The platformer genre is known for its versatility, capable of blending with other styles of games such as stealth, run-n-gun, and puzzle, just to name a few.
They’re also one of the oldest genres of gaming to have stood the test of time, ranging from retro classics like Space Panic and Super Mario 64 to more modern hits like Shovel Knight and Super Mario Odyssey.
To celebrate the genre’s legacy and where it’s headed in the future, we thought we’d highlight some of the best platformer games worth checking out in 2021.
Make sure to check back as we’ll be updating this list with new titles in the future.
Table of ContentsShow
Developer Team Cherry caught the world by surprise when they released Hollow Knight back in 2017. The indie Metroidvania, filled with spooky insects, has gained a reputation for being a challenging but fair 2D action-platformer that encourages exploration and experimentation.
The game is centered on its title protagonist, a silent sword-wielding knight on a quest to unlock the mysteries of Hallownest, a dark and dangerous kingdom that offers treasures to any brave enough to explore its treacherous environments.
Hollow Knight does a great job of creating an atmospheric experience thanks to its stunning visuals, excellent sound design, and large game world.
Yoshi’s Crafted World
Nintendo’s favorite green dinosaur made his debut on Switch this year in Yoshi’s Crafted World, a charming side-scrolling platformer presented in stunning 2.5D visuals.
Serving as both a sequel to Woolly World and a soft-reboot for the Yoshi games, Crafted World introduces a new ‘switch’ mechanic that allows the player to change the camera perspective to reveal objects in the background.
The game has Yoshi and his friends setting off on an adventure to recover the lost gems of the magical Sundream Stone after Bowser Jr. and Kamek try to steal them.
Crafted World features a colorful, handcrafted art style where characters and objects stand-out, as well as satisfying platforming in both single-player and co-op.
Want to learn more about Yoshi’s Crafted World? Check out our review.
Most 2D platformers tend to place an emphasis on gameplay over story; however, in the case of Celeste, you’ll find both components have been carefully thought out. The game has you assuming control of Madeline, a girl looking to escape the struggles of everyday life by climbing a mysterious mountain.
You progress through the game by completing difficult platforming levels that require precise jumping and dashing. Celeste features a number of collectibles to find for an extra layer of challenge in addition to an Assist mode for players who are more interested in the game’s story.
Spyro: Reignited Trilogy
Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is a shining example of how to correctly update a beloved series for the modern age. Developer Toys for Bob did an excellent job recreating the original Spyro trilogy, updating environments and characters to look more polished than their polygonal-shaped ancestors ever could.
As far as gameplay and story go, each game still feels like classic Spyro. Included are Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon. With beautiful graphics and solid platforming mechanics that still hold up in 2020, Reignited Trilogy is worth playing for both nostalgic fans and those who never got to experience the original games.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Developer Yacht Club Games took the indie game scene by storm when they released Shovel Knight back in 2014. The 2D side-scroller has a charming 8-bit retro aesthetic, a slew of memorable heroes and villains, a deep combat system that revolves around using different gadgets, and superb platforming to boot.
The base game includes the Shovel of Hope original story and has you controlling Shovel Knight as he sets out to defeat the Order of No Quarter, using a shovel blade as his main method of attack. We recommend picking up the updated Treasure Trove edition which includes two additional campaigns –Plague of Shadows and Specter of Torment, as well as two more planned expansions.
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey has Nintendo’s iconic Italian plumber setting off on a new adventure to rescue Princess Peach after she’s been kidnapped by Bowser, yet again. However, this time you’re not alone as a new companion, a sentient hat named Cappy, joins you on your quest.
Cappy gives Mario access to new powers, such as the ability to possess other creatures and objects, adding a new layer of strategy for traversing environments, defeating enemies, and solving puzzles. Odyssey features 16 different worlds, a plethora of collectibles, new outfits for Mario, and many more secrets just waiting to be discovered.
The Messenger pays homage to classic side-scrollers like Ninja Gaiden by incorporating features like “cloudstepping” along with 8 and 16-bit visuals. However, the game doesn’t just stop there with new powers and tools constantly being introduced to the player, such as a grappling hook and glide ability to help keep things feeling fresh and exciting.
The action platformer has you controlling a ninja who’s been tasked with delivering an ancient scroll to the top of a mountain, with an assortment of evil monsters and traps looking to stand in your way. Without spoiling too much, the game takes an unexpected turn that involves time-travel, which ends up affecting both story and gameplay.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Initially created as a Kickstarter bonus for the upcoming Ritual of the Night, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a callback to retro Metroidvanias. The game looks and plays extremely similar to Castlevania III on NES, which comes as no surprise when you learn that Koji Igarashi along with other Castlevania veterans had a role in its development.
The 2D platformer has you swapping between four playable characters while exploring a forbidden castle filled with deadly, supernatural creatures. Although Curse of the Moon takes great strides to appear as authentically retro as possible, it does include some modern touches like better controls and more fluid movement and combat.
Cuphead is inspired by challenging, retro run-and-gun titles where memorizing enemy attack patterns were less of a strategy and more of a necessity for survival. The intense action platformer does an excellent job of luring you into a false sense of security with its joyful, 1930s hand-drawn cartoon visuals before revealing its true sadistic nature.
The game has you playing as titular protagonist Cuphead, who along with his brother Mugman is forced to defeat a series of bosses in order to repay an outstanding debt with the devil. These lengthy battles put your platforming skills to the test as environments shift and bosses become increasingly aggressive with each phase.
Fez is a unique puzzle-platformer played from both 2D and 3D-perspectives. In it, you control a small creature named Gomez who, after receiving a magical fez hat, is able to alter the world around him. Equipped with this newfound power, Gomez is tasked with restoring order to the universe by collecting fragments of reality now spread across worlds.
The game plays with perspective in interesting ways, resulting in some of the most mind-bending platforming and puzzle sections we’ve ever seen. For anyone put off by Cuphead’s challenging boss fights, you’ll be relieved to find that Fez has no enemies, bosses, or penalties for failure whatsoever.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Set after the events of Donkey Kong Country Returns, Tropical Freeze sees banana-loving, tie-wearing Nintendo mascot Donkey Kong celebrating his birthday when a band of arctic villains called the Snowmads show up uninvited. Once the evil clan starts turning DK’s tropical paradise into an icy tundra, the Kongs set off on a quest to reclaim their land before it’s too late.
The side-scrolling platformer maintains the series’ reputation for having memorable characters and carefully-crafted level designs. Additionally, Tropical Freeze manages to strike the perfect balance between challenge and fun, offering extra collectibles for dedicated players to find as well as an optional Funky Mode for those looking for a more casual experience.
SteamWorld Dig 2
SteamWorld Dig 2 is a 2D Metroidvania that manages to improve on everything from the first game without making any compromises. In it, you control a steam-powered robot miner named Dorothy as she begins searching for Rusty, the protagonist from the first game who has now disappeared.
However, story doesn’t take center stage here, with a majority of the game’s fun stemming from it’s addictive gameplay loop, which sees you delving deeper into underground mines, collecting valuable resources to then be sold in exchange for new gear and upgrades. Improving your equipment allows you to extend how long you can stay below the surface and makes the already satisfying gameplay that much better.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
In recent years we’ve seen a lot more remasters of classic games crop up, including those featuring a genetically enhanced bandicoot named Crash. N. Sane Trilogy is a collection of the first three Crash Bandicoot games — Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped, rebuilt from the ground up with new visual and audio assets, animations, and cutscenes.
Each game follows the series’ protagonist Crash as he travels across various worlds trying to prevent the evil Doctor Neo Cortex from achieving world domination.
While staying as true to the originals as possible, N. Sane Trilogy does add some quality-of-life improvements across all three games, such as unified checkpoints, pause menus, save systems, time trials, and the option to play as Crash’s sister, Coco, in a majority of levels.
A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time is a 3D platformer inspired by games like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, sharing a similar cartoonish graphical style. The game follows Hat Kid, a young girl trying to make her way back to her homeworld via spaceship when a scuffle with a member of Mafia Town sends the magical hourglasses that power her ship flying across a planet.
Her journey takes her to uniquely themed worlds including a Hollywood movie set, a moving train, and a spooky forest. The game features a cast of well-written and memorable characters as well as excellent platforming controls, putting A Hat in Time alongside some of the great N64 titles that inspired its creation.
Spelunky originally started out as an open-source indie platformer that was free to play on PC. Here, it began growing an audience of players who found the game’s rogue-like inspired gameplay, where each run through is completely unique, highly satisfying.
The 2D game has you controlling an unnamed adventurer, known as the spelunker, with the goal being to explore procedurally-generated caves, collecting as much as treasure as you can while avoiding enemies and traps. The unpredictability of Spelunky’s environments is what makes the game so enjoyable and replayable.