There was once a time when the platforming genre dominated the home console market. Mascot characters like Mario, Sonic, and Donkey Kong were driving forces behind not just the sales of their own games, but the sales of their consoles. The genre continued to succeed when gaming made the switch from 2D to 3D in the late 90s; Sonic and Donkey Kong struggled to adjust in the long term, but Mario continued to thrive and new characters like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro began to emerge.
Unfortunately for platforming fans, the years that followed saw the genre fall from grace. The improved hardware of the PlayStation 2 allowed for more realistic games, paving the way for action games to dominate the console. Further hardware improvements with the PS3 and Xbox 360 saw open-world adventures & RPGs start to flood the industry; while platformers, a genre that is linear by design, have struggled to offer the same amount of content.
Despite the eighth generation of consoles offering developers the opportunity to make games at an even larger scale than ever before, the PlayStation 4 saw platformers, in particular side-scrolling platformers, make a return. The genre seems to have found its place in modern gaming, by reducing its price to compensate for the lack of content in comparison to open-world adventures.
Originally released on Xbox One and PC in 2017, Cuphead finally made its way to Sony’s console in 2017. Cuphead was developed and published by Studio MDHR, who took inspiration from 30s cartoons for the game’s art style, which won Best Art Direction at The Game Awards 2017.
Except for a few run and gun levels scattered through the game’s overworld, Cuphead is essentially a boss rush. This doesn’t mean that the game is too simplistic or will be over quickly though, as Cuphead‘s bosses provide some of the toughest challenges from the PS4’s lifecycle.
9 Spelunky 2 (87)
Released 12 years after the original Spelunky, Mossmouth brought their 2D side-scrolling IP back to critical acclaim. The game puts the player in the shoes of Ana, the daughter of the first game’s protagonist.
Mossmouth kept the core gameplay similar to the game’s predecessor but found ways of improving the pre-existing mechanics while also throwing in a few new ones. One new mechanic came in the form of a ridable turkey, taking players back to the nostalgic days of Mario and Yoshi.
8 Sonic Mania Plus (87)
Despite an incredible amount of attempts, SEGA has never quite been able to recapture the magic of the classic 2D Sonic games. In 2017, Sonic Team and SEGA released their latest 3D game, Sonic Forces. It was yet another source of disappointment for Sonic fans, as the title failed to impress with Metascores that only narrowly surpassed the 50 mark.
Thankfully for SEGA, Sonic Forces wasn’t their only Sonic game of the year, as they also released a separate title with PagodaWest Games and Headcannon, Sonic Mania. The game took the series back to its roots, redesigning some of the most beloved Sega Genesis stages. Sonic Mania Plus was released the following year, with a physical retail release and additional content.
7 Dead Cells (87)
The Metroidvania genre had a surprising but welcome resurgence during the eighth generation of console, as titles like Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Hollow Knight proved that the classic style of play had a place in modern gaming.
Dead Cells initially released in 2018 and was an extremely ambitious game that tried to combine a range of genres including platforming, action, roguelike, and Metroidvania. The game was highly praised for how well it blended the many genres and for the design of its procedurally generated levels.
6 Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition (87)
Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is yet another excellent modern Metroidvania title. The game initially released on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita in 2013 before the wonderfully titled Super Turbo Championship Edition brought the game to eighth-generation consoles and PC.
Much like Dead Cells, DrinkBox Studios’ Guacamelee! integrates multiple genres into its gameplay; platforming and beat em’ up-action are the game’s main styles of play, as players progress through the beautifully designed Metroidvania map.
5 Fez (90)
Originally released on the Xbox 360 in 2012, Polytron Corporation’s Fez came to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vista in March 2014.
Fez is a puzzle-platformer that blends 2D and 3D gaming by letting players rotate a three-dimensional world to change their two-dimensional view. Along with reaching the elusive 90 mark on Metacritic, Fez won multiple awards including Best Story/World Design from IndieCade.
4 Rayman Legends (90)
Once Ubisoft’s leading game series, Rayman carved a space in the crowded 2D side-scrolling genre of platformers with the original Rayman in 1995, before drastically changing styles with the 3D Rayman 2: The Great Escape four years later; ensuring that the mascot character didn’t fall behind after Super Mario 64 revolutionized the genre.
Rayman Legends, along with its predecessor Rayman Origins, was fundamental in bringing side-scrolling platformers back into the mainstream. The games combined beautiful modern visuals with smooth platforming gameplay that even managed to make underwater levels enjoyable.
3 Shovel Knight (90)
Released by Yacht Club Games one year after Ubisoft’s Rayman Legends, Shovel Knight has found its way onto almost every major console under the sun since its humble beginnings on Kickstarter.
Shovel Knight takes players on a nostalgic trip back to the side-scrolling platformers of the Nintendo Entertainment System with its 8-bit graphics. The game was showered with awards upon release, including Best Platformer and Best Music from IGN, as well as Best Independent Game from The Game Awards.
2 Inside (91)
The successor to Limbo, Playdead initially released Inside on the Xbox One in 2016 before coming to all other major systems. Much like its predecessor, the game has an ambiguous story that is still being debated today.
Much like Limbo, Inside is a puzzle-platformer that has a far slower and more methodical speed than the usual fast-paced platforming games that most players are accustomed to. The game takes a “less is more” approach to its sound, as the game is predominantly silent except for sound effects and musical cues; this approach was clearly successful, as the game won the accolade of Best Audio at the Game Developers Choice Awards 2016.
1 Celeste (91)
It’s fitting that an indie title tops this list, as it’s the lesser-known developers who have been fundamental in the platforming genre’s resurgence. Celeste was developed and published by Matt Makes Games, who also released the critically acclaimed action title TowerFall. Celeste puts players in control of Madeline, who attempts to climb Celeste Mountain.
Despite how impressive the PS4 iteration’s 91 Metascore is, it’s a few points short of the Xbox One release which scored an eye-watering 94; making it the console’s fourth highest-rated game.