Platform games were pretty much the default genre back in the 8- and 16-bit eras. You simply needed to have a mascot platformer, like Mario or Sonic, to help sell your system. While that may not be the case today, my love of platform games has been rekindled in the past few years thanks to some excellent revivals. So, I thought I would take a look back at 10 of my all-time favorite 2D platform games.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master (Capcom, 1990)
It was easy for a game like Little Nemo to get lost among the sea of platform games back in 1990. Based on an early 20th century comic by Winsor McCay, and tied in with the animated film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, The Dream Master demonstrates Capcom’s ability to make a surprisingly solid platform game out of a licensed product. Still, it went fairly unnoticed upon its original release.
The game is exploration based, in which play as the titular Nemo, and search each level for several keys that must be used to open the door to the next stage. It’s a formula that would be used as the norm for most 3D platform games several years later. The game takes some cues from its strongest competition at the time, Super Mario Bros 3, allowing Nemo to feed candy to various creatures, allowing him to either ride them or “wear” them like suits. Doing so, of course, grants him unique abilities that are required to reach the various keys. Each huge, well-designed level also has its own theme, from a mushroom forest to a city in the clouds.
Being a licensed game, Little Nemo: The Dream Master has never been re-released since its debut. It’s a shame, too, as it’s another “lost” classic from the NES era.
Wonder Boy (Sega, 1986)
I’ve discussed Wonder Boy‘s link with Adventure Island before, so I won’t cover that history lesson here. But why would I pick the original game when Adventure Island took the concept so much further?
I guess I just like the simplicity of it. Wonder Boy is easy to get a grasp on, with its simple run-and-jump, left-to-right mechanics, and while it is repetitive, it’s also mesmerizing. Adventure Island would later add the variety that the gameplay really needed, but I still find myself coming back to Wonder Boy once in a while. It’s just a fun game that plays well. That’s all there is to it.
Originally an arcade game, most people are probably familiar with the Sega Master System port, which is available for download on the Wii Virtual Console.
Bonk’s Revenge (Hudson Soft, 1991)
Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic, and in the US, the TurboGrafx-16 had Bonk. As a mascot, Bonk never quite reached the system-selling appeal of his competitors, but like Sonic, he still manged to be much more popular in the US than in Japan. The original Bonk’s Adventure was a solid platform game, but not quite cream of the crop. It was the sequel, Bonk’s Revenge, that really pushed him up into the league of Mario and Sonic, and made the 16-bit mascot wars a three-way race.
As a caveman, Bonk’s main gimmick is to literally use his head to “bonk” things. He can collect some temporary power-ups, but overall, the gameplay is pretty straightforward. The colorful art style falls somewhere between the styles of Charles Shultz and Matt Groening, which is very appealing, and gives the game a lot of personality.
Unfortunately, Bonk couldn’t save the TurboGrafx (neither could his futuristic descendant Zonk), and a fairly recent attempt at a revival, the prophetically named “Bonk: Brink of Extinction,” was canceled just before release. (We still hate Konami for that, right?) But many of his classic games, including Bonk’s Revenge, are available for download on Wii Virtual Console.
Mischief Makers (Enix, 1997)
Once the 32-bit generation kicked in, 2D platform games immediately started phasing out. They were especially scarce on the Nintendo 64, which I think only had four in its entire library. But of those few, Mischief Makers was a definite standout.
Developed by Treasure, you play as an Ultra-Intergalactic-Cybot-G (or robot maid) named Marina, and you interact with things by grabbing, shaking and throwing. As usual for a Treasure game, the game mechanic is milked for all its worth, and is used in some really interesting ways. The level design also has a tremendous amount of variety, and never gets boring. There are also some great boss fights, and the overall style is very energetic and flashy.
It’s a shame 2D platform games were not more popular during this time, as there were some really clever things being done with the few that came out. Mischief Makers has yet to be ported to any other platform, so tracking down the N64 cartridge is the only way to find it for now.
Super Mario Bros. 2/USA (Nintendo, 1988)
If you’re reading this, then you probably know that the international version of Super Mario Bros 2 was not originally a Mario game. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an excellent platform game in its own right. Trading in the jumping and stomping for plucking and throwing, Super Mario 2 is much more exploration-based than the original’s more obstacle-course-like approach, a direction that all future Mario games would move in.
I will admit that when I first played the game back when it came out, I was somewhat disappointed. Everything that was appealing about the original had been completely changed, and it was a little off-putting. But once I got passed that, I realized that Super Mario 2 had its own charm, and was a very solid platform game. It’s better to judge a game based on what it is rather than what it isn’t.
And of course, being a Mario game, it’s available on just about every Nintendo platform, from the various Virtual Console services to full-on ports like Super Mario Advance on the Game Boy Advance. Definitely worth checking out.
That’s it for part 1. Come back next week for my top five cream of the crop picks!