January 28, 2017 10:22 pm Published by 2 Comments

Welcome to “issue” two of the Weekly Wizard. The segment of Miketendo64 brought to you by the dastardly villain behind WizardDojo.com, where I talk about current goings-on involving Nintendo, or take a retrospective look at Nintendo’s past. Whatever I feel like, really.

For this second “issue” of The Weekly Wizard, let’s talk about the reemergence of 3D platformers that seems to be happening in 2017.

The 3D platformer has had a strange history. It was birthed in the mid-90s by the likes of Crash Bandicoot, but really became its own beast, separate from its 2D equivalent, with the 1996 release of Super Mario 64.

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Suddenly, platformers were more open and free, allowing players to approach them at their own pace. This opened the door for the likes of the Banjo-Kazooie series and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which further took 3D platforming in new directions.

It was not to last, however. While 3D platformers saw a huge boom in their first couple of years, the sub-genre quickly – and quite strangely – pretty much burned out after a few successful years.

The sheer excess of Donkey Kong 64 was off-putting to many, though it seems greatly unfair to point fingers at a single game for the fall of a genre. Perhaps what’s more strange is how the early and mid-2000s seemed to strangely demand that the genre “evolve or die” (which seems almost comical in retrospect, not only because platformers can be versatile through things like level design alone, but also seeing how many other genres have remained stagnant for much longer periods of time to this day, it makes it all seem a bit on the hypocritical side).

Though the GameCube and PS2 saw some solid 3D platformers with the likes of Super Mario Sunshine, and the Jak & Daxter and Ratchet and Clank series, it really didn’t last.

The second and third Jak & Daxter titles – while great games in their own right – largely abandoned the platforming aspects of the original in favor of gun-based action/adventure gameplay as they left the first game’s colorful world behind in favor of a more 2000s-y dystopian future. Though the Ratchet and Clank sequels stayed closer to the tone of the original, the gameplay – similar to Jak & Daxter – felt less like a platformer with each succeeding entry. Super Mario Sunshine still felt like a platformer (with the admittedly gimmicky water pack at least contributing to Mario’s jump mechanics), but it was kind of alone. Rare had been bought by Microsoft, and their Xbox years didn’t exactly see them continue the franchises that accompanied Mario on the platforming front in the late 90s.

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In the late 2000s, however, things turned around for the platforming genre. The likes of New Super Mario Bros. on DS, as well as the downloadable Mega Man 9, showed that there was still an interest (and immense popularity) to be had with the genre. But this seemingly only applied to the 2D  half of the platforming coin.

3D platformers did – ironically enough – see their greatest contributions during this time in the forms of the Super Mario Galaxy titles. Super Mario Galaxy merged paltforming with gravity effects which turned out to be a match made in heaven, and delivered to perfect platformers in the process. With that said, Mario was once again alone in the 3D platforming department, and when Rare finally decided to resurrect Banjo-Kazooie in 2008, they were strangely under the impression that no one wanted a classic 3D platformer, and built the game around vehicle creation in the polarizing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

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So Mario was once again carrying the 3D platformer on his shoulders alone, and even then, Super Mario Galaxy was a bit different in structure than its predecessors, being akin to a mergence of Super Mario World’s¬†foundations with the 3D Mario gameplay. The levels were more linear, but players still had the freedom to tackle them in a more open order, similar to Mario’s finest 2D outing.

The subsequent 3D Marios, Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS and Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, went a step further, and more or less became 2D Mario games in a 3D setting. The levels were more linear than Galaxy’s, had time limits, and were simply about getting to the goal at the end.

In all fairness, 3D World is actually a stellar game, one of the better in recent memory. But considering Mario had been the one 3D platforming series that had stuck around, it did kind of sting to see it all but abandon the things we loved about 3D platformers to begin with.

Well, that’s all about to change, as 2017 seems to be signalling a resurgence in 3D platformers, with two games in particular taking charge.

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Super Mario Odyssey, the newest entry in Nintendo’s most iconic series stated for a holiday release on the Nintendo Switch, will see Mario go back to the “sandbox platforming roots” of Super Marios 64 and Sunshine. Though personally, I hope Odyssey takes things a step further, and undoes the “episodic” nature of the levels and their stars (or whatever the goal is this time around), which admittedly made 64 and Sunshine a little less open than they let on, and was a format better suited for the Galaxy titles. I’d like to see things taken a step further, and just allow Mario can tackle any of a level’s goals in whatever order, and go from one to another right then and there should the player choose. Take a cue from Banjo-Kazooie, and make the levels big toyboxes that allow players to tackle them in whatever order. But, you know, with way bigger levels and more goals.

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Speaking of Banjo-Kazooie, the other title leading the 3D platforming charge is Yooka-Laylee, the spiritual sequel to Banjo-Kazooie and made by many of the same people behind the bear and bird’s adventures. Yooka-Laylee looks to rekindle the magic of a bygone era of gaming, while adding some fresh, new twists to the equation.

These two titles look to be bringing back the spirit of classic 3D platformers that once seemed long gone. A genre that, frankly, never needed to go anywhere to begin with. But if anything, this extended absence makes Super Mario Odyssey and Yooka-Laylee all the sweeter. And they aren’t alone either, as other titles, such as A Hat in Time, also look to be carrying the mantle. Even Crash Bandicoot is getting back in the game with a remastered collection of his three greatest titles on the PS4.

The 3D platformer has been gone for too long. But 2017 looks like it’s bringing the genre back in full force. And I couldn’t be happier. Welcome back!


That’s all for “issue” #2 of The Weekly Wizard. What did you think? Are you happy to see classic 3D platformers returning? Did you miss them? Where do Super Mario Odyssey and Yooka-Laylee rank on your most anticipated games of 2017 list? You can let me know in the comments below, and if you want to read more of my ramblings, you can read reviews for games and movies, and other such opinion pieces, at my site WizardDojo.com.

Check back next week when The Weekly Wizard reflects on the greatest Nintendo console ever.

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