My Top-10 3D Platformers
To be fair, I have never been as big of a fan of 3D platformers as I am of 2D platformers. But if it looks like a fish and swims like a fish, a fish it is, and obviously 3D platformers hold a certain degree of appeal for me.
The only rule for this list is “one game per franchise”, just so it wont be filled immediately with Mario and Sonic games. Also, no 2½D platformers since I’m planning on giving those their own list.
Mind you that this list is going to be extremely Nintendo 64 heavy, but that’s to be expected…
1. Super Mario 64
Once again, people are going to see this from a mile away, so let’s get the obvious pick out of the way. My favourite Mario Game and as Mario is my favourite platforming series, it goes without saying that this would top the list. Also, compared to all 3D Marios past this, none have managed to compete with its fun structure. I’m famously not a fan of the “collect-a-thon” aspect of 3D Platformers and Mario 64 in my opinion is the only game to date that has handled them with some style, giving you a goal of stars to shoot for but leaving it entirely up to the player to decide “which” stars to collect (rather than forcing them to scour the levels ála Banjo-Kazooie).
Sure, Sunshine, Galaxy, Galaxy 2 and 3D World have all done some things better, but none have the whole packaged. That’s why Mario 64 is still the best.
This was probably the hardest pick for me to make, because this really could have been any 3D Platformer I’ve played for serious amount of time. I didn’t even actively seek Lego Indiana Jones out, but rather got it as a bundle with my Xbox 360 (along with Kung Fu Panda which I’ve yet to have played to this day). Just for the hell of it I decided to give the game a shot and I do have to admit to having a lot of fun with it.
Although I think the Lego-boom in video-games exceeded its crazy limits a long time ago, I have to say that this title has a degree of charm to it. It parodies its material well, the level designs are mostly good and, of course, there’s the classic Indiana Jones music playing in the background which makes it almost feel like the real McCoy.
My only real complaints with the game is that, like a lot of modern 3D platformers, there’s little to no challenge from the actual gameplay. Getting killed doesn’t hinder your progress at all and you simply lose a lot of the blocks you’ve collected (Big Whoop). In fact, I think I got stuck more just because the levels had some trick I didn’t know how to pull off, which is interesting but really just a sign of slighty sloppy design work. However, I still had fun with this game.
Here’s a tragically under-rated platformer character from the defunct Fox Interactive. Croc was one of the earliest 3D platformer franchises and it sadly got buried under its better known and more popular competitors. I say sadly, because it seems no-one else out there seems to appreciate the charm of the back-pack carrying crocodile trying to save his cute, fuzzy foster-parents.
Croc was perhaps a very rudimentary 3D platformer, but one with tricky level design and extremely catchy, up-beat music. I thought the characters looked fun and cartoony and I even recall enjoying the sequel to some degree as well. Maybe Croc’s rather generic goal of getting to the end of the level didn’t raise people’s’ interest enough, but the game is certainly way more playable than some of its contemporaries.
If you haven’t experienced the fun-filled action of this early PlayStation gem, I seriously recommend trying it out. But at the same time, I recognise that Croc didn’t innovate much in the genre and as a result doesn’t really deserve to be much higher.
Banjo-Kazooie was the game with which Rare made its first big splash on the Nintendo 64. It seemed like Super Mario 64 on steroids, with bigger worlds and far more crazier looking characters and enemies. Plus, you had that cheeky Rareware comedy which always made these games so endearing and silly.
The game’s premise isn’t anything special, with Banjo out to save his cute sister from the clutches of an evil witch. However, you traverse colourful worlds and have to put up with your mean woodpecker sidekick. The various cool locations from tropical pirate ships to swamps, forests and the like keep the game from becoming dull and it’s even aged surprisingly well.
However, Banjo-Kazooie was the first game where Rare began to suffer from the overt collect-a-thon aspect and as a result, the game starts to get really tiresome once you realise you have to collect practically every jiggy to make it to the end. This one major flaw keeps me from putting it any higher, but beyond that, it’s an awesome game.
Here’s a practically forgotten N64 gem from Sunsoft which I had the pleasure of re-experiencing just recently. In Chameleon Twist, you take control of one of four humanoid Chameleons who follow a white rabbit down a rabbit hole and find themselves in a magical world. Chameleon Twist is a simple but addicting problem centric platformer, where you use the Chameleons’ tongues to dispose of enemies and progress through the game.
The game has a cheery, energetic quality to it with up-beat music, cute enemies, colourful surroundings and a generally fun atmosphere. The different levels all present a different type of challenge and I love the fact that the game forces you to think about your surroundings and figure out where you want to go.
Despite its fun and novel gameplay, Chameleon Twist has one very noticeable flaw and that’s its criminally short length. There are only six levels in the game and you only need to complete four in order to “beat” the game. The freedom to play the levels in almost any order is intended to entice the player to getting the biggest high score for each level, but the lack of real length is kind of disappointing. Or it would be if the game wasn’t so darned entertaining and cute. Never the less, this is probably the main reason why people have forgotten this game.
The original Crash shouldn’t be overlooked even though it was a very early title in the Playstation’s life-span. Naughty Dog created a really crazy and silly title with loads of cartoony energy and this is what makes Crash such an awesome game.
The game has aged well thanks to the detail and care that was seen in its cartoony animations. Even when Crash dies, you’re usually in for a laugh because of the goofy animations provided by the game (my favourite is Crash burning to death with his eyeballs falling on to his ash-mound of a body). Also, the music is nice and energetic almost reminding me a little bit of Donkey Kong Country.
The game is also extremely challenging and some of the later levels will have you tearing your hair out (particularly that god damn bridge). The one thing I could maybe fault Crash for is a slightly unimaginative plot and the fact that the levels are extremely linear (with the game effectively becoming a 2½D platformer at times). However, I still enjoyed the game very much and it could have easily been in the Top-5.
Donkey Kong 64 doesn’t get the love it deserves in my opinion, but I honestly like this game even more than Banjo-Kazooie. DK64 certainly wasn’t the DK game I had expected for the Nintendo 64, but with tons of cool worlds and five playable characters, it would be more than a smidge unfair to say that this game doesn’t have anything to offer.
The worlds are really awesome, my favourites being the Aztec, Factory and Castle levels. The Kongs all add their own nice flavour. Although I miss having Dixie and Kiddy in the roster, this game at least brought back Cranky, Funky and Candy – so at least Rare was embracing the whole franchise with this title.
Now, what I said about Banjo-Kazooie does apply to some extent to DK64 in regards to the “collect-a-thon” aspect of the game. However, unlike Banjo, DK64 doesn’t require the player to be as pedantic about getting absolutely everything the first time. Sure, there is inevitably some back-tracking, but I find that this game is a lot more accessible and its “collectible” quotas far more reasonable than in Banjo.
There are a lot of pet peeves I have with this game, but I still wholly enjoyed it and I would definitely recommend it to others as well.
Another no brainer for the list, this being my second favourite Sonic game of all time. Sonic Adventure 2 was the second proper 3D instalment of the franchise. The first Sonic Adventure is also an awesome game, one with a surprisingly deep story which is unveiled through the eyes of six playable characters. That and the level variety of the first game really did make it a stand-out game in the Sonic franchise.
However, Sonic Adventure 2 made several seemingly minor improvements which over-all made it much better of a gaming experience. The unnecessary hub-world is gone, smooth-lining the gaming experience with the transitions to new levels happening entirely with cutscenes. Though I did feel that the story of SA2 wasn’t as good as the first game’s, I like that the game split the storyline into two plotlines for three characters each because this kept the gameplay variety up well. In addition, the soundtrack of SA2 was much more varied (thanks to the Rap and RNB songs provided by Knuckles and Rouge’s levels) and way better.
But make no mistake, I will be the first one to point out that this game has a lot of problems as well. It’s a little sloppy, especially with voice-sync in the English dub and some of the voice-actor performances (Tails) are pretty terrible. Sonic’s levels aren’t nearly as fun as Shadow’s and both Tails’ and Eggman’s levels are just ridiculously easy. But even with that, this game just puts a smile on my face.
Tim Schafer’s first post-LucasArts game was something really special. A plot-driven platformer which contained all his excellent comedic wit, creative worlds, great level design and generally a fun and spooky atmosphere. As Raz, you attend a psychic summer camp and begin to uncover a sinister conspiracy brewing under the surface. In this game, you traverse to the minds of other characters and get to witness their bizarre thoughts.
Platforming challenge is one thing but Psychonauts really keeps you on your toes with creative puzzle solving and other fun aspects. The characters are likeable and the voice-acting superb. Plus, the game will take you by surprise several times with its odd and goofy premise.
However, Psychonauts does some have some superfluous features and even a few slightly awkward levels. However, it’s a vast adventure with a lot in it. It could easily be at the top of the list. This is a really unique gaming experience and highly recommended because of that.
Rare’s last N64 title and one of their most daring ever conceived. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is the story of a hung over squirrel trying to get back home and getting distracted from his goals by Grim Reapers, zombies, Liverpool beetles, singing mountains of shit, war and all kinds of other crazy dangers.
Conker is filled with great pop culture parodies and in-jokes, but the game has a comedic charm all its own. Despite its admittedly low-brow comedy, Conker is a sympathetic character and the crazy creatures he runs into all add to the game’s bizarre, foul, adult and cartoony atmosphere.
The game is a lot more linear than Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64 but I feel the game’s narrative drive is so good, it doesn’t honestly bother me. The controls are top-notch and there’s even a lot of variety with the game. The shooter-segments are admittedly frustrating but I just enjoyed the atmosphere and comedy of this game so much, it kept me playing through right to the end. This game is just f***ing great!