The Top 25 Best 2D Platformers of gaming history are kind of a cyclical bunch. Half are great retro games from gaming's youth, while the other half are inspired indie titles that have decided to bring modern day gaming back to a more simple time. Some of these games have shaped gaming into what it is today, while others try new and interesting experiments to shape the world of gaming's tomorrow. Either way, it is undeniable that 2D platformers have had a profound impact on gaming as we know it. These are the Top 25 Best 2D Platformers of all time.
The 25th slot on lists like these tends to be reserved for games that probably could have taken a higher slot but sort of feel like they are cheating. Actraiser fits that bill quite nicely, as it could more accurately be called a 2D action game than an actual 2D platformer. Still, it’s combination of city simulation and side scrolling gameplay was incredibly innovative, especially for the SNES era. Though, the addition of that simulation gameplay may make its inclusion on this list an even bigger cheat.
For a while, we forgot what the spirit of Mario was all about. We had Mario playing soccer, Mario cleaning up the environment, and Mario driving cars, but it had been forever since Mario jumped on 2D platforms. The New Super Mario Bros. reminded us about what Mario is the best at and we have been making sequel after sequel to this simple DS game ever since.
The unfortunately looked over Sonic Advance series had some phenomenal Sonic style platforming. Sonic Advance 3 really opened up the traditional Sonic formula by allowing you to choose a Sonic-and-Tails-like team of two characters. Your point character would be the character you control, while your secondary character gave you extra abilities. Team up Sonic and Tails to have some great Sonic 3 nostalgia, or team up Knuckles and Amy to punch and smash your way through the game.
Many people would put the original Ghosts N Goblins in this slot, but Super Ghouls N Ghosts is certainly more worthy, in our opinion. It introduced advanced weapons, magic, new enemies, and more. Also, it had an ending that was far easier to reach. Once again, its arguable that the enemies were a bigger danger to Arthur than the platforms, but his wonky jump arc was more than enough to make bottomless pits make you shiver in your boots.
Fez is an absolutely astounding indie platformer that everyone should play. The core mechanic of the game involves shifting 2D levels in three dimensions in order to gain access to new areas. However, as the game moves forward you’ll find yourself doing cool things like entering a GameBoy-like world, solving logic puzzles, and even checking external websites to move onward.
Henry Hatsworth is another underappreciated platformer with some amazing mechanics. Played on the DS, the top screen allows you to play a standard platforming action game. However, as you killed enemies they were transported to the bottom screen, which was a Tetris Attack-style puzzle game. This allowed you to do strange things like throw a bomb, pause time, play the puzzle game, and come back to the action to find your bomb has grown three-times its size.
The first Wario Land was an absolutely outstanding platformer that is also known for being the only good platformer starring Wario. The game was kind of like a more aggressive version of a normal Super Mario Bros. game. You could still stomp on enemies, but it made more sense to throw them, shoulder charge them, or burn them with your dragon hat. It was also the first game to start solidifying Wario’s actual canonical combat abilities.
Rocket Knight Adventures put Sega’s blast processing to use. Instead of simply jumping around from platform to platform, our sword wielding Sparkster could charge up a rocket pack and blast through levels, bouncing off walls. Of course, this didn’t make platforming any easier. You could just as easily bounce your way into an instant death trap. It sure did make it more fun though. Everything’s better with rocket packs.
Some people are going to argue and say that Ninja Gaiden is more action than platforming, but we disagree. Just try to make those jumps with death eagles trying to peck your eyes out. You will become intimately familiar with the bottomless pit. The original Ninja Gaiden may have been the only Ninja Gaiden where pits were more of a danger to Ryu Hayabusa than his enemies.
[Insert obligatory WOOOOHOOO reference here.] The original Ducktales by Capcom was one of the best licensed experiences we have ever seen in the video gaming world. The game sort of felt like Metroidvania meets Megaman, a feeling that hasn’t yet been recreated. Hopefully the HD remake will re-establish this classic in the platforming pantheon for a whole new generation.