What is Side-Scrolling? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

Side Scrolling refers to games that take place in a 2D environment, and players must traverse each level through a side-view camera angle. Much of the movement is limited to only left and right on the screen, and players must complete objectives in this manner. Side Scrollers as they’re also called, come in a variety of styles ranging from shooters like the classic Contra series to the more prestigious platformers such as Rare and Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country along with the awesome beat em’ up Double Dragon. All of these examples come with their own perks which make them a gem on their own, with a long catalog of other great titles that make the side scrolling genre so profound. With the advancement in technology along with major companies moving towards a more 3D landscape, there has been an influx recently of indie companies trying to recreate that nostalgia by releasing new titles under the side scrolling umbrella. One example is the fantastic Shovel Knight by Yacht Club Games, as well as Double Dragon IV which was revived by famed company Arc System Works. Let’s take a closer look at some other great examples and just what makes side scrollers so fun.


Growing up in the early 90’s was a magical time for many fans of the gaming scene, because this was a time when competition was fierce and companies tried desperately to raise the bar when it came to providing a unique gaming experience. Nintendo and Sega were neck and neck in terms of their gaming lineup, and had a pretty stellar list of games to choose from. Side scrollers back then were the bread and butter of many companies with Nintendo being a prime example of that. Not only did Nintendo help to revolutionize the side scrolling genre with the likes of Donkey Kong Country, introducing 3D sprite technology never before seen in a video game, but they also helped to inspire other companies to follow suit such as Ubisoft’s popular Rayman franchise. Sega had their illustrious Sonic franchise to carry them far and they too also brought a lot of innovative ideas to the table. It was a time of celebration, euphoria, and constant joy because everywhere you turned there was a side scroller waiting to be played.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System/Platform: Various Nintendo Platforms
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Rare
  • Release Date: November 20, 1995

We’ve mentioned the name quite a few times already in this article but it goes without saying that Donkey Kong Country is widely considered to be one of the greatest games ever made. When Rare and Nintendo were still together, these two companies created some of the best video games we’ve ever laid eyes on and to this day are unforgettable. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is just one of those games that today still stand the test of time, and is still highly revered among many speedrunners and fans of the side scrolling genre.

Back when DKC2 came out in 1995, the game industry was starting to see a shift in technology and more companies started to take notice of the potential of 3D design. Nintendo and Rare saw this opportunity well before anyone else because, the original Donkey Kong Country already blew the minds of millions around the world with its addictive platforming and stunning graphics. Diddy’s Kong Quest took everything that made the original so stupendous and threw in a variety of new levels and characters to make the experience even more satisfying. Every stage was a challenge all the way towards the end battle with King K. Rool, and you simply couldn’t put the controller down because of how seamless everything felt in the game. Sadly, Rare and Nintendo parted ways shortly after the Gamecube, with Microsoft buying them out and taking all of the rights with them. In spite of that, you can still dust off your SNES anytime you please and pop in that good ol’ cartridge, and immerse yourself in one of the ultimate side scrolling classics that will shine on for eternity.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest Wii U Virtual Console Trailer

Fast Paced Action

While we’re aboard the nostalgia train, we might as well discuss yet another title that truly blew everyone away. We’ll get to it in just a moment but for now let’s talk about the fast paced action of side scrollers. The amazing aspect about side scrollers is that despite their limitations with regards to movement, the action that takes place on screen at times is crazy. Whether you’re thrusting your fist into the enemy's throat with Axel’s Grand Upper in Streets of Rage II, or spin kicking a group of foot soldiers with Raphael in Turtles in Time, the pace was always quick yet satisfying enough to keep you hungry for more. There were just so many epic games to pick up and play from your local rental store (Blockbuster and Microplay ftw), which oftentimes made it so difficult to choose just one. Nothing could ever come close to the awesome style of side scrollers back then, and we wish more major companies these days would bring them back for us to relive our childhood again. If there’s one game that truly brings back memories of long nights and avoiding our homework, it’s most certainly Contra.

Contra III: The Alien Wars

  • System/Platform: Various Nintendo Platforms
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami | Factor 5
  • Release Date: February 28, 1992

Konami was an unstoppable force during the golden age of the SNES because they had so many wicked titles to choose from such as Metal Gear Solid and of course Contra. Contra III: The Alien Wars is the more notable of the series because it took everything that made its predecessors so fun and turned it up a notch with not only the difficulty, but pacing as well. Everything from all the bullets flying at you on screen to enemies popping up from out of the blue made playing Contra III enriching. It was truly unreal and to this day is still a challenging experience because to reach the final boss you had to go through some pretty grueling stages, that were filled with a plethora of enemies who were relentless and had no mercy for you.

One minute your lifebar would be at max and then a few seconds later you’re sweating profusely because you’ve lost most of your lives and now you have a pixel of health left. It’s for that reason Contra III: The Alien Wars stands out as one of the more richer side scrolling titles and doesn’t disappoint when it comes down to sheer enjoyment. We certainly have to throw in some honorable mentions because the side scrolling genre wouldn’t be the same without them. Super Metroid, Metal Slug, Final Fight, Golden Axe, Spider Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage and a long list of others.

Contra III: The Alien Wars Wii U Virtual Console Trailer

2D Universe

Side Scrolling titles typically take place within a 2D environment and often times come with restrictions as we mentioned earlier. However those restrictions are what really make these games so remarkable because they add an element of difficulty to them, and forces you to make use of the space you have. We’ve certainly been spoiled these days with the popularity of 3D based titles, and so it’s good that some companies have stayed true to their roots and are keeping the trend alive. If there’s one company that has managed to maintain that image for decades now, it most certainly has to be Nintendo and their beloved Mario series. Since 1987 Mario has been chucking shells and stomping on enemies, and generating so much hype that other companies started to imitate the popular plumber and its playstyle. You could truly say that the Super Mario series is the forerunner of the side scrolling genre because despite there being such an influx of other side scrollers out there, many gamers started their career with Mario himself. On that note, let’s take a look at our final example which is Super Mario World.

Super Mario World

  • System/Platform: Super Nintendo, Game Boy Advance, Wii U (Virtual Console)
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Date: August 13, 1991

Super Mario World took the world by storm by displaying state of the art graphics that took advantage of the SNES hardware, and was the first time we had a chance to see Yoshi in action. Super Mario World is widely considered by critics to be one of the greatest games ever made, and we’re not arguing against that. With constant re-releases, first as a compilation title with Super Mario All-Stars, then Super Mario Advance 2 for the Game Boy Advance, the series was a huge leap in the right direction for Nintendo and since then they’ve been riding the wave of success. New elements were implemented into the game which many players took advantage of, such as being able to float in the air with special items along with being able to spin jump.

The Cape Feather was a fan favorite because it shared a resemblance to the popular Tanooki Suit from Super Mario Bros 3, and allowed you to fly just about wherever you wanted along with being able to glide your way towards victory. Of course the most distinctive feature about Super Mario World is Yoshi, this cute green dinosaur that chomps on enemies and turns them into an egg or spits them back out to kill the baddies. Depending on the item Yoshi holds in his mouth, they grant him special abilities such as being able to fly, emit dust clouds to kill enemies, or turn koopa into koopa karaage by spitting hot flames at them. With so many secrets to unlock as well, Super Mario World was full of surprises and so offered players new ways of playing a side scrolling title. It’s outstanding to see that Nintendo has carried that legacy on for many years as we can clearly see on the 3DS, but it seems now with Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch Mario is moving back into the 3D world. Be that as it may, any game enthusiast will tell you that if there’s any game to pick up and play if you’re new to side scrollers, Super Mario World is the go to title.

Super Mario World Wii U Virtual Console Trailer

Final Thoughts

There’s such a massive catalog of amazing side scrollers that we honestly would need another article to talk about them all. Perhaps a top 100? Let us know what type of article you’d like for us to write and we’ll do our very best to make it happen! In the meantime, we thought it would be best to continue our honorable mentions so off the top we have Altered Beast, Jazz Jackrabbit 2, Kung Fu Master, River City Ransom, Battletoads and Double Dragon, Tiny Toons, Excitebike, and Ghost N’ Goblins. What other side scrollers can you name off the top of your head? Which ones have you fully completed? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to share our articles on social media to keep the Honey’s community strong!

As always for all things sweet, be sure to keep it locked here on Honey’s Anime.

Donkey-Kong-Country-2-Diddys-Kong-Quest-game-2-700x467 What is Side-Scrolling? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.

A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and watch me play on twitch.tv/honeysgaming ! Take care!

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