In this generation, perhaps more than ever before, we’ve spent a lot of time looking back. Despite the constant advances in technology being pioneered by the industry, people have an inescapable desire to return to the old. And in this generation, the phrase ‘what’s old is new’ couldn’t be more appropriate. More than ever, we’re swamped with remakes, remasters and collections from past eras of gaming. The cynics among you might be quick to claim it’s down to a crippling lack of creativity rife within the industry, while others might say it’s a desperate attempt by publishers to pad out an otherwise exclusive-lite timeline until the next big thing rolls around.
But there’s something more going on here. Sure, nobody really asked for a remaster of God of War III (not that it isn’t an incredible game), but there are some old games that people absolutely are clamoring for. There are some titles that have built up such a following that it’s hard to see their eventual remastering as anything other than an inevitability. Often a lot of these games have something in common – they’re 3D platformers, specifically mascot platformers seemingly plucked from a group of fabled gaming legends from a bygone age. Nostalgia is fuelling a huge renaissance in the platforming genre and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Let’s start a way back. Back in the late 90s, gaming was dominated by mascots. Nintendo had Mario, Sony found fame with Crash Bandicoot and SEGA hadn’t yet ruined Sonic the Hedgehog, just to name a few. Sony especially, whose foray into gaming was still fledgling, was searching for a titan to combat Mario and in doing so, spawned a vast number of iconic faces, from Lara Croft to Solid Snake. It would be Crash though that eventually took to the task, cementing himself as the de facto mascot of PlayStation. By creating a beloved, recognisable character to tie their names to, gaming companies invested heavily in these characters and their franchises became some of the most loved in the world.
Unfortunately the PS2 era would start to see the beginning of the end for a number of these characters. The hugely popular Spyro the Dragon vanished after a trilogy of excellent games on the PS1, being let down by sub-par PS2 offerings. Crash too suffered a similar fate, while characters like Rayman and Sonic spiralled into decline. Mario was one of the few mascots to come out of the other side unscathed, but other Nintendo characters weren’t quite so lucky, with both Banjo-Kazooie and Conker vanishing almost completely.
The platforming genre itself slowly began to wane. Come the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation and it had all but died out, being replaced instead by online shooters. In a world where the emphasis had suddenly shifted to multiplayer thanks to the advent of online gaming, it seemed as though the market for these single-player platformers had all but dried up.
There would be hope yet, however. While Mario, ever the stalwart, kept the platforming genre alive with masterpiece titles like Super Mario Galaxy, it can be argued that the much-needed platformer resurgence began with the fantastic Rayman Origins in 2011, a reboot of the series which brought a fan-favourite mascot back to the forefront of a franchise that had lost its way. Since then, the industry has seen a massive uprising of the platforming genre, at one point thought practically dead, spurred on almost entirely by nostalgia and the newfound power of fans to make their dreams a reality.
People wanted it so, so much and it’s finally here – Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy is a dream game, a full remake of the original, brilliant Crash Bandicoot trilogy that put the character on the map. It wouldn’t have been possible without people voicing their love of the long-lost character, who had been dramatically altered before dying out completely some years ago. The fact that it looks like it might sell gangbusters as well is only a testament to the power of nostalgia and the effect it is currently having on our industry. Yes, people are excited by what’s to come – but there’s almost just as much talk about what has been.
In 2015, a small team of British, ex-Rare developers revealed their first ever project under the name of Playtonic Games – Yooka-Laylee. It was designed to be directly compared to Banjo-Kazooie, a cherished platformer franchise that had been killed off during the platforming scourge of the seventh generation of consoles. Thanks to the relatively nascent platform of crowdfunding, Yooka-Laylee was an instant success before it had even been developed. The Kickstarter project was absolutely huge, breaking records left and right – a clear display of a long dormant desire to return to these 3D platformers fronted by mascot characters who would’ve easily been at home in the late 90s. Yooka-Laylee was released earlier this year and, for better or worse, delivered on the promise of a true successor to Banjo-Kazooie. As a backer myself, I was delighted. This is what I had been missing.
While it didn’t happen – not yet at least anyway – there were loud murmurs of a remastered Spyro the Dragon trilogy at this year’s E3. With the imminent release of Crash Bandicoot, it seems like an inevitability that the purple dragon will make a triumphant return. But isn’t it funny? E3 is supposed to be a window into the future of the industry and yet, some people absolutely were talking about a series of games from the 90s with just as much passion and fervor as any of the new titles on show. Crash Bandicoot of course was there again, and Super Mario Odyssey, clearly emulating the ground-breaking Super Mario 64, was many peoples’ game of the show. Not only that, but smaller titles like A Hat in Time are making waves – gamers want to play platformers and they want to play them now.
But what is it about these games that makes us so keen to play them again in the current climate? After all, there’s plenty to play – more so than ever before. My PS4 backlog is, frankly, a disgrace. Yet I’m unabashedly more excited for Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy than any other game right now. I cannot wait to relive those games. So what is it about them? Were games back then inherently better than they are today? No, I don’t think so. I mean, look at The Witcher 3. Look at Bloodborne!
Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Croc, Banjo-Kazooie, Rayman…these games were my gateway. I latched onto them, their quirky characters and well-realised, colourful worlds and never let go. These 3D platformers opened up a whole new world to me, and to so many others as well. I know people who aren’t necessarily into gaming that find some flicker of excitement in the prospect of Crash Bandicoot’s return and there’s something special about that. Whether you liked the game or not, Yooka-Laylee was a product specifically asked for by a lot of people. They knew what they wanted. I knew what I wanted. We wanted a return to what made gaming special in the first place.
It’s clear that people want 3D platformers to return and they are most certainly coming back. The future looks promising too, with more Crash Bandicoot likely incoming, Super Mario Odyssey on the horizon and a whole host of smaller, indie games as well. Even Knack 2, whose predecessor threatened to expose everything that didn’t work with old platformers, looks to be making real changes. Gamers are a nostalgic bunch – the industry is a highly visual one and we’ll never forget characters like Crash Bandicoot, even if they disappear. Now, thanks to the voice of the internet, we can resurrect them. If nostalgia is helping to bring about a 3D platformer revival, then I’m all for it.
Hi, thanks for reading the first editorial post on this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know in a comment what you thought and give the blog a follow for more lengthy, feature-style pieces. Thanks!