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Sprite/Polygon Mix

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It's your brave, 2-D sprite heroes against this fully textured, 3-D dragon!

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

This is usually for technical reasons (as the difference between polygons and sprites is usually obvious). 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. Even in those days, polygon counts, 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. (Combining sprites and polygons was made practical by the technical fact that most video game systems since the PlayStation use the same video processing chip to render both, and usually make no distinction between 2D sprites and flat polygonal objects that are always positioned to face forward.)

There are two forms of this: building the background areas as 3D scenes, with heavily scaling and rotating sprites as characters/objects (a technique called "billboarding"). Alternatively, games would use full-screen bitmaps as the backgrounds, with characters and objects built as polygon models in the foreground.

Billboarding faced a problem. Since the environment itself is 3D, the environment could theoretically be viewed from any angle. But sprites are generally designed to only look reasonable from a particular direction. Games used a variety of tools to work around this limitation.

One tool was to restrict the camera to pan, tilt, and zoom, without rotation. Thus, the camera could slide sideways and up/down, but never change the angle of view for sprites.

Another tool was to only use this for sprites that would look "correct" when viewed from any angle. The only such object for which this would even remotely be true would be perfect spheres. Even sphere-like objects can show problems, since any lighting effects applied to the sprite would not properly shift as the camera moves around. Even so, this worked well enough for games of the era, like the rolling spheres in Super Mario 64.

Other games developed a plethora of sprites, all drawn (or pre-rendered) from different viewing angles. The game simply selects which sprite to draw based on which direction it is being viewed from.

Another 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.

And sometimes, games would just accept the limitations of their day, having an obviously non-spherical object constantly facing the camera.

Systems from the Sega Dreamcast onward (with the exception of the DS, which is more or less equivalent to the 5th 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 centered on the player's position.

Can overlap with Video Game 3D Leap, Digitized Sprites. Compare 2D Visuals, 3D Effects, where obvious CGI elements are used in otherwise 2D animation.


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    Early non-examples 
  • Most pre-Quake FPSs have an appearance consistent with this trope, but technically do not qualify since their environments do not use polygon meshes (as defined today) to create walls. They use various methods to create pseudo-3D backgrounds, with enemies, powerups and decorations being scaled sprites. Doom, for example, uses a texture fill method similar to 3D extrude functions to give an otherwise flat map an illusion of height, though the engine does not use polygon meshes (save for advanced source ports which otherwise use them for characters). Some later examples use 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 use a combination of polygon objects and sprite effects; cockpit displays are completely 2D, and effects like smoke and explosions the same. Examples include F-29 Retaliator and Gunship 2000.
  • System Shock had a pretty slick engine that not only had elements not usually possible in a pseudo-3D game (such as sloped walls and being able to stack multiple corridors on top of each other), but had real 3D objects that could be pushed around and destroyed (this being 1994, the game required a monstrously advanced computer to run at its prettiest settings). For the sake of performance, though, enemies and small objects such as guns are 2D sprites, and the HUD and environment itself are 2D.
  • Descent is the ancestor of true 3D shooters, and is notable in that, while its enemies and levels are rendered in 3D with polygons, all powerups and items, as well as some weapon effects, are rendered with sprites.
  • Quake is the first traditional First-Person Shooter to be in full 3D, and showcases many concepts that are impossible in the pseudo-3D engines that went before; rooms above rooms, spiral staircases, enemies leaping, swimming and so on. It still mixes in sprites for some explosive effects, which are always scaled and facing the camera. This is replicated in only some later games, although Unreal uses both a polygon and a sprite-style explosion in the expansion pack. Unusually, some of these earlier games have 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 has a pseudo-3D engine, but is capable of having rooms above rooms, or even rooms that are distinct, yet occupy 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 uses it on purpose to create 720 degree circles and similar stunts.
    • Dark Forces was based on the Doom Game Engine and it incorporated many of these effects as well, including spiral staircases, moving platforms, rooms above rooms, the ability to aim above and below as well as jump and crouch.
    • The later released game Outlaws, was based on a modified Dark Forces engine and went further with multi-storied buildings, catwalks above rooms, and the ability to swim.
      • Note that these are tricks. The engine never really has rooms above other rooms; things like invisible teleporters and unseen horizontal space changes are used to give the rooms-above-rooms illusion.
      • An interesting variation: the Nintendo 64 version of Duke Nukem 3D features some things, such as explosion effects, being rendered in polygons while the enemies and weapons are all still sprites. These new polygon effects are not present in the original PC version of the game.
  • Star Fox features the much-touted Super FX chip built into its cartridge, which is basically the first console 3D accelerator. Low poly count, but polys nonetheless. Explosions, ejected reptilian pilots, and asteroids are all sprites overlaid with Mode 7.
  • The Legendary Starfy on DS uses this, with surprising success. Gameplay is on the 2D plane, while backgrounds and certain bosses use 3D models, but somehow the 3D and 2D blend seamlessly, to the point where it's very difficult to tell them apart.
    • Most DS games can get away with this easily, due to the console's small screen and low resolution.
  • Super Mario 64:
    • The trees are billboarded sprites, while most other parts of the environment are polygons.
    • The coins are billboarded sprites too, although this is camouflaged—a 2D animation of a spinning coin is used to create the illusion of the coins being 3D objects. They were changed to 3D models in the DS version, which is why they seem to rotate more smoothly, but are less round.
    • Anything spherical is a sprite: Bob-Ombs, those cannonballs that roll around in the first main level, and the Skeeters.
    • Mario 64 also features an inversion of this trope, where a 3D effect is used to create a 2D effect. This is 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. This is actually a commonly used trick in games even today; it allows realistic reflections without resorting to framebuffer effects (which are limited by the internal render resolution and look pixellated up close), non-dynamic reflection mapping, or hardware-intensive real-time raytracing. However, it only works with flat mirrors. Taken to an extreme in the DS re-release, where the player can 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 features an interesting graphical glitch that shows how the sprites are scaled; the game measures the distance from player object to sprite to figure out how large the sprite should be on-screen. Unfortunately, it has 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 features a 3D world populated by characters represented with 2D sprites. Battles on the other hand took place on flat image backgrounds with 3D effects used for spells.
  • Guardian Tales uses this to invoke nostalgia onto its players - your team of characters, the enemies, findable weapons, and drops from chests are all 2d sprites that have 4 possible angles, but the environment is full 3D. Both the small screen due to this being a mobile phone game and also both the sprites and the environment being cartoonish help.
  • Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X features 3D renders of everything from 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. It is an action game on PSP, which only has so much memory to spend on moving/exploding objects...
  • Mario Kart 64 - Practically everything that isn't background is 2-D, including the playable characters and their karts.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • The PlayStation and Nintendo DS remakes of IV, V and VI feature 2D characters and 3D environments which can be rotated 360 degrees.
    • Dragon Quest VII: With the sprites rendered in classic Toriyama-style 2D looking very much like upgraded Dragon Quest VI sprites as well as 3D backgrounds and attacks... it can look a bit... style-breaking.
    • Dragon Quest IX is mostly 3D, but most minor NPCs are 2D sprites.
  • Klonoa: Door to Phantomile uses sprites on 3D environments; it then proceeds to make the most of this, having enemies and obstacles in the foreground and background, or paths that bent around in all sorts of directions, even looping around in some instances.
  • Xenogears has aged particularly poorly, due to the low quality of sprites rendering them messy blobs of pixels even at normal camera angles, though the 3D elements have held up better than other contemporary examples.
  • Paper Mario series, whose very title lampshades it. It's in full effect in the first game and Sticker Star, but in the other games, the only things that are really 2D are the items and skyboxes. The characters and some scenery are just 2D sprites on flat polygon frameworks, 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, the Books That Bite in the Long Library, and the save points. If you're emulating the game, with certain settings, you can really notice the difference between the "duller" sprites and the "sharper" 3D effects.
  • The original Tales of Destiny overworld engine, used by Destiny and the Phantasia remake, uses the in-town sprites laid on a 3-D globe.
  • The WarGames RTS game has buildings, vehicles and mechs in full 3D, but all infantry units are sprites, presumably because making detailed 3D models of suitable size would have been a waste of resources. It results in many players not using infantry at all simply because using mechanized units is so much more pleasing to the eye. See this screenshot.
  • Ragnarok Online uses cartoony sprites for all characters and enemies, in 3D environments.
  • Umihara Kawase Shun uses polygonal platforms but everything else, the rest of the background included, is sprites.
  • Mischief Makers uses sprite objects, but polygonal levels. To make things more confusing, the sprites are clearly based off of 3D models. The effect is... interesting.
  • Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider II use sprites for pickup objects and level decorations. They are billboarded, leading to a little bit of Nightmare Fuel in the first game with a screaming skull object wrapped in vines that always stares right at you. Starting from Tomb Raider III, everything, including pickups, is in full 3D.
    • What's especially odd about this is that the pickups that use sprites when seen in the overworld are rendered in full 3D in the inventory.
  • Star Wars: Rogue Squadron uses 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.
  • The first two games in the Total War series. Rome: Total War introduces full 3D graphics, although units are still rendered as sprites when viewed from a great distance.
  • Super Smash Bros.. (N64) is a 3D-rendered game with numerous sprites, including nearly all items and projectiles. Some of these, such as the shields or flames, will always face you (even if you pause and move the camera around), while others, such as Fox's laser and the lasersword can be looked at from different angles, revealing them to be entirely flat. All this was done to let the game run at 60FPS, so it's an acceptable tradeoff. In all Smash games as well as most other games directed by Sakurai, food always appears as 2D sprites instead of 3D models.
    • Mr. Game & Watch is a subversion. He appears to be a 2D sprite, but he is in fact a fully 3D model with no thickness and several animation sprites (which the game engine calculates his flat player model from in real time), giving a flat 2D look, which is emphasized by the fact that the camera does not angle during normal gameplay. On the Flat Zone and Pac-Land stages, all 3D player models are somehow flattened into 2D "sprites" in the same manner.
  • 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 has a minor use of this: weapons are normally polygon models, but when aiming down their sights they become sprites, albeit ones so well-detailed that, except for the US Spec Ops' M4A1 (which magically loses its front sight while staring through its red dot scope), it's nearly impossible to tell.
    • Most shooters still use this for sniper rifles, replacing the 3D weapon model with a 2D scope overlay. Only a handful of games in recent years, like Killing Floor and Call of Duty: Ghosts, have sniper scopes properly magnify only their own image like a real-world one, rather than faking it by zooming in your entire field of view.
  • The 4th (Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, HeartGold/SoulSilver) and 5th (Black/White, Black 2/White 2) generation Pokémon games use a 3D environment, but 2D sprites for the characters, Pokémon, and certain objects. This is most apparent in the 5th Generation, where you would have places like Castelia City, which featured curving roads and structures, while your PC would remain flat, looking only in one of the four cardinal directions.
  • In the old 3D Maze screensaver for Windows, the maze and multifaceted things that turn the viewer upside down are in 3D, while the Start button, the random hovering Open GL text, the happy face at the finish, and the roaming mice are flat sprites that look the same from every angle. 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: Mark of the Millennium, and BlazBlue have sprite characters on 3D backgrounds. It actually looks pretty cool.
  • Rayman 2: The Great Escape 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, which gets especially silly in games where you can actually crawl over the divider into the fan's seats and watch said cardboard cutout fans slide away from you.
  • Legend of Mana features detailed bitmaps for backgrounds and very detailed sprites, but uses the polygon processing power to stretch and distort characters when they dash or shove characters. Beyond that, when using a magic spell that affects a field, while charging the spell, polygons outline the area of effect.
  • Beyond the Beyond uses this during the battle sequences. It is very painful to watch, since it still uses 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.
  • ClayFighter 63⅓ has polygonal backgrounds, but the characters are sprites... sprites that are done with claymation. Very strange blend.
  • Games like Lander and Zeewolf use polygons for landscapes and objects, but sprite effects.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is an interesting mix of various elements. The characters, bosses, and enemies are prerendered polygon sprites; but various game objects such as rings, bumpers, and springs are 3D models. The level background are also 3D, while the foreground assets are in 2D. On top of that, the old iPhone version for the game actually uses a (relatively low-polygon) 3D model of Sonic.
  • The Touhou series uses this in some stages, with 3D backgrounds while using sprites for the player and all enemies.
  • GoldenEye and Perfect Dark use 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 Atari 2600-like sprites.
  • Many older racing games use "always facing you" sprites for objects such as trees.
  • Nihon Falcom:
  • 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 uses sprites for all its weapons in first-person mode. This is particularly odd in that not only did the first two Delta Force games have proper 3D models for its guns (if not particularly animated ones), but Land Warrior also has actual 3D models for other characters or viewing yourself in third-person.
  • Virtual Hydlide has characters, items and trees rendered as sprites over polygonal backgrounds.
  • Gradius IV has polygonal backgrounds that clash awkwardly with the old-fashioned 2D sprites. Gradius V has a more consistently 3D look, though the gameplay remains 2D.
  • Minecraft
    • Dropped non-block items were presented as billboarded sprites before version 1.4.6. After this version, 2D sprites are used only in Fast graphics mode, while in Fancy graphics mode, items are 3D models. Dropped block items are rotating 3D models of the blocks in all versions.
    • Saplings and other flora are textures mapped to an X-shaped model, giving the illusion of an intricate 3D model. The texture "flips" depending on what side of the plant the player is facing. This can be jarring if looked at closely, but in normal gameplay it is not noticeable at all. Looking at wheat, carrots, potatoes or sugarcane from above shows a # shape, four overlapped sprites.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker uses 2D sprites to represent smoke or dust (other particles are rendered with a true particle system). What's interesting about the sprites used to represent dust is that the sprites appear to be lit by the lighting engine in real-time, giving the appearance of a 3D model.
  • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team uses 3D polygons for real-world scenery, Luigi and Starlow during dream sequences, battle backgrounds, and a few other effects, and 2D sprites for everything else.
  • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is similar: 3D graphics for background scenery, papercraft battles, and the final boss, and sprites for everything else.
  • Utilized in DuckTales Remastered. Characters are 2D images, but the background and most items are made up of polygons.
  • Rakugaki Showtime uses this mixture to deliberately garish effect. While the backgrounds are fairly standard 3D, the character sprites are crude pencil drawings surrounded by huge opaque borders.
  • Disney's Hercules Action Game rather awkwardly has 2D cel-animated characters amid 3D scenery and enemies.
  • Killer Instinct Gold for the Nintendo 64 used 3D rendered backgrounds instead of the pre-rendered ones in Killer Instinct 2. This was because the latter used videos that were streamed from a hard drive in the arcade board that couldn't fit in the N64's cartridge format.
  • Willy Wombat. The crystals are especially blatant as sprites, since they're only drawn from one angle.
  • Shinrei Jusatsushi Taroumaru: Many backgrounds and a few bosses have polygonal features, but otherwise player and enemy character graphics are entirely sprite-based.
  • The first two Test Drive parts started out with this mixture. The tracks themselves were made of untextured polygons. The cars were pixel sprites drawn — in various sizes since 1980s hardware didn't allow for quick scaling of pixel graphics — from the front and the rear end for use on the tracks and, except for police and traffic cars, from the left. Also, the dashboard and the steering wheel of the player's car were done in quite gorgeous photo-realistic pixel graphics. Considering what racing games looked like before Test Drive, it's clear that this was easily the best-looking and most realistic racing game of its time. Nonetheless, it ran on an Amiga 500.
  • Shantae: In the later games, most friendly characters, enemies, and bosses are rendered as 2D sprites on 3D-rendered backgrounds.
  • Square Enix coined an art style that they refer to as "HD-2D", which adds a Retraux aesthetic to the mix by rendering all the characters and creatures as SNES-style 16-bit sprites while the backgrounds and setpieces are rendered in full 3D, with modernized graphical and visual effects that react as if the characters are 3D objects. The style is used in multiple games, including:
  • Outlaws, made with the same engine as Dark Forces, features 3D environments inhabited by 2D sprites representing characters and items.
  • Much of MDK is presented as a 3D models, except for Kurt Hectic who is shown as a flat sprite drawn at a fixed distance from camera (if you rotate it into a wall, Kurt will pushed away from it, possibly even falling).
  • Persona 2 had 2D sprites for the characters, while the dungeons were 3D polygons. Early builds of Persona 3 also planned to use this style, before it was scrapped for fully 3D graphics.
  • Myth: The Fallen Lords was a rare Real-Time Strategy example. The world was fully 3D and included factors like elevation (and weather in the sequel), but units were rendered with sprites.

    2D backgrounds, 3D foregrounds 
  • Handled extremely well in the New Super Mario Bros. games — Mario and several enemies are the only 3D objects.
  • The first three Mario Party games, released on the Nintendo 64, have every board as a 2D graphic with 3D characters moving on top of it. Some minigames also have 2D backgrounds.
  • 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. The way the backgrounds in the early Resident Evil games work is that every room is a simple rectangle or box and textures are used to simulate a believable looking room, including doors (though the few doors that opened that were not a part of a loading screen were rendered as 3D objects). The effect is very noticeable if a monster is killed very close to a wall and their body appears to clip or float through the wall.
  • Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX use 2D backgrounds except for the world map, which is fully 3D. They also have 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 later Square Enix RPGs with the same style.
  • Parasite Eve and Parasite Eve 2 use background effects similar to Resident Evil.
  • The 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 are 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 hides parts of character models and faked perspective to allow it to appear as if Link were walking into the background and behind parts of it; these days, the resulting effect looks very weird, especially in emulators (because emulators can render the 3D objects in higher resolutions, but not 2D images), but it is still rather clever nonetheless, and is barely noticeable on the CRT's of the time. This was due to technical limitations, as the expansion-pack-utilizing follow-up Majora's Mask, and the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time, did away with pre-rendered interiors.
    • The 3DS remake even features a glitch that allows Link to warp anywhere with Farore's Wind. Under certain circumstances, if he warps to the areas around the Market, the camera will break and display the area from a regular behind-the-back view, just like any other area in the game. Suddenly the Temple of Time looks a lot more impressive.
  • 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 is 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 use FMV backgrounds and polygonal foregrounds.
  • All of the handheld platforming Sonic games on the DS (Sonic Rush, its sequel Rush Adventure, and the handheld version of Sonic Colors). Regular stages are in 2D, but Sonic/Blaze themselves and rare mechanics are depicted with polygonal models. Meanwhile, the boss stages, as well as the bosses themselves, are entirely in 3D. Subsequent Sonic games on the succeeding 3DS platform are entirely polygonal; although Generations 3DS and Lost World 3DS (strangely) use sprites for rings.
  • Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island. Grim Fandango evoke the angular style of traditional Mexican folk art to effectively compensate for its polygonal appearance, but Escape from Monkey Island garnered criticism for abandoning the Disney-like cartooning used in its predecessor.
  • Commandos 2 & 3. 3 have entirely 3D indoor areas, but the outdoors are 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. Note that Unreal's flames aren't sprites but rather two flat polygons at 90 degrees of each other with flame textures on them.
  • Soma Bringer, with some minor cel shading thrown in.
  • NiGHTS into Dreams… has this, with the chips, topians, and enemies being bitmaps to boot.
  • Little Big Adventure has polygonal characters on a bitmap-based landscape in isometric perspective.
  • Chrono Cross
  • Super Smash Bros. 64 also uses sprite backgrounds for each stage.
  • The original Shadow Hearts is probably the only PlayStation 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 uses bitmap backgrounds with a built in depth map so that you can 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 Gorky 17), where it was painfully obvious.
  • Honorable mention to Mega Man X2. It has a similar chip to the Super FX built in, but it was used to render vector models over the sprite backgrounds, many of which are at least in spirit wireframe models, though untextured and monochrome. Mega Man X3 also uses the chip, though it has the same limitations.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 have isometric backgrounds/buildings and voxel 3D vehicles.
    • The N64 port of the original game has 3D models for buildings and vehicles, but keep sprites for infantry.
  • The Sega CD remake of Silpheed uses a rather odd method; while it appears to have a polygon foreground and background, the background is actually a pre-rendered streaming video, essentially having the whole game take place on top of a rolling Cut Scene. 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 use FMV backgrounds and 3D characters.
  • Older 3D fighting games, such as the first few Tekken games, use 2D backgrounds.
  • The first installment of The Sims uses 3D characters on top of isometric 2D backgrounds and props.
  • In Star Fox, the planet/space scenery backgrounds are fully 2D, with some tilting and occasional distortion effects, overlaid with 3D models. The ground has to appear especially featureless so it would stand in as any generic ground. Also, although most of the objects were 3D, there were a few that were sprites using the SNES scaling, like the asteroids and some of the enemy fire.
  • Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 has polygonal ships and other enemies over flat-looking diagonal-scrolling backgrounds.
  • BioForge uses fully textured models for all characters and some items, and flat backgrounds. But, for example, the anti-aircraft gun is 3D rendered, but overlaid as flat animation frames.
  • The Sega Saturn game Shining Wisdom was originally going to be released on the Sega Mega Drive but was hurriedly ported to increase the number of titles on the system. The result is that the 2D backgrounds are the type of thing you would expect to see on the Mega Drive while the characters are 3D sprites that would later appear in Shining Force III.
  • BattleTanx and its sequel. The actual tanks and environments were 3D, but items and the Queen Lords (basically the flag in capture the flag maps) were very obvious sprites. This was pretty normal for a 1998 Nintendo 64 game.
  • Gearbox Software's Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! and Battleborn does this, but only for introducing NPCs and Boss characters. It is done as 2D text and background covering the normal background to produce a billboard effect.
  • The Castlevania games on Nintendo DS mostly use 2D sprites with a few 3D models for enemies. Of note is the Big Bad and Final Boss, Dracula, in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia; rather than a true One-Winged Angel form he goes polygonal and starts walking around to kick your ass instead of just teleporting around the place.
  • Gargoyles for the Sega Genesis features hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites for organic characters, such as Goliath and the Vikings, and pre-rendered, polygonal models for robotic characters like the Steel Clan.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: SuperSponge features 2D sprites for SpongeBob and his friends, the backgrounds are 2D, and some enemies and the foreground are rendered in 3D. However, early builds show that originally Patrick, Squidward, and everyone was rendered as 3D models.
  • The City of Lost Children used the PlayStation standard of polygonal characters moving on bitmap backgrounds.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: The Triforce in the intro is made of polygons, as are the crystals in which the maidens are imprisoned.
  • The titular character of Mr. Bones is a fully polygonal model superimposed on 2D backdrops (and the occasional Full Motion Video) with sprite-based enemies, and he's able to fluidly separate into individual bouncing bones and subsequently reconnect them.
  • In Viva Pińata: Pocket Paradise, the piñatas, characters, and produce are 3D models, while the backgrounds, buildings, and plants are pre-rendered sprites.
  • Dino Crisis 2 uses static images and textures for the background and only use 3D models for the player, enemies and certain objects.

    Mixed and Other 
  • In Radiant Silvergun, the 3D, 2D and pseudo 3D is all over the place. Both 2D and 3D 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!! have 3D platforms and terrain, while the characters and Mooks are 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. As of Dual Destinies all characters and scenery made the leap from sprites to models, but evidence is still largely presented as sprites.
  • 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 has pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds.
  • The original Crash Bandicoot trilogy has this for, obviously enough, wumpa fruits, as well as several visual effects or the "CHECKPOINT" letters. And yet the spinoff, Crash Team Racing, brings more 2D/3D confusion to the desk: the wheels, the smoke, the vortex and the wumpas are all sprites, but the race position numbers are actually 3D models.
  • 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.
  • Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius has polygonal graphics for everything except the various collectible items, which are sprites. The fact that they are high-resolution enough to look like photographs in comparison to the somewhat archaic (even for the time) graphics makes the juxtaposition somewhat jarring
  • Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and Warriors Orochi use billboard sprites for minor things like trees, fences, etc. Other than that, only the HUD uses sprites (for character portraits).
  • In BLOODCRUSHER II, everything is 3D except for power-ups.
  • Everything rendered in Second Life are completely 3D, but the default trees have leaves rendered on a flat plane, similar to the cardboard effect used in other games. Users can also create content that act like sprites, but are 3D objects flattened down. Turning on the avatar imposters option can turn people you see into choppy animated 2D sprites if there are too many avatars on the screen at once.
  • Flight Simulator 2002 is completely 3D - except for clouds. Setting the view mode to Top-Down shows that clouds are actually high-resolution sprites that always face the aircraft, giving the illusion of fully volumetric clouds.
  • Child of Light:
    • Most of the graphics in this UbiArt Framework-based game are 2D, with the exception of some 3D models like Aurora, Norah, and a few others. This extends to the earlier UbiArt-based Rayman Legends and possibly Origins.
    • More specifically, the Ubiart Framework is a 2.5D game engine where levels can be constructed out of hundreds of 2D planes placed arbitrarily in 3D space, allowing for both complex parallax effects, as well as allowing 3D models to be easily integrated into the scene.
  • Dandara is a 2D game throughout its entire length, but its True Final Boss, Tormenta, and the tornado the fight is in are 3D models. Given Tormenta is an Eldritch Abomination, it fits its theme as something "wrong" that shouldn't possibly exist.
  • Wonder Project J2 for the Nintendo 64 is almost entirely 2D sprites and backgrounds - with the exception of part of the intro cinematic, some action sequences (3D backgrounds with a 2D character sprite), item display in shops, and the world map. The 3D action sequences are considered to be the worst part of an otherwise charming and great game, as they control horribly and look like something out of the SNES's later 3D games, just with slightly higher-res textures and more polygons.
  • Another non-video game example: Despite Space Engine's extraordinary beauty and realism, it uses 2D sprites to render nebulas and other cloudy objects. Occasionally the user can see rotating sprites when he or she rotates the object, ruining the immersion the graphics otherwise gives. This is barely noticeable in normal usage, however.
  • Golly! Ghost, a redemption Arcade Game by Namco, has an unusual variation: sprites generated by typical 2D hardware projected onto the image of an electromechanically-controlled diorama.
  • Fire Emblem: In Awakening, Fates and Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, characters are depicted with sprites while the geography uses models while overlooking the map during battle.
  • Solatorobo: Red the Hunter: Every single NPC is a 2D sprite, while the hero and enemies are in 3D. Gets downright uncanny when all the hero's allies are gathered in one place.
  • Stahlfeder, a Vertical Scrolling Shooter for the PlayStation, mixes sprite and polygon graphics, whose artists are separately credited. The polygonal elements in the backgrounds are very subtle, but most of the bosses are blatantly full 3D models.
  • The Elder Scrolls series has used a mix dating back to Daggerfall. More recent titles in the series, as graphics technology has improved, use polygons for almost everything, while going with sprites for certain objects (like trees) at a distance in order to cut down on CPU processing. By adjusting the graphics settings in-game, you can make it so that sprites are almost never used (which requires more processing) or used entirely for these objects (which cuts way down on processing).
  • The retro shooter AMID EVIL generally uses polygons for its visuals, but weapon sprites, projectiles, and collectibles are rendered in sprites. Said sprites blend so well into the overall look of the game it requires a really close look to tell.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse have the overworld composed of 3D polygons and textures but battles entirely consisting of sprites.
  • Sonic Mania mostly uses sprites for its backgrounds and characters, but the giant rings and Special Stages are rendered with low-polygon 3D models, similar to the ones used in Sonic R. This is part of the game's Retraux design, as it was intended to be a 2D Sonic game if it was made for the Sega Saturn.
  • Tomba! mostly uses sprites laid over 3D backgrounds, but it does use polygonal objects as well for some enemies like the Butamushi and the Biting Plants, and even combines them in the Needlegators that have a sprite body but a polygonal shell that can be knocked off.
  • cloudphobia uses a 3D engine but mostly uses 2D sprites for the player's mech and many enemies, however some of the other enemies and effects are rendered in 3D polygons. The game also makes use of the dynamic lighting and reflection of metallic surfaces.
  • The SUGURI series — SUGURI, sora, and their fighting-shoot 'em up sequels — uses a 3D engine where the levels rendered in 3D, however the game also uses hand-drawn 2D sprites for the characters and enemies. Sometimes these games even feature boss battles where the player is fighting the boss as part of the background, and features enemies flying around the foreground or background.
  • Cris Tales uses some of the most complex mixes of sprites and polygons in video gaming. Characters, fences, vegetation, signposts, parade floats, small rocks, streetlamps, items, equipment, vehicles, and backgrounds in 2D while most nonmoving or large things, like buildings, the ground, bodies of water, nearby hills and mountains, furniture, interior fixtures and appliances, non-character machinery, and large rocks are in 3D. There also appears to be equally complex use of Motion Parallax on 2D images to simulate a 3D effect, such as the sides of buildings flattening as they move closer to the middle of the screen, that it can be hard to tell if something is low-poly 3D or very intricate 2D.
  • Dino Crisis uses 3D on almost everything, but it also uses 2D on certain elements like chain-link fences, doors, buttons, and so on.