To Mark 20 Years Of 'Soul Reaver', Here's Nine Of The Best 90s Third-Person Games That Must Return (2022)

Happy birthday Raziel: 'The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver' is 20 years old today.

Crystal Dynamics

On this day back in 1999, an oft-overlooked classic landed on the PlayStation. The Legend of Kain: Soul Reaver was released 20 years ago today, serving as a debut for Raziel, one of the best anti-heroes in gaming.

Soul Reaver was a third-person action-adventure game that followed Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, a top-down RPG more visibly akin to the Ultima series. It switched up the format to match gamers’ evolving demands, whose appetite for full-3D third-person gaming was regularly–but seemingly never fully–satisfied by the huge number of games that adopted this still-new, exciting perspective.

In the months and weeks leading up to Soul Reaver’s release, the excitement was palpable. Here in the UK, Official PlayStation Magazine featured its first playable level in issue 43, the month after its landmark Metal Gear Solid demo.

The debut of the 'Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver' demo in Official PlayStation Magazine.

Future Publishing

Described in previews and on the above demo cover art as a “Tomb Raider beater”, Soul Reaver ended up being something much different, and the comparison seems lazy in retrospect. Tomb Raider may have been the pioneering platformer that consistently raised the bar (until The Last Revelation, at least), but Soul Reaver could (and should) be seen more as a precursor to Devil May Cry or even Demon Souls.

Despite rave reviews and a strong fanbase, the Legacy of Kain series only ran until 2003, when Defiance marked the end of the series–but not the story. It “finished” on an open cliffhanger, which its fans still complain about it to this day. As recently as 2012, strong rumours surfaced of the series’ return – but nothing has been heard since.

This fate is emblematic of so many similarly styled series of the fifth generation, but specifically the original PlayStation. As the PlayStation 2 and pals ushered in better technology–which enabled full open-world games, the genre du jour of the early 2000s–tastes changed and great franchises were lost in time, like tears in the rain.

To celebrate the 3D forefathers of modern gaming, here are nine third-person platformers that debuted in the 90s, which are long overdue a return in one form or another.

Tenchu: Stealth Assassins

Tenchu was far from perfect, but the first time you used that grappling hook in this 1998 stealth-based action-adventure title, you felt more like a ninja than you did in any other game before it. The stealth element itself was new to countless gamers who played it – but naturally, rivals came along and perfected the mechanic.

The series died a relatively quiet death after the release of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins in 2009 (released only for the Wii and PSP). The initial pair of PS1 releases still represent the pinnacle of the series; it’s a wonder that it hasn’t returned since.

The first 'Tenchu' offered two playable characters with different styles.

Acquire / Activision


Going toe-to-toe with Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon and MediEvil–but never getting the remasters its more famous 3D platformer rivals gained–is Croc. The game was the result of a failed Yoshi platformer that Nintendo turned down; developers Argonaut software reskinned it, maintaining the green dinosaur-like physique with its titular character.

Croc and Croc 2 were met with generally good reviews, though the experiences were hampered by awful camera angles and unrelenting difficulty spikes. Despite this, it’s a beloved IP even now.

Akuji the Heartless

Sometimes, certain games arrive at the wrong time, are duly overlooked and never seen again. Such was the issue with Akuji the Heartless, a fantastic 3D game that was released after rivals Nightmare Creatures and Deathtrap Dungeon, and so failed to capitalize on the brief peak of darkly themed adventure titles that came before it.

Nonetheless, it was excellent–don’t let the poor reviews put you off finding a copy and giving it a whirl.

Syphon Filter

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Syphon Filter series is the only franchise going that allows you to taser a baddie for so long that he sets on fire. That alone is reason for it to return, but it was so much more than that: it had Resident Evil-like puzzles, Tenchu-esque stealth and gritty, “realistic” shooting sections like no other game of its era.

It was consigned to the PSP (with PS2 ports) in its final two outings in 2006 and 2007; the debut title was also included on the PS Classic. Perhaps it’ll never be as good in the modern day as it was for its time – but it’d sell plenty if it was rebooted in the future.

Small Soldiers

While Small Soldiers is, of course, based on a movie license–and the brilliant film itself didn’t have a sequel–it’s still mind-boggling as to why this incredible game never got a follow-up. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best game adaptation of a film, at least in the 90s. It was a simple third-person shooter, but it was effortlessly fun–and undoubtedly set the blueprint for many titles to follow.

Jersey Devil

Another one-off platformer that received a little too much undue criticism was Jersey Devil, an IP that had so much promise but was never taken past its 1997 debut. It was far from the New Jersey legend; you were more bat than anything else. It was a collect-a-thon punctuated by platforming, fighting and gliding, but boy, was it fun.

'Jersey Devil' deserved better reviews than it got.

Behaviour Interactive

Fade to Black

The earliest-released entry on this list had a lot to live up to on its release. Fade to Black served as the third-person follow-up to Flashback, the 1992 cinematic platformer that spanned countless consoles and won even more awards.

Luckily, Fade to Black was excellent for its time, though often feels unplayable now. Getting this series back on track would be brilliant, not least because of its storyline. However, purist fans out there will undoubtedly demand a return to its 2D roots, eschewing this fantastic 3D outing.

The Gex series

Starting out as a 2D platformer, Gex–developed by Crystal Dynamics, the same team behind Soul Reaver–followed the goings-on of a TV-obsessed anthropomorphic gecko who fought enemies in media-themed worlds. In its two 3D sequels, the series lacked polish and, like Croc, suffered from poor camerawork. Nonetheless, it had a personality like no other game of the era, despite the titular character’s own personality changing dramatically between games.

'Enter the Gecko' was Gex's second outing.

Crystal Dynamics

Gex himself had a bit of an identity crisis. In Enter the Gecko, he was voiced by the silver-tongued Leslie Phillips, taking on the smooth, James Bond-style lothario undercurrent. In Deep Cover Gecko, it couldn’t have been any more different: Danny John-Jules from cult comedy Red Dwarf made him smart-mouthed and streetwise.

Perhaps this lack of consistency led to the franchise’s downfall; there’s been nothing new from Gex since 1999. You could say he’s lived on since then, though; five months after Gex 3, Geico debuted its own gecko, which was (and still is) also British.

Ape Escape

Given just how utterly incredible this series’ debut was, it’s inconceivable how Ape Escape has gone without a true sequel since 2005. The original Ape Escape was famous for forcing gamers to buy a DualShock controller just to play it: it needed one stick for movement and the other for weaponry to capture said escaped apes.

It’s still as iconic now as it was upon release, and its characters have even featured in other PlayStation games (e.g. LittleBigPlanet, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and, er, Metal Gear Solid 3). However, Sony has dropped the series for now. Maybe it’s the next on the list for a remaster, once MediEvil drops later this year.

The PlayStation was the home to an era of exciting new ideas. Many continued after the PS1 days, though rarely–if ever–captured the brilliance they showcased on Sony’s maiden console. Are there any other games that fit the criteria which you think deserve more credit? Get in touch with me on Twitter – there’s always room on this list.

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