Here we are with my personal five favorite 2D platform games of all-time. And as such, you may find them to be a bit more predictable than the previous five. Still, I hope you enjoy reading about them!
Rayman Origins (Ubisoft, 2011)
At a glance, Rayman’s return to his 2D roots may seem like standard platforming fare, even borrowing from the recent New Super Mario Bros series. You run, jump, punch, collect a bunch of stuff, and you can do it with four players simultaneously. But writing off Rayman Origins as derivative would be completely missing the point.
True, Origins does borrow from the greats, with shades of Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong peppered throughout, but it presents itself with so much energy, enthusiasm and creativity that it feels as fresh as any classic platform game did in the genre’s prime. That in itself is impressive enough for it to earns its place among the classics. I thought I had become jaded with 2D platformers in recent years, but Rayman Origins reminded me of why I loved them in the first place.
Being a fairly recent game, it’s still pretty easy to find for the platform of your choice, including Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PSP, and the PC. I highly recommend checking it out!
And yes, I’m looking forward to trying Rayman Legends!
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (Nintendo, 1995)
Everyone seems to have their own favorite among the classic Donkey Kong Country trilogy. Personally, I was a little lukewarm to the original when it first came out. Aside from its (at the time) eye-popping graphics and great soundtrack, it felt too conventional, and a bit unpolished. And maybe it was because my platforming skills were highly refined at the time, but I also found it disappointingly easy. I remember cranking through the game in about a day, and the way it tried to pad itself out with its hidden bonus rooms didn’t interest me.
Diddy’s Kong Quest, on the other hand, addressed virtually all of my misgivings. It was much better designed, more refined, bigger, and far more challenging. In fact, hearing about the increased difficulty was what convinced me to give the series a second chance. (I still remember the review in Nintendo Power magazine listing the difficulty as a negative, and I wondered when gamers had become afraid of a challenge.) I enjoyed it so much that I even had fun looking for the bonus areas, and it became the first game where I ever got 100 percent completion entirely on my own.
Plus, Dave Wise’s excellent soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites.
While the entire original trilogy used to be available on the Wii Virtual Console, they have since been removed. So, the only way to play this game now is to either track down the original SNES cartridge or the Game Boy Advance port.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega, 1991)
Thinking back to the original four Sonic games on the Genesis/Mega Drive, they largely tend to blend together. The differences are mainly in the details, kind of like the NES Mega Man games. But more often than not, I find myself going back to the original the most, and on a recent replay, I think I realized why: it simply got it right the first time.
The original Sonic the Hedgehog has a certain quality not unlike that of the original Super Mario Bros. No matter how many times I’ve played through it, no matter how much of it I have memorized, it’s always fun to play through. Sure, the sequels built on its foundation, increasing the speed gimmick, and adding new moves and powers. But the first Sonic was not merely a prototype for future improvements, it was already a model of refinement. There’s a reason why Sonic was a serious threat to Mario back in the 16-bit era. Sonic was the real deal. A game that solid, that pure, and that well-designed simply never gets old.
And being the classic that it is, it’s available on just about everything. Check it out for your gaming platform of choice.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo, 1988)
It may be hard to realize it now, but there was a time when the original Super Mario Bros was the only Super Mario Bros. Although no one realized at the time that Super Mario Bros 2 was not originally a Mario game, from a gameplay standpoint, the first one clearly stood completely on its own. And while it may still be a big deal when a new Mario game comes out now, back when Super Mario Bros 3 finally reached the US in 1990 (four years after the first one), it was a really big deal!
Super Mario Bros 3 was not only a triumphant return to form, but an enormous evolutionary leap over the original game (not to mention its Japan-only sequel). It had more power-ups, more abilities, animal suits, an overworld map and inventory system, an incredible variety of stage designs, bonus games, and secret areas galore. It even retained a few elements from its adopted predecessor with more open, explorable environments (some of which were quite puzzle like), and the ability to pick up and toss objects and enemies. These new elements would become standards for all future Super Mario games to come. Twenty-five years and several successors later, the series has rarely made another leap this significant, with current games simply tweaking the established formula.
I’ve tried to avoid including more than one game per series on my list of favorites, but I’ve cheated a little when it comes to Mario. With Super Mario 2 originally being Doki Doki Panic, and my next choice a spin-off, I figured I could get away with them. Still, I feel a little funny not including the original Super Mario Bros, so I consider my inclusion of Super Mario 3 to represent the original as well.
And like Sonic the Hedgehog, there’s no shortage of ports. So long as you own a Nintendo system, you likely have access to this game in some way or another.
Yoshi’s Island (Nintendo, 1995)
Quite possibly the greatest platform game ever made.
As a spin-off, Yoshi’s Island builds off of Super Mario‘s foundations, but still manages to establish its own identity. The amount of boundless creativity jam packed into this game is simply staggering. The basic Mario-style mechanics of jumping and stomping are present, or course, but that is merely the bare bones beginning of what Yoshi can do, and what his island offers. I don’t even know where to start when describing them. The egg-throwing physics, the transformations, the variety of wacky enemies, the incredibly clever boss fights, the unbelievably imaginative level designs, the bonus games, the secret levels, Poochy…
And the graphics. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people passed up on Yoshi’s Island when it was first released in 1995 simply because the art direction favored a deliberately hand-drawn look rather than the pseudo-3D renderings (or blocky polygons) that were popular at the time. It was one of only a few games that went against the grain, and while other games from that era look decidedly dated, Yoshi’s Island still looks great today. It’s ironic, since the game made use of the Super FX2 microchip within the SNES cartridge, which was intended to make 3D polygons possible on the system, but used here mostly to create some extremely impressive 2D visual effects.
Unfortunately, that seems to be what has held the game back from re-release. It’s unclear if it’s technical problems or legal issues, but the original SNES version of Yoshi’s Island has never been available on the Wii Virtual Console. A Game Boy Advance port was given to early adopters of the Nintendo 3DS as part of the “Ambassador Program,” but aside from that, tracking down an SNES or GBA cartridge is the only way for most people to obtain a legit copy of the game.
But if you’re a fan of 2D platform games, Yoshi’s Island is an absolute must-play. It’s a shame none of its follow-ups have ever come close to recapturing the magic.
And those are my choices for my all-time favorite 2D platform games. I’d love to know what your favorites are! Please leave a comment and tell me about them!