Is the 3D platformer dead?
For the past few weeks we've been taking a look at some truly iconic 3D platformers for the Nintendo 64. I revisited Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and finally, Super Mario 64 in attempt to see if these games still held up to today's standards. While there's no denying that certain aspects of the aforementioned titles have aged better than others, the final verdict was that these iconic 3D platformers ultimately did hold up, even if they weren't exactly perfect.
But looking back at the genre, it's easy to see that the 2D platformer has taken over once more. And while that leap from 2D to 3D was certainly revolutionary in 1996 thanks to Mario 64, it almost seems as though we've reverted back entirely to enjoying 2D platformers and only 2D platformers. It's a shame, because the genre could easily include both 2D and 3D games. Variety is great, and in the gaming space, where individuals become so jaded way too fast, that variety is most certainly something we need.
Now, I'm not crapping all over 2D platformers. I love the genre, and I get so much enjoyment out of games like Super Meat Boy, Rayman Origins, Kirby's Return to Dream Land, and New Super Mario Bros. But I also know a lot of people who are burnt out on these types of games. You'll find disgruntled platformer fans all over message boards and blogs saying things like, "Just because 2D platformers are easy to make doesn't mean every single major and independent developer should be exhausting the genre."
I both agree and disagree with that train of thought. As someone who has yet to tire of 2D platformers, I certainly don't want to see them going away. I want indie devs to continue making games like VVVVVV, Mighty Jill Off, and RunMan: Race Around the World, because all of these games offer a different spin on the genre. Likewise, I also want to see companies like Ubisoft making 2D Rayman games, because those titles are both charming to behold and challenging enough to provide a memorable experience.
That said, as much as I love 2D platformers, and I can't help but utterly miss 3D platformers. I miss those types of games because developers don't really make them anymore. A genre that exploded in the 90s went on to fade away, and it's really upsetting, especially when you think about all of the potential it has. And before you argue that swimming levels are a pain in the ass and that camera angles are an exercise in frustration, I need you to look at one game: Super Mario Galaxy.
Without a doubt, Mario Galaxy and its sequel are two examples of a 3D platformer being made the right way in the current generation. The games are damn near flawless, and they perfect everything that was so special about the genre in the first place. While the Mario Galaxy games do use camera tricks to create an illusion of being disoriented in space, these camera tricks do not take away from the overall experience and instead add to it. As for the swimming, well, it was about time swimming in 3D platformers was fun, and the Mario Galaxy titles proved that it can be.
Hell, shortly after Mario Galaxy 2 landed on the Wii, a little 3D platformer by the name of Jett Rocket appeared on WiiWare. And while it certainly wasn't as charming or flat-out amazing as the Mario games, it proved that there was still room for the genre. Sadly, the 3D platformer movement never fully returned, and it almost seems as though now all we'll really get are sporadic titles popping up here and there as opposed to an actual resurgence.
So to answer the question that I posed in the title of this editorial: Is the 3D platformer dead? Yes, it most certainly is. We can go back and play Banjo-Kazooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day all we want, but that's merely a look back at the fond memories we had with the genre. We can play games like Mario Galaxy and Jett Rocket, but those can really be considered wonderful love letters to the 3D platformer and its fans.
The genre will likely never return in full force. And it's not that developers can't make these types of games without avoiding pesky camera controls and annoying swimming levels, because they can. It's just that they don't seem to want to, so they won't. From a marketing standpoint, you can't fault these game makers for sticking to what sells. But as a gamer and true fan of the 3D platformer, I can't help but feel let down by the fact that we'll probably never see the genre in as strong a fashion as it once was.
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