Underlevelled’s Ultimate 3D Platformers

As our 3D Platformer month comes to a close we thought we’d share the games that are particularly close to our hearts. Regardless of the quality or critical reception, they’re our comfort food and games that we revisit again and again.

Sean- Jak 2

Having experienced the Jak and Daxter trilogy as an impressionable primary school student, I can safely say it was a whole different experience through the more critical eyes of a semi-responsible adult. I’d always had fond memories of playing the games that I carried with me through the years but it wasn’t until recently that I actually sat down and played them again that my opinion of the three had radically shifted. 

The first game, The Precursor Legacy, was just as good, if not better than it was in my memory. I had more of an appreciation for the technical and design aspects of the game now, with the game’s seamless open-world setting being a particular sticking point. 

Jak 3, on the other hand, I was less enthused about. What I had once considered to be my favourite of the three was now languishing at the bottom, a mostly good experience marred (heh) by repetitive, fiddly driving sections in the desert that became increasingly more tiresome as the game progressed. 

The problems I had with Jak 3 could also be applied to Jak 2, and I have no doubt someone has written a thesis on that. Yet, something about Jak 2 had me hooked in a way that Jak 3 didn’t quite manage. Any quick Google search of Jak 2 will no doubt display countless threads and posts regarding Jak 2′s infamous difficulty with hundreds, probably thousands of players over the years complaining about the game’s stingy use of checkpoints or certain missions acting as a real roadblock to their progress. While there is truth to their proclamations and Jak 2 is indeed a challenging game, I feel that it is to the game’s benefit. 

The Precursor Legacy was an easy game, which isn’t at all a complaint, but to me, it felt oddly refreshing to transfer from a simple adventure with little consequence to a more demanding, action-packed experience that really tested both my skill and my patience. The sparse checkpoints forced me to really learn the rhythm of levels and perfectly execute manoeuvres against enemies that were dead-set on impeding my progress, and the satisfaction upon clearing the game’s most difficult sections was immense. I only played the game on normal and not the more difficult ‘Hero’ mode, so that could very well be a whole difference entirely. I certainly found normal to be challenging enough, though. 

 Navigating Haven City, the game’s setting, is often brought up as a point of contention when discussing Jak 2. The narrow streets make driving difficult, with even the most durable vehicles exploding after a few crashes. Trying to get from one mission to another without blowing up and losing health or even dying is a task in and of itself, and the driving controls mixed with odd handling certainly end up making basic traversal more of a challenge than it probably should be. The thing is though, it never annoyed me as much as it did in Jak 3. In Jak 3, Jak’s vehicles would slide, skid, and bounce all over the desert upon the slightest mistimed manoeuvre or bump which often led to failure under an expired timer. It was boring, annoying, and often infuriating, especially when your car just happened to get clipped by a wayward rock or enemy vehicle seconds before you hit the objective and failed to meet the timer. Jak 2’s driving sections, in comparison, I actually felt engaged and motivated by. The narrow streets with their two-level traffic system and narrow twists and turns took skill to navigate efficiently and by the end of the game, I was mostly competent at slowing down on corners to turn precisely, dipping my car up and down to avoid traffic whilst keeping a good pace and having a good feel of the layout as a whole. Of course, there were certain missions where my patience was really put to the test, mainly the races, but still none of them irritated me as much as the desert driving. 

Of course, I could just be in the minority here and I am ready to defend myself against the Jak 3 enthusiasts, but I genuinely had the most fun with Jak 2 when revisiting the trilogy. The gameplay innovations introduced in 2 such as the jet board, morph gun, Dark Jak powers, etc. were all expanded on and improved in 3 to be sure, which is definitely something to commend the game for, but when I take a step back and compare my enjoyment of each game, on the whole, I have to hand Jak 2 that trophy. It’s a fun, colorful, sometimes frustrating experience that won’t hold your hand at all. You’ll be thrown in the deep end and be expected to bang your head against the wall until you push through, but you will be so glad that you did.

Objectively Handsome and Smart Dave- Psychonauts

Save 50% on Psychonauts on Steam
TLDR; it’s platforming Persona 4/5 but the weeaboo trappings are relegated to one absolutely mental level

My favourite triple dimensional platformer is Psychonauts, by the sublime, superfine and ever divine Double Fine Productions. Despite being a platformer, the game doesn’t really excel at the ‘whole jumping around in a wonderfully rendered environment thing’. Mobility is so-so. Some shoddy textures fill me and my bedsheets with this primal sense of unease. The character designs are so abstract that the majority of people in this game look like what would happen if you told Picasso to paint a portrait of a thalidomide baby by beating some expired food with an ugly stick.  However, what the game lacks in finesse and anything approximating conventional beauty, it more than makes up for in personality.

The game is about Razputin, a prepubescent acrobat with psychic powers who ran away from the circus so he can hone his skills at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp to become a qualified psychonaut before his (maybe, rightfully concerned) father can come and collect him. Psychonauts are bona fide super spies who use their extrasensory gifts to protect the world from various threats to global stability. They’re pretty rad, and Raz has been collecting comic books chronicling their adventures for quite some time.  

During his training, Raz uncovers a sinister plot to harvest the succulent brains of the kids at camp, and he will have to use all his education and acrobatic prowess to overcome both this ordeal and the horrors of trying to navigate the interpersonal relationships with other kids his age and the various weirdos of Whispering Rock. This is where the fun of the game lies. The lead designer, Tim Schafer (look him up, he does good work), provides a setting, concept, and cast of characters that are so endearing that I find myself wanting to replay levels, just to hear every line of snappy dialogue.

And the levels are incredible. They’re the very minds of people that you access through astral projection. This allows you to literally explore the characters, with later levels having multiple layers that convey both the depth of their personalities and their interactions with the goings-on outside. Unlike Inception the mindscapes visited are deliciously surreal. On the topic of surreal, while I dismissed the character designs as ugly earlier, they do a great job of illustrating the character’s identities. Psychonauts is good at visually indicating things in general, which is important when deciding which of the cornucopia of psychic powers or inventory items you will need to use to progress. Even if you struggle, there’s a healthy amount of (excellently acted) voice lines, as well as some bacon you can use to summon an old man from the depths of your ear canal, who will subsequently provide some helpful advice on the situation. It’s a weird game and that’s why I dig it.

Psychonauts is a riveting experience. No pun is wasted (the camp has cells called extrasensory deprivation chambers, your hp is your mental health, and Raz literally does mental gymnastics in peoples heads), no idea for a level is squandered (you’re a kaiju in one, and trying to make it to the end of the level without destroying either an orphanage or a puppy shelter is impossible) and no trauma is left unexplored (this game alludes to some heavy stuff). Open your mind up to new possibilities and grab this, Rhombus of Ruin and when it comes out, Psychonauts 2. The sequel looks unconventionally beautiful.

Kane- Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights

While I can’t claim to be most invested in the genre, I can state what I’ve enjoyed—and Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights is definitely the title I’ve spent the most time with. With some excellent returning cast members from the tv show and movies (and some from a licensed kraft pasta ad), this game for me captured the feel of the classic cartoon with the faithful sound continuing into the music and sound effects. This really feels like playing through an episode of the show.

In classic Scooby fashion, the story revolves around Scooby and the gang visiting a “haunted” mansion owned by a friend’s uncle who’s recently gone missing. Early on the gang go missing and it’s up to Scooby to find them as well as solve the mystery of the missing Uncle.

The gameplay follows the classic platforming mould, controlling Scooby jumping over obstacles and enemies exploring the levels to find your objectives (often just trying to find the other members of the gang). Level traversal follows a semi Metroidvania structure where exploration is often halted by obstacles you’ll need to find the right gadget later to overcome. These gadgets will also factor into defeating some enemies as you progress.
Speaking of which, the enemies here are fittingly all the classic monsters from the tv show headed up by a new villain called the Mastermind, voiced by the godly Tim Curry.

There’s definitely some bad aspects to Night of 100 Frights, the platforming can feel a little loose at times and some of the voice actors were definitely B-tier, but overall I feel like the faithful adherence to the feel of the show makes it shine despite its flaws. It’s definitely a hidden gem in my opinion.

Kirsty- Ape Escape 2

A totally bananas monkey-catching adventure

Developed and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Ape Escape 2 is a wonderful sequel to Ape Escape (1999, PS1) that captures all of the fun experiences and silly antics of the titular characters. Released in 2003 on the PS2, I spent a lot of my days chasing after little apes and trying to jump into awkward spots on the levels. Perfect for a refreshing release after a long, hard day of drawing pictures at primary school, Ape Escape 2 made me laugh until I cried. Ah, the sweet carefree lifestyle of a child with bad humour in the early 2000s.

Contrary to the title, it’s actually monkeys that escape. Hikaru, or Jimmy, the main protagonist of the game, has been tasked with delivering Monkey Pants to Monkey Park. Accidentally, he sends Monkey Helmets along with the delivery which ruins the laboratory and allows Specter, the antagonist, to get his hands on a helmet. 

As well as the antagonist of the first game, Specter was an albino monkey who performed a juggling act at Monkey Park. By accidentally receiving a Monkey Helmet, Specter’s intelligence increased greatly which allowed him to free all of the monkeys, letting them Escape.  This is where Kakeru, or Spike, captures all of the monkeys and defeats Specter, leading into the sequel. Now, smarter than ever and continuing his quest for world domination (did I mention that yet? Specter wants to take over the world.) Specter acquires five monkey henchmen, fondly named The Freaky Monkey Five, by supplying them with Vita-Z Bananas, which are genetically enhanced bananas allowing the consumer to be stronger and more intelligent than their buddies.

Enough of the backstory! Now it’s your chance to play, by acquiring little gadgets and useful information from your sidekick, Natsumi, or Natalie, you run around crazy areas capturing the bizarre monkeys from Pelvis ( the Elvis impersonator) in Casino City to Neil Apestrong in the Moon Base level. I cannot stress how happy the names of these little guys made me feel when I played as a child, and again as an adult. With easy to capture monkeys and some of them being a bit more out of the way, all of the levels are re-playable and allows for hours of monkey-chasing fun.

Riley – Spyro the Dragon

Spyro the Dragon has had an unfathomable impact on my life, from my tastes in gaming, to my love for fantasy and magic and even to the extent of my love for the colour purple. I first played the original game at a young age in the late 90s and was captivated immediately by its colourful world, expressive characters and addictive platforming and collecting.

The Spyro series has a very particular feel to it that both encourages you to explore and find all of its secrets and immerses you into the magical world Insomniac crafted for us to traverse. The gameplay loops is very simple—collect gems, rescue dragons and take out Gnorcs—yet it takes this simple concept and throws in tricky platforming and expansive exploration to find all of the gems the levels store away. The plot is simple, Gnasty Gnorc has turned all the dragons into crystal and Spyro must explore all the lands, rescue them and ultimately take down the Gnorc leader himself and save the dragon worlds. Gnasty Gnorc has also turned the treasure into enemies for Spyro to face off against and reclaim.

As a dragon, you can of course either ram enemies with your horns or burn them to a crisp by breathing fire, both are necessary for taking down different types of obstacles but you will also have to supercharge to get over—or through—obstacles and there are even flying levels that test your flight skills to keep the gameplay unique and varied. One of the most memorable factors are Stewart Copeland’s insane soundtrack that has a unique flair that just feels right for Spyro with its upbeat tempo and fantasy style beats that fully engross you into the experience of being a sassy purple dragon.

And that’s it for our 3D platformer highlights, what is your favourite game in the genre? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter and feel free to check out our other articles from this month if the topic interests you! We hope you had fun with our 3D Platformer month, until next time!

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A simple person with a passion for Nintendo and 3D platformers.
@TheVioletNexus on Twitter

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Sean Hollyman is an avid fan of action figures, videogames and sometimes other things too. When he's not labourously trying to earn platinum trophies for games that he otherwise probably wouldn't care about, Sean can often be found taking photos of his Transformers in embarrassing situations.

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A flamboyant ultra nerd, Dave participates in the Underlevelled Tournament both for the thrill of the fight, and to avenge the orphans lost in the climax of the previous tournament.

Born: London

Height: ???

Weight: ???

Hobbies: street dance, collecting manga volumes, reading, editing

Likes: short-to-medium walks on the beach, pointing out how things can and will be misconstrued as racism, fighting games, RPGs, anime, Hades, alternative hip hop, conscious hip hop, Mara Wilson, overly long bios, ice-cream

Dislikes: insincere media, his own uncanny resemblance to Richard Ayoade, mayonnaise

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