2D platformers are a straightforward game genre that’s been around for decades, which means you’ll find a lot of them on the market. But which ones are worth playing?
Let’s take a look at the top-tier 2D platformers available on modern systems that everyone should experience at least once. Keep in mind that we’re sticking to pure platformers, so we won’t include sub-genres like Metroidvania games or action platformers like Contra.
1. Rayman Legends
Many people forgot about Rayman—after starting life as a 2D platformer, he had a few 3D games before the Raving Rabbids spin-off series took over the name. 2011’s Rayman Origins brought Rayman back as a 2D game, and its sequel Rayman Legends is even better.
Rayman Legends takes you through beautifully crafted levels with plenty of secrets to discover. You’ll need to rescue Teensies to open new stages, while collecting Lums (this game’s coins) unlocks all kinds of other content.
Aside from the standard levels, Legends also includes some rhythm-based stages set the tune of popular songs. It even includes remastered versions of 40 levels from Rayman Origins, making it great value for money. If you love platformers but have never experienced Rayman, you’re missing out.
2. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
The second DK Country game from Retro Studios is close to platforming perfection. It follows the Kongs’ journey to take back their island from invaders who have frozen it. As Donkey Kong, you team up with Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky Kong to use their unique skills to traverse dozens of levels.
Like the classic Donkey Kong Country games, there are plenty of collectibles to find, including KONG letters that unlock extra-tough levels. The game takes you through stunning locations, including a fruit preparation factory and even the inside of a tornado. The phenomenal music matches each area’s feel perfectly and is one of the great video game soundtracks for relaxing.
While it was initially a Wii U game, Tropical Freeze is now available on Switch. This release adds Funky Kong as a playable character, who is easier to play as since he has more health and the moves of all partner characters.
Buy: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Switch
3. Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy was an early indie success that still holds up today. You control the titular character as he platforms through hundreds of tough-as-nails levels to save his girlfriend Bandage Girl.
The game features tight platforming controls, which you’ll need to get past the game’s many challenges. After completing the Light World stages, you can try their Dark World equivalents, which are much tougher. Combine these with boss battles, optional collectibles, and unlockable characters, and Super Meat Boy is a must-play platformer.
4. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Shovel Knight is another indie platformer that exemplifies the genre. In the original campaign, Shovel of Hope, you control Shovel Knight in his fight against the Order of No Quarter. You must use your shovel to attack, dig, and bounce through each level and defeat their bosses.
However, Treasure Trove contains three additional campaigns that let you play as some of the bosses from the original story. Each one has their own story and unique playstyle, meaning there’s a lot to enjoy across the package.
Throw in tight controls, excellent chiptune music, and crisp retro graphics, and you’ve got a platformer collection you shouldn’t miss.
5. Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker 2 is special, because it has a theoretically infinite amount of levels. Nintendo includes 120 stages built into the game, which are great in their own right. But when you go online, you can play thousands of other courses that other players have designed.
Standard Mario platformer rules don’t apply in Mario Maker, meaning you can stack enemies on top of each other and create all kinds of other funky scenarios. Aside from platforming stages, people also create puzzle-based levels, levels based on music, and a lot more. You can even create a world map to tie stages together.
Even if you don’t create a single level, Mario Maker 2 is worth it for the sheer amount of playable content.
Buy: Super Mario Maker 2 for Switch
6. Sonic Mania
The Sonic series is filled with hit-or-miss experiences, but most people agree that Sonic Mania is an excellent game. It was primarily developed by Sonic fans who had experience making unofficial games, making it a faithful follow-up to the beloved classic titles.
Like its predecessors, Sonic Mania is a fast-paced platformer, with a few tweaks to modernize the formula. If you play well, you can zoom through levels with blinding speed. But there are also several layers of each stage to explore depending on the path you take.
While it does reuse level themes from many past games, Sonic Mania is both a worthwhile introduction to the series for newcomers and a retro blast for fans. It’s also a nice contrast to some of the slower platformers on the list.
Celeste is a special game where the story, gameplay, and music all come together in one narrative. It tasks you with guiding Madeline to climb a mountain while she struggles with her inner doubts.
To succeed, you’ll need to master the game’s simple-yet-tight mechanics. It starts out simple, but teaches you advanced movements throughout your adventure. And while it’s challenging, Celeste includes frequent checkpoints and assist options that let you make the experience more accessible.
To really test yourself, you can try to collect the optional strawberries and complete the game’s B-Side and C-Side levels. Celeste is a truly exceptional indie platformer that we’d recommend for everyone.
The original N is a classic online Flash platformer; N++ is the third iteration (after N+) of it. This is a pure platformer: you play as a ninja who leaps and wall jumps through bite-sized levels. You must use your jumping chops to complete levels quickly, as you only have a short amount of time in each one.
Collecting gold scattered around the stage increases your available time by a bit, so you have to decide whether to dash for the goal or go for gold. Collecting gold also unlocks goodies, such as new color schemes.
With over 4,300 levels, N++ offers a staggering amount of content, so you have plenty of ways to test your skills here. It’s a veteran platformer with no fluff.
9. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
While the first Yooka-Laylee game was a 3D collect-a-thon in the style of Banjo-Kazooie, its sequel is a 2D platformer. You control the titular duo as they work to rescue bees taken hostage by Capital Bee, the game’s villain. Impossible Lair has a few unique mechanics that help it stand out from the other games here.
First is the actual Impossible Lair—you start the game attempting it and will fail almost immediately, as it is indeed a huge challenge. However, each bee you rescue at the end of a stage provides you with an extra hit point in the Impossible Lair. Since you can attempt the Lair at any point, this lets you decide how difficult you want the final challenge to be.
In addition, the game’s overworld is fully explorable. Not only does it hide secrets of its own, but every level has a second state that you can toggle on the world map. For example, opening a floodgate might send water over a level’s entrance, flooding the actual stage and creating a new experience in it.
With an excellent soundtrack and tight platforming gameplay from veterans of the genre, Yooka and Laylee’s second adventure is a 2D platformer worthy of your time.
10. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
While Yoshi’s Island is the sequel to Super Mario World, it plays quite a bit differently. You control various Yoshis as they carry Baby Mario through the game’s levels to reunite him with Baby Luigi. Yoshi can swallow enemies with his tongue to spit them out, or turn them into eggs which you throw at enemies and switches.
The game has collectibles in each level, which unlock bonus levels if you collect them all. Yoshi’s Island features a charming hand-drawn art style and a catchy soundtrack, making it a cheerful experience. If you like platformers that aren’t so fast-paced with some light puzzles and extra item collecting thrown in, Yoshi’s first platformer is a must-play.
Yoshi’s Island is available as part of the SNES Collection for members of the Nintendo Switch Online service. As long as you’ve subscribed, you can download the collection onto your Switch to access this and other games.
Download: SNES: Nintendo Switch Online
Subscribe: Nintendo Switch Online
Pure Platforming Bliss
There’s a simple joy in platforming from the start of a level to its end. Whether you prefer fast-paced movement, intense challenges, or hunting for secrets, these all-star 2D platformers will serve you well.
If you enjoy these, why not look at sub-genres, like Metroidvania games, next? Thanks to clever indie developers, modern systems are full of them.
Image Credit: Deymos/Shutterstock
Do you love exploring a huge world to find collectibles? Then these Metroidvania games are for you.
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