The mid-90’s was an interesting time for the video gaming industry, and a particularly difficult time for games creators. Technology had reached the point to allow the shift away from 2D animations that had been the foundation of all video games since their inception just 20-years earlier, to a more realistic 3D art style. The problem is nobody really knew what this meant and how to create game in three dimensions. The software developers where discovering and designing the rule book for the games we’d be playing for the next 20-years.
Platform games in particular struggled with this transition. By the end of the 80’s they had become probably the primary and most popular genre of video games. Mostly due to the phenomenal success of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros, released in 1985, which all but wrote the rule book for this particular genre.
There’d be several attempts at making this transition from the first person Jumpin’ Flash!, to the fully 3D Crash Bandicoot and a number of, what we call today, 2.5D (halfway between 2D and 3D) including both Abe’s Oddysee and Pandemonium! before Nintendo once again wrote the rule book for 3D platformers with Mario 3D and then the world slowly come to the realisation that 2D is best for this genre and 2.5D is the compromise.
Pandemonium’s take on 2.5D Platforming is to fully build everything is lifelike 3D but restrict the player movement to standard 2D left-right and fixing the camera to the side of the player. This exposes the biggest issue with 2.5D games and that’s camera positioning. Abe’s Oddysee solves this but going for a single screen flip-book affair similar to 2D platformers prior to Super Mario.
Pandemonium attempts to completely recreate the side scrolling Super Mario experience in 3D and camera positioning is vital for this to work. The main issue, which Pandemonium does succumb to, is the player not seeing enough of what is to come to give them suitable time to react. Instead relying on the old, old, Platforming trope of player repetition to learn that “when I turn this corner there’d be an enemy/jump/gap/etc”.
There’s also the issue of how the camera follows the player and moves around the course. Pandemonium went for something a little rigid to the course flows through the camera rather than the camera flowing around the course. This creates instances were pushing right on the controller moves your player away or left as the character follows the flow of the course. Controller Right in this instance being used to “move forward” rather than “move in direction”.
Thankfully Pandemonium manages to transcend the issues it faces from its embryonic move into the 3D play space. The core game is a fairly competent if somewhat average run’n’jump sidescroll platformer in the vain of Castle Of Illusion, Rayman, or Cool Spot. However its saving grace is an art style reminiscent of those older 2D games that fully suits the limitations of the 3D hardware of the time. In a word its about presentation.
Pandemonium nails presentation and gameplay. Because of this it’s very easy to forgive the restrictions imposed by the camera positioning.