When I think of video games, the only genre that comes to mind immediately is platforming. To me, platforming is the only genre that is unique to gaming; Other genres are deliverable in other fashions. For example, RPGs you can get from tabletop gaming. Action games you can get from watching a high octane movie or television show. Sports games… well, you can go outside and play actual football. But quality platform action is hard to come by outside of a controller and television screen.
It’s no coincidence that the game that set the home console scene ablaze, Super Mario Bros., was a platformer in the most classic sense. After a long week of playing many of the games that appear on this list, I thought it was only fitting that CraveOnline celebrates the best platformers of all the times.
10. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Alright, so "technically" Sands of Time is an action-adventure game. But guess what? I loathe combat in most video games, therefore the best part of this game was the platforming elements. And although the platforming isn’t 100% of the game, the controls are so tight and fluid that Sands of Time still leaves on hell of an impression.
Though many critics praised the Dagger of Time aspect of gameplay, which allowed the player to rewind time and give them a second chance on any missed platforming stunts, it was the clever puzzles and intimate platforming locations that really drew me in. The influence of the time manipulation did have its lasting effects, as it would later show up in other games, including one on this very list.
9. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
Sly Cooper isn’t the most original platforming adventure ever to hit consoles, even upon its release in 2002. So why is the drudgery of item collecting, enemy stomping and pit jumping a work of art here, but a tedious and generic workout in games like Ty the Tazmanian Tiger, Spyro, and Croc? Because the presentation is kick ass. Between the cel-shading, stealth elements, and the heist-film storyline, Sly Cooper takes the cliche platforming elements and freshens them up with quality atmosphere and some of the most fun boss battles this side of Super Mario 64. It’s no coincidence that Sly Cooper was included our 10 Games with Oscar Worthy Voice Acting list.
Hell, even anthropomorphic animals are a stigma of cutesy platform video games, and somehow Sucker Punch Productions got around that one as well. Put simply, Sly Cooper is just one charming little raccoon thief.
Tim Schafer, mad genius of video games and the force behind the upcoming (and much hyped) Brutal Legend, released an under-performing but much loved platform game in 2005 called Psychonauts, starring a young cadet training to become a "paranormal paratrooper". The game is a quirky adventure that is filled to the brim with irreverent humor, great voice work, brilliant level design and a truly visceral visual experience.
Of course, as most games of such high artistic relevance often do, the game failed commercially and that was that. Had the game been released only a couple of years later, perhaps on the thriving XBLA or WiiWare market (albeit perhaps a bit scaled down), it’s amazing to think of what a success it could have been. In any event, you can’t keep a good man down, and Schafer will soon be back, with Jack Black in tow, for Brutal Legend.
As soon as you start playing Braid, you know that something is up. The soundtrack is moody, the story is depressingly mature and the level design is simply brilliant. The game is a 2D platformer with clever puzzles that will legitimately cause you to sit back and actually think. Admittedly, most platforming games contain puzzles that are more on-the-fly problem solving than brain teasing riddles, but Braid gives you the finger and taunts you to figure stuff out.
Though it looks like a storybook tale, the narrative you’ll find in this game is so deep in thematic content you’ll be lucky if you don’t drown.
6. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic 2 takes its predecessor and builds upon it in every way possible. It adds speed, characters, more intriguing level design (Casino Night Zone, I’m looking at you) and the classic spinning dash attack that we’ve come to associate the character with. On top of presenting players for the first time with the strictly hetero relationship of Sonic and his new partner Tails, Sonic 2 pushed graphical boundaries both with its insane speed as well as its pseudo-3D bonus stages.
This is the game that cemented Sega’s place in the 16-bit console wars. Though they have since disgraced the name of Sonic the Hedgehog, back in 1992, the little blue fuzzball and his fox sidekick were the shit.
5. Super Mario 64
In 1996, Super Mario 64 was an absolute revolution. Between implementing Nintendo’s bizarre analog stick (if you’ll recall, the PlayStation didn’t include analog sticks until after the release of the Nintendo 64), functional camera control, introducing the "hub world" system, and oh yeah – bringing platform gaming into a full three dimensions, the game completely redefined gaming for the next 10 years.
There have been many imitators, but the original 3D platformer still holds up as the best in the business today.
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
Considered by most to be the epitome of the classic Mario game, Mario 3 innovated the platform classic while bringing it back the feel of the original Super Mario Bros. after the strange but quality sequel that was Mario 2. This is the game that introduced the overworld map to the Mario series, as well as new and different types of power-ups like the raccoon suit, frog suit, tanooki suit, and of course, the magic whistle.
In my younger days, I would often use said magic whistles to warp from the first world all the way to the last, skipping nearly the entire experience. In my wiser old age, I realize that this was only a detriment to my gaming health, as I passed up the opportunity to experience Nintendo at their finest. Getting older has its benefits.
3. Mega Man 2
Even 20 years later, after dozens of sequels, spin-offs, novelizations, re-imaginings, etc., Mega Man 2 is still the high point of the Mega Man series. In fact, Capcom’s recent XBLA/WiiWare Mega Man 9 went all the way back to the roots of MM2 just to make sure they got it right. Even more remarkable is that the original Mega Man wasn’t a particularly successful endeavor, yet its sequel is currently the best selling Mega Man game to date.
As one of the most respected games of the platforming/action genre, MM2 is, and forever will be, a regular mainstay of my gaming routine.
Put Symphony of the Night out of your head for just a moment. The original Castlevania is the most difficult game of the series, and it does it all with two simple buttons. It was a breath of fresh air for the NES age; it delivered a dark, gothic setting and a retelling of the age old Dracula story, complete with introduction to the most badass family of vampire slayers in history, the Belmonts.
The graphics are showing their age, nearly 25 years later, but the soundtrack is the best of any Castlevania game, Symphony of the Night or otherwise.
1. Donkey Kong Country
This is it. The end-all be-all of platforming video games. A Rare/Nintendo classic, DKC broke new ground in so many ways it makes me want to vomit. Most obviously, the pre-rendered 3D graphics are still effective today, and the soundtrack was the catchiest of any Nintendo game since Super Mario Bros. While many critics will say the game is overrated, this is an opinon-based list and being the person providing said opinions, what I say goes, and I say that DKR is the best platformer ever made.
The levels were distinctive and laced with clever secrets, innovative sound design and introduced Diddy Kong into the Nintendo lexicon, not to mention turning Donkey Kong from longtime heel to babyface. I’ll even fill you in on a little tidbit. Back in the day, Nintendo used to send out VHS tapes to Nintendo Power subscribers that promoted their new games, and DKC was no exception.
I still have this VHS tape, and I recall watching it eagerly over and over again – mind you, it’s only about 15 minutes long – day after day, in anticipation of my allowance finally building up enough to the point where I could go to Babbage’s and buy the damn thing. My goal was soon reached, and I haven’t stopped playing since.