The Return of 3D Platformers – New Era for a Dormant Genre

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The 3D Platformer is a genre of gaming that offers different experiences depending on the game. Ranging from being wide & open (Jak & Daxter, Banjo Kazooie), offering linear adventures with a tight focus on gameplay mechanics (3D World & Land, Crash Bandicoot) or offer high speed roller coasters that test your ability to react to the world around you (Modern Sonic titles); it’s a genre of gaming that sorta died down after its successful run in the late 90’s and Early 2000’s.
Starting  from 2013 onwards though, platformers in the 3D landscape started coming back with more major releases. I want to spend some time talking about key titles and franchises, as they indicate the genre coming back this generation of gaming.

3D Mario 

When you think of 3D platformers, you cannot think of them without the iconic plumber. He single handedly created the exploration-focused 3D platformer with Mario 64 and continues to change the genre by exploring space with the Galaxy Series and even taking some notes from 2D heyday for the 3D Land/World games.

But Mario is coming back in 2017 with a major platformer for the upcoming Nintendo Switch. It looks to be a return to the more open levels from Mario 64/Sunshine; something people have been wanting since the release of 3D World.
When the plumber leads the charge for 2017’s 3D platformers, he might be returning to what stared his 3D platforming adventures in the first place. We have little information outside of some short gameplay clips Nintendo added to the Switch Announcement trailer but it looks very promising. With the game rumored to be hitting the system’s launch date, we will be learning more soon.

Ratchet and Clank

This is a series we talked about in the past and one that I greatly enjoy. Insomniac Games takes the formula they created with the PS1 Spyro series and morphed it into one of the post polished Action/Platformers in the industry. Starting out blasting through the PS2 Era and continues to adventure on to the PS3, the series continues to be enjoyed by many.

The PS4 saw the release of Ratchet & Clank in 2016 to link-up with the movie based on the events from the original game. While both suffer from a weaker story compared to the original Ratchet & Clank, the game itself is still very strong.
Offering some of the PS4’s best visuals, the game is a marvel to look at with detailed worlds, rock solid frame rate and impressive animation. The game looks better than the movie at points, which is one heck of an impressive achievement and an testament to the talented artists & programmers at Insomniac Games. The PS4 game, as the title implies, is a remake of the original game where some levels from the original return (with level design matching the original levels very closely) but levels new and old, many loved the game.
It is one of the best selling games in the series and currently is one of the best visual showcases for the PS4 Pro hardware. Ratchet & Clank continues to have a bright future within the PlayStation brand and I’m very happy to see that as someone who loves the series.

Knack Series

Many might be scratching their heads seeing Knack on this list, but hear me out. It IS a series now with Knack 2 announced at the PSX even and many (for some reason) still holding hope of the original hitting PlayStation Plus. But what does this game offer that makes it a promising return for the 3D platformer?

While mainly being a brawler, the game has clear roots within the PS1 era with crashing style. Linear level design is present and it always pushes you forward, making the brawling & jumping action feel natural. But you also have call backs to other Sony platformers, mainly the Crash series. Knack’s core design, some special chase sections and even a move or two feel like homage’s to the series.
Overall it had promise despite issues leading to the announcement of a sequel bringing hope for more platforming-focused level design, stronger combat system and stronger story being in the game.

Crash Bandicoot

You likely know about Crash Bandicoot, more so if you have been reading our sister site Crashy News for the past few years. This was a busy year for the orange bandicoot with the series kicking the door down and screaming ‘I’m back!’ at E3 2016. Crash is spinning through a few cameo appearances in Activision’s Skylanders series, but also getting built from the ground-up remakes of his first three adventures on the PS4.

December gave us gameplay of the remasters in action and we loved what we saw. It was great seeing the linear 3D platforming the series is famous for coming back with some needed fixes (updated save system, tighter controls, better check-point system, etc) and beautiful HD visuals. Crash’s core gameplay was not groundbreaking during the PS1 era, as it just took the 2D platformer and literary brought it to 3D. But it was strong gameplay that many love today.
Crash coming back is just one of the many signs the 3D platformer is coming back and Crash’s remastered adventures releasing in 2017 is something many are looking forward to.

Sonic the Hedgehog

If you have read my content on 3WIREL before, you know I enjoy the Sonic series a lot. While newer 3D games felt like fun arcade racers rather than 3D platformers, the series still has a lot of platforming. Sonic Lost World brought the series back to 3D platforming with a focus on Mario Galaxy-etc level design and concepts but that did not stick well for many.

With Project 2017, Sonic looks to be going on a darker adventure but with Classic Sonic and likely other friends joining the resistance,  we will be returning to most likely the formula seen in Sonic Generations. So basically Sonic Unleashed/Generations styled gameplay where you are playing a platformer but the focus is really focused on speed and reacting to things rapidly. Many loved the Modern Sonic levels in Generations and I hope SEGA adds even more platforming into the mix.

Zones like Seaside Hill showed that you can blend high speed action and platforming well together, so I am hoping level designs in Project 2017 stick closer to that than race track-like levels. But it might even have the modern formula at all, so who knows. But as a fan of the series, I am optimistic that Sonic will be standing tall next to Mario, Crash and others for top platformers of 2017.

Yooka Laylee

So next year will see the release of Playtonic Games Banjo-Kazooie successor Yooka-Laylee. I have a lot of hope for this project, as the team behind has a ton of work under their belt in the 3D platformer. They produced iconic classics like the Donkey Kong Country series and Banjo-Kazooie while working at Rare before forming Playtonic Games. That alone has me excited but the released gameplay footage of the project is quite promising.

Large and expansive levels will be present and with the ability to make levels even bigger with the collectibles you gather, it will make exploring every area quite the reward. Banjo has always thrived on exploration rather than focusing on basic platforming but a lot of elements show Yooka-Laylee will have tricky platforming challenges to complete based on released gameplay.
Similar to Sonic Project 2017, I have a lot of hope for this project but I feel it will be one of 2017’s strongest platformers. We haven’t seen a game like Yooka-Laylee in a long time, so it will be quite refreshing to see the collect-a-thon platformer return in a big way.

So that is my little list of platformers in the 3D space I’m not only excited for but see as the genre coming back. I know I didn’t cover everything but that just shows how the genre is coming back. So many platformers or games with 3D platforming elements are coming out of the woodwork.
Brawler games like Skylanders with platforming elements, original platformers like Poi that saw release and even more upcoming games like A Hat in Time show that the genre is coming back alive and kicking.

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