Change is in the air, readers. Leaves are beginning to fall from trees, leaving piles of amber plant matter everywhere. Soon the bare branches will hold snow. At least, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where snow isn’t a fever dream and don’t use the word “lucky” when referring to it. The birds are heading south for the winter. School is starting back soon for the children of America, and you might be saying goodbye to some of your old co-workers.
The best change this year though has been the return of the 3D platformer. Playtonic delivered one hell of a Trojan horse in the form of Yooka-Laylee. They were so desperate to deliver the death nail that they intentionally created one of the worst 3D platformers of all time, dressing it up as the second coming. How else can you possible explain how bad that game is? Fortunately their attempts have failed, and the 3D platformer is enjoying its best year in over a decade.
Vicarious Visions followed this up with Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, a remake of an already difficult series of games that unfairly makes them even more difficult.
There are no less than 15 notable 3D platformers either released in 2017, announced, or that have continued development. Some of them include AAA-fare such as Knack II and Voodoo Vince Remastered, as well as the usual indie games such as Skylar & Plux, Macbat 64, and A Hat in Time later this year.
Out Now, For Your Pleasure
Besides Yooka-Bandicoot and Crash Laylee, there have so far been five notable 3D platformers to grace us with their presence this year. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of polish, but for the most part, these are all quality platformers that deserve a look if you’re a fan of the genre. In no particular order, here they are.
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
I thought for sure Yooka-Laylee would destroy any chance the 3D platformer genre would have at a comeback when it first came out. Luckily, Sumo Digital saved the day with innovative experiment Snake Pass. Where Playtonic’s train wreck of a car crash of a house fire of a video game was rightfully savaged in the gaming press and communities, Snake Pass was praised and anointed the true next step of the 3D platformer.
Snake Pass is unlike any other platformer on this list. Whereas most of the time in the genre you can expect to run and jump onto platforms, Snake Pass takes a different route. Instead of running and jumping, you slither and crawl your way up, over, and around obstacles. What else would a snake do? While it has its detractors as not being a real 3D platformer since it doesn’t feature jumping, the game represents exactly the step the genre needs to go if it wants to survive.
The 3D platformer needs to evolve beyond running, jumping, and collecting random junk. Yooka-Laylee failed because it was too much like Banjo-Kazooie, refusing to change anything from a twenty year old game no matter how much game design philosophy improved in all those years. If developers interested in this genre want it to come back in a meaningful way, they need think of ways to innovate. Think of it less as reinventing the wheel, and more like refilling it with air.
Technically, there’s nothing new about Super Cloudbuilt, a remaster of Cloudbuilt, a three year old game. Somewhat shockingly, you can still buy the original Cloudbuilt on Steam for the same price as the remaster. You kind of have to respect the sheer gall of that move.
Super Cloudbuilt does mix things up somewhat. Imagine any 3D Sonic game, only good. That’s exactly what Coilworks has done here. They’re not a big fan of spaces, are they? You start the game crawling like a child, but as it progress, you gain new abilities that let you blaze through levels, run along walls, climb obstacles, and shoot enemies. Much like Snake Pass, this isn’t a “traditional” 3D platformer, but it’s exactly what the genre needs right now – a breath of fresh air.
Speaking of a game that doesn’t even try to be innovative, we now move on to Macbat 64. Care to guess what the “64” is homage too? Yes, of course it’s the Nintendo 64. Developer Siactro went out of their way to make Macbat 64 look like a game that could have been released on Nintendo’s ancient console, down to blocky graphics and limited gameplay. You’d think playing as a bat would open up interesting gameplay opportunities for a platformer, but now, you spend most of the game inexplicably walking around on the ground.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily make Macbat 64 a bad game. The developer clearly put their heart and soul into making this feel like a retro 3D platformer, incorporating kart racing, 8 bit mini-games, first person levels, 2D levels, and shooting sections. For such a low price, it’s worth a look if you need a new Nintendo 64-esque platforming experience.
Finally, a 3D platformer inspired by something other than a Nintendo 64 game. Rather than the stuffy and old-fashioned worlds of Nintendo, Skylar & Plux developer x instead drew their inspiration from the PlayStation games Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. Can you guess which games I grew up with? While this isn’t ideal, it’s at least novel in a way. In a sea of retro inspired games that are little more than ROM’s of Banjoo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64, it’s good to see a game drawing from a different well.
Unlike Macbat 64’s cutesy worlds and friendly enemies, Skylar & Plux is a hardcore video game for hardcore players, baby! There are guns, explosions, battles, and dark worlds that look like they were designed by Zack Snyder. But one area it does fall flat in is the story. PlayStation platformers always had deeper stories than Nintendo ones, and Skylar & Plux doesn’t carry that over, instead going with a looser “stop the bad guys and win, I guess” plot.
PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Poi first appeared on Kickstarter in August 2015. Polykid Games was asking for $80,000, but raised only $27,236. Still, what was already developed was put onto Steam Early Access the following November, and in February of this year, the game was finally finished. Reviews have been mixed, and it’s clear the game could have used the funds from Kickstarter for more polish and a little more detail. But Poi remains a serviceable little indie platformer.
Coming Later This Year for Your Pleasure
Are you not entertained? Despite all the great, mediocre, and downright terrible 3D platformers that have released so far this year, you still want more? Well, luckily for you there are still more coming later this year, and they both look great.
A Hat in Time
PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One
A Hat in Time is the second most success 3D platformer on Kickstarter, raising $296,360 way back in June 2013. It’s been slow going for developer Gears for Breakfast, but for good reason. Much like Snake Pass, A Hat in Time is shaking up the standard formula, just a little. You’ll be given an umbrella that’ll act as both a weapon and a grappling hook, enabling you to swing from objects or climb up somewhere you wouldn’t be able to jump to.
But more impressively, there are several levels, themes, and a story wouldn’t expect to find in a standard mascot platformer. Announced during E3 was “Murder on the Owl Express,” a spoof of Murder on the Orient Express, in which you’ll be solving a murder case on a moving train. There’s also a level full of mafia goons and bosses which will require a little more stealth than usual, as well as a spooky, scary forest hiding a grand mansion.
A Hat in Time will be available sometime later this year. Gears for Breakfast recently announced a partnership with Humble Bundle, making their game the first to be published by the online game store.
What’s this? A cutesy 3D mascot platformer exclusive to the Xbox One? What kind of backwards world are we living in? What kind of dark contract have developer Playful Interactive signed, or better yet, what dark contract has Microsoft signed? Are these the end of days?
Originally an Oculus Rift exclusive – yes, a 3D, third person platformer played with VR – Super Lucky’s Tale is little more than the VR version minus the VR. Most people would call it “the way it should have been from the start.” What makes this game stand out from some of the others on this list is that it’s not chained to the idea of collectibles. There are definitely shiny things to pick up, but unlike in Yooka-Laylee, you’re not punished if you don’t constantly go out your way to collect all five different types of useless junk.
Super Lucky’s Tale comes out November 7. No word yet on if this is a timed exclusive or if it’ll be locked away on Microsoft’s dust collection device forever.
Other News and Notes
To round out there year, we’ve got news on four other intriguing 3D platformers. Some of it’s good news, and some of it not so much, some of it’s not even news at all, really.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is one of many failed 3D platformers on Kickstarter, only developer Dinosaur Bytes had the misfortune of failing twice. That hasn’t stopped them from continuing development however, even if it has stalled to a snail’s pace.
In May, Dinosaur Bytes released a trailer for a new level – Cajun Mob Bog. The following month, an update surfaced on the game’s second Kickstarter campaign detailing the animation work that was going into the game. There’s still no information on a release date, and it feels like the end is nowhere in sight yet. But it’s nice to know that work is continuing, and who knows, the third time could be the charm.
Last News Update: July 6, 2017
Happy Hell by Occult Games has been all but forgotten. It raised over $14,000 on Kickstarter in March 2015, but has since been buried under news of all the other games on this list, especially its crowdfunded siblings Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time. Much like Clive ‘N’ Wrench, there’s no release date in sight, but Happy Hell lacks the excuse of two failed Kickstarters.
Still, the Kickstarter page is being frequently updated. It is weird to see there haven’t been any comments on the Kickstarter since March, however. Especially since the last update came just last month. The update was light, showing only some 3D models, fan art, and video of a boss battle. Still, it’s better than nothing, though I can’t help but feel like fans of the genre and backers of the project (those that remember they even backed it) would probably like to see a little more progress at this point.
Funk Unplugged was Kickstarted in May 2016 to the tune of $15,596. It may have raised more money than Happy Hell, but its backers are even less active, the last comment coming January 8, and then May 8, 2016 before that. The last update on the Kickstarter page is backer only, but came only a few months ago, and was apparently about playtesting according to the title. There is a release date on the game’s Steam page however, Fall 2017.
Last News Update: June 4, 2017
My baby. By sweet, beautiful, love. I had to save this old girl for last. I last wrote about one of my favorite Kickstarter campaigns back in March 2017, stating that just because there wasn’t much information being shared, doesn’t mean that progress had stopped. Lobodestroyo was crowdfunded years before Happy Hell was (December 2013), and developer Left-Handed Games haven’t even posted as many updates as Occult Games has.
A lot has happened with Left-Handed Games. They’ve lost money promised to them by Ouya, had an internal shake-up, and some members of the team had to get day jobs. In June 2016, lead developer James Guy promised backers they would be posting more updates. While there have been a handful of blog posts on their site and some Tweets, there hasn’t been a substantial update on the game in well over a year.
Finally, Guy responded to a Kickstarter backer on June 4, 2017 with grim news.
“We have trickled out bits here and there via other social media means as mentioned below,” the comment reads, “but no, we haven’t had any big updates since hitting some major lulls and difficulties. The state of progress is the same as it has been; extremely slow and with little in the way of shareable content. I am sorry the progress isn’t at the pace we had all anticipated, and trust me that I would love nothing more than to be able to show big leaps and showcase progress.”
For years I’ve had my eye on Lobodestroyo. But upon hearing the news that progress has, once again, stalled, seeing Guy apologize and saying “there is nobody more disappointed with this truth than us,” and seeing the lack of any updates in over a year, I can’t help but feel my confidence evaporate. We’re coming up on four years since backers gave Left-Handed Games $43,831. All the developers have to show for it so far are some screenshots, apologies, and promises of doing better. Its high time backers got something more concrete than that.
Have I Missed Anything?
2017 has been a great year for 3D platformers, even with the utter failure of Yooka-Laylee. If that game had released on its own in a vacuum, the genre would be dead forever. Luckily there have been a plethora of others to counterbalance.
Hopefully, 2018 will be even better, and articles like this one won’t need to exist. Things are certainly looking better since the last time we looked at 3D platformers on Kickstarter. Still, there’s a long way to go before the genre returns to even half of it’s former glory. But if the point and click adventure game can return, I have no doubt the 3D platformer can as well.