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Ode to the forgotten platforming stars of the sixth console generation

by Ron Duwell | August 6, 2017

The early to mid-90s are often remembered for going a little overboard on the whole “cute mascot” thing. In the days of the 16-bit generation, for every Mario and Sonic that made it to the market, we saw at least a dozen Bubsies, Gexxs, and Crocs. Excluding the occasional surprise like Vectoran and Ristarmost of these mascots remain forgotten to gaming history and are instead jumbled into one huge mass of wayward imagination.

However, the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis alone for this trend. Eager and often over-enthusiastic developers looking to score their own memorable video game face carried well into the sixth console generation, and games like Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Psychonauts, and Sly Cooper made them a much easier sell than one would expect.

I half expected to see this trend return when Knack came strolling onto the PlayStation 4. Luckily, I was wrong, and the 3D platformer is now retro enough to be home to just nostalgic throwbacks like Yooka-Laylee and the upcoming A Hat in Time.

This one goes out to all those forgotten faces of the sixth console generation. Those who tried to strike it big on the explosive popularity of the PlayStation 2 and its rivals and ultimately… came up a bit short. Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with the quality of the games, just relatively how little we remember these faces. Heck, some of them still have minor releases to this very day!

Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg is a product of the one and only Sonic Team and producer Yuji Naka. You don’t play as Sonic in this game but rather as Billy, a boy who dresses as a chicken and is tasked with protecting giant eggs and restoring morning to Morning Land.

As with most games you see here, it has a cult following, mostly thanks to its Sonic Team roots. It was panned upon release though for its difficulty curve and the fact that rolling physics are perhaps the most imprecise and frustrating mechanic in video game history. Still, fun game. Check this one out if you can.

Here we have an early example of Microsoft trying its darndest to get a read on the console market. Make an animal mascot that is loaded with ‘tude, equip him a gimmicky power, and drop him in a platformer… instant success! It worked countless time before, so it would work for the new Xbox brand, right?

Sadly, for BlinxHalo became a thing and quickly pushed the cat into the background. Xbox gained a reputation for being a console for shooters, and Blinx and his forgotten sequel didn’t quite become the face of the Xbox like Mario, Sonic, and Crash before him.

Alright, alright! Pitchforks away. Here is a clear example of a 3D platformer from the sixth generation that is still loads of fun to play and enjoys a healthy cult following. You play as the titular Chibi-Robo, and your job is to make your family happy by performing remedial tasks around their open world house. How is that in any way bad?

It isn’t at all! But it’s not exactly successful either. The game was a miss on the sales charts even though it hit our hearts, and Chibi-Robo has since been relegated to Nintendo 3DS digital games and apps that have little or nothing to do with his grand GameCube adventure.

THIS is what we’re talking about! A totally middling 3D platformer from a publisher who just about defined the middling point of video game development. Dr. Muto stars a mad scientist who could turn into animals through manipulating their DNA and injecting it into his Splizz Gun.

I remember as a young teen thinking that this was actually a spin-off game starring Crash Bandicoot villain Dr. Neo Cortex. That’s how cliche his design is. Evil scientists are a ton of fun, but they are best left designing Robot Masters.

Hey, it’s Midway again. Haven: Call of the King is a platformer that dressed itself up to appeal to the JRPG and The Legend of  Zelda crowd with promises of epic stories and grand adventures behind its jumping mechanics.

In truth, it’s just a collectathon with a lot of half-decent attempts at bringing a cinematic style to the platforming genre. Midway bragged about how it added all sorts of mechanics like flying, shooting, and racing into a single game, and it did deliver on some of those promises. Sadly for Haven, it was still panned with middling reviews upon release, and Beyond Good & Evil did it all a lot better the following year, meaning we’ll never get to see how its cliffhanger ending comes to a conclusion.

Developer Traveler’s Tales at least furthered its foot in the door as a reliable game developer with this decent attempt.

Yup, Bilbo Baggins had a short run as a platforming star in those days. Capitalizing on the popularity of Lord of the Rings in the cinemas, Sierra cranked out this ugly platforming adventure. Naturally, it was panned upon release because fans were looking for epic, sprawling adventures in Middle-earth at the time, not goofy platformer shenanigans.

Still, nowadays, you can’t deny the charm of seeing Bilbo’s eternally popular adventures portrayed like a Mario game. There’s just something special about that. And as poorly as this game was received, it wasn’t nearly as crushed as The Fellowship of the Ring game that came out the year before. The Two Towers game though raised the bar on licensed games, and The Hobbit stood no chance against it.

I owned this one. I bought it after I fell in love with the demo disc that I picked up at a local college convention. Yup, it’s just a solid little platformer starring a charming ninja who is just about as angry as they come. He loses his cool so much that he even kills his own master in the opening cutscene!

Geez! Relax. At least this grants him his own, personal Obi Wan throughout his storyline.

The combat and mechanics are solid in this game, but having to replay levels over and over again caused it to become infuriatingly repetitive, even more infuriating than the hero himself.

I don’t know too much about this one. I saw it on the shelf as a kid, but I never picked it up. From the looks of it, it’s very similar to Haven in that you can do absolutely everything you want in a platformer of its age, like riding dinosaurs.

However, I have to say that there is something very modern about Kya’s design. She looks like a character you would see in a modern day indie game, and her world has that retro Dark Crystal 80s fantasy look to it, which is all the rage these days. Of all the games I’ve listed, this has the most potential to make a proper reboot. Who knows, with a proper developer, it could see a comeback.

Another series with some serious pedigree behind it. Maximo was created with the intention of being a spiritual successor to the classic Ghosts & Goblins all the way down to starring a buff knight who is stripped to his boxers when he takes damage.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory is a total grindfest and a game that is challenging as all hell. It follows a linear approach to platforming more in line with Crash Bandicoot tied to a small bit of exploration and RPG stuff.

Solid game, but Devil May Cry and Onimusha had already set up new expectations for Capcom by the time it came out. The proof is in its sequel, Maximo: Army of Zin, which takes the focus off of the platforming and puts it back on the action and adventure.

It’s in space, it features crazy weapons, it has an anthropomorphic hero and a spunky sidekick. It’s about as big of a Ratchet & Clank rip-off I can think of. That’s all that needs to be said about this one.

This one came out close to the end of the generation, and I even remember it getting air time during commercial breaks on Toonami. That brings back memories. As a game, it had some really solid ideas, including a grinding mechanic that helped it stand out from the rest.

I never got around to this one though because, as I said, this came out close to the end of the console generation, and I had moved on from platformers in general at this point.

Somehow, this one got pretty big. Tak scored two sequels, two spin-offs, and even his own short-lived, poorly received Nickelodeon cartoon. Not bad for a game that popped out of nowhere. It just goes to prove that even games that break out into multimedia formats aren’t able to sustain that success if they can’t capitalize.

After all, where is Ratchet & Clank these days? Nowhere since that movie tanked.

Someone is going to have to explain this one to me. This series produced a few sequels and then disappeared from the face of the Earth. Then, all of a sudden last year, it reappeared on Steam with a rabid cult following and astronomical user ratings!

I don’t get it one bit, but then again, I don’t have the nostalgia for this one. That no doubt has something to do with it. You should see some of the awful, cliche JRPGs that I consider to be good. That’s a fair comparison here, I think.

This is the one that showed me how much my opinions moved away from the platformer genre. It’s essentially Super Mario 64 created at about the time that dark, brooding teenagers who played Super Mario 64 as kids started coming of age. Vexx is the poster child of an angsty generation who just couldn’t accept the bright, happy times of the games from their childhood. The generation that dismissed Mario as kiddy and bright colors as being unacceptable in games.

Thankfully, this trend disappeared before too long, and so did Vexx.

Voodoo Vince is also popular all over again like Ty the Tasmanian Tiger thanks to a quality remaster on Steam that stands the test of time as a true crowd pleaser. Unlike Ty though, this one is actually clever and stars a charming voodoo doll as its main protagonists.

And how do you hurt enemies in a game that stars a voodoo doll? Well, poor Vince actually has to mame and bash himself in the most horrid of ways. It’s a fun mechanic that this cult hit finds no shortage of ways to exploit.


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Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...