The first few console generations were dominated by platformer games. With titles such as Mario, Donkey Kong, Metroid, etc. platformers were the king of the 2D era. When 3D came along, we were introduced to an entirely new generation of platformers through legendary titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie.
What makes platformers so good, even to this day? Well, they are simple to learn and fun to play. You have a clear sense of progression, and the level design in some of these platformers is truly incredible.
I’ve created a list of the top 30 platformer games of all time that you must play. This isn’t just for retro gaming fans and indie aficionados. Anyone looking for some good old-fashioned fun should check out these platformers.
Super Mario 64
A launch title for the now legendary Nintendo 64 console. Super Mario 64 is without a doubt one of the greatest video games ever made. And in my humble opinion, it’s also the most amazing platformer ever.
How popular was this game? Let me give you an idea- it sold over 2 million copies in just the first 3 months. Keep in mind, this was way back in the mid-90s.
Between 1995 and 2002, Super Mario 64 was the best-selling game in the United States. When you look at the revolutionary open-world design, it becomes clear as to why this game was so popular. Mario has more ways to interact with the environment and it’s all in 3D.
One of the best games ever released for Nintendo’s SNES console, Super Metroid was a huge upgrade over its predecessors. In this game, Samus is on a journey to rescue a captured Metroid from the space pirate Ridley. Much like previous games, you have a non-linear level design in which you can backtrack and explore hidden areas to find collectibles.
However, you could now fire in 8 different directions. And you got an inventory screen which was a first for Metroid back then. Oh, and this game even had a minimap to make exploration easier.
if you are interested to check out more all-time best games from different genres, check out my other post Top 30 RTS Games Of All Time That You Must Play
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
We all know about Dracula, the legendary vampire. In Castlevania, he had a son with a human woman. This resulted in the birth of a dhampir, called Alucard.
In Symphony of the Night, you play as Dracula’s son Alucard. And you explore your father’s castle trying to find the secret entity that’s controlling Richter Belmont. This is one of the earliest platformers to feature RPG elements, like an inventory screen and attributes.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest
Rare is to platformers what Square is to JRPGs. One of their masterpieces is Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest. There are 8 different worlds in this game, each presenting you with extremely unique environments to play around with.
In total, you get 52 levels and some amazing pre-rendered 3D graphics melded into a 2D platformer. You play as both Diddy Kong and his friend Dixie, trying to rescue your father who has been kidnapped. There are both land and underwater sections with a wide variety of enemies- crocodiles, stingrays, rats, porcupines, etc.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog was Sega’s mascot, designed to rival Nintendo’s Mario. While Mario is a family-friendly plumber leisurely hopping around in the Mushroom Kingdom, Sonic is a blazing fast hedgehog. He’s edgier, faster, and marketed towards teens instead of kids.
The first Sonic game was successful. But it doesn’t compare to the second one which cranked up the speed even further and introduced wild new mechanics. Sonic can defeat enemies by jumping on them, but he also has a new spin attack that also provides a temporary speed boost.
In this game, you can play as either Sonic or his sidekick Tails. A 2-player co-op mode lets you play as Sonic while your friend plays Tails.
if you are interested to check out more all-time best games from different genres, check out my other post Top 40 Sandbox Games Of All Time (PC, PS, Android, Xbox)
This is the original Banjo-Kazooie game that was released for Nintendo 64 back in 1998. Its story plays out like an old Disney tale in which a witch tries to steal the beauty of your younger sister. There are lots of interesting design elements including puzzles, traps, collectibles, power-ups, etc.
Banjo-Kazooie is also one of the earliest 3D platformers that let you control your character from a 3rd-person perspective. It’s standard now, but remember- this is a time when people were used to looking at their player character from the side in a 2D fashion. Progression is nonlinear and you can interact with NPCs spread out all over the game world.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Like previous NES Mario games, you can jump on enemies to defeat them. You can also use items to gain power-ups. However, some new systems are introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 like the ability to fly and slide.
This was the first game to feature Koopalings, basically Bowser’s children. You even had a world map to switch between levels more easily. There are throwable blocks and vines that you can climb.
Mega Man 2
While this is also an NES platformer that was released around the same time as Mario Bros. 3, both games play very differently. Mario feels more relaxed and laid-back compared to Mega Man 2 which is faster and action-packed. It also features a more mature storyline with evil scientists and murderous robot slaves.
Unlike Mario, each stage has its unique boss character that provides you with a special weapon after being defeated. And the stage design is always based around the special power of its boss. The weapon you get from one boss can be used against another boss, and you can tackle levels in whichever order you wish.
if you are interested to check out more all-time best games from different genres, check out my other post Top 40 Stealth Games Of All Time (PS, Xbox, PC, Switch)
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped
The Crash Bandicoot series of games paved the way for 3D platformers during the PS1 era and catapulted Naughty Dog into the spotlight. Warped gets its name from the time-traveling integrated into its story. You can control either Crash or Coco and the goal is to gather all 25 crystals to stop an evil supervillain.
A time machine acts as the central hub, from where you can access various “worlds” within the game. Each area has a crystal and bonus level, as well as special boss fights. You’ll also find boxes that either reward you with additional power-ups and lives or punish you with explosions.
Super Mario Galaxy
In Super Mario Galaxy the gameplay revolves around Mario rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser. Yeah, really interesting stuff, I know. It’s never been done before.
But wait, there’s a twist. Instead of the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re now traveling across the galaxy and visiting different planets, each with its unique environment and gravity values. It’s also designed around the Wii’s motion control remote.
It borrows from older Rayman games while also adding several new elements. Like before, you can have up to 4 players simultaneously progressing through the world in a co-op mode. There are captive creatures you can free and lums that you can collect.
Saving the Teensies unlocks new levels for you to play around with, and there are several characters to choose from. Each playable character has unique abilities that let them traverse the environment and get around obstacles.
if you are interested to check out more all-time best games from different genres, check out my other post Top 40 JRPG Games Of All Time (PC, PS, PSP, Switch)
Super Meat Boy
So… you’re a cube of meat trying to rescue your girlfriend Bandage Girl from an evil doctor called Fetus. Yeah, the story doesn’t make much sense. But you know, the gameplay is just fantastic.
This is one of the few modern platformers that is right up there with classics such as Super Mario and Metroid. Not only are the obstacles and traps incredibly well-designed, but Meat Boy also has access to several moves. He can jump, run, slide, climb walls, but all this has to be done with precise timing or else you will be turned into ground meat.
Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
It’s a beautiful mix of 2D and 3D graphics in combination with some excellent art design. Add in a captivating story and you’ve got a real gem of a game. Not to mention, the soundtrack is perfect too.
This is a very adventure-focused game with tons of exploration, collectible upgrades, and non-linear levels. You can jump, swim, glide, and dash across platforms while also engaging in melee combat that features heavy spell usage. Spells can be upgraded with shards, and you also unlock new parts of the world through exploration.
A story about self-discovery, facing your fears, and maintaining hope in the face of overwhelming darkness. Celeste is as much a visual experience that you watch as it is a game that you play. The soundtrack and art design match up perfectly, and levels progressively get harder in a way that matches the pacing of the story.
Your abilities get upgraded as you progress, and you can combine moves to access areas that are otherwise difficult to reach. Certain mechanics are level-specific, like spring pads and feathers that let you glide for brief periods. The game has plenty of replayability thanks to alternate scenarios presented as post-game content and hidden levels that you unlock.
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
You play as an alien worker trapped inside a meat processing factory. And you’re trying to rescue your fellow workers from an evil scheme the company is hatching. This plan will exterminate your entire race by turning everyone into processed food, and you’re the only person who can stop it.
The game has a ton of variety, both in the way you fight enemies and how you escape them. If you choose a stealthy approach, there is a tiptoe mechanic that lets you move around without making noise. Plus, you can even use your telepathic powers to control enemy NPCs which lets you fight your enemies indirectly.
Many games on this list involve puzzles as a side-dish, but here it’s the main course. Limbo isn’t a platformer in which you can jump over enemies to defeat them. Enemies aren’t even that common, but when you do come across one you have to be very careful because they are quite powerful.
On top of that, this game has a very creepy horror vibe to it. The art style and world design are dark, quite literally in fact. Everything is in black and white, which makes it hard to see a hidden trap or enemy until it’s too late.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time
If we talk about diversity in gameplay, very few titles on this list match up to Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time. You can rewind time and fix broken items with a special staff. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that you can shoot grapple hooks from your arm and modify how gravity works with special boots.
This game is a sci-fi space adventure in which you travel between planets and moons using your personal spaceship. You can also upgrade your ship’s weapons and your weapons.
The original LittleBigPlanet was a true masterpiece since it allowed for so much player customization and user-created content. You had levels that could be transformed with your actions. Imagine a world made out of Lego blocks that can be moved around and interacted with in unique ways.
All of the custom levels made by players in the first game carry over into the 2nd one. Physics plays a big part in how you interact with the environment, and you can even create entirely new game modes. Turning this from a puzzle platformer into a racer or adventure game.
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
The original game came out in 1990, an 8-bit 2D platformer for the Sega Genesis. We also got a remake in 2013 with 3D graphics and slightly redesigned levels that feature better boss fights. The remake also lets you fully explore the castle from the original game.
Whether you play the remake or original, Castle of Illusion is one of the most enjoyable platformers ever. Combat is simple- you either jump on enemies or pick up throwable objects that can be flung at anyone in your way. The enhanced remake also has new puzzles and unlockable outfits for Mickey.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Like any other platformer, you traverse obstacles and defeat enemies while gathering stuff. In this game, you’re a dragon chasing an evil witch who stole a bunch of magical eggs from your world. You follow her across multiple levels, collecting those eggs and playing various minigames integrated within each level.
All the 37 levels are linked by central hubs, and you have to complete unique tasks to get rewarded with magical eggs. You also collect gems that can be used to bribe an NPC character who helps you get across special obstacles. As a dragon, you can glide and breathe fire, plus there are various power-ups that further improve your existing abilities.
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
The game gets its name from the book containing all of the protagonist’s moves that have been stolen by a rival gang. You and your party of friends are on a mission to recover it. The game is a mix of stealth and platforming which is perfect since your character is a thief.
Plus, the graphics are very unique. This is one of the first games to use cell shading which gives everything a comic-book vibe. There are security cameras and sentries that you must avoid by moving stealthily.
Even though this game was released in 2014, it’s a 2D side-scrolling platformer with pixelated graphics that give it a very retro look. And I dig it (Get it? You’re a knight and you have a shovel…). Your shovel is a 2-in-1 tool that lets you whack enemies over the head or dig into the ground to pull out hidden treasure.
The shovel even acts as a pogo stick, letting you jump on enemies. An NPC salesman called Chester is hidden in each level and you can buy relics from him that give you magical powers. You can also upgrade your armor and weaponry at villages, and purchase additional spells.
A truly open-source game created by one man to make a fun and easily accessible adventure platformer. Spelunky isn’t a game that you just run through mindlessly because hazards and enemies can kill you instantly. The controls are simple enough for a beginner to understand within minutes.
But you’ll have to plan ahead and carefully scan your environment if you don’t want to keep dying over and over. You explore tunnels and underground caves filled with treasures and collectibles but infested with all sorts of hostile creatures like bats and snakes. Collectible gear gives you special powers, and you’ll occasionally find trapped NPCs who can be rescued.
One of the oldest video games, this is from 1982 and was originally released for the Atari 2600. If you’re wondering how long ago that was, the NES was released in July of 1983. You play as an adventurer called Harry, navigating through a jungle filled with hostile creatures and traps.
Harry must collect all the treasures within a level to pass, and he must do it within the time limit of 20 minutes. Unlike traditional side-scrollers, this game uses fixed screens. There are a total of 255 screens, and you flip through them like pages on a book.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
It may seem inconspicuous and kid-friendly but in reality, this is a game filled with adult humor and toilet jokes. It also lets you seamlessly switch between levels using an overworld system. You unlock new areas by accumulating enough in-game currency, which is obtained by doing challenges.
Challenges involve puzzle-solving, racing, boss fights, etc. You can climb ladders, swim, run, jump, and whack enemies with a frying pan.
Health is regained by eating chocolate bars. You can equip various weapons like knives and shotguns, and press contextual prompts to execute special moves.
It’s a 2D Metroidvania adventure game in which you play as an insect-like creature traveling through the alien world of Hallownest. You are armed with a nail for melee attacks and have access to a selection of magical spells for ranged attacks. Currency is earned by defeating enemies, and you also gain Soul by attacking enemies.
When you die, you are reduced to an ethereal form and lose all your currency. You can recover at a save bench, a limited number of these are scattered across the game world. Salesmen NPCs provide you with equipment, tips, lore, and other services.
Scrooge McDuck from the television series called DuckTales is featured in this game. His mission is to become the richest duck in the whole wide world by defeating his arch-nemesis Flintheart Glomgold. Originally, it was released for the NES back in 1989 although a remastered version was created in 2013.
Platforming is done by using Scrooge’s cane which works like a pogo stick, letting you jump on high places. This very same cane also acts as your primary weapon, used to melee enemies. You collect ice cream to restore health and pick up any treasure you find within the levels.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
A notoriously frustrating game due to its insane difficulty and lack of any save system. You can adjust the difficulty and number of lives that you start with. But even on the easiest mode, this game will make you rip your hair out.
There are a total of 8 levels, with 4 of them being separated into two unique stages. Each level has a guardian at the end who you must beat to advance. Unlike the previous Ghouls ‘n Ghosts game this one has a double jump.
In this platformer, you play Vince the voodoo doll. Yes, you can do all the standard stuff like running and jumping but the special power is where this character shines. You charge up a voodoo meter by collecting dolls scattered throughout each level.
Once the meter is filled, you can damage enemies around you by hurting yourself. Health can be recovered by using zombie dust bags. You harm yourself in new and creative ways to cause even greater harm to your enemies, particularly bosses.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
A game for the Nintendo 3DS, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a fun action-adventure in which the protagonist is a little genie lady. You lost your powers in the last game and now must equip weapons or special items to attack enemies. These weapons are of pirate origins, like muzzleloading handguns and scimitars.
There are potions and magic spells along with a basic hair attack in which you use your enchanted hair to damage enemies. The world of Shantae is filled with little interconnected islands that can be explored, and you have your very own pirate ship. Each island has loot and a pirate boss who you must defeat to advance.
Platforming as a genre hasn’t gone extinct, but it has evolved. I would dare say it’s more omnipresent than ever before. Previously in the 80s and 90s, platformers were their genre.
However, these days you see platforming elements crammed into several modern AAA games. Anytime you jump, clamber, or vault to an elevated position in an FPS/ open-world game, you’re engaging in platforming. Except now it’s in a 3D format and presented from a first-person/ third-person view.
Oh, and you also see collectibles/power-ups in several modern games. Guess where those ideas were first popularized. Besides, you do have some very good modern platformer games being released by the indie development scene.
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