WHAT ARE PLATFORMERS?
Platformers are the skeleton of the video game industry. Whether it be the classic masterpieces of the 80s and 90s, or the modern indie platformers of today, we at Culture of Gaming love some good ol’ fashioned running and jumping – you might say that some of us are even adamant about it. So like any normal gaming media site, we argued and argued and argued, and finally came up with our list of what we consider to be the best 2D platformers ever made!
A few notes and criteria: for our purposes, we defined a 2D platformer as “a game viewed from a side-angle, where the player controls a character through a level, by means of precise running, jumping, and/or other means of moving about. In addition, the levels must be mostly linear, with little to no side or backtracking, and non-procedurally-generated.” By this definition, we are not including metroidvanias (Such as Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night) or rogue-likes (such as Spelunky and Rogue Legacy). We believe that these two genres are fundamentally different enough from traditional side-scrollers that they belong in their own separate categories.
Another note: we believe that game rankings should be based on two criteria: critical quality and historical importance. A truly “great” game, in our minds, is not only a quality experience, but an influential one as well. Because of that, we are naturally going to be a little biased towards older games – not because we grew up playing those games personally, per say, but because of how far ahead of their time they were, and what they did to impact the video game medium. We hope that you agree, but if not, be sure to let us know!
This list took a lot of work to assemble – if you like or disliked our rankings, let us know! Any input is appreciated. But without further ado, here is Culture of Gaming’s greatest 25 greatest 2D platformers of all time!
Aidan Simonds: Few games create a sense of environment as well as Inside does, from sound design (made using a human skull) to the striking monochromatic color scheme. Compared to the protagonist of Playdead’s prior game, Limbo, the protagonist of Inside pops out with his red outfit. Sure, the platforming may not be as integral to the gameplay as others on this list – jumps are floaty and not exactly precise, but the platforming is essential in your escape from this hellish nightmare.
From avoiding killer dogs to controlling bodies laying in the background, Inside is full of puzzles to stop you along the way. The puzzles may be tough, but they are never punishing. You’re going to die many times, sometimes quite gruesomely, but death never feels cheap. Rather, as it does in the best platformers, death is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
Unlike other Platformers on this list, Inside can be beaten in one or two sittings, and it’s all the better for that. By the time I finished Inside for the first time, I was feeling a mixture of emotions. I still don’t know what that ending means (if anything). I’m definitely not smart enough to come up with a theory as to what it represents. What I do know, however, is Inside is one of the most memorable video games I have had the pleasure of playing.
24. Super Castlevania IV
David White: One of Konami’s greatest games, and arguably one of the best in the Castlevania series. SCIV pushes the Super NES to its limits – a gorgeous-looking action platformer containing one of the finest video game soundtracks that really showcases what great video game music composers the likes of Taro Kudo (aka Souji Taro) and Masanori Adachi can get out of the Super NES, which must’ve been especially impressive for what was one of the earliest Super NES games. SCIV’s music ranges from jazzy tunes, catchy funky upbeat songs like the classic ‘Simons Theme’ and the beat laden almost dancably great ‘Treasury Room’ theme. Then to dark almost haunting tunes such as ‘The Waterfall’ sub-stage of the ‘Ancient Ruins’ that build tension perfectly befitting the haunting atmosphere of Dracula’s castle.
It was also the earliest demonstration of the Super NES’s spectacular Mode 7 graphics mode, making it one of the most visually impressive 2D platformers on this list. This mode blew gamers’ minds, creating the illusion of 3D and a sense of amazing depth never seen before, with unique and excellent levels that turn and rotate adding to a sequence of already vividly colourful, interesting and varied stages.
SCIV still holds up today and is a lot of fun. It’s just challenging enough without being frustrating, and contains all the action you’d expect from the Castlevania series but greatly improved upon previous entries. Simon is more agile, can move in mid air and attack in multiple directions with his trusty whip ‘Vampire Killer’ which would become a staple of the series. Combine all of the above with challenging boss encounters leading up to the ultimate showdown with the Belmont Clans nemesis, Dracula, evil incarnate himself, and you have easily one of the greatest platformers of all time.
23. Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins
Ethan Braun: Mario has done a lot of weird things. Like, a lot. Over his thirty-year track-record, Nintendo’s mascot has been raised by dinosaurs, ran a creepy hotel, turned into a frog, morphed into metal, traveled through time, worn a water-powered jetpack, and competed in the Olympics… against Sonic. If that last one especially doesn’t scream “weird!” then I don’t know what does. But of all the wacky adventures Mario has gone on, arguably the weirdest and most overlooked of them all is Super Mario Land 2.
Mario Land 2 is absolutely bouncing off the walls with goofiness. You can wear a rabbit suit that lets you float to the ground with your own ears. You can float inside of a bubble to soar your way across stages, so long as you don’t pop yourself. You can go to the moon and wear an adorable astronaut suit. Oh, and here’s the best one: there’s a world called “Mario Zone” where you play inside a replica of Mario’s body, and the second level in Mario’s… nether region… is made entirely of balls. That is super freaking goofy!
Outside of its ridiculous nature, however, Mario Land 2 holds up well as a tightly-controlled, well-designed platformer. Each of the six zones has a unique theme that not only spices up the aesthetic variety, but also introduces new concepts, mechanics, powerups, and hazards throughout the adventure. No level in this game is a carbon-copy of another – from the familiar opening level to the final boss-battle with Wario (the character’s first appearance in the Mario universe), hardly ever is there a level that feels like a repeat of a previous one.
Mario Land 2 may be goofy, but its incredible variety, both thematically and mechanically, cements it as one of the greatest platformers of all time.
22. Azure Striker Gunvolt
Michael Solseth: While there’s a little blue robot named Mega Man whose main games and various spin-offs did much for the platforming genre, many overlook the series based on his counter-part, Zero. The Mega Man Zero games used a unique system that had a heavy emphasis on boss fights, that would later lay the foundation for Inti Creates’s Azure Striker Gunvolt. It was their first self-published title, and it shows just how much homework they did beforehand.
Azure Striker Gunvolt is your standard run-and-gun platformer, but it approaches the genre from a different angle. The main hero, Gunvolt, can tag enemies with his gun and unleash electrical homing attacks on them; the more enemies tagged, the higher the damage output. Other abilities like dashing and double jumping use his energy gauge and can deplete fast if used recklessly, and if it’s exhausted, it can leave Gunvolt overheated and unable to use his abilities to protect himself. It is precisely this system that makes Gunvolt such an engaging game.
It’s incredible to have so much power at your disposal while also balancing your capabilities so you can rush through stages and take out bosses. The biggest draw of all is the “Chain System,” where you chain together attacks and avoid enemy attacks for a higher score.
The series has come quite a long way from its initial release back in 2014. While the first game is more memorable, the sequel certainly improved on the original in terms of overall presentation and adding in a second playable character. It will be fun to watch where the Gunvolt series goes from here as it is a shining example of how to that the original formula and to spin it to make it something unique and special. But for now, Azure Striker Gunvolt is one of the best 2D platformers ever made.
21. Cave Story
Omar Banat: Cave Story is heralded as one of the most important indie games of all time. It’s a major influence and inspiration to countless independent developers around the world. What makes this game even more impressive is the fact that it was created all by one man, Daisuke Amaya. Each pixel of gorgeous artwork and every note of delightful chiptunes were masterfully crafted by one person.
Cave Story is wonderful aesthetically, and it completes the package with an incredibly intuitive control scheme. All you get is four directional buttons: one button to shoot, and another to jump. Essentially, all you need to play the game is an NES controller. Despite the control simplicity, the weapons you gather throughout your adventure give you a diverse moveset that makes you forget you only have six buttons.
Ironically, the story in Cave Story is usually the least talked about part of the game, and I can’t quite tell why. Platformers aren’t typically known for excellence in writing, but Cave Story has one of the best narratives on our list — probably second behind Celeste. This game tells the heart-breaking story of the peaceful Mimiga race. They repeatedly get used as a means to some evil ruler’s plans for conquest. The plantation level is one of the grimmest experiences in gaming. It’s horrifying to think that the Mimigas are being used as slaves to grow plants that will turn them into ravenous monsters.
Now I’ll address the elephant in the room. Settle yourself before you get on us about having another Metroidvania (Castleroid?) on a best platformers list. Cave Story is typically referred to as a Metroidvania, however the linear progression of the game is more like an action platformer. Either way you twist it, Cave Story is an incredible work of art, and it fully deserves to be on our list.
Taylor Evans: A fragile, little man in a big, big world – perhaps Unravel’s greatest achievement is the sense of atmosphere and scale it imposes on the player. One truly feels like they are just a little piece of string against the world. However, being yarn allows one unique opportunity: solving puzzles a human can’t normally solve because of your ability to unravel.
Unravel by Coldwood Interactive is perhaps the most unique game in terms of a player-character stand point on this list. While other platformers have you jump and puzzle solve as a plumber or even a little pink puff, in Unravel you are simply yarn left to make your way through the world.
Unravel earns its spot on our list of top 25 2D platformers for its unique level and character design. It is truly a creative take on the genre.
Mike Nigrelli: You can’t talk about Braid without talking about its creator, Jonathan Blow. Blow put 200,000 dollars of his own money into the development of Braid, as well as hiring David Hellman, who painted the beautiful artwork for the game. Braid would go on to become a pioneer in the early 2000s indie game revolution. Taking on Blow’s deconstructionist views of the state of modern video game trends, Braid is a solid platformer in its own right.
Playing as Tim, a mysterious time-traveler in a business suit, the player manipulates time to solve environmental puzzles and collect jigsaw pieces. Each world that the player enters sees the time manipulation mechanic changed in some way. In one world, rewinding time creates a shadow Tim that can be used to manipulate more than one object at a time. In another world, simply walking right moves time forward and walking left rewinds time. Tim’s time manipulation is used for more than solving puzzles, however. If Tim gets harmed, the player may rewind time until Tim is safe.
Braid’s story is open to interpretation, but the only thing that remains clear is that Tim must find “his princess” because he “made a mistake.” If you asked Jonathan Blow what it means, he would only be able to tell you his interpretation.
Between its solid game mechanics, critique of video game tropes, and importance to indie games as a whole, Braid stands as one of the best platformers of all time.
18. Super Ghouls and Ghosts
David White: Not only one of the greatest platformers of all time but often considered one of the toughest games of all, Super Ghouls and Ghosts is the third game in the Ghouls and Ghosts (and Goblins) series. SGnG is notoriously difficult, but is wacky, colorful, charming and fun enough that players will always want to give it ‘one more go’ following their eleventh game over screen. It really is one for the hardcore gamer in us all who wants a white knuckle challenge from time to time. While many may rage quit a game like SGnG, it is amusing and high quality enough to keep players coming back again and again, perhaps after a break or two.
It is filled with varied levels, challenging enemies, excellent animation, brilliant tunes, wacky characters and a variety of weapons some being more effective than others when facing certain enemy types and navigating certain levels adding an element of strategy. SGnG added a double-jump which makes controlling the games hero more fun but itself requires mastery before a player can hope to complete such a game. Then there is the satisfaction of upgrading the hero’s armor, getting that Gold Armor, while not making the game a breeze, is still an achievement in itself that is easily lost, again enticing the hardcore gamer to continue.
There is simply no game like it, it stands on its own and is instantly recognizable for fans of the era. There is something so fun about controlling the game’s hero, the knight Arthur, as he runs comically across the screen in search of his missing love. One of video games greatest characters. Everything about SGnG is a joy, which once again softens that brutal difficulty. Not one for the faint of heart but one platformer that not only belongs on this list but would place high on the list of greatest games of all time.
Mike Nigrelli: Starring a character created over 70 years ago, Capcom’s DuckTales is not only still relevant today, but it stands as one of the best platformers of all time. As Scrooge McDuck, you can traverse the five stages in any order you’d like, all in order to collect as many rare treasures as you can.
DuckTales has so much personality that it leaps off the screen, from getting hints from Huey, Dewey, and Louie to taking on Dracula Duck in Transylvania. There’s a reason the property has lasted so long. But the thing that stands out most about DuckTales is the wonderful soundtrack. Every locale has a catchy tune attached to it. If we had to choose a favorite, it would be the Moon stage’s music.
But how does it play? Between swinging his cane to launch projectiles at foes and bouncing on it like a pogo stick to cross pits of spikes, DuckTales might be a contender for best control and game feel. After a minute of getting used to the controls, Scrooge’s actions feel natural. But that’s not all he can do. He can ride mine carts and climb vines as well.
And you’ll need all the help you can get. This game is tough. Luckily, there are three difficulty levels to choose from. And to get the best ending, Scrooge needs 10,000,000 dollars by the end of the game. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder DuckTales remains one of the best platformers of all time.
16. Super Mario Bros
Omar Banat: What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about Super Mario Bros? It’s the game that saved video games. Not only is it one of the all-time great platformers, but it’s one of the greatest games of all time. Personally, I would even rank it higher than the 16th spot, but I’ll roll with it.
Super Mario Bros. is the epitome of 2D platforming. Just hearing Shigeru Miyamoto talk about world 1-1 is enough to understand the greatness of the game; this level is the entire game’s tutorial disguised as the most recognizable video game level of all time. There are very few mechanics which are not shown in 1-1 — enemies, vines, and warp pipes. All this time there is not a pixel of text telling you what to do or where to go. As someone with a light coding background, that is my dream. This game is so exceedingly intuitive that not a word needs to be said.
1-1 is fantastic, but it would be criminal to boil the greatness that is Super Mario Bros. down to a single level. Koji Kondo’s relatively small soundtrack — only six tracks — for this game gave birth to the most iconic video game song of all time. Miyamoto’s timeless design is recognizable the world over.
So much can be said about this game, but in the end all you need to know is that Super Mario Bros. is one damn great platformer.
15. Kirby Super Star
Michael Solseth: While there are plenty of platformer games in Nintendo’s library, many would overlook the small pink puffball Kirby. For as many challenges as other series run into, Kirby games continue to strive to be bigger and better. There are plenty of recent titles we could pick from, but there is one game worth talking about: the game that showcases why Kirby deserves to be an icon of platforming games: Kirby Super Star.
Many would brush Kirby games off to the side as a platformer because “Kirby can fly.” A fair claim to make, but that doesn’t mean the game is any easier. In fact, the stages themselves stand out on their own with the variety of enemies, dangers and other challenges they throw at you. You can fly, but sometimes you can literally fly into a trap if you aren’t paying attention. The stages aren’t too intricate but can still provide a fun challenge. With so much content stuffed into one cartridge, there are plenty of things to do in the game.
Besides engaging gameplay, Kirby Super Star also brought in a number of hallmarks for the Kirby series. These include helpers, wearable hats, a continuous HP bar, and the arena. This was the kind of game that you would want to have in your gaming library growing up, as it felt like the game that kept on giving. If you own the SNES Classic and enjoy Kirby games, you owe it to yourself to play this game and all it has to offer. And with “Eight Games in One,” you will spend plenty of time with the Star Warrior.
14. Rayman Legends
Aidan Simonds: Rayman Legends was a follow-up to 2011’s fantastic Rayman Origins, and expanded upon it in every way. Right from the get-go, you’re struck by how beautiful it is. Created in the criminally underused UbiArt Framework Engine (seriously, what happened to it?), Rayman Legends stands out visually from all the other games on this list. The 2D animation adds a sense of fluidity and motion that isn’t in any other platformer.
The animation doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a damn good platformer. The musical levels of Rayman Legends are some of the most iconic in recent years, syncing levels to classics such as ‘Black Betty’ and ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Rayman Legends is often frantic and chaotic, especially in four-player multiplayer – sometimes that’s to its detriment, but few platformers are as flat-out fun as this one. In fact, I’d say the multiplayer is better than that in the New Super Mario Bros. series. A new Rayman platformer may not be what we deserve, but it’s what we need.
13. Sonic Mania
Andrew Marcus: Sonic Mania may be the best Sonic game in well over a decade. After several disappointing Sonic games, it’s truly nice to play a Sonic game that delivers amazing gameplay. What did Sonic Mania do right? It allowed players to play as one of the three characters. Players could play as Sonic who can perform a “drop dash”, Tails who can fly and swim, and Knuckles who can glide and climb walls.
Sonic Mania has over twelve levels. However, each level is a thing of beauty. Each level has so many colors and oozes tons of creativity. Each stage was either remixed or completely fresh and new. They had a gimmick and presented a fair amount of new ideas that were executed perfectly. The stage also did not hinder the fast pacing speed that is loved in Sonic games. Like the original Sonic games, each zone is divided into two acts and a bonus, adding a lot of replay value. After each act players fight a boss. Boss fights follow the same level of creativity that has been consistent throughout each level.
Sonic Mania is a creative masterpiece that should be in every gamer’s library. It’s not only the best Sonic game, it’s one of the best platformers of all time.
12. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Kevin Alverez: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is one of the best 2D platformers in recent years. The Shantae series has had several great entries dating back since 2002, and it’s developed by WayForward, a studio that has a history of making great games since the SNES. Shantae is a genie who uses her hair as whip to attack and she can transform into different animals by learning new dances! Transforming into animals allows her to access new areas that she couldn’t before – so it’s Metroidvania-lite in that sense.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is great, with amazing music, stages, and boss battles. Shantae herself is an adorable and capable character who stands out among a sea of great platformer mascots like Mega Man, Mario, Donkey Kong and Shovel Knight! The Shantae series is filled with great entries that are all worth replaying like Risky’s Revenge or Shantae and The Pirate’s Curse, but the most recent game is the one that stands out the most in our mind. You can be sure that Shantae and WayFoward will be back with another great platforming entry. In the meantime, enjoy Half-Genie Hero – it’s one of the greatest platformers ever made.
11. Mega Man 2
Kevin Alverez: Created in 1988 by Capcom and Keiji Inafune, Mega Man 2 is one of the forefathers of 2D platforming. This is one of those few games where the sequel completely improves upon the original – similar to the gap in quality between Street Fighter and Street Fighter 2. Mega Man 2 has a classic array of bosses, incredible level design and balanced difficulty. This game established the Mega Man franchise that still continues to this day – Mega Man 11 is just on the horizon! Mega Man is as synonymous to gaming culture as Mario, Sonic and other famous video game characters. Mega Man 2 will always be considered one of gaming’s most important platformers of all time.
10. Super Meat Boy
Mike Nigrelli: If Braid is a critique of video game tropes, Super Meat Boy is a love letter to them. Created by Edmund McMillen, Tommy Refenes and the rest of Team Meat, Super Meat Boy will kick your butt – and it knows this. From the title screen, Meat Boy’s face is prominently displayed with a black eye and missing tooth while a heavy electric guitar plays the theme music. That’s a good representation of this game’s difficulty.
Super Meat Boy sees Meat Boy running, jumping and wall jumping through courses of saw blades, lasers, fans, and mountains of salt to save his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil Dr. Fetus, a cartoon fetus in a jar that wears a top hat and trench coat (because why wouldn’t he?).
If being an anthropomorphic piece of raw meat or having a bandage as a significant other didn’t tip you off, Meat Boy is vulnerable. He leaves a trail of blood on everything he touches and he dies in one touch of any hazard. Fortunately, you can try these obstacle courses over again as many times as you’d like. If you die at the very end before touching Bandage Girl, you have to do the stage all over again. As a treat (or a gentle roasting of the player’s ability, you decide), once you complete the stage, you get to watch a replay of all your earlier failed attempts at once. And what platformer would be complete without collectibles? For every ten bandages you collect, you unlock a new character to play as with different abilities, usually from another indie game. You can unlock the likes of Alien Hominid, Spelunky, and Tim from Braid.
Super Meat Boy had an incredibly strenuous development period for its creators. If you want to see the effort and stress Edmund and Tommy went through to make this game, watch the documentary film “Indie Game: The Movie”. As one of the best platformers of all time, Super Meat Boy will make you curse with its difficulty, but if you put in the effort, the results will be well worth it.
9. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Omar Banat: I can’t express how joyful I am that this game made it into the top 10. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is undoubtedly one of the all time great 2D platformers. The difficulty and David Wise’s soundtrack of course harken back to the SNES days, but despite the touches of nostalgia, Tropical Freeze stands on its own as an incredibly beautiful and thoughtful 2D platformer. Each level has something unique that clearly separates it from others.
The most incredible part of Tropical Freeze is the masterful level of game design on display by Retro Studios. I have never played another platformer that builds as lively a world as this game does. Every platform, trap, vine, and enemy have a specific purpose in the world, but it doesn’t end there. Every playable character has unique and insanely expressive animations. The fur on these heroic hominids flows like luxurious locks in the wind.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the few platformers out there that has the total package. Its music, platforming, world building, animations, art direction, and controls are a master class of 2D platforming. Tropical Freeze is worthy of every modicum of praise it receives, and I can confidently say it’s the best 2D platformer Nintendo has published since the SNES era.
Ethan Braun: I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up Celeste only a few months ago, but it quickly became my favorite platformer of all time. Why? Well, that’s a loaded question – I could show you the game’s gorgeous pixelated visuals (which are fantastic), or its clever, tough-as-nails level design (which is incredibly rewarding), or its catchy soundtrack (which is phenomenal). I also might show you how Celeste’s incredible difficulty is only matched by its incredible forgiveness, or how the feeling of mastery it gives you by the end is sensational. But no, I’ll put all of that aside. If Celeste taught me one thing, and one thing only, it’s that 2D platformers can have impactful, emotional, meaningful stories.
For your character, Madeline, the climb up Mount Celeste is more than a physical goal – it’s a spiritual and emotional struggle. As she ascends further and further up, more and more of her inner turmoil comes to light in the form of her evil reflection, constantly haunting her and impeding her from reaching the top. Celeste pulls no punches in revealing Madeline’s struggles with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. By the end of the game, I was astounded that I was able to care so much about an 8-bit, 2-inch tall figure. Platformers had trained me to think that side-scrolling games couldn’t have stories, and Celeste shattered that belief with one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever seen.
Celeste succeeds in the same way that The Last of Us or Half-life succeeds: it has an incredible plotline to match its addictive gameplay and masterful level design. Except, unlike Half-life, Celeste made me care for an unidentifiable blob of pixels; coming from someone who normally doesn’t care for story in video games, that’s saying a lot. Platformers, take note – Celeste is the new standard we will hold you by.
7. Donkey Kong Country 2
Anthony Dennis: When it comes to platformers that impacted me the most, Donkey Kong Country 2 (DKC2) is one of those games that I just couldn’t put down. I first played it on my brothers Gameboy Advance SP and I just couldn’t get enough. In that stage of my life, video games had a major impact, DKC2 was the exact escape that I needed. Its art style is attractive and it’s music extremely catchy, and there’s just something about the characters and their peril that makes you just want more.
The level progression and game difficulty are evenly spaced making it pretty easy for anyone to pick up and play. That’s not to say that it’s an easy game, in fact, there were many times I felt like rage quitting on those pesky floating vine sections and blaster barrels. Now your probably wondering, “why did you choose this Donkey Kong Country game instead of 1 or 3?” For us, DKC2 combines the best of all 3 games. Nearly everything in DKC2 is perfect, from its music to its evenly paced gameplay, earning it a solid 7th place on our list.
6. Shovel Knight
Michael Solseth: For an up-and-coming developer, getting your game out there for players to enjoy can be hard as hell. Crowdfunding continues to be on the rise, but some final projects lead to unfulfilled promises, unfortunate circumstances, and overall disappointment. But there is one game that cost more than $300,000 to develop that we still remember to this day. In the time since its release, Shovel Knight has become the new face of indie games.
Shovel Knight is a love letter to the 8-eit era. With a pixelated style and chip tune music, it makes you feel like you’re playing a classic title on the original Nintendo. Plenty of other games have done the same thing, but Shovel Knight is considered to be one of the first games to popularize the retro art-style. It even takes a page out of DuckTales, as Shovel Knight’s shovel can bounce off enemies and other objects. Shovel Knight is fun and challenging while being fair and reasonable in its punishment. If you died or fell off the stage, it only results in a loss of gems instead of restarting the stage from the beginning.
Not only did the game launch as a full experience, but the developers at Yacht Club made three more campaigns based on three of the game’s villain knights. At first, you’d think they’d be cookie cut-outs of Shovel Knight himself (or herself, since they made a playable female Shovel Knight). Instead, each one has their very own unique set of moves, and even special bosses of their own. With all of that and even a proposed “Battle Mode” featuring all the enemy knights in-game, you have a constantly supported platformer that keeps on giving. Plus, there’s no denying that it’s awesome to see Shovel Knight fight Kratos and the Battletoads.
Shovel Knight is not only a monumentally successful, influential, and important indie game – it’s one of the greatest platformers of all time.
5. Yoshi’s Island
Anthony Dennis: Yoshi’s Island for the GBA combines a quirky art style with a tragic story about a baby that falls from the sky. This was one of the first 2D platformers that I played on my GBA and I was not disappointed. The story in Yoshi’s Island is kind of the origin story behind Baby Mario where he is dropped from the bill of a stalk while being attacked and then is rescued by an assortment of Yoshis who must return him to his parents. The gameplay, music and story of the game make Yoshi’s Island what it was and still is today. It combines traditional platforming elements with some technical and ragingly hard levels that leave you stumped. That’s not to say that it’s overly hard to play, but it is reminiscent of some of the Kirby game’s difficulties and that’s not all those games share.
Overall, I loved the feel, music and story of Yoshi’s Island, making it a no brainer for this list and earning it a solid 5th place.
4. Ori and The Blind Forest
Taylor Evans: Ori and the Blind Forest is perhaps the greatest platformer of the current generation. Its simple yet beautiful and unique art style immediately draws the player into the environment. More powers and meaningful collectibles are found by exploring, making the player actually want to delve into every nook and cranny of Nibel. Speaking of powers, Ori does a masterful job of progression. The level difficulty is curved appropriately, always making sure the player is introduced to a concept before having to blend it with other aspects learned by that point. The combat is fun and intuitive, requiring the player to think about how to most efficiently dispatch the latest enemy, and the level design will make even the most seasoned platform players think in new and creative ways. And of course, there’s a tear-jerking, epic soundtrack to accompany your adventures.
Ori and the Blind Forest earns a solid place at number 4 on our list. Every aspect of the game from level design to art style seems like a culmination of knowledge taken from the other great platformers, and is truly a game for the history books.
3. Mega Man X
Andrew Marcus: Mega Man X is a fast-paced action platformer that introduces some awesome moves to the original Mega Man series, like dashing and wall climbing. The game also introduced X, Sigma and Zero, some of the main characters in the Mega Man X series. The game sees X, a successor to the original Mega Man, running and gunning from stage to stage to take down his evil counterpart, Sigma. A straight-forward plot, but it keeps the high-octane action of Mega Man X going.
Mega Man X feels fluid and the quick pace is exhilarating. The fast-paced action does make things short – however, speeding through stages with the fluid controls feels extremely satisfying. The great music allows the player to be sucked into the Mega Man X atmosphere. Good controls, excellent pacing, and awesome music all help to create a masterpiece. This game also has some excellent boss fights – bosses have varying difficulty depending on the stages and power-ups that the player has. The player can pick any stage; thus, one can freeze on snow mountain or suffer in the fiery factory. This freedom allows for different playthroughs and allows players to either go down an easier path or a much more challenging path. Different paths also allow players to obtain better power-ups earlier or later in the game.
Overall, the great gameplay, excellent pacing, great controls, fun boss fights, and freedom to make the game harder or easier helps propel Mega Man X to the third spot on our list.
2. Super Mario Bros 3
Ethan Braun: Super Mario Bros 3 is the most influential game ever made – don’t deny it. This game took the bar set by the first Super Mario Bros and raised it sky-high, surpassing any expectations we might have had at the time. It’s a near-perfect game – I don’t know how else to put it! Everything you’d ever want out of a platformer – or any video game, for that matter – is right here. Simple, intuitive, fluent controls? Check! Incredibly interesting and challenging level design? Check! A plethora of secrets to uncover? Check! A gradually-building difficulty ramp? Check! An insanely hard final world? Absolutely!
I can’t imagine a world where Mario 3 doesn’t exist. For the video game industry, Mario 3’s release was a coming-of-age – it taught game developers and publishers everywhere what video game structure should be like. Without Mario 3, there’s no DOOM, there’s no Link to The Past, and there’s no Super Metroid. Without Mario 3, there’s no Id Software, no Sega (at least, not a successful one), and no Valve. Let me ask you this: Do you enjoy modern video games? Thank Mario 3.
Super Mario Bros 3 is the penultimate platformer, and it still feels phenomenal more than thirty years later. Just make sure to play the All-stars version.
1. Super Mario World
Aidan Simmonds: Super Mario World: the game that that came with the SNES, and soon came to define it. There’s one word I would use to describe it: epic. There’s so many secrets, so many paths you can just miss if you’re not looking hard enough – hidden worlds that some players may not even know about. Super Mario World is one of the first games I ever played, and to this day, it still holds up in a way not many other games do. Heck, it holds up better than some of the later Mario platformers.
Just about everything about the game feels right. The controls. The physics. The level design. The music. Super Mario World has not only come to define the SNES, has not only come to define Mario platformers. It has come to define 2D platformers as a genre. In this list are many great games, some of them considered the greatest of all time. But none of them stand above Super Mario World. It just may be the perfect platformer… nay, it just may be the perfect video game.
And that’s our list! What do you think? Is Super Mario World still the best platformer ever made? Or do you think that Bubsy Strikes Back should be on top? Let us know how wrong we are in the comments, and be sure to share this list with a friend to get them in on the conversation too!