For gamers of a certain age, the 3D Platformer genre will be one that will no doubt fill you with great childhood memories. From Crash Bandicoot to Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64 to Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet and Clank to Jak and Daxter, and all the fun-filled gems in between, for me these games were like interactive Saturday morning cartoons. They were colourful gems of humour, fun and joy that led you on memorable adventures with equally memorable characters. This genre of game however seemed to fall into obscurity with the arrival of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, when the young people who played these child-friendly adventures grew older, and the graphical capabilities of consoles meant that we were closer than ever before to capturing realism, both visually and in the stories that were told.
With a greater emphasis on capturing reality and attaining as close to graphical perfection as possible, a lot of the big selling games, such as the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises, have had a stronger focus on this gritty realism that you’d have surely gasped at the sight of the Mario Bros doing. Similarly, it almost doesn’t seem enough today to play as an anthropomorphic Squirrel throwing toilet paper at a giant singing poo like in Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Tweak it to make that squirrel a Private Detective with a mysterious past and the singing poop a serial killer with a scatological fetish and you may be on to a winner in 2016. Perhaps lose the latter but you get what I mean, dark, gritty realism seems to sell.
So with all this doom and gloom and gunfire and no scoping could now be a perfect time to bring some joy back to the video game landscape with the 3D Platformer? (Warning, incredibly pretentious observation incoming) With the arrival of the camera, many artists realised there was now little point in creating landscapes and portraits, as the camera could now do this perfectly. This is when movements such as abstract and modern art became more commonplace, so that artists could portray their vision in unique ways that couldn’t be attained through photography and realism. We’re at a point in gaming now in which the realism is becoming so uncanny, that wouldn’t it make sense to give us something more vibrant or beyond the borders of our own reality? (End of observation, phew glad that’s over) I have seen the trend in the past few years within Indie games such as Journey, Limbo and Firewatch, in which a very stylised approach is being taken visually. Even a very human and character driven story such as Firewatch, when presented in this very painterly art style, becomes something unique and engaging on a visual level. I have very fond memories of exploring the seemingly endless cartoon landscapes of Banjo-Kazooie and admiring the wild array of cartoon characters of Spyro the Dragon, and with the increased level of interest in a more unique visual style in video games, I don’t think it would be too much of a leap to believe that gamers would gravitate to this genre once again.
Not only this, but I believe that there are 3 releases in the year 2017 which could potentially signal the rebirth of this genre, one of which being the return of the much loved Playstation mascot Crash Bandicoot in remasters of the original 3 games from the Playstation 1. Fans of the originals like myself will remember these games as some of the best of their generation, but it’ll be interesting to see how a new generation will react to these games, and whether the remasters, that Sony advised at E3 were being “fully remastered from the ground up”, will play and look as good as I remember the originals being back in the day.
We also have the kickstarter funded games A Hat In Time and Yooka-Laylee getting a 2017 release, that both look to be great examples of the genre whilst also feeling fresh and inventive. I’m particularly looking forward to the latter Yooka-Laylee from new games studio Playtonic games, which comprises of many of the previous employees of Rare, the company that brought us such treasures as Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007 and Battletoads. The company have said themselves that this is something of a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and with the overwhelmingly popular kickstarter campaign for the game (and for A Hat In Time for that matter), its clear that there is a desire for these kinds of games to be made again, and depending on how well they sell and are received, could spur mainstream developers on to produce more games of this genre.
The genre never died, there’s always been the occasional Platformer slipping through the cracks, and of course Mario has been going strong for over 30 years. But it would be great to see these games becoming mainstream and commercial hits once more, and not just Indie gems. As much as I love getting lost in a heart wrenching story like The Last Of Us, or exploring a world with depth and mystery like Bioshock, sometimes it is just nice to run around and jump on an enemy’s head. I think it’s time for a new generation of kids to enjoy these “interactive cartoons” for the first time, and for a generation of big kids like myself to fall in love with them all over again.