Platform Games Reboot With 'LittleBigPlanet,' 'Banjo-Kazooie'
The platform game has fallen on hard times.
Maybe it's that name, which came about in the 1980s when Mario was actually jumping on moving platforms in "Super Mario Bros."
But the genre needs a catchier title, like "running-jumping-bouncing-super-fun-action-adventure." There has to be a Japanese word that encompasses all that.
Platform games used to represent a huge chunk of the video-game market, but now they're largely restricted to the kiddie market.
There's the occasional gem like Nintendo's "Super Mario Galaxy," but platformer addicts usually have to settle for media tie-ins like the new "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" game.
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Still, a few developers are keeping the faith.
Insomniac Games' superb "Ratchet & Clank" series has upped the ante with an amusing assortment of bizarre weaponry. The independently developed "Braid" added mind-bending puzzles. And Sony's "LittleBigPlanet" could inspire a rush of fresh, creative approaches to the genre.
—"LittleBigPlanet" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): The most innovative game to appear yet on the PS3 is an old-school, 2D platformer at heart.
Just about anyone who's played a video game will understand that the goal is to move its hero left to right (and occasionally up and down) from the beginning to the end of each level.
That hero, Sackboy, is one of the most endearing game characters in recent memory. He looks like a doll that's been sewn from a burlap sack, but developer Media Molecule has created a delightfully expressive character from limited facial features and body language.
You accumulate more wardrobe options along the way, and can even make a Sackgirl if you like.
Sackboy's universe is equally appealing. The levels in "LBP" are built from 3D objects that appear to have real texture; for example, Sackboy can grab onto cloth objects but slides right across glass.
The settings are drawn from around the world, from the jungles of Africa to a metropolitan subway, and there are plenty of devious puzzles to work through.
Once you've conquered a few levels, "LBP" allows you to start creating your own, which you can then upload to Sony's PlayStation Network.
I'm still working on my first masterpiece — the full-bodied collection of design tools is a little overwhelming — but I'm very impressed with the level of creativity I've seen from amateur developers.
If the "LBP" community keeps growing, we could be seeing fresh challenges for this game for years to come. Four stars out of four.
—"Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $39.99): Banjo and Kazooie, a bear-and-bird team that haven't been seen on a console since 2000, have gotten fat and lazy in their downtime.
So when the Lord of Games (who has the face of a "Pong" screen) shoves them into a new adventure, he gets rid of most of the old-fashioned platforming that made them popular.
Instead, the boys spend a lot of time in an assortment of vehicles — cars, planes and boats — that they have to use to collect "jiggies."
One event may be a simple race; in other levels, you need to fetch passengers or push around dangerous objects. The limited running-and-jumping sequences are where you find new parts for your machines.
The core of "Nuts & Bolts" is a robust, Lego-like vehicle construction system that lets you build dozens of different contraptions. It may be too complex for kids who are attracted by the game's vivid cartoon look, but it's easy to lose hours just tinkering with your new toys.
The latest B-K adventure may disappoint hardcore platformer fans (the Lord of Games actually makes fun of them), but it offers a lot of depth and challenge for more open-minded gamers. Three stars.
—"Crash: Mind Over Mutant" (Activision, for the Xbox 360, Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $39.99; Nintendo DS, $29.99): Most gamers stopped caring about wannabe mascot Crash Bandicoot years ago, but the games keep coming out.
Last year, developer Radical Entertainment tried to liven up the old coot by letting him absorb the powers of his enemies. This year ... well, it's the same gimmick, with slightly tighter controls.
"Mind Over Mutant" makes a halfhearted stab at a sort of open-world design that theoretically lets you go anywhere, but in execution leads to a lot of repetition and backtracking.
It has some clever comedic interludes, but game play is ruined by drab level design and horrible, unadjustable camera angles.
It's time for Activision to let this geezer retire. One star.