When I was a kid, by far my favourite video game genre was the 3D platformer. I would happily spend hours exploring the bright, colourful worlds of such titles, blissfully unaware that – one day – games like these would be on the brink of extinction. However, are things about to change, and how far-fetched is the idea of a 3D platformer renaissance on PlayStation 4?
With the advent of the original PlayStation, developers were able to bring games into the third dimension like never before, with high-quality visuals that placed you in creatively designed, vibrant environments. Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were Sony’s main contributions to the fledgling genre in the 1990s, but other consoles played their part too; for example, with celebrated titles such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie on the Nintendo 64.
A few years later, the higher processing power of the PlayStation 2 allowed developers to create truly beautiful worlds, leading to what was – at least in my opinion – the golden age of the 3D platformer. First came Jak and Daxter, then Sly Raccoon and Ratchet & Clank, as well as many lesser known titles; one of which – Legend of Kay – was recently remastered for the PlayStation 4.
However, with the launch of the PlayStation 3, something changed. The developers behind some of the greatest 3D platformers on PS2 moved onto other projects. Naughty Dog turned its attention to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, while Sucker Punch developed inFamous. It was easy to see each studio’s heritage in these games, but they were a different genre, with more mature styles.
In fact, of all the big 3D platformer franchises to emerge in the golden age of the genre, only Ratchet & Clank has remained a constant presence on PlayStation; but, even then, the last truly great game in the series was released way back in 2009. However, I should also point out here that, thankfully, next year’s reboot looks fantastic, so fingers crossed it can successfully revitalise the franchise.
While Ratchet & Clank is still Sony’s flagship of the genre, the company has dabbled in other 3D platformers, most recently with the criminally underrated Knack at the launch of the PlayStation 4. As well as looking awesome, Knack offered a fun, old-school experience, with genuinely challenging gameplay. However, for one reason or another, most reviewers came away unimpressed.
Given the disappointing critical reception of Knack, a sequel is extremely unlikely and, as a possible consequence of this, 3D platformers on PS4 are currently few and far between. In fact, I can only think of two others – the aforementioned Legend of Kay: Anniversary, as well as The Last Tinker: City of Colors – both of which are serviceable titles, but haven’t exactly set the genre alight.
Enter Yooka-Laylee, the upcoming spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, which is being created by several former Rare employees. Developer Playtonic Games turned to Kickstarter to fund the title, and raised a staggering £1 million in 21 hours, before going on to double that total (the original target was £175,000… which was reached in 38 minutes). It would only take one game to open the floodgates for future 3D platformers, and – judging by the excitement it has generated over the last few months – Yooka-Laylee could be a serious contender. But, no pressure, Playtonic!
Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that indie developers have brought a genre back from the dead. By the end of the fifth console generation, 2D platformers had pretty much disappeared, as 2D sprites were out, and 3D polygons were in. This was a huge trend in the late 90s and early 2000s, which meant that the genre basically skipped the PlayStation 2 altogether. However, in the last decade or so, it has been completely reinvigorated, and nowadays there is an abundance of ingenious 2D platformers on pretty much every device you can play games on.
So, my point is, could the same thing happen to the 3D platformer? Yooka-Laylee’s nostalgic connection to a beloved game obviously helped its cause, but the title’s phenomenal Kickstarter success does at least prove that there are still a lot of stubborn gamers out there who, like me, see a bright future for the genre. Call me naive if you want, but – between Yooka-Laylee and the Ratchet & Clank reboot – there’s every chance that next year could be the start of a new era for 3D platformers.