I just finished Psychonauts, the PS2 game by Tim Shaefer that everyone sez is mind-bendingly awesome. Meh.
Now, there's no doubt that the CONTENT, the story, voice acting, plot, level design, are all first-rate. And I also have to say that I'm an atypical consumer, with no real love for platformers of any dimensions. But psychonauts was, in the end, just another 3D platformer. Platform puzzles, collectables, powerups, and the infamous double-jump.
I loved everything about the Giant Lungfish (in the middle of the game), and thought that THERE, they introduced some fun and innovative mechanics. In the boss fight, you see yourself though the eyes of the boss, and as he chases you, you have to run and jump through terrain to keep away from him. Then, inside the boss's psyche, YOU get to be the giant monster, stomping cities in a loving homage to Godzilla.
But aside from that, yawn.
However, I also feel that I've formed a new game design theory. I now believe that 3D platformers are inherently, profoundly flawed. Their camera cannot be made to work properly, because the format of the game itself prevents it.
I definiately had big problems with the camera in Psychonauts. I'd often miss a jump or get pounded by enemies because my camera had ducked behind something, or was facing the wrong way. But EVERY 3D platformer suffers from this! Go back to your gaming mags; every 3D platformer review contains camera critism. The reviewers seem to believe that there's a perfect camera out there somewhere, and the games they play only measure up to certain degrees.
The granddaddy of 3D platformers (conventional wisdom states) is Mario 64, and I've read people saying that THAT camera was perfect. I played the game. It wasn't. The world-space was a lot less cluttered; that can help the camera.
I think everyone in game development thought 3D EVERYTHING was simply inevitable, starting with the PS1 (I thought so too). Moving platformers from 2D to 3D sounds and looks so RIGHT, no one stopped to ask if a perfect follow-cam was even possible. Now my young nephews don't bother to ask if there's a better way; they just play the game and enjoy it.
But as game designers, we DO have to ask if there's a better way. I don't know, but I'm convinced that if we can find it, everyone in the world will wake up and realize that 3D platformer cameras were ALWAYS wrong, onerous, tiresome.