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 games that made the genre such a compelling fixture. Here, we’ll be taking a walk through gaming history as we recall the best 15 platform games ever made. Yes. Ever. The only constraint? Only one game per franchise. Why? This list would have at least four Mario games in it. Let’s get started!
15: Conker’s Bad Fur Day (N64)
Starting off with a popular Nintendo 64 adult classic, this game wasn’t simply colourful in appearance, but colourful in language, too. Conker was an alcoholic squirrel with a penchant for women, which made this game very unlike any other N64 title ever released. It was over-the-top, but played beautifully, with great platforming mechanics and an adventure that would have been great even without its adult-themed uniqueness. A well-deserved spot on the list.
14: Super Metroid (SNES)
Super Metroid took all of the imperfections of its less popular predecessor and polished them so brilliantly that it kept the beloved franchise going all the way up until now, while diversifying Nintendo’s IP portfolio. Super Metroid was eerie, challenging and attractive with an excellent soundtrack, and helped to define the 2D shooter-platformer genre.
13: LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)
Another game that was simply better than the one before it. LittleBigPlanet 2 had the advantage over its predecessor of knowing what went well in the prequel and what people enjoyed. As a result, this newer iteration of the game was more about what players could create, and less about the pre-made content (although, what was already in the game was already great). People made their own parodies and versions of existing games (gameception), or simply crafted worlds, that anyone else with the game and an internet connection could explore at their leisure. Magnificent stuff.
12: Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One)
Entering at number 12 is the most recent and visually gorgeous game in this list – Ori and the Blind Forest. This one quite rightly wowed gamers everywhere with its impressive visuals, beautiful sounds and downright intuitive, original gameplay. While it suffers from harsh difficulty spikes, Ori remains rewarding and satisfying throughout, and is a must-buy for anyone that enjoys platformers.
11: Ducktales (OoOOooh) (NES) & Ducktales Remaster (Various)
Can you hear the iconic title screen melody? If you’ve never played Ducktales or simply can’t remember, look it up on YouTube. While the game itself wasn’t particularly innovative, it was damn fun, with great visuals for its time and a truly memorable soundtrack. It’s a pity it’s so short!
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.
9: Crash Bandicoot: Warped (PS1)
Aside from his 2016 appearance in Skylanders and a quick cameo in Uncharted 4, Crash hasn’t been too busy collecting apples and spinning around lately. We were supposed to be getting a PS4 release title, but that got reworked into Knack. Perhaps Crash’s absence amplifies the effect of the nostalgia with which we look back on his PS1 games, but regardless, they were great, especially for their time. They were just –fun-, and whacky, and colourful. They were exactly what any platformer game wanted to be. Crash Bandicoot, particularly Warped, helped chisel the bright history of the 3D platforming genre.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You won’t regret it. For me, it is the absolute pinnacle and platforming.
And that’s it! Thank you for checking out this list. Again, it’s worth mentioning that every series is limited to just one game here. I hope you consider playing some of the above games if you haven’t already; all 15 are a real treat!