The “N. Sane” resurgence of the 3D platformer

The popularity of Yooka-Laylee is proving that the consumer appetite for the revival of the genre is very much alive

EDMONTON, Alta. April 28, 2017/ Troy Media/ – Back in the mid-1990s, 3D platforming games were the titles that led video game consoles into the next generation. The Nintendo 64, for example, featured Super Mario 64 as its flagship launch title, offering players 3D polygonal graphics, an open-world-based gameplay design, and more freedom of movement than had previously been possible in just about any video game title. Praised for its intuitive gameplay, emphasis on exploration and vibrant visuals, Super Mario 64 went on to become the N64’s most successful title, selling 11 million copies worldwide.

Similarly, the original PlayStation gave birth to its own mascot: a wacky orange marsupial known as Crash Bandicoot. While the Naughty Dog-developed series didn’t offer the open-world exploration of Super Mario 64 – instead pushing players down largely linear “corridors”, it too received widespread critical acclaim for its fast and smooth gameplay, colorful characters and memorable levels. Both titles ultimately went on to define early 3D platformers, and paved the way for critically acclaimed future series such as Banjo-Kazooie, Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank.

3dHowever, in the late 2000s and early 2010s – largely beginning with the release of the PS3 and Xbox 360 and following on thereafter – the 3D platformer was slowly becoming an antiquated concept, with developers instead largely focusing on creating more realistic, Hollywood-esque titles; the wacky, cartoony characters of yesteryear were seen as being somewhat passé. Even when the platforming genre saw something of a comeback with the rise of indie gaming in the 2010s, it was 2D side-scrolling titles like Shovel Knight and Limbo that drew widespread popularity – while Nintendo also went back its glory days with the likes of New Super Mario Bros.

That being said, the influence of some of the early 3D platformers can be felt throughout the gaming industry – and not just within the platforming genre. Crash developer Naughty Dog’s consistently popular Uncharted series, for example, continues to be inspired by the collecting and platforming elements of the studio’s previous series. In the iGaming industry, meanwhile, Playtech’s Arctic Adventure, which forms part of Sun Bingo’s range of slot games, takes a lot of inspiration from the genre, with the five-reel, 20-payline title including cartoony, colorful symbols such as penguins, seals and polar bears and a wintry landscape as its background. Sun Bingo has several other slot games in the same vein, including Big Bad Wolf, Dynamite Digger and Alice Adventure which all include cartoonish characters.

Despite calls from fans to revive some of the previously beloved 3D platforming franchises outright, Naughty Dog developer Josh Scherr summed up the general mood of the industry in an early 2015 interview when he said about a possible Jak & Daxter or Crash Bandicoot return: “I mean, animating the stylized stuff is a lot of fun, but the stories that we’re trying to tell right now are a little bit more grounded and a little bit more grown-up than they were back in the Jak & Daxter days.”

But then, something changed. Playtonic Games, a British independent studio made up of many former Rare veterans who worked on the Banjo-Kazooie series, among others, tested the waters of a modern-day 3D platform with the launch of their Kickstarter for Yooka-Laylee. Touted as the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, the title proved that consumer appetite for the revival of the genre was very much alive. The crowdfunding campaign became the quickest video game to reach $1 million, and the title eventually saw a release earlier this month across current-gen consoles and PC.

The success of Yooka-Laylee on a crowdfunding front – if not critically – led video game publishers to recognize that 3D platformers still had a place in the constantly evolving industry. After years of speculation, Sony and Activision announced at E3 2016 that the original Crash Bandicoot PS1 trilogy would see an HD remake in the form of the N. Sane Trilogy, scheduled to launch on June 30, 2017 for the PS4 – and probably to other consoles later. Developed by Vicarious Visions, the success of the game will likely dictate whether or not Activision revives the Crash Bandicoot as a fully fledged franchise going forward. Initial indications seem to show that there is still very much a strong demand for the charismatic – albeit mute – marsupial.

The resurgence of the 3D platformer isn’t merely limited to nostalgia-driven efforts, however. Perhaps even more exciting for fans of the genre is the recent release of Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass, a game that combines some of the cartoony visuals and animated style of the platformers of the late 1990s with a fully modernized, physics-based control scheme. The game has achieved favorable reviews thus far, and goes to show that innovation is still possible even within an already long-established genre. Time will tell if the 3D platformer is back to stay; but on the basis of the popularity of these three titles alone, you shouldn’t bet against it.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.
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