The rise and fall of the 3D Platformer

The platformer genre has been a staple of gaming since the eighties, with famous titles such as Super Mario Bros. becoming big enough to enter into mainstream pop culture, but it wasn’t until the mid-nineties, with the release of the 64-bit generation of consoles (PS One and Nintendo 64), that platfomers finally saw themselves transformed into the third dimension.

The 3D platformer was born, and it rose to prominence alongside titles such as Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot and Banjo Kazooie. The Golden Age of the 3D platformer was at hand, and it didn’t end for many years. It’s possible that the rise of these console-centric games led to the eventual decline of PC gaming, which was also experiencing its hay day back in the nineties, but that’s a different topic altogether.

The early 3D platformers are often dubbed “collectathons” largely thanks to the central gameplay mechanic: exploration and the collection of whatever the game wanted you to collect. In Spyro it was petrified dragons, in Conkers Bad Fur Day it was wads of cash, but regardless of what the items were, they were always necessary for in-game progression to take place.

The 64-bit generation ended, and was succeeded by the PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube and original Microsoft Xbox. The gradual decline of the 3D platformer had begun. Naughty Dog and Insomniac kept up the spirit of the genre with the Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank series respectively. However, these games began to merge with other genres. Jak 2 took inspiration from Grand Theft Auto and became more action-oriented, while Ratchet and Clank was action-oriented to start with; these games also adopted a more mission based structure over the multiple world approach of most of their predecessors.

Action titles were becoming more prevalent, and publishing videos games is a business. Businesses go where the money is. All of a sudden these games disappeared, or at least appeared to, and this was only exacerbated by the fact that near the end of the genre’s prime, a game like Psychonauts (feature image) was released. Psychonauts was critically acclaimed, and yet it flopped commercially. The game came too late to see the success it so deserved, and with that genre all but died.

The big boys of the 3D platformers had moved on. Nintendo wasn’t interested, Rare was bought up by Microsoft and had its priorities shifted, and even Naughty Dog decided to leave it all behind instead focusing on action adventure RPGs like the Uncharted series. Insomniac, makers of Spyro and Ratchet and Clank, continued to create sequels of the latter, but they seemed to be walking a lonely road as the only developer enjoying any success with the genre.

2012 marked the beginning of the crowd-funding craze that is Kickstarter; with Double Fine Productions seeking funding for an old-school point-and-click adventure game later named Broken Age. The age of crowd funding had begun, and by 2015 crowd funding, while dipping in popularity in comparison to 2012, was still going strong.

On 1 May 2015, Playtonic unveiled their Kickstarter campaign for Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise, which is set to retain the collectathon mentality of prior games.

Fast forward to The Game Awards 2015, where Double Fine unveiled their crowd funding campaign for Psychonauts 2, which is set to follow in the footsteps of the first game: imaginative worlds, platformer gameplay and lots to collect and explore.

Provided these crowd-funded games deliver on the promises they set out to achieve, this genre might see a revival in the way that point-and-click adventure games have re-emerged.

For now, one can only hope that this once popular and still beloved genre will return to the limelight.

L. C. Lupus


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