Platformers have played a huge part in my gaming life. From 2D to 3D, aliens to bees – platformers have always been there to raise the standard. We decided to take a look back at the platformers that really showcase the best of both worlds, the platformers that every gamer should play.
The only restriction? Only one game per franchise. Why? This list would have at least four Mario games in it. Let’s get started!
10: Mega Man 2 (NES)
It was tough to pick just one Mega Man game amongst the 12 billion that have been released (slight exaggeration) but Mega Man 2 was the final choice. Addictive gameplay, precise controls and a difficulty that will make the game last longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy combined.
The level and sound design were top-notch, and this game was of such a high quality that it led to two more decades of games featuring the little blue android. The game is a monument to great design, exciting gameplay and some of the best action in the series. While it doesn’t have the graphical might of its later games, it arguably comes the closest in the series to landing on what makes Mega Man such a great experience.
9: Crash Bandicoot: Warped (PS1/PS4)
It’s amazing to think that Crash Bandicoot went so long without a major release. The recent release of the HD remaster has stirred up a heap of love for the orange bandicoot, and it’s all warranted. Everyone is divided on what game people should be considered the “best” but for my money, it has to be the third outing.
More like a “Greatest Hits” collection, Crash Bandicoot Warped proves just how versatile the character is, as he warps through time and brings his unique brand of leaps and platforming to the forefront. Some aspects o0f the game are weak (Does anyone like those motorbike levels?) but for the most part, the game a testament to how strong the series was in its heyday.
(Check out our review of Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy here.)
8: Spyro: Year of the Dragon (PS1)
When I was a kid, Spyro was the go-to platformer franchise if you couldn’t get hold of a Nintendo console. Who didn’t want to play as a dragon, for crying out loud? You could breathe fire, gore enemies with your horns, glide, sometimes even fly! Year of the Dragon was really the peak of the tiny fire-breathing dragon experience. Hell, you could even go skateboarding.
There are rumors that Activision are eyeing up Spyro for a possible reboot. If they do, I’ll be at the head of the queue!
7: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS2)
A polished, bold exploration in time travel, Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia games dominated platformers for slightly older gamers during the PS2 era, and rightly so. Swinging around poles, running up and along walls, and reversing time shortly after jumping to your death all while slaying hordes of sand-zombies was a thrilling experience.
One of the more unique platformers on this list, and certainly worth a look.
6: Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES)
While the first Donkey Kong Country was a success itself, with incredible graphics for its time and solid controls, the sequel stole the show. It simply improved on absolutely everything of the original; the music, the graphics, the features.
Everything was simply bigger and better, and you could tell from a distance that the game had been lovingly crafted and perfected in every aspect of its development. A true achievement in platforming games.
5: Sonic 3 & Knuckles (Genesis)
Sonic’s early days were decorated with successful, fun and polished games, quite the opposite to today’s stereotypes of the blue hedghog’s adventures. Sonic 3 took everything that was great about the two games before it and simply made it better. Regular boss battles, incredible graphics, dynamic level designs and game saving were the highlights of this excellent adventure.
On top of that, Sonic & Knuckles was released later in the same year, a fantastic Sonic adventure in its own right, and the two cartridges could be physically combined to make one big game, Sonic 3 & Knuckles! The quality of the combination marked a moment in gaming history that will never be forgotten, and influenced countless future games. One of the best platformers ever, for sure.
(Check out our review of Sonic Mania, which features levels from Sonic 3 and Knuckles here)
4: Banjo Kazooie
Anyone that was fortunate enough to play this gem of the 90’s will fondly remember this colourful collect-em-up as possibly the best platformer they ever played. Banjo Kazooie was a masterpiece for its time, with cute visuals, an incredible soundtrack and gameplay rivaled only by select few games at the time.
The versatility of being able to switch between the two characters, Banjo and Kazooie, to accomplish different tasks added a whole extra layer of exploration to every single one of the unique, lovingly-crafted worlds, and somehow, collecting all those little musical notes and jigsaw pieces just didn’t get boring. Sadly, Banjo and Kazooie didn’t get the future they deserved as a franchise, which is perhaps why people today look back so fondly on the original game. Nonetheless, Banjo Kazooie is happily remembered as Rare’s best game ever made by many.
3: Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight, with its NES-like visuals and game play reminiscent of Ducktales and Mega Man combined, is the product of an indie developer named Yacht Club Games, consisting of a team highly experienced with crafted 2D platforming games. While short, the journey is incredibly sweet. Level design is intricate and rewards exploration, and you can trade your safety in the form of checkpoints for more treasure by destroying them.
You can play cooperatively with a friend, explore towns, and the game has the advantage over true NES titles that it can be – and has been – updated. The difficulty is perfectly balanced, and the controls are so solid and responsive that you can quickly learn everything you need to and feel like you’re truly good at the game. A modern masterpiece in the form of a 25-year-old throwback, Shovel Knight deserves the #3 spot in this list and easily sits among the legends of the platformers genre.
2: Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (PS3)
Everyone who knows what a Playstation is will likely be familiar with Ratchet and Clank, the protagonists of Insomniac’s long-running, wacky sci-fi series. The recent (2016) reboot of Ratchet and Clank on the PS4 was an incredible gaming experience by itself, becoming the fastest selling title in the entire series and having the best launch of any Ratchet & Clank game to date. However, if you were to ask a R&C fan which their favourite game of the series was, they’d like say A Crack in Time. Why? Well, you’d have to play it to truly understand just how fantastic a game it was.
The humour was genuinely brilliant, the story was excellent, the weapons were wonderfully imaginative and fun to use, and the platforming was just… well, perfect. On top of that, every fight was a joy, puzzles were a blast and really made you feel that “A-ha!” eureka moment when you solved them, and you even had your own ship to explore the galaxy with; you could land on uncharted little moons and planets, explore them for bonus treasure and unlockables, and then head off in the direction of your next mission at your leisure. Insomniac did free-roaming right in this game, and A Crack in Time is a worthy yardstick by which any future 3D platforming adventure should be measured.
1: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Ahhh, so HERE is where Mario finally enters the list. Yes. At number 1. You might have expected it, and well, let’s face it… Mario has had more than his fair share of incredibly fun platforming games. It was really, REALLY hard to choose which of his many, many games deserved to be in the list, due to the self-imposed limitations mentioned above, but I finally decided that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the one that deserved it the most. The first Super Mario Galaxy innovated and showed us a completely new way to platform – on outer space, no less – by playing with new power-ups, gravity, and even 2-player interactivity.
Somehow, though, the sequel managed to innovate upon the first game even more. Not only that, but it wiped the floor with it in quality. Super Mario Galaxy 2 perfected everything in its grasp; it had visuals no one thought the Wii was even capable of, a memorable soundtrack, and polished, solid platforming that should be used as an example to anyone building future 3D platformers. It was simply genius, and incredibly inventive for a sequel. Nintendo added fresh designs, a massive variety of world themes, and diversified the gameplay in the form of Mario’s familiar green voracious friend, Yoshi. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s impossible to truly describe how immersive and fun this game was with just words. If you ever get the opportunity and haven’t done so already, play this game. In my eyes, one of the best 3D platformeers.