Why 3D platformers are due for a comeback
It's safe to say that the days of the 3D platformer boom are far behind us. The genre exploded during the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation years, giving way to classics like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and Spyro the Dragon. One generation later, that style of game got a slight makeover, with titles like Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and Super Mario Sunshine adding third-person shooter gameplay to the formula. It was an evolution that kept the genre alive and modernized it for that time.
Since those days, though, 3D platformers have been put aside and we've seen the triumphant return of the 2D platformer, the genre that sort of started it all for run-and-jump adventures. But there's still room for those types of 3D experiences, and I'd argue that we need to see more of them, especially taking into account the technological leaps that have occurred the past few console generations.
Ratchet & Clank: A Catalyst for Rebirth
If any one title proves that there's room for more 3D platformers, it's Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank reboot, which launched earlier this year. Not only does that game mark a return to form for the titular duo, but it also showcases some prime 3D platforming action. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it certainly refines it. Not to mention it's just a really, really fun game, which was always sort of the thing that platformers set out to be.
Admittedly, my only previous experience with the Ratchet & Clank series was a short PlayStation 2 demo disc I-don't-know-how-many years ago — it's been a while. Playing Ratchet & Clank for PlayStation 4, however, made me not only want to go back and play some of the older games, but it made me hopeful for new games like it — a new Jak & Daxter, a new Mario, a new 3D Rayman maybe. And it definitely made me even more eager for the forthcoming Yooka-Laylee.
The thing about the new Ratchet & Clank that really caught my attention is how well it plays. Over the past few years, I've revisited a handful of personal favorites and found that they just don't play as well as they used to. Donkey Kong 64 might be the biggest victim of its age, as it suffers from massive camera issues and tacked-on mini-games. But even the legendary Super Mario 64 (which I still adore) is a little bit rough when compared to the newer Super Mario Galaxy games and the latest Ratchet & Clank offering.
It might sound a little weird, but playing Ratchet & Clank actually feels good. By that I mean that the controls are smooth, and the gameplay mechanics are tight. Unfortunately, there are occasional camera issues, and some of the side missions aren't all that impressive, but overall, this is one of the better 3D action games to come along this year. In addition, the way the game handles collectibles is great because it throws just enough in there to keep you hunting, but not so much that you're ever overwhelmed with too much to do.
A Viable Genre
So few 3D platformers are released these days that it's easy to name most of them from memory, but when you think about the recent releases, they've pretty much all been great. Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World were a departure from the awesome Super Mario Galaxy games, but they were great titles in their own right. And while I wouldn't go so far as to say that these franchises should be adapted into movies (come on, Ratchet & Clank), they do have a huge audience of loyal fans eager to jump into their bright and colorful worlds.
Just like so many people still get excited about the latest first-person shooters, epic action-adventures, and traditional 2D action games, there were a lot of folks who got totally stoked about a new Ratchet & Clank, about Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, and about the promising Yooka-Laylee. The genre isn't exactly bursting with life, but that's not due to lack of interest. The audience is there, and a 3D platformer resurgence would likely be met with plenty of success.
For Nostalgia's Sake
Just like games such as Super Meat Boy and Braid brought back long forgotten feelings in players, games like Super Mario Galaxy and Ratchet & Clank reminded us exactly why we fell in love with 3D platformers to begin with. Above all else, there are loads of hours of entertainment to be found inside those lovingly crafted 3D worlds. These days, those types of games also serve as throwbacks to a beloved era of gaming, one we never knew would come and that has since been etched in gaming history.
The prospect of a new Ratchet & Clank sequel is exciting, as is the idea of a brand new 3D Mario, evidenced by the positive reaction the recent Super Mario 64 fan game received. But we also can't forget about the fledgling projects that look to revive the 3D platformer genre. Yooka-Laylee is on track to being one of the most exciting upcoming releases. It tugs at your nostalgia heartstrings and is essentially a Banjo-Kazooie successor, which is to say it's a follow-up to one of the best examples of 3D platforming ever.
There are often problems associated with oversaturation in any genre, but because we don't see too many 3D platformers anymore, that genre is in a perfect position to make a comeback. Too many 3D platformers could be a problem, sure, but a few more 3D platformers? That doesn't sound bad at all!