Saturday, 28 April 2012

Super Mario 64 - The Birth of 3D Platforming

Song of the Day

Inside the Castle Walls

The Birth of 3D Platforming

Since the early 80s, platform games has been the king genre of home video game consoles. The aim of the classic platformer is to get from A to B while jumping over obstacles such as enemies, gaps, barrels, spikes and various other traps. While there was plenty of platform games by the time the NES rolled around it would be a certain plumber in 1985 who created the blueprint of what a 2D platformer should be. It helped that 'Super Mario Bros.' was the biggest selling game of all time until recently (Wii Sports holds the record now-a-days, due to it being packed with every Wii...).

I'm sure just about all of you have seen this screen at least once...
SEGA would find success with their own 2D platforming mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. Both the Mario and Sonic franchises were the kings of their respective consoles, but it would be the transition into 3D that would truly see who the superior franchise was.

In 1996 Nintendo released Super Mario 64, a launch title for their new Nintendo 64. The game was a critical and commercial hit, it pretty much wrote the rulebook as to what 3D Platforming should be. However, it was not the first attempt at a 3D platformer. There was a few games in the 1980's that could be classed as a 3D platform game, but being the 80s, most were pseudo-3D at best. In 1990 a game was released for the Atari ST (though later ported to the Amiga). The game looks dated to hell 22 years later, but it can be considered the first 3D platformer game. I've never played it myself, but the way it's described you have a 3D field and you have to jump onto a platform which acts as a trampoline to allow you to jump to the next platform until you reach the level goal.

The levels were "abstract". You don't say...
It even has a few things that would be a common 3D Platform feature, such as a movable camera and the ability to move in any direction. Despite this, it is not particularly remembered as a game that influenced the genre. A game was released in 1995 called Jumping Flash. It is considered to be the gameplay continuation of another game called Geograph Seal, which was never released outside of Japan. Both games are a hybrid of a first person shooter and 3D platformer. It was released originally on the Playstation to some fantastic reviews, but it was soon to be completely overshadowed. It's another game I've never played, but it is available on the PSN under it's 'PSOne Classics' banner.

Jumping Flash! PlayStation Trying to shoot a frog
The precursor to Metroid Prime? (Image: MobyGames)
There was a few other games released during this time, 'Bug' for the SEGA Saturn was very similar to the classic platformer, but it did allow you to walk in all directions. "Fade to Black" was the sequel to "Flashback" and featured a fully 3D characters and environment. However, despite retaining some of it's platform-like features, it resembles a shooter more than anything as well as the inability to jump.

Nintendo, SEGA and new boys in the console war Sony were in a rush to get a 3D Platform game for their respective new consoles. After all platformers were still big money-makers in the gaming world.

Sony would put their trust into Naughty Dog, seen as a risky move at the time as they had just released 'Way of the Warrior" which was not a well received game at all. But, with the backing of Universal Interactive Studios, Naughty Dog's game would be 'Crash Bandicoot' and it would go on to sell over 6.8 million copies. 

File:Crash Bandicoot1.png
We'll be seeing this fella soon enough...
SEGA had their own game in development for the Saturn. It was to be called 'Sonic Xtreme', developed by SEGA's American studio, STI. The game was eventually cancelled however, after much squabbling with the Japanese team. 'Sonic Xtreme' was to be a very different kettle of fish compared to previous Sonic platformers, however in the end the SEGA Saturn didn't even get a proper Sonic game. It wouldn't be until the Dreamcast, and 'Sonic Adventure' that we'd see the blue hedgehog in 3D.

File:Sonic X-treme engine test screenshot.png
This is apparently what it would have looked like...
Finally, with the release of the Nintendo 64, 'Super Mario 64' was released changing the entire game on 3D Platforming. It was not the first one, not even close, but it terms of lasting influence, it may as well have been. Carry on plumbin' Mario!

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