Originally published on 5/31/14
Whatever happened to the 3D platformer? While traditional 2D platformers have continued to prosper in a new renaissance during the past generation or two, the opportunities to explore the third dimension while jumping about, stomping enemies, and searching out collectibles have been few and far between. There’s the occasional gem in this regard – and Yooka-Laylee will be making a big splash when it releases next year – but there’s no denying that the era of the mascot platformer is long past.
That said, there’s no denying that the genre has given gaming some of its all-time greatest classics, and as a lifelong fan of these titles from the days when the PS2 was king, I figured why not take a look back at the best of the best? As such, we’re proud to present out list of the best 3D platformers. With a limit of one title per franchise, let’s take a look at a couple of honorable mentions before the main list.
HM: The Lego Games
Though Nintendo’s done a great job keeping the genre alive on its own consoles, the best place to go for 3D platforming action on Sony and Microsoft consoles is Traveller’s Tales and their insane amount of Lego games. Admittedly, the gameplay is simplistic, but each entry manages to introduce new innovations and unique abilities. And after a decade of developing titles based on franchises like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and the Marvel universe, there’s pretty much a game for everyone in this series. Plus, it’s hard to deny that these games indulge the collect-a-thon addict like no other, and what’s more a staple of the 3D platformer than collectibles?
HM: Sly 2: Honor Among Thieves
The PlayStation 2 had a trio of great platforming icons, and while I would have loved for them all to have made the list, Sly Cooper fell just short. Sly 2 was the raccoon thief’s high point, bringing just enough diversity in the form of its three playable characters, a crew of colorful villains, and a strong plot twist to shake up the back half of the story. Really, though, the star of Sly 2 was the selection of stellar real world locations Sucker Punch reimagined for the game. From the streets of Paris to the Contessa’s oppressive prison in Prague, Sly 2 felt like a true world tour, one that’s worth revisiting in the recent HD remaster for the PS3.
Given how much praise this game has garnered since its original release, I certainly hope more gamers have taken a trip to Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. While Sly 2 did a great job of reimagining real world settings, Psychonauts offered some of the most over-the-top, creative dreamscapes in gaming. Whether travelling through Coach Oleander’s “Basic Braining” or taking part in a monster movie-inspired rampage, the twisted mental landscapes young psychic Raz explores are some of the most imaginative in gaming.
Beyond that, though, Psychonauts is just a perfectly balanced game, offering tons of collectibles, a plethora of awesome psychic powers and a surprisingly emotional story that’ll keep you engrossed until the end. There’s a reason that, even a decade later, this game still has its diehard fans. Here’s hoping the long-awaited sequel, scheduled for 2018, can live up to that legacy.
4. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Though A Crack in Time might be my favorite in the series, there’s no denying that Up Your Arsenal is the game that cemented the duo’s place as gaming icons. After two solid entries spent developing the formula, Insomniac finally perfected things with Arsenal, offering up the lombax/robot pair’s best adventure yet. The weapon upgrade system was fully fleshed-out, while the level of destruction that could be inflicted on each of the game’s many planets was upped to new heights.
Further, while the series had been funny before, this was a hilarious adventure from start to finish, with great jokes coming from the entire supporting cast, as well as from the series’ best villain, Dr. Nefarious. And for all of the funny moments, this was the first Ratchet & Clank to offer a narrative with a truly epic scope, seeing Ratchet complete the journey to become an intergalactic hero he started in the first game. Much like Sly 2, Up Your Arsenal is available in HD on PS3, and it definitely holds up all these years later.
While Super Mario 64 showed what the Nintendo 64 was capable of, Banjo-Kazooie is the game that took things to the next level. Honestly, Rare gave gamers the Mario sequel that Nintendo wouldn’t get around to producing until the following generation, and it’s a title that, amazingly, holds up to this day. Unlike the previous titles on this list, there’s not much in the way of plot, but the game makes up for it with tons to do and plenty of great environments to explore and plunder.
Now, Banjo-Tooie is obviously the bigger game, but sometimes less is more. There’s a lot to like in the sequel, but the secrets can be a bit too cryptic, and many of the levels are too large and confusing to navigate. Really, Banjo-Kazooie is just the purer game: always fun and never getting in the way of itself. There’s a lot for Yooka-Laylee to live up to when it offers gamers a spiritual sequel to this decades-old masterpiece next year.
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Though it lacked the same level of innovation and surprise as its predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 stands as the finest example of how stellar the 3D Mario series can be. There are dozens of levels to conquer, hidden secrets galore and plenty to do even after the campaign is done. The Prankster Comets alone make for some of the toughest challenges in the series.
Again, a lot of what makes this game great was introduced in the previous entry, but everything is refined to a stellar level here, with tighter controls, more creative and inventive level design and downplayed motion-control segments. All that, plus the inclusion of fan-favorite character Yoshi, make Galaxy 2 the top-tier 3D Mario game.
1. Jak II
If this were a list of most-improved sequels, Jak II would easily stand with Mass Effect 2 and Assassin’s Creed II. That’s not to say The Precursor Legacy was a bad game, but it was a fairly standard platformer. Then came Jak II, throwing the cutesier elements out the window in exchange for a much darker outlook. Sure, the shift was a jarring one, but the dystopian Haven City was a memorable environment.
More importantly, the addition of action gameplay elements brought a fresh feel to the franchise without overpowering the platforming. There was a plethora of great levels and environs, as well as a number of challenging bosses and memorable story beats. Jak II simply gets everything right, offering a 3D platformer that can only really be challenged by its sequel, Jak 3. It’s a king of the genre, and still stands as one of the best products Naughty Dog has ever given the gaming public.
What did you think of our picks? Obviously, there are plenty of great franchises and titles that didn’t make the list, so please let us know in the comments what we were crazy not to include!