best indie platformers

Best Indie Platformers – Jump into Something Special

Ah, childhood. That period in life where we are completely free from the clutches of the responsibilities, trials, and tribulations of adult life, and we have more free time than we know what to do with. We all tend to use this freedom in different ways. Some kids play in the streets until the moon twinkles in the sky.

Others use this time to become super proficient in something and chase their dreams of being a sports star or a musician. Me? Well, I sat in my house and played video games, slept, then woke up and did it again. Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. That time for me was mainly punctuated by the variety of mascot platformers that adorned the physical shelves. Remember those?

I was enamored with games like Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Ty The Tasmanian Tiger, Klonoa, and so many more. However, after the PS2 era, platformers began to take a back seat to FPS games, single-player open-world RPGS, and a handful of other breakout sub-genres.

It was a tough time for me, a certified platforming nut, but thankfully there was a small ember burning away in the darkness, and that was in the indie gaming scene, which routinely blessed me with a modern platformer that gave me that delicious hit of nostalgia, while also offering something new to the decades-old genre.

However, I feel like a lot of gamers out there have quietly accepted that platformers are a thing of the past, when in fact, they are alive and well!

So I thought it was about as good a time as any to showcase some of the most incredible indie platformers out there and help fellow gamers that grew up with mascot platformers relive the glory days, albeit with a modern twist. So without further ado, here is Indie Game Culture’s Best Indie Platformers Guide! Enjoy!

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Embark on an emotional journey of compassion and friendship in "Spiritfarer Digital Deluxe Edition," where you'll guide spirits to their final resting place aboard your mystical boat. With its stunning hand-drawn art style and heartfelt storytelling, immerse yourself in a unique blend of management simulation and heartfelt exploration.

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Selection Criteria

As usual, we will be offering some ground rules to ensure that we aren’t just selecting any old game that has you run, jump and collect goodies as you go. We will be playing it fast and loose with what qualifies as a platformer, and using certain rules to ensure our picks are truly the best in class platformers. So here are the criteria we ran with when compiling this list:

  • To keep things interesting, we will include all forms of platforming, not just traditional 3D collect-a-thons
  • Platforming needs to be the main focus of the game, not just a portion of what is otherwise a rather varied experience
  • We will only be considering games with a 65%+ Metacritic score
  • Only one game per franchise (if applicable)

Okay, we are all set. So it’s time to limber up and jump into the action!

#1 – Tinykin

tinykin

  • Metacritic Score: 77%
  • Release Date: 30 August 2022

We begin with a mascot platformer of sorts that actually galvanizes this popular sub-genre rather than relying on tradition and nostalgia to sell copies.

Tinykin places you in the shoes of Milo as he travels back to the weird and wonderful time of 1991, and asks the player to make pals with the strange but lovable creatures called Tinykin. These Pikmin-adjacent creatures can be used for platforming, destruction, puzzle solving, and more, culminating in a platforming experience that truly feels fresh and new.

The story is surprisingly gripping; it has all the collectible staples to reward mindless exploring, and most importantly, the platforming mechanics and movement feel fluid and satisfying. It’s hard to recommend a traditional mascot platformer that doesn’t feature on the PS2, but if I was going to, it would probably be this one.

#2 – Celeste

celeste

  • Metacritic Score: 92%
  • Release Date: 25th January 2018

If you are someone that is dipping their toe in the vast waters of game development, chances are that you started off developing a basic 2D platformer.

It is definitely and unequivocally the easiest type of game to produce. However, to reach the upper echelons of the genre, you need to produce something that is so tightly refined, and so engaging just to stand out from the crowd.

Well, Celeste is a rare example of a game that managed to do this, offering some of the most meticulously crafted platforming design you’ll likely ever come across.

Celeste offers a touching story about mental health, gender, and self-discovery, not to mention a killer soundtrack. However, the gameplay was the standout aspect of this game, so much so that the speedrunning community has adopted this game in their droves due to the game’s masterful design.

It’s a tough game, but one that, if given the time, will undoubtedly captivate any platforming fan.

#3 – Fez

fez

  • Metacritic Score: 90%
  • Release Date: 13 April 2012

I often find myself both explaining what Fez is and defending it as a standout platformer, because most folks missed this one when it arrived on the scene, and those that are aware of this game aren’t huge fans of developer Phil Fish, respectively.

No matter what your reason is for not having witnessed this intricately woven puzzle platformer for yourself, it’s a dying shame.

Fez is a game that plays around with 2D/3D perspectives akin to Super Paper Mario or Toptee and Toodee. Allowing players to flip their POV to reveal new paths, hidden secrets, and more.

It’s a perfect blend of challenging platforming and puzzle-solving, asking players to be precise, but also work their brains a little as they bounce around the screen. It’s a game that I see as one of the grandfathers of indie gaming as we know it today, and for that reason, it’s about time you dug this relic out and gave it the respect it deserves!

#4 – New Super Lucky’s Tale

new super lucky's tale

  • Metacritic Score: 76%
  • Release Date: 8 November 2019

In the words of our own Melika Jeddi, ‘the original Super Lucky’s Tale was absolute trash, whereas New Super Lucky’s Tale is one of my favorite mascot platformers ever.’ It’s really a testament to the developers that looked at their first attempt, and unlike a lot of companies who had created disappointing projects, decided, ‘No, we can do better.’

That’s exactly what they did, refining the overall experience to make it much more streamlined, fixing glaring issues like a terrible camera, and generally polishing an already promising 3D platformer to create a truly cathartic and satisfying experience.

It’s a game that does rely on nostalgia and traditional tropes to deliver this experience, but that’s okay when it’s done well. It’s simple, accessible, unadulterated fun, and it’s well worth checking out. Especially if you were disappointed by the original release.

#5 – Ultimate Chicken Horse

ultimate chicken horse

  • Metacritic Score: 80%
  • Release Date: 25th September 2018

What if platformers were competitive multiplayer titles? Well, then pretty much every one of them would play like an iteration of Mario Party, now wouldn’t they? Well, all except for one which takes the chaos and the hilarity of Mario Party, but offers a more structured format in which to cause this mayhem.

Ultimate Chicken Horse is a party-based platformer that has players create miniature platforming stages not unlike Super Mario Maker and then sees the group compete to see who can race to the finish first.

It’s complete pandemonium but in the best way possible. The platforming mechanics are simple, but the co-op-friendly format and the fact that one game never plays out like the last really make up for this lack of complexity.

It’s one that just about anyone that can wrap their head around a jump button can pick up and play, so if you have a games night on the horizon, this one could be a great new addition.

#6 – Bread and Fred

bread and fred

  • Metacritic Score: 78% (Based on three available reviews)
  • Release Date: May 23rd, 2023

It doesn’t get much more recent than this, but we believe that Bread and Fred more than earns its place on this list.

This one is another multiplayer platformer, but this time it’s all about cooperation rather than creating stumbling blocks for fellow players to leap over. Bread and Fred has you control two cute little penguins, which are tied together as they hike up a mountain.

It’s very like Celeste in that regard, but the key difference here is that you’ll have to precisely navigate each stage accounting for both penguins, or you’ll both fall to your doom.

This ultimately leads to very challenging but satisfying teamwork-based platforming. Or if you have a little evil streak in you, many moments of mutually assured destruction as you leap to your doom with your partner hurtling toward the ground behind you.

The game does a great job of adding new mechanics as you progress, the costumes you can unlock are cute as a button, and overall, you’ll struggle to find a better two-player platformer than this one.

#7 – Yooka Laylee

yooka laylee

  • Metacritic Score: 75%
  • Release Date: 11th April 2017

I always had a fascination with any sort of platformer that Rare made down the years. Whether that be Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country, or Conkers Bad Fur Day. They very rarely missed the mark on what makes a mascot platformer great, and the same can be said about Yooka Laylee, a game made by the minds behind the aforementioned games.

Yooka Laylee is a spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, which is very self-aware of its own existence in an age where these types of games are seen as a thing of the past, and this fourth-wall-breaking approach works in its favor.

It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, providing jovial and colorful worlds to explore, fun, satisfying platforming, and a cast of characters that are a joy to engage with.

Does it do anything new within the genre? Absolutely not, but sometimes a regression session is needed, and if you feel a craving for one of those, Yooka Laylee is a great companion on your quest for platforming-based nostalgia.

#8 – Downwell

downwell

  • Metacritic Score: 81%
  • Release Date: October 18th, 2015

Platforming is generally about starting on a lower level of a map, and exploring everywhere until you get to the tippy-top. That’s the norm, but what if the only goal was to plummet downward rapidly, battling enemies and dodging projectiles as you go? Well, that’s Downwell in a nutshell.

It’s a game that has you hop down a well and fall deeper and deeper to uncover treasures that lurk below. You’ll have a pair of gunboots for protection, and you’ll occasionally make a pitstop to buy upgrades, but that’s it. It’s pure arcade action and toes the line between a pinpoint platformer, and complete bullet-hell chaos.

The traditionalists out there may say that this isn’t strictly a platformer because you don’t so much jump as fall at speed. However, to that, I say, getting from one place to another in the most seamless way possible is still the main goal, and it’s my list, so I’ll do what I want.

Try Downwell; it’s a ton of fun!

#9 – Yoku’s Island Express

yoku's island express

  • Metacritic Score: 82%
  • Release Date: 29th May 2018

Does anyone remember the old Pinball game that came installed on old Windows 95 computers as standard? Perhaps I’m showing my age, but that was the height of video game entertainment in my house at that period in time.

Since then, perhaps aside from Pokemon Pinball, there has almost never been a game that employed pinball mechanics and truly grabbed my attention.

Then along came Yoku’s Island Express, which masterfully blends pinball and platforming, along with a Metroidvania map design to offer a truly magnificent adventure.

This game sees you play as a dung beetle turned postman who must navigate Mokumana Island and work tirelessly to set up a postal network, and uncover ancient secrets of the archipelago as you go.

Full disclosure, this game does have a series of boss battles, so in a sense, you could label this a Metroidvania instead of the platformer. However, I feel that platforming is always center stage in this game, making it just about suitable for this list. This is a cheap and cheerful gem that you just need to try out!

10 – INSIDE

inside

  • Metacritic Score: 93%
  • Release Date: 23rd August 2016

I mentioned the grandfathers of indie gaming earlier in the article, and I would consider LIMBO to be one of those. An eerie 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer that practically carved a genre all by itself.

You would think that it would be nearly impossible to top that amazing feat, but years later, PLAYDEAD studios would create INSIDE, a follow-up to LIMBO that, in my opinion, blows it right out of the water. INSIDE is a beautifully dark and sinister 2D side-scrolling puzzler that sees you try and navigate a dystopian landscape where mind control and human experimentation are the norm.

It’s a game that tells a wonderful subtle story and is visually timeless. However, it’s the quality of the platforming-based puzzles that really hold this game aloft. With a blend of timing-based platforming, stealth, set-pieces, and traditional mind-bending conundrums, the game offers a rich platforming adventure that you can experience in just one afternoon.

It’s a game that shows just why PLAYDEAD is the king of this genre, and also proves that you don’t need a rainbow’s worth of colors on the screen to make a successful platformer.

#11 – A Hat in Time

a hat in time

  • Metacritic Score: 79%
  • Release Date: 5th August 2017

Before Super Mario Oddessy came along and stole the show with its hat-based mechanics, there was another ‘cute as heck’ platformer that had you play as a colorful character that drew all their magical powers from their collection of bonnets.

In, A Hat In Time, you play as ‘Hat Kid,’ a little girl who has her journey through space rudely halted, and must now gather all the time pieces needed to get going again.

This inevitably leads to a wonderful and grand adventure through a slew of colorful worlds where you will have to use a variety of hat-based powers. There are five densely packed worlds to explore, and while there isn’t much reason to return to each after you finish things up, your time within each area will not soon be forgotten.

It’s a bit of a shame that Super Mario Oddessy came along when it did, as A Hat In Time never really stood a chance. But now that the dust has settled, it’s perhaps time that you gave this indie platformer the attention it deserves.

#12 – Super Meat Boy

super meat boy

  • Metacritic Score: 90%
  • Release Date: 20th October 2010

Quite easily the oldest indie on this list, and another member of the grandfathers of indie collective. However, despite this game’s age, it still holds up as a timeless piece of masterful platforming design.

Super Meat Boy is a game that served as the blueprint for Celeste many years later, except with Super Meat Boy, you complete much more condensed levels, and aim to do so as fast as humanly possible.

The game’s narrative is pretty much Super Mario in the sense that you clear levels to save a damsel in distress, but it’s not really about the story. It’s about the precision platforming you do along the way, and the meat/blood smears you leave along walls, saws, and spikes as you try to clear a stage.

Super Meat Boy, for me at least, is the only 2D platformer that sits on par with Celeste in terms of mechanical excellence, and it’s a wonderfully addictive experience to boot. So if you somehow missed this one, jump in right now!

#13 – Neon White

neon white

  • Metacritic Score: 90%
  • Release Date: 13th December 2022

As promised, I’m playing it fast and loose with what constitutes a platformer, as many would see Neon White as a zany take on the FPS genre. However, as this is a game where you effectively speedrun speedrunning, I see it as a prime candidate for this list.

In Neon White, you play as an ‘angel’ who must eradicate the demons who reside in heaven. How, you ask? Well, naturally, it’s by performing sweet parkour moves, and slicing them up as you run past at speed.

Neon White offers a rich narrative that has a series of anime tropes alongside Ben Esposito’s signature brand of surrealism to keep players invested, but in truth, the fast-paced, satisfying, and addictive arcade-style gameplay is more than enough to keep you hooked.

This game was many people’s indie game of the year in 2022, and if I hadn’t happened upon it in early 2023, I would probably have been in the same boat. So consider that an endorsement; buy this game.

#14 – The End Is Nigh

the end is nigh

  • Metacritic Score: 84%
  • Release Date: 12th July 2017

Continuing this trend of hyper-precise and generally pretty difficult platformers, another wonderfully challenging one is The End is Nigh.

This game sees you play as Ash as he desperately tries to make a friend in a futuristic setting where the world is crumbling and decaying with each passing second. Which naturally means you’ll need to dodge the debris and platform to safety if you want to stay alive.

It’s a platformer that markets itself as a stressful, super-hard, and painful experience, but unlike a lot of the others in this category, the difficulty isn’t artificial. It’s a wonderfully crafted game that is hard but fair, has plenty of additional content, and truly makes you feel like a boss just for making it through a single level.

Fans of Celeste and Super Meat Boy, take note. This is the third piece of the tough indie platformers trifecta you probably never knew existed.

#15 – Sonic Mania

sonic mania

  • Metacritic Score: 86%
  • Release Date: 15th August 2017

Then lastly, we finish with a game that is hard to spin as a true indie, as this is an iconic existing IP backed by SEGA.

However, as this game was made by a group of Sonic fans who wanted to create a Sonic game that they could fall in love with again, after a slew of absolute dross made by SEGA themselves, I see this as an indie game through, and through. Sonic Mania takes the brilliance of the original Sonic titles of old and drags them into the modern age with aplomb.

It’s a title that focuses on flow and momentum, rewarding players for fast reactions and near-miss dodges as they zoom to the end of each lovingly redesigned level. It always makes me chuckle that after decades of trying to capture the lightning in a bottle that was the retro Sonic titles, it was the fans that managed to do that before SEGA.

It just goes to show we gamers know what we want, and if developers won’t do it, we can and will take it into our own hands.

Honorable Mentions

Just because we don’t think a game is one of the top-fifteen indie platformers doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worth playing.

In fact, there are so many great options that I really lament having to leave them out. So as a compromise, here are some great games that we will give a quick mention so you can do some of your own research:

i am bread
I Am Bread
  • Pumpkin Jack
  • 10-Second Ninja
  • Clive N Wrench
  • I Am Bread
  • Sephonie
  • Grow Home
  • Here Comes Niko!
  • Pizza Tower
  • OMNO
  • Spiritfarer
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Solar Ash
  • Cave Story+
  • LIMBO
  • Mail Time
  • Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
  • Kena: Bridge of Spirits
  • Planet of Lana
  • Bugsnax
  • Hell Pie
  • Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy

FAQs

Question: What Makes a Game A Platformer?

Answer: It can be defined in a number of ways, and many will have a looser interpretation than myself. For me, it’s a game where getting for A to B, collecting items, and using movement-based abilities to progress are the main focus of the title. This is why games I see games like Metroidvanias as a genre of their own.

Question: What’s The Best Indie Platformer?

Answer: For me, it’s very hard to look past Celeste. Based on platforming mechanics alone, there isn’t a game that can match the sheer attention to detail presented in that game. Plus, the game has a brilliant story, a sublime soundtrack, cute pixel visuals, and plenty of end-game content. For me, it’s the full package.

Question: Are Indies The Last Bastion of Platforming?

Answer: Funny you should ask, as this was the exact topic of this episode of the Indie Game Culture Podcast. So for all the answers, drop in and listen!

Giving Platformers a Platform

So there we are, a ton of indie platformers that you’ve likely been sleeping on for far too long. It may be a genre that isn’t quite as in demand as the glory days in the noughties. However, it is still a gaming format that many players adore, and will flock to. In the words of our own Melika Jeddi, ‘If it’s colorful, has collectibles, and has fun movement, then sign me up.’

I hope that this guide helps you find some new platforming adventures to add to your ever-growing collection, and as always, thanks for reading Indie Game Culture!

Sail into the Heartfelt Adventure of Spiritfarer Deluxe | GOG

Embark on an emotional journey of compassion and friendship in "Spiritfarer Digital Deluxe Edition," where you'll guide spirits to their final resting place aboard your mystical boat. With its stunning hand-drawn art style and heartfelt storytelling, immerse yourself in a unique blend of management simulation and heartfelt exploration.

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We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
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