What Happened to the 3D Platformer Genre?

If you were a nineties kid and into gaming, it’s virtually a guarantee that you played a 3D platformer. These games were everywhere and often featured characters who became mascots for their respective systems. Mario 64 on the N64, Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation. Where on earth did they disappear to?

Rising Popularity

Jak and Daxter Screenshot

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The 3D platformer genre was perhaps the most pervasive of the late nineties console generation. Playstation had Crash, Spyro and also Croc among many others. There were loads on the N64 too, with Banjo Kazooie and Mario leading the fray. Perhaps part of the popularity was due to the transitioning at the time from 2D to 3D engines.

As you can imagine, there would have been significant difficulties with these early engines when trying to create convincing human characters. Low-resolution textures and low polygon models don’t make for great looking people. That’s why we saw so many stylized and often fantasy or animal creatures. Rareware took this to the extreme in Banjo, when they would basically stick a pair of googly eyes on virtually any object and turn it into a character.

At the time gaming was also still seen as a past time for children. With a few notable exceptions (I’m looking at you Conker!), developers put lots of effort into creating worlds and protagonists that parents would see favourably. You’ll notice that the 3D platformer framework did mature somewhat into the early 2000’s when we saw the emergence of games like Jak and Daxter. It was a symptom of the format growing up with the people who played it.

Are 3D Platformer Games Outdated?

The mainstream 3D platformer game seems to have almost entirely died out in recent years. But there are a few studios who are trying to change that. Playtonic Games have released their long-awaited spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie (Yooka-Laylee). Sumo Digital have garnered attention too for their own recent release Snake Pass.

But look at the critical reception to Yooka-Laylee and Snake Pass. There’s clear evidence that the gaming media seems to think the mechanics and characters should have been left in the past. These “Collectathon” games have been called outdated and accused of trying nothing new. I couldn’t disagree more! If I fire up Banjo Kazooie or Mario 64 I still feel those games are as magical today as they were on release.

I still have tonnes of fun playing them. I’m very happy to see my generation asking for a revival of the classic platform formula and being met with results by developers. I think the critics are missing the bloody point. You won’t be interested in these games because they’re pushing any gameplay or technical boundaries. You’re there for that feeling of being a kid again.

I Hope the Trend Continues

I hope what we’re seeing is the beginning of a steady revival of platform games. Even AAA developers are starting to get in on the action. Nintendo have Mario Odyssey due out later this year which looks like a return to the N64 days for their mascot. The original Crash Bandicoot trilogy is making a come back too in the form of a proper top to bottom remaster due very soon.

You are of course, welcome to disagree. If you do, let me know why in the comments.

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Virtual Wombat

Hi, I'm Aaron. I'm a full time working dad and a student studying Physics in Sheffield. This blog is an account of my adventures as a busy, working mature student.

3 Responses

  1. DJT says:

    I love the old nostalgic games still to this day. My friend and I managed to salvage a few of the old consoles and they have lost none of their magic. Crash Bandicoot is still one of my favorite games of al time and I would definitely buy a new one (should they release one) but only if it represented the old format in it’s entirety. You’re correct, it’s about reliving a part of your childhood, I wouldn’t want it to look like a brand new modern game, what would be the point in that?

  2. DJT says:

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I’ve just seen there is a new trilogy coming out. Let’s pray it lives up to the originals!

    • It’s actually a full remaster of the original trilogy David. Brought right up to date with modern graphics and controls. If you have a PS4 it would probably be just what you’re after!

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