Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Tuesday 10s: Best 3D Platformers of the Past Ten Years

After a nice, much needed week off, SuperPhillip Central is back with a brand-new article and a brand-new series of articles. Introducing: The Tuesday 10s--themed lists of some of the very best in gaming. Rather than obsess with the order of things like I would do with a top ten list, when it comes to The Tuesday 10s, these lists will be entirely unordered.

Let's kick off this inaugural edition of The Tuesday 10s with a category near and dear to my heart, the 3D platformer. It's a genre that used to be all the rage back when I was a middle school version of myself, but as you can tell by the past tense used, it's not so hot anymore. So, expect to see lots of Mario representation on this first installment of The Tuesday 10s!

I hope for this new article series to show up most Tuesdays on the site. After all, it wouldn't make much sense for The Tuesday 10s to appear on a Wednesday... Now, with all that out of the way, here are my selections for the best 3D platformers of the past ten years!

Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

Speaking of which, we begin this installment with Super Mario Odyssey, the latest 3D platformer featuring Mario. Taking the idea of the large, expansive playgrounds of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine and absolutely running (and jumping) with the concept, Super Mario Odyssey featured kingdoms that stretched far and wide, offering plenty of platforming, scores of secrets, and multiple opportunities for hunting down stray Power Moons. An abundant supply was hidden throughout each kingdom, and I enjoyed searching for them all. If you wanted to be a completionist, you could do that, but if you just wanted to complete the game with the minimum amount of Power Moons, you could also opt to do that, too. I feel the abundance (or overabundance, if you will) of Power Moons was like a joyous Easter egg hunt, and those with lesser skill could go after the ones that were less challenging to collect, meaning most could beat the game by choosing their own difficulty as it were.

Then, there's Cappy, who offered the ability for Mario to capture the powers and move sets of various objects, items, and enemies, bringing a whole new element to 3D Mario. While many of these were one-offs, the captured items that were used for traversal purposes shined the most. From the sun-soaked sands of Tostarena to the Japanese-style feudal castle of Bowser's Kingdom, every kingdom brought with it new ideas, personality, and charm. I won't call Super Mario Odyssey my favorite of Mario's 3D adventures, but it is darn close.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Now, THIS. THIS is what I would call my favorite 3D Mario game, if I had to choose. Well, it's definitely my favorite from Mario's repertoire of the past ten years, and it just comes under the wire, too, by about a month. It's of course Super Mario Galaxy 2, a game that greatly expanded on the ideas and concept of the original Galaxy, one of my favorite games of all time, period.

What makes Super Mario Galaxy 2 great is that it's pure, unadulterated platforming goodness. While not open like Super Mario Odyssey, the levels and galaxies are straight up obstacle courses with all the gravitational goodness of its predecessor put to some insanely ingenious uses. I had thought Super Mario Galaxy put the level designers' to the limit, and that they had revealed all of their tricks with that game. I was definitely wrong, as Super Mario Galaxy 2 is even more creative at times. I wanted more Super Mario Galaxy greatness, and that's exactly what I got with its brilliant, super sequel.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

Run, jump, and move through a wild assortment of traditional Mario obstacle courses, but this time in 3D. Yes, Super Mario 3D Land was set up essentially as your typical "point A to point B" Mario platformer but instead of being limited to 2D, another dimension was added, creating one incredible experience. 3D Land absolutely offered an amazing stereoscopic 3D experience on the Nintendo 3DS hardware, making it so enemies and objects seemingly popped out of the screen right at you, and made judging jumps easier of an activity than ever before. Super Mario 3D Land may have been built for bite-size play sessions with its mere minutes of gameplay per level, but it was a game that I wasn't able to put down for long periods of time. It's a game, like many on this first Tuesday 10, that I will continue coming back to if not to just marvel at its masterful level design and it being just plain fun to play.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Take the concept of Super Mario 3D Land and make it more suitable for a home console, particularly as Mario's first HD 3D adventure. How do you do that? Ask Nintendo, because that's exactly what they did, and made a much bigger and better game out of it (and you just saw how much I enjoyed 3D Land)! Super Mario 3D World greatly expanded on the level design of its 3DS predecessor, delivering much more complex, sophisticated, and challenging levels. The addition of multiplayer meant up to four players at once could locally scramble around the levels, either helping or hindering one another, depending on how mischievous they were feeling at the time. The Cat Suit stays near the top of my list as one of the best Super Mario power-ups to date, as it was just a blast to claw enemies, climb up walls, and just scurry about. Super Mario 3D World remains one of the few holdovers from the Wii U that has yet to be ported to the Nintendo Switch, but as rumors have hinted, hopefully we won't have to wait too long to see the game arrive on Nintendo's hybrid.

Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Tying in with the movie from the same year, Ratchet & Clank had a lot less bite to it when compared to the original game--both Ratchet and Clank had a much less strained relationship in the beginning and the character development wasn't as immense from start to finish. That said, nearly everything else about the Ratchet & Clank remake on the PlayStation 4 delivered in spades. The game, for one, looks like a million bolts. It's a game where I had to do a double take--no, triple take--just to confirm that what I was seeing was footage and screenshots from a game and not the movie itself. Various additions like upgrade-able weapons, which the original game lacked, meant that you wanted to use every weapon and gun in the game just to level them up to make them even more useful and powerful than they were. Ratchet & Clank is a shorter game than the 2002 original, but a lot of the unnecessary fat was cut and filler removed. It makes repeated play-throughs, something necessary to do for the Platinum trophy (a fun thing to go for) more enjoyable.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3, Vita)

Let's continue with PlayStation platformers with a series that is sadly now in limbo. It's Sly Cooper, and his fourth game, Thieves in Time, was a globe-trotting, time-traveling adventure that granted our clever raccoon various disguises which bestowed him different abilities. Sanzaru Games definitely delivered a delightful romp with Thieves in Time, keeping in spirit of Sucker Punch's signature original trilogy, while adding their own spin to things to keep this fourth entry exciting. It's just an absolute shame that this game ended on a cliffhanger, which at this point in time remains completely unresolved. Will you ever return home, Sly--whether home to your own time, or to a modern PlayStation platform?

Tearaway (Vita) / Tearaway: Unfolded (PS4)

Whether it's Tearaway on the PlayStation Vita or its revised Tearaway: Unfolded version on the PlayStation 4, Media Molecule breathed fresh, creative life into the 3D platforming genre on PlayStation with its papercraft world. Using both the Vita hardware itself and to a lesser extent, the PlayStation 4's DualShock controller, in remarkably novel and ingenious ways, Tearaway could have easily felt like a gimmick-filled 3D platformer. Instead, its "gimmicks" were complementary to the gameplay, from touching the rear pad of the Vita to raise platforms from the ground, to drawing decorations to be plastered around the game world. Tearaway is a delightful game that took risks and mostly succeeded with each. But, what else could you expect from the masterful minds behind creations like LittleBigPlanet and Dreams?

Sonic Generations (PS3, 360, PC)

While not having nearly as many the amount of entries on this Tuesday 10 than his old rival Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog does get some representation on this list, and it's what I and many fans of the Blue Blur consider his best 3D adventure. Sure, half of it is played in a 2D perspective, but let's not split hairs here. What plays out in 3D are some of the best modern stages in Sonic history. Yes, I can hear "well, that's a low bar" from the peanut gallery, but these levels are actually well done and thoughtfully designed. They feature a combination of modern-day Sonic "boost formula" Sonic, where Sonic is cruising through stages at insane speeds, but they also feature careful, precision-based platforming sections as well. It helps, too, that Sonic Generations is in itself a love letter to Sonic fans old and new with its zone selection, picking out levels from each major Sonic game from the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis to Sonic Colors on the Nintendo Wii.

A Hat in Time (Multi)

Gears for Breakfast's 3D platforming tour de force, A Hat in Time, was modeled after Nintendo 64-era "collectathons" of the 3D platforming persuasion, and for the most part, it was a fun romp. Using different hats and caps as Hat Kid to unleash various powers and abilities was enjoyable, as was exploring the absolutely large and dense levels of the game. I particularly enjoyed A Hat in Time's cheeky sense of humor, which it wore on its cap like a badge of honor. Though the game played a little too close to N64-era platformers when its troublesome camera was concerned, overall, A Hat in Time brought with its plenty of personality with its robust roster of charming characters, well designed levels, and comfortable controls to make for a winner in my book--one that I can't help but take off my own hat and bow to with respect.

Yooka-Laylee (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Speaking of N64-era 3D platformers of the "collectathon" variety, we have Yooka-Laylee. The story of Yooka-Laylee is the story of former designers and staffers from Rare's golden era who joined forces to form Playtonic Games. And of course, their first project just had to be a game *ahem* heavily inspired by one of the games many of the staff worked on at their time at Rare, none other than the much-cherished Banjo-Kazooie. (I'm included in that group that absolutely cherishes that game very much.)

At its core, Yooka-Laylee has a lot of interesting ideas to it, but not all of these are executed to their greatest ability. For instance, the mine cart sections and arcade game portions of Yooka-Laylee are rather dreadful, but stuff like the expansive worlds, unique challenges for each, and fun move sets for the combo of Yooka and Laylee deliver well. While the follow-up of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a much better game than Playtonic's first go at designing a game for their chameleon and bat duo, the original Yooka-Laylee still offers enough entertainment for me to give it a hearty recommendation.


I hope you enjoyed this very first installment of the Tuesday 10s! What topics would you like to see me cover for future weeks? Let me know in the comments!

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