According to the many worlds interpretation, somehow and somewhere, there are an infinite number of alternate realities, all existing one alongside the other. Each time a decision is made, a new reality is created. For example, in this reality, I chose to have cereal for breakfast this morning. But if I had chosen to have, say, toast instead, my day may have gone very differently.  Perhaps I would have become a millionaire in the six hours between then and now. It’s unlikely, but perhaps…

Anything that can be, is. At least in one plane of existence or another. According to this theory, somewhere out there, there exists an alternate reality where 3D platformers are still successful; where the 3D platformer reigns supreme over the entire games industry. This week I’ve thrown myself with childlike glee into the new reboot of Ratchet and Clank, and it feels as though I’ve been thrown headlong into that alternate reality. It’s an incredibly fun game, allowing me to re-experience one of my childhood favourites, retooled to appeal to a modern day player. It’s not actually a true 3D platformer. If anything it’s a third person shooter with platforming elements bolted on (pun intended).

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What happened to the powerhouse 3D platformers of yore?  Of the old 3D platforming heroes, Ratchet and Clank were the only ones to survive. Jak and Daxter didn’t make the jump to PS3. Crash Bandicoot’s been in hibernation for the past 15 years. Spyro’s somehow managed to get lost in the plastic purgatory of Skylanders. Banjo and Kazooie got relegated to handheld only spinoffs for a few years after the N64 era. Ratchet and Clank weren’t even true platforming stars, and yet, aside from Mario, they’re the only ones to have survived. Sure, Mario was able to carry on with the 3D platformer genre, but come on – it’s Mario. He’s pretty much the most famous video game character ever created. If he couldn’t keep the 3D platformer boat floating, then no one could.

Does this mean that a true 3D platformer wouldn’t be able to stand on its own two feet in the current market? Growing up, the 3D platformer was my genre. Every game I played seemed to feature similar elements; anthropomorphic sidekicks, heroes with the ability to jump and then jump again in mid-air, and levels with such imaginative themes as “the fire one” and “the water one”. These were the bread and butter foundations of the genre.

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Of course, I was young at the time. Perhaps these games weren’t as popular as I remember. The industry changed, and the games had to change with them. Jak and Daxter had to travel into the future, and add gunplay to their repertoire to stay relevant long enough to spawn two sequels (repeat after me: The Lost Frontier didn’t happen. The Lost Frontier didn’t happen). Past the N64 titles, Banjo and Kazooie’s only sort-of attempt at another 3D platformer was Nuts and Bolts, a hybrid game where they drove around looking lost for a few hours, got out the car for a bit, fell over, and then shuffled back to the car feeling sorry for themselves.

The games industry changed to being a muddy battlefield of first person shooters and action adventure. The old 3D platforming guard watched on from the sidelines in horror, unable to compete with the carnage on show. Crash’s spin attack had little to no effect when pitted against a generic soldier with an AK47. Spyro’s adorable little puffs of fire were ineffective against the huge tank of a man wielding a flamethrower. Gamers grew up and moved on, in search of pastures more violent and gritty. Like Woody and his friends in Toy Story 3, the platforming heroes and their fun cartoon violence had been left to gather dust under the bed, lost and alone.

But that’s not the whole story, is it? A quick google search shows: The internet is awash with articles (much like this one) remembering the 3D platformer with fondness; articles written by fully-grown adults, who grew up in the time when 3D platformers were at their peaks. Maybe their thoughts are simply painted with nostalgia, and people are asking for the genre to make a comeback for no other reason than nostalgia. But I’m not so sure that’s the case, because last year, a little project came along, that took the gaming world by storm.

Yooka-Freakin’-Laylee.

Perhaps it’s time for indie game developers to take up the flag, plant it in the ground, and claim the 3D platformer for themselves.

When a bunch of former Rare employees tried to crowdfund a project that would “rare-surrect the buddy duo platformer,” it could have been a disaster. After over a decade, people could have dismissed the entire idea as a dated attempt to cash in on nostalgia. No guns, no explosions, and Yooka doesn’t have a dark origin story to explain his motivation for hunting down the big bad villain at the end of the game. Yawn.

Of course that didn’t happen. People went nuts over the idea, throwing fistfuls of cash with reckless abandon. The project reached its target within 40 minutes. Then it doubled its target. Then tripled it. They wanted £175,000, and when the kickstarter reached its conclusion, they had over £2,000,000. It’s not proof, but it’s certainly evidence: There’s a hunger for a revival of the old gameplay standards. People want endless collectibles, colourful worlds, and up close and personal combat, that often involves jumping on the enemy’s heads. In short – we want 3D platformers back.

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Perhaps it’s time for indie game developers to take up the flag, plant it in the ground, and claim the 3D platformer for themselves. To renew the genre, by capturing it in it it’s purest form, without diluting the formula with gunplay, driving sequences, or any of the other ideas people usually fall back on to make the genre feel appealing to the modern generation of gamers.

Indie developers have had huge success with the 2D platformer in recent years, taking the genre on a creative renaissance through games like Shovel Knight and Super Meat Boy. Taking a look back over their shoulders at the NES and SNES, they’ve made magic by resurrecting the fallen corpses of this era and giving them new life. In fact, it’s gotten to be too much. There are endless lists of these kinds of games now, all jostling for attention; for every success story, there’s ten or more complete failures.

Developers of these kinds of games want their work to be noticed, and yet they balk at the idea of taking the leap into three dimensions. Obviously it’s a challenge. It requires more money, more time, more effort. But surely there have to be some indie studios that have what it takes to bring the 3D platformer back from the dead.

When Yooka Laylee is released, I hope the floodgates open. I want to bathe in an ocean of anthropomorphic critters again. I want to run around obsessively hunting for gold coins again. I want to double jump from ledge to ledge, and fall down a dozen bottomless pits of despair again. Ratchet and Clank was fun, and it’s done a great job whetting my appetite. But I don’t want to shoot another alien in the face. At least, not for a little while.

I’m ready to do some real platforming.

  • PanurgeJr

    I’m sure nobody is interested in the details, but I was away from gaming for about a decade, which included the entire N64/PS1 era, so I missed out on the heyday of 3D platformers and want very much for a new generation of them. I’m currently playing FreezeME on Wii U, and I absolutely love running and jumping around in a world that doesn’t feel the need to make any sense outside of itself. I’d like to do more of it; I’d like to be able to do more of it.

  • Louis

    The 3D platformer resurgence has actually started some time before Yooka Laylee; I want to say the movement to bring ’em back really started with A Hat in Time’s crowdfunding campaign. Aside from that, there was also the campaign for Spooky Poo’s Happy Hell, FreezeME as PanurgeJr mentioned before, and Lobodestroyo. And then there’s a smaller project called Anton & Coolpecker, which isn’t being crowdfunded, and has an open tech demo right here.

  • If you mean DIY indie developers, 3D platform is a very difficult space to work in, very difficult. There aren’t really any tools or resources to draw on. There will be a renaissance as soon as there are. But DIY people don’t want to develop tools, they are not technical, and do not do long term, delayed gratification, or cannot justify the down time in the face of the average live/work situation.

    Video games are a big technical challenge. The average player doesn’t know or care about how they work. Cartoon platformers are easier, but they come with the expectation of playing like Super Mario Bros., which can be hard to pull of, especially in 3D. Non-cartoon platformers are hard to do, because there are so many kinds of movement and interactions to nail down, so that the end result is not cartoonish, but you don’t have the same expectations for everything to move like a well tested toy. The platforming is probably just a way to navigate the space, if it’s not a cartoon. But doing that naturally is equally challenging, it’s just a completely separate discipline.