Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: The best video game platformers

Sonic the Hedgehog – which one is best? (pic: Sega)

Readers discuss their favourite platform games, including Rayman Legend and Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was inspired by the recent release of Sonic Frontiers and asked whether you have a favourite 2D and 3D game and which style you generally prefer. How much difference does the main character make and which is your favourite?

Given how old the genre is we had answers from across many generations, but beyond the numerous mentions of Mario and Sonic there was also a lot of love for Rayman and Mickey Mouse.

It finally happened
I consider platform games amongst my favourite gaming genre. I grew up playing 2D platforming games on the Mega Drive and SNES and, of course, they used to be essentially the default genre for games, for example Disney movie games and so on.

While 2D platforming games have been well served of late (Sonic Mania, Yooka-Laylee And The Impossible Lair, Rayman Origins, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Tropical Freeze), I continue to be disappointed by the lack of 3D platforming games.

My favourite platformer is Super Mario Galaxy 2 and I still think it is the peak of the genre in terms of level design, variety, and just fun. Despite this high point, there has been little of note since, apart from other Mario games. I quite enjoyed the original 3D Yooka-Laylee, despite its flaws, mostly because at least someone tried. It seems good 3D platforming games are hard to make and really only Nintendo can pull it off.

I was therefore very surprised to see GC’s positive review of Sonic Frontiers. I think we all hoped that Sega could make a good 3D Sonic game (I was never impressed with Sonic Adventure 2, the supposed good one) and it is really great to see it finally happen. After all, many of us grew up playing the Mega Drive games and it was never fun to see our childhood hero dragged through the mud all these years.

I look forward to playing Sonic Frontiers and I hope more developers will take note and that the 3D platforming genre can have a resurgence.

Long term fan
Crikey, this is a tough one when your gaming experiences go back to the Sinclair ZX81! I think my first memories of amazing platform games would have to be Manic Miner, followed by Jet Set Willy on the Spectrum. I also remember when I was ‘pub compatible’ playing the original Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., spending more than on lager!

It has been fascinating watching platform games evolving over more than 40 years, I have never been brilliant at them but remain incredibly enthusiastic and intend this to continue into my sixties and seventies.

Cool platformer, bro
Let’s not beat about the bush. Nintendo have smashed it for platform games since Super Mario Bros. in the 1980s.

Every iteration of a Mario game by Nintendo has tried to refine and perfect the platform game envelope. Whether that be the 2D games that culminated in New Super Mario Bros. or the 3D games that started with Super Mario 64 and have gotten to the point of Odyssey. Or even the hybrid of Super Mario 3D World, that gave you the best of both worlds and multiplayer nuttiness too. For some reason, in my mind, no one else ever got close and with the GC debate on review scores this week coming to the fore, nothing in the platform world seems to get such peerless reviews either.

Having said that, I’ve tried to think outside that box and think of other developers games that might not have achieved that greatness, but I enjoyed very much nonetheless. Mega Drive Sonic games, Banjo Kazooie by Rare, Prince Of Persia, Tomb Raider by Core Design, the list could go on for a long time. And, as I’ve played games since the late 70s, my list could, arguably, be longer than many other people’s.

So, if I reference my first encounter with platformers in an arcade, Donkey Kong stands out for its great graphics, simplicity and a need for great skill, as a real eye opener.

But looking to the future I’m really hoping that Metroid Prime 4 drags Samus Aran back to the front and centre where she deserves to be. Metroid contains many fantastic combinations of platforming, exploration, and action, but the settings and characters have not been treated well when left with external developers (thinking of Other M here especially) so I’m wondering if the complete restart of Metroid Prime 4 will do it the world of good and give Prime back the status it deserves?

Fingers crossed that the finished product will be worth the wait, but I also appreciate that it will have big boots to fill. But please, no VR, as I couldn’t stand the motion sickness. Not that Nintendo would consider making a headset anyway.

GC: They made a headset for Nintendo Labo, it was pretty neat.

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Venn diagram
This last year or so has been unusual for me in that I’ve played through three great platform games, having not played any at all for a few years! I played Metroid Dread, Ori And The Blind Forest, and, straight after that, Ori And The Will Of The Wisps (Metroidvanias are all platform games first and foremost, right?) The second Ori game gets my nomination here.

It’s one of my favourite games of all time. It just gets everything right. Firstly, it’s beautiful, with the world looking like Pandora from Avatar. This is matched by the music, which is by turns ethereal and invigorating, and perfectly suited to what you’re up to at the time.

You’re not limited to where you can go, with all areas open to you early on. The unlockable skills open out at a decent rate, but none are actually needed to complete the game. These instead are used to just make movement, or fighting enemies, easier or more fun, or opening up access to secret areas and collectables, inviting a return to previous areas.

And the secrets areas are worthwhile exploring, with rewards to spend on more skills or weapons, or on upgrading the hub area, which is a great way to see your progress and the influence you are having on the world. I think Metroid in particular could learn from this, as the rewards for exploring there were usually just an extra two missiles to chuck on the pile.

The key to any good platform game, though, is how the character feels to control, and Moon Studios have absolutely nailed this. By the end of the game you have a huge array of burrows, bashes, dashes, launches and grapples, and intuitively chaining them together, with those graphics and that music, is sensational. It’s like a platform game version of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but better.

It’s one of very few games where I’ve felt the need to hunt down all the collectables and complete every side activity post-completion, and this was because it was a great reason to spend more time in the world and literally just play with Ori and their abilities.

Big shout outs here to Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time and Celeste, which both also scratch that combo-chaining platformer itch, but the second outing of that amazing little forest sprite is getting my vote for this one. Looking forward to seeing what Moon Studios do next.

GC: Metroidvanias don’t have to be platformers, they just usually are – especially the 2D ones.

Memory lane
Favourite platform game? That’s quite a tricky one as, to be honest, platform games have never been a favourite of mine.

As someone who has been gaming since the 80s platform games are some if the earliest games I played.

From Chuckie Egg to the original Mario Bros. I tried many, but I always preferred racing games, shoot ‘em-ups and beat ‘em-ups.

I do recall the Rick Dangerous series on the Amiga being particularly evil. Effectively a ‘memory platform’ game with things like hidden spikes on platforms you had no way of knowing existed until you landed on them. And with only three lives to!

Sonic was a bit of a revelation when it came out, to be honest! It worked on many different levels: speed running, collecting rings, exploration. And it wasn’t too hard either. Not easy, but not the kind of hard as nails platformer that my frankly slightly below average platforming skills had previously endured. Trouble was, I didn’t have a Mega Drive so I very rarely played it.

Does anyone recall the platforming section at the end of Half-Life? You made it all the way to the planet Xen by shooting your way past alien hordes, then the designers decided to introduce 3D platforming onto moving rocks, requiring pixel perfect precision, in a first person shooter! My word, what were they thinking! As a result, I never finished the first Half-Life game. It still annoys me!

Over the last few years I have played a few of the old platformers on emulation. I can finally play Sonic whenever I want (1 and 2 hold up fantastically) but my wife is much better than me at them! Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is also great fun. Early Super Mario Bros. games (significantly better than the original Mario Bros.) are all great fun, and weirdly I find them a bit easier now than in my youth (I’m in my late 40s).

Oh! I’ve just remembered two absolute classics! Rainbow Islands on the Amiga, sequel to another one I loved: Bubble Bobble. Alas, again, never completed. And the excellent NewZealand Story on the Amiga. I now have a weird music mash-up of the NewZealand Story and Rainbow Islands tunes in my head.

Again, hard as nails games that I never completed but did spend many hours playing. I’ve fairly recently played both on arcade emulation.

So there you go! Over the course of writing this letter I’ve gone from disliking platformers to remembering some absolute classics!

But I’ll probably mainly stick to my racers and open world epics if it’s all the same, with the occasional toe dip into the world of platformers. I mean, after all, it would be boring if we all liked the same thing, eh?
The Dude Abides

It’s in the name
My favourite platform game has always been
Manic miner 100 (gamertag)

Rare achievement
One of my favourite 3D platformers from the past was Banjo-Kazooie on the N64 and a game that was good enough to 100% complete. There was a load of collectibles, including honeycomb pieces, musical notes, and jigsaw pieces, etc., which made you explore every nook and cranny in each area and to see the different surprises and scenery.

Super Mario 64 was the breakthrough game for me, whilst Banjo was like the next new platformer for the N64, which seemed to be a little less jaggy and a more fully rounded and curved game with real environmental types. The gaming mechanics were of an interesting type when teaming up with your buddy, to get you around the platforms and to out of the way places in very intriguing ways.

I felt the developer Rare, who made Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, really put a lot of effort into Banjo from all aspects of the gaming world’s ideas. The unique areas included swamps, snowy mountains, temple areas, a large tree full of beehives, as well as caverns and treasure cove locations, etc., which were well realised and accompanied with a soothing soundtrack that immersed the gamer a great deal more.

Rare definitely set a benchmark and a lot of inspiration for future developers to explore and set a high standard for future gaming ideas with their own progressive creations. But Banjo-Kazooie was a classic game and though I only fully completed the once, it’s definitely one to remember for my gaming nostalgia.

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The small print
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