Jump, jump for victory! Run to the right until you run out of right to run into! The platformer is a format so versatile that it has been changed and revolutionised so often that it’s no longer a genre to itself, it’s a style that has titles as wonderfully varied as gaming itself. It was there from the beginning, and is awash with incredible examples, how can we ever select only 10?
Or… 12… Because of the honourable mentions…
Anyway, we got together once more with Kevin from The Mental Attic to try and trim down the vast number of platform titles to a select few that we will inevitably have to revisit at some point. Here’s our Top 10 platformers.
10) Portal 2
Everyone loves Portal/Portal 2, but if you’ve not played either of these games yet, then I’d strongly urge you to go play it. Right now. Anyway, keep reading before you go do that. Portal is a strong entry for our list, however most people will remember this as a puzzle game. The joy of the game was the strong use of the engine it had to work with.
Portal 2 is a game full of surprises which many of us found truly endearing; from learning how the portals would be affected by gravity, velocity and other important factors of physics. It was entertaining to try and traverse through a map via means of your portal gun, going from platform to platform through innovative means. Granted, this game is mostly known for being a puzzle game, but the platforming elements were totally unique to the original at its time. Portal 2 took what Portal did and refined it.
9) I Wanna Be The Guy
This game will make you angry, but it’s completely unapologetic about that. It’s an older freeware title where you play as the guy and you, you know, wanna be the guy. Huh, that makes this sound like a very easy game indeed – But easy it is not. You control the guy, with his adorable teeny tiny cape and you have to get through some of the most challenging platforming levels possible. Now, if only the levels remained as they appeared… honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the floors gave out on me in this game, because that does happen.
For context, this is a trial and error game. It’s made to get you angry, as typical platforming conventions are broken. Your trust is shattered, as you try to get past an apple tree, that sometimes decides that fruit falls up instead of down. You must endure gruelling boss fights and you only get a tiny pea shooter as your means of defence. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t apologise for its misgivings. In a similar vein to I Wanna Be The Guy, there is also the infamously hard Kaizo Mario. Go watch some videos on it!
8) Super Meat Boy
What hope has a little lump of bloodied meat have against a world of blades and butchery laid in place for him by the dastardly Dr. Fetus? Only the determination and spirit to find the love of his life, the voluptuous Bandage Girl, and he’s going to paint the town red until he gets her back.
Known for its punishing difficulty, awesome soundtrack, epic cast of characters (including a whole bunch of cameos from other games) and the hilarious action replays featuring all the times you died simultaneously, there was a time when Super Meat Boy was the platformer to beat, but with all the blood and guts, sometimes it was funnier to lose.
7) Ori and the Blind Forest
Heavily inspired by Metroidvania like titles, this is a 2D Platformer where you control a little guardian spirit called Ori, who is fighting off enemies in an attempt to restore the Blind Forest. They fell from a tree as a newborn and then was looked after by something called Naru. Soon, a catastrophic event occurs, which causes the forest to be attacked and Naru subsequently dies. Left alone, Ori collapses by the Spirit Tree and meets Sein, who acts as a guide.
Ori and the Blind Forest is often brought up as one of those modern examples of a modern platformer, which brings together a strong, story-driven narrative, along with solid and even somewhat tricky platforming. It’s one of those games that will definitely be mentioned throughout the years as one of those beautiful games that you should play; but it’s sadly not as well known as it genuinely ought to be.
6) Little Big Planet
Here’s a game we do not talk about often enough. The adorable worlds of the Sackboy and his craft-material friends is amazing, combining the engaging and action filled gameplay of a platformer and the joy and delight of a child with a toybox. It’s hard not to feel like a kid again as you charge your ragdoll like champion dressed in his finest clown wig and raincoat through perilous obstacles of felt and cardboard.
Puzzles are clever, levels are interesting and varied, the level designer is simple and entertaining (if you never made a rocket-wheel and played “last guy holding on wins” I recommend it) and the whole thing is narrated by the soft and jovial tones of Stephen Fry. It’s hard not to be captured by Little Big Planet and join in its adventures heart and soul.
5) Sonic 2
Everybody loves Sonic the Hedgehog, well – We all at least absolutely adored Sonic back in his SEGA Megadrive days. I remember fondly getting up on a Saturday morning, turning the console on and putting in my Sonic cartridge. Of course, it didn’t work, so I then took it back out, blew in the cartridge, put it back in and boom – it worked, because you know, it’s kind of voodoo that you’re taught as a kid getting into gaming? Nevertheless, Sonic was a game people could go back to easily.
Featuring the titular Sonic the Hedgehog, in Sonic 2, you once again fight off hordes of Doctor Robotnik’s robotic army. This was the introduction to gaming’s (arguably) most iconic secondary character, Tails. In this game, you are able to play a two-player game, allowing you to play together. Though, amusingly, because of how fast Sonic is, you can completely leave your player 2 behind – and Tails will just randomly catch up. It’s almost as if Tails is invincible, honestly..! But, working together made this game a whole lot more fun. Well worth playing, even today.
4) Shovel Knight
Steel thy shovel, it’s only the blue spade-wielder.
Shovel Knight is a fantastic modern take on platformers – A title that we feel may be a massive influence for games in the future. As it stands, it’s still a bit too new to say, but we love all of the amazing elements it’s brought to the table. Modernising a genre as old as platformers isn’t an easy task, but Shovel Knight is the undisputed champion of this. Huge fans of it – Now we wait for King Knights DLC. The fact that all the DLC is free is honestly an amazing extra too.
Give this one a few more years; this will be a staple influencer for future platformers. You can quote me on that one!
3) Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped
3D Platforming perfection and arguably the easiest of the three original Crash Bandicoot games, Warped took the success of the previous Crash titles and ramped it up. Crash now has a double jump, the slide, a dash, a super spin and a damn Wumpa Bazooka. With his sister Coco and his frie and guide, Aku Aku, Crash looks better, plays tighter and is all in all one of the strongest platforming games to have been released on the PlayStation. Accessible to kids, hard enough for adults.
It helps that recently, Crash Bandicoot was revived with Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy, allowing you to replay all three classic titles. In Warped, Crash and his sister Coco, along with their mentor/friend Aku Aku, are relaxing on the beach, when a great evil known as Uka Uka is released following the collapse of Cortex in the last game. Now that Cortex has a powerful voodoo mask of his own on his side, he sets up a time zone to collect the crystals.
2) Super Castlevania IV vs Super Metroid
Everybody knows of the term Metroidvania, which is exactly why we’ve pitted these two behemoths against one another.
On the one hand, we have the whip cracking, vampire slaying Belmont, who looks awesome in this extra special version of Castlevania. This is arguably the best Castlevania too, making a great case for the platforming genre as a whole, but also giving us some of the best platforming too. A lot of the elements were simple enough – jump in time to a swinging pendulum, go up and down stairs, crack your whip on something before you land – The things we take for granted these days. Plus, the music was stunning.
Then we have Super Metroid, a game where we get to play as one of the best ladies in all of video games in Samus. Super Metroid was the first to release a map, which you fill out as you go around. In this game, you get to shoot your gun at the opponents, which really increases the amount of potential in platforming. From trickier platform jumps, to harder bosses, Super Metroid is an exciting game. Plus, some of Nintendo’s most iconic villains come from this franchise. But it’s over to you, is it the Metroid or the Vania of Metroidvania that really makes that whole genre?
1) Super Mario Bros.
The classic, the original, the great Super Mario Bros. is the only game we could have put at number one, but please listen to our reasoning. It’s not the best platformer ever released. It’s not the hardest game released. It’s not a game that will make you go wow, look at how groundbreaking it is, but for its time, it actually was a revelation. You see, Platformer games are well known for their timing, their precision and their very simple mechanics, allowing anyone to pick them up and give them a go.
It’s precisely this simplicity, combined with the ridiculous difficulty of the later levels, that makes Super Mario Bros. so famous… However, more to the point – Without Super Mario Bros., we’d likely never have had some of the great platformers of today. It’s a major influence, of which can be felt in other titles on this list, from Mekazoo through to even our Super Metroidvania section in this list. The influence of Super Mario Bros. is simply impossible to ignore, which is why we feel it deserves the absolute top spot on this week’s list.
Of course we’re not done, we’ll never be done with this list. Do you know how many we discussed, axed, forgot and remembered the day after? Here are the happy few we simply couldn’t completely do away with, our honourable mentions.
A very different take on the side-scrolling 2D format, Terraria took Minecraft and flattened it. Far from reducing the complexity, Terraria amped it up dramatically, crafting in two (and a bit) dimensions with a vast array of extra materials, options, and possibilities of things that can be created. The game spans sci-fi and fantasy and hits most options in between, meaning you can craft or obtain everything from armour suits, swords and crossbows, to lightsabers, laser rifles and jetpacks.
There’s an end of sorts, in that there are big bad bosses to be beaten in each of the randomly generated worlds, but the game needn’t ever end there. You can keep on expanding your world, reaching further and further out until you’re good and goddamn ready to make a new one.
Rocking the pink hair and all of the sass that a caveman can bring, Tomba 2 is an oft-forgotten platformer for the PlayStation/PSX. Managing to do better than its predecessor, Tomba managed to have some truly clever platforming gameplay with simple, yet skilled puzzling elements. It wasn’t a hugely successful franchise, but it was hugely memorable for the protagonist and the likable, but simple story.
You play as Tomba who fights against the evil pig people. Really, that’s literally the plot. You unlock different suits, go jumping around, jump on the evil pigs and then throw them, in such a vicious manner that it’d make Brock Lesnar quake in his boots. Seriously, how someone does that is beyond me – But this gets the Honourable Mention from me, as it’s a damn solid, fun, casual little platformer/puzzler. Worth picking up, if you can find it for yourself!
Raise the flag, release the rabbits, and upgrade everything before we advance to World 2! Better make it a speed run, the sequel comes out soon. In the meantime, we have plenty more Top 10s to discuss, and you have the power to choose the next one:
I won’t ask if we missed your favourite, because I guarantee you could rattle off your own Top 10 right now without trying. Watch! Here’s another five: Mark of the Ninja, Abe’s Oddysee, Limbo, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project and Braid. Want more? How about Stick It To The Man… we haven’t even gone into the 3D yet!