2D Platformers vs. 3D Platformers

2D Platformers vs. 3D Platformers

The dimensions of running and jumping

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Versus on

When it comes to gaming, few genres are as satisfying as a good old platformer so let's take a look at what makes both 2D Platformers and 3D Platformers unique and figure out which sub-genre is ultimately more enjoyable.

Screenshots of Super Mario Maker 2 and Super Mario Odyssey
Mario has come a long way yet he still often goes back to his 2D roots

2D Platformers

2D Platformers have been around for a long time with the first popular title being 1982's Pitfall! Years later, Nintendo would set many standards for the genre with their iconic Super Mario Bros. Although their history spans decades, just what is it about 2D Platformers that makes them so fun? For starters, they offer instinctive gameplay that any gamer can easily adapt to while also allowing developers to implement their own twists on the formula. As a result, there's a vast variety of titles that range from action-intense such as Super Meat Boy to puzzle-focused like the Trine series. The majority of 2D Platformers offer challenging gameplay that'll test your reflexes as well as your cleverness which provides a supremely rewarding formula that gamers can't seem to get enough of.

Now that we understand why 2D Platformers are so fun, let's take a look at some top-notch examples. A couple of my all-time favourites are Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island for Super NES. Considering Nintendo defined many aspects of what makes the genre fun, they really knocked it out of the park with their 16-bit offerings. On a more modern note, the 2D Rayman reboots (Origins and Legends) absolutely blew me away and I still consider them to be a couple of the greatest platformers ever made. A handful of other notable titles include the incredible Donkey Kong Country franchise, Sega's timeless Sonic the Hedgehog series, and Namco's highly underrated Klonoa games. There are oodles of indie 2D Platformers as well such as Shovel Knight, Freedom Planet, and WayForward's Shantae series. Needless to say, it's an ever-expanding genre with truly innovative titles that continue to delight all kinds of gamers.

Screenshots of Kirby Star Allies and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
From Kirby to Shantae; 2D Platformers provide top-notch gaming fun

3D Platformers

Meanwhile, 3D Platformers haven't been around quite as long yet the genre still has an impressive history. Although there were many attempts at pseudo-3D games prior, the 2 most iconic early 3D Platformers are Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64. The former focused on challenge and restrictive environments while the latter rewarded exploration and featured unique objectives within expansive stages. As a result, 3D Platformers proved right off the bat that the genre can accomplish a plethora of distinct experiences. That being said, most games tended to focus on the exploration side of the spectrum so 3D Platformers generally ended up offering a more relaxed experience than their 2D counterparts. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions so let's take a look at some stand-out titles.

First, one of the smoothest transitions from 2D to 3D gameplay is when Sonic Adventure debuted as it captured what made the series so enjoyable while boasting a complete transformation into the third dimension. Around the same time, Rare's delightful Banjo-Kazooie released which had much more relaxing gameplay that made completionists happy to search every nook and cranny of its colourful world. Years later, one of the most overlooked 3D Platformers debuted in the form of I-Ninja and its incredible amount of gameplay variety blew my mind back in the day. Of course, I have to mention the magical Spyro the Dragon and there are loads of other must-have 3D Platformers like the imaginative Tearaway and the colourful de Blob. Finally, one of my favourites is Astro Bot: Rescue Mission which masterfully brought the genre to virtual reality. Indie fans should also check out Fe, A Hat in Time, and Effie; they're fantastic!

Screenshots of Effie and Spyro Reignited Trilogy
Both indie and AAA 3D Platformers provide unforgettable adventures

Hybrid Platformers

Finally, there are a few games that combine 2D and 3D gameplay to create a hybrid of the 2 genres. For example, many 3D platformers feature 2D gameplay segments such as the previously mentioned Crash Bandicoot series as well as Super Mario Odyssey. However, one of the best examples of a 2D / 3D hybrid is 2011's Sonic Generations as it consists of classic 2D stages and modern 3D ones thus creating a constantly exciting campaign. Why don't more games follow a similar formula? Well, let me tell you about 2 games that do!

First, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair features a 3D overworld as well as 2D stages with the overworld focusing on exploration while the stages are challenging which is typical of both genres. I absolutely loved this dynamic as it creates a campaign that remains engaging from start to finish. Last but not least, a game released a few years back for Wii U that not many people played yet I absolutely loved it. I'm talking about the cooperative Shadow Puppeteer which has one player control a shadow with 2D gameplay while the other plays as a boy in 3D who must solve puzzles so his shadow can progress and vice versa. Not many gamers gave it a chance and I don't think some reviewers fully understood it before judging it harshly but it definitely gets a wholehearted recommendation from me!

Screenshots of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a fantastic 2D / 3D hybrid

This was certainly a fun look back at platformers but which sub-genre do I personally prefer? This is tough but I'll choose...

Winner 2D Platformers

Generally speaking, 2D Platformers usually provide challenging experiences while 3D Platformers tend to be more exploration-based such as the many collect-a-thons that have released over the years. Of course, there are many games that defy this generalization but I still prefer a solid 2D challenge over a 3D adventure. It's no wonder that shortly after everything went 3D in the mid-'90s, games went back to the good old days when 2D Platformers reigned supreme. Here's to many more years of platforming fun!

That's just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Vote now!

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Super Mario Bros. 3 Trivia

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