I haven’t been playing a lot of Super Mario 3D World recently, but thinking about it and why I was excited enough to make it my first Wii U game purchase brought to my mind the rarity of 3D platformers in this era. That also kind of gives me an opportunity to write a bit about Ubisoft’s Grow Home if you still haven’t played it.
A few posts ago I talked about how the value proposition of 2D platformers is beginning to come into question. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s because I’m simply more interested in 3D platformers as a technical showcase and opportunity for virtual exploration. I say this immediately after finishing Yoshi’s Wooly World. 3D Mario kind of feels like a more reasonable evolution from 2D Mario than… more 2D Mario. That kind of talk however speaks to a strictly evolutionist view of video games rather than what drives many fans to continue enjoying old genres like 2D platformers and turn-based RPGs.
In regards to there not being too many 3D platformers these days, you can really say that for many kinds of games Nintendo makes. Nintendo’s design formulas are rarely replicated in other big-budget games these days: particularly the Zelda formula and platformers of any kind. Even indie developers, for all the side scrolling platformers they crank out, have only just begun working on games reminiscent of Super Mario 64.
That brings me to Grow Home. I played it to completion over a year ago but I think now’s a good time to say that it probably reminded me of Mario 64 more than any game since… Mario 64. That’s despite its procedural animation system leading to incredibly clunky movement, and yet the game manages to have an appeal mainly grounded in freedom of movement. I think that ironically has less to do with good movement controls and more to do with the level design and the main objective of each game: to reach places.
Now I’m only saying this from memory since I can’t plug in Mario 64 right this second, but most of the time that game is about “how do I get there?” More specifically, it was about “how do I utilize this newfound third dimension and Mario’s acrobatic capabilities to get over there?” The game was almost never about fast obstacle courses and mostly about exploration through running and jumping. This is true even if you compare it to the faster-paced Mario Galaxy games. Maybe Super Mario Sunshine leans more towards 64.
Grow Home is pretty much about the same thing. You see objects you don’t immediately know how to reach, and getting to them takes you through aesthetically interesting locations. It’s kind of amazing very few other games have done this since Mario 64. The Banjo Kazooie series is probably the most prominent successor, and I guess Yooka-Laylee — that game’s Kickstarter successor, is going to be the most prominent indie 3D platformer. But when you think about it the basic appeal of Mario 64 should have been easy to replicate. I guess people just had to realize that it’s different from “skillfully navigate these obstacles in 3D.”
- I guess you can consider the first person jumping puzzles games that follow after Portal to be a new branch of the 3D platformer.
- Apparently back in the day people were afraid of books corrupting our youth: https://books.google.com/books?id=IkNGAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22she%20was%20insane%2C%20incurably%20insane%2C%20from%20reading%20novels%22&pg=PA319#v=onepage&q&f=false
- They got Gundams in Sky Rogue now: http://skyroguegame.tumblr.com/post/142129535951