2D platformers deserve all the credit for taking the video game industry to where it is today. Popular franchises such as Mega Man, Super Mario Brothers, and Sonic the Hedgehog, served as the introduction to video games decades ago for most of today’s gamers.
Even though 2D platformers are no longer a dime-a-dozen these days, they continue to hold a certain appeal that makes them enticing to play.
Sure, you could argue that all you do in a 2D platformer is run, jump, land, and die, but the thing is, it’s a recurring theme that most gamers have grown to love – if not crave for.
With that said, we’ve decided to round up the best 2D platformers available on both PC & consoles today.
Do note that we did make an effort to make the list as varied as possible. This means limiting selections to one per franchise. In addition to this, we also limited the selection to games that are available on multiple platforms, so, yeah, don’t expect to see multiple Mario entries here. But, if it’s any consolation, this also means that you’ll be seeing as many familiar faces as well as newer ones.
Table of Contents
1. Rayman Legends
Release Date: August 29, 2013
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platform: Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / Switch / Wii U / Microsoft Windows
Most older gamers have had fond memories of playing the Rayman franchise as a 3D platformer, but the best titles in the series are actually of the 2D platforming kind.
Case in point, Rayman Legends.
Released way back in 2013 by Ubisoft, Rayman Legends quickly became a hit on both previous generation as well as current generation consoles – which was where it was ported to after its initial success.
Once criticized for being a brutally difficult title with a cumbersome save system, Rayman Legends took the less-liked aspects of the franchise and mashed it with its best parts to create an engaging experience that’s arguably the franchise’s best yet. But, of course, Rayman Legends remains true to the franchise.
Graphics-wise, Rayman Legends can and will attract those looking for a “cute” platformer. However, once you’ve started playing it, the game will surprise you with its astounding difficulty.
If you’re capable of looking past the challenge though, Rayman Legends will reward you with some of the most amazing sequences in modern platforming, engaging visuals, as well as a collectable system that borders on addicting. In fact, Rayman Legends was so good that they managed to make water levels, which are commonly dreaded in gaming circles. Fun!
2. Super Mario World
Release Date: November 21, 1990
Platform: Arcade / Super NES / Game Boy Advance / Wii / Wii U / 3DS / Switch
Yeah, so, since we could only pick one game per franchise, we decided to go with THE one game.
To be honest, it was hard to choose between Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. The latter, after all, is responsible for launching the franchise into stratospheric proportions of popularity from which it has yet to descend from, many decades later. But, at the end of the day, we decided to go with the superior game over the game that started it all.
Yes, we firmly believe that Super Mario World is the superior title.
Why? Because it literally opened up an entire world of possibilities.
Prior to Super Mario World, there have been expansive and huge video game universes already. But none of them were able to put in as much detail and polish in every nook and cranny like Super Mario World did.
Super Mario World made open-world games cool way before they were even invented and playing it felt like you had to search everywhere or else you’d risk missing out on a hidden path leading to one secret after another.
Super Mario Bros. may have been the beginning, but Super Mario World set the bar on how epic of an adventure you can go on while in the shoes of a humble plumber.
3. Ori and the Blind Forest
Release Date: March 11, 2015
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Switch / Xbox One / Microsoft Windows
Modern 2D platformers often lose out to the classics. This is mostly because people like looking back at older titles with rose-tinted glasses. However, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those titles released within the past 10 years that’s universally agreed as an all-time favorite and one of the best in its genre.
Anyone who’s had the privilege to have played the game will tell you why, or, ‘the why’s’ for that matter.
Ori and the Blind Forest threw out complex and busy designs and exchanged it for an art style that’s so simple yet picturesque. The environments alone are enough to draw you in. But, once you’ve finished admiring the beauty of what’s around you, the incredibly detailed environment filled with all sorts of hidden secrets will astound you even further.
Clever level design and a beautiful environment aren’t the only things that Ori and the Blind Forest had going for it.
Gameplaywise, Ori and the Blind Forest was a masterpiece. They didn’t just throw you into the fire, or so to speak, and expect you to learn. Instead, the developers curved the level of difficulty properly. They made sure that players had a chance to learn and apply the concepts first before asking them to blend it with everything else that they’ve learned.
Even the combat feels like the developers spent a lot of time thinking things through – with enemies difficult enough to provide you with a challenge, but also designed well so that they’re not overpowered just for the sake of it.
Lastly, the epic soundtrack is one for the ages. We wouldn’t be surprised if it moves you to tears every now and then.
4. Shovel Knight
Release Date: June 26, 2014
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platform: Switch / 3DS / MacOS X / Linux / PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / Wii U / Xbox One / Amazon Fire TV / Microsoft Windows
Some games become a hit. Only a few become the face of their genre.
Shovel Knight is one of those games.
One of the first big crowdfunding successes in the gaming space, Shovel Knight was an old title filled with new ideas. It was made deliberately to feel like the games of old during the 8-bit era, complete with the chip-tune music and pixelated style that defined the days gone by.
Fun and challenging, yet fair and reasonable, Shovel Knight managed to become as challenging as older titles without being as unreasonable as those built specifically to milk tokens out of children’s pockets. After all, you could reset the game all you want. The only penalty was losing gems instead of having to go back to the beginning.
What makes Shovel Knight one of the best 2D platformers is that it became more than just a proof of concept.
After its successful initial release, Shovel Knight went on to receive three more full campaigns, including those based on the villain knights of the game. The best part? Even though the developers could’ve cashed in and made them basic re-skins of the Shovel Knight himself, they didn’t.
Every single additional campaign felt unique and different from the other.
To top it all off, Shovel Knight continues to receive updates from its developers, making it a game that keeps on giving.
5. Super Meat Boy
Release Date: October 20, 2010
Developer: Team Meat
Publisher: Team Meat
Platform: Xbox 360 / Microsoft Windows / MacOS X / Linux / PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / Wii U / Switch
Super Meat Boy was built to give players a pounding and make them love it.
Right from the very first time you boot up the game, you’ll see exactly what’s in store for you, which is the face of the protagonist – Meat Boy, being beaten bloody, to the accompaniment of some heavy metal music playing in the background.
But, what is it exactly about Super Meat Boy that makes it one of the best 2D platformers?
Well, for starters, it’s still got the running, jumping, and dying that’s pretty much requisite of any 2D platformer. However, what it does uniquely is that it puts you through a lot of hoops, both literally and figuratively, as you see Meat Boy through a rescue quest after Dr. Fetus kidnapped his girlfriend, Bandage Girl.
What makes Super Meat Boy even more challenging is that Meat Boy is not the toughest cut of meat around.
Super Meat Boy is a literal accident just waiting to happen. It doesn’t take much to kill you, and so many things can and will. This means that you should prepare for death much more times than you’d like. But, if it’s any consolation, Super Meat Boy lets you re-do stages as much as you’d like. It’s also a bit of a problem since you’d have to go back to the very beginning every time.
The developers’ odd and dark humor also shows through the many aspects of Super Meat Boy’s gameplay, including the cheek-in-tongue recap of all your failed attempts.
Whether or not Super Meat Boy was the personification of the hardships that the developers went through just to get the game running is something that we don’t really know. However, what we do know is it’s one of the best platformers of all time, and a game that’s well worthy of a couple broken controllers and keyboards.
6. Hollow Knight
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Platform: Microsoft Windows / MacOS / Linux / Switch / PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
Don’t let the game’s cutesy graphics fool you. This atmospheric 2D platformer is one of the most difficult video games ever made in the last decade, if not in history.
Built from the same mould as the Metroid and Castlevania games of all, Hollow Knight crafts out a story filled with creepy crawlies, sprawling kingdoms, and terrifying evil curses – among many other things.
What makes Hollow Knight unique is that the story is as much of the enticing factor as the gameplay.
While the gameplay is, no doubt, excellent, it’s the story and how it’s told that will keep you going. Not to mention, in case you needed even more of a challenge, Hollow Knight is more than happy to give you a platform (get it) to challenge yourself, including an optional gauntlet that will frustrate even the most hardcore gamers.
With one of the best in-game banks in video game history, as well as a couple of clever and adorable touches that give Hollow Knight a distinct, memorable look; Hollow Knight is to modern platformers what Metroid and/or Castlevania was to the previous generation.
Release Date: January 25, 2018
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Platform: Switch / PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / Microsoft Windows / Linux / MacOS
Celeste could very well be the best 2D platformer that you’ve never heard of.
Released with little fanfare, Celeste was originally a game jam creation that later became a full release made by Matt Thorson and Noel Berry, with the help of MiniBoss, a studio that specializes in pixel art.
It’s hard to say exactly what makes Celeste so great.
Is it the game’s fantastic pixelated graphics? Or is it its rewarding and clever level design? Or maybe it’s the phenomenal soundtrack?
Either way, very few games, platformers or not, are able to make you feel so down for not knowing what to do, and yet feel so rewarded for finally mastering the game’s challenging difficulty.
But, more than that, Celeste used the pixelated 2D platform to tell an emotional and impactful tale unlike any other.
We’ll say no more than just tell you that Celeste will see you and Madeline, the game’s protagonist, go up Mount Celeste, which initially started as a simple physical goal, but later turned out to become an emotional struggle filled with spiritual enlightenment at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
It’s amazing just how much you can care for a character that you can barely make the facial features of, but that’s exactly what Celeste accomplishes by the end of the game.
Platformers are the foundations of which the video game industry was built upon.
But despite platformers no longer being the go-to genre for many of today’s video game developers, it still sees its fair share of notable and memorable releases. Our list of the best 2D platformers that are available on multiple platforms is proof of that.
With the next-generation consoles, starting with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox X releasing soon, we can expect even more platformers, both in 2D and in 3D to hit the market. Until then, these are some of the best 2D platformers that you can find and play on multiple gaming platforms as of right now.