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 on the best modern 2D platformers. 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 review this list regularly to accommodate the best new titles we discover. The most recent update was in January 2022.
Developer: Skrollcat Studio (Singapore)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Itch.io, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Launched in August of 2021, this Studio Ghibli inspired 2D platformer may be simplistic. But it’s a relaxing beauty to behold.
The artwork! The music! It’s like playing Spirited Away in video game form.
There are other Studio Ghibli type indie games available (such as Spiritfarer and Owlboy further below on this list), but Hoa feels the truest to the cause.
It’s a platformer-puzzler at heart and, again, it’s pretty straightforward and short. But then that’s one of the joys of indie games! Emotive, fun, and engaging—it’s well worth a look.
24. Hollow Knight
Developer: Team Cherry (Adelaide, Australia)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
After much dithering, we’ve added Hollow Knight as Team Cherry’s Metroidvania epic is great. It’s just infuriatingly difficult a lot of the time.
If that’s your type of thing (“gitting good”, and all that) then this’ll be massively rewarding for you. As it’s a beautiful and quite 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 fun to be had.
23. CHILD of LIGHT
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Stadia, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Vita
CHILD of LIGHT is a brilliant platformer-RPG and one we feel has been overlooked.
We’ve come across some gamers in comments sections dismissing it as rubbish. We don’t get that at all, as reflected by the media reviews of the time (it met with critical acclaim).
From Ubisoft Montreal, the 2014 title boasts an incredible art style and amazing soundtrack from Cœur de pirate.
The game is so engaging thank to its emotive nature as you guide Aurora through the world of Lemuria. Along the way you add new characters to your party, most notably the excellent Rubella (a clumsy jester).
CHILD of LIGHT’s RPG elements, especially the battle system, are also masterfully handled. A yes from us.
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games (Montreal)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Itch.io, macOS, Linux, Stadia, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
This gorgeous little number is a management sim and sandbox style action game. With its Studio Ghibli looks, it’s a really upbeat title.
Yet it’s also about death! You’re a ferry master who has to build a boat and explore your world to help spirits depart.
The result? Spiritfarer (2020) is a charming affair with surprising depth. You’ll need to put a fair bit of time into this one to get the most from it.
However, the rewards are joyous. Add into the bargain DLC in 2021, fabulous graphics, and a quite outstanding soundtrack… and what isn’t there to love?
21. Gato Roboto
Developer: Doinksoft (Oregon, US)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Switch, Xbox One
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, ehilst adding in a cute 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.
Developer: Free Lives (Cape Town, SA)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, OS X, Linux, PS4, Switch
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 complexity. 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!
19. Axiom Verge
Developer: Thomas Happ Games (US)
Platforms: Steam, macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Vita
This is 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 intricate work of wonder.
As part of its Metroidvania roots, there are retro run-and-gun sensibilities mixed with exploration, mesmerising power-ups, and it packs one heck of a challenge.
Developer: NamaTakahashi (Nippon)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Itch.io
Released in October 2021, ElecHead is a short (but very clever) puzzle platformer and it’s compelling stuff.
From one-man indie studio NamaTakahashi, it mixes increasingly complex electricity puzzles with excellent platforming fun.
There are Metroidvania elements as well, which are perfectly introduced and add engaging new dynamics repeatedly.
The game advances at a fast rate and, again, it’s very short. Like 50 minutes long.
But it’s totally worth your time as a package thanks to its striking appearance and outright inventiveness in the genre.
17. SteamWorld Dig 2
Developer: Image & Form Games (Sweden)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Stadia, macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Vita, 3DS
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 a compelling journey.
16. Yoku’s Island Express
Developer: Villa Gorilla (Stockholm, Sweden)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
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
Developer: Okomotive (Zurich, Switzerland)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, macOS, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Android, iOS
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
Developer: Gaijin Games (Budapest, Hungary)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, OS X, Linux, PS4, Vita, iOS
This endless runner is an unusual take on 2D platforming, but it’s still an enduring classic as it heads for its 10th anniversary (2013 launch).
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. And 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.
There was another entry to the series in 2018. Unfortunately, Runner3 doesn’t have the same appeal—so we continue to recommend the super Runner2 over that. It’s a classic.
Developer: D-Pad Studio (Norway)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
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. Super Mario Maker 2
Whilst Nintendo usually busies itself with 3D adventures these days, there’s still plenty of room for traditional 2D romps.
Super Mario Maker 2 is the best. And it’s quite possibly one of the most insane games ever made! The player-generated levels are often ballistic.
Along with being able to make your own levels, and play those of others, Nintendo also added in an entire new Super Mario style adventure of its own.
So, here you have a title that offers a perpetual stream of Mario levels. What could be better than that? Fantastic fun.
Developer: Moppin (Nippon)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, PS4, Switch, Vita, Android, iOS
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.
Developer: Rain Games (Norway)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, OS X, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Vita, Android, iOS
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.
Developer: Extremely OK Games (Canada)
Platforms: Steam, Itchi.io, Linux, macOS, Stadia, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Arguably the best indie game from 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.
Developer: Playdead (Denmark)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Itchi.io, macOS, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, iOS
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.
7. Dead Cells
Developer: Motion Twin (Bordeaux, France)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Itch.io, macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Android, iOS
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.
6. Shovel Knight
Developer: Yacht Club Games (US)
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Amazon Fire TV, OS X, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Vita
For half a decade, Shovel Knight was the game that kept on giving. First launched in 2014, it wowed gamers with its mix of NES style gameplay and outright platforming fun.
It’s all about the little details in this series. The fact the soundtrack was made using the original NES technology. How if you buy the amiibo, you can use it with the game without having to take the model out of the packaging.
Shovel Knight is a lovingly crafted outing reminiscent of the Mega Man games.
It’s challenging, it’s funny, it’s great fun, and the one thing we always get upon returning to it is just the sense of joy. It’s just a fantastic video game.
And the success of the first outing led to extra campaigns.
These added new gameplay styles and levels, beginning with the brilliant Plague of Shadows (2015). Then we got to enjoy Specter of Torment (2017) and the final campaign King of Cards (2019) rounded off a brilliant series.
And you can buy all of them in the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove package.
5. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Developer: Retro Studios (US)
Platforms: Wii U, Switch
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.
4. Rayman Origins
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platforms: Steam, GOG, Xbox One
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 10/10 perfection. As a gameplay experience, it’s just engrossing and delights constantly. Not only does it look stunning, but its sense of humour is also wonderful. Also, Rayman Origins’ soundtrack is a work of genius by Christophe Héral.
The game may now be a decade old, but it’s lost none of its magic.
3. Metroid Dread
Released in October 2021, Metroid Dread skyrocketed to the front of our list. And may still take the top spot when we’ve completed a second playthrough.
Nintendo’s absence from this list of best modern 2D platformers is largely due to its focus on 3D adventures these days.
But in bringing to gamers the first 2D Metroid since 2002, it’s landed what we’d class as an absolute masterpiece on the community.
Vast in its structure, it delivers an incredible Metroidvania experience. And its addition of stealth to proceedings is a wonderful touch.
It doesn’t reinvent the series, but that’s the point. It takes what made Super Metroid so special and we think it improves on the formula in every way.
The Switch has rapidly become one of our favourite games consoles ever and this game is another shining example of Nintendo’s genius.
2. Ori and the Blind Forest
Developer: Moon Studios
Platforms: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
A masterpiece, Ori and the Blind Forest is a fine example of what video games can achieve.
From Moon Studios in 2015, this thing is a work of art. The soundtrack, graphics, story, challenge, and emotional impact are all flat out exceptional.
For us, it highlights the importance of the indie scene in gaming. Indie studios can land something of this creative might, whilst most AAA devs roll out increasingly formulaic and bland titles.
Blind Forest is best enjoyed with your your earphones in as it’s an overwhelming experience, with the music swelling and lovable Ori heading out on his intrepid adventure.
When we first played it in 2015, we rapidly realised it was one of the best games we’d ever played. And we couldn’t envisage how Moon Studios could ever better the experience.
1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Developer: Moon Studios
Platforms: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
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 we consider it one of the greatest video games of all time.