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Platformative 3D Platformers

This was something I meant to put together closer to the announcement that Yooka-Laylee had been successfully funded. Here's a list of all the 3D platformers I've played, and my thoughts on them. There's gaps, of course. As well as the vast number of terrible licensed platformers, which didn't skip a beat in their unimaginative aping of bigger games when switching to 3D, there's a few gems that I somehow ignored.

3D platformers are one of my favorite genres, because they appeal to both my pre-existing love of their 2D ancestors and to my obsessive need to hunt for collectibles. In the present day, the genre's either fizzled out with the exception of big names like Mario or Ratchet & Clank, or they've evolved to become open-world games (depending on your interpretation of whether the two are closely linked or not). Either way, I'm stoked to see the "pure" 3D platformer model make a return to the big stage.

As a public service similar in manner to the "Aged Well" rating for the older items in my PC Games Memento list, I've also included a "TACO Hell" rating with each of the following 3D platformers. This should give you some idea of how much emphasis is placed on collectibles, with 1 being minimal (such as Conker's Bad Fur Day) and 5 being excessive to the point of ludicrousness (e.g. Donkey Kong 64).

List items

  • The granddaddy of the genre in many respects. Like Doom, it may not have originated the genre, but it was the first to codify it and invite endless imitators. I still consider this to be my second favorite Mario game after World. (TACO Hell: 3. Between the 120 Stars and the various 100-Coin Challenges for every course, there was plenty of collecting to do. It's probably sensible to use Mario 64's collectibles as our mean standard, honestly.)

  • I'm still a huge fan of 64's divisive follow-up, as it recreated a lot of what made Mario 64 a secret success: its challenges were mechanically and thematically diverse, it had a great sense of atmosphere and it controlled like a dream. Well, mostly. FLUDD could get a little finicky at times. (TACO Hell 3: Those 30 blue coins per stage were so well-hidden.)

  • Mario Galaxy was a huge deal at the time, the way it played around with gravity and physics on top of everything else. Unlike the prior two games, it didn't have to build a single world and set a bunch of challenges around it. It was free to create smaller but more thematically-focused stages and cut out a lot of dead weight. (TACO Hell: 2. You were only looking for stars this time, though there were 241 to find across two playthroughs.)

  • A lot more of the first. Odd that this got the GameSpot 10/10 and the first didn't. Probably inconsequential. It's still good. (TACO Hell: 2. Man, those Prankster Comets.)

  • Though a lot more linear than the above Mario games, the Super Mario 3D series were still 3D platformers. I recall fond memories of 3D Land, though it took the second harder playthrough to properly get the most out of its ideas. Sadly, most of the originality of the 64/Sunshine/Galaxy era had dissipated by this point. (TACO Hell: 2. Really, it's just those hidden green stars.)

  • Though 3D World looked great with the Wii U's HD and had a superb presentation all around, it felt just as creatively lacking as 3D Land did. (TACO Hell: 2.)

  • I suppose this barely counts, but then the idea of the Paper Mario games was to turn the idea of 2D on its head. Or on its side, at least. The first two were RPGs but this one felt more like a standard platformer. (TACO Hell: 2. Not an emphasis, but there's still some items to find.)

  • Wario World was a curious and not-bad take on the Wario Land series, which I'm chagrined to admit I fell off of right after the first one. (TACO Hell: 4. Wario's avaricious nature meant there was a lot of treasure to run back and forth to get, including a whole spectrum-themed collectible sidequest for each stage.)

  • I adore the Ape Escape games and the first was easily the best platformer for the original PlayStation, which saw what the N64 was doing and created a number of oddball experiments that didn't quite cause Nintendo any worry. I mean, the PS1's incredible RPG and racing game libraries sure did, but 3D platformers? Nah. (TACO Hell: 3. The whole game is about collecting monkeys. To the game's credit, the monkeys were hardly floating around passively.)

  • The jump to PS2 didn't diminish Ape Escape one bit, and it ramped up the goofy comedy and the collectibles to befit the generational leap. (TACO Hell: 4. We now have the Gachapon machine with hundreds of randomized collectible junk items up for grabs whenever you found the tokens to feed it.)

  • I actually remember less about 3, except that it was linked to TV shows instead of world history. The series had fallen into a routine by this point, and the spin-offs to follow never seemed that enticing. It did, however, feature a Metal Gear Solid mini-game (MGS3, of course, had its own Ape Escape equivalent). (TACO Hell: 4. I recall the amount of monkey collecting to be bonkers in this one. Over 400!)

  • The first Jak gave away nothing about where the series would eventually head, instead presenting itself as a colorful platformer in the Rare mold. Lots of floating crap everywhere to find and a loose feel to the progression. Probably my second favorite 3D platformer for the PS2. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • Jak 2 had GTA aspirations, but beyond the races and the overworld city parts, the game was still as much of a 3D platformer as the previous. But, you know, with more guns and stuff. This is probably as borderline as I'm willing to go. (TACO Hell: 2. There is still a lot of objects to find, but it is no longer the focus. At least, no more so than it is in modern GTA games.)

  • Similar to Jak 2, but the open-world city stuff had been dialed back considerably. Still a lot of platforming with driving/shooting sections. (TACO Hell: 2.)

  • I didn't think too highly of the first Sly Cooper game when it came out. It felt a little too... linear, and I've never been a huge fan of stealth sequences. (TACO Hell: 2. Certainly didn't feel like a priority.)

  • The only game to come close to my love of Mario 64, Sly 2 reshuffled its approach to become its now familiar present model. Each stage was this busy little open-world map with various mission-related hotspots and a bunch of bottles and treasures to find, and the way all the earlier missions would connect to each other when it came time for the big heist was nothing short of masterful. (TACO Hell: 2. There weren't that many bottles to find, and everything else just served to fund the various upgrades Sly and co. bought from SpyNet.)

  • Sly 3 tried its darndest to branch out and include more playable characters than the initial trio, but that also meant a lot of bloat as well. I like what it did with the Sly storyline at least. (TACO Hell: 2.)

  • New developers Sanzaru tried their best, but something about the fourth Sly game didn't quite coalesce together right. I'm hoping they nail it with the next sequel, as there's promise here. (TACO Hell: 2.)

  • Yeah, these guys count too. We're still jumping around on platforms looking for objects. The Ratchet games have an odd approach to level design, creating many linear paths on each planet that lead to some necessary McGuffin or otherwise useful item. More fun are the hidden Golden Bolts and weird challenges. (TACO Hell: 3. There's always a lot to find in these games, even if most of the treasure just adds to the player's cash for weapons and upgrades.)

  • The first two PS2 sequels knew they had a winner on their hand with the R&C formula, but also knew they had to shake things up to keep the series fresh. Going Commando introduces space shoot 'em up levels. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • ...While Up Your Arsenal added strategic warfare with AI controlled companions, a la something like SOCOM. I forget if this or the previous was the first game to start giving Clank his own independent missions, which also had a strategic AI management puzzle element. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • R&C's PSP debut was a little disappointing, but at the same time it was a clear indication that the PSP could pull off games almost as big and mechanically-complex as those on its PS2 brother. If Size Matters had been released on the GBA, it'd probably end up being 2D and severely compromised. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • The Future games have been fantastic so far. While they haven't done a whole lot to the R&C formula besides make it way prettier to look at, they're still as solid as those first three. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • Honestly, probably the best R&C game. It might be that I'm placing these far enough apart that I'm not suffering too much from how similar they all are. This game, if I recall, had far more instances of exploring solar systems looking for extra bonus stages to complete. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • I feel like I could just write a description here of how each of these LEGO platformers tend to work and then leave it at that. It's really formulaic stuff, more so than R&C, but with a sufficient amount of time placed between each one it's not a bad series at all to occasionally revisit. (TACO Hell: 3. Each LEGO game tends to include grabbing enough collectible currency to hit a level-target, and there's also pieces that build models, unlock cheats and buy new characters. Most need to be found in a special "free play" mode that is unlocked after the story mode version of that stage is completed.)

  • Ditto, but it's the older movies instead. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • No time for love, Blocktor Jones. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • Quickly, Robin, to the Blockcave. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • You know, I never did play Years 5-7. I suppose I'm not really all that engaged by the Harry Potter license. Wingardium Meh-viosa. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • More out of a sense of closure than anything else. The weird RTS parts weren't too bad. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • Presently the last Traveler's Tales LEGO game I've beaten. I'm aware I've let this series pile up a bit. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • The inspiration for Yooka-Laylee and the beginning of Rare's platformer stranglehold over the N64, after it was clear Nintendo was in a "one and done" sort of mood with Mario 64. Everything about this game is delightful. (TACO Hell: 4. It's heavy with the collectibles, from notes to jiggies to jinjos, but not quite to the extent of some of our 5 games.)

  • Well, it's finally here, my DK64 view: If you hate collectibles, this game's not for you. Put your thoughts together if you want to comment, as we let you have this Giant Bomb vent. Huh! (TACO Hell: 5. Oh, it's just bananas. I mean, it's bananas how nuts it is, it's not just bananas. Or nuts, for that matter. It feels like the one scene in any Behind the Music when you know they've gone too far with their overindulgence. Five apes, five entirely separate sets of collectibles. I dunno, I loved it, but then I never was one for willpower.)

  • The one Rare platformer without a huge focus on collectible knick-knacks. It also goes full-tilt with the dirty humor, which you didn't really see coming after observing the well-behaved Conker of Diddy Kong Racing. (TACO Hell: 1. I recall there being a few bundles of cash you could find which were needed to bribe a late-game NPC. Nothing inconsequential to collect for the hell of it, in other words.)

  • It's a 3D platformer in most respects, but it's also a diabolically clever puzzle game that tasks the player to find a way up a chain of robotic animals, using each one to reach the next. As is standard for Rockstar these days, there's huge potential for video game cruelty if you're into the Vinny style of playing games. (TACO Hell: 2. There's lots of power cells to find which help with the final mission, as well as decorative "souvenirs".)

  • Oof, this one. I thought the tongue-lasso gimmick was interesting, but the game sure looked rough. (TACO Hell: There were some collectible crowns that tended to be tucked away in hard to reach places. I forget if they unlocked anything. Bonus stages?)

  • We're sorta heading into Zelda territory here, but Goemon still had plenty of platforming going on. It's also a fantastic game, one of my favorites for the N64 and easily the funniest. Makes me bummed that we probably won't see any more of these. (TACO Hell: 2. It's a big open world full of stuff to find, but to the same extent as something like Ocarina of Time. Heart container equivalents, keys and maps in dungeons, that sort of thing.)

  • I played this GameCube platformer to write an FAQ about it, back when I was doing that regularly. It's solid but unremarkable. They made more, so presumably people liked it. (TACO Hell: 3. The standard two set system: one set was just for kicks and could be found everywhere, while the second was needed to progress the story and had to be earned by completing challenges.)

  • The tiny adventures of the world's most miniature robot. This game is adorable. It's also less platformer-y than perhaps I remember, but it did involve a lot of running and jumping through a giant house. (TACO Hell: 3. There's a lot of trash to remove for Happy Points and Moolah (the game's two currencies), a huge amount of side-quest stuff, some collectible stickers rewarded for completing side-quests and a frog-related collectibles sidequest of which I've forgotten the fine details. I know the family's daughter is big on frogs, though.)

  • Park Patrol wasn't too bad, but it didn't have much in the way of interesting level design. Instead of a huge house with a bunch of rooms, it was one big flat park that you were meant to spruce up. (TACO Hell: 3. It still had stickers, and I'm sure there was a lot to find.)

  • de Blob 2 felt like a return to classic 3D platformers; just running and jumping around a big map looking for stuff. The goal was to hit all the buildings with various colors, changing them from their default white to something a little more chromatic. (TACO Hell: 2. Besides coloring the buildings, which involved 2D sections, there wasn't a whole lot of tchotchkes to find.)

  • That poor, maligned reptile. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was an early PlayStation attempt at a 3D platformer in the mold of Super Mario 64. It was extremely basic, though, and Croc didn't control as well as you'd have liked. (TACO Hell: 3. Standard assortment of floating crap.)

  • What follows are about a thousand PS2 also-rans. I leapt (as it were) to the PS2 after the N64 and was hoping to keep my passion for this genre alive. With exceptions like Ratchet, Sly and Jak, the PS2's contributions to 3D platforming didn't quite measure up. Scaler's not terrible, but it's clearly trying to be Jak and/or Ratchet with a lizard hero with a permanent Dreamworks Face. (TACO Hell: 3. Game was modeled on Ratchet's branching linear paths - I realize that's an oxymoron; each course drops you off at a hub with a few paths and each of those paths are very linear, is what I mean.)

  • I've got nothing against Spyro. Like Dan, I kind of felt these games were skewing a little too young, rather than the Teen-oriented Ratchet or Jak games. I guess Skylanders proved that it was for adults after all, albeit adults with zero willpower when it came to figurines. (TACO Hell: 3. I recall these being fairly standard collect-a-thons too.)

  • I did indeed play two of these, but I couldn't tell you what the difference was between them. More gems, more transformations, more cartoonish business. (TACO Hell: 3.)

  • The good Doctor featured in a game that was glitchy as hell but was extremely ambitious. Like Banjo, Dr. Muto can occasionally change his shape into other animals, leading to a lot of weird sequences. (TACO Hell: 3. I remember there being a lot of stuff to pick up.)

  • The gameplay wasn't too bad for a licensed platformer, where Fry's stages were a little more gun-based and Leela's involved more melee combat (Bender's were more or less standard platformer levels), but I remember the writing being excellent and hilarious. Fry yelling "gun food!" whenever he picked up ammo, or enemies spotting Leela with a "it's a one-eyed purple people person!" quip. (TACO Hell: 2. I don't recall it being a significant element, especially with the more action-oriented stages.)

  • Graffiti Kingdom was neat, a precursor to games like Drawn to Life where you got to design your own playable character. It's the sequel to Magic Pengel and plays almost the same: create a character and then make your way through a bunch of stages that test your character's agility and offensive capabilities. (TACO Hell: 2. I think you could find parts for the character creator and capture other creatures to use as a base blueprint for your own.)

  • Haven seemed pretty overambitious too, a game that took its hero across the cosmos to find a way to foil some unstoppable alien invasion. A bit like a less coherent Beyond Good & Evil with fewer ideas going for it. I remember getting the bad ending and wondering how and where I messed up. (TACO Hell: 3. There were plenty of objects to pick up, but a lot of it was ammo and stuff. I want to say that the collectibles had a role in the ending I got.)

  • Malice has a weird history. I think Gwen Stefani was meant to voice its chaotic protagonist at some point, but it didn't work out. It got delayed and pushed back and then just kind of appeared one day. It's not great, as you might imagine from its troubled history, and it killed Argonaut Games: the UK devs who co-created Star Fox. (TACO Hell: 2. Don't recall there being much of that side of things.)

  • Psychonauts is wonderful: a dyed-in-the-wool 3D platformer with Tim Schafer's trademark B-movie weirdness and ear for dialogue. It felt like one of those Nickelodeon toons like Invader Zim or Spongebob that adults could enjoy. (TACO Hell: 4. I distinctly recall how many collectibles there were to find, from figments of the imagination to emotional baggage to all sorts of other junk with silly pun names. If I approve of anything, it's having too many collectibles and terrible puns.)

  • I'm not sure this counts as a platformer. I'm not sure it counts as anything, as it felt like a tech demo for whatever Treasure had planned next. The heroine uses her demonic pinching scarf and the game's elasticity physics to take on the demonic forms of her many sisters in thematically curious boss fights. Of course, most people just remember the weird boob ladies. (TACO Hell: 1. I don't recall there being any collectibles.)

  • Vexx was really tough and not all that great, choosing to follow Jak II's lead by making the game all angsty as hell. Vexx got around by his claw gauntlet things, which allowed him to climb walls and fight monsters. (TACO Hell: 3. I think I got too obsessed with collectibles that I couldn't even complete the game, because it was just so challenging to get the full set of collectibles for the later stages. Like Banjo-Kazooie, you had to get all of them in one run.)

  • Like the Futurama game, The Simpsons game was largely average from a purely gameplay perspective, but they definitely did right by the show with its humor. A lot of it was heavy video game reference stuff, including meeting Will Wright and making jokes about WW2 simulator tropes. They did their homework. (TACO Hell: 2. Some stuff to find, but not too much.)

  • I'm not proud of this one. I liked the movie and figured the game would be some inoffensive platformer, like the LEGO series. It was a platformer, but man was it not good. (TACO Hell: 2.)

  • I think people are still deliberating on whether or not Grow Home is a 3D platformer. Its control scheme is definitely a little out of the ordinary. It does involve a lot of running and climbing around looking for glowy objects, though, so I'm counting it. (TACO Hell: 3. There's a lot of emphasis placed on searching for 100 crystals, most of which aren't exactly easy to find.)