Mascots platformers are back in fashion this year, with the return of two of the genre’s biggest titles Psychonauts and Ratchet & Clank both releasing new games. While the genre was a staple of the early 2000s, these days the genre is barely touched on but now it seems to be back. Is this resurgence a one off or a sign of what’s to come?
Just what is a mascot platformer exactly? Dating back to 1985 with the release of Super Mario Bros. video games began building on the popularity of character mascots. Sonic and Mario are two of the most famous video game mascots, representing SEGA and Nintendo respectively. A mascot based platformer generally involves some form of open ended level design, with platform jumping and simple combat. Exploration and item collection are also a staple of the genre, rewarding players for searching every inch of the game. Each game brings its own new spin on the formula, creating such memorable titles and franchises that live on even to this day.
Source: Ratchet & Clank
These days mascot characters for Xbox and Sony are far more serious and realistic, a far stretch from the original cartoonish characters most of us grew up with. A bunch of the classic humanoid animal mascots have been replaced with characters like Nathan Drake from Naughty Dogs’ Uncharted, Bethesda’s Doomguy and Master Chief from 343 Industries Microsoft exclusive Halo series. These days most gaming companies have gone with a more mature themed look, utilising current generation technology to create far more realistic renditions and models. It would seem that the days of the polygonal 3D platformer collectathons of the past may be over, or so one might think.
Studios like Naughty Dog and Rare have put away their classic mascots of the older era and moved on to these more serious characters that match the more modern gaming scene. The 3D Mario games, such as the recent Super Mario Odyssey or the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on the Nintendo Switch, have been dominating the mascot platformer genre without any real competition. Without powerhouse franchises such as Banjo Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, Croc and Sly Cooper on the market, the latest Ratchet & Clank game Rift Apart has been able to breathe new life into the genre and use nostalgia to capture the attention of older gamers as well as finding new, younger fans.
Source: Super Mario Odyssey
While Insomniac Games has been steadily trickling out new Ratchet & Clank releases over the years, Rift Apart is the first big name title for the franchise in almost a decade. Back in 2016, Insomniac Games remastered the original title with all new high definition graphics for the PS4, alongside a movie release. Before that, the last game in the series was released in 2013, with Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus ending the ‘future’ saga for the franchise and the series was put on hold. Now in 2021, the hero duo is back to save the multiverse in Rift Apart and has become the second biggest launch of the series, just behind the remake.
It could be said that Insomniac Games sparked the remastering of these old school mascot based platformers with its other classic protagonist, Spyro the Dragon, releasing the Spyro Reignited Trilogy in 2018. While the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy did release a year ahead of the Spyro remaster bundle, whether or not Crash is a mascot platformer is debatable as the core gameplay of the Crash series games is different than most mascot platformers, with the levels built around completing runs instead of exploration. Naughty Dog even made a 4th Crash game, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s All About Time, which picks up the story where Crash Bandicoot: Warped left off. Either way, both these games heralded the start of a race to market nostalgia for the early 2000s from the genre. All that’s missing is a remastering of either Banjo-Kazooie, Sly Cooper or the Jak and Daxter franchise.
Source: Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2 has been in production for a number of years now, running multiple fundraising campaigns helping raise a combined $7.3 USD million towards the sequel. It’s been six years since then and the game is finally going to be released, only sixteen years after the first Psychonauts first came out. Fans have been eagerly awaiting the follow up from Double Fine all this time, having been pestering CEO Tim Schafer online for years. The wait is almost over, with the 3D platformer releasing in August this year across multiple platforms despite Double Fine being acquired by Microsoft back in 2019.
If Psychonauts 2’s release goes as well as Rift Apart has, maybe we will see a re-emergence of more mascot based platformers on more modern consoles. Perhaps this will also create a space for the resurgence of older and maybe even forgotten mascot characters of older video games. Lowering the barrier of entry for new gamers to experience old classics should always be encouraged.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is available on PS5
Psychonauts 2 released on August 25, 2021 on PC, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.