From Super Mario to Sonic the Hedgehog, to Jak & Daxter, there’s been a slew of excellent triple-A platformers over the years that have defined generations and kept fans entertained. Among the giants, however, are a lot of smaller developers who have tried their hand at this appealing and often frustrating genre, and it’s resulted in some of the best platforming games today.
With imaginative premises, unique twists, and entertaining gameplay, these indies push the boundaries and redefine the genre. There are some hidden (and some not-so-hidden) gems that are coming for the platforming crown, and they might just claim it from everybody’s favorite plumber sooner rather than later.
Updated January 2, 2023, by Stephen LaGioia: Platformers have continued to see a sort of renaissance of late — largely helmed by the (mostly 2D) efforts from indies. While often dialing things back to a simpler level in terms of layout and visuals, many of these games prove ambitious and deep in other ways.
These imaginative titles helped spur a new scene of platforming games that blend the old with the new, often melding genres and concepts together. And with so many great new ones to explore, we thought we’d revisit this list.
There have been plenty of action-platforming efforts by indie studios of late, even those that stress charming art design. Yet, this hidden gem from Rayark International really uses fun, clever twists to their advantage — with both the parasitic sci-fi themes and the gameplay.
MO Astray has you control an amorphous blob that ventures through dark, industrial corridors by controlling zombie-like lifeforms. While doing so, you’ll be able to progress to the next unknown room by solving puzzles, dodging hazards, and using other abilities.
An early example of an indie platforming hit, Playdead’s eerie noir Limbo remains a standout with its creative puzzles and tasteful, silhouetted art style. The game was launched back in 2010 on XBLA to positive reception among fans and critics alike.
This short, but memorable journey has you control a boy who must trek through the unknown while surviving various traps, baddies, and other hazards in a search for his sister. Despite stylized 2D visuals, Limbo utterly immerses you with its thick atmosphere — and an authentic feel via minimal handholding, menus, or interface.
10 Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a brilliant remake of the original Wonder Boy sequel from Lizardcube studios. Launched in 2017 for console, PC, and mobile devices, the game puts you in control of a young adventurer who, after defeating the fierce Mecha Dragon, has been inflicted with a curse that’s turned them into a lizard-human hybrid.
In order to revert back to your human form, you must take a daring journey across many different lands in a quest to slay the remaining dragons to lift the curse. Throughout the story, you’ll gain animal transformations that will help navigate specific areas and combat situations. The Dragon’s Trap is a charming, underrated title with a compelling premise and gorgeous hand-drawn graphics that should draw retro platforming fans.
Undoubtedly one of the best indie games on the market, Gris took gamers by storm with its 2018 launch thanks to an enticing art style and striking emotional premise. Gris follows the title protagonist as she deals with grief and personal loss while trying to find her voice again.
Throughout the game, you’ll journey across locales that represent the five stages of grief, as well as evade the inky black monster that seems intent on consuming Gris. She’ll also gain traversal abilities along the way, including creating paths out of constellations. Overall, it’s a beautiful and poignant platformer that gamers should experience at least once.
8 Little Nightmares
Tarsier Studios’ debut venture into the horror genre pleasantly surprised fans when it launched in 2017. In the game, you take control of a little girl called Six who’s desperately hungry and trying to escape the harsh bowels of The Maw; a giant underwater vessel. On her journey, the raincoat-clad protagonist must traverse the environment while solving puzzles and avoiding dangerous foes.
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Little Nightmares places a huge emphasis on stealth gameplay due to Six’s lack of combat abilities, bringing a thick feeling of helplessness felt by the dangers that lurk around most corners. It’s a quick, captivating, and uneasy experience; perfect for horror fans.
7 Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy
Over a decade since its original 2010 launch, Super Meat Boy is still one of the most celebrated indie platformers. Meat Boy is on a mission to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, and he’ll need a lot of courage and perfect timing to do so. The game is noticeable for its high challenge due to many super fast-paced levels and precise split-second timing needed to avoid obstacles.
With over 300 levels to complete, much time can be sunken into Super Meat Boy, whose artistic charm and unique flair make it endlessly enticing. Overall, it’s a love letter to the traditional platform games with a ramped-up difficulty — great for those who enjoy a challenge.
6 Fall Guys
Mediatonic’s Fall Guys is a game that seemed to land at the absolute perfect time. In early 2020 when people were staying safe at home, playing multiplayer games with friends online became a saving grace, and Fall Guys became a global hit.
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With inspiration from over-the-top game shows like Total Wipeout and Ninja Warrior, Fall Guys cleverly merges the frustrating precision of platforming with the competitive chaos of a battle royale. Up to 60 players control a walking Jellybean and are placed onto one of many courses. It’s a race to the finish line (or other rotating events), with the winner claiming the coveted crown. It’s a unique feel-good game that’s as frustrating as it is gripping.
5 The Adventure Pals
Massive Monster’s The Adventure Pals is a particularly charming family-friendly video game. As the title suggests, the game revolves around a grand adventure — which starts when a young boy’s father is kidnapped. He sets out on a quest to rescue him and defeat the evil Mr. B, who’s oddly intent on turning the elderly into hot dogs.
With his best friend Rock and pet Giraffe Sparkles by his side, our brave hero travels across the lands battling bandits and meeting a range of allies. It’s a fast-paced adventure that brings a unique take on typical platforming conventions, demonstrated early when Sparkles helps you glide across a big gap by using his tongue as a propeller. It’s a joyful, amusing title that all ages can enjoy.
4 Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Yacht Club Games were one of the early pioneers when it came to the retro revival of platformers with the debut of Shovel Knight in 2014. Fast-forward several years, and this grind-it-out romp remains on the vanguard of great indies, culminating with the robust bundle Treasure Trove.
This is still the best way to play as the shovel-wielding knight, who must traverse obstacles, gather treasure, and fight off the Order of No Quarter. This enticing DLC includes four additional campaigns, challenge modes, a mini-fighter “Showdown,” and a tricky Body Swap mode to shake things up. This all rounds out close to 20 hours of delightful gameplay (for completionists).
3 Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
With its surreal, exhilarating trip through nature, Moon Studios captivated gamers with their Ori debut in 2015. Five years later, the series returned with an even more ambitious and expansive sequel. Will of the Wisps further stresses deep exploration through the majestic wilderness; it’s a vast, non-linear world akin to a fantasy Metroidvania.
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The game also streamlines the already smooth, fluid gameplay by using autosaves, and adds several more upgrades and abilities for mobility and power against a slew of hostile creatures. Moon Studios also brings battle-heavy Combat Shrines and fast-paced Spirit Trials, which bring a new dimension to the experience.
In a similar vein to Gris, Matt Makes Games’ Celeste does a fantastic job of tackling heavier subject matter within its premise, alongside a challenging level design that enthralled players worldwide — and made a big splash with speedrunners in particular.
Celeste tells the story of Madeline, a young woman on a mission to reach the summit of the titular mountain while facing her inner demons along the way. The game’s core theme revolves around the struggles that can come with mental health and accepting the fact that those challenges don’t define who you are. With its emotional, metaphorical plot and themes, cool pixel art, and solid controls that demand precision to win, Celeste elevates to the peak of the platforming mountain.
1 Hollow Knight
A haunting action-adventure, Hollow Knight is one of the best modern-day Metroidvanias. You take control of an unnamed hero tasked with exploring the decrepit world of Hallownest to reveal its mysteries. The nameless silent warrior encounters hostile insects and other creatures that they’ll conquer in melee combat, or by using various spells that can be learned and used in long-range fights.
With its deep lore, tough bosses to fight, countless secrets, and multiple endings to uncover, Hollow Knight brings some of the most dynamic, enticing content of any platformer.