What is a platformer?

I was in the local EB with a friend perusing the new releases the other day and I kept circling back to Splinter Cell. I asked my freind what he thought about it, trying to get him to bolster my decision to buy it. He blurts out, “I am not really into platformers.”

His premise is that once you take the control of the character from first to third person you are entering the realm of the 3D platformer. Second, the more puzzles you add that only allow one-solution also takes you into that realm. I am still straddling the fence on whether I agree or not. When I look back on “5-star GOTY”- type games on the PC that I did’nt enjoy, they were usually 3rd person games that were very linear in nature where or very puzzle oriented. i.e. Heretic 2, Jedi Knight etc. If I took those same games substituted Rayman or Mario as the main lead and cell-shaded the game what would they be then, 3D platformers or 3rd person stealth-shooters?

I guess it all boils down to is what do you think defines a 3D platformer? Why would a game like Splinter Cell or Heretic2 be great while Rayman would suck? When you look at the gameplay experience and mechanics they could be seen as very similar.

A platformer is a game where there are many opportunities to fall from a great height.

I’d say the gameplay ought to revolve pretty heavily around jumping for it to be a “platformer,” though I haven’t played any of the newer 3D ones. Except Rayman 2. There was a fair amount of jumping in that one, I think.

It is said that Donkey Kong inaugurated the platform genre. What other early prototypes were there? Pitfall? (No platforms, but some jumping.) Lode Runner? (No jumping, but lots of platforms.) Jumpan…