Everyone wins when a retro genre has a great year
2017 was a very good year for video games across the board, but the platforming genre had a particularly strong showing this year.
Platformers ask players to jump from one object to another, with that traversal of the environment being the challenging or enjoyable thing to do. Other elements like puzzle-solving, retreading areas of the map with new traversal abilities or collection gameplay may come into play, but the heart of the platformer will always be found in controlling a humanoid plumber or anthropomorphic hedgehog in fantastic, architecturally ridiculous environments. It’s a genre defined by Mario, Sonic and Mega Man.
The platformer was surprisingly prominent this year. There were excellent platformers, disappointing platformers and platformers that sold shockingly well. Here’s a look back at 2017’s best ... and the rest.
Return of the Kings
Super Mario Odyssey, my personal game of the year and Polygon’s collective #3, rethought what a Mario platformer should be in a post-Breath of the Wild world.
Nintendo took lessons learned from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, continuing its sandbox-style take on the Super Mario series for something exciting and fresh. It left a lot of familiar Mario elements behind (for the better), while infusing it with heaps of nostalgia. It will be fascinating to see how Nintendo can possibly top (or even match) Odyssey in Mario’s next Switch adventure.Mario’s rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, didn’t fare quite as well in 2017.
While Sonic Mania, a game made for and by the fans of Sega’s still-kicking mascot, resonated with Sonic enthusiasts by imagining an alternate timeline in which Sonic got a 2D, Saturn-era platformer, Sonic’s other game fell flatter. Sonic Forces continued the inconsistent, so-so streak of 3D Sonic the Hedgehog platformers that require balancing raw speed with the freedom of exploration.
Many fans still liked Sonic Forces (for the most part), even though critics clearly didn’t
Just as Nintendo looked to Mario’s groundbreaking Nintendo 64 3D platformer for inspiration, so too did many of the veteran creators behind Banjo-Kazooie.
The Kickstarter-crowdfunded Yooka-Laylee arrived a little later than expected, and was slavish to its googly-eyed, collect-a-thon roots. Banjo-Kazooie fans had their particular itches scratched by platforming duo Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat, but critics knocked the game for feeling stuck in the past.
More surprising than former Rare developers delivering a very Rare revival was reception to Activision revisiting the Crash Bandicoot series.
The publisher, with help from developer Vicarious Visions, re-released the first three Crash games as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy for PlayStation 4. The collection quickly became a best-seller, with more than 2.5 million copies sold worldwide, according to one analyst. With Activision’s Skylanders franchise on the wane — and the toys-to-life franchise all-but dead — the publisher must take this as a sign that there’s a thirst for jorts-wearing marsupials. There’s little doubt we’ll see more Crash soon.
It was a big year for retro revivals, with a great remake in the form of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and the underappreciated preservation effort The Disney Afternoon Collection (A word of advice: Get it before that Disney license expires and the game is pulled from digital retailers).
Even Bubsy the Bobcat was exhumed for a new game, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. That definitely came out this year.
Now let’s move on.
Not only was 2017 a great year for platformers starring familiar mascots, it was a banner year for relative newcomers. Image and Form’s SteamWorld Dig 2 breathed new life into the Metroidvania-style platformer, while LittleBigPlanet developer Tarsier Studios delivered the excellent, dark puzzle-platformer Little Nightmares. I’ll mention Cuphead as well, even if it truly belongs in the run and gun genre, a game category that’s hopefully on the cusp of a wider revival.
Then there was A Hat in Time, another crowdfunded homage to the likes of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Originally unveiled and funded on Kickstarter in 2013, A Hat in Time also features hat-based gameplay and wears its influence on its sleeve.
Sumo Digital has worked on Sonic the Hedgehog, LittleBigPlanet and Disney Infinity games, took the platformer in a new direction with Snake Pass. The game steered the genre toward slithering instead of jumping. Snake Pass wasn’t perfect, but it showed promise and had a charming pair of protagonists in Noodle and Doodle.
Mighty No. 9 developer Inti Creates continued to make amends for that game by bringing action-platformers Mighty Gunvolt Burst and the Azure Striker Gunvolt two-pack to Nintendo Switch, a platform that’s overflowing with quality platforming games at this point.
Seriously, many of the games mentioned above were released for Switch this year in addition to Cave Story+, The End is Nigh, Shovel Knight, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Rayman Legends and Blaster Master Zero. The Switch is a must-have system if you like platformers.
And while I’m loathe to beat up on Mighty No. 9 for the umpteenth time, that game seems to at least have forced Capcom to realize there’s some desire for a new Mega Man game, which hopefully portends a healthy 2018 for the platforming genre.