Many of the great platformers have a collection mechanic at their core. Mario has to collect stars, Crash had crystals and gems, Sonic had a penchant for Chaos Emeralds and the best iteration of Spyro was geared around finding and completing challenges to acquire dragon eggs. Ape Escape took a similar approach, tasking players with the pursuit and capture of a host of rogue simians.
Notably the first game on the PlayStation to require use of the analogue sticks to play (it’s easy to forget that there were controllers with only a D-pad for about half of the console’s lifespan), Ape Escape stood out in a crowded market for being immersive and humourous. Its variety of weird and wacky weapons was a precursor of sorts to Ratchet & Clank’s arsenal and its success gave Sony another exclusive property (alongside the aforementioned Lombax and robot combo) to utilise on the PS2 after Crash and Spyro both went multiplatform.
Whilst Ape Escape 3 and its wealth of collectibles wasn’t a failure, it has never been followed up outside of a host of spin-off games exclusive to Japan, where the franchise enjoyed a greater degree of popularity than in the West. The likes of Ape Academy 2, Ape Escape Racing and RPG title Ape Quest all paled in comparison to Mario’s equivalents, however, and the series has now sat dormant for over a decade.
HD remasters are all the rage these days. Some may argue that they are lazy ways for developers to cash in on nostalgia without having to do a huge amount of development work, whilst others love them for getting to relive precious gaming memories and introduce their favourite worlds and characters to a new generation.
Sly Raccoon (or Sly Cooper, depending on the territory) was one of the first recipients of such a remaster when his three PS2 adventures were bundled in a collection for the PS3 back in 2010. Stealth-focused with amusing noir elements, each of these were solid if unspectacular entries into the platforming lexicon.
Developed by Sucker Punch, who moved to Infamous after developing the initial trilogy (and most recently Ghost Of Tsushima), the franchise passed into the hands of the lesser-known Sanzaru Games for a fourth outing in 2013. Despite ending on a cliff-hanger, it sold only around half a million copies, a death knell that couldn’t justify another entry in Sony’s eyes.
A film was announced in 2014 and a television series was announced in 2018, both presumably with the intention of trying to keep the franchise going in a different form, but neither have materialised and are presumed abandoned, particularly in the wake of the failure of the Ratchet & Clank film adaptation.
Naughty Dog have been one of Sony’s key development partners for almost thirty years at this point. Bought out by them in 2001, they have avoided the fate shared by so many companies in the same position by both maintaining a degree of independence and continuously releasing incredible games.
The company’s original modus operandi was to develop one new franchise per console generation. They created four Crash Bandicoot games for the original Playstation, before ownership complications with Universal saw them abandon their mascot for four Jak & Daxter games on the PS2. They broke their pattern on the PS3 by releasing The Last Of Us alongside the Uncharted trilogy, whilst the PS4 era only saw them release new sequels to each. It remains to be seen what they’ll develop for the PS5.
A return to Jak & Daxter would be delightful, but unlikely. More open-world than Crash, Jak & Daxter was an enjoyable if formulaic platforming adventure before Jak II raised the bar with the addition of guns, vehicles, races, side missions and a host of other GTA-inspired elements. Jak 3 delivered more of the same but across three environments rather than one, whilst Jak X never really took off with players in the same way that Crash Team Racing did before it.
Ratchet & Clank may still be going strong, but their onetime equals are long dead in the water, having not headlined a game since a PSP spinoff in 2009.
Platform games have always ostensibly been aimed at children, though ironically today the majority of their appeal is to now-adult gamers looking to revisit the beloved games of their youth. The Gex series was always designed for a more mature audience, given the wisecracking nature of its gecko protagonist and the adult jokes nestled amongst its myriad of delightful pop culture references and homages.
Lasting just four years in total, Gex was the star of three titles across PlayStation, Nintendo and Sega consoles. He may well have been a casualty of Eidos’ takeover of developer Crystal Dynamics in 1998, as they were moved onto the development of a pair of Disney tie-ins immediately after the release of Gex 3, never returning to him despite the initial announcement of a fourth entry on the PS2 and the continuation of their other notable franchise, Legacy Of Kain, until 2003.
Eidos have since been acquired by Square Enix, who maintained an initiative for publishing the works of independent game developers called the Square Enix Collective. Though they encouraged the use of it to revive dormant Eidos properties, including Fear Effect, nobody was seemingly willing to pick up Gex’s reins and he has now been missing in action for twenty two years, far longer than any of his counterparts on this list.
The first game that this writer ever owned and played, after a frenzied unwrapping of a brand-new Playstation console on Christmas Day 1997, was Croc: Legend Of The Gobbos, alongside fellow platformers Rayman and Bubsy, both of whom have actually gotten new titles in the last decade.
Although blatantly released to capitalise on the success of Super Mario 64 (it was originally pitched to Nintendo as a Yoshi-starring title), with like-for-like 3D hubs, levels and collection mechanics (and a health system lifted from Sonic), Croc was far from a cheap cash-in, in contrast to many other titles of the era such as the aforementioned Bubsy.
Developers Argonaut crafted a colourful and immersive world that was a joy to explore time after time and were swiftly put to work on a sequel after Croc sold more than 3 million units, a figure that puts it just outside the top 30 of all-time top-selling games on the PS1.
Croc 2 was less successful, albeit still serviceable, but the writing seemed to be on the wall when a third game never materialised, ports of the second on other consoles were cancelled and a Game Boy adaptation of the first was subject to negative critical reception.
Argonaut were put to work on more lucrative Harry Potter titles at the turn of the Millennium, but their fortunes soon turned and they were wound up in 2004. Croc appeared to die with them and has been barely mentioned anywhere since.
Though Mario and Sonic, the pioneers of the platforming genre, were Japanese creations, the majority of the characters that followed in their footsteps in the 1990s and early 2000s, including Crash, Spyro and every other entry on this list bar Ape Escape’s Spike, were the brainchild of Western developers.
Klonoa was an exception, with original release Door To Phantomile being one of Namco’s many forays into different genres after they took the initial Playstation release by storm with Ridge Racer and Tekken. It was distinctively Japanese in style and tone, with some attributing its lack of success in North America to an overreliance on ‘kawaii’ cuteness. The game nevertheless looked phenomenal for its time, mixing traditional 2D side-scrolling gameplay with 3D graphics to create a distinctive and thoroughly immersive experience.
PS2 follow-up Lunatea’s Veil was similarly well-received, before a series of genre-blending titles on the Game Boy Advance diluted the property somewhat. A remake of the first game intended to kickstart the series once more on the Wii failed in 2008 and the character has been seemingly consigned to the scrapheap.
Nobody has ever been able to decide if Klonoa is a dog, cat or rabbit. but what does seem certain is that we’ll never see him again. A trademark filing for a potential new game was uncovered in 2019, but given the swift cancellation of webcomic and anime projects it’ll probably never see the light of day.
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