The platformer was once a key staple of the gaming landscape. When you could only play on a 2D plane, it made sense to make characters simply jump from location to location, and have that be the core concept of the game. It was simple but worked incredibly well. In the modern-day, it often feels like platformers are a relic of times gone by, a genre we should've moved past, but never did. All the way up until an absolute banger releases.
The fact is, platformers are here to stay, and this list proves it. While we may be long past the heyday of platformers, they still have a firm place in the gaming zeitgeist, and whenever a truly excellent platformer releases, the gaming world stands still, if only for a moment, and if you play any from this list, you'll know exactly why…
This is, for obvious reasons, the big one. This list isn't in any particular order, but if it were, this would be near the top. After more than a decade of confining himself to either 2D games or more linear 3D stages, Mario finally let himself off the leash with Super Mario Odyssey, and it was a truly spectacular return to form. Few games offer this level of creativity and interactivity in every stage, and this game will make you want to explore every single facet of every single stage.
Donkey Kong Country isn't the series we asked for a return of, but we're glad it happened, and the sequel, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze refined the formula to a fine point. Each stage looks gorgeous, and simply moving through them tells a story of its own. The action is challenging but engaging, and you'll happily waste life after life trying to overcome every challenge this game has to offer. A true platforming masterpiece.
Super Mario Maker 2's story mode has stages so good that it is instantly one of the best 2D Mario games of all time, and then you have to consider that the game has essentially limitless online stages, and one of the most versatile consumer stage creation tools in gaming, it becomes an utterly essential package. This is the infinite platformer, and it's incredible. And that's all without even mentioning the new Super Mario 3D World themes.
From one stage creator to another. LittleBigPlanet is known for the sheer creativity of the dedicated players, the semi-iconic Sackboy (iconic if you ask Sony officials), and Stephen Fry - at least for the first game. LittleBigPlanet really did spearhead the concept of creating your own games within games, and Media Molecule is taking that concept to the next level with the incredibly impressive Dreams. Until then though, we have LittleBigPlanet 3.
Super Meat Boy
This is a pure, somewhat nonsense platformer. Super Meat Boy is about big jumps, big skills, and precise, speedy movement. You'll be sliding along paths, between spikes, over gaps, jumping up walls, all while aiming to defeat an evil fetus. Don't question it. It has been almost a decade, but Super Meat Boy is still famous, or perhaps infamous, for its difficulty and physics.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Now, many people prefer the open style of Super Mario Odyssey to the more linear 3D stages of the Galaxy games, but there is absolutely no person alive that would try to claim that Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn't an excellent game. Each level is perfectly crafted, brimming with ideas, and no concept ever gets worn out. It introduces and tosses away mechanics constantly, keeping the entire game fresh from beginning to end. A true classic.
Cuphead is another game that will perhaps live on in infamy for its crushing difficulty, but the fans will remember it more for a bombastic soundtrack, incredible visual style, and a dark sense of storytelling. Cuphead is the kind of game that can crush your will to continue playing in one moment, and have you unable to tear your eyes away from the screen the next. Cuphead is a tough, challenging, wonderful platformer.
So many years had gone past since Sonic's last truly excellent 2D platformer that many people had forgotten that he ever had any. Well, Sonic Mania shut up every single Sonic detractor and delivered an experience that is as important as it is unforgettable. Christian Whitehead knows exactly what made those original 2D Sonic games fun, and with his team that essence was distilled and concentrated into Sonic Mania, one of the best Sonic games of all time.
Ori and the Blind Forest seemingly came from nowhere and managed to remind every person that played it exactly what was so incredible about the Metroidvania games of the past. This game has everything you want: challenging platforming, exciting action, and the kind of puzzles that make you feel like a minor genius just for remembering something you saw a few hours earlier. Ori is an excellent adventure that everyone should play.
Rayman Legends is gorgeous, let's just make that clear. It looks beautiful, plays great, and really makes me wish for more games made with the UbiArt Framework engine. This is one of the few platformers which is great to play either alone, or with a bunch of friends, and those musical stages are positively wonderful. Truly one of the more memorable and imaginative platformers of the last ten years.
There were dozens upon dozens of excellent platformers released in the last decade, so many that it's a real struggle to narrow them all down. Here are our honorable mentions, and if you've already played all of the games listed above, perhaps you should look at this shortlist below…