers would not only be possible, but potentially revolutionary. .

During the sunset of the Super NES we wondered how to translate the platformers in the world in 3D. Super Mario 64 introduced a physics engine and movement system so perfect that it survived unchanged for over 25 years, but what amazed the insiders was the completely new approach to platforming mechanics. The levels, in the past, were simple obstacle courses made on graph paper in order to constitute the entire backbone of the gameplay, putting the player in front of equations to be solved by strokes of skill and alertness.

The introduction of the new axis, on the other hand, made this design philosophy completely obsolete; there was no room for a single lens at the bottom of the level, while the construction of precision-grounded segments was undermined by still immature camera management, pushing the idea of ​​a satisfying amalgam out of the reach of all studios that could not rely on Nintendo's technical expertise.

So what did the developers do? Simple: they put aside the soul of traditional platforming in favor of a structure closer to the concept of exploration, almost completely removing the concept of a goal to be achieved and developing the individual levels along the new axis. The only thing missing was an incentive for the gamer, something that could replace the classic concept of challenge with an engine suitable for the rhythm of the open-level formula.

The advent of Super Mario 64 is one of the most important moments in the history of video games. It was then that the current of Collect-A-Thon was born, or the platform video game in three dimensions consisting of open levels in which to collect more or less important objects in order to open the gates on new sections of the experience. Did you want to go deeper into Peach's Castle? Perfect, it was enough to explore far and wide the stages you had available in order to accumulate the necessary resources to break all the locks.

If Super Mario 64 can be considered the father of the platformer collectathon, Banjo- Kazooie undoubtedly played the role of the mother. The Rare title has built further on the concept of the overworld, transforming Gruntilda's lair into an extension of the gameplay experience and filling each level with collectibles to scale the elaborate progression system.

With exploration now at the center of the experience, you had to collect musical notes to proceed through the maze of the witch's lair, accumulate puzzle pieces to unlock access to stages, get your hands on honeycombs to increase health, locate torn pages to get cheats and even save little creatures called Jinjo. Each level became a small party in which the platforming phases and the numerous mini-games put themselves at the service of discovery, while the task of taking the player by the hand fell entirely to the collecting system.

Banjo Kazooie from RARE it was a sort of manifesto of the platform collectathon. It took some time before the inspiration was able to transcend the boundaries of the Nintendo 64, but it finally happened in 1999 with the advent of Ape Escape, which not surprisingly was the first title made for Sony PlayStation to strictly require the use of the DualShock. In any case, the second half of the 90s was literally studded with collectathons that have gone down in history, from A Bug's Life to Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time, from Conker's Bad Fury Day to Spyro the Dragon.

A in the face of the very few titles that adopted different approaches, such as the 2.5D chosen by Tombi! or the traditional skeleton remodeled by Crash Bandicoot, anyone who wanted to establish themselves in the huge platform market had to propose his reading of the collectathon, to the point that even heavy names like Rayman or strong licenses like those of Toy Story and even Tony Hawk ended up embracing this creative philosophy.

The question arises: what happened to the collectathons today? How is it possible that a genre close to the limit of monopoly has almost definitively disappeared from the radar? Of course, in recent times the path of the nostalgia operation has been explored, and it has been done mainly through productions such as Yooka-Laylee and Snake Pass, while a giant like Mario has managed to keep his backbone unchanged even in the heart of a market so different, but the mass collectathon appears as a creature that has become extinct from one day to the next.

Over time, the monopoly of the collectathon became so strong that it also invaded licensed titles such as for example at Bug's Life. It is clear that certain things do not happen in the space of a snap of the fingers. The first signs of the collapse of the collectathon could be perceived on October 22, 2001, when Rockstar Games published the first three-dimensional edition of its Grand Theft Auto on PC and consoles. There is little surprise: if we were to draw up a ranking of the most influential productions of all time, GTA III would undoubtedly deserve to occupy an important space among the top positions.

And the success achieved by the title it was so powerful that it was impossible to go unnoticed in the eyes of the experts. GTA III was the best-selling video game of 2001, collected an average on Metacritic which in the days following the launch settled on 97, won numerous awards for the Game of the Year, and more importantly it managed to make anyone perceive the extraordinary evolution that would feature open-world video games over the years to come.

Before continuing, however, there is another title, also released in 2001, which is worth talking about; a title that is rarely discussed today, of which the legacy has struggled to survive, but which has managed to win the hearts of many gamers by staging an alternative to the limit of the revolutionary. That title was called Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, and it was released by Naughty Dog a few months after GTA III, to be exact in December of the same year.

GTA 3 on PlayStation 2 would definitely change the rules of the game. Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was the first platform collectathon, and one of the first video games ever, to adopt an entirely open-world formula created without interruption. Although the GTA effect inexorably overwhelmed the fabric of the medium, the breath of freshness brought by Naughty Dog ran the real risk of heavily influencing the decade to come, it was not for the fact that the house, building the expected sequels, decided to approach the Rockstar Games formula instead of insisting on its own path.

In any case, the sunset of the collectathon was sealed by the same father of the genre, when Super Mario Galaxy chose to distance himself from the traditional construct for embrace something different, a formula that is both innovative and nostalgic at the same time, a formula capable of winning back the Nintendo audience even in the midst of the new vortex of the market.

So this is where the legend of the collectathon ends ? In a cold autumn of 2007, in the era of controllers with motion sensors and in the midst of the open-world revolution? Absolutely not. Because yes, that's right, the platform collectathon genre has disappeared from the radar of the industry, and methodical attempts to chase the throwback have often resulted in holes in the water, but the legacy of the genre continues to survive silently on the banks of highly successful titles.

Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter was the last innovative collectathon: a whole world to be explored seamlessly. Even if it happens that little gems like A Hat in Time still manage to collect some success, the philosophy and inspirations behind the genre have converged in the soul of the dominant productions. The Assassin's Creed saga, for example, owes a lot to the era of the collectathons, and although the collectible formula has been enormously exasperated over the past few years, millions of gamers approach the assassin series precisely because of this aspect of the experience.

Nowadays there is no video game that has not made its one or more of the inspirations born in the second half of the 90s to enhance the virtual world, and the contamination process could only grow further in conjunction with the explosion of the open-world genre. The reason is very simple: when the decision is made to stage boundless universes, it is absolutely necessary to invent something to push gamers to explore them far and wide, and this is exactly the same question from which the roots of the collectathon originated.

However, it is also necessary to examine the main negative drift arising from the monopoly of the genre, that is a philosophy that has sometimes been referred to as "Up to Eleven", a term taken directly from a scene in the mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap "in which the leader of the rock band pointed out to the interviewers that the volume of his amplifiers could reach, precisely, up to the unprecedented level 11.

The debut of Assassin's Creed definitely marks the beginning of a new open-world era, and the soul of the collectathon flows into it. With the "Up to Eleven" philosophy we mean the will to take all the contents and mechanics that have made the fortune of a work and then push them to the maximum, doubling down across the board for the sequel or a new production. Nowadays it should, and we would like to emphasize that it "should" be clear that this is a counterproductive choice, and the reason lies precisely in the failure of traditional collectathons.

Titles like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie focused heavily on this type of approach, inserting tons of collectibles, new gameplay elements that favored a wild "backtracking" and layers of superfluous mechanics useful only to lengthen the soup. The intent was obviously to make the public perceive an important sense of progress that had already been lost in dozens of three-dimensional platformers, but the result ended up boring them very quickly.

Here, this is perhaps the teaching greatest that we can draw from the slow dissolution of the collectathons, and above all from those works that, on the other hand, have managed to constantly reinvent themselves surviving until the ninth generation of consoles. On the one hand there were projects that aimed to be ever larger, bigger and longer-lived, while on the other a rare category of video games that aimed to renew itself one release after another, intercepting the currents of the market and betting on unprecedented formulas.

The risk is to make the same mistakes, or to create ever larger and more endless games without bringing true innovation. Most Read Now

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Why are we interested in analyzing the fate of the collectathons today? Well, because we are experiencing a decade of creative stagnation, and it is very likely that new categories of video games will soon find themselves having to deal with the same crisis experienced by the collectathons. Open-world games, games as a service, even battle royale titles: all these sub-genres are in the midst of a tired period of productions often the same as themselves or simply brought "Up to Eleven" with each release.

Video games that simply become larger, richer and more layered, anchoring themselves to formulas that are inevitably aging. In the end, the collectathon genre managed to bring together many elements of its soul in the fabric of modern successful works, and thanks to the incalculable push received by the mustachioed plumber it returns from time to time to peep at the top of the sales charts. But not everyone can count on the help of Mario himself, and it is good to learn as much as possible from the past to prevent history from repeating itself.

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