The comeback of 3D platformers in 2017

If you grew up gaming in the mid-to-late Nineties or early 2000s, there’s no way you could have avoided the 3D platformer. Those were the days: Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper – I could go on. Hell, even Gex, Croc and  Ty the Tasmanian Tiger weren’t that bad. Somewhere around the mid-2000s, though, the genre was over-saturated with shitty movie tie-ins and sub-par clones, making it hard to see the wood from the trees. Obviously, we’ve had the odd Mario platformer or HD remake to tide us over – as well as some promising releases last year, such as the Ratchet and Clank remake – but publishers and developers wrongly assumed that we’d all moved on from the genre. Until now. here are five reasons that prove 2017 will mark the revival of the 3D platformer.

5. Project Sonic 2017 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)

      Release date: Q4 2017

I know, I know – the number of times Sonic Team have let us down with Sega’s poster boy of the 90s is a running joke in the industry. I remember how excited I was when I booted up Sonic Adventure – the blue mascot’s first dash into 3D – in 1999 as a nine-year-old kid. I was so damn excited, especially after falling in love with the series on the Mega Drive in years prior. That first level of Adventure – y’know, the one with the whale – looked pretty cool aesthetically, but once I’d finished gushing over the graphics, even then I knew that I was playing a bad game. I gave the disgraced mascot another chance a few years later with Adventure 2, but it was clear that he was a shadow of his former glory (and don’t even get me started on that Shadow.)

Since then, it’s spiralled out of control. Sonic Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors; title after title, letdown after crippling letdown. There was one diamond in the rough, however, with 2011’s Sonic Generations. Generations had the player controlling two different characters: Modern Sonic in 3D (sigh…) and Classic Sonic in 2D (yay!) The game turned out to be surprisingly good – even in 3D. Some of the level design was genuinely fantastic, inspired by some of the best levels of the hedgehog’s original run – even if the controls and frame rate were a bit questionable at times.

Very little is currently known about Project Sonic 2017, which will conceivably be renamed sometime later this year. What we do know, though, is that it’s coming out on PC, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One, and that it’ll be released in the last quarter of the year. The game, like Sonic Generations, will feature both Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic, which is promising as Sonic Team are obviously learning from Generation’s positive feedback. What’s also heartening is that 2017 will see the release of Sonic Mania, a back-to-roots Sonic game that proves that, again, the fans and critics have actually been heard by Sega and Sonic Team. It’s a shot in the dark, but Project Sonic 2017 might just be a much-needed return to form for the blue blur. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me 15 times, I’m a fucking idiot.

4. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

      Release date: 30 June 2017

Ah, Crash Bandicoot, the other big 3D platforming mascot from the mid-90s. It’s a shame that Crash predominantly lived in Mario 64’s shadow; after all, it was a completely different kind of game. While Mario 64 was all about exploration and objective-based levels, Crash was a twitch-based, linear platformer with more of an action focus. That’s OK, though. The series still got a lot a love, and the developer – Naughty Dog – went on to do great, great things: Jak and Daxter, Uncharted and The Last of Us. Just like Sonic, Crash Bandicoot has had a drop in quality; however, this drop was nowhere near as significant and was due to now-defunct Vivendi‘s  and Activision‘s mismanagement of the franchise.  1998’s stellar Crash Bandicoot: Warped was the last great Crash 3D platformer – after that, we got a slew of OK-ish games. Not good enough.

After years of rumours and tongue-in-cheek hints – including SIE Worldwide Studios Chairman Shawn Layden wearing a Crash shirt at PlayStation Experience in 2015 – a remake collection of the first three Crash games was unveiled at E3 2016. Developer Vicarious Visions (Skylanders) is handling the remasters, and if the E3 trailer and gameplay videos are anything to go by, the remakes will be a faithful recreation of the original games with a from-the-ground-up technical overhaul. The level of TLC is super-impressive – the music, visuals and charm are all recaptured to a tee. In my eyes, this reboot is something of a litmus test for the Crash series: if it doesn’t sell, bye bye, Crash; if it does sell well, we could see a fully fledged new 3D Crash platformer. If you want that, make sure you put your money where your mouth is, and pick up Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy when it drops later this year.

3. A Hat in Time (PC)

The now-director of Games for Breakfast, Jonas Kærlev, believed that something was missing in the industry; he felt that Nintendo and Rare had given up developing the 3D platformers that defined the N64 in the late mid-90s. He decided he wanted to change that, so he took to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to see if there was any demand for a new 3D platformer. There was. A Hat in Time smashed its initial goal of $30,000 with a final total of $296,360. Despite a lengthy three-year delay, the game is looking amazing – the perfect scratch for that Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie itch. The game has you taking control of Hat Kid as she attempts to foil the corrupt interstellar Mafia and recover her ship fuel. She does this by exploring open collectable-filled worlds, completing puzzles and recovering her all-important Time Pieces. There are even a few action-RPG elements, and the game boasts an all-star lineup of guest composers, including Grant Kirkhope, the composer for Banjo-Kazooie. Speaking of which…

2. Yooka-Laylee (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC, Mac)

      Release date: 11 April 2017

Back in 2015, Playtonic shed some light on their mysterious Project Ukulele, now dubbed Yooka-Laylee. The game is a throwback to the 3D platformers of old and has players taking control of Yooka and Laylee, the game’s titular ‘buddy-duo’ of collectable-hoarding, acrobatic mascots – much in the vein of Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter and  Banjo-Kazooie. Playtonic have some of the creative minds that brought us the beloved and acclaimed Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie series – games that hold a dear place in the hearts of countless 90s gamers. The developers have no bones about what Yooka-Laylee strives to be either: Playtonic are overtly referring to the project as a Rare-vival and the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie. Not to mention, ukuleles and banjos are pretty darn similar stringed musical instruments, and the title font for Yooka-Laylee looks awful familiar doesn’t it? In classic 90s Rare fashion, it’s all very tongue-in-cheek.

With Yooka-Laylee, discontented and jaded with developing Kinect drivel, the greatest creative ex-Rare minds reassembled as Playtonic to do what they do best: making kick-ass, aesthetically stunning, euphonic 3D platformers. It’s the paragon of a labour of love for them, as exemplified by the way the team write and talk about their project. Among the ex-Rare veterans are: Steve Mayles, the character artist who created Banjo, Kazooie and the modern Donkey Kong family; Steven Hurst, the environment artist who brought us the beautifully crafted worlds in many of Rare’s classics; and composer David Wise, who composed some of the most defining and revolutionising soundtracks in the industry. I still can’t get Donkey Kong Country‘s ‘Jungle Groove’ out of my head, and it’s been well-over ten years now…

The game hit the Kickstarter crowdfunding almost two years ago and reached its goal of £175,000 in a blistering 39 minutes; astonishingly, pledges edged over £1 million after a mere 18 hours.  The game now has in excess of 73,000 backers, of which some have pledged whopping sums over £3,375. Needless to say, Playtonic absolutely destroyed their stretch goals; they  recently surpassed funding of £2,000,000, leading them to promise free DLC to all backers (once the final game is done, of course.) Good guy Playtonic.

1. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

    Release date: Q4 2017

It’s been a damn long time since we had an original mainline 3D Mario platformer. In fact, it’s been almost a decade since the release of Super Mario Galaxy (Galaxy 2 was more of an expansion of the first game, and Mario 3D World was its own thing in my eyes.) Naturally, the gaming world exploded when Nintendo teased the then-unnamed game at the Switch reveal and again when Super Mario Odyssey was officially announced at the January 2017 Switch presentation.

What’s really got me excited, though, are the words of revered Nintendo dev and designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who has since confirmed that Odyssey will return to Mario’s roots, abandoning the casual-friendly approach of more recent Mario offerings and returning to the freeform open-world-style levels seen in Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. This time, the podgy plumber is travelling across various non-Mushroom Kingdom locales, such as real-world-inspired setting New Donk City (could this be the location from 1981’s Donkey Kong?) Sure, it’s unsettling as hell seeing three-foot, misformed Mario among proportional humans, but it proves that anything and everything is fair game in Odyssey, which is bloody exciting if you ask me; I mean, just imagine the abstract, charm-filled worlds we’ll be delving into.

The game’s short trailer gives us a glimpse into the varied worlds we’ll be exploring, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. All Mario’s trademark moved make their return – ledge-grabbing, wall-jumping and the like – but our dungaree-clad Italian has also learned some new tricks, such as the ability to throw his iconic cap (Watch Dogs, this is a real iconic cap). This new mechanic will make way for some interesting changes to the platforming mix; Mario can even use his mid-air hat as a platform. Game changer. We’ll learn more at E3, where Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé has promised a hands-on experience for players. Count me in.

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16 thoughts on “The comeback of 3D platformers in 2017

  1. “Since then, it’s spiralled out of control. Sonic Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors; title after title, letdown after crippling letdown.”

    Excuse me? Sonic Colors was a letdown? What are you smoking?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was insanely excited for the game before it came out, but it let me down. I couldn’t get past the controls, despite there being a few cool mechanics and some genuinely smart levels. I didn’t say it was bad; I said it was a letdown, which it was to me.


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