If Bubsy can be a household name, these characters should be as well.
Not only was Blasto doing the platformer/third-person shooter hybrid years before it became Ratchet & Clank‘s bread and butter, but he was a really endearing character, thanks in no small part to stellar voicework from the always-reliable Phil Hartman. In fact, Hartman passed away just a couple of months after this game was released, which sealed poor Blasto’s fate as much as the game’s tepid sales. Only Hartman could sell humor revolving around busty Space Babes and the planet Uranus, but he made it work, and given another chance – perhaps on the PS2 – to iron out the game’s flaws (high difficulty, repetitive action) and of course Hartman being able to return for another performance could’ve given Blasto the opportunity he deserved to sit among Sony’s top tier mascot characters. As it stands, he didn’t even make it into PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, home to such D-list characters as Fat Princess and Kat from Gravity Rush which is an absolute shame. Blasto really should’ve been seen as one of Phil Hartman’s great final roles, rather than a largely forgotten footnote at the end of his career.
Jill (Drill Dozer)
I’m just going to get this out of the way right off the bat: Drill Dozer is one of the absolute best games for the Game Boy Advance, and when you consider the stellar library that system had, that is really saying something. Rather than running and jumping like a typical platformer, you maneuver through Drill Dozer‘s stages largely by drilling in all four directions, with the challenge coming via various materials you can’t drill through, boxes that you have to drill from a specific direction, and other such mechanics, while of course driving your massive drill through enemies along the way. It may sound gimmicky, but it absolutely never gets old and the action stays fresh throughout each and every level of the adventure. Main character Jill is not only a female platform star which is an unfortunately rare thing in and of itself, but she’s one that isn’t giggly or sexy or helpless, instead carrying a drill with proportions to her diminutive body on a par with Cloud and his massive sword. She is also full of attitude and doesn’t take crap from anybody – which, why should she, she’s carrying a giant power drill? Her adventures certainly shouldn’t be limited to a relatively obscure GBA game, but sadly that is the current state of things. In fact, her only other appearance even in cameo form is as a mere trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Come on, Nintendo, at least make her playable in something again, and definitely put Drill Dozer on the e-shop.
It was easy to overlook this game when it was released in 2003, as we had spent the previous 5+ years being burned by one bad platformer starring a cutesy/punky/sassy character after another. And admittedly, at first glance I-Ninja looks to be no better than the Ty the Tasmania Tigers and Dr. Mutos of the era. But for those that gave his game a chance, they were pleasantly surprised by a very entertaining and creative platformer with a character that had far more personality than his somewhat cookie-cutter looks might have portrayed. The simply-named Ninja could not only dispatch enemies with a katana, already putting him 50 cool points ahead of most platform stars and their generic “spin moves,” he could run up walls, throw explosive darts, ride a giant shuriken, become invisible, and occasionally get into epic mid-air battles with him and his enemy inexplicably floating in the air as Ninja dashes and darts all around his foe. The game actually had a lot of depth for what looked at its surface to be a kiddie platformer, and had challenge to match. I don’t know what its publisher Namco could’ve done to make people take notice of this game and not have it blend in with all the other crappy platformers on store shelves at the time, but it really deserved to sell better and to turn into a bonafide series. There just isn’t enough ninjas in platformers, or in video games as a whole anymore, really.
While platformers were going almost exclusively 3D in the mid to late 90’s, Namco had an idea on how to marry 3D visuals with classic 2D gameplay, and thus Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was born. Largely considered one of the first “2.5D” platform games, it was a breath of fresh air amongst a glut of generic 3D platformers starring characters designed by a committee to appeal to the ‘tude nature of cartoon characters of the time. Although nobody was quite sure exactly what Klonoa was supposed to be – Is he a cat? Is he a rabbit? – he was lovable nonetheless and along with his partner Huepow he would grab and hold enemies in an almost Kirby-esque fashion, being able to either launch them as projectiles or use them for a double jump. His first game is also home to one of the most heartbreaking endings in video game history, which you might not expect from a cartoony platform game, but anyone who played it and “got something in their eye” during the ending knows just how affecting it really was. Klonoa went on another 2.5D adventure, the excellent Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil for PS2, three handheld outings, an action RPG and even his own volleyball game, so Namco clearly believed in him and did everything they could to make him a real star. Sadly, his games went inexplicably ignored for the most part and never enjoyed blockbuster sales, and with no new game since 2002’s Japan-only Klonoa Heroes, it looks like Klonoa’s chance at mainstream success has long since passed.
What other characters do you feel should be in the platformer pantheon rather than wallowing in obscurity? Tell us in the comments!