Super Mario Galaxy – the best 3D platformer? (pic: Nintendo)
Readers discuss their favourite platform games, from the ancient Manic Miner right up to the most recent Super Mario games.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was inspired by the recent release of Sonic Frontiers and asked whether you have a favourite 2D and 3D game and which style you generally prefer. How much difference does the main character make and which is your favourite?
Given how old the genre is we had answers from across many generations, but beyond the numerous mentions of Mario and Sonic there was also a lot of love for Rayman and Mickey Mouse.
I’m old enough to have ‘enjoyed’ the various platform games back on the ZX Spectrum and sunk hours and hours into Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Chuckie Egg, etc. I had Manic Miner’s first five or six levels so practised I could have probably done them in my sleep (OK – maybe not level five – dumb old Eugene’s Lair, I still remember the first time I collected everything only for him to block the exit!).
I’ve played a lot of different platform games over the years and on many platforms, some good like Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, the original Jak And Daxter (which beat Ratchet & Clank for me and never got quite the credit it deserved), Super Mario 64 (on the DS not original), through bad (Jak And Daxter going grimdark… why?!).
But the best for me is Super Mario Galaxy (the first one) – it just nailed everything it did. Varying challenges, lots of fun, lots of originality, looked great and played great. Still dig this out every now and then to have a play!
Sparkster of hope
I love platformers, including Sonic and Mario, but I want to make sure that Sparkster gets a mention.
Rocket Knight Adventures is a masterpiece, both games titled Sparkster are great, not quite to the level of the original but I love Sparkster’s move-set, so unique to the genre.
I was thrilled when the last game got announced, it was also a step down from its predecessors, but it was great to have the rocket powered hero back and I loved it for what it was.
Konami, please re-release all four Rocket Knight games in a bundle for modern consoles and PC, charge the same at your other collections, it will sell. I’ll buy it twice.
Beastiebat (PSN ID)
Your princess is in another castle
Platformers are my favourite type of game, I love 2D and 3D but probably prefer adventures in the third dimension a little more. All different types of platformers as well, from the puzzle-based designs of Mario Vs. Donkey Kong to the more skill-based approach in the likes of Rayman Origins. I’ve already spoken about my love for the trend of platform remasters before, with the recent Pac-Man World Re-Pac being a particular favourite, with its in-between 2D and 3D approach making for a great little game.
I’ll note that I’ve just started playing Sonic Frontiers and I have a feeling that by the end of the game it will be my favourite platformer ever, but since I’m only two hours in I’ll refrain from making such a statement and instead say that Spyro 2 is my favourite platformer. The refined flying mechanics from the previous entry, the objects hidden around every corner, and the fact that there’s plenty to do without going overboard with the challenges/mini-games all combine to create a great experience that anyone even slightly interested in the genre should experience.
However, I don’t think I’ve ever played a platformer with a great story. The closest to a good story is probably Sonic The Hedgehog 2006, but with the execution of the story being abysmal I see why the franchise went the route of many other platformer stories: ‘Your friends have been captured, go save them and the world while you’re at it’. Here’s hoping we’ll get the same great games with better stories in the future.
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Six great games
Platformers are probably my favourite genre of game. Sitting myself down on a comfy, stationary platform whilst my avatar hops around like a rabbit on Red Bull is something I really never tire of. Even rubbish ones like 40 Winks, which, if you’re willing to endure some serious 32-bit jank, is available on the PS Vita store, can be a fun knockabout. To narrow it down to favourites though is tough. Especially as 2D classics play completely differently to 3D classics.
I’ll say that the 2D top three would be Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and then Sonic The Hedgehog 2. For 3D it’s Super Mario Galaxy, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. I was one of the few who felt Super Mario Odyssey’s endgame was simply too bloated for its own good. It was still better than most other platformers but not as great as the previous two mainline games.
All of those top three however, are perfect in execution and are a blast for their focus on entertaining you. No endless tutorials, overly long cut scenes or grimdark brooding with mass murder the modus operandi. I apologise to all the squashed Goombas for my actions.
In life we collect currency to pay for items deemed either necessary or slightly superfluous. In platformers though, it’s sometimes for an extra life and their golden goodness can be seen both spinning and floating slightly above the ground. To quote Pascal: ‘Stick that in your skillet and let it simmer.’
Blinx The Outcast
It’s a tough one this, GC, hence my last minute submission.
While I’ve always had an affinity with platformers, thanks to growing up in the 8 and 16-bit era, I can’t say I’ve ever had a firm favourite.
I always used to drag my folks into Rumbelows so I could have a go on the demo Mega Drive – my first taste of 16-bit Sonic right there (and Mortal Kombat, for what it’s worth).
My glasses have a definite rosy tint to them for Castle Of Illusion, but specifically the Master System version. I played the Mega Drive one a couple of years back for the first time, and it just seemed… all wrong.
Krusty’s Fun House (Master System), Bart Vs. the Space Mutants (Amiga), and Ren & Stimpy (Mega Drive) all also give me warm, nostalgic feelings.
But, this century, I really enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey, which showed me how good a 3D platformer can be. I never played Super Mario Sunshine or the Galaxies but, before Odyssey, when I used to think of 3D platformer, Earthworm Jim 3D on the N64 always came to mind, which I remember as being unplayable.
I think platformers as a concept generally work best in 2D, games like the latter Raymans really embrace it while updating what a 2D platformer can be.
Similarly, Horace really pushed the idea. Although it wasn’t entirely a platformer of course. I fell out with the game for a week or two, but that was down to some of the non-platformer levels. I persevered and completed it though!
FoximusPrime81 (gamertag/NN ID/Twitter)
One or the other
In a previous Hot Topic I said that Super Mario Bros. 3 is still perhaps the greatest 2D platformer ever made, as I think it has astonishing variety in its level and enemy design, it’s not overly difficult nor too easy, has lots of secrets to find (quite a few of which I suspect many – me included – never did until the internet), and excellent art design.
The ‘perhaps’ is because Yoshi’s Island also exists, an absolutely beautiful game with excellent, complex levels, a very interesting primary attack system with the egg shooting, and insane bosses. I will take the coward’s way out and not say which I prefer, but it’s one of the two for me.
I prefer 2D platformers, and really consider 3D platformers as a completely different kettle of fish. Nostalgia pulls me towards Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, but those really need updated camera and controls (the level design is still excellent). The Switch version of Super Mario 3D World with the improved speed is probably my favourite 3D platformer.
Who the main character is really makes no difference to me unless they’re super obnoxious, but Sparkster from Rocket Knight Adventures and its sequels is probably my favourite character design-wise (and it’s also a fabulous game).
As to the state of the genre, you get the odd big title (mostly from Nintendo, which isn’t surprising with two of its biggest mascot characters, in Mario and Kirby, having platformer origins) but mostly it seems to be a genre more active in the indie sphere these days. I’m currently looking forward to:
- Kraino ReAnimated
- Lords Of Exile
- Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe
And indeed three-quarters of those are indie games. I don’t have any specific thoughts regarding its evolution and am mostly fine with just interesting level design, but there is apparently a cool idea in the recent Kirby And The Forgotten Land game where the game works out if the player’s camera angle makes it look to the player like they’re going to hit an enemy, and if it does, the game will actually register the attack as a hit even if in true 3D space they missed – which is an interesting way of solving one of the perennial problems of navigating in 3D! I haven’t had a chance to play it yet and see how well it works though.
There have been some great combat orientated platformers over the last few years, such as Dead Cells and The Messenger, but in terms of pure platformers it is hard for me to look past the Mario series. To this day my favourite platformer is still probably Super Mario Bros 3.
I don’t think any game since has created such memorable levels and new ideas are constantly introduced to continually mix things up. Unlike many games of the era the controls still stand up as well.
Open world future
Platformers are my favourite genre of games. My favourite 2D platformer is Sonic The Hedgehog 2 on the Mega Drive and my favourite 3D one is Super Mario Galaxy 2. Structure-wise I like lots of distinct challenges that work to clearly defined goals. This is why I prefer Galaxy 2 over the more recent Odyssey or Bowser’s Fury.
In the 2D space, although nostalgia has cemented Sonic 2 in the favourite position it is not the game I believe to be the best. Hell, even its little brother Sonic 3 is arguably a better game, my accolade for best 2D platformer goes to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which again has the structure of lots of varied, distinct challenges.
I am somewhat concerned by all the predictions that the next Mario will be fully open world, since as good as Odyssey’s levels were I found their structure devalued many of the moons. You could just as easily get a moon for looking behind a wall as completing a platforming challenge to get to the top of a mountain. There were so many moons that very few were distinctive, yet I believe I could list of at least 70 of the Super Mario 64 stars, if not all 120.
Bowser’s Fury had a few more distinct challenges within it, but the environment was essentially lots of little distinct arenas that could be travelled between. From a completionist perspective I preferred the structure of Bowser’s Fury but it didn’t gel together as well as the Odyssey levels. Balancing those two opposing elements, of offering clear challenges and remaining believable, will be an interesting challenge for Nintendo to address.
The way Sonic Frontiers seems to have structured itself with challenge portals that whisk you off to do distinct challenges away from the hub world could be a good compromise to offer variety and clear targets and is also something Super Mario Sunshine did. The way Sunshine’s levels evolved and offered different challenges is something I would like Nintendo to revisit. Expanding on Bowser’s Fury’s world events (of Bowser attacking) in a manner that creates Sunshine type challenges is something I hope Nintendo implement if they do inevitably go open world.
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