A Look at All of the 3D Platformers Available on Vita

A Look at All of the 3D Platformers Available on Vita - Article

by Adam Cartwright , posted on 13 October 2018 / 2,446 Views

This is the third entry in a series of articles I’m writing that will look at all of the games available in a particular genre on the Vita. The articles will highlight all Vita-native games, as well as any backwards-compatible PSP and PS1 titles that can be downloaded in English (i.e. from the EU or NA stores), as well as some commentary on how well those games run on Vita and whether they fill any missing gaps in the library.

3D platformers have long been a favourite genre of mine. Growing up on the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon on PS1 means I’ve been conditioned to love the colourful, vibrant worlds and the exploration-based gameplay that often goes with the 3D platformer. In recent generations the genre has stalled, with fewer new releases and publishers unwilling to invest in new titles, and even older mascots falling by the wayside.

Yet thanks to its brilliant backwards-compatibility with PS1 and PSP games, the Vita has become something of a home for the neglected genre, with plenty of classic games playable (especially thanks to HD Remasters from the PS2 era) and a few brilliant modern titles thrown into the mix too.

 

Vita-Native Games

One of the Vita’s defining games came within the first couple of years of its life and just so happened to be a 3D platformer, one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking for a completely unique experience. This was Tearaway from Media Molecule and it mixed old-fashioned exploration gameplay with a beautiful papery world. The platforming here isn’t particularly challenging or abundant, but the experience itself is just sublime.

Very few other releases in the genre were made specifically for the hardware. Multiple LEGO games were available every year from 2012 until 2016 and each one offered something unique, if only slightly different from the standard formula (but they were all 3D platformers through and through). The best of the bunch was LEGO Marvel’s Avengers, which introduced open-world elements (and worked very well), while LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens included some minor third-person shooting. Others like LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and LEGO Lord of the Rings offered arguably the best true 3D platformer experience, meaning whatever your preference, you could find something to enjoy.

While the LEGO titles licenced various properties to use in their games, other publishers were occasionally releasing more traditional licenced games which were nearly always 3D platformers. Among these was Spongebob Heropantsa movie tie-in that received fairly mediocre reviews thanks to its brief run-time and easy difficulty, alongside Phineas & Ferb: Day of Doofenshmirtz, which aped the Ratchet & Clank formula for a fairly fun time. Interestingly Epic Mickey 2 is also available, published by Sony itself (Sony actually arranged for the game to be ported in the first place). It was a bizarre choice, as the title received a lukewarm reception on home consoles, but it’s still a fairly charming game that can be a fun time if you’re willing to look past its flaws.

Of course Sony’s own contribution to 3D platformers on the Vita was much greater thanks to a number of HD Collections of PS2 titles which were repackaged for the handheld. The first of these was the Jak & Daxter Collection in 2013, which brought three of the best PS2 games to a portable format, albeit with a number of issues like glitches and a poor framerate (in my opinion, the games are still brilliant). The Sly Cooper Collection also brought a different variety of stealth-platforming to the console, alongside its sequel Sly Cooper: Thieves in Timeall of which are definitely worth revisiting (side note, when is this IP coming back?).

Probably the biggest platforming names on the PS2 were Ratchet & Clank, whose first three adventures were also ported over to Vita as the Ratchet & Clank Collection in 2014. Despite a further bevy of glitches, including crashes when moving between planets and the audio cutting-out, the ports were otherwise solid and brought the tight third-person-shooter meets 3D-platformer gameplay to a portable, where it fits extremely well (even if the first hasn’t held up particularly well). If you’re after more of this you could also try out Ratchet & Clank: Q-Forcewhich mixes in tower-defence elements for an enjoyable time, although it's an experience which is over very quickly.

There’s a smattering of other stuff available too. The classic Xbox title Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee puts you in control of a duo of characters attempting to save the various indigenous species from extinction (its sequel, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, is also available and includes some minor platforming elements). You can also find minor 3D platforming elements in a number of other titles, ranging from Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation to Dragon Quest Builders to Gun Gun Pixies to Uncharted: Golden AbyssThere’s also a latecomer to the party called Suki and the Shadow Klaw targeting a 2019 release. It looks gorgeous, so let’s hope this one makes it out eventually.

 

Backwards-Compatible PSP Games

Compared to Vita, the PSP received a much better selection of 3D platformers, likely due to its more child-friendly demographic and the fact that it released during a time when the genre was still flourishing. That said, not all of these games are available on PSN for Vita (things like Kao Challengers and Pac-Man World 3 are sadly missing, but nearly everything else is there).

Just as the Vita received re-worked versions of classic games, so too did the PSP – mainly from Sony, which ported across the first Ape Escape for the handheld’s launch. It wasn’t a perfect conversion, with some rough edges thanks to the console’s lack of a second analogue stick (which sadly couldn’t be fixed even on Vita), but otherwise it’s an experience that’s worth revisiting for some solid 3D platforming fun and its brilliant sense of humour courtesy of the titular apes.

Sony couldn’t port the PS2 Jak & Daxter or Ratchet & Clank games to the PSP, but it did make new titles specifically for it with Daxter and Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier. The former is undoubtedly one of the best 3D platformer experiences you can get on Vita – a brilliant joy-ride of intricate challenges that never outstays its welcome – while the latter is something of an under-appreciated gem that’s better upon a replay. Sony also published Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank; the former is a surprisingly solid take on the formula, while the latter deviates away from it by including stealth elements too.

Some developers did manage to cram the PS2 versions of their games onto a handheld though – quite a few in fact. Among them is Crash: Mind over Mutant, a bizarre reboot of the furry marsupial’s adventures that mixed in brawler elements with much more traditional exploration-based design (sadly the prequel, Crash of the Titans, isn’t compatible with Vita, even though it is available on PSN). SEGA also decided to take its Super Monkey Ball series in a different direction with Super Monkey Ball Adventurewhich changed the puzzling into platforming, with extremely mixed results.

Others don’t appear to be 3D platformers at first, but very much fit the criteria to be included in this article. Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series features large amounts of parkour and both the second and third games are available as Prince of Persia: Revelations and Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (they're pretty fun, if a little convoluted). You can also grab the series’ spiritual successor, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlineswhich throws in more stealth but retains the platforming baseTomb Raider is another series which has included a big platforming influence since its inception and Lara’s adventures are chronicled further across Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Tomb Raider: Legend on PSP.

At the PSP’s launch, one game was touted as its ‘killer app’ – Death Jr. by Konami and Backbone Entertainment, a Tim Burton-inspired 3D platformer which more than stood out from the crowd. While it didn’t quite turn out to be the game the PSP needed due to some rough edges, it was decent enough and spawned a sequel, Death Jr. II: Root of Evil in 2008. Other publishers tried their hand a new IPs too, such as Koei-Tecmo with Tokobot and Nihon Falcom with Guruminboth of which were largely overlooked but quirky and well worth checking out.

While they weren’t exactly new IPs, THQ also had a lot of success on the PSP with its Disney/Pixar licenced releases, which were invariably platformers to varying degrees. Ratatouille was one of the better ones, allowing you to control Remy as he overcomes obstacles in the sewers of France. Others include G-Force, Up and Wall-E (of which the latter is probably the most enjoyable). There’s also a Spongebob game named SpongeBob’s Truth or Square that was heavily reminiscent of developer Heavy Iron’s earlier title, Battle for Bikini Bottom, which is regarded by the fanbase as the best Spongebob game ever made.

As a final note, just as with the Vita there are a large variety of LEGO games available on the PSP which are always 3D platformers mixed in with other elements. The best of the bunch is probably LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, although LEGO Batman: The Videogame is also worth checking out. Others like LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean offered up-ported DS experiences, but could still have moments of fun.

 

Backwards-Compatible PS1 Games

The fifth generation of gaming is arguably the era when 3D platformers flourished the most – between the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation a veritable sea of classic titles were created. A number of these are available on the Vita through backwards-compatibility, although not quite as many as you might hope (certain titles like Croc and Muppet Monster Adventure are sadly missing).

The biggest names are of course the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon series. Both have their initial trilogies available through PS1 classics, meaning you’ll be able to play every classic Crash adventure (of which Crash Bandicoot: Warped is undoubtedly the best, although they’re all decent enough), alongside all of the Insomniac Games-developed Spyro titles (which are all absolutely fantastic to this daySpyro: Year of the Dragon is my favourite game of all time and replaying it recently has just re-confirmed how much I love it). Sadly, you can only get them working on Vita if you have a European account, with some licencing nonsense stopping them from being available in North America (plus, the soon-to-be-released Spyro Reignited Trilogy isn't coming to Vita, which is a shame).

Other franchises didn’t quite enter the mainstream consciousness like Crash and Spyro – for example Gex was an also-ran who saw all three of his adventures land on PS1, the second and third (Gex: Enter the Gecko and Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko) containing fully 3D explorable worlds. Jumping Flash! is another forgotten gem that takes a different spin on the genre, portraying everything from a first-person perspective, which creates for some brilliantly unique gameplay that remains without equal to this day (and the sequel isn’t bad either!)

Another long forgotten game is 40 Winks, from the now-defunct Eurocom (a developer which would later go on to work on the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon franchises), although it recently received a second wind thanks to a Kickstarter campaign promising N64 and PC versions. At least Ubisoft’s Rayman hasn’t been forgotten, spawning two very well-received Vita entries, and the limbless hero’s PS1 adventures include Rayman 2: The Great Escapewhich is widely regarded as one of the best 3D platformers ever made (sadly its sequel Rayman 3 hasn’t been ported around quite as often).

The LEGO games weren’t as abundant on PS1 as they became on later Sony consoles, but licenced titles were still out in full force. Among these were tie-ins to A Bug’s Life, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch: Trouble in Paradise and Monsters Inc.: Scare IslandThey varied in quality, but some like Monsters Inc. at least provided a solid experience with enjoyable mechanics.

 

Conclusion

Throughout the console generations, 3D platformers have always seemed to have solid representation on Sony’s hardware. From the genre’s roots on PS1 right through to the influx of indie imitators on PS4, there’s always been plenty of choice – and that’s extended to Vita, although the vast majority of its library comes from ports of older games or backwards-compatible titles on PSN.

In terms of what it does have, though, there’s incredible variety. You can play simple 3D collectathon games like Gex or Spyro; platformer/TPS hybrids like the latter Jak & Daxter or Ratchet & Clank games; or even interesting experiments like Jumping Flash! or Tokobot. The selection here is filled with quality too, and the vast majority are made better by the Vita’s dual-analogue controls, allowing for proper camera movement, which is essential when making your way through the inevitably challenging jumps.

Nintendo will likely always have the upper hand here thanks to its flagship Mario franchise (which will always attract software aiming to hit the same audience), but considering Vita’s place in the market it’s done a solid job of providing a fantastic home for 3D platformers. There’s something for everyone here if you’re a fan and it remains the best way to relive many forgotten classics, which is just another reason why I enjoy this console so much.


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