Whether classic or brand new, platforming games have long been a staple of the industry. For many years, they anchored console lineups and represented gaming. Although the platforming genre has diminished in importance over the years, it’s still getting some great games added to it. This is one of the hardest lists I’ve ever put together, because there are so many good candidates, but these eight represent some of the best the genre has to offer.
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Shovel Knight is the newest title on this list, but it is definitely deserving. Released last year by indie developer Yacht Club Games, it embodies the gameplay of many classic titles, while remaining true to itself. It feels like it was informed by games like Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s well-balanced, features outstanding level design, and even avoids cutscenes to tell the story with gameplay. It’s an experience that would have been at home on the NES, and one that any platforming fan should play.
Super Mario 64
If there was one game that defined what 3D platforming would be, it was Super Mario 64. It was a more open world than we’d ever seen from a Mario title, requiring you to revisit levels multiple times and find new areas to gather all the stars you needed. Despite that, it still felt like a Mario game, as you were jumping on enemies, using power-ups, and collecting coins. Not only did it signal that the Mario franchise would sustain itself into the 3D world, it wound up as the best-selling title on the Nintendo 64.
Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country was the game that saw the titular gorilla transition from a Mario villain into a hero. It let you launch yourself out of barrel cannons, ride in mine carts, and swing through trees using vines. You can gain extra lives by collecting barrels that spell out KONG, and there are shortcuts through the levels. You can even control Donkey Kong’s nephew, Diddy Kong, for the first time. Donkey Kong Country was such a great platformer that we’re still seeing sequels today.
Platformers may be 2D or 3D, but they’re typically played from a third-person or side-scrolling perspective, but not Mirror’s Edge. Instead, it put you in the first-person perspective, and had you running, sliding, jumping, and wall-running. It also emphasized hand-to-hand combat over the use of firearms, but the primary goal of the game was simple: keep running.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a 2D platformer that came out when most developers were already focusing on 3D titles. That didn’t hurt Konami’s title at all. Symphony of the Night had you exploring a huge world, upgrading your equipment, and gaining new abilities. Those new abilities unlock new areas to explore. It might have some strong RPG elements, but it’s an amazing platformer in its own right.
Mega Man 2
There are plenty of good games in the Mega Man series, but the best of those might just be Mega Man 2. It incorporated unused content from the the first title in the series, but it also changed the graphics and gameplay of the original. Many of those changes persist in the series to the newest installments. On top of gameplay that’s still considered as some of the best in the series, it also has an amazing soundtrack to boot.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time
Picking a single Ratchet & Clank title as the best is a huge challenge, but A Crack in Time comes out on top for a few reasons. First off, it adds the Chronoscepter that gives Clank the ability to manipulate time, adding another layer to the puzzles in the game. In addition to those puzzles, A Crack in Time sports updated visuals and a wide variety of gameplay. It also allows Ratchet to freely fly his ship between planets and stop on moons along the way to gather bolts, find weapon mods, and complete optional challenges. Of course, it also sports the widely varied arsenal of weapons that we’ve come to expect from the series.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Out of all the Super Mario Bros. games, the third one is likely the best of the bunch. Not only did it add new worlds besides the fire, ice, grass, and desert worlds we’d been seeing, it added a host of new power-ups. The Super Leaf and the Tanooki Suit let Mario fly or turn to stone respectively, and other power-ups included a Frog Suit and a Hammer Suit. Even more impressive was the inventory system the game gave us to deal with the power-ups. Not only is SMB 3 the best of the Super Mario Bros. series, it’s widely considered one of the best games to appear on the NES, period.