We’ve all played those platformers where the development team just couldn’t quite match the control scheme up with the needs of the actual game. The button prompts were either too unresponsive or tank-like controls made it difficult to maneuver the environment. They’re a nightmare to play and, quite frankly, don’t deserve too much attention, which is why we’re not focusing on those arduous gaming experiences.
Instead, we want to think positively and discuss the platformers that transcend what we know about platformers. They changed us, made some of us rethink our lives entirely and put us all on an altruistic path to righteousness. Many have even said they were godlike in their portrayal, the video game iterations of Adonis.
Was that a little dramatic? Whatever. They’re great games, and we’re going to sing praise for them with this list of the best platformers of all-time.
So this isn’t just a list of Super Mario titles, we’ll do the painstaking task of choosing just one, which is far more difficult than it sounds.
Ah, the game that thoroughly confused gamers on the proper spelling of “Odyssey.” Oddworld lived up to its name with a strange platformer that pit players in the role of Abe, an accident-prone Mudokon slave worker in search of freedom. It’s a heartwarming tale that sees Abe on an uplifting journey to find himself and learn of his people’s vibrant history.
Just kidding. Abe’s Oddysee is dark, featuring a corporation turning Mudokon’s into treats, and plenty of brutal deaths. The game can also be pretty punishing and players have to use their wits to survive RuptureFarms while often falling victim to trial-and-error gameplay at its most difficult segments.
Despite stiffer controls and occasionally frustrating moments, Abe’s Oddysee garnered a cult following through its charm, sophisticated puzzles, incredible sound design, and a diverse range of visual environments.
14. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (2004)
Developer: Insomniac Games Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s unusual for a sequel to surpass the original. It’s even rarer that the third in a trilogy would find a way to beat out its predecessors. Up Your Arsenal does exactly that as a solid platformer for the PS2.
Though criticized for being easier than the first two, the more accessible Up Your Arsenal does exactly as the title suggestions. Ratchet and Clank square off against their enemies with a vast line-up of quirky weapons, but a game doesn’t earn so much praise for a large selection of weapons alone.
Up Your Arsenal is a beautiful platformer that enhanced every aspect of the original two while appealing to a wider audience. How did Insomniac Games do this? Developers take note: By actually listening to fans of the series and their critiques.
13. Rayman Legends (2013)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier Publisher: Ubisoft
After taking a weird hiatus to play around with those pesky Rabbids, Rayman returned to his roots in a platformer that captured the essence of the original without feeling outdated. Rayman Origins delighted fans and newcomers to the series, but it was Legends that really found its footing as a vibrant and enjoyable experience.
What starts out as your typical platformer progresses into a much deeper game involving stealth, massive bosses, and complex challenges that will really leave you thinking. Even if there’s one minuscule aspect of Legends you don’t like, chances are a dozen other things will make up for those small missteps.
The addition of multiplayer co-op certainly didn’t hurt in making this the highest-rated Rayman title to date.
There is no denying that Kirby Super Star had its issues, but it still rose to the top as one of (if not the) best game in the long-running franchise.
Players guide the pink puffball through eight unique game modes, but Kirby isn’t on this adventure alone. Super Star introduces “helpers” to the series, which have come up again in later titles. With his own ability to absorb the abilities of his enemies and even assign some to his underling, there’s no stopping Kirby in Super Star.
New gameplay elements and a diverse selection of game modes helped Kirby Super Star rise above the rest. The seventh entry in the Kirby series is the first core game to feature cooperative gameplay, which may have lent to the biggest complaint about the title – it wasn’t that difficult.
11. Super Meat Boy (2010)
Developer: Team Meat Publisher: Team Meat
Super Meat Boy is just one of the dozens of punishingly difficult platformers, and while its concept is simple, it stands out among those that tried to do too many things.
In Super Meat Boy, the successor to the popular Flash game, you navigate hazard-filled levels as the titular anthropomorphic slab of meat who’s trying to save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl. It’s a platformer through-and-through that has you dodging obstacles using two mechanics: running and jumping.
The simplicity of it is enhanced by clever and diverse level designs, the inclusion of bosses, fun (and bloody) visuals, and a variety of characters with unique abilities that play off the effective core gameplay mechanics.
10. Shovel Knight (2014)
Developer: Yacht Club Games Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Imagine getting the chance to be an honorable knight in truly awesome armor and a horned helmet. Then you find out your weapon is a shovel. That may sound really lame, but as the 2D platformer Shovel Knight proves, the shovel is mightier than the sword.
There is much to enjoy about this charming retro-styled platformer, but taking on rival knights, wizards, plague doctors, dragons, and sorceresses with a magic shovel is at the heart of the experience. Shovel Knight doesn’t skimp on challenges but keeps a steady difficulty that makes it easy to enjoy.
In a genre that’s ripe with so many bland options, Shovel Knight is content-rich with a host of abilities, armor and shovel upgrades, diverse worlds, and a great soundtrack.
Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Long before Naughty Dog sent us searching for the treasure of Sir Francis Drake and tore at our hearts with the epic journey of Joel and Ellie, it pit us against Doctor Neo Cortex as the peaceful bandicoot, Crash.
The original Crash Bandicoot was among the first 3D platformers, mingling what worked so well with 2D side-scrollers into a vibrant world filled with animal soldiers, apples, and crates. Like Ratchet & Clank, however, the third iteration, Warped, wound up surpassing the originals. It wasn’t a complete blow-out as Crash Bandicoot and Cortex Strikes Back are both solid platformers, but Warped showed that Naughty Dog was looking to continue making improvements not just to gameplay, but to the overall experience.
These tweaks earned Warped praise for sound design, voice acting, and animations, which solidified the third entry as the best in the series.
8. Mega Man 2 (1988)
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
It takes a lot to be the bestselling entry in a beloved series, and Mega Man 2 was able to secure that title after selling 1.5 million copies. Overall, Mega Man 2 was a vast improvement over its predecessor. Visually, it’s far more attractive to look at with greater use of color palettes and better-designed worlds.
As a platformer, Mega Man 2 was less challenging than its predecessor but still remained true to the source material created just a year prior. When you talk platformers and side-scrolling games, it’s impossible not to bring up Mega Man and, by proxy, Mega Man 2.
Capcom created a balanced experience that gamers unfamiliar with the original title could jump into, which meant more and more could enjoy the lauded audio and soundtrack.
7. Super Mario 654
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo
If you ever want to sweat off 20 lbs, promise your readers that you’ll only choose one Mario title for an “all-time platformers” list. I wonder if this was the impossible task John Wick was given.
I did it, though, and decided upon Mario’s first 3D foray. Yes, it was plagued by an unforgiving camera that, by today’s standards, is painful to deal with, but Super Mario 64 launched the trend of 3D Mario games, giving us Sunshine, Galaxy, Odyssey, and Super Mario Land 3D, Super Mario 3D World.
Super Mario 64 upped the ante of the Super Mario Bros. series by adding a host of NPCs you could interact with and giving Mario a series of quests to complete in order to face the big bad of the Mushroom Kingdom – Bowser. Super Mario 64 needed a little polish (which is received, in a way, in my next entry), but there’s no doubt that it was a solid platformer that took Mario to new heights.
We may never see another game like Banjo-Kazooie come out of Rare’s office anytime soon, but with the memory of this N64 platformer still stuck with us — that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. Banjo-Kazooie pits players as Banjo, a bear, accompanied by his helpful friend, the red-crested Breegull named Kazooie, in a 3D game that, believe it or not, was better than Super Mario 64 in many ways.
By 1998, 3D platformers had already proven they could work, but Banjo-Kazooie wasn’t just a rehash of what had already been a success.
The animal duo sets out across expansive and fun textured environments to collect puzzle pieces that will help them prepare for their confrontation against the evil Gruntilda. Along the way, it’s easy to get lost in the many twists and turns as Rare was heavy on the secret areas, NPCs, quests. This gave gamers plenty to explore which could easily lead to up to 40 hours of glorious gameplay.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)
Developer: Sega Technical Institute Publisher: Sega
Sonic the Hedgehog is such a simple concept and was so effective in drawing in a following. It’s also apparently really difficult to replicate in the modern age of gaming, but at least we have titles like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to fall back on when the urge to race across the screen hits.
It’s not so much a matter of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 being a great deal better than the original, though controls were a bit tighter and slightly updated. They’re both fantastic, vibrant platformers; but the sequel did add Miles “Tails” Prower, which gave siblings a whole new way to torture their younger kin.
On a gameplay level, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was simply just plain fun and featured some of the most memorable levels of the entire series. Who can forget spending countless hours in Casino Night Zone trying to score that elusive jackpot?
4. Super Metroid (1994)
Developer: Nintendo R&D1 / Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo
There seems to be some unrest over whether or not Super Metroid belongs in the “platformer” category. While a confusing notion to question, we’ll let those that think otherwise state their case in the comments.
What isn’t really debated is whether or not Super Metroid is one of the best games of all time. A graphical and all-around technical improvement over its predecessor, Super Metroid really gave fans of Metroid something to sink their teeth into. Samus’ arsenal of unique weapons helps access new areas of the alien world for an expansive experience.
Super Metroid is a platformer with an emphasis on exploration, which gives players plenty of content to enjoy, bosses to demolish, and secrets to find.
Another gem from the developers at Rare, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest was a visual improvement over the original Donkey Kong Country, which earned it much of its praise. That doesn’t just mean the graphics were better, though. Diddy’s Kong Quest emphasized rich and colorful environments that far-surpassed much of what had already been released for the Super Nintendo.
The sequel to Donkey Kong Country played very similarly to the original, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. It was, however, quite a bit longer and, at times, far more difficult, but the smoother gameplay more than made up for any of its few shortcomings.
Diddy’s Kong Quest put the younger Kong in the spotlight, which helped give the game a little more character and separated it further from Donkey Kong Country.
If you’re the type that enjoys being mentally beaten by the games you play, then Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was probably in your Super Nintendo library. The third entry in the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series, Capcom’s gothic platformer apparently further proves that video games are definitely better in threes.
While the original two Ghouls’ n Ghosts games were fun, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was the first to give players a title that’s really fun to look at. The haunting levels are filled with enemies that fit the horror-theme perfectly, from ferocious dogs to lurking zombies. Of course, Arthur returns as the hero, equipped with upgradeable armor that improves his abilities in the fight against evil. And he needs it considering the oversized bosses that await at the end of each level.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts may be quite the challenge, but it’s rewarding every step of the way.
1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo Publisher: Konami
I feel bad for the gamers of today. They’ll never know the Konami that gave us Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, one of the most solid platformers ever released. Beyond just being a gothic beauty with great visuals, Symphony of the Night features solid gameplay and combat.
As the mystical Alucard, players get to explore levels that are simply stunning to look at, from the interior of towering castles to winding caverns. Even the soundtrack has become a favorite among fans.
Equipped with a host of abilities and purchasable items, Alucard is on a quest to put an end to a newly resurrected Dracula. To do so, he must battle through a rogue’s gallery of fun – and sometimes frustrating – enemies and cleverly designed bosses.
Though Castlevania may be considered more of an action-RPG title, it’s not without the staples we know and love about platformers.