Jumping Flash: The Birth of 3D Platforming

Chances are, most of you will be cancelling your Playstation Classic pre-orders and after pouring over the reviews. Given the incredible amount of shortcomings on both the library and emulation fronts, I can’t say I’d blame you. That said, there’s one particular title included in this micro-console’s lineup that is well worth looking into if the words “3D Platformer” and “Collect-a-thon” mean anything to you. It may not star a box-demolishing bandicoot or cute purple dragon, but its role in the development of a genre that would later become a staple of the late 90’s and early 2000’s cannot be understated.

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from MobyGames

Jumping Flash may very well be the first example of a collect-a-thon platformer done in full 3D, although it bares more than a striking resemblance to an earlier game made for the Sharp X68000 by the name of Geograph Seal. Developed by the now-defunct Exact and Ultra, it was a part of the Sony Playstation’s launch lineup, releasing in Japan in late 1994 and North America in 1995. Based off of an early tech demo known as “Spring Man” and an early experimental animation done by Osamu Tezuka a decade earlier, it stars a robot bunny named Robbit. The player is tasked with leaping around in various three-dimensional worlds collecting fuel pods and gunning down a host of polygonal monsters along the way. Unlike Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, which would arrive about a year later and make the third person perspective the norm for this genre, Jumping Flash is seen through the eyes of its protagonist.

Above: This experimental animation would serve as the basis for the gameplay of Jumping Flash over a decade later.

Admittedly, I hadn’t played the game until recently upon delving back into the retro-gaming scene. While I wasn’t expecting the game to play particularly well in 2018, I was shocked at just how well it held up and the amount of care that went into the game as an early 3D title.

First, since jumping (and double-jumping) incredibly high into the air to reach various structures and platforms is the name of the game here, the developers decided to have the camera pan down to Robbit’s feet as he’s in the air, casting a shadow down below to help the player with landing.  This use of shadows would become an important detail in the vast majority of 3D platformers to come, including Super Mario 64, Rayman 2: The Great Escape and of course Crash Bandicoot.

Second, while this may not be as important to the modern gamer now as it was back in 1995 (they’re no doubt fully accustomed to 3D gameplay at this point), the level design shows that the Exact and Ultra understood that full-blown 3D games were still a novelty at the time of release. There aren’t numerous bottomless pits, one-hit kill traps or any exceptionally tricky platforming sections to navigate.  There’s even a mini-map to help players figure out where the next pod is located. That said, I can’t help but feel that the developers played things a little too safe. Jumping Flash can be breezed through in a little over an hour with minimal hassle- even the bosses don’t put up much of a fight. There is a sort of “New Game Plus” that changes the composition of the campaign levels up a bit, but the game is still mindless once you’ve adapted to the control scheme. Even back in 1995, the lack of difficulty was a common complaint reviewers had.

“It does tend to be a little easy at some points, and the worlds are a little small, but these are minor drawbacks.”- IGN, 1996

Although an obscure title (even in an era where everyone and their mother is writing about obscurities and “hidden gems”), Jumping Flash reviewed well upon release (4.51 from GamePro magazine, 8.6/10 from EGM among other positive press) and was lucky enough to have a handful of sequels. Although its approach to the genre would ultimately be lost in favor of the standards that would be set by the likes of Super Mario 64, it was the first of its kind and holds up surprisingly well despite its status as an early 3D title. While it’s somewhat unlikely that you’ll see a complete copy of the game at your local brick and mortar shop, Jumping Flash and Jumping Flash 2 are both available on the Playstation Network for a meager $5.99 each,  ready to offer both a valuable lesson for the would-be gaming historian and a unique platforming experience for fans of the genre.

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