Platformers might be my favorite genre when they are done correctly. There was a time in the 90s when this genre reigned supreme and that is when I began to play video games. They hold a special place in my heart and there has been a slight resurgence in their popularity in recent years with the rise of indie developers. It is a good time to be a platform lover but there are some titles that have stood the test of time.
As always, there can only be one entry per series and platforming should be a core part of the gameplay. There are a lot of games in this category so who will reach the top? Let’s jump on in and find out.
On first appearance, Celeste seems like it is just going to be a standard platformer but things quickly ramp up in both the narrative and the gameplay. Madeline has made the decision to climb to the peak of a mountain and along her journey she meets other travelers and her own insecurities. It’s a surprising story about mental health and moving on and I didn’t expect it to go this direction.
The actual platforming is some of the most difficult and satisfying that I have played in a 2D platformer in quite some time. The skills are fairly simple, but the level design keeps escalating its difficulty and making the player realize they are capable of more than they thought possible. Much like Madeline herself during her journey.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
This was one of my first games I played on my Gameboy Advance back in the day. It wasn’t too difficult and the noises and bosses made me smile with their cartoony ridiculousness. In fact, this might be the first platformer I ever managed to beat by myself.
Yoshi’s arsenal of moves from his suspicious tongue and egg throws to his transformation abilities keep the levels interesting long into the adventure. The game is easy compared to most others on this list but it’s definitely the hardest Yoshi game that has been released yet. I also love the pastel art style this entry went with. It all fits in so well with the nostalgia that I have for it.
Rayman was one of the first platforming games that I tried. I have barely formed memories of moving Rayman around on the PS1, but I never became fully engrossed with his series until Rayman Legends released. It was the only game I played on my Vita and I managed to perfect it at the time. The time trials and collecting everything can take a lot out of you.
But the main reason why this game is so good is similiar to how people talk about the Sonic games. You flow through these environments. It is all about speed and memorizing the structure of the level so you can collect everything, without getting hit, and do it quickly. Ubisoft needs to make a third entry in this rebooted series.
A Playstation icon back in the day, Spyro has largely fallen to the wayside. The recently remastered trilogy of his games appears to have had some success within the Spyro community, but there doesn’t appear to be a follow-up like Crash had with his long-awaited sequel.
That is okay, though, because the first Spyro is still an absolute treasure of a game. As Spyro frees the dragons from their stone prisons, he hops and flies around his worlds collecting hearts. It isn’t difficult, but it is a nice Sunday morning playthrough. Spyro’s pretty easygoing and I’m here for a casual stroll through some platforming obstacles for once.
Even though Hollow Knight is an exceptional addition to the Metroidvania genre, it also has some of the best examples of platforming of any game currently out. The base game before the DLC offered some tricky platforming sections where the young knight had to use his nail to bounce off moving object to cross an acidic pond or time his falls just right to avoid being zapped by jellyfish.
However, the best platforming Hollow Knight has to offer is the path of pain which was a part of the Grimm Troupe DLC. This section has some really short intervals for jumps and requires that the player is on top of their game from the word go. I have only done it once, but I am planning a revisit of Hollow Knight soon…
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
Another PS1 classic, the Crash Bandicoot games were always a beloved childhood favorite that I could never beat. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever beat any of these levels as a kid, but when Activision announced that there was going to be a remastered trilogy, I jumped on the chance to redeem myself.
These games are just the right level of difficulty with little secrets and charming environments. I blew through the first game collecting all the gems, boxes, and, most of the time trials. These games are fun and difficult to master. I’m not sure if I want more games like Crash Bandicoot’s 2.5D style gaming, but I do think Crash does it well.
The most unique entry on this list, Psychonauts is a 3D platformer that uses imagination and psychology to create its platforming worlds. Since these platforming worlds take place in other characters’ minds, it leaves so much freedom to create unique spaces for the player to navigate. Honestly, some of these levels feel like a fever dream, and I’m curious what the original development was like for the team.
What’s better is that this isn’t just a way for the player to see unique assets because the levels are the projections of the characters’ inner selves. Whatever they may be struggling with or whatever their inner thoughts may be is what Raz has to tackle when he enters their consciousness. It’s an extremely creative angle for level design and character development. I hope the sequel can match the same degree of genius.
Ori and the Blind Forest
There have been few games since I have gotten older that have taken my breath away and Ori and the Blind Forest is one of them. The moment that I watched the relationship between Ori and Nanu, I knew this game was special. The characters seemed to be a part of this living, breathing world. And yet that world needed saving.
You run through the forest, bringing parts of it back to life. My favorite scene in the game is when you perform the water escape, and the water is chasing you towards the top. It’s epic and beautiful all at the same time and I couldn’t help thinking this was an old Disney/Pixar film as I played it. Ori and the Blind Forest has a nice mix of abilities that will require that you stay on your toes to stay alive. The game is deceptively difficult, and I love it all the more for that.
Banjo and Kazooie
Banjo and Kazooie is one of the best 3D platformers ever made and definitely the best one of the 90s. The levels are just oozing with charm. Everything from the cartoony music to the NPCs with their big eyes and goofy voices is just perfect for this type of game. The platforming also holds up exceedingly well in most cases. Banjo and Kazooie will learn new moves and tricks throughout their adventure, which help to keep the gameplay fresh as you progress.
The only section that really caused an uproar for me was Click Clock Wood, where if you fall, you will likely lose all the progress you have made. And you need to climb to the top of that damn tree at least four times. But I’ll keep doing it because the game is still worth it.
What can I say? Mario Odyssey is the culmination of everything that Nintendo has learned about creating a 3D platformer. The movement is fun to learn, and though it might be a little too good, it does offer the player a lot of creativity when it comes to navigating the worlds. By the way, the worlds are some of the best in the Mario Series.
From the Luncheon Kingdom to the Cap Kingdom, I have so many fond memories walking around these spaces collecting moons and coins. The entire game just hits a part of my brain that so rarely gets itched now that I am older. I felt like a kid playing this game in the best possible way. It’s comfort food in digital form, and I really hope if there is ever a sequel that it will be able to make me smile even half as much as Mario Odyssey originally did.