• Before making a single edit, Tropedia EXPECTS our site policy and manual of style to be followed. Failure to do so may result in deletion of contributions and blocks of users who refuse to learn to do so. Our policies can be reviewed here.
  • All images MUST now have proper attribution, those who neglect to assign at least the "fair use" licensing to an image may have it deleted. All new pages should use the preloadable templates feature on the edit page to add the appropriate basic page markup. Pages that don't do this will be subject to deletion, with or without explanation.
  • All new trope pages will be made with the "Trope Workshop" found on the "Troper Tools" menu and worked on until they have at least three examples. The Trope workshop specific templates can then be removed and it will be regarded as a regular trope page after being moved to the Main namespace. THIS SHOULD BE WORKING NOW, REPORT ANY ISSUES TO Janna2000, SelfCloak or RRabbit42. DON'T MAKE PAGES MANUALLY UNLESS A TEMPLATE IS BROKEN, AND REPORT IT THAT IS THE CASE. PAGES WILL BE DELETED OTHERWISE IF THEY ARE MISSING BASIC MARKUP.


WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic
File:SCastle 6650.jpg

Thinner Mario, Comparatively Less Thin Adventure!

While some games can be nothing but sprite graphics or Polygonal Graphics, some games mix them up.

This is usually for technical reasons. Polygon graphics had been around for years, but it wasn't until the 90s that extensive polygon graphics would be practical and affordable for mass market games, but just barely. Polygon count, texture resolution, shading, mapping, etc. were very limited at the time, at least for systems people could actually afford.

It was possible to make everything out of polygons (save for things like the HUD), but only with certain types of games, and they still had to make some sacrifices (like an extremely limited color depth in the textures). This trope is about games that relied on a combination of sprites and polygon models to get the most details in one scene.

This is usually in the form of fully 3-D areas, with heavily scaling and rotating sprites as characters and/or objects, or full-screen bitmaps used as the backgrounds with polygon models in the foreground.

Earlier games with 3D environments containing sprites had very obvious limitations; single-sided sprites in a 3D arena, for example, will appear to rotate to face the player as they move around. One solution to create a pseudo-3D sprite object with a high level of detail is to use two sprites, arranged at right angles. This looks moderately okay from every angle, but not very good from any; this is particularly true if it can be viewed from above, where it will look like a letter x made of single-pixel lines. This is sometimes still used for grass and other insubstantial-yet-complex plant life that will need to be repeated extensively, especially if it needs to be semi-transparent. Another method is to map a partially transparent texture to the outside of a sphere or cylinder; this allows the object to be viewed from all sides without requiring it to be modelled in detail.

Systems from the Sega Dreamcast onward (with the exception of the DS, which is in the same class as the fifth generation) have largely dropped this, due to the huge polygon counts allowing full 3-D models of even the smallest objects, and have the texture resolution to show the detail of those objects. Some extremely complex effects such as smoke, explosions and fire are normally still rendered as two-dimensional objects; this is hardly surprising, as even big-budget CGI movies tend to use practical effects rather than attempt to simulate these. This trope does continue in spirit in even the latest games, with 2D effects being used in place of more complex geometry; bump and normal mapping both operate by using a 2D image to add detail to a 3D object without using additional polygons.

It should be noted that the horizon and the sky in even recent games are usually pre-rendered and then drawn onto the interior of a cylinder, sphere, or hemisphere, since it would be an unnecessary waste of processing power to create such distant objects as level geometry. Effects such as snow and rain are usually also achieved this way, by creating a series of concentric cylinders with an animated rain effect mapped to them, which are centred on the player's position.

Can overlap with Video Game 3D Leap, Digitized Sprites.

Examples of Sprite Polygon Mix include:

Early non-examples:

  • Most pre-Quake FPSs had an appearance consistant with this trope, but technically do not qualify since their environments did not use polygon meshes to create walls. They used various methods to create pseudo-3D backgrounds, with enemies, powerups and decorations being scaled sprites. Doom, for example, used a texture fill method similar to 3D extrude functions to give a totally flat map an illusion of height, though the engine had no meaningful Z axis and did not use polygon meshes. Some later examples used voxels (I.E.: Build engine games) or polygons (I.E.: Dark Forces) for some objects as well.

2D foregrounds, 3D backgrounds:

  • Most early flight sims used a combination of polygon objects and sprite effects; cockpit displays were completely 2D, and effects like smoke and explosions the same. Examples include F-29 Retaliator and Gunship 2000.
  • Descent was the ancestor of true 3D shooters, and was notable in that, while its enemies and levels were rendered in 3D with polygons, all powerups and items, as well as some weapon effects, were rendered with sprites.
  • Quake was the first traditional First-Person Shooter to be in full 3D, and showcased many concepts that were impossible in the pseudo-3D engines that had gone before; rooms above rooms, spiral staircases, enemies leaping, swimming and so on. It still mixed in sprites for some explosive effects, which were always scaled and facing the camera. This is replicated in only some later games, although Unreal used both a polygon and a sprite-style explosion the expansion pack. Unusually, some of these earlier games had 3D fire effects in torches and similar; as the general level of detail in games climbed, however, it became clear that equally convincing 3D fire would not be feasible.
    • Well, not completely impossible. Marathon had a pseudo-3D engine, but was capable of having rooms above rooms, or even rooms that were distinct, yet occupied the same 'space' as each other.
    • Duke Nukem 3D has this kind of alien geometry as well, only in several levels the developers went all out and used it on purpose to create 720 degree circles and similar stunts.
    • Note that these were tricks. The engine would never really have rooms above other rooms; things like invisible teleporters and unseen horizontal space changes were used to give the rooms-above-rooms illusion.
    • Rise of the Triad was in fact the first game to have not just room-over-room but level over level within a room, allowing for full multi-level firefights and actions.
    • An interesting variation: the N64 version of Duke Nukem 3D featured some things, such as explosion effects, being rendered in polygons while the enemies and weapons were all still sprites. These new polygon effects were not present in the original PC version of the game.
  • Star Fox. Yes, the SNES one, and it was probably the earliest console example: the much-touted Super FX chip built into its cartridge is basically the first console 3D accelerator. Low poly count, but polys nonetheless. Explosions, ejected reptilian pilots, and asteroids were all sprites overlaid with Mode 7.
  • In Super Mario 64, trees are sprites, while most other parts of the environment are polygons.
    • The coins were sprites too, although you can't tell that easily given that they constantly rotate. Also, anything spherical- Bob-Ombs, those cannonballs that roll around in the first main level, and the water spiders.
    • Mario 64 also featured an inversion of this trope, where a 3D effect was used to create a 2D effect. This was the mirror room; rather than use light sourcing and surface properties to create a mirrored surface, the room itself is mirrored and bisected by a transparent wall where the mirror is supposed to be. A second Mario is placed in the other side of the room and mirrors the player's control input.
      • Taken to an extreme in the DS re-release, where the player could grab a Power Flower in the room while controlling Luigi, allowing him to go through the mirror. This is required to get to Chief Chilly Challenge and unlock Wario.
  • Turok 2 featured an interesting graphical glitch that showed how the sprites were scaled; the game measured the distance from player object to sprite to figure out how large the sprite should be on-screen. Unfortunately, it had no way to compensate for the sniper zoom, meaning a 2D effect will appear to shrink as you zoom in and grow as you zoom out.
  • Grandia I
  • Wild Arms 2
  • Mega Man Legends and its sequel and prequel
    • Also from the Mega Man franchise, Maverick Hunter X. Beautiful 3D renders of everything about the SNES original...except the spikes (they're even pixillated!). Elements of the backgrounds (e.g. the jets in Storm Eagle's stage) are obviously 2D as well, so this example could fit in any of the other sections of this trope. Course, it is an action game on PSP, which only has so much memory to spend on moving/exploding objects...
  • Mario Kart 64 and DS - In the former, practically everything that wasn't background was 2-D, including the playable characters and their karts. In the DS game, however, the characters were given proper (albeit lowpoly) 3-D models.
  • Dragon Quest VII, and the remakes of IV, V and VI
  • Klonoa: Door to Phantomile
  • Xenogears
  • Paper Mario series, whose very title lampshades it, though The trope isn't quite as prominent as it might seem. The only things that are really 2D are the items and "sky" boxes.The characters and some scenery just have their models flattened out like the Game and Watch example further down.
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has a few polygon backgrounds or objects, notably the clock tower before Dracula, and the save points.
    • If you're emulating the game, with certain settings, you REALLY notice the difference between the "duller" sprites and the "sharper" 3D effects. Which, ironically, in some cases makes the effects look even more awesome. But note that they simply took the sprite graphics and put them on polygons in some cases, causing the "dull" images themselves to become "sharp".
  • The original Tales of Destiny overworld engine, used by Destiny and the Phantasia remake. Used the in-town sprites laid on a 3-D globe.
    • The entirety of Tales of Hearts is like this.
    • The tree part happened to also apply to Quest 64.
  • Most pickups in Ocarina of Time were also sprites, but also had polygon equivalents for display in shops and when items are first picked up.
  • Most Nippon Ichi Tactical RPGs from La Pucelle onwards use sprite characters on 3-D maps.
  • Breath of Fire 3 is notable in that the textures on the backgrounds made many mistake the background for also being bitmapped at first.
    • Breath of Fire 4 used the same engine, but with even better details on the polygon backgrounds.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
    • Especially noticeable on forest maps, when you rotate the camera and see that the trees look more like pairs of intersecting cardboard cutouts.
  • Many early 3D Real Time Strategy games, such as Populous: The Beginning
    • The War Games RTS game had buildings, vehicles and mechs in full 3D, but all infantry units were sprites, presumably because making detailed 3D models of suitable size would have been a waste of resources. It resulted in many players not using infantry at all simply because using mechanized units was so much more pleasing to the eye. See this screenshot.
  • Ragnarok Online
  • Umihara Kawase Shun uses polygonal platforms but everything else, the rest of the background included, is sprites.
  • Mischief Makers used sprite objects, but polygonal levels. To make things more confusing, the sprites were clearly based off of 3D models. The effect was... Interesting. The game was awesome, anyway.
  • Tomb Raider 1 and 2 used extensive use of sprites for pickup objects and small plants and furniture. They were of the "Same appearance from every angle" variety, leading to a little bit of Nightmare Fuel in the first game with a screaming skull object wrapped in vines that always stared right at you. In later games, every item is in full 3D.
    • What's especially odd about this is that the pickups that used sprites when seen in the overworld were rendered in full 3D in the inventory.
  • Star Wars: Rogue Squadron used animated 2D sprites to render Stormtroopers on the ground in this arcade style flightsim.
  • Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings does this for most of the game... and the quickenings are sprite-FMV mixes.
  • Medieval: Total War
  • Super Smash Bros. was a 3D-rendered game with numerous sprites, including nearly all items and projectiles. Some of these, such as the shields or flames, would always face you (even if you paused and moved the camera around), while others, such as Fox's laser and the lasersword could be looked at from different angles, revealing them to be entirely flat.
    • Mr. Game and Watch is a subversion. He is a 3D model animated and flattened to appear 2D. This very same technique is applied on the Flat Zone stage.
  • The Battlefield series of shooters until Battlefield 2 all use right-angled sprites for tall grass and other concealment. This is a rude awakening for novice snipers, who happily park themselves in tall grass on hills and plink at distant enemies, unaware that they are not only visible but sitting on a giant X, from the perspective of aircraft.
    • Battlefield 2 had a minor use of this: weapons were normally polygon models, but when aiming down their sights they would become sprites.
  • The 4th (Diamond, Pearl and Platinum; HeartGold and SoulSilver) and 5th (Black and White) generation Pokémon games use a 3D environment, but 2D sprites for the characters, Pokémon, and certain objects.
  • The old 3D Maze screensaver for Windows: Even though it's not a video game, the maze and multifaceted things that turn the viewer upside down are 3D, while the Start button, the random hovering Open GL text, the happy face at the finish, and the roaming mice are sprites of the "same appearance from every angle" variety.
    • This results in mice always facing right, which can cause them to seem to walk backwards or sideways despite the optional maze overlay showing otherwise.
  • Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Capcom vs. SNK 2 and Blaz Blue have sprite characters on 3D backgrounds. It actually looks pretty cool.
    • Keeping with fighting games in general, The King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match and 2002 Unlimited Match have this. While 98 UM features 3D variants of its originally 2D stages, 2002 UM has totally different backgrounds.
    • The same is true for the majority of the console ports of the KOF series, with the Play Station 2 edition of 2001 having almost completely redesigned stages in comparison to its arcade and Neogeo counterpart.
  • Rayman 2 has pickups made from sprites. In the Playstation 2 port (titled Rayman Revolution), however, the pickups are now full polygon models.
  • The crowd in wrestling games past the first few lines of seats around the ring, still used to this day even if usually pushed back to far rows, some can still be found right in front of the camera during entrances or victory pose such as in Legend Of Wrestlemania on ps3. These, in this case, are not oriented to the camera but in their seat direction which can allow the player to see them as being made out of cardboard so to speak.
  • Legend of Mana featured detailed bitmaps for backgrounds and very detailed sprites, but used the polygon processing power to stretch and distort characters when they would dash or shove characters. Beyond that, when using a magic spell that affects a field, while charging the spell, polygons would outline the area of effect.
  • Beyond the Beyond used this during the battle sequences. It was very painful to watch, since it still used sprite flipping.
  • This screenshot perfectly sums up where the Revival of NBA Jam is placed in this list.
  • Psychonauts uses this when Raz uses his Clairvoyance power on a friendly character; whenever Raz appears in the other character's view, whatever he or she sees Raz as appears as a 2D sprite in place of Raz's 3D model.
    • Also, Figments are 2D objects, which can make them hard to see if they're at an angle.
  • Done for stylistic purposes in Parappa the Rapper. The characters are paper-thin, cartoonish beings, while the rest of the world is three-dimensional and semi-realistic.
  • Clay Fighter 63⅓ had polygonal backgrounds, but the characters were sprites - sprites that had been done with Claymation. Very strange blend.
  • Games like Lander and Zeewolf used polygons for landscapes and objects, but sprite effects.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4. The characters are prerendered polygon sprites.
  • The Touhou series uses this in some stages, with 3D backgrounds while using sprites for the player and all enemies.
  • GoldenEye and Perfect Dark used 3d models for everything... except explosions, which were still sprites.
  • The Bit.Trip games. The scenery and objects are 3D voxel models, yet most of the characters are Atari2600-like sprites.
  • Many older racing games used "always facing you" sprites for objects such as trees.
  • Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and the PC and PSP versions of Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. The Play Station 2 version of the latter had 3D characters.
  • In Cross Edge and Record of Agarest War, all backgrounds are polygonal, and your playable characters and some of the enemies are rendered as sprites. Most larger foes use 3D models instead.
  • All distant trees in Just Cause 2 are flat sprites; it's usually not too obvious unless you're flying in a helicopter over a forest, in which case the trees will visibly rotate as you pass them.
  • Delta Force: Land Warrior used sprites for all its weapons, meaning playing multiplayer or going into third-person mode would allow you to witness a fully-3D soldier carrying an otherwise fully-detailed gun that was only one pixel wide.
  • Virtual Hydlide rendered characters, items and trees as sprites over polygonal backgrounds.
  • Eternal Eyes
  • Hoshigami Ruining Blue Earth
  • Strider 2

2D backgrounds, 3D foregrounds:

  • Handled extremely well in New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros Wii.
  • The original Alone in The Dark trilogy, providing the template for most later Survival Horror games.
  • Resident Evil through Resident Evil 3 Nemesis, Resident Evil 0, and parts of Resident Evil Outbreak.
  • Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX
    • They also had a few cases of FMV backgrounds, mainly in the form of the character running into a scene and it turning from bitmap to FMV.
    • The Chaos Rings series are more recent Square Enix RPGs with the same style.
  • Parasite Eve and Parasite Eve 2.
  • Legend of Dragoon
  • Shadow Madness
  • Inside most non-dungeon buildings, the whole of Castle Town and the courtyard from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, there were entirely pre-rendered 360-degree environments with the camera fixed at a point (and inside buildings a secondary view from above), with polygon-rendered characters on top of it. The game hid parts of character models and faked perspective to allow it to appear as if Link was walking into the background and behind parts of it; these days, the resulting effect looks very weird.
  • Baten Kaitos has several (very bizarre) pre-rendered landscapes.
  • Troika's computerization of the Temple of Elemental Evil module uses 3D character models on top of 2D backgrounds, and looks stunningly beautiful as a result.
  • Total Annihilation
    • It's something of a subversion, since the terrain is a 2D image overlaid on a proper 3D heightmap, and the units are plain sprites, onto which 3D models are rendered. This is most obvious with very large units, like the fan-made Beelzebub, which can get clipped against sprite edges at certain angles.
  • Galaxian³ and its spinoff, Attack of the Zolgear used FMV backgrounds and polygonal foregrounds.
  • Regular stages in Sonic Rush Series and its sequel. The rest of the games are all polygonal.
  • Grim Fandango and the fourth Monkey Island game. Grim Fandango evoked the angular style of traditional Mexican folk art to effectively compensate for its polygonal appearance, but EfMI garnered criticism for abandoning the Disney-like cartooning used in its predecessor.
  • Commandos 2 & 3. 3 had entirely 3D indoor areas, but the outdoors were still 2D.
  • Aversion: As noted above, nearly all polygonal games leave the sky up to good old bitmaps. The great wisdom of this practice is illustrated by games like Quake and Deus Ex, which have an incredibly ugly sky made of one or more layers of giant polygons.
    • Skies used in modern games are, in fact, polygonal spheres or cubes without lighting, textured with images of the sky and other background elements.
    • Quake also has very ugly polygon flames when compared to the natural-looking (except from above) flames of Unreal.
      • Unreal's flames aren't sprites but rather two flat polygons at 90 degress of each other with a flame texture on it.
  • Soma Bringer, with some minor cell shading thrown in.
  • NiGHTS Into Dreams had this, with the chips, topians, and enemies being bitmaps to boot.
  • Little Big Adventure had polygonal characters on a bitmap-based landscape in isometric perscpective.
  • Chrono Cross
  • Super Smash Bros also managed to use sprite backgrounds for each stage.
  • The original Shadow Hearts was probably the only Play Station 2 game to resort to this, and even then only because it was initially developed with the original Playstation in mind.
  • A non-game example: Microsoft 3D Movie Maker used bitmap backgrounds with a built in depth map so that you could place 3D models anywhere in the scene and have them appear properly occluded by foreground objects.
    • Averted when people started making their own backgrounds by combining 3D objects together.
  • The titular dancing Elite Beat Agents are rendered in 3D during gameplay, but the rest of the game (backgrounds included) is hand-drawn.
  • Also used in Odium (originally Gorky17), where it was painfully obvious.
  • The original Backyard Baseball.
  • Honorable mention to Mega Man X2. It had a similar chip to the Super FX built in, but it was used to render vector models over the sprite backgrounds, many of which were at least in spirit wireframe models, though untextured and monochrome. Mega Man X3 also used the chip, though it had the same limitations.
  • Dino Crisis 2.
  • Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 had pseudo-isometric backgrounds/buildings and voxel 3D vehicles.
    • The N64 port of the original game had 3D models for buildings and vehicles, but kept sprites for infantry.
  • The Sega CD remake of Silpheed used a rather odd method; while it appeared to have a polygon foreground and background, the background was actually a pre-rendered FMV, essentially having the whole game take place on top of a rolling Cutscene. Some games such as Microcosm belong in the section below for using sprites on top of the rolling pre-rendered FMV instead.
  • The Fear Effect games also used FMV backgrounds and 3D characters.
  • Older 3D fighting games, such as the first few Tekken games, used 2d backgrounds.
  • The first installment of The Sims used 3D characters on top of isometric 2D backgrounds.
  • Again, the first Star Fox game, but this time it was the planet/space scenery backgrounds which were fully 2D, with some tilting and occasional distortion effects. The ground had to appear especially featureless so it would stand in as any generic ground.

Mixed and Other

  • In Radiant Silvergun:, the 3D, 2D and pseudo 3D was all over the place. Both 2D and 3D of them can be found in foreground and background.
  • Deliberately done in Darwinia. Darwinians, basic virii and many other objects are 2D sprites while rest of the environment is 3D.
  • A rather bizarre example in World of Warcraft, which has a stack of cannonballs scenery object that is made up of rendered polygonal cannonballs displayed as sprites.
    • Many weapons in the game have little embellishments on their hilts (small pieces of cloth, a ball tied to a string, so on) that are sprites of the "same angle no matter where you look" variety.
  • Viewtiful Joe is a rather prominent example, with 3D characters and backgrounds and 2D props, pickups and occasionally enemies scattered throughout.
  • The 3D game Bug!! and its sequel Bug Too! had 3D platforms and terrain, while the characters and Mooks were 3D rendered sprites.
  • The Ace Attorney series consists of 2d sprite-based visual novels, however some of the games let you view certain pieces of evidence in 3D.
  • In many of Valve's games like Half Life and Left 4 Dead, nearly everything is rendered in polygons, but plant objects like shrubs and clumps of grass are rendered as sprites.
    • In Half-Life, those aren't sprites, but rather extremely (1 unit) thin boxes with a plant texture on the 2 big sides and an invisible texture for the thin ones.
  • Azure Dreams had pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds.
  • In CTR, as well as in the other Naughty Dog Crash games, a lot of objects, such as the smoke billowing out of pipes, or the Wumpa fruit are sprites of Polygon models. In CTR, the wheels of the karts were all sprites, which made the invisibility powerup much easier to code, just turn the Polygon layer invisible, and let the sprites stay where they are.
  • The first three Inazuma Eleven games have both 2D sprites and mugshots and 3D models of characters. Closer-up camera angles use the 3D models, while distant angles use 2D. Backgrounds are also 3D except for directly-overhead camera angles, which use a 2D background for the ground or floor.
  • The backgrounds in Skullgirls are a mostly of 2D art but laid out on a flat polygonal plane in some cases.