Ah, the 3D platformer. Ever since Super Mario 64 landed and showed everyone just how good three-dimensional platforming could be, there have been developers hoping to capture just a smidgen of that game’s magic. It was a tough act to follow, even for the plumber himself, but his latest outing on Switch has him at the very top of his game.
However, despite having a reputation for hosting the finest of the genre, none of Nintendo’s platforms have hosted the breadth of 3D platformers we saw back during the genre’s N64 heyday. Those collectathons arguably went out of fashion in the early noughties when games like Halo heralded the ascension of first-person shooters on console, but every so often one crops up to remind us of the good ol’ days of Banjo-Kazooie and Glover.
In comparison to the voluminous catalogue of 2D platformers available – a selection so impressive we decided to split it into the best 2D platformers and the best Metroidvanias on Switch – the list of potential 3D platformers is decidedly slimmer. Why bother with such a one-horse race, you may be thinking. Well, in addition to this not being a ranked list, the fact is that Switch has accrued some impressive examples of the genre. No, they may not quite reach the incredible heights of the Italian gentlemen’s balloon ship, but they certainly offer some wonderful experiences when the odyssey’s over.
So, let’s take a look at our pick - in no particular order - of the best 3D platformers on Switch…
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Yooka-Laylee is a worthy modern tribute to the collectathons of yore - coming from many of the developers who created the incomparable Banjo-Kazooie - and it's highly recommended for Switch owners. This feels like a game that belongs in 1996 with all the quality-of-life improvements of a modern game, making for an excellent blend of new and old. Though it can be a little uneven at times, the game as a whole manages to achieve what developers Playtonic set out to do; to recapture some of that classic Rareware magic and make a fresh game with the same mischievous spirit for fans who have been waiting so long. With compositions from genius ex-Rare musicians David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, you know it makes sense.
Oh, the controversy - a 3D platform game where you can't jump! Sumo Digital's Snake Pass is a real gem in the Switch library, and is certainly worth a look for anyone looking for a joyous palette cleanser. It's unlike anything else we've played before; a fresh platforming experience that will keep you engaged until the very end. Solid visuals, unconventional gameplay, a memorable soundtrack (that David Wise, again) and a decent amount of replay value make this well worth your time, and we absolutely give it a recommendation. If you're looking to take a chance and play something unique, then Snake Pass is well worth a look.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a ruthlessly faithful recreation of some of the earliest successes in 3D platforming. Levels are slick, gorgeous to look at, and recreate the feel of the originals superbly. Newcomers to the series may be put off by the steep difficulty spikes and little to no explanation of some of the finer mechanics. All the fun and the foibles of the original three games are here, for better or for worse, and despite some odd design choices it still manages to be a really enjoyable retread of some old classics, warts and all. This is definitely worth a look if you're a fan of 3D platformers, but just as was the case back in the '90s, Crash isn't in quite the same league as Mario when it comes to playability, inventiveness and entertainment. If you're after a nostalgia trip, though, it's tough to beat.
de Blob 2 keeps many of the same characteristics found in the original Wii game, with both the brilliant - and the not-so-brilliant - features mostly staying intact in this updated Switch version. The cameras can still be occasionally fiddly, and things can feel a little too easy in places, but brand new 2D sections and a slightly more refined-feeling overall experience put the sequel just above the original in our pecking order. Either game should go down well – especially with a younger audience – but this one just about splashes its way into first place.
Human: Fall Flat recognises a simple truth: people falling down is hilarious, and when they're seemingly impervious to damage, that's just an added guilt-free bonus. Playing as a wobbly, awkward avatar takes a lot of getting used to, and perhaps you never really get used to it at all, but the game leaves each level wide open to a variety of solutions to suit your own personal style. Tackling the five-to-six hour long adventure solo isn't as fun as getting a second player to join in, even if the game's performance takes a hit. The lack of online multiplayer is a little disappointing, but we reckon that you and a fellow human might really fall for this little puzzle-platformer. Over and over and over again.
You've got to feel a little bit sorry for Poi and its developer PolyKid. You spend years making your own 3D platformer, pouring your heart and soul into it, and the universe conspires to have it release the same week as Super Mario Odyssey. Doh!
Poi: Explorer Edition is a great platforming adventure in its own right, though. Anyone who enjoys a good ‘collect-a-thon’ will be in Heaven with this game – the Medallions are great fun to work towards and finding every single extra collectable will take some considerable time and effort. If you enjoy games of this genre, we’d definitely recommend giving Poi a go. It deserves to be played.
OK, you're thinking, I made an exception for Snake Pass, but now Captain Toad?! Well, despite the puzzle angle, this is still a 3D platformer and the lack of a jump button doesn't make it any less of a winner. With beautiful visuals and an upbeat soundtrack, Treasure Tracker is a real gem; a wonderful and gorgeous platform puzzler fit for all ages, and one which you should definitely experience if you're yet to. Two-player co-op makes this offering even tastier, and there's even a nice little nugget of DLC for once you've polished off the main game.
Poignant and moving in both theme and execution, Fe is one of the most unique platformers on Nintendo Switch. Its platforming can be a little hit and miss, and its stealth feels a little too forgiving at times, but that doesn’t stop its world and the unique vocal premise from bewitching you with a dark and Gothic Nordic fairytale. While it’s not as groundbreaking as other dialogue-less games such as Journey, it’s still one of the most intriguing worlds to explore on Switch.
As you’d expect, LEGO DC Super-Villains doesn’t make many attempts to change up the formula that’s served the LEGO series so well for so long, but with a vast library of well-applied and famous baddies to draw from it offers a far more engaging and memorable story than the stretched-too-thin LEGO The Incredibles. However, with a brilliant cast on hand (can anyone really compare to Hamill’s Joker?), a vast sandbox hub and all the customisation options you could want in Danish brick form, this familiar playground still has bags of charm.
While this is the best of the lot, there are plenty of alternative LEGO titles if DC Villains aren't your bag, each offering similarly accessible gameplay across a variety of worlds. LEGO Harry Potter Collection, The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 are all solid platforming fare.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a wonderful love letter to a classic series, keeping everything that made the original games what they were, but slapping on a fresh coat of paint for the HD era. There are a few creaking bones showing their age here and there, but only due to the developers’ desire to keep things as accurate as possible. The Switch version looks absolutely stunning and runs surprisingly well, so if you’re looking for a classic 3D platforming experience, you should definitely give this a look-in.
You've surely got this in your collection already, no? Just like Vanessa Williams, we went and saved the best for last. No, this list isn't ranked, but let's not kid ourselves, hmm?
Super Mario Odyssey represents a shift in direction for Mario. For about a decade we had exceptional but tightly structured 3D series entries, but this new arrival’s building blocks go back to Super Mario 64. It’s a very modern take on ‘sandbox Mario’ - Cappy and his abilities are key additions that freshen up the formula, and we have a sizeable and diverse set of lands to explore.
In the second half and post-credits - in particular - it takes on a life of its own, showcasing incredible design and development flair. It’s also a wonderful showcase for the Switch, and would be a fabulous introduction to the wonders of Mario in three dimensions. For the veterans among us, meanwhile, it’s yet another special release to remind us of why Mario is still gaming’s number one.
More 3D platformers than you were expecting, no? Have we missed anything that you've really enjoyed? Let us know in the comments.