Where would video games be today without the humble platformer? Without doubt, this is one of the industry’s most important genres – just try to imagine your gaming life without the simple joys of jumping from one mysteriously floating platform to another.
Bleak, isn’t it?
While the advent of 3D engines offered developers a huge range of freedom to explore concepts outside the platformer (such as first-person shooters, which obviously flourished), the genre was kept alive by such titles as Crash Bandicoot, Mario 64, and Ratchet & Clank. These, and others, experimented with platform elements across multiple consoles and evolving technology.
In recent years, thanks in large part to the popularity of mobile gaming and the growth of the indie-development scene, the platformer has seen something of a resurgence. In particular, platformers are at home on smartphones and tablets, suited to their smaller screens and touch-controls. Classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Another World have hit mobile stores, giving older and newer fans alike the chance to play influential platform-based games wherever they are.
Over the years, countless platform games have come and gone, with some now sadly forgotten. However, many still stand up today, offering fun, exciting experiences that refuse to be dulled by age.
Which are the genre’s very best titles, though? It’s not such an easy choice to make – but we’ve given it a try anyway …
Surely, Earthworm Jim has one of the coolest, most original concepts in the history of video games.
Jim is a normal earthworm until the day a ‘super suit’ plunges from the sky and grants him not just the ability to move like a human, but to embark on a huge adventure in which he must find Princess What’s-Her-Name
With gorgeous graphics that still look awesome today (even without their recent HD touch-up), awesome villains (Queen Slug-for-a-Butt and Bob the Killer Goldfish, anyone?), and addictive gameplay, Earthworm Jim was a huge hit, spawning a popular animated series that featured an awesome theme song you might still remember today.
The game is fast-paced, action-packed, and pretty damn distinctive in an overcrowded genre. Worth a play even today.
Like Earthworm Jim, Limbo is a unique experience, featuring stunning graphics and a gripping concept that captured many a player’s imagination.
Starring an anonymous young boy who finds himself in a dark, stark forest, Limbo follows the hero’s quest to find his missing sister. The simplistic, black-and-white visuals are absolutely stunning to behold, with a dreamlike beauty (the boy’s glowing white eyes are a particularly nice touch). The game is designed to be pretty fiendish, with creative traps just waiting to kill the boy in numerous grizzly ways – including decapitation.
While it might prove frustrating for some players, Limbo is definitely worth sticking with, and as it takes just a few hours to finish, it’s a fairly short-but-sweet experience.
Sonic the Hedgehog
We couldn’t start our trawl through 20 of the best platformers without Sonic, could we?
What more can be said about this absolute gem that hasn’t been covered already? Sonic was created to be Sega’s official mascot, and it worked beautifully – the character was massive in the 90s, appearing in numerous games, an animated series, in comics, on clothes, in sticker albums …
Sonic’s ability to race through levels set him apart from other platform characters, with stages crafted to accommodate speed and a gutsier approach. Everything came together perfectly for Sonic the Hedgehog, blending a cool hero, a stunning world, an iconic villain, and plenty of super-cute supporting characters to great effect.
Sonic games still perform well today, with various titles available on mobile devices, and there are more still to come. May he live forever!
As fans will remember, Strider wasn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s remembered as being one of the most difficult platformers ever made. Apparently, the game is short enough to be defeated in around half an hour, but most players were unlikely to do so (until they had already spent many a day perfecting it).
Set in a dystopian future, Strider cast the player as a high-tech, plasma sword-wielding ninja sent on a mission to liberate the world from the evil Grandmaster. This villain may sound about as threatening as a world-class chess champion, but he was actually something of a monster – and offing him with a swift, brutal assassination was the hero’s responsibility.
The recent reboot updated the 2D action with modern visuals, but as fun as it is, the high difficulty has been too much for some players.
Flashback is a different platforming experience to the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Strider, incorporating various puzzles and extensive back-tracking.
Developed by Delphine Software (which had previously scored hits with Another World and Prince of Persia), Flashback cast players as Conrad Hart, an everyman who awakens in a mysterious jungle with no idea who he is or how he got there. His quest for the truth takes him through a violent game show titled Death Tower, to Earth, and onto the homeworld of the game’s villainous aliens, the Morphs.
With amazing rotoscoped graphics, smart puzzles, and a great story, Flashback is still a unique game. Controlling Conrad is delightfully simple, but there were many complicated sequences that forced you to play them again and again … and again. Still, the game’s difficulty never became too much, and players could actually reach the finale without too much frustration.
That’s it for part one of our selection – we’ll see you soon for the next five.
Which are your favourite platform games of all time? Let us know!