Platform games are our stock-in-trade here at Codepod – each child on one of our courses develops their own game over the length of the course, complete with heroes, villains, coins, lives, bosses and much more. With this in mind, we’ve picked five of our favourite platformers, from classics of the genre to some recent, innovative examples of the medium:
Super Mario World
Mario has become synonymous with platform games ever since first appearing in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong games in the early 1980s. The 1985 release of Super Mario Bros set in motion one of the best selling and most acclaimed franchises in gaming history, helping to launch Mario as a pop-cultural icon and setting the standard for all platformers that followed.
The Mario franchise has since expanded to encompass racing games, RPGs, and puzzle games, though the Super Mario series has stayed true to its platformer roots.
Showcasing a vast and interconnected world map, new features and power-ups, and innovative and challenging level design, 1990’s Super Mario World sees Mario (with companions Luigi and Yoshi) travelling across seven worlds of Dinosaur Land in an effort to save Princess Toadstool from series antagonist Bowser, navigating underwater levels, ghost houses, and boss-inhabited fortresses along the way.
Widely considered as a pinnacle of 2D platform gaming, Super Mario World is a frequent feature on ‘greatest game of all time’ lists, becoming the best-selling game of all-time on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and has recently been re-released as a built in game on Nintendo’s Classic Mini SNES console.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sega’s mascot character was launched in 1991 in the original Sonic the Hedgehog, rivalling Nintendo’s Super Mario games with fast-paced gameplay centered around Sonic’s high-speed.
The launch of Sonic led to a drastic shift in the video game industry: Nintendo’s market share had reached 92% at the start of the 1990s, but high sales of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive helped to swing the market to 65% in Sega’s favour and kicked of the ‘console war’ of the 1990s.
In an innovative twist on the platform games that preceded it, Sonic breaks from gaming conventions; the game’s design is cited as an, albeit successful, example of “incorrect design” in a recent Guardian article, with the game denying players the chance to survey the levels ahead in favour of pinball inspired speed-running.
Launched in 1992 as part of a worldwide synchronised ‘Sonic 2sday’ marketing campaign, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 built upon the success the original game, with the loops and twisting paths of the level design providing the ideal landscape to demonstrate Sonic’s key speed-running mechanics. The sequel also introduced an iconic character in Sonic’s sidekick Tails in a multiplayer mode, as well as new abilities such as ‘spin dash’.
Going on to sell over 6 million copies for the Sega Megadrive, the game has spawned many further sequels and has itself been re-released multiple times, most recently in 2013.
Developer Jonathan Blow’s 2008 game combines traditional platformer aspects with innovative time-manipulation capabilities. In true Super Mario style, Braid protagonist Tim sets out to rescue a captured princess. To do so, he must traverse five realms, each of which requires the player to manipulate time in different ways in order to collect puzzle pieces.
The game’s complex narrative has been subject to multiple interpretations, and was influenced by literary and cinematic sources including Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The game, along with Blow’s follow-up puzzler The Witness, is considered a prime example of ‘games as art’, with Blow criticising various mainstream games, including branding social games such as Farmville as “evil”.
Since its release, Braid has been heralded as “the definitive indie game” and widely credited as a catalyst for the rise in popularity of independent games, as many artistic games, often developed by small teams, have achieved significant critical and commercial success in recent years.
A dark and platform/puzzle game from independent studio Playdead, Limbo tasks players with guiding an unnamed protagonist through a deadly forest landscape, presented in monochromatic visuals inspired by Film Noir and German Expressionism.
Limbo’s story is presented implicitly, foregoing any exposition or instructions. Seemingly on a quest to find his missing sister, the main character faces dangerous environments, traps and enemies on his search, requiring the player to navigate what Playdead have referred to as a “trial and death” gameplay style to progress through the game and avoid the frequently gruesome deaths faced when challenges are failed (alongside other dark visuals, these scenes may render the game unsuitable for younger players).
Playdead’s follow up, Inside, is another highly regarded puzzle-platformer. Set in an authoritarian surveillance state, Inside explores similarly dark themes and uses some elements originally designed for Limbo, once again providing an oblique narrative which encourages multiple interpretations.
After a troubled development process, prominently featured in 2011 documentary Indie Game: The Movie (alongside two other platformers: Braid and Super Meat Boy), Fez was released in 2012 to much critical acclaim and commercial success, selling over one million copies by the end of 2013.
With a superb electronic score by Disasterpiece and 8-bit visuals paying homage to classics such as Tetris, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, Fez’s gameplay revolves, quite literally, around a rotating three-dimensional world. The player must move between four 2D views, realigning whole levels to solve puzzles and progress, after lead character Gomez obtains the titular red fez and reveals the third dimension of the world he inhabits.
Eschewing common platformer conventions such as enemies and boss fights, Fez favours complex puzzles and non-linear exploration of its open world, with the simple goal of finding treasures. Though the game’s ‘no conflict’ system does not punish players for their missteps, the puzzles become increasing cryptic as the game progresses – players are required to decipher secret codes to discover some of the game’s deeper secrets, including the ”practically impossible” ‘Monolith’ puzzle for which, years after its initial release, many devoted players are still seeking a logical explanation.
A sequel, Fez II, was announced and later abruptly cancelled by controversial creator Phil Fish and company Polytron, with Fish announcing his exit from game development after an online argument with journalist Marcus Beer.