The 8 Ball: Top 8 3D Platformers
Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball. Last week’s topic of launch games, specific Super Mario 64, got me thinking about 3D platformers and the general lack of them over the past few years. As a main staple for the Playstation 1 and 2 generations, they tended to slow down in the Xbox 360/PS3 lifetimes and all but forgotten during this console cycle. It’s not to say they don’t exist anymore, as one came out on this list just last year, but they have definitely slowed down from major developers as a rule, and are mainly picked up now for historical curiosities, like Yooka-Laylee. A few specific franchises I didn’t put on here, for lack of knowledge/interest on my part are: Sly Cooper, Jak & Daxter, or early Spyro games. Also, I generally picked games that had more of an emphasis on actual platforming and not action, save for one game on here. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a great game, but I’d probably classify it as more of an action-adventure, rather than a platformer. With that said, let’s begin:
#8: Jumping Flash!
Over 20 years after the fact, Jumping Flash is still a weird game to play. It’s bewildering no one has made a VR ripoff for the Rift or Vive, because of how quirky it is. While Jumping Flash! is a first person game, you are still in a 3D space. You control a robotic rabbit who has to jump from platform to platform to collect carrots to unlock the exit. The thing with Jumping Flash! is that it’s a pretty vertical game, and you have a triple jump to move around, with you having to really line up your landings (via your shadow), to make progress. The graphics are really primitive by today’s standards but it is definitely unique.
#7: Gex: Enter the Gecko
If you think about it, Gex: Enter the Gecko was probably the closest the Playstation got to a Mario 64-esque platformer. You had a character in an overworld, who would warp to various levels, with each stage featuring its own unique setting and goals. The overworld had its share of secrets for you to collect, and the jumping/puzzle solving was the primary focus of the game. Now, Enter the Gecko was hamstrung by technical limitations like pop-in and memory issues, but the personality of Gex and the imagination of the levels was pretty good.
#6: Crash Bandicoot: Warped
Honestly, the first three Crash games kind of run together for me. I remember liking the third one the most because it had some variety with the time places, I think you get a bazooka to hit enemies with, and it had the most Clancy Brown in it, with him voicing both Dr. Neo Cortex and Uka Uka. Judging a game by how much Clancy Brown is in it, is the only valid way to really review a game. Still, this Crash game was probably the most polished, in terms of level design, unlockable secrets, and just basic gameplay. I’ll be eager to replay it (and the other two games) in the next few months.
#5: Ratchet & Clank (2016)
I only have very vague memories of the first game and don’t have pleasant memories of the rest. Like with the Crash games, a lot of the R&C games also run together, but they started to become more combat focused, and have silly things like multiplayer, to dilute the game. So, I picked the most recent Ratchet & Clank, as both a reboot of the series and just because it really focused on what the series was best at, marrying some great platforming parts, with some unique combat. Truth be told, you could make it through most of the game just using the basic blaster, but the more fun weapons like the Sheepinator (been in past games but still), the Pixelizer and the Groovitron. The actual platforming was also solid though, and you had to be on your toes and make use of upgrades and new abilities to access later parts of some levels.
#4: Donkey Kong 64
Of the big three “Not Mario 64” platformers on the N64, they were Conker, Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, I enjoyed Donkey Kong 64 the most. I dug the music (DK Rap aside), the characters did have pretty disparate mechanics, and it was just a solid follow up to the Country style of games. It obviously wasn’t as impact as other 3D transitions like Mario, or Zelda, but Donkey Kong 64 did make the transition extremely well, with it being a big, colorful world that was more detailed than either of those games, helped with the Expansion Pak’s more memory.
#3: Jet Set Radio Future
The first Jet Set (or Grind) Radio was a great proof of concept, but was pretty off, due to the lack of a camera control. JSRF fixed this issue by giving you another control stick, and adding in mechanics like the speed boost and having the world be more interconnected and larger. Plus, I did like the more detailed art style in this game, and less of an overreliance on the graffiti mechanic, and more about figuring out ways to get up to high places. Jet Grind Radio has come to PC, why not Jet Set Radio Future?
Not only is Psychonauts a great 3D platformer, with highly inventive worlds and cool abilities to explore them, but it might be one of the funniest games ever made. It’s not schlocky jokes, but the humor comes more from the memorable characters and the personality quirks everyone seems to have. Aside from that though, Psychonauts is full of great platforming gameplay, with a lot of creative worlds like the 2nd person Milkman stage, or Napoleon’s board game mind. The powers you get actually make traversal a lot more fun, like the levitation ball being used to make you more fast or let you descend slowly in midair. It’s years off still but I hope Psychonauts 2 reaches the same level of quality as the first game.
#1: Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is really one of the landmark games for console, but also the medium as a whole. As I said last week, the game was one of the true innovators in 3D platforming by making it all seamless and wondrous at the same time. At the time, every world felt like it had a ton of secrets to uncover, and many of them did. Every level feels big, with goals to accomplish and stars to collect. Mario’s abilities are limited in this game, compared to past (and future) Mario games, but they were still fun to use, even if using the flying hat was a tad strange. Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are probably objectively better games, but Super Mario 64 is where almost all the games on this list (save Jumping Flash! and Crash Bandicoot) can draw their legacy back to this and it should always be remembered as a trailblazer.
For comments, list which 3D platformers you like and why.
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