Back in 2017, we watched a clip on YouTube called the 10 Best Modern 2D Platforming Games. It was by the folks at WhatCulture.
We still don’t at all agree with most of the line-up and, particularly, the ones right at the top. The result? We did a revised list here. Huzzah!
The Very Best 2D Platformers
As we have a love for side-scrollers (or 2D platformers, if you please), a marvellously inventive genre, here’s our pick from the best ones we’ve played since 2010.
Oh yes, we update this list fairly regularly to accommodate the best new titles we discover. The most recent overhaul was in January of 2021.
20. Hollow Knight
After much dithering, we’ve added Hollow Knight as Team Cherry’s Metroidvania epic is infuriatingly difficult at times.
But it’s also massively rewarding, beautiful, and quite the dramatic experience.
Buckle yourself in for this one as it’s a tough old ride, but well worth your perseverance. In the murky, macabre depths there’s also fun to be had.
19. Gato Roboto
A short but engaging Metroidvania title with a cat in a robot suit. Sounds pretty epic, right? Taking your inspiration from Earthworm Jim is a fine way to go.
And Gato Roboto also takes its steampunk aesthetic and gaming roots very seriously. Whilst adding in a cutesy sense of humour.
So, this title is all about engaging and fast-paced gameplay. It throws you into the action and is able to delight regularly.
18. SteamWorld Dig 2
Its predecessor is also a wonderful gaming experience, but SteamWorld Dig 2 nails it for its scale, gameplay quality, and looks.
It really drags you in as you, of course, dig your way into the dirt. The Wild West includes a steampunk element, but the main focus is digging.
As you power up Metroidvania style, the imagination at play makes for an addictive experience.
Bombastic to the extreme, and all the more enjoyable for it, this run-and-gun platformer is just ludicrous. It’s also amazing.
Broforce has surprising depths to it. Along with its sense of humour poking fun at hypermasculinity, you get to play as all sorts of action heroes (bros).
You can blast through the scenery around you, adding an element of strategy, but the game is just relentless fun. Boom!
16. Yoku’s Island Express
It’s fair to say this is one of the most joyous and uplifting indie games we’ve ever played.
Everything about Yoku’s Island Express is just so life-affirming. You star as Yoku, a dung beetle, and head off on a mail delivering adventure.
Visually, it’s reminiscent of Ori and the Blind Forest (more on that later), but the pinball gameplay mechanics are largely accessible and very enjoyable.
It’s also charming and lovingly created—highly recommended on every level.
15. FAR: Lone Sails
This dystopian journey is a little marvel. A peaceful, melancholic trek across an isolated world.
FAR: Lone Sails offers up visual splendour in a concise package, where you solve puzzles and manage your locomotive.
It’s strategic and engaging. You have your work cut out dealing with the likes of storms and mechanical problems, all while coming to love the vehicle you guide quietly across the deserted wildernesses.
And to add to that lot is a quite fantastic soundtrack. So, yes, we highly recommend the whole experience—particularly for introspective sorts.
14. Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
This endless runner is an unusual take on 2D platforming, but it’s still an enduring classic over four years after release (on this very day back in 2013!).
Runner2 sees you star as Commander Video and it’s your task, as he dashes heroically to the right, to guide him up, over, around, and beyond obstacles.
Sounds simple? It isn’t. But it’s certainly addictive, compelling, brilliant, beautiful, joyous, and many other things.
There’s also a quite outstanding, pulse-pounding soundtrack that really immerses you into the game in stunning fashion.
Unfortunately, Runner3 doesn’t have the same appeal—so we continue to recommend the super Runner2 over that. It’s a classic.
Like a Studio Ghibli film in game form, Owlboy is a lovingly crafted masterpiece released in late 2016 and seemingly ignored by much of the gaming media.
Insulting, really, as this is an absolute gem with Metroidvania attributes, lovable characters, an excellent artistic style.
You star as Otus, the mute owl—he heads off on an epic adventure to save the world around him. As you progress, Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) springs to mind.
It’s almost like playing that! A wonderful experience. And there’s another magnificent indie game soundtrack to complement it all.
12. Axiom Verge
It’s essentially a reworking of the SNES masterpiece Super Metroid, but there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done with such exceptional panache.
Axiom Verge nails it big time as a Metroidvania. A project by one man (Thomas Happ), you can tell he’s super talented based off this masterpiece.
It’s the genre at its finest with retro run-and-gun sensibilities mixed with exploration, mesmerising power-ups, and one heck of a full-on challenge.
11. Super Mario Maker
Whilst Nintendo usually busies itself with 3D adventures these days, there’s still plenty of room for traditional 2D romps.
Super Mario Maker is the result—except players design the levels. That allows you to create Mario courses and upload them online for the whole world to try out.
It’s quite possibly the most batshit crazy, surreal, mental game of all time and it’s all the better for it! Endless 2D Mario courses? Yes, please.
In 2018 we got this for £2. Several years later, we’re still playing it on a regular basis. And have over 40+ hours thumped into it.
Downwell is a vertical shooter and platformer (with roguelike qualities).
It’s also incredibly addictive, with surprising depths—so, despite those minimalistic looks, here’s a mammoth title with much to offer.
Bounce, shoot, and bop your way to higher scores and happy memories.
Although it launched to critical acclaim, Teslagrad has since been swallowed up into a world of nothingness due to the relentless release of new titles.
Developer Rain Games has a cult following and a new title on the way thanks to it, which is excellent news, but the Soviet-era tinged poignancy of Teslagrad remains a stunning achievement (even if it is insanely difficult).
It plays around with a magnetism gaming mechanic to terrific effect, also wooing you in with melancholic graphics and music.
One of the first indie gems of 2018, Celeste is a tough but brilliant platformer that’ll test your jumping skills and wow you with its creativity.
It also dazzles with its SNES era style graphics, charm, and interesting story.
Added to that is an amazing soundtrack. Plus, it focuses on mental health issues, which is an increasingly common indie game approach.
But Celeste manages it with touching and impressive flair, alongside the magnificent trek up the mountain you undertake.
It also added to the experience in 2019 with Celeste: Chapter 9. That’s DLC adding in 100 new sections and that advances the story.
This astonishing creation is one hell of a scary experience. INSIDE is a dystopian tale of an unnamed boy in red running away from the state. Or is he!?
You continuously run to the right in the monochrome 2.5D, overcoming some truly bizarre and frightening experiences.
It ultimately builds to one of the most confounding, surreal, disturbing, and grotesquely brilliant finales in recent memory.
It was our pick for Game of the Year 2016 and is already a classic. Playdead will have to pull out all the stops on its next game. This one will be difficult to match, let alone top.
6. Dead Cells
Oh, hey! Don’t forget there’s the stone-cold classic Dead Cells—positively one of the best gaming experiences of 2017 and beyond.
It’s mental, it’s crazed, it’s berserk, it’s intense, and it’s brutal. It’s available across most devices now (including smartphone), plus there’s a steady stream of DLC to ramp up the intensity.
It’s a must, as once you get into the flow it becomes a tactical and inspired romp with roguelike and Metroidvania elements.
Since 2017, we’ve put at least 150 hours into it. Dead Cells is that good! That addictive. That essential to own.
There’s also now DLC in the form of The Bad Seed, which adds to the experience. Truly, this is now an indie game classic.
5. Shovel Knight
The indie title which keeps on giving! Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games who keep using Kickstarter to fund extra DLC content.
The final campaign installment arrived in December 2019 in the form of Shovel Knight: King of Cards.
Put simply, the games are NES-era inspired and the result is 2D platforming at its finest.
4. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
What is it with the games press and this title?! Whilst Destructoid rightly handed it 10/10, other publications stumbled drunkenly into a cesspit of 6/10 reviews.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is Retro Studio’s forgotten masterpiece—it’s a slice of genius.
Thankfully, it received a port over to the Nintendo Switch. That means those who missed it on the Wii U can now catch up with it.
Composer David Wise returned to the DKC series for this outing—the soundtrack is predictably incredible.
Really in a different league. Particularly on the outstanding Grassland Groove level, which is one of the greatest stages in gaming history.
And gamers take to an epic scale adventure and revel in the masterful level design. One of the great underrated titles of this generation of consoles.
3. Rayman Origins
Seemingly forgotten of late as it’s a cutesy 2D platformer and, like, that’s for noobs and kids, Rayman Origins is another ignored masterpiece.
Flat out one of the best games from the last generation of consoles, the sheer scale of Ubisoft’s imagination is unleashed in this wonderfully vibrant, charming, funny, and challenging adventure.
It’s flat out 10/10 perfection. Not only does it look stunning, but its sense of humour is also wonderful. And as a gameplay experience, it’s just engrossing.
Also, Rayman Origins’ soundtrack is a work of genius by Christophe Heral. And the game may now be almost a decade old, but it’s lost none of its magic.
2. Ori and the Blind Forest
A masterpiece of the highest order, Ori and the Blind Forest is a fine example of what video games can achieve.
This thing is a work of art: the soundtrack, graphics, story, challenge, and emotional impact are all flat out exceptional.
Play with your earphones in and it’s an overwhelming experience, with the music swelling and lovable Ori heading out on his intrepid adventure.
Available on the Xbox One and Steam, it also made the trip onto the Nintendo Switch. Which makes for an exceptionally engaging experience.
1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Hitting the indie scene on March 11th 2020, this instant classic takes the original and improves on it in every conceivable way.
The scale of the adventure is ramped up, with a massive improvement in the combat system, and the interaction with NPCs.
It’s also just very intense and emotional—your skills and platforming creativity need to be on top form here.
The game is also stunning to look at. Complementing its striking visual style is a quite outstanding score from Gareth Coker (see Will of the Wisps soundtrack).
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a masterpiece. It represents the very peak of what a platforming game can achieve.
And it goes without saying, this is one of the greatest video games of all time.