I used to hate 3D platformers. They tended to feature dull levels, awkward controls, blind jumps, and worst of all, horrid camera control that generally led me straight to my death. I was usually happier playing old-fashioned 2D games like Lode Runner or Jumpman, which, while rife with annoying pixel-perfect jumps, at least didn’t force you to cope with a wildly swinging camera as you tried to steer your character over the gap.


I was forced to change my mind, though, when Jak and Daxter came out a couple of years ago. I was impressed by its broad, inviting environments and almost complete avoidance of loading screens. It was the first 3D platformer I had played that didn’t piss me off (much). The next year, the one-two punch of Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper hit and I was fully sold. The two games, while being very different variations on the platformer genre, were both finely crafted works. R&C went big, doing J&D one better in the environmental design department, with its expansive cities and massive space stations. Sly Cooper, on the other hand, stuck with a smaller, more traditional palette of design elements (the double-jump, the swing-jump, the rotating platform, etc), but the gameplay was so exquisitely tuned that I never noticed any lack of variety: I was too busy playing the game to think about it.

These three games had me thinking that the 3D platformer was finally due for a renaissance, that developers would look at these and say to themselves, “that’s great! Let’s make something even better!” (the crew at Insomniac did this when making R&C: they actually licensed some code from J&D creators Naughty Dog). It was going to be great, I thought: rather than relying on name recognition and lame gimmicks, people would now have to concentrate on making attractive, playable games. But of course, this is the video game industry we’re talking about here, and craftsmanship is the exception, not the norm. There will be no renaissances, only glutted markets; the plethora of platformers on the market bears witness to this.

I was willing to let Ape Escape 2 slide, since it clearly had no ambitions to be anything more than silly, mindless fun. But I expected better from Sonic Team’s Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. The game’s hook is simple: rather than punching or shooting enemies, you run over them with a big egg. By feeding fruit to your egg (don’t ask me why), you make the egg grow, and eventually hatch, giving you powerups.

Using an egg as a weapon is a cute gimmick, to be sure, but one that has unfortunate consequences, control-wise. Steering a huge rolling egg is just not very easy: dealing with momentum and turning radius make things difficult, and controlling jumps is simply an exercise in frustration. Matters aren’t helped by the camera, which tends to swing around at awkward times, sending you ramming into a wall or flying off a cliff whose presence you hadn’t even noticed. The levels include plenty of oddly placed falloffs, as well as blind jumps, too-high ledges, cussed chutes — you get the idea. Still, I could forgive the poorly tuned levels if they were at least interesting. They’re not. Neither are the lifeless enemies, who just kind of wander around, waiting to get crushed. There’s really nothing to recommend the single-player game, outside of the fabulous, Pizzicato-Five-influenced background music.

The multiplayer mode is a lot more fun, but only because whacking your friends with eggs is inherently more fun than whacking little gray blobs. The same camera and environmental problems plague this mode, though, and there isn’t enough variety in the action to rescue Billy Hatcher from the mediocrity of its main single-player game.

A recent EGM article listed no fewer than sixteen major platformers coming out in the near future. Hopefully a few of them will be more interesting, or at least better tuned, than this.